New DC 52 Review: Action Comics, Detective Comics, Stormwatch, and a bunch of others…

Let’s review: DC Comics (home of Gorilla Grodd, Blue Beetle, and Ragdoll. Oh, and Superman and Batman) decided to reboot their entire line of comics. Every comic they published started from number one again, including the comics that had been running non stop since the 1940’s, and nothing that we have ever  read in a DC comic has actually happened before. The goal is to streamline their admittedly very confusing continuity, in order to make DC’s comics more accessible to new readers.

I’m a little surprised that I’m doing this, as I met the whole DC reboot thing with a resounding shrug of indifference. I’m not really doing much superhero reading these days, and continuity means less to me than ever before. I was reading exactly 5 DC comics before the reboot, and they were all cancelled (though to be fair, they probably would have all been cancelled anyways.) But as the day to the reboot got closer and closer, I have to admit that I got a little excited. Why?

Because superhero comics is what I grew up on. They’re what got me hooked on this medium, and no matter how many independent autobiographical graphic novels I read, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for superheroes. They were my first love, and you never forget your first love. The thing is, it takes a LOT for a superhero comic to impress me these days. When reading these, all I wanted was a good, enjoyable story. That’s it. I didn’t care about how the continuity didn’t jive with what happened before, or who the characters were. All I wanted were good stories.

Did I get my wish?

Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Adiran Syaf

A quick summary for those not familiar with Batgirl: For decades, she was Commisioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. Who was then shot in the spine by the Joker, and ended up in a wheelchair. Barbara then became an information broker/IT support to DC’s superhero set under the name of Oracle, and as a result of the work that Gail Simone did with her on Birds Of Prey, proceeded to become one of the more interesting parts of the DCU. Other people went on to become Batgirl.

I had mixed reactions going into this book. Although I have all the confidence in the world in Gail Simone, I did think that this book was unnecessary. Bryan Miller had done an excellent job in getting me to love Stephanie Miller as Batgirl, and Gail Simone had also done an even better job over the years in getting me to love Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I loved that one of the more interesting players in the DCU was in a wheelchair, and I thought that putting her back in the Batgirl suit was gimmicky at best, superfluous at worst.

I hate to say it, but I think I was right.

Batgirl is a fine comic. There are some nice dialogue bits (always a Simone trademark), and I really liked Adrian Syaf’s action sequences a lot. And I really loved the concept of Batgirl being terrified to be Batgirl. We take it for granted that every superhero is a bucket full of courage, so it was nice to see one actually freeze up in the face of danger, and for good reason But I think one of the main things that the new DC books need to do is to show exactly WHY they should be replacing the books that they do. And there was nothing in Gail Simone’s Batgirl that accomplished that for me. You could have told the exact same story with Miller’s Batgirl, and in fact it might have made more sense, considering that character’s age, and lack of experience.

I think that Simone was put on this book because of her background with the Barbara Gordon character, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the Barbara Gordon we know. Shared experiences aside, there is a casualness and joy about this version of the character that hasn’t existed in the character in decades, and it really feels like a step back for the character, not a step forward. And I guess that’s the point. But as far as I can tell, this Batgirl isn’t much different from the series it replaced, except that A)  The name of the character is different, and B) it isn’t quite as good.

Rating: C+

Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

This is one of the most underordered of the new DC books, but I picked it up based on the strength of Judd Winick’s skills. I’ve always liked his superhero writing, and while his talents are obvious here, I don’t think they are going to be enough to really make this book a success.Although the setting of Africa is somewhat untapped for a superhero book, at the end of the day, it’s just another costumed guy fighting other costumed guys. There is nothing “bad” about this book whatsoever, but there’s also not enough that’s unique about it to justify more than a first read.

Rating: C

Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn

While Daniel’s talents as an artist are obvious, his skills as a writer have been lost on me thus far, and unfortunately Detective Comics #1 doesn’t do much to change my mind. As with most of the other DC books I read today, this was a fine superhero comic book. Rights get wronged, bad guys get vanquished, etc. etc. But the dialogue here is overly heavy-handed at times, and there are a lot of words that most likely were best unsaid. For the most part, there seemed to be almost no difference between this Batman, and the Batman we knew two weeks ago, except that A) his costume sucks, and B) everyone is about 10 years younger.

But what’s getting people talking is the final page. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME final page. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve read this year in fact. Unfortunately I had to slog through 24 average pages to read it.

Rating: C

Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

The JLI is a beloved concept among DC fans. In its hey day, the title represented an excellent mix of humour and action, both of which are traits that are sadly absent in today’s first issue. It’s hard to see just how DC got this one so wrong. It wasn’t even 6 months ago that Judd Winick was finishing up probably the best JLI story NOT written by Keith Giffen. The team was re-energized, sales were good. And then this. It’s hard to imagine a comic less fun, less funny, and less full of the spark that got people invested in these characters in the first place. That this was actually published does not give me confidence in DC’s editorial team.

Rating: D

Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

When talking to people online, this seemed to be the book people were most curious about,probably because it involved the most obvious changes to DC continuity. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care about the changes so much. I have no problem with change. All I care about is good stories. And this, my friends, is NOT a good story. In fact, this was a terrible story. Kudos to DC for trying to bring back old Wildstorm characters, but what DC doesn’t seem to understand is that the original Ellis/Millar run on Authority had NOTHING to do with the characters. It had everything to do with what was happening in the world at the time, and in comics. Authority wasn’t about superheroes, it was a reaction against them. And with all due respect to the talented writers who tried to salvage the Authority after Mark Millar left the book, but it’s a comic whose time has passed. Every interesting story you could tell with a group of heroes who have positioned themselves above even earth’s premier superheroes has been done, and with the all-ages mandate that DC has, there is NO way that they’re going to be able to tell the edgy, dark stories that the concept demands. Paul Cornell is a writer that has been given much praise as of late, but there’s been nothing since his days on Captain Britain that has really impressed me. And this clumsy, half-baked, watered down attempt at reviving a concept that should have stayed dead does nothing to change that opinion.

Rating: D

Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

I’ve never really cottoned to the Swamp Thing character. I know, I know. It’s the character that first introduced Alan Moore to North American audiences, and so there will always be a soft spot in people’s heart for the concept. But it’s never done that much for me, and I’ve ignored most attempts to update the character. So if I don’t care about Swamp Thing, then why did I pick this up? Two words: Scott Snyder. His run on Detective Comics really surprised and impressed me, and his new series for Image is intriguing as well. Unfortunately, he seems to be saddled with a LOT of baggage here, as the editorial committee at DC seems determined to cram a lot of back story down our throats. So even though in theory all continuity has been rebooted, there are still stories that apparently happened, and so most of this issue is about telling us how all of that stuff matters, even though it shouldn’t. This book looked pretty, but there was nothing in it of any real substance, and nothing that would convince me to get a second issue.

Rating: C

Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick

There have already been comparison’s to Garth Ennis’ work with this title, but I can’t see it. Other than the fact that it’s a book about military men, there is none of the emotion, or tension, or drama that you would find in an Ennis book when he’s at the top of his game. What you do get here is a solid, Sgt. Rock update. And while I have no problem with a solid Sgt. Rock update, and appreciate that there is room in this DCU for non-superpowered folks, this is simply just another ok book, among a lot of other ok books that were released today.

Rating: C

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

This was probably one of the most anticipated of the new books, and I’m happy to report that its also easily the best of the bunch. By a lot. Why? Because this was the only title of the lot today that actually took any chances, and that was anything more than just a run-of-the-mill DC superhero book. And  it was also the only one to really try to take advantage of the slimmer continuity and try to really reinvent it’s character in a real way. I mean, any superhero comic book that starts with a full-page of TEXT, and then continues with 5 full pages of a family talking around a breakfast table has to be something special right? Or terrible. Thankfully in this case it’s the former. Jeff Lemire continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in comics today with a book so full of  emotion, drama, and character development, that I kept thinking I was reading a Vertigo book. So far, it’s only one of two of the new titles that actually made me excited to read the second issue.

Rating: A

Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

When reading online feedback about this reboot, variations on this theme kept cropping up: “At least Action Comics by Geoff Johns will be great right? “. It was nice to see that at least one prediction regarding this relaunch came true. At first glance, Superman is DC’s character most in need of a reboot. He stands for truth, justice, and is a black and white figure in a world full of greys.In other words, the character doesn’t really fit in today’s world. And so what does Grant Morrison do? He exaggerates every single one of the character traits that make Superman anachronistic to this era. Morrison’s Superman is a cocky, yet naive man-child stumbling from adventure to adventure, never once thinking about the consequences of his actions. There are bad guys. They need to be stopped. The end.

That’s the way Morrison’s Superman thinks, and it’s a wonderful character flaw to have in a character that has no actual weaknesses. The other thing that Morrison does here is to capture the sheer wonder that everyone in Metropolis regarding the miracles that Superman performs on a regular basis. On page after page, we see characters react in disbelief at what this man of steel can do. It’s a refreshing take on a world that is usually pretty blase about these sorts of things. I also need to mention Rags Morales here. He’s been one of my favourite superhero artists ever since Identity Crisis, but I think he surpasses that work here. He captures the dynamic energy of our hero so perfectly, that I can’t believe he hasn’t always been doing this book.

If it took upsetting the entire DC apple cart to get this book, it was worth it.

Rating A-

To sum up: Out of the 9 books I read today, I loved 2, liked one, despised two, and thought the rest were ok. The one thing that I think DC missed the boat on is to really start from scratch with these characters. Most of these books take place about 5 years after the first superheroes were sighted. So even though OUR history with these characters didn’t exist, they still do have a history, and too many of the books needed more exposition than should have been necessary for comics attempting to entice new viewers.

Still, not a horrible first week, I guess.

 

DC New 52 Review: Justice League #1

The new Justice League, 3 of whom aren't actually in this issue.

So if you’re at all interested in comics, or sleeping with someone who is, you know all about the big DC relaunch that’s coming. DC Comics is essentially wiping the slate clean, and rebooting their entire universe. None of the stories that you loved growing up actually happened, and they are rebuilding their entire continuity from the ground up. It’s like Greedo shooting first, but on an epic, cosmic scale.

I find myself in a perpetual state of not giving a shit. To me, good comic stories are good comic stories. The minute I stopped caring so much about things like continuity, is the minute I started really enjoying comics. And besides, I’m not reading much superhero stuff these days anyways, so they could put a Superman suit on a gay monkey and I probably wouldn’t notice. But because EVERYONE is talking about it, I decided to read the very first issue of the new reboot: Justice League #1. This issue is the first real peak that DC is giving us into their new universe, and as such should be designed to absolutely blow new readers away, and to give old readers a real sense of ‘HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVETHEYDIDTHATTOSUPERMAN’

This issue succeeds on neither front.

Mediocre is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with usually a more negative connotation than it deserves. But sadly, it’s the perfect word for this sleepy, sleepy comic book. First of all, if you’re going to have a comic book about a team of heroes, I expect to see that team in the book. No? How about half the team? Just barely? Sigh. This issue focuses almost exclusively on Batman and Green Lantern, and one might suspect that writer Geoff Johns thought that his Green Lantern movie was going to be a hit when he wrote this, and thus decided to showcase the two heroes most recognizable to modern audiences. So basically Green Lantern and Batman team up to go after evil aliens, and find themselves on the run from the cops for most of the issue. This gives them plenty of time to snark at each other, and then at the end of the issue a guy shows up that I think is supposed to be Superman but couldn’t be because there is NO way that DC would ever allow such a bad costume design to actually get into one of their comic books.

And that’s pretty much the issue. Two people team up to take down a bad guy, and then another person shows up at the end. Hardly a world building blockbuster. This book wasn’t “bad” in the traditional sense. Jim Lee is considered one of the great living superhero comic book artists for a reason, and he makes pretty much every page pop here. And Geoff Johns put together a decent ‘Heroes put aside their differences” story. But this book is essentially the pilot for the biggest comic launch the business has seen since 1986.. Words like “decent” and “average” shouldn’t be used for this book. Words like ‘Skullripping” and “EyeballExploding” should.

Let me clarify: My negativity isn’t a backlash against the continuity changes they’re making here. I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care that it’s different, all I care about is that it’s good. And this ain’t.

I will still give some of the new issues that launch next week a chance. When it comes to superhero comics these days, It’s creators I care about, not characters. And so since people like Peter Milligan, and Gail Simone, and Nathan Edmonson, and Jeff Lemire, and Matt Kindt, have new books, I will definitely give them a try.
But if Justice League #1 is indicative of what’s in store for me, I’m not holding out much hope.
Rating: C

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 23: DC Comics – Robin, Secret Six, and Seven Soldiers of Victory

And I’m back. It’s been a busy month, but I plan on getting back into the blogging thing in full force. In the interest of trying to cull faster and create room for new books, I’ve been jumping ahead a bit, and so I’m actually quite behind in my writing compared to where I am in my reading. Quit your whining.

RobinA Year Reborn, Year One

Robin is one of those fictional characters that always seem to stand the test of time, even though at his core he’s pretty ridiculous. Kind of like Jesus.

A Hero Reborn is the very first mini-series featuring the Tim Drake version of Batman’s platonic preteen boy-partner Robin (for those of you counting at home, there have been five Robins, with Tim Drake being the third. He’s since retired the mantle of Robin, and apparently has the imagination of a rotting tree stump, since he now calls himself Red Robin. Because his costume is red. And because he used to be called Robin. Sweet Sarah Palin). Oh, and one of the Robins had a vagina. She didn’t last long.

Back to Hero Reborn.  The character of Tim Drake has always been one of the more likeable additions to the DCU, and a lot of the character beats that Dixon set up here stuck with the character for years. However, it’s still a relatively generic, though readable story, and like a lot of Dixon’s stuff that I’ve been rereading as part of this cull, it’s enjoyable, but maybe not enough to keep.

However, if Hero Reborn is an exercise in meh, Dixon’s work on Robin: Year One, MORE than makes up for it. It’s a great little coming of age story set in the early days of the first Robin’s career. Lots of fun, and lots of action. It’s a perfect companion piece to Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One, and both books are an essential part of any Bat completest’s collection.

Hero Reborn: Cull. Year One: Keep

Secret SixVillains United, Six Degrees Of Devastation, Unhinged, Depths, Danse Macabre, Cat’s In The Cradle

Secret Six is a fairly simple, yet extremely effective concept: 6 bad-ass super-criminals team up as a merc collective for hire. It’s a reworking of a relatively obscure DC title from the ’60’s and it’s one of the few sparkling jewels in the fetid swamp that is the current DC Universe. This comic book kicks unholy superhero ass. It’s a testament to Gail Simone’s skill as a writer that one of the toughest, hard-hitting books on the stands also somehow manages to reek of pathos, and contain some of the most charming, effective character moments you’ll see in a mainstream comic these days. While the quality of the book varies slightly from arc to arc, as a whole this book is a must read for fans of big, intelligent comic book action. Highly recommended.

Keep

Seven Soldiers Of VictoryVolume One to Four.

My opinion of Grant Morrison’s writing ability changes about as often as a newborn’s diaper, but for the most part I’m one of the few serious comic book fans that do not worship at his bugfuck crazy altar. Seven Soldiers was an interesting experiment: Morrison would take 7 of DC’s more obscure characters, and rebuild them from the ground up, hopefully giving them a new lease on life. The experiment failed miserably, mostly because Morrison couldn’t be bothered to actually work out what happened to the old versions of these characters, or to figure out how any of his crazy changes would affect the current DC storylines. Grant Morrison: Fucking over the creations of others since 1989.

That being said, if you try not to think of how these mini series screw up the rest of DC’s storylines, there’s quite a bit to like here. In particular, the Bulleteer, Shining Knight, Klarion, and Guardian minis still stand up quite well.  The Zatanna and Frankenstein series are fine, and the only real stinker here is the Mr. Miracle mini. LIke I said, as stand alone minis these are relatively enjoyable. It’s when at the end when Morrison tries to bring them all together when disaster strikes. Much has been said of Morrison’s seeming inability to compose complex plots that tie into each other, and Seven Soldiers is a shining example of that. But it’s also a great example of how brilliant an idea man he really can be, and I wouldn’t be sad if some of these concepts were revisited in the future.

Keep.

Next Up: Shazam, Starman, and Supergirl!


The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Five: DC Comics – Batwoman to Black Adam

I’ve gotten a few comments commenting on how little I’m culling, as opposed to keeping. I actually culled quite a bit of Batman, probably half a shelf worth, but right now I’m finding that most of the stuff I’m reading still holds up as worth keeping. I’m trying to downsize my collection, not eliminate it, much to my wife’s dismay.

BatwomanElegy

This the collection of a short run that Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams had on Detective Comics last year, focusing on my favourite lesbian that dresses up like a bat. Sorry, Jody Foster, you’re just going to have to keep reaching for the stars.

J.H. Williams has become one of the most unique and interesting artists in comic books today, and it’s a thrill to see him on a smaller profile book like this. Even if Greg Rucka’s script wasn’t good (it is), I’d keep this just for the art. One of the the best DC books of recent years, and I’m hoping that the new upcoming Batwoman series can keep the momentum going.

KEEP.

Birds Of Prey - 11 Assorted Trades.

One of the most successful DC “female” comics.  The concept is this: Barbara Gordon (Quick history: She used to be Commisioner Gordon’s daughter. Then his niece. Then his stepdaughter. Then his daughter again. She also used to be a librarian. Then a congresswoman. Then a librarian again. Somehow in the middle of all this she found time to occasionally be Batgirl, but then Joker shot her and showed her dad/stepdad/uncle naked pictures of her. She’s also now a parapalegic, which I think was the extra cherry on that particular day’s shit sundae. Now she’s called Oracle and works as an IT analyst/information broker for the superhero set.) decides to start sending her own agents out on specific missions she designates. Initially this is limited to Black Canary, but eventually other heroes (Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, etc) join in.

Chuck Dixon was the first writer on this series (orginally a series of minis), and the first two arcs of his run are collected in trade. These trades are decent, and worth keeping if only for Gary Frank’s pencil work, but the misogyny is running high in places. They take every opportunity to showcase Black Canary in skimpy, revealing outfits, and much is made of her horrible taste in men, and how she has very little control of herself around smarmy, overbearing assholes. That being said, it’s a good start to what would become a cult fave among superhero fans. Things went along at a decent pace for about 60 issues, until Gail Simone came along. She almost instantly revitalized the series, to the extent that for a while this was my favourite DC book.

The next 40 issues are a clinic in how to rebuild a character. Simone takes Black Canary from being a B level also-ran, to an A level world-class hero in just a few years. By the end of Simone’s run, Canary is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and was soon made chairman of the Justice League. Also, this is one of my favourite martial art comic books, and there is more kung-fu asskickery in one trade of this series than a thousand Jackie Chan movies.  

This series isn’t perfect though. The art is inconsistent, especially in later trades, and you can tell that certain editorial decisions (like marrying Black Canary off) don’t sit well with Simone. She left the book soon after, and it didn’t take long for DC to cancel it. Thankfully that’s been rectified, and Gail Simone and Ed Benes are back on the book that they made famous.

KEEP

Black Adam - The Dark Age.

One of the best recent examples of character building that I can remember is DC’s 52 series. They took several forgotten or underused characters, and spent an entire year rebuilding those characters, and giving them new purpose. It stuck for the most part, and several of them have gone on to their own series. Black Adam is a prime example of how well this worked, and between 52 and it’s follow up World War 3, Adam had been set up as one of DC’s great villains. This mini dealt with the aftermath of those series, and shows Adam trying to regain both his power and his lost love. Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s stronger contemporary writers, and he crafts an emotional, and effective tale. Black Adam is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but cheer for him, even when he’s beating the crap out of your favourite heroes. Kudos also to the great Doug Mahnke for his ever improving artwork here.

KEEP

Next up: Booster Gold. Yes, that’s his superhero name. Hey, I just review ‘em, I don’t write ‘em.