Today marked the first full day of releases of DC’s “new 52″ comic books. I won’t go into great detail about how the universe has changed or the public outcry from many quarters. I do want to give some short reviews of these books, mostly for my own purposes, but also in case anyone out there is interested in what I may have to say.
First, a short recount of my reentrance into comics. I haven’t followed comics closely in about 23 years, since probably 1988. I stopped reading because I was in the Navy, and I quite frankly didn’t have anywhere to store my comics. When I started college in 1991, I was to poor to buy any, so I mostly looked at my back issues, and would occasionally pop in the comics store to see what my favorite title, Legion of Super-Heroes, was up to. During Zero Hour, I picked up a number of books, as I had a job and a bit of extra spending money, but the habit just didn’t stick. I don’t know what it was. Hal Jordan was bad, Superman was his usual boring self, and everything just seemed out of whack. I honestly thought I had outgrown comics.
Still, even after buying a house and having the room to store comics, and after I had sold off or given away most of my back issues, I would be curious about the current adventures of the LSH. I remember seeing the Justice Society had their own book again, and that was cool. But the LSH was too different from my cherished memories, so after a few issues, I quit reading again.
Fast forward to Facebook, where my curiosity led me to see if there were any Legion fan pages. I found Legion World, and much to my surprise, it consisted of a lot of gay men who took scans of panels from old Legion issues and found funny things to say about them (all with love, of course). (No, not all of them are gay. Looking at you, Dean Lee.) Through this group, I became friends with a lot of guys from all over the US, and was informed that Paul Levitz, who was my favorite LSH writer in the past, was now writing LSH again. Stoked!
So I started buying LSH and Adventure Comics (tales of the Legion Academy) again. Of course, this led me to look at other titles, and I picked up a few here and there, but nothing crazy. Then the news of the DC re-launch. And I decided then and there that I was going to give comics reading a try again. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to rediscover old favorites at a convenient starting point? So, I made a tiny pull list and gave it to the comics shop guy. When he offered the opportunity to get all 52 #1s, I decided, why not? I had been following DC’s publicity machine, reading interview after interview, tweet after tweet, and thought to myself that there were a lot of good books here. Possibly.
So here I am. Week one. I might review Justice League #1, which came out last week, by itself, at a later date. But today I want to comment on the 13 titles that hit the stands. Starred reviews, five being the best. This the order in which I read them tonight. Needless to say: SPOILERS!!!!!
Detective Comics #1 – Tony Daniel (story and pencils), Ivan Winn (inks)
Four stars out of Five
Wow. I read this first because of the buzz of the cliffhanger of the last page. Daniel starts off with the Joker, the classic Batman villain, teasing the Caped Crusader by enacting a murderous spree throughout Gotham. In this new DC universe, the GCPD are not friendly towards Batman, and even try to shoot him. Before long, Batman figures out, with the help of Jim Gordon, just where exactly the Joker is, captures him, and puts him in Arkham. It is there that the Joker, manipulating events as usual even within Arkham, carries out one of the more horrific scene set ups I’ve seen in a “regular” comic. Gruesome, shocking, sickening. You need to see this.
Daniel wasn’t so impressive on his run on the regular Batman comic before the re-launch. The stories were good, but not up to this level. The pacing is fast, the dialogue meaningful, the setups believable. Daniel’s art is fantastic, as always, and he draws with a cinematic flair I find very appealing. Tomeu Morey’s colors are outstanding, and add so much to the overall mood of this issue. This is definitely staying on my pull list.
Action Comics #1 – Grant Morrison (script), Rags Morales (pencils), and Rick Bryant (inks)
Four and a half stars out of Five
OK, Grant Morrison is writing this. Even as an irregular comics reader over the years, I knew who the hell Morrison was. I even picked up his JLA for a while. This crazy Scot has some of the best visions of what super heroes can and should be of anyone around. Superman as a socialist crusader? Sold! Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s original Superman of Action Comics #1 (1938) returns, to stamp out crime not only on the streets, but in the boardrooms as well! Damn! We have needed this version of Superman returned to us. Not the demigod we’ve seen for the past 70 years, but someone who is mortal, who can be wounded, who feels pain, who RELATES, for Pete’s sake, to the common man and woman. Superman races around this new Metropolis, taking out the fat cats and saving a train from derailment, and it all looks like it’s a real effort for him. He gets bruised!
Morrison also throws in Lois and Jimmy (working at a rival newspaper), and Lex Luthor, who we immediately loathe and despise, as it should be. He’s already up to no good, and is leading the effort to smear this new hero who just arrived on the scene six months earlier. All this is accomplished in fast paced story and art, full of little bits and pieces of made me smile and fall in love with a character I never liked much in the first place. Funny it takes a Scot to get the All American hero right, but that he does. Definitely staying in place for this book.
Batgirl #1 – Gail Simone (script), Ardian Syaf (pencils), and Vicente Cifuentes (inks)
Four stars out of Five
Batgirl walks! Yeah, ok, we know this by now. But how does Barbara deal with this, since The Killing Joke is still canon? Well, I feel that Simone does a great job in portraying Barbara Gordon as a young woman dealing with PTSD that occurred after her “miraculous” return to mobility. We see a real and vulnerable woman here, but also a very strong and intelligent one, as well. She’s everything Barbara Gordon has come to be known for, and more. No longer the milquetoast Batgirl from when I was reading regularly, this woman kicks ass and has no problems doing it. This is the best rendition I have ever seen of Barbara Gordon, though, granted, that’s not saying a lot. (Remember her brief stint as a US Congresswoman?) She’s alive, full of vim and vigor, but also doubts and worries.
Who is this Ardian Syaf guy? He needs to be drawing more books, because he draws some of the most graceful poses I’ve seen recently in a comic book. The art is simply gorgeous, and almost outshines Simone’s script.
The villain in the story, The Mirror, is an intriguing one, and a dangerous one as well. The final scene is yet another gut wrenching cliff hangar, and it will be interesting to see where Simone and Barbara go next. I’ll be sticking around for sure, particularly if Adam Hughes continues his outstanding cover work.
Justice League International #1 – Dan Jurgens (script), Aaron Lopresti (pencils), and Matt Ryan (inks)
Two and a half stars out of Five
I’ve never been a huge fan of Dan Jurgens. He’s a good artist, and a fair writer, but he doesn’t “kill it,” for me. JLI #1, while being a good comic story, is just that: good, when so much this week is “great.” The story of how the UN decides to form its own international answer to the Justice League is nicely done, the interplay between the characters is nice, and the villain mysterious and kinda scary. But…it’s just a regular middle of the road comic. It’s not a great step forward in the medium, nor is it a step back.
The art is great, and there are lots of panels. Ha. Seriously. Maybe that’s why this feels like it’s kinda old school. Nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t “wow” me. Other than being an origin story, there’s a plot about a villain who is swallowing people up down in Peru, and that’s the bad guy the JLI goes to find. Batman, apparently not busy enough in the six other books he’s in this month, tags along for the ride, ostensibly to keep an eye on the team for the regular Justice League. You know, however, that Bats will have something up his sleeve to pull out at a later time.
All in all, I will get the next issue of this, and probably the third. But more stories like this, and it will be off the pull list.
Men of War #1 – Ivan Brandon (script), Tom Derenick (art)
Five stars out of Five
This is the book I was most looking foward to, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Brandon introduces us to Joseph Rock, grandson of legendary Sgt. Frank Rock, who is in the infantry like his grandfather, and apparently has been busted just as many times. The story tells how Rock gets picked for a special mission deep in the heart of a country in which a US Senator has vanished. Once this unit arrives at their secret jumping in point, a super-powered man swoops in and causes major damage. Rock and his unit have to fight their way in and out of danger, until the gripping final scene, where Rock meets his destiny. This tale is real, folks. It’s not souped up, drawn out, or magnified to meet some type of sales point. Instead, DC diversifies its stable like it used to be, with stories of real men (and presumably women eventually) who fight the battles the super heroes do not. The art is phenomenal, and the colors by Matt Wilson really add to the story telling. This is a knockout home run.
The back up features a Navy Seals unit in a country where US servicemen are not supposed to be. In just a few short pages, writer Jonathan Vankin and artist Phil Winslade introduce us to these new characters, letting us know who they are without having this information presented in an awkward manner. Thomas Chu provides some good coloring, nicely contrasted with that of the lead story.
Get this book. This is good storytelling. This is what comics can be, and shows a great move on DC’s part to incorporate genres outside the traditional super-hero mold. I’m looking forward to the next issue with great anticipation.
Stormwatch #1 – Paul Cornell (script), Miguel Sepulveda (art)
Four stars out of Five
I am not familiar with these characters at all, outside the Martian Manhunter. I have never read Wildstorm, so I get to start with a blank slate with these guys. Initially, this was not on my pull list, even though Paul Cornell has a great reputation as a writer, and the idea of a group of super powered people who basically watch over the super heroes, is compelling. Still, with a limited budget, I drew the line at this one. I have changed my mind.
Cornell has written an exciting story that introduced a ton of questions, yet answers none, ensuring that the reader is intrigued enough to come back for more. We see the interaction between the characters already a part of this secret group and the one who will be known as Apollo. He is a reluctant hero who spurns their efforts to join the team. Obviously very powerful, I was left wanting to know more about him and the other standout, Jack Hawksmoor, who has these weird tire treads on his feet and hands. This issue is mostly an introductory issue, but unlike Justice League #1, we see a bigger cast with a little more explanation of why they are banded together. The idea of a predatory moon just blows my mind, and the scenes that take place on the moon are just incredible.
The art by Miguel Sepulveda, while not for everyone, was very appealing to me. It’s dense with lots of darker lines and shadows, showing lots of imagination and vision. It’s not your typical comic book art, but that’s great. We need more imaginative artists in these books. Art obviously influences the mood of a book and help propel the story as much as, perhaps even more than, the writing. I will be looking for more of Sepulveda’s art to explore.
So, this is a solid book, with great imagination and promise. The characterizations could use some work, but Stormwatch will definitely be on my pull list for the time being.
Batwing #1 – Judd Winick (script), Ben Oliver (art), Brian Reber (colors)
Four Stars out of Five
Batwing is probably the biggest surprise of this week’s releases. A beautifully illustrated, well written tale, we get exposed to a new terrain besides the usual DC American city. Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Batwing does not shy away from or sanitize the political realities of that country, but builds it into the story in a way that is both natural and vital.
Some reviewers don’t like the flashback sequencing, but honestly, it’s not hard to follow. We see Batwing chasing after Massacre, a villain who, well, massacres people. Lots of them. At the same time. I got the feeling of what it might have been like in Rwanda during the genocide there, seeing Massacre indiscriminately target his victims and then carry out his evil. With a guest appearance by Batman, we learn more about Batwing (David Zavimbe), who he is, what is mission in life is, and how he interacts with law enforcement in his country. The shocking ending is definitely one of the week’s best cliffhangers, as we are left wondering if our hero will survive.
The art is gorgeous, with the colorist playing as important a part as the artist. Much like in Xombi, the finished product almost looks like a painting. There is not a lot of background here, but it’s not needed. Instead, we get very detailed foreground art that is realistic and beautiful. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Batwing in the months to come.
Animal Man #1 – Jeff Lemire (script), Travel Foreman (pencils and cover), Dan Green (inks)
Five stars out of Five
Over on Twitter, @JCorduroy summed up this title the best: it’s a horror movie in sitcom clothing. Lemire gives us a very suburban nuclear family then throws some horror details at us unexpectedly. What’s not to like about that?
The story starts with Buddy Baker (Animal Man) giving an interview to a magazine. The first page is, in fact, that article, and is a rather unconventional choice to start off a new title. But it works because it gives us some background into what Buddy has been up to lately, and does so without any long exposition during the course of the action itself. The reader has to actually spend time on page one, getting to know Buddy and what kind of man he is.
In the pages that follow, Buddy dons his suit once more, tapping into the Red to take on the powers of animals that can help him take out his adversary. A brief fight at a hospital gives us our first indication that something is wrong, and after Buddy returns home, dreams a nightmare that throws the reader into a strange world of blood and tissue. The final sequence involving his daughter is startling and eerie in a way most comics have a hard time expressing.
The art by Travel Foreman is decidedly different from what one normally expects in a mainstream DC title, but it works. It’s scratchy and raw, and at times has flashes of Lynda Barry and Charles Burns. During the dream sequence, Foreman gives us delectable creatures and images that go beyond the mere warped world from which all nightmares come, and serves up instead a truly strange and terrific sequence that made me sit up and want more. This guy is a true find, and I hope readers will try to understand that not all good comic book art is sinewy heroes and buxom women. The pairing of Lemire and Foreman was a stroke of genius. I am hooked and want more.
Green Arrow #1 – JT Krul (script), Dan Jurgens (pencils), George Perez (inks)
Two and a half stars out of five
Green Arrow has always been one of my favorite heroes. I liked his “against the establishment” attitude and how he preferred fighting the common criminals over the intergalactic foes often encountered by the Justice League and his buddy Green Lantern. In this new vision, Green Arrow is different. Restored to his fortune, Oliver Queen, a brilliant inventor and billionaire, spends his spare time fighting crime with the aid of a secret team and his original trick arrows. He’s after the bad guys, and he’s ready to take them out. I don’t think his social conscience is his driving force any longer. And that’s a shame.
Oliver Queen is now, well, Bruce Wayne – with a splash of Steve Jobs and James Bond thrown in. There is nothing distinctive about him, except that he’s rich and has time enough to travel the world taking out the bad guys. Seriously? This is the new direction in which DC wanted Green Arrow to go? It’s hackneyed at times, and insulting at others. The Qpad? Is there a Qphone? Is this the most original thing DC could come up with?
Still, the issue is not bad, if you can get past these points. The story moves quickly, and we see Green Arrow really strut his stuff. His new personality, though not totally divorced from his previous one, is pretty well fleshed out, and I love the new Smallville-inspired look. The art by Jurgens and Perez is pretty, and reminds me of their work together on Teen Titans years ago. I will continue getting this book, because I love Green Arrow, but I really hope the creative team ups the originality and gives him his own distinctive voice.
Static Shock #1 – Scott McDaniel (co-plotter and pencils), John Rozum (co-plotter and script), Jonathan Glapion and LeBeau Underwood (inks)
Three stars out of Five
Other than seeing his cartoon a few times, Static Shock is not a hero I was familiar with, and this title wasn’t on my original pull list. So, my introduction to Virgil Ovid Hawkins is this first issue. And, I’m intrigued enough to give it another go.
Apparently no longer in the city of Dakota, Virgil is now a high school student in New York City, and a part time worker at STAR labs. In a city with few other super heroes (Hawkman is mentioned), Virgil, in his guise as Static Shock, takes to the air to help save a STAR labs employee who is involved in an experiment apparently gone awry. After a few starts and stops, Static Shock figures out how to stop this guy, earning the anger of his fellow New Yorkers, who blame him for the resultant mess they find themselves in. As usual, there is a bigger picture, and the creative team finds a way to build up the story while also showing a little bit of Virgil’s home life. A normal teenager who just happens to be a genius, Static Shock is exuberant and excited about his role as a super hero, and just a little bit impatient.
This title offered up yet another shock ending, and overall the creative team is pretty good. The art is rather typical comic book art – not bad, but not spectacular, either. We see some good shots of NYC with a good amount of detail, but not so much as to be distracting. A good first issue; let’s hope it gets better next month.
OMAC #1 – Dan DiDio (script), Keith Giffen (pencils), Scott Koblish (inks)
Three and a half stars out of Five
This title surprised me. I am not a big fan of people other than Jack Kirby attempting his DC creations. They usually fall flat, and lack Kirby’s wackiness. Additionally, all I heard about Dan DiDio’s writing was that it was awful. This issue, though, was fun, quirky, exciting, and full of zany Kirby-like constructs. It felt like a Kirby comic book, with lots of panels and dark wiggly lines. We don’t get the full story on Kevin Kho, the guy chosen by Brother Eye to be the new OMAC, but we see enough to get the feeling he’s a mild scientist type drawn into Brother Eye’s master plan to…well, we don’t know what yet.
Giffen is the master at aping Kirby’s art style, and he doesn’t disappoint here. It’s dynamic and full of little Kirby touches, like the android with the giant mouth that attacks OMAC. The fight scenes move with little exposition and lots of energy. By the last page, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing more. Yet another book not on my original pull list that has found a home.
Hawk and Dove #1 – Sterling Gates (script), Rob Liefeld (art)
Two and a half stars out of Five
This is another title that surprised me, in that instead of being an unmitigated disaster, turns out to be average. The story by Gates is engaging, if a bit unwieldy at times, and Liefeld’s art is not as bad as I thought it would be. We see some good characterization of Hawk/Hank Hall, the Avatar of War, who obviously misses his brother, the late Don Hall (Dove) and is perplexed by the new female partner, Dawn, who has taken over the role as Avatar of Peace. There is lots of tension there, and Gates does a decent job of giving us background with a really good scene between Hank and his father, and in a short exchange between Dove and Deadman, who looks like he will be a big part of the new DC Universe.
There’s some action here, with zombies and bad guys trying to crash a small plane into the Washington Monument, along with a secretive and mysterious law enforcement type. The art moves the story along rather well, without too many of the usual Liefeld oddities. (His penchant for drawing everyone with an open mouth notwithstanding.) We end the issue with the mystery of what kind of relationship Dawn and Don had, and the promise of learning more about these Avatars and how the role they play in the life of the duo. I’ll be back for at least the next issue.
Swamp Thing #1 – Scott Snyder (script), Yanick Paquette (art)
Five stars out of Five
The other standout this week, Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing has been eagerly awaited by many. Snyder is kind of the “it” boy at the moment, coming off a successful run on Detective Comics and currently the writer of the acclaimed American Vampire. Hey, he was even the focus of a New York Times article! Well, Snyder does not disappoint here. Firmly bringing Swamp Thing back into the DCU, we read about Alec Holland and his attempt to re-integrate his life back into society, now that he is no longer part of the Swamp Thing. (Or was he ever, really?)
There is not a lot of “action” in this issue, but rather a quiet look at Alec’s life, with a slow buildup to the inevitable meeting between Holland and the Swamp Thing. We get a side journey out to New Mexico, where Snyder gives us a rather horrifying plot of some kind of evil entity that takes over humans using flies as agents (incredibly disturbing and nasty on paper). We also get a nice dialog between Superman and Holland, as the Man of Steel tries to convince Holland that Holland’s time in the Green meant something and that he needs to work on getting his life back to the way it was before the accident that sent him burning into the swamp.
Snyder is obviously building on past tales of Swamp Thing, and not retconning it. With Alec Holland we get an obvious nod to the original Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson stories, and Snyder even drops a reference to Abby Holland. I have a feeling, however, that Snyder will develop Swamp Thing into his own vision of what the swamp monster should be, and that will be, I’m sure, something wondrously weird and wicked.
The art by Paquette is simply wonderful, and he puts into his art the various intricacies and oddities of Snyder’s imagination. Paquette also throws in a nod to the classic Alan Moore era artist, John Totleben, near the end of the book, which was a nice homage.
I have been waiting for this book, and it did not disappoint. As long as Snyder writes this title, I’m all in.
Ok, so that’s the first week’s reviews. Leave me some comments below, or on Facebook. I know everyone has different takes on these books, so I am interested in hearing your opinion, too. Overall, I’m thrilled at the quality of the books that came out this week, both in story and art. Even those that ranked the lowest were good books, just not outstanding compared to the standouts. It will be interesting to see if DC can match this in the next three weeks, and maintain such high quality for the time being. Very excited about this relaunch, and I hope others are getting on board to read some great stories. See you all next week.