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DC 51 Week Four, Part Two - Racing with the Flash to the Finish Line (FIXED)

Here it is, the final part of the four week tour through the new DCU.  And while I’ve never run a marathon, I can only imagine this is how a runner feels after the 25th mile of the run: it’s been like a massive endurance test but I… just… have… to… make… it… across… that… line.

And the conclusion, as it moves reverse alphabetically to the very end (just like running a race backwards)…

 

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 is yet another new book that manages to screw up the whole idea of a re-launch.

The primary problem with this comic is the fact that the story starts with a flashback that doesn’t reveal that it’s a flashback until it’s seven pages into the book.  So what seems like a shocking and amazing beginning actually took place years ago and simply retells how Kyle Rayner got his ring.  Initially the comic seems to open with a “Wow!! What the hell has happened?!?  This is crazy!!!” moment that is then utterly deflated when it’s revealed that the events took place before “The Present Day”.  The flashback doesn’t even explain if Hal Jordan went all Parallax-y in this new universe or what caused these events in the past – it just re-hashes the story of how Kyle became a hero.

This un-announced flashback wouldn’t be such a horrible sin if it served some sort of function in the comic, but it fails to add anything new to Kyle’s origin and does not serve any purpose in this particular issue.  The only thing the flashback succeeds in doing is robbing the main story of seven pages.  It is not a great start for the comic.

As for the other “new guardians” of the title, they are introduced as jaw-clenching, spandex-clad one-note characters that go by professional wrestler names such as “Fatality” and “Bleez”.  Their most distinguishing characteristics: Fatality is a Violet Lantern/Star Sapphire who always displays her large breasts, while Bleez is a Red Lantern who always shows the reader her oh-so-very shapely butt.

To summarize: pointless recap of the hero’s origin; Star Sapphire’s breasts, Red Lantern’s butt and a story about stolen Lantern rings that is a re-hash of what was previously done in the Blackest Night saga.

This comic, like the other three books in the Green Lantern family, lacks focus or purpose.  The books aren’t inter-connected at this time but they all read like that they should be and they’re doing their best to resist that almost magnetic temptation (You can almost hear the books collective plea, “Must… resist.. the crossover.  Got to… stand… on my own.”)

Geoff Johns might have a masterplan for all the various Green Lantern books, but until that intergalactic emergency reveals itself, all four comics look poised to just meander for a while.

 

The Fury of Firestorm takes the single best aspect of the character — the fact that two human beings with completely different personalities have to combine in order to make one hero — and jettisons the premise for the notion that two characters can turn into two heroes who can then combine into one bigger hero.

And I simply don’t understand why the change was made.  Why ditch the original concept just to create two identical heroes with (apparently) the same name?  It’s not like the idea was improved upon.  It’s just been changed for the sake of change.  Maybe this is all part of a grand design, but after this first issue it just seems to be tinkering with a concept for no reason.

But even if this is only Step One in the character’s journey, it’s difficult to enjoy a story that has part of its focus on teenage angst and a jock arguing with a bookworm, while elsewhere in the book a family is murdered, a man is tortured and a high school coach is killed in front of his students.  The distance between ‘jock vs. bookworm’ and ‘terrorists slaughtering innocent victims’ is huge and The Fury of Firestorm doesn’t show how the two can possibly exist in the same book.

Artist Francis Manapul takes over the writing duties with Brian Buccellatto for The Flash and, after reading a ton of books that have been filled with torture, T&A and mindless murders, this comic is a breath of fresh air.

Barry Allen is back as a younger, less experienced hero and the first issue does a good job of presenting  him (in Geoff Johns style) as new and yet familiar.  He’s still a scientist, still in Central City, but to the creators’ credit, he isn’t doing battle with his traditional Rogues Gallery of villains (well, at least not in this first issue).

This is in striking contrast to three of the four Batman books which between them made sure that every possible villain made an appearance.  Manapul and Buccellato deserve praise for crafting a solid first issue without using the old, familiar bad guys as a crutch for their story.

My only complaint: Barry and his wife, Iris, had one of the strongest relationships in the old DC Universe.  He battled time, the speed force and death itself to be re-united with her.  It’s disappointing to realize all of that has been shoved aside just so he can be single and date different young women.  Perhaps it’s silly on my part, but I hope the creators have plans to get the two characters together again.  But perhaps that’s just me, because otherwise this was a strong start for the speedster.

 

Blackhawks #1 suffers the same problem as Men of War:  it’s almost impossible to do an action/war comic in a universe overflowing with superheroes.

With Blackhawks it seems that there is a desire to create a S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent in the new DCU but it’s difficult to imagine what their role is in a world where everyone seems to be invulnerable to bullets, can shoot lasers out of their eyes or is so rich that they inspire and finance followers around the globe.  And it’s especially difficult to suspend disbelief when the Blackhawks are supposed to be a super-secret special ops unit that chooses to plaster its Blackhawks insignia on all of its uniforms, planes and helicopters. 

The old Blackhawks concept with its international cast of soldiers could make for an great updated story with a sense of intrigue, mystery and danger.  But this update sure isn’t the one anybody’s been waiting for.

 

The fourth Batman book, The Dark Knight, isn’t the weakest of the Batman bunch but it does seem strangely redundant.

In this book Bruce Wayne makes a speech to the ultra-rich elite of Gotham City (just like he did in Batman #1), there’s a riot and escape attempt at Arkham (again, just like in Batman #1) and the final splash page of the comic has a huge reveal about one of the hero’s greatest villains (just like in Detective Comics #1).

Uniquely and bizarrely, there is a one-panel appearance of a woman in a bunny costume whose super-power seems to be the ability to dodge bullets as she flashes her luscious derriere at Batman and various members of the police department.  The police don’t recognize her and Batman says something like “She shouldn’t be here.”  No one can believe what they’ve just seen:  it’s as if the buxom bunny character is like the giant rabbit in the movie “Harvey” but with a much nicer, sexier butt.

The Dark Knight therefore combines the worst aspect of the various Green Lantern books (and their relentless fascination with a woman’s shapely posterior) with some of the best and the worst story elements from the other, recently published Batman stories.

Maybe this issue could be forgiven for its redundancies if those comics hadn’t all been published within the past three weeks,.  But I can’t help but wonder why the book’s editor, Mike Marts, didn’t speak to one of the creative teams and say, “Umm, guys, I’ve got a story with a lot of similarities to this in one of the other books.  Do you have any other ideas and maybe we can just shelf this one until later?”  After all, isn’t that what a group editor is supposed to do?

Because right now, only one month into the re-launch, the four Batman books are already suffering from a “been there, done that” lack of originality.

 

Before being made DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns was the company’s go-to guy when it came to revamping and re-invigorating old, tired heroes.

Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were all transformed by his particular style which combines nostalgia with a kind of ‘new car smell’.  He takes the character back to his basics and yet somehow makes him seem fresh and vital.

If he was in marketing he would brand his product as “new, improved and classic.”

And now, by turning his attention towards Aquaman and doing the voodoo he does so well, Johns’ immediately elevates the character’s status from the minors to the big league.  Aquaman instantly becomes a book that, deservedly or not, fans are interested in. 

But having said all that, does it work?

The first issue certainly establishes Aquaman’s role in this new DCU.  He is perceived by the public as being more alien than Superman:  he’s the guy who lives in the ocean, talks to fish and is the king a country of a mythical undersea country that no one believes exists.

He is also the only DC character that, in the new 52, has managed to keep his marriage intact.  Clark and Barry lost Lois and Iris, but after the events in Brightest Day, Aquaman has been allowed to keep Mera.  Their interaction in this issue, while brief, indicates that story will be as much about them as the menaces they battle.

In just one issue Johns and artist Ivan Reis manage to make Aquaman majestic and interesting.  And the character has been given the best aspects of Superman and The Flash before their reboots: integrity, experience and a strong marriage.  In other words, Aquaman is one of the few adults in the new DC Universe and that maturity (it’s kind of sad to note) makes the hero very unique among these re-launched characters.

 

 

And the marathon run finally comes to the final book, All Star Western, a comic I wanted to like a bit more than I did, but one that I will still keep reading.

 

The series that took place before the re-launch, Jonah Hex, was a great comic in the old-fashioned “one and done” tradition.  Each issue (with the occasional multi-issue story) told the tale of a man who would ride into town, get into trouble and then, usually after a lot of shooting and killing, he would ride away.  The stories could jump to different parts of his life without a need to explain when it took place and how he got there.  He was Jonah Hex: wherever he went, trouble couldn’t be far behind.

 

But it appears this new book is going to settle Hex in the old wild west days of Gotham City, complete with the ancestors of The Penguin and other characters.  So rather than being a dangerous and unpredictable force of good/evil/indifference, Hex will become a known commodity and maybe even a common citizen.

 

I trust writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with the character, but I do worry about this new concept.  The first issue, with Hex riding into town and staying because of the “This time it’s personal” conceit doesn’t fill me with confidence.  But as I said, Palmiotti and Gray have done brilliant things with the character before, so I’m sticking around.

 

Having said that, if Hex becomes the sheriff of Gotham City, I’m exiting faster than a vulture plucks the eyes out of a dead man.

—Kevin Pasquino 

DC 51 Week Four, Part One - Vampires, Strippers & Teenagers, Too!

The final week.  Every DC Universe #1 that’s been published.  The good, the bad and the embarrassingly ugly.  And to help with the process it’s all going to be reverse alphabetical order.  So for Zachary, Zoe and all of the Zoological experts out there… this reverse alphabetical journey is for you.

For all of the justified hatred and disappointment brought about by Catwoman and Red Hood, I was expecting to hate the hell out of Voodoo.  And yet I found it mostly tolerable.

Yes-yes, that’s faint praise but this book should have been horrible beyond words: it’s set in a strip joint with the main character being a super-powered exotic dancer.  A couple of secret agents have been observing her (get it? – ‘observing her’ because she works in a strip joint!  They’re keeping their eyes on her!  That’s hard work!  Get it? – ‘hard work’!!!   Cuz, like, they’re in a strip joint, so it’s got to be HARD and… okay, you get the point).

So these two secret agents have to watch her because they suspect she’s an alien and perhaps she’s dangerous and, oh, did I mention that the whole story is set in a strip joint?  So there’s lots of semi-naked cheesecake artwork that always shows a lot but is careful never to show too much.  Therefore there is lots and lots of cleavage but never a nipple to be seen.    Obviously it’s okay to show boobs, buns, g-strings and lots of bras falling to the floor, but show a nipple? – Well, that’s just crazy talk

And yet, having said all of that, for some reason I didn’t find Voodoo anywhere near as offensive as the two previously mentioned fanboy sexfests because at least this story makes sense.  The question perhaps should have been posed within the DC brain trust as to whether one of its new 52 books should be set in a strip joint. – “Oh hell no,” would have been the correct response.  It’s a ludicrous idea and indicates that the company has no idea what its new audience should be. 

After all, this comic is nothing more than a Wildstorm/new DC version of the horrible idea that was Stan Lee’s epic Stripperella .  And because it’s one of the few books that headlines a female characters, it’s doubly disappointing that she’s an exotic dancer.  It perpetuates the notion that comic book fans are all man-boys who expect heroines to be bimbos who will drop their clothes whenever they need to and especially if they’re being paid to do so.

So it’s not that the book is bad because in fact it’s consistent and true to its premise.  It’s just too bad that DC thought that this book was a good idea.

Writer Scott Lobdell is back with Teen Titans #1 and once again he’s been given license to do whatever he wants with the characters.  Tim Drake, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and Superboy – he’s been given a long leash to revamp the heroes as he sees fit. 

So in this story some bad guys have tracked down Tim Drake, but it appears that he was never adopted by Bruce Wayne in this new universe because otherwise the villains would know Batman’s secret identity.  A news report says Kid Flash has no relation to The Flash, so he might be Wally West or Bart Allen or he might be someone new.  And Wonder Girl, while incredibly powerful, initially feigns weakness, then destroys a bunch of helicopters and, in her last appearance in the comic, pouts a lot.

The book’s conclusion ties in with Superboy and it appears that the two comics will intertwine with one another.  Unfortunately this issue is nothing more than a “we’re getting the band together” story with not enough of a hook to pull me into the next issue.  The climax is the exact same as in Superboy #1 and that just strikes me as being lazy writing.  Lobdell’s stock took a nosedive with Red Hood and the Outlaws and this book isn’t strong enough for me to be interested in anything else he has to say.

After reading Superman #1 it becomes apparent that DC does not know what to do with its oldest and arguably most iconic superhero.

In comparison, Batman looks to easy: he’s a violent Dark Knight with an incredible supporting cast and a great range of villains.  There are four books starring Batman and at least five books that headline members of the Bat-family.  But Superman stars in only two books while a girl and a boy are in charge of the other Super-comics.

Superman is supposed to be the hero that inspires every other hero’s existence in this new DCU, but there is confusion as to how strong the Man of Steel is supposed to be – both literally and figuratively.  In this issue Jimmy Olsen comments how Superman seems to be getting even more powerful than he previously was, as if his powers are in flux and still expanding.  So how super is Superman?  And why should that be treated like it’s a mystery that needs to be solved?  Does the character have to be a man of mystery in order to be interesting?

The other problem with Superman is that his creators simply do not know what to do with him.  Geoff Johns seemed to have a strong handle on the character, but everyone else wants to send him into outer space or ground him.  In this massively revamped book he no longer has Lois in his life and he acts like he’s a loner without any friends.  He doesn’t act like the kind of man who could inspire anyone.  Instead, he’s an alienated twenty-something who is desperately trying to find his place in his universe. 

And while that might be an interesting concept for a comic book like Superboy or Supergirl, it’s shouldn’t be Superman.

The Savage Hawkman #1 stars Carter Hall and reading the comic reminds me what a mess DC has made with a bunch of its books in recent years.

Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman have all had their origins erased, retold and fine-tuned to the point that that the fans all agree to subject themselves to a case of mass hypnosis.  Everyone nods their heads obediently and abandons the past like it never happened and then merrily embrace the new next best thing.

So this Hawkman is a character who is an archeologist who maybe has nothing to do with Thanagar or maybe he’s the reincarnation of an ancient hero with some alien power and maybe he’ll eventually have a girl friend who is Hawkgirl, but probably not because he’s a hero and heroes have attachments, and the Nth Metal acts like it’s Doctor Fate’s helmet or Jaime’s beetle from Blue Beetle so maybe it’s an ancient power or maybe it’s a futuristic power.  But after reading this issue it could be all of the above or, six months from now, none of the above.

In other words: Hawkman is still a mess. 

The next two books take place in the so-called Dark Corner of the DC universe.  And while both comics work to varying degrees of success, it’s a shame that they both have been mandated to blatantly acknowledge the universe that they share with all of the spandex clad do-gooders.

Therefore it’s not enough that Justice League Dark and I, Vampire take place in this new shiny universe, they also have to feature appearances by some mainstream heroes or, as in the case of I, Vampire, name drop a reference to some characters who don’t even bother to make an appearance.  So Batman appears helpless in one book in order to justify the” Justice League Dark” label, while in the other book the title character warns a fellow vampire that she won’t stand a chance against Superman, a half-dozen Green Lanterns and Wonder Woman.

Writer Peter Milligan gets a great cast of characters to play with in Justice League Dark and his work is so strong over in Vertigo’s Hellblazer that I suspect he will spin a terrific magic-based  story as he builds upon this issue.  Much like Teen Titans, this book is also an exercise in gathering all of the characters to form some kind of super-team, but with “heroes” such as Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine in the book, he won’t be tied to another comic’s continuity or another group editor’s whims.  So there’s a good chance that Milligan will be able to do what he wants to do with his team.  And that will be something worth reading.

I, Vampire is obviously intended to be a teasing temptation to the whole Twilight fanbase and it has some incredible Jae Lee-like artwork.  The book has echoes of the British show Being Human with vampires battling vampires with the world as their battlefield.  There’s even a scene that has a swarm of vampires (or is that perhaps a “murder of vampires”?) killing everyone on a subway car that illustrates how bloody the book will be.  It promises to be fascinating and powerful stuff. 

But the book will lose all of its credibility when Batman or Superman makes an appearance which, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable.  Because a hero should start poking around once that subway car is discovered, filled with dead passengers who have had their throats ripped out and have been drained of all their blood.  And when one of those heroes makes his inevitable entrance, the whole book will be deader than a vampire being stabbed with a garlic-soaked stake on a hot summer day.

—Kevin Pasquino

DC Week Three – Birds, Bats and (thankfully) Some Wonder

To be honest, DC almost beat me to the ground with their insulting Catwoman / Red Hood and the Outlaws combo punch to my four-color inner faith, but the rest of the books for this week couldn’t be that bad, could they?  Could they?!?

Well, thankfully, the answer is no.  So in UPC order…

Supergirl #1 manages to be a pretty good start to the series but having said that it feels wafer thin.  Supergirl crashes to Earth, fights a bunch of guys who are wearing armor and her cousin arrives on the scene.  The End.

But as thin as the story was, it does manage to capture the confusion and fright that this young alien feels as she arrives on a strange planet and finds herself with all these amazing powers.  Hopefully her origin has been well thought out, because in recent years Supergirl has had more reboots than the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Hopefully this one will stick.

Ahh Wonder Woman.  Ahhhh Cliff Chiang.

Writer Brian Azzarello does a great job of introducing Wonder Woman because he assumes, rightfully, that we know who she is.  She’s tall, she’s an Amazon and she’s got some connections to the Greek Gods.  Anything else (and anything that’s been changed, enhanced or modified) about the character doesn’t need to be established this issue because, as I said, she’s Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #1 is a strange book because not only does it read better the second time, it almost demands a second reading.  Azzarello expects the reader to keep up with the story and if you don’t know who the weird guy is on page one, well you can re-read the issue and it will all come together.  And after comic after comic that spoon-feeds everything about the characters, his style is refreshing.

As for artist Cliff Chiang – his stuff is simply gorgeous.  Some people aren’t huge fans of his art and I don’t know what they’re not seeing.  The Wonder Woman he draws conveys compassion, power and strength.  He even manages to make a nude Princess Diana appear majestic and powerful rather than the bimbo-ized and lobotomized cheesecake we had to endure with Catwoman and Starfire.  Diana is nude in bed because she’s an Amazon; Catwoman has her breasts exploding from beneath her costume because the creators didn’t know what else to do with the character.

Wonder Woman and Batwoman don’t make up for the awfulness of Catwoman and Red Hood, but at least they have characters that are strong and intelligent rather than the awful wish-fulfillment fantasies of the latter two books.  If Wonder Woman could now lose the ridiculous (and probably Jim Lee mandated) necklace/choker/WW thing around her neck – that would be a good thing. 

DC Universe Presents #1 is the awkwardly named anthology series that will have mini-series after mini-series featuring a character not quite strong enough for their own on-going book.  This issue presents Deadman and while there is some really good stuff going on, it fails in one aspect.

Boston Brand is back as Deadman and the issue explains what a wretched human being he was while he was alive and how he is given a chance to redeem himself.  The part of the book that deals with him meeting with ‘god’ is powerful and moving as he is shown how his soul teeters on the edge, but there is an opportunity for him to redeem himself.

The problem is this: it’s never made clear what Deadman is doing now that he’s back and temporarily taking possession of the living’s bodies.  The old series had Deadman trying to find his killer and then he would pop around the DC Universe as a guide or to help some hero out.  Most recently he had a starring role in Brightest Day that had him alive and then dead again.

But now that he’s back to being just plain old hopping-from-body-to-body Deadman, we have no idea what purpose he has.  This issue is just intriguing enough that I’m curious to see where it goes, but hopefully the next issue will show us where the character is heading.  The concept of Deadman has always been great, but they need to show why the character matters, otherwise he’ll always remain a secondary, background hero.

Batman #1 is what a good Batman comic should be: a fight scene or two, some interaction with Alfred and the other cast members, a sense that Bruce Wayne is on the cutting edge of technology and that Batman is always twenty steps ahead of everyone else. 

Scott Snyder proved that he could handle the character (even when it was only Dick Grayson) in Detective Comics and his transition (and graduation?) to Bruce Wayne is flawless.

The artwork by Greg Capullo is a bit of a mixed bag: utterly gorgeous at times (his depiction of the villains in Arkham and, later, a double-page spread of the Batcave are stunning with one being monstrous and the other feeling huge and isolated), but confusing at other times (the heights of Dick, Tim and Damian seem wildly out of proportion, and a mayoral candidate could be Bruce Wayne’s double if it wasn’t for a slightly different hairstyle and a difference in the ties they’re wearing).

But it’s a very promising start to the series.  And, yes, this Batman once again has the police co-operating with him, which again makes me wonder what went wrong with Detective Comics.  But since I’m quite happy to forget that comic, it makes the quality of Batman #1 even more enjoyable.

Birds of Prey #1 is, like a lot of the new DC books, filled to the brim with our heroes exposition-ing their way through the entire issue.  The book serves as a nice introduction to Black Canary (who is obviously not married to Green Arrow anymore because he would look like a child next to her—but having said that, I shouldn’t give DC any ideas for their next spin of the wheel for the unlucky winner of “Who’s the next heroine we can turn into a busty, bra-breaking bimbo”?)

Unfortunately because the issue focuses so much on establishing a backstory for Black Canary, the other characters are left out in the cold and, for instance, there is no attempt to explain who this Starling character is.  I’m sure if I read the previous books or if I searched around the internet I could find out, but the point of these books is to introduce and then pull new readers into the stories.  There’s no mystery about Starling, she’s just never explained. 

Put it this way: I’ll happily hop on-line to enrich my reading of a Grant Morrison book because that’s part of the reading experience with his works.  But I don’t feel inclined to do so with Birds of Prey because I don’t think it will add anything to the story, it will just clarify something that the writer didn’t bother to explain.

And the final book of the UPC-guided week is Green Lantern Corps #1.  And you can tell this book belongs in the Geoff Johns corner of the universe because a couple of Green Lanterns are slaughtered in the first three pages of the book: one character has her head cut off one character while the other is sliced in half.

There was once a time when the death of two members of the Corps, even two obscure Lanterns on the edge of nowhere, would be a cause for alarm and a signal would be sent across the galaxy for everyone to hunt down the killer. 

But in this book the murders occur early in the story, and then the rest of the issue has Guy Gardner and John Stewart moaning about how tough it is for them to lead normal lives (a theme that was echoed by Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #1).  It then isn’t until the last four pages of the book that anyone seems to care that someone is wiping out members of the Green Lantern Corps and the characters finally spring into action to find out what’s happened.  All of this paced for the climatic, final page where the body count just mounts and mounts and mounts.

Under Geoff Johns’ guidance, the various Green Lantern books have become more and more morbid, as if there isn’t any drama in the story unless someone gets a hand sliced off or a Red Lantern is vomiting on someone or an entire planet is wiped out solely for the purpose of leaving the Green Lanterns a message.  The books are teetering on the edge of becoming parodies of themselves as each death, slaughter or maiming has to top the one before it.  And considering the fact that one of the books is populated with characters that puke red energy onto their victims, the slide towards utter and inescapable farce doesn’t seem that far away.

Since the various Green Lantern books are a cornerstone of the new DC (with four books being published), I’m not sure if self-parody is what they’re hoping to achieve, but I believe that they’re just a vomiting budgie away from being there.

—Kevin Pasquino

DC 51 Week Three, Part One - Leave My Sex Kitten Alone

With Week Three of the new DCU I decided to once again stick with the random generator method: Week One was alphabetical by title and Week Two was alphabetical by writer.  And now with Week Three I’ve allowed the mysterious and unfathomable UPC Code to be my shepherd – and what a cruel guide the code is turning out to be.  It wasn’t until the sixth book that I finally got to a title that I had previously been interested in (talk about eating everything on your plate before you get to your dessert!).  And then the dessert I had been waiting for turns out to be a disappointment.

In UPC order…

What little I know of the Blue Beetle character has been gathered from TV’s “Brave and the Bold”: he’s a young Hispanic kid who has some sort of super-armor that he can talk to and can only somewhat control.  I remember reading the first issue of the series when it came out after Ted Kord got killed, but besides that, the character is relatively new to me.

What I didn’t realize when reading Blue Beetle #1 is that this new issue is a re-launch of the character. As I was reading, I thought Jaime was already a superhero.  There was no reason for me to think he wasn’t all-powered up, but upon reflection, there was also no reason to think he already had the armor.  It made for a very strange bit of miscommunication and the last two pages made me re-examine the whole issue – not because of an amazing, shocking revelation, but because I had read the whole book wrong.

I like the character of Jaime quite a bit, but I can see a younger reader enjoying the book a lot more that I did.  He’s a good kid, he doesn’t quite get along with his parents but he loves them, there’s a bully at school, he likes a girl who maybe likes him, etc. etc.  It’s very Peter Parker-esque in its approach and that’s not a bad thing. 

One thing did bother me:  there’s an editor’s note that reads “*Translated from the Spanglish” when Jaime is talking with his parents.  And that makes perfect sense because they would be talking in a blend of Spanish and English in their home.  But then the book doesn’t do the actual translation!  There’s some dialogue that reads “Pero mami,PORQUE?” as if would give the book more verisimilitude.   And I would go with the flow and try to figure it out from the context if that editor’s note wasn’t there, but if they’re going to translate some of it, they should translate all of it?

It’s strange, but flipping through the issue again, I’m actually tempted to buy the next issue.  Or to put it another way, I wouldn’t mind re-reading this issue and giving it another shot.  And that’s more than I can say for a lot of books in the new DCU.

 

Very briefly for Captain Atom #1:  for some reason the character has a flaming Mohawk for a haircut.  The entire book is narrated through captions of what he’s thinking.  My UPC guide is making me read four books in a row with the same narrative style.  Apparently the UPC code hates me.  Oh and Captain Atom might blow up because he’s absorbed too much energy.  This seems to happen in every Captain Atom story I’ve ever read before.  And now I’ll never know if he really does blow up because there’s no way I’m going to read another issue of this bland book.

 

Before we dive into the book itself, the cover of Catwoman #1 should be examined.

Selina is outside of a tall building, reclining on a gargoyle-type creature.  Her top is unzipped because obviously her magnificent breasts have forced their way free, her goggles are lying beside her looking like a bra that’s been cast aside and she’s pouring diamonds over herself out of a tiny sack that looks like a blue sausage casing.  And the spilled, shiny diamonds (which must be glass because she is letting them fall to the earth) look like a special kind of pearl necklace that is cascading over her already-mentioned breasts.

Honest, I wish I was making all of that stuff up.

As for the issue itself gone are the days of class and style that writer Ed Brubaker and artists Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart and others brought to the book.  Selina is now a smoking hot hottie in the new DCU.  She is no longer a dignified and seductive sex kitten; instead she’s a full-grown, in-your-face-with-her-huge-breasts prowling cougar.  On top of that, she’s also a thief, a vicious and cruel thug,  and a semi-psycho more than willing to use her Wolverine-like fingernails to slash at any man who gets in her way.  And did I mention that she has huge breasts that she is more than willing to put on display over and over again.

As for a relationship that Grant Morrison subtly hinted at in Batman Inc – well, in the new DCU it’s just full tilt hardcore Bat and Cat cosplay action.  Discretion is for wimps!  Just show them doing it!  Give the fans what they want!  As Selina so loving narrates, “And most of the costumes stay on.” 

The conclusion of Catwoman #1 is a five page Tijuana Bible parody of a porno fanfic wankfest.  If anyone besides DC Comics had published this book, they would have sued them for abuse of trademarked characters.  As is, it would probably fall under the parody and satire rule. I am truly hoping that there is a bizarre explanation that will eventually reveal that it’s not Bruce Wayne under the cowl.  Otherwise I’m hoping it’s just a bad dream that some frustrated sixteen year old somehow slipped into my mind.

Besides, it can’t be Bruce Wayne because Selina tells us “Still… it doesn’t take long…” and we all know from Grant Morrison that Batman is a “hairy chested sex god” and this fake Batman-guy is apparently a quick shooter and …

… Oh I give up. Ed Brubaker must be laughing his ass off over at Marvel Comics and Darwyn Cooke must be just shaking his head with a “Why the hell would they do that?” kind of exasperation.  Brubaker, Cooke & company gave Selina some style. And writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March has flushed it all away. Catwoman #1 is an embarrassment and the worst book so far from the new 52. 

 

Nightwing #1 takes Dick Grayson out of the bat-suit and back to his previous superhero incarnation. 

The thing is this: I really enjoyed him as Batman.  The relationship between him, Damian, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne was an interesting and evolving dynamic that gave the bat-books some new life.

Writer Kyle Higgins will have to do some work when it comes to capturing the inner process of Dick’s thoughts combined with his dialogue and what’s happening in the story itself.  There is a horribly mis-drawn sequence when two police officers are viciously killed by a villain and Nightwing’s response is “You tell me what this is about and I only break your little claws.  And your jaw.” And as I read that I was thinking, ‘Hey Nightwing, did you not notice that he just murdered two police officers?  Cuz he just slaughtered them in front of you.  Why are you being all funny about it?”

So either Higgins didn’t see Eddy Barrows final art, Barrows didn’t follow Higgins’ script or editor Bobbie Chase wasn’t paying attention to the final product.  And it they didn’t care enough to check it, I don’t think I care enough to read the next issue.

 

DC is certainly trying to tie Red Hood and the Outlaws into the Batman-books because the ‘oo’ of ‘Hood’ has a bat emblem in the title logo.  That’s because Jason Todd is the Red Hood and he used to be Robin and even though he could’ve (and probably should have) been written out of continuity in the new universe, someone at DC must like him because he’s now the star of a new book.

And someone must also really like Scott Lobdell because he’s been given this book as well as two others to play with.  He’s also been allowed to de-psycho Red Hood, detox Roy Harper and completely lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire.  

I mean completely and utterly lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire.  She is now so alien that all humans look alike and they are forgettable and interchangeable.  She’s so alien that she will walk up to someone and say “Do you want to have sex with me?” So at least they’re compatible with her sexual needs. 

Remember back with Catwoman #1 when I mentioned the porno fanfic wankfest sexual fantasy Tijuana Bible mess that the issue concluded with? – Well, at least this time it happens just nine pages into this comic.  I guess that counts for something. 

If Starfire once had some kind of alien, warrior pride, it’s all been shoved aside for a whole lot of T&A.  The logic must be that character development is all well and good, but it will always be trumped by big orange breasts. As for me, I’m just going to choose to remember her flying in outer space with Adam Strange and Animal Man in 52.  Because her portrayal in this book is not the way I want to think of the character. Maybe like Batman in Catwoman #1, Starfire is just some bizarre doppelganger who pretends to be a hero in order to get sex.  I can hope.

 (Oh and take a glance at that cover.  Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire are rushing into battle and Starfire is ramming her breasts into the back of Roy’s head.  Or maybe she’s just using his quiver as a breast-rest.  So I’m not sure which book is more of a big breast extravaganza, Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws, but to be honest I’m not willing to re-read either of them in order to find out.)

And now, finally, the UPC guide finally takes me to a book I have been looking forward to.  And I find myself… saddened.

Not that I was expecting a lot from Legion of Super-Heroes #1 but I was hoping the book would have taken the opportunity to course-correct itself.  Because recently I’ve lowered my expectations with this book and I find myself buying it just because, well, it’s a book I’ve always collected.  The recent Paul Levitz Legion series and the almost incoherent Adventure Comics were near-total shipwrecks.  So with the new DCU I was hoping the book would be able to turn itself around.

Unfortunately, just like Green Lantern, this book has not been re-booted.  It picks up exactly where the old series left off.  And I read that old series.  And I’m a fan.  And I have honestly forgotten all about it.  Can’t remember anything except Mon-El was a Green Lantern and then he wasn’t.  I was happy to leave the series behind me and move on.  Instead, this issue Number One picks up on the plot threads that lost me and I didn’t care about in the old series.

As a matter of fact this book reads as if someone forgot to cc Paul Levitz on the company-wide memo and then no one wanted to admit the mistake.  The whole universe rebooted and everyone forgot to inform the former president about the changes.

 

The sad thing is that this book will never attract new readers if Paul Levitz continues to write it.  The book is now so insular that no one but long-time readers will be able to decipher what’s going on.  For instance, someone named Oaa has recently died and a bunch of Legionnaires are devastated by the loss, but who this Oaa person is or what they did is never explained. And that is just one of many in-continuity references that make the book impossible for a new reader.

The sad fact is that I’ve been reading the book for years and even I can’t make sense of it anymore. For a   comic that is part of a company-wide re-launch and that is hoping to attract new readers, this issue is a brutal blunder.

—Kevin Pasquino

DC 51 Week Two, Part Three - Not so Terrific or Super and a little bit Lost

The last portion of the alphabetical writer tour of Week Two comes to its conclusion with some mild enthusiasm, a superhero the way he should be done and the end of a habit that’s lasted over 30 years.

Writer Scott Lobdell has three books coming out this month from the new DCU and he seems to have been given his own little corner to play in because he’s going to be responsible for the various Titan-esque characters that don’t have a connection to the main Bat-books.  So his new comics are Teen Titans, the awkwardly entitled Red Hood and the Outlaws and this week’s Superboy.

Superboy #1 is a continuation of the Kon-el/Connor Kent version of Superboy, not the ‘Superman as a boy’ concept that probably doesn’t exist in this continuity.  A little research shows that the clone version of Superboy has been around for almost 20 years which I found quite surprsing. And if you want a glimpse of bad haircuts and horrible costume design through the years, please feel free to do an image search for the character – it is a scary trip down 20 years of bad fashion memory lane.

This series starts with the captions “They call me Superboy.  I have no idea why” as the clone then proceeds to narrate the entire issue from inside a huge life-size test tube.  And then, on page two of the book, one of the head scientists utters the first words in the story with this snappy bit of dialogue, “But at least wait for the results of the C Stem scan and tri-phasial bioplasty. The nanoplants injected into his limbic cortex…”

Now, what that scientist is saying might actually mean something in a “I’m so smart that no one in the real world could ever understand me because that’s how really super smart I truly am” but as a reader making his way into page two of a comic book, it’s like stomping through deep, cold mud: as hard as you try to move forward, you still get bogged down, get annoyed and get stuck when all you really want to do is just move on.

The whole book tries really hard to make the scientific gobbledy-gook sound interesting, but it’s really nothing more than over-written mumbo-jumbo.  The main character in the comic is supposed to be Superboy, but instead issue #1 of the new series focuses on some red-haired scientist who maybe feels guilty about the teenager in the test tube, or maybe is attracted to him, or maybe is just so smart that she always pouts a lot.  For a better take on a very similar scientific character, Grant Morrison’s WE3 is the book that gets it right.

But the biggest problem with Superboy #1 is that everything in this entire issue could have been done in five pages.  He’s in a test tube, he’s a “trans-terrestrial clone, the first-ever fusion of Kryptonian and human DNA” and some super-secret and probably evil organization has created him.  Fine.  Got it.  Let’s move on with the story.  But no, the whole issue drags out the concept until a final splash page that acts as a teaser for one of Lobdell’s other upcoming comics.  And considering how Superboy is going to be center-stage in that book, this issue reads like an unnecessary prelude to something that is going to amount to nothing more than another embarrassing image search in years to come.

The next book comes with a confession: I have been reading the various incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes for a very long time.  A very, very, very long time.  Just as many science fiction fans have their favorite Doctor (mine would be Tom Baker, although I do admit I’m loving Matt Smith’s portrayal of the character), my Legion of Super-Heroes will always be by Dave Cockrum.

Yes, that’s how long I’ve been reading the series.  Dave Cockrum drew my Legion.  But as for the Legion of today…

Writer Fabian Nicieza has been given the unenviable task of taking a handful of the Legionnaires back to current DC continuity.  And I have to admit that this has always puzzled me – why do these books have to be so ‘now-centric ‘that the future always has to come back to our time period? These characters are from the 31st Century.  Didn’t anything interesting happen in the next 10,000 years?  I understand the marketing appeal and the fact there can be a Justice League/Teen Titans/Legion crossover, but it just seems ridiculous to have a series set in the future to be so incredibly tethered to our present.

Regardless of my time travel quibbles, Legion Lost does indeed bring a bunch of futuristic super-heroes back to the 21st Century where they’ll probably have to go undercover and try not to destroy the time vortex, step on a butterfly, or interact with the present timestream because that would risking destroying their future, create a time disruption and cause dinosaurs to once again rule the universe, etc. etc. etc.

But the thing is this:  this has all been done before. As far back as the 1970s with Karate Kid, up to Star Man in the latest incarnation of JSA, and also for a period in the late ‘90s when a bunch of Legionnaires were stranded in the 20th Century, fought beside the Metal Men and were around for the company-wide The Final Night event.  For a bunch of superheroes living in the future, all of this has been done in the past.

As much as I love the Legion, I don’t care about this book.  I will probably buy the Secret Origins mini-series that is being written by Paul Levitz (and oh it is a horrible realization that I am such a fanboy/sucker that I publicly admit I’m going to buy yet another re-telling of the group’s origin) and I’m definitely going to be there for the Legion/Star Trek book that’s coming out.  So I’m still there for the Legion, but this book has lost me.

Peter J. Tomasi manages to write a Batman book that I would happily continue to read as I turn my back on Detective Comics.  One of my favorite parts of Batman and Robin #1 harkens back to something I remember Greg Rucka saying while he was on a comic book panel about the character: Batman should be over the death of his parents and he is now fighting crime not because of vengeance but because that is what he does – because he’s Batman.

The dynamics between the Dynamic Duo of Bruce Wayne and Damian might get a little tiresome as the series continues (I think the relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian had a lot more potential) but at least this isn’t the over-the-top Batman from Detective Comics.  I prefer to shove the latter in its own little continuity corner that I can happily ignore.  If I’m going to read a Batman book, I’d much rather read Batman and Robin. At least it’s a book I could share with someone rather than be embarrassed by another book’s torture porn aspirations.

And last on this week’s journey is Mister Terrific, a book about the third smartest guy in the world who is also ultra-rich and has a tattoo of “FAIR” and “PLAY” on his two biceps.

May I say this:  if you’re going to have tattoos and be a superhero, you probably shouldn’t wear a sleeveless costume that shows off the ink because whenever you’re on the beach or at the gym someone is going to say, “Oh my god!  You’re Mister Terrific!!” and the whole secret identity thing gets thrown out the window.  Or if they’re fake tattoos that are slapped on when you go into action, then maybe you aren’t very serious about the superhero thing cuz fake tattoos are just stupid.

This book, like a lot of the re-launches, tries a little too hard to introduce a substantial supporting cast and unfortunately the plot twist at the end of the issue seems to come out of left field for a character we barely know.  At this point the series is trying to be cosmic, political, race conscious and gritty, and that’s too much to do in one issue and may be too much for an entire multi-issue storyline to support. 

Having said that, Eric Wallace crafts an interesting introduction to the character (who is now on his own and without the Justice Society in this brave new DCU) and the idea that this guy is so smart that his headquarters is in a different dimension is a great indication of how creative the series might become.  After slogging through a bunch of different comics and getting stuck in the mud with others, at least Mister Terrific attempts to do too much rather than far too little.  Hopefully a balance and some sort of focus will be found in issues to come.  It’s not terrific, but it gets points for trying.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 51 - Frankie, Death and Red & Green

The alphabetical mystery tour continues with the writers of the new DCU acting as the guides for which book comes next on the reading list.

Deathstroke #1 has the return of the DC’s version of The Punisher.  He’s still a grey-haired one-eyed mercenary who has enhanced strength, quick reflexes and a very bad attitude.

It’s a strange thing:  after the tremendous darkness of Suicide Squad (which was all about establishing characters and nothing about plot) and the disappointment of both Grifter and Resurrection Man (which had a lot of plot but did nothing to make the main character captivating), I found Deathstroke somewhat entertaining.

It’s nasty and bloody and hardass, but it is consistent in presenting the character, establishing his motives and setting him down a path of death, destruction and lots of killing.

Writer Kyle Higgins and artists Joe Bennett and Art Thibert do a good job of making the book interesting as well as making it violent as hell.  I could see some people really enjoying this comic.  Which isn’t to say I’m going to put it on my ‘buy’ list because it’s just not my cup of tea.  But if someone said they enjoyed the book enough to buy the next issue, I wouldn’t try to convince them that they’re wrong. 

Much like Dan Didio saying he wanted to write OMAC, it’s got to be good to be the Chief Creative Officer at DC because it means that while every other book gets its creative teams shuffled for the re-boot, the CCO can say, “Um, no.  That rule doesn’t apply to me.”  Rank has its privileges, it’s good to be the king, and the rules don’t apply to Geoff Johns.

The rules also don’t apply to Green Lantern #1.  While every other book in the line (with the possible exception of Batwoman) has had to adjust to the new DCU, Green Lantern just picks up where it left off before the reboot.

Oh there was that major plot change at the end of the “War of the Green Lanterns” that had Hal Jordan kicked out of the corps and Sinestro once again becoming a Green Lantern, but everything else is a direct continuation of the series: Johns is still writing, Doug Mahnke is delivering terrific art and, unfortunately, the book continues on its downward spiral as it gets more and more tired.

Green Lantern worked best when there was just one or, at most, two books in its Guardian-mentored corner of the DC Universe.  But in the new DCU there will now be four books dealing with various Guardians and Lanterns.

And with all of the intergalactic adventuring occurring in the other comics, this book suffers because it is earthbound and so very Hal Jordan-centered.  Hal belongs in outer space as the leader of the corps, and instead he is being literally grounded.  Over the years the character of Sinestro has become semi-sympathetic, house-tamed and neutered.  He’s no longer a villain. He just wants what’s best for the Corps and he’ll kill a bunch of people to prove his point.  Or he’ll get mad.  And then he’ll threaten people.  And then not do anything. All of it depends on Geoff Johns’ mood because there’s no consistency to the character anymore.

Geoff Johns only seems happy when a character is getting an arm ripped off or there’s a big sprawling intergalactic crossover event being planned.  If there’s not a major catastrophe that will demand that all of the heroes in the universe gather together to battle the Black Sinestro Lantern Corps, then Johns’ heart doesn’t seem to be in the book because his focus is always on The Next Big Thing. So this issue feels like it’s just treading water until something amazing occurs six months from now.

Skipping one letter in the alphabetical author adventure in order to continue with the Lanterns, Peter Milligan is a writer who has produced some amazing work over the years.  When he’s good, he’s great: Shade the Changing Man, X-Statix, Enigma, the current Hellblazer and his brilliant six issue follow-up to Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man are all works to treasure.  But when he’s off his game we get Infinity Inc. and Elektra.  His crazy Vertigo-esque, off-in-its-own-universe work can be amazing; his superhero stuff is less so.

Therefore it’s not too surprising that Red Lanterns #1 is such a mess.  To be honest, the concept itself doomed the book to failure.  Because, ummm let’s see, it stars characters that puke blood, they are so filled with rage that they can barely speak, and did I mention they puke blood?  The Red Lanterns concept has got to be among the very worst ideas original creator Geoff Johns has ever came up with. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like…

“Hey guys, I know that the Green Lanterns have rings and the Yellow Lanterns have rings and Star Sapphire has a ring or a jewel or something, but what if the Red Lanterns don’t have rings, but they have something like vomit and it’s red and it’s got nothing to do with a lantern but they throw up like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and they’re mad all the time? Doesn’t that sound great?”

It’s not Peter Milligan’s fault the book is a mess.  The concept was a disaster to begin with. And yet someone at DC decided to give those characters their own book.  And Xombi isn’t being published anymore. It’s kind of depressing if you think about it.

But then along comes  Jeff Lemire to make things feel better.  Writer/artist of Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth, writer of the new DCU Animal Man and the writer who is taking Mary Shelley’s monster into superhero magnificence.

Using Grant Morrison’s mini-series from Seven Soldiers as its springboard, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is a throwback to the monster books of the ‘70s when there were Werewolves by night, Vampires by night and Man, Muck and Swamp Things every time of the day.  The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli looks like a terrific amalgamation of Lemire’s own artistic style with some Wrightson, Mahnke, Kirby and Walter Simonson as well.  (And just to justify the last comparison, I can’t look at a mummy in a comic book and help but compare it to Simonson’s work.  No one can draw a mummy like Simonson, but Ponticelli comes damn close.)  Best known in North American for his work on the Vertigo book Unknown Soldier, Ponticelli’s work manages to be both monstrous and superheroic.  He is the perfect artist for a book like this.

(We now interrupt this review for a public service request:  HEY DC!  How about publishing some huge, gorgeous books that collect all of the work Walter Simonson did for your company!! From Manhunter to Doctor Fate to Orion and everything in between.  The Mighty Thor – The Artist’s Edition from IDW is a thing of majestic beauty.  So how about adding to the love and publishing a couple of omnibus editions of Simonson’s artwork.  Please?? à and now back to our regularly scheduled Frankenstein…)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is filled with enough ideas for six month’s worth of material in an average comic book.  Yes, much of it builds on Grant Morrison’s ideas and the old Creature Commandos concept, but here’s just a sampling of the crazy goodness in this comic –  a microscopic headquarters, a group leader named Father Time who looks like a six year old girl, a monster named Frankenstein who is concerned about the bride who was literally made for him but never truly loved him, a town that will be nuked into oblivion unless our ‘hero’ can destroy the monsters who have taken control and a former superhero scientist who for now at least is only there as an advisor.  All of those ideas and the terrific art makes for a terrific first issue and one of the best in the entire re-launch.

—Kevin Pasquino

DC 51 Week Two - Bats, Demons and Suicide

As I head into Week Two of the new DCU I find myself asking the question: who would have thought the alphabet would be so cruel?

In Week One the A’s were kind enough to bring Action Comics and Animal Man but then it was a slog (with the surprising arrival of “O is for OMAC”) until I arrived at the alphabetical conclusion with Swamp Thing.

But I know that if I completely eliminate the structure I will skip right to the dessert and never sample the liver, brussel sprouts or sautéed mushrooms.  I’d just stick with the stuff I like and never take an honest and open-minded taste of something new and potentially delicious.  So, yes, the alphabet will be my guide, but this time it will be writers not titles that lead the way.

Having said that, the books are starting to lose their individual resolution and distinctiveness.  For instance…

Writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning share a problem with Nathan Edmonson: they’re tasked with writing books that have characters that have been out of service for awhile, both books have a fan base, but neither of the re-launched books manages to make the character accessible to anyone who hasn’t read their previous adventures.

Abnett & Lanning resurrect Resurrection Man but fail to explain what the book is all about.  The main character has some kind of weird “Dial H for Hero” power that changes every time he is killed and brought back to life.  But who our hero is, who the bad guys are and why all of this crazy stuff is happening – all of it is left unexplained and largely unexamined.

Similar problems plague Grifter #1.  The story’s timeline bounces from place to place, the hero is undefined, the villains and supporting cast are a dull mystery and nothing memorable happens in the book.

As a matter of fact as I once again flip through the two of them, it’s amazing how the books have blurred into one.  Both books have a character that reacts to something rather than taking action.  Both books have sadistic villains who kill innocent people.  Both books even manage to have their heroes thrown out of a plane.  And, I’m sorry to say, both books have characters that I’m not going to read about again.

Moving down the alphabetical ladder, the next issue is a book that was due at the beginning of the year, was delayed and then previewed in the back of DC books for an April release, was again delayed, and now it’s finally arrived.

Batwoman #1 must have been ready for publication a long time ago, but The Powers That Be must have told the creators that the book had to wait for the re-launch of the whole universe.  And, to his credit, J.H. Williams shouldered the scorn of questioning fans and kept quiet about the reasons for the book’s delay.  He was a good corporate player and never once said “It’s not my fault!  They’re delaying the book!  Not me!!”

So, was it worth the wait?  Is the artwork as gorgeous as remembered from the Greg Rucka penned Elegy?  Is it the best looking book so far from the new DCU?  Is it a good thing that Kate Kane has returned with J.H. Williams doing the art and co-writing the book?

Oh hell yes.

To flip through the pages of Batwoman #1 is to sample the work of a stunning artist and amazing craftsman.  Simply put, it is a thing of beauty.  Over the years Williams has worked with Rucka, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison.  It’s obvious that he’s learned from some of the industry’s greatest modern writers and his artwork is inarguably among the best in monthly comics.

As for the story itself (because pretty pictures alone do not a comic make), there are some minor problems that co-writer W. Haden Blackman and Williams fail to overcome.  Because there are a couple of bumps in the road as the book attempts to re-introduce the character in this new universe.

For instance, there is a photo of Renee Montaya on display on the police department wall as if she was killed in action and it’s uncertain if she’s dead in this new universe or the photo is there solely for its dramatic weight.  And since it’s left unexplained, the scene shouldn’t be there. And on the same note, there is the unexplained addition/presence of Bette Kane as Batwoman’s side kick.  Plus there is the confrontation between Kate and her father that obviously occurred before her appearances in Batman Incorporated because in that book Kate and her father have reconciled.  Much of the confusion with her father might be due to the re-scheduling of the book, but it makes the book feel like it’s been on the shelf, awaiting the okay to finally be released.

Having said all of that, those issues become minor qualms in a comic as stunning as this.  The arrival of a certain government agent, not fully explained but wonderfully teased, is a pleasant surprise and Williams has artist Amy Reeder lined up to keep the book looking gorgeous and on-schedule.  This is a book that came burdened with perhaps unreasonable expectations and still manages to fulfill them all.  It is the best looking book on the shelf.

Writer Paul Cornell has a large stable of characters to deal with in Demon Knights #1 but unlike last week’s Stormwatch he doesn’t have a well-remembered old series to be measured against.  And perhaps it is because of that fact this book is more creative and energetic.  With this book he manages to reward old readers but still make the book accessible for new arrivals – a task that he didn’t quite achieve in Stormwatch.

Cornell enjoys a freedom in Demon Knights that few other creators in the new DCU are being allowed: set in DC’s past, the book doesn’t feel overcrowded with continuity challenges and that awkward “Who are these characters now?” reboot curse.  The Demon, Madame Xanadu and others are quickly introduced (to varying degrees of success) and then they’re thrown into action.

Compare Demon Knights to Suicide Squad #1 and it become apparent what one does right while the other book does horribly wrong.

From the awful revamp of Harley Quinn (who in both costume and character suffers a strained and unnecessary flashback to an editor’s note Detective Comics reference) to the oh-so very bloody introduction of each character, the whole book is just nasty, nihilistic and pointless.  One of the key elements in the original Suicide Squad and the more recent Secret Six was that the characters had a chance at redemption with the potential of being something besides just evil.  This gang of villains, especially Harley Quinn, is established as being so violent and loathsome that any attempt to portray them as anything besides psychos will be forced and ham-fisted. 

Cornell manages to have some fun with the characters in his book.  Writer Adam Glass manages to make each character in Suicide Squad an irredeemable maniac. Why DC decided to take Harley Quinn and make her an S&M corset and hot-pants wearing maniac is a mystery.  In three panels Cornell does more with The Demon than the entire issue of Suicide Squad does with any of its characters.  And it’s those three panels that make me want to read more.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 51 - Stupendous, Satisfying or Simply So-So?

As Week Two hovers on the horizon, here’s the conclusion of the alphabetical tour of Week One.  And it all wraps up with the letter ‘S’.  Stupendous, satisfying or simply so-so?  Week One ends here…

Static Shock #1 features the return of a character that I never read who was also the star of a cartoon I never watched.  In other words it’s the first book I can sample as a new reader!

In a somewhat daring move, the book doesn’t bother with a back story or origin.  There’s a little bit of background on the hero and his family, but it doesn’t get bogged down with the explanations of who’s who and how they came to be.  Because of that it reminded me of the DC books from the ‘70s when the reader would just be thrown into the story, “Don’t know who the Seven Soldiers of Victory or the Justice Society of America are? Stick around and you’ll figure it out!”

Writer John Rozum employed a similar method when he brought Xombi back with artist Frasier Irving – a book that was wonderfully creative, gorgeously illustrated and read by nowhere near enough people to ensure its continuing existence.

The tragedy is that if Xombi had debuted during the new 52 it would have received a major boost in awareness.  A lot of the new books are receiving unwarranted attention merely because they’re part of this massive re-launch (look at this alphabetical tour of Week One as an example).  Had Xombi been measured against Men of War, Hawk & Dove and other lesser comics, it would have had a much better chance of standing out like a true gem.

But lamenting the premature death of Xombi is like crying over a poorly postioned glass of milk: maybe if it had been moved to a better spot, more people would have been aware of its existence, but the damage has been done.

(Having said that, oh please buy the trade paperback when it comes out.  The book was tremendous.)

As for Static Shock, it’s an enjoyable enough romp but there wasn’t anything particularly memorable in the first issue for me to be enthusiastic or see myself returning.  But of all the books I’ve read so far, it is one of the few that I could see a young reader enjoying.  So while it may not be for me, it would be nice to see DC cultivate the market for this book and capture the young tween audience they say they’re hoping to grab.

It is strange, however, that Static Shock has the same “Rated T Teen” classification as every other book this week.  According to that rating system, Detective Comics is just as youth-friendly as Static Shock.  And that is just plain wrong.  If DC really wants to self-regulate their books, they should be more careful about slapping the same rating on every comic they sell.

Stormwatch #1 is the first book to present the recent merger of the former Wildstorm universe with the new DCU.  But just like the all-too common story of two people who have known each other for years who then end up hating each other when they move-in together, it’s difficult to see how these two different personalities will live under one roof.

One of the great advantages writer Warren Ellis had with Stormwatch and the follow-up The Authority was that it could be magnificently creative and destructive because it never had to worry about its effect on other books.  Super-villains could wreak havoc all over the world because it was in Ellis’s corner of the Wildstorm universe where anything could happen.

But with the re-launch of all these new comics and the apparent intention to unite all of them into one coherent universe, the challenge is to somehow make Stormwatch edgy, relevant and interesting.

Or to put it another way: in a universe populated with the Justice League, Justice League International and Justice League Dark (let alone the Teen Titans and a Legion Lost) what role can Stormwatch possibly have?

There’s no simple answer in the first issue, but from the look of things Stormwatch is going to do the secret, behind the scenes stuff that no other hero or group knows about.  Perhaps the book will be left in its own little corner of the new DCU and it won’t have to tone down the Apollo/Midnighter relationship and there won’t be a bizarre Justice League/Stormwatch team-up in the future.  It’s hard to say if the editors will keep their fingers out of the pie.

The first issue has a lot of things happening and there’s enough going on to stay interesting for at least a little while.  Obviously writer Paul Cornell won’t have the same latitude that Ellis at least initially enjoyed, so it will be a challenge for him to be creative within the corporate confines.  Whether those restrictions will force the book to be more inventive as it pushes against those boundaries or it just smothers the series completely remains to be seen.

The return of Swamp Thing would have been a complete non-event if it wasn’t for writer Scott Snyder being in charge.

While the character returned at the end of Brightest Day (with John Constantine tagging along) and he had a rather horrible and ignoble mini-series entitled The Search for Swamp Thing this is the book that matters for the character. How bad was that mini-series? – Constantine cries out, “Superman! Hold me hand, brother!” as they both get pulled into The Green because, I guess, he and Superman are best buds and Constantine always talks that way.

Because had there been just one bad issue, I think there would have been a major uproar with fans.  One bad issue would have written the whole series off.

Fortunately Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette seem to know their stuff.  The book is filled with tiny artistic nods to the past: an industrial digger is named after the character’s creator, a hotel is named after one of the book’s greatest artists and the combination to a safe happens to be a very good year for comics.  So, yes, these new creators know their history.

But that respect for the past would be meaningless if they weren’t going to do something inventive with the character.  Swamp Thing lasted almost 100 issues after Alan Moore left the book and had two attempts at a re-launch after that book died.  So for this to work, it would have to be something special.

The first couple of pages establish that the character is back firmly planted (sorry for the pun) in the DCU as it features Superman, Batman and Aquaman before it moves to our hero.  But, as it turns out, the main character isn’t Swamp Thing, but instead it’s Alec Holland.

(How or why Alec Holland has returned, I don’t know.  I suppose it was explained in Brightest Day or Search for the Swamp Thing, but other than flipping through the pages of the mini-series, I don’t know anything about the mechanics of those two books.  I trust all will be explained.)

Unlike in Men of War, the juxtaposition of the superhero and a common man actually works.  Alec is not overly impressed with the arrival of Superman.  He explains that he just wants to be left alone and Superman grudgingly respects his decision.  But to paraphrase Abby from Alan Moore’s run on the book, the craziness just seems to follow Alec Holland.  I suppose coming back from the dead and having the memories of a monster will do that to a guy.

Of all the books in Week One, this was the one I had highest hopes for and this is the one that delivered.  I don’t know how scary and creepy the creators can go with a non-Vertigo book, but if the other releases this week are any indication, they might be able to go as macabre as they want.  Snyder had a brilliant run with Dick Grayson as Batman in the pre-new Detective Comics that was dark, twisted and yet somehow filled with humanity.  If he has a long-term plan for Swamp Thing, I’m definitely along for the ride.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 51 - Five Comics, Only One Pony

After the huge disappointment of Detective Comics I felt as if I was in the middle of a cruel and disappointing joke: here I am desperately searching through a huge pile of manure because I know that there has got to be a pony in there somewhere.

It couldn’t get worse after Detective Comics, could it?  Could it??  The alphabetical journey of Week One continues…

The aged, liberal-leaning, slightly cynical and more than a little caustic Oliver Queen is replaced by a younger, richer industrialist who fights crime as he travels the world in Green Arrow #1.  This new Oliver Queen is so good at what he does that he actually phones into business meetings while he hunts for bad guys.  Chew gum and walk at the same time? – Hell no, Oliver Queen can make multi-billion dollar business deals as he fights crime and shoots his trick arrows.  As he says, “Multitasking is my speciaity.”

On top of all that, he also has a pair of operatives who assist him, there’s a hint of some kind of mysterious past that haunts our hero, and it looks like he’s going to fight a whole ton of villains in the next issue. 

After reading the story it is apparent that this new improved Green Arrow is an amalgamation of the TV version of Oliver Queen from Smallville and the movie version of Tony Stark from Iron Man: an ultra-rich, somewhat arrogant ladies man who still finds time to do the right thing as he makes his millions.

But does it make any sense for Green Arrow to be battling a gang of super-villains?  The final splash page has ten super-villains looking very pissed and out for some payback.

As I came to that final splash page, the little part of my brain that I usually turn off when reading comic books flicked back on and said, “Hey, shouldn’t those villains be taking on the Justice League and not just poor Green Arrow? – There’s no way he can avoid getting his ass kicked.  There are ten of them!”  And in no way, shape or form was this my brain squealing in anticipation of next issue.  This was my brain saying, “This doesn’t make any sense.  I give up.  Can we move on to something better?”

And I have to say that sometimes it feels good to listen to my brain.

One more thing: either give Green Arrow a beard of or give him a shave.  The chin scruff looks stupid.  The front cover makes it look like he’s about to transform into a werewolf.

Hawk &Dove #1 spends almost a third of the issue explaining who the title characters are, how they got their powers, and what their relationship is.  And then it wraps it all up with a final page that is so poorly illustrated and darkly colored that I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be one of the heroes or it was someone completely different.  I ended up having to flip back a bunch of pages to try to figure out what was going on.

The issue also has Dove flying through the city as she has a long chat with Deadman.  But after all of the time that the story takes to explain the origin and relationship between Hank, deceased brother Don and replacement Dawn, there is not a single mention of who the bizarre guy is with the red suit and the big ‘D’.  And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if so much of the issue hadn’t been dedicated to explaining Every Little Detail about the main characters.  So on the one hand the issue rehashes everything needed to know about Hawk & Dove, but  on the other hand it figures that every reader will either know or not care about this Deadman fella.

And they were right, because at the end I didn’t care about any of it.

Justice League International #1 would probably make more sense if readers had a better concept of what the true status of superheroes and the Justice League is in the new DCU.  Unfortunately the issues released up to this point have Justice League #1 set in the past, Action Comics #1 set in the past, and Detective Comics #1 seeming to conflict with Batgirl andBatwing in their portrayals of Batman’s status.

This comic starts with a splash page of DC heroes on a huge monitor (including Frankenstein, The Creeper and Congorilla?!?) as a secret U.N. council votes to put together its own Justice League.  Everyone gets to both vote and veto potential members for the league.  The Russians are pleased that Red Rocket is part of the group, England gets a member, China is represented, etc. etc.  But India, the Middle East, France, Mexico, Germany:  none of these countries or regions had representatives at this clandestine gathering so they don’t have any heroes in the JLI.  (I guess it’s too bad that DC didn’t’ have any pre-existing heroes from those areas that could be pigeon-holed into the group.)

Who the members of this U.N. council are, how they were chosen to vote for the League members and how they have the authority to draft all these heroes is never explained.  The whole thing is like an updated version of the Global Guardians concept but it never feels all that updated.  The comic itself, with its Saturday morning cartoon cast of characters, seems both unnecessary and blatantly concocted:  “What do you mean?  How the hell can we only have 51 books?!?  We need 52! – Okay, how about dusting off the Super Friends concept, filling it with minor characters but making sure they’re from all over the world and then slapping the “Justice League” label on the cover.  That’ll work.”

Oh, and Batman also joins the League for no apparent reason other than it never hurts to have Batman on the cover of a team book.  Once again illustrating that DC doesn’t know what Batman’s role is in this new universe.

With regards to Men of War #1:  I tried.  I really, really tried.  I even read the whole book.  Made my way through the whole thing.

But the constant footnotes (S.AW. = squad automatic weapon, GOOSE = Carl Gustav recoilless rifle) which explain every bit of military jargon got on my nerves, the cliché about a “young soldier refusing his destiny” bugged my ass, and the pages and pages and pages of explosions  became wearisome.

But the book’s biggest fault is that it is set in the new DCU which means that while the main characters are human, non-powered soldiers they are fighting in a combat zone that is being destroyed by a crazed, unknown super-villain.  The book is supposed to capture the drama of soldiers as they go into battle, but it turns out that a super-villain is doing all the damage.  How are normal soldiers supposed to fight a villain who can fly, appears indestructible and has “done more damage in five minutes than a year of armed men could do.”   This juxtaposition of reality and superheroics doesn’t work and the whole thing collapses due to the absurdity of the concept.

And the $3.99 price tag for a war comic? – I’d like to have someone explain the logic behind that one for me.  It’s almost as if DC wanted to say there was more than just superhero comics in their re-launch, but they then purposely priced the books to fail.

And finally a comic I enjoyed.    

OMAC  #1 is an entire issue of Keith Giffen channeling Jack Kirby.  And that is a very, very good and entertaining thing.

There are pages and pages of OMAC battling bad guys, ripping things apart and huge sound effects like “FFRRAATZZ,” “PA-THOOM” and “BASSSH” to accompany the destruction.  Everything is big and chunky and huge and glorious. 

My only complaint with the books (and it’s a surprisingly minor one)is that I wish that someone other than Dan DiDio was co-writing it.  DiDio has an annoying habit of shoving redundant descriptive boxes into panels and pages where the finished art has already done the work.  For example there’s a terrific double page splash where OMAC is ripping apart a building with a terrific “FRRZTTTZKKK-RRAAACK” and Didio feels the need to insert “In an unimaginable display of raw strength and power, OMAC tears through the final obstacles in his way.”

Yes the book is a pastiche of the classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tales, but just because Smilin’ Stan used to shove stuff like that into a comic doesn’t mean that it’s right.  I hate to sound incredibly harsh, but I can’t help but wonder what a real writer (rather than DC’s co-publisher) would have brought to the tale.

(Speaking of The King, for some reason the credit “OMAC created by Jack Kirby” isn’t in the book.  I trust that was merely an oversight and will be quickly corrected.)

I confess that with OMAC  I finally found something worth savoring after seven comics of varying degrees of disappointment.  It’s loud and silly and beautiful to look at.  It succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t a re-boot attempting to deliver something cool and modern.  It actually reads like a good idea rather than just another book to get the count up to 52.

I would love for this book to exist in its own Kirby-verse but it seems unlikely after seeing how superheroes were forced into Men of War.  Nevertheless I’m hoping that Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League never make an appearance in the book.  I know that probably won’t be the case, but I can hope.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 51 - B is for a better Bat?

Continuing the alphabetical tour of Week One of the new DC, the next three books happen to be in the Dark Knight’s corner of the universe.

Batgirl #1 showcases the return of Barbara Gordon, now out of the wheelchair where she’s been since The Killing Joke, back in costume and ready to fight crime in Gotham City.

A small confession: I really don’t care who Batgirl is.  I haven’t followed the various Batgirl incarnations throughout the years and I haven’t read the various Birds of Prey books that had Barbara Gordon as their leader.

Having said that, I liked the character of Oracle and I think her absence leaves a void in the superhero world (and, yes, I can’t help but wonder how all of this effects Batman Inc.).  I’m hoping that someone has plans for an Oracle-type character.  But if Barbara Gordon is the new-old – or is that the ‘old-new’? – Batgirl, that’s okay by me.

Oh and for those who were concerned about the sudden improvement in Barbara’s condition:  yes, she was shot by The Joker.  Fortunately this Barbara Gordon did not suffer a permanent injury.  She recovered.  She may have even been Oracle.  But she’s all better now.  (Writer Gail Simone deftly takes care of that bit of business in a couple of panels, so I hope that I’m not spoiling anything for anyone.)

There.  Now that those bits of business are taken care of…

The new-old Barbara has an interesting combination of cockiness and uncertainty as she resumes her career as Batgirl.  Simone manages to capture the swagger of someone who has experience with bad guys, but manages to balance that with someone who has been on the sidelines for three years.  It makes for a captivating character and allows her inner-dialogue to give us insight into the character rather than just act as a way of delivering exposition.

Unfortunately too much of the issue is spent establishing a new villain, having Barbara say goodbye to a much-younger-than-we-are used-to Commissioner Gordon, search for a new apartment and then getting a new roommate.  There’s a lot going on in this issue and much of it is good, but a couple less balls being juggled might have made for a more captivating comic.

I am somewhat curious to see what the story holds for Barbara and where Simone takes the character, but I’m not feeling completely hooked on the book.

Batwing #1 focuses on a new character, the so-called “Batman of Africa”.  There’s even a reference to Batman Inc. (and there’s me again worrying how the new 52 effects Grant Morrison’s best book) and how the new character was recruited by Batman to fight crime.

Let me start off by saying that the artwork in Batwing by Ben Oliver is lush, creative and a pleasure to look at.

But the story…

The thing is this:  writer Judd Winnick has been given a blank slate to create a brand new Batman-type character.  Go crazy, Judd!  Go wild!  The world is your oyster!  Let your imagination soar!

But instead of creating something amazing, fresh and new, we get this:  the new character is a cop in a corrupt police force.  But he’s idealistic.  He’s going to change the force from the inside.  But difference is this… he’s in Africa!!!

The young Batwing also has an older Alfred-type assistant and of course there’s a beautiful young cop on the force who is both a romantic interest and is also the only other honest police officer on the force.  Add to all of that a group of formerly unheard of old heroes who are introduced as if they’ve always been around but it turns out they all disappeared under mysterious circumstances!  Even Batman was unaware of their existence, and he’s the goddamn Batman!

Everything in this book has been done before, been done better and been done to death.  Yes, it’s pretty to look at.  Otherwise it is a massively wasted opportunity.

Detective Comics #1 is the first full-issue appearance of Batman in the new DCU and after reading the book I have two major problems:

The first is that I can’t make sense if this Batman is like the Superman of Action Comics and the story takes place before all of the other books that are being published.

Having read three Bat-books in a row, I simply cannot get a sense of Batman’s role in this new DCU.  In Batwing we hear mention of Batman supplying computers and equipment to his African protégé.  In Batgirl Barbara Gordon has a poster of Batman on her door, confirming the aspect of her origin that had her inspired by his heroics years ago.  And the first page of Detective Comics has Batman stating that The Joker has been responsible for “one-hundred fourteen murders over the past six years.”  So I have to think that the story takes place ‘now’ in the new DCU.

And yet later in the issue the police force are screaming for Batman’s arrest and blowing things up as they attempt to capture him. 

So Batman is literally the poster boy who inspired Batgirl and his reputation as a hero is powerful enough that he’s recruited a hero in Africa.  But in Gotham City, the police are hunting him and Commissioner Gordon is his only ally? All of this going on while the cover of the soon to be alphabetically read Justice League International has Batman swinging into action with a bunch of other heroes?

I acknowledge and accept the conceit that the various Batman books exist in their own little corner of the world where Gotham City is its own dark, dangerous place.  I’ve always approached the books as if these stories take place in a more gloomy, more serious Bizarro Bob Haney mini-universe, and when Batman appears in Justice League he’s a different character in a different alternate world.

But shouldn’t there have been more thought given to how Batman operates and is perceived within the various Bat-books?  He’s been a heroic inspiration for years in one book, he’s a financial provider in another, but a hunted menace in his own Detective Comics?  I’m not demanding iron-clad and inflexible continuity in the first week of the line’s re-launch, but a tiny bit of consistency wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

The story itself is serviceable and Tony Daniel certainly has some good-looking drawings to accompany his fairly-good words.  I’d even go as far to say that the book, while over the top and incredibly self-important in its seriousness, is good until the story’s final pages.  But those final pages plunge the issue into a grand guignol of gruesomeness.

And that’s my other major problem with the book:  why would an editor allow a book this grotesque to be one of the cornerstones of the entire company’s re-launch?  I have to wonder what was going through editor Mike Marts’ corporately-mandated head.   

At the book’s conclusion it becomes obvious that the main character in the book is not Batman, it’s The Joker.  And instead of Detective Comics being a book for the 21st Century, it’s a book transplanted from the heyday of the Image Comics-inspired Dark Age.  It reads as if the worst aspects of Watchmen were its inspiration and Tony Daniel was instructed to top the shock (and shlock?) value of that that classic story.

The final pages of this issue are something out of Silence of the Lambs or its more lurid sequel, Hannibal.  It is impossible to reconcile this book’s conclusion with the action in Batgirl.  I don’t even know how both books can exist in the same universe.

Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics was at times macabre and over the top, but there was always the underlying sense that light was struggling against darkness and that there was always hope that evil could be defeated.

This new re-launch of Detective Comics merely wallows in its own gloom.  And because of that, it’s a giant step backwards for this shiny new universe.

—Kevin Pasquino