The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.
Video games, movie ads, glossy full-page appeals to whatever dollars the kids have left over after buying the latest and greatest MP3s on iTunes, or whatever kids are spending their money on these days. Mine seem to spend it all on energy drinks. But it’s not like kids are reading comics anyway, right?
When I was 6 years old, I started reading comics, and I was the prime audience for the ads you’ll find all over Mail-Order Mysteries (Insight Editions). Author Kirk Demaris, who appears to have had a childhood much like mine, dives deep into the truth behind the hype of these frequently ludicrous and always dubious little ads, the ones that stick with me after all these years.
How could they not? I was one of the suckers who bought the stupid piece of metal you put in your mouth to supposedly throw your voice. It did nothing. I sent away for the foot locker full of 2-D army guys that weren’t even as entertaining as the ad that promoted them. Sea Monkeys? Of course I bought them. They were freeze-dried brine shrimp about the size of a molecule, and if they lived long enough in your tap water, you might kinda-sorta think you saw one swimming in there, just before they died. These are memories that last a lifetime.
And now in this highly entertaining new collection you can not only relive those nearly-criminal ads (or see them for the first time, if you’re too young to remember them), but find out the truth about the crap your hard-earned nickels and dimes eventually got you (sometimes you mailed in your money and that was the end of it — believe you me).
Demaris has a lot of fun with the subject at hand, showing off pictures of the real stuff you’d get and going into some detail about the swindlers who masterminded this decades-long scam that touched the lives of millions and probably netted the companies hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which they laughed all the way to the bank with. It’s a brilliantly-conceived trip down a narrow back alley of comics history that was long overdue for exploration, and unless you have no sense of humour or history, you’re sure to enjoy the book. Much more than I enjoyed those flat-ass army guys, that’s for sure.
— Alan David Doane
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.
The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.
Writer: Pierre Comtois
Editor: John Morrow
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Marvel in the ‘70s is a sequel to the author’s Marvel in the ‘60s (natch), which one would have to say had the easier route to success. After all, it was in the ‘60s that the “Marvel Age” began, with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others cutting loose with one fresh new superhero after another, like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, not to mention the villains and a distinctive, ingratiating narrative style from Lee that was part carnival barker, part pal. A book that chronicles the creation of something that was new and inspiring is naturally going to be fun to read about.
From around 1968 or so, Marvel Comics then went through a period that may be classified as growing pains. The sale of the company to Cadence Communications led to the ouster of longtime Publisher Martin Goodman, with Lee taking over the position. This role, and increasing time spent as Marvel’s ambassador, a real celebrity during this time, as well as the additional duties of expanding Marvel’s merchandizing and expansion into other media, meant that Lee was less hands-on in guiding the comic books. Even without the additional job duties, he would have had to rely more and more on new Editor-in-Chief (and writer of the most titles), Roy Thomas, because he was expanding the publishing line with ideas for new books seemingly every week.
The expansion of the line led to an influx of new talent, some of whom were impressive out of the gate and some who had to grow into the job, and quickly. Among the careers that started or at least took off at Marvel during the late ‘60s through mid-‘70s were Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, P. Craig Russell, Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart and Paul Gulacy. At the same time, long-simmering resentments caused by Lee’s power, fame, and editorial interference led to a John Buscema essentially taking his creativity down a gear, and Jack “King” Kirby, the co-creator with Lee (and in the case of Captain America, Joe Simon), most of Marvel’s most popular characters, also gearing down, biding his time, and taking his talents and filed-away characters and concepts to rival DC Comics when the opportunity came in 1970. Other Marvel veterans like Gene Colan, Don Heck and Gil Kane (not there for Marvel’s glory years) were shuffled from one book to another, with mixed results.
It’s a fascinating period in Marvel’s history, with some failed experiments and the collision between the generation of Marvel writers and artists who got into the industry when comics were a disreputable industry where those who couldn’t become successful novelists or commercial artists ended up, and the next generation of kids who grew up wanting to make comics, and had also immersed themselves in other science fiction, fantasy, philosophy and the mind-expanding substances of the era.
Comtois takes this complicated period and reduces it to one dubious thesis, that the period from 1968 to 1980 represented Marvel’s “Twilight Years,” after which they would never again reach the previous heights of creative and commercial success. He further hinders himself with a restrictive format: the story is told within chronological reviews of selected comic books. It’s a workable, even novel, format for the book’s purpose, but requires both Comtois and editor Morrow being able to shape the text into a dramatic narrative that backs up early assertions with the accretion of supporting evidence, and develops story threads into satisfying, credible conclusions. Unfortunately, neither are working up to the level required here.
Case in point: Jack Kirby. Early on in the book, Comtois informs us that for the final 20-odd issues of his venerable run on Fantastic Four, Kirby was basically phoning it in. The geyser of new characters and concepts had dried up, and he was going through the motions with Doctor Doom and the rest, with the same old familiar poses and a decreasing dynamism. I’m not interested in arguing a subjective opinion, and the work has to stand on its own, but would it not have been fair to point out the lack of new ideas and verve on the book were largely due to Kirby’s deteriorating relationship with Lee? It’s one thing to prefer the work of Lee over Kirby, or at least Lee’s ‘70s output vs. Kirby’s ‘70s output, but quite another to gloss over widely reported tensions that contributed to Kirby’s last Marvel ‘60s work not being among his best.
Although Comtois makes little reference to developments at DC Comics or other publishers throughout the book, and indeed does little to place ‘70s Marvel in the context of ‘70s America, he can’t help but throw more darts at Kirby by dismissing wholesale his Fourth World opus, books that, while they were relatively mediocre sellers at the time, have gained in critical stature since. One doesn’t have to like them to note that the passing of time has brought new appreciation for them, or to note that almost all of Kirby’s ‘70s work for both DC and Marvel is currently back in print. It’s just being fair. Comtois complete his specious assessment by noting sales of the books dropped off early on, right after Vince Colletta was dismissed as inker (the implication being that Colletta was doing fine and was an established commodity as Kirby’s inker in the past, and that he took fans with him once Kirby fired him and started working with new inkers like Mike Royer). Comtois also claims that the Fourth World books failed by lacking humanity. There were certainly human characters in the books, like Jimmy Olsen, Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, and Oberon, with Orion’s human friends acting as a Greek chorus for the human race throughout the New Gods series. One might also note that the Orion/Darkseid conflict was just a father/son conflict on a grand scale, but suffice to say, Comtois’ antipathy to Kirby’s work from this point and beyond is a bell rung loud and often in the book, despite Kirby being absent from Marvel for most of the decade discussed.
Comtois’ biases don’t stop with Kirby. He has particular loathing for Gil Kane’s style, with his up-the-nose poses and hand-wringing characters. Only when there is a strong inker he likes, such as John Romita, Sr. on Amazing Spider-Man or Klaus Janson on Daredevil, can he tolerate Kane. There is also a bias in favor of Marvel’s fantasy and horror books and characters, which reveals itself in curious ways. Curious in that, while Comtois constantly beats the drum that Marvel was on the decline, its bread-and-butter books in the doldrums, these negative comments are most often within reviews of the horror and fantasy books for which Comtois clearly has a great fondness. While he can’t help but knock the often-rough debuts of Windsor-Smith, Ploog and others, he delights in discussing when the artists put it together, and spends much more time on favored issues of titles like Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, Savage Tales, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Tomb of Dracula. The amount of coverage of these titles, and the short shrift given to any superhero title of the time besides multiple, redundant reviews of high and low points for Amazing Spider-Man, suggests that while Marvel’s superhero line was stagnant, Marvel was remaining relevant by expanding into other popular genres (sword & sandal, Universal monsters), as well as displaying bright young artistic and writing talent. It’s clear where Comtois’ true sympathies lie—he considers the Wolfman/Colan Tomb of Dracula one of Marvel’s best runs, and the Thomas/Windsor-Smith Conan #24 a comics peak no one would reach again. No, really, he writes this. It doesn’t really sound like The Twilight Years, does it?
When it’s a book or creator he likes, Comtois provides capable description and a fannish enthusiasm (there are entirely too many exclamation points in the book) that could have been infectious with better editing and either a more consistent, positive theme of those wild, wacky, obscure Marvel ‘70s comics, or a series of personal essays about same (maybe more in line with Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics). As it is, Comtois’ persuasiveness rises and falls with how much one already knows about the subject. Kull and It, the Living Mummy look kind of interesting, while the antagonism towards Gil Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man or Steve Gerber’s Defenders is off-putting, and the lack of perspective (the aforementioned Conan #24 comment, or the middling, short-lived The Champions series being “for one brief, shining moment one of Marvel’s best series”) is ridiculous. And Comtois strangely makes his arguments about the quality of the superhero line from a distance, touching frequently on Amazing Spider-Man but very little on other flagship titles like The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America or The Incredible Hulk.
There is also an odd, passive-aggressive tone throughout, not just in the text but in the editing and design. Most of the writers and artists discussed receive small biographical sidebars, with photos, even if the person is discussed negatively. Comtois’ text certainly makes the distinction that relatively forgotten talents like penciler Keith Pollard or inker Tony Mortellaro did not create work as notable as that of Klaus Janson or John Buscema, yet why give them the same sidebars? It’s almost cruel to shine the same light on folks like this, only to note that they didn’t do a good job on this book, or that, in the case of venerable Silver Age DC Comics scribe Gardner Fox, they were over the hill by the time they got to Marvel. And the pictures! Instead of going for the kitsch value of era-specific photos, only some follow that route, with many appearing to be taken from casual snapshots from various conventions of the past couple decades. Surely there are photos available of Klaus Janson (whose good looks were played up in Marvel Bullpen Bulletins in the ‘80s, as I recall) where he doesn’t appear to be recovering from a stroke? And although there is no doubt from the text that Comtois is a great fan of the work of Barry Windsor-Smith, he insists on calling him just Barry Smith, even in the list of creators thanked. Whether Comtois knows this is a source of annoyance for the artist is unknown, but surely people change their names for a reason, and to insist on the previous name can’t help but smack of disrespect.
The use of the review as a format to discuss Marvel in general (or at least the developments and creators Comtois is interested in) becomes wearying after a while. Part of it is the format itself, which would have benefited from the occasional break to offer a page or two to look beyond Marvel’s comics and magazines. This reviewer learned much about Marvel during this time from the crude, late ‘60s Marvel Super-Heroes and Amazing Spider-Man cartoons, the Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk live action television series, the Pocket Books collections of early issues, Stan Lee-edited reprint anthologies like Origins of Marvel Comics and Bring on the Bad Guys, as well as ephemera like the Mighty Marvel Fun Books, or even 7/11 tumblers, ColorForms sets, Spider-Man webshooter toys or Mego action figures. Although the ongoing books should be the main focus, certainly the other items helped Marvel become the publishing and merchandising juggernaut they were in the ‘70s, and at the very least would have added spice and visual appeal to the book.
The other reason the format is restrictive and tiring has to do with the poor editing. Not just the typos, of which there are several (even though a proofreader is credited), but the redundancies. While Stan Lee’s defying of the Comics Code Authority (the body created by comics publishers after the Kefauver hearings to regulate their content with a stamp of approval on all comics available on newsstands) to publish the then-controversial issues of Amazing Spider-Man dealing with supporting character Harry Osborn’s drug use (the story was clearly anti-drug) is worth discussing, and a case can be made that the erosion of the CCA’s power led to a softened stance on previously verboten subjects like vampires, the undead and Satanism led to Marvel’s confidence in expanding into books featuring these subjects, does it have to be mentioned every time one of these books is reviewed? It has to be noted here at least eight times, vying for importance in Comtois’ head with poor old declining Jack Kirby. Mentioned at least three times is the nugget that the “Crusty Bunkers” were the name given to the members of Neal Adams’ studio who were frequently called upon to ink or finish a Marvel issue up against the deadline crunch. It’s a nice nugget, once. The second time, one starts getting distracted and wondering what better (ie, not repetitive) item could have been used in its place. The third time, it’s annoying.
I’m not sure if Comtois was told of a page limit late in the writing or what, but for some strange reason, 1976-1979 (half the decade!) is covered in the final 20 of the book’s 220 pages. This amounts mainly to discussing the transition from Gil Kane to young hotshot Frank Miller on Daredevil, and a little on John Byrne on Jim Shooter’s The Avengers, as well as some discussion of Shooter himself and that great final issue of The Champions, with Byrne inking George Tuska. If one thinks of mid-to-late-‘70s Marvel as a place where superstar artist George Perez first flowered on high profile titles like Fantastic Four and The Avengers, well, you’re out of luck, as Comtois doesn’t even mention him, just like he spends little time on writer Steve Englehart’s ‘70s work on The Avengers, The Defenders or Captain America. Inker Tony Mortellaro, though, he gets a mention.
Comtois has no problem making bold assertions, like Klaus Janson’s inking of Deathlok being “perhaps the best work he’s ever done” (early in a, what, 40 year career?), or that, accusations of plagiarism aside, the prolific but now mostly unreprinted scribe Bill Mantlo was, “in reality, one of Marvel’s best writers, doing exceptional work on Deathlok, Champions and ROM,” but to say the author has trouble connecting threads would be to erroneously suggest he even makes an attempt. Does ROM springboard into a discussion of other toy tie-in books that would be ‘80s hits for Marvel like Micronauts, or G.I. Joe? No. He praises Lee for defying the CCA, leading to the expansion into horror titles, yet doesn’t criticize him for overworking his staff and abdicating his editing and publishing duties to those not fully qualified to do so, leading to “The Twilight Years”. And while Roy Thomas’ writing is routinely praised, his editing and stewardship of the line in the Twilight Years is only mildly criticized. Further, he sees these Twilight Years as an end to Marvel’s creative growth, yet doesn’t seem to recognize that the expansion into non-superhero genres led to not just other rich avenues for Marvel, but also the beginnings of many popular, influential writers and artists. To appreciate the book, one has to force one’s mind into the narrow tracks of the author’s, who feels Steve Gerber’s Defenders run was too subversive and irreverent, contributing to Marvel’s decline, while Jim Starlin’s Warlock, with thinly veiled attacks on Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and the Marvel infrastructure, is too be praised and not at all a contributor to Marvel’s decline. Another factor in the decline, according to the author, is that the monster characters such as Dracula, the Living Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster, are all part of the Marvel Universe, thereby undermining the realism Lee & Co had established. This is the same realistic Marvel Universe with several heroes spawned from radiation, Norse and Greek gods on Earth, several alien races, an undersea nation, multiple alternate dimensions, and a master of mystic arts, correct? What difference does Dracula make when you already have Mephisto? Why is using pulp villain Fu-Manchu just fine, when movie monsters arent? Ultimately, Marvel in the ‘70s remains a worthy subject for a book, but unfortunately this is not a worthy attempt at it.
— Christopher Allen
When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.
But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.
(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)
So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.
So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.
And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age.
— Alan David Doane
I’ll get my bias out of the way right up front: Artist David Mazzucchelli’s work on the Frank Miller-written Batman: Year One (the comic) is about the best art ever created for a superhero comic book. I love the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane, to name a few great superhero artists, but Mazzucchelli on Year One (and also in the also-Miller-written Daredevil: Born Again) brought a unique blend of dynamism and humanity that is sorely lacking from even the best superhero comics. Mazzucchelli’s brief time as a superhero artist was one of the high points of superhero comics history, and while I love his later, more personal work, I do wish superhero comics these days possessed a hundredth of the visual depth and artistry he brought to the table. So forgive me for wishing Batman: Year One (the DVD) looked a little more like Mazzucchelli’s art. But, I’m nitpicking, and I have to admit it. Batman: Year One is faithful to the mood of the comic, even if it doesn’t always match it frame-for-frame. That said, many scenes in the movie are clearly right out of the book, and the characters look on-model, especially the vile Commissioner Loeb, Lt. James Gordon, and the prostitute Selina Kyle.
The fact is, Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful comics-to-film adaptations ever. Unlike the direct-to-DVD All-Star Superman (which I liked but didn’t love), it really feels like the whole story is there. James Gordon (voiced by the amazing Bryan Cranston) is really the star of the show, idealistic but human, moral but flawed. The movie doesn’t shy away from Gordon’s moral lapse with colleague Sarah Essen, but wrings the same drama and pain from their affair that the comic portrayed.
The arc of a determined Bruce Wayne feeling his way from willful amateur to truly becoming Batman feels genuine and earned, in keeping with the original comic. The ending feels pregnant with a world of possibility, but is satisfying at the same time.
I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of the special features are out of my reach, but the regular DVD in the combo-pack includes a Catwoman short, and multiple previews, including one for Justice League: Doom, which adapts Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” storyline from the Morrison-era JLA run and looks like it will be a fun addition to the DC direct-to-DVD line.
The quality of DC’s direct-to-DVD movies has varied pretty widely, but Batman: Year One is the best one yet produced. The voicework, animation, and committment to keeping the greatest Batman story intact on the screen all make it a must-see for anyone who loves this story, or these characters. The movie will be available on 10/11 for download and 10/18 to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD. Whatever your format of choice, see it. It’s great.
— Alan David Doane
A copy of the DVD was provided by the studio for the purpose of review.
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.
The Fury of Firestorm #1 by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar has one good element at its core (I guess that pun is intended) and that’s the issue of race. Before high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond and school reporter Jason Rusch are linked to the Firestorm Protocol, they are just kids who don’t get along because Jason accuses Ronnie of racism. It′s not that Ronnie says or does anything to provoke this, which shows Simones subtlety and sure hand; its that Jason is angry and maybe jealous of Ronnie′s minor celebrity and plays the race card, with the effect of actually getting Ronnie to wonder why it is he and his mother don’t have any black friends, even as he′s angry at Jason for bringing the question to light.
That’s the most interesting part of the issue, with the rest being rather unconvincing stuff involving a threesome of handsome American terrorists tracking the remaining particle to Jason, leading to the transformation of our two male leads into the superpowered version of The Defiant Ones. None of that is very interesting, with average, Bob McLeod style art from Cinar and the same made-up teen lingo (″Ill casket you!″) Simone used to ill effect in Batgirl. I give it credit for trying to be about something for half its length, but its not enough to keep me around.
Teen Titans #1 by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth is one of many DC books determined to bring back the ′90s. Hey, the title of the issue is even, Teen Spirit, and you’ve got ′90s X-writer Lobdell and ′90s Image artist Booth, looking about the same. Lobdell doesn’t do such a bad job, though gathering just two heroes together for the eventual team seems a little sluggish. Red Robin, the Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl, and Superboy—none of these are characters who I feel like I′m missing out on. I actually liked Lobdell′s Superboy debut, so hopefully I can just read that without having to follow this one.
I, Vampire #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino is the most Vertigoesque of the new books, a nod to Twilight and True Blood with its star-crossed lovers and that one special vampire guy who sees humans as more than walking blood bags. This vampire, Andrew, has been (un)living for 400 years with guilt over turning the sweet Mary into what she is today, a bloodsucker about to go to war against humanity with the rest of her kind. This isn’t an original comment, but yes, Sorrentino′s art does look a lot like Jae Lee, and that’s a good thing, as the book calls for a style that’s someber and still, though maybe Fialkov could have broken things up a bit with a flashback to sunnier times. I think Fialkov may be in for a tough go trying to reconcile this world with the rest of the metahuman-filled DCU, but for now, we′re off to a good start.
The Flash #1 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato is a nice-looking book that brought me back a little bit to the first time I ever was interested in The Flash, the Waid/Wieringo run. Oh, its not that Manapul is busting out fresh concepts like the Speed Force or anything, but what as a new writer he may lack in making Barry Allen much more interesting than the norm, he makes up for with an engaging, softer art style that looks like color over pencils, sans ink, and a willingness to play with page layouts and an organic use of sound effects that stands head and shoulders over what we can now say with authority is an overwhelming lack of artistic ambition on the part of 90% of the other DC artists. I think Manapul could do a better job introducing his supporting cast for maximum impact, but I do like that he seems to understand that one way to make boring Barry more interesting is to have two women interested in him.
Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin is the most interesting and competent of the many team books DC has unleashed the past month. As he has shown the past few years in Hellblazer, Milligan is expert at damaged characters who still have something to offer, and now, in addition to roping in John Constantine and early success Shade The Changing Man, he has the scarred soothsayer Madame Xanadu, the daft, haunted June Moone, the resourceful but insecure Zatanna, and even the searching Deadman, who are all being slowly drawn together to go up against The Enchantress, who has already defeated the regular Justice League.
Janin is a new name to me, but I like the style, which is dark but grounded. Obviously this is a title that’s going to call for some out-of-the-box storytelling, so hopefully he can keep growing in that regard. I guess my only concern is that Milligan has his work cut out for him trying to make each of these strange loners distinct, but I trust he will be up to the task.
And that’s it, the whole 52 aside from Green Lantern Corps, a title that I missed. I think that’s thorough enough. I can say that the majority of these books are not ones I will continue to follow, but I will say there are more I liked than I expected, so that’s something. The ones I wont stick with mostly fail by being mediocre, the titillating or offensive elements unfortunate but probably overly remarked upon. I don’t think reaching more women, kids or non-Caucasians was ever a serious goal, and the few who are offended are likely to keep reading anyway. What folks should really be more demanding of are better stories, more adventurous art, more risks taken. The relaunch has been considered by many to be a kind of last ditch attempt at new readers and relevance, and so the problem is not that Starfire is a slut or Catwoman and Batman get it on, but that to those writers′ minds, and their editors, this represents risk and a bold attempt at taking the characters into new territory. At the same time, maybe 15% of the books show some inventiveness and fresh approaches that aren’t based on exploitation, with another chunk of the books being familiar but competent entertainments. That’s not a bad average overall.
Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…
Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.
When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.
Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people.
Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here.
We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.
The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.
The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft.
Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.
The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing.
Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books.
It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed.
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.
And so we enter the final week of DCs reboots, with about 40 books under our belt and a final dozen to review. For now particular reason, lets start with them in alphabetical order.
All-Star Western #1 by Justin Gray, jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat is an early front runner for book of the week. I liked Gray and Palmiotti′s Jonah Hex quite a bit, so I′m happy they get to continue with Jonah here, though the title of the book suggests we′ll eventually move on to lesser DC Western heroes like El Diablo, Tomahawk and Unknown Scalper. This story brings Hex to 1880s Gotham, hired to help track down the Gotham Butcher, a serial killer of prostitutes. The immediate impression is, damn, Moritat is a fantastic artistic, recalling the old Moebius Lt. Blueberry stories in gritty but precise verisimilitude. Gotham turns out to be no less corrupt than in Batmans time, though here, there be more boobs on display.
Gray and Palmiotti twist a typical Western character—the reporter chronicling the cowboys exploits—into a psychologist teamed with Hex, and the results are even better. Amadeus Arkham not only provides insight into Hex′s character without the writers having to show it, but he has a good grasp on the killer as well. And when the two outsiders find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy, a secret society that may very well shield the killer from their grasp, we′ve got a gripping suspense story on our hands. Excellent.
Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis is better than I expected. I admit, when I saw the toothy, Sleestak-looking fish people on the first page, I was thinking, that Johns just can′t be happy unless someone is getting chewed up and dismembered. But with nary a drop of blood, he changes scene to focus on our boy Arthur, a regular hometown hero guy stopping bank robbers and trying to grab a lunch of fish and chips if some dumb blogger would stop bothering him. Johns does a good job showing Aquaman as tough and heroic, then countering it by having other characters voice the common conceptions and misconceptions about the guy: he has a deep bond with fish, nobody likes him, etc. And yet, he′s going to try to find a place for himself on land regardless. Nothing earthshaking but it′s well-crafted, and this is as good as I′ve seen from Reis.
Batman The Dark Knight #1 by Paul Jenkins and David Finch was okay up until the laughable ending. One-Face? Oh, Paul Jenkins. Taking away Two-Face′s duality and making him a musclebound thug is about as bad an idea as there is. Up to this point, though, things aren’t bad, although Jenkins keeps hammering on about fear being a cannibal and whatnot to the extent not much actually happens. Bruce Wayne is accosted by a GCPD Internal Affairs officer who, by definition, should be grilling other cops, not citizens, and he′s harassing he richest, most powerful man in Gotham on a flimsy premise that a guy not as nice as Bruce would end his career on. But on the plus side, new potential love interest Jaina Hudson is sassy and smart, and Finch doesn’t forget the most important attributes: her ass cheeks. Finch is okay, but still has a very limited repertoire of male faces, and all of them constipated and looking like they had nose jobs. If one more Arkham breakout and one more great lady waiting to get her heart crushed by Bruce Wayne is up your alley, then plunk down your $2.99. Me, I′m hoping for a little more.
Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa, Graham Nolan and Lashley is like, I dunno, that movie version of The Losers. Looks like it might work, but the script isn’t very good and the talent involved isn’t meshing. Costa is new to me but I know hes written a lot of recent G.I. Joe comics, and this is sort of in that line, a fake military strike team that avoids killing, with a lot of toys and a cool logo on all of them. That logo provides the most risible plot point, as someone with a cellphone takes a picture of the Blackhawk logo on the side of a chopper during what is supposed to be a covert mission.
Something that dumb is hard to overcome, but Costa makes a game effort, introducing two of the team members who are in a secret romance. Kunoichi was bitten during the mission and exposed to industrial waste, and now she appears to be getting meta powers, which would mean DC′s two military-themed books have superhumans in them, which strikes me as not a very good idea, twice.
Graham Nolan returns from an even less promising gig, newspaper comics, to provide layouts for the book, and they′re fine, but finisher Lashley is committed to adding so many extraneous little hashmarks to every character that they look like they’ve been struck with wire brushes. It results in a kind of Whilce Portacio approximation, only with even less restraint.
Other than the public relations nightmare from the logo, and the pending eruption of superpowers, there isn’t much going on in the book, unless you get excited every time you read the word ″nanocites″. This one doesn’t pass muster.—Christopher Allen
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.