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Trouble with Comics

The New DC 52 Week Three, Part Two - Turn Me On, Deadman

So now that we′ve covered the Batman related books of the week, what about all the rest? As usual, there are some old standbys and a few solo books for characters who have never been able to support them for long. First, though, we′ve got a book starring one of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe.

Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is, as expected, a train wreck. The posturing, macho Azzarello would seem an odd choice to write Diana, and indeed, shows very little aptitude for her here, relegating her to a detached role, the focus more on the human Zola, a pretty, short-haired blonde who finds herself menaced by centaurs and other creatures from Greek mythology because she is apparently carrying the child of Zeus. She is saved by Hermes, who is later wounded terribly. One of the villains has charcoal skin and would seem to be an angry son of Zeus, but as much as I loved the Robert Graves book as a kid, his identity didn’t jump out at me. 

I find mythological elements can be nice in contemporary stories but it′s easy to overdo them, and Azzarello goes full court press here, jamming the pages with magic and symbolism so that there is barely time to meet a sleeping Diana and get her dressed in a silvery, non-patriotic variation on her classic attire. How soon do I miss the ′90s leather jacket of last year′s muddled, aborted Straczynski reboot. 

Cliff Chiang does a terrific job, but with one more bad career choice like this it is getting harder to drum up sympathy for why he isn’t a superstar. As for Azz, I will say that by the end, he has stood by the courage of his trumped-up portentous bullshit enough that it almost gets over, but one comes away from this book scratching one′s head and wondering why it was more important to him to explore the mystery of how Zeus fucked this human girl and she didn’t know it, than to try to make the star of the book interesting.

Captain Atom #1 by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams III makes me think I misjudged Krul unfairly by the secondhand reviews of his previous Green Arrow and Arsenal miniseries. Well…that Arsenal thing really did sound awful, but hey, this marks two good books from Krul this month. Part of the appeal is Williams′ art, which has evolved to a freer, sketchier style that is surprisingly refreshing when depicting all the nuclear energy blasts and such. It′s like he′s making science fun. And I′m not saying Krul is knockdown brilliant or anything, but as with Green Arrow #1 he is using a formula that works: 1) see character in action; 2) present his supporting cast; and 3) present the ongoing problem, which in this case is the reliable premise of the hero whose powers may end up killing him. I like that he gets away from the overly militaristic hardass or government stooge role that Atom is often given, and the energy hairdo lifted from Firestorm actually looks pretty good on him.

Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara defines workmanlike. Unimpressive artwork, a get-it-out-of-the-way flashback explaining the origin of the scarab that will give Jaime Reyes his Blue Beetle abilities, and several uninteresting scenes leading up to that contrived moment. I think the Beetle redesign from a few years back, which hasn’t changed much here, is terrific, and I′ve liked Jaime fine the few times I′ve seen him, but this was not a good start for, Jesus, is this Volume 9 of Blue Beetle?? Volume 10 should be just around the corner. 

Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mahmud Asrar presents a Supergirl who doesn’t know where she is, fighting for her life against guys in mech suits trying to contain her. Naturally, she′s freaked out and we are sympathetic to any creature who doesn’t know why something unpleasant is happening to them. Kind of reminds me of something John Byrne would do, and I mean that as a compliment. Simple, but good storytelling, and I like Asrars style. Hey, maybe I won′t like the character once she assimilates into the DCU, but for now, good start.

DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang is one of the nicer surprises of the week, a mature take on Boston Brands karmic balancing journey. You may well ask why such an admitted jerk in life as Brand would get the opportunity to live on through others after death, but its clear that this is, if not a curse, certainly a burden he will have to carry for a long time until the goddess Rama finds him sufficiently enlightened and selfless. I could take issue with an Eastern deity being so on-the-nose and really spelling out for Brand what he has to do, but overall it looks like Jenkins has a good handle on things, and Chang is a good choice on art, as he is can handle the everyday stuff as well as the more mystical or superheroic elements.

OK, so while I missed getting this week′s Green Lantern Corps #1, I did find last week′s Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and liked it, certainly a lot better than Lobdell′s Red Hood book. I don’t know Superboy too much, so maybe having him as a kind of lab project combo of both Superman′s and Lex Luthor′s dueling DNA has been explored before, but I get the feeling the patient, calculating genius aspect of the character is new, and I like it. Silva is kind of stiff but it does fit the character so far, and the idea of Superboy in a virtual reality his creators aren’t aware he knows is fake should be good for a lot of mileage. 

Legion of Super-heroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela was my least favorite book of the week, which may be surprising to read after how I tore into Wonder Woman, but at least that caused a strong reaction. I want to be sensitive because I know what its like to follow an artist for a long time, long enough that you can find bits of their old magic where someone less familiar cant. Like, take new Bob Dylan or Van Morrison records and old fans may fine wonders while new listeners hear croaks, grunts and wheezes. 

So Im just saying that I missed the time when Paul Levitz was good enough on LOSH to create all the warm memories that fans have of his run. In reading this (and I did read the first couple of his last LOSH as well), its not even like the feeling one may have from reading a past-prime Claremont or Miller where the style is so distinctive that if you give in you can maybe get swept up in it even if its ridiculous. I don’t really see much of a Levitz style, unless you call metronomic, low impact character introductions a style. Here is this guy talking about why he is upset to this girl who misses so-and-so and this guy cant be a Legionnaire anymore and this girl is married to this guy and this guy has almost the same powers as this other guy but lets just seem them both anyway because some folks are fans of one and some prefer the other and this one is complaining that they need to recruit more Legionnaires because we have only seen a dozen so far and theyre all sitting around doing nothing except the really smart one who is doing something with his computer and this Legion must be made of money because they can afford to keep two dozen or more heroes sitting around and waiting for something to happen that usually requires the efforts of five or six of them. 

Listen, there is something cool about the Legion. I have read pretty good runs from four or five writers, and I would give Levitz the benefit of the doubt that back in the day, his run was good, too. But it is just not happening here. This is just formula without fire. I don’t understand how you can put out two Legion books with dozens of characters and tons of history to draw from, and they can both be botched so badly. I don’t get any passion here, any attempt to do something fresh or sincere or layered or anything. ZZZZ.

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 52 Week Three, Part One

So, good for DC for not only getting some decent sales so far for the relaunches, but generating a bit of controversy as well, specifically with the sexual mores of Starfire and Catwoman in two books that debuted this week. I guess I might as well enter the fray before said fray is all over, so without further adieu…

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort is, to be fair, notable for more than Lobdell¢s recasting of Princess Koriand¢r, Starfire, as little more than a doe-eyed, obedient fembot, ready for superheroing or sex, the former something she seems to do more as a favor and the latter something she does for fun, and does often. Nothing wrong with a liberated woman, of course, although narration mentioning that she had once been a slave raises questions about just how much of her attitude is cultural and how much might be spawned from that experience, and why did she have to be introduced with a joke about her breasts? As others have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t make for a good character (re)introduction because there is literally nothing else here but a hot orange chick in a bikini who has sex with any guy who hoves into her reach. There are interesting things that can be done with that as far as Roy (never called Arsenal or Speedy) Harper and Jason (Red Hood but its really a helmet) Todd, because one of them will probably develop feelings for her, but that’s all about the male characters and their conflicts. Give us something for Kori to do or think about besides humping.

As for Roy, I have never really followed him except secondhand, so I¢m pretty okay with pretending the heroin and lost arm and dead baby or whatever just didn’t happen. But so far he¢s a not-very-interesting along for the ride kind of guy, and since the ride Red Hood is taking him on isn’t clear, well. As for Jason, Lobdell seems to want to make him sort of a Grifter type, with a girls jacket instead of a long trenchcoat over what looks to just be Nightwing¢s current costume, more suave than psycho, with skeletons in the closet but insane revenge against Batman on the backburner. Lobdell moves things along briskly and with a little bit of intrigue, and barring the gratuitous Starfire poses, Rocafort has clear talent, but in order to make Red Hood into a character who could support his own ongoing book, it seems like he has been smoothed out to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of superheroes.

Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March is the other controversial one, and for good reason, as we first see Catwoman in bra and panties, then shes undercover as a bartender in a hotel suited rented out to Russian mobsters and prostitutes with sheer panties jutting out at the reader, and finally, she decompresses with some wild-but-brief sex with Batman on the roof of her borrowed penthouse. I actually don’t mind this in theory, as I think people are too puritanical about superheroes, as if having an active sex life somehow makes them less noble. Now, an active sex life with a criminal, that’s a different story, especially as Batman is historically the hardest-assed, least forgiving of them all. But that can be really interesting to develop, if Winick avoids the more fanfictiony elements of it seen here. Better to suggest and leave some of this to the imagination, even if March does draw sexy women. As for the rest of the story, with an anonymous gang blowing up her place, her love of cats, and the introduction of a smart, kind older female friend-slash-provider of jobs, its all pro forma. Of course her friend isn’t going to provide any competition for Selina in the looks department. Of course theres a creepy pimp killer guy she can tear to pieces that we wont feel shocked about, because he deserves it. Catwoman works best when shes skirting that blurry line of morality, a thief whos a good friend, mentor, and who steals from those who can afford to replace the item or who maybe stole it in the first place. Winick needs to work harder to explore those moral quandaries, the decisions that turn out bad in one way or another, rather than dwell on the sensational.

As long as we¢re in the Batverse, let¢s look at Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I wish I could unremember Kevin Pasquino noting that Scott Snyder has a fondness for characters talking about their fathers, because here we go again with another bit of wisdom, although I¢ll cut Snyder some slack here: it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would talk about his father in a speech looking towards the future of Gotham. And at least Bruce/Batman is written about the same as he is in Tony S. Daniel¢s Detective.

Like many of the relaunches, this one starts with a quick bit of action, followed by a lot of talking to set up the direction of the book. My first impression of 2011 Capullo is that he isn’t much different from 1999 Capullo, but with more of a tepid hybrid of the styles of Jim Lee and former boss Todd McFarlane. From the Batcave on, there isn’t anything here that will wow you, and his Joker is surprisingly unthreatening-looking. I also thought it was odd that Dick Grayson was drawn as looking about 17, not fully grown, when he is clearly an adult in his own book and we know he is just off a convincing gig as Batman. It would hardly be a Batbook without a creepy murder these days, though thankfully Snyder doesn’t dwell on it too much, and he does a nice job dropping a little red herring early on that helps justify Bruces new doubts about Dick, now that Dick¢s DNA has been found under the nails of the victim. I didn’t like this as well as I did Snyder¢s Detective run, but not a bad start.

Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows is about as good as it should be. What I mean is, while it will never sell as well as a book starring Batman, a Nightwing series should always be pretty good because you have a character who is more fun and more accessible as Batman. He¢s a lower-budget Batman who also has the same father issues most of us have, but he also gets laid now and then, but always in a non-creepy Red Hood way.

This issue establishes that Dick was Batman for a while on a fill-in basis but is happy to be back as himself again. Of course, being Gotham, a day doesn’t go by when some hero¢s past doesn’t come back to haunt him, which comes in two forms here: 1) an agile but not superpowered hitman trying to kill him, and 2) his old traveling circus is in town, with a childhood friend now grown into a lovely woman. Seems like pretty familiar territory, but Higgins writes a likable Nightwing and Barrows draws him handsome and heroic, nothing very ambitious in the storytelling but very consistent and attractive. I liked it a lot.

Birds of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is no longer a Batbook, as Barbara Gordon only appears briefly to turn down Black Canarys offer to join. Its confusing, because this seems to be the first incarnation of the team, so if that’s so, how do BC and Babs know each other? The team is now Black Canary as the veteran/voice of reason, Starling as the sassy one (she¢s new to me), and Katana as the quiet one/Asian one/one without a bird name. Based on the cover, Poison Ivy will appear at some point, but she doesn’t here.

I like Saiz¢ art a lot. He is able to capture female forms without adding too many lines and getting into gross territory. In fact, I can¢t think of a book he¢s done where he didn’t class up the proceedings a notch.

We meet a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth behind the Birds of Prey, and they have heretofore tolerated him, until the guy feeding him details on them sets up a meet that is really designed to draw them out in the open to be picked off, whereupon they rescue him, kick some butt, and take off. Three inoffensive, distinct female characters who are good at what they do and work well together, some sort of menace, and an interesting supporting character or two. Nothing astonishing, but this should be the baseline quality of any superhero book, and so far, so good.

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 52 Week Two, Part Three

I give DC credit: Never did I think I would be reviewing every one of these new #1s, but even when the books aren’t that good, I¢m still having fun writing about them. Note: I wrote in the last review that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was canceled before its time, but indeed, it¢s being relaunched. Sorry—hard to keep track of 52 new comics.

Resurrection Man #1 by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino is the second book of the month with the hero falling out of a plane (is it 9/11 anniversary anxiety?), but other than that, and a sort of Dial H for Hero concept, it feels pretty original. We¢ve got a guy who dies often but keeps coming back, and each time with a new power. The inherent problem, of course, is that this is a hero for whom death is even less of a concern than it is for every other superhero. I kind of liked how D&A wrote about each new power as if it had a certain taste, though hopefully they will slow things down enough soon so we get some idea what this guy is all about, how he feels about these resurrections, how it changes his outlook on life. I could do without the psycho gals torturing people for fun, but am interested in this group of supernatural beings in human disguise who are hunting our hero, and Dagnino has a gritty style that would fit well in Hellblazer if and when this book shuffles off its mortal coil.

Demon Knights #1 by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves is an odd but amiable book. I¢m plenty Anglophile, but found Madame Xanadus Sod it s and yearning for a quiet pint kind of low-yield shtick, though I had a great time with similar stuff in Cornell¢s Knight & Squire miniseries. And Neves has his moments, but overall is a little too pedestrian to really bring the Dark Ages to life and make this book a must-read experience. On the other hand, it is becoming quite clear that the more interesting of the DC relaunches have characters and settings off the beaten-Metropolis/Gotham/Star City path, where such and such odd guy and/or gal can do their thing without having to worry about a Justice Leaguer butting in. Cornell has a great opportunity to essentially rewrite a lot of early DC Universe history here, especially as it relates to the immortal and/or magical characters, so I hope he comes up with more than just, Hey, that’s Vandal Savage cameos and The Demon and Xanadu being fuck-buddies. Yes, you read that right. It is kind of funny, but leave it to DC to have all their supposedly relatable heroes never getting off and sexuality only being okay when its between a witch and a demon.

Okay, so I would like to keep the streak going, but I just didn’t get the Scott Lobdell-written Superboy. I hope we will all be able to move on with our lives.

Batwoman #1 by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman is not only the book with the most aristocratic-sounding creative team, but it is also the best of the week. Williams and Blackman pick up smoothly from Greg Rucka¢s abortive Batwoman storyline in Detective Comics, not skipping a beat or seeming to worry much about this New 52 stuff. Batwoman is Kate Kane, she¢s gay, she¢s cool, and she still is able to shake it out and have something of a normal life when she takes off the tights. The Religion of Crime is still a major focus, but this time out, Batwoman brings her cousin, Flamebird, along for the ride. Not a lot happens, but it¢s only about 14 pages of story. It¢s probably unfair that Williams terrific layouts are a little less impressive now that he is pretty much doing the same thing he did last year in Detective, but hey, it’s a critics job to be demanding. I actually still love the love of the book, and the real shame is that 90% of the books out there don’t have this level of either ambition or execution.

—Christopher Allen

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

The New DC 52 Week Two, Part Two

As I tuck into the next steaming plate of DC reboots, I find myself sympathetic to the editors and writers in charge of this, let¢s be honest, pretty much impossible mandate to present a refreshed DC Universe that is accessible to new readers while honoring not just existing readers, but also servicing the numerous trademarks of characters a truly fresh relaunch would have made defunct.

Take Batman and Robin #1, by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, which reads very much like the pre-relaunch version of the book, except now Bruce Wayne is fully Batman and it is he, not Dick Grayson, teaming up with Bruce¢s son Damian in the role of Robin. Now, although it hasn’t been made very clear, probably by design, but Bruce has obviously been Batman for at least five years. If only five, that means that Dick, Jason Todd and Tim Drake have all not only had brief careers as Robin, but have grown up enough to leave the nest/cave and strike out on their own, with new superhero identities. That’s preposterous, but since DC has to service these trademarks, there you go. Obviously, it would have been better for only Dick to have been Robin, followed by Damian (if you even need Damian). I don’t know intellectual property law, but does DC think that if they don’t use these characters all the time, Marvel or Image are going to publish their own Red Robin or Damian Wayne comics?

Anyway, it¢s a curious issue, with little action, and most of what we see being Bruce trying to get Damian to get what he¢s trying to do with respecting the memories of his dead parents while moving away from being obsessed with their murders, and Damian acting like a heartless little shit. I didn’t mind that, as Damian is often written that way, but of course there is more to him than that. And I like the idea of Bruce now honoring only his parents¢ wedding anniversary rather than the date they died, which is a nice idea of Tomasi¢s and a smart way to sort of shut the door on one era and open a new door onto maybe a brighter one. On the other hand, shame neither Tomasi nor Gleason realized it was sort of dumb to have this bright start result from the same clichéd shot of Bruce brooding in his dark old mansion. How about some renovation to visually sell the new outlook?

Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio is a book I wanted to like, being a big fan of the original series, but it has a lot of work to do to get me past this initial bad impression. We meet Deadshot, Harley Quinn (in a racier, non-harlequin ensemble), King Shark and others, being tortured for what they know about the Suicide Squad. We flash back to the group on a mission, showing what they can do. Back to the present and one guy is willing to talk, which gets him killed. Everyone else is tight-lipped, and we find out it was just a test by a younger, thinner Amanda Waller. Since the remaining victims/prisoners/operatives know how to keep their mouths shut, there is hope for them to eventually earn their release, or at least keep doing the government¢s dirty work a while longer.

Nothing really wrong with the idea or the structure, but Glass¢ execution is gratuitous with the blood and torture, and all the characters are loathsome. Deadshot and Harley have been shown to have dimension in the past, but not here. Sure, it is just the first issue, but there needed to be a reason to care here, and I didn’t find one. And while I can appreciate that Dallocchio went for a different style in the flashbacks than the current time, well, the flashback wasn’t far back enough to need it, and neither style is all that interesting.

Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke was entertaining enough, and well-drawn, but almost all of the story beats depend on some familiarity with Green Lantern to make sense, or at least have the desired impact. First, we get someone reciting the famous (for Green Lantern fans) oath, and then, whoa, is that Sinestro reciting it? That’s a real shocker (for Green Lantern fans). If you¢re new to it, it doesn’t mean anything. Then we get the Guardians of Oa, whose role is not explained, agreeing to let the green-uniformed Sinestro go protect his sector with the ring, because the ring chose him, even if they disagree with his methods. Only Ganthet is against the idea, so he is tortured. So, that’s kind of interesting, in that in some way maybe we¢re supposed to root for Sinestro, the nonconformist. Got it.

We next meet broke Hal Jordan, attempting to kite a check for overdue rent, but he is interrupted by a scream for help that makes it through a closed windown in the apartment across the street. It looks like a guy is going to rape or kill her. Hal jumps from his balcony across and through the window, only to find that it’s a (non-porn) movie being shot in the apartment, and its then that he sheepishly realizes he fell for the same thing Peter Parker did 40 years ago.

No worries, because Carol Ferris bails him out of jail, and Johns adds the odd touch that she somehow knows the policeman on duty. Hal explains what he was doing, but Carol tells him he¢s not Green Lantern anymore (why he isn’t isn’t explained), and though he wants to be a pilot again, he¢s uninsurable (as an insurance guy, I would say it¢s unlikely an insurer would dig into the flying careers of each pilot, but whatever), but he has a job in another capacity if he wants it. We find out he had to give up the ring but not why, and that Carol also had a Star Sapphire ring but hasn’t worn it lately and doesn’t plan to (which would only make sense to fans).

We catch up with Sinestro passively watching (via green telescope, which isn’t made clear is created by his ring) a bunch of guys in yellow uniforms restraining, blasting and killing people, and then suddenly he is attacked by one who feels Sinestro betrayed their Corps. Sinestro garottes him and says he betrayed nothing, and for all non-fans know, he may be right. It isn’t made clear that Sinestro used to be in charge of these guys in yellow, but I suppose most readers will at least understand he has been away awhile and needs to put his house in order.

Back to Hal, who has asked Carol to a fancy restaurant, the kind with stainless steel lids over the entrees, waiters in vests, and patrons wearing pearls. What a great place for a guy with no money to ask his new/old boss and apparent friend…to cosign a new car loan? He rightly gets ice water in the face, and in Johns¢ defense, he has no need of continuity crutches to write Hal as a selfish, manipulative asshole. 

But that’s okay, because we aren’t supposed to care that much about Hal, right? Its Sinestros book, and that’s why he gets the last, full page word, telling the now-evicted, no-options Hal that if he wants his ring back, he has to do whatever Sinestro tells him.

This part is actually fun (although much moreso for fans), because while I was kidding about whose book it was, it might be a good story to have Hal serving Sinestro, who clearly isn’t a hero in the classic mold. Maybe the humbling will make Hal a better person, and maybe he will have to be resourceful to get out from under Sinestros black-laquered thumb. For this and the clean art, Im in, though it really would have been nice if DC just provided a Marvel-style summary of what went before, so Johns and other writers didn’t have to labor to work in (or in this case, completely blow off) the exposition.

Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan and Ed Benes does a much better job setting up its main character and where he has been before this point, and I have only read one or two comics where he briefly appeared. A big ugly red guy using a power ring fueled by rage, named Atrocitus, is honestly a lot less to work with than Sinestro, much less Hal Jordan, but damn if Milligan doesn’t make him sympathetic and efficiently present characters much less sympathetic, in both the blue aliens trying to kill his loathsome, vomit-spitting cat, Dex-Starr, and the other Red Lanterns themselves, that make Atrocitus look much better by comparison. This is the kind of thing Johns sort of whiffed on in his scene with Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps. I can¢t say I am a big Ed Benes fan, as his skills with big muscles and glinting metal are somewhat undone by his misinterpreting the intent of some scenes. I mean, this inarticulate, vampire/Harley Quinn-looking chick—we are supposed to despise her in this scene, not drool over her great ass. This would seem to be B-level Milligan work, but subpar Milligan is still better than a lot of scribes out there. I¢ll be sticking with this one for now.

—Christopher Allen

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 52 Week Two, Part One

So the first week of DC′s relaunch went pretty well, as Action Comics, Animal Man and Swamp Thing became three series I wasn’t reading that I now want to follow, and a couple more I′m on the fence about. Counting the prior week′s Justice League, which I will stick with a little longer, that isn’t bad at all.

So here we are in Week Two, and here are my first impressions of what I read on the first night, in the order I read them.

Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett wasn’t anything I had any real expectations about. Aside from his appearances on the Teen Titans cartoon several years ago, the character of Slade Wilson only registered for me during a brief period in the 80s when I followed the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans. But I liked this just fine. Higgins understands that when you have a character who in the minds of most is a villain—a paid killer—you have to give the people some sympathetic quality. The Punisher has the fact he does what he does because his family was gunned down. With Deathstroke, it′s…well, it′s that he′s battling ageism. OK, that’s not a great hook, but I quite liked the old dog having to prove he still has what it takes against a new breed of snotty, classless, high-tech young assassins. Obviously, the series cannot hang on this for much longer, but it made for a good debut, and Bennett′s precise, crisp style matched up well with the material. I liked this one. And you know, as much as the relaunches have taken some heat for some old hat talent, you can put Higgins on the list of fresh names that could help this thing actually work.

Grifter #1 by Nathan Edmundson and Cafu is a book that, quite frankly, I read next because I wanted it to fail in comparison to Deathstroke, the other tough-solo-guy book this week. Who said critics were objective? And…mission accomplished, though it isn’t so bad. We meet Cole Cash in an agitated state on a commercial flight, able to hear the disturbing thoughts of aliens masquerading as fellow passengers and crew. I read enough WildC.A.T.S. to know these must be Daemonites, though I don’t remember if this was always one of his abilities. We get a little flashback action to find that Cole is a, well, yes, he′s a grifter, though it isn’t clear what the deal was, and the vagueness of it suggests writer Edmundson isn’t interested in setting up long cons in the book. Rather, it′s going to be action-packed semi-superhero stuff, and that’s okay, too. I wish we had gotten a little more story here, but even more, I think Cafu is not the right choice as artist, because he draws faces too smooth. I understand from the script that Cole is in only his late 20s, but the hat and muttonchops just don’t fit with the unlined, innocent face. A successful grifter has presumably been around the block a time or two. I appreciate that DC lined up another gig for Cafu after they canceled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents too soon, but a better choice would have been…

Mister Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson presents ″world′s third smartest man″ Michael Holt, a kind of Reed Richards with a touch of Tony Stark who has lost the woman he loves but soldiers on, throwing himself into his scientific work. Wallace presents Holt as a likeable, pragmatic man, but I felt like this was more of a miniseries. There just didn’t seem to be enough to base an ongoing book on, but we′ll see. Robinson′s non-dynamic art doesn’t help. I think you need someone with a cleaner, brighter style, like Cafu. Also, honestly, I think the ″Fair″ and ″Play″ tattoos are ridiculous. What would a multimillionaire industrialist be trying to prove with them?

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli was the best of the small sampling so far this week. Lemire strikes gold again after the impressive Animal Man debut with this supernatural team book starring a prissing, 700 year old Frankenstein′s Monster, his kick-ass wife, and at the end, cult favorites the Creature Commandos. That could make for a thin Hellboy/B.P.R.D. ripoff, but Lemire brings plenty of fun ideas to it, like a three inch floating headquarters, courtesy of Ray Palmer′s shrink technology, a mad scientist leader in the body of a young girl, and Frankenstein′s marital troubles, which have apparently been going on for a century. Ponticelli brings enough weirdness in his style while still being able to draw things as cool as they need to be. Very fun.

Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods, is not a fun book. Im only a casual LOSH fan, but I don’t think my problem with it had anything to do with only knowing half the team. It just wasn’t compelling. We get a group of Legionnaires appearing on modern, 21st Century Earth, trying to find a villain who is going to unleash some sort of virus that will wipe out humanity or somesuch. Timber Wolf goes off, trying to track the guy, and dialogue between the others lets us know that he isn’t the type of teammate to ever wait or listen to others. Okay. We get to know very little about the other characters, despite most of them getting opportunities to gab with each other. They do find the guy, are unable to stop him, and then fire up their time machine again to go to their timeline, where we suspect the virus will mean that everything has changed. I didn’t have a problem with the plot, but the execuion was uninvolving and Pete Woods has turned in much better art before. Rest assured that there will be another team handling the Legion before too long, and this will be undone or ignored

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 52 - Week One Scorecard

Looking at the late-August release of Justice League #1 as a kind of preseason game, how did the new season of DC Comics pan out for its first real week?

Action Comics was heavily favored, written by Grant Morrison, with art by the solid Rags Morales. It was okay but very restrained, as if Morrison was trying to hold back the usual torrent of ideas to see what the other kids brought, see if this experiment was going to flop. Could be he is less interested in trying to match or top All Star Superman and is instead playing games with himself, trying to come up with a Superman who is pretty much the opposite of the All Star version and see if that can be compelling, too.

Animal Man was the best book of the book, so let us get that out of the way quickly. The Believer bit was clever, and a good way to get exposition out of the way quickly, leaving room for not just good characterization of Buddy Baker and his family, but a done-in-one menace (of sorts), AND a creepy, suprising twist. Add to that that he honors Morrisons star-making run on the book by somehow introducing Moore Swamp Thing elements, and color me impressed. Artist Travel Foreman makes a mistake or two with perspective, but that nightmare sequence is stunning.

Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yannick Paquette is a solid, attractive book, though one of many where it isn’t clear what is still considered canon and what isn’t. Alec Holland used to be Swamp Thing, but isn’t anymore, but clearly he will be again, or somehow bonded with ST. And Superman knows him. Paquette has some nice Nowlan-style art here and while hes always been a bit stuff, dude does work hard and is always consistent. Some interesting, creepy stuff that oddly enough has some parallels with Animal Man, though unintentionally.

Those were really the three books I will definitely continue with. Ones on the fence or securely on the other side of it…?

O.M.A.C. by DiDio and Giffen is better than I thought, a fun remix of the Kirby semiclassic series, although I wanted D&G to bring more of their own ideas to it. Also, O.M.A.C. himself isn’t very cool. I would rather he had that crazy otherworldly swagger and command of all kinds of crazy weapons and gadgets, but here he is kind of a mindless thug.

Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf suffers from an ugly costume design, awkward dialogue and narration and a character reboot that fails to honor Barbara Gordons time as Oracle, which is to say, the past 20+ years. Honestly, it would have been better to completely ditch her paralysis entirely than make it a spinal injury that she was able to utterly overcome, physically, yet causes her to mentally freeze when someone points a gun at her. If she was mentally strong enough to get herself back in superhero shape, she should be mentally ready for anything. And as far as that costume, isn’t the appeal of Batgirl, and most young female superheroes, that they present a contradiction, a litheness and unpadded fragility and abandon that flies in the face of the danger they are in from bigger, stronger opponents? When you give them armored costumes and clunky boots, it takes the fun out of it. The one positive thing I would say about the book is that at least its somewhat lighthearted and is the only one to even attempt to give the lead character a friend, though she (the new roommate) is pretty unrealistic so far. Is there a lamer attempt at activism than painting Fight the Power on your own apartment wall? Another security deposit sacrificed to the Cause.

Men of War is one I am kind of torn on. I think Sgt. Rock meets Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a great tag, but not sure theres enough here to make anyone put down their controllers. Also, for a book that spends so much time on military jargon, one would think it would be a heavily researched war series, but all of a sudden it looks like these guys are up against a supervillain? I will give it another issue or two, but I don’t know quite what this book is supposed to be. Im all for war stories of impossible odds, but when that means regular guys against superpowers, maybe that crosses the line from brave patriot to fool?

Detective Comics by Tony Daniel is…well, I give Daniel credit in that I have studiously avoided his Batman run after the first couple of pretty poor issues. His art has improved since then, and he writes a coherent Batman. And yes, I was very surprised by the gross-out twist at the end, both as a reader and as a guy who wonders who oversees how DC handles their franchise characters. So, it may be a good deal of morbid curiosity, but I will be back for issue #2.

Batwing by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver is one of the better-looking books, but Winick fails to distinguish the character enough from Batman. Well, hes more like Jim Gordon as the only good cop on an African police force, who also puts on Bat-armor at night. The character isn’t interesting enough and the setting isn’t used well enough.

Green Arrow by J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens and George Perez is a pleasant surprise. Krul doesn’t do anything very impressive here—Ollie Queen is kind of Tony Stark, kind of Bruce Wayne, the corporate superhero playboy—but at least the pace is quick and with the Jurgens/Perez art it looks a lot like the comics I read in the 80s and 90s that were probably crap in retrospect, but at least they were my kind of crap. I would prefer Krul get to work developing one interesting villain, though, instead of unleashing a torrent of codenames and powers who only want to bust stuff up and upload it to YouTube.

Static Shock by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel is too energetic and goodhearted to come down too hard on. I generally like teen heroes who are still recognizably teens in their behavior, and Rozum keeps Statics Peter Parkery science nerd thoughts going along rapidly, humorously and pretty endearingly. I didn’t love the book or felt like there was anything new, but its enjoyable.

Justice League International by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti is thoroughly average. I don’t have anything against Booster Gold, Fire, Ice or the other lightweights on this team, but either make them real interesting real quick, or treat them as punchlines the way Giffen and DeMatteis did back in the day. Jurgens isn’t sure which way he wants to go here so he never adopts a consistent tone, as if hes trying to please everyone. To be fair, with the heavy hitters on the real Justice League, writing these guys is like managing the Pittsburgh Pirates. You cant beat fun at the old ballpark, but theres a lot more talent on other teams, in other ballparks. Having Batman cameo smacked of desperation, and has anyone said anything about the plot? No, because its dull. Team gets together at the behest of two characters we know nothing about, and after farcical meet and greet, go off to find a missing UN research team. Question: aside from the real world value of making this a Justice League title, why would you name your UN-sanctioned team after the independent superhero team with which youre not associated and don’t control?

Stormwatch by Paul Cornell and Manuel Sepulveda is one of the bigger disappointments of the week, although to be fair, that’s partly because at one time I gave a shit about Stormwatch/The Authority and never cared much about Batgirl, Green Arrow, Static, etc. Having the Moon threaten Earth seems kinda like something Warren Ellis might have come up with, although he would have used some science in there somewhere, right? How is this giant Moon-fist going to break out of its orbit? Its like when you put your hand on a kids head and hold him far enough away from you that he cant punch you. Doesn’t that happen to you? Anyway, Cornell is tasked with restarting Apollo, Midnighter et al pretty much from scratch, except now with 100% more Martian Manhunter, and some new would be badass called Eminence of Blades or something. I think he lives through this but gets his ass kicked. I didn’t mind it overall but it was underwhelming, much of which could be laid at Sepulvedas feet, as he fails to make cool what Cornell gives him, while at the same time, Cornell doesn’t do a very good job of reintroducing these characters by having them do or say interesting things.

Hawk & Dove – I didn’t read it. And yeah, Rob Liefeld had something to do with that, but no more than Sterling Gates did. No thanks.

—Christopher Allen