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.