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Trouble with Comics

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

But having said all that, does it work?

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—Kevin Pasquino 

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part One - Fishing for Compliments

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