INQUIRE ABOUT ADVERTISING ON TROUBLE WITH COMICS

Trouble with Comics

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 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 51 - Stupendous, Satisfying or Simply So-So?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 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

The New DC 51 - Five Comics, Only One Pony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally a comic I enjoyed.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Kevin Pasquino