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Trouble with Comics

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