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Trouble with Comics

DC 51 Week Four, Part One - Vampires, Strippers & Teenagers, Too!

The final week.  Every DC Universe #1 that’s been published.  The good, the bad and the embarrassingly ugly.  And to help with the process it’s all going to be reverse alphabetical order.  So for Zachary, Zoe and all of the Zoological experts out there… this reverse alphabetical journey is for you.

For all of the justified hatred and disappointment brought about by Catwoman and Red Hood, I was expecting to hate the hell out of Voodoo.  And yet I found it mostly tolerable.

Yes-yes, that’s faint praise but this book should have been horrible beyond words: it’s set in a strip joint with the main character being a super-powered exotic dancer.  A couple of secret agents have been observing her (get it? – ‘observing her’ because she works in a strip joint!  They’re keeping their eyes on her!  That’s hard work!  Get it? – ‘hard work’!!!   Cuz, like, they’re in a strip joint, so it’s got to be HARD and… okay, you get the point).

So these two secret agents have to watch her because they suspect she’s an alien and perhaps she’s dangerous and, oh, did I mention that the whole story is set in a strip joint?  So there’s lots of semi-naked cheesecake artwork that always shows a lot but is careful never to show too much.  Therefore there is lots and lots of cleavage but never a nipple to be seen.    Obviously it’s okay to show boobs, buns, g-strings and lots of bras falling to the floor, but show a nipple? – Well, that’s just crazy talk

And yet, having said all of that, for some reason I didn’t find Voodoo anywhere near as offensive as the two previously mentioned fanboy sexfests because at least this story makes sense.  The question perhaps should have been posed within the DC brain trust as to whether one of its new 52 books should be set in a strip joint. – “Oh hell no,” would have been the correct response.  It’s a ludicrous idea and indicates that the company has no idea what its new audience should be. 

After all, this comic is nothing more than a Wildstorm/new DC version of the horrible idea that was Stan Lee’s epic Stripperella .  And because it’s one of the few books that headlines a female characters, it’s doubly disappointing that she’s an exotic dancer.  It perpetuates the notion that comic book fans are all man-boys who expect heroines to be bimbos who will drop their clothes whenever they need to and especially if they’re being paid to do so.

So it’s not that the book is bad because in fact it’s consistent and true to its premise.  It’s just too bad that DC thought that this book was a good idea.

Writer Scott Lobdell is back with Teen Titans #1 and once again he’s been given license to do whatever he wants with the characters.  Tim Drake, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and Superboy – he’s been given a long leash to revamp the heroes as he sees fit. 

So in this story some bad guys have tracked down Tim Drake, but it appears that he was never adopted by Bruce Wayne in this new universe because otherwise the villains would know Batman’s secret identity.  A news report says Kid Flash has no relation to The Flash, so he might be Wally West or Bart Allen or he might be someone new.  And Wonder Girl, while incredibly powerful, initially feigns weakness, then destroys a bunch of helicopters and, in her last appearance in the comic, pouts a lot.

The book’s conclusion ties in with Superboy and it appears that the two comics will intertwine with one another.  Unfortunately this issue is nothing more than a “we’re getting the band together” story with not enough of a hook to pull me into the next issue.  The climax is the exact same as in Superboy #1 and that just strikes me as being lazy writing.  Lobdell’s stock took a nosedive with Red Hood and the Outlaws and this book isn’t strong enough for me to be interested in anything else he has to say.

After reading Superman #1 it becomes apparent that DC does not know what to do with its oldest and arguably most iconic superhero.

In comparison, Batman looks to easy: he’s a violent Dark Knight with an incredible supporting cast and a great range of villains.  There are four books starring Batman and at least five books that headline members of the Bat-family.  But Superman stars in only two books while a girl and a boy are in charge of the other Super-comics.

Superman is supposed to be the hero that inspires every other hero’s existence in this new DCU, but there is confusion as to how strong the Man of Steel is supposed to be – both literally and figuratively.  In this issue Jimmy Olsen comments how Superman seems to be getting even more powerful than he previously was, as if his powers are in flux and still expanding.  So how super is Superman?  And why should that be treated like it’s a mystery that needs to be solved?  Does the character have to be a man of mystery in order to be interesting?

The other problem with Superman is that his creators simply do not know what to do with him.  Geoff Johns seemed to have a strong handle on the character, but everyone else wants to send him into outer space or ground him.  In this massively revamped book he no longer has Lois in his life and he acts like he’s a loner without any friends.  He doesn’t act like the kind of man who could inspire anyone.  Instead, he’s an alienated twenty-something who is desperately trying to find his place in his universe. 

And while that might be an interesting concept for a comic book like Superboy or Supergirl, it’s shouldn’t be Superman.

The Savage Hawkman #1 stars Carter Hall and reading the comic reminds me what a mess DC has made with a bunch of its books in recent years.

Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman have all had their origins erased, retold and fine-tuned to the point that that the fans all agree to subject themselves to a case of mass hypnosis.  Everyone nods their heads obediently and abandons the past like it never happened and then merrily embrace the new next best thing.

So this Hawkman is a character who is an archeologist who maybe has nothing to do with Thanagar or maybe he’s the reincarnation of an ancient hero with some alien power and maybe he’ll eventually have a girl friend who is Hawkgirl, but probably not because he’s a hero and heroes have attachments, and the Nth Metal acts like it’s Doctor Fate’s helmet or Jaime’s beetle from Blue Beetle so maybe it’s an ancient power or maybe it’s a futuristic power.  But after reading this issue it could be all of the above or, six months from now, none of the above.

In other words: Hawkman is still a mess. 

The next two books take place in the so-called Dark Corner of the DC universe.  And while both comics work to varying degrees of success, it’s a shame that they both have been mandated to blatantly acknowledge the universe that they share with all of the spandex clad do-gooders.

Therefore it’s not enough that Justice League Dark and I, Vampire take place in this new shiny universe, they also have to feature appearances by some mainstream heroes or, as in the case of I, Vampire, name drop a reference to some characters who don’t even bother to make an appearance.  So Batman appears helpless in one book in order to justify the” Justice League Dark” label, while in the other book the title character warns a fellow vampire that she won’t stand a chance against Superman, a half-dozen Green Lanterns and Wonder Woman.

Writer Peter Milligan gets a great cast of characters to play with in Justice League Dark and his work is so strong over in Vertigo’s Hellblazer that I suspect he will spin a terrific magic-based  story as he builds upon this issue.  Much like Teen Titans, this book is also an exercise in gathering all of the characters to form some kind of super-team, but with “heroes” such as Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine in the book, he won’t be tied to another comic’s continuity or another group editor’s whims.  So there’s a good chance that Milligan will be able to do what he wants to do with his team.  And that will be something worth reading.

I, Vampire is obviously intended to be a teasing temptation to the whole Twilight fanbase and it has some incredible Jae Lee-like artwork.  The book has echoes of the British show Being Human with vampires battling vampires with the world as their battlefield.  There’s even a scene that has a swarm of vampires (or is that perhaps a “murder of vampires”?) killing everyone on a subway car that illustrates how bloody the book will be.  It promises to be fascinating and powerful stuff. 

But the book will lose all of its credibility when Batman or Superman makes an appearance which, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable.  Because a hero should start poking around once that subway car is discovered, filled with dead passengers who have had their throats ripped out and have been drained of all their blood.  And when one of those heroes makes his inevitable entrance, the whole book will be deader than a vampire being stabbed with a garlic-soaked stake on a hot summer day.

—Kevin Pasquino