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Trouble with Comics

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Two - Three Men and a Little Daemonite

Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…

Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.

When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.

Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people. 

Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here. 

We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.

The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.

The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft. 

Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.

The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing. 

Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books. 

It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed. 

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 51 - B is for a better Bat?

Continuing the alphabetical tour of Week One of the new DC, the next three books happen to be in the Dark Knight’s corner of the universe.

Batgirl #1 showcases the return of Barbara Gordon, now out of the wheelchair where she’s been since The Killing Joke, back in costume and ready to fight crime in Gotham City.

A small confession: I really don’t care who Batgirl is.  I haven’t followed the various Batgirl incarnations throughout the years and I haven’t read the various Birds of Prey books that had Barbara Gordon as their leader.

Having said that, I liked the character of Oracle and I think her absence leaves a void in the superhero world (and, yes, I can’t help but wonder how all of this effects Batman Inc.).  I’m hoping that someone has plans for an Oracle-type character.  But if Barbara Gordon is the new-old – or is that the ‘old-new’? – Batgirl, that’s okay by me.

Oh and for those who were concerned about the sudden improvement in Barbara’s condition:  yes, she was shot by The Joker.  Fortunately this Barbara Gordon did not suffer a permanent injury.  She recovered.  She may have even been Oracle.  But she’s all better now.  (Writer Gail Simone deftly takes care of that bit of business in a couple of panels, so I hope that I’m not spoiling anything for anyone.)

There.  Now that those bits of business are taken care of…

The new-old Barbara has an interesting combination of cockiness and uncertainty as she resumes her career as Batgirl.  Simone manages to capture the swagger of someone who has experience with bad guys, but manages to balance that with someone who has been on the sidelines for three years.  It makes for a captivating character and allows her inner-dialogue to give us insight into the character rather than just act as a way of delivering exposition.

Unfortunately too much of the issue is spent establishing a new villain, having Barbara say goodbye to a much-younger-than-we-are used-to Commissioner Gordon, search for a new apartment and then getting a new roommate.  There’s a lot going on in this issue and much of it is good, but a couple less balls being juggled might have made for a more captivating comic.

I am somewhat curious to see what the story holds for Barbara and where Simone takes the character, but I’m not feeling completely hooked on the book.

Batwing #1 focuses on a new character, the so-called “Batman of Africa”.  There’s even a reference to Batman Inc. (and there’s me again worrying how the new 52 effects Grant Morrison’s best book) and how the new character was recruited by Batman to fight crime.

Let me start off by saying that the artwork in Batwing by Ben Oliver is lush, creative and a pleasure to look at.

But the story…

The thing is this:  writer Judd Winnick has been given a blank slate to create a brand new Batman-type character.  Go crazy, Judd!  Go wild!  The world is your oyster!  Let your imagination soar!

But instead of creating something amazing, fresh and new, we get this:  the new character is a cop in a corrupt police force.  But he’s idealistic.  He’s going to change the force from the inside.  But difference is this… he’s in Africa!!!

The young Batwing also has an older Alfred-type assistant and of course there’s a beautiful young cop on the force who is both a romantic interest and is also the only other honest police officer on the force.  Add to all of that a group of formerly unheard of old heroes who are introduced as if they’ve always been around but it turns out they all disappeared under mysterious circumstances!  Even Batman was unaware of their existence, and he’s the goddamn Batman!

Everything in this book has been done before, been done better and been done to death.  Yes, it’s pretty to look at.  Otherwise it is a massively wasted opportunity.

Detective Comics #1 is the first full-issue appearance of Batman in the new DCU and after reading the book I have two major problems:

The first is that I can’t make sense if this Batman is like the Superman of Action Comics and the story takes place before all of the other books that are being published.

Having read three Bat-books in a row, I simply cannot get a sense of Batman’s role in this new DCU.  In Batwing we hear mention of Batman supplying computers and equipment to his African protégé.  In Batgirl Barbara Gordon has a poster of Batman on her door, confirming the aspect of her origin that had her inspired by his heroics years ago.  And the first page of Detective Comics has Batman stating that The Joker has been responsible for “one-hundred fourteen murders over the past six years.”  So I have to think that the story takes place ‘now’ in the new DCU.

And yet later in the issue the police force are screaming for Batman’s arrest and blowing things up as they attempt to capture him. 

So Batman is literally the poster boy who inspired Batgirl and his reputation as a hero is powerful enough that he’s recruited a hero in Africa.  But in Gotham City, the police are hunting him and Commissioner Gordon is his only ally? All of this going on while the cover of the soon to be alphabetically read Justice League International has Batman swinging into action with a bunch of other heroes?

I acknowledge and accept the conceit that the various Batman books exist in their own little corner of the world where Gotham City is its own dark, dangerous place.  I’ve always approached the books as if these stories take place in a more gloomy, more serious Bizarro Bob Haney mini-universe, and when Batman appears in Justice League he’s a different character in a different alternate world.

But shouldn’t there have been more thought given to how Batman operates and is perceived within the various Bat-books?  He’s been a heroic inspiration for years in one book, he’s a financial provider in another, but a hunted menace in his own Detective Comics?  I’m not demanding iron-clad and inflexible continuity in the first week of the line’s re-launch, but a tiny bit of consistency wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

The story itself is serviceable and Tony Daniel certainly has some good-looking drawings to accompany his fairly-good words.  I’d even go as far to say that the book, while over the top and incredibly self-important in its seriousness, is good until the story’s final pages.  But those final pages plunge the issue into a grand guignol of gruesomeness.

And that’s my other major problem with the book:  why would an editor allow a book this grotesque to be one of the cornerstones of the entire company’s re-launch?  I have to wonder what was going through editor Mike Marts’ corporately-mandated head.   

At the book’s conclusion it becomes obvious that the main character in the book is not Batman, it’s The Joker.  And instead of Detective Comics being a book for the 21st Century, it’s a book transplanted from the heyday of the Image Comics-inspired Dark Age.  It reads as if the worst aspects of Watchmen were its inspiration and Tony Daniel was instructed to top the shock (and shlock?) value of that that classic story.

The final pages of this issue are something out of Silence of the Lambs or its more lurid sequel, Hannibal.  It is impossible to reconcile this book’s conclusion with the action in Batgirl.  I don’t even know how both books can exist in the same universe.

Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics was at times macabre and over the top, but there was always the underlying sense that light was struggling against darkness and that there was always hope that evil could be defeated.

This new re-launch of Detective Comics merely wallows in its own gloom.  And because of that, it’s a giant step backwards for this shiny new universe.

—Kevin Pasquino