As a comic book fan of some little brain and great enthusiasm, it seems appropriate that I–like everyone else– review and comment upon DC Comics’ great, grand experiment to basically start over from scratch with their entire universe. 52 #1 issues, stretched over 5 weeks. Their flagship title, Justice League, shipped last week on August 31st, and the first wave of 13 titles shipped today. Now, I didn’t order all of them, since even I have my limits, and I was able to rule some titles out based on entirely arbitrary criteria such as writer, artist, character, or mood. Still, I expect to read 40 or so of the 52 by the time the first month is done. After that, we’ll see if anything gets dropped to give my poor budget a little more wiggle room.
Will I do this again for month 2? Perhaps. We’ll just have to see. But let’s get started, shall we?
Action Comics (Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Rags Morales): Set five years ago, at the dawn of DC’s new superheroic age, this features a younger, brasher, bolder, less experienced Superman. With a costume consisting of boots, jeans, a T-Shirt and a red cape that originally served as his baby blanket from Krypton, he’s a far more dynamic and proactive hero than we’ve seen in the past few years. He roughs up mob bosses for confessions, defies police, and still does his best to protect innocents. In short, he’s a crusading force for social justice, and edgier as a result. The military and police definitely don’t know what to make of him, and the primary conflict stems from his refusal to play nice and stand still for tests. Mind you, there’s a certain bald dude named Luthor with a plan to take down the alien menace….
All the usual “beats” are here, from Clark Kent to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen to Lex Luthor. There’s action (in a comic called Action, no less!) and adventure, and a sense of wonder. Morrison cleverly includes nods to the traditional speeding bullets, tall buildings, and locomotives, but not in the way you might expect. Rags Morales’ artwork is excellent, helping to give the story that sense of excitement and kinetic derring-do. This comic is a Yes.
Animal Man (Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Travel Foreman): Animal Man’s never exactly been a headliner. He was obscure in the ’60s, forgotten in the ’80s, and an odd choice for reinvention in the late ’80s when Grant Morrison took a stab at him. His series often dabbled in weirdness, and eventually became part of the nascent Vertigo line, before coming to an end. At the same time, he landed a spot on the Justice League International team. Years of obscurity followed once more, until a recent revival (by Morrison again) in DC’s 52. Here, we see him re-purposed as a part-time superhero, actor, and animal rights activist, with a public identity and a loving family. And then things get… weird. Very weird. Apparently, this series is intended to fall more towards horror, and I’m apt to agree. Bloody eyes, scratchy art, and a truly trippy sequence near the end help to convey that sense of disconnection and unease, as our hero finds his life slowly slipping into madness.
The story is strong and the art is appropriately compelling, going from soft tones to hard lines to almost psychedelic experiences. I don’t know if I’ll stay for the long term, but I’ll definitely ride out the introductory storyline to see where Lemire takes this. Call this a For Now.
Batgirl (Written by Gail Simone, Art by Ardian Syaf): This series, more than almost any other, has been a hot button where fans are concerned. After all, it’s undoing decades of character growth, taking Barbara Gordon out of the wheelchair and putting her back in the Batgirl role, one she hasn’t played since the late ’80s. In the hands of any lesser writer, this could have been a disaster. So what do we have? We have a younger, less experienced Barbara Gordon, back in the costume for the first time in three years, ever since she was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker. How’s she walking again? We still don’t know. But it did happen, she did spend that time in a wheelchair, and the experience has left a very telling mark upon her psyche. She may have healed, but the mental trauma remains, as we see in a vital scene. It’s clear that Simone may have taken on responsibility for making this series accessible and appealing, and for making the character work in her new status quo, but she hasn’t discarded the past. Honestly, I thought this was a strong start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Simone takes things. Syaf’s art is a good fit, conveying action scenes and domestic scenes with equal skill, telling the story in a dynamic manner. Stuff happens, all over the place, and it is good. This series is definitely another Yes.
Batwing (Written by Judd Winick, Art by Ben Oliver): Another wild card. Batwing is a new character, created by Grant Morrison as part of his Batman, Inc storyline. He’s basically the Batman of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cop by day, jetpack vigilante by night, fighting corruption and mercenaries and a skull-faced machete-wielding guy named Massacre. Winick’s always been a variable writer, often tackling heavy subject matter with a less than delicate touch, and this series could either be very good, or a steaming mess. Right now, it’s bordering on good, with a murder mystery, a cameo by Batman, and the mention of never-before-seen African superheroes. I’m all in favor of non-American heroes, and hopefully Winick will flourish with this book. Ben Oliver’s art is oddly realistic, managing to be both dark and shiny at the same time, using a muted series of colors and shadows to tell a story from every angle. It’s different and memorable. I’m interested enough in the story, the setting, the character and the theme to stick around, at least until the opening arc is done. This is another For Now.
Detective Comics (Written by Tony Daniel, Art by Tony Daniel): One of DC’s great mainstay titles (in fact, the one it takes its name from), rebooted after an extremely long and honorable run. With Tony Daniel writing and drawing, this is pretty much a one man show. It’s Batman versus the Joker, and… I was somewhat underwhelmed. I believe this is supposed to be another story taking place in the past, but it’s not as obvious as one might hope. It’s a decent enough story, violent and visceral and fast-paced. There’s a very strong cinematic influence to the way the city and the characters are portrayed, and it’s hard not to see some Gary Oldman in the depiction of Commissioner Gordon. Honestly, while I’ve read Detective for years and I really like Batman, I’m not entirely sold on this storyline. I’m giving this a For Now while I make up my mind.
Hawk and Dove (Written by Sterling Gates, Art by Rob Liefeld): I was on the fence with this one right from the start, because, well, Rob Liefeld. The poster child for ’90s excess, blown deadlines, artistic arrogance, creative mismanagement, tiny feet and big guns. But Sterling Gates is a good writer with a proven track record, and interviews suggested that he had an interesting story to tell. So here we are. Hawk and Dove, a pair of obscure heroes created back in the ’60s and brought out every so often, usually in conjunction with the Teen Titans. A much younger Liefeld provided the art for their standout miniseries back in 1988 (same year as The Killing Joke, same year as Animal Man’s ongoing, I’m detecting a pattern), so I guess it’s appropriate he return for this go-’round. Once again, we have the Hank “Hawk” Hall and Dawn “Dove” Granger iteration of the team, acting as avatars of War and Peace (instead of Chaos and Order, as before). Their partnership is uncertain and unsteady and fractious. Dove has a secret, Hawk has a chip on his shoulder. Interestingly, Hank’s father is alive, present, and knows all about the two and their superhero roles, which is a change from previous set-ups. The comic starts off strong, with zombies on a hijacked plane, threatening Washington DC, and it escalates from there. No complaints about the story. The art, however, is… honestly not that bad. Sure, the anatomy is a little skewed in places, people squint and grimace a lot, and I still don’t know how those wing-things connect to Hawk’s costume, but this is a lot better than what I’d expected. So despite my reservations about the art, the story itself is enough to say Yes.
Justice League (Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Jim Lee): The flagship title. The major league team. Superstar writer and artist. Is this the face of the New DC? You betcha. Set five years ago, this initial arc features the origin of the Justice League, set in a world that fears and distrusts superheroes. Here, we get a confident Batman that knows exactly what he’s doing, playing off against a cocky, take-charge, mandate-from-little-blue-aliens, Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan. As they alternately evade authorities and pursue an otherworldly menace, they take their measure of one another. Along the way, we get cameos from the younger, angrier Superman, and a pre-Cyborg Vic Stone. The story moves right along, the art is detailed and pretty, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from Johns and Lee. A lot happens here, but at the same time, there’s a certain decompression as they draw out the gathering of the team. But I have no reason not to keep reading. Call this a Yes until something changes for the worse.
Justice League International (Written by Dan Jurgens, Art by Aaron Lopresti): The second of three Justice League books, this one has a more international flavor, and a cast of B- and C-listers, many of them fan favorites from the good old days. Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Vixen, the newest Rocket Red, August General In Iron, and Godiva (she has magic hair! Really!) are joined by a moonlighting Batman, to handle matters under the eye of the United Nations. Cue the bickering, squabbling, jockeying for authority, cultural misunderstandings, and so forth. With the ever-dependable Jurgens on the title, this comic feels comfortable and familiar, like a return to the original JLI days. It’s not flashy or fancy, but it does have that sense of fun and unpredictability. This has all the hallmarks of a solid, enjoyable title, and my Yes for this was never in doubt.
Men of War (Written by Ivan Brandon, art by Tom Derenick. Backup story written by Jonathan Vankin, art by Phil Winslade): Essentially modern warfare in the DC universe. Military men engaged in combat operations, in which superhumans may or may not be involved. With an all-new Sergeant Rock to lead his elite group, this promises to be gritty, violent, messy, and fast-paced. Not a lot actually happens in this first chapter, as we get to know our hero and see what sort of things he’ll have to deal with as he gets settled into his role. However, the art is strong, with faded tones for the flashbacks, and a relatively limited use of bright colors making for some lovely contrast later on. The backup story, involving several Navy Seals, is intriguing but not as compelling. Maybe when that story is completed and can be read all in one sitting, it’ll be more powerful. While I’m interested in this title and its premise, I remain uncertain. I’ll ride out the first storyline and see how I feel. So this is another For Now.
Static Shock (Written by Scott McDaniel and John Rozum, art by Scott McDaniel): A legacy of the Milestone days, Static is a character with a small but faithful fanbase. He’s had an ongoing, a miniseries, a cartoon, and he spent some time with the Teen Titans. Now the electromagnetic hero is back in action, with a new base of operations in New York, and a whole new batch of trouble to avoid. Happily, the writers totally get the character. He’s a geeky teen with a love of science, a passion for playing hero, and a knack for screwing up, a la early Peter Parker with less angst. Sadly, his fashion sense hasn’t improved any–in fact, I think this costume may be worse than his previous ones, and he’s had some questionable outfits. But anyway, it could be worse. I’m thrilled to see that his usual supporting cast is in the picture, as well as fellow Milestone hero Hardware, providing him with some much-needed support. Things get off to a strong start as he launches into action, and the issues ends with a “whoa now” moment. McDaniel’s art is as stylized and quirky as ever. Frankly, you’d have to do a lot worse to keep me away from this title. Yes.
Stormwatch (Written by Paul Cornell, art by Miguel Sepulveda): And here we have the first of the old Wildstorm titles to be relaunched under the DC banner. It’s a mixture of old Authority regulars, some new faces, and the somewhat incongruous Martian Manhunter to grant it DC legitimacy. Cornell throws us into the deep end, with all sorts of weird stuff, from the Moon growing talons, to a mysterious ancient artifact, to a disembodied presence wanting to “help” us, to the attempted recruitment of Apollo into the team. This is not a series where things will be spelled out quickly or easily. Cornell clearly has a grasp on the characters, their voices, and their dynamic. He holds up his end of things quite nicely. Unfortunately, Sepulveda’s art isn’t up for the task. Characters pose rather than move. They change shape and appearance even when they shouldn’t, going from realistic to cartoony to disturbingly fluid. He’s great on scenery, aliens, and weird stuff, but his actual figures and faces leave something to be desired. However, I’m a lot more willing to overlook less-than-stellar art. Because of the writer and my fondness for the characters involved, this is still a Yes.
And that’s the first round of releases. Nothing was so horrendously bad I swore to stop reading it on the spot. A few series that have several more issues to make their mark, and a bunch I’m happy to stick with for the long run. Keep your fingers crossed for next week’s batch!