Reviews by KC Carlson (with guest cameo by JDC!)
All-Star Western #1
Upfront: Basically continues from the previous Jonah Hex series, by the same writers. Much loved in many circles, but not a big seller. That the movie tanked so bad probably didn’t help.
It’s still Jonah Hex, but he’s obviously been tinkered with by guys with charts and graphics and demographics. Suddenly, Hex is in the Gotham City of the 1880s — which the last time I checked was in the East (but All-Star Eastern isn’t a very good comic book title). Apparently, the powers that be thought that they could jazz up interest in Hex by tying him as closely as possible to Batman, but of course, the two characters are completely separated by time (over 100 years). So unless Jonah discovers a flux capacitor-driven DeLorean in an old barn, the two characters ain’t meeting up any time soon. (Although wouldn’t you love to hear Hex trying to say “gigawatts”?)
At least for now, Hex is teamed up with Dr. Amadeus Arkham, who long-time DC readers know is the founder of Arkham Asylum. This hasn’t happened yet in the Hex storyline, so for the time being, Hex will just have to be involved with some other members of “old Gotham” (such as Mayor Cobblepot) as occasionally referred to in various Bat-books.
The good news is that it’s still the same grumpy, ornery Jonah Hex. And there’s also the traditional dead prostitute (although that’s not such a good thing). Despite everything else, this is still Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex, hopefully given a chance to extend their acclaimed run of storytelling a little farther and stave off cancellation for a while longer.
I believe this is the first Jonah Hex work for artist Moritat (aka Justin Norman), but he’s a good fit, especially with his backgrounds and architecture occasionally resembling very stylized woodcuts. This effect is greatly enhanced by the also very stylized coloring of Gabriel Bautista who, combined with Moritat, serves the world of Jonah Hex particularly well.
Hopefully, this Batman-related stuff is just a new-series stunt, and soon Jonah will be back to his wandering ways. At first I was confused about why DC was reverting the title back to the original anthology-style All-Star Western, especially when Jonah is the only feature in the first issue, but I am reliably informed that El Diablo will debut in issue #2 — particularly fitting since the character debuted in #2 of the previous incarnation.
Upfront: Aquaman’s a tough sell in the the current post modern world of cynics thinking him the lamest superhero ever. Has had a long, long history at DC, with very few exceptional bright spots overall.
Going in, I expected that this new Aquaman was going to be more “grim & gritty”, and I was right. What I didn’t expect was much humor as well. Writer Geoff Johns obviously knew up front that the character has a long-standing “lame factor” from years of being made fun of by comedians and cynical fans. Johns stepped up to confront this right off the bat in a sequence designed to win over even the most jaded, cynical, comics world-weary fan (and critic) alike.
How does he do this? He has Aquaman walk into a seafood restaurant and order lunch — fish and chips. Of course, the wait staff and other customers are horrified by this — “How can he eat his friends?” — which leads into a sequence bursting with meta and humor as everyone in the restaurant calls him on it. The subtext is crystal clear — don’t believe everything that you think you know is true — and also deals with bad fan behavior (in a good and appropriate way, although I suspect that insecure fans will probably be offended by it).
The scene also goes a long way in resetting Aquaman’s personality, or maybe more properly defining it. He’s not the happy-go-lucky Silver Age family man. He’s not the overly regal asshole he once was. He’s not angry and pissed off all the time. (In other words, he’s not Namor.) If anything, he’s world-weary and at a crossroads in his life — and wanting to make positive changes. I think what this book is going to be about is if the world lets him do it. (Right now, it doesn’t look so good.)
Mera’s on hand for a brief but important scene, which is important to at least this reader. Mera’s such a cool character who’s kinda been lost for a long while. It’s good to see Johns putting in effort to reclaim her as well.
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado provide their usual excellent artwork, encompassing superherioic action, atmospherically moody scenes setting up future plotlines, and the excellent facial expressions needed to carry out the lunch scene to perfection.
The New DC is supposed to be about fresh starts, and there is no DC character more in need of one. I like this more thoughtful Aquaman. Sounds like a good reason to stick around for me.
Batman The Dark Knight #1
Upfront: I’m way behind on my reading, so I’ve yet to read David Finch’s previous Bat-tales. I was originally going to read them before reading this, but a couple of people told me it would be more appropriate to read this “cold”. The New 52 is all about new readers, after all.
I admit I was rolling my eyes only a couple of pages in over the clunky bad narration. (Who writes this stuff?) Until I got to page 5 and realized it was actually a cheesy Bruce Wayne fundraising speech. Well played, Mr. Jenkins. Just two pages later, I LOLed over the obviously evil cop (did you see the way he was drawn?) also trashing the writing. Set and match. Add more witty banter/double entendre, plus a new femme fatale and throw in a withering exchange between Alfred and Bruce, and it leads me to wonder — who gets a raise for adding writer Paul Jenkins to the mix?
While I’m enjoying all this clever stuff, other readers are wondering when the action starts, so that happens now — with a major riot at Arkham Asylum. Although wasn’t there just another riot in Arkham in a previous New 52 Bat-title earlier this month? Yes, just last week in Batman #1. And Arkham was also in Detective Comics #1. Arkham’s a cool place, but some editorial coordination to keep it from overuse should really be in place.
Anyway, back to this book. Because the artist (David Finch) is coordinating the fight scenes, the battle stops to take a break to include what Finch wants to draw at any given moment, so we get a big panel of the more unusual-looking (and scary) villains, then a panel which is just a big blood spatter (really), and then a full page of Batman posing instead of saving lives. Finch then apparently wanted to draw a pretty girl, so we have a panel of a bunny girl (and her nice derriere, which is prominently displayed).
I have no idea who this character is, and I had no luck looking her up. I’d guess that her name was White Rabbit, except Marvel already has a character by that name. Does anybody know who she is and why she’s running through Arkham? Neither the creators or the characters bother to identify her, which makes me think that Finch just invented her on the spot, because there weren’t enough hot babes in the book. Then we get to the last panel, featuring a Hulked-out version of one of the classic Bat-foes — for no apparent reason other than it looks cool.
This book’s pretty schizophrenic, isn’t it? And probably not by design.
There’s no doubt that Finch is a great comic book artist, but when a comic is just a random series of images that the artist wants to draw, it’s no longer a comic book story — it’s a portfolio. What he’s drawing is certainly interesting, but it’s not doing the story any favors. A good comic book requires a combination of both good art and a good story — hopefully about the same thing.
Let’s hope the addition of a writer of Paul Jenkins’ stature to the creative team will be a good influence on David Finch’s future storytelling prospects.
Upfront: Another grand old DC concept, without much purpose in the modern world. Obviously, this will have to be different to succeed.
It is different. So different, in fact, that I’m not really sure why it needs to be called Blackhawks. There are some stunts involving aircraft, but they are minimal to the plot.
Also, I think it’s an international cast, with a joke about the characters having odd nicknames that don’t match their actual birthrights. “The Irishman” is from the Ukraine, but the joke doesn’t really work in print where you can’t hear the characters talking with accents. That makes me think this is yet another movie screenplay (written by Mike Costa) disguised as a comic book — since it’s obviously written that way.
There’s also some subplot about one of the women being infected with nanocites and being transformed that’s supposed to be a cliffhanger, but the last page is drawn so poorly (by Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley) that you can’t really tell anything is happening to her. (It looks like she has a bad headache.)
I’m glad that this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the original Blackhawks. I wouldn’t go see this as a movie. Even if it was free.
The Flash #1
Upfront: The Barry Allen Flash is riding high since his revival and his starring role in Flashpoint and with the perfect artist for an updated look. But can the artist write?
This book has two hyphenates as creators: writer-artist Francis Manapul and writer-colorist Brian Buccellato. And it’s not bad. I think this title has more changes in the status quo than some other New 52 titles — this seems to be a younger, unmarried Barry Allen, who’s dating his co-worker (and fellow scientist) Patty Spivot. Iris Allen is still around, but for now, she’s strictly a reporter, aggressive at her job. There’s no Rogue’s Gallery (at least for now). But most everything else seems to be the same (job, co-workers) as the previous incarnation of the character.
So the emphasis will be on establishing new foes and situations for the Flash — something that hasn’t always gone well. There are now two generations of old fans to try and please — Barry Allen fans who seemingly like everything old and quaint about the series (Rogues, happily married to Iris) and younger fans who grew up with the Wally West version (who is now seemingly gone). But the New 52 is all about developing new fans, so it will be interesting to see if this will be enough to attract large numbers of new readers without completely alienating all the old ones.
I liked what I read here, but it’s a quiet start, with nothing instantly grabbing me, demanding my return next issue. I’ve read almost 40 years’ worth of the Flash, so I’m not going to drop it overnight, but the creators really have to step up their game story-wise to get me hooked enough to stick around long-term. Just because they’re skilled artists and/or colorists doesn’t mean they have fully developed their writing craft, and it remains to be seen if they’re capable of turning their ideas into exciting scripts. This is a good start, but they’ve got a ways to go.
You need a story that really means something important to your lead character. To say that all of Barry’s cases are personal to him means nothing if we don’t actually see why. Show — not tell — guys! If you want readers to stick around you’ve got to go from zero to Mach One faster than the Flash himself.
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1
Upfront: One of DC’s most interesting concepts and an important modern day hero. But almost every — frequently misguided — revival of the the character has lessened his impact. Can this character be saved?
I’ve always though that Firestorm was one of the greatest kid-concept heroes ever created. The combining of two diverse characters together to create a super-powered hero who was better than the sum of his parts was an amazing idea. The added situation of the two characters philosophically not getting along and having to working together — putting aside their differences for the greater good — was always a positive message. That his costume was brightly colored and explosive-looking was huge. And the original characters (a high school jock and a middle-aged scientist) were something that a broad range of readers might identify with.
The concept is not unlike the Japanese “giant robot” (or mecha) heroes first developed in the 1950s and 60s, where the heroic robot is usually controlled by a human operator, often riding inside the robot. Firestorm was usually depicted as being a super-developed version of the teenager (Ronnie Raymond), and while the scientist (Martin Stein) was never physically inside Firestorm, he was usually artistically depicted as an apparition appearing to talk and aid (control) Raymond from inside his own consciousness.
As the series aged, creators tinkered with the mix, and different characters would get teamed together, including man/woman pairings (specifically boyfriend/girlfriend). Most recently, issues of race were explored, with a black teenager (Jason Rusch) taking the prominent role with the original (white) Ronnie Raymond, now older, taking the supporting (internal) role.
This new version of Firestorm continues with both Raymond and Rouch recast as high school contemporaries but “natural” school-aged opponents. Raymond is a stereotypical football quarterback, and Rouch is a stereotypical nerd school newspaper reporter who challenges Raymond for getting ahead in his athletic career while black athletes are being held back. They immediately clash, but later we discover that both have hidden depth to their characters.
Sadly, the new book is not really for kids any more, based on the opening scene where a family is slaughtered by terrorists, and later on, the torture of others. One of the terrorists is Cliff Charmichael, a rival of Raymond in the old series who ended up as a super-villain. He was so remarkably screwed up over time, it was actually a relief when he was finally killed off (and then later retconned). Wonder what his fate is here?
Anyway, I brought up giant robots earlier because of the other major twist in this new Firestorm. Instead of Raush and Raymond combining into one super-powered character, now each boy is turned into their own separate Firestorm — one in a primarily red costume (Raymond) and the other in yellow (Rouch). But wait, it gets better. Now the two separate Firestorms can combine into an even bigger, more powerful character named (get this) Fury! Who looks like his arms and legs may be radioactive — but we won’t find out until next issue!
Yay! More action figures to buy!!!
Also, Loren, one of the female terrorists (coincidentally Cliff’s girlfriend), gets caught up in the reaction that creates Firestorm. It appears from the artwork that she may be the new Killer Frost. No rhyme or reason as to why, but what economy of writing!
Here’s a new book with brand-new concepts that are hugely kid-friendly that also wallows in mindless violence. Mixed messages, DC? I could see where this might be fun for the videogamer crowd, because it really feels like a video game, except there’s too much talking up front. I’m probably not sticking around for long. This just feels like “been there, done that” — only shinier and louder.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #1
Upfront: Again, love the GL concept, but concerned that overkill is weakening the franchise. Had dropped Tony Bedard’s previous GL book (Green Lantern Corps) about a year ago because I wasn’t enjoying it.
I was extremely confused initially, as the opening sequences of this comic re-tell Kyle Rayner’s origin as a Green Lantern (removed from the previous Hal Jordan/larger DCU context in which it was originally told — and now not including some essential details). It isn’t until several pages in that a scene-change caption indicates “The Present Day,” implying that the previous was a flashback sequence. This was a cheap storytelling cheat — especially in a book that most readers will go into thinking they are reading a present-day sequence intended to introduce the New 52 aspect of a fresh start for the DCU and its characters. So writer Tony Bedard managed to tick me off right away by not clearly indicating we were actually reading flashback history without a “years before” or “previously” or even “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” caption. Not a good start.
Things went downhill rapidly for me when next we are witness to a number of Rainbow Lanterns being slaughtered by what seems to be a malfunction of their rings shutting down prematurely. You would think that such a spectacularly advanced technology as the GL rings would have some sort of safeguard or warning that the rings were going to go powerless (or AWOL), so that the wearers wouldn’t be killed instantly. Or is this just something else the increasingly evil Guardians didn’t bother to tell anybody?
This is all to set up a gag where Kyle Rayner is suddenly and simultaneously chosen to be a member of each multi-colored branch of the Green Lantern Corps — just before he’s attacked by either the survivors or defenders of the previous ring holders. And then the story ends. (I use the term “story” loosely.)
The next issue box promises “A Brutal Times Square Beatdown”. No thanks.
Tyler Kirkham’s art had my eyes crying out for some white space for a rest — but there was none. Every panel was crammed with mostly senseless detail. And Kyle’s hair looked like a dirty mop.
I was really hoping that this book could get into the differing philosophies of the various Rainbow Lanterns — for me, the most interesting thing about all these new Green Lanterns. But once again, all these guys really want to do is fight each other. It’s like watching preteen boys play with their action figures — again. “KAZAP!!! You’re dead!” “No I’m not, you are — KRAK-AK-AK-AK!” My recent root canal surgery was less painful than this.
I, Vampire #1
Upfront: The runt of the litter. The book that very few were talking about, based on an old anthology character that even fewer remember. But vampires are currently hot in pop culture right now.
I’ve never been much of a vampire fan at all. Just don’t care for the genre. So I breezed thought this comic (written by Joshua Hale Fialkov with art by Andrea Sorrentino) in about five minutes flat, with nothing at all sticking to me. But since I’m not at all in tune with the subject matter, I thought that our resident (former) vampire expert — Johanna — might enjoy taking a crack at it. So here’s her review:
I think you have it right on, KC. There was nothing here to care about, and nothing hooked me, either. I think there might be an advantage to not being a vampire fan, because then you wouldn’t have seen this “one of them fights the rest” plotline so many times before. Artistically, it reminds me of the bad old days of Vertigo, when everything was colored in various shades of brown. Very moody, but the mood is “depression”. Definitely not for me, or much of anyone else, either.
Justice League Dark #1
Upfront: Curious to see how a bunch of traditionally loner characters can form an effective team. Also, got very quickly bored with Shadowpact, but that’s not a fair comparison.
DC’s supernatural characters have often been portrayed as moody loners who work on their own and only come together when there is a menace so big that it needs to be handled by a bunch of them, frequently in tandem with more traditional superheroes. As individual characters, their publishing careers have often been sporadic and erratic (notable exception: Hellblazer). So the idea of them teaming up on a regular basis — and as a part of the Justice League — seems on the face of it to be a very iffy and non-sustainable long-term proposition.
The strength of Justice League Dark #1 might put the lie to that premise, even with that awful name. This particular grouping of supernatural characters (which DC is calling “Dark” because that’s a sexy buzz word for younger, less-jaded readers) initially comes together when one of their own — the much-troubled June Moone (aka the Enchantress) — finds herself in even more trouble. This version of the Enchantress harkens back to the original conception of the character from way back in its fleeting Strange Adventures days, where the sweet innocent Moone becomes possessed by the evil Enchantress persona in a female Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation. This seems to me a much better way to portray the character, instead of her recent heroic membership in Shadowpact — offering up the interesting idea that this character could simultaneously be a member of the JLD team while also being one of their villainous protagonists.
The other “members” appear to be Madame Xanadu, a much more twisted Shade the Changing Man, Zatanna, John Constantine, and Deadman. Members of the new Justice League — Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Batman — appear as well, most likely to enable the JL somehow “sanctioning” this rag-tag team at some point in the storyline’s future.
Writer Peter Milligan is an old hand with offbeat concepts (Skin, Shade the Changing Man, Enigma, X-Statix) and has delivered an intriguing first issue. Artist Mikel Janin is relatively new to American comics, but his moody work should be very appropriate for this project, once the traditional superheroes exit the story.
It’s a weird one. Good thing it was meant to be that way.
The Savage Hawkman #1
Upfront: The character’s been in limbo, or only used as a supporting character (mostly in JSA), for what seems like forever. Never a major fave, but deserves better.
Not sure that this is going to break the character out big. It’s not that much different from previous Hawkman interpretations (except that there’s no mention of a Hawkgirl/woman anywhere, a big minus in my book). The new mysteries regarding his return and his now seemingly organic Hawk-suit aren’t enough to truly engage me in the story. (Sigh.) When all else fails, make your character more savage; that’s lowest-common-denominator storytelling.
Writer Tony Daniel and artist Philip Tan are old pros, producing solid work. Tan’s art is amazing as usual, but I find the new Hawkman outfit too fussy. I get distracted by the details, and the colors — although traditional for the character — are too bright and shiny for what’s supposed to be a more savage, brutal version of the character.
This is not a bad comic, but it’s not a very exciting one either. I don’t care enough about this version of the character or the story to come back.
Upfront: Eagerly awaiting this since enjoying Action Comics #1 three weeks ago.
Well, at least it will be a great collection!
As I was working on these reviews, word leaked all over the internet that writer/breakdown artist George Pérez will be leaving the series after issue #6. The new creative team is reportedly Keith Giffen (writer) and Dan Jurgens (penciller).
They’ll be great as well, but I was really looking forward to seeing an extended run for Pérez after the overall goodness of this first issue of Superman, one of the most satisfying first issues of the New 52.
When you see Pérez on anything, you know that he’s going to cram as much detail into his artwork as possible — it’s one of his artistic trademarks. Superman #1 is no different, but what is surprising is that the story is exactly the same way. He’s managed to cram about three issues of current storytelling into this single issue. How does he do it? Lots of itty bitty panels with lots of word balloons in them. More to the point, it’s his belief in giving readers something new in every issue. He offers up numerous new characters and you feel like you know them by issue’s end.
Granted, there’s a lot to set up here, from the re-establishment of the Daily Planet, its employees, and its position not only in Metropolis but in the bigger-picture internet media age. Plus, even though characters like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White have been around for decades in the public consciousness, he takes the time to not only re-establish them as classic characters, he develops new conflicts for all of them, many involving brand new cast members. One not-so-new character is Morgan Edge, although he’s been completely redesigned for his role as the new President and C.E.O. of the Daily Planet. Longtime readers also know his presence may foreshadow something much bigger and badder down the road for all the cast.
As opposed to Action Comics #1 (which was set approximately 5 DC years ago in relationship to this story), Superman #1 also gives us our first extended look at the current-day “new” Superman — unfortunately undermined slightly by guest appearances in other DC books this month. Pérez puts him through the paces against some terrorists and a new and mysterious fire-based character who may be connected to Krypton. That battle was practically nothing compared to Clark Kent getting his teeth kicked in by Lois after whatever (as yet unknown) disagreement they had in the past. She’s obviously moved on, and Clark has not.
Everything about this issue was first-rate. Granted, it’s a little wordy, but very little of the dialog is wasted. Gérez’s artwork — finished by the always amazing Jesus Merino — is outstanding, as usual. He’s one guy that can actually make Jim Lee’s Superman costume redesign work. I also appreciate that he realizes that he doesn’t need to stop the story dead in its tracks for full-page fight scenes (mostly so the artist can re-sell the pages to collectors). Pérez’s stunning art breakdowns serve the story — not the other way around, as in most other padded comics.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed a Superman comic. And I got two in one month. Keep it up, DC.
Teen Titans #1
Upfront: Always one of my favorite DC concepts. I haven’t been pleased with much of the last several years worth of stories, which have seemed to drift aimlessly and shift directions frequently.
Another in a frustrating majority of DC books this month with not enough strong story content to make a good choice to continue. I like that this new Teen Titans is seemingly getting back to including the more obvious and popular characters (or should I be rude and just call them trademarks?), but some of them have been re-made so radically that I wonder if I even like them any more. It’s a tough choice between reading about old friends who have seemingly turned totally obnoxious overnight and reading about writers’ pet “original” characters to the neglect of better characters, as the last several incarnations of the Titans have been. Seems like your classic lose-lose situation. Let’s take a closer look.
This new Kid Flash is more impulsive (and dangerous) than usual. Tim (Red Robin) Drake seems more isolated and intense than Bruce/Batman ever was. I barely recognize Cassie (Wonder Girl) Sandsmark, but then I wonder if that’s so bad after all, since the old one never really evolved beyond being “the good girl”. That’s all we get in this first issue, other than a fleeting look at Superboy (and the mysterious redhead) from his own book. According to the cover, there are at least three characters we haven’t even seen yet. I fear that at least one one of them may be the newest writer’s “pet” character.
So far, I’m not impressed. It seems that writer Scott Lobdell’s intent is to make these “new” Titans the most obnoxious yet. Brett Booth’s art is such a mish-mosh of current contemporary influences that his style seems to differ from panel to panel. Lots of flash with little substance. Because I’m weak for the franchise, I’ll probably check in for another couple of issues, but already I can tell my brain is regretting it.
Upfront: Know very little about this character, mostly due to lack of desire. Curious to see Ron Marz back at DC after a long absence.
I really don’t care to find out any more about this character at all. It’s competently written by Ron Marz, as I expected that it would be. This first “shock” ending wasn’t really that much of a shock to me, although the surprise second one was intriguing. But not enough for me to want to continue with this book.
I’m just not interested in seeing a superhero who’s also a stripper. Big deal. I’m an adult, and if I wanted to go see a stripper (I don’t), I’d go see a real one. So now DC has thoughtfully created a comic for those who can’t, for whatever reason. Artist Sami Basri has provided an lot of eye candy here, which should make this comic a nightstand favorite for younger readers and those who don’t regularly engage with real women.
DC Comics. Where diversity is just a lap dance away.
Weekly Wrap-up Scorecard
And I’m done! 52 reviews. Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments!
Top Notch: Superman
Back for More: All-Star Western, Aquaman, Justice League Dark
On the Fence: Batman: The Dark Knight, The Flash, Teen Titans
Not My Thing, But You Might Like It: I, Vampire, The Savage Hawkman
I’m Probably Done: Blackhawks, Fury Of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Voodoo