The DC New 52: Reviews of All the Week Two Books

Action Comics #1 (2011)

Reviews by KC Carlson

Action Comics #1

Upfront (what you should know about my preconceptions about the comic): A long time ago, for a short period of time, I used to edit this comic book. Also, I’m not a member of the Morrison “cult” following.

Book of the Week! I loved this comic. For me it was like reading a Superman story in the “real” 1938 Action Comics. It tapped into the original Siegel & Shuster concept of Superman fighting for social justice and “for what was right!” These were basic concepts that are so obvious that they eventually became passé for the character, ultimately being phased out in favor of mad scientists, rampaging giant monsters, and other mindless engines of destruction (aka typical DC villains). At some point, somebody (perhaps even the fans) decided that fighting for what was right was too corny a concept for such an iconic character and made Superman seem too “wimpy”.

Action Comics #1 (2011)

Obviously, writer Grant Morrison thinks otherwise, and artist Rags Morales finds the character’s true power in this interpretation. I’m extremely curious how we’ll get from this to the costumed hero (in the ridiculous super-suit) that’s going to appear in Superman #1 later this month. (BTW, I’m not opposed to Superman’s outfit being redesigned — I’d just like to see one that doesn’t evoke disco and which is already dated before it even officially appears.)

We get our first taste of some of Superman’s regular supporting characters, including Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, and General Sam Lane — but not really enough of Lois and Jimmy quite yet. The other two obviously aren’t too fond of this Super-character for reasons of their own.

We also get a pretty good look at the return of Clark Kent in his wimpy (although modern-day wimp) alter ego, which for now, at least, appears to be more “hiding out” than actual alter ego. So far, I’m not sure I’m on board 100% with this, but I’m willing to give it a further look.

The surprise last page also offers up another couple of radical tidbits about Superman’s status quo in the New DCU. As the major DC character most in need of a makeover/reboot/rethinking, I think that Superman in Action Comics will be one to watch this year. I just hope for everybody’s sake they finally get it all right this time. I’m not sure I can sit through the whole “Krypton Saga” again.

Animal Man #1

Animal Man #1

Upfront: Usually love most of the obscure-o DC characters, but never really warmed up to Buddy. However — ironically — read (and loved) the Morrison run.

I knew I was going to be in trouble when DC decided to designate a number of their New 52 titles as “The Dark”. I absolutely hate what passes for “dark” in corporate comic-speak these days, because for every Alan Moore Swamp Thing (which I never considered “dark” anyway, due to its underlying positive messages of love and “green”), there seemed to be 20 comics series devoted to demon worship, decapitations, deviant sexual practices, dead people rising, and other unpleasantness — and almost always accompanied by buckets of blood. Just not a horror guy, I guess. Liked ‘em a lot when I was younger; now I’m full and don’t really need any more, thank you.

I’m just not very interested in this little corner of the DCU any more, although I understand why the New DCU is excited about promoting it, having successfully wrenched DC’s “dark” characters back from Vertigo — a largely unnecessary battle that seemed more about ego and control than telling good stories. They’re putting a horror spin on what used to be a superhero, and while they have every right to do that, it’s not what I’m looking to read.

So, Animal Man #1… I think a lot of people will like it. In fact, I’ve already been told by several people that they really like it. Since I respect their opinion, and I know that they really like this kind of storytelling, I have to conclude that this must be pretty good stuff. Just not for me.

I can say this: I really enjoyed Jeff Lemire’s work on the recent Superboy series and was sorry to see it go. And I’m looking forward to reading his take on Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which I suspect will be more superhero than horror, based on the Flashpoint mini. I can also see that artist Travel Forman has much more than the basic “chops” of comic book artistry, but his art style used here is really not my taste.

Batgirl #1

Batgirl #1

Upfront: I’m a fan of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. I think that Barbara Gordon as Oracle is one of DC’s most brilliant concepts. I generally love Gail Simone’s writing. Man, have I got a headache.

Bottom line: Too soon to tell. And I really can’t talk too much about the issue without giving too much of it away. It’s doesn’t help that this issue answers some questions, ignores others, and provides some seemingly mystical handwaving to avoid some “reality” issues (for now). I do have to say that if we (corporately) have to have a new Batgirl, I’m glad that Gail Simone is doing it. Point of fact, there’s really nothing in this issue that says that we can’t possibly have other Batgirls again in the future — or didn’t have other Batgirls in the past when Barbara was “unavailable”. The “five-year compression rule” for the timeline makes for some interesting storytelling opportunities in the ultimate “new” Batgirl timeline — if one thinks outside the box — which pretty much defines Simone’s career to date. The rule also has potential pitfalls if not handled correctly. Sorry to be so cryptic. But there’s a very big “something” that we don’t know for sure yet.

I know that everybody wants instant answers, but I’m not sure there ARE instant answers here — at least for right now. The big question is how long fans will wait. Or if DC even cares at all about “old” fans’ wants/needs anymore.

I loved the elevator gag so much, I’m willing to stick around for awhile. And Ardian Syaf’s artwork is very interesting so far. You’ve seen it before in Brightest Day and Green Lantern Corps.

Batwing #1

Batwing #1

Upfront: Not a huge fan of the Batman: Incorporated thing, but secretly love the fact that current fans seem to not realize that it’s such an updated Silver Age concept.

I had to look up to see if Batwing had already appeared. He had — in B:I #5, which I had read and apparently forgotten. Never a good sign. Sadly, this work by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver is pretty forgettable as well. I pretty much checked out when I read “All I need is for people to die!” on page 4, and the double-“shock” ending really turned me off. It’s sad that so many modern comics creators think that brutality and gratuitous violence is an acceptable substitute for taking the time to build memorable characters.

I’m done with this book already.

Detective Comics #1

Upfront: Historically speaking, I’ve always felt that ‘tec has nearly always been more interesting than the Batman title. But Batman usually sells much better.

Detective Comics #1

Having been impressed with the previous run of Detective, I was initially pretty excited about this — until I remembered that the Batman and Detective writers had switched books. Tony Daniel is now writing Detective instead of Batman. I always felt a little sorry for Daniel, having to write “around” Grant Morrison’s Bat-stories, and not ever getting the chance to build up a head of steam on the title, knowing Morrison could throw a wrench (spanner?) into the works at any moment. So I felt that Daniel does a good job here, doing what needed to be done — reestablishing the new Bat-status quo in… uh… whatever this is called (the New 52-verse? Ugg!!!).

Apparently, we’re back to the Year One (and movie) concept of the Gotham police force being generally stupid, brutal, and corrupt — except, of course, for Commissioner Gordon and his close allies. So Gordon and Batman are again tight and eye-to-eye, which is as it should be. Playboy Bruce Wayne is apparently also back in the saddle — another good move — although we need to be occasionally shown this (rather than having it just come up in dialogue between Batman and Alfred) to really sell the idea.

Daniel’s art is effective, although I was taken aback by seeing how tank-like Batman already is, just five years into his mission in this current continuity. I know that my age puts me out-of-sync with current fan (and possibly creator and publisher) desires, but I always read Miller’s Dark Knight Returns as a horrifying potential future for the character (and retroactively, one of DC’s first Elseworlds stories, although never officially labeled as such), not something that was set in stone. Times have obviously changed, however, and since Daniel’s opening two-page spread so closely evokes Miller’s ultimate Batman, it’s very hard for this long-time comics fan not to be a little saddened by the thought that Batman could go from Kane/Finger/Robinson to proto-Miller in just five short years of now super-compressed continuity.

Also, the ending of this issue probably would have been a lot more effective if I hadn’t just re-watched John Woo’s Face/Off a week ago. What a bizarre coincidence. It’s always good to see the Joker, however, and I’m curious to see how this story plays out. I’ll be sticking around for a while — at least ‘til Detective #1,000. (Oh, you know DC will revert, at least for one issue. How can they not?)

Green Arrow #1

Green Arrow #1

Upfront: Love Green Arrow, but hated the previous series so much I actually stopped buying it.

Wow. It’s never a good sign when you completely forget what the story was about in a comic you just read three days ago. Flipping through it again, I began to realize why I had dismissed it so quickly. I had no real idea who this Green Arrow was as a character. (Mostly because writer J.T. Krul decides to emphasize action and developing the lame villains over telling us who this Green Arrow is. Oh, wait… Part of that’s a secret!) It’s also going to be problematic for old readers to relate to this corporatized Arrow, after reading for years about the lone wolf rebel that the older version of the character was. Granted, the old Ollie was severely flawed, his macho posturing and womanizing ways a relic of another (bad) era, but he was a hell of a lot more interesting than this guy, who now has a handler (wha?) and somebody else designing his equipment for him — just like a real rich guy would.

On the other hand, this new Green Arrow book is one of the best drawn comics of the New 52. It’s the work of two long-time industry veterans — Dan Jurgens (pencils) and George Pérez (inks) — who together really bring out the best of both of their strengths, with dynamic layouts and storytelling polished to a brilliant shine.

Yet, this just adds to the confusion. New readers might be thrilled by this new, slick interpretation of Green Arrow, but wouldn’t they rather have artists closer to their generation? And really — a corporate hero in this day and age? Don’t we all hate Wall Street and the rich right now? It is, after all, partially their fault that most of us can’t afford all the comics we’d like to have. (smiley)

I’m at a loss here. I love the art. Hate the writing. Love the old guy. Hate this one. Comics shouldn’t be this hard.

Hawk and Dove #1

Hawk and Dove #1

Upfront: Really enjoy the male/female concept of this classic team. Don’t think very highly of Rob Liefeld’s artwork.

My first instinct as a former editor is to grab the original art, stat Hawk’s head up about 20-25%, and have it pasted over the original. That corrections aren’t even done this way anymore — it’s all on computer — is testament to how long I’ve been out of the field. Regardless, I still had a laughing fit when I finally saw the full-sized cover artwork on the racks — the big, powerful Hawk with the little itty-bitty pin-head! Inside, his head fluctuates in size/proportion from panel to panel. Yet these days, editors apparently don’t (or aren’t allowed to) “correct” these sort of things. (sigh)

I really want to like this book. I very much enjoyed writer Sterling Gates’ work on Supergirl and the World’s Finest mini a couple of years back for DC, and I think he’s done an awesome job of pulling all the various threads of Hawk and Dove’s all-over-the-place history into a coherent — and satisfying — whole in this first issue. (He keeps Don Hall in the mix, including a reference to his heroic death. Crisis, anyone?)

While I can admit that Rob Liefeld is still great with his pin-up action shots, his ongoing inability to tell a story with his art (or even to seemingly understand where to leave more space for when exposition is needed) leaves this issue a big mess artistically. He’s still obviously only interested in drawing action or pin-up shots. And that has really hurt this first issue overall.

While I want to read more about the adventures of this Hawk and Dove, I’m not really crazy about putting money in Liefeld’s pocket, rewarding him for poor work. Chances are, he’ll flame out by issue #6 and start missing deadlines, so maybe he’ll be replaced. Sadly, his history precedes him. Why DC would hand him an important relaunch project in the first place truly baffles me. Especially when more capable and talented (and reliable) artists were turned away for the New 52 project.

Justice League International #1

Justice League International #1

Upfront: Always a fan of DC’s super-teams that spotlight the characters that don’t always get the spotlight. Dan Jurgens also loves the underdogs and generally knows exactly what to do with ’em.

Compared to last week’s Justice League #1, this is much more satisfying as a traditional first issue. Frankly, it’s kind of amazing how many characters and concepts are presented here, although a few are underutilized (pretty standard for group books with more than seven members). After the first few pages, we realize that Jurgens possibly wanted an even bigger team, but decided to save something for future issues.

Having Booster Gold in charge makes me nervous (and for good reason, as we come to find out in one of the issue’s interesting twists), but the new team is truly International in make-up, featuring former members of previous JLA, Global Guardians, Suicide Squad, Checkmate, and even Green Lantern Corps line-ups. It’s not a team that’s going to come together easily, as demonstrated by the interactions of Booster, Batman, and Guy Gardner — one of whom walks out before issue’s end. There’s a certain amount of insubordination among some members, as well as a feeling that Batman in this new DCU isn’t as universally respected as he was in previous incarnations. (Former Global Guardian Godiva pointedly tells Bats to “sod off!” at one point. She’ll be somebody to watch!)

I’m glad to see that there’s still a place for good old straightforward super-team action in the New DCU, and Dan Jurgens is always the right guy to count on for that. Artists Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan are obviously handily capable of keeping up with him! I’m looking forward to more!

Men of War #1

Men of War #1

Upfront: Really liked the war genre as a kid, but mostly because I related to Kanigher and Kubert’s subtle anti-war stance (“Make War No More”). But when I needed money for school, my old war books were the first to be sold off (although I have regretted it ever since).

In which we are introduced to a new Sgt. Rock (the grandson of the original). It seems very odd to see a war book in this day and age — but it really shouldn’t as, sadly, it seems that there will never be a shortage of wars. Men of War appears to be in the same tradition of the classic DC war anthologies, with a few important differences.

First of all, the old DC war books were almost always telling stories of past wars (although the reader could interpret the stories as reflection on then-current wars, like Vietnam). This was an important difference, at least for me. I always felt that I was reading about history — and could chalk up the brutal violence of war to another, historical, era — rather than it being a part of current life. Yeah, I was obviously fooling myself, but I was also a born pacifist. Which is why I was reading about it, rather than “doing” it. (I am old enough to have been issued a Draft Card in my late teens — but the draft ended before I could be called. I carried it around in my wallet for years, until it finally turned to dust.)

Second, this new series adds the concept of superheroes to the mix, although not in an overt, obvious way (at least for now). This is nothing new — my youth was filled with goofy, non-canon Batman/Sgt. Rock team-ups in Brave and Bold, as well as The Invaders at Marvel, but for the most part, war stories and superhero stores don’t have a lot of obvious common ground. I’m not sure what to think about this — the superheroics are kept subtle in the lead story, and there are no superheroes at all in the the back-up — but I’ll probably stick around for a while to find out.

As for this first issue, specifically, the creators — Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick, Jonathan Vankin, and Phil Winslade — tell compelling, human stories, with the back-up being slightly superior.

OMAC #1

OMAC #1

Upfront: OMAC is my least favorite Kirby Koncept, ever. Giffen is one of my favorite creators. Never read anything by Dan DiDio that I’ve ever enjoyed. I dropped his Outsiders after three issues.

Well, this definitely doesn’t suck. Keith Giffen’s art is gorgeous, combining traces of his early Kirby worship with thirty-some years of rock-solid storytelling. And DiDio doesn’t embarrass himself at all. Frankly, I don’t have a clue to what’s going on in here — but then again, I never really understood what Kirby was going on about with the character back in the day either. So, I am incredibly unqualified to judge this book, although I would imagine that if you’ve always loved Kirby’s OMAC, you’ll love this as well. It seems authentic and faithful to the original — and how often do you get to say that about comics these days?!

Not for me, but I bet others will love it.

Static Shock #1

Static Shock #1

Upfront: One of DC’s best underused characters/concepts.

I was very interested to see how this would work out. In a better world, the departed Dwayne McDuffie would be writing this…

I’ve always been a fan of artist Scott McDaniel. His big, chunky work has been an anomaly in an ever-growing world of thin-line artists and inkers, but it really serves him well in denoting the power behind the characters he draws. His Static is maybe a little too stocky for a teen character, but I can live with that if it helps to elevate Static into more of a DC star by emphasizing his action-oriented power. So the art on this new book is in a very good place.

I’m a little concerned that the writing (by both McDaniel and John Rozum) may hold it back a little. The emphasis on science may be slowing down the action a mite. Which is difficult for me to say, having been raised on Schwartz, Fox, and Broome “super-science”. Granted, there is a lot of science to get established in this series — and Virgil IS a self-avowed science geek — but there were a couple of passages here that wandered pretty close to textbook territory. Not good when you’re trying to establish your “cult” character more fully in the mainstream. Let’s be generous and chalk this up to first-issue exposition gone wild.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I think re-establishing the Milestone characters as a solid part of the DCU — rather than isolated in the “Dakota-verse” (whatever that was) — is a move in the right direction, hopefully giving Static the big break-out his character has always deserved. It’s good to see that other Milestone concepts — such as Hardware — are also going to be a part of the New DCU. The New 52 is much better place to debut them rather than quietly slipping them into established DC books as supporting characters, which didn’t exactly work out when DC tried it a couple of years back.

My one BIG misgiving: that final panel. Wasn’t there enough slicing and dicing and mutilating of characters in the old DCU? Seeing the now-cliched concept dragged into the New DCU is not forward-thinking. I hope that, due to the nature of Static’s powers, this might be something altogether different than what I’m expecting/dreading. I hope enough that I’ll be back next issue to find out. But it really does make me wonder if a lot of current DC creators were a bunch of sad little Sids next door, spending their childhoods ripping the arms and legs off their favorite action figures.

Stormwatch #1

Stormwatch #1

Upfront: Have never read an issue of Stormwatch.

You would think, then, that I might be the ideal audience for this start-from-scratch #1 issue, wouldn’t you?

You’d be absolutely wrong.

I had no earthly idea what was going on in this issue, no real sense of who or what any of the characters were all about — save for recognizing what looks like the Martian Manhunter — nor did I really care. I did get the sense that there was a backstory important to at least some of these characters — but apparently not important enough for the creators to fill me in.

Unfortunately, since I got the impression that most of the characters were condescending assholes, I don’t think I need to come back. I certainly don’t feel welcome to come back. Further, this issue ties into a story that’s yet to be published. Always a great idea if you want to confuse new readers immediately. (Sarcasm alert!)

This was especially disappointing, since I was enjoying writer Paul Cornell’s work in Action Comics and some of his earlier work for Marvel. Maybe I’ll have better luck with his Demon Knights.

Swamp Thing #1

Swamp Thing #1

Upfront: Used to be among my favorite characters/concepts since its early Wein/Wrightson origins. Stopped reading the character when Rick Veitch’s “Swamp Thing meets Jesus” story got deep-sixed by DC.

This — by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette — is quite good. Bordering on amazing!

It seems designed for fallen readers like me, with its touchstones to Alec Holland and ties to the rest of the DCU. Curiously, we see the “new” (and current) Superman here before we even see him in his own book, plus we discover that he has previously died (hinting that the original Doomsday storyline has survived into this new, streamlined DCU). The creators tease a connection between Holland and Swamp Thing — evoking the original series — and set up a creepy mystery (although not too creepy — yet) which is out of the early Moore playbook, which certainly presses all the right buttons for this fallen Swamp Thing fan. Also, much of Paquette’s art evokes a bit of Bissette and Totleben (the latter is also cheekily name-checked in the story) while retaining a style of his own.

While not a done-in-one first issue, there’s certainly enough good stuff here to ensure I’ll be back for #2. A clever bit of misdirection in the final pages assures that. I hesitate to say too much about this issue, not wanting to give away too many of the good bits. I’m glad I saved this one for last.

Weekly Wrap-up Scorecard

Top Notch: Action Comics, Swamp Thing

Back for More: Batgirl, Detective Comics, Justice League International, Static Shock, Justice League (from last week)

On the Fence: Green Arrow, Men of War

Not My Thing, But You Might Like It: Animal Man, OMAC

I’m Probably Done: Batwing, Hawk and Dove, Stormwatch



One comment

  • dave k

    Wow, what a great set of reviews. First time reader and commenter, but had to thank you for such well rounded, thoughtful, funny (yet non-contemptuous) work.

    You managed to avoid all the things that drive me crazy about both positive and negative reviews on pretty much any kind of media these days.

    I wish more critics would understand that admitting something is “not their thing, but you might like it” wins big credibility points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.