The DC New 52: Reviews of All the Week Three Books
Reviews by KC Carlson (with guest cameo by JDC!)
Batman and Robin #1
Upfront (what you should know about my preconceptions about the comic): Not much changing here, no?
Other than Bruce becoming Batman full-time again, I don’t think there’s much radically changing in the Bat-books, so there’s not much to talk about. I’m intrigued by writer Peter Tomasi making some tiny (but potentially huge, psychologically) changes to Batman’s way of thinking in regards to the death of his parents that should have future ramifications. I’m even more interested in the confrontation between Bruce and Damian in the closing pages over repercussions to Damian’s (killing?) actions in the issue. Damian’s gotten away with a lot of crap while Bruce was missing. (Dick, Tim, and others just basically put up with him/kept him alive in Batman’s absence.) Now, it looks like the hammer of Daddy Bat may be coming down hard. I look forward to seeing Bruce in this long-delayed-by-circumstance new role.
Oh, and for those keeping score, there’s apparently a dead Batman on page 3. Hmm.
Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray turn in their usually fine art/story job, and the issue overall sets us up for big doings down the road.
Upfront: I stopped reading the previous run of Batwoman — not because I didn’t like it, I thought it was amazing. I just got tired of all the delays, and I thought it would read better if I waited until it got back on track. Except I set it aside and forgot about it until just recently, so I’ve got a little catching up to do. But that’s what happens when a publishing schedule goes awry. Many readers forget to buy it after a while — or go buy something else.
Wow. Only 11 months between #0 and this new #1 issue. To be fair, it was deliberately held to re-launch with the other New 52 books for maximum impact, as well as giving writer/artist J.H. Williams III (W. Haden Blackman is co-writer) plenty of time to get up a full head of steam on this eagerly awaited first issue. I sincerely hope that Williams can overcome his past output problems, because this series is too good to be yet another tragic can’t-make-the-schedule story. (Maybe DC should be prepared to bend a little to help — not every series they publish has to be monthly. 8x or 6x a year may not be ideal, but at least it’s a schedule.)
In case you’ve forgotten, this picks up right from the #0 issue, where Batman was investigating (and confirming) his theory that the mysterious new Batwoman is indeed society gal Kate Kane. This new #1 sets up a new mystery, showcases a fortuitous meeting between Kate and Detective Maggie Sawyer, shows Kate finally training her cousin Bette “Flamebird” Kane, and begins a very satisfying subplot involving a mysterious DC organization featuring members who are part of creator Williams’ past. We also get a recap on Kate’s estranged relationship with her Dad, as well as a last-panel appearance by Batman, who’s got something on his mind. When added to the absolutely gorgeous artwork by Williams, you have one of the most satisfying reads of the New DC so far.
Unfortunately, the artwork — Williams specializes in intricately designed two-page spreads — is reportedly driving digital comics readers crazy. (And making comic shop owners secretly cheer!)
I hesitate to rank this in my top tier right now because of past delays. But if the creators can hit a regular schedule AND keep up this quality level, it will, without a doubt, jump right up there within a few issues.
Upfront: I always thought that Deathstroke was one of DC’s great villains in creator Marv Wolfman’s hands — but not in his own comic book. He becomes less of a unique character when he is overused. But then again, next to barbarians, the whole “men with guns” genre is my least favorite of all pop culture.
Okay, did anyone not realize that Deathstroke was going to end up killing the obnoxious, bratty mercenary kids (The Alpha Dawgs. OMG!) that he got partnered up with two seconds after they were introduced? I weep for the recycled garbage and pulp that gave its life to become the paper that this story (itself recycled garbage, written by Kyle Higgins) was printed on.
Wasn’t the whole idea of the New 52, collapsing the timeline down to five years, supposed to make the characters younger and tougher? So why was this issue all about how old and weary Deathstroke is?
Artwork by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert was passable. Both have done much better work elsewhere. Wow, they wasted a Simon Bisley cover for this?
As the kids say: Epic Fail. Done. Three bucks down the drain. Next.
Note: Two minutes after finishing this review, I accidentally dropped my copy of Deathstroke #1 on the floor and inadvertently ran over it with my desk chair, completely destroying it. So at least this copy of the comic will be further recycled, perhaps into another, better comic. Gotta love Karma and the Circle of Life…
Demon Knights #1
Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that, an entire DC series set in medieval Europe. I was expecting a little bit of that because Jack Kirby’s version of the Demon is one of the seven stars of the book, and the Demon actually hails from that era. (Not all of those seven are introduced in the first issue — although some are said to be new characters, so who really knows. We do get an excellent origin recap for the Demon.) But I had no idea that we’d actually be putting down stakes there.
We’re not alone, however. Unbeknown to us previously, other DC characters are also residents here, many of whom are magic and one of which is in an interesting romantic triangle with both Jason Blood AND the Demon. Another is a female version of a long-time character that we previously thought of as male. (And we have previously met this female before.) I’m being deliberately coy about the identities of these characters because their revelations in the issue are very surprising — and because I think that Demon Knights may not have been one of people’s obvious first choices for the week. They should reconsider that.
There are still a lot of mysteries to be revealed in subsequent issues, but this book is on solid, if somewhat obscure, foundations. Writer Paul Cornell loves writing about England (Captain Britain and MI-13, Doctor Who) — being a Brit himself obviously helps. Diogenes Neves is a Brazilian artist (New Mutants, Green Arrow) with a great eye for interesting “camera” angles. His work looks great inked by Ocair Albert (Brightest Day, Green Lantern).
If Demon Knights keeps up this level of quality and fun, it could be the sleeper hit of the New 52.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Upfront: I asked Johanna to review this one, as I thought that she’d read more DC Frankenstein stories than I have (which is none). Here are her thoughts:
After enjoying Jeff Lemire’s take on the character in the Flashpoint miniseries (the only one of that event I enjoyed), I was anticipating this series, but for me, the opening wasn’t promising, since it evoked a Vertigo horror story more than the twisted team of the Creatures of the Unknown. That action group, or rather an updated Creature Commandos, shows up, but they’re apparently not the same characters we were reading about just a month ago. I know this is supposed to be a fresh start, but in that case, why is it the same setup as before? The characters are too close to their previous versions to stand alone, but too different to satisfy anyone wanting a followup. It’s all confusing.
I think that’s part of the intent, actually, that the book is going for a Morrison-like “mad science” collection of craziness. I was reminded of the recently lamented Xombi in the weird ideas shoved into the first few pages of the trip to S.H.A.D.E. headquarters, but with captions explaining everything to us (supposedly as spoken computer interfaces), it seemed to be trying too hard at the same time it’s treating us like we’re stupid.
The actual conflict sends Frankenstein and some other monsters against an even less-defined group of creatures, so I have nothing invested in it. Alberto Ponticelli’s art has a nicely European feel to it, with multifaceted ink lines giving everything a slightly uncertain look, but when it comes to story content, this is flat and disappointing. I have no reason to want to see any more of these characters or care about what happens to them.
Well, that’s more than I had to say. I think there were a lot of high hopes for this one. Maybe they can recover some of that soon.
Green Lantern #1
Upfront: I was really enjoying the Geoff Johns/Doug Manke GL… until this year, where it seemed to jump the rails. No Hal Jordan for months, and the big GLC crossover boiled down to just the four human Lanterns. What’s up with that?
Nice course correction, gentlemen. DC told us that Green Lantern was one of the series that wasn’t going to be affected much in the New 52, and they didn’t lie. This issue starts immediately after the conclusion of “War of the Green Lanterns” with Sinestro a new GL (wha?). Hal Jordan has been stripped of his ring and unceremoniously dumped back on Earth, where he’s trying to sort out his life. Since we haven’t seen Hal since… a long time, his return is long overdue. Johns shows us that Hal can still be a hero without the ring (albeit a misguided one), and that Carol Ferris still cares for Hal (bailing him out of jail), plus we discover that Carol retains memories of her recent Star Sapphire involvement.
Which leads to — maybe — the only change in the book for the New DCU, the apparent jettisoning of Hal’s previous girlfriend, “Cowgirl”. She’s not mentioned at all, while Carol and Hal appear to grow closer, until Hal pulls a brainless move. Of course, if Carol and Hal are again an item (as in the movie), Cowgirl is now excess baggage to the story. The only reason that Hal seemed attracted to her was that she was an “action girl” — a risky test pilot like Hal himself. That role is no longer needed since Carol herself now has an “action girl” role as Star Sapphire. (Besides, if I was dating someone who just disappeared without notice for three months, I’d be gone too.)
It looks like we might be on Earth for a bit, as Johns accelerates the inevitable showdown between Hal and Sinestro (who has Hal’s ring). So, Green Lantern is good stuff — not quite “awesome” yet (too soon to tell), but “back on track after a slump” is not too bad either.
Upfront: Never read a Grifter comic book, but I know a little of what the character is all about.
This comic didn’t impress me at all. It seemed like the first 20 minutes of a movie that I’ve already seen and had already forgotten about. So my first reaction is that this is yet another comic book masquerading as a proposal for a movie.
Writer Nathan Edmonson has set up a bunch of mysterious goings-on here, but somehow, I doubt that I’ll care enough to pick up subsequent issues to find out about them. Maybe I’ll just wait for the movie — after the DVD is dumped in a cut-out bin.
I liked Cafu’s art on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and his covers are great, but here it looks unfocused. Perhaps that’s due to the uninspiring coloring (Andrew Dalhouse) and wispy inking (Jason Gorder). There are a few stand-out panels here and there, but a few panels does not a story make.
I dunno. I hate asking the question, but would anybody be bothering with the Wildstorm characters any more if founder Jim Lee wasn’t now a V.P. at DC? They seem to have more lives than a cat.
Legion Lost #1
Upfront: Once upon a time, I edited the Legion, one of my favorite concepts in comics. Became notorious in Legion fan-circles for “rebooting” the LSH in Zero Hour. (But you can’t blame me for the Five-Year Gap, which ZH was intended to fix). I was long gone before the original Legion Lost series.
Because of the above, I’ll probably nit-pick more than I should. My apologies to the creators. I generally enjoyed this set-up issue, which reuses the name and general concept of the original, but not much else. Writer Fabian Nicieza (whom I once watched write a script for New Warriors on a plane coming back from San Diego. Man, could that guy type!) says he’s emphasizing the word Lost over the word Legion.
It’s still the Legion, however. And it’s interesting that the seven characters involved (Timber Wolf, Wildfire, Dawnstar, Tyroc, Tellos, Yera (aka Chameleon Girl), and Gates) are all “later” members of the team, introduced long after the founders. (I guess Paul Leviz called “dibs” on all the original team for the Legion of Super-Heroes.) It’s still an interesting line-up, featuring many fan favorites. Nitpick #1: Don’t care much for the new Wildfire costume. The design is okay, but he looks weird all red. Needs a bit more traditional orange.
“Lost” means the characters are lost in time, specifically in the 21st Century, somewhere in the new New DCU. Nitpick #2: I have no idea where this fits in the overall Legion timeline, and it makes my brain vibrate (and rattle) just to think about it. I bet it’s a long time before anybody gets around to explaining it (if ever). For that matter, I wonder if the New DCU still has three different versions of the Legion wandering around (as per the end of Legion of Three Worlds).
Can. Worms. Back away slowly…
This is a fun first issue. Lots of good action. Excellent Legion team interplay/friction. A new (I think) villain in Alastor — who apparently has a secret himself. Pete Woods is a great action illustrator and also does the kids proud as the latest LSH artist. The only thing that wasn’t so cool was that two of the above cast apparently die in this first issue. Although I don’t believe it for a minute — teasing death is a grand Legion tradition.
My final nitpick: Fabian, if you want a bigger audience than just LSH fans, you have to go out of your way to clearly I.D. the characters — codename, real name, power(s). There a reason why we’ve always done those funky I.D. boxes (or a retro splash page w/headshots) — it’s not for the LSH fans (who already know this stuff by heart) — but the newbies really need it.
Legion Lost: It’s good. I’m in. Duh.
Mister Terrific #1
Upfront: Always really enjoyed the character, but felt that he got lost in the army of characters that JSA turned into. Brilliant makeover of one of the most boring Golden Age super-heroes ever.
This first issue by Eric Wallace, Gianluca Gugliotta, and Wayne Faucher does everything it needs to do. It sets up a new status quo for Michael Holt/Mister Terrific that is not that much different than his old place in the DCU — except it’s obvious that there’s no Justice Society of America there any longer. To nail that idea, Karen Starr appears here as Michael’s friend and potential (but not really) love interest. In the old DCU, Karen was, in fact, Power Girl — but that’s not even mentioned here.
There’s also an excellent origin recap — also not very different from the original, except to add that his wife was pregnant when she was killed in an auto accident — something that Holt did not know, and this becomes very important to this issue. There are some great action sequences as well as a memorable scene between Starr and a woman at a reception. I think she’s Holt’s co-worker, but this isn’t made clear — which is a problem.
So why was I not happier with this issue? It’s just not very exciting. Wallace loves his super-science, and that tends to bog things down. (I had the same problem when Wallace was writing The Atom.) Half the book is made up of pages of talking heads, and while a lot of that was essential, it slowed reading down to a crawl. It’s possible that Wallace can recover with some clever action sequences in future issues, but that “first impression” rule applies. Nowadays, it’s more true than ever — if you don’t hook ‘em with the first issue, they might not be back. For a book like this, which is NOT starring a major, established DC hero, it could be a premature curtain call.
I like the character enough to check out the next issue or two, but if things don’t pick up in a big hurry, there might not be a book for me to come back to. Which would be sad because Mister Terrific has the potential to be an amazing solo character. It’s just not being shown here.
One last thing: Worst logo ever. It doesn’t “read” well, and the not-so-hidden face in the logo is creepy. And it’s just not exciting.
Red Lanterns #1
Upfront: Of course, the amoral, sadistic, and violent Red Lanterns would be the break-out stars…
And of course, Ed Benes would love to draw something like this because what red-blooded artist doesn’t want to draw a book full of monsters and aliens? And they do look very cool indeed!
Old pro writer Peter Milligan wisely brings in a subplot (with, of course, greater future portent) featuring a British family whose grandfather is killed by a street thug. Having at least a few humans makes it a lot easier for human readers to relate to what’s going on here — at least, I was immediately drawn to that storyline rather than the Red Lanterns beating each other up.
But as Johanna pointed out to me (not having read any of the last two years’ worth of GL books), as well-illustrated as this issue is, it’s not very new-reader-friendly. She had no clue what was going on. Very few of the characters are identified by name, and when names are mentioned, there is no actual association between the name and the character. The leader of the Red Lanterns, Atrocitus, gets the bulk of attention here, as well as an origin of sorts, but the rest of the characters remain battling ciphers for those not already in the know.
I think this will be a very popular book for many existing Green Lantern fans, as well as those folk who love alien and monster stories. Not so much for me… but it looks like I’ll still get a chance to see every issue. It seems that even though she had a tough first issue read, Johanna wants to keep getting the book. “I like the kitty,” she tells me. An evil, sadistic, vile kitty named Dex-starr. But a kitty, nonetheless.
[JDC Note: Nah, I don’t want to get the book. I just liked the idea of a vengeful cat with superpowers. Wish there’d been more of him in the comic.]
Resurrection Man #1
Upfront: Three members of this comics’ creative team — writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and editor Eddie Berganza — worked on the original 1997 28-issue series. The new guy: artist Fernando Dagnino.
This first issue doesn’t give up all its secrets, and it doesn’t really all come together until late in the issue, when a possible unreliable narrator recaps much of what we’ve seen. Hell, we’re not even sure what this guy’s real name is — or if he’s even the same Resurrection Man from the previous series. Although that seems likely, assuming his previous long-lived — so to speak — history. But double-hell — this IS the New DCU, and maybe ALL the rules have been rewritten.
Damn you D’n’A. Now I HAVE to come back to find out. You both are SO evil!!!
Oh, wait. An interview in the back of the book (in all the comics this week) gives away part of the game. This IS the original Mitch Shelley, Resurrection Man. What a crappy way to reveal this — it shoulda been IN the story.
I’m a little torn about this first issue. Technically, it’s a done-in-one, but since it’s lacking so much essential information — like a mention of his real name (sloppy), no origin recap, and only a sketchy, ill-defined attempt at showing how his “power” works, it’s not exactly new-reader-friendly. It is, however, compelling enough to make me check back for an issue or two — at least to discover if some of the other (also undefined) characters in this issue might be re-imagined versions of characters that appeared in the original. (And is that Madame Xanadu on the last page? Who knows?)
Fernando Dagnino’s art shows promise but doesn’t immediately grab me. And the editor in me caught the apparent abstract obscenity on page 3. Naughty boys.
I’ll be back — but you guys better pull it together sooner than later. Some new folks may not be so patient.
Suicide Squad #1
Upfront: The original John Ostrander-created series was one of my favorites. I loved the use of seldom-seen DC characters, the “unexpected death factor” of each of the missions, and the power of the non-super-powered Amanda Waller, the ruthless “leader” of the team.
This new Suicide Squad (by writer Adam Glass and artists Federico Dallocchio, Ranson Getty, and Scott Hanna) has its heart in the right place and is faithful to much of the original series, but it misses the point in a couple of areas. The new team consists of Deadshot (a must), El Diablo (from the 2008 miniseries), King Shark (Superboy, Aquaman, Secret Six), Savant (who doesn’t look like the old Birds of Prey character, so he may be new), Black Spider (former Batman foe), new character Voltaic, and redesigned Harley Quinn, who’s probably destined to be featured as the the new regular cover girl with her new even-more-crazy look, as well as much less clothing. Hubba-hubba. Yuk. (Interestingly, one version of the Black Spider — there apparently have been three — was involved in torturing the Birds of Prey Savant, while another was a former partner of Deadshot in Identity Crisis.)
One of these characters dies in #2. Can you guess who? That’s a rephrasing of the end-of-issue teaser, indicating some of the morbid fascination of this series. Most of these characters get a mini-origin, or at least a recap to how they ended up on the Squad, and the new Squad’s origins are touched upon as well.
Sounds pretty good, right? So what’s wrong? Small stuff, to be sure. Amanda Waller isn’t even mentioned until the last three pages and doesn’t appear until the last. She’s been seriously been made over, probably to match the character’s appearance in the Green Lantern film (portrayed by Angela Bassett). No foul to the creators, who probably didn’t make the call, but boo to the Warner/DC PTB who are completely missing the inherent strength of the character by remaking “The Wall” into a supermodel type. The previous Amanda Waller was a substantial woman, and her size and shape gave her presence that made her believable as someone who could keep these supervillain killers in line.
Also, I know that the Suicide Squad book is inherently violent by nature, but I didn’t care much for the torture-porn level of brutality in this issue. Ultra-violence is a big part of the New DC, so I guess I’ve either got to suck it up or stop reading. Am I old-fashioned for thinking that extreme violence is anathema to good storytelling? In the wrong hands, it’s smoke and mirrors for bad writing.
I’m really glad Suicide Squad is back. Just wish I liked it better.
Upfront: The story of the Connor Kent Superboy story has been long, winding, and often confusing at times. The most recent Superboy series was well-done, giving the character some roots and some closure (from being dead and all), but I still had problems connecting to him.
The new Superboy series — by Scott Lobdell, R.B. Silva, and Rob Lean — takes the tack of starting over from scratch. The opening page shows a teenage boy in a vat of mysterious chemicals. So — Reboot Central.
Surprisingly, it gets more interesting. This cloning experiment (as in the original, it’s the first fusion of Kryptonian and human DNA) has been deemed a failure, and as the project is being shut down, the clone’s natural defenses kick in, killing many of the scientists — including the team leader, apparently the only one who knew the sources of the original clone DNA. A female lab tech survives who is, I guess, supposed to be mysterious — all we know is that she’s a Doctor. She’s referred to as “Red”, but we’re unclear if that’s actually her name or a nickname due to her red hair (she looks like a youngish Lana Lang, except for big glasses and a different career) or some kind of code-name scheme, given the mentions of “Dr. White” and “Dr. Umber”. We also suspect that she might have more than a scientific interest in the clone.
When we next see the clone, he is in a high school setting, apparently a whiz at math. He also attracts the attention of a pretty classmate, a girl with long silver hair and a very direct personality named Rose Wilson. Long-time DC readers know Rose to be Deathstoke’s daughter, Ravager — and recent Teen Titans readers are going “hmmmmm…” due to the recent romance of the Superboy and Ravager of the “old” DCU. But this girl is not the same Rose — she has two good eyes. All is not as it seems, as our new so-far-unidentified clone-boy fails to respond to a call for help from a lady in a burning house. What the what?
The next thing we learn is that what we just saw was a mind-experiment being run on the same lab-bound clone boy, by the doctor called “Red” — who confirms that the Kryptonian part of the clone indeed came from Superman. So why didn’t he react like Superman? We also learn that “Red” has a sister named Rose (also with two eyes) who yells at “Red” for making a “Mary Sue” V.R. version of her for the experiment. Confused yet?
To make things even more strange, the place that’s doing all the clone-experimentation is run by a group called N.O.W.H.E.R.E. In old-school DC, that was a Grant Morrison-created group who worked out of the Pentagon and bedeviled the Doom Patrol, Danny the Street, and Flex Mentallo. Surely that couldn’t be the same N.O.W.H.E.R.E., could it? Anyway, a renegade N.O.W.H.E.R.E. guy is apparently feeding information about the organization to Lois Lane.
Oh, and the last page of the story previews a very strange-looking Teen Titans (also written by Lobdell). I’ve recapped a lot of the plot here to mimic my experience reading it. The new revelations that kept appearing surprised me, in a good way. Lobdell packed a lot more into this issue than I expected, and after some of the other, lightweight DC launches, I found it refreshing. Plus, the more creators use the DCU as a whole, the more I enjoy the book. Especially now that we’re starting from scratch, with fewer titles, it’s nice to have a glimpse into the bigger world out there.
Bottom line, I have no idea what the hell is going on here — but I’ll be back to find out. I don’t know what Lobdell’s “on”, but somebody needs to be nearby in case of emergency. And the art by Silva and Lean is very slick and very readable! The coloring — by The Hories — is excellent. Not a done-in-one, but Superboy #1 practically forces you to come back for #2. I’ll be there.
Weekly Wrap-up Scorecard
Top Notch: None (but a couple “in waiting”)
Back for More: Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Demon Knights, Green Lantern, Legion Lost, Superboy
On the Fence: Mister Terrific, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad
Not My Thing, But You Might Like It: Red Lanterns
I’m Probably Done: Deathstroke, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Grifter
(This is Johanna, adding my own mini-reviews.)
I agree that Demon Knights was pleasantly surprising, with a direction I didn’t expect at all. My biggest shock, though, was Green Lantern. I haven’t read that book for years, but I liked this! I wanted to read more! I had no idea that would happen.
I was very disappointed in Mister Terrific, especially with that unexplained scene between the two women. Without the necessary context — which as you point out, is missing — it comes off a bit too much like a catfight to my taste. It struck me as vaguely sexist that the two would be fighting each other over him. Real women don’t speak to each other that way, in my experience. It was the capper on my decision to give up on the book — I had hopes for it, but the comic itself just got worse as it went on. It seems like one of those stories that is too pedestrian told straight through, so the writer decides to cut it up and play with the timeline in the hopes of adding some artificial interest.
I was surprised that Suicide Squad felt so much like Gail Simone’s much-missed Secret Six, from using some of the characters to the general “DC is publishing THIS?” pushing-the-envelope approach. Only the vile things she wrote had a point, while this seems to be more of a fanboy tease, hoping that they’ll attract people who want to see excessive violence for its own sake — plus the babes. Sexing up Waller hasn’t gone over at all well online. It’s a poor statement towards DC’s drive for diversity that now the women all look a lot more alike. Oh, and that can’t be the same Savant character, because the BOP version wasn’t that dumb.
Like you, I enjoyed Superboy a lot more than I expected. Except for that one panel where the decanted clone looked like a Ken doll, the art was nicely clean, attractive, and readable, and I want to know where the story is going.