Monday, September 12, 2011

The New 52, Round 1.

Review by Roman Stadtler

Okay, it's been a while, so time to restart the Reviews with the Biggest Comics Event around, DC's New 52!! I've waited 5 days, so you folks could hopefully get 'em all read, but in case you haven't: Warning! There may be *SPOILERS* ahead! I'll strive to resist revelations (yes, revelations. "Reveal" is not a noun! Call me old school, call me a curmudgeon, just don't call me late for dinner), but sometimes one slips through, and I apologize. I hate when I'm looking up something online, and stumble over secrets! I found out who dies in Serenity, and who River Song really is, both prematurely on Wikipedia, dammit!

Fun Flashpoint Fact: keep an eye out for the mysterious hooded woman that spoke to Flash (Barry Allen) in the timestream in Flashpoint #5 (yeah, I know, that wasn’t a fact, more of a tip, but “Tip” broke the alliteration)! She appears in each new issue, usually in a crowd scene, sometimes glowing, sometimes not. She’s fun to look for (and hard to spot; I had to go back and search issues to find her)!

(I'll try to be brief; as I'm sure Chris will be getting his 52 cents [Ha! See what I did there? Ha-ho!] in, as well)

Justice League #1

Good dialogue, good interactions between Green Lantern and Batman (especially when Bats does a little trick w/the ring, right under Hal's nose!). I liked the parademon's versatility (I don't recall parademons having all these abilities before; they're usually just big savage bruisers w/blasters), and the fact the heroes don't know about Darkseid and Apokolips yet, and that Bats figures out what the Father Box (I'm assuming it's that, and not a Mother Box, 'cause Father Box was the Apokoliptian version of a Mother Box in the previous DCU) is, when GL's ring can't. I also got a kick out of GL's ring constructs; they were creative, and reflective of Hal's personality (loved the fire engine!), and his cockiness. I'm not a big Jim Lee fan, too many angles and sharp edges, but I am a Geoff Johns fan, so he’ll keep me interested. The art is nowhere near as good as the next title, however!


Action Comics #1

This was The Big One, the most anticipated #1, and it didn't disappoint! Morrison is writing Supes as the Golden Age (which was now only about five or six years ago) social crusader he used to be, idealistic, super-confident (maybe a little overconfident), and with a hint of danger to those who deny his quest for justice. After he's stopped a crime, there's a couple of crooks dangling out of walls, punched through them head first, that must have severe head trauma or brain damage, or are simply dead. This Superman has more of the vigilante in him (he's no Batman, he doesn't shy away from the spotlight, but he's not afraid of getting dirty, and doesn't care about being friendly with the cops). This is in keeping with the Golden Age, too, when Superman would toss crooks off a building without a thought. There are further nods to the Golden Age by having Clark working at The Daily Star, for George Taylor (the precursors to The Planet and Perry White, and later placed into continuity on Earth 2. Um, the original, not the new Earth Two graphic novels).

Superman even does the classic (from comics and the wonderful Fleischer cartoons) stopping the train bit! It'll be fascinating to see Superman's beginnings concurrently with his new current self over in the monthly Superman comic. Morrison got to write Supes' swan song in All-Star Superman, and now he's writing the Action Ace at the very beginning of his career, as a young man susceptible to the particular pains, mistakes, and triumphs of youth, before he became the hero all other heroes look up to. I like how this young Superman is obviously rougher, unpolished, scruffier, than the accomplished Superman in Justice League (Rags Morales' art is excellent in portraying that boisterous, rough and ready exuberance of the Golden Age, while being more realistic and technically adept than most artists of that time). That begs the question, though; if Justice League is five years ago, and Superman's in the collared, shortsless costume there, how long ago are the events in Action? Seven years ago?


Animal Man #1

I loved Grant Morrison's Animal Man run of the late '80's, and this is in that vein, with Buddy Baker's family, and own his compassion being two focal points of the series, and the wonder and horror of the Red (created by Jamie Delano as a mystical interpretation of the morphogenetic field Morrison wrote of , that Buddy derives his powers from, and is analogous to the Green of Swamp Thing) being the third. It reads like Jeff Lemire is following the spirits of previous writers Morrison, Tom Veitch, and Jamie Delano's Animal Man, dealing with horror, the nature(s) of reality, and human/non-human perceptions. I like Buddy Baker, he's a good, regular guy, a family man who cares about people and animals, I like the horror elements of the Red, but I don't like Baker's new blue and white costume! I hope he returns to his old one, with the jacket, soon. Travel Foreman's art took some getting used to, but it fits such an unusual super hero book.


Batgirl #1

It's a blast to see the best Batgirl back in action again! I'll miss the Oracle role, but Barbara Gordon is the Batgirl, and Gail Simone is a great writer (I'll miss her Secret Six, but I can't wait for her Fury of Firestorm!). This Batgirl enjoys her work, she smiles, but she's also got emotional scars left from the Joker shooting her (yes, Killing Joke still happened), and that trauma is a major plot point, handled very realistically and responsibly by Simone. All of Barbara's thoughts and feelings, and involuntary reactions, struck me as true. She's thrilled to be able to be Batgirl again, and shaky, out of practice a bit, and has doubts. I just wonder what happened to Stephanie Brown?


Batwing #1

This has potential, mainly in the setting. The political strife, violence, and social unrest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo can make for moving stories, and Batwing himself is visually striking. The story involves a mystery regarding an earlier African super hero (invented for this series), corruption in local law enforcement, and a villain named Massacre. Massacre reminds me of the Moon Knight villain Bushman, at least on the surface; both are African homicidal death-faced killers, favoring machetes. Hopefully, there's more to Massacre than that. I've only liked Winick's Green Arrow work and his screenplay for Under the Red Hood (of his super hero writing, that is), so I have reservations about this title, but I'll see how the next few issues go. The art was okay, but I don't like sparse backgrounds, lacking detail, and this is in that style, which would've been too static, except there's dynamic panel positioning that saves it.


Detective Comics #1

‘Tec was better than I expected! A solid Batman story; the Joker is a sick, maniacal genius, Batman is driven and methodical, but human, Alfred is refined and intelligently sarcastic, but just so. There's mystery and murders, a shocking turn of events, and good art. Check out the page depicting the Joker's first murder (of the issue), and the later panels showcasing Commissioner Gordon and Batman's talk; both very cinematically rendered, and full of emotion. A good test of visual storytelling is if you block out the text and can still get the story; that works here, and you arrive at the same cliffhanger, only missing some dialogue, but none of the emotion or gist of the story.


Green Arrow #1

I love Green Arrow! Unfortunately, not this one. I'm not sure if they're trying to make him look like the guy that played him on Smallville or what, but the Van Dyke is gone, as is the recurve bow. I can deal with the lack of facial hair, but I don't like the compound bow. GA is an amazing archer with any bow, of course, but I prefer his traditional recurve, or a longbow. It's more Robin Hoodesque. Ollie's got himself a couple of assistants, one designs his weapons but feels bad about it, the other is an attractive computer nerd with an antisocial attitude (both so original!). There's a trio of new uninspired villains, though one, Doppelganger, is kind of interesting, in a disgusting way. The main thing I liked about the issue was George Perez' inking. Everything else is pretty boring.


Hawk & Dove #1

Hahahahahahaha!!! . . . Oh, this is serious? Okay. Well, Liefeld's first major ongoing comics work was the 1988 Hawk & Dove series that introduced the female Dove, so I guest that's why he's doing this newest version. From his usual soulless, flat faces to his blocky thick oafish-looking people (blocky can work, Rob, look at Kirby. Blocky, but his figures had fluidity and grace, along with power) to ridiculous carelessness, all of Liefeld's usual offenses are in full display here. The silliest bit may be when, in the last panel of page 6 (not counting ads) where Hawk turns away from the zombie (or whatever it is), calling out to Dove, and he has two prominent upper fangs. Thinking this was some new manifestation of his Chaos avatar status, I turned the page. Oop, fangs're gone! Wait, that might be one . . ? But where's the other one? Then, no fangs in the next four panels. Oh, at least one fang back in the sixth panel! Aand no Hawk fangs in the rest of the issue.

Then there's the inexplicable panel where Dove, who's telling a story to Deadman while she's in costume, is shown with no mask on, her eyebrow and eyelash somehow being over her long blond hair (I thought she was white-haired in both identities?) and wearing hoop earrings. I flipped back a page, then forward. Nope, she's in costume, no earrings or blond hair, the pages before and after. This is another proof of the rule of good visual storytelling; if it wasn't for the text, I'd have no idea who this blond woman is, or why she's there. The text indicates she's Dove; but it doesn't make sense visually. Then there are some gape-mouthed men that are supposed to look shocked but just look like expressionless manikins with frozen open mouths, and the terrified kid on the last page who made me laugh, and lots of grimacing men. 'Cause men grimace most of the time, in case you hadn't noticed.

As for the writing, it's pretty lackluster, with some clunky exposition. There's an awkward recounting of the duo's origin, to their father (well, Hawk, and the original Dove's, father), who knew who they were, but apparently never bothered to ask how they became super heroes, even though they first appeared saving his life. Bad comic! Bad! Bad!


Justice League International #1
Good characters, good conflicts between Guy Gardner & Booster Gold, and Rocket Red & August General in Iron, and a lot happens, but somehow it doesn’t feel very important. I was happy to see some heroes still exist that fans (well, me and Steve) have worried about; Metamorpho, and the Creeper, and even Freedom Beast (okay, maybe nobody was worried about him). Needs more Plastic Man!


Men of War #1

The first surprise of the bunch! Engaging, character-driven, two good stories, with interesting details on military lingo and weapons (explained in good ol’ fashioned editorial boxes that don’t interfere with the story). I was doubtful, afraid Sgt. Rock would be moved into the modern era, but this Rock is his grandson, a strong soldier and character, in modern conflicts, set firmly within the new DCU. The backup story was good, as well, the first part of a Navy SEALs 3-parter.


O.M.A.C. #1

The second surprisingly good #1! If you’re a Kirby fan (and if you’re not, what’s wrong wit’cha?!), you’ll love this! Big bombastic Kirby style art and action from beginning to end! Giffen, one of the best Kirby imitators around, does a beautiful job here, and he and Dan Didio pace the writing perfectly with the art. They’ve also returned the One Man Army Corps to Kirby’s original ‘70’s SF concept, of being one normal guy turned into the OMAC by this mysterious satellite, for reasons unknown . . . so far. One new touch is his Mohawk seems to be more of a coruscating energy generator/computer/communicator dorsal fin than simple big hair. Cool. Also, Gobblers! Fun!


Static Shock #1

A very smart and fun comic, featuring the underused Static, who reminds me both of a young Peter Parker (except much more confident) and Ronnie Raymond, the original Firestorm (except smarter). Lots of science geekery on display here, amidst the action, and that was great fun. It’s nice to see a teen hero who’s cool, a science whiz, and not a clumsy dork.


Stormwatch #1

I read this mainly for the Martian Manhunter, and expecting that Paul Cornell would do his usual fine writing. He didn’t disappoint, crafting a good SF story, creating a new role for the Manhunter that doesn’t conflict with his previous portrayals, and setting up an interesting dynamic with a new super-powered individual who may be on par with Superman. Stormwatch is trying to recruit this guy, but there’s someone else who wants him! I’m not that familiar with the Stormwatch/Wildstorm heroes, but Adam, J’onn, and Harry Tanner are intriguing characters, and I’m curious where the story will go, so I’ll keep checking this out.


Swamp Thing #1

Fantastic! Swampy’s back, in the eerie horror of his (it’s?) best stories of the past! There’s a lot to like here, behind that beautiful Yanick Paquette cover. A mystery around some mastodon bones, Alec Holland’s retreat from his former life and confusion about vague memories of being the swamp monster (but does he remember being an elemental avatar of the Green, practically a god? Did that happen in the new DCU?), and insights into how the vegetative kingdom is hardly the peaceful, benign place we think it is, drive the plot of this first excellent issue. I hope Anton Arcane, Swamp Thing’s ultimate nemesis, returns soon, and that a relationship between the Green and the Red (in Animal Man) is explored.

There’s nice little nods to Swampy’s history, too, like Holland staying in Totleben’s Motel (John Totleben was the inker on Alan Moore’s classic run), there’s construction machinery named for Len Wein (the creator of Swamp Thing), and Holland’s safe combo is 1971, the year Swamp Thing first appeared. One of the great touches is that Holland’s expertise in botany is used to full advantage, influencing the plot and character actions, just as Static, the soldiers in Men of War, and Animal Man all respectively use their particular knowledge and expertise. The writers of these books are doing their research, and it pays off in fleshed-out, realistic characters.


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