So, I’ve spent three weeks reading the New 52, and frankly, there’s a reason I’ve been using images of drunken superheroes: it’s the only way to get through some of this stuff.
So far, we’ve seen forty of the books, with the final twelve coming up. And, so far, the batting average is…actually not that bad. Of the books so far, five of them are ones I want to read the full arc for, and another seven I’m willing to give a second issue to see if they’re worth a shot. And only three books make me want to beat the writing staff into the Phantom Zone with my bare hands. This is actually a pretty decent jump compared to my former DC reading habits; I bothered with maybe two or three books on a regular basis, with another two or three thrown in on an occasional one
In short, DC has done a pretty good job with the reboot, at least in terms of getting bitter, cynical customers to buy more comics. But what about the remaining twelve? And how does it look overall?
Remember how it was kind of a fad to make fun of Aquaman for a while? Somebody in DC editorial was a bit frustrated about that. I do like this book, not least because it’s got modest ambitions. It just wants to tell a fun superhero story with killer fishmen and a hero who just wants to ditch Atlantis. OK. I’ll read issue two.
All Star Western
To be honest, this feels like a rejected movie script Palmiotti wrote, but it is at least solid and interesting enough that I’ll try issue two. I could do without the psychobabble, though: I know it’s supposed to be funny and insightful, but it gets old fast.
Ever wonder what would happen if somebody took “Team America: World Police” seriously? It’d be this book. It’s not bad, for what it is, but what it is is a G.I. Joe knockoff.
Batman: The Dark Knight
It tells you how boring this book is that I read it last night and I’m having trouble remembering anything about it. Something something fear something something. Whatever.
I’ve been shredding the New 52 for being formulaic, but I’ve got to admit, the ending of this book, while a blatant cliffhanger, is at least interesting. I’ll give this another issue, just to see where they’re going with this.
DC wants to turn Firestorm into a buddy-comedy action movie book? Really? Well, what the hell, I’ll give it another issue if for no other reason than at least it’s a decent idea.
Green Lantern: New Guardians
Soooo, they’re not rebooting ANY of the GL books. Except for this one. OK then. That said, this has an advantage over some of the other team books in that A) we actually see the whole team in this one and B) the second issue promises to be an entertaining fight. I’ll take chestnuts over slow builds at this point.
Amid something so self-serious and ridiculous, there IS a glimmer of hope: towards the end there’s a pretty funny moment. If the book can keep this up, it’ll be worth reading.
Justice League Dark
While I’m not bothering with issue two, since this book didn’t grab me, I will say that it’s nice to see John Constantine back in the DCU, and I wish DC had chosen to do Hellblazer instead of blatantly designing a bunch of books as the groundwork for $70 million movies released in the pre-summer season. Bill Willingham has some strong influence here, obviously, and it shows.
The Savage Hawkman
Apparently now Hawkman is a cross between the Hulk and Wolverine: he’s got the Nth Metal in his body, and it comes out in times of stress. Well, considering all the crap DC has put this character through, it’s at least different.
I’ve got two problems with this issue: first, once again we have the tired device of the captions being a news article in a Superman book. At least it wasn’t about how he’s an inspiration or something. Two, Clark as a sulky immature jerk just really does not do it for me. Congratulations, DC, I officially don’t want to read about Superman at all, now. Great job.
An observation about most of DC’s new team books: they fall into one of two categories. The first is one that introduces the entire team and puts letting us learn about the characters ahead of having much of a plot; Justice League Dark, this week, but also JLI. The second is where the first issue introduces you to two, maybe three, characters on the team to start the plot, but at the expense of getting us really invested in the team: Teen Titans is the key example this week, with Justice League and Birds of Prey being two other examples. The problem is that both categories are a trap: we have to care about the characters AND the plot hook, and that’s hard to do (New Guardians, for the record, pulls it off). The successful team books in this relaunch, like Suicide Squad, use the plot to introduce us to the characters: we don’t need detailed histories at this point, just sketches, but we do need to know details about them.
Teen Titans really exemplifies what a problem this is because this is really “Red Robin, Issue #1” with a Wonder Girl cameo at the end and a Kid Flash cameo at the beginning. Slow build is not a team book’s friend, and it’s unfortunate nobody at DC realized this.
Oh, Good Lord, really? A stripper alien? You decided we needed a stripper alien? What, did you decide all the valid complaints about DC being about thirty years behind the times on feminism wasn’t quite enough? Or did you think the tough-as-nails chick beating up some fratboys would counterbalance it?
As a long time DC fan, I’ve read every single new issue and honestly, what stands out the most to me is this: DC seems to have no freaking idea what to do with its big guns. With Superman and Batman, they’re spinning their wheels. Wonder Woman is at least interesting, and Flash is solid. Hawkman is trying something new instead of the Egyptian thing again. The GL books are…well…the GL books; if you like GL, you’ll like them but there’s nothing new here.
The second-tier stuff is frankly a lot more interesting; Deadman facing an existential crisis, Animal Man facing the intersection of his powers and his family (a month later and the final panel of Animal Man is sticking with me), Supergirl literally lost physically and emotionally. This stuff is engaging. This is stuff I want to read. This is what makes superhero books great, dammit. This is why it’s still a viable genre commercially and artistically.
I know this is unfair: Superman and Batman have been hitting the stands, month in and month out, since the ’30s, and it’s really, really hard to squeeze an engaging, new, ongoing arc out of characters that have been out that long. But I think corporate interests triumphed over rebooting these characters in a truly meaningful way that would have fostered new ideas here.
Secondly, it’s pretty obvious they’re trying to reorient a lot of their characters to become big-budget movie material. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s an obvious influence and in some cases, it doesn’t fit. Constantine was fine in his Vertigo book: while it’s nice to see him back in the DCU, I doubt “Justice League Dark” is going to give us the interesting plotlines and idea Brian Azzarello or Garth Ennis could explore. But, there might be a sequel to the movie eventually, so let’s get some other characters set up!
Thirdly, it’s really baffling to me how a company that has had repeatedly heard complaints from female fans and gotten raked over the coals over the last five years for some writing and editorial decisions could screw up as many female characters as badly as it has. Stripper Harley, Amanda Waller becoming just another hot chick, and the moronic “Voodoo” paired with the absolutely vile “Catwoman” are just WTF moments. It’s baffling: women are a major market in comics, and it’s like DC doesn’t realize or worse, doesn’t care.
Finally, I’m a bit shocked about how continuity wise, and technology wise, what a mess this all is. Some books are still in the previous continuity: most aren’t. It’s pretty obvious some writers were given free reign, and others had a tight editorial leash. Tech-wise, the Comixology and DC Comics apps got overhauled during a crucial month, which to be fair was beyond their control to a large degree. But I think yesterday was the most instructive as to the problems.
I wanted to test out how quickly digital comics were released, so I booted up my tablet and waited for Comixology to upload the new DC books. And waited. And waited. And waited. They weren’t up until the late afternoon. This is “day-and-date?” Seriously?
In short, I think this relaunch says a lot about DC, for better and for worse, and where it is as part of a huge entertainment conglomerate. Like it or not, to Time Warner, comics fans are second-class citizens. I wonder if they realize that even the most dedicated fanboy won’t stick around forever.
Anyway, if that was too TL:DR for you, I’ve sorted the books out into four lists for your reviewing pleasure: Pull, One More Issue, Whatever, and DIE DIE DIE!
Pull (i.e. the first issue is compelling enough to get me to read the full arc)
DC Comics Presents
One More Issue (i.e. I’ll give the arc another issue to see if it gets good enough for me to read the rest)
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
Whatever (i.e. I feel no need to revisit the book ever again)
Men of War
Hawk and Dove
Justice League International
Batman and Robin (unless Damien Wayne gets eaten by Zsasz or something awesome like that)
Green Lantern Corps
Birds of Prey
Legion of Super-Heroes
Justice League Dark
Batman: The Dark Knight
DIE DIE DIE!
Red Hood and the Outlaws
Catwoman. Oh dear lord, Catwoman.