Thursday, September 29, 2011

DC Comics' New 52: Best and Worst

I'm a huge nerd, especially when it comes to videogames, movies, and cartoons, but I've never collected comic books. Some of my friends are/were shocked when I tell/told them this. Sure, I own a few graphic novels bound in trade volumes, but I didn't even do that until I read Understanding Comics and Watchmen in my second year of college, and those were reading assignments for a Media Studies class.

So, I decided to start collecting them. What prompted me to do that? DC's New 52. It's been old news for months now, but DC Comics has decided to reboot nearly all of their major series, and is debuting a whopping 52 new #1 issues in September of 2011. I've hit my local Phoenix Comics at least four or five times the past few weeks checking things out, asking questions, and making it worth the employees' time by buying a few. The final run of those 52 series hit earlier today, I bought another bunch, read a few more in the store, and my comics career had begun.

So what? Why are you even reading this? Because the title of this post promised a list of things, and I'm happy to fulfill that expectation. I read ~30 of the New 52, and skimmed a good ~15 others. I ended up buying 20, and subscribing to eight series. Here I'll profile six I liked and six I didn't. If anything I say sounds intriguing or even good, then head down to a local comic book store and check some out for yourself! These aren't numbered, and they probably aren't even my straight-up 100% favorites. Just six good ones and six bad ones, alternating each.

 GOOD: Aquaman #1

That's right, THAT Aquaman. This comic shows Aquaman fighting crime in the big city, facing ridicule from criminals, police, and geeks all the same ("Aquaman upstaged us? The guys at the station will NEVER let us live this one down"), and thinking about his childhood. When a waitress treats him with straightforwardness and not snide comments, Aquaman tips her with some gold doubloons he found. Nice guy. Eventually, Aquaman (real name: Arthur Curry) calms down after his wife comforts him, and elsewhere marine abyss-dwelling monsters begin to move in on the town. The comic features little action, but great dialogue, humor, and heart. It also does a good job of illustrating Aquaman's powers and going into his backstory. Definitely recommended.

 BAD: Superman #1

This is one of a few comics in the "Super-family" relaunching in the New 52, and it's probably the weakest. For one, there is TOO MUCH GODDAMN DIALOGUE. Panels seem small and cluttered due to the excess of third-person narration and color-coded character narration, and the storyline floods you with characters that are hard to care about unless you're a huge fan of The Daily Planet staff. The story makes a topical strike by lamenting about dying print media, but eventually devolves into Superman demolishing the old Daily Planet building and fighting some kind of space monster made out of fire. Overall, this book was underwhelming, and if you want a good Superman story you should look to...

 GOOD: Action Comics #1

This is not the benevolent, heroic Superman from All-Star Superman (which is by the same author, Grant Morrison) or even the frustrated-at-being-a-near-god Superman of recent days. This is a young Clark Kent struggling as an investigative reporter, who puts on jeans, boots and a tee-shirt with an S on it to beat up corrupt industrialists and abusive husbands in addition to criminals. Superman has more enemies than friends early in his career, and Lex Luthor spends the entire story watching the clock and setting a trap for the young hero. This is a Superman who is less grounded in human goodness than I'm used to (where are Jon and Martha Kent?), but I'm very excited to see where he's headed.

 BAD: Catwoman #1

This was almost a pretty good comic book. First, I'll get one big issue out of the way: cheesecake. This one shows Selina in various stages of undress. A lot. But it's actually quite reasonable at first; she escapes a gang of arsonists who attempt to burn her apartment down, meets with an informant, stakes out a Russian mob gathering, and then breaks into a hotel penthouse and has sex with Batman. Wait, what? Yup. This comic was almost a glimpse at a cool, sexy, savvy Selina Kyle, but then ends with her seducing Batman and fucking him with costumes on. This could have been okay, maybe not great, but much more readable if it didn't have that sex scene. They crossed that line from exciting and sexy to gross and slutty. No thanks.

 GOOD: Demon Knights #1

I hate to use a certain four-letter-word, one of the most abused words on the internet, but this is epic. Writer Paul Cornell draws inspiration from Game of Thrones and Dragon Age (his words, not mine, although it helps that I fuckin' LOVE both of those inspirations of his) and writes a fantasy ensemble adventure with swords, sorcery, demons, and dragons. A horde bent on destruction, led by an evil sorcerer and seeking a treasure in a mountain, needs to cross through one tiny village in a mountain pass before reaching their goal. Unfortunately for them there are seven heroes staying at the village simultaneously (including a rare turn of Vandal Savage as something other than a manipulative villain), and the seven work together with the villagers to stop the horde in their tracks. Starring Etrigan and Madame Xanadu primarily, this story is a spells 'n steel version of Seven Samurai that has me pumped. I hope this doesn't get canceled.

 BAD: Suicide Squad #1

I'll admit, I didn't read all of this one. I tried to start it out, but was so disenchanted that I quit early on. Suicide Squad is DC's latest ploy to team up villains and let them run wild. Secret Six is the successful turn of this method that everyone seems to like a lot. Suicide Squad, however, was disorganized and cluttered at best and distasteful at worst. Each time something cool happened (Deadshot instructing one of his new allies on how to properly execute someone with a handgun point-blank), Harley Quinn in her awful bondage costume would say something that spoiled my fond memories of Batman: The Animated Series. Avoid this one.

 GOOD: Wonder Woman #1

One caveat about Wonder Woman #1: this is not for new fans. Not an origin story, not for anyone that doesn't at least know a little bit about Wonder Woman's connection to Greek myth. We clear? Good. Anyhow, this is actually being marketed as sort of a horror comic (!?). Wonder Woman will defend a mortal young woman who is pregnant with Zeus's child from the forces of the Greek Gods. I'm not sure who the real villain is here, but my best theories involve some combination of Hera, Apollo, and Ares. Hermes is an early ally of Wonder Woman, but don't let that fool you: this is Diana vs. Myth, and Myth is monstrous and scary rather than shiny and friendly. I look forward to it.

 BAD: Justice League International #1

I'm sad that this comic wasn't very good. It had a decent idea (renovate the old Hall of Justice and staff it with B-listers to form a new team) and I love several members of the core cast (Booster Gold, Vixen, Fire & Ice), but this comic is just bland. It's not humorous or crazy enough for the likes of the fame-hungry time-traveling Booster Gold, and it's not high-drama enough to be a good ensemble space opera. JLI is worse than the sum of its intriguing parts. Tragic.

 GOOD: Animal Man #1

This was probably the most humanist comic of the bunch. Animal Man is in semi-retirement from hero work, a devoted vegan and activist against animal cruelty trying to make ends meet with his wife and two kids (none of whom have powers at the start). The wife and kids feature prominently in the story, and when one of his children develops superpowers that contrast his own Animal Man has some serious fathering to do. The nature of Animal Man's powers (Vixen mixed with some psychic connections) and the shocker of a twist at the end of Animal Man #1 add a dark tone to what might be a family superhero drama worthy of The Incredibles. It stunned me the first time I read it. I had to know what came next. Easiest subscription decision I had to make.

 BAD: Green Lantern #1

I'll admit, I'm not the biggest Green Lantern fan. It has a cool concept and its heroes have fairly awesome powers, but the massive cast of characters and the cosmic space adventures of the cast has never appealed to me. Unfortunately, Green Lantern #1 continues some earlier unknown GL story that I am totally unfamilliar with, so its exposition (recurring villain Sinestro is Earth's GL, Hal Jordan has no powers, no job, and no car) was a little bewildering. It didn't help that the core story had no relatable or even interesting characters, and really tries to hit readers with a Hal Jordan sympathy hammer. The first arc will definitely deal with Sinestro giving his powers to Hal somehow, but I couldn't get invested at all. If you really, REALLY want to read some Green Lantern, try Green Lantern Corps #1 or Green Lantern New Guardians #1. I heard those are good, but I only skimmed them myself.

 GOOD: Batman #1

Of all the Batman comics in the New 52 - at least four highlighting him and another five or six about Bat-family characters - Batman #1 is the best one. It really has it all; Batman shutting down a jailbreak involving multiple villains, awesome twists in the middle and end of the issue (although I'm 95% sure that the last one is a huge red herring), glimpses of and introductions to several key players in Gotham City's world, scenes of Bruce Wayne working the crowd like a pro at a fundraiser, and Batman collaborating with Gotham PD with some detective work. You see Batman in nearly every role his character plays, and the execution is perfect. Maybe my #1 favorite of all of the comic books I sampled.

 BAD: Red Hood and the Outlaws #1

This comic is trying so very hard to be dark and cool and different, that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The three core characters are all (legitimately) tortured souls and teaming them up is an interesting idea, but the whole comic ultimately doesn't click. Jason Todd / Red Hood's horror at returning to life from death, Speedy/Arsenal's heroin problem, and Starfire's former life in slavery should make for some interesting personal drama, but all three characters come across as trashy. Starfire petitions both of her partners for random sex, Jason and Arsenal both act like assholes non-stop, and for every moment of intrigue, such as the new character Essence appearing only to Jason and dropping mysterious hints, the comic gives us gratuitous bikini poses of Starfire with no story connection. This comic is meant to appeal to base instincts and people looking for something "edgy," but ultimately is an insulting portrayal of B-list characters going through hard times.


I'm subscribing to the six studs I described plus Batwoman and Detective Comics. Batwoman features my favorite lesbian ginger hottie costumed detective, Kate Kane, and Detective Comics is one of the many, many Batman titles, but probably the bloodiest and most over-the-top. Both quite good.

Justice Leage #1 is probably the comic that I'm having the most trouble deciding whether it's good or not. It was so interesting in some aspects (Hal Jordan and Batman have some wonderfully snappy dialogue) and so disappointing in others (forced, rushed introductions that move too quickly without much happening overall) that I didn't know what to think of it. I might get issue #2, but I'm not interested enough to subscribe yet.

I'm still on the fence about subscribing to a few other solid titles, namely the 1890s serial killer drama All-Star Western, the millionaire playboy superhero NOT named Batman or Iron Man adventures of Mister Terrific, and Batgirl, starring a Barbara Gordon that lost and subsequently regained (!?) the use of her legs. Maybe a couple of others. You should check some of these New 52 out for yourselves. Many of them are very good, and I've gone off enough.

Next post will be about video game conquests again, not that anyone actually gives a shit. Working on ICO, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Odin Sphere, Scribblenauts, and the ever-present Prinny. Not sure which of those is gonna be Number Thirty Eight.

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