I love comics. And I’ve always been a DC guy ((I don’t dislike Marvel. I think Ultimate Spiderman is one of the best series ever, and Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spiderman are examples of great storytelling in any medium. But first and foremost, I like DC. Something about Batman, Superman, hell, even the Legion of Superheroes, just grabs me. I have a theory that your preference probably relates to what you started reading first.)). Over time, I’ve branched out into a lot of other companies, including a lot of the smaller press ones, but I’ve always – at heart – been a DC guy.
So, I was somewhat concerned when I started hearing rumours of a relaunch of the DC titles. And when those rumours were confirmed, I have to admit that I had the initial, knee-jerk reaction common to most fans ((“Keep your hands off my stuff! Don’t go changing things I like!” You know what I mean.)) and started mourning the loss of the comics I loved.
But I hate that reaction.
A little research turned up more information, and I started to become cautiously optimistic. Then I discovered that the entire New 52 thing was going to be introduced by another big crossover ((You know, I kinda hate those, especially when they happen so frequently. And especially especially when they put a gun in Batman’s hand and then kill him like a punk. Thank you, Final Crisis.)) event called Flashpoint. I figured that I could either check out Flashpoint and see what kinds of things they were trying to do, or I could just write off DC and cut waaaay back on my comic buying.
Given that option ((As those who know me will tell you, it wasn’t really a choice.)), I rounded up Flashpoint and started reading.
Well, these big crossover events get pretty tangled, so I was very grateful to find Allyson’s Attic had a reading order list for the various books. That was immensely useful, so thanks for that, Allyson!
In general, I was blown away by the Flashpoint stuff. I realized pretty early on that this was a throw-away universe/continuity/whatever, so they felt safe taking some big risks in storytelling, knowing that the reset button ((Well, not quite reset, but set-back-to-more-traditional-status-quo button, anyway.)) was coming. That said, I was still very pleased by the size of the risks they took, and the stories they got out of it. I mean, when you start off with sinking Western Europe, and the Amazons invading England, you show people you’re serious about doing big things.
Flashpoint was made up of a number of miniseries, with a few one-shots and a single continuing series (Booster Gold) thrown in. Each of the miniseries focused on a different hero or group, and showed you a twist in the way they were in this new timeline. I don’t want to spoil things too much, but Flashpoint won my heart the instant I realized that Slade Wilson and Travis Morgan ((That’s Deathstroke the Terminator and the Warlord, for those who don’t know.)) were waging piratical naval battles in the water above sunken Paris.
The things the series did with Batman, with Superman, with Dick Grayson and Frankensein’s Monster were just brilliant. I wasn’t too impressed by some of the other books, like The Outsider, The Canterbury Cricket, and The Secret Seven ((Really, I have no idea why Shade the Changing Man keeps coming back. None.)), but most of the books were just good reads. I was even impressed by how the Flash ((I’ve never really cared for the Flash much. I don’t dislike him, not like I do Shade (see above), but he just never did much for me.)) was worked into all this.
And then it ended, and it left me pretty jazzed for the New 52.
Justice League #1
This was the first book to come out, and they started it pretty slow. The default assumption for the universe seems to be that Superman is the first open superhero, and he popped up on the scene about five years ago. Batman was around before then, but he was mainly regarded as an urban legend. So this book opens up five years before NOW (with NOW defined as the current time-point in the bulk of the new DC continuity) with the first meeting of Batman and Green Lantern.
There’s some neat stuff that happens, though as I said, it starts slow. They seem to have gone back to basics with the characters – Batman is grim, pessimistic, and kind of a dick, while Green Lantern is cocky, smug, and kind of a prick. The bulk of the issue is devoted to setting up the expectations of both the characters and the world: the characters are as stated, and the world thinks they’re dangerous criminals.
I liked the issue, and I’m heartened by the fact that they’re taking their time with the storytelling.
Action Comics #1
Restarting the numbering on Action Comics is a pretty big deal. The fact that DC did so, in my opinion, shows that they are seriously devoted to the new universe, and I like that.
Story-wise, this book presents a younger, cockier, less-boyscoutish Superman than I can remember seeing. He’s still a nice guy, and he still values life, and still upholds justice, but he’s going after people that the law can’t touch. And he seems to be having fun. That right there is an interesting take on things, and it was surprisingly refreshing. I found myself liking the character, and the book, a whole lot more than I expected. And for those of you on the Interwebs complaining about Superman’s costume in the book, get a grip.
Animal Man #1
Never followed Animal Man previously. No real reason – I just didn’t. This story struck me as very human. Buddy Blake is a pretty normal guy, and the story is, in large part, about his concerns for his family. He’s grateful for his wife’s support, he worries about his kids, and he hopes he can make them all proud and keep them all safe. So that’s where he’s going to get hit, and the hit, when it comes in the book, is really pretty awesome. Definitely hooked me.
I’ve always liked Barbara Gordon, first as Batgirl, and then as Oracle. I liked the recent Batwoman run in Detective Comics. I think that there are interesting Batman stories to tell that benefit from ((Maybe even require.)) a female point of view. So, I was happy to see her getting back into the game. They haven’t dismissed everything that happened in Alan Moore’s stunning The Killing Joke – Babs was still shot, still crippled. But in the new universe, she regained the use of her legs after lengthy rehab, and is putting on the cowl again.
There was a lot about this book I liked – Barbara as a strong, smart, resourceful, determined woman, both in the costume and out of it; Jim Gordon’s worry and devotion to her; her own fears and doubts and her struggle against them – but there was some ham-handed stuff that just didn’t work well. I mean, having a roommate introduce herself by saying, “I’m kinda an activist,” and point to a big Fight The Power scrawled across the living room wall in fresh paint. I know they have a limited amount of space to introduce the characters, but that one hurt.
Not enough to turn me off the book, though.
Okay. A black Batman works for all the same reason a Batgirl or Batwoman works. It gives you access to stories that you couldn’t tell otherwise. And setting the thing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is brilliant. Batman stands out as a sort of dark anomaly in the US – a savage force lurking inside civilization. Batwing lives in a more openly brutal world, with people who aren’t going to be frightened by a bat. He faces horrific conditions without the supporting infrastructure that Batman has. His world is not Batman’s world, but he still tries to do Batman’s work. The character rocks, and the book rocks.
Detective Comics #1
Like Action Comics, it’s a big deal that DC started Detective Comics over at #1. This is a great Batman story, and the Batman in it is less of a dick than the one in Justice League. That may be because this is set later in his life (in the NOW), or it may be because he isn’t interacting with any other superheroes on his turf, so he doesn’t need to do the alpha dog thing.
But this is hard. Core. Batman. It is nasty, and brutal, and glorious, and heroic, and dark, and disturbing. The Joker is awesome and terrifying, and the story that this kicks off really bears watching. It looks to be amazing.
Green Arrow #1
Like Animal Man, Green Arrow was just not a hero I ever followed. I liked Frank Miller’s bitter, disillusioned socialist version in The Dark Knight Returns, but other than that, he didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not sure if that’s changed with the new book, but they seem to be taking a different tack – one more inspired by the Smallville Oliver Queen. He is sort of the anti-Batman, now: rich, dressing up to fight crime, but with a larger support team and less brooding. It bears watching.
Hawk & Dove #1
Well, Hawk and Dove were always heavy-handed heroes. That hasn’t changed. There’s not really anything subtle about the avatars of War and Peace, and not really anything subtle about the book. We get that Hank’s angry. Of course he’s angry. He’s Hawk. And Dawn ((Who seems to be Deadman’s girlfriend. How does that work, exactly? Is that left over from one of the infinite crises that have plagued the DCU?)) is keeping a secret from him, something about his brother, and she’s anguished about it. I’m going to give it one more issue just because it had the line, “Nobody likes zombies anymore!” Maybe it’s just first-issue jitters. Or maybe it just doesn’t work for me.
Justice League International #1
I dunno. This is, like the JLI books of the 90s, a light superhero comic. It’s got a bevy of good comedy-fodder characters – Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Rocket Red, maybe Plastic Man – but it seems to be trying too hard. The story has potential, more because of the political aspect of being a supergroup assembled by and reporting to the UN than because of the awkward comedy so far.
Men of War #1
Really mixed feelings about this one, caused by the fact that there are two stories in the book. The first shows how Corporal Rock became Sergeant Rock, and it is pretty good. It gives some insight into the man beyond his sleeveless shirt and crossed bandoliers, and it places him and Easy Co. firmly in the DC universe, with the appearance of a superhuman ((Which does not go all that well.)). I liked it.
The other story is an anvilicious tale of the Navy SEALs in a modern conflict. It reads like a re-purposed propaganda script, and it drove me nuts. I hated it.
But Sgt Rock. Sgt Rock. Okay, I’ll go another issue.
I remember liking OMAC back when he was a back-up feature in (I think) Warlord. I realize that the idea went through some changes just prior to Final Crisis, because Brother Eye was zapping folks into OMACS left, right, and centre in that arc, but I never really figured out what the changes were. Now this book makes it look like DC is splitting the difference, with one OMAC, linked to Brother Eye, but with transformation and taking over the body and consciousness. I hope that they stick with one OMAC – hard to have a hero book with a random hero every issue ((Though Warren Ellis’s Global Frequency did it with great aplomb, making a great series. But even it was a limited run.)).
There’s plenty of Kirby-esque weirdness going on the book, which is good. The art captures the Kirby style without just aping it – the influence is very recognizable, but the artist’s own style shows through. All in all, I really liked the first issue.
Static Shock #1
Static has moved to NYC, giving the book even more of a Spiderman feel than the character had previously. This is not a bad thing – adolescent superheroes trying to sort out regular adolescence coupled with the complications of super powers is a pretty good mix for pulling stories out. Look how many great Spidey moments came from just the struggle of a teenager to prioritize things.
That said, I’m hoping the book stretches out beyond that bailiwick. If it stays there, it’s going to get more and more comparisons to Spiderman, and the storylines starting to be developed look to deserve better than that. I have hopes – the last page ((Actually, this bears mentioning: pretty much all of the new books end with a page that has caused me to go, “No way!” Detective Comics was the most pronounced (and horrific), but the gang at DC are working really hard to hook you into issue #2 of all the books. And good for them!)) had a cliffhanger that really caught my attention.
It’s a good book, so far.
I was leery of Stormwatch in the DC Universe. The types of stories told in the various Stormwatch series, including The Authority, are both bigger and grimmer than we usually see in the more mainstream comics. And the inclusion of Martian Manhunter on the Stormwatch team really made me nervous. After reading the first issue, I’m still nervous. There’s some less-than-elegant exposition dropped on you ((I’m looking at you, Projectionist!)), and MM’s reason for joining Stormwatch is a little too trite for my taste, but the basic story told in the book is as big and grim and awesome as I could have hoped. I’ll give them a couple of issues to decide if the mix is chocolate and peanut butter or cheerios and spam ((If you have tried cheerios and spam and like it, I don’t want to hear about it. It’s just a bit of rhetorical metaphor. Leave it be.)).
Swamp Thing #1
I like Swamp Thing, whether he’s Alec Holland or just the memory of Alec Holland in a plant elemental. He is, after all, the source of my all-time favourite comic character, John Constantine ((And if you think I’m not terribly afraid about what DC is gonna do to my John Constantine, you really need to buy a clue.)), and the big green thing that saved us all at a certain seance in Washington DC by arm-wrestling the hand of destruction ((Hey, DC! You know what you need to round out your new books? Night Force!)). But I hadn’t followed it the past little while, so I was kind of taken aback by this book. Alec Holland alive and human and working construction was not a sight I was ready for. Is that something that happened in the main continuity, or is it something new?
Anyway, there are some neat things happening here that may (or may not) be linked to what’s going on in Animal Man, and a return of a great foe from the old Alan Moore days of Swamp Thing. It looks promising.
One of the other things DC did with this relaunch was go to day-and-date electronic sales for their comics. I love this, because I love reading comics, but I have waaaaaay too many of them in my home. So, now I can buy the book electronically on the same day as the print version becomes available, and store them on my computer, read them on my iPad, take them with me on my iPhone, the whole thing. My only complaint about the setup is that I can’t subscribe to the digital comics, getting them automatically downloaded to my devices when they become available. That’s not a big complaint, but it is a complaint.
In fact, looking through the Comixology site while I was getting ready for the launch of the New 52, I wound up buying a number of other comics. These were mainly old series that I had read long ago, but wanted in a convenient, portable form. No hunting for back issues; they were all there to be downloaded. I spent more than I had intended on rounding out my collection in light of the long plane trip coming up for me.
So, yeah, as far as I’m concerned, every comic company should go to the day-and-date electronic sales format. But that’s just me.
There’s plenty of complaining on the web about this new launch. I think there’s something kind of disingenuous about accusing a company of making a cash-grab – companies exist to make money, and that means getting us to give it to them. It’s not a cash-grab, it’s business. And there’s been some complaints about the new costumes, which doesn’t bother me – if there’s one thing we know about comic books, it’s that each artist puts his or her own stamp on a character and costume, and both things change and evolve as the book goes on. And there’s been some public squabbling about gender and race employment and portrayal, and I’m just gonna steer right clear of discussing that.
Me, I come down pretty positively on the whole thing. If this is a cash-grab, DC has successfully grabbed my cash, and I have no regrets about that. I think the fresh start presents the opportunity for a lot of interesting new stories, and I want to see them. I’m hoping that DC will continue to take big risks with the books and stories, doing audacious, challenging stories that will equal some of the things they did in Flashpoint. I think I’ll be a little disappointed in that, but I’m willing to give them the chance to prove me wrong.
I’m more excited about buying and reading comics than I have been in a long time. That’s really all it comes down to.