DC New 52: I Read a Bunch More #1s (and a Few Others)

18 Oct
Superman making his debut in Action Comics #1 ...

Boy, this comic sucked. Good thing it's being rebooted! (Image via Wikipedia)

Okay, this is just about my last word on the DC New 52. I need to figure out which titles I want to keep checking out, so I can finish this month’s Previews order! DC’s New 52 sales are great; they’re not gonna be as great in a year as people start trade-waiting or dropping titles entirely; and hopefully the quality will continue to improve…

If anything, I have to say that the first impression of the New 52 given by Justice League #1 isn’t all that accurate: this isn’t the DC Universe told early-Image-style, just Justice League. Every book really does have its own identity, rather than a uniform (and boring) house style; and DC deserves praise for this. Not that every title is good – in fact, some are pretty dreadful – but it’s easy to see that they’re trying.

(I should also mention that any criticisms of the creators’ work on these series is not entirely their fault: the New 52 clearly has a much stronger editorial and management influence than most work-for-hire projects, and plenty of blame can be laid at the feet of DC for what doesn’t work. On the other hand, I’m going to blame the creators themselves for everything that’s done right: If they’re doing incredible work while giving up their rights to it, they deserve the credit for its success.)

(And yeah, I know all of these books came out a few weeks ago. This ain’t Comic Book Resources, kids!)

Now, let’s see if any of these are as good as DC’s best company-owned title, Tiny Titans

Action Comics 1 cover

Gowan, now, git!

Action Comics #1 & 2: I’m impressed. Writer Grant Morrison has found a way to write about Superman’s early days in Metropolis in a way I haven’t quite seen before. The story doesn’t start with Superman’s first day in Metropolis, or his first time meeting Lois and Jimmy, or any of that stuff we’ve seen over and over. And unlike Superman #1 (see below), Morrison finds a good balance between Superman as a Man of Action and the other characters of Metropolis reacting to his presence. It’s nice to see a young Superman as a Man of the People, too: now is the perfect time for “the 99%” to feel like somebody is looking out for them. Seeing a Superman in blue jeans is a nice touch, and much better than the stupid new costume in Justice League and Superman. And I love how Superman isn’t afraid to be threatening and dangerous to get what he wants from those who don’t know he’s a “good guy.” Most importantly, I feel like I’m getting a complete chapter in each issue so far, which makes the $3.99 cover price slightly less painful – but when I can get entire DC and Marvel graphic novels for the same price, it’s hard not to feel cheated.

Action Comics 2 cover

Is that the best you can do, you pansies?

Artist Rags Morales does solid work, though a lot of his panels feel more “movie-staged” than “comics-staged,” occasionally making the lettering placements more awkward than they need to be – and his faces and finished pencils are too inconsistent, with eyes changing size and location (and Lex Luthor’s forehead getting way too big on occasion). If Morales did a more cartoony style (as in his cover sketches seen in #2), this title would go from Good to Glorious: those sketches are evocative of Superman’s original 1930s look (including the cool, stylized “S” that DC management needs to be shot for shooting down). The behind-the-scenes feature in #2 is an especially nice touch, including Morrison and Morales’s quotes about their new approach and, surprisingly, the cool yet rough Krypton designs from Flashpoint: Project Superman artist Gene Ha (though it doesn’t justify the $3.99 price for a 20-page story, bonus features or not). Overall, though, this is a good start, and Morrison’s story more than carries the hit-and-miss artwork (as on his earlier run on Batman). I’m sticking with it for now.

Animal Man 1 cover

Bleeding eyes, check. Ugly chest tattoos, check. Traced wildlife photos, check. We've got ourselves a cover!

Animal Man #1 & 2: Not bad. I think this is the first work I’ve read from acclaimed writer Jeff Lemire, and it’s… okay. The artwork by Travel Foreman is way too sketchy and lacking in detail for my tastes, and the new Animal Man costume is really crappy compared to the old one, but Lemire’s story is almost solid enough that I can overlook the title’s weaknesses while I’m reading it. It looks to me like #2′s artwork was scanned from pencils instead of inked, which actually seems to help in this case. But more detailed coloring work (like that in Justice League Dark) would improve the look a lot; as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Yanick Paquette is doing in Swamp Thing.

Animal Man 2 cover

Run! Run, before the incomprehensible mess gets you! (Another cover that screams, BUY ME!)

I wish this introductory story wasn’t yet another one about Animal Man’s daughter Maxine’s powers, and that it deals with a mysterious “Red Place” that just seems like a ripoff of Swamp Thing‘s “the Green,” but I do like that it’s strange enough to appeal to those who liked the old Vertigo series. I really don’t like that Maxine talks like a precious widdle angel from some bad cartoon, either. But it’s nice to see a superhero with a good, supportive, semi-ordinary family – it gives a different dynamic than most superhero stories. These first two issues aren’t reading like anything that I haven’t already seen done better in the older Vertigo stories of DC characters like Animal Man and Swamp Thing, though, so I’m done with this series for now. Maybe I’ll give a collection a shot down the line, if I find it used and cheap enough.

Aquaman 1 cover

Look at my big fork! IT'S SO SHINY

Aquaman #1: Geoff Johns does what he does best here, focusing on character and story (like the best superhero writers of the ’90s when he started: Mark Waid, Peter David, James Robinson, etc.) instead of the one-dimensional event plot dullness I’ve associated with him lately. Not much happens here (as in too many of the New 52 #1s), but we see Aquaman kick some ass and deal with the public’s misconceptions about him (which is a very nice touch), while a new threat is introduced in the form of some hungry sea monster-men. It’s short and sweet, and provides just barely enough story to justify purchase. This is the best-written Aquaman stuff I’ve read since Peter David wrote the title in the ’90s, and among the best-drawn I’ve seen: Ivan Reis has come a long way since his days drawing Ghost for Dark Horse, with a clean yet detailed style that reminds me a bit of Tom Raney. This issue is good enough that I’ll probably give #2 a try instead of just waiting for the inevitable collection in a year or so.

Batgirl 1 cover

If you thought Aquaman's trident was big, CHECK OUT MY HAND

Batgirl #1: The cover by Adam Hughes is pretty gorgeous, without his trademark cheesecake. The insides are just okay, though. The first half of the story is typical Batman or Robin material, nothing that separates this comic from the other Bat-books. It doesn’t have any sort of explanation as to why Barbara Gordon can walk again – after over 20 years in comics as the wheelchair-using Oracle, one of DC’s best characters. I like how writer Gail Simone deals with Barbara’s signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the shooting that had left her paralyzed, and that she is trying to be her own person and create a new identity for herself now that she can magically-mysteriously walk again. The art by penciller Ardian Syaf is decent, with hints of an Andy Kubert influence in his faces (especially towards the end of the issue). The new Batgirl costume looks silly, with all of the distracting body-armor elements on the surface; with the proper coloring it could look okay, though (as on the cover). Anyway, overall, compared to the previous run of Batgirl comics, this just doesn’t measure up. This isn’t a step forward; it’s two steps (or wheelchair rotations or whatever) back. It’s not bad; it’s just completely unnecessary, and I don’t feel any need to read more.

Batman 1 cover

Oh, yeah? Nothing is as big as MY CAPE! NOTHING

Batman #1: I picked this up for Scott Snyder’s writing; I was unfamiliar with his work until his impressive run on Detective Comics that just wrapped up, so I figured this was worth a shot. Like a lot of DC Universe characters, Bruce Wayne, the Robins, and Commissioner Gordon have been de-aged, with Gordon now having the red-brown hair of Batman: Year One instead of his traditional gray. (Of course, the new Dark Knight film has a gray-haired Gordon, but I think the public can handle it, considering the multitude of different Batmans out there – of which his Brave and the Bold cartoon version is a personal favorite of mine.) Snyder goes a bit meta with Bruce Wayne speaking about looking to the future and subtly referencing the “It Gets Better” message (something Batman always tries to do for Gotham: make it better – get it?) while setting up a classic Batman murder mystery; I really appreciate that he uses abbreviations properly with PERIODS (as in “T.O.D.” = Time of Death, not “TOD”), something too few writers/letterers do these days (and shame on the editors for not fixing ‘em)! Greg Capullo’s art is equally stylish and too scratchy: his Todd McFarlane-minus-the 1980s Michael Golden influence isn’t my thing – but since McFarlane’s own work is so rare these days, it’s nice to have someone do this style on a high-profile book, as I’m sure there are plenty of readers who will dig the look. Overall, I thought this first issue was okay, but I’m in no rush to keep buying this title; this issue didn’t feel like anything that new and different to me. I’ve preordered the second issue, so I’ll give this one more chance, but so far I’m thinking that possibly, maybe, I’ll just check out the eventual collection if it’s cheap enough.

Catwoman 1 cover

Catwoman don't need no man to make it rain - she do it herself, son

Catwoman #1: I put my money where my mouth is and bought this book. Boy, was that a mistake: this book is Weak. Really weak. Artist Guillem March zooms in way too close on his characters most of the time, so there are hardly any backgrounds or establishing shots. I like that he can draw different body types for men and women, but he spends way too much time drawing the wrong stuff. And the less said about the story by Judd Winick, the better: there’s no payoff to anything that happens in this story, and by now we all know about the Bat-rapey final scene. I’ve read good Catwoman comics, and this is not in any way a good Catwoman comic.

Hawk and Dove 1 cover

They have the powers of Giant Frickin' Floating Heads!

Hawk and Dove #1 & 2: Despite artist Rob Liefeld’s reputation, I had hopes for this title. I’m enjoying Liefeld’s work with Robert Kirkman on The Infinite, and seeing Liefeld being the most productive he’s been in 20 years has been great: I loved his run on New Mutants and X-Force back in the day, even his first run on Youngblood, before the double-page splash drawings and burnout and abandoned projects drove away a good chunk of his fanbase. Unfortunately, his work on the new Hawk and Dove isn’t so hot: Despite a reasonable number of panels per page, there are next to no backgrounds, his facial anatomy is still dreadfully inconsistent (especially eye placement – and why does the only Asian character have the least Asian eyes in the comic?), there are no real establishing shots (showing the size of rooms, the spatial relationships between characters, etc.), and there are too few opportunities for him to draw what he does best (Kirby-esque crazy technology and hardware).

Hawk and Dove 2 cover

Don't you know brown is OUT this season?!

It is funny that #2 features President Obama, after Liefeld started and then quickly abandoned an Obama story in Youngblood not too long ago – but it’s probably not a good idea to show him in potentially mortal danger; Homeland Security tends to frown on things like that… The story by Sterling Gates is barely passable, with a whole lotta exposition that still leaves me feeling like too little is actually going on for me to care about any of it. Now that Liefeld is a drawing machine again, I’d love to see him drawing the crazy stuff he does so well: like Ron Lim’s run on Silver Surfer, give him some big guns and spaceships and aliens, the more outlandish and cartoony the better, and I’ll be a happy reader. On this new Hawk and Dove, though, I’m just bored, darn it.

Justice League Dark 1 cover

No one can resist the gravitational pull of a convoluted team-up! NO ONE!

Justice League Dark #1: Well, this title certainly gets my nomination for Stupidest Series Name of the Year. Is this the dark chocolate to Justice League‘s milk-chocolate sweetness? Does anyone really want DC’s non-superhero characters to be saddled with any sort of “Justice League” name? Bleah. Anyway, the cover by Ryan Sook is pretty nice. The artwork by Mikel Janin is pretty good, although his style reveals just how lame the new DC superheroes look when drawn by a non-superhero artist. And yes, the “real” Justice League appears in this issue more than the main characters (whose appearances amount to brief setups), and I fear that this series is going to take the lame, predictable route of DC’s greatest heroes asking the weird/magical/Vertigo-y DC characters to team up to face the threats that superheroics can’t handle. I don’t know if this was writer Peter Milligan’s idea (who once again disappoints me with work that doesn’t live up to his run on Shade the Changing Man) or DC’s, but it sucks. The world just doesn’t need a DC version of John Constantine, or Madame Xanadu, or Shade anymore. And this first issue gives me reason to be concerned that DC is going to give us what nobody wants or needs. I already preordered the next two issues, so I guess I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best while expecting the worst.

O.M.A.C. 1 cover

Well, I'M not telling him that giant blue mohawks aren't cool...

O.M.A.C. #1 & 2: It’s strange that the first thing I notice about this is the number of lettering fonts used that are hard to read, especially with “D”s that look like “O”s… Anyway, Keith Giffen does some great Jack Kirby-inspired artwork here, with plenty of dynamic poses and action. Even pages with huge, dominant figures have solid backgrounds, and it’s great to see an artist capable of creating his own consistent, unrealistic, visual language that makes sense (just like Kirby).

O.M.A.C. 2 cover

O.M.A.C. is fighting the evil giant monster to protect us all and also our city! Ohhh!

The story by Dan DiDio so far seems like a DC version of old-school Incredible Hulk. It’s pretty corny, but I think that kids and fans of old-school superhero action (that is, kids in adult bodies) will find a lot to like here. It’s not really my thing, though, so two issues is it for me. (What would be terrific, though, is if Giffen did layouts for Rob Liefeld on his books – now that would be worth seeing.)

Superman 1 cover

Yes, the angry blue man in the flaming wreckage is a GOOD GUY.

Superman #1: Well, that was unexpected: 25 pages of story, with an average of almost 8 panels per page, for $2.99. This could be the most story crammed into a single superhero story since the ’60s. Writer/layout artist George Perez does his usual great job setting up characters who are defined through their dialogue and actions, with exposition kept to a relative minimum considering how much story background he shoved into this first issue. Art finisher Jesus Merino is no Perez, though; his style is consistent but unremarkable – hopefully he’ll develop into a stronger artist in the coming months. I really hate Superman’s new costume and Jimmy Olsen’s “Justin Bieber” haircut. I’m not a fan of the Daily Planet staff being so prominent in the story, and the Fox News-type parallels in the story are too obvious and hammy. This is going to be the first Perez series that I’m completely uninterested in in a long time: if he was doing all of the artwork, I’d stick with it because his finished work is always a joy to look at, but this story just isn’t for me. (Fortunately, Perez will be doing full pencils on his next project.) Like with JLD, I’ve already preordered the next two issues of Superman, so I won’t completely give up on it yet, though.

Wonder Woman 1 cover

WHAT IF... the 300 Spartans were angry women?

Wonder Woman #1: An absolute mess. As a big fan of 100 Bullets, I had high hopes for Brian Azzarello’s writing here, but the story is annoyingly cryptic, with people talking and stuff happening and I DON’T GIVE A RAT’S ASS. It reminds me of the worst, least memorable Vertigo titles in that respect. Wonder Woman has gone from being the warrior of peace that made George Perez and Jill Thompson’s runs on the title so classic to being a super-violent soldier-type For Some Reason. In fact, everything that happens in this issue is For Some Reason that isn’t revealed (except for one point about a new character I have no reason to care about yet). The mysterious mysteries that are set up don’t draw me in; they just turn me off. Cliff Chiang’s artwork is passable: his layouts are nice and clear (though the emphasis on gore is a bit heavy for this title; this ain’t Crossed), but his finishes are stiff and sketchy. Worst of all is that DC has published some excellent Wonder Woman comics in the last decade, especially the issues drawn by Terry Dodson 4-5 years ago and most especially the brilliant Wednesday Comics story by Ben Caldwell (if Caldwell’s story was published by Marvel, there would be several follow-ups, a la the Oz adaptations by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young; instead, it’s yet another wonderful comic ignored by DC). I hope this new series gets better, but with the unnecessary violent themes and upcoming changes to the character’s origin, I doubt I’ll look at this again.

Huntress 1 cover

Whoops! I'd better get out of the way of these massive boobs!

Huntress #1: Not really a New 52 title, but it’s a new DC #1, so what the hell. The story is about Huntress investigating teenage sex slavery and trafficking in Italy. She fights some bad guys, rescues some girls, and gets her operation up and running. It’s like an uninteresting Batman comic. And boy, the cover by Guillem March really gets her boobs up front and center, huh? It’s like she’s wearing a push-up bra, not body armor. Stay classy, DC!

Penguin Pain and Prejudice 1 cover

Watch the birdie! No, not Huntress's boobs!

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #1: Also not really a New 52 title, but it’s close enough, and I want to end on a high note. This issue is really good, and a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting much from yet another Batman spinoff project, but this is so far one of the best Penguin stories I’ve ever read. Writer Gregg Hurwitz does a fantastic job setting up who Penguin is, both through flashbacks to his cruel childhood and present-day scenes in which he is a demanding, criminal control-freak. The art by Szymon Kudranski is a terrific blend of Tony Harris and Tommy Lee Edwards, with wonderful control over light and shadow. This is definitely on my radar, and I’m looking forward to more.

So, what do you folks think? Are there any other New 52 titles that are worth checking out? (So far, the only other one that’s caught my eye is Green Lantern, but I want to catch up on Geoff Johns’s past work on the title before reading the new stuff, so it could be a while.)

This is certainly the most I’ve spent on DC superhero comics in a long time, and despite several disappointments, I’m definitely glad I got to check out the new Action Comics, All Star Western, Aquaman, Batwoman, and Swamp Thing. And considering that I got most of these at a hefty discount, I’d say it was worth trying out a bunch of new stuff.

If DC can improve or weed out the lesser work, and keep adding good titles like the aforementioned five, I’ll keep talking about them. For now, though, I’ve spent far too long not talking about all of the other great stuff I’ve seen lately, so it’s time to mix things up on the site. Keep your eyes peeled for some cool talk about some great comics real soon!

3 Responses to “DC New 52: I Read a Bunch More #1s (and a Few Others)”

  1. The Hook October 24, 2011 at 05:34 #

    Superman #1 was ridiculously busy; I had to BURN my copy, I was so disgusted with the whole overcrowded mess!
    Your reviews, for the most part, are spot-on. Very nicely done!

  2. wwayne April 20, 2012 at 04:49 #

    You should try Grifter. It is definitely one of the best New 52 comics.

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