Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)
A manic, hyper-energised rush of a comic, this is Grant Morrison in full-on superhero blockbuster mode, and certainly one of the most outright entertaining comics of the New 52 so far. Action Comics is also a take on Superman that hasn’t really be seen since the early 1940s – the Man of Steel as a young bruiser and social crusader, standing up to the corrupt in Metropolis while also trying to figure out his gradually growing powers (this is a Superman who hasn’t mastered flight as yet). Simultaneously modern and retro, this is lively comic-book storytelling that throws in plenty of wit and some glorious in-jokes (like the Smallville-referencing “Somebody, SAVE ME!” dialogue on the first major splash page), while also being the best Superman comic in a very long time. Superman was the one piece of the DCU that needed an update more than anyone else, and so far it looks like this relatively radical take is absolutely going to pay off.
Starting off with a pretty daring opening page (an interview with the character, presented as a wall of text), Animal Man is one of the more adventurous new DC titles, which perfectly fits with the title’s more adventurous and experimental history. This is much more in the realm of the Vertigo era of Animal Man than the self-referential Grant Morrison era, and while Buddy Baker may be a very grounded example of a superhero (especially since he’s one of the few allowed a proper family), this story’s obviously going to be pushing him in some seriously bizarre directions. Jeff Lemire’s script is atmospheric and well-executed – the art, on the other hand, will take some getting used to, feeling more at ease with the weirder elements than it does with the traditional dialogue (especially with the occasional distorted faces). Nevertheless, it does start off the weirder edges of the new DC Universe, as well as hinting at some deeply disturbing stuff to come…
This was the one real problem I had with the new DC setup – the fact that they were bringing the previously paralysed Barbara Gordon, who’d spent years as computer info-expert Oracle, back as Batgirl – but trust Gail Simone, one of the best and most consistent mainstream superhero writers, to dispel all my fears. Batgirl #1 is a really sharp, well-executed comic, and Simone gives Barbara a very distinctive voice that’s a mixture of cocky adventurousness and genuinely understandable fear. The previous history of Batgirl (and especially the attack from the Joker which caused her paralysis) is an integral part of the story, and Simone packs this full of value, with good character moments and strong storytelling. It’s occasionally let down by a couple of moments of awkward visuals, but otherwise this is damn good fun and one of the highlights of the new DC Universe so far.
A pretty new character briefly introduced in recent issues of Batman Incorporated, the idea of an African spin on Batman is certainly interesting, but Batwing doesn’t quite manage to make it all work. Judd Winick’s script does pull off a couple of well-played moments, and there’s fragments of a good story here (along with a promising central character), but the cliffhanger comes at a very odd moment, and there’s a slight overreliance on gory shock tactics. Plus, the art may have plenty of texture and atmosphere, but it also manages to completely leave out any backgrounds, meaning this is an African-set comic where we never actually get to see Africa. Combine that with massive panels populated by tiny word baloons, and Batwing ends up as a very threadbare, empty-feeling comic that’s over before it’s properly begun.
I’d heard mixed things about Tony Daniel (or, as he now likes to call himself, Tony Salvador Daniel) and his previous run writing and drawing Batman, but this first issue of the relaunched Detective Comics (which, like Action Comics, renumbers a title that had previously been going uninterrupted for over 70 years) is surprisingly good stuff. There’s a lot here that’s traditional and expected – anyone wanting a gritty tale of Batman on the streets of Gotham battling a grotesquely violent Joker will find plenty to enjoy, while also setting up the new Gotham-based status quo in a brisk fashion. Daniel’s take on the Joker is good without being classic, but it’s all well-executed, muscular superhero comics – until we get to the ending, which is an absolute, out-of-nowhere “Did they seriously just do that?” moment. One of the most enjoyable things about monthly comics are when they get the cliffhangers right, with endings that simply demand that you read the next instalment, and Detective Comics – a title I wasn’t even expecting to be that good – has made me seriously keen to discover what happens next…
Oh dear. Remixing Green Arrow as a freewheeling corporate tycoon who moonlights as a Robin Hood-style vigilante is a fun idea, but did it have to feel quite so much like the pilot episode to a rather poor superhero TV series circa 1987? A combination of weak dialogue and the ultra-traditional art of Dan Jurgens and George Perez leaves this whole issue feeling rather lifeless, and propped up with the tired device of superheroes fighting supervillains simply for the sake of it. A couple of good moments and some funky trick arrows doesn’t make a decent comic, and Green Arrow feels locked in the past rather than something that should have been looking to the future.
Speaking of the past… we have the return of Rob Liefeld, the comic artist superstar with the ‘questionable’ attitude to anatomy, who bestrode the Nineties comics world like a colossus (or, at least, a colossus who really didn’t like to draw character’s feet). Hawk & Dove, following the adventures of (believe it or not) the Avatars of War and Peace, is a comic that’s so ridiculously Nineties it should come with a health warning. There’s plenty of energy here, alongside some absurdly overblown melodrama (and the expected moments of weird, impossible anatomy), but this is certainly one bit of the relaunch that isn’t aiming at anyone but longtime comics fanboys. I certainly can’t think of anyone else who’ll get anything out of such a ridiculous, over-the-top and dated concept – despite a couple of mildly exciting sequences, this one doesn’t really get out of first gear.
Another fanboy-aimed title, this DC adventure aims to recapture the spirit of the more comedy-oriented JLI, and goes about its business with an enjoyable sense of fun. Justice League International is the first of the mainstream ‘middle-of-the-road’ DC titles to actually feel like it’s working, bringing together a team of mismatched characters to tackle international threats to the globe (and doing it a lot more briskly and more enjoyably than Geoff Johns’ Justice League). Dan Jurgens is a very old-fashioned writer, but this gets the mix just about right, and the end result is a comic that’s in no way exceptional, but which delivers enough old school fun and entertainment that the reader doesn’t really mind.
An interesting idea – the life of traditional soldiers in the DC Universe – gets an execution that doesn’t always live up to its potential. Essentially an update of the classic, long-running 1940s -set Sgt. Rock comics (here starring Rock’s grandson), Men of War pulls off some very strong moments, especially the way it captures superheroes as a dangerously lethal force-of-nature. Trouble is, the visual storytelling is sometimes a little stiff and the art doesn’t always have the life it needs. It also doesn’t help that the back-up strip (a completely non-genre war story, so far) is, despite being shorter, a lot stronger and more effective. It’s good to see DC trying a variety of styles and executions, but unless this improves drastically, I can’t see it living very long.
Oh yes. Deliriously nutty, colourful and intensely visual, O.M.A.C. is the most deliberate pastiche to Jack Kirby that I’ve seen for a while, and is also a tremendous amount of fun. Perfectly capturing the Kirby mix of energy, fizz and out-of-nowhere strangeness, this updated, retooled version of the O.M.A.C. concept packs in a tremendous amount of action, while the art (by both Giffen and DiDio) pulls off ludicrous visuals with tremendous style. It’s hard to know what non Kirby-fans will think of this, but the mix of sheer comic book pizzazz is so giddy that hopefully others will be swept along by O.M.A.C.’s infectiously lurid insanity. One of the most deliberately loopy of the new DC titles, and also one of the most enjoyable, O.M.A.C. is a must-read for any lovers of comic-book strangeness.
Originally part of the ‘Milestone’ universe created by the late Dwayne McDuffie, in Static Shock we basically have a fun, lively if not-exactly-revolutionary Spider-Man-style teen comic, with art that’s tremendously energetic but doesn’t always keep things coherent. The story throws in some fun setups, and once we get into the second half of the issue things start to pull together. However, the whole thing once again feels very Nineties in approach and execution, and while the central character does pull off some fun and charming moments, overall Static Shock doesn’t escape the feeling that we’ve seen all this before.
This was always going to be tricky – a relaunch of a long-running, well-known title that essentially launched Warren Ellis’ career, and which takes the controversial core team from Wildstorm comics (better known as the Authority) and drops them down in the DC Universe. Considering that two members of this team are, essentially, a gay version of both Superman and Batman (here known as Apollo and the Midnighter), this was certainly a risky and intriguing move by DC, and what we get is Stormwatch, a comic that’s big, bold and energetic, even if it (understandably) can’t live up to the title’s long, complicated and controversy-heavy history. For newcomers, Stormwatch are the people in the shadows, who’ve been looking after the DC Universe for much longer than these newly arrived cape-wearing wannabes, and Cornell pulls off some great cinematic moments here, while introducing a bizarre and intriguing threat. The character interplay is well-executed and often fun, but it’s also sometimes dragged down by Sepulveda’s art, which feels a little too stiff and doesn’t give the story the right level of visual impact (especially in the final splash page). There’s room for growth and improvement, but this is a promising beginning…
One of the most visually impressive of all the DC Universe titles, Swamp Thing also sees writer Scott Snyder taking on a difficult character who’s seen multiple versions and relaunches (most famously, in a classic run by Alan Moore that essentially redefined what mainstream comics can do), and finding a unique take that has its own sense of identity and purpose. Snyder’s execution here is pretty much faultless, giving us strong characterisation and some graphically nasty horror, while also placing this new version of Swamp Thing firmly down in the DC Universe, with the sequences featuring Superman being among the issue’s best. Matched brilliantly by Yanick Paquette’s gorgeous, textured artwork, this is atmospheric dark fantasy that’s stylishly mounted and brilliantly done, pointing in some very intriguing directions. It’s hard to say if Snyder’s run is going to live up to this character’s very weighty history, but he’s certainly off to an excellent start.