Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)
Scott Snyder is turning into one of the major stars of the relaunch – he’s been assigned to two of the highest profile titles, and after the success of Swamp Thing, he’s scored another slam dunk here. Considered as the more ‘superhero’ aimed Batman title (in contrast to the grittier-slanted Detective Comics), Batman issue 1 is a cracking piece of comics storytelling that does everything you’d want from a first issue, bringing the reader up to date with the current status quo while also throwing in some fantastic narrative curveballs. With plenty of ideas on show and a likeable, engaging storytelling style, Snyder has this under control from page 1, utilising exactly the right level of atmosphere, delivering some great dialogue and building everything up to an effective cliffhanger. On top of this, there’s Greg Capullo’s art (with Jonathan Glapion on inks) which pulls of a nice mix of cartoonishness and atmosphere that avoids too many current superhero visual cliches, giving us some great moments (including the gorgeous Batcave double-splash page). Packing in plenty of value, this sets the flagship Batman title off at a brisk run, and looks to be one of the strongest comics in the New DC 52 line up.
Really? Birds of Prey without Oracle, or their long-time writer Gail Simone? The long-running title where Barbara Gordon spent most of her time as info-tech jockey Oracle is relaunched here (only just over a year after the last relaunch), and while Swierczynski packs in some characterful moments and good setpieces, this is a long way from being either distinctive or interesting. Admittedly, it is a women-centric DC comic that isn’t jaw-droppingly exploitative (which, in the week of Catwoman issue 1, is a definite good thing), but while there’s some enjoyable banter it isn’t like we get to know either of our two main characters that well, while Jesus Saiz’s artwork is a little stiff and lifeless at times (especially in a couple of the action sequences). Leading up to a cliffhanger that acts as the working definition of ‘out of nowhere’, Birds of Prey feels like a title that’s in need of a distinctive identity if it isn’t going to end up feeling a little on the mediocre side.
One of the few ‘legacy’ superhero characters who hasn’t ended up killed off so that they can be replaced by their older (supposedly ‘better known’ predecessor), Mexican kid Jaime Reyes has made it into the DC New 52, athough the story of the Blue Beetle gets a fairly big revamp here. Now, the powerful alien scarab that Jaime inherits is a dangerously lethal war machine, and there are some clues that this take on the series is going to be a little harder edged than DC’s previous Blue Beetle offerings. There aren’t many surprises here, but Bedard does a good job of getting everything in place and making Jaime an engaging protagonist, while we also get a couple of intriguing continuity nods (especially the fact that eccentric supervillains The Brain and Monsieur Mallah (a brain in a jar, and a communist talking gorilla with a french accent) are alive and well in the New DC universe. It’s good to see such a likeable and enjoyable teen comic getting another lease of life, and so far Blue Beetle is looking to be one of the better of DC’s sub-family of ‘Young Justice’ comics.
One of the many DC comics that had me thinking “Why would I want to read a comic featuring that character?”, Captain Atom doesn’t really succeed in coming up with any particularly convincing answers to that question. Of course, the thing that’s interesting about Captain Atom is that he’s a character originally published by Charlton Comics, and who was used as the loose basis/inspiration for the god-like Dr Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and it looks like the story is certainly heading in a direction that’ll be exploring pushing Captain Atom’s powers in a more deliberately cosmic direction. The art from Freddie Williams II is wild and energetic, especially when it comes to depicting the title character, and there’s several intriguing moments, but the issue doesn’t come together, and there’s several pages that seem to wander into complete bizarreness without any warning whatsoever. There’s a certain amount of ambition on show here, but this needs a bit more focus – and heaven only knows what any brand new readers would make of all this…
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The issue that essentially set the internet on fire (resulting in articles like this very astute analysis from Comics Alliance’s Laura Hudson) is a working example of how cranking the lever marked ‘Sexy’ up to eleven sometimes isn’t the wisest move. There’s been lots of chatter online recently about superhero comics and their general approach to female characters as well as female writer/artists, and I was never really expecting this first issue of Catwoman to be a particularly progressive example (the cover pretty much tells you exactly what kind of audience they’re going for). Plus, with a writer like Judd Winick and especially an artist like Guillem March, subtlety was definitely off the menu, but even so I wasn’t expecting something quite so leery and exploitative, even for the remarkably broad standards of a Catwoman comic. Somewhere behind the insane number of cleavage and bra shots, there’s the vague potential for a decent attempt at setting up Selina Kyle’s character in the course of one issue, but it’s pretty thin stuff, and the emphasis is so strongly on softcore titilation that the effect is pretty ridiculous. And that’s even before we get to the end of the issue, where (SPOILER WARNING) Catwoman and Batman spend multiple pages engaging in some incredibly ludicrous sex, while still keeping their costumes ‘mostly’ on. Laughable and horribly adolescent, this is the kind of comic that clearly states that yes, female superheroes can be confidant and wildly sexy as long as they flash their bra at least three times an issue – and it’s not even the worst of DC’s female character excesses this week…
What’s planned as a series of stories spotlighting the smaller characters in the world of the DC Universe gets off to a promising start with this look at Boston Brand, aka Deadman, a circus daredevil turned unwilling spirit who now has to help others in the hope of rebalancing his karma. One of the more significant resets in the new DC U (wiping out all the recent shenanigans which involved Brand being resurrected in the pages of Brightest Day), this is an engaging old-school take on Deadman which manages to be characterful and engaging, as well as packing in plenty of material. Giving a nicely supernatural edge to the DC Universe, it’ll be interesting to see how this title evolves, but so far writer Paul Jenkins is aiming in some promising directions.
The Green Lantern franchise juggernaut continues, as the title which up until now has been ‘everyone except Hal Jordan’ gets a relaunch, setting up the new status quo with Lanterns Guy Gardner and Jon Stewart. While there’s a certain level of bewilderment in the level of detail, making this not the most friendly of the issue 1s, this does at least feel like a genuine attempt to bring the audience up to speed, and certainly feels much more like an actual fresh start than last week’s Green Lantern did. Of course, there’s still the usual mix of melodrama, heroics, weird space opera and over-the-top violence, while the end-of-issue cliffhanger is a little clunky, but this is at the least a fine new start for one of DC’s most popular titles.
Last week’s Legion Lost was fun, if a little on the flawed side, and at least managed to be relatively intriguing for someone who knew nothing about the Legion of Super-Heroes. This week’s Legion-related outing is, on the other hand, a borderline incomprehensible mess that makes virtually no concessions to any new readers. Yes, there are captions that introduce the characters, but I lost count by the time we reached what felt like character introduction no. 15, and at no point do we get any idea of what the setup is, what everybody’s relationships are, or even what the Legion of Superheroes actually does. There is action. Things blow up. Lots of things are shouted. There’s a completely bewildering cliffhanger. For regular Legion readers, this probably all makes sense – but the whole point of this relaunch was to welcome in new readers, and this issue 1 is likelier to make them want to hurl the comic across the room.
After his stint as Batman, Dick Grayson is back in the costume as Nightwing – with a new, slightly more Red ensemble – and what we have here is one of DC’s best traditional superhero books so far. Giving us a characterful reintroduction to Nightwing’s world, writer Kyle Higgins does a much better job here than on Deathstroke in giving us a protagonist we actually care about, while giving the dialogue plenty of spark and energy. On the story alone, this would be a fun and engaging start – what lifts it further is the art from Eddie Barrows and J P Mayer, which gives the book a cinematic style and impact, but also uses some imaginative panel layouts to give the story its own distinctive visual identity. This is old-school superhero action, but pulled off with a considerable amount of class and style.
And then, of course, we get to the other point of contention this week. For about 50% of the time, Red Hood and the Outlaws (featuring ex-Robin turned criminal/mercenary Jason Todd, aka the Red Hood) is a dumb but energetic action comic that’s firmly aimed at the audience that laps up similarly dumb action comics like Marvel’s Deadpool, and which also benefits from some attention-grabbing artwork from Kenneth Rocafort. Unfortunately, for the other 50% of the comic we’re dealing with the relaunched version of longtime Teen Titans character Starfire, and while the softcore take on Catwoman is merely misguided and trying way too hard, what they’ve done with Starfire is downright creepy. An alien princess who’s always had a habit of not wearing very much, Starfire’s never exactly been a flagwaver for progressive superheroines, but at the least she was an engaging, warm-hearted character with a broad-minded attitude to sex and a long and complicated love-life. Post relaunch, she’s been transformed into a joyless blank-slate sex doll who (apparently thanks to her previous life as a sex slave) barely even remembers any of her past lovers, spends the whole issue striking porn star poses, and sleeps with new Red Hood sidekick Roy Harper simply because he’s there. The level of exploitative frat-boy ogling in the art (which, amazingly, has actually been slightly toned down – originally, Starfire’s skimpy bikini in the beach sequences was supposed to be slightly see-through) is just downright wrong, and while Lobdell fairly obviously has some plans to explore and expand Starfire’s character, resetting a well-known character (especially thanks to the fun TV cartoon Teen Titans) into nothing but a sex object is a blatant way of pandering to the predominantly male audience, as well as being lazy and retrograde storytelling of the highest order. DC stated upfront before the relaunch that they were mainly chasing an audience of 18-34 males – I just wasn’t expecting them to give the female comic-reading audience quite so many reasons to stop reading…
In a sensible world, we’d have gotten the Power Girl team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, along with Amanda Conner on art duties, and considering how incredibly charming their take on Supergirl was in Wednesday Comics, it’s hard to imagine who would have complained. Of course, we don’t live in a sensible world, so here we get the first appearence of the all-new Supergirl, a character who’s had her fair share of reincarnations and reboots. In this case, she’s a confused Kryptonian who’s just crash-landed in Siberia, and while this title may be going for the teen alienation theme, what it boils down to is an entire issue that’s not much more than Supergirl being bewildered and punching various heavily armoured men. The art from Mahmud Asrar packs in plenty of energy and vigour, but the heavy emphasis on the visuals means this is another DC title that feels dangerously thin. Especially for a comic that’s going to appeal to a female readership, it might have been nice to have a little more characterisation and content – as it is, I’ve gotten to the end of issue 1 and I still have no idea where exactly this is heading, which isn’t the best way of getting new readers to stick around for more…
If there’s one character that was desperately in need of a focussed and straightforward relaunch, it’s Wonder Woman. The last couple of years have seen the ill-advised J. Michael Straczynski-helmed story ‘Odyssey’, which also saw the controversial costume change, as well as the much-discussed and eventually shelved Wonder Woman TV pilot episode, leading to a general feeling that nobody really knows how to handle this character. Getting a writer with the reputation of Brian Azzarello in is a good idea, and artist Cliff Chiang is an interesting collaborator, and the advance reviews led me to believe that this would be exactly the kind of sharp, action-packed adventure WW needs. And yet… what we actually get is nothing short of bewildering. Azzarello goes for the ‘throw us in at the deep end’ method of storytelling, giving us violence, death and horse-murder, and the end result is a comic that basically reads like somebody decided to do an ultra-violent update of Xena: Warrior Princess. The handling of Wonder Woman herself is mostly excellent (although it’s hard to imagine that any other DC superhero would have had their first scene being discovered naked in bed), giving the character lots of impact and showing off her physical skills in a well-executed fight sequence. However, from the bloody horse decapitation on page 5 to the limb-slicing in the combat sequences, this is a graphic book that’s taking a more deliberately horrific angle on the mythology of Wonder Woman, but doesn’t always feel like it’s concerned about taking the audience along with the ride. Too much of this issue 1 is bizarre or inscrutable, and while the setup it delivers is promising, there’s also the sense that the one ingredient that’s lacking is a sense of fun. While this may be exactly what some fans want from Wonder Woman (the lead character kicking arse and killing lots of mythological creatures), as a first issue this is more befuddling than intriguing, and the new version of Wonder Woman is going to need a lot more shape and direction if it’s going to be a true success.
Previous DC New 52 Reviews:
The DC New 52, Week 3 – Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Green Lantern, Grifter, Legion Lost, Mister Terrific, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad, Superboy
The DC New 52, Week 2: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batwing, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Hawk and Dove, Justice League International, Men of War, O.M.A.C., Static Shock, Stormwatch, Swamp Thing