Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)
One of the steadiest, quietest comics successes of the last few years was Jonah Hex which – unlike the terrible movie adaptation – was genuinely good, serving up monthly western tales that were largely self-contained, illustrated by a rotating guest list of artists, and all of which starred the titular horribly scarred bounty hunter. Now, in the post DC relaunch world, the Jonah Hex writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have been moved over to the slightly more DC-centric All-Star Western, where it looks like Jonah Hex will be directly encountering elements of the DC history in the late 1800s. Here, Hex visits Gotham and ends up investigating a serial killer with the aid of psychologist Amadeus Arkham (eventual founder of the Asylum, and a character from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s experimental Batman tale Arkham Asylum), and we’re soon neck deep in a gritty investigative thriller that pulls off a healthy number of twists. Palmiotti and Gray are one of the most reliable comics-writing teams out there, and with the distinctive, gorgeous art of Moritat giving the story an extra dose of scratchy elegance and life, this is certainly an intriguing start. I doubt it’ll sell spectacularly, but hopefully the New 52 can continue to support this kind of storytelling.
He’s never been anywhere close to being the coolest superhero on the block (a fact this issue goes out of its way to acknowledge, arguably a little too much), but this debut issue from Geoff Johns turns out to be an engaging introduction to the underwater hero. It’s especially surprising considering Aquaman was one of the least interesting elements of both Blackest Night and its follow-up Brightest Day, but Johns does a typically reliable job here of bringing us up to date with the character’s background, filling in the important mythology, and providing some attention-grabbing setpieces. It’s one of the few slow-burning New 52 debuts that actually gets away with a gentler pace, and it’s helped in this by some characterful work from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado that minimises the heroic posing and gives the central character plenty of nuance. Add some intimidating-looking villains, and you’ve got a traditional setup for a series that looks likely to be an entertaining (if far from revolutionary) superhero adventure.
Less than a year after the last issue 1 of this series, now we’ve got a relaunch of the title that finally limped to 5 issues in August of this year. DC have lined up several collaborators for superstar artist David Finch, as the New 52 is strongly committed to getting the issues in on time, but it doesn’t alter that this is steroid-enhanced, amped up Batman writ large, an absurdly serious and hilariously muscular take on the Caped Crusader. Finch’s art is always capable of hi-jacking the attention, and there’s a thankful minimum of showy single- or double-page splashes in this comic, but in the wake of Scott Snyder’s excellent work on Batman last week, this is in danger of feeling a little irrelevant (especially considering we get another supervillain Arkham breakout here, for the second time in a fortnight), and possibly even downright silly. The appearance of new female villain the White Rabbit would have been enough, but the ending – which has Finch (presumably accidentally) throwing in some Jamaican homophobic slang, calling Batman “Batty Boy” – pushes this into unintentionally hilarious territory. Like an enjoyably bad cult movie, this has its pleasures, but The Dark Knight is a long way from being an exemplary comic.
The Blackhawks – a collection of ace pilots – have been around in one form or another since 1941, and this relaunch essentially dumps all previous continuity except for a few character names. What we get is a traditional action adventure with technologically able pilots flying super-planes as part of a UN-sponsored strike team, and it’s a fun counterpart to the slightly less succesful Men at War. Introducing all the characters briskly, we get some well-played twists and enjoyable characterisation, and it’s a good example of nuts-and-bolts adventure done right. Only a couple of storytelling moments feel off, and the cliffhanger doesn’t have the impact it needs, but otherwise this is a promising title that could grow into something seriously enjoyable.
With many of the DC New 52 having the distinct feeling of being designed at least partly with digital in mind (especially with the heavy emphasis on visuals, and large letterbox-format panels), it’s a real pleasure to see a comic that makes full use of the page, and really looks at its best in print. Artist Francis Manapul does a good job on his first script (co-written with colourist Brian Buccellato), stepping into the shoes of Geoff Johns, and the story is as fun, energetic and colourful as the best Flash comics always are. What sells this is Manapul’s art, which finds ever more creative ways of depicting Barry Allen’s high-speed life, and pulls off some imaginative and beautiful moments. It may not be very deep, but this shows how fun and engaging superhero comics can be when the mix is right.
Sometimes, collaboration is a good thing – and sometimes, you get an ungainly mess like The Fury of Firestorm, a reboot that takes the basic characters from the most recent version of the Firestorm character (jock Ronnie Raymond and science nerd Jason Rusch) and puts them down into a new setting. Gail Simone’s presence seems to have resulted in at least some decent dialogue for the first half, and while the art isn’t outstanding, the story rattles along in some promising directions… until the bad guys attack, the power of Firestorm (or, to be more precise, the Firestorms) is unleashed, and everything gets irretrievably silly. From the terrible dialogue (“What did you DOOOO?”) to the completely bizarre set of powers that Firestorm now has, to the annoying new ‘character’ who debuts on the end page, this is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Simone and Sciver had better be able to improve this mix of earnest melodrama and thunking superheroics pretty fast, or The Fury of Firestorm is going to remain pretty missable…
This is exceptionally bizarre – as a debut issue of the new Green Lantern spin-off, New Guardians 1 is certainly one of the weirder examples of a relaunch. Here, we get a retold version of the origin of Kyle Rayner, our main character and member of the Green Lantern Corps – except, this is the origin that happens in the wake of Emerald Twilight, a story that’s nearly 17 years old that deals with Hal Jordan going off the rails and slaughtering the entire Lantern Corps. Starting a ‘new reader friendly’ series with this is just plain bizarre, especially since we’re not even told specifically that it’s a flashback until a later caption announces “Present Day”. The intro to Kyle is actually fairly well handled, but then we’re hopping around between various locations in space (with various characters being horribly mauled and mutilated, as is normal for a Green Lantern title), and the result is the story feels so disparate that it’s barely gotten started by the time we get to the end of the issue (an ending which, admittedly, does manage to be intriguing). Fans will lap it up, while I suspect everyone else will just continue to be unsurprised that the somewhat over-involved Green Lantern mythology hasn’t broken out into general pop culture.
DC does paranormal romance, and the results are… intriguing. There’s almost no concession to the rest of the DC Universe here (and considering the scale of some of what happens, it’s hard to know if this title isn’t going to be in its own separate timeline), but instead this is a dark spin on the ‘Vampires declare war on Humans’ story, with the love affair between two vampires – one a queen, the other a rebel torn between the two sides – providing the emotional backbone. Some of the storytelling is a little vague (in terms of what timeframe everything is happening on), but the rest of the issue manages to be darkly romantic, hitting the right notes and standing as its own take on vampires (especially since they have Dracula-style transformation powers), rather than the shameless cash-in it could have been. Add some impressive art from Andrea Sorrentino into the mix, and you’ve got one of those left-field titles that could prove to be an extremely interesting read, and will certainly make the DCU a more interesting, varied place.
A slightly disappointing introduction to a very promising idea, this title is essentially at the core of DC’s attempt to re-integrate the weirder, more magical Vertigo characters back into their superhero universe. And, after having said for ages that the DCU needed more weirdness, I’ve got what I asked for… but while this debut issue has its moments, it doesn’t feel like it completely hangs together. It’s another ‘bringing the team together’ tale, and Peter Milligan gives us plenty of strangeness, including a selection of one-panel weird moments that could have come straight out of a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol comic. Ultimately, it’s a mix of the plotting, which is once again very disparate and unfocussed (all the team appear, but hardly any of them together), and the unusual art style. Janin’s work has some very impressive moment, but it also sucks the life out of a selection of scenes, and while I’m completely up for a weird slant on the Justice League, this ends up feeling like a slightly frustrating missed opportunity.
Yes, because the world was screaming out for a Hawkman reboot! And not just Hawkman – Savage Hawkman. Another one of those characters that DC seems determined to believe are cool (despite all the evidence to the contrary), this latest remix for the often-rebooted character features atmospheric but sometimes murky art from Phillip Tan, and a script from Tony Daniel that’s high on the melodrama and low on the explanations. In short, there is nothing in this comic that actually tells me who the hell Hawkman is, or why I should care about him – and by the climax, when we’re getting lines like “I’ll show it my gratitude by whoopin’ some tail” and “I must have your power, Hawkman. Your Nth Metal!”, it becomes pretty obvious that this isn’t going anywhere remotely sensible. There’s a handful of good ideas here, but very few of them are hitting home, and for new readers this is going to be bordering on incomprehensible.
Considering there barely seems to have been a week when the new version Superman hasn’t been turning up in one DC comic or another, it’s something of a surprise to find that it’s taken until now to reach the next official ‘headlining’ Superman title. For those keeping score, Action Comics is telling the new version of Superman’s early days, five years ago, while this title follows Superman’s adventures in the DCU’s present day. Under the guidance of comics veteran George Perez, this is a fun and engaging, if seriously old-fashioned comic that captures some of the spirit of Morrison’s version, even if it does end up feeling a little stiff at times. Most of all, however, Perez is excellent at producing comics that are both thrilling and dense – there’s a lot of content here (with one page managing up to 14 panels), and this does give this first issue a feeling of true size and scale. In terms of plot, we’re strictly in introduction mode – there’s a big fight, but we don’t know why, there’s an alien blowing a massive horn (first seen back in issue 1 of Stormwatch) but we don’t know why, and by the end of the comic all we can be really certain of is that Lois and Clark’s relationship is on a very different footing to where it used to be. Combined with the impressive art (by Jesus Merino, working from Perez layouts), this is a good-looking, thoroughly traditional comic, the equivalent of a summer blockbuster that you don’t feel massively disappointed by. It may not be the most sophisticated comic in the world, but it’s well-produced and likeable, and together with Action Comics, it’s making the Superman comics feel more relevant than they have in a very long time.
The writer of Red Hood and the Outlaws rides again, but thankfully this is much better, and free of the slightly creepy fratboy tone of last week’s issue – in fact, this ties closely in with Lobdell’s other title, Superboy, and sees the initial birth of the supergroup known as the Teen Titans. Lobdell is able to write fun, lively comics and he does a good job here of setting up the Teens vs Adults conflict that’s obviously going to fuel most of the action. Throwing in plenty of setpieces, this is one of the best of the teen-centric titles, managing to feel like a modern slant on this kind of story, while giving us plenty of enjoyable one-liners. There are problems – Red Robin’s new costume, with its Vegas Showgirl-style wings, is very difficult to take seriously, and there’s the sense that we should really have a slightly better idea of what the stakes are in this conflict – especially since, after two issues (this and Superboy 1) we still don’t have the faintest idea what the sinister organisation N.O.W.H.E.R.E. are up to – but Teen Titans still looks likely to evolve into one of DC’s more enjoyable titles.
If last week’s hilarious bout of costume sex and ‘How many times can we get Catwoman to show her bra?” competitions didn’t provide you with enough shameless titillation, here’s the wonders of Voodoo, an ex-Wildstorm character who’s been reborn in the DC Universe because, apparently, there was a severe deficit of comic characters performing lapdances. Essentially this is ‘Species – The Comic’, following a stripper with a very dark secret and monstrous secret who’s soon going to be forced on the run, but it seems like someone was worried that the audience might forget that the main character is a stripper, so they made sure she’s stripping or doing lapdances virtually every time she appears. It’s a pity that the sheer level of ‘shocking’ near-nudity is so ridiculous, as the art itself is very good – slightly reminiscent of Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie – while there’s also a certain amount of quality in the writing, at least when the story isn’t concentrating on Voodoo’s state of permanent undress. Writer Ron Marz is capable of good things with this kind of material (he is the man who turned the deeply silly T+A comic Witchblade into a pretty respectable read), and Voodoo may eventually be heading in the right kind of direction, but it’d be nice if right now it didn’t feel like quite such a sleazy experience to read, and coming after last week’s female character-related misfires, this is the last thing DC should be doing right now…
Previous DC New 52 Reviews:
The DC New 52, Week 4 – Batman, Birds of Prey, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Catwoman, DC Universe Presents, Green Lantern Corps, Legion of Superheroes, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Supergirl, Wonder Woman
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