Comics Review: 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

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

Batman and Robin 1 cover DC New 52 2011BATMAN AND ROBIN issue 1
Writer:
  Peter J. Tomasi ~ Artists: Patrick Gleason and Mick Grey ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=3/5]

The second of the main Bat-titles to shift back around to an all-Bruce-all-the-time approach, this opening issue from Peter J. Tomasi basically acts as a primer to set up the troubled Bruce/Damian relationship, being the first point where Batman’s ten-year-old son has officially teamed up with him as Robin (aside from the brief sequence back in Batman: The Return). There’s all the disagreement and the conflict you’d expect – for new readers, this is slick, efficient if not exactly incredible, with the added bizareness of a sequence where a public swimming pool seems to be conveniently mounted above a nuclear reactor. However, the Bruce/Damian dynamic doesn’t really generate anything but the most predictable of sparks – against Dick Grayson’s cheerier Batman, Damien was a brilliant, grumpy contrast, but here the result is two characters locked in an ever-increasing stoic grumpiness contest. Batman and Robin started out as a place for Grant Morrison’s wilder, cartoonier ideas – this is an okay start, but it could really do with establishing a slightly sharper identity.


Batwoman 1 cover JH Williams III DC New 52 coverBATWOMAN 
issue 1
Writer:
 J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman ~ Artists: J.H. Williams III ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

Now, this is what you call a long wait. Delayed from launching early this year (and this after an acclaimed Detective Comics run that was held back time and time again), JH Williams III’s glorious interpretation of Batwoman is finally back in comic stores, and it’s been worth waiting for. No longer written by Greg Rucka, the script maybe lacks a little of the sharpness and edge, while Williams also sensibly doesn’t go too stylistically nuts in this issue, easing readers into the world of lesbian ex-marine turned vigilante Kathy Kane while also setting up some very intriguing questions. The story is well presented, and there’s some nice links to elsewhere in the DC Universe (especially in the appearence of Chase, one of the first characters Williams worked on at DC), but ultimately it’s the visuals that are the star, and the issue doesn’t disappoint. Quite a few of the DC relaunch titles don’t take enough chances visually, and Batwoman shows exactly what you can get away with when you’ve got an artist functioning at the top of his game.


Deathstroke 1 DC New 52 coverDEATHSTROKE 
issue 1
Writer:
  Kyle Higgins ~ Artists: Joe Bennett and Art Thiebert ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=2/5]

There’s plenty of titles in the DC New 52 that had me scratching my head as to why anyone would want them, and high on the list was this – a starring role for Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, the grizzled, eye-patch wearing assassin and mercenary who’s happy to leave a massive bodycount in his wake if it means the job gets done. There’s no shortage of attitude here, and the action’s presented with plenty of visual energy – unfortunately, the black humour is in very short supply, while Higgins’ script barely gives us any reason to actually care whether Wilson lives or dies. Another example of DC’s bizarre 90s nostalgia kick, Deathstroke isn’t dreadful, but is certainly lacking in anything but the most basic “look, we’re being really Edgy!” action.


Demon Knights 1 DC New 52 CoverDEMON KNIGHTS 
issue 1
Writer:
  Paul Cornell ~ Artists: Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

Just when I was feeling like the relaunch wasn’t really succeeding in going anywhere that felt truly new, Paul Cornell comes along and restores my faith. Demon Knights is a blast, an energetic medieval action romp that introduces all of its characters with a brisk amount of energy, while also showcasing some promising bad guys and a seriously intriguing world. Set in the medieval era of the DC Universe, this is sword-and-sorcery territory populated by some of the weirder, more immortal DC characters like Madam Xanadu, Vandal Savage and Jason Blood (along with his demonic alter-ego, Etrigan the Demon), and this first arc is basically aimed as a lively pastiche of the Magnificent Seven, throwing our heroes together in a quiet little village under threat. There’s some interesting choices – like the fact that, at least for now, Etrigan isn’t speaking in rhyming verse – and like Justice League, this is one comic where DC’s general decision to concentrate on the visuals means that this is more of an ‘opening five minutes’ than a self-contained chapter in it’s own right – but that’s partly because Cornell sets things up so nicely that you’re already up for the next chapter the minute this one ends. I had my issues with Stormwatch’s first issue, but Demon Knights is fresh, funny, and certainly one of the most engaging DC relaunch titles yet.


Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 1 DC New 52 CoverFRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. 
issue 1
Writer:
 Jeff Lemire ~ Artist:  Alberto Ponticelli ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=4/5]

Here, the DC Universe gets its own take on Hellboy – and following the appearence of the Shining Knight in Demon Knights, another character from Grant Morrison’s epic series of relaunches Seven Soldiers of Victory gets a starring role here. Setting up Victor Frankenstein’s tragic creation with his own team of ‘Creature Commandos’, this is lurid fun from Jeff Lemire that’s very different in tone from Animal Man. Alberto Ponticelli’s art gives the whole thing a very dark pulp feel, pulling of some excellent splash pages, and there’s enough lurid weirdness here to suggest that this dark adventure could head down some very promising roads.


Green Lantern 1 DC New 52 cover Sinestro Geoff JohnsGREEN LANTERN 
issue 1
Writer:
 Geoff Johns ~ Artist: Doug Mankhe and Christian Almy ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=3/5]

Out of all the DC relaunches, Green Lantern was always the one that was going to be touched the least – Geoff Johns is the current DC Comics golden boy, after all – and no surprises, Green Lantern 1 is the most perfunctory of all the first issues, making virtually no allowances for any readers jumping on. Admittedly, the setup is relatively intriguing – with Hal Jordan stuck on Earth and powerless, now that his Green Lantern ring has, for reasons unknown, chosen his arch-nemesis (and previous Yellow Lantern) Sinestro. Johns is always a reliable, no-nonsense writer and the art from Mankhe and Almy is as sharp and impressive as ever, but it would have been nice if this had felt a little more welcoming to new readers, and more of a genuine relaunch, rather than simply a pause in a story that’s been going a long time and won’t be stopping anytime soon.


Grifter 1 DC New 52 coverGRIFTER 
issue 1
Writer:
 Nathan Edmondson ~ Artist:  Cafu ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=2/5]

Weirdly enough, we’ve got two comics this week starring characters on the run pursued by mysterious (possibly demonic) forces that they barely comprehend, and this ongoing title starring a character previously from the Wildstorm team comic Wildcats is certainly the lesser of the two. As with Deathstroke, there’s an assumption that we’re just going to care about the lead character simply because he’s the lead character – Edmondson pulls off some good setpieces, and Cafu’s art is slickly executed without ever being remarkable, but the whole thing feels somewhat aimless. The central character at the moment is basically locked as a combination of Gambit from the X-Men and Sawyer from Lost, and this action adventure is going to have to have something major up its sleeve if it isn’t going to be the first of the New 52 to die a swift death.


Legion Lost 1 DC New 52 CoverLEGION LOST 
issue 1
Writer:
 Fabian Nicieza ~ Artist:  Pete Woods ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

There are plenty of people in the world who don’t have the faintest idea who the Legion of Super-Heroes are, and weirdly enough we get this spin-off title appearing before the main title itself. Here, a squad of characters from the 30th Century incarnation of the Legion get accidentally stranded in the present day, with plenty of problems to tackle- the biggest of which is the deadly virus that’s just been loosed onto the world. Nicieza does an efficient job in introducing the characters, while there are some entertaining setpieces and an enjoyably pulpy SF feel to the whole adventure. Along with some effective, well-executed art, this is one of the more promising middle-of-the-road DC titles.


Mister Terrific 1 DC New 52 CoverMISTER TERRIFIC 
issue 1
Writer:
 Eric Wallace ~ Artist: Gianluca Gugliotta ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4/5]

Here’s an example of a DC Comic actually getting it right, and making me interested in a character I knew virtually nothing about. With an emphasis on science that’s creative and fun, this introduces celebrity scientist Michael Holt (aka Mr. Terrific) well, bringing us up to date on his history while also throwing some serious threats in his path. Visually it’s well executed, with some excellent splash pages, and it’s hard not to feel that this is what the very lacklustre Green Arrow should have felt like. Giving us an intriguing central character and setting up a number of conflicts, there’s also the welcome appearence of DC character Karen Starr – who longtime DC readers will know better as the cleavage-tastic heroine Power Girl – and a cliffhanger that certainly sets the stakes high for issue 2.


Red Lanterns 1 DC New 52 CoverRED LANTERNS 
issue 1
Writer:
 Peter Milligan ~ Artists: Ed Benes and Rob Hunter ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

The latest addition to the Green Lantern franchise is this somewhat inevitable ongoing starring the rage-fuelled Red Lanterns, and it benefits a lot from having ex-2000AD and longtime Vertigo writer Peter Milligan onboard. There’s a darkly grotesque feel to this, while Milligan sets up the character of Atrocitus in some effective ways, giving the audience a mix of well-written introspection and over-the-top violence (especially in the opening sequence, featuring the lethal Red Lantern cat Dex-Starr). It’s not without its moments of cheese, however, while the earthbound revenge plotline is (at least so far) a little bewildering, and the art goes for the cleavage-heavy cheesecake approach at every conceivable opportunity. Nevertheless, Milligan has at least set this up as a worthy addition to the already crowded GL franchise ranks, and looks to have plenty in store.


Resurrection Man 1 DC New 52 CoverRESURRECTION MAN 
issue 1
Writers:
 Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning ~ Artist:  Fernando Dagnino ~ Price: $2.99 ~

[xrr rating=4/5]

One of the most reliable writer teams out there, Abnett and Lanning always deliver well-crafted and entertaining comics – here, coming back to a character last seen in the Nineties, they’ve given us another entry in the darker and weirder edges of the DC Universe. Mitch Shelly, the man blessed/cursed to resurrect with a different superpower every time he dies makes for an interesting protagonist, and the whole atmosphere of dark brooding atmosphere pays off in spades. Dagnino’s art just amps up the darkness, pulling off a handful of nicely executed and inventive moments, Abnett and Lanning raise the tension and set up plenty of mysteries, and by the climax this is certainly looking like one of the more intriguing of DC’s ‘Dark’ family of titles.


Suicide Squad 1 DC New 52 Cover Harley QuinnSUICIDE SQUAD 
issue 1
Writer:
 Adam Glass ~ Artists: Marco Rudy ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

Any fans of Secret Six should look away now. This isn’t anywhere near as good as Gail Simone’s magnum opus of morally grey supervillains, while Harley Quinn’s new look is shameless exploitation for its own sake (as well as a shameless bid for the Arkham Asylum/Arkham City computer game geek crowd). Ultimately, writer Adam Glass does get a certain amount of fun out of this very, very old set-up – death-row criminals sent on near-suicidal missions with the vaguest chance of redeeming themselves – and also pulls off an ending that’s certainly attention-grabbing. Unfortunately, this is also so deliberately, self-consciously edgy it’s almost painful to read at times, and does feel like a collection of most of superhero comics’s worst excesses wrapped up in one rather worrying parcel.


Superboy 1 DC New 52 CoverSUPERBOY 
issue 1
Writer:
 Scott Lobdell ~ Artists: R.B. Silva and Rob Lean ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4/5]

A pleasant surprise, this, as we get a setup for this new iteration of the Superboy character that’s similar to the previous history (he’s still a clone with some of Superman’s DNA) but also adds in plenty of themes from Flashpoint’s Project Superman miniseries. A surprisingly dense and well-crafted script takes us through some engaging drama, contrasting Superboy’s gradual discoveries about the world via his ‘education’ with the corporate shenanigans and skullduggery going on around him. On top of this, there’s some excellent, clean-lined art from R.B. Silva (the recent Jimmy Olsen special) and Rob Lean, giving this a bright and colourful feel that’s pleasently different from some of the darker, murkier, more Jim Lee-influenced titles to be found elsewhere. A satisfying set-up, this only really runs into problems with an ending that links directly to Teen Titans – a comic with isn’t out yet, meaning the final page might be a bit confusing to those not in the know. However, this is an efficiently executed superhero comic that hints at some interesting stories to come.

Previous DC New 52 Reviews:

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

The DC New 52, Week 1: Justice League

 

 

Comics Review: Batwoman – Elegy

Writer: Greg Rucka ~ Art: J.H. Williams ~ Colours: Dave Stewart
Publisher: DC Comics ~ Year: 2010

Batwoman Elegy Trade Paperback Cover Art Greg Rucka J H Williams III Kathy Kane[xrr rating=5/5]

The Low-Down: One of the most well-crafted and gorgeous superhero comics produced in years, this collection acts as an excellent introduction to its intriguing central character, while also showcasing some truly astonishing artwork.

The Backstory: Socialite-turned-vigilante Katherine Kane is the latest costumed crimefighter to stalk the streets of Gotham City, taking her inspiration from the Dark Knight and battling injustice under the identity of Batwoman.

What’s it About?: Six months after nearly losing her life at the hands of the mysterious cult known as the Religion of Crime, Katherine is back on the streets and eager to hunt down the Religion’s new leader. But when she encounters this leader – a psychotic Lewis Carrol-obsessed young woman named Alice – Katherine is soon uncovering secrets she’ll wish were left unearthed…

The Story: “Lesbian Batwoman!” That was the main news story when this newly remixed and revamped version of an old-school Batman character was announced back in 2006. Yes, DC were introducing an openly Lesbian superhero into their shared universe, but when Katherine Kane made her first appearance in the year-long miniseries 52, not everyone was impressed. Touches like the rather impractical high-heel boots on the costume didn’t exactly help, and while there was some good writing, the general impression was that DC had ended up with a showy ‘Lipstick Lesbian’ character and not much else.

As a result, this first proper starring role for the character (in the pages of Detective Comics, where Batman first appeared back in May 1939) had its work cut out for it to prove Kathy Kane could work as a genuine protagonist. Getting a successful and engaging bit of superhero action would have been enough – but instead, the two resulting stories collected here (‘Elegy’ and ‘Go’) showcased razor-sharp storytelling combined with mind-blowing artistry.

Batwoman (Double-page Spread) JH Williams IIIWritten by Greg Rucka, the novelist and comics writer behind series like the police-centric Batman title Gotham Central, this is an incredibly strong piece of superhero writing that gets to the heart of an intriguing and well-crafted character. It was certainly easy to wonder if we really needed another Bat-costumed vigilante, but Rucka gives Katherine’s journey through the story a whole series of levels, making her a compelling and interesting character while not turning her sexuality into a cheap bit of titilation. Thanks to her backstory, it’s key to who she is (we find out in ‘Go’ that she was originally training to be a marine, but was drummed out of the service thanks to the ‘Dont Ask, Don’t Tell’ rules that forbid gays from serving in the US Armed forces), and Rucka manages plenty of nicely played character twists, while building a fascinating relationship between Katherine and her father.

Sadly, this isn’t completely self-contained. As with so many superhero stories, there’s past history this links in with (in this case, the lengthy story of ’52’), meaning certain plot twists come as a severe culture shock (especially when a group of shape-changers seem to just turn up out of nowhere). However, unlike many superhero comics that flirt with being adult but only really manage adolescent violence and melodrama, this is a superhero action adventure that feels genuinely grown-up, and will leave you hungry for more – and, after many delays, we’ll finally be getting more in the ongoing Batwoman series finally starts in September 2011 (although sadly without the writing talents of Rucka).

Batwoman - JH Williams IIIThe Art: Some comics look good. Some comics look beautiful. And then, there are the comics that blast your head off with exactly how lush, artful and downright gorgeous they look. J.H. Williams III has been building a reputation over the last decade for being one of the most impressive and experimental artists in the business (especially with his work on Alan Moore’s Promethea and the opening/closing chapters of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory), and he really pushes the boat out here, delivering some deeply eyeball-frazzling visuals.

There’s barely a page in the whole collection that isn’t breathtaking, from the lush painted style and angular panel structures of the Batwoman-in-costume sequences to the cleaner lines of Kathy Kane’s everyday life. Double-page spreads explode in colour, fight sequences are rendered as lightning-bolt-shaped panels raining down around the central character, and the whole thing is simply a jaw-dropping showcase of the kind of places comics can go when a writer and an artist are prepared to push into new territory. Of course, there’ll be some who’ll look at this sniffily and say “It’s all a bit flashy and hard to read”, but this is the kind of storytelling that only comics can do (and which still works best on the printed page), making the design and structure of the page an integral part of the story. Far more than just eye-candy, Batwoman: Elegy sets a new standard for art and storytelling craft in mainstream comics – and if only there were a few more mainstream titles out there even capable of trying to keep up…

The Verdict: An expertly crafted and characterful introduction to a new superhero gets pushed into must-read territory by some gob-smacking artwork. One of the best mainstream superhero comic books published in a long time – buy it, and give your eyes a feast.

[amtap book:isbn=0857684299]