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: 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

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

Action Comics 1 New 52 Rags Morales Grant MorrisonACTION COMICS issue 1
Writer:
 Grant Morrison ~ Artists: Rags Morales ~ Price: $3.99 ~

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

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.

Animal Man 1 Jeff Lemire Travel Forman DC New 52ANIMAL MAN issue 1
Writer:
 Jeff Lemire ~ Artist: Travel Foreman ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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…


Batgirl 1 cover Adam Hughes Gail Simone DC New 52BATGIRL 
issue 1
Writer:
 Gail Simone ~ Artist: Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4/5]

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.


Batwing 1 DC New 52 cover art Judd Winick BatmanBATWING 
issue 1
Writer:
 Judd Winick ~ Artist: Ben Oliver ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=2/5]

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.


Detective Comics 1 DC New 52 Tony S. DanielDETECTIVE COMICS 
issue 1
Writer:
 Tony S. Daniel ~ Artist: Tony S. Daniel and Ryan Winn ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4/5]

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…


Green Arrow 1 DC New 52 cover artGREEN ARROW 
issue 1
Writer:
 J.T. Krul ~ Artist: Dan Jurgens and George Perez ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=1.5/5]

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.

Hawk and Dove 1 DC New 52 Cover art Rob LiefeldHAWK AND DOVE issue 1
Writer:
 Sterling Gates ~ Artist: Rob Liefeld ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

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.


Justice League International 1 DC New 52 Cover Art Dan JurgensJUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL 
issue 1
Writer:
 Dan Jurgens ~ Artist: Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=4/5]

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.

Men of War 1 DC New 52 cover artMEN OF WAR issue 1
Writer:
 Ivan Brandon ~ Artist: Tom Derenick ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

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.


O.M.A.C. 1 DC New 52 cover art Keith GiffenO.M.A.C. 
issue 1
Writer:
 Dan Didio and Keith Giffen ~ Artist: Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=5/5]

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.

Static Shock 1 DC New 52 cover artSTATIC SHOCK issue 1
Writer:
 Scott McDaniel and John Rozum ~ Artist: Scott McDaniel, Jonathan Glapion, LaBeau Underwood ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

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.

Stormwatch 1 DC New 52 Cover Art Paul Cornell Miguel Sepulveda Apollo MidnighterSTORMWATCH issue 1
Writer:
 Paul Cornell ~ Artist: Miguel Sepulveda ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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…

Swamp Thing 1 DC New 52 Cover Art Scott Snyder Yanick PaquetteSWAMP THING issue 1
Writer:
 Scott Snyder ~ Artist: Yanick Paquette ~ Price: $2.99

[xrr rating=5/5]

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.

 

Previous Reviews:

The DC New 52, Week 1: Justice League

Comics Review: The DC New 52, Week One – Justice League #1

Writer: Geoff Johns ~ Artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams ~ Publisher: DC Comics ~
Price: $3.99 ~ Buy it in digital format from Comixology.com 

Justice League issue 1 Cover Jim Lee Geoff Johns New 52 DC Comics[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

So – after all the hype, and all the build-up, it actually starts here. The ground-up remix of the New DC Universe has officially begun, and the comic that kicks it all off is Justice League issue 1 (one of only two comics published by DC last week, a ridiculously rare occurrence). The whole aim with this is to (except in a few cases) make the continuity accessible, and provide an easy jumping-on point for an entire superhero universe. People have been saying that it’s either going to save comics, or it’s the beginning of the end – either way, there’s an awful lot riding on this experiment, and Justice League is going to be one of the heavy-hitters of the new DCU, whether people love it or hate it.

And issue one? Well… it’s actually not bad, and rather enjoyable in places. Not being the world’s biggest fan of either writer Geoff Johns or artist Jim Lee (who, at the moment, are basically the two biggest names at DC Comics), I knew from the start I was unlikely to love Justice League. As it is, they’ve given this first issue a very cinematic feel – the visuals are sharp and well-crafted, and there’s some very nice imaginative touches (especially in the use of the Green Lantern ring constructs). This first arc of Justice League is going to be a ‘getting the team together’ story, especially since this story is set five years before the new ‘present’ of the DC Universe – this is a world where the first superhero, Superman, has only recently appeared (a story that’s going to start in next week’s Action Comics), so currently there’s a rather Marvel-style mix of wonder and fear about all these new costumed vigilantes that are popping up. So, we’re very much heading down a ‘heroes in a world that doesn’t trust them who need to find a way of working together for the common good’ path – we know pretty much where this road’s going to take us, it’s all about how good the journey’s going to be.

And so far, the journey looks like it’s going to be fun, if not quite remarkable. As one of DC’s core titles, this really does have to be an appeal-to-everyone blockbuster, so I wasn’t expecting narrative fireworks. Johns is a very reliable writer – he’s going to give you exactly what you expect (solid storytelling, a few well-placed dialogue zingers, some very literal plotting) and not much more. Here, he gives us Batman and Green Lantern on the run, going up against mysterious cybernetic aliens with a very specific (but shadowy) agenda, leading up to a cliffhanger which introduces us to the next member of the line-up.

That’s one of the biggest caveats for this comic’s approach – I can understand taking the slow-burn approach, especially in terms of decompressed storytelling and not overwhelming readers who possibly haven’t read a comic in a very long time. But it does feel might strange to pick up a Justice League comic with the whole team on the cover, and only have half of them show up in the story (one of whom, Vic Stone, hasn’t even been transformed into Cyborg yet). I get the principle of starting with your most recognisable heroes, but it does make things feel a little skewed.

Added to this, there’s the fact that while this does feel very modern and sharp, it’s very much going for a heavy visual feel, with lots of splash pages and minimal panels, meaning the end result does feel a bit sparse. This isn’t a self-contained chapter in the slightest – this is the equivalent of the first ten minutes of a summer blockbuster, and while general comics readers are perfectly happy with comics that are very clearly ‘written for trade’, I was hoping the new DCU would skew slightly more towards making the issues as satisfying as possible, considering that’s what DC are betting the farm on.

The other factor to the visuals is that this is one of the first comics I’ve seen where, for most of the pages, it feels very much structured to work digitally. The panels are laid out in a way that most of them will very comfortably fit on the iPhone/iPad screen – many of the pages are only made up of about three panels, laid out in a widescreen manner, and it looks good, but it does also mean that the comics storytelling isn’t especially adventurous, or even that exciting. The ‘panel by panel’ approach in digital does sometimes reduce the comics storytelling down to feeling like a slideshow, and that’s what the print version of Justice League occasionally feels like – a weird first step down a road where comics are thought out first for digital, and second for print. (It’s worrying to me, as a long-time comics fan, simply because it’d be very easy for even more comics storytelling devices to be ‘bred out’ of mainstream comics, in order so that they can fit better into the digital world, when it’s the adventurous and ‘do anything’ nature of comics that excites me about them).

But then, Justice League isn’t aimed at me. It’s aiming wide, and so far seems like an exciting, fun and engaging start to the DCU, if one that’s a long way from being revolutionary. There’s only a small level of cheesy dialogue, and there’s plenty of fun to be had in Johns’ take on Batman, as well as the general entertainment of watching them building a superhero universe from first principles. It ain’t a classic, and could have been a hell of a lot ballsier than it is, but Justice League #1 ain’t a bad start to this brave new world of superhero comics…

Comic News: Bats and Oracles – More News and Thoughts on the DC Relaunch

Batman Detective Comics Issue 1 Cover Art Tony Daniel DC Reboot The Joker

The major news of the DC Comics September relaunch from last week has been bouncing around the comic-obsessed areas of the internet like wildfire, and we’ve now got a much clearer idea of what we’re dealing with. A dizzying amount of information has been released – creative teams have been announced for plenty of titles, we now know what a fair number of the 52 issue 1s that are hitting in September will be (from various Green Lantern, Batman and Superman titles to Wonder Woman (who’s staying in her most recent costume change), Animal Man, The Demon, The Fury of Firestorm, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, and many, many more – a full list of the currently confirmed titles is up at BleedingCool.). Certainly, DC are going out of their way to make this an accessible jumping-on point for new readers, but contrary to early reports, they’re not going for quite the complete ground-up reboot we thought…

Wonder Woman Issue 1 Cover DC RebootThe fact that this is all happening after the alternate timeline shenanigans of Flashpoint meant it would have been possible to basically press a big button and reboot the whole DC superhero mythology, but what DC are aiming for does seem to be a mix of major changes and careful tweaking. After all, while they’re keen to get new people reading comics, they don’t want to completely annoy the long-time readers by telling them all those comics they’ve been following don’t count any more. Well… strictly speaking, superhero comics do this kind of thing all the time (It’s the nature of continuity reboots in long-running titles), but this would have been doing that kind of thing to the entire line of DC comics, an extreme move in anyone’s book.

Thankfully, it seems like DC are being sensible and saying in certain cases that if it ain’t broke, there’s no point in fixing it. Some characters do seem to be getting ground-up reboots in the DC Relaunch (like minor Justice League player and Brightest Day cast-member Firestorm, whose upcoming new comic definitely doesn’t sound like it follows current Firestorm continuity), and it looks like Superman is getting some major changes – one of which is strongly rumoured to be that his long-running marriage to Lois Lane may be history (meaning he’s ended up in the same boat as Spiderman and Mary Jane Parker in recent Spiderman comics, although at least we’re talking parallel universes and not incredibly unconvincing deals with the devil…), along with a worryingly revamped costume that brings back vague and scary memories of the fashion disaster that was the Nineties ‘Electric’ Superman

Batman Greg Capullo Art Cover DC Reboot Issue 1However, not every single bit of the DC Universe is being fiddled with – the Green Lantern franchise (which I’m not a huge fan of – I can understand the appeal of colourful space opera action, I just find multi-coloured spandex-clad space police with their own personal rhyming oaths a bit difficult to take seriously) isn’t being touched, simply rebooting its number and starting up a new story (with the aftermath of current event War of the Green Lanterns presumably being finally wrapped up in August). The only one I was really concerned about was Batman – or, more particularly, Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, which was absent from a number of the recent press releases (one of which announced the fact that ex-Robin Dick Grayson, who stepped into the role of Batman a couple of years back while Bruce Wayne was lost in time, would be returning to the role of Nightwing, while Bruce Wayne would be back as the only person in the Batman cowl).

Batman 683 Alex Ross Cover Grant MorrisonI’ve been enjoying the hell out of Morrison’s run on Batman – it’s had its fair share of ups and downs, but he’s done some seriously adventurous things with the character, and it’s the kind of wild storytelling that you can get away with in comics and which simply wouldn’t work elsewhere. (There have been moments where I liked to imagine Christopher Nolan going completely insane and saying “Oh, the third Batman film? We’ll be referencing Batman R.I.P., Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne, complete with the Batman of Zurr En Arrh, Bat-Mite and time travel.”) Of course, it’s had its fair share of detractors and critics, especially from trad-Batman fans who don’t hold with the comic being anything other than dark gritty action on the streets of Gotham (when there are multiple Batman titles, and most of them deliver exactly that) – and the one thing that Morrison’s run isn’t, especially now that it’s in its final phase in Batman Incorporated, is new reader friendly. Instead, it uses massive amounts of continuity in a really interesting way, finding a way of treating the entirety of Batman’s seventy-year history as the life of one man (most memorably in the brilliantly surreal post-R.I.P. two parter ‘The Butler Did It/What The Butler Saw’), while also utilising a large cast of characters and exploring different areas of the DC Universe (especially thanks to Bruce Wayne’s current globe-trotting adventures).

Not the kind of thing that’s easy to boil down into an accessible issue 1, of course, and while simply saying “Well, let’s cancel it and bring the Batman stories in line with the relaunch” would have been a dumb corporate idea, it would hardly be the first time storytelling in comics has been dictated by dumb corporate ideas. However, they’ve ultimately been sensible – Batman Incorporated is being split into two ‘seasons’, with the first concluding in August with issue 10. Then it goes on hiatus for a while (with Morrison working on a ‘yet to be announced’ project), and returns in early 2012 with season 2 of Batman Inc, which’ll be a 12 issue epic and will wrap up the whole Morrison run. And presumably mean I can start saving for the absurdly expensive omnibuses that DC will undoubtedly be doing of the run at some point in the future…

DC Reboot - Nightwing Issue 1 Cover Batman Dick GraysonThat’s got me relieved, and it’s nice to see it’s been handled well. Certain aspects are a bit disappointing – unlike some, I actually enjoyed the whole ‘two Batmen’ concept, and having Dick Grayson in the role opened up plenty of storytelling possibilities that hadn’t been there before (especially with his relationship with the fabulously grumpy Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s 10-year-old son and the new Robin), but of course superhero comics are all about the illusion of change, and it also makes sense for an accessible relaunch to get the comic back to a general perception of Batman that doesn’t have to start with the sentence “Well, you see, it was all because Batman got hit by Darkseid with the Omega Sanction back in Final Crisis and everyone thought he was dead…” I’d have been happy for those stories to continue for longer, but I’m impressed we got as many as we did. Not sure if ‘demoting’ Dick back to his role as Nightwing will create many interesting stories, but I guess we’ll have to see.

DC Reboot - Batgirl Barbara Gordon Issue 1 CoverThen, though, there’s the one decision I’m less than comfortable with – the fact that they’re bringing Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl. To non-comic readers, that’s probably not going to sound like a problem, after all Batgirl (the BG version) is pretty iconic after all these years thanks to her countless animated appearences, the Sixties show, and she even survived the terrible, terrible ignominy of being played by Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin. Trouble is, back in the mid-Eighties, in Alan Moore’s legendary Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke, Barbara was shot in the spine by the Joker, paralysing her from the waist down (an event which was, like the rest of The Killing Joke, supposed to be outside of continuity, but has since been adopted as part of the DCU history). Since then, for over twenty years, she’s been in a wheelchair, but has still played a significant role in the DC Universe as Oracle, the all-round JLA information source and master computer expert, as well as acting as the head of the Birds of Prey, a female group of superheroes.

Oracle Barbara Gordon DC Reboot - Ryan Sook ArtShe’s essentially ended up as a much stronger and a far more interesting character as a result of this – especially since she’s held her own in a very major way in a universe full of incredible dangers without having any superpowers. There aren’t exactly many disabled characters in superhero comics, and it’s hard to think of one that’s been as long-lasting or been presented as well as Oracle – a tough, intelligent woman who doesn’t let a crippling injury stop her from helping people in any way she can. Of course, there is the fact that in an anything-can-happen universe like the one presented by DC, where people rise from the dead and do the impossible every other week, it shouldn’t be beyond likelihood for Barbara’s injuries to be eventually healed, but DC have kept to presenting that reality for a long time, with the result that Barbara Gordon has now having spent longer as Oracle than she ever did as Batgirl (and has actually acted as ‘advisor’ to the two subsequent versions of Batgirl who’ve turned up in Batman continuity over the last decade-or-so – Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown).

Come September, however, and that’s all over. In the post-Flashpoint DCU, Barbara Gordon will officially be back as Batgirl – I’m guessing that she may be one of the characters who’s being aged down slightly, as Barbara has been allowed to get a little older over the years (comic book ageing in superhero comics is always odd and rather elastic, but it does happen – in the same way that Dick Grayson has distinctly aged since his first appearence as Robin). I’m hoping that possibly they may keep aspects of the Oracle storyline as part of her background – that maybe in this rewritten version of history, the injury from the Joker’s bullet wasn’t quite as bad. It’d give a nice ‘overcoming adversity’ edge to the character, as well as allowing at least certain aspects of her life as Oracle to still be around, but I fear it’s more likely that it’ll get wiped from history – which is a shame, and I don’t think DC realise exactly what they’re throwing away with this. I understand exactly why it’s happening; the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl is well-known, and if you’re trying to make the DC Universe as accessible to new readers as possible, and you want a Batgirl title, you need the most recognisable version of the character there. I understand the reasoning completely, but the fact is that they’re throwing away the Oracle part of Batgirl’s history for the sake of brand recognition, and simultaneously upsetting the hell out of any wheelchair-bound comics readers who considered Barbara-as-Oracle as a hero and a character that they care about (And it’s ironic, considering that DC are attempting to make lots of noise about having a more diverse and representative superhero universe, that they’re hanging this reboot on casually writing out a character’s disability). There’s an opinion piece at Newsarama that talks about this much more powerfully and eloquently than I ever could – all I can say is that while I know reboots are a natural factor of comic book storytelling, I really think this one is happening for the wrong reasons, and the DC Universe will be less interesting without Oracle in it.

So, September is the month. I’m impressed DC are going ahead with this, although I’ll be honest – not many of the announced titles have really made me think “Wow! That sounds INCREDIBLE!!” Plus, no matter how big a marketing push and how much they try and stretch out onto the new digital frontier, it’s all going to come down to the stories. These are going to have to be really good comics – all eyes are going to be on DC come September, so they’d better not mess this up…