Writer, Editor, Author

Month: September 2011 Page 1 of 2

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 2: I, Vampire and, yes, Teen Titans nail it

OK, I just finished reading the final six debut issues of the New 52. Reading them all has been fun, but it’s a lot of comics. I don’t know when I last read this many comics in one month, but it’s been a long while.

Onward:

The Savage Hawkman #1 is confusing for me because I don’t understand the idea of the Nth Metal. I thought Hawkman was from Hawkworld, but I guess it’s all been changed. This issue begins with Carter Hall trying to rid himself of the Nth Metal and any connection to Hawkman. He fails, of course, and goes missing while some of his colleagues dredge up a mystery object from the ocean floor. It eventually unleashes all kinds of nasty and Carter finds himself morphing back into Hawkman to fight it. As you can tell, the story, by Tony Daniel, is pretty average. What I really liked was the art by Philip Tan and the coloring by Sunny Gho. This is a nice looking book — it has a painted look, though close inspection reveals that to not be the case. I don’t have an emotional connection to Hawkman, so I doubt I’ll be back, but this is a decent comic.

After getting a lot of criticism last week for the portrayal of women in the New 52, we next come to Voodoo #1. Another Wildstorm refugee, this one sees the former member of Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. working as a stripper while being investigated for some reason by a couple of agents. Turns out, she’s an alien with telepathy who finds it easy to learn about men as a stripper because they’re guards are down while they watch her. It’s not much of an explanation, but it is one. The end also indicates that the stripper locale is a one-issue affair, and the plot will move on into some more interesting areas. The art by Sami Basri is, as you’d expect for a story set in a strip club, replete with women wearing skimpy clothes and in various levels of undress. The biggest problem with this issue is it doesn’t deliver enough of anything — mystery, character, suspense, plot — to make me want to stick around. It’s just thin, and hangs on a reveal that anyone familiar with the character had already figured out.

Justice League Dark #1 is a silly book that tries to jam together characters unsuited to a superhero into a superhero team. This should be called Justice League Vertigo, as it features Madame Xanadu, John Constantine and Shade: The Changing Man, as well as Deadman and Zatanna. Like Justice League International, there’s not much of a connection here to the main Justice League title save a short appearance by Batman. The story is pretty standard “assemble the team” stuff, but it hurts just a little bit to see characters like Constantine be forced into a costume story when they’re just not made for it.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 has some really pretty artwork from David Finch, but otherwise feels completely superfluous. Batman and Detective Comics still feel like the “real” books, and this and Batman and Robin are spinoffs that will come and go while the others remain the center of the Bat-verse. This is still a decent Batman comic, but it’s the kind that’s aimed at the die-hard fan and completist. On a side note, there’s one really odd, prominent panel of a female Arkham inmate wearing a skimpy outfit that includes a thong with a bunny tail on it. I’ll wait to see what the reaction is to that.

I, Vampire #1 managed to overcome my longstanding dislike of vampires and I really enjoyed it. This may be the breakout original title of the New 52 — I really hope it is. It’s deftly written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and sports some really incredible artwork from Andrea Sorrentino. I don’t think any description of the plot will do it justice, just go read it — even if you can’t stand vampires.

And the final first issue of the New 52 is Teen Titans #1, from Red Hood and the Outlaws scribe Scott Lobdell and veteran artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. Thankfully, this was a lot more like Lobdell’s script for Superboy than for Red Hood. It starts with the mistake-ridden, overconfident debut of Kid Flash, followed by Tim Drake — who has kept the Red Robin moniker — assembling a new team. It’s got the same sort of snappy pace and dialoge that Lobdell is known for, and he makes it work quite well with these characters. I expect the ret-con of Wonder Girl will prompt some outcries. It appears her previous connection to Wonder Woman is gone and her powers are quite different. But she has a personality — perhaps still at this point a stock personality, but she still has one — as does Red Robin and the cocky new Kid Flash. I have long found Booth’s figures to be a bit stiff, but this is a big improvement from his 1990s efforts with Wildstorm and the X-Men books at Marvel, so good for him. While I am not the biggest fan anymore of teen books, I still might give this shot based on the energy that this first issue delivers.

And with that, the pile of New 52 comics sitting on top of a longbox in my office is complete. I’d love to know what anyone else thinks of these books. Do you agree with my take, disagree, partially agree? Send me links, comments or emails if you’re so inclined. I’ll be taking a look at others’ reviews and expect to post some kind of wrapup before the second issues hit starting next week.

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 1: Aquaman, Flash, Superman outshine the rest

The finish line is in sight for DC’s New 52. Look for a post that kind of sums up a take on the overall project in the next day or so. Obviously, it’s been a big hit for DC, which announced yesterday that all 52 books have sold out of their first printings and going back to press. Three titles have shipped 200,000 or more and eight more have shipped more than 100,000. That’s a huge boost for the direct market, where the 100k mark has been a tough one for any book to crack.

I still have a few books in the final batch to read, but in the meantime, here’s my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far.

There should be more books like Aquaman #1, which I found to be a very entertaining and action-packed comic book. This is another very slick entry, with some terrific artwork from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Writer Geoff Johns tries very hard to make Aquaman a convincing action hero and mostly succeeds. I expected that having everyone think of him as a joke would not work at all, but it turned out to be fairly amusing in the end. I also think it’s funny that the logo imitates the one invented for the fake Aquaman movie from the Entourage TV show. At the very least, this is the best Aquaman comic in a long time, if not ever. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a significant achievement or not.

Next is yet another The Flash #1, this one from co-writer and artist Francis Manapul and co-writer Brian Buccellato. This was much improved from the rather ponderous take Johns had on the character in the previous reboot, or even the previous short-lived version before that I have trouble remembering anything about at this point. I found this to be a solid, nice-looking Flash comic. It doesn’t invent the wheel, but it’s pretty much spot on for what an average issue of this title should read like. If Manapul can keep it up, will be a consistently entertaining title.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men #1 appears to be a full reboot of the character, and is a straight-forward origin story that shows how the Firestorms got their powers and introduces a big, scary villain for them to fight in the next issue. We meet Ronnie Raymond, star high school quarterback, and Jason Rusch, student journalist. They clash and very quickly develop a dislike of each other — so of course they are bound together as the new Firestorms. The art by Yildiray Cinar has a slightly funky, retro feel to it that, combined with the very traditional origin story, makes this a bit of a throwback. It’s not bad, but nothing about this is interesting enough to make me stick around for another issue.

I’ve enjoyed the occasional issue of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex series, though I was not a regular reader of that series. They continue with the re-titled All-Star Western, which brings Hex into the new local of Old West Gotham City. That means there’s folks like Amadeus Arkham around as Hex investigates a gruesome crime of a more urban nature as a kind of a proto-Batman. The art by Moritat, who drew some great issues of Elephantmen, is muddied by a dull, overwhelming color palette. To be honest, I preferred the previous take on Jonah Hex, and the changes that seem to by trying to make this more interesting to superhero fans only make it less so.

Blackhawks #1 feels like it was created about 1995 for WildStorm and somehow never saw print until now. That means it’s sometimes a confusing book, but the crazy energy and slick art carry it through the rough patches. This is a new take on the Blackhawk concept, with the team now being some kind of super-secret government strike team. The plot part is the confusing part, so I’ll just skip over it and talk about the cool art, which has Graham Nolan of 1980s Detective Comics on layouts and Ken Lashley on finishes. Beyond that, I can’t really cite any specific reasons for liking this, so maybe it’s just a bit of nostalgia for those old-time ’90s comic books. I’ll give it another shot.

I didn’t know what to expect from Green Lantern: New Guardians #1, but went in with some trepidation because the cover includes one member from all the different-colored Lantern Corps and therefore be related in some way to the confusing Blackest Night and Brightest Day storylines. That was not the case here, which is a full reboot and retelling of the origin for the Kyle Rayner version of Green Lantern. This book also is an assembling of the heroes, as we meet the other six Lantern folks who will come together to join the New Guardians. This works better as a single issue than most attempts at this type of story, but it still feels like a tertiary book in the Green Lantern franchise.

I will be very interested to see what other folks think of Superman #1, which I thought was a terrific comic book. Written and with layouts by George Perez and finishes by Jesus Merino, this is an action-packed superhero book in the best 1980s tradition. There’s a lot going on in this book, both with Superman and the world he lives in. It may not all make perfect sense, but there is an admirable economy this story as it introduces so many characters, concepts and tweaks to Superman lore while also giving some crazy old-school action. I expect some will find it overwritten and cluttered, but I prefer a comic that throws a lot at the reader and picks up the pieces that work later on to the  decompressed storytelling of recent years. I’ll definitely stick with this one.

Only six more first issues to go …

DC’s New 52, Wave 3, plays it safe except when it comes to sex

The final batch of first issues in DC’s New 52 arrived Monday this week instead of Wednesday. I’ve already read a few that I quite like, but I have to wait until tomorrow because of the embargo. That leaves me with today to catch up and go through all of last week’s books, which contained more than its fair share of bombshells.

FYI, due to some of the topics that came up in this week’s books, the language used below may not be suitable for all ages. Proceed at your own risk.

Top book on the pile is Wonder Woman #1, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. As you might expect from Chiang, the book looks great and is well colored with an appropriately moody palette by Matthew Wilson. The story is a pretty significant deviation from the typical Wonder Woman story, getting into an area I think you could call occult, except it deals with Greek mythology so maybe that’s a better way to describe it. But it is darker in tone and look that the shiny, bright take on Wonder Woman that has prevailed over the years at DC. I’m not sure how effective this is as a first issue, however, because not much is explained. Diana doesn’t even appear until halfway through the issue, where she’s found sleeping naked (though covered) in a London flat. It’s not clear what the set up is, who she’s supposed to be or how she’s intended to fit into the world. I think Azzarello and Chiang have a bit more leeway based on their reputation to get things going in the next couple of issues, and this was much better than the Odyssey revamp of last year. So, this is promising.
Dick Grayson gets his old costume and book back with Nightwing #1, which was a competent if completely average superhero comic. The art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer is nice, and I enjoyed the scenes where Dick returns to the circus he grew up in to say hi to his friends. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that idea before, but I thought it was a nice touch here. The superhero-ing part of the book was less thrilling, and I really wish the industry would institute a ban on the hero narrating the story in captions. That was interesting and effective in 1982 when Chris Claremont popularized it on the first Wolverine miniseries, but it’s been overused to death. How about having characters talk to each other once in a while? It might be a good trend to start.
I really wanted to like DC Universe Presents #1, featuring the first part of a new Deadman story by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang. It almost completely won me over, too, because this is a good character and Jenkins does some interesting things with it. But somehow it just didn’t cross the finish line and I’m not entirely sure why. The art’s well done, though not as stylish as I remember Chang’s art being in the past. Maybe it’s just that a character called Deadman is a bit of a downer, and this needed a bit of brightness in it to keep it from just being dim.
Batman #1 is one of the slickest releases so far, and I mean that in a good way. Scott Snyder writes a really good Batman, and this debut pulls in a lot of elements and kicks off a pretty good mystery. It also looks fantastic, with Greg Capullo on pencils bringing just a hint of Todd McFarlane-style cartoonyness that recalls, for me, the much-beloved Batman: Year Two arc of 25 years ago. It’s slickly polished by inker Jonathan Glapion and the result is a book that any Batman fan, old or new, should be able to get behind. 
Green Lantern Corps #1 was surprisingly violent, which is not something I expect from this particular franchise. It’s all in service to the buildup of the story to introduce a very serious and grave threat to the Corps that should make a nice backdrop for the lead characters of Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kilowog to tackle. It was the character stuff that I most liked about this issue, even though it didn’t make much sense to me. I don’t see why Guy wants a full-time coaching job, when he seems too busy as a Green Lantern to even begin to fulfill that role well. I have a soft spot for both Guy and John, so this may turn out to be the GL series for me if they can keep it up. 
Blue Beetle #1 is a complete reboot of the most-recent version of the character, the Jaime Reyes one. This is a typical origin story, that establishes where the Blue Beetle power comes from, how it gets to Earth and how it ends up affecting Jaime. Not having read the previous Blue Beetle series, I don’t know how different this is from what was done there. It’s OK, kind of the typical high school stuff comics readers have known and loved since Peter Parker was a lonely student at Midtown High, though with a Latino flavor and set in Texas. The art by Ig Guara is solid, and it works OK as a comic book but does nothing to really elevate it past pure middle-of-the-road mediocre to must-read level. 
Captain Atom #1 is at about the same level as Blue Beetle. It’s a competent setup for a series, but offers nothing really new to set it apart. The script by J.T. Krul takes no real risks with a character that you could do just about anything with. And Freddie Williams III’s art is surprisingly sketchy, which I think is the wrong style for this character, who I think would work better with a clean, technical look. I can’t help but compare this to the recent Dark Horse run of Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, as the good Doc and Captain Atom are very similar characters, and while neither sets the world on fire Captain Atom seems the lesser of the two.
OK, now things get interesting with the awful Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. This was another of those titles that, being brand now, I hoped would offer something surprising and different. Instead, we get the most juvenile, pandering book of the bunch. The book starts with Red Hood, a.k.a. the former Robin known as Jason Todd, breaking out Red Arrow from a prison. Hood’s aided by Starfire, formerly of the New Teen Titans, and the three of them sit on a beach, have sex and agree to team up for some outlaw-ish “jobs,” the first of which goes wrong. This book got a lot of deserved criticism for its portrayal of Starfire as a super-hot amnesiac who’ll fuck anyone who asks, while Red Hood and Red Arrow act like Jersey Shore castoffs who are drinking and high-fiving each other over getting to fuck Starfire like they’re on spring break. Now, I get that there are a lot of young men and boys in the DC target range who act like this or would like to act like this. And there’s no denying that a lot of this kind of skeevy behavior on the part of the guys and the girls goes on in frat houses and at spring break bashes every year. But the appropriateness of this in a DC Comic rated “T for Teen” is at least questionable. But the biggest problem by far is the degradation of Starfire. This is a character who, in the original New Teen Titans comics, was certainly a bit voluptuous, but also was far from stupid or casual. Her romance with Dick Grayson developed convincingly over time and turned out to be quite sweet, normal and responsible for folks in their late teens. I remember what a scandal it was when a single panel implied Dick and Starfire shared a bed, and how much smoothing of ruffled feathers writer Marv Wolfman had to do to defend that idea. The other thing that strikes me is that the best-known version of Starfire would be from the animated Teen Titans series, in which she was a skinny, sweet, kind of shy girl. Anyone who likes or expects either version of the character is going to be horrified to see Starfire so blatantly turned into a walking, talking fuck toy for a pair of quite unlikable characters for whom it’s apparently OK to be assholes because they’re “outlaws.” I don’t know how much blame to lay at the feet of Rocafort, who is a terrific artist, because I don’t know how much of a say he had in the story. The book does look nice and he draws a very sexy fantasy girl. But the overall package is just one that makes me think there’s no point to this title than to be shocking, stupid and quite insulting to readers of all ages and genders.
Birds of Prey is a title that I’ve tried and read for short stints a number of times in its long run. The idea is great, the title is great, but I’ve always found it never quite achieved the scale it needs to be the megahit it could and probably should be. Birds of Prey #1 does nothing to change that assessment, though it definitely rises above the middle of the crop. This is a new version of the Birds team, with Black Canary still in charge but, with Oracle now back in the Batgirl costume, the team now includes Poison Ivy, Katana and what appears to be a new character called Starling. Not every team member appears in this first issue from writer Duane Swierczynski, but Black Canary’s character and the intro of Starling are compelling enough to hold the center. There’s some good action in here too. And I like the art, by Jesus Saiz, though I would like a little more detail and coloring that’s less dark. 
Supergirl #1 is one of my favorites from this week. It offers a compelling introduction for Kara from writers Michael Green (of the Green Lantern movie) and Mike Johnston, and some very stylish art from Mahmud Asrar and Dan Green. Most of this issue is a big fight scene, with Supergirl discovering her powers and kicking some serious ass, and it’s quite well done and a lot of fun to read. The finale, in which Superman arrives, makes me think it was a mistake for DC to publish Superman #1 in the final week of September, as he’s appeared as a cameo in a number of other issues now without his new status quo having really been established. Either way, this was a fun one.
Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is very much standard-issue Legion. I’ve tried a couple times to get into the Legion, but either I’m not finding the good stuff or it’s just not my cup of tea. The stuff I have read that I like is very similar to this story, from Legion veteran Paul Levitz and artist Francis Portella. I don’t know if this has any appeal to new readers, but I imagine it’ll make the Legion’s many fans happy.
Lastly, we have the other bombshell of the week in Catwoman #1, the climactic scene of which caused a huge outcry because, well, it shows Batman and Catwoman rather explicitly having sex. Thankfully, DC upped the rating on this one to Teen +, so those 12-15 year olds won’t be exposed to it. Before I talk about the sex scene, I’ll talk about the rest of the issue, which I thought was decent. Catwoman has always been a sexualized character, from the old comics to the 1960s TV show to Batman Returns and, I’m sure, in the upcoming movie The Dark Knight Rises. It’s part of her appeal, that she’s a villain who’s also so tempting in many different ways to Batman. She’s often been shown as willing to use her sex appeal to get what she wants, again it’s part of the modus operandi. I think a non-sexy Catwoman would be a boring Catwoman. 
The specifics of the way writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March try convey that she’s sexy are questionable. Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance wrote an excellent piece and explained why she had a problem with the character’s face not appearing until the third page while the first two were full of closeups of her cleavage and butt. I get the point but I don’t think there was any malice in it — it’s a common technique that only becomes an especially notable backfire when you get to the end of this issue. 
The final scene consists of Batman showing up at Catwoman’s place, they fight and the fight slowly turns to stripping off gloves and clothes and a particularly creepy final splash page of them seemingly in coitus. This crosses a whole bunch of lines that it would have been best to not cross, and there’s a lot of reasons for disliking it from the general distaste of having to think about things like Batman’s erect penis penetrating Catwoman (a sentence no one with taste ever wanted to hear uttered) to what it says about how DC’s creators view women. 
I think the relationship between Batman and Catwoman should remain a kind of tense, will they or won’t they thing. The conflict for Batman is that he’s attracted to her but she’s a thief, and for him to give in on this and either let himself be seduced or use his costume and cape and resources for the mundane purpose of getting laid is beneath him. I think it’s less problematic for Catwoman, who always has used sex and has a more flexible morality than other characters. I know Catwoman has been recast from being a straight villain to a kind of anti-hero in the past 25 years, but it’s that conflict and that ability she has to operate in these murky areas that define the character. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s good for her character to be portrayed having sex with Batman in such detail. It’s just gross, and I thought so just as much a few years ago when Frank Miller and Jim Lee did a scene in All-Star Batman where the Caped Crusader has sex with Black Canary on a rainy pier at the Gotham harbor. I also remember hearing morning zoo deejays making fun of the scene in the 1989 Batman movie where Bruce and Vicki have sex. The joke was something along the line of what kind of sound effect will appear on the screen (a la the 1960s TV show’s infamous “Biff!” “Pow!” “Pop!”) and thinking they weren’t wrong. They were assholes, and one of them may have been Glen Beck, but they weren’t entirely wrong. And the X-Force: Sex and Violence miniseries of a few years back in which Domino made explicit references about wanting to or having given Logan a blowjob were not sexy, just icky. 
It’s OK to imply sex — even casual sex — between characters if it works for the characters and the story, but this kind of explicitness with these two characters violates all common sense and good taste, and denigrates all the work involved. And it’s a shame, because I think without the sex scene, this was shaping up to be an OK comic book. But instead it’s something to denounce and decry and get upset about. 
 
Tomorrow: The beginning of the end of the New 52 launch month! Superman! Aquaman! Blackhawks! 

The New 52, Wave 2, Pt. 2: Green Trumps Red, Superboy and Deathstroke Surprise

Sorry about the long delay in New 52 reviews and other series. I had a lot of assignments come in that I had to get off my plate, which is great news for any freelancer but it means the blog gets delayed.

One story I wrote is of note to folks here, which is my article on Sam Register’s running of Warner Bros. Animation and the studio’s surge in production and success in brand building. One of the big examples is the upcoming DC Nation show, which is still hard to peg down in terms of content, but it will include some sweet-sounding animated shorts that I think fans will get a real kick out of. DC Nation is due to start airing on Cartoon Network next summer. The story ran in Variety and, if you’re a subscriber and can get past the paywall, you can read it here.

A couple other stories I’ve done for the current issue of Animation Magazine that may be of interest include my story on the making of Batman: Year One, which I think is really good; and this story on MTV Animation, including the return of Beavis and Butt-head, as well as a new toon called Good Vibes that turned out to be a nice surprise.

I continue to be lucky enough for DC publicity to still be sending me all the New 52 issues, as I have had no time to even hit the comic shop for the past few weeks. I’ve had to refresh my memory on the rest of the releases from the second week of the New 52, and changed my initial opinion in a few cases.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 was a bit of a disappointment even though there’s nothing wrong with it. I love the title, but expected a little more crazy and a lot more fun. Instead, we have a fairly standard setup as Frankenstein is now working for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and is sent on a mission to save a town where monsters are stripping the skin off people. Also, Frankenstein’s wife went in on the mission first and has gone missing. He’s joined by a quartet of new, monster-like agents and there’s a some nice fighting scenes. The art by Alberto Ponticelli is solid, though somewhat generic for a monster-themed title, and Jeff Lemire’s script lacks the wit, characterization, or the kind of just plain weirdness that would have set this apart. I think the Wachowski Bros.’ Doc Frankenstein series of a few years back was a much more fun take on a very similar idea.

A number of reviews of Green Lantern #1 say it’s very much a continuation of the previous Green Lantern run. I don’t know because I wasn’t reading it before now. This impressed me, however, as one of the most new-reader friendly books so far. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, this issue finds Hal Jordan no longer a Green Lantern and living jobless and in need of cash on Earth. Meanwhile, Sinestro somehow is once again a member of the Corps and would like to change that, leading to him approaching Jordan about some kind of deal. I think you could give this comic to anyone who saw the Green Lantern movie and they’d be able to follow it no problem. It features Hal, Carol Ferris and Sinestro, all pretty much as they were in the movie and easy to identify. The art is clear and I think the story has enough interest for such folks to enjoy it and want to read more. For die-hard fans, it’s probably little different from reading Green Lantern #68.

Red Lanterns #1, on the other hand, was a colossal mess and one of my least favorite books in the New 52. I had a hard time following this one at all as none of the characters were introduced or given any kind of sympathetic characterization. I know the Red Lanterns use the power of rage, and that explains the overall nasty tone and dark imagery of the book. But without some kind of clarity to the story or a character through which to latch on to, this was just an unpleasant experience that I have no interest in revisiting.

Resurrection Man #1 feels like a book out of time, reminding me very much of something DC or Wildstorm would have put out in the 1990s. Which is not a bad thing, per se. I know this was a cult hit series from the late 1990s and the original writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, are back. I still felt a little lost here, that I would better understand everything going on here if I’d read the original series. Basically, the hero comes back to life each time he’s killed with a new power. Here, he comes back, boards a flight to Portland that goes wrong in a lot of ways. I liked that this had action and some nice art from Fernando Dagnino that evokes the feel of early Vertigo titles. But it still didn’t grab me. I don’t see the reason for this title, but I could be convinced. That’s a maybe on issue 2.

I was interested to see what Scott Lobdell, best known for being one of the most prolific Marvel writers of the 1990s and a longtime writer on X-Men, would do at DC. Superboy #1 is definitely on the good end of the Lobdell spectrum, which means it’s a pretty fun book, with light, breezy and fun dialog. The art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean is not what I expected from the cover, which is by Eric Canete. It’s got a bright, open-line approach and works very well with the story. Oh, yeah, the story: Superboy is being grown in a test-tube from some kind of Kryptonian biological sample. We’ve seen that before, from the 1994 version of Superboy. I also liked that this series slips in Caitlin Fairchild from Gen 13, even though she’s only partly confirmed as being that character. This looks like it will be an entertaining book about young superheroes, which Lobdell did quite will on early Generation X. I don’t know if this will hold up and still be that interesting after 12 issues, but I did dig this first issue.

And the final book in this week’s New 52 releases is Deathstroke #1, which threw me for a loop that I liked quite a bit. This starts out kind of slowly, with the sort of story you’d expect about the character as he was introduced so many years ago in The New Teen Titans. This time, his employer saddles him with a team and Deathstroke goes along with, until he doesn’t. And that twist took me by surprise, in a good way. Writer Kyle Higgins in one fell swoop makes this the most ruthless book in the DC Universe, and he does it by keeping the character of Deathstroke intact. The art by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert is quite nice, but the thing that really works for me was that this book really took my by surprise. Obviously, they can’t pull off this kind of twist every issue, but I’m intrigued enough to try another.

Next week: Wonder Woman! Batman! Supergirl! And more! 

The New 52, Wave 2, Part 1: Batwoman’s worth the wait

After a few work-intensive days, I finally finished reading all this week’s releases in The New 52. This week was very different from last week, with the best entries coming from unexpected sources and some of the books I thought would at least be strange and interesting falling short.

Again, I’ll do these in the order I read them, and likely break them up into multiple posts to make it easier to read.
Batman & Robin #1 comes only two years after the previous Batman & Robin #1, which was a blockbuster by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. This version is by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, and features the same Robin (the Damian Wayne version) and a different Batman (back to Broce Wayne from Dick Grayson). The crux of the issue is the relationship between the two, with Bruce addressing various family issues and explaining himself to Damian. There is some action in here, but the overall tone focuses on the the relationship with the result being a fairly slow and not especially exciting first issue. The art is often dark and murky to the point where it’s a bit tough to follow and pages look like a sea of ink. Neither element makes this a particularly compelling debut and I can’t see this appealing much beyond the Batman completists.
Mister Terrific #1 is another reasonably solid comic book that I think could have been better. I think it’s admirable that DC has put out so many books with non-white lead characters (Static Shock and Batwing being the other two to date), even as they’ve gotten so much flak from fans about the dearth of female creators and characters. I’m not exactly familiar with this character, who I think previously appeared in the JSA. The script by Eric Wallace and the arty by Gianluca Gugliotta and Wayne Faucher is all solid but not spectacular. It’s all pretty standard first-issue superhero stuff, that I wish was in some way more memorable than it is.
Suicide Squad #1 has a terrific cover, though I had to read the interior of the book to figure out that it’s Harley Quinn front and center there. This issue sees the SS team assembled, sent on their first mission and enduring some torture. This is a book that really could have benefited from a more straight-forward approach to the storytelling. A title like Suicide Squad suggests a high-concept series with a heavy dose of crazy, and instead it’s a slow-moving, somewhat unpleasant story with lots of scenes of torture in it. It just doesn’t stand out.
Ah, Batwoman #1. At last. Much delayed, this one was definitely worth the wait. Yes, Greg Rucka has moved on, but J.H. Williams III is still drawing, and working on the stories with W. Haden Blackman. This looks absolutely amazing, with appealing and distinctive characters engaged in a clear, interesting story. Plus, it’s super sexy and realistic in a way that shames that the typical bubble-boobed heroines that normally pass for “sexy” in comics. There’s no reason to not pick this up. Excellent.

Legion Lost #1 was aptly named — I was lost. I have never had much luck at penetrating the continuity  of Legion of Super-Heroes, though I do recognize a couple of the characters in this book. Apparently the premise is a group of Legionnaires are lost on present-day Earth. Not much else was easy to absorb from this issue. Introductions are important and, on the second- and third-tier books, there may not be a chance to draw an audience down the line the way you can with a high-profile first-issue.
I liked Grifter #1 a lot more than I expected to. It’s less of a superhero story and more of a straight action story. Writer Nathan Edmonson and artists Cafu and Jason Gorder capture some of that old-time Wildstorm energy for this globe-trotting tale. The art was really attractive, but the story wasn’t quite crazy and strange enough for me to be sure I’ll come back for a second issue.   
Demon Knights #1 is overall a pretty good comic. For one, even though it’s got Jack Kirby’s Demon in it, it’s more of a fantasy comic with lots of action. Uniqueness of genre, some appealing depictions of the characters and pretty good art from Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert take this pretty far for me. Like a lot of these books, there are issues with characters not being terribly well introduced or there being enough interesting story, but in this case there’s enough charm to overcome the shortcomings.
Next: Red! Green! Superboy! 

‘Pariah’ slickly covers familiar ground

Pariah is indicative of the current state of indie comics: It’s a high-concept story that’s slickly produced and has some kind of movie ambition and/or Hollywood connection or talent behind it.

First, the book itself. Pariah #1 starts with Brent Marks, who we’re told is a “Vitro,” which makes him superhumanly smart. Completely isolated from other Vitros, he lives a miserable teenage life in Ohio, where he can’t meet girls at high school and hates his brain-dead parents. But he’s also got this idea for a working interplanetary spaceship and has started building components for it in his room. Then, an explosion at a weapons research laboratory that employs a large number of Vitros releases a deadly toxin in the air, making Vitros persona non grata. Brent runs afoul first of some bullies, then of the law and is captured for what is certain to be a nefarious purpose.

The high concept here is the idea of Vitros, which is based on real world research that indicates genes can be modified before birth — i.e., in vitro — to achieve certain genetic outcomes. I wish this had been explained in the book itself, though. I learned this fact from the press kit that came with it.

(As a total aside, this was one of the best press kits I’ve ever seen for a comic book release. It included several professional-quality press releases, bios of the creators, a bookmark, printouts of reviews, a hand-written note from the publicist, a copy of the book and even synopses of upcoming issues.)

The book is well done on every level. The writing is good, with snappy and believable dialog and instantly recognizable characters. The story is by Aron Warner, who was a producer on DreamWorks Animation’s hugely successful Shrek series, and Philip Gelatt, an up-and-coming comics writer.

The art is excellent, which is no surprise since it’s by Brett Weldele of The Surrogates fame. The production values are top-notch. And it’s a nice book overall.

Which leaves me thinking about the big picture, and that’s where i wonder where this is all going and whether it’s going to be worth the ride. The synopses of issues 2-4 indicate they will be very similar, introducing other Vitros in other parts of the country while undoubtedly slowly advancing an overall plot. The series is meant to run 12 issues, so I imagine there’s a finale in mind along with plans for an eventual movie or TV version.

But the biggest problem is this effort still feels incredibly familiar. The troubled teens with powers has been done to death in comics from X-Men to Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo, which is the comic Pariah reminds me of most.

The good news is that this is loads better than any other stealth movie as comic book idea I’ve seen in ages. The bad news is that for all its slickness, it doesn’t offer anything new or different enough for me to want to come back for issue two. And that’s exacerbated by knowing that the next three issues will mostly introduce three more Vitros and the meat of the plot won’t really get started until at least issue #5. That’s a lot of time and money at $3.99 a pop to ask of an audience.

For more info on this book, including a preview of the first issue, visit www.pariahonline.com.

Small Press: Diamondback is Unpolished but Enthusiastic

Every so often, folks send me an email asking if I’ll take a look at and review their comics. For a long time, I had no time to do so, but a couple of recent requests piqued my interest and so I’m going to do a couple of these indie reviews before I dig into this week’s tantalizing pile of The New 52, sitting since yesterday afternoon on my desk.

I have here the first two issues of Diamondback, published by Colorado-based Anasazi Comics, each $3.99 for 24 pages in color. Written by Jeremy Lee, who created the series with Michael Andereck, Diamondback is set in an “anarcho-capitalist” future in which all government has collapsed and the only justice you can get is what you pay for. In the massive Denver City, a man named Jack Cody’s wife is killed in a gangland gunfight. Lacking legal insurance, his child is taken from him and Jack is sent to prison, where he makes socks and his soul dies. He’s pulled out after a year by a an agent named Cowboy, who believes Jack also can be an agent for the Carroll-Dodgson company and begins training him. Jack takes on the name and identity of Diamondback, and he and Cowboy immediately clash with the big boys of the agency game at Dyja International, which forms the spine of the first two issues.

There are some interesting tidbits in here and I think this could be developed into something that works as a story and would be quite interesting as an action tale with some social commentary in it. The execution leaves something to be desired, even though it makes up for its many technical flaws with sheer enthusiasm. I wish the script had an editor who could make sure that the concepts in the book were clearly explained.


Frankly, if you want to nitpick this, there’s a lot to pick on. But the ideas and characters somehow still came through to me, despite things not being terribly well explained or introduced the way we’re used to.

The artwork by Nick Bove has many of the same issues. If you want to, you can critique it to death for problems with perspective, anatomy, clarity, etc., but the story still gets through. The designs of the future city in particular offer some interesting glimpses of what this world could be. The biggest problem with the art is it’s just not delivering much to convey this world and these characters as physical things — as it is, the images are flat and two-dimensional, though there is some improvement already evident in the second issue.

I don’t know that I can really recommend this to anyone as a great reading experience. It’s kind of a throwback to the kind of stuff that flooded the market in the various small-press boom times. But it does have tons of enthusiasm, and I like that comics is a medium where these things can see the light of day and have a shot at not just developing an audience, but at getting better.

This book is not yet available through Diamond, so if you want to check it out for yourselves, head on over to www.diamondbackcomic.com, www.anasazicomics.com or to Facebook and ask them how you can get a copy.

New 52, Week One, Pt. 3: JLI, Swamp Thing, Batwing and Static Shock

Delayed slightly by a short-lived, mildly annoying illness and tons of work and baby duties, here, now, are some thoughts on the last batch of releases in the first full week of DC’s The New 52.

Swamp Thing #1 is a very tough comic to do, because no matter how good the book is it always has to live in the shadow of great runs by Alan Moore and the original run by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Also, after nearly 20 years as a Vertigo property, I find it somehow incongruous to see Swamp Thing appear alongside Superman and other mainstream superheroes. None of which has anything to do with this particular story by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette. I”ll start with the art, which I found to very good and atmospheric and, appropriately, lush. I had to double check the credits because I was sure those distinctively-inked faces meant Kevin Nowlan was working on this issue, but it is all Paquette. Snyder’s story does a decent job of resetting the character and his Alec Holland alter ego in the DC Universe, but still failed to really sell the idea as a good one. The horror elements were good. But I don’t think this version of Swamp Thing is distinctive enough to work as a Swamp Thing comic for established fans, while this is easily, I think, the most confusing first issue for neophytes. 
I was surprised in a good way to see Justice League International among The New 52. I am, as regular readers of this blog will know, a fan of the Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis run on the title from the late 1980s. Those writers haven’t returned for this version, which is written by Dan Jurgens with Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan on art — all solid superhero creators. The key to this seems to be Booster Gold, who Jurgens created a long time ago and whose series he was writing and drawing before it ended with Flashpoint. The supporting cast includes JLI stalwarts Guy Gardner, Batman, Rocket Red, Ice, Fire and Batman, along with Vixen, a Chinese hero named August General in Iron and a cheeky brit chick named Godiva. The premise is a little odd, as the United Nations agrees to form its own Justice League that it can control, under the leadership of U.N. Intelligence Chief Andre Briggs. So the JLI has no relation to the other Justice League, even though Batman’s in both. The story itself is decent but not spectacular. It has a  plot that it clearly tells, with a couple of character moments that old fogeys like me will be familiar with but may appeal to the newbies. There’s foreshadowing of conflicts, a cliff-hanger ending, some mid-level superhero action and it all looks very clean if average. All of this makes it hard to recommend one way or the other — it’s far from bad, but it’s nothing special enough to go out of your way for unless you already like these characters and this concept.
Static Shock #1 is perhaps the most standard first issue of the bunch, running through the standard story points of introducing the hero, his supporting cast, the premise and giving him a first villain to fight. I admit to not having read really anything about this character after about the first year of the original Static series from Milestone in 1993-94. I know there was a cartoon, and I know this was a signature character for the late Dwayne McDuffie. But this doesn’t match up with anything I remember liking about those original comics, which to me evoked Steve Ditko’s early Spider-Man work. This is a just a lot more generic. The story is by Scott McDaniel (who also does the art) and John Rozum, with Jonathan Glapion and LeBeau Underwood on inks. I really wish this book was better, but I fear this will be one of the first on the block for cancelation.
The last book on the list is Batwing #1, by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver. This is another book I was hoping would be a surprise simply because it’s new. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag, mostly because it didn’t grab me the way I expected it to. This is a new character, sort of spun out of the idea of Grant Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated idea, about David Zavimbe, who is, essentially, the Batman of Africa. His secret identity is as a police officer in the city of Tinasha in the Congo. The city is corrupt, there is plenty of rather ghastly crime and no one to fight it except Batwing. The first issue sees Batwing fight his new nemesis, Massacre, and establishes the setting, etc. It reads OK and looks very nice, but I think the reason this didn’t grab me is it just feels like old DC. Most of the new books seem to have attempted to put in more plot and tell the stories clearly — this feels sparse and slow. It also doesn’t show much of Africa itself, which I would have thought to be a major source of cool imagery and therefore a selling point for the book. I’m not sure it’s future looks much better than that of Static Shock, but the concept is one that I think could work well with a more energetic take on the material.
And that’s it for week one! Plenty more to come next week … 

Batgirl Surprises, ‘Tec Shocks and Two New 52 Surprises

It appears that Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicent Cifuentes is the surprise hit of The New 52, becoming the first book to sell out in many stores. It’s no surprise that Simone writes a great Barbara Gordon, but I was especially impressed by the artwork. Not only was it attractive looking and nicely polished, but the coloring by Ulises Arreola really added to the tone of the book without sacrificing clarity. I keep harping on this point, but coloring has been a real weakness at both Marvel and DC in recent years and it’s nice to see DC make a concerted effort to improve the coloring in their comics. The story was very engaging, though I missed exactly how Babs got the use of her legs back. The new outfit is very cool and the book is overall just a good bit of fun. I’m not sure why this particular book is so in demand — it could just be pent-up demand for seeing Barbara back in the cape, but I think there’s more going on here and I hope the book continues to be as much fun to read as this first issue.

OMAC #1 was a book I thought had potential right from the start. This was a great concept for the character when Kirby came up with it back in the 1970s, but its original run was cut short and no one has ever quite found the right mix. But Keith Giffen, getting back into the Kirby mode he exhibited years ago on Legion of Super-Heroes, really delivers a story that gets the Kirby spirit right. Working with Dan DiDio as co-writer and Scott Koblish as inker, this is another action-packed and fun comic book that evokes the King’s work in every panel and twist and turn of the story. That it does so without seeming dated is an impressive feat that few other Kirby imitations have succeeded in doing. This is exactly the sort of book I was hoping to find in the New 52 — an unexpected surprise that delights and entertains.

Detective Comics #1. The last time we saw a Detective Comics #1 on the stand was March 1937, and this  is the title from which the company derives its name. (Yes, DC Comics does mean Detective Comics Comics, and trying to correct that lack of logic is just as pointless as trying to get people to stop saying ATM machine.) So, this is one of the titles that changed the least, with writer and penciller Tony S. Daniel moving over to ‘Tec from the same job on the just-concluded run of Batman. Daniel does raise the bar here. The storytelling is better, the color is better and the scripting is better than his recent Batman run. He’s also telling an especially intense story with a conclusion that is already getting a lot of shocked responses online. I admit that it surprised me, by being both unexpected and particularly gory for a Batman comic. But it does make me want to read more.

Green Arrow #1 is another example of the kind of book I was hoping to find in the New 52. Now, Green Arrow has never been a character I’ve been especially fond of. He is, after all, a guy with a bow and arrow. I walk my dog in Lower Arroyo Park in Pasadena, and see archers there almost every day at a public range down there. Archery just isn’t threatening to me in the same way that firearms would be, even in a safe setting like a shooting range. As a character, Green Arrow has always been a bit of a caricature, going all the way back to his role as the voice of hippiedom in superhero comics when he teamed up with that square dude Green Lantern way back in the early 1970s. This new Green Arrow keeps Oliver Queen as the hero, but updates him to be much more modern and less one-note. Gone is the goatee, and Queen is like a young Steve Jobs who runs a major tech company as a side job to playing superhero. He’s assisted by tech girl Naomi and skeptic Jax. The book is, again, heavy on the action and it plays like vintage late 1980s DC, courtesy of writer J.T. Krul, penciler Dan Jurgens and inker supreme George Perez. The art really helps sell this book, as both Jurgens and Perez are veteran superhero artists who seem to relish the opportunity to revisit a more fun take on this character. This book would have easily fit into the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunches of 1986-1989, which makes me very happy because that’s perhaps my favorite era of DC Comics.

One more post to wrap it up.

First Batch of New 52 Releases Delivers Solid Comic-Book Entertainment

Sometimes, life is great. Yesterday afternoon, FedEx rang my door and had me sign for a package from the publicity folks at DC Comics. Quickly tearing open the package, I found inside all 13 of this week’s releases of The New 52.

It was tough to not just stop working and dig right into the big pile. I took a little break and read Hawk & Dove #1 followed by Action Comics #1. I read the rest of the books last night and now will delve into them for your reading pleasure.

The good news is these books are overall quite good. After the mild letdown of Justice League #1, I found every one of the 13 new books to deliver a satisfying and entertaining story. These read a lot like comics from the late 1980s or 1990s, with more story, more action and fewer talking heads than superhero comics have delivered of late. They also have some sharp art and, thankfully, overall good coloring. The books look quite sharp. I still wish there was some kind of introductory text page and maybe a house ad promoting comic shops, explaining digital availability and an ad offering subscription info.

I don’t know how truly new readers will receive these books, but I give DC great credit for doing a pretty good job delivering on material that I think has a wider appeal than superhero comics have delivered in a while.

So, let’s go through them, one by one. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but if you’re a stickler you might want to wait until you’ve read the books to proceed. Also, this may take multiple posts.

I started with Hawk & Dove #1 just because a comic by Rob Liefeld always evokes some kind of interesting reaction. Yes, the anatomy on the cover is awful, but the image still has that unique energy Liefeld brings to his projects. Inside, the story by Sterling Gates was better than I expected, though in a crazy, comic-book kind of way. It at least delivers on action, complete with monsters, zombies (or maybe monster/zombies) and a close call between a plane and a national monument. The books keeps it simple, though some of the ideas in here are a bit puzzling (what is a “science terrorist”?) if you think about it too hard. The dialog is a bit hammy, especially from the slightly one-note characterization of Hank Hall as a hothead. Still, this works in a very basic way thanks to lots of action and a couple of good twists toward the end.

Action Comics #1 is THE high-profile book of the week, featuring Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ anticipated revamp of the Man of Steel. And boy, does this get the blood pumping. If you go back and read my take a few months back on how to fix Superman, it looks like Morrison had a lot of the same ideas. This issue is all about the action, and features some great, gritty sequences. Morrison takes Superman back to the beginning — this version of the character is surprisingly similar to the original concept by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This Superman is a crusader, tackling the powerful interests of Metropolis that are otherwise above the law. His power levels also are scaled back and he leaps more than flies, and has the potential to be hurt. This Superman also is young, but not mopey — he’s out there acting on his convictions and doing what he sees as right. This is a great first issue and it succeeds at being an exciting and fun take on the Man of Steel.


Stormwatch #1 was a slightly more confusing read for me. The plot centers on the new Stormwatch, which includes as members the Martian Manhunter from Justice League and most of the cast of the Authority, as they are faced with no less than three interesting challenges: Finding the superhuman known as Apollo, dealing with something very strange on the moon, and a third mystery involving a horny mystery in the Himalayas. There’s definitely a different vibe to this book that recalls in ways the spirit of the best Stormwatch/Authority stories (most of them written by Warren Ellis).

Animal Man #1 was a true standout for me, with a terrific story by Jeff Lemire and equally good art by Travel Foreman. This one really is the best of all worlds, as it recasts the lead character into a new role, makes him and his family interesting characters in their own right and features some unique action and promise of more to come. I know I’ve read comics drawn by Foreman before, but he’s obviously raised his game significantly because I was never blown away like I was with this issue.The colors by Lovern Kindzierski are also outstanding. I have to put this up there with Action Comics as the best of this week’s bunch.

Men of War #1 surprised me. War comics have never been my favorite — Marvel’s 1980s series The ‘Nam being the lone exception — because I usually find them either unrealistic or too chaotic, confusing and repetitive to follow. This book, however, avoided all those issues while at the same time recasting the venerabel Sgt. Rock into contemporary times. In the lead story, Ivan Brandon delivers a story full of soldi war action (with a tantalizing hint of the superheroic) and good character development. The second story, Navy Seals: Human Shield, by Jon Vankin and Phil Winslde, is even more compelling than the Rock story. It’s a bit more procedural, but it’s done clearly and vigorously, leading to a compelling cliffhanger.

More in the next post.

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