A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Geoff Johns

‘Batman: Earth One’ is redundant and pointless

It’s taken almost three years from its first announcement for Batman: Earth One to arrive, and reading it the same weekend The Dark Knight Rises was released in theaters, the only questions to ask is: Why?

This is not a bad comic, by any stretch. It’s well-written by DC’s chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, and features some very nice art by Gary Frank. Like Superman: Earth One, this is a 144-page original hardcover graphic novel selling for $22.99 aimed at new readers by retelling the origin story as though it were happening today and updating certain elements to make that work.

So we have many of the familiar elements: The shooting deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, his struggle to find the path of becoming Batman, and being successful as Batman. We also have the younger Jim Gordon, who’s struggling with being a good cop in a corrupt city. And of course, the two form an uneasy-at-first alliance that we know will become a pivotal relationship for both.

The biggest differences this time around is that Alfred is much younger, and as a former soldier is a much more gruff and ornery bastard type character. We also have an interesting introduction for Harvey Bullock, who arrives in Gotham seeking to lift his fame and fortune above the success he’s had hosting a real-crime TV show in Hollywood.

Most all of this content has been much better before in Batman: Year One. And I don’t know that we really need yet another ongoing version of the character after the reboot of The New 52 and seemingly forgotten efforts like All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder and the endless variations of Elseworlds.

Also, this book doesn’t change the status quo of Batman as radically as Superman: Earth One did for the Man of the Steel, making it seem even more superfluous. And with the success of the many versions of Batman on film, in television and those DC Universe original animated movies, the need to radically update and constantly remind people how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman appears even more ridiculous.

It will be interesting to see how much further DC goes with the Earth One line, the very idea of which was trumped by The New 52. Short of a sales success on a par with Superman: Earth One, which is certainly possible, I see this dropping off fans’ radar quickly. For new readers, I still think Year One is better than Earth One.

Reviews: Hulk #1, DD #5, Cold War #1, Last of the Greats #1, Aquaman #2, Justice League #3

The Incredible Hulk #1 was better than I expected. Not having read the book in years, I missed out on and don’t understand most of the Red Hulk stuff or what mental state Bruce Banner and the Hulk are in these days. I therefore expected to be confused, but wasn’t, though I’m sure it helped that I recognized the Mole Man’s underground minions. Writer Jason Aaron did a good of job of putting it all together and making sure there was some actual action in a first issue. The art by Marc Silvestri et. al was quite good — definitely Silvestri’s distinctive style but amped up with some nice detail that came through quite well in the inks and was well-complemented by Sunny Gho’s colors. That said, I”m not interested enough in the Hulk to make this a regular read at $3.99 a pop.

Daredevil #5 is another terrific issue from Mark Waid and Marcos Martin. This reads very, very smoothly and is clear enough that I think the average reader could pick it up and understand pretty much the whole thing. It looks incredible, too. Martin and colorist Javier Rodriguez deserve very high marks for making such a great-looking book.
Cold War #1 is a new, period espionage thriller from John Byrne that I was mildly disappointed with because I thought Byrne had done such a great job on the revived Next Men series. This isn’t quite as good as that, as it’s just a bit too restrained and dated. The dated part is on purpose, as though this is a series Byrne has wanted to do for decades, i.e., a time when this kind of thing would have been much more relevant. It’s still a nice modern Byrne comic, though, with solid art and decent storytelling. It just doesn’t have the kind of zip that a book like this should have.
The Last of the Greats #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Brent Peebles is for me a tough one. I like the concept, which is that seven alien beings came to Earth and used their powers to solve many of mankind’s problems in return for demanding control and fealty from the people of Earth. People then turned on them, and all but one were killed. The issue begins with six humans coming to the last of these aliens, dubbed the “Greats,” and asking for his help with a fairly big problem. But I think the execution is talky and exposition heavy, and think this could have been much more compelling by show more than telling.
On to the DC relaunch books, Aquaman #2 was about the same as the first issue — a story that’s slick and commercial if not particularly deep — but it was the cover that struck me the most. My first thought was it was a recolored version of the cover to Star Wars #64, my least-favorite issue from the original Marvel series. It’s close enough to be an homage — or a swipe if you’re so inclined — but it’s far too distracting for me and I don’t know I will remember much else about this particular issue.
Justice League has been getting better with each issue and #3 is the best yet. Finally, we get to meet Wonder Woman, and she both charms and kicks ass. The action kicks into high gear with a huge invasion from Darkseid’s minions, while writer Geoff Johns delivers a nice chunk of the ongoing Cyborg origin subplot. It’s interesting to note the ways in which Jim Lee’s art has evolved as well as the ways its stayed the same. The finale’s introduction of Aquaman gives him a hairstyle, facial hair and costume straight out of 1996. Some other details, like the cops on the first page also look a bit dated. But the way Lee draws his heroic figures — both men and women — has improved tremendously from his days on The Uncanny X-Men, with anatomy and posing that’s overall more realistic and more solid looking. Wonder Woman here is a far cry from the somewhat plastic looking sexy Psylocke from way back in the day. Anyway, issue #4 looks like it’s going to be a barn-burner.
That’s only a fraction of the stack I’m looking to get through, so I may just stay up late and read funny books until my eyes pop out of my head to get a look at more New 52, the Fear Itself epilogues and more X-Men: Regenesis.

Reviewing DC’s Justice League #1 in print and in digital

I haven’t reviewed new comics in a while, though I’ve had a few requests and will get some comments on those books up in the next day or so.

In the interim, DC’s New 52 kicked off yesterday with the release of Justice League #1. I got a copy from DC, and found it to have some good points and some bad. I also tried the digital edition on my iPhone and that spurred lots of ideas on what works and what doesn’t about that format.

But first, the comic itself is good but not great.

Jim Lee and Scott Williams deliver some fantastic looking art. It’s attractive and highly detailed and colored well by Alex Sinclair. And while Lee’s never been the very best storyteller in comics, he’s also much better than he used to be and the book is an attractive and easy read.

As usual, Lee’s designs for Batman, Green Lantern and Superman are powerful and modern. I especially like the intense detail Lee and Williams give to Green Lantern’s powers.

I almost think the art is too detailed, though that may just be my middle-aging eyesight speaking. When this gets collected into a slightly larger format like a hardcover, I think it’ll look even better because there will be a bit more room for these details to shine.

The script by Geoff Johns is a bit more mixed. This issue takes an approach similar to that of the first episode of a TV series. We start knowing nothing, get a big splash of action with Batman, and then introduce some conflict as Green Lantern shows up and the pair head straight for a confrontation with Superman. There’s also a sub plot introducing Vic Stone, who eventually will become Cyborg. The issue is quickly paced and reads well, though some of the dialog is a bit stiff.

And that’s it. That’s all that happens. There’s some decent action, some decent characterization and a solid finish, but there’s just not quite enough story here to build the anticipation that I think would make readers truly excited to come back for issue two. It’s close, but if this was a double size issue that featured at least a glimpse of all the characters on the cover and conveyed a sense of where this was going, it would have been a much stronger read.

I expect reactions to this book will be all over the place. Something like this brings so many pre-conceived notions and inflated expectations with it, that there is no way it will play the same way to any two readers.

So the copy I received from DC was the digital combo pack version, which costs a dollar more than the regular version and includes a code for downloading the digital version of the comic.

I have not been a regular reader of digital comics. Part of it is just that I prefer to read comics in print and part that I haven’t really enjoyed my attempts to read comics on a computer screen. I don’t have an iPad, which seems to be the ideal device for reading digital comics, and my iPhone is great but I just can’t see myself reading many comics on so tiny a screen.

Still, I tried it out on my iPhone and it worked quite well. The code, which is printed on the inside back cover, is a fairly long 32-character alpha-numeric code. I can imagine some folks might get frustrated at having to type in such a long code for each digital comic, but it worked for me on the first time. I entered the code at the website on my laptop and Justice League #1 was assigned to my ComiXology account and available to read on my iPhone instantly.

Reading the comic on the iPhone was a good but not perfect experience. The art looked good and the way the phone transitioned from panel to panel was intuitive and easy. I kind of liked turning the phone every so often to get the displayed panels to fill the screen. What things got problematic was on the larger images — panels that take up half a page or more. It was just not easy to see what I was looking at in those panels. I expect the iPad would not have the same issue.

What this digital experience left me wondering, though, is why DC is packaging its comics in two editions. Why charge an extra dollar for the digital code instead of just making them packaging them together in a single product? I think comics are expensive already without having the option of paying even more for another edition of the same thing. When I buy music, either on CD or digitally, I have the right to listen to it on my computer, my iPod, my car stereo, my living room, etc., for no extra cost. I’d be far more likely to read digital comics if they came with the print comics I’m already buying at no extra charge.

Similarly, I would think anyone who pays the full price for a digital comic should have the option to get a print copy if they want it. And It’s not at all clear to me if DC (or anyone else) is offering digital subscriptions similar to the way iTunes sells a Season Pass for TV shows. A reasonably priced digital subscription plan that included print copies is something I would think hard for people to pass up, while at the same time having the potential to boost readership in both print and digital.

With the first huge wave of first issues set to arrive next week, I find myself hoping for surprises. Everyone’s going to read Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1, but what I would really like to find is a few hidden gems from further down the list. I’m playing wait-and-see on these books and want to look at them before I decide which ones to pick up. But I really hope this experiment makes room for the kind of fun, strange and interesting mainstream comics that the major publishers have had trouble making a go of in recent years.

Beyond that, we’ll see.  

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