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.