Thursday, September 22, 2011

DCnU Week Two

A week late and partly because the seemingly cool idea of reviewing all the new releases lost most of its appeal when confronted with the reality of so many half-hearted and barely "new" titles. Still there's better this week than last.

So just quickly: Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE is easily the pick of this batch - focused story, effortless characterization, strange ideas. Batwoman is probably next with its fantastic Williams art and forward-moving story. Surprisingly Mister Terrific works pretty well even though it feels more like an introduction. And as much as I've complained about all the books that are intros Green Lantern and Red Lanterns feel like we're thrown into the middle of stories. Apparently these two are just continuations from the pre-re-launch books which I abandoned because DC was apparently trying to make the Lantern books be their equivalent of the X-Men titles and repel all outsiders - frequent title changes, constant & pointless crossed stories, overly complex narratives, loads of barely distinguishable characters. Batman and Robin is mostly a Damian whine-fest though I suspect it will improve. Demon Knights is probably not very good but it's my kinda book and I liked it. Legion Lost is pretty much incomprehensible. Grifter appears to be a quasi-origin but doesn't make much sense. Suicide Squad is a horrible, extended torture scene - no seriously. And making Amanda Waller thin takes a distinctive character and turns her into yet another of the faceless masses - so much for diversity. I don't get the point of Deathstroke except that he's a Bad Guy. Resurrection Man has promise (how's that for vague?). And I also don't see why Superboy is such an extended origin; get to the point already.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

DCnU Week One

Or should this be Week Two? The previous week was So Important according to DC that they only published two issues - Flashpoint #5 and the new Justice League. We finally got the explanation behind the whole thing in Flashpoint but not why the new DCU is any different from the previous one. Unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths it's hard to imagine many people re-reading the whole Flashpoint saga in the future - most of us didn't even do it now.

The new Justice League was pretty decent. And that's the problem - if you're relaunching your entire line and aiming to attract non-comics readers then "pretty decent" isn't really good enough. In fact the oddest thing about the issue is that it's not a Justice League story but really just a Batman & Green Lantern teamup (with cameos from Steel and Superman). Understandable to some degree when you consider that these two cluster of titles are DC's strongest-selling and a wild guess would be that having movies featuring the characters was something of a factor but there's almost no Wow Factor and not much new. Batman hunted by police? Batman as urban legend? Green Lantern as show off & go-getter? Yep, yep and yep. Then again the Batman and GL books apparently are the least changed in the relaunch - probably that money factor again.

This pattern continues in the rest of the Week One titles - not much changed, some decent stuff, some not. Far too many of the books feel like introductions or warm-ups instead of something that just grabs you. So alphabetically:

Action Comics - It's kinda cool that this is probably one of the few books from any company that still has "comics" in the title - they may have re-numbered it but at least some tradition remains. This is the one I had highest hopes for considering Grant Morrison was more or less getting to cut loose so it's a letdown that this feels like an extended introduction that in the future could go either way. Superman fighting bad landlords and wife beaters goes back to the earliest stories but seems like a mistake today. A superstrong alien with heat vision (it's a bit unclear whether he can actually fly) doesn't feel like the best way to approach spouse abuse. Hyper-intelligent gorillas or sentient rock critters yes but real-world daily problems not so much. Still it's set five years ago so I suspect the story will be about Superman finding his place or something that I hope is more interesting. The new Lex Luthor is quite promising but the whole military hunting Supes bit feels way too much like General Ross hunting the Hulk.

Animal Man - You might be thinking it's about time to just give up on this character but it turns out to be one of the better titles here. Lemire balances the family life of an almost washed-up hero (I love The Believer parody) with some of the stranger aspects of that life and Foreman's art really works for what's otherwise a probably too-long dream sequence. The genuinely creepy ending makes me think this is really a Vertigo book placed in the DCU and that certainly can't be a bad thing.

Batgirl - All the controversy about putting Barbara back into the costume really pushed one key point - even apart from any role model idea (always a bit dubious) why get rid of a unique character to go back to one who, well, is not? Barbara's status as handicapped seems to be explained away that she just got better though maybe I missed something. And though she makes references to being stiff and still not able to move well but you sure can't tell it from the story. Just compare that to one of the early Spider-Man stories where he twists his foot on a coiled rope and is genuinely limited as a result. The issue still hasn't sold me that the change was a good idea but with Gail Simone writing I'll give her a lot of leeway.

Batwing - Why does this even exist? Did somebody say "Well there's Shaft in Africa so we need Batman in Africa. Only Batman's not available so let's make a copy." And then apparently decided to have the book deal with real African issues such as endemic violence and child soldiers. Certainly comics can handle such subjects but superhero comics almost certainly not and definitely certainly not a hack like Winick.

Detective Comics - Hey it's "comics" again! And mostly this is a pretty solid Batman tale with a bit o' detecting, a bit o' eluding the cops, a bit o' talking to the cops, a bit o' fightin'. The Joker seems excessively violent and the ending is so over-the-top that it may unbalance the story - we'll have to see how it plays out.

Green Arrow - Superhero fights some bad guys. That's it. Though the final page promises there might be more interesting developments to come (but most likely won't).

Hawk and Dove - Liefeld's run on this came during a time when I wasn't reading comics and I've still never read it but sure hope it had more life than this. His art has improved to the extent that it's not quite so busy with OCD crosshatching (or so sheerly inhumanly proportioned figures) but he still draws everybody like they're scowling. Or maybe grimacing. But all of them, all of the time. It's a chore to read. Interesting though that the Ditko original made Dove seem like the weirdo but in recent incarnations it's Hawk that's been unreasonable.

Justice League International - This is more like what Justice League should have been - a full team, a goal, bickering, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, etc. It's still somewhat routine and is too clearly going after the old Giffen/DeMatteis vibe though with less blatant comedy. Could develop into something or just coast along.

Men of War - It seemed good that DC was giving war books a chance but this turns out to be really just another superhero book though apparently one where the focus isn't on the superhero (or maybe supervillain - that's not resolved in the issue). Featuring Sgt Rock's grandson who turns out to be yet another can't-follow-the-rules-but-have-my-own-integrity guy which will take more effort than shown here to give him any kind of traction. It doesn't help that this seems pretty hawkish or at least gets fascinated by all the war tech 'n' talk.

O.M.A.C. - This might be the most purely fun comic of the bunch. It's nothing more than a long fight scene with bits of plot to hook the next issue but it's also Keith Giffen in full-on 70s-Kirby pastiche which is a hoot.

Static Shock - This is another odd one. I guess the idea is to support at least one Milestone character and since this guy had his own cartoon he got picked. It's nice that they force some science lessons in Silver Age style but other than that there's not much going on here.

Stormwatch - At times this feels like a Wildstorm book popping at a good perk but then that may be a problem. How can Apollo and The Midnighter actually exist alongside regular DC characters? More to the point why spend most of an issue with folk trying to convince somebody to join their team? Not exactly high drama, not even medium drama. The bits of interlaced stories point to something bigger but like I said - way too many introductory issues.

Swamp Thing - Bringing back Alec Holland seemed like a bad idea but Snyder's take that this makes him a confused, lost character may work - there's a Vertigo feel here as well even despite the appearance of Superman. (Who seems a lot more traditional than the one we get in Action.) After all this is an issue where the title character appears on just one page.