Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DC's New 52: Week 2

I have to admit I'm a little confused about what DC is trying to accomplish with this reboot. My understanding was that the company wanted to shake things up in an effort to draw in new readers. Knowing that new readers may be put off by decades of dense, and at times impenetrable, continuity, DC opted for a fresh start. They chose to relaunch their entire line with 52 new #1 issues.

New characters would be introduced and old characters would re-imagined. The timeline was condensed, so everyone was younger and new to superheroics. This was all well and good. I was actually excited for a new start. But as more of these new issues come out, the more things seem to be the same. This applies more to the characters and titles that existed before the reboot. For example, Batman and Green Lantern appear not to have changed at all. With the exception of a few minor adjustments (i.e. age, costume) the pre-reboot storylines seem to be intact. It's in the new books (Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., etc) where the reboot is truly felt.

I went in to week two of the relaunch with some reservations. There were a few books that I really enjoyed in week one, however there were many others that didn't offer much in terms of excitement and freshness. Here's my thoughts on the new #1's I picked up this past Wednesday.

Batman & Robin #1
Writer: Peter Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

This book is a perfect example of what confuses me about this reboot. Batman & Robin #1 is not new-reader friendly. Period. Let me provide an example. My wife decided to read this book the day it came out. When she finished, she turned to me and said, "Batman has a son? Who's his mother? When did this happen?" I found myself having to explain who Damian Wayne is, when he first appeared in the comics, that he's been Robin for some time now, and the list goes on. For those of us who read Morrison's run on Batman, we know that Damian is a great character and I can understand why DC wants to hold on to him. But if you're coming on to the book for the first time you are going to be extremely confused about the status quo. In addition to keeping Damian in the Robin costume, it seems as though Dick Grayson was Batman for a period in this new timeline as well. Is that going to be explained or does DC expect that new readers are familiar with Batman's "death," the battle for the cowl, Dick's tenure as Batman and Bruce's return? Seems a bit much for new readers to handle.

A lot of you may feel that I'm focusing too much on the reboot aspect and not as much on the story. It's true that DC did state before the launch that certain titles wouldn't be undergoing drastic changes, however it's difficult to read these books and ignore the whole reason they exist. The more of the past DC holds on to the more confusing and problematic these books will be for new readers. In addition to that, it creates a whole batch of other problems. For example, according to DC Batman has existed for about 5 or 6 years in this new timeline. So in that time he had a 10-year-old son, trained 3 other Robins (all of whom have grown up and taken on their own identities), passed the mantle to Dick Grayson and then returned to take it back. It's all a bit much.

As for the issue itself, the story and art were fine. It was a standard Batman and Robin tale. Bruce's characterization rang a bit false, but I was able to put it aside for now. I won't be sticking with this title going forward and it's not because of the reboot issue. It's just more of the same. I can't buy every book that comes out so I need something different, something interesting to keep me hanging around. This book didn't provide that.

Demon Knights #1
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Diogenes Neves

This is the kind of book I expect to see when a company relaunches their line and dares to be different. When you think of DC Comics, or even Marvel for that matter, you think superheros. What you don't think about is a Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy romp set in the Dark Ages. But that's what we get with Demon Knights and I couldn't be more excited. The book features characters that are familiar to many, but are introduced in such a way that it's not off-putting for people with little to no prior experience with them.

The first issue focuses on two malevolent forces, the Questing Queen and her wizard, who are marching across the land in search of something yet to be revealed. By issues end, the Queen's horde of soldiers comes upon the town of Little Springs. Intent on laying to siege to this town as they have every other, the army enters a local pub with a message: This town is ours. Your supplies are ours. Unfortunately for them this bar has Madame Xanadu, Jason O'Th' Blood & Etrigan, the Shining Knight and Vandal Savage for patrons. Needless to say they don't take too kindly to having their happy hour disturbed.

Although not fully formed just yet, this is going to be a team book. A very different type of team book than we are used to. Something akin to a medieval Justice League if you will. The book was fun. It was different. It was exciting. Neves' art was beautiful. I'm sticking with this one for sure.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Alberto Poticelli 

Let me start by saying this was my favorite book from week 2. DC once again steps out of its comfort zone and offers up a good old-fashioned monster book. Typically stories like this are reserved for the Vertigo imprint so it's nice to see these types of characters spill over to the main DC Universe.

The book finds Frankenstein, yes that Frankenstein, working for a secret government agency known as S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), a branch of the military that handles paranormal and superhuman events. A horde of flesh-eating monsters has devastated a small town in Washington and S.H.A.D.E. is called in to contain the situation. Once at the attack site, Frankenstein meets his new field team, the Creature Commandos (needless to say my inner 8-year-old went bananas when this team was revealed). The group is comprised of S.H.A.D.E. agents who were crossbred with various creatures of myth. It's now up to the team to contain the threat and determine its origin.

This book was tons of fun, but it may seem a bit derivative to readers of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. In all honesty, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.  is simply DC's version of these two Dark Horse staples. But I think this book stands on its own and has the chance to make its own unique mark. Poticelli's artwork fits perfectly with this story. It's a little scratchy and looks like the kind of art you'd expect from a Vertigo title which happens to be something I enjoy. I'm really looking forward to the second issue.

Grifter #1
Writer: Nathan Edmonson
Artist: CAFU

I never read a book with Grifter in it. He existed in a line of books published by Wildstorm that I was never familiar with. Created by Jim Lee in the early 1990's, Grifter debuted at a time when I stepped away from comics. When I did return I found myself not at all interested in the Wildstorm universe, a fact I've come to regret. But I always loved Grifter's costume. I'm a little ashamed to admit that's the reason I bought this issue. I love that costume and I wanted to see what I was missing with this character.

The good news is this book works perfectly for new readers. It introduces you to Grifter before he's Grifter, giving readers the chance to see the process of how he gets from point A to point B in his life. When the book opens we meet Cole Cash, a con man. He swindles businessmen out of money. Lots of it. After successfully pulling off one job Cole gets mixed up in the paranormal. He's kidnapped by an alien race intent on using his body has a host. Cole escapes, but in the process learns that he is somehow linked up with their telepathic frequency. He now hears everything they plan on doing. As if being abducted by aliens and hearing voices wasn't enough, Cole is being tracked by his brother, a military operative charged with arresting him for crimes he is not guilty of.

This was decent. Nothing terribly exciting. There's enough mystery here to make it worth picking up the second issue but this one is on shaky ground.

Suicide Squad #1
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist:  Federico Dallocchio

Harley Quinn is a favorite in our household. She's the sole reason I stuck with Gotham City Sirens for its entire run. She's also the reason I picked up Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad, or Task Force X as it is commonly referred to, is a government-sponsored team of incarcerated villains who are charged with taking on high-risk black ops missions in exchange for their release from prison or significantly reduced sentences. The current rosters looks to include: Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Black Spider.

The issues opens with each member of the team being tortured by an unknown group. We meet each character individually and see a brief flashback giving us an idea of who they are and how they came to be incarcerated. Needless to say the team "escapes" through a plot twist that I'll admit I did not see coming. They are then given their next mission: To kill 60,000 people in the Metrodome.

This issue reads better the second time around, but it lacks any team dynamic. We meet the members, but unfortunately we don't get a real sense of how they interact as a unit. I look forward to seeing how a group mad up of such volatile personalities functions. My only real complaint, and it's one that is getting a lot of attention online, is with Harley Quinn's new costume. It's probably the only costume redesign that I feel did harm to the character. She basically wears a corset and a pair of hot pants. It doesn't work for her. That's not who Harley is. When written well she's funny, intelligent, fierce, and at times down right frightening. They didn't need to sex her up. I'm hoping this costume changes. Fast.

I'm on for the second issue, but like Grifter I'm ready to pull the plug at any moment.

Green Lantern #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Doug Mahnke

There was a time when Green Lantern was my favorite superhero comic. This surprised even me. Geoff Johns took over as the writer and catapulted a second string character into DC's third most popular behind Batman and Superman. He also gave us the best "event book" I ever read with the Sinestro Corps War. Johns' run culminated in one of DC's most highly anticipated events, Blackest Night. Green Lantern was everywhere. I couldn't get enough. Until I did.

My interest in Blackest Night fizzled out quickly. The seven-issue mini-series seemed to drag on and I got bored. I think part of the problem was the year-long build-up. It was difficult to keep the momentum going for that long. I just wanted it over with already. Once that series finished the main Lantern titles started to go downhill in quality and I finally dropped the books about eight or nine months ago. When the relaunch was announced, DC stated that the Green Lantern universe would be one of the areas undergoing the least amount of change. Admittedly that killed my interest in the first issue. But once I saw Sinestro on the cover back in the green uniform I decided to pick it up.

While not necessarily new reader friendly, this issue was an enjoyable read for me. We find out that Hal Jordan is no longer a Green Lantern and the ring has once again chosen Sinestro. Putting Sinestro back in the costume, with all the baggage he brings with him, is a recipe for drama and this issue teases it enough to make me come back next month. In addition to Sinestro we get to see Hal Jordan at a different place in his life. No longer a Green Lantern, Hal returns to find his life in shambles. He's been off planet so much over the past year that he's way behind on hall of his bills and he's seconds away from being evicted. He has no money and no real prospects that make him happy. That's until he's approached by Sinestro who offers to help him get the ring back.

This was a really good issue. Although it references past events (ones that I've chosen to forget) it quickly sets up a new status quo that will carry this book for the foreseeable future. Mahnke is still in top form. I loved his work on Green Lantern pre-reboot but the writing wasn't quite there so I stopped picking it up. I'm sticking with it for now but after the dip in quality the book took post Blackest Night I'm ready to hop off at the first sign of trouble.

I was supposed to review Batwoman #1 but I won't have that issue until the end of the month.

Next week I'll be back with review of: Batman #1, Birds of Prey #1, Catwoman #1, Nightwing #1 and Wonder Woman #1

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