Tag Archives: DC Comics

Sometimes I miss Helen Slater, but not today.

Supergirl volume 1 : Last Daughter of Krypton

DC Comics

2012

160 pages $15

I know there have been a lot of you out there that have not liked much of the new 52.  I am up to 11 titles of the collected books that I have enjoyed so far.  Some much better than others, this book is definitely in the “much better” category.

Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar were the team given the job of rebooting Superman’s cousin and they did something I didn’t think was possible;  make me care about Kara Zor-El at all.  The basic nuts and bolts of the origin seem to be the same as much as I can recall about the various older versions. The attitude is there, albeit for different reasons.  That was always my biggest gripe about Kara, she was usually something of a brat.  She never really struck me as someone that anyone would confuse for a hero.  This new incarnation keeps the outsider attitude but makes the character more believable and much more accessible.  She is clearly frightened and alone, but her arc in this first book makes it clear that she is someone with a strong sense of right and wrong and is an interesting character.  She seems very well thought out and planned.  The arc in this book is not as fragmented or truncated as many of the New 52 have felt and that gives the reader a chance to follow the story and Kara’s development with greater interest.

The obligatory Superman appearance is here, and handled reasonably well.  It is more or less as expected, and just a diversion designed to impart some exposition and background info.  The rest of the story focuses on another dark force in the new DCU that is interested in controlling one of these “new” heroes, and is already getting a bit tired.  Somehow I didn’t care all that much though.  I’m not sure if it is the way she is drawn, as she is a bit doe-eyed and gentle  or if everything in this package just falls into place, but I really cared about what was happening here.  That is not a common thing for me in a comic these days.  Helen Slater in the not just awful, but godawful Supergirl movie did not play the character as tough or bratty.  She was soft and much more likeable than most of the characterizations before or since.  (Laura Vandervoot was actually kind of irritating.) Most of the comics have just not had a good handle on her.  This version seems closer to the Slater version, so I may be just projecting my affection for that version here, but that is not an unusual thing to do.  As comic fans we are not very good at letting go of things we liked, and sometimes even less capable of letting go of things we didn’t like.  So comparing this to my only even remotely positive Supergirl memory should be expected.  Again, the only thing about the movie I liked was its star.  This book has much more plot than the movie, and is nothing like as stupid, but the character of Supergirl is just as likeable.

The art stays fairly consistent throughout and the entire package feels like it should:  as a single story collected in one book.  It does not feel like part of 2 stories stuck together as so many of the New 52 collections have.  This is as complete a story as any so far and the reader is pulled in quickly.  The complaints I have heard so far mostly seem to be that this was slight and action heavy (both true), but since the complaints I hear about most books are similar, I would just remind you that this is a mainstream comic, and that is fairly standard.

As a non-fan of Supergirl, I liked this a lot.  The new costume design is one of the better of the New 52.  I think that most people would like this book if they gave it a chance and it deserves every opportunity to reach everyone.  The trade paperback status and lower cost than many of the title released in hardcover make this a good buy in my mind, and I would recommend this as an all ages book for anyone that enjoys a fun and exciting superhero story.

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Fish Schticks—Aquaman vol 1 The Trench review

Aquaman vol 1 The Trench (Hardcover)

DC Comics 2012

144 pages $22

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an Aquaman fan.  The bulk of my experience with the character comes from Super Friends, and I have had little desire to get more acquainted.  Even with that caveat, I have to say that thinking of the character ever having humor in his book was not something that came to mind easily.  Any time I have checked in on him by flipping through one of the 6 previous volumes of his adventures, dour is the only word I would have chosen to describe what I saw.  The only story I have read completely that used him at all was Brightest Day, and even there, he was not a happy camper.  So when I heard that the first few issues of the New 52 version of the character’s eponymous book had a fair bit of humor, I was intrigued.  I did notget these when they came out, but went back and grabbed the first 2 issues.  I liked them enough to get the HC (collecting the first 6 issues) and I can say that this is a pretty fun, and funny book.

Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have put out quite a book and it stands out as one of the best of the New 52.  Johns affection for the character comes through in his writing.  While there is action the real treat here is the tongue in cheek humor.  He gently pokes fun at the clichés that everyone thought were part and parcel of the King of Atlantis.  From the moment he sits down in a seafood restaurant and orders the fish-n-chips you know this will not be a book to play it safe with the character.  The constant references to his girlfriend and partner Mera as Aquawoman are giggle inducing at times, and make her interesting, where before she was nothing but a plot hammer.  This book does have the same problem as most of the other New 52 collections in that it reads like the first arc and a half rather than something complete.  From a story point, the first arc by itself in most of these books would have been a letdown.  Adding the first part of the next arc (as an intro, interlude or teaser), feels as much like bonus material as the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” tease intended to get the reader to come back for the next book.  It is not a great tactic in my mind, but it seems to be working for DC.  The real test will be how well volume 2 of all these do.

Reis and Prado team up here to make a VERY nice looking book.  The production value in the line and color is particularly stunning.  There are the hero shots of the 2 main characters that are simply dazzling to look at.  The color, leaping off the page at times, creates a powerful fantasy feel that cannot be understated.  My only complaint here is there is sometimes too much going on.  You cannot always make out what each panel contains.  Part of this is art style and part is storytelling experience.  It takes the master storytellers in this medium years, even decades to become masters.  Only then is the storytelling sense developed enough to create truly great panel to panel storytelling.  Eisner, Miller, Byrne, Sim, Wagner ,Kurtzman, Adams, Kirby and Ditko are examples of the greats.  Nothing against the art team on this book, but they are not there yet.  They are also victims of the current attitude in comics that more is better.  Jim Lee and the Image style popularized this and it has been a huge influence on comics for two decades.  Cramming a panel with piles of needless and sometimes distracting detail to make the book look more complex or intense is just how you sell books these days.  Don’t get me wrong, this can make for some very pretty comics.  This style is very well suited to digital where you are best only viewing a panel at a time, but as a page at a time read in print, it does not work as well.  It can be too much for the eye to sort through easily.  This changes the flow of the book and can really lessen the dramatic impact.  The masters at controlling pace (Neal Adams and Dave Sim are good examples) can force you to speed up or slow down according to the demands of the story.  There is only one pace here and in most other modern comics, and the art is not always going to mesh with those same story demands.

All else being equal (and the above is a relatively minor quibble that separates the good books from the great ones), this is a fun and interesting read.  Aquaman, not so much rebooted as re-energized.  Aquaman is easily in the top 5 of the New 52 and well worth a look.

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Why wont you stay dead?! Resurrection Man review

Resurrection Man vol 1 Dead Again

DC Comics          

2012

160 pages $15

“The old is new again” is a mantra that much of DC’s new 52 could have used.  The reboot was never about doing something new as much as putting a new coat of paint on something old.  In Resurrection Man by Dan Abbnett and Andy Lanning (DnA), with art by Fernando Dagnino, this is even truer. 

In 1997 DC and DnA released a new series with the lead character Mitch Shelley, a man who is exposed through the usual comic book foolishness to a sort of nanotech that causes him to resurrect every time he dies.  Each time he comes back, he has a new superpower vaguely informed by the last time he died.  The series managed 27 regular issues and a DC 1,000,000 issue (man, was that a stupid crossover idea!).  Then it was gone.  Now for the New 52, RM is back with a new coat of paint.  This time around, the origin is in question, but the basic powers are the same.  There is a mysterious compulsion to act when he comes back, and the new power each time seems ideally suited to the needs of each new life.  The supporting cast is here in an altered form it seems.  The Body Doubles are here as antagonists and wearing nice tight clothes!  They are a duo of “well rounded” women that are charged by a higher power to bring in Mitch, by force.  I would say “by force if necessary””, but force seems to be the preferred method.  Anything to get their cloths ripped up a lot and get into sexy poses.  This “feature” is so prevalent that it is very much in your face.  This is to the book’s detriment as it is just SO obvious in the first couple of chapters that it is unintentionally funny.  It reads like a Jim Lee book in that every time you see one of them, the pose is a bit impossible and shows the curves very well. 

I am not trying to pick on the art.  Dagnino’s lines actually work nicely through most of the book; it is just that as I was reading this, I could picture the story meetings in my mind:  “page one—action!  Page two—boobies!!!  Page three—he dies.  Page four—curvy ass!!!!  Page five—he comes back with a power guaranteed to allow us to see more boobies!!!”  and so on.  I think this is intended as good old-fashioned reckless fun, but comes off as gratuitous.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loves me some boobies, but the way this is done distracts from the story, which is pretty good.

The nature of this book means you are far less likely to be interested in each issue than the story arc as a whole.  The questions raised here are interesting enough to make you want the answers, but the individual issues are a bit disposable.  I imagine this is deliberate, and it flows nicely.  The only complaint I have with the actual story is one I have had with several of the New 52 collections so far; It reads like two separate story arcs in one volume, and not in a good way.  Two thirds of the way in, the Body Doubles are left behind, leaving that story hanging at an odd point and things continue elsewhere.  This starts another story, or makes up an interlude, that does not really feel finished before the book ends.  DC is trying to make the trades more serialized to get readers to come back, I think.  I don’t like the approach.  DC seems to have forgotten the number of Barnes & Noble type stores that carry these.  Customers of these stores don’t want serialized entertainment as much as a complete story in one book.  If there is a continuing arc, that’s fine, but to leave major aspects of a story unresolved in this manner is not satisfying.  If I was on the bubble about this book, I would cut my losses and not get the next volume, and anyone that might know at this point that the book has been cancelled with the zero issue (for a total of 13 issues) might be even less inclined to read on.  For the record, I am not on the bubble.  I liked this enough that I will get the second (and presumably final) volume when it is released.  My hope is that they will resolve enough of this to make it a complete story in two volumes with no needless dangling threads. 

This book is different enough to set itself apart from the rest of the New 52, and is a fairly fun read.  You are interested in Mitch and where he comes from enough to keep reading.  At least I was.  Anyone that has enjoyed the other “dark” titles from DC should find something here to like as well.

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Action Comics vol 1: Superman and the Men of Steel

Action Comics vol 1:  Superman and the Men of Steel

A great homage to the original Action #1 without just doing the same old thing!

2012

DC Comics

256 pages $25

This was arguably the big dog in the New 52 relaunch.  One of the longest running American comic book titles was being renumbered to 1 and Superman was being rebooted.  Everything that had come before was now gone.  Sort of.  All of the familiar faces are still there, just not quite how we remember them.  Grant Morrison was the clear choice to re imagine this icon of comics.  Bringing Rags Morales along for most of the ride was an inspired choice.

This book reads very well as one volume, unlike many comics written for the collection though, this one suffers from very few of the problems that many other books do.  The book feels like Morrison in that, whether it is present or not, the hand of DC editorial seems light enough to not be there at all.  The book chose a direction and rarely strays from it.  Morrison’s new take on the character is a strong one, rooted in his personal view of what Superman used to represent.  Here is a Superman that is firmly anti-establishment.  This is the Siegel and Shuster Superman, really.  There was a time that he was not the big blue Boy Scout.  A time before the super villain Dr. Wertham and the evil rays of the comics code.  Before the changes made in the 1940’s even, Superman was an agent of change and justice.  In this day and age, I imagine there are people that would call him a Socialist. Ultimately he is Superman, pure and honest, with a fair bit of justifiable anger toward most authority figures.  He is not as powerful as before, but it is made clear that he is getting stronger every day.  The T-shirt design is replaced by the new costume, (bummer, I kind of liked that) and much of the origin is left to be told yet, or at least filled in with backstory, as there are few real changes to the “doomed planet, desperate scientist, kindly couple” motif.  What is here is cleaned up and made more believable.  The current status of Krypto is still just plain mean though.  The supporting cast is here too.  Jimmy Olson is now Clark Kent’s pal, NOT Superman’s.  Lex Luthor is here and even more slimy than ever.  Interestingly, Ma and Pa Kent are dead already.  I always felt them an interesting touch stone for Clark, so it will be interesting to see how they fill that void going forward.  The Landlady character may fill part of it, but I don’t see that having legs.  Then there is the voiding of the marriage of Lois and Clark.  They barely even know each other at this point, and they are not friendly.

This cover to the first monthly issue really set the tone.

The art, mostly by Rags Morales is a bit problematic, but only because it is just MOSTLY by Morales and not ENTIRELY by him.  While the fill in art by Andy Kubert others is very good, the changes chapter to chapter and within some of the issues themselves can be jarring.  I really wish the schedule would take a back seat to just making a good product that flows properly.  The real gem here is the look of Clark.  With just hair, clothes and a properly awful pair of glasses, the disguise actually works for a change.  Another good touch is the bruises.  When Superman is getting pounded on, he bruises, and later Clark is still banged up.  It works wonderfully here.  For the first time, I actually find myself caring about Clark Kent and I am even worried for him!

The story moves along well enough, but there are occasional jumps that feel odd.  As though there needed to be a “meanwhile” or “later that day” caption.  The inclusion of the back up stories featuring the John Henry Irons character are fine, but the real treat is in seeing a Superman that I might actually like.  Many of the old clichés are gone as well, and I cannot say I’m sad to see them go.  I know that Morrison is off the book sometime around issue 16, but until then I am all over this book!

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Stormwatch (New 52) vol 1

Stormwatch:  The Dark Side

DC Comics 2012

144 pages

$15

It has been a while since a post and this book is the reason!  I hated this book.  I also loved this book.  It really managed to bake my noodle, so much so that I found it hard to pick up another book for several days.  This is one of the most uneven books I have read in a while.  Alternating between moments that worked beautifully and beats so out-of-place, I expected them to be ads for delicious fruit pies!  (Bonus points to anyone old enough to get that reference)  I needed time to decide how I wanted to review this thing.

I was familiar with the Wildstorm version of Stormwatch, having read it so that I could get the back story for some of the characters in The Authority.  For the most part, the original book had never really impressed me.  It lost its way very early and never came back, much like The Authority did.  So while the characters and premise are familiar to me, putting this book into the DCU made very little sense.  What tried to make this work is that nobody is supposed to know about this team.  They refer to the Justice League as an amateur  organization and it is clear they have been around, working from behind the scenes for a long time.  Nothing more is really revealed about the origins of the group, and I suspect that will be a part of the ongoing story.  Things went off the rails on this book very quickly when Martian Manhunter was made into something of a jackass.  Why he is even part of this team is something that I find to be an issue.  There is a throwaway line about his involvement with the JL, but nothing more is really said, and if the purpose of this group is to defend earth from extra-terrestrial threat they really need to explain why a Martian is part of this team.

Some of the characterizations work well.  The Engineer seems a bit more interesting, while Apollo and Midnighter are getting a fresh start and seem to possess a bit more depth this time around.  The relationship that is sure to be re-explored between them can only improve, as it was a fairly shallow and uninteresting one, being noteworthy only because they started as one of the few gay couples in comics.  Characters that have been more interesting ones like Jack Hawksmoor are blunted and made less interesting at every turn.  Anyone not familiar with the Jenny (Sparks) Quantum concept, an indeed the whole idea of the century babies from the Wildstorm U will find her presence in the book just plain odd.  The century babies concept itself seems less effective now, presuming that we are going to ignore the WS versions like Elijah Snow. 

Written by Paul Cornell, the story is well crafted, but missing anything for new readers to connect to.  Miguel Sepulveda’s art is generally quite strong and flows well.  The characters are mostly pricks, or at least not developed enough to be of any interest.  This book was worth reading, but it does not belong in the New 52, at least not yet.  I am having a hard time seeing it mesh with the other books.  It is possible that they do not intend it to, and that would be fine, but to be honest, I just don’t see this book lasting a full second year.  It survived the first two rounds of cancellations, but I have my doubts about it holding on if it cannot find its footing soon.

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Batgirl vol 1 The Darkest Reflection review

Batgirl The Darkest Reflection

DC Comics 2012

144 pages

$23

The New 52 has been a pretty hit and miss proposition so far.  Many books started off very strong and faded within a few issues, others started weak and gained momentum and improved.  So far I have not seen much that has held quality through a complete volume yet.  So far the only exception has been the Batman book The Court of Owls, an outstanding book from cover to cover.  That was before I read the first Batgirl collection by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf (with Vicente Cifuentes).  This was a sold book all the way through.

It has been a year since the “miracle” that gave Barbara Gordon the use of her legs once more and she has wasted no time getting back into costume.  For those that don’t know about the wheel chair days, it started in The Killing Joke(read it if you have not already done so) and ran for the last several years in books like Birds of Prey.  Her paralysis reversed, she is back to being Batgirl in the new 52.  It has been 3 years since Killing Joke in the new continuity (5 years since the first appearance of the DC heroes) and she gets right into the swing of things with a new villain called Mirror.  He is a revenge obsessed mystery man with a list of potential victims; all people who escaped death thanks to miracles of one sort or another.  At first, he seems like a throwaway bad guy for the first arc, and while we may never see him again, he is a very interesting character by the end of this volume.  His story and another revolving around Bruce Wayne and another damaged villain called Gretel, make up the stories here, but the real treat is the way Gail puts it all together.  This is a fun book.  More adventure and swashbuckling style than dark brooding bat book, this is the Batgirl from the Silver-Age in many ways.  That is even referenced a few times and the Barbara of this book is very fun in a style of storytelling that recalls those early stories.  Simone knows this character inside and out, and is clearly trying hard to redefine her in a way that does not negate the powerful concept that the Oracle version of the character was.

The art is strong and consistent throughout most of the book, never really wowing, but never flying off the rails either.  Much of the New 52 seems to have art that emphasizes action and style over storytelling.  This book only suffers from that occasionally, but like most of the new crop, the issue persists.  There are very few masters in the field on the art side of DC right now, and they seem to be leaving rapidly, but Syaf’s art is strong and generally easy to read.  With time he could become one of the best they have in the stable.

This is a much lighter book than I expected.  The bat books can be so dark, it was nice to be surprised.  While not for the very young, I think anyone over the age of 12 can read and enjoy this book.  As long as you are not still pining for the Stephanie Brown version, this is a fresh new start to an old concept.  If this does not rapidly become your Batgirl, then I really don’t think you have an interest in the character.

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Batman Earth One review, (or, How to Build a better Batman.)

Batman Earth One

DC Comics

2012

$23 cover price

I enjoyed Superman Earth One and look forward to the next book in that series later this year.  This book by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, with Jon Sibal, is something very different.  Where Superman felt at times like it was trying a little too hard, both to STAY Superman and be something different, this book suffers from nothing of the sort.

Superman’s sci-fi origin has aged fairly well and required very little tweaking to update, Batman’s however has actually become a little odd to modern viewers.  Suspension of disbelief is a seed that the writer plants, but without the reader to water it and nurture it, it will die.  Batman’s key origin points don’t work like Superman’s.  Grant Morrison summed them up perfectly in All-Star Superman:  “Doomed Planet–Desperate Scientist–Last Hope–Kindly Couple”  Boom.  That’s it.  That was wher JMS jumped off for his Earth one story because it needed very little alteration at its heart.  There was change in the background a bit;  it had to be fleshed out, but the essential concept of Superman did not get real change until later in the story as Clark grows into his new role.  JMS’s story seemed to struggle at time to find that balance.  It was not to the story’s detriment really, but the fan baggage was harder to overcome there.  For Batman it is different.  There are elements that have not rung true for many years:  Random violent street crime is harder for the modern audience.  We see random acts of terror, but we feel street crime is more targeted.  The first thing many of us think when we hear about a crime is that the victim may have been involved in something they shouldn’t have.  (This of course, excludes the accidental victims of violence)  Very few random crimes turn out random once the information about them is revealed.  Bruce’s parents being randomly gunned down is not erased, but it it made more believable.  It is still random, but just below the surface, there is more to it.  Rich doctor/indusrtialist?  Nope, that is now made more correct for a modern reader.  It is just a line or two of dialog that makes these things work, and that is the value of the approach taken here.  They are not over-thinking the ideas, just filtering them through a modern view.

The most important change alters what had, in the current continuity become a little creepy;  the bizarre enabling behavior of butler Alfred.  It always seems a little odd that a butler with a long history with the family would aid, or even allow Bruce’s obsessive path.  Here that is made far more palatable, by simply changing Alfred into something that fits the mold of the role he would play.

The city of Gotham is there with all the usual players, some in much different roles.  Gotham itself is more real and much darker, and the character beats that need to be there to keep this from being something other than a Batman story are there, again just more believable.

Geoff Johns is a dependable storyteller with a real grasp of why the classic characters work.  On this book he never misses a beat and the result is an outstanding book.  Gary Frank’s art is great as always.  A little looser and more relaxed in the the approach it seems, but a major part of the feel and flow of the story.

The packaging is staying with the format and visuals of the Superman book, but seems a little less appealing here, but the overall product is everything that we had been hoping for.  Anyone wanting something better than the New 52, or other attempts at rebooting Batman, free of heavy continuity should look here.  Unlike most other attempted re tooling of classic characters, this one is top notch.

 

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Batman- Detective Comics: Faces of Death review

Batman-Detective Comics volume 1:  Faces of Death

DC Comics

176 pages

I’m not getting all that much from the New 52 first wave, and so far much of it has not been all that great.  Having read and LOVED Scott Snyder’s Batman, I had high hopes for this volume.  I was not blown away by this book.

It is not bad really, just nothing special.  If I take the Snyder book away and let this one stand entirely on its own, it does not really succeed.  It is not a complete story, and does not even read as a complete first chapter of a story.  After the first chapter of the book, with an amazing last page, the Joker is gone from the book.  There are small hints and that is it.  From there the story focus shifts to a character called the Dollmaker.  He is a very interesting villain, that may become something really special, but just as that story starts really flowing, the focus shifts again.  The Penguin is the bad guy for the rest of this book.  There are just too many things that seem to be competing for the story.  As monthly issues this may have flowed better, but in a single sitting, it was actually capable of distracting me from itself!  Maybe I am missing the point, but I don’t think so.  If the New 52 was launched to bring in new readers as much as entertain existing ones, I think this book fails on both counts.  For a new reader to enjoy this monthly, it needs to flow from issue to issue.  For a new reader to pick up this complete volume, it needs to work as a complete narrative, or at least as the opening to one.  This fails at both.

The transition from one villain to the next works well, but why?  This is a little like climbing a ladder, reaching a certain point, then moving to another ladder slightly to the left of you for no real reason.  This book felt like the first chapter to 3 separate stories that should run simultaneously, not be cut back and forth between them.  The interlude with Hugo Strange–and no, I am not really spoiling anything–is just stuck in there and has only a fairly tenuous connection to the rest of the book.  So now we are up to four antagonists, none of which get any kind of resolution in this volume, and that does not count the sub plots and villains from those.  Story wise, I’m sorry to say, this book is a mess.  It is clear writer/artist Tony S Daniel is playing the long game.  The book has been selling well, so I imagine he will be allowed to continue, but if it doesn’t narrow the focus just a bit it will continue to read like an anthology title.

The art is another matter, and it fares quite well.  Having very little familiarity with Daniel’s art in the past, I cannot say if this is something new or not.  His style seems like the bastard love child of Frank Miller and Kevin Nowlan, and that makes it something very nice to look at indeed.  The inkers changing from issue to issue hurts the visual flow of the book (DC still emphasizing schedule over anything else, it seems), but taken separately, they are very nice to look at.  The first issue is the nicest to look at, while the others have a polish to the line that does not really suit the art.  There are panels in issue 2 that look like Mark Farmer inked them.  I like Farmer, but not in this book.  The art changes blend away after a while and things settle down visually once you are a few issues in.  The panel layout is reader friendly, but the dark on dark with very little panel border can cause you to lose the panels at times.  I know that it is done to give a certain feel and save time, but without some clear way to differentiate between one panel and the next, it can be very hard to see the flow.  The glossy paper compounds the issue at times.

This is a decent, if not great book.  I was hoping, based on the cover and the first issue, that we would see the start of a redefining Joker story.  Instead I feel a little cheated.  We got a taste of several different ideas that start a group of plots, none of them coming to any kind of climax.  I think a more firm editorial hand might have been needed here.  If you are looking for the Batman of the New 52, I have to say that so far, it is in the main Batman title by Snyder and Capullo.  Give this book a miss for a while.  I would like to hope that it will settle down into a more cohesive story, but I’m not hopeful.

 

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Justice League Origin HC: Review

Justice League Origin HC

DC Comics 2012

192 pages

$25

Well the first batch of the New 52 collections is in.  I have read 3 of the first group and the results are one incredible book and two spectacularly bland ones.  JLI was just not very interesting.  It failed to connect me to the characters or the story.  It did manage to make me interested enough to get the second collection, but that could just be the anal fan in me.  August General in Iron and Rocket Red were the only interesting parts of the book.  Batman the Court of Owls however was an outstanding read.

The first collected volume of the rebooted Justice League was more like the former though.  It seems that this book is only really interested in big and loud.  To be honest, it barely manages that.

Collecting the first 6 issues of the monthly book written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee, this should have been a better book.  It NEEDED to be a better book.  Johns has set a standard in the past of telling a good, fun and smart story with strong and engaging characters.  This story was never going to be all that great just by the nature of the reboot and the needs to get things rolling, and it is clear that this is just act one.  I still would have like more meat.  There is no part of this book that I could honestly call an improvement over any of the recent JL books.  Addressing the characters, things get a bit dicey.  This, I will freely admit, is my opinion.  As with any review, much of what is said is created by the natural biases, fair or unfair, of the reviewer.  That said I am not fond of these versions of our heroes.  Batman and Green Lantern are the first we meet, and Batman is largely unchanged.  Given the reboot’s nature with him and GL, I didn’t expect much.  He is still the smartest guy in the room, he is just a bit more “in your face” about it.  Green Lantern is just a jackass at this point though.  I know this is 5 years ago, and is just the starting point, but I wanted to bitch slap Hal.  He can be forgiven for being a jerk to Bats and the others, but he and the Flash are supposed to be friends.  He is a jerk pretty much all the way through this.  Guy Gardner is rarely such a tool.  The Flash (the Barry Allen version) is much better, but not very well-developed.  Wonder Woman makes the most sense.  Her manner and attitudes are exactly what I would want to see from an aloof warrior Goddess.   She is above and yet in awe at times.  I was against the promotion of Cyborg to the JL.  Johns and the gang really seem to have a boy crush on him.  His addition here mostly works well, though.  He fits nicely into the story, even though his presence telegraphs the resolution of the current threat. Aquaman is not anywhere near as interesting as in his solo book and is just as odd and aloof in his behavior as Wonder Woman, only in a more snotty way.  This being set in the past; continuity wise probably has something to do with that.  This is also the likely reason for Superman to be so brash and quick to anger.  The problem with all this bitchyness (yes, I know that is not a real word) is that we know where it is going.  Supes cannot stay like this or he wouldn’t be Superman.  Most of these characters are going to become the essential icons we already know, and this makes the story seem like a waste.

Jim Lee is a nice artist to look at, and on that alone it is a very pretty book.  Scott Williams inking him always helps.  The colors are rich and interesting and make this book eye candy at its yummiest.  Now if only Lee could tell a story.  Like several of the Image guys, storytelling takes a back seat to a pretty picture.  Lee, like Marc Silverstri and Erik Larsen have made huge improvements in this area, but this book sacrifices all of the storytelling and strong visual structure of earlier Lee works like Hush, for the splashy, glossy smack in the face his recent work has become known for.  There are whole sections of the book where the line changes and the art looked rushed.  The layouts are convoluted in some areas and the overall feel of the book becomes too frantic to be able to express the visual parts of the narrative.  I like Jim Lee as much as anyone, but he is on this book because of his name and position at DC.  Lee’s name sells books.  Unfortunately there are other artists that would have been much better suited to tell a good story.

 As for that story, it is clearly just the set up for more to come.  If DC’s FCBD offering is any indication, there are huge changes coming already, and I am looking forward to things settling down some.  Maybe the next arc will be better structured, and give us some depth to these “new” versions of our familiar heroes.  If I give the impression this was not a very good book, this is not strictly accurate.  I just expected more, or at least better.  The New 52 seems to me at least, to be characterized by the attempt to make these heroes seem more real to a new, more jaded audience.  What comes across more often is that they don’t like themselves or each other very much.  Not just here, but in several of the new books.  Conflict and character have been replaced by action and bitchyness.  I hope my initial impressions of the New 52 as a whole are incorrect, and that we will see more strong books like The Court of Owls. 

There is a lot of room for improvement in JL as it stands now.  There is a lot of fairly mindless fun here, though, and anyone wanting pure escapism without too much effort on their part is good to go.

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Batman the Court of Owls: Review

Batman-The Court of Owls

2012

DC Comics

176 pages

$25

I have now managed to read a few of the just-released collections of the New 52.  JLI was bland, and largely uninteresting.  I will read the second volume though, most likely since it will be the last until they continue the now cancelled monthly book in some other form. I have not finished Justice League yet, but will probably post something here when I do. I just could not stay with Animal Man despite its strong start.

For this collection of the first part of the Court of Owls story (issues 1 through 7 of the rebooted Batman series), I was honestly not all that excited about it.  There are a few others of the bunch that I was more eager to read than this, and I was not expecting much.  I knew I liked Scott Snyder’s writing and I have always thought that artist Greg Capullo (inked here by Jonathan Glapion) never got the attention he deserved working on Spawn, but for whatever reason I just could not get excited about this book.  Now I cannot wait for the next volume.  This is the best comic I have read in months, if not longer!

There are hints of storytelling mastery here from Snyder that his previous work has NEVER touched.  Tiny details round out a fairly stock story about a hidden and ancient menace in Gotham City, setting this apart though is a flair for character and pace, as well as the little details.   Small additions to Batman’s tech pay off later in the story and allow the story to skip over what would otherwise be pages of needless exposition.  The complete cast of the Batman family is explored, some members more than others, but it never feels forced like so many books do when they need to catch the reader up on the world.  There are problems though, like when you are reminded of bits in the characters’ past.  For a reboot (I know this was not really a reboot), there is a lot of past history that is still here.  The baggage of the old DCU is felt whenever Nightwing or Robin show up.  There are a lot of old sidekicks running around for this to be only Batman’s fifth year under the cowl.  The entire story is based on a comic book trope I have never cared for.  It is the “raise your hands, anyone who DIDN’T visit Krypton before it blew up.” story premise.  Not only is the Court of Owls cult retconned as something that has always been there, but never noticed, but specific connections to both Batman’s and Nightwing’s past are put into the myth.  The additions are well handled by Snyder, but they do stand out as retcons. Some of the building blocks are not interesting, but what the sculptor does with the clay is always more important that what he starts with.  This is the realization of story elements from the Gates of Gotham story from last year, and taken as part of that series it does work a bit better.  I just kept tripping over the reboot.

Capullo’s art is excellent, but with a few caveats.  His storytelling is not as tight as it could be, and I found certain panels lost in the page layouts.  There are moments where the style employed overwhelms the story.  That said, this is a great looking book.  While he occasionally goes off-model with faces, I am not prepared to say these are not deliberate choices.  There are moments where the style gets very wild and the iconography changes drastically to highlight the situation, so the more subtle instances may simply have stood out more for me than they were intended.  The one complaint I recall hearing from before I read this is the use of the page turnaround.  There is a point where you have to read the book on its side, then upside down.  This is not a new trick.  Dave Sim and John Byrne used it to great effect in the 80’s and there are several others before and since.  (Will Eisner, anyone?)  It is not that hard to navigate and I think the bitching about it was pretty silly.  Deal people, deal.

This is the best Batman book in years.  While I am looking forward to reading the first collection of Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics, it will have a long way to go to impress as much as this story has.

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