Saturday, June 11, 2011

DC relaunch: the good, the bad and the ugly

This is the first of two posts I plan on writing about the DC relaunch. In this one, I look at individual details. In the second one (which I will post tomorrow or Monday), I will talk about the overall initiative and what it means to me, personally.

What I'm going to do now is pick the top titles in each of these three categories: the Good (books I am genuinely excited about and that I think will be worth reading), the Bad (books that sound like terrible ideas) and the Ugly (books judged purely by their covers, with art or costume designs so remarkably ugly that it's hard to imagine how anyone could possibly want to buy them).

Because I'm such a positive guy, I'm going to pick 10 books for the first category and only 5 for the second and third. Obviously, that still leaves 32 books that I am not commenting on directly. These are mostly books that I am indifferent about, although some of them might be good or bad or ugly, just not worthy of these lists.

For a list of all 52 books with creative teams, go here

(The books in each category below are listed in no particular order.)


Wonder Woman
Brian Azzarello (w) + Cliff Chiang (a)

Cliff Chiang is a great artist and an excellent choice for this book. While I'm not a huge fan of this new costume, which has more in common with the recent costume from JMS's Odyssey story than with the original, classic one, Chiang shows here that he can make it look stylish. Brian Azzarello as the writer is a weird choice that nobody saw coming. Some people are concerned that because he's known mostly for his edgy or dark writing style this doesn't bode well for Wonder Woman. She definitely looks pissed off on the cover and she's wielding a bloody sword, which seems to support the idea that this will be yet another version of the character as a belligerent warrior rather than a peaceful hero. But honestly, there is no way in hell this could possibly be worse than what JMS has been doing with the character for the past year, or what Geoff Johns is doing with her in Flashpoint. If nothing else, the big-name writer and artist show that DC is serious about wanting this to work, and that's enough to give me hope that this will probably be worth reading.

Mister Terrific
Eric Wallace (w) + Roger Robinson (a)

I'm going to be honest and say that I don't know much about Mister Terrific and I don't remember having read any book he appeared in. (Give me a break - I haven't been reading comics for that long.) But a lot of people are really excited that he's getting his own book and I can't help but share that enthusiasm. Overall, I'm not super-impressed by DC's much touted commitment to diversity with this relaunch, but I also don't want to poop on anyone's parade. It's great that three black males are getting solo books. I only wish that this concern with diversity would extend to other minorities. (It's difficult to understand, for example, why Cassandra Cain, who is an Asian woman, doesn't get a book, considering how vocal her fanbase can be.) The solicit describes Mister Terrific as "the world's third-smartest man - and one of its most eligible bachelors," which sounds both fun and intriguing. I'm not very familiar with the creative team of Eric Wallace and J.G. Jones, so I have no comment on that.

J.H. Williams III (w/a) + Haden Blackman (w) + Amy Reeder (a)

Finally! We've all be anxiously waiting for this book for what seems like forever now. All things considered, I'm glad they waited until after the relaunch, as I would have hated to see this broken up in the middle of its run or, worse, like Xombi, simply get lost int he shuffle after barely having started. The weird thing about this title is that it obviously has nothing to do with the relaunch. It was announced months ago - hell, it was supposed to come out months ago - and it sounds like they had the first couple of issues in the can before anyone had even heard of the renumbering. So this is one of the very few books announced for September where we pretty much know exactly what to expect.

Swamp Thing
Scott Snyder (w) + Yanick Paquette (a) + Franco Francavilla (fill-in artist)

I am not a fan of the changes Geoff Johns made to the character when he brought him back into the DCU at the end of Brightest Day. I am tempted to hope that the relaunch/reboot will erase that from continuity and return the character to his original status, as established by Alan Moore, which is that Swamp Thing is a plant who thought it was human - not a human who was turned into a plant. But I'm not really holding my breath for that, as that would make the end of Brightest Day completely redundant. I know Geoff Johns loves to retcon shit, but he doesn't usually retcon his own work.

This difference might seem like a pretty minor detail to nitpick about, but it's actually central to the character and it's really hard to understand why they felt the need to change it. Still, if anybody can make it work, it's probably Scott Snyder, who's the best choice for a writer on this series that I could ever have imagined. Yanick Paquette on art seemed like a weird choice to me - I like his art, but I don't know if his style is what I would have imagined for this. But his cover looks nice. And Francesco Fancavilla will be doing special fill-in issues (like he's been doing on Snyder's Detective Comics run) so that's a nice added bonus. Check out the awesome Swamp Thing piece he teased on his blog, which I like even better then Paquette's cover.

Animal Man
Jeff Lemire (w) + Travel Foreman + Dan Green (a)

After the latest issue of Superboy, I had some pretty harsh things to say about Jeff Lemire's superhero comics (i.e., that they're not very good). But his Sweet Tooth remains my favourite comic currently being published and I thought the first issue of the Frankenstein mini-series he's doing for Flashpoint was all right. So there's still hope for him as a mainstream DC writer. Honestly, I think some of the awkwardness of the Superboy book is due to editorial interference, like the fact that the story was hijacked for a stupid pointless Doomsday crossover right in the middle of its first (and, as it turns out, last) big story arc. Lemire seemed to feel the need to recap every plot point in the dialogue, which might have been for the benefit of new readers but came across as spoonfeeding very obvious details to the regular readers.

In any case, hopefully there won't be too much interference on this title and he'll be able to tell a story in his own pace. (But then again, is there really any reason to believe that DC will stop making stupid editorial decisions? There's no guarantee that this won't also get hijacked by a stupid crossover three issues in.) Lemire's take on Animal Man sounds like a pretty good one, with a focus on family and particularly on Buddy's daughter. I think this could work.

Legion Lost
Fabian Nicieza (w) + Pete Woods (a)

I'm being very generous by including this title in this list. There are a few reasons for it. First, Pete Woods really impressed me with his latest run on Action Comics and I think he's a great choice of artist for a Legion book. Second, I like the concept of a small group of Legionnaires stuck in the present. It sounds more accessible than the overwhelming cast of most Legion books and grounds it in a more familiar setting. The very big caveat for me, though, is that Fabian Nicieza is writing this, and after his truly horrible scripting and plotting on Red Robin, I don't know if I can ever give him another chance on a book. Inexplicably, though, he seems to have a lot of fans, so this at least gives me hope that the book might be a (modest) commercial success.

Static Shock
John Rozum (w) + Scott McDaniel (w/a) + Jonathan Glapion (a)

Another black male character I'm not very familiar with but who seems to show a lot of potential. Like Mister Terrific (and unlike Batwing, the third black male hero who gets a solo book in this relaunch), he also seems to have a bit of a fan following, so I hop it works out. John Rozum is writing, which is bittersweet for me, as I was really hoping that he would continue his awesome run on Xombi with Frazer Irving. I have hated most of the art from Scott McDaniel that I've seen so far, but that cover is all right and this book seems like a good fit for his style. He's also co-writing this, and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Paul Cornell (w) + Miguel Sepulveda (a)

I have some reservations about bringing these Wildstorm characters into the DCU, and putting Martian Manhunter on the team is weird. But on the other hand, I'm glad to see Apollo and Midnighter in a book. (The solicit doesn't mention their sexuality, but so they are the only openly gay male characters in this relaunch that we know about so far.) I'm not stoked on the redesigns, but they're not totally awful either. And Paul Cornell is writing. That's a big plus.

Blue Beetle
Tony Bedard (w) + Ig Guara (a)

I'm very happy that Jaime Reyes wasn't left behind in this relaunch. I don't have much to say about this title except that I'm glad it exists. Writer Tony Bedard is all right and I'm not familiar with the art team.

Action Comics
Grant Morrison (w) + Rags Morales (a)

The good news is: Grant Morrison is writing Superman again. The neutral news is: Rags Morales is drawing it. The potentially bad news is: Another origin story. That's potentially bad because I don't understand how you could possibly change Superman's origin story. What part of it would you change that doesn't completely change what the character is all about? And if there aren't any drastic changes, then what's the point? How many Superman origin stories do we need? Recently we've had Birthright and Secret Origins. (Not to mention 10 seasons of Smallville and, apparently, another origin story coming up in the next Superman movie in 2012.) Couldn't we just skip the origin and go straight to the part where Superman is NOT WALKING ACROSS AMERICA and doing something awesome instead? Like saving the world and fighting super-villains? Grant Morrison famously handled Superman's origin story in a single page in All-Star Superman. Four panels, each with a simple caption: "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple." That's all you need. Let's hope he keeps it brief here as well. Probably not a single page, but maybe a single issue? Aside from that, I'm looking forward to this.


Red Lanterns
Peter Milligan (w) + Ed Benes (a) + Rob Hunter (a)

Out of all the multi-coloured lantern corps that could get their own book, you're telling me that people most want to read about aliens who rage-vomit blood?

Gail Simone (w) + Ardian Syaf (a) + Vincente Cifuentes (a)

Nothing Gail Simone or anyone else says about this title will ever justify regressing Barbara Gordon to her Batgirl origin. One of her most unconvincing arguments defending this move is that "characters are not supposed to be preserved in amber," by which I'm assuming she means that they should be allowed to change and evolve. That's what great storytelling does. And I agree completely with that. But how the fuck is it not preserving this character in amber to erase 20 years of character development (during which Barbara Gordon became Oracle and continuously evolved in that role) and to bring her back to her original and supposedly most iconic role of Batgirl? Not keeping a character static means moving them forward. Bringing a character back to a previous status quo is the very opposite of that.

Out of all the questionable ideas in the DCU relaunch, this book is by far the worst one. Gail Simone keeps telling her followers on Twitter and on her message board that we don't have all the information yet and there are things she can't talk about that will supposedly make this all better. Honestly, I can't imagine what those things could possibly be, unless it's that the first arc of this book will end with Barbara Gordon waking up from a dream to find that she's still Oracle and Stephanie Brown is still Batgirl. Actually, no, that would also be terrible.

Since we supposedly don't have all the information, I will allow for the possibility that there's a real wildcard hidden in there somewhere that will completely change the way I feel about this, even if it's incredibly difficult to imagine. When I mentioned that fans are disappointed that Oracle has been wiped out of continuity, Gail Simone answered: "Are you sure that she has?" To which I would answer that all signs point to yes. The fact that the writer of the new Batgirl title is suggesting that may not be the case but is either unwilling or not allowed to confirm it either way is infuriating, from a fan's perspective. Presumably, Gail Simone knows the answer to that question. If it's true that Oracle is no more (as all the information we have been given so far overwhelmingly supports), then why is she going around asking people if they know that for a fact? If it's not true, then... well, I don't know what to think about that, because (a) I can't figure out how Barbara can regress to being Batgirl again while Oracle simultaneously continues to exist (unless we're talking multiverse, I suppose... ugh!) and (b) it doesn't make up for the exploitation of fans' worst fears and emotional reactions to this news.

And that fan exploitation is what really bothers me about all this. I know that every character is somebody's favourite, and every time a character dies or is retconned out of existence or goes into limbo, there will be some fans who are upset. But it's different with Barbara Gordon as Oracle, because of what she stands for and what she represents to a lot of people. I know that part of the problem is that all the weight of representation of disabled people has been put on her shoulders, which made her untouchable. But if DC wants to fix that, then they need to start creating more characters to fill those shoes. All this talk about diversity and we haven't seen a single hint of any character stepping up to fill the big whole Oracle's disappearance has left in the DCU.

(I want to make it clear that I don't think this "fan exploitation" is coming from Gail Simone at all. I'm talking about the way DC is handling the PR and releasing information in a way that will get fans talking, even if that means a lot of people being really upset by it. I also know that Gail Simone genuinely cares about her fans and fans of Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I apologize for being so hard on her, because I think her enthusiasm for her new series is sincere and there's no reason to doubt that she'll write an amazing book. I just personally can't get behind it.)

Birds of Prey
Duane Swierczynski (w) + Jesus Saiz (a)

This is kind of related to the above, but I don't really understand what this new Birds of Prey book has to do with the original concept. It's not Birds of Prey without Oracle, Huntress and Black Canary at the center of the team. And Poison Ivy? What the fuck?! Nothing about this makes me want to pick up this book. And Black Canary's costume really deserves to be listed under "The Ugly" as well.

Batman: The Dark Knight
David Finch (w/a)

There's nothing inherently bad about the concept behind this book. But considering the original book never made it past the second issue, after ridiculous delays, why would anybody be stupid enough to pick up this new #1. Seriously. If you buy this book, I have lost all respect for you.

All the missing characters...

This is not a book, but rather a lament for all the characters we haven't heard anything about, like Xombi, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and many others. There's still a chance some of them will show up as supporting characters in other books, or get their own books at a later date. (DC has said that more books will be launched in the months following the relaunch.) But for now, a moment of silence for all the absentees.


Teen Titans
Scott Lobdell (w) + Brett Booth (a) + Norm Rapmund (a)

This is by far the ugliest character designs I have seen on a DC book since I started picking up monthly comics over a year ago. I cannot believe that this thing is real. Feathers on Red Robin's costume? Pouches? A tattoo on Superboy? What is going on with Kid Flash's headgear? Who is that character crawling in the bottom left corner? Is the post-Flashpoint DCU a nightmare world in which the 1990s never ended? DC should be ashamed of this. There's nothing modern or hip or young or appealing about this at all. I have no idea who the target audience for this book might be.

George Perez (w) + Jesus Merino (a)

I have nothing against George Perez as an artist (he drew this cover, although he's only writing this title and Jesus Merino will be the regular artist on interiors), but I have big problems with this costume redesign (which I'm assuming is coming from Jim Lee). What's with the utility belt? What's with the armoured boots and knee pads? Why does the Man of Steel need an armour? I don't mind that the red briefs on top of the pants are gone, but everything else about this redesign, like the Teen Titans redesigns,  screams 1990s in all the worst possible ways.

Suicide Squad
Adam Glass (w) + Marco Rudy (a)

What the fuck have they done to Harley Quinn's costume? This is repulsive.

Kyle Higgins (w) + Joe Bennett (a) + Art Thibert (a)

The official cover is ugly, but at least it's not as ugly as this character sketch from Jim Lee. This man should not be allowed to design costumes for DC.

Hawk and Dove
Sterling Gates (w) + Rob Liefeld (a)

Illustrated by Rob Liefeld. I have nothing more to say.


Caio M.R. June 13, 2011 at 6:06 PM  

Hi, I got here through The Comics Reporter. He linked your updated list of the DC relaunch.

First off, have you seen this article on Bleeding Cool?

The whole nineties feel to some of these costumes certainly comes from Jim Lee. It's like the editors picked up his drafts and sent them to the printers. Even though he gave Alan Moore the oportunity to do some cool stuff with ABC, this is the guy who texted Liefeld back to the DCU. People should be watchful.

Secondly, I'm interested in your thoughts on Rags Morales' art. All I read of him was the Identity Crisis miniseries, and I thought that was some pretty good art. Maybe he's not a good choice for SUPERMAN and there may be an interesting discussion there.

Thirdly, I agree with your views on every issue, but I would've liked some comment on JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, which is the only title I'm really interested, mainly because of Deadman and Zatanna, and despite John Constantine, who is a good character, but I don't think he fits the "team" aspect of the piece.

That's it for me. I like you reviews, I like your site, you've been bookmarked, good sir.

Yan Basque June 13, 2011 at 7:04 PM  

Hi. Thanks for your comment.

Yeah, I saw the news. I don't know if I have much to add. Maybe there's an audience for this sort of '90s nostalgia out there and we're just totally clueless? Whoever these people are who love that style and those artists, I just hope for DC's sake that they're still buying comics. But I'm pretty sure they're not the young new readers that DC claims to be going after.

It's funny you ask me about Rags Morales. I was probably too harsh on him calling it "neutral news" that he's the artist on Action Comics. When you consider some of those other artistic choices on the books, I'll take Morales over a lot of them. So I guess that makes it positive.

For me, he doesn't really stand out much because I think maybe his style is a little bit generic. But he's very good. No doubt about that.

Finally, about Justice League Dark, it didn't make my list of top picks because, like you, I have some concerns about how well the characters are going to work as a team. Personally, I'm not really onboard with the idea of bringing every intellectual property DC owns back into the DCU proper. I'm glad there's a new Swamp Thing book, but I don't really care that it's taking place in the same universe as Superman and Batman. I would have been happy with more or less the same book on Vertigo.

I feel the same way about Apollo and Midnighter. But I had to put Stormwatch on the list because (a) they're the only gay male characters mentioned anywhere in this whole relaunch, and (b) I like Paul Cornell a lot, so I'm curious what he'll do with the title.

Justice League Dark has some good characters and Peter Milligan might do something good with it. But John Constantine on a Justice League team? I don't know. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I guess we'll see.

Catman Scratches June 14, 2011 at 1:10 PM  

Loved the article! But I hate that you hold back. Please...share your true feelings about these new comics! ;)

Catman Scratches

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