Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reviews: DC New 52, week 1

(no spoilers)

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison; art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant

I wonder if this title is going to outsell Justice League #1. We've all been told last week's crap-fest by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee was the big launch of the New 52, the one that would set everything up for the rest of the line, but I have a feeling the book most people were really excited about was this one. I showed up at my LCS at noon today and they had sold out, whereas last week they still had dozens of Justice League issues lining up the walls. (Though I didn't ask how many they had ordered.)

In any case, this a much better first issue than Justice League #1. It's fast-paced, full of action and information. You get a good sense of how this world and these characters are different from the old DCU, dropping in on important supporting characters like Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and General Lane. There are references to Clark Kent's work as a reporter and how Jimmy and Lois fit into that. It establishes that Superman has started helping people around Metropolis, that the citizens are starting to notice and to appreciate it, and while the authorities are treating him as a threat, you get a good sense of their motivations and understand why they'd be freaked out by this powerful alien among them who seems to be getting stronger every day.

The art is always way better. Rags Morales' art is clean and elegant, two terms I would never use to describe Jim Lee's scratchy mess of over-detailed and cluttered panels. Maybe some of it has to do with inker Rick Bryant or colourist Brad Anderson, but this looks just how you would expect DC's flagship title to look - professional, dynamic, clear, but also very "house-style-ish," meaning it doesn't really take any risks the way some of the other books reviewed below do. And certainly if you think about the amazing work that Frank Quitely did on All-Star Superman, this seems a bit bland in comparison.

I'm not really convinced that this is a book I'm all that excited to keep reading. I'm just happy that it's not awful, I guess. It's a good start and unless there's a significant drop in quality ahead, fans are probably going to get a good Superman story over the next few months. Oddly, in spite of some of the continuity changes, this feels more true to the spirit of the original Superman than some of the garbage we've gotten lately from JMS's "Grounded" debacle.

But will I, personally, keep reading? I haven't quite decided yet. It will probably depend on the quality of the other New 52 books I sample this month. If I end up adding a lot of them to my pull list, for budgetary reasons, I might drop this one. Especially considering the extra dollar on the price tag.

Verdict: Good, but somewhat underwhelming.

Animal Man #1
Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green

Prepare to have your mind blown.

Jeff Lemire's mainstream super-hero work at DC has been a little hit-and-miss for me. There were a lot of good ideas in his Superman run (and it looked like he was building up to something that could have really paid off with the subplot involving Psionic Lad, which was unfortunately cut short by the arrival of the New 52), but the execution never quite gelled. The pacing was awkward (in part because of the Doomsday crossover hijack, maybe) and I kind of got the impression that he was phoning it in.

With this first issue of Animal Man, I feel like I finally recognize the work of the man responsible for what is currently my favourite ongoing series, Vertigo's Sweet Tooth. The writing on this issue flows perfectly. There's not an awkward beat. The dialogue feels natural. The characters immediately come across as real people. It's obvious that Lemire not only has a good grasp of the characters but also is excited about the story he's going to tell.

And the art. Holy shit, where the hell did this Travel Foreman dude come from? I love his style and it's exactly the kind of visually stunning work that Jeff Lemire's storytelling requires. These two are a match made in heaven and I hope the book continues with this creative team for a while.

Verdict: The best New 52 book so far. Add it to your pull list right now!

Batgirl #1
Written by Gail Simone; art by Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes

If you read this blog on a semi-regular basis or follow my rants on Twitter, you know that I've been a very vocal critic of what DC decided to do with this book. As a fan of both Bryan Q. Miller's excellent take on Stephanie-Brown-as-Batgirl AND the well-established status quo of Barbara-Gordon-as-Oracle, this felt like getting stabbed in the heart... twice!

I've said what I had to say about all that. I've said it loud and I've repeated it a million times. And all those issues I've brought up before are still valid. To the point where I had made up my mind that no matter how great Gail Simone's new series turned out to be, I would not buy it and I would not read it. I felt bad about it, because I love Gail Simone's writing and I know how excited she is about this book. But I just didn't think I could do it. I didn't want to send the message to DC that I was supporting this move with my money.

As it turns out, I ended up throwing all those convictions out the window when someone asked me to participate in a podcast to review this book (among others) (and more on that later, by the way). I was happy to use that as an excuse to justify my purchase. And I'm glad that I did, because as it turns out, this is a fantastic first issue. Gail Simone's writing is pitch-perfect and I'm convinced that there is not another person alive on this planet that could have pulled this off and done the impossible: get me onboard with this move. I'm serious.

I don't want to say anything more because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. But this is a good book and I'm looking forward to the next issue. Ardian Syaf's art is very nice, too, and I have my fingers crossed that he will stay on the book at least for a full story arc. (I will not put up with unsolicited fill-in artists in DC books anymore. I've had enough.)

Verdict: Shed a tear for Oracle, then give this a try. You won't regret it.

Stormwatch #1
Written by Paul Cornell; art by Miguel Sepulveda

This was strangely disappointing. I read through the whole thing not really caring about any of it, up to the very last moment when Midnighter shows up and I got a bit of a chill at the thought of the lover story that was about to begin between him and Apollo.

In a way, I'm kind of annoyed, because that just might be enough to get me to continue buying this book, even if I'm not all that excited by any of the other characters or the premise. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Miguel Sepulveda's art either.

I don't know. Will this gay love story even pay off ultimately? I think it's worth sticking around for a few more issues to find out. Plus, Paul Cornell is usually a pretty funny writer and there were little hints of his trademark style in the dialogue. ("--and certainly the horniest!") That's an added plus.

Verdict: Meh. But I'll keep reading I want Midnighter and Apollo to have sex.

Swamp Thing #1
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Yanick Paquette

Yeah, this was pretty much everything I expected (and wanted) it to be: creepy, well written and beautifully drawn. I believe this is the best work I've ever seen by Yanick Paquette. (Although I noticed how ugly Superman's padded costume is when I saw his rendition of it. What an awful, awful design. Please do not let Jim Lee design any more costumes, ever again. Urgh!)

When I found out that Alec Holland was coming back to life at the end of Brightest Day (which I wasn't reading - I found out on the internet), I was extremely skeptical of this new direction. It just seemed like such a departure from some of the coolest aspects of Alan Moore's run (Swampy's struggle with whether or not he was once human, etc.). It wasn't until I heard Scott Snyder talk about this in an interview, about how it was his idea to begin with and how it was specifically a set-up for what he was planning to do in this series, that I got onboard with it.

With this first issue, I still don't know exactly where it's going to go, but I'm definitely intrigued and excited to find out.

Verdict: Excellent. Along with Animal Man, this is the other must-buy of the week.


Ed Howard September 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM  

Animal Man, Swamp Thing and (to a slightly lesser extent) Action Comics are so obviously the three best books from this first week. Animal Man, in particular, is just so amazing, so fresh and idiosyncratic and smart, that it seems highly unlikely that anything else from the New 52 will top it, even the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) Batwoman. Lemire/Foreman really blew me away here; the writing is so natural, the characters instantly recognizable and relatable, and the art drastically shifts styles every few pages to reflect the storytelling as Lemire quickly hurtles from domestic drama to superhero action to surrealist horror.

There were some other good books this week (Batgirl was cool, Stormwatch had its moments, OMAC was surprisingly a blast) but those 3 seemed to be on another level in terms of having a very focused and well-thought-out perspective on the characters and the stories that they want to tell. If every week has 3 books at that level of quality, that'll be more than enough for me to call this relaunch a success.

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