DC has embarked on the radical step of revamping its entire line of comics, rolling out 52 first issues beginning with Justice League on Aug. 31. Some are new titles. Some restart long-running titles like Batman and Action Comics. Some promise new concepts, while others offer new takes on old characters. Oliver Sava and Keith Phipps are reading and discussing all of them each week as part of an ongoing Crosstalk. Up this week: 13 new titles including Green Lantern and Demon Knights.
Green Lantern #1
Keith Phipps: So when is a reboot not a reboot? Last week saw the relaunch of Action Comics and Detective Comics, DC’s two flagship titles starring two of it flagship characters: Superman and Batman. Action offered a pretty drastic rethinking of Superman’s history. Though (probably) set earlier in Batman’s career, Detective felt like a continuation of the sorts of stories writer/artist Tony Daniel had been telling in Batman, even with its holographic Alfred. Some characters and titles—the more popular ones pre-New 52, it should be noted—look like they’ll be staying the course. Others look like they’ll be starting over more-or-less from scratch, or at least with a drastically changed status quo.
Picking up at the kind-of-surprising place it left off, Green Lantern, one of DC’s top books before the reboot, falls into former category: Hal Jordan is out as the Green Lantern of Earth. His frequent archenemy Sinestro is in. Doug Mahnke provides the art and, as before, Geoff Johns supplies the script. I almost always like Johns (which I didn’t realize was such a point of contention for our readers until looking the comments for week one). His Teen Titans was one of the titles that got me back into superhero comics, and I’ve liked his Justice Society Of America, Flash, and Superman stories. But I’ve drifted in and out of the Green Lantern titles over the years, mostly out. Hal Jordan, whom Johns brought back from the dead, doesn’t hold that much appeal for me as a character, and I’ve never been that into the Green Lantern universe of stories. When I’ve read Johns’ GL I’ve always filed it under “Solid But Not For Me.”
I doubt this new first issue will change that. It looks good and the story zips along as a humbled Jordan tries unsuccessfully to continue his work as a hero without a Green Lantern ring and Sinestro reluctantly takes the Green Lantern oath. And Sinestro is my favorite sort of villain: a bad guy who doesn’t think he’s a bad guy. But otherwise it feels like more of the same. I’ll probably stick with it for a while and then drift away, but maybe future issues will surprise me.
OS: Like Green Lantern, Batwoman picks up where Kate Kane’s story last left off, probably because this issue was supposed to come out half a year ago. After learning the truth about her presumed-dead sister, Kate is on the outs with her father and has taken on a new sidekick, her cousin Bette, who ran around with the Teen Titans as Flamebird back in the day. I don’t know how this book fits into the DCnU and I couldn’t care less, because this is graphic storytelling unlike any other book on the stands right now. J.H. Williams III is probably the best superhero artist currently working, with an uncanny ability to switch his style to fit the scene and an impeccable eye for detail. Every panel has a background, every face is distinguishable, every body is a different shape; Williams doesn’t draw pictures, he creates entire worlds. Dave Stewart deserves a lot of credit for his colors, which are perfectly in sync with Williams’ ever-changing aesthetic. Stewart is constantly experimenting with textures and shades, and every new page is another rousing success. Seriously rousing: I want to cheer when I read this book, it’s so good.
When Detective Maggie Sawyer asks Kate out on a date, the panel goes black-and-white as Kate looks at a picture of her ex-girlfriend Renee Montoya on the wall, the only color appearing in Renee’s face. In that moment we are inside Kate’s head, watching her struggle with the memories that hold her back and keep the color out of her world. The color returns as she agrees to Maggie’s proposal in the next panel, and the image tightens on the two women to cut Renee out of frame. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quiet emotional moment or an action-packed double-page spread—Williams is going to execute it thoughtfully and unpredictably. And having him as a writer means complete creative synergy between the script and art.
KP: I’m with you on this. I’m a huge fan of Williams’ art and loved his first Batwoman story. The only X-factor to me was the departure of Rucka, a fine writer who always seemed particularly at home in the world of Gotham and its characters. I didn’t feel any loss here. (That’s no slam against Rucka; be sure to check out his run on The Punisher if you’re not already.) Kane’s developing into a fascinating character: cool, able to compartmentalize her life—reflected in the different textures of the art—and passionate but in ways much different than Bruce Wayne. And the last page made me want the next issue now. Whether it was intended for the new DC or the old one, this one’s one of the highlights of the New 52 so far.
Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. #1
I loved this issue, which combines humor, over-the-top action—strikingly realized by Italian artist Alberto Ponticelli—the sort of big, crazy concepts that comics can realize better than any other medium and, courtesy of its hero, a soulful center. Sweet Tooth and Essex County writer Jeff Lemire delivered one of the best books of the relaunch’s first week with Animal Man. He tops himself here, seamlessly integrating a lot of exposition into a story that never stops moving, and Ponticelli’s rough-edged style suits the material. He’s good at realizing both sweeping battle scenes and small moments, as when Frankenstein hunches over the tiny figure of his “father,” holding a sword and making a threatening expression but still looking powerless. “This place is an advertisement for mad science about to go wrong,” Palmer says to his teammates at one point. Here’s hoping it keeps going wrong in ways as right as this.
OS: Lemire has quickly shot to the top of the DC pantheon of writers after his two relaunch titles. Frankenstein is completely different in tone than Animal Man, yet follows the same guidelines: establish the character, what his place is in the world, and what makes him interesting. The combination of high-concept sci-fi and classic monster movies centered on Morrison’s hyper-romantic Frankenstein is inspired, and incorporating Ray Palmer is a smart way to bring the book into the larger DCU. Unlike Eric Wallace in Mr. Terrific, Lemire introduces a plethora of ideas, but uses the narration to provide details that enrich the world and make everything just a little bit more plausible. Is it necessary to know that the automaton Hominids are a renewable energy source for S.H.A.D.E. HQ after they decompose? No, but it’s the kind of detail that shows how deep Lemire’s plotting goes. Alberto Ponticelli created a bleak, occasionally grotesque view of Africa in Unknown Soldier, and he’s the perfect fit for this book. It actually reminds me of Jeff Lemire’s art but with a bit of a Paul Pope influence. Also, that’s not Dr. Frankenstein in the little girl body; it’s Father Time, the S.H.A.D.E. equivalent of Nick Fury.
Demon Knights #1
Diogenes Neves has done solid work on New Mutants and Green Arrow, but his art flourishes in the medieval setting. There is a tinge of manga styling, but I think it works for the fantasy genre. The action sequences are dynamically choreographed, but Neves also does great work on the lighter moments, showing particular affinity for Madame Xanadu. When “Jason o’ the Blood” transforms into Etrigan, the Demon grabs Xanadu and the two share a passionate kiss. When they pull away from each other, billows of smoke flow from their mouths. Visual flourishes like that give life to the world. Hopefully Cornell’s bad luck keeping new books afloat at Marvel doesn’t follow him to DC, because this team may have the start of a bona fide DC fantasy epic.
KP: Cornell’s Knight And Squire miniseries—a story of an English Batman and his sidekick that starts as a lighthearted tweaking of Englishness and then develops into a darker examination of how national traits like irony and self-deprecation can be virtues—was one of my favorite books of the last year or so, and this series looks like it’s going to play to his strengths in a big way. If it works, it lets DC tell big, comic book-y stories in a setting and genre that readers generally don’t look to for them. Cornell has a really nice sense of how to balance humor with gravitas (which makes sense for a veteran of Doctor Who), and that’s rare. A lot of the books we’ve looked at provide solid, somber set-ups. (Take Resurrection Man as one example.) Not that all the books have to be fun. But I’m excited to encounter one that really does look fun.
Batman And Robin #1
I’ve been a fan of Patrick Gleason’s for a while, and he continues to grow with each project. On Green Lantern Corps he showed his impressive talent for character design and world-building, and his Batman And Robin art is all about establishing atmosphere. The first half of the book is covered in shadows, emphasizing Bruce’s solemn mood, but once the duo leaps into action, the book brightens up for a spectacular action sequence set in a nuclear facility underneath a swimming pool. Damian’s character comes out when he’s fighting, and Gleason has him taking out the thugs in a delighted frenzy, smiling as he watches them all burn up in a ball of nuclear fuel. Damian Wayne has been a controversial character since his introduction, but I’ve grown to like the little brat. How about you, Keith?
KP: Oh, definitely. I was a little worried Damian wouldn’t make it through to the other side of Flashpoint. Giving Batman a son is one of those terrible-seeming ideas that’s paid off brilliantly for the Batman titles. I was a little worried if anyone else would be able to write for him, but I liked Tomasi and Gleason’s post-Morrison, pre-reboot issues, and I like this one too. Their Damian, like Morrison’s, is sociopathic, but also very much a little kid. And thus redeemable. Maybe. That’s what makes the character so fascinating. I loved the rapport between Damian and Dick Grayson, but the Bruce/Damian pairing brings different responsibilities. Bruce had barely gotten to know the kid when he got disappeared in time for a while. Now he has to be a dad. And a masked avenger. And a mentor. Plus this story has a mystery that needs solving and no full-page images of the Joker’s peeled-off face. (Sorry to harp on that.)
This new Superboy, written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by R.B. Silva, keeps some of that history. We still have a Superboy grown in the lab, and it’s hinted that the non-Superman half of his genetic make-up comes from Lex Luthor. He has a comfortable life in small-town Kansas, but it’s all a computer simulation and he knows it. He’s a head in a jar who knows he’s a head in a jar, in other words. Outside the jar, he has a sympathetic scientist he knows only as “Red” (who’s likely a character from the Wildstorm title Gen 13) on his side and Rose Wilson working some agenda that may or may not be to his benefit.
I have mixed feelings about this one. I like Silva’s art and the portions told from Superboy’s extremely limited point of view are pretty effective. But the ending feels rushed and confusing, and not in a way that left me particularly intrigued, even if we do apparently get a first look at the new Teen Titans. Even that left me more confused than intrigued, though. Is Wonder Girl a Napoleonic sea captain now?
OS: I liked this book more than I expected it to, although it became tiresome after the Smallville red herring, then picked up again at the last page. A guy in a tube commenting on the world around him just isn’t all that interesting, but Lobdell does a fine job with Superboy’s inner monologue. I don’t see any point in building up the mystery of Superboy’s human DNA donor if it’s just going to be Lex Luthor, and hopefully Lobdell has some tricks up his sleeve. Silva landed on my radar after the outstanding Jimmy Olsen Special, but this issue doesn’t really give him much opportunity to stretch his imagination. I wish he were the artist on Teen Titans after seeing the last page; he needs a book wider in scope to show off his design skills, and this issue doesn’t give much idea about what the future of Superboy will look like.
Mister Terrific #1
KP: Accessibility has been one of the watchwords for the New 52, snaring new and lapsed readers being one of the initiative’s goals. But, apart from Justice League, I think this is the first issue I’ve read with an honest-to-goodness origin story. (Though I’m guessing there may be more further down the stack.) Mister Terrific needs it. Though the character’s been around since the 1940s, he’s never been hugely popular. I always liked Michael Holt, the second Mister Terrific, in JSA, with his tragic background, his corny-but-awesome “Fair Play” motto, and his history as an Olympian and a scientific genius. (He’s frequently referred to as the “third smartest man in the world,” which I always assumed put him behind Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne, but has that ever been confirmed, Oliver?) And, it has to be noted that, as a black hero, he gives the DC Universe some much-needed diversity.
I had mixed feelings about this first issue. It starts off well with an adventure in London and some sprightly dialogue. (“A simple ‘Thanks, black guy, for saving us from a homicidal lunatic wearing weaponized body armor’ will do,” he tells some people he’s rescued when they pepper him with questions.) And, even if all his women have elfish eyes, Gianluca Gugliotta’s art is appealing, if not terribly groundbreaking. But I flashed on the Bechdel Test when two supporting female characters—one of them Karen Starr, a.k.a. Power Girl—meet and immediately square off against each other in a racially charged confrontation simply because they’re both women in the life of our hero. We’ve barely met them and this is how they’re being defined? Otherwise, this felt like a decent first chapter in a story that will have to get more gripping to stand out from the pack of 52. (Not sure the tattoos fit the character, either.)
OS: This was the surprise book for me this week, a solid action thriller with a sci-fi twist. I was confused, but it was the kind of intrigued confusion that comes at the start of a good mystery. I’m not familiar with Nathan Edmondson’s work, but this is one of the better-paced issues of the relaunch, emphasizing the solitary nature of Cole Cash’s lifestyle and the chaos that ensues after he escapes from an alien experiment. CAFU’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was a huge surprise for me, and I’m excited to see him on a story that has a similarly suspenseful tone. I’m a sucker for incorporating the story title in the artwork a la Will Eisner, and after the intense action opener, seeing “Grifter: 17 Minutes” as shelf decoration helps the tone shift to a more crime noir style of storytelling. I will definitely be sticking around for the opening arc, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Grifter book.
Resurrection Man #1
KP: Me too. I’m new to DnA, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d also never read anything with Resurrection Man before—in my defense, who has?—and this one left me curious as to what would happen next. But, as you point out, it’s going to have to give us reasons to care beyond the central mystery, and soon, if it wants to stay intriguing.
Suicide Squad #1
The book has promise, however. Writer Adam Glass is a veteran writer/producer of shows like Supernatural and Cold Case (and something called, shudder, “Untitled Miley Cyrus Project”) and this first issue isn’t afraid to get down to the grimy underbelly of the supervillain world. Federico Dallocchio provides appropriately dark art—though it gets a bit too muddy for my tastes at times—and the book does little to soften its hard-case characters, be they the ruthless killer Deadshot or the mindless beast King Shark. That said, the most interesting character so far is the only one with a hint of a conscience, the modern-day El Diablo, a man haunted by the crimes of his past. It’s not a knockout start and a little more wit to leaven the darkness wouldn’t hurt, but it left me curious about what might happen next.
OS: Lex Luthor, Joker, Untitled Miley Cyrus Project. One of those things is so much more terrifying than the others. I miss Secret Six after reading this book. The skinny Amanda Waller thing bothers me way more than it should—but really, does every woman have to be sexualized? Why is the Wall walking around with her bricks halfway out of her top? We don’t get much about Waller this issue, but Glass has said, “Amanda Waller is not defined by her size but by her attitude, and she still has plenty of that.” She has so much attitude her shirt buttons can’t hold it in. Rant over.
The Harley Quinn redesign is horrible, especially when her original costume is already so playfully sexy, but the real problem with this issue’s art is inconsistency. Marco Rudy was originally scheduled on art, but he’s been replaced by Dallocchio and Ransom Getty, two pencillers with completely contrasting styles. At first I thought Getty was just handling the more traditional flashback sequences, but once he takes over the main story, the visual grit dissipates and Glass’ story loses a lot of atmosphere.
Legion Lost #1
Artist Pete Woods is combining the animated looseness of his earlier work with the realism of his recent style, and his talent is completely wasted on this title. There’s no sense of fun or adventure, just characters with ill-defined personalities and relationships panicking their way through a confusing plot. Why they decided to give this book the same title as a far superior miniseries from barely a decade ago is a mystery. I’d recommend going out and buying the hardcover collection of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Legion Lost series instead.
KP: And here I thought it was just because I’d never read that series that I was lost. And boy was I lost. There’s something about a pathogen that everyone’s trying to stop except for those who are trying to spread it. Right? This felt more like a fifth issue than a first, and not even a particularly good fifth issue. I’ve enjoyed Woods’ art elsewhere in the past. I hope it ends up elsewhere again soon.
The comic relief comes from Deathstroke’s grating support team, the Alpha Dawgs, who are just as obnoxious as their team name. (Just because they comment on how bad their name is doesn’t make it okay.) Their presence is thankfully short-lived, and hopefully they’re not indicative of Higgins’ future comedic endeavors in this title. Joe Bennett is a reliable penciller who has evolved far past his original Image-inspired work, and while he’s not the showiest, he knows how to stage action and he can certainly drawl a scowl. The book is well crafted, but it has the same problem as Resurrection Man: lack of a well-established central character. We don’t know what Slade wants or how he feels, we just know that he’s a badass.
KP: I didn’t care much about what was happening in this issue until the big twist in which what felt like the set-up of a terrible supporting cast turned out to be something else. It made me laugh, but I can’t see similar black humor making me laugh again, and one standout page isn’t enough to make me come back for more. Slade’s a badass. I get it. He can be an interesting supporting character, too. But do I need to see him doing badass things once a month ad infinitum? I do not.
Red Lanterns #1
OS: Who is the audience for this book? A group of blood-puking unused Youngblood designs seems perfect for Lobo-style space grindhouse stories, but Peter Milligan decides to delve into the emotional troubles plaguing Red Lantern leader Atrocitus. The Red Lanterns originally appeared as villains for the Green Lantern Corps, and while I applaud Milligan for trying to bring some nuance and depth to a character called Atrocitus, it rings false. It’s the ’90s trend of turning villains into “lethal protectors,” and while it looks like a lot of the book’s conflict will come from Red Lanterns refusing to join Atrocitus’ cause, this issue doesn’t have me interested enough to keep reading. There’s a subplot on Earth that I’m assuming will lead to a new human Red Lantern, but the whole idea of building a book around characters who function in a state of uncontrollable rage seems like it will get tedious after a while. At least once the novelty of an angry vomiting kitten has worn off. Ed Benes is well suited to this book, but the introspective story doesn’t play to his strengths: action and cheesecake. The man sure does know how to fit an ass in a shot, even if it means contorting the women into ridiculous positions. Exhibit A-Z:
Mmm...blood vomit. I imagine this is the kind of thing that led to your time away from comics, Keith.
KP: Pretty much, yeah. But I want it to keep running so Benes doesn’t get work drawing books I like. I’ve spent some time wondering why I find some cheesecake art sexy and often even sweet (Frank Cho, Adam Hughes) and some just indefensibly sexist. I think the above image may be answer enough. I’ve been reading some of these books on the train to and from work each night because there’s no shame in reading comics in public. But think I’d rather be seen reading a Penthouse in public than this. (The blood vomit doesn’t help.)