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 Detective Comics and Superman. 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 Batman and Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman #1
Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have their work cut out for them with this first issue, in other words. I’m not sure I have a good sense of who Wonder Woman is after reading this issue, but I do know I want to read more of their Wonder Woman. Azzarello has said he’s approaching Wonder Woman as a horror comic, and this first chapter is certainly grim enough, opening as it does with a centaur-creating horse decapitation. What follows can’t easily be characterized. A woman unwittingly finds herself as a pawn in some so-far vague conflict between gods and turns to Wonder Woman (or “Diana,” as she prefers to be called here) for help.
Though I’m not quite sure what’s happening yet, I really liked this issue. I’ve had a hard time sticking with Azzarello in the past, but I’ve come to think I haven’t been patient enough. But even if I hated the writing, Chiang’s art—expressive, beautifully unfussy, and given a creepy, autumnal glow by Matthew Wilson’s colors—would make me pick this up. Plus, his Diana looks like Wonder Woman ought to look: beautiful, intimidating, and just a little larger than life.
Oliver Sava: I think Azzarello tends to reread better than the first go-round (readers of 100 Bullets know what I mean), because he doesn’t explain everything explicitly in the script. Once I remembered the connection between oracles and Apollo in Greek mythology, the opening sequence with Apollo and the three women on a roof made more sense to me. I’m seeing sexual imagery in everything after reading Catwoman, but Azzarello actually uses it pretty well in this issue. When Apollo touches the women, they moan and lift off the ground, dropping champagne flutes that spill their sparkling contents across a Singapore skyline. Before using hallucinogenic drugs, ancient priestesses received oracular visions through orgasm, and Apollo has the magic touch. The last panel of the issue mirrors the falling champagne flutes, but the smooth crystal and golden liquid are replaced by burning bones, emphasizing the connection between sex and danger that runs throughout the story.
As you mentioned, there have always been erotic undertones to Wonder Woman, and Azzarello doesn’t shy away from sexuality in his story; he just does it with sophistication. There are phalli flying all over the place—arrows, scythes, swords, bones, keys—while Wonder Woman is armed with a lasso, a weapon that doesn’t penetrate, but wraps around. Wonder Woman’s first course of action is protecting her charge from an arrow, leaping in its path and shattering it against her silver bracelets. It’s a symbolic image that shows how Wonder Woman stands against traditional ideas of gender, but it would probably be stronger if she were wearing pants. It helps that Chiang’s art isn’t exploitative, but this is still an issue focusing on two women in their underwear. I’m looking forward to more from this team, especially as future issues look to expand on Diana’s history. It’s a different direction for Wonder Woman, but one still steeped in mythology, and I think this is the start of great things from Azzarello and Chiang.
Most of Batman’s rogues make an appearance during the opening fight scene in Arkham (I spy James Gordon, Jr. in there), Dick, Tim, and Damien show up for a benefit, we get some suggestion that Alfred isn’t a hologram, and the issue ends with a grisly crime where the evidence points to one of Bruce’s closest allies. It looks like we have a mystery on our hands, something that is surprisingly absent from so many Bat-titles. The narration has Batman contemplating a Gotham Gazette feature called “Gotham Is,” where people complete the title sentence with three words, and it’s insightful and expertly utilized. Narration is layered on action, adding depth to the fight scenes, then disappears when the dialogue takes over. Snyder knows how to use the comic-book medium, and he puts a lot of faith in his artistic collaborator Capullo, who makes a stunning debut at DC.
If all the text were stripped from the page, Capullo’s art would still hit every major story point of the issue, which is a feat when the script is as dense as Snyder’s. The action is clear, quick, and brutal, and Capullo’s exaggerated linework creates an impressive sense of movement. The scenes with Bruce Wayne show off Capullo’s skill with facial expressions and body language, and the white page borders work to give the benefit sequence an optimistic tone that eventually gives way to black when Batman has to get back to work. The ending promises an emphasis on Dick Grayson in future issues, and while Kyle Higgins is doing great work Nightwing (see below), it will be nice to see Snyder do more work with the character. I don’t think you read Snyder’s Detective Comics, Keith. Were you as impressed with Batman as I was?
Keith Phipps: Very much so. Somehow Snyder’s early Detective issues got by me. I read one issue in the middle of the run, which left me very impressed and wanting to read everything else when it came out in trade. When Batman, staring at a wall in a room where Harvey Bullock has discovered a body says, “That smell is linseed oil. A common paint thinner. But the intensity is too strong”… that’s the Batman I want to read. So, yes, I loved this issue. And you’re right about Capullo’s art when you describe it as somewhere between Timm and MacFarlane. Those two extremes seem like they could never meet, but he makes it work. Snyder knows these characters, sets up an intriguing mystery, and delivers some action that Capullo realizes stunningly. This is definitely in the top rank of the revamp for me.
Writer Judd Winick is, to say the least, a variable talent. I rarely love his work, but I often like it. (Batwing, released two weeks ago, is a typically solid effort that could develop into an even more interesting title or trail off into nothing. With Winick, it’s often hard to tell.) But I’ve never hated a Winick book before this. And I hate this book from the cover down, starting with the font used for the title, which subs in some cat scratches for the “w” in “Catwoman” above an image of Selina Kyle spilling out of a jump suit as she drips diamonds on herself. (She’s even removed her boots because, hey, a gal likes a little comfort when she’s luxuriating with precious jewels.)
Then the actual book begins, in which Catwoman, led by her cleavage, gathers up her pet cats as she flees her apartment then swings high above Gotham with the cats in a cat carrier with its door open. Was this written and drawn by people who have never actually encountered a cat? But then, the book isn’t really about cats. Or about Catwoman, honestly. It’s about squeezing a lot of lurid sex and violence into the barest outline of a plot. By issue’s end, Catwoman has gone undercover to seduce a Russian gangster and fucked Batman. (The last line of their sex scene gives the issue it’s title: “…and most of the costumes stay on…”) Mostly I felt like I was reading fan fiction with a production budget this issue.
I hated this book (even though it’s not my least-favorite of the week). DC took, and continues to take, a lot of flack for not working with more female creators in the New 52. I don’t want to argue that female creators could handle female characters better than male creators, because that sort of argument leads only to madness—even if there might be something to it. But DC definitely has a female problem of another kind. (Not that other publishers don’t, but we’re not talking about them.) The company could have used the New 52 to draw a line in the sand and emphasize strong female characters that were treated as something other than vamps or sex objects. It’s done that with some titles, sure: Birds Of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl are examples from just this week. But this feels like a throwback to an earlier, more wank-encouraging age.
OS: Let’s dissect the first four panels of this book:
- Catwoman’s breasts fall into frame. She is putting on her leather catsuit. There is a white object floating in mid-air, covering part of her left breast, that could either be a sock or a used condom. “Wardrobe.”
- Catwoman is putting her clawed leather glove on with her teeth. A high-heel flies through the air. An assortment of her panties can be seen on the floor. Leather, shoes, and panty fetishes: check. “Mittens.”
- Catwoman is squatting, because that is how people get dressed. She has also knocked everything off her table to find her cell phone. One of her breasts is still not inside her catsuit. A pair of bras fall off the table (Selina doesn’t believe in dressers) as well as a bottle of wine, liquid dripping from its mouth. “Talkie-talk.”
- A basket full of kittens. “Babies.”
I couldn’t make that up if I tried. It’s a bunch of gratuitous images surrounded by cliché narration about risk and painfully stupid dialogue. One thing this issue succeeded in doing was making me appreciate Batwing a hell of a lot more, because this is Judd Winick at his worst. I loved Brubaker’s run on Catwoman, and this issue is just a disgrace to the character. This book has “Women In Refrigerators” written all over it, throwing in a vague flashback to Selina watching a friend get assaulted (probably sexually) so that she can take down the attacker later in the issue. At DC, the first step to female empowerment is victimization. Guillem March is a great artist that can’t control his libido, and I’d love to see him on a book that isn’t primarily cheesecake. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon under the current DC regime. I do have a morbid curiosity to see just how bad this book can get, but that’s probably not what DC had in mind.
KP: Huh. I’m surprised it left you cold, because I liked this book quite a bit. It’s easily my third favorite this week after Batman and Superman. I think you’re falling into the trap Gene Siskel used to fall into by judging the book based on what you wanted to get rather than what we got. We never saw Supergirl’s life on Krypton, but the character’s voice is so strong I felt like I knew who she was and what kind of world she came from. Landing on Earth and thinking she’s dreaming, her first worry is what her mother would think of her wearing clothes she’s not supposed to wear until she graduates before adding, “If I graduate.” (And I like the costume redesign, which reminds me of her late-’70s/early-’80s gear. Frankly, I’m just happy that she now seems to have a correctly proportioned torso, a believable number of ribs, and looks like she’s had a meal lately.) And, sure, the issue’s one long, exposition-heavy fight scene, but Asrar’s art sold the action and the script by Michael Green and Mike Johnson sold the exposition. Unlike Superman, who grew up here, Supergirl has landed somewhere she not only doesn’t know but most likely will not want to stay. I want to see where her story takes her.
Birds Of Prey #1
KP: Birds Of Prey is one of those books I suspect I’d enjoy if I read it more regularly, but I’ve never made it a habit. As a new reader, I think I would have liked this more if it provided an easier introduction to the main players and their mission. Black Canary I know, but who is Starling? Also, who funds this team? What are they up against? That aside, I got swept up into the big, superhero espionage action fairly easily and the finale took me by surprise. (Did that guy have the same bleeding-eye disease as Animal Man? I think I’ve been reading too many comics this month.)
Green Lantern Corps #1
KP: I’ve said before that Green Lantern isn’t really my thing even though I recognize and respect that there are good stories being told in the Green Lantern corner of the DC Universe, and that Geoff Johns and others have expanded and deepened the Green Lantern world over the last few years. This didn’t really change that for me. Stewart and Gardner are well-developed characters and pair up nicely as a kind of buddy-cop team. This was an enjoyable-enough read, but it didn’t make a convert out of me.
OS: You’re right that there’s a lot of narration, but I didn’t find it overbearing and thought it was used similarly to Snyder in Batman. I like the idea that Dick Grayson feels more comfortable in the Nightwing persona; it makes Dick less of a future Bruce replacement and more of his own character. Bringing back the circus is a great way to incorporate Dick’s past into the story, and it introduces a supporting cast that offers a lot of storytelling potential. I loved the clown bitching about wearing a green wig in Gotham City and the gags about Dick’s hair, and seeing Dick back on the trapeze was a much more emotional moment than I expected it to be. Barrows has been growing with each new project, and his artwork is fluid and moody while still retaining a sense of fun and excitement. The new villain design is a little too extreme with the Wolverine claws, but I do like that he’s hunting down Dick and not Nightwing. It’s absurd that the villain doesn’t make the connection between Dick and his costumed alter ego that appears seconds after Dick disappears, but that’s one of those superhero conventions that we just have to accept.
Blue Beetle #1
KP: To be fair, not enough people did read that series, which is why we’re getting a total restart, I would imagine. I read a couple of issues and liked it—though obviously not enough to become a regular reader—but this Blue Beetle is otherwise relatively unfamiliar to me. This felt like a decent start to the series. Jaime’s an appealing lead and we don’t often see superhero books starring Hispanic kids in El Paso, which gives it some novelty while helping DC’s push to feature a more diverse array of characters. If you’re not bothered by deja vu, I suspect you’ll like this book.
Legion Of Super-Heroes #1
OS: DC sure did drop the ball with their Legion titles, two inaccessible messes that don’t take advantage of the relaunch and continue telling stories that people were already not reading. They reference Legion Lost (like that book makes any sense), and while we at least get some captions about who the characters are and their powers, the cast is so packed that there isn’t much time for actual character development. There’s no explanation in regards to what the Legion is or its mission, and the plot completely lacks emotional weight. I get that Paul Levitz is a classic Legion writer, but comics have changed a lot since Levitz’s heyday. His dialogue is bland and his plots predictable, with broadly drawn characters that aren’t interesting to read about. I think Portela is a capable artist well-suited for the Legion, but I don’t think there’s any artist that could compensate for the problems with Levitz’s script.
Captain Atom #1
OS: Other than appearances in other books, I don’t think I’ve ever read a Captain Atom story. I know him best from Justice League Unlimited, which smartly emphasized the military aspect of the character. Krul puts the focus on the science, doing a better job with high-concept superhero sci-fi than last week’s Mister Terrific, and his dialogue is much less groan-worthy than his Green Arrow (which he will be leaving with #3, replaced by Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens). I would have liked to learn more about Captain Atom’s origin, but I think Krul makes a wise decision having the hero’s nuclear instability be the main hook of the issue. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Williams’ art in the past, but I was stunned by his work this issue. His line is more controlled and his anatomy more precise, with fantastic colors by Jose Villarrubia giving the art a Peter Snejberg vibe. I was surprised by how much I liked this, and as long as Krul keeps his bad habits in check, I’ll keep reading.
Red Hood And The Outlaws #1
Scott Lobdell’s plot is a mess of secret organizations, vaguely named villains (“The Untitled” ...groan), and people talking about having sex/having had sex with each other. Jason Todd is becoming a bit like Marvel’s Moon Knight, his personality mostly heroic with mental illness hovering around the edges, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any substance to his character. Roy seems to have been retconned out of his dead-cat drug relapse, but he suffers from the same shallow characterization. I’m not sure if Starfire’s history has been erased or if her amnesia is a plot point, but she’s mostly just there to stand around and flash her goodies. Kenneth Rocafort is a strong artist who can draw excellent action, but coming out of Top Cow he has bad T&A tendencies that are on full display here. First the poor guy gets stuck with a Doomsday story in Action Comics, now this junk? How long until Rocafort gets swiped up by Marvel? This is the Lobdell I was worried about, and it makes nervous for next week’s Teen Titans (which announced a new, completely unsubtle gay character this week).
KP: So remember when I said Catwoman wasn’t my least favorite this week? Welcome to it. There’s a joke early on about a secret weapon being a “pair of 38s” that then cuts to Starfire. Rimshot. I don’t want to harp on the leering quality of books like Red Hood and Catwoman until I sound like a prude. Superhero comics can and often should be sexy. But this book reduces a character with a complicated history to a thoughtless sex-bot. And there was nothing about the story around that sex-bot to redeem the book. I don’t like Roy Harper and Jason Todd, at least not here. They’re all bad-boy attitude and no substance, and I wanted to stop spending time in their company as soon as possible. A big pass for me.
DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1
OS: I was thinking the exact same thing about DC’s doomed acrobats. This issue is as clunky as the title, with Jenkins cluttering the pages with narration that gets repetitive very quickly. We get it, Boston Brand jumps between bodies; we don’t need two pages describing 12 different people that he has possessed. Jenkins can tell strong, personal stories in a fantastic setting when he wants to, but his plot lacks a strong focus, stuck in idea limbo. I thought the Rama sequence was well done, especially with Chang’s art, but by the end of the issue I still wasn’t sure what Deadman’s purpose is. He’s apparently supposed to help lost souls get answers, but that doesn’t really play out in the story. I don’t know if this is going to be a Deadman book or a rotating character spotlight with different creative teams, but I’ll be skipping this initial storyline.
Next week: The thrilling conclusion, including first issues of The Flash, Aquaman, and Teen Titans.