Saturday, October 01, 2011

Reviewing The New 52 -- Part I

So about every twenty years or so, DC Comics does a “reboot,” essentially scrapping their existing universe and starting over. The characters are the same, maybe a few are added or subtracted, occasionally costumes or identities change, but it’s basically a new starting point, a “System Restore,” if you will. There are a few good reasons to do this. One, it’s a way for the new generation of comic book readers (Hello? Are you out there?) to get in on the ground floor. Two, twenty years of writers and stories create a continuity that becomes somewhat too complex and unwieldy to continue with and three, if they didn’t do this and remained chronologically consistent from when these characters began, you’d have a Superman and Batman in their 90s running around, which might not be that much fun to read about.

This decade brings us “The New 52,” a “soft” reboot where much is the same, but DC is cancelling all books and starting fresh with 52 titles, all of which are starting (or starting over) at #1. Batman has been around for about ten years, other heroes about five (Batman needs to be around longer because of Robin, which fixes him a bit with regard to continuity. Specifically, there have been four major Robins of different ages, all of whom exist in the current universe, so Batman must be aged accordingly).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Sounds interesting, but who can be bothered to spend the time and money sifting through 52 titles to decide which ones are worth reading?” Fortunately for you, dear readers, I have no children. Which means I have plenty of time and money to waste buying and reading all of these first issues and reviewing them for your entertainment. Which I have done. What follows, in multiple parts, are my brief reviews of each title, plus my “recommendation,” which is really just what I plan to do about each title, either: Keep Reading, Issue by Issue or Pass. A pass doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t read it, it just means I won’t be. None of these books are terrible, but at three bucks a pop, I expect them to be more than good to pick them up every month.

DC has segregated their books into groups as: New Justice, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Young Justice, Edge and Dark titles. For Part I of this blog, I’ll be looking at the New Justice titles. So, without further ado: The New 52!

New Justice

Aquaman – Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado

 Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when I say “Aquaman?” Guy who talks to fish, right? DC faced a challenge with this one. How do you make a superhero who’s basically the joke of the superhero world cool and hip for modern audiences? DC embraced the challenge and put their all star, Geoff Johns, on the case. Johns immediately goes to work getting right out in front of the problem with Aquaman. In the first sequence, after Aquaman thwarts a bank robbery (on land), the cops ask him if he needs a glass of water. Later, patrons are aghast to see Aquaman go into a seafood restaurant for lunch, likening it, seemingly, to cannibalism. It’s here in the diner that the Aquaman challenge is fully presented and accepted. First, this exchange, between a diner and our hero:

“Aquaman talks to fish. Everybody knows that.” 

“Fish don’t talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation. I reach into their midbrains and telepathically push them to help me out.

And then, a hipster douche blogger at the next table really brings it home:

“I’m sure you’ve heard all the jokes and seen all the skits from Saturday Night Live on YouTube. So how’s it feel to be a punchline? How’s it feel to be a laughingstock? How’s it feel to be nobody’s favorite superhero?”

Aquaman doesn’t like hearing it, but the guy is saying what we’re all thinking. I wasn’t expecting much from this book, but now I’m looking forward to finding out the answer. Recommendation: Keep Reading

Justice League - Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams

Justice League takes us back five years from the current universe timeline for the formation of the Justice League of America. It seems that this book will be the sort of cornerstone of the new universe. Here we get to see the first meeting of Batman, Green Lantern and Superman, and soon thereafter, Cyborg (who was a New Teen Titan in the pre-booted universe, but is now a JLAer), Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash. Not sure if they plan to keep this as an “early years” book or catch us up once the team is formed, but it’s worth it to check out now just to see these early meetings for the first time. Recommendation: Issue by Issue

Green Arrow – J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens, George Perez

One thing I have to say about all the New 52 is the art is spectacular pretty much throughout. That’s pretty much the only really good thing I can say about Green Arrow. The “New” GA seems to be the Justin Hartley, “Smallville” version, which was adequate for a TV show, but I’m not sure translates really well to the comics page. He kind of comes off as trying to be a cooler, hipper, younger Batman, but I’m not seeing anything too inspired about the new Green Arrow so far. Recommendation: PASS

The Savage Hawkman – Tony S. Daniel, Philip Tan

As a Sci Fi guy, I always liked it when Sci Fi heroes like Green Lantern or Hawkman appeared in comics. Of course, the sci fi version of Hawkman, a police officer from an alien world, was in itself a reboot, and DC has recently seemed to favor the original version, of Hawkman as a reincarnated Prince who has discovered a mysterious “Nth” metal, enabling him to fly. In Savage Hawkman, Carter Hall has actually merged with the Nth Metal, and seems to be able to call upon it whenever he needs it. Although he does fight an alien, this Indiana Jones-Robert Langdon type who transforms into winged fury as needed is not really my cup of tea. Recommendation: PASS

The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men – Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone, Yildiray Cinar

The conceit of the original Firestorm, the Nuclear Man was that he was actually two men fused together, Professor Martin Stein and Teenager Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie was the dominant personality when they merged to become Firestorm, with Stein offering advice from inside Ronnie’s mind. The new Firestorm is actually two Firestorms, Honor student Jason Rusch and dumb jock Ronnie Raymond, who naturally, hate each other. They become Firestorm by accident when terrorists come after the Firestorm technology, which in this universe, Stein invented and entrusted Rusch with before he died. They can transmute matter, and when necessary, merge to become FURY, a very big, very nasty looking Firestorm monster. I’m interested to see how the conflict between these two very different young men who suddenly have a very big responsibility, develops. Recommendation: Issue by Issue

DC Universe Presents: Deadman – Paul Jenkins, Bernard Chang

I suspect this book will change its focus every three or four issues or so, but for now it’s Deadman, so let’s talk Deadman. I was always a fan of this supernatural hero, who is, let’s face it, a ghost in a funny costume. The premise of the original Deadman, which I think would make a great movie, is that egotistical aerialist Boston Brand is murdered in the middle of his circus act by an assassin, but is granted permission by the God Rama Kushna to come back and try to find his killer, provided he help others along the way. He would do this by possessing those people, which would be the only way he could act or communicate with the mortal world. This version presents an intriguing idea, which is that Deadman does not use his abilities merely for superheroic feats, but also to help people with moral, ethical or even psychological problems. Sort of like Quantum Leap without the time travel. In this first issue, Deadman, who is called upon to help a war veteran who has been left a shadow of his former self by an insurgent attack that left the rest of his unit dead, is having his own crisis of conscience, and seems to be willing to go no further until he has a little discussion with Rama Kushna. I definitely think it’s worth sticking around to see what happens. Recommendation: Keep Reading

The Flash – Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato

I remember having a lot of Flash comics around when I was a kid, but for a long time I couldn’t figure out why. Now I kind of get it. The Flash was fun. He was all bright colors and flashy villains and clever quips. It was amusing how he was The Fastest Man Alive, but his alter ego Barry Allen could never get anywhere on time. So far this new Flash, which has restored Barry Allen to the role (in the prior continuity, Allen was killed saving the universe and replaced by his nephew Wally West, although he had been recently resurrected. The current disposition of Wally, or Barry’s predecessor Jay Garrick, is not known to me at this time), is just not that much fun. It’s a perfectly adequate story about a friend of Barry’s who is killed during commission of a crime and seems to have had his DNA tampered with, but nothing that’s going to keep me coming back. Recommendation: PASS

Mister Terrific – Eric Wallace, Gianluca Gugliotta, Wayne Faucher

I have to confess, I was never a big fan of Mister Terrific. With his status as “Third Smartest Man” in the world, his “T-Spheres” and other tech toys, his Olympic level athletic ability, tremendous wealth and tragic origin (his wife and unborn child were killed in an accident), it just felt like he was supposed to be “like Batman—but better!” In this first issue, we get a bit of a reminder who Michael Holt is, plus a high tech mystery to solve. It might be of interest to some, but I just can’t connect to this character. Recommendation: PASS

Wonder Woman – Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chang

I’d like to tell you whether or not to keep reading Wonder Woman, but there’s simply not enough information. For this book, Azzarello decides to jump right into the middle, where a woman who is being pursued by mythological creatures literally drops into Diana (Wonder Woman)’s bedroom. Diana acts to protect her, and in the process we learn that the woman in question is carrying Zeus’ baby. Is that enough to know whether this book will be worth reading? Not for me. Recommendation: Issue by Issue

Captain Atom – JT Krul, Freddie Williams II

Captain Atom underwent a bit of a renaissance after Alan Moore used him as the model for Dr. Manhattan, of Watchmen fame. It seems that Krul and Williams are trying to draw on the Dr. Manhattan mythology, but it’s not clear how much. The big dilemma presented in this issue is that Captain Atom seems to be literally coming apart at the seams. However, there is little enough character development that I’m not sure that I care. Recommendation: PASS

Justice League International – Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan

Under the guidance of Keith Giffen, the old Justice League International was the “funny” Justice League, a comical counterpart to the serious squad of Superman, Batman, etc. That book was a little too funny for my taste. This one has just the right element of humor, as the story of a Justice League team assembled to be the U.N.s own personal super hero squad. What’s funny about it is that no one seems to really want to be there. The leader, narcissist Booster Gold, thought he was joining the “real” Justice League, and the Green Lantern of the group, Guy Gardner, bristles at being led by someone he thinks is a buffoon. The Chinese superhero and the Russian don’t get along, and no one seems to be entirely pleased that Batman is sent along to nursemaid the group. This is the “fun” book I was looking for. Recommendation: Keep Reading

OK, that’s it for “New Justice.” Next time, I’ll talk about the "Edge" titles. It’ll be fun; you won’t want to miss it!


James S. said...

I haven't picked any of them up yet, but I've been following the commentary online. Thanks for adding yours, although I think you're far too nice in saying "None of these books are terrible."

I'm looking to check out the weirder stuff in the lineup when it comes out in trade (Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Demon Knights, etc.)

Craig Berger said...

Note: Of the ten books that have so far been cancelled from the original New 52, 7 of them were given a pass by me in my reviews. You're welcome.