Sunday, October 02, 2011

DC's New 52

DC has been going all-out to push its universe-wide relaunch/reboot/re-whatever, including sending the first issues of every single one of its 52 new/relaunched titles to the mainstream press. So although I had been considering picking up just a handful of new DC titles that caught my eye, I found myself with a stack of all 52. I ended up reading 15 of them, including the ones that I was already interested in and a few others that have been getting the most buzz, and I may end up getting through the rest at some point in the future. For now, the ones I'm looking to continue reading are pretty much the same as the ones I had been interested in from the start, although if I had more time and money I might give a few other series a little more time to impress me.

I don't read a whole lot of superhero comics anymore, so it takes a lot to win me over on a played-out corporate icon like Superman or Batman, especially since those characters always end up dragged into giant crossovers or tossed from one creative team to another. Already writer/artist George Perez has stepped down from Superman, which he's leaving after the sixth issue. Not that his debut impressed me much: It's a serviceable old-school Superman story with somewhat awkward and superficial references to modern technology, and its biggest status quo change is that Clark Kent and Lois Lane are no longer romantically linked. Perez has a nice old-school density to his storytelling, both in the art (which Jesus Merino pencils and inks over Perez's breakdowns) and in the text, which is much more extensive than in typical modern superhero comics. But it's in service of a ho-hum story that doesn't entice me back for another month.

Grant Morrison's take on Superman in Action Comics is also old-school in a way, hearkening back to Superman's Golden Age roots as a populist hero taking on corruption, a little more of a loose-cannon vigilante. Morrison's explorations of classic superhero tropes don't really grab my attention (I'm probably the only person who was unimpressed with All-Star Superman), and his take on Superman strikes me as a little off-balance while not really adding anything new to the character. Ultimately it's a slightly skewed take on a familiar set-up, and while it's more intriguing than Perez's vision, it still doesn't grab me enough to stick around for a second issue.

I was more impressed with the Batman family books that I tried, especially J.H. Williams III's Batwoman, which I had already been planning to get following Williams' run on the character with writer Greg Rucka in Detective Comics two years ago. This book has also been in the works since then, which means that the creators have had more time to develop and produce it, and hopefully Williams will be able to complete each issue without having any fill-ins (aside from artist Amy Reeder, who's already scheduled to alternate arcs with Williams). There also isn't any kind of relaunch here -- the story continues directly from Williams and Rucka's work on Detective, with Williams taking over as co-writer (along with W. Haden Blackman) in addition to his art duties. Still, the first issue catches readers up well, and the art (the main draw for me) is still phenomenal, with Williams depicting haunting suspense, fluid action and personal drama equally skillfully. I'm mainly on board for the amazing visuals, but I do like Kate Kane as a character, and I'm curious to see where Williams and Blackman take the story.

I thought that Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf were also solid superhero comics, although I doubt I'll be following either one any further. I like Snyder, but his Batman is still basically the same character doing the same things, even if the first issue does set up a pretty intriguing cliffhanger. And Simone does a decent job with a crappy assignment, taking Barbara Gordon out of her wheelchair as Oracle and returning her to action as Batgirl. Given how angry fans have been about the switch (not without reason), it's smart and a little brave of Simone to tackle the transition as part of her story, rather than pretending it never happened. Still, one book about a female Bat-themed vigilante is probably enough for me, and I'm going with Batwoman.

Outside of the big names, I liked some of the scrappier, lower-tier titles, which are what I tend to follow more consistently anyway. I never read Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's original Resurrection Man series in the '90s, but I like their solid, character-driven superhero work on Marvel books like Guardians of the Galaxy and Heroes for Hire, and the new Resurrection Man is in that same vein, setting up an interesting underdog hero, some menacing villains and a decent cliffhanger (although I'm a little concerned that it seems to connect to Justice League Dark, which I found muddled and unimpressive). Similarly unpretentious and fun were Paul Cornell's two books, Stormwatch and Demon Knights, both team books with oddball assortments of characters. The mystical themes of Demon Knights remind me a little of Cornell's underappreciated work on Marvel's Captain Britain and MI13, and Stormwatch does a nice job of balancing Warren Ellis' twisted sensibilities from his work on that series (and The Authority) with a more mainstream DC feel.

Justice League Dark didn't work for me, but two other Vertigo imports, Animal Man and Swamp Thing, definitely did. Swamp Thing is a little more in line with writer Scott Snyder's horror sensibilities (from American Vampire and Severed) than Batman is, and like Cornell in Stormwatch he nicely balances the character's off-kilter past with a firm grounding back in the DC superhero universe. Jeff Lemire does the same with Animal Man, much better than his goofy Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. There are some genuinely creepy moments in both books, thanks to great work from artists Yanick Paquette (on Swamp Thing) and Travel Foreman (on Animal Man). Along with Batwoman, those two are probably the books that impressed me most (although maybe I'll discover more as I work my way through the rest of the pile). I just hope that DC can keep these creative teams together long enough to tell complete stories, because that kind of turnover is the surest way to lose the renewed interest they've garnered from me.

No comments: