Friday, February 17, 2012

DC Comics - 6 Months Later: Cherry picking the New52

It’s Friday folks; so let’s talk comics shall we?

Chris and I have had many, many discussions about the DC New 52. We discussed it before it happened, after it happened, and since it happened. I was initially impressed that they were being brave enough to relaunch 52 titles from #1, but after the shine wore off I actually began to wonder how hard the whole thing might fall on its face. As the titles launched in September following the FLASHPOINT event, I recall actually saying to Chris that the New 52 was bound to fail and we’d go back to classic numbering and stories soon enough.

Well, we are nearly 6 full months on from that now, and I’m glad to see that the New 52 hasn’t failed. In fact, it has flourished. They company has sorted out which titles weren’t working and will cancel them, and have even announced a few more new titles earmarked for spring launches. So Chris and I are going to post today about what we are reading and what you should be reading, and a bit about why.

BATMAN – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
This one came at me like a freight train. I picked it up late, and read from issue 3 onwards. The story is compelling, clever and is exploring a notion I don’t think has been done before. It’s almost a deconstructing of Batman, and so far it includes absolutely none of the typical Batman gallery of rogues. Scott Snyder's writing comes across throughout as utterly amazing. At times it is heartbreaking, at others it is brutal, and at others it can be triumphant, but it never loses what Batman IS. Snyder is definitely a voice/force to be reckoned with in the New 52. Capullo’s art is gorgeous and brutal at the same time and never fails to impress. The notion of attempting to make the layout of the panels interesting (as well as the story) is something that both FLASH and BATWOMAN are also achieving. Capullo is doing the same and this is most evident in issue #5. There is also an attention to the side characters that I wasn't expecting, and is as compelling as the main Bats story. If I had to recommend only one of the New 52, it would be BATMAN.

FLASH – Francis Manpul & Brian Buccelletto
FLASH is a title I only got into as a result of the Flashpoint event, and I really began to enjoy the character, so to have the relaunch focus on an early Flash was really exciting to me. Manapul’s pencils are stunning, and as I said above his approach to the panels is nothing short of unique and phenomenal. The first arc is quite an interesting one and you won’t find yourself bored. The narrative is told in such a way that accompanies the art and panels in a weave that is quite perfect. Manapul is pure visual storyteller, and the pages of FLASH are probably the best that DC puts out currently. This book is a revelation!

SUPERGIRL – Michael Green & Mike Johnson

Wow, this one came out of left field for me. I had heard whispers of SUPERGIRL being good after the re-launch. They’d given Kara Zor-El back her dignity (she no longer sports a mini-skirt and half-top thank the gods!) with a new costume that actually covers more skin than it reveals, and a completely new take on her origin. The story starts with Kara waking up on earth not knowing where she is, and continues as she travels back home to destroyed Krypton, but finds that her home of Argo City survived (thanks to her father), on a chunk of asteroid. Things rocket off from there as Kara begins to have to deal with the Worldkillers who were created in Krypton’s antiquity and are searching for their genesis. For me the story sucked me RIGHT in from page one. The lost girl, who instead of bemoaning it takes matters into her own hands and goes to get to the bottom of things is a compelling take. There is a beat of story, a moment, in the 6th issue where Kara is on Argo City and is essentially impaled through a piece of wall with a huge sword. The spirit of her dead father that exists only in her mind gives her the strength to remove it (since she is so far from earth’s yellow sun and has little power). That floored me. It was perfectly executed in art and writing. I am SO glad that after all this time Kara has been given back her dignity. After years of watching her parade around in her mini-skirt and half top so pervy guys had something to look at, I find it utterly refreshing to see her get to look, and act like a real superhero again…worthy of the House of El.

I took five minutes yesterday to sit down and peruse through all the comic titles I’m currently collecting. When I blew past 30 I knew that I had a problem. That’s one of the problems with digital comics isn’t it? When I come home from my LCS with a bag bursting to the seams with my weekly haul I’ve got a very noticeable visual and physical reminder that maybe I should cut back a little. (Kinda like the guy who tries to do up his pants after spending a week sampling the all you can eat option at the local buffet.) But with digital comics a couple stabs of your finger and you can buy everything on sale that week and not realize you’ve overindulged until the bill has come in at the end of the month. It says a lot about the quality of the nu52 that when I tried to pare away the lesser lights I found it exceedingly difficult to make the tough calls. On the whole, DC has done an admirable job in putting out high quality books on a consistent, timely basis. Sure there have been some missteps and some of the books have stumbled, but I don’t think anyone seriously expected every book was going to be around for the long haul.

With that in mind, here are my recommendations for what you should be reading in the nu52.

AQUAMAN by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
In recent years it’s been a bit of a comic meme to dismiss Aquaman as nothing more than a guy who talks to fishes. To be honest, I’ve never really understood why he was an object of so much snark and derision. Because, with some rare exceptions, I’ve found something to enjoy about nearly every incarnation of Aquaman (and there have been a lot) in recent years.

And when no less than Geoff Johns, DC’s Chief Creative Officer, takes it onto himself to reinvigorate a character as part of the nu52 you know you’ve got yourself some pretty fertile ground in which to work. Johns has cemented his career in reviving some of DC’s failing flagship characters including Green Lantern and Flash. For Pete’s sake the guy made Booster Gold relevant again, a JLI throwback who’d been a legitimate laughing stock for nearly his entire existence.

Anyway, with only six issues under his belt it’s far too early for Johns to reveal the scope of what he has planned for Aquaman, but there have been enough dropped hints to fire up my imagination nonethelss. In the meantime Johns has done to Aquaman what he does best in all his character makeovers, stripped him down to his essential traits, jettisoned some of the baggage he’s picked up in recent years and created a rich backstory in which to set new tales. Backed by his BLACKEST NIGHT partner, the incredibly gifted Ivan Reis, AQUAMN is a bit of a sleeper hit for me. It’s doing everything right so far but it doesn’t seem to have garnered the fan reaction that say SWAMP THING or ANIMAL MAN have. Maybe it’s because we expect a higher calibre of work from Johns while ST and AM were legitimate surprises.

BATMAN AND ROBIN by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
If Batman is your thing then you’ll find a seemingly endless panoply of flavours in the nu52 to satisfy your cravings. With so many Bat-offerings the casual reader might not want to venture to far of the beaten path for fear of losing their way. Well, gentle snowflakes, let me point you in the direction of BATMAN AND ROBIN. Written by the talented Peter Tomasi and drawn beautifully by Pat Gleason BAR isn’t just another ‘Batman solves crimes because he is smart and punches bad guys in the face’ book, this is a comic that thrives on examining the father\son dynamic of Bruce Wayne and his son Damian. (If a book about a familial relationships sounds boring to you why don’t you fight crime with one of your parents for a year or two and then come back to me with what you’ve learnt.)

We’ve all seen the Batman and Robin back and forth in the comics before. But Damian is still such a new character that his presence can’t help but add a new dimension to the makeup of both individuals. Unlike previous Robins, who tend to die messily when they push back against Batman or otherwise get their crimefighting licence revoked, Damian is Bruce’s actual pre-teen son and kicking him to the curb isn’t really an option if he starts to mouth off a little. Instead of blindly following Batman he questions, probes, resists and adds new depth to a legacy character who had seemingly done it all.

BATWOMAN by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
There is no more beautiful looking comic book currently being published than BATWOMAN. artist and co-writer J.H. Williams III simply blows his competition out of the water.

Frequently choosing to tell the story in elaborate double page spreads, each issue is a gorgeous work of art and sets a new standard when it comes to the craft of sequential storytelling. It’s not enough to read an issue once. The detail and layout demand repeated readings, with each subsequent consumption harvesting a greater appreciation of the finished product in the heart of the reader.

My only complaint is that the frequent double page layouts makes for cramped reading on the smaller iPad screen. But if publishers were ever looking for a way to keep enticing readers to purchase physical copies this is the way to do it. It’s also a little disappointing that Williams is alternating art duties between story arcs with Amy Reeder. It’s not that Reeder is a bad artist, far from it, it’s just that Williams is so good that he can’t help but make anyone who follows him seem flat by comparison. It’s kind of like putting the warm up act on after the headliner, as good as they are you paid your hard earned dineros to see the big names.

FLASH by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccelletto
What can I say about FLASH that Scott hasn’t already alluded too? Part of DC’s push to entice big name artists onto their books by getting them to write as well, FLASH proves that, when done right, this is a creative model that has serious legs. I’ve always enjoyed Manapul’s work, but by giving him input into the creative process at the earliest stages he’s showing me untapped depths that I had never suspected. FLASH is a textbook example of how the seamless integration between story and art can elevate the comics beyond rote dialogue and chunky boxes.

It’s not all sunshine and laser swords though, sometimes the dialogue can be a little bit clunky and not all the story beats work perfectly. But those are problems that can be fixed with time and experience. And believe you me, if Manapul and Buccelletto keep putting out a finished product like this, I don’t see getting more work under their collective belts to be a problem.

1 comment:

  1. A great post (I'm in the process of writing my own, but it won't be ready for a little while longer). We seem to have liked a lot of similar titles, too.

    For me, all the Batman titles have been great - a lot darker than I was expecting, but also with some really touching moments (there's one early in Red Hood & The Outlaws, in particular). But Batwoman is probably the stand-out in that lot - Williams's artwork is superb! If you haven't tried Elegy, I strongly recommend it (it forms an intro of sorts to this series).

    I've liked a fair few of the Edge and Dark series, too (Swamp Thing, Grifter, Resurrection Man, JL Dark, Suicide Squad, All-Star Western, and a couple others). I was also pleasantly surprised by Superman and Action Comics.

    Of the 27 I've tried, there weren't too many real disappointments, though I couldn't get on with Black Hawks, Green Arrow or Men of War. This has made it very difficult to cull any from my buy pile.



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