DC's Recent Number Ones

I haven't done this in a while, but that's because pressure on my schedule made it impossible to read any comics! Let's fix that with some articles discussing the new series that have come out in the past 3 or 4 months. Are any of them worth reading? Looking at DC Comics first, the company has gone through yet another round of cancellations and - quick! we need to bring the total back up to 52! - replacement series. It's also relaunched a number of books with new creative teams and directions; I'll be looking at the ones that made comic book news, at the very least. Following DC's usual trend, most of the new books are either Batman-related or about villains. Sigh. But I'll give them a fair shot.
Arkham Manor by Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal. If you haven't been following the Batman books, or at least Batman Eternal - and I have not - Bruce Wayne's lost the family fortune and Arkham Asylum's been blown up. Result: Wayne Manor has been taken over by the state and turned into a temporary replacement. When murders start happening inside the Manor, Batman goes undercover inside. It's Jail Break with all the "won't last long" that entails. The mansion as an environment is interesting in the temporal sense, with Batman's memories infiltrating the art, but yeah, the art... While I don't dislike the style per se, I'm wondering why flesh tones are all in chalk white or greenish gray, making everyone look like the Joker. I know Gotham is all night scenes and it must be hard to stay this side of anemic, but geez. But as with too many modern comics, the art just takes too much room, with far too many useless splash pages for the first issue to feel like any kind of story. Here was a chance for a cast of characters to be introduced and developed who could act as protagonists and antagonists, but it's just another Batman title, and he's a nihilistic, tooth-grinding, unengaging character in this. Why not call it a mini-series, which is what it really is?
Keep reading? Not enough meat on this bone. It's a grungy and ultimately short-term project.
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. People screamed bloody murder when Gail Simone quit Batgirl due to editorial interference, but by then, I wasn't reading the book anymore. One flip through Simone's last (#35) reveals the sneering superhero action I don't much want to read. But then the Batman Family's editorial stewardship changed for the better, and it looks like DC is finally allowing changes in tone even within a specific family of titles. That's great. I LOVE the Batgirl relaunch. This is a low-tech Batgirl, obviously impacted by Batman Inc.'s bankruptcy (or whatever is going on over there), and I like the new costume (I fairly hated her New52 duds). Set across the river from Gotham, on a university campus, Barbara gets a full new cast of fellow students (and the now homeless - in more ways than one - Black Canary) and an anime-ish art style that suits both the action and the girl-friendly character stuff. This is a post-Sherlock Batgirl too, the series highlighting her brains with stylish deductive sequences, and her concerns are strictly 21st-century, with dating site fraud and anime convention fanatics as part of the techno-savvy mix. And in complete contrast to a lot of the books featured in this article, you get a LOT of story for your hard-earned cash. Pages with 8 panels or more abound, and each of the two issue that have come out tells a complete story in addition to catering to several subplots.
Keep reading? Yes, awesome. You've got me, don't lose me with Batman crossover shenanigans now!
Deathstroke by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea. While I realize Slade made a splash in the Arrow show, that's still no excuse to bring him back again and again in the comics. This is his SECOND New52 series and I believe it's just as doomed to fail as the first. I mean, what's the story here? Each time we're introduced to a character, be they love interest or potable villain, they're savagely killed. And then maybe get back up, because everyone in this universe can apparently regenerate from getting the backs of their heads shot off through their screaming mouths. Who the hell cares then?! The only exception to the carnage is Wonder Woman's old mentor I Ching. Appearing in this turkey is still going to leave a taint. Only four pages aren't covered in blood, and if the last page is meant to intrigue us, well, it just looks like they're doing away with what's iconic about Slade's look, perhaps trying to inch him closer to the TV version. I don't know and I don't care. Tony Daniel's art is pretty and all, but he's got nothing new or interesting to offer readers story-wise.
Keep reading? Nope. But then, my interest in Deathstroke has always been less than zero.
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. You might be right in calling this book Batgirl's sister book, what with the same scripter, anime esthetic, and focus on young female characters. I don't think it's quite as charming or exciting though. The Academy has a certain Astro City vibe to it, showing us what it might be like to grow up in a creepy Gothic city like Gotham, where it's more than likely you have family members who worked for some madman or other. It's a world where the Bat-signal is on every night and the kids are sort of blasé about it. To my surprise, there's no obvious link with the kids we follow and well-known Batman Family heroes or villains. Best I can come up with is that the chemistry teacher appears to be Prof. Milo. Exactly. Think Mean Girls meets Veronica Mars, with the popular kids in some kind of Satanic cult, and you'll have it about right.
Keep reading? For the moment, but it'll need a couple issues more before I can decide. Is this more Locke & Key (yeah) or Harry Potter (bleh)?
Green Arrow by Andrew Kreisberg, Ben Sokolowski, Daniel Sampere and Jonathan Glapion. Losing Lemire and - let's face it, more importantly - Sorrentino may prove fatal to G.A. despite starring in a popular TV series. In fact, trying to bring it closer to the TV show in this relaunch hasn't done it any favors, except perhaps bringing in Felicity Smoak to replace the assistant Olie already had. She's a more interesting and recognizable character IF they can do her right. Not that the first issue of the relaunch (#35) really gives us much to go on. Frankly, I was bored with the story, which introduces mysteries I don't care about, and spends an inordinate amount of time on a visit from Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor paling around (ugh). But the art might have saved it. Sadly, the book's gone from one of the most sharply designed in DC's stable to ordinary superhero fare and Olie just a close shave away from looking exactly like Barry Allen. The series had momentum under Lemire. Now it's just running in place redundantly trying to be Arrow.
Keep reading? There's a panel in the book showing Luthor yawning. It sums up my reaction and explains why I'm dropping the title.
Klarion by Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy. I loved Ann Nocenti's weird run on Daredevil, but I can't bring myself to connect to anything she's done since then, much less her work on the New52. Klarion the Witch-Teen (DC and Marvel should do a new Amalgam series and merge him with Loki) is another villain book, using an unfamiliar version of the character, set in an unfamiliar version of the Multiverse. Again, I feel completely disconnected from it. McCarthy does his best to create interesting technomagical worlds and unusual layouts, but there's absolutely no point of convergence between Klarion's universe and the New52. I feel strange for complaining about this, because I'd rather each title I read be in its own little section of the shared universe, away from crossover events, but in this case, it does nothing for me. It's not the world; it's the character. We're just thrown into the middle of things with no real explanation or background - Teekl is a dead creature in a jar, and so on - and there's no real hook to keep me interested.
Keep reading? No, but I could see this working for some readers. It has potential. I, however, didn't make it to the second issue, which is already out.
Lobo by Cullen Bunn, Reilly Brown and Nelson Decastro. You'd think it would be worth killing the old Lobo and introducing a new, Twilight model to actually make the character something new with actual story potential, divorcing him from his roots as a parody of 90s comics excess. You'd think. Instead, Lobo is a completely pointless exercise in beheading action. I don't even understand where the story is supposed to take place. Lobo is sent to kill the 8 deadliest assassins in the universe (so that's your first 8 issues then), the first of which appears to live on Earth (give or take miscolored clouds that look like lakes), but then it's all aliens and stuff. So is it NOT Earth? Is it Miri's Earth? Why is this series working with an original Star Trek budget?! The only interesting couple of pages are Lobo's dreams of Czarnia, in soft pencil, where he's some kind of romantic figure. Really not enough of that to warrant my even peeking at the second issue.
Keep reading? Definitely not. I dare say this was the most pointless Lobo comic I've ever read.
Trinity of Sin by J.M. DeMatteis, Yvel Guichet and Jason Gorder. Is it a new series, or really just a continuation of Phantom Stranger and Pandora, now collapsed into the Question's story? Feels like the latter, with each of the Trinity going through similar trouble, but not meeting until the end. Meanwhile, Siskoid doesn't know what to make of it because he wasn't reading either series before. I haven't been a fan of DeMatteis' writing for a while now, mostly because his prose is so pretentious and plodding. And I'm certainly not on board with the Stranger being Judas Iscariot. That just seems tasteless. Images range from the cool (the Swamp Thing equivalent of a tsunami), to slightly off-putting (Phantom Stranger holding a naked boy in his arms) to annoying (the artist's obsession with people and creatures being impaled). Ultimately, has this made me a fan of the Trinity of Sin? It has not.
Keep reading? No. So no change for me.
Wonder Woman by Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend. Brian Azzarello's WW story lasted too long, we can agree on that, but having recently read his final issue (#35), it ends with a beautiful statement about who Wonder Woman is, attacking directly the notion of her as a weak and unwritable character is she's at all interested in mercy, love and/or submission. It should have acted as a an essay on how to go forward with Diana. It did not. We all had a good eye-roll over David Finch's comments about Wonder Woman not being "a feminist exactly", and the appointment of his wife as writer, with her few T&A comics credits, didn't inspire confidence, but how did it actually turn out? Like the train wreck we thought it would, actually. In the story, we have Wonder Woman taking a shower for a page and a half, hanging with the Justice League so she can play second fiddle to the guys, and fighting Swamp Thing without provocation like the thoughtless fist she's now become (until the much smarter guys point out her mistake, naturally). If plotting isn't Meredith Finch's strength, then maybe scripting is? Well, Twitter had a good long chuckle at Diana's "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!" 'nuff said. As for the art, I still struggle to understand why Finch is a star. His expressions are ugly (one Amazon looks like Gollum, for example), his Wonder Woman has spindly arms and looks tiny (from the nose, I'd say he's basing her on Sarah Michelle Gellar), and his splash pages make the story a short read indeed. But even if he starts missing deadlines (that's his thing), it's not like anyone can really salvage his better half's scripts.
Keep reading? NOOOOOOOO. We went from a well-respected writer, an awesome artist (on about half the issues) and a unique take on the character's world to a virtual unknown, a star artist with delusions of quality, cookie-cutter superhero action, and a Wonder Woman that better not be the template for what the movies end up doing with her. Just awful.

So a very poor showing from DC. The Batman Family of books are taking chances and a couple do pay off, but when trying to conform to more popular media (GA, WW), they fail abysmally, and those new villain books are pointless dreck. But that's my opinion, what's yours? In a few days, I'll do the same for Marvel's most recent #1s, don't fret.


snell said...

I will express one misgiving on the Batgirl relaunch. In the first issue, Barbara gets so drunk at a party that in the morning, she can't remember which boy she made out with. Icky, and symbolic of how this approach is more of a reboot than a relaunch--they've effectively de-aged, de-matured and de-experienced the character so much that she's not really the same Barbara Gordon anymore. This approach would have worked better (for me) if it had been a different character entirely, or if they had tried it at the beginning of the nu52.

Siskoid said...

And I say, better late than never. I'm willing to forget the last three years ever happened if you are. ;-)

Jayunderscorezero said...

Very much agree with your take on nuBatgirl. Love it! Recommending it to everyone I know! And like you say, any issues work out ok if you elect to ignore the previous issues that I wasn't reading anyway.

I was really disappointed with Gotham Academy. I can't work out what the 'hook' that's supposed to keep me reading is. And yeah, not touching Finch-Wonder Woman with a ten foot pole.

Anonymous said...

I share snell's misgivings about suddenly reversing a character. That said, I'm always keen for anything that distances us from "The Killing Joke". Look DC, you've got Superboy Punching reality every couple years, or Barry Allen Flushing and Pointing the universe; you think you could just retcon it such that the Joker crippled Barbara in the course of superheroic duties, and didn't go into rapey territory? Then we'd be good.

But if you can't do that, then anything that makes us forget "The Killing Joke" altogether works too. Kind of like Captain Marvel over at Marvel, and how they've just quietly forgotten that story where she was raped by the kid she gave birth to and then moved to another dimension with him. Let's Superboy Punch that out of history too.

Anonymous said...

Also, about Green Arrow. There was a theme going on in Lemire's run that I didn't realize was a theme until the end, and that is, Green Arrow isn't a very good superhero. He's a man who does his best, but when you get right down to it, on his best day he breaks into the B List.

Ollie was outclassed by his competition at the beginning of Lemire's run, which I was fine with -- it looked to be a standard Goku thing, where the hero starts out completely overwhelmed but eventually grows to dominate them all. Except that didn't really happen; in fact two of his allies proved to be better archers than him.

But I don't really mind, because it made for an interesting voice for the comic. I hope the new team finds a voice as well; while I will read just about any Green Arrow comic no matter what (exception: Nocenti's run was bad enough to make even me give up), the new team needs to readers a reason to care. Bringing the comic in line with the TV is probably a good move, but the comic itself needs to be good too.

(Side note: I'm sorry, Lemire, but I gave up on Justice League United. I so wanted to get behind it, but it simply hasn't gelled into anything. I don't feel like there's any direction to the comic, and the characters have no chemistry together. And now there's a crossover with the LSH because they're trying to kill a space baby to prevent a future catastrophe? Ye gods.)

CalvinPitt said...

I picked up Klarion, because I've enjoyed what I've read of Nocenti's DC work, and yeah, I'm going to keep buying it (though it'll probably get canceled in 8 issues).

The book's seeming lack of connection to the nu52 is a selling point, as you noted. I regard 90% of the nu52 as a dumpster fire, the less connection this book has with it the better. I would rather Nocenti was free to do whatever she wants, and in McCarthy she finally gets a good artist (Alex Sanchez was my major problem with Katana, and Tolibao and J.H. Williams really hamstrung Green Arrow, especially Tolibao. Just terrible).

Plus, I don't have any connection or fondness for Klarion (outside that one time he teamed up with Steph Batgirl), so I'm down for whatever. I get her style can be off-putting, but I feel like her books are always about something, that it won't just be pointless meandering, and that interests me.


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