New 52: Week 1 Batch 2

The second half of this week's new DCU books contains a fair number of obscure, quirky and non-superhero books, and to me, THIS is where the New 52 experiment will succeed or fail. It's one thing to revamp big franchises that are likely to benefit from name recognition, but if DC really wants to attract new readers, it's got to put out (and ACTUALLY MARKET) books that appeal to readers who don't really care for the superhero genre. Think Sandman in the late 80s and early 90s and how it brought in a large number of new (and female!) readers. I'm still of the opinion that to get new readers, you need to stop it with the low-value, relatively high-priced monthly rags already, but perhaps the e-format will do the job. The question now is, are the "alternative" any good, and can they be embraced by "alternative" audiences?

Animal Man #1
Not surprisingly, Jeff Lemire knows how to do both realistic family drama and creepy fantasy-horror AND do them well. His Animal Man has a weird, indy feel that seems to stand at the nexus of what Morrison, Milligan, Veitch and Delano did with the character previously, drawing on the best elements of each. Travel Foreman's art is expressive and quirky, perfect for that contrast of the every day and surreal horror imagery. He is weakest with the pure superhero pin-up shots, but Buddy Baker's new costume is pretty terrible and generic, so it'd probably be weak even if Foreman was as comfortable with superheroes as he is with everything else. Thankfully, that's not really the main focus of the series, but rather the rise of an ancient power in the Earth's morphogenic field, and Buddy's daughter Maxine's dark, developing powers. To me though, half the attracting to Animal Man is in how his powers are used. Good news! Lemire is awesome at that. When Buddy took cats' super-napping ability to fall asleep quickly, I surrendered my heart to the book immediately.
Don't call it a reboot: Looks like Buddy was never a member of the Justice League. It's possible past Maxine stuff from the Vertigo days has been expunged as well.
Upgrade? This is the best Animal Man stuff since Morrison's.
Will read? Definitely. This is right up my alley.
Recommended? Lemire does the right thing by introducing us to Animal Man in a faux-magazine interview on the first page. Easy to get into. If you like horror, you will like this. If you have a family, you will like this. If you like indy films, music or art, you will like this. If you like good comics, you will like this.

Batwing #1
"Africa's Batman" seems like the sort of idea that wouldn't support more than a mini-series, but the potential demonstrated in the first issue makes me wish it survives a bit longer than that. I found the character of Batwing immediately likable, especially his relationship with police colleague Kia Okuku, a rare honest officer he's trying to keep honest. The efficiently introduced supporting cast also includes Matu Ba, an Alfred figure that used to work for a child rescue organization. There's enough here for me to resent Batman's guest-appearance, even if I respect the idea that a series like this needs a but of midwifery (but if you're not going to announce it on the cover...). Writer Judd Winick also makes good use of the African continent, its politics and the realities of the Third Wold, while also injecting a back history that includes African superheroes. The art by Ben Oliver has a photo-real painterly style that reminds me of Invincible Iron Man's Salvador Larroca, at least as good with action beats, though better at representing facial expressions. The unmotivated angled panels are an unfortunate tic of his (Alpha Flight 0.1 was the same), so he has some work to do as far as composition goes, but this is a fairly good-looking comic with a slick movie feel.
Don't call it a reboot: Set up in Batman Inc., there hasn't really been time for him to develop anything a writer would want to reboot.
Upgrade? Didn't have a series before.
Will read? It's a good start. I like the setting and the characters introduced. I will keep reading for now.
Recommended? It's not perfect, but I think Batman fans (a group that includes a lot of non-comics readers) looking for something a little different, or readers who are interested in African politics, could find their due here. Though if you're the latter, you're better off looking for the latest Unknown Soldier trade collections.

Green Arrow #1
J.T. Krul was writing it before, and he's writing it again. Any change? Well, this Green Arrow seems to come with a bit less baggage and fewer chin hairs, and in exchange moves to Seattle (more DC books seem to take place in real world cities, trading away something that was unique about the DCU for... what?), where Queen Industries becomes an Apple analog (get your Q-pad now!). Oliver has some computer experts working for him behind the scenes which makes me wonder if a lot of books will spawn their own versions of Oracle now that she's become Batgirl again. I find nothing objectionable about the comic - which isn't a guarantee with Krul - and I've always enjoyed Dan Jurgens clean superhero style, but it's all rather ordinary. I'm intrigued by Green Arrow operating on the international stage (here in Europe), but the bunch of super-powered villains introduced evoke something out of X-Men, where characters are basically just their powers (drug-induced rather than genetic). I certainly don't want the new DCU to get mired in the mud of past continuity, foregoing new adversaries in favor of yet another re-invention(TM), but no one sticks out here, giving the whole thing the feeling of a generic archer superhero book you might have seen from Malibu, Image or Dark Horse in the early 90s.
Don't call it a reboot: I don't know how much of past GA continuity has been wiped, mostly because I wasn't reading the previous series, but the status quo has certainly changed.
Upgrade? Like I said, can't be sure. The art one the previous series wasn't bad either, so Even Steven, I guess.
Will read? I might check out a few more issues, but unless it shows a willingness to be more than standard superhero fare, I'm gonna get off the bus pretty early.
Recommended? The Smallville look might attract new media-conscious readers, but I see nothing spectacular enough to hook them for good. Not one to hand out for free in school yards to get them while they're young.

Hawk & Dove #1
I feel bad for writer Sterling Gates. I liked his Supergirl work, and here his script shows promise, but he's been saddled with Rob Liefeld whose art has little redeeming value. Somehow, the opening action sequence manages to be dynamic, perhaps in part because colorist Matt Yackey has attempted to give the often blank backgrounds some depth. The sequence, while exciting, doesn't bear close (or even mid-distance) scrutiny, and the talking heads in the back half of the book are even weaker. Gates laces in some soap opera threads, like a connection between Dove and her predecessor and Hawk's father, but we don't really get to the villain in the first issue. Is it me or have the New DC 52 to date done a poor job of introducing their respective threats? Darkseid is behind the scenes in Justice League. The JLI and Hawk&Dove fight minions controlled by God knows who. There are a number of last page antagonists (here and in JLI, and the Dollmaker, and Midnighter, and even Superman himself). Can't say there's much of a "done-in-one" approach at the New DC.
Don't call it a reboot: Looks like maybe Dawn has only recently been turned into Dove, nullifying the previous H&D series, but it's hard to say. The action does pick up from Brightest Day, with Dove and Deadman as lovers. Too bad, because Boston Brand's appearance in the book muddles the basic premise and makes it harder for non-comics fans to get into it.
Upgrade? No. I wasn't really reading Birds of Prey where H&D were appearing, but you won't get me to say being drawn by Liefeld is anything but a downgrade.
Will read? Keeping an eye on it because of professional curiosity, but ultimately waiting for Liefeld to get behind on his art and leave the book in better hands.
Recommended? I just can't. I wish nothing but the best for Sterling Gates, but I can't show a Liefeld comic to someone except to laugh at it, and that's not gonna grow the comics fan base.

Men of War #1
The first true "genre book" on tap, Men of War could conceivably attract the attention of soldiers here and abroad, an important segment of the fan base since WWII. The main story, by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick follows the exploits of Sgt. Rock's grandson, Joseph Rock, on the cusp of becoming a Sergent himself. He's hard and nails and doesn't want the leadership position he's a natural for. Instead of any specific war, this Rock serves in a special ops unit and could conceivably see action all over the world. To tell you the truth, I was a little ambivalent after the first issue. I found the action a little confusing and didn't care for the few characters Brandon gave a sort of personality to. I'm also quite ambivalent about unknown superhumans crashing this military story. The role of the soldier in a superhero world definitely has potential, but it gets us away from the genre and betrays the promise of true variety in the line. The book loses even more points with its Navy SEALS back-up by Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade, the first third of a story riddled with more clichés than bullet holes, with characters that are essentially there only for info-dumps and slinging military jargon around. Waste of a good artist, really.
Don't call it a reboot: It's not.
Upgrade? The only war comics of recent years have been at Vertigo, and they've mostly been good (I'm including DMZ in the mix). Men of War doesn't reach
Will read? I'm curious as to how they plan to integrate the military into superheroics, but I'm afraid I probably won't stick around for long.
Recommended? Superheroes/military comics is NOT chocolate/peanut butter, at least not in this case. Fans of either will find the book wanting.

O.M.A.C. #1
Keith Giffen is the worthy inheritor of Jack Kirby's artistic tradition, but in OMAC he really goes for the tribute (just look at characters' mouths, for example) without losing his own style. It's not just the art or high-action sensibility, but Giffen and DiDio also draft in Cadmus and its cast of characters, adding build-a-friends to the usual DNAliens, merging the future of the original OMAC series with present-day DCU trappings. OMAC isn't Buddy Blank, but Kevin Koh, a man turned into a nearly-mindless One Man Army Corps by the orbiting Brother Eye (who reads like Skeets gone bad). He'll take your life over, but also take messages from your girlfriend. Yeah, it's got the kind of humor Giffen is known for. Is DiDio mostly scripting? In any case, a fine collaboration, this weird, action-packed SF story. I WILL have to get used to OMAC's tropical fish fin, which I currently HATE. I'm actually hoping OMAC's transformations will vary, as will the amount of control Kevin will have over the "creature".
Don't call it a reboot: Cadmus now has an above-ground presence, and elements from OMAC's world are 'ported in as well.
Upgrade? Considering the last OMAC iteration was the overused, sleeper agents built by Batman (of all people), yes, this is a massive upgrade of the concept.
Will read? I wasn't particularly enthusiastic when it was announced, but call me a convert!
Recommended? I do recommend it, though I fear it may be too strange for the casual reader, both in art and story. Might be a good one to hand over to a fan of Kirby's who's dropped out of comics since the 70s though. An open-minded SF fan would also enjoy the concepts.

Static Shock #1
Cards on table here - I've never read any Static comics or even seen the cartoon show. So I'm coming to this as fresh as the "new readers" DC wants to attract. Static seems to be the New DCU's answer to Spider-Man, a teen hero with electrical powers and cutting edge technology, quick with the humorous banter, and the potential for personal problems. He's got a dad who won't let him get his license, sisters who pick on him, and a job at a hardware store where everyone thinks he's a juvenile delinquent being given a second chance (a neat "secret identity" thing, what with his secret HQ under that very store). Another hero removed from a fictional city, Static has left Dakota behind for New York. His mentor is Milestone Comics' first hero, Hardware, who acts as a combination of Alfred, the movie Lucius Fox, and Oracle, all from a distance. Hardware is the only Milestone comic I read for any length of time, so I'm glad to see him here. Writers Scott McDaniel and John Rozum pack a lot into the issue, including connections to STAR Labs and a number of villains with a hidden agenda, and McDaniel's art is correspondingly more detailed (the work of his inkers?), though his rough cartoonishness still prevails. Overall, a fun and likable effort, the science-based powers coming off as sort of educational in a Flash Fact way.
Don't call it a reboot: Milestone experts may be able to tell.
Upgrade? Static has appeared in the Teen Titans since Milestone was imported, but those comics had nothing but a bad reputation. I'm gonna say getting a solo series trumps that.
Will read? Count me in for the foreseeable future.
Recommended? I can safely recommend this book for readers looking for fairly light-hearted teen adventure, in particular if they liked the animated series or, indeed, if they're Spider-Man fans. The big question for me will be whether the line can support both Static Shock and Blue Beetle, which share many similarities.

Of these seven series, there are two I find very exciting, two I find more than competent, and three I wouldn't recommend. +4 series I like better than Justice League #1, for a total of 10, if you're counting. But what did YOU think? Especially if you're not usually a comic book reader (off-chance?).


Jayunderscorezero said...

I'm not a new comics reader in any way, but I completely agree with you on Animal Man and Batwing (the only two I read from this batch of your reviews). I'll definitely keep picking up the former and am just curious enough about the latter.

Siskoid said...

Animal Man is my favorite new book to date, and yes that includes Action Comics and Batgirl, which would round out my top 3.

But still 38 books to go...

Anonymous said...

I am a traditional Green Arrow consumer: give me a Green Arrow comic and I will buy it. (Exception: Mike Grell's run. Turning Ollie into a callous murderer might have been awesome in a pre-90s 90s way, but it ain't Green Arrow.) So I'll probably keep buying, but there's nothing thus far that really grabs me.

Wendy and Marvin in the control room (I'll be assed if I can remember their names) actually detract from the "Robin Hood" vibe that has sustained the character so far: I am fine if Ollie leads a band of Merry Men, but not if he's got a command center that rivals Batman's or Bibleman's setup. As a general rule of writing Green Aerrow, when he gets in over his head -- which is always -- he gets out of it through derring-do and refusing to give up. A control room that can feed him vital information feels like a cheat.

I don't mind that Ollie's got an arrowsmith, though, and it's a strong touch that it's someone who abhors violence. Also, I like Ollie's new bow, in a way that is more fanboyish than I am comfortable with.

Marvel Comics trivia: the way Hawkeye always has the right arrow for the job is, those pouches on his costume contain all his many types of arrowheads. He keeps headless arrows in his quiver, so when he needs a certain arrow, he grabs the desired arrowhead, pops it onto an arrow, and fires. It's a good idea and I wouldn't be disappointed if DC accidentally came up with the same thing.

Siskoid said...

To be fair, the original concept for Green Arrow had him copying all of Batman's trappings. I want to see the Arrowcar again! ;-)

Krul seems to have built him up from super-archer representations in the media: Smallville, Brave & the Bold and the movies' Hawkeye. That's the vibe I'm getting anyway.

Has GA ever really had a band of Merry Men? I'd love to see that for an arc or longer.

Matthew Turnage said...

The only two from this batch I read were Green Arrow and OMAC.

I thought Green Arrow was a lot of fun. As you say, pretty standard super-hero fare. I wouldn't want too much of that in this new 52, but at least one book in the traditional mold makes this crusty old comics reader happy. Plus, I've always been a fan of the Jurgens / Perez combination on art. I hope Perez sticks around at least long enough to match the 15 or so issues of Teen Titans they did a decade and a half ago.

OMAC was a lot better than I expected. In fact, it's my second favorite (behind Action) of the 7 books I've read so far. I'm a big fan of Giffen, but I was worried that Didio might drag the book down, based on the two issues of Outsiders I read from his run. Maybe he just needs a really strong co-writer, as I remember the Superboy issues he wrote with Jimmy Palmiotti were fairly enjoyable. I'm definitely sticking with this one for a while.

Anonymous said...

Has GA ever really had a band of Merry Men? I'd love to see that for an arc or longer.

In Kevin Smith's run and then in Winick's run, it was Ollie, Dinah, Connor, Mia, and even a little bit of Roy. I'm considering the latter four to be metaphorical "Merry Men".

The GA title was also a powerful illustration of how originals and legacies and legacies-of-legacies can coexist synergistically. One of my favorite Winick issues consisted of Roy and Connor just hanging out one evening, visiting a strip club, a book store, and a Qwickie Mart. They bonded, they compared and contrasted through both words and actions, they discussed Ollie.

Siskoid said...

My own example of legacy synergy would be Mark Waid's run on the Flash.

F. Douglas Wall said...

I am amazed that Rob Leifeld gets work anymore, given his bad reputation among comics fans. Especially amazed that DC let him in on their biggest marketing push of the decade. Though it might be that they were in a hurry to get all 52 #1's in a timely manner and gave him one of the books with the shortest life expectancy. (no offense, H&D)

Siskoid said...

Given that his Image pal Jim Lee is one of the architects, and that other Image artists are getting work in the New 52, it's not THAT surprising.

It is, however, OUTRAGEOUS.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Rob Liefeld sells. And (before he gets bored and wanders off) he hits deadlines. And he likes comics and is generally nice according to people who've met him outside of the law courts.

I don't know anyone who likes his work, but someone out there must.

Siskoid said...

That's as maybe. I'm sure he's as personable as the next guy in person, but his public persona is one I can't possibly get behind. I've got his slagging off Stan Lee on twitter recently as one of the "Stupidest Moves of the Geekaverse" for my annual Siskoid awards:

So he gets no good will from me, sorry.

Jeremy Patrick said...

I love the reviews, but I now have to label you a fanboy as it appears you plan to keep buying at a few more issues of every single title DC is now putting out :)

Siskoid said...

Was that even in question? ;-)

Although if I ever say "keep an eye on it", it means a quick flip-through at the store to see if it's getting better.

And I'm pretty sure the buck will stop at, say, Grifter or Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Austin Gorton said...

Bummed that Men of War isn't so great; I really want to try and support the more offbeat/alternative series, but not if they're going to be poorly done.

I'm also more interested in Static Shock than I was before reading your review, though I'm already down for Blue Beetle, so I might have to wait for the trade or try the online (month late) version.

Maki P said...

Regarding Hawk & Dove I must comment that I read an interview about that book a couple of months ago, and Sterling claimed to be a fan of Leifeld. It goes without saying that my interest for that series died in that moment

Siskoid said...

I never know how to take such comments. I mean, is Gates REALLY a Liefeld fan? Does he mean he WAS one when he was a teenager? Does he mean he still is? Or a fan of the guy as a friend and collaborator? Or is it simply what you say when your bosses assign you an artist. You're stuck with it whether you like it or not (especially since one of those bosses is Liefled friend Jim Lee), and you can't go badmouthing your collaborator and project.

Not until much later when the dust settles, anyway.


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