DC Comics' New 52 Titles: The Verdict
September 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
It’s not really my usual practice to review many regular, floppy comic books — I would do this on a very select basis when I was comics reviewer at Worcester Magazine, but I more often opt for full graphic novels or collections. This is for various reasons, not the least of which is my interest in them – or lack of. But when piles of DC Comics’ New 52 titles started to show up on my doorstep – review copies graciously provided to me by DC – I felt the need to do something in return, so have been tweeting mini reviews of the titles. This may be like looking a gift horse in the mouth for DC, because I can’t say I’ve been especially delighted or even kind about most of it.
It did occur to me, though, that because of the girth of titles, this was an opportunity for an overview of certain constants I began to notice and thought I would jot these down.
To begin with, I’ve divided up the titles into four groups that are pretty self-explanatory, but I will add these comments to the headers I’ve given the groups. “Have Potential” means I liked it, but it needs more than this issue to sell me on it. “Acceptable Time Wasters” is mostly reserved for unadventurous but inoffensive and readable books – standard fare, with various degrees of good and bad lumped in there. “Total Snoozers” might be boring or bad or tiresome – Batman titles had a bad habit of ending up in this category. “Loathsome” goes beyond bad, where the very concept and execution point to something totally offensive. Each title is followed with the original Twitter comment.
All Star Western “Jonah Hex is good – as ever – but Dr. Arkham in 19th Century Gotham City deserves his own series.”
Aquaman “Delightful! I didn’t know they made these sorts of superhero comics anymore!”
DC Universe Presents: Deadman “Reliable Deadman with solid supernatural superhero angst. Mature in the right sense of the word.”
Demon Knights “Fun!”
The Flash “Barry Allen is back! This is a fun reboot!”
Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE “Now THIS is a comic book! With the Creature Commandos! Jeff Lemire saves the day! More like this.”
Justice League Dark “Cancel the other JL titles and just run this one – it’s different and well-realized and fun.”
Storm Watch “The one I liked”
Animal Man “At least the last panel is intriguing”
Batwing “good premise, interesting art, an African superhero in Africa has promise for something different, at least.”
Batwoman “Much better than anything Batman’s in. I wish Batman would go away. This has more potential.”
Grifter “Okay you have my attention now go somewhere with this, might be cool”
Hawkman “Fun superheroics and superdramatics- actually feels like a bit of a throwback to the Golden Age version of the character”
I, Vampire “More conversation disguised as story but at least offers some intrigue as a prologue. Art is moody.”
Resurrection Man “That’s interesting in a way. I guess. Makes me appreciate Animal Man more, though, which was actually gentle.”
Swamp Thing “Nice if unimportant”
Acceptable Time Wasters:
Action Comics “Is this a nod to Smallville or something? Never did watch that show.”
Captain Atom “Old fashioned fun. Superhero vs volcano! I can’t really insult it.”
Green Lantern “Fine standard GL story.”
Green Lantern Corps “A reasonable GL effort, nothing special, fits like a reliable old t-shirt with stains you can ignore.”
Green Lantern New Guardians “More intriguing than I expected when I opened it up but bided its time too much.”
Justice League “a conversation masquerading as a story”
Legion of Superheroes “For a so-called new beginning this sure is confusing. All the references to what happened & no real explanations sucks.”
Mister Terrific “Horrible costume, likable superhero”
Red Lanterns “Monlogue masquerading as a comic book adventure – more story!”
Static Shock “Not something I expected to enjoy but there was something old fashioned about it. Surprise!”
Superboy “Sf plot shoehorned into Superman backdrop that it could really do without. Is this a reboot?”
Supergirl “If she must be rebooted then at least this adds some interest. I wish the character were still silly, tho.”
Teen Titans “Likable as this sort of thing goes but having read Superboy the continuity confusion was intrusive. I like Kid Flash.”
Wonder Woman “They’ve never known what to do with WW and still don’t. Not so much bad as just … eh. A lot more needed to happen”
Batgirl “Higher heights in mundanity”
Batman “Better than the other 2 Batmans I read which ain’t saying much. Enough. Why are we fixated on this one note character?”
Batman and Robin “Is Robin supposed to be a precocious unlikable prat? Cause that doesn’t help the comic much.”
Batman: The Dark Knight “From ‘Fear is a cannibal that feeds upon itself’ to ‘You can call me One-Face now’ it’s like a freakin’ parody.”
Birds of Prey “Boring.”
Blackhawks Nonsensical action and soap opera. This stuff might work in movies, but in comics it’s plain boring.
Blue Beetle “So boring I couldn’t finish it, but at least there seemed to be a story for a change.”
Detective Comics “Took us years to get here? Alright.”
Firestorm “This character has always been boring and he’s carrying on that tradition here.”
Green Arrow “Unreadable”
Legion Lost “I can’t read this, I really can’t.”
Hawk and Dove “Higher heights in mundanity”
Justice League International “Higher heights in mundanity”
Men of War “Higher heights in mundanity”
Nightwing “Holy crap the 1st person narration sent me dozing. I’m tired of all the 1st person in these New 52 books.”
Superman “I tuned out and then just skipped to the end.”
Catwoman “I actually had to rub disinfectant in my eyes after reading this. Proof that you can actually poop out a comic book.”
Death Stroke “Preposterous nihilistic machismo posturing.”
Red Hood and the Outlaws “Speedy never knew Starfire was a slut even after all the time in the Teen Titans? What an offensive & smarmy book this is”
Suicide Squad “Well that was an unpleasant bit of torture porn.”
Voodoo “The ending wants to make us think it’s a horror comic but it’s really a dumb story about a stripper doing a lap dance.”
The Larger Picture:
What struck me more than any escalation of violence or sexism – which are the hot ticket discussion items for the titles – is that first person narration, monologues or conversations are used far too much in these books. They run rampant throughout the line.The point is that they are utilized for easy exposition, with a way to wrap some action around them. I find this cuts off the possibilities for suspense that could sustain any of these titles better, and smells of cookie cutter technique. I don’t know if this is something weak writers fall back on or if it’s an editorial command, but I don’t generally like it.
Also, as a genre that has been mired in continuity and continuity correction, I have found that the act of starting over but not giving precise moments in time when these are taking place – at least, not in the actual titles – to be confusing. Why do some characters get total reboots and others not? Why is the Superman cast so young in Action Comics? When is JLA supposed to take place anyhow? Why is The Flash so new and Green Lantern so established? After being such control freaks, I find it odd that the relationship between many of these titles is so confusing – and if it is not confusing to long time readers, then why bother to start with a new slew of #1s in order supposedly entice new readers? I thought that was the point – the fresh start. The best way to approach these, I suppose, is to ignore the cross title continuity and enjoy each title on its own – as it always should be, in my belief, just not what they have practiced since the 1980s.
I was also struck at how unspecial many of these were. Many seemed like they could be issue #22 or #329 or, worse, #2. The sense of specialness was in the marketing more than the products themselves.
That said, there were some with a sense of humor and an air of friendly playfulness that surprised me immensely, and to me are exactly what superhero comics should be like if they’re going to insist on existing anymore – Aquaman, The Flash, Hawkman, Captain Atom, Mr. Terrific were all examples of various qualities. It was as if human beings wrote these, which is sadly not the feeling most superhero comics leave me with.
The best titles, to me, were the ones that weren’t mired in the DC Universe but so much on the edge of that they could include nods to it without requiring much knowledge of it or affection for it in order to enjoy the titles – they were given their own context. Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Storm Watch, these were my favorites in this area, but there were others that succeeded in this, as well.
And now to the Batman issue- and I know I’m alone in the dark with this, but never more than through this bonanza of titles have I felt the company’s over-reliance on that character and the peripheries of the property is deadening to the soul. The character has had nowhere to go for years and most of these titles tended to take us exactly there. I’m estimating there are 11 Batman-related titles – including team books and off-shoots like Batgirl – and with the exception of Batwoman, Batwing, and Justice League Dark – the ones that don’t center around the character or his mythology as much and offer some new scenarios – it’s mostly the same comic over and over and over, as it has been for the past 20 years. No wonder I can’t even bring myself to see the Dark Knight movies. Too much, overdone, please, go away.
All in all, I don’t know that this huge gesture really offers any opportunity that wasn’t there before, but as a symbolic marketing move, it is a way to highlight that some of the books have changed and become easier to access, and I guess it’s worthy for that.