Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quick hit thoughts on a few new 52 titles from month two

Teen Titans no. 2-3
Kid Flash has been captured, Tim Drake is disappointed to be in the friend zone with Cassie, and we are introduced to Skitter (a teenage girl who has transformed into one freaky alien-looking creature).  Drake mixes it up with some N.O.W.H.E.R.E. agents to keep Skitter out of their hands and Cassie ends up having to save his bacon from the creature.

Kid Flash escapes (though in his narration he mentions NOWHERE even though there is no indication he should have any knowledge they are his captors) and extricates a female prisoner.  Drake takes the cocooned Skitter cross-country via a railway car (guess Bruce couldn't afford better transport) and encounters another hero wanna-be called Bunker (whose costume and name are amazingly lame). Drake and Bunker find themselves stuck in a town full of mind-controlled people following an unexpected train stop. Drake scouts around and is accosted by cybernetic scrap that spontaneously generated intelligence and calls itself Detritus (no, I am not making that up regardless of how incredibly stupid it sounds). Detritus wipes Drakes mind while telling him he is conducting experiments and will soon create others like himself and wipe out humanity.  Drake returns to the train after forgetting the encounter and finds Skitter is no longer Skitter but instead has transformed back into a teenage girl.

Unfortunately, it actually is as bad as it sounds (especially the parts involving Detritus).  It is very disappointing because this is a series I want to like, but when you stick a garbage concept like Detritus in front of me, I just can’t take your title seriously.

All Star Western no. 2-3
Hex and Arkham return to Arkham's home after discovering last issue that most of the rich and powerful in Gotham are part of an underground organization that, among other things, has been responsible for the murders of the prostitutes.  Hex prepares for the fight he knows is coming, and soon enough a dozen armed men attack.  Hex guns them all down but leaves one alive to be questioned. After getting more information about their plans, Hex kills him.

The two try to save Chief Cromwell, who the criminal cartel have decided to eliminate so they can take control of the police force.  Arkham saves Hex after he is overpowered by one of the cartel members.  They rescue Cromwell and the existence of the cartel is revealed to the populace at large.  Plans are made to locate the rest of the cartel members, but Cromwell and Detective Lofton are gunned down on the street.  Hex decides he has had enough of this business and the city and turns his attention to the real reason he came to Gotham in the first place – to collect the bounties on the Trapp family.

In the backup story, a man comes to a town overrun by the dead. He finds a small group of survivors, but they are about to be overrun. He tells the people he is host to a demon and they must knock him unconscious to release the demon. One of the men finally does so and El Diablo is revealed.  He defeats the walking dead and then faces off against the individual responsible for raising them – Black River.

This series is still going strong.  I’m not quite as enamored of the second and third issue the way I was with the first, but I’m still enjoying it thus far.  I would like to see a little more effort with the backgrounds because there are a fair number of panels where they are notably absent.  But overall all, the art is still quite good and a good fit for this title.

Grifter no. 2-3
Cole continues to be hounded by Daemonites. He tries to meet with his former partner Gretchen to explain what happened to him but she doesn't believe him. We find out that he previously did black ops in the military during their conversation. Gretchen runs out on Cole after he gets into a fight with a police officer who is actually a Daemonite in disguise.  Cole is forced to flee in a police car (and he puts his mask on --- because driving a police car with a mask on isn't going to look suspicious to anyone).

Military officials at the Pentagon are aware of the Daemonites and send Cole’s brother Max to intercept him after watching footage from Cole’s incident on the airline.  Max tracks Cole down and the two engage in a shoot-out before being interrupted by the arrival of Daemonites who have been tailing Cole.  Max is caught in an explosion when a Daemonite’s attack causes errant shots to bring down a helicopter.  Cole kills the Daemonite and captures the other, his goal to track down the rest and get payback for what they did to his brother.

The good thing about these two issues is we get a little more insight into Cole’s past so that we see he isn’t just a con man but actually served in the military and was involved in black ops.  That at least moves him a little closer to what the Cole Cash of the old Wildstorm universe was.  We also get a reason for him keeping the mask (which I suppose is a little clever in a way – however that reason didn’t come until after he had driven off in the police car wearing it, and that part didn’t exactly make sense).  I guess I’m a little more pleased with these two issues than I was with the debut issue, but I’m still not entirely sold on it.

Detective Comics no. 2
Bruce conducts a business meeting while climbing a rock wall, then gets surprised when he discovers his 2:15 appointment is waiting for him even though he believed his schedule to be clear for the afternoon. He walks in to find reporter Charlotte Rivers waiting with lots of questions. After some short banter, the two drop the act and get hot and heavy (and I realize they are in a dark room, but Bruce got worked over a bit the previous evening so you'd think there might be some bruises that might cause some discomfort and thus be noticeable by Charlotte).

Following the 'encounter', Batman takes his batcycle for a spin and meets with Gordon to get more details about the investigation at Arkham.  Gordon receives a dispatch that the man they are seeking has been spotted. He and Gordon race separately to the scene. Batman discovers it is an ambush and comes face to face with Dollmaker and his crew.  Unfortuantely, Dollmaker has Gordon and appears to have performed some of his handiwork on him.

Seems like we’ve gone from a hero who for decades was considered ‘sexless’ to one who is suddenly getting more action than a Hoover dam laborer in a bordello on pay day.  I suppose it does make it a little more interesting for Bruce Wayne to have something of a regular partner, though at the same time it definitely isn’t sustainable.  As far as the villain of this piece goes, I’m still unsure as to whether the Joker really had his face removed last issue, and whether what appears to be a stitched Gordon at the end of the issue is actually real or not (it certainly doesn’t seem like there was enough time to have done all of that that work on him).  Even with those questions in mind, I don’t plan on returning for subsequent issues.  I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this series, but one Batman title is enough for me.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 Recap

So let's recap the thirty three issues of the new 52 I read and reviewed.

ChangesNew ReaderWas it
Titlewell received?Friendly?good?
Justice LeagueYesYesYes
Action ComicsMixedYes Yes
All Star Western YesYesYes
Batgirl NoMixed No
Batman The Dark Knight Same Mixed Mixed
Detective Comics Same Yes No
Batman Same Yes Yes
Birds of PreyNoNoMixed
Captain AtomNoYesMixed
Demon KnightsMixedYesYes
Green LanternSameNoYes
Green Lantern New GuardiansSameMixedMixed
Savage HawkmanNoNoNo
Hawk and DoveSameNoNo
I, VampireYesYesYes
Justice League DarkYesNoMixed
Justice League InternationalSameMixedYes
Legion LostMixedNoNo
Mister TerrificMixedYesYes
Red Hood and the OutlawsNoNoNo
Suicide SquadNoMixedNo
Teen TitansMixedYesYes
Wonder WomanYesYesYes
TotalsYes - 7Yes - 18Yes - 16
No - 9No - 8No - 9
In the middle - 8In the middle - 7In the middle - 8
Same as before - 9

So as far as the changes go, my opinion is that about 38% of the titles that actually had noteworthy changes were for the worse. Overall, about 27% of the "New" 52 really was about the same as what it was before the relaunch.

In terms of being new reader friendly, more than half of the titles fell into that category, so it is a good start. 24% were clearly not however. That is almost a quarter of the titles reviewed. If the idea of the reboot was to entice new readers, that is probably too large a number of books that are not achieving the goal.

In the end, the most important thing is whether the product was good or not. Just under half fell clearly in that category. About 27% were not what I consider good. The rest were a mixed bag. Even if you factor out books that, under usual circumstances, I would be unlikely to take an interest in adding to my reading list (Action Comics, Blackhawks, Batwing, Detective Comics, Mister Terrific, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Suicide Squad), we're left with 13 out of 26 titles that I felt were actually good. So 26 titles I would probably be willing to read monthly under normal circumstances and I thought only half of those were actually good. That isn't really an acceptable result when you consider they turned over most of their line in an attempt to rejuvenate it and yet only 13 of 26 titles a long time, loyal reader would be willing to plunk down cash for actually hit the right note.

Yes, some of the changes turned out well. But I'm not really sure DC has helped themselves with their core readers in the long run. If there are not enough of the new readers (who showed up for the relaunch) sticking around, then DC may find all they really accomplished was to alienate some of the loyal readers who have been happily feeding their coffers for years and years and years.

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 12

Yes, we have finally reached the last installment of my look* at (most of) the first issues of DC's new 52 relaunch.

[* Reminder - I am looking at these comics with three things in mind. First, as an established reader, how do I feel about the direction and any significant changes that have been made to the characters or title in general. Second, is it new reader friendly. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the comic good.]

Voodoo no. 1
Ron Marz/Sam Basri
In the original WildC.A.T.s, Voodoo was part Kherubim and part Daemonite. In this new series, she is introduced to readers as a Daemonite and is on Earth as an alien spy.

Since this is a new take on the character, new and previous readers are meeting Voodoo and learning about her for the first time. She is being trailed by two government agents, one of whom explains to Voodoo (and the reader) they are aware she is not of this Earth and believe she is gathering intelligence about the planet and its heroes. The story takes place almost entirely in a strip club where Voodoo works as a dancer. It is apparently near a military base and the agents believe she has been gleaning information from the soldiers stationed there who are frequent customers at the club.

The story is new reader friendly but I found it to either be not so smartly written or perhaps just that one of the agents was written as an imbecile. Of the two agents trailing Voodoo, one is male and one is female. While the female agent decides it isn’t necessary to directly observe Voodoo’s act in the club, the male agent takes a more direct approach. And when he has Voodoo in one of the private dancing rooms, he explains to her that if she doesn’t come into custody willingly and cooperate, they will eventually take her by force and probably start dissecting her. It is incredibly stupid, to say the least, for the agent to lay that sort of threat on an alien who they don’t really yet know the full extent of her powers, especially when he is alone in a room with her. You can probably figure out what happens. Anyway, while I thought the story could have been a little better, the art was definitely quite pleasing. Sam Basri has a clean style and is certainly no stranger to comics with a female lead (he previously was the artist on Power Girl).

Wonder Woman no. 1
Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang
The thing about this comic is that it isn’t what new or existing readers might expect. It is a little darker than the Wonder Woman most of us are used to. And that isn’t a bad thing. [Not to say that Wonder Woman hasn’t had its dark moments in the past --- during Greg Rucka’s run Wonder Woman beheaded Medusa and marched into Tartaus where she fought the armies of the dead to restore a young boy’s life.]

This debut issue is really a great jumping on point for both new and existing readers. Similar to Superman, I would expect most people have at least some passing knowledge of Wonder Woman so they will have at least a base understanding of what she can. As such, there really isn’t any point in doing an origin issue, and thankfully Brian Azzarello did not take that track. The action and gore begins fairly quickly as a woman appears and cleaves off the head of a horse. Within the span of a page, a surprised young woman (Zola) finds herself under attack from two centaur creatures while a stranger who has suddenly appeared uninvited in her home attempts to rescue her. The stranger is struck down, but he provides an escape for Zola that takes her into the bed chambers of a sleeping Wonder Woman. Following an unpleasant introduction, Wonder Woman and Zola are returned to the woman’s home where Diana battles the centaur creatures.

This comic is pretty fast paced, but there is also some nice exposition from an opening subplot that reads over most of the Wonder Woman’s battle with the centaur creatures. It makes for a nice combination that really allows the reader to follow the visual action while contemplating the narrative that is building off the opening and closing scenes of the issue. It is a nice effect and allows Azzarello and Chiang to tell a lot more story in the span of these 20 pages. I was very pleased with this issue overall. I think it was well written and the art was really good. This is definitely a series to look out for. I am certainly giving it my recommendation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 11

We've reached the eleventh installment of my look* at (most of) the first issues of DC's new 52 relaunch.

[* Reminder - I am looking at these comics with three things in mind. First, as an established reader, how do I feel about the direction and any significant changes that have been made to the characters or title in general. Second, is it new reader friendly. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the comic good.]

Supergirl no. 1
Michael Green/Mike Johnson/Mahmud Asrar/Dan Green
I suppose there isn’t a whole lot you can do with a twenty page story covering the arrival of an alien being on Earth. Green and Johnson hit all the high points of chronicling a super-powered extra terrestrial’s first moments. She doesn’t understand the language. Since she has super-hearing, she is overpowered by an onslaught of sounds. She is confused by the things happening to her (attacked by ‘giant metal creatures’, noises she can’t block out, and the fact she is able to survive explosive blasts). So pretty much everything you might expect would happen in the modern day DCU.

While a new reader might not be familiar with Supergirl, it wouldn’t be unexpected such an individual would at least have some knowledge of Superman, and thus be aware what his powers are and thereby have an expectation of what her abilities might be as well. As such, I’m almost of the frame of mind that the story of her arrival may not have been the best starting point for this series. I do understand the challenges they are trying to set in front of her, and this story is certainly the easiest way to establish those.
I guess my biggest problem with the issue is that it was kind of boring. I just didn’t come out of it excited to see the next issue.

I’m not anticipating the next few issues to actually be all that interesting. I’m really kind of waiting at this point for things to get back to where Supergirl has enough familiarity with her new home planet to interact but is also still trying to find her way in a world that is mostly foreign to her. I don’t expect that to happen in the span of the next few issues. So while I will be along for the ride, likely I’m not going to be overly engaged until this first story arc is done. New readers will probably find the build-up enticing, but previous readers may find it a little tired.

Superman no. 1
George Perez/Jesus Merino
If you’re going to reboot a line of comics, you should incorporate changes that make it a worthwhile endeavor. That isn’t to say change everything, but change some things that will bring a fresh approach while still maintaining the things that best adhere to the core of the project. To me, this issue was probably the best example of taking the old and mixing in the new and coming out without something that gave reason for the reboot, something they otherwise could not have done in this title.

Any new reader on a Superman book would at least have passing knowledge of his mythos, so there isn’t really a need to go into detail about his abilities. This issue introduces the principle characters of Superman’s universe and gives enough establishing information for a reader to get a good feel on those who impact Clark Kent’s life. It also brings into play Clark’s activities and how he has to walk a fine line in his public life with his career. Some of the significant changes to this book have Lois working with the television side of the corporation that owns the Daily Planet. She has pushed for Clark to take over her previous role as a news anchor but he has refused for reasons he can’t explain (his face on screens in millions of homes would obviously cause issues with keeping his identity as Superman a secret). There is more than enough in these pages to engage a new reader and bring them back for more, especially in the depth of the characters and their interactions.

I thoroughly enjoyed this issue and though it was an outstanding debut. I really like the changes they’ve made and I feel like we will be getting some very fresh and interesting stories because of them. I’m more interested in seeing how Clark’s relationships with the other characters (especially Lois) develop than in what Superman will be doing to be honest. It was certainly unexpected that I would find this one of the more enjoyable of all the new 52 debut issues, but the fact is this was a well conceived project. The writing was pretty good (more on that) and the art was very good. This would have been a perfect issue save for two things. The first was a one page interlude that had nothing to do with the current story, and in fact directed the reader to go read the first issue of Stormwatch to see what the ramifications of the actions depicted. The second thing was actually more bothersome, and that was the narrative of Superman’s actions. Comics are a visual medium and we can clearly see everything that is happening, yet for some reason there was a running narrative describing exactly what we were seeing. It was distracting and unnecessary and I hope it goes away in future issues. Aside from those two things, this was really one of the best debut issues and definitely one that I recommend.

Teen Titans no. 1
Scott Lobdell/Brett Booth/Norm Rapmund
While the cover reveals (what I would assume to be) the initial members of the Teen Titans, someone reading this comic would encounter only a handful of them in the pages of this debut issue. This mirrors the first issue of the Justice League in that respect. Only three characters (perhaps four, if you count ‘Superboy’) are a part of this story. Kid Flash makes a less than impressive debut as he runs afoul of the fire department in their efforts to thwart a fire. Tim Drake (Red Robin) is really the principle focus of this story. He crosses paths with the organization N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (who appears to be a long-term antagonist) and later attempts to recruit Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) to join his cause.

This is a pretty decent first issue for a new reader. They get at least a glimpse of three or four potential team members and enough background information on Tim Drake to establish his motives and credentials as a superhero. They learn there is a clandestine organization that has been gathering up teen metahumans for use in their own plans. It is effective at setting the stage if nothing else and provides enough entertainment value to bring a reader back for more.

I thought the story was fairly well presented. I’ve been a fan of Brett Booth’s art in the past (though he does have certain tendencies in his depiction of physiques that could use some slight improvement) so I was pleased with his efforts in this issue. The script was pretty decent as well and established the situation well enough. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to like the team make-up once they get everyone together (thus far I only like three of the seven, and those three happen to be the primary characters we see in this issue), so we’ll have to see how long I stick around. But so far so good.

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 10

Welcome to the tenth installment of my look* at (most of) the first issues of DC's new 52 relaunch.

[* Reminder - I am looking at these comics with three things in mind. First, as an established reader, how do I feel about the direction and any significant changes that have been made to the characters or title in general. Second, is it new reader friendly. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the comic good.]

Mister Terrific no .1
Eric Wallace/Gianluca Gugliotta/Wayne Faucher
Mister Terrific wasn’t on my original list of new titles that I was planning to check out. But after reading a few positive reviews on the first issue, I decided to take a look. Unfortunately, I can’t say that this issue had the same effect on me as it did the individuals who wrote those reviews.

This issue is more successful than a number of the other new 52 debut issues in that it does provide plenty of background for a new reader. We learn why Michael Holt became the super hero he is today and are given enough examples of his genius to make it clear the guy is, as he claims, the third smartest man on the planet. We are also introduced to his friend-with-benefits Karen Starr, as well as one of his business associates, Aleeka, who is definitely jealous of Karen.

I didn’t really find a whole lot in this issue to interest me (other than the fact Karen Starr was in it, though if she isn’t Power Girl, then even that interest would amount to nothing). I haven’t been a regular reader of the JSA so I’ve never really had any particular affinity for Mister Terrific, though I certainly don’t have any dislike of the character either. The story was fairly decent, though I do think perhaps Wallace tried a little too hard to impress upon the reader just how ridiculously brilliant Michael Holt is. The art was pretty good as well, but I think Gugliotta needs to work a little more on his faces. Overall, I don’t have anything negative to say about this issue. While it didn’t personally appeal to me, there isn’t any reason other readers won’t find it entertaining.

Red Hood and the Outlaws no. 1
Scott Lobdell/Kenneth Rockafort
The main reason I wanted to check out this title is Kenneth Rockafort. I’ve enjoyed his work on a couple of other series, so the fact he was tabbed as the artist on this book put it on my radar screen. I don’t really care one way or the other for Jason Todd and Roy Harper, but I do have some familiarity with Starfire from when I read the Teen Titans back in the 90s and also via her participation in the Countdown to Adventure mini-series a few years ago. Starfire alone wouldn’t have been enough to get me into this book, but Kenneth Rockafort art combined with Starfire was enough to convince me to give it a look.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really a comic book. It is more akin to the perverted fantasies of a mediocre writer who doesn’t appear to have ever grown up. If anyone at DC thought this comic was a prime opportunity to bring new readers into the fold, they were sadly mistaken. This ‘comic’ would certainly not be appropriate for any young readers who may know Starfire from the recent Teen Titans Go cartoon. And it doesn’t have any appeal for any self-respecting adult reader either. Basically the only person this comic is going to appeal to would be the real-life equivalents of Beavis and Butthead. Congratulations Scott Lobdell, you’ve created something for the lowest common denominator.

The editor on this series and everyone with any editorial responsibility up the chain should be ashamed this was considered acceptable material. It is poorly conceived and even more poorly written from beginning to end, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that a quality artist like Kenneth Rocafort was a part of it. Honestly, there is no excuse for this book ever being published. It is deplorable. The only recommendation I can give on this one is that if you were one of the unfortunate souls who purchased it, then you should roll it up and slap Scott Lobdell in the back of the head with it when you see him. In addition, you should rip the ‘comic’ up and burn it such that you never have to set eyes on it again.

Suicide Squad no. 1
Adam Glass/Federico Dallocchio/Ransom Getty/Scott Hanna
This book wasn’t on my initial list to purchase, but as with several others, I decided to go ahead and check out the first issue. I haven’t previously been a reader of Suicide Squad, though I’m familiar with the concept of the series and am aware of the various incarnations of the team. I don’t really have any favorites among past and present team members, so you could say I’m mostly indifferent to the group as a whole.

I think there is a possibility a new reader might be somewhat intrigued with this book. I say that mostly based on the cliffhanger ending. The last page of this comic is enough to potentially bring a reader back to see what happens next. Without that final page however, I think it would have been a lot harder sell to convince a new reader that this is a comic worth coming back for.

I didn’t really find a whole lot compelling about any of the characters. Certainly the changes to some of these characters (Harley Quinn in particular) were not really improvements to what we’ve known before. All in all, I just wasn’t really impressed with this issue. I didn’t think the story was especially good and the art was mostly average. Not being a Suicide Squad fan to begin with, I didn’t see anything here to change my thinking on the series as a whole. Even though the last page piqued my interest a little bit, I won’t be returning for subsequent issues.