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.

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 9

This is the ninth 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.]

Justice League Dark no. 1
Peter Milligan/Mikel Janin
This is a series I sort of had high hopes for. That probably seems a little strange given I really only have interest in two of the characters in the title (Madame Xanadu and Zatanna). Both of those characters had successful titles of their own (in my eyes at least) prior to DC’s relaunch. So I was optimistic a little of that same magic might creep over into this title. After reading this first issue, I’m not so sure it did.

On the one hand, I wouldn’t say this issue is very reader friendly. The principle characters are introduced (for the most part), but there really isn’t much revealed about them. Certainly not enough to give a new reader a good feel for who they really are. On the other hand, likely anyone picking up this series is probably familiar with the main Justice League group, so they do get to see Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg in action (though not a successful campaign for them) and also see Batman interacting with Zatanna (which at least provides her some credence as an established hero and may do the same for the other characters in future issues).

I hoped for a stronger debut with this title, but I have to admit I was very disappointed with the story over all. It was too disjointed, and I’d rather see the characters of this series standing solidly on their own and not having DC rely on characters from the principle Justice League to validate their place in the hero mosaic (at least not at this point). The art was actually pretty good (and there were backgrounds), so that was at least a plus. I’ll stick around for another couple of issues to see if Milligan can find his footing with this group, but this effort certainly didn’t get the book off to a good start. No recommendation on this one at the moment. If things pick up and it turns out to be good, you can always grab the first trade collection.

Justice League International no. 1
Dan Jurgens/Aaron Lopresti/Matt Ryan
What is old is new again. The band is back together. Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Rocket Red, Guy Gardner, and even Batman take part in a mission to find a missing group of researchers as a Justice League unit formed under the authority of the UN (though Batman isn’t actually an official member, he tags along to keep tabs on them). This first issue kind of reads like a 90s Justice League comic (which one might anticipate would be a bad thing, but instead is strangely comforting).

This first issue suffers a little bit from the same problem Justice League Dark in that there are a bunch of characters introduced, but the reader doesn’t really known a whole lot about them (other than their home country). Once again though, Batman’s presence helps establish their credentials as heroes of some renown. Booster Gold is somewhat in the same shoes as the reader in that he isn’t overly familiar with the powers of his teammates (which is slightly problematic since he has been appointed team leader). But that actually provides an interesting opportunity for both Booster and the reader to learn about the capabilities and personalities of these characters going forward.

Overall, I found the story to be decent enough. It has a nice mix of character interaction (helping to establish a little bit of personality for a few of them) and action. I was a little disappointed with a subplot involving protesters who are angry that the UN took over the Hall of Justice (which is now supposed to be the JLI’s base of operations). It seemed extremely forced and is really kind of laughable (a particular group is angry the UN has ‘taken’ it from them, so they set a bomb to it and blow it up --- I mean, really??). I was very pleased with the art. Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan were most recently on Wonder Woman and they did a phenomenal job on that series. It looks like they are bringing their A game to this one as well.
If you’re looking for some of that mindless kind of 90s style fun Justice League book (though not the bwah-ha-ha kind of fun engineered by Giffen and DeMatteis), then you will probably like this series.

Legion Lost no. 1
Fabian Nicieza/Pete Woods
I’ve read Legion of Superheroes in various forms over the years. From the Bierbaum and Giffen Legion in the late 80s to Legion Lost and the Abnett and Lanning Legion that followed, to the more recent incarnation from Waid and Kitson (which I thoroughly enjoyed) that concluded with a brief run from Jim Shooter (which I liked less), and resulted in a reboot helmed by Paul Levitz (which I liked not at all), I have experienced several different visions of the team over the past few decades. While I found no appeal in the most recent “vision” of the group from Paul Levitz, I was definitely looking forward to still having the opportunity to read a Legion title, especially one featuring Timber Wolf.

I don’t think this comic really hit the mark in regards to being a good introduction for new readers. You have a team of 7 members who suddenly appear via a time bubble who are chasing some foe who has led them from the 31st century. There is very little revealed about these seven characters in this issue other than some very basic information about their abilities. Almost nothing is revealed about their adversary, other than he has brought some pathogen from the 31st century and released it on present day Earth. What sort of pathogen? Your guess is as good as mine. By the end of the issue, two of the team members have disappeared, their foe appears to have blown up along with their time bubble, and the five remaining members are trapped in the current timeline. The draw, one might think, would be what happens to this team next since they are cut off from their own time. Unfortunately, I don’t think there was enough of a connection established with these characters for a new reader to really care strongly enough about what happens next.

I have a connection to many of these characters because I’ve been reading about them for years, and even I barely care enough about what I read in this first issue. It just wasn’t really that engaging of a story. I also found the art to be somewhat average. Not bad mind you, but just nothing to help perk up a bland story. The only reason I will be back for the next issue is because I like these characters and hope things actually get more interesting. But this certainly was not a good start, especially when it needs to be something that really grabs hold of a new reader and leaves them waiting impatiently for more. If you’re not already a Legion fan, I can’t really give this one a recommendation, at least not at this point.

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 8

We've reached the eighth 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.]

The Savage Hawkman no. 1
Tony S. Daniel/Philip Tan
This probably sounds like a broken record now, but I was a Hawkman fan from way back. I’ve thought the concept of the character was rather interesting though I’ve been disappointed in the execution of some of the incarnations of the character. My favorite incarnation to date was the Tim Truman Hawkworld series that started as a mini-series, became an on-going series, and eventually spawned a new Hawkman series that took several elements from its Hawkworld predecessor. That run from 1989 through mid-1996 was the best set of Hawkman stories I’ve read. Since then, DC has tried several other revamps that have just never struck a chord with me. This is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts.

This series is not what I would consider new reader friendly. It starts off with Carter Hall attempting to destroy his Hawkman armor. The story never really gives a specific reason as to why Carter doesn’t want to be Hawkman anymore. The way he tries to destroy it is kind of stupid as well. He douses the armor in gasoline (or some flammable liquid). But instead of using a match to light it up, he fires a gun at it. After it burns, he buries it and thinks that is the end, but he soon discovers it isn’t so easy to extricate himself from the Nth metal. Flames explode from the ground in a hawkish shape and engulf him. Carter wakes up much later and finds himself back at home. He has some burn marks to indicate it wasn’t a dream, but he isn’t burned as badly as he would expect. Carter is fetched by his employer who has uncovered an alien craft of some sort. Carter is a cryptologist and is tasked with translating the strange symbols on the craft. However, before Carter can begin his work, a DNA sample taken from the mummified alien remains they recovered from the craft reacts and engulfs one of the scientists, then begins to attack another. Carter finds his skin is tingling and somehow the Nth metal emerges from his body in the form of his Hawkman armor. And of course, fighting ensues.

This isn’t a good comic in my opinion. There isn’t enough backstory about Hawkman for a new reader, and the changes to the character are too drastic. I don’t recall any previous incarnations of the character where the Nth metal was a part of him. And even if it was, that doesn’t explain why when it emerges from him that it forms the full sized wings as well. The Nth metal was never part of the wings. It has always just been a part of the harness and the belt. The wings were to enable him to glide and steer. And these wings are not metal anyway (as they were in the Hawkworld series). We very clearly see feathers. If the wings were more like those the character wore in Hawkworld, I might be able to buy it. This is just too much of a departure from the Hawkman concept. Now I will give credit to the art being really good. A lot of it is helped by Sonny Gho’s colors (which really brings the art to life), but overall I like the style and layout choices. If I was just basing this on the visuals, I would give the book a passing grade. But the story is just a hot mess. Unfortunately I would have to recommend skipping this one.

Hawk and Dove no. 1
Sterling Gates/Rob Liefeld
When I found out a Hawk and Dove series was going to be part of the new 52 relaunch, I was excited. But then I found out Rob Liefeld was attached to the series and that excitement died. When you have Liefeld handling the art on a comic, you know exactly what to expect. Very few backgrounds. Bad anatomy and disproportionately drawn characters. Weird hairstyles. This stuff may have been okay back when I was a less discerning reader in the 90s, but it just doesn’t pass muster today.

It would have been nice to have been ‘disappointed’ by the final product. And by disappointed, I mean unexpectedly surprised that it wasn’t a disaster. Needless to say, I was not ‘disappointed’.

A new reader would pick up a few things when reading this first issue. They would learn that Hawk had another partner previous to the Dove presented at the beginning of this story. That partner was his brother Don, who was the original Dove. They would learn that Don died being a hero and that Hawk isn’t happy about that and isn’t happy about being partnered with the new Dove. They would also learn that the current Dove has a boyfriend who is known as Deadman. What they wouldn’t learn is exactly what Hawk and Dove’s powers are (they can see that Dove flies and Hawk is really strong, but there is nothing specifically defined regarding their powers in the text of the story). They would learn virtually nothing about Deadman other than that he can fly too so he obviously must have some sort of powers. And they would learn that the current Dove is hiding something from Hawk that relates to how she became Dove in the first place. Really that last bit is the only thing I can possibly see that might interest a new reader enough to come back for a second issue.

I didn’t find the story to be well written. The plot is rather bland. The script and especially the dialogue is very weak. And the art is typical Liefeld. All in all, this comic was just a bad idea. Or to put it more directly, this creative team was a bad idea. This I most definitely do not recommend.

I, Vampire no. 1
Joshua Hale Fialkov/Andrea Sorrentino
To be honest, I wasn’t looking for another vampire comic. I already read and thoroughly enjoy American Vampire, and frankly that is quite enough vampire fare as far as I’m concerned. But I had to give this a look because it did sound halfway interesting.

One complaint I have about comics in general is that the packaging often doesn’t match the contents. In some cases I don’t mind that there is a particular cover artist for a title who has nothing to do with the interior art (Fables is a good example --- DC has had some very talented artists on that series who have done some really inspired cover pieces), but more often than not I’d rather the cover art be representative of the style the interior art will be in. The first issue of this series is a perfect example. The cover is by Fiona Staples, a very talented artist, and it looks fantastic. But it also looks nothing like the interior art. So if someone ordered the title based strictly on the cover, there is a likelihood they would be disappointed upon opening it up. That isn’t to say that the interior art is of poor quality. The interior art is actually quite good (save for the lack of backgrounds) and actually fits the tone of the book fairly well. It just isn’t as sharp and colorful as what is found on the cover.

This issue is very reader friendly. You don’t really need to know anything at all about these characters coming in. Joshua Hale Fialkov does a good job establishing the principle characters and their motives and sets the stage for the rest of the series.

I found this first issue to be entertaining. I’m not sure I’m entirely sold on the title, but they showed me enough here to bring me back for the next couple of issues. I’ll see how the story progresses over the next couple of months and then determine whether to stick around for the long haul. I give it a tentative recommendation for now (if you like vampires).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 7

And we've reached the Gs. Here is installment number seven 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.]

Green Lantern no. 1
Geoff Johns/Doug Mahnke/Christian Alamy
I think I started reading Green Lantern with the Emerald Dawn mini-series. I believe that hit right around the end of the 80s. I followed Green Lantern all the way up through his being replaced by Kyle Raynor, and then I didn’t read the series after that. No more Green Lantern and no more Hal Jordan – at least until he made his return as the Spectre in the Legends of the DC Universe series. That fed into a short-lived Spectre series, and that led to Green Lantern: Rebirth. And that put me back onto a Green Lantern series. All of which is to say that I’m a fan of Hal Jordan and his adventures more so than Green Lantern as a general concept.

Following the end of the most recent Green Lantern series – wherein Hal was relieved of his ring and duties as a Green Lantern, most of the solicitations I saw for the Green Lantern series relaunch were centered on Sinestro as a Green Lantern. As they were presented, they left me with the perception that the main character in the Green Lantern series was going to be Sinestro … and it wasn’t very clear at all what, if any, role Hal Jordan might be playing in the series. With this in mind, I put in my advance order at my LCS for the first issue of (the relaunched) Green Lantern in early July (ordering comics that would be shipping in September), and when I put in my advance order in August (for comics shipping in October – which would represent the second full month of DC’s relaunch), I had crossed Green Lantern off my list (all of this before actually having an opportunity to receive and read the first issue – I only had the DC’s advance solicitations to work from). So basically I’m saying here that my perception of what the comic was going to be was something I did not want to read. I wasn’t interested in a Sinestro-centric Green Lantern title. And DC’s promotion of the series was essentially selling that perception (meaning they did a bad job of conveying to Hal Jordan fans that he was still playing a major, if not principle, role in the series).

So if it isn’t clear from what you just read above, as an existing Green Lantern reader, I wasn’t happy with the direction I perceived the title would be going in with the relaunch. It wasn’t until I actually read the first issue that it became clear that Hal Jordan is still the star of this series (which is how I wanted it to be). So now that I’m clear on that detail, I’m ok with what they are currently doing with this series.

As far as looking at this as a fresh jumping on point, this couldn’t really be considered new reader friendly. If someone hasn’t been reading this series prior to this relaunch, they are not going to have a clear understanding of Sinstro as a Yellow Lantern (or even what and why the relationship between Green and Yellow Lanterns exists as it does). They won’t understand the full ramifications of why Hal Jordan is no longer a Green Lantern. And they would have zero clue what Carol Ferris is referring to when she mentions not having put on the Star Sapphire ring since she returned to Earth. A new reader would be thoroughly confused and very unlikely to return for subsequent issues.

This issue pretty much reads the way the series has for the past few years. With Geoff Johns still onboard as the writer, that is to be expected. It almost feels like the title didn’t take a couple months hiatus. I enjoyed the issue and will definitely be back for more (at least as long as Hal Jordan is leading the show). I already alerted my LCS that I needed them to go ahead and add the second and third issue to my order list. So my judgment is this is an entertaining comic, but it definitely fails as far as being a vehicle to attract new readers.

Green Lantern New Guardians no. 1
Tony Bedard/Tyler Kirkham/Batt
Having just said in my previous comments that I stopped reading Green Lantern when Hal Jordan was replaced with Kyle Raynor, and that I wasn’t interested in reading a Green Lantern series that did not have Hal Jordan as the principle player, you’re probably wondering why I picked up this comic - a Green Lantern series with Kyle Raynor as the principle player. Truth be told, I’m here mostly to review it. But I did actually advance order the first three issues because I am interested in seeing what they do with a series that features Lanterns of all the current color spectrums working in tandem.

I think Tony Bedard (the writer) really made an effort to provide a decent jumping on point for new readers. He rehashed Kyle Raynor’s introduction to the Green Lantern Corps in the opening sequence. But I don’t think it was executed all that well. I’m not sure if they just forgot a text box at the beginning, but it really wasn’t clear (to someone coming in new) that those opening events actually took place well in the past. The only indication that there was any time differential is when the story shifted and the blurb at the top of that page mentioned that it was present day. Without any particular reference point to what the portions previous to ‘present day’ were (could have been a week, a month, or six months for all a new reader might know), it doesn’t provide clear enough detail about where the character really has been. So while I do appreciate what Bedard was trying to accomplish, I think in the end it may have been an effort better left on the cutting room floor (and if a new reader was also checking out the main Green Lantern series, they would really be confused by the state of the Guardians in that book versus what they see at the beginning of this one). Readers may have been better served by using those introductory pages to better flesh out what all the different Lantern groups are and how the rings operate (especially in regards to how/why they locate a new bearer).

So my feelings on this comic are that it wasn’t bad but it definitely could have been better (especially looking at it with new readers in mind). Existing readers would already be familiar with the different Lantern groups so they would likely find the ending of the issue to be particularly interesting. New readers would be unclear on a lot of things, but they would potentially find the events enticing enough to come back for another issue. The story was fairly good overall and I do give bonus points for the attempt at presenting some of Kyle’s back story (even though it may not have been the best decision in hindsight). The art was pretty good as well and I think as Kirkham continues to draw these characters, he will eventually establish a consistent feel for them individually. As I mentioned above, I’m already in for the first three issues, and then I’ll see where I stand on it after that.

Grifter no. 1
Nathan Edmondson/Cafu/Jason Gorder
I would say that I’m a long-time WildC.A.T.S. fan, and my favorite character from that group is Grifter. I’ve read his adventures in multiple WildC.A.T.S. series as well as a few Grifter mini-series. That makes me a perfect candidate for this new title. Except that I don’t really have good expectations for it based on the solicitation. This isn’t the gun-toting black ops Cole Cash we’ve grown accustomed to. Instead, this Cole Cash is a con-artist who runs afoul of aliens that only he can see. Can’t say that is exactly singing to me.

New readers might be slightly interested in this comic, though there are some serious discrepancies in the timeline that I think would frustrate a reader. The title of the story is 17 minutes. Cole Cash gets abducted during the story. He wakes up and manages to escape from his strange surroundings. He looks at his watch after he is making his get-away and mentions that he was out for 17 minutes. Then he manages to get on a plane (he is supposed to be meeting his con-artist partner in San Juan). Things go bad however and he ends up bailing out of the plane. Then we get a caption that says 2 hours later from the point where he splashed down into the ocean. Cole calls his partner (Gretchen) and she wants to know where he has been because she is already back from San Juan and he has been missing for 17 days. That is a fairly significant mistake for a writer (and editor) to miss. And even if one was to actually assume that he was in the hands of the aliens for 17 days (and 17 minutes – to make his watch reading relevant), whatever transfer they were trying to engineer with the unconscious Cole should have gotten much further along over that span of time than for him to just wake up and hear alien voices in his head and be able to see them in reflections.

I didn’t think this was a well written comic. Even ignoring that glaring mistake with the amount of time that actually passed, the story was all over the place. There are too many different things going on and as a reader you don’t really know exactly the purpose of some of these characters and events. The art was okay. It was a little uneven in places and I didn’t find the ‘camera’ angles to be all that creative. End of the day, I can’t really recommend this comic to anyone, even a hardcore Grifter or WildC.A.T.S. fan.

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 6

Here is the sixth 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.]

Deathstroke no. 1
Kyle Higgins/Joe Bennett/Art Thibert
You’ll probably notice a trend here, but I read Deathstroke the Terminator back in the early 90s and found both the writing and art on that series to be quite good. So you might imagine that I was looking forward to Slade getting a second chance at a series with the DC relaunch. Now it has obviously been a long time since I read the previous series, but it seems, as best as I can recollect, that the characters are pretty similar. Both characters definitely qualify as serious bad-asses. The previous incarnation of Deathstroke had a right hand man named Wintergreen who took care of a lot of the details for Slade Wilson. This Slade Wilson has a man named Christoph who appears to be in that role now, though their relationship seems to be significantly different (Wintergreen was a trusted friend while Christoph functions more as an agent who lines up work for Slade).

This isn’t a very complicated series, so a debut issue doesn’t really need to do a whole lot. Introduce the major players (most specifically Slade), establish his credentials, then line up an adventure or some sort of motivating agent for subsequent issues. Check, check, and check. New readers get just about everything they really need to know about Slade in these pages.

I thought the story was pretty good. I liked the way Slade was introduced and the overall flow of the story. There is a point made that the sort of clients who employee people like Slade think he has slipped so his services are no longer in demand. We don’t actually see any indication of inability to get the job done during any of the activities in this issue, but that is probably the whole point --- Slade can absolutely still get the job done but there needs to be some re-education on the part of potential clients to show their perception of his abilities is incorrect. The art was pretty good, though it seems like I’ve seen some better work from Joe Bennett in the past (I’m curious if maybe this was another book that came together late so the art team was rushed in getting the first issue complete).

There are quite a few things I like about this comic. Slade is definitely everything I expected and more. At the same time, he lacks a little of the sophistication of the previous incarnation as well. So I have mixed feelings about this one. I’ll definitely read a couple more issues, but I kind of doubt I will be sticking around for the long haul.

Demon Knights no. 1
Paul Cornell/Diogenes Neves/Oclair Albert
This series is another brand new title that didn’t exist in any previous form. It does however feature a couple of principle players who both had their own series in recent years – the Demon (Etrigan) and Madame Xanadu (Nimue). As both characters are of supernatural origins (Etrigan being a demon and Nimue being a descent of the Elder Folk and sister of Morgana/Morgaine Le Fay), it isn’t unreasonable for both characters to be present in the Dark Ages as well as participants in the modern day DCU.

This being a completely new series, it doesn’t have to convey a lot of back story about the principle characters for incoming readers. The issue actually opens four centuries prior (on the final night of Camelot) to the series’ present day (that present day being the Dark Ages, not the modern day DCU). We are witness to the imprisoning/linking of the Demon Etrigan to a human host (Jason of Norwich). We also see three hooded women taking the body of King Arthur to his rest in Avalon. One of the women, called Xanadu by her sister (when really she should have been called Nimue as that is her true name), is not content with allowing Excalibur to be taken by the Lady and of the Lake. She dives in to retrieve it but is too late. Flash forward those four centuries and we find a wizard and his queen commanding an invading force bound for a place called Alba Sarum. In their path is a tiny village which happens to be where traveling companions Jason O’ Th’ Blood and Madame Xanadu are looking for a bit of rest and a pint at a local tavern. Combine one invading force, one possibly androgynous individual known as the Shining Knight, one barbarian known as Vandal Savage, and one Demon, and you can probably guess what happens next. Fight!

If you can make the jump that a reader of a fantasy type comic title will make the connection that Madame Xanadu, being one of the entities taking King Arthur’s body to Avalon, is clearly of mystical origins (and thus likely to be extraordinarily long-lived), then there isn’t anything that should cause confusion as to why she would still be around 4 centuries later. The same can be said for Jason --- since he is physically housing/linked to a demon, it isn’t a stretch to assume he might have his life extended by the presence of that creature. That is all to say – there is enough information here for a new reader to work with. We don’t really know much of anything about the antagonists (the wizard and his queen), but clearly more information will be forthcoming on them in subsequent issues. Really the big thing with this issue lies with the question of whether there is enough substance to these characters and this story to entice a reader to come back. I’m on the fence as to that being the case or not.

Overall this is a pretty good comic. The story is good enough. It isn’t exceptional and doesn’t stand out in any notable manner, but it gets the job done. It has an eclectic cast of characters and certainly drops them into an interesting scenario. I was rather pleased with the art. I think Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert did a nice job of presenting the characters and framing the action. Given Nimue’s history (as presented in her solo series from a few years back), I probably shouldn’t be surprised that she and Etrigan are lovers – but I have to admit to being a little taken aback. It wouldn’t be something I would expect of the modern day character, but it does fit a little more the less mature character from the Camelot days.

As a fan of that afore mentioned Madame Xanadu series, I’m not sure how I’m going to like some of the changes to her history that appear to be coming out of this series. I’m going to have to take a wait and see attitude on that. I’ll certainly pick up this series at least through the first story arc and then maybe take stock of where I stand with it. I’m mostly here for Madame Xanadu’s involvement, so if I don’t care for the direction the creative team is taking her, then I will likely not be around for the long term.

The Flash no. 1
Francis Manapul/Brian Buccellato
I read Flash during Mark Waid’s classic run on the title (when Wally West was the man behind the mask), but it has been many years since I last followed the title. I was especially disappointed with DC’s decision to bring Barry Allen back and return him as the primary Flash. As such, this isn’t a title I approach with any interest in following. I read it for review purposes.

I’m generally not a fan of artists taking over series as a first time writer (if they are working with an established writer it is one thing, but if they are working alone or with another artist who doesn’t have any of their own writing credits, then I’m generally going to be skeptical about their ability to construct a quality script). When DC announced they were handing the writing reins to the relaunched Flash title to the series artists Francis Manipul and Brian Buccellato, I did not have great expectations it. So I have to admit to being rather surprised by how good this first issue actually was. While I would rather be reading a Wally West Flash series, if this issue is an indication of what readers can expect going forward, I think the book has a lot of promise.

This series is new reader friendly in an unexpected way. Beyond the blurb on the title page, there isn’t anything to really let a reader know where the Flash came from. However, it does a pretty good job of establishing Barry’s civilian activities and hits us pretty quick with a decent sized supporting cast (including a work colleague he just began dating as well as a pushy reporter by the name of Iris West who keeps badgering Barry for inside information on police investigations). I think that goes a long way toward really pulling a reader into his world. The cast doesn’t come off as your generic run-of-the-mill characters – they have real personality which strengthens the comic as a whole.

In addition to a quality script, the art in this issue is outstanding. I’ve been a fan of Manapul’s work since his stint on Legion of Superheroes, so it is certainly not surprising to see him knocking it out of the park here. The color palette Brian Buccellato uses is rather muted. I’ve grown used to the more vibrant palettes typically found in superhero comics, but I think his choice actually works pretty well here.

Overall, I have to say this was not only a great first issue, but a great comic in general. I wasn’t looking to add a Barry Allen Flash comic to my reading list, but darned if I’m finding myself wanting to pick up the next issue to read more.