Sunday, March 25, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 2

Here is the second installment of my look* at (most of) the first issues of DC's new 52 relaunch.

[* Just for a refresher, 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.]

Action Comics no. 1
Grant Morrison/Rags Morales/Rick Bryant
I've never really considered myself a fan of Superman. I always thought the character was too much of a boy scout. I did read a couple of Superman titles in the late 80s though, but otherwise my exposure to the character has been via team books.

Coming into this issue as an established reader of the DCU, I find myself not enjoying this particular incarnation of the character for the exact opposite reason that I never really got into the character - he isn't the boy scout I'm familiar with. I know it sounds kind of stupid, my reason for never really taking a strong liking to the character was because he was 'too good' and yet when presented with a version that eliminates a lot of those characteristics, I find I'm not so keen on his attitude or methods. There appear to be significant fundamental changes to the core of this character to the extent that he seems too unlike Superman to me. My overall impression of this issue is that I didn't really care much for it and I can't say that I'm really interested in picking up the next issue (even though I did pre-order it so I will be getting it regardless).

As a fresh jumping on point, I think this issue does a decent enough job. Superman is an iconic character so a majority of readers coming in will have some level of knowledge about him. They may not know much, if anything, about Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, but the brief encounter with them in this issue is enough to establish them as key supporting players. One thing that could be confusing to readers is the lack of a noted differentiation of time periods between this title and the Superman title. Someone picking up this comic might expect to see the same Superman they find in the other title and would be left without any explanation in either of the comics as to why these characters are so different. DC shouldn't be making the assumption a new reader would be aware this title is covering Clark's early years and the Superman title is set in the present day with most of the rest of the other DC titles.

In general terms, the story in this issue was entertaining enough. There isn't anything in particular I can say that was wrong with it. As stories go, it is one I expect most readers might find enjoyable and likely would interest them enough to come back for the next issue. The art was pretty good, if a bit uneven in some places. This was an extra-sized issue but I believe the additional pages will be replaced with a backup feature at some point in future issues (so the primary art team shouldn't be as rushed).

All Star Western no. 1
Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti/Moritat
This is a book I didn’t initially plan to pick up. However I read some good things about it, and I’ve generally enjoyed Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s work on other series, so I decided to give it a look. And wow, I am really glad I did. I’ve read a couple issues of Palmiotti and Gray’s previous Jonah Hex series and I thought they were decent, but those issues didn’t do anything to really sell me on the character or series going forward. Their approach in this relaunch did just that however. Having the story narrated by a secondary character (a doctor interested in behavioral studies) who develops a very keen interest in Hex and his motivations brings a whole new element to the character and structure of the story. Also, the change in environment (this story takes place in Gotham City of the 1880s) brings a completely different feel.

Taking the angle as an existing DCU fan (who has some limited knowledge of Jonah Hex – though certainly the character has never been a favorite of mine), I have to say I’m very pleased with this new approach as it breaths a different life into the character. I’m actually interested in what is happening with the characters in this series and looking forward to reading more.

Weighing this issue as a good jumping on point, I think it accomplishes that in spades. As a reader, you don’t really need to know much, if anything, about Hex. Palmiotti and Gray define him very well within the pages of this issue. A reader can quickly tell through the actions of the character and the doctor’s narration just what sort of individual he is. Yet there is also plenty of mystery about him, which certainly is enticing for a reader. To me, this is the perfect example of how a series relaunch should be executed.

Overall, I think this was an outstanding issue. It may very well be my favorite debut issue of the bunch. The story was exceptionally well crafted and the narration device was the perfect touch. The art was very good and fit the mood and style of the series well. This title has been added to my pull list at my local shop and I can’t wait to see how the rest of this story plays out.

Batgirl no. 1
Gail Simone/Ardian Syaf/Vicente Cifuentes
As an existing DCU reader, I’m an avid fan of the Black Canary, Huntress, and Oracle (Barbara Gordon) team that was the core of the Birds of Prey series. And I was rather pleased with the recent Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl. So I can’t say I have any excitement whatsoever for the relaunch of Batgirl with Barbara Gordon back under the cowl. I only read this first issue for review purposes, not because I actually had any desire to jump into the new series. So you can say I’m a disaffected fan on this one. They say don’t fix what isn’t broken. Well,

Batgirl wasn’t broken (neither was Birds of Prey exactly), so this ‘fix’ was unnecessary.
Looking at this as a fresh jumping on point, it has its pluses and minuses. There is enough of a hint of back story to paint the picture for a new reader that Barbara Gordon had a brief crime fighting career as Batgirl cut short by a gunshot that damaged her spine and left her confined to a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down for three years, but a recent ‘miracle’ has given her the use of her legs again. So now she is on the scene as Batgirl once more and the reader gets to see what is presumably her first adventure back in the costume again. It accomplishes what it needs to in order to get the reader up to speed on the character and establishes a bit of a supporting cast. Beyond that, it just isn’t really that good of a comic.

Overall, I didn’t really find the story very appealing. I was disappointed the ‘miracle’ that allowed Barbara to walk again was not revealed (though I imagine Gail Simone is saving that for a future issue, which is certainly understandable) because that is really the one thing I wanted to know coming into this title.

I also found the ending to this issue to be poorly conceived. Batgirl rushes to the scene where a new villain has shot a police officer and is threatening to kill a hospitalized home invader (who Batgirl had actually apprehended earlier in the issue). It is clearly a dire situation, yet she takes the time to run her motorcycle into the hospital and then take an elevator (still on the motorcycle) up to the 14th floor. Wouldn’t it have been faster to fire a cable to the 14th floor and bring herself up that way (she opens the issue with a little device that fires a cable she uses to swing from a gargoyle head she is standing on – so we know she has some of those ‘wonderful toys’). Worse still, once she gets to the room, she freezes up because the villain aims his gun at her, allowing the villain time to push his victim out the window (presumably killing him). A female police officer (who the villain left dazed on the floor when he entered the room) staggers up and points her gun at BATGIRL and calls HER a murderer because she just stood there and let the man die. All the while the villain who pushed the man out of the window (and who, as I mentioned previously, killed another police officer moments before) is still standing right there. It is the height of ridiculousness, and frankly, I expect better of Gail Simone.

One of the other things I didn’t really like is that this Barbara doesn’t have the same sort of strength of character we’ve come to know from Barbara Gordon-Oracle. This Barbara Gordon lives with her father (though she actually moves out in this issue). I understand that after the incident that left her paralyzed, it would likely be natural for her to live with her father for a while. But given that she has had the use of her legs back for long enough to have gotten herself back into crime fighting shape (she already had the upper body strength, but it would definitely take some time to regain the leg strength, overall athleticism, and most importantly, the full confidence in her legs to take the impacts that would be part of her activities), it certainly seems like she had more than enough time to get back out on her own. On top of that, her new place isn’t a space all her own – she has a roommate. That certainly isn’t conducive to the freedom and conveniences necessary for a life as a masked crime fighter. I imagine it will provide material for future stories (trying to keep her secret from her roommate, etc.), but it just seems like a tired cliché (she’s been keeping the secret from her father for years --- now throw in a roommate and add water). I just don’t like the set-up. I’m used to the Barbara Gordon-Oracle who had funds for her own building (outfitted with an extensive security systems designed to keep out or slow super-villains). This setup reminds a little more of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl – someone who still lived at home while attending college and doing the crime fighting thing in her spare time. And if that is the sort of arrangement they intended, why the heck did they need to bring Barbara Gordon back to the costume and give Stephanie Brown the boot? It is a waste of two good characters if you ask me. So, to summarize – I don’t like it. And this is the only issue I will be reading.

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