Monday, March 26, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 3

Here is the third 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.]

Batman The Dark Knight no. 1
Paul Jenkins/David Finch/Richard Friend
I haven’t previously been a regular Batman reader (which is probably a little odd considering I like the character better than Superman, and yet I was a regular reader of some of the Superman books for a brief time many years ago). I’ve enjoyed the character quite a bit in his Justice League appearances, but I just never felt the need to actually follow his exploits in any of his solo books.

Given my status as a regular reader of the DCU, you would think I would have a pretty good handle on the current state of the Batman. However, as I was reading this issue, I found myself confused as to whether any of the changes prior to the relaunch (in regards to Bruce Wayne openly announcing his financial support for Batman) are still in the play. In this issue, an officer from internal affairs makes comments to Bruce that would seem to lean in the direction that it is known Bruce is funding Batman. I wish there was a little more clarity on that issue because I think that is something that might be even more confusing to a brand new reader (who is likely to be operating on the assumption that Bruce’s connection to Batman is not common knowledge). Aside from Bruce and Alfred, the only other characters in this debut issue who are familiar would be the villains, but even some of those are not exactly as we remember them. We are introduced to one new character – Jaina Hudson – who I expect will play some sort of a significant role in the future. She is the daughter of a diplomatic attaché who Bruce knew many years previous. She appears to be flirting with him, and if things follow comic book form, I would guess at some point she will likely turn out to be someone who tries to swindle him or lure him into some manner of trap (hopefully I’m wrong and this isn’t as predictable a setup as comic readers are accustomed to). One other character surprise we find is with Two-Face. He appears to have ‘Hulked-out’. Or maybe he got a hold of some of Bane’s chemical enhancer.

While there is nothing off-putting in this issue, I don’t think a new reader would come away with any strong connection to it. We see Batman, then we see Bruce Wayne mixing it up at a charity gala, then we see Batman aiding police during a breakout at Arkham Asylum. It is a just another ho-hum superhero comic. Nothing that grabs a reader and says “you should be reading this book”. Certainly nothing that would make this series stand out from the other bat-titles.

My assessment of this issue is there is nothing especially good here, but certainly nothing bad. It definitely hasn’t locked in a spot on my regular reading list. I’ll continue reading through this first story arc, but if it doesn’t do anything to separate itself from the other bat-books, then likely I will move on without it.

Detective Comics no. 1
Tony S. Daniel/Ryan Winn
I’m familiar, as are most, with the odd nature of Batman and the Joker’s relationship. I know of Batman’s no-kill principle and am well aware the Joker is a homicidal maniac. Yet, when the numbers become a tangible thing (as they do in this issue), it really makes Batman look like a rather pathetic character. One-hundred fourteen murders over a six year span are attributed to the Joker. An additional one is added at the beginning of this issue. And given his history, we know that as long as the Joker lives, there will be more deaths. Yet at no point does Batman feel the need to permanently remove this scourge from his city, nor does he seems to believe a maximum security prison is the appropriate place for a mass-murderer given his propensity for returning Joker to Arkham Asylum whenever he apprehends him.

As a jumping on point, this issue provides a reader with another instance of the hunter and hunted relationship between Batman and the Joker. We also find that Batman is at odds with the police at the mayor’s behest (though his old friend Jim Gordon still has his back). And the reader is also given a glimpse into the detective aspect of Batman’s character. So it is a pretty decent introduction as far as all of those elements go.

On the other hand, this just isn’t a very well written comic. I don’t really care for Tony Daniel’s style on this issue. The narrative was very stiff and it just did not flow well at all. The art was decent for the most part, but there were a few panels where some of the character poses were a little awkward. I will say that the plot has some potential and it could turn out that this is an entertaining story arc, but for me personally, I just can’t get past the writing style.

Batman no. 1
Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion
This is technically supposed to be the flagship among the bat-books. As such, I would expect this issue to make the best first impression. In that, I can say that it most definitely delivered.

Viewing this as a fresh starting point, it provides a quick introduction to Batman’s inner circle (Alfred, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damien Wayne). Readers get a chance to meet Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock. Snyder also takes the opportunity to demonstrate Batman in his element as a detective dissecting a crime scene. One other thing Snyder does over the course of this issue is start defining the ‘character’ of Gotham as it relates to Bruce Wayne and Batman. All in all, this issue provides an excellent beginning point for a new or returned reader.

I was happy with this issue for the most part. I thought the story was excellent and very well written. I didn’t have the same problems with style presentation in the narrative here as I did with Tony Daniel’s work in the Detective Comic issue. I like that there is a mystery in place to be solved and it isn’t just a case of Batman chasing one of his rogue’s gallery members across the pages here. One thing I did not care for however was the art. I’ve experienced Greg Capullo’s work in other series and I’ve thought him to be a pretty good artist for the most part. There is a cartoony element to his style however that really just doesn’t work for me here. It was fine in a series like Spawn, but it just feels a little out of place in Batman. It is especially true with the regular characters (the non-costumed and non-villain members of the cast). They just don’t have the right feel to them. I’m hoping this will improve with future issues as Capullo gets more familiar with drawing these characters.

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