Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52 part 4

Here is the fourth 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.]

Batwing no. 1
Judd Winick/Ben Oliver
Batwing is one of the few truly new characters to emerge among DC’s relaunched books. The character initially debuted in the pages of the short-lived Batman, Incorporated title, so his presence in this issue isn’t his first exposure to DC readers.
Given this is a relatively new character, there is a mostly blank canvas to work with in introducing him not only to new readers, but also to existing DCU readers. This issue provides a little insight as to his relationship with Batman and also gives a glimpse of who he is when not operating as a costumed hero. It also establishes two characters in the supporting cast. And of course, it introduces a villains – can’t have a superhero comic without a villain.

I thought the issue was fairly well written overall. It starts in present day with the hero battling the villain, then jumps back six weeks to establish the events that lead up to that battle. One minor disappointment I had is the fact that it never brings us back to the present day. You get the opening sequence, and then the rest of the issue focuses on the preceding weeks. I would also like to know a little more about the title character. How did he become Batwing? I’m not sure how much of that information may have been provided in the pages of the Batman, Incorporated issues that featured the character, but I imagine more of those details will emerge in future issues. One of the more pleasant surprises with this issue was the art. There were not a lot in the way of backgrounds, but the characters looked good. I think the real star of the issue was the colorist Brian Reber. While I did have some issues with the palette (too much brown in the background colors which kind of gave things a muddy look), everything at the forefront (particularly the characters) looked fantastic.

I’m certainly intrigued enough with this initial issue that I would like to see how the rest of this story arc plays out, but beyond that I don’t see myself choosing to read a Batman book that isn’t centered around the original.

Batwoman no. 1
J.H. Williams III/W. Haden Blackman
This series is a long time coming. It was announced even before the new 52 and ended up getting pushed back to coincide with the relaunch of DC’s line. I thoroughly enjoyed the Batwoman arc that ran in Detective Comics a couple of years ago from Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III and have been very much looking forward to this one.

It seems fairly clear to me that this first issue wasn’t written with the DC relaunch in mind as it takes up from the end of the Detective Comics run and does very little to establish the characters involved for a new reader. As a fresh jumping on point, I think it fails in that regard. A reader has to have read the Detective Comics run to really have a feel for the characters presented here. In fact, readers get a better picture of Batwoman’s new partner (her cousin Bette – the former Flamebird) than they really do of the book’s lead. I understand this book was completed, if not all of it then certainly most of it, prior to the announcement of the relaunch. However, I really think DC would have been better served moving this one to the second issue and starting fresh with completely new material for a first issue that would serve as a primer to introduce new readers to Batwoman.

Since I did read the Detective Comics arc, I didn’t need a new primer to bring me up to speed on the character, so this issue didn’t skip a beat for me as far as that goes. Really my biggest question going into this new series was how well the writing would compare to that of the original arc since Greg Rucka isn’t attached. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as good (as Rucka is a very talented writer, so his shoes are not going to be easy to fill), so I wasn’t disappointed by the fact that this script wasn’t as tight as what we’ve seen before. It was still a pretty decent story, even though it jumped around a little more than I would have liked. But it certainly has set up some elements I’m looking forward to seeing played out in upcoming issues and that is definitely a positive thing. And then of course you have the art. Anyone who read the Batwoman arc in Detective Comics knows what a phenomenal job J.H. Williams III did, so there was little doubt that we would be getting the same level of brilliance in this one. And there was certainly no let down there. All in all, a pretty good debut for this new series (if you were not a first time reader) and I definitely will be back for more.

Birds of Prey no. 1
Duane Swierczynski/Jesus Saiz
I have been a long time reader of Birds of Prey. In fact, it was one of my favorite series for a number of years. Those days are gone however. Even though Dinah Lance/Black Canary is one of my favorite characters, this series is not on my current reading list. I have no interest in this new incarnation of the team. I only read this first issue for review purposes (see also comments on the first issue of Batgirl).

A new reader picking up this series would likely be left with a lot of questions. Just exactly who are these characters and why should we care about them? There is a reporter following Black Canary and Starling. It appears he is being used as a pawn to get at BC and Starling. According to the reporter, his search for information on Starling via various databases has brought up virtually nothing. Black Canary is supposedly wanted for murdering someone with one punch. Dinah and Barbara Gordon do not appear to be on the best of terms (Dinah invited her to be part of her team but Barbara doesn’t seem like she wants to have anything to do with her --- strange given they were best of friends in a previous incarnation but clearly we don’t know the extent of their relationship in this new DCU). And someone appears to be hunting Black Canary and Starling (using the reporter as bait and then discarding him in a most vicious way when he has performed his role). A new reader might be intrigued enough by this opening salvo to wonder who is actually after the duo and what the details are behind Dinah’s supposed murder of someone. Those two questions seem to me the only thing that would actually bring someone back for a second issue.

As a reader of the previous incarnation of this series, I personally didn’t find anything to like here. I don’t like not really knowing the details of Dinah and Barbara’s relationship, and I certainly don’t like that the two seem to be on bad terms and that Barbara would appear to have doubts about Dinah’s potential innocence in the charge of murder against her. I have zero familiarity with Starling (is she a new character?) and frankly didn’t see anything in these pages that made me want to find out more about her. I didn’t find her as interesting as the Huntress or Zinda, neither of whom is in this new series.

As to whether this is actually a good comic --- I suppose it isn’t bad as an espionage vehicle. It sort of reminds me a little of an action film. Not a lot of exposition, just hit the ground running with lots of bullets and explosions. If you’re into that kind of thing, then this issue probably works for you. If you like a little more detail and back story to go along with your movie, then you are kind of out of luck (at least in this first issue --- likely a lot of those things should start to get filled in with subsequent issues). The problem with a comic is that you’re not getting the full 75 to 90 minute flick in one sitting. You’ve got 20 pages to sell someone on whether they want to return to sit through the whole ‘film’. I’m really not quite sure this one did enough to get that kind of commitment. At least from a new reader --- it certainly isn’t getting it from me.

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