Thursday, March 29, 2012

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.

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