Saturday, March 24, 2012

DC Firsts - The New 52

This post is long overdue. I've been meaning to give my view of the DC relaunch for several months now. DC's new 52 relaunch began in September of 2011 (though the very first comic actually hit stands the final week of August). Yet here it is March of 2012 and the 7th issues of the relaunch have already started to show up in comic shops. That is an awfully long time since the debut. I had to re-read most of those first issues again in January when I started writing up my thoughts on them.

My plan is to look at the first issues of the relaunched titles keeping in mind three points of view. The first point of view is as an established reader who read a number of titles from the previous DCU (most of which I liked) and already has some concerns about how the changes and new approach will affect titles and characters I was mostly happy with. The second point of view is as someone looking at the books being a fresh jumping on point, especially for people who may not be familiar with a lot of the characters and concepts. The third point of view is just a generic perspective of whether I think the story (and art) are actually good, regardless of whether they do (or don't) provide a good jumping on point or how they might compare to previous incarnations.

I actually ended up checking out more titles than I initially intended, but there are still a fair number I did not read (DC Universe Presents, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Men of War, O.M.A.C., Static Shock, Stormwatch, Batman and Robin, Green Arrow, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Superboy, Green Lantern Corps, Blue Beetle, Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman, Fury of Firestorm, and Nightwing).

So let's jump right to it. Each blog entry is going to cover three titles (except this first one). I'll start off with the first book to actually hit the shops (that being Justice League) as that was the very first exposure to the new DCU, and then I'll mostly keep to alphabetical order after that.

Justice League no. 1
Geoff Johns/Jim Lee/Scott Williams

It has been a few year since last I read Justice League. I quit near the end of Dwayne McDuffie's run because the 'brain trust' left him with a watered down team that was missing a lot of the big gun characters and I wasn't overly interested in the stories being told with the second stringers (I don't blame McDuffie for my lack of interest in those stories - he was doing the best he could with what he had to work with). After McDuffie left the title (whether by choice or perhaps he was forced off -- I don't recall the details), James Robinson eventually came on board and he was given access to all of the good toys. However, I didn't jump back onboard as I wasn't thrilled with some of the work Robinson was doing involving Roy Harper in other projects, so I didn't feel like supporting his Justice League efforts.

Looking at this first issue as an existing fan of the Justice League franchise, I felt like this was a decent enough issue, though I am for the most part indifferent (neither excessively excited nor overly disappointed). I have some concerns regarding how the characters are presented given the new timeline. This title is supposed to be occurring five years prior to what we will be seeing in most of the other relaunched titles and is chronicling the beginning of the Justice League. Batman is supposed to be fairly well established, though his existence is mostly chalked up to an urban legend. Superman is also fairly new on the scene (Action Comics will be chronicling his early days prior to his becoming the Superman of the present day), though his alien heritage seems to be common knowledge. What I find most bothersome is Green Lantern is exhibiting extremely precise control of his power ring. He is able to create very complex constructs without noticeable effort (he generates a full blown fire truck to violently plow into an alien adversary --- and later he generates multiple fire trucks in order to combat several fires). For a character I expected would be fairly new in his role (perhaps less than a year), he is doing things that we typically don't even see the previous incarnation of Hal Jordan doing even though that version had many years of experience under his belt.

Johns established the quirks of the characters fairly quickly in this initial issue. Batman is rather brief and dismissing and we know he thinks it best if the world is afraid of superheroes. Hal is cocky, flashy, and the type who doesn't look before he leaps. We briefly meet a young Vic Stone who is a high school football star with a father who is immersed in his work (to the extent of neglecting his son) that involves studying superheroes in some form. We only meet Superman on the last page after he demonstrates to Hal that he isn't so easily handled.

Looking at this issue with the idea of it being a fresh jumping on point for a new reader, I feel like it is mostly accessible. It isn't likely someone would come in without some level of knowledge of Batman, so it isn't really necessary to spend much time defining his character right away. Hal, on the other hand, isn't quite as iconic in nature, and even though there has been a recent major motion picture for the character, I still think it isn't unreasonable to think that a new reader wouldn't necessarily be familiar with him or understand his abilities. To that end, I think Johns could have done a little better job of introducing him.

As to whether this was an entertaining story in general terms, I would say yes. As I mentioned, Johns does a good job of establishing the primary quirks of the two most prominent characters in this issue. And certainly you are left wanting to read the next installment once you reach the end of the issue (and really, isn't that the goal -- make the reader want/need to come back next month). We know these characters are eventually going to end up as teammates, but clearly there is going to be conflict initially as they take the measure of and determine the motives of each other, and as a reader I obviously want to see how that all plays out. As for the art, you have the classic team of Jim Lee and Scott Williams, so you know exactly what you are getting there.

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