Pipeline: DC's New 52 - The First Batch

Tue, September 13th, 2011 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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By now, you've read a lot of reviews of the first 13 titles of DC Comics' New 52. Another batch hits store shelves and digital devices tomorrow, but let's take one last look at many of those titles today. I won't go through full reviews of each, but I'll be looking at random things from ten of the titles.

Consider this the Odds and Ends bin of New 52 reviews:

"Action Comics" #1:

It's nice of DC Comics to reach across company lines and give Mark Gruenwald a place in the DCU as a Metropolis police officer chasing down Superman.

While we all know the big death at the end of this issue is a fake out, it is interesting to see how much blood the new 52 is drawing without the Red Lanterns comic due out until next week.

Superman is a public crusader for all that NPR tells him is evil in the world? This could get tiring fast...

Brent Anderson's coloring is the star for me. Rags Morales' art is nice, but it needs the layer of earth tones on it that Anderson gives it to sell it. I don't see how a brighter, more colorful palette would help the art. Maybe that's why I'm liking this more than "Identity Crisis" already? Less primary colors?

By the way, "Identity Crisis" is seven years old already. How old do you feel now?

"Batgirl" #1:

Batgirl's costume is the very definition of "needlessly fussy," isn't it? The little bits of ribbing on the inside thighs, arms, and rib; the texture to the gloves; the random seam lines drawn throughout the costume.

That Adam Hughes cover does nothing for me. The big problem is that it looks like Batgirl's face is from one painting, and everything else on the cover is from a completely different piece of work.

Gail Simone's final page cliffhanger is unusually strong, just for being so unusual. I can't remember reading one like that, ever. Good job.

"Stormwatch" #1:

I was hoping for more here, honestly. What I ended up with is an early attempt at getting some of the attitude right from the classic Warren Ellis run with many of his developed characters, but winding up with something forgettable. I read the book two days ago and right now couldn't tell you much of anything that happened. I think there was one, maybe two, clever bits, but that pales next to the original run.

I think of all the new 52 titles debuting this month, "Stormwatch" is the one most likely to be compared to its former self, just because of its popularity and its recent age. There's a focused set of issues everyone read and remembers, much more so than the entire run of "Action Comics" or "Detective Comics," to use the two most extreme examples.

Miguel Sepulveda's art doesn't do much for me, either, and I'm not even comparing him to the liked of Bryan Hitch, Oscar Jimenez or Tom Raney. I'm not even a big Raney fan, to be honest. But Sepulveda's art is inconsistent, his characters often gangly and lean, looking uncomfortable when they're just standing around.

"Detective Comics" #1:

Icky. Icky icky icky.

I do like Tony Daniel's art more than most, though. It's the artistic highlight of this first week of DC's new lineup. It's beautiful, even if the content matter is so often icky and off-putting. Daniel's thin lines and detailed line work is improved by the colors of Tomeu Morey, whose painterly (almost watercolored) style keeps the book grounded. It doesn't have that look of a computer-colored comic. It almost reminds me of the type of work you'd see in the higher end DC prestige format books of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

It's probably fair to rate this book as "Teen," but then "Action Comics" #1 is "Teen" and seems benign by comparison. I would have given this one a "Teen Plus." Does anyone ever read the ratings next to the UPC box, though? Does it matter?

"Hawk and Dove" #1

In that opening two page spread, Hawk looks really bored for a man who's punching out two people at the same time. His stance exudes complete indifference for a man on board a hijacked plane.

It's a small thing, I know, but I like the page layouts Rob Liefeld uses in the opening half of the issue, where a white border appears on the left and right side of the pages, giving each page a taller look with a heavier black border to showcase it.

As for the rest of it: You know what kind of artist Liefeld is. Nothing in here will change your mind one way or the other. Storywise, Sterling Gates is starting something here. I'll read the next issue to see how he jumps off from here, but I'm not excited yet by it.

"Batwing" #1:

One thing I think a lot of writers are getting right with their first issues is their last pages. Most every issue I've read so far has a big turn of events at the end -- on the last page or two -- to excite the reader for the next issue. "Batwing" has a strong one on page 19, for sure.

I like Ben Oliver's figure work, but there's work yet to be done on storytelling and backgrounds. There are few backgrounds, and characters sometimes appear and disappear from the page at random. The best example of this in the issue is the introduction of Samuel Jackson in a golden Hawaiian shirt in "The Haven," which is Batwing's Batcave. There's no way of telling where he's standing in The Haven and, in fact, only appears in the same panel with Batwing once. His big introduction is a jarring surprise that makes you wonder if you just jumped to a new scene or something. He's not even present in silhouette form before that.

Right now, Oliver is a better illustrator than sequential storyteller. There's a lot of potential there, though, and I hope it gets fully realized. Maybe he just needs more time and the monthly schedule isn't going to work for him?

"Animal Man" #1:

Jeff Lemire is clever in this issue, and I think that's a large part of what's earning this book such high praise so far. I like the way Buddy invokes his animal powers, and the often subtle ways he uses them around the house amuses me. But an extended dream sequence in the second half of the issue robbed it of all momentum for me, even if it leads into the big final page reveal for this issue.

It's a pair of gross-out images for the comic that grab your attention. But at least nobody got impaled.

Travel Foreman changes his art style drastically for this issue, and I'm not a fan. While I like some of the neat layout tricks and perspective shifts, I'm afraid the extremely thin-lined art (as inked by himself and Dan Green) doesn't do anything for me. I'm trying to decide if it's so sparse as a stylistic choice, or a deadline-beating choice.


Those buildings in the scene when Animal Man shows up at the hospital made me laugh. It might work as a rough layout, but the simplistic rectangles loosely drawn on a tall rectangle to represent lights in a tall building made me cringe. It's either that or it uses state of the art CGI techniques, the kinds used to draw backgrounds for video games in 1995.

I wish half as much attention was paid to drawing details on backgrounds as is necessary in drawing the new costumes on the characters.

"Justice League International" #1:

You won't find a bigger fan of the original "Justice League International" than me. The Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire run set the bar pretty high for superhero team comics. More than two decades later, here comes an attempt to recreate it from scratch with a model more relevant to the modern times, and with most of the humor removed. What you wind up with is a fairly standard, though entertaining, superhero team comic. If nothing else, it proves the one truism of comedic stories: you need a strong dramatic spine to the thing to make it work and to be memorable.

The Bwah-ha-ha era had those plots and those character arcs and the drama. We may quote the one-liners or remember the sillier bits of those stories, but they come up by way of the conflicts and drama under the surface. "One punch!" isn't so funny because one guy took out another with a single jab. It's funny because of the way the relationship between Batman and Guy Gardner started out and built up. It's funny because of the reactions from the rest of the cast of characters, pleased with what happened because of their own conflicts with Gardner.

Take that humor away and you have just another standard superhero comic. That's what this "JLI" is. Dan Jurgens brings the U.N.-based superhero team into the 21st century, does away with the "sillier" trappings of the original series, and gives us something that could, in the long term, be a very character-based.

Aaron Lopresti's art is pleasing. He's always been good at eye candy, and he gives us some of that here, but he's also an overall strong artist. His storytelling is just as solid as his figure construction.

Bonus points for including a character with "August" in his name, though.

Right now, "JLI" is in the early for being the most traditional superhero team book in the lineup, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. There should be something for everyone across 52 titles, right?

"Swamp Thing" #1:

It's a little talky, but that didn't bother me. It's well-crafted and constructed, and doesn't lose me as a new "Swamp Thing" reader. I can figure out that Holland and Swampy have been separated. I get that. The rest of it has some interesting takes on the characters and cute in-jokes for long-term readers and fans. Scott Snyder gets credit for that. It might be a bit too complicated for a new reader, though.

Yanick Paquette gets credit for beautiful art, reminiscent of Tommy Lee Edwards or Kevin Nowlan. For a guy who's often known as a pretty girl artist, he's given none of that in this issue and still draws an inviting comic, complete with more members of the Justice League than showed up in "Justice League" #1.

Static Shock #1:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first Aquaman moment of DC's New 52! Again, it's another shocking last page, though I suspect one whose ramifications will be extremely short-lived.

I've never read a Static comic before. He strikes me as an ultra-smart science kid, sort of a modern-day Peter Parker in Harlem. I like his interaction with his family, and look forward to maybe a little comeuppance from his often too flippant approach to crime fighting.

RANDOM 52 THOUGHTS

One more overall thought: I've seen lots of comments and questions from people in the last week who had issues with the fact that the comics are set in separate time periods. Most of the titles are set in the "here and now," while some go back further in time ("Justice League") or even further back ("Action Comics"), or skip around amidst time frames. If DC is serious about drawing in new and lapsed readers, wouldn't it be easier to have every comic running at the same point in the timeline?

And then I remembered the grief Bill Jemas used to get at Marvel a decade ago for his edict that comics shouldn't have flashbacks. That certainly was one way to taking care of the problem DC is currently setting itself up with. Good ol' Jemas was prescient once again...

I off-handedly wondered last week if the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee "Justice League" comic could be compared favorably to the Giffen/DeMatteis "Justice League" #1 issue of 25 years prior. I went back and read the issue, and found that the Bwah-Ha-Ha first issue contains a far stronger story in it than the modern #1. The amount of story, character, and adventure in the issue far surpassed what DC was able to put out at their flagship comic in 2011. I wanted to read Bwah-Ha-Ha's second issue more, even though its first contained a story with an actual ending.

Lesson learned: You don't need "To Be Continued" to excite readers for the next issue. The tease wasn't in wondering what came next. The tease was that I was so entertained by the style and execution of the story that I wanted to see the same creative team do it again and again, along with the promises the first issue made with its teases for future stories. By comparison, the Johns/Lee comic has a couple of neat scenes, a last page surprise, and the promise that it might be entertaining next issue, but there's no guarantee that you'll have a full story yet even by then.

The biggest indictment of this new launch of DC Comics, though, is that most of it could have been done without relaunching the whole universe. "Batwing" doesn't need it at all. "Justice League International" doesn't need it. "Animal Man" doesn't need it. "Detective Comics" doesn't really need it. Nor "Static Shock." These are comics with but the most minor tweaks to differentiate then from what DC published last week. Over the years, we've had any number of new series debut with new takes on old favorite characters where the reader just had to accept the premise shift and everything else made sense. The New 52, while being marketed as telling stories that couldn't have been done before, really is filled with stories that any new #1 issue could have satisfied. The only difference is, now they all have more seams in their costumes and armor on their soft fleshy parts.

It's not that there aren't some entertaining comics to be had here, but how this is necessary and world-changing is beyond me. I guess it isn't, but it's marketing. Just saying, "We're starting at #1 for everyone" would be lame and nonsensical. You grab more media attention with a full relaunch.

Though, from a lapsed DC Universe reader's point of view, starting at #1 across the line with a new relaunch and a reconfigured timeline probably makes it easier for me to accept the line and appreciate it all. So if lapsed readers are the target audience with this, they've done good. Now let's see if it'll satisfy the non-comics fans coming to the table.

And I'm not at all shocked by CBR's New Reader Test showing that JLI is one of the only books that hooked new readers. It's straightforward superheroics with a large cast of colorful characters you might want to learn more about, without being mired in continuity or baggage that this whole initiative was supposed to wipe clean.

Also: No arms got cut off, no swords sliced through anyone's abdomens, no trains crushed any superheroes, nobody's face got cut off, and nobody got tortured. Doesn't that sound like an appealing change of pace from the rest of DC's lineup?

AND IN CONCLUSION...

13 more books are being released this week, and I'll be working my way through all of them, hopefully. I've read some non-DC books, too, and I hope to have time to discuss some of that, too. (Hint: "Pigs" #1 at Image this week is a strong first issue with a great premise.)

I also have a photography blog, AugieShoots.com, where I'm posting nearly daily. VariousandSundry.com hasn't been updated in a little while, but that's where I go to vent on all the other topics in my life.

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TAGS:  pipeline, new 52, dc comics

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