Pipeline: DC's New 52 - Week Two

Tue, September 20th, 2011 at 3:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
9

"Grifter" starts a shaggy haired blond con-man.


No, not that one:


Nor is that guy's show any relation to "Legion Lost," though the logo confusion might be obvious. White, off-kilter, sans serif, all-caps? Check, check, check, check.


We also learned that the ongoing epidemic of outrageously roomy airplanes in comics continues its march through DC's New 52. Check out the comfortable leg room here. Why, Grifter could practically train for a marathon running in all the room between the rows of seats there, and in the aisles.

Kudos to Fernando Dagnino on "Resurrection Man" who didn't draw a super-roomy airplane.

There are lots of airplanes in comics, aren't there? Hal Jordan can't wait to fly one again in "Green Lantern." Grifter fakes a terrorist attack and a fake bomb in "Grifter." Mitch Shelley gets attacked in the middle of a flight and rips a hole in the middle of the plane. The Suicide Squad jumps out of one at the end of their first issue. "Hawk and Dove" opens on a plane flying straight into downtown Washington D.C., and eventually clips the Washington Monument. Justice League International has their own airplane, courtesy Queen Industries. Deathstroke is breaking into a plane in mid-flight and jumping out before it blows up, mid-air.

DC's writers aren't shying away from people on airplanes faking bomb threats and having fights before ramming planes into Washington D.C. monuments in the month of September. Ouch.

I blame conventions for this, by the way. I think too many DC plots are written during long flights home. What else will flying writers think about than all the ways their flight could go horribly awry. It's the same reason why tech writers review all new devices on the basis on whether they'd be useful on a long flight across country. That's an absolutely useless metric to most of their readers, but they're stuck in their own little world.

It's amazing how quickly one can fall behind on reading a mere 13 comics in a week. I did get through more than half of last week's stack, so let's take a look at those.

"Batwoman" #1: I never read the original run by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. It's always been on the wish list, but always got pushed back by something else. I enjoyed this first issue, mostly for the way it utilizes the comics format in lieu of being a pitch piece for a multimedia extravaganza. Williams thinks about page space and layouts and storytelling tricks, and it's a lot of fun to see what he comes up with. They may not always be new or revolutionary, but they do make for an interesting comic to read, every time. I haven't seen an artist play around this much with page layouts since Todd McFarlane on "Infinity Inc." McFarlane admits to using it as a splashy show-off technique. Williams tries a bit harder to make it a storytelling choice, though it's not always completely successful. Sometimes, I think a straight panel grid might tell the story better, though it wouldn't be as visually interesting. Life is filled with such trade offs.

Storywise, I get what's going on. I can't say the villain excites me or the characters, themselves, immediately fascinate me, but I'm willing to give it time to grow on me. So far, this is the most artistically accomplished new title of the New 52.

Sadly, there's not much competition. There's a lot of blah artwork. Some of it tries to break out of the standard superhero comic norm, but is just in a style I don't like. Some of it tries to blend in with all the other superhero norms and winds up looking stale and boring. Oddly enough, the biggest surprise from Week One should have been the least surprising.

The "Green Arrow" art team of Dan Jurgens and George Perez is not breaking new ground with their art at all. In fact, they've done this style before, on "Teen Titans," but I forgot just how good it was. This is classic superhero storytelling, and it works so well because it looks so good. Perez adds all the niggling little detail to Jurgens' artistic template. Characters are distinct and well defined. Backgrounds are present. Storytelling is very strong. This is good old fashion superhero comics, and I love it for that.

In the realm of blah artwork comes "Grifter" #1. I mentioned the crazy plane layout earlier, but the entire issue seems underdrawn somehow. CAFU needs a much stronger ink job than he got in this issue, at the very least, though I'm not sure that there aren't foundational issues that no amount of ink slinging could save. It doesn't help that the story is underwhelming, but the boring art doesn't help.

"Resurrection Man" works the best out of all the issues I read in the last week. Artist Fernando Dagnino has a slightly more photorealistic style than I'd normally agree with, but he does enough with it to avoid being a phototracer. I like the scratchy lines and the varied angles and the diverse people populating the issue. It's a mix of Butch Guice and Tom Mandrake. Given that Guice was the artist in the original series starring this character, it feels like a natural fit.

The story from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning kept me interested throughout. It's a story that keeps rolling, like a snowball down the hill. Resurrection Man's first post-death experience happens earlier than I expected, and such sudden shifts kept my interest, wondering what might happen next.

I haven't read "Red Lanterns" yet, mostly because the very basis for the series seems somewhat repugnant to me. (If your series lends itself so easily to characters coated in blood on the cover, then I'll pass, thanks.) But in flipping through the issue, the opening two page spread of a bloody cat in a costume leaping at the reader made me laugh out loud. It's the combination of cuteness and nastiness that sells the thing. It almost makes me want to read the book, though some of what I saw later in the issue still turns me off.

I did read and enjoy "Superboy," though. This one feels like a pleasant throwback to the comics I was reading a decade ago or more. Part of that, obviously, has to do with Scott Lobdell's script. He has a way with his occasionally verbose text to keep your eye moving. Yes, there's a lot to read by comparison to most comics these days, but it doesn't slow you down. It feels natural. It isn't straight expository prose.

R.B. Silva is a great artistic choice for the series. He draws characters who look their ages, and his overall style is clean and bright. He's a breath of fresh air for the dark, torturous DC environment these days. I hope he can keep up with the deadlines, because he's a great fit for this book.

"Batman and Robin" #1 has some great dialogue between the two title characters written by Peter Tomasi. Damien can liven up any scene a competent writer places him in. The only problem is that the first half of the issue is a bit of a philosophical snooze, to the point where even Damien points out how ridiculous Batman is starting to sound.

Patrick Gleason's art doesn't sell me on the book. It feels thin. While there are some nice almost Kelley Jones-inspired moments, there's also some confusing storytelling at the height of the action and and overall "thin" feeling to the art. Backgrounds disappear, characters get covered in shadows, and even the most simple panels seem awkward somehow. I suspect that inker Mick Gray is a clash for the pencils. Maybe a different inker could help shore up the art.

Also in this issue, Alfred hands a physical item over to Batman, which is the first clue I've seen that the New 52 DC Universe version of Alfred isn't a mere hologram. It's a theory I had read somewhere that made sense to me. This is the first proof against it I've seen. Or, it's the first hole to be poked at any future plot point contending that Alfred was virtual.

And, also, because this is a modern DC comic, there's torture porn as a bookend to the story. Speaking of which:

"Suicide Squad," the most beloved of titles getting a revamp in the week, had the most to lose in comparing it to it ancestors and, sure enough, it does. The bulk of the issue is flat out torture porn. It's so out of any context and yet also so obvious to predict what's going on that the lack of framing for it is what creates the sensationalistic atmosphere for the issue. Much as a comparison to the Giffen-era "Justice League" shows how shallow the New 52 "Justice League" title is, I think comparing this first issue to the original John Ostrander-penned "Suicide Squad" would show how far off the mark the new Squad is. The original was about politics and character and conflict. This one is about a group of bad guys getting tortured and surviving. Big friggin' whoop.

The Amanda Waller thing (she's not overweight now, so the Internet can explode) is peanuts in comparison to that mistake.

So how did week two go, overall? While I have my issues and on-going concerns, I wound up enjoying more of what I was reading than normal. We can talk about deadlines costing creative teams down the line, and the rash of fairly flat art and torture porn we've seen so far, but there's also lots to be excited for and intrigued by. There must have been an editorial mandate to make those last pages of every first issue exciting, because it's a pattern that's both obvious and welcome. Let's hope they can follow up with something just as strong in the second month.

But first, we still have two more weeks of exciting debuts to come. I think the best part of this relaunch is the new sense of community DC has created. For the first time in a long time with comics, the New 52 is that story that everyone's reading. If you want to have a conversation with a comics fan, but don't know where to start, the New 52 is the place to go. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is reading some part of it. It's exciting to go online knowing that so many have read the same thing you have this week. That might just be DC's biggest success.

NEAR DEATH #1

There's another first issue that deserves your attention this week, and that's "Near Death," from Jay Faerber through Image Comics. At first blush, it's a sibling to Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips' "Criminal" comic. To be sure, it shares many similarities. The art style is similar, the lettering and coloring even come out of the same family, and the story is a strong noir. But where Brubaker and Philips keep their feet planted on the streets, Faerber adds one fantastical element to kick the whole series off. To whit, when the hitman star of the series dies, he meets his victims in the afterlife briefly. Once revived, he makes a personal vow to make up for all the bad he's done; he's going after the bad guys now. The catalyst is slightly supernatural, but it doesn't look to be a recurring theme of the series. It's the incident necessary to get the story started.

The first issue tells a single-issue story while teasing at bigger complications, while being a great example of an episodic series of comics. You can picture this series being about the person the lead character chooses to save every month. Faerber talks about his influences being in television crime shows, most notably the works of Stephen J. Cannell. ("The Rockford Files" has another huge fan in the world of comics, in one Greg Rucka.) That's not a bad model to base a comic series on. It's a model that applies perfectly to the monthly serialized comic.

Faerber sets the tone and the pace for the series here, and they're both enjoyable. I want to know more about Markham, the star of the series, and I'm curious about how the overall arc of the story might go. Faerber sets up a lot in just 20 pages. Everything in this issue fits together, giving a nicely cohesive feel.

Italian artist Simone Guglielmini is a great choice for this series. He draws "normal" people well, with a great deal of variety and presence. He specializes in shadows that define shapes and in faces that are expressive enough to carry the story on their own. The style is more reminiscent of "Gotham Central" than "Criminal," but it's still not terribly far afield. The grid layout, the thin black panel borders, the heavy areas of black, and the people who are dramatic without being over-the-top -- you can't ignore it. I have a feeling it's something that might dog this book at first until it firmly establishes its own identity. In the text page at the back of the book, Faerber mentions having five issues in the can already. That bodes well.

"Near Death" might just be the strongest thing Faerber has written to date. It feels like something he's comfortable with and something that he knows what he's doing with, right out of the starting gate. There's no need to have a growth curve, as Faerber is already ahead of it. It's a pared down book compared to his last major project, the generations-spanning "Noble Causes." The style is also completely different, and it's something that works. With effective art from Guglielmini, "Near Death" deserves to be the next big thing.

WRAP IT UP

You know that neat "Daredevil" cover with the words all over it? If you want to get started making something like it, there's an app for that!


I have a photography blog, AugieShoots.com, where I'm posting all sorts of pictures, including some from a recent trip to Philadelphia. 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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