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Diving into DC Comics’ New 52!

September 21st, 2011
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It’s been well over a year since I’ve last read a DC comic, but since this is the month that DC Comics is totally rebooting their entire comics line by starting over from scratch and launching 52 new #1 issues, my curiosity was piqued.  I’ll not be buying all 52 new first issues, heaven forfend, but I have taken this opportunity to sample a whole bunch of ’em.  Here are my thoughts so far:

Justice League #1 — Written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Jim Lee, this is the heavy-hitter.  It was the first new #1 issue published, and is clearly intended to be the flagship title of the line.  I thought it was good, not great.  There’s not a whole heck of a lot of story in this first issue, so it’s hard to judge.  Jim Lee draws super-heroes better than pretty much anyone in the business, so it’s a heck of a lot of fun watching Batman and Green Lantern fight cops for the first half of the issue, almost enough to make me forget that this is a pretty familiar scenario. Though this is the start of the big reboot, so far Batman felt pretty much like Batman, and Green Lantern felt pretty much like Green Lantern.  Their costumes were tweaked but nothing major.  The big reveal of Superman’s new duds on the last page left me underwhelmed.  I’m all for ditching the red underpants, but there were a lot of little lines all over the costume that felt extraneous to me.  I guess those lines are supposed to indicate that the super-suit is more armor than cloth, but why would Superman need armor?  He’s Superman!

Action Comics #1 — Written by Grant Morrison, this was the comic that felt most like a real reboot than any of the other #1 issues I’ve read so far.  This feels like a total reinvention of the character of Superman.  In this issue we meet a young, inexperienced Superman.  I’m not wild about his jeans and boots “costume,” but I’m intrigued by this young punk version of Superman.  (Though Devin Faraci put a small damper on my enthusiasm by pointing out, with great accuracy, that this Clark Kent feels a heck of a lot like Peter Parker.)  While this hot-headed, young depiction of the character made for a fun and surprising single issue, I wonder whether this is really the version of this iconic hero that DC comics is going to stick with.  But I’m looking forward to the next issue!

Detective Comics #1 — A pretty good but not revelatory Batman vs the Joker story really grabbed my attention with the jaw-droppingly gruesome final page.  Wowsers.  Words fail me.  My stomach is churning but I must say I’m impressed.  As for the rest of the story, this feels much different from Action Comics #1, which was a total reinvention of Superman.  This story feels pretty much like the Batman I know.  It’s more like the start of a new writer’s run on the story, rather than a total reboot from zero.  I was unclear whether this story was meant to represent an early confrontation between Batman and the Joker, or whether we were supposed to think that Batman has been fighting the Joker for years (in the previous Batman comics we’ve all read over the years, that may or may not have happened in this new timeline).  It’s a little weird for this #1 issue to get bogged down in continuity questions like that, but putting those issue aside, I thought this was a decent read, and I’m curious as to where this story is going next.

Batman & Robin #1 — This was an even more intriguing Batman story.  It also contains some surprising gruesomeness.  (That’s not a criticism!)  What is a criticism, though, is that now I’m starting to get totally confused about what previous Batman stories did or did not happen in this new universe.  I was under the impression that all of these new comics (except Action Comics #1 and Justice League #1) were taking place 5 years into the history of the DC universe.  But this issue features the approximately 10-13 year-old Damian as Robin.  So… when exactly did Batman get it on with Talia al Ghul to conceive this boy?  That couldn’t have happened within the 5 year history of this new universe!  Even more confounding is the line of dialogue, towards the end of the comic, in which Damian states “I’m not like Tim, or Jason, or even Dick.”  He’s referring to the 3 previous Robins who Batman has had as partners over the many years of prior DC continuity.  But how could Batman possibly have had all THREE previous Robins as partners in the merely 5-year existence of super-heroes in this revamped DCU??  I am confused…

Green Lantern #1 — As with Batman & Robin #1, this doesn’t feel like a reboot at all but rather a continuation of the last few years of DC Universe story-lines.  That point aside, this was a terrific read.  I haven’t actually been following Geoff Johns’ acclaimed run on Green Lantern at all, but I’m enough of a comics fan that I’m decently familiar with what’s been going down in the GL titles recently.  So I wasn’t confused jumping in, and the issue kicks off with a heck of a hook for new readers (though this might have already been established in the pre-New 52 universe) — that Sinestro is once again a Green Lantern.  That’s fascinating, and I’m definitely on-board to see where this goes.  The terrific art by Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy also wowed me.

Batgirl #1 — Beneath a gorgeous Adam Hughes cover lies a pretty solid story of Barbara Gordon’s return to the costumed identity of Batgirl.  I’m of two minds about this change, however.  On the one hand, it’s pretty great to see Barbara once again on her feet and fighting crime as Batgirl (for the first time since the ’80s!!).  On the other hand, I always thought it was pretty awesome that Alan Moore’s shocking The Killing Joke made such a lasting impact on the DC universe continuity (by crippling Barbara Gordon), and the transformation of Barbara into the information-dealing Oracle was very compelling.  It feels sort of a cheat, now, that she has somehow miraculously been healed from the Joker’s gunshot wound (which this issue clearly states DID happen).

Batwoman #1 — This comic, which I know was written and drawn before the decision to relaunch the DC Universe, has zero connection to the overall reboot, and picks right up from the end of the Greg Rucka/J. H. Williams III collaboration on Detective Comics from two years ago.  I’m really getting confounded by the rebooted/not rebooted inconsistencies across the DC line, but I’m putting any complaints aside when it comes to this series, because I’m just thrilled to see this character’s story (which was left so frustratingly unfinished) continue.  The art by Mr. Williams III is astounding.  Each page is a work of art, and I adore the way he constantly mixes totally different art styles to represent different characters or different scenes/locales.  I am on-board.

Justice League International #1 — Eh.  I picked this one up mostly out of curiosity as to how this issue would treat the long history of the pre-reboot Justice League (in its many incarnations).  If I’m reading the issue correctly, none of that ever happened, and this JLI is the first time any of these characters have met.  That makes sense for a line-wide reboot, but since I’ve been reading a bunch of Batman books that seem to indicate that most if not all of the Batman stories I’ve been reading for the past 20 years did still happen, it’s a little disappointing to see that the great Giffen/DeMatteis comics have been erased.  This was a run-of-the-mill super-team-assembles story that wasn’t enough to get me back for issue #2.

Stormwatch #1 — This was a fun read that looked and felt a lot like the Authority/Stormwatch comics that I used to love.  There were some great Warren Ellis-esque touches, particularly the crazy notion that the moon itself is about to attack the Earth.  Love it.  But here again, continuity issues make my brain hurt.  Wildstorm characters like Jenny Quantum and Jack Hawksmoor and the Engineer are still a part of a super-hero team monitoring the world’s events from a huge ship/station located in the Bleed.  But in this issue they’re tracking down Apollo, whom they never seem to have met before.  But if there’s a pre-pubescent Jenny Quantum in this world, wouldn’t that mean that her predecessor Jenny Sparks existed?  But all of her adventures as a member of the Authority, working with Hawksmoor and the Engineer and, yes, Apollo, DIDN’T happen??  Brain hurts, and it’s a bummer that these continuity questions overwhelm the story being told.

So far, so good.  This line-wide relaunch has gotten me to read a whole bunch of DC books I might otherwise have skipped, and there are quite a few (Justice League, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, Batwoman) that I’ll definitely be following to their second issues.  But the jury’s still out as to whether this over-all relaunch succeeds in my mind.

Looking at Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe (which was their way, about 10 years ago, of relaunching their universe from ground zero, while still allowing their pre-existing universe to continue existing side-by-side with the new Ultimate books) I see some valuable lessons about how best to relaunch one’s characters.  My favorite Ultimate title was Spider-Man. Why?  Because even while Brian Michael Bendis wiped away years of Spider-Man continuity and started Peter Parker’s story over from scratch, he kept the core of the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man constant.  Meaning that when I read an Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, the character was 100% the familiar Peter Parker/Spider-Man character I knew and loved, just without the baggage of forty years’ worth of previous continuity.  I compare that with Mark Millar’s reinvention of the X-Men, which was a far more radical change.  Characters were totally recreated, to the point that while there were characters with the same names as the X-Men characters I knew (Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine), these Ultimate characters were so different that they might as well have been completely different characters.  So while I enjoyed Mark Millar’s initial run on the Ultimate X-Men comic, once he left, the series didn’t maintain my interest.  These just weren’t the X-Men characters I wanted to read about.

I’m sure there are others with exactly the opposite opinion (people who LOVED that Ultimate X-Men totally changed and revamped the characters, while bummed that Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t change more), but personally I’m hoping this DC reboot follows the Ultimate Spidey path.  I’m intrigued to read, in Justice League, a new story about the first meeting of these super-heroes and the assembly of the Justice League.  Grant Morrison’s Action Comics feels like it might be going too far in the Ultimate X-Men direction for me, in the way Mr. Morrison seems to have totally changed the character of young Superman.  But I’m willing (and eager!) to see where these series go.  That DC has one interested reader who is once again following several of their titles (for now, at least!) proves that their massive reboot clearly had some merit (in terms of sales).  Let’s see where things go…

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