Thursday, December 1, 2011

DC's New 52 Continued

Being fairly new to the single-issue-collecting game I wasn't aware of the concept of a "fifth week" in which comics don't get published. Imagine my disappointment when, upon checking the web for a reminder of which trashy superhero comics I had to pick up this week, there was nothing for DC at all. They like to release their comics once a week for four weeks of the month, and if there's an overlap, like the current half-November half-December week, they just don't publish. But that's a good time for a break. As I stated in my original roundup of the New 52 items I'd examined, I was going to wait until three issues in and then pass sentence. Well we're now officially three issues in for everything and the judge has taken the stand. I've picked up a couple more lines than I was collecting initally, so hopefully this will have a bit more variety than the last.

Action Comics
This is one of the good ones. I'm neither here nor there about Grant Morrison in general, and haven't read too much of his stuff, but he seems to know what he's doing with these tales of Superman's early career. We've been succinctly introduced to core supporting characters like Lois and Jimmy, as well as significant villains such as Luthor and, if the final pages of Issue 3 are anything to go by, Brainiac and Metallo. After some of the slightly dodgy pencils in Issue 2 we get back to business with the following instalment which lacks some of the weirder poses and faces which seemed to occur from Morales and Anderson sharing the pencil duties, although Lois still looks a bit odd. What I've appreciated in this story is the characterisation of Clark and his reporter activities. It gives us a good sense of this idea of Clark as the real guy and Superman as more his job. Definitely one to stick with.

Sometimes I feel like this and Nightwing are like "the crimes in Gotham that are beneath Batman." It's still interesting, though. Some whack job called Mirror is trying to kill off anyone who's ever had a miraculous rescue or lucky escape from death. Good thing Batgirl's on the case! While at times I think there's maybe a tad too much angst or insecurity from Barbara I suppose that's understandable for someone who's mysteriously been un-crippled and so far she's been a likeable character. It's been more of a character study than a mystery but I think it's been good for providing some solid characterisation for Barbara as Batgirl which she obviously received as Oracle but was never really bothered with back in the day when she was an easy target. The crossover with Nightwing was interesting but it made me think that maybe they'd work well as a team rather than getting antsy with each other. I can't believe I'm saying this with any kind of seriousness but the characters have good chemistry.

I think having to unearth Gotham's dirty laundry is starting to become all too common an activity for Batman. He's currently embroiled in a deadly investigation with the mysterious "Court of Owls" who allegedly rule Gotham from the shadows or something. Gotham has a hell of a lot of conspiracies in its past. The art's all right even if everyone has a chin like a shovel but sometimes Bruce Wayne, generic beefy Mayoral Candidate Lincoln March, random beat cops from the 1920s and helicopter-piloting art thieves all start to blend together. I'm curious to see where things go with this Court of Owls but I'm expecting a fairly generic twist, like that Bruce's ancestors were members or that Lincoln is a member or something. I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised but I've come to not expect too much from these sorts of ancient mysteries.

Batman: The Dark Knight
Some people have been saying that this is the worst Batman comic running at the moment but I think it's actually pretty good. Someone's been infecting Arkham's worst and wickedest with some kind of anti-fear toxin steroid thingie which turns them into fearless monstrosities until they pass out with strain. I'm curious as to whether the writers knew about the plot of Arkham City when they chose to have Clayface impersonating the Joker. Everything's bundled up with a mysterious woman in a rabbit outfit who no one else ever seems to see. It's suitably mysterious and I'm intrigued. Sure the rabbit woman is a bit over-sexualised and there's a side plot involving Bruce Wayne dating some skanky-looking woman with a ring in her nose but I can deal with a less jaded Batman in return for an interesting plot even if sometimes Bruce looks a bit like the werewolf dude from Twilight. Forbes' investigation into the Bruce Wayne/Batman connection will hopefully go somewhere because otherwise it feels like contrariness for its own sake in a world where the Commissioner accepts Batman's help. The team-up with the Flash in Issue 3 was completely pointless though, I don't know why they bothered bringing him in just to get rid of him again.

Batman: Detective Comics
This one's been a bit slow to get going. We know someone called the Dollmaker is chopping people up and stitching them back together like a hilarious jigsaw puzzle and I have a sneaking suspicion that Commissioner Gordon's had one of his vital organs removed and he hasn't realised yet but other than that there hasn't been too much detective work going on. In fact, apart from identifying the perp in the Batcave it's been more action than investigation. The creepy little girl was a rather predictable mole but I'm curious to see how Joker ties into all of this because he doesn't normally let himself just play second fiddle to some other villain. Bruce is hooking up with some busty woman here, too. Gets around a bit, doesn't he? Regardless, the plot hasn't developed too much so my main criticism is just that it's been a bit unengaging. We get enough freaks and bizarre villains in the other Batman stories. I'd prefer Detective Comics to be a more cerebral investigation of more realistic crime.

Batman and Robin
This has operated along slightly more predictable lines than I would have liked. Damian wants to go fight crime, Bruce says it's too dangerous, he turns his back and Damian goes off anyway. It's a pretty serious comic all round, with Batman's grim and sombre attitude contrasted to Damian's rage and ruthlessness. I feel like there's a more interesting relationship to be developed here than simply one of Batman accidentally spurring Robin to rebellion or at least disobedience in a rather generic protective-mentor fashion. The art's quite nice but I'm not exactly gripped by the plot yet. It's maybe a little too mired in the Batman Incorporated scenario which I didn't read. Still, having Batman and Robin share a title does inevitably break up the Batman comics somewhat so I'm still enjoying it in its own way.

Captain Atom
I wish this was better. It's just not very interesting. All this stuff of Captain Atom worrying about his power and its consequences was done long ago and better with his own facsimile, Doctor Manhattan, in Watchmen. It's not helped by the fact that whatever the big disaster is due to be, apparently involving animals mutating into hideous abominations, has so far not crossed into Captain Atom's own activities so far despite three issues. I do like the idea, though, that Captain Atom does the reverse Manhattan and just starts interfering in everything: war, disease, crime, disaster, you name it. Yet his angst over interfering in people's lives is a little wearisome. We live in an age of neurotic heroes who agonize over their powers rather than taking responsibility for them and it's just not a very effective way of discussing a point. Perhaps if Captain Atom got more dialogue with other characters it would work but he spends a lot of time alone, monologuing. The equally pointless cameo of the Flash in this story only serves to heighten the redundancy of the "Libyan Civil War" scenario which already seems dated in the wake of Gadaffi's defeat. That being said, I'll be curious to see this new development involving the army "reclaiming" Captain Atom. These guys sure know how to sucker me in.

The Flash
Poor Barry Allen. He's gone from being one of the stalwarts of the Silver Age to his new role as the Blandest Man Alive. I mean sure, he's quick and resourceful and likes saving people and fighting bad guys but beyond that he's lacking a lot of personality. Maybe he's a bit too much like his Silver Age counterpart in that respect, from the age of incredibly tame DC comics. At the moment he's embroiled in a struggle with an army of clones of some very old friend he never had before. He runs around and utters a lot of exposition. That's about it. I mean it's got lots of high-speed derring-do, which is nice, but the plot is a brisk jog away from being interesting. I think part of the problem is how much his supporting cast has been pared away. I mean sure, things were getting pretty convoluted before Flashpoint, but the "Flash Family" was a good set of characters, even if Barry spent a lot of time running away from them and being wilfully alone and mopey. Wally West seems to not exist, Jay Garrick is missing presumed absent and Bart Allen is somehow Kid Flash despite the continuity snarls this would suggest. I liked the idea of a sort of team of Flashes because they all worked well together but now Barry has no speedy buddies to talk to. The only survivors are partner revived from obscure continuity Patty Spivot, and former, now presumably future, wife Iris who so far has just been stuck doing a Lois Lane schtick. Let me put it this way: in Issue 3, the best bit was like two frames with Captain Cold in prison. I mean I like Captain Cold for a start but it was at least a reference to something intrinsically Flash-related that hasn't been chucked out the window. I worry from the art that he has been given cold-powers. Hope not. Anyway, I guess Flash can get a little continuity-heavy at times. I don't mind them going back to basics. I just think writers have struggled to update this very Silver Age character who was born of the days when strong characterisation wasn't so important and as a result he comes across as a bit dull. It's not helped by the boring plot. I just hope they get the Rogues in on the action soon. I'm sure they could bring a lot of flavour to the comic, flavour which already feels lacking through the soft art style.

Green Lantern
This one improved with time, possibly because once Hal and Sinestro were together we had the presence of Sinestro to mediate the Hal. Sinestro's a strong character who's been given a lot of depth and complexity, and seeing his awkward, even embarrassed response to being praised for rescuing humans or his concern over the safety of Korugar are interesting insights into his personality. His very philosphically-charged brand of arrogance is a strong counterpoint to Hal's more generic cockiness and tactlessness. The scene where Sinestro bursts into laughter before telling Hal that he is better than him was quite a curious moment. While I think Hal would work better as a hero if he was characterised as a more responsible and mature figure rather than a reckless goofball, his current personality does gel better with Sinestro and makes him seem like less of a simply arrogant villain. I hope Sinestro sticks around as co-protagonist for a while.

Green Lantern: New Guardians
They still haven't formed a dysfunctional crime-fighting team! As interesting as the concept is, New Guardians has so far become rather bogged down in recent Green Lantern lore which would have left me completely baffled were I not the kind of person who keeps up to date on these things using Wikipedia. How come recent Green Lantern and Batman lore happened despite Flashpoint but no one else's backstory was preserved? Anyway, Kyle's still being harassed by all these different rings and pursued by members of other Corps and the Guardians of Oa have begun to consider the Green Lanterns to be failures like the Manhunters before them and now want to create a third law enforcement army to replace them. Could be interesting, I just wish they'd hurry up. As much as I am frustrated by how the in thing at the moment seems to be turning the Guardians into total jerks simply to give Green Lanterns a lot of bureaucracy to deal with and authority trouble, I do like the idea of a third army. But mostly I want to see Kyle and these other Corps members getting up to hijinks. I enjoy the mix of characters but I want to see them have to start working together. It's a good idea so I want to see it manifested.

Justice League
This one's been a bit of a mixed bag. While I find Hal as written by Geoff Johns to still be pretty annoying, it does have much better characterisation for the Flash than he is getting in his own comic. The story still hasn't really got underway yet. Darkseid's trying to invade Earth but beyond that we're not getting much more than a drawn-out introduction to the heroes as the team assembles in such a way that new characters conveniently appear in moments of crisis as snappy cliffhangers. First it was Superman, and in Issue 3 Aquaman shows up. We've also had the introduction of Cyborg, who is a footballer with daddy issues. Don't know what else is going on there. It's a bit of a self-indulgent introduction so far, but as I say it has some good humour and decent characterisation. The plot's mostly just over-the-top action which can at times become confusing and difficult to follow but I guess there's so little to it that it doesn't matter that much. I just wish, as with so many of these comics, that they'd hurry up.

Justice League International
Bring back Ted Kord! Anyway, this one's been a bit of a fizzer so far. The second issue was okay but the third was a bit dull. There are a bunch of big robots beaming something to some bad dude in space who looks a lot like Mongul but isn't. The thing is, Justice League International was originally a "funny comic" but now it's just a bunch of B-graders mucking around with Batman. The fact that there's no Blue Beetle for Booster to swap jokes with, the absence of other funny characters like Mister Miracle and Captain Atom from before he was angsty, as well as Martian Manhunter, make it a little bland. It feels like they just want to make a Booster Gold comic but sell it on the nostalgia value of the old JLI series but without the humour and the overt silliness of the plots. If they'd kept more of the politics in it might be more valuable but I think after the Cold War there just isn't a sufficiently interesting political situation in which to ground the series' more serious elements and it comes across as just another generic costumed romp.

Dick Grayson's gone back from being Batman to his better-known persona but as with Batgirl it feels more like he's just the guy dealing with the stuff too small for Batman to handle. There's some kind of conspiracy involving the Haly Circus where he grew up, which is donated to him to manage by its dying owner. He's also being stalked by a costumed nasty called Saiko who claims that Dick Grayson is some kind of evil monster. He also meets an old friend from his circus days and doesn't waste time sleeping with her on one of Bruce Wayne's private jets. Honestly it's been more of a trip down memory lane for Dick Grayson than anything else and as usual the plot is taking its sweet time to go anywhere. The whole circus thing seems a bit incongruous too. How often do you see a circus these days? Maybe big bonanza events by the Moscow Circus or Cirque du Soleil, but are there still travelling circuses with the big tents and stuff? Maybe in the US there are. I dunno. It feels like a bit of a demotion for Dick Grayson after tackling big stuff as Batman. We need to see these guys doing more crime fighting and less being targets in bizarre and complicated conspiracies. They reach a saturation point where they add nothing to the characters in question.

This is always what I dreaded with Superman. This series has so far devolved into "each issue Superman fights a big monster." First it was a fire monster, then an invisible flying lizard, then an ice monster. Something's possessing the citizens of Metropolis and turning them into these creatures, which incidentally makes them say something featuring the word 'Krypton'. The third issue had an interesting editorial on how Superman's presence encourages crime and chaos in Metropolis but it wasn't exactly a subtle deconstruction of the scenario. The suggestion that Superman begets superhuman criminality is hardly a new idea. There's been some stuff with Lois' journalistic work but really it hasn't gone very far yet. Unfortunately it's inevitably going to be compared to the simultaneous run of Action Comics and while I realise that Superman's career has progressed further in this comic which lends credence to the increasingly dangerous attacks on Metropolis a "monster of the week" format is hardly the best storytelling out there, especially compared with the other comic.

Wonder Woman
This one is still weird. They're playing up the Greek Mythology angle pretty hard, with the big revelation being that Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus. That's a big shocker, apparently. I'm not too fussed. The idea that Wonder Woman was formed out of clay is a pretty absurd notion in my opinion, as absurd as they get in comics. There's just something uncomfortable about a protagonist who is made from clay yet now a person, not a golem or something. The story's moving at a slow pace here too. The goddess Strife turns up and causes some, well, strife, and there's the big revelation about Diana's ancestry. She needs to protect a pregnant mother from the wrath of Hera. At least there's some faithfulness to Greek mythology there. Nonetheless I suppose I expected more along the lines of Wonder Woman fighting crime and stuff. Maybe we'll get to that. Who knows. These comic stories are taking forever. You'd almost believe they want to drag them out to sell more issues.

What do I think of the New 52 overall, three issues into everything? To be honest I'm not entirely sure it was the wisest move. I mean, new volumes of stuff is easy to get into, which is nice, but as convoluted as comic continuity is some of the changes and erasures feel like the universe is lacking some of the texture it normally has. There's a certain lack of depth and the cast of characters feels reduced. They wanted to draw in new readership, which of course has happened, but they've done it at the cost of alienating fans and with comics becoming less and less profitable, and with the initial readership boost inevitably going to dwindle, I feel like in some ways a streamlining of the DC universe has become more of an oversimplification. I'm willing to stick with it, but I wish it would get a move on.

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