DC’s New 52 … and comics I actually liked!

DC Comics: the new 52Okay, that’s an intentionally provocative title, because I did like some of them. While I may not be that enamored with a lot of DC‘s decisions regarding their (partial) relaunch– more on that to later– their promotional comic from last July did give me a good feel for what they’re attempting, and actually encouraged me to give a few more of their new titles a try. I’ve bought and read three (well, 3 1/2) issues from DC’s new direction; not a whole lot, granted, but more than I was regularly following prior to that. With the first round of new #1s out, I thought I’d join the discussion about them.

Of course, I wanted to see how they were starting this relaunch, so I gave the final issue of Flashpoint (#5, written by Geoff Johns, art by Andy Kubert, et al.) a try. While I’ve enjoyed work by both of these creators in the past, it seemed rather noisy and furious (to paraphrase Shakespeare), with little substance to the characters, and lots of excuses for spreads of heroes posing dramatically. All in all, I don’t think they honored their past– something DC used to do well– as they segued into the future as nicely as was done in the recent Star Trek reboot, but it accomplished what they were after. Plus, it does give DC editorial an out if this new direction doesn’t bring in the expected sustained readership: [SPOILER ALERT] “Flash, run backwards!”[END SPOILER]. I was glad I bought it and read it, but I added it to my sell/donate pile as soon as I was done.

Action Comics #1 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Rags Morales) was one of the comics I was inspired to try after reading the promo comic, and I was quite pleased with it. While I haven’t followed Morrison’s work as religiously as a lot of readers have, I really enjoyed his All-Star Superman from a few years ago. His take on the character in this issue had some nods to the first Action Comics #1 and the social activist nature that Superman had in his debut story from 1938. Morales’ art is appropriately gritty and dramatic, and when the worst thing about an issue is some clunky dialog bridging pages 3-4, it’s a comic that I’m going to continue following … at least as long as they’re able to write this version of the character. When DC draws it more in line with the armor-clad Superman of their other books– as I can’t imagine them not doing– they’re likely to lose my readership.

Which is one of the editorial decisions mentioned earlier that I just don’t get. If this relaunch is truly intended to be welcoming to new readers, how does it make sense to present two such radically different versions of your keystone character, neither of which are recognizable by casual fans who know the character only from movies or tv?

Batwoman #1 (written and drawn by JH Williams III, co-written by W. Haden Blackman) was a gorgeous book, but a horrible introduction to new readers. Originally slated for debut last spring, it was pushed back to become part of this “New 52”, so it relies far too heavily on her past appearances and an expected reader familiarity with the supporting cast. In another unfriendly-to-new-readers move, DC didn’t appear to restart all their titles, retaining most elements from succesful titles while starting fresh with those less popular ones, resulting in a weird mix of new and old continuity. While I enjoyed this issue, it’s such a densely-layered book (both in terms of art and story), that I would enjoy it more in a collected, ad-free edition, so I may not be picking up more of the single issues. Hopefully there will be enough readers who don’t do that, and DC will actually produce a collected edition. Only once (with Rick Veitch’s Army@Love: The art of war) have I been burned like that, though, so I’m going to keep thinking positive thoughts…

The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men #1 (story by Ethan Van Sciver & Gail Simone, art by Yildiray Cinar) was a comic I tried for purely sentimental reasons, as Firestorm had been one of my favorite characters from his introduction in 1978 through Ostrander’s run in the late 80s. There were some nice references to the original characters (as well as the 2004 Jason Rusch version of the character), and the concept of two nuclear men who merge into a single entity is an interesting twist. The story by Van Sciver & Simone was fine, setting up a nice rivalry between past Firestorms Ronnie Raymond and Rusch, but really skimped on the drama of the original origin; that was a bit of a let down for me as a long-time fan, as well as for a proper new reader introduction. Cinar’s layouts were competent, though not particularly interesting, and his finishes leave a lot to be desired (page 8 looked especially … rushed). Early rumors about the relaunch were that the creators were all supposed to have three issues completed by the time September rolled around, and given the rough edge to the artwork in this issue, I don’t have a lot of faith in the quality of upcoming issues or of this creative team sticking together for long. Still, I’m interested enough to see where things are going, that I’ll probably stick with this one a while … even if it feels more like an “Elseworlds” version of the character than the “real” deal.

That’s all I’ve tried from the relaunch month; for the thoughts of those who’ve tackled and reviewed the whole line (a task I don’t think I’d enjoy or easily stomach), read here and here.

Of course, that only makes me wonder how much sales for this first month are being driven by blogging reviewers who specifically just want to read and write about the relaunch … and then not return for a second issue! Frankly, I’m not sure that this relaunch will manage to retain the ongoing interest of readers, either the hoped-for new readers, or jaded super-hero fans like me. If they really are committed to drawing in new readers, DC needs to avoid company-wide crossovers at the rate they have been doing for the last few years. They need to have enough faith in this relaunch to give this version a chance to actually settle in and become the status quo by giving readers an involved, continued story. All-Star Superman is a great model to follow– a single creative team, telling a single story, unmolested by some overarching line-wide editorial vision. Just because a reader enjoys a few titles, it’s unrealistic to expect they will want to– or be willing to– pick up the entire line, so allowing each book to forge its own path could serve them well in the long run. Plus, new readers have enough challenges to successfully follow one title every month, having them get that comic home and find out it’s only part of the story they’re expecting must be frustrating and off-putting. I’ve heard from many readers attracted to comics by Buffy Season 8 (as well as by retailers) that it was hard for them to get in the rhythm of shopping for a single monthly title, so compounding that with crossovers and events can’t make it any easier for them to successfully develop a comic-reading habit.

Are there any of the new DC titles that you particularly love/hate? Chime in below, and/or tell DC yourself. They’ve partnered with media researcher Nielsen to conduct a reader survey; link courtesy the fine folks at The Beat.

Oh yeah, since the title of this post is “comics I actually liked”, I should plug some titles I wholeheartedly enjoyed:

Spongebob Comics #2Spongebob Comics #2, especially “Split decision” by Robert Leighton and Jacob Chabot, is one of the most fun comics I’ve read in ages. It’s amazing that some of the most complex storytelling I see these days is actually in comics aimed at kids (see also Jason Shiga‘s Meanwhile and Eleanor Davis’s The Secret Science Alliance and the copycat crook)!

Wonder Weenies Sneak Peek is my favorite find from the recent I-Con. It’s a fun print primer to Corey Kramer’s entertaining webcomic of the same name … and an idea I’ll have to swipe for my own webcomic!

That’s all for now – thanks for reading!

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2 Comments to “DC’s New 52 … and comics I actually liked!”

  1. Like you, I’m not sure how much the sales of DC’s new #1s may have been driven by bloggers who just bought them to read and review with no intention to check the #2s. The test will come soon, as the first #2s should arrive in comic shops next week, along with second printings for several of the #1s. I believe a significant majority of the #1s have been slated for second printings. In Des Moines, one comic shop has sold quite well and is out of several of the first prints, while the shop I frequent still has at least 3-5 copies or more of most of the #1s.

    So far I have only tried Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #1, Batgirl #1, Batman #1, and Wonder Woman #1. Of those, only Wonder Woman had previously been on my pull list, and that was only because Phil Hester was writing the book. Of those, I thought Batgirl was best, followed closely by Action Comics and Wonder Woman. Batgirl is the only one I’ve read so far that I’m even considering coming back for #2, and that’s because I want to see what happened to allow Barbara Gordon to be able to walk again, since her paralyzing injury is still part of continuity. While Wonder Woman #1 was OK, I requested to remove the title from my pull list. I did add Sergio Aragones Funnies to my pull list, as well as the amusing Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors. There were some new DC #1s that I was tempted to try – most notably Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., just based on the title alone. I might get Superman #1 as well.

    Based on the Diamond weekly shipping list for books expected for next week, something is going to happen on Wednesday that hasn’t happened for me in over a decade – the number of books on my pull list that are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday is … ZERO! Maybe that will give me some time to read the comics I’ve fallen behind on (Unwritten, Fables, Irredeemable, Incorruptible) that are stacked up, as well as the comics I picked up at the I-Con show.

  2. I think DC is doing a good job of keeping reorders available, at least judging by new comic Wednesdays at Astrokitty. Regardless of how I feel about the relaunch, it seems to be working out for retailers, as the first printings of the first three issues are returnable, and this bubble of interest is probably helpful to their bottom line.

    I may have to give Batgirl a try, even if– like with Firestorm– she’s not “my” Batgirl. It looks like a far cry from the stories of a former congresswoman by Cary Burkett/Jose Delbo …

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