DC Comics New 52 Omnibus Review: Week 2 (Red & Green Lanterns, Batwoman & ALL The Rest)
by John Babos on September 21, 2011

Following my omnibus review of the first 14 titles of the New 52 DC Comics Relaunch, comes my take on Week 2 and its 13 offerings. Let’s just get right into it.


WEEK TWO

Batwoman #1: Artist J.H. Williams III adds co-writer to his duties with W. Haden Blackman. The book features Kate Kane as the titular character with Titans alumni Flamebird as sidekick in Gotham City.

We have splashes of mystery throughout the book with teases about Kate’s former lover Renee Montoya (is she alive or dead?); Cameron Chase of D.E.O. infamy (glad she’s back) is tasked to uncover who “Batwoman” is; an apparition is seemingly haunting Gotham; while Batman shows up with a proposition that serves as the book’s underwhelming cliff-hanger. Wow, I need a breather…. AND…. Kate makes a date with Captain Maggie Sawyer of the Gotham City Police Department….. AND happens to get into a tiff with her dad over the fate of her sister which, presumably, played out in previous appearances of Batwoman and carried over into the New DC (as Batman lore didn’t get a substantive relaunch unlike the bulk of DC franchises). WHEW…. pant… wheeze….. There was A LOT going on in this first issue. That was a blessing and a curse for the book.

While most of the various plots were intriguing, the real draw of this book is the visual feast served up by J.H. Williams. This is just a pretty book despite its darker plot elements, and the heaps of humanity and mystery from cover to cover. While Williams’ strong suit isn’t writing, you can’t tell from this issue as Blackman steps in nicely for the departed writer Greg Rucka. The characterization is strong and a unique tone is established for the book, with its nauseatingly numerous plot points, among the Batman corner of the DCU.

I hadn’t expected to stick around for issue #2 in October, but I am intrigued by the Cameron Chase subplot and will stick around for eat least one more issue to see where that goes and if I want to stay on the journey. All-in-all, a well done debut issue, but “restraint” should be the watchword for the writers with so much going on at once.

Batman & Robin #1: Peter Tomasi returns on writing duties with Patrick Gleason on pencils. The title now features Bruce Wayne as the sole Batman alongside his son Damian as Robin. Seems that “younging-up” DC’s icons does not extend to Bruce Wayne a man with a son, yet both Superman and Flash are both unmarried in the new DCU to make them seem younger. Go figure. So, I guess, Batman is the oldest member of the Justice League.

Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s strongest writers and has gained the confidence of TPTB to take on key books like this one and Green Lantern Corps. Like all of the New 52 titles, Batman and Robin #1 is an entry level point to the new DCU despite little changing in terms of the bat-family status quo, except for Dick Grayson being jettisoned from this book and headlining his own Nightwing solo book again.

Batman and Robin #1 highlights growing pains between father and son, so this is quite the departure from the previous more amicable dynamic duo of Dick Grayson (the first Robin) as Batman alongside Damian. As well, on top that tension, out of the blue in a bit of jarring way Bruce also makes a commitment to no longer mourn the day of his parents’ death, but celebrate their wedding day. I can understand what that change signifies in Batman’s life, but the execution was a bit off.

There is a lot of narrative in this book with not as much action as I would have expected. While we do have the debut of a new villain NoBody who starts the book off with capturing, and later offing, a Russian Batman (seems Batman Inc. continues to expand), but after that, the book is all about obnoxious Damian and dense exposition.

The art, as always, is solid and dynamic with Patrick Gleason, but I expected more of this issue. It is unlikely that I’ll be back next month. Sorry Peter and Patrick.

Deathstroke #1: Kyle Higgins takes the helm of Deathstroke, DC’s pre-eminent mercenary, alongside Joe Bennett on pencils and iconic inker Art Thibert.

This is a darker take on the character as Slade Wilson, and his Deathstroke’s alter ego

This is not your papa’s Deathstroke. It is a darker less honorable, and perhaps a more honest take, on the life a mercenary. He’s not supposed to be likable. However, this poses a real problem creatively and from a marketing standpoint for a book that is supposed to have a compelling lead that brings readers back month after month. Higgins achieves that through the plot points he sets up that turn Slade’s world upside-down.

All this is advanced by the gorgeous art team of Joe Bennett and Art Thibert. Dynamic pencils, great facial expressions, vivid backgrounds, all help the story leap off the page.

Check out my full spotlight review of Deathstroke #1 (alongside Suicide Squad #1) here.

Demon Knights #1: A tale of medieval DC with long-lived characters such as the Demon Etrigan, Vandal Savage and others shows the risks DC is taking as part of its New 52… or is DC being shrewd with success of TV shows like Game of Thrones? Fan fave writer Paul Cornell teams with penciler Diogenes Neves. The book opens in Camelot, a setting many a casual reader would recognize, with legendary mage Merlin facilitating the merger of the Demon Etrigan to his human host Jason (Blood) of Norwich.

We move forward to the Dark Ages where the new villainess the Questing Queen with her own mage Mordru, an immortal Legion of Super-Heroes villain if I recall correctly, is looking for the next stop on their quest. To that end, they undertake their own creepy magic by using a young baby to channel a demon that helps point them in the right direction to continue the Queen’s quest.

The book also shows the formation of the team that will be at the heart of Demon Knights as a female Shining Knight emerges, and we find out the Demon Etrigan has an, um, sex life. High adventure, explosions, great dialogue, mystery, and gobs of fun characterize the rest of the book; a book that doesn’t feel as dark or surreal as the rest of the “Dark” branded books in the new DCU.

The art is also quite grand under Neves’ pencil with great, expressive facial expressions, all the grandeur of Medieval DC, and dynamic action scenes. This is a different kind of DC title, and I am all for it. I’m a sucker for period pieces especially those with recognizable characters, but all the while the book also “feels” quite accessible. This is a book whose time has come and it will interesting to see how the past of this new DC unfolded and how Demon Knights will play into Stormwatch, as teased in the latter books #1 issue, also by writer Paul Cornell. I’m on board.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1: Vertigo heartthrob Jeff Lemire writes an enticing blend or horror, espionage, and super-heroics in this Frankenstein title that also sets up and features his team of Creature Commandos. This team of horror icons including a (not “the”) man-bat, a mummy, werewolf and more, all ably drawn by Alberto Ponticelli whose art really fits with and advances this kind of story.

We see S.H.A.D.E. headquarters situated in a way that you need to teleport to and shrink to access it… technology created by their contracted scientist Ray Palmer. It’s not clear if Ray was ever the Atom, DC’s microscopic pre-Flashpoint hero, as Ryan Choi previously confirmed as the Atom in the Geoff Johns and Jim Lee Justice League title.

S.H.A.D.E.’s Creature Commandos led by Frankenstein must save the inhabitants of a town overrun by monsters before they spread into nearby towns and cities, and also find and rescue his four-armed wife – a top S.H.A.D.E. agent – who disappeared in her unsuccessful undertaking of the same mission. If the team doesn’t succeed this time, and fast, the town will be destroyed by S.H.A.D.E. for the greater good.

When you send monsters to fight monsters it’s easy to anticipate that the town’s folks won’t know who is whose side. The small glimpses of humanity that Lemire infuses Frankenstein with, whether his marital problems or other attempts to make him more relatable, do work. He is a sympathetic curmudgeon.

While I enjoyed the issue, and splash of humor with the new interpretation of Father Time in his (her?) new body, I am generally not a horror guy and have no real connection to any of these characters. While I’m intrigued, I’m not enough so to stick around for issue #2. Sorry Jeff. With the exception of Demon Knights, it doesn’t like DC’s “Dark” brand will make up any significant part of my DC reading.

Green Lantern #1: Like with the Batman titles, the Green Lantern corner of the new DCU will be relatively unchanged in this new universe. Not surprising since these are two of DC’s most successful comic book brands. However, I do feel like an opportunity was missed by just carrying on, um, carrying on. What has made much of DC’s new books compelling, exciting, and interesting has been the unpredictability and freshness of things.

While the Green Lantern and its satellite titles have been successful for years, I can sum up the events of this book in two and a half sentences: (1) Geoff Johns writes a great Sinestro hero-turned-villain-turned-reluctant-hero as the new titular character in this book; (2) All the while, Hal Jordan hits rock bottom with no job, no money, creditors everywhere, and no lady to love in his despair; and (2.5) Something is amiss with the Guardians.

Is it a good read? Yes, it is. And the pencils by Dough Mahnke are first rate and deliver action and excitement with each panel. Doug’s at the top of his game, and so is Geoff. However, this book while good, solid, and keeping the successful formula, feels “safe” and distinctly “not-new” when you consider DC’s other offerings in the New 52. Afterall, the majority of DC’s super-hero titles now are brand new takes (e.g. Stormwatch, Teen Titans, Firestorm, etc.) or at least modified takes to count as new (e.g. Hawk and Dove, Legion Lost, etc.). Due to this, and after years of reading Geoff Johns’ monthly Green Lantern title, all the back from Rebirth, I am content leaving the monthly grind of this book to other fans, new and old, as I try out and stick monthly with some of DC’s attempts to revive other properties. As such, I won’t be back for issue #2. This could, however, be my first “waiting for the trade paperback” title of the new DCU. We’ll see.

Grifter #1: Another Wildstorm import takes center stage in the New 52 as writer. It opens with a mystery revolving around Cash Cole, a former Special Ops operative using an assumed name, hearing voices on a plane that happens to be infested by invisible, and patently evil, creatures.

We move back and forth between the past and present to learn that Cole was kidnapped and worked over by these creatures, but escaped before the process was complete. That gives him the unique ability to see and hear them, when other humans can’t. He is perceived as a terrorist as when he attempts to and actually succeeds in slaying some of these creatures, all the humans around him see is Cole attacking other humans.

Not only is he on the run from the law and these stealth creatures, but his brother is in pursuit so he can minimize the damage Cash is doing to his family name and name of his old Special Ops unit. His friends abandon him too, so he is truly alone… except for his trademark Grifter mask that comes out of nowhere at the end of the book. Did he have it with him this whole time?

Overall, this was a fast-paced adrenaline-infused adventure that was over too quickly. I devoured the story ably crafted by Nathan Edmondson (despite my very small Grifter mask gripe) and penciled by Cafu. Looking forward to issue #2.

Legion Lost #1: Veteran scribe Fabian Niceza teams with penciler Pete Woods to deliver the most accessible Legion of Super-Heroes comic book I have ever read. It helps that I’m a sucker for time travel and stranger-in-a-strange-land stories, so the lost legionnaires in modern day set-up was a compelling hook for me when I first heard of it.

Essentially, this issue chronicles how a handful of legionnaires get trapped in the past. They chase a villain in the past who has a pathogen / viral weapon meant to impact humanity in its early days before we evolve into the humans seen in the Legion title set in the 31rst Century future. Two legionnaires seemingly die in this issue, perhaps really only one if you pick apart the art, but overall the book works hard to introduce readers to our heroes, sometimes in smooth ways and sometimes in jarring ways.

The adventure and thriller tones infuse the book with a different vibe from other Legion books. In addition, the humility and self-sacrifice of the heroes knowing they can’t return to the future due to the Flashpoint breakwall (a mystery for another issue it seems), but also likely forgoing attempts to do so as they are worried that they may carry the pathogen and infect the future.

A very well crafted, engaging, debut issue, drawn superbly by Pete Woods. His characters are vibrant, alive, and certainly well differentiated. His artistic strengths are also evident in the kinetic action scenes and facial close-ups. I’m definitely back for issue #2 in October.

Mister Terrific #1: Writer Eric Wallace takes the writing reins of Mister Terrific and with this debut works with his first artist, in a parade of pencilers over the next few issues, Gianluca Gugliotta. The book opens in the thick of action over the skies of Europe as our hero battles an industrial villain and/or business competitor. Naturally, Mister Terrific wins the day and uses very clunky dialogue to explain to passerby that he’s the third smartest man in the world. Braggart.

The clunky narrative continues with his origin story that is overlaid, pun unintended, with scenes of Michael Holt, Mister Terrific’s alter ego, alongside his friends-with-benefits Karen Starr (not sure if she is or isn’t Power Girl in the new DC). His wife and son died years ago, but his son visits him from the future and implores Holt to continue to create inventions and lead his company because Michael keeping-on, um, keeping-on will change the world.

Despite the jarring nature of the introduction of Mister Terrific to readers, the rest of the issue works in terms of setting up future issues and the battle with Brainstorm who seemingly is behind normal people doing deadly things. I also liked the profile Michael Holt, as head of Holt Industries, has in the new DCU mingling with presidential candidates and the like. In addition, the pocket dimension where Mister Terrific’s T-Sanctuary super-hero headquarters reside seems to highlight his vast intellect. While I enjoyed that element, it seems too similar to what we’re seeing in Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., but adding a shrinking element into it in Terrific’s title.

The cliff-hanger also works and creates an element of suspense for the book and concern for the titular character. The art was the low point for me. It wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I’m curious what next issue’s new artist will bring. Overall, the new story elements have me intrigued, so I’ll be back next month.

Red Lanterns #1: Peter Milligan writes the rather unlikely DC offering of Red Lanterns with penciler extraordinaire Ed Benes.

I really wanted this book to be good. The oddness of DC’s choice to give this book a go, and the fact that no earth-born “lantern” is the lead for the book seemed intriguing. Milligan is a seasoned writer and Benes is a go-to big adventure artist. The ingredients were there for a compelling yarn.

Unfortunately the book didn’t work for me at all on the writing side. The art was great, but I just didn’t care about the random, yet established, aliens that make up the Red Lanterns including its leader Atroticus; said leader is seemingly going through a mid-life crisis struggling with what do with a diminished rage. The book also retells Atroticus’ origins in nice way with soft edged panels, but despite me hoping beyond hope that this book would knock it out of the park, it just didn’t for me… not even a pop-up allowing me to slide into first base. There was some intrigue with the moments of rage shown with a curious human, and the opening with feline Dex-Star Red Lantern was a great “hello, how do you like them applies” moment for readers, but they weren’t enough to make up for the rest of the book in terms of my lack of overall interest.

Solid art alone won’t keep me on a comic book. And, despite my hopes, I unfortunately won’t be here for issue #2. If this book gets rave reviews in the coming months, I may consider giving it a second shot in trade paperback form, but even with the December 2011 solicit out now for the book’s fourth issue, I’m not optimistic. We’ll see.

Resurrection Man #1: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (DnA) return as writers to the character they worked on years ago, now with Fernando Dagnino on pencils.

The story of Mitch Shelly, dubbed the Resurrection Man, is a cult and fan favorite that had many applauding DC for its return. It’s the story of a character that can not stay dead and with each rebirth comes back with a different super-power. As I didn’t follow the book its first time on stands years ago, it was the clever, smooth storytelling of DnA in this debut issue that filled me in.

The rest of the story reveals, seemingly, that both agents of heaven and hell want Mitch Shelley’s valuable, glistening soul (seems that with each rebirth his soul gets more luminescent). And, Mitch has a purpose, is drawn to it, but doesn’t know what it is. Interesting mystery and suspense elements permeate the book. Mitch also tackles an agent of heaven and dies, but returns again with an odd new power that the book ends with.

I’m glad DC is bringing back books like this for its fans, and hopefully to appeal to a wider audience, but as I have no real attachment to the character, and am not intrigued by heaven and hell fighting over a soul, I likely won’t be back. However, like with two other books so far this week, if the reviews are great going forward I may be intrigued enough to pick up the first collected edition of this opening arc.

Suicide Squad #1: Adam Glass takes point as writer of DC’s modern interpretation of the Suicide Squad, a work-for-amnesty black ops program where super-villains take on potentially suicidal missions on behalf of the government kept in check by the threat of death. Damned if you, damned if you don’t. Federico Dallocchio carries the penciling load of this debut issue, but will be replaced with issue #2, which is unfortunate as his artwork really suits the book.

I would acknowledge that while this take on the team is darker than earlier versions, it does seem more contemporary and feels real. Writer Adam Glass channels his experience as producer on the sets of TV shows such as Cold Case, the Cleaner and to a lesser extent Supernatural. This interpretation of the Suicide Squad is true to the tone of the original, but in the 21rst century, and feels like something I might be watching on HBO.

I’m excited about next month as that whiz bang cliff-hanger of the team’s next mission is a definite hook.

Check out my full spotlight review of Suicide Squad #1 (alongside Deathstroke #1) here.

Superboy #1: Scott Lobdell helms the complete reboot of Superboy. This issue is pretty much ground zero, three months into the cloning cycle, for the titular character penciled by R.B. Silvo.

Superboy is still the clone by-product of the blending of Kryptonian and human DNA. We go quickly from lab rat to school kid in Kansas where Deathstroke’s daughter Rose Wilson befriends our hero. But, whose side is she on?

Its project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. now that is behind Superboy’s creation. And, they seem to have a plan for him that involves the Teen Titans, another book that Scott Lobdell is writing. The story overall was a retelling, refinement, and remastering of Superboy’s origin for the New 52 that sets up his time as actual antagonist of the Teen Titans. An interesting turn of events heavily hyped by Scott Lobdell.

R.B. Silvo’s clean style fits the story is a nice contrast to both sides of this new Superboy: soft and kind student contrasted with his potential turn as a misunderstood villain, or at least foil, for DC’s teen team extreme. Did I like the issue? It was ok. I think I plan to get my teen heroes fix from Teen Titans, so I don’t think I will pick up the Superboy series. I don’t mind Superboy, but I prefer reading his Teen Titans adventures as opposed to his solo title. That preference stays with me in the New 52. Sorry Scott.


THE TALLY: DC New 52 Week 2

BATMAN AND ROBIN #1 – Pass
BATWOMAN #1 – Continue
DEATHSTROKE #1 – Continue
DEMON KNIGHTS #1 – Continue
FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1
GREEN LANTERN #1 – Pass
GRIFTER #1 – Continue
LEGION LOST #1 – Continue
MISTER TERRIFIC #1 – Continue
RED LANTERNS #1 – Pass
RESURRECTION MAN #1 – Pass
SUICIDE SQUAD #1 – Continue
SUPERBOY #1 – Pass

So, I’ll be continuing with 7 of 13 Week 2 offerings by DC. That’s a 54% success rate for DC – with me anyway.

So, what do you think about the new 52 reviewed thus far?


STAYING CONNECTED

Some housekeeping items. :)

(1) I am now on twitter and can be found at BabosScribe.

(2) I am also on Facebook and can be found at BabosScribe.

Cheers!



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