DC Comics New 52 Omnibus Review: Week 0 & 1 (Justice League, Stormwatch, Superman, Animal Man & On)

So, we’ve now wrapped up Week 2 of the DC Comics Relaunch with Week 3 books upon us this week. Wow, do I have some catching up to do. I have decided, like Mathan Erhardt who does the weekly Wednesday Comments column here at the Nexus, to pick up all the New 52 #1’s DC is shilling this month.

I’m not getting the DC Comics Relaunch books to cash in on the collectability of the #1’s (all the weeks so far have been sold out and have second prints if not more prints in the pipe), but am picking them up as I’m curious about the new DCU. Like Mathan and a few other older readers here at the Nexus, I grew up reading DC and really got into it on a more predictable weekly pattern in the early 1980s around the Crisis of Infinite Earths and the advent of the specialty comics shoppe. As a long-time DC fan, I’m curious what has made it into the new 52 relatively unmolested, what has changed, and what is net new. I will not be getting all #2 issues in October, but I will get more than I planned on after reading the first few weeks of the DC Comics Relaunch. As I have been away for a little while, I’ll be providing 2 columns this week to get me and you “caught up” on my take on the New 52.

Many of the #1’s intrigue me because I am a long-time fan of the character/property (e.g. Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Hawk & Dove, Teen Titans, Stormwatch, etc.), I enjoy “relevant” period pieces (e.g. Demon Knights, All-Star Western [now set in Gotham City], and the first arcs or two of Action Comics and Justice League), the concept/new take seemed compelling (e.g. The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, Red Hood & the Outlaws, Legion Lost, etc.), and lastly the cover seemed cool. 🙂

Without further delay, here is my take on Weeks 0 (August 31, 2011) and Week 1 (September 7, 2011) sorted by week. Please note that I try NOT to use any MAJOR SPOILERS, so hopefully the reviews are illuminating, but don’t spoil (or soil) things if you still want to pick up a few of the books (in reprint form since they’re all sold out at the distributor).


WEEK ZERO

Justice League #1: This book features all of DC’s big gun icons plus Cyborg penned by DC’s top writer (and Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns and top artist (and Co-Publisher) Jim Lee. This should be DC’s premiere book and DC positioned it as such since it was the only New 52 book released on August 31rst.Justice League #1 (ships August 31, 2011)

While DC has an edict that its looking for more action and less talking heads in its titles to ensure a more vibrant and compelling yarn, Justice League while beautifully drawn by Lee, felt a bit slow under Johns’ pen even by debut issue standards. However, not only did this issue set up the Justice League it also had to set up the new DC Universe (DCU) which appears much different than the old one with heroes being feared more than embraced. The Justice League is one of a handful of “period pieces” to be published by DC. This opening arc takes place 5 years in the past of the new DC and will tell the story of how the Justice League came to be. I’m intrigued by the book and how the team comes together. I hope the story picks up in issue #2.

Also need to extend kudos to DC for setting up Darkseid, of Jack Kirby Four World infamy, as the big bad in this title’s opening arc. The Fourth World concept needs a shot in the arm and to become relevant. Who better than Geoff Johns and Jim Lee to do that?

Naturally, I’m on board with Justice League at least through the first arc.


WEEK ONE

Action Comics #1: Like Justice League, Action Comics #1, featuring Superman set prior to Justice League #1, is a period piece tasked to explain who Superman is and how he ushered in the modern era of the super-hero in the new DCU. Penned by Grant Morrison and rendered by Rags Morales, the debut issue has received critical acclaim from all corners of the internet and fandom as well.

The book features a more grounded Man of Steel who has been characterized by Morrison as a people’s hero, socialist, all-for-one and one-for-all kind of hero. Despite his naive beginnings in the new Action Comics #1, the Superman we see at the end of Justice League #1 seems more determined and worldly than his Action Comics younger counterpart. Nice to see Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, start his journalism career at the Daily Star, like in his actual Golden Age origins, with a graduation to the Daily Planet we all know and love at some point in the future.

Rags Morales is an amazing artist who does the big action scenes well and can also convey the smaller more emotional moments of the story with his intricate facial expressions. It seems that future issues of Action Comics will see Rags’ contribution scaled back with others joining him for a few panels. I hope this advances the story and won’t be jarring.

It’ll be fun to see Superman to grow from naive young man to wise adult in Action Comics. I’m also looking forward to issue #2 and more of a certain villain with the initials: L.L. I’ll stay with this book through its first arc at least.

Animal Man #1: Vertigo alumni writer Jeff Lemire chronicles the adventures of Buddy Baker, Animal Man, with penciler Travel Foreman. The debut issue really does indicate that DC’s “The Dark” corner of the DCU will be an all-ages Vertigo-light trying to extend what we call super-hero comics. The opening journal/text page while dense does set up the current status quo well. Buddy/Animal Man is a cult hero of the eco-movement and is a darling of the university/college set.

The family dynamic of the book with his kids and wife really is a nice touch in a new DCU that has on one hand divorced-through-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane as well as Flash and Iris Allen/West, but also allows Batman to have a son out-of-wedlock.

The stylized art of Travel Foreman suits the books eerie tone and the cliff-hanger with Buddy’s daughter certainly sets up an interesting and very creepy mystery. This book, despite its critical acclaim, is just not for me. I appreciate DC’s attempts to diversify its tones and the types of mainstream super-hero stories it tells, and there are compelling elements to the book, but I don’t have the money to continue reading all of the new 52, let alone some of the interesting mini-series starting in October, so unfortunately Animal Man gets cut.

Batwing #1: Judd Winick writes and Ben Oliver draws DC’s African Batman code-named Batwing. This book was not on my radar at all. However, as someone who has enjoyed Batman Inc., a book joining the DC Comics Relaunch in early 2012 with a new #1 itself, I was curious about what Judd was going to make Africa and Batwing a compelling backdrop and hero respectively in the New 52.

Judd really develops the character and continent well in the debut issue. The humanity he gives Batwing, and his quips that Africa has seen so much pain and bloodshed that bats are not nearly as scary as they are in the U.S. really helps to differentiate the title from the rest of the new 52 and bat-titles. It also sets up the harsher backdrop this new hero has to deal with and in. I also am intrigued by the missing founding heroes of Africa and the villain that is hunting and killing them.

Judd also has another weapon that helps this book cut through the clutter on store shelves: artist Ben Oliver. The art is simply gorgeous. No words will do it justice. Just: “wow”.

I hadn’t expected to pick this book up beyond #1, but I’ll give #2 a shot.

Batgirl #1: Gail Simone is one of DC’s top writers. I have enjoyed almost everything she has written and as such I was intrigued by her take on a new handy-capable beyond-the-wheelchair Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. Being familiar with Adrian Syaf’s art was also a plus for this debut issue.

Simone sets up the new status quo for Barbara in issue #1. She clearly has been shot by the Joker and it did leave her temporarily crippled until her unspecified “miracle” that enables her to get “actively” heroic again. The book also sets up Barbara as a first-year college student with left-wing roommate (that’s 3 titles with prominent lefties so far in the new 52) and makes Babs quite ordinary and accessible for readers (with a souped-up Bat-cycle to boot – I imagine we’ll find out how a poor student can afford it later). A lot of humanity in issue #1 with Barbara still haunted in her civilian and heroic lives by her tragedy at the hands of the Joker.

Adrian Syaf continues to be a capable and dynamic artist. He delivers movie-style action and the softness needed, in my view, for a book anchored by such a contemplative, thoughtful, conflicted super-heroine.

All that said, I remain in the school of thought that Barbara was more compelling as the handicapped heroine Oracle. Despite an interesting debut issue, I just don’t like the direction for the character and as such won’t be back for issue #2. Sorry Gail.

Detective Comics #1: Detective Comics might just be the book that solidifies artist Tony Daniel’s writing credentials. As writer-artist on the book, I wasn’t sure what to expect on a story depth perspective, but I knew the art was going to be good, and it was.

It is hard to make another story about the Joker vs. Batman rivalry dynamic and new, but Detective Comics #1 does just that. The much ballyhooed cliff-hanger alone sets a new darker and even grisly tone for the title. The debut of the Dollmaker as a villain sidekick, or puppetmaster (?), for/to the Joker breathes some freshness into the Joker-Batman dance. Is the book too dark? Well, the cliff-hanger may have been, but it served its purpose. Hopefully the next issue will tone it down a touch, but I am glad to hear that Daniel will be playing up the “detective” aspects of the book with more mystery plots and an element of procedural crime drama akin to NCIS (just non-military 😉 in nature).

Daniel’s darker art works for the story. Mathan said he saw some Frank Miller influences in the book, and I think he’s right.

I hadn’t initially expected to pick up issue #2, but after reading the debut issue of Detective Comics, I’ll be back to at least sample issue #2 next month.

Green Arrow #1: Writer J.T. Krul with iconic artist Dan Jurgens give us the goatee-less adventures of a younger Green Arrow. This books looks like it will have an international flavor with the story opening in Europe. Green Arrow tangles with reality/internet sensation villains (perhaps the next logical extension of reality TV with gutter shows like Jersey Shore being all the rage). Seems like an interesting premise and timely.

Green Arrow’s alter ego Oliver Queen is head of a wealthy company that develops communications technology like the Qpad 🙂 as well as develops arms and munitions as part of a subsidiary. He has a “team arrow” around him of support staff that makes him more effective as a business man and as a costumed vigilante. Where Batman is virtually solo with associate heroes and heroines in his fold, Green Arrow has a support staff to enable his own solo heroism, but no associate heroes like Speedy, Conner Hawke, etc. (so far?). As such, comparisons of this version of Oliver Queen to Bruce Wayne are not credible.

Dan Jurgens’ timeless art really works for the book. While I may not wholly like the design of the internet /reality villains “stars'” garb, I imagine they are dressed in unassuming non-garish costumes, almost Joe Average street-wear, perhaps so their “fans” can relate to them and more fully escape into the villain roles and POV via the internet. I’ll be here for issue #2 to see where this arc of Green Arrow goes.

Hawk and Dove #1: Artist Rob Liefeld is back on the characters that launched his comic book career – in fact he co-created the female Dove, Dawn Granger, in the 1980s – with fan fave writer Sterling Gates along for the ride. This book was one of a handful of “fun” books published by DC as part of its relaunch. Hawk & Dove #1 (ships September 2011)Hank Hall, Hawk the avatar of War, is head strong and misses his previous partner, his deceased brother Don as Dove. His current partner, Dawn as Dove, is the Avatar of Peace who still is dating Deadman indicating that the Brightest Day continuity continues in the New 52.

Hank’s prominent jurist father is alive and I hope will provide a good counterpoint and some wisdom to temper Hank’s impulses. A mystery thickens in the debut issue as there is more to Dawn and the deceased Don’s Dove connection then was known in the past AND we get the first tease of further avatars with the debut of Condor (named in the future solicitations, but not this issue) as part of the cliff-hanger.

The one weakness of the book is that the history-lesson flashback is bit more dense narrative-wise and jarring than I would have expected. That said, zombie soldiers in the employ of a libertarian battling Hawk and Dove over the skies of Washington D.C. was different and fun to read. I hope the political backdrop that is the nation’s capital plays a larger role going forward.

The book is, as my good friend Chris Delloiacono said, old school awesome. If you’re a fan of Rob Liefeld and Sterling Gates, you should like this book. If you are a hater of all things Liefeld, well get past being close-minded, and give this book a try. “Fun” doesn’t have to be a four-letter word in comics.

Justice League International #1: Writer Dan Jurgens takes the helm of the book after Generation Lost and is joined by that maxi-series’ artist Aaron Lopresti. I can understand why some fans felt this debut issue to be jarring. It doesn’t seem to pick up on the threads of the Generation Lost series and, in fact, this seems to be the first time a JLI existed in the new DC. I can understand the frustration.

That being said, putting aside what this book isn’t, I was pleased of the book’s more international flavor (which makes sense due to the book’s title, its relationship with the U.N., and to a much lesser degree Jurgens’ other coincidental international debut issue of Green Arrow where he served as artist). I was a big fan of the Great Ten so was glad to see August General in Iron on the team alongside a Rocket Red. Nice to see Vixen on the team and stalwarts like Booster Gold, Fire and Ice. Not sure how Godiva will play into things. However, Guy Gardner’s Green Lantern and Bruce Wayne’s Batman are non-team team-members as the issue opens up which is an intriguing take on the “one punch” partners . Lots of promise there.

I also like seeing that the heroes aren’t totally revered in the DCU, but perhaps that is more of a comment on the U.S. citizens being dubious of the U.N. exacerbated by its purchase of the America-made Hall of Justice to be used by the JLI… stressing the “I” part.

O.M.A.C. #1: DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio takes the helm of O.M.A.C. as co-writer with writer-artist Keith Giffen doing what he does best.

This was also a book that caught me off-guard. It was solid and fun on the writing side and on art Giffen really is channelling Jack “The King” Kirby.

Kevin Kho, an employee of Cadmus Labs, is literally taken over by Brother Eye to become O.M.A.C. The Cambodian-American has no memory, seemingly, of his time as O.M.A.C. and the mayhem he causes in issue #1. The cliff-hanger ending with the nanny reflex of Brother Eye was laugh out loud funny.

The first issue is just plain old fun. It’s not dark and brooding and provides a nice respite in one’s comics reading pile. I recommend you read O.M.A.C. in the middle of your week’s comic offerings as it will provide a nice, cheery break from the gritty that dominates comic store shelves nowadays.

Giffen is at the top of his game art-wise while Didio channels the fun. This book is just beautiful and nice love letter to Kirby. I’ll definitely be back for issue #2.

Men of War #1: Scribe Ivan Brandon and veteran penciler Tom Derenick bring us a military comic in Men of War featuring Sergeant Rock’s son and military battalion Easy Company. This book was always going to be a tough sell for me. This isn’t a comment on Brandon or Derenick (whose art I am a big fan of), but due to the subject matter. For me, super-hero comics have been about fantastical escapism. That is difficult to get in a grounded and gritty book like Men of War where super-heroes and super-villains are seen as shadows in the backdrop of a theatre of war.

Also, I found that while I enjoyed the art, I found the fact the uniforms were so, um, “uniform” that it was very difficult to tell our military heroes apart. And, story-wise, the solicit spoiled the end of the book with Rock assuming a larger role with Easy Company. Sadly, I won’t be back next month. Sorry Ivan and Tom.

Static Shock #1: Writer-artist Scott McDaniel and writer John Rozum (who has since departed the book) bring us the adventures of Milestone’s teen hero Static. The Dakota-displaced hero now calls New York City home. The funny thing for me is that every other review I’ve done so far in this column as been based on memory. Besides remembering my appreciation for the art of Static Shock (I am a HUGE McDaniel fan), I actually have to reread the book to continue on with this review…. Ok…. I’ll need a coffee too…

….Done, I’m back. Alright, I enjoyed reading Static Shock #1. However, I can understand why it wasn’t memorable though with the inconsistent/choppy dialogue, dense narrative at points, and the stereotypical backdrop of Harlem in NYC. That said, as I opened this paragraph, I enjoyed the rest of the book. Loved the appearance of Hardware, basically Milestone/DC’s African-American Iron Man, the humor in the book (Hardware quoting Star Wars for one), plus the art and action. There is also a humanity with the book as Virgil Hawkins, Static’s alter ego, deals with the trials of a new school, a part-time job at S.T.A.R. Labs, typical teen stuff like wanting a driver’s license, and his heroic identity. The villains also seem compelling and appear to over-power, in numbers and powers, our protagonist.

The cliff-hanger was also one of the better ones in the DCU which leaves me, and others readers I imagine, wondering whether Static will come out of this in, um, one piece. That said, while this was a solid issue overall, I don’t have a huge attachment to the character, despite his cool new costume and Milestone lineage. I just don’t care for the character, no matter how well his debut issue was. So, with that said, I’m likely not back for issue #2. Sorry Scott.

Stormwatch #1: Fan fave writer Paul Cornell tackles DC’s “professional” super-power set in Stormwatch (I refrain from calling them “super-heroes” since they distinctly don’t see themselves as such) alongside Miguel Sepulveda on art. This book was probably the one I most eagerly anticipated and it did not disappoint. That issue #1 cover with DC stalwart Martian Manhuner alongside Wildstorm alumni Apollo and Midnighter set tongues wagging and minds wandering when it was first released.

Stormwatch #1 (ships September 2011)This book basically involves a Stormwatch team with Martian Manhunter alongside Jack Hawksmoor and the Engineer as well as the aging-in-reverse new Adam One attempting to recruit a very unwilling Apollo to join their team. Stormwatch has been protecting the world for generations from super threats even if the world wasn’t aware of them. Cornell’s other New 52 title, the medieval period super-powered period piece, Demon Knights is also teased as perhaps being the first or any early incarnation of the Stormwatch team (if not in name, but in purpose). The recruitment doesn’t go well, with Apollo eventually confronted by Midnighter (in an odd bondage-inspired costume), also not on the team despite them both adorning the book’s cover.

We also meet the “Eminence of Blades” who is, um, battling the Moon and quickly loses setting up some interesting future plot points. Plus there is a strange mammoth horn like creature in the frozen tundra of the DCU that also provides an otherworldly menace for the team to combat.

This is probably the most-action packed issue in all of the New 52 so far by mid-September. The characterization is strong with the characters differentiated well. The characters “feel” and “sound” authentic to their roles in the books. The art services the story well and really exemplifies the strange in the threats the team faces.

This book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. This is by far my favorite title of the New 52 thus far. It’ll be interesting to see how many more Wildstorm-ers pop-up in this run. This is apparently the book, not Grifter and Voodoo, that will show the integration of the Wildstorm properties into the DCU. Interesting. Should be entertaining.

(Ok, 13 reviews down, one more to go! Whew. Almost done….)

Swamp Thing #1: Swamp Thing makes the Brightest Day leap into the new 52 with another fan fave writer in Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette at the helm. Unfortunately, alongside Static Shock, this was the only other book that was not memorable story-wise for me (although I remember fleetingly the great Paquette art) that required me to reread to facilitate this review. (Luckily I still had a splash of coffee left from my recent Static Shock reread).

The book opens with strange occurrences that capture the attention of Superman, Batman, and Aquaman – birds, bats, and fish are seemingly dying en masse with no clear discernable cause. While intriguing, the Aquaman scene seems odd as decomposed fish couldn’t have been alive “a moment ago” in the same way that the birds and bats were that fell from the air and died on impact. Not sure if this is a story point by Snyder or an error on art by Paquette.

The mysterious villain of the piece, one assumes that is responsible for the strange global occurrences around nature, gains some zombified flunkies in such an odd way and the book’s intent to be mysterious and horrific at the same time seems to work. In addition, Dr. Alec Holland – who either was or wasn’t Swamp Thing in the past of this new DCU (he and Superman have different takes on this) – seems to channel his inner Bill Bixby as the title seems to adopt a travelling vagabond feel that was captured in the 1970s “on the run” Incredibile Hulk TV series.

Excellent art, compelling mystery, and interesting cliff-hanger will satisfy many a new reader, fans of zombie movies and lit, as well as Vertigo fans. The problem for me is that despite a solid outing, and art by one of my fave artists, I have no attachment to Swamp Thing as a character nor horror as a genre. As such, I unfortunately for DC, but fortunately for my wallet, won’t be here for issue #2.


THE TALLY: DC New 52 Weeks 0 & 1

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 – Continue
ACTION COMICS #1 – Continue
ANIMAL MAN #1 – Pass
BATGIRL #1 – Pass
BATWING #1 – Continue
DETECTIVE COMICS #1 – Continue
GREEN ARROW #1 – Continue
HAWK AND DOVE #1 – Continue
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #1 – Continue
MEN OF WAR #1 – Pass
O.M.A.C. #1 – Continue
STATIC SHOCK #1 – Pass
STORMWATCH #1 – Continue (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
SWAMP THING #1 – Pass

So, I’ll be continuing with 9 of 14 Week 0 and 1 offerings by DC. That’s a 64% success rate for DC – with me anyway – regarding the New 52. I imagine some more will fall off after issue #2, but we’ll see.

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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