DC Comics Relaunch: 52 Weeks Later Part One

Please allow me a quick retrospective:

About a year ago, DC Comics made their big announcement. In September of 2011, they would reboot the entire DC Universe following the Flashpoint crossover series. This was big news and certainly caught the attention of comic book fans everywhere. The other big announcement was the reboot would coincide with the launch of their “Same Day Digital” campaign, which meant that all DC Comics titles would be available for digital purchase on the same day that print comic books are available (in other words, on comic book Wednesdays).

One year ago, I wasn’t reading comic books. Okay, that’s kindof a half-lie, I preferred to think of myself as retired from weekly comic book purchases. After I got married in 2004, the idea of sitting in my corner and reading my stack of comic books seemed rather anti-social. Plus, the cost, availability, and packaging of trades/graphic novels 1 made it easy to switch, as all of my favorite series were being collected. Plus, I’ve never been a “bagging and boarding” kindof guy, so most of my comics were dog-eared and beat-up anyway.

I remember hearing the news and being fascinated by the news from DC Comics, but I don’t remember when I decided that digital comics would be my entry point back into weekly comic books. Somewhere along the way, I decided to launch a blog and review half of the offerings from DC. Next thing you know, I’m a member of the Inside Pulse family.

Anyway, over the next thirteen weeks, this column is going to count down the weeks leading up to the anniversary. Each week, I’m going to review several series2, trying to see where things stand a year after the relaunch. Which characters are better off and which are worse off. Which ideas have succeeded and which have died on the vine. Did the digital age usher in a new age of excitement and creativity, or is it just a well-packaged cash grab.

This week I’m going to look at Action Comics, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, and G.I. Combat. Additionally, I’m going to talk about the cancelled series Men of War. 3

Action Comics

Initial Creative Team: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
Current Creative Team: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales 4

One of the biggest creative announcements from the DCnU was that Grant Morrison would be writing Superman in the pages of Action Comics. Ever since All Star Superman, everyone has wondered what Grant would do with monthly tales of Superman. Then came the second announcement that Grant would be writing tales from the past, when Clark Kent arrived in Metropolis and Superman made his debut.

Please note, this section will be discussing only the Superman in Action Comics.

Changes

  • DC took a bold step by renumbering the two oldest comic book series, the two comic book series that were never messed with5, Action Comics and Detective Comics.
  • Superman was given a boyish look for Action Comics #1, unlike the chiseled chin, confident hero of the classic Superman.
  • Superman would become a crusader for human rights in his early stories, instead of just dealing with global threats.
  • Jonathan and Martha Kent are deceased by the time that Clark comes to Metropolis.

Opinion

Ehhhh. Let’s get something out in the open. I’m not a huge fan of Grant Morrison. He’s a good comic book writer, and I’ve liked a lot of his stories. I think he has a unique take on characters, which can serve a story really well, but I think he tends to leave characters worse off after he is done with them. 6 But, even I thought that All Star Superman was really good.

I think that Grant Morrison’s is writing great stories about a young Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen trying to cut their teeth in the Metropolis media industry. He captures the young invincible feeling of these three, and the youthful fire of three people who have respect for the status quo, but who aren’t worried about pushing boundaries. I really enjoy that part of the story.

I am much less enamored with his Superman, who he writes as an annoying ignorant emo 20-something. Yes, maybe it makes Superman more realistic and relatable, but it makes him seem much less like Superman. I’m not a Superman reader. But I will read him when a creative team has an interesting take on him. This new direction seems like an experiment, an alternate universe that is waiting to be reset by another creative team in the future.

Guest Opinion – Grey Scherl

When Action Comics debuted with Grant Morrison writing it, I was excited. I figured that it was finally time for the Man of Steel to get his due and take a top spot amongst the sales charts. After reading the first issue, I thought we were getting just that. It had everything I wanted and expected out of the book, with Grant humanizing Superman with a retold origin story. There was a feeling that things were preparing to push forward, and that the groundwork was just being laid out to get us ready. Now, fast forward ten issues, and we’re in the exact same place. Morrison is still telling us flashback stories, nothing has really effectively happened thus far, and the hook that encouraged me to label this book as a must read has stopped being such a draw. We’ve seen his early days, understand where he got his suit, have seen a future him team up with the Legion to fight an Anti-Superman Army, seen Brainiac, and now we’re watching him take on some great hunter. But it’s all still in the past, even the current arc reverted him back to a t-shirt and jeans from his costume.

The book isn’t moving forward, and it’s either by nature of Grant trying to do a slow burn in the beginning in order to hit us with something big soon, or it’s just not his best work. The jury is really still out on how this book will be remembered in the coming years, but it’s getting to be put up or shut up time. The book needs to find a unique voice, and, preferably, start featuring non-flashback stories of Superman.

Verdict

People were talking about Action Comics when it debuted, but I haven’t heard much chatter recently. It’s still Grant Morrison, and I’m sure it’s pulling in eyeballs based on that. However, I wouldn’t be betting that this new direction for Superman will remain too long after Morrison leaves the title. But it got solid buzz out of the gate and the stories are interesting.

Overall Ranking: 4 out of 52

Detective Comics

Pre-DCNU Creative Team: Scott Snyder, Francesco Fancavalla, and Mark Simpson
Initial Creative Team: Tony Daniel
Current Creative Team: Tony Daniel, Ed Benes 7

The Bat-Family books are the toughest to review in the new DCnU, as they have had the least number of changes. So, while Detective Comics feels like a new beginning, it doesn’t feel like a reboot. It’s closer to the recent Doctor Who series, that will let the story dictate whether certain facts have been rebooted.

Changes

  • Bruce Wayne has a new girlfriend, reporter Charlotte Rivers.

Opinion

There are two major problems with Detective Comics as a whole. First, there’s been a bunch of confusing information as to whether Detective is set in the past like Action Comics is, or not. Batman has a girlfriend who only appears in Detective Comics; Batman has a strained relationship with the GCPD reminiscent of his early days; There is no hint of any other members of the Bat-Family. When the series launched there was no information, and in the middle of the initial story arc, I read a story somewhere saying that it was. But then recently, Detective Comics got into the whole Night of the Owls crossover, without even a suggestion that the story was taking place in the past.

The second major problem is that Scott Snyder has been hitting home runs with the Batman title, so by comparison the “base hits” accumulated by Detective Comics make it seem like less of a success.

I also think that Detective Comics suffers from a lack of identity. Batman is the main Batman comic, Batman and Robin focuses on the dynamic duo, Batman The Dark Knight focuses on supernatural and horror stories, Batman Inc. focuses on global threats. So where does that leave Detective Comics?

Guest Opinion – Grey Scherl

Detective Comics was among the first of the New 52 books that I dropped. Some I let go due to a clear lack of quality (Red Hood), but Tec was for a much different reason. The first issue ended with the cliffhanger of Joker’s face being cut off, and nothing that has happened since then has been even remotely memorable. I gave up on the book for the same reason I gave up on Batman when Tony Daniel was writing it…it’s not bad, but nothing of any sort of importance ever seems to happen. Like the book is constantly turning its wheels, and every attempt to move forward is met by the next issue shrugging its shoulders and forgetting the previous one.

Verdict

For me, Detective Comics is a solid title, but not special. Daniel is a penciller turned writer, and the stories are getting much better. I think he has tried to be too gruesome for one of the flagships of DC Comics (Joker’s face being cut off, primarily), and his Batman is occasionally too melodramatic.

Overall Ranking: 7 out of 52

Green Arrow

Pre-DCnU Creative Team: James Patrick and Agustin Padilla
Initial Creative Team: JT Krul and Dan Jurgens
Current Creative Team: Ann Nocenti and Harvey Tolibao

Green Arrow probably needed a reboot more than most characters. I mean the weight of what Oliver Queen has gone through was pretty heavy. He was seen as a bleeding heart womanizer. He recently had been married to and divorced from his life-long love, Black Canary. He had one biological son who he had a strained relationship with, and an adopted son, Speedy, who had his daughter killed and his arm severed. Recently Oliver had become mayor of Star City, a Black Lantern, and a vigilante that murders super villains.

Whew. 8 So, yeah a reboot was a good idea.

Main Changes

  • Oliver Queen is a Steve Jobsesque billionaire who fights crime as Green Arrow.
  • Oliver is much younger than in the DCU.
  • Oliver does not seem to have made relationships with either Black Canary or Hal Jordan.
  • Green Arrow got a complete costume overhaul

Opinion

There’s just no other way to say this, Green Arrow’s exploits in the DCnU have been less than ideal. Oliver acts like a spoiled bored rich guy who moans about having too many responsibilities. In addition, DC Comics has distanced Green Arrow from the other members of the Justice League having him act more like Booster Gold than the traditional Green Arrow.

Green Arrow never had a rogue’s gallery of super villains to work from, so I get that it’s an uphill battle to create compelling characters for him to face. Yet, when I have read Green Arrow, I see villains and characters who are pure clichés that would work best on light-hearted dramas on the USA network.9 Sorry, but I don’t want Green Arrow to be reheating leftovers from Burn Notice.

The change to Ann Nocenti was made recently, and maybe she’s getting her feet wet before really trying to redefine Green Arrow in 2012, but so far this feels like sleep walking through the title. Nothing is all that bad, but nothing is all that great.

For this column, I read issue #10. This issue follows the three part episode where triplets seduced Green Arrow to capture him for their father. Oliver is back in Star City, where he must deal with a character who is made to believe that she is a robot when she is actually a human being with cybernetic implants. Apparently in the DCnU becoming a human robot is a lifestyle choice like being trans-gendered. At the end of the episode, Oliver is able to take down the ‘bad guy’ who does this, but the girl decides to kill herself, anyway.

I’m probably dogging the issue a little too much, but it certainly wasn’t good. More importantly, you didn’t have a sense that this had anything to do with his crusade to be Green Arrow. And in fact, I don’t really know his motivation for putting on tights. Think a bow wielding, 20-something, emo-whining Tony Stark who gets bored even more easily.

I hope they are able to pull something from this. I honestly do.

Guest Opinion – Grey Scherl

Green Arrow is a book that I always want to like. I’ve tried it under multiple writers, scoping out an issue or two of pretty much every new status quo…and there have been a lot. When the book launched with JT Krul still attached I expected Ollie to be younger but essentially the same person…words cannot express my disappointment when I saw the full reboot happen. The creative shuffle after just a few issues did the book no favors, and the first six issues are completely forgettable.

Ann Nocenti came to the book and my optimism soared, sure, she’d been out of the industry for a while, but if she could channel even 70% of what she brought to the table on Daredevil I felt we’d see something worth reading. Unfortunately, the first arc was a complete and total stinker featuring boring villains, bad dialog, and the general feeling that it was done solely to take Ollie out of his company. Another unfortunate thing, since setting up Ollie as a Steve Jobs character was one of my favorite things to happen in this book.

As of my writing this, there has really been one issue of Green Arrow that I enjoyed, and it was the most recent one. A one off issue about people trying to become robots that wound up being far more interesting than any issue yet…and it was still wound up being an average issue.

Verdict

I want to like Green Arrow, I really do. I’ve liked the character in the past when he was written by Mike Barr, Mike Grell, Kevin Smith, and Brad Meltzer. But this version doesn’t do anything for me. There is nothing interesting about the superhero, and the man seems like a Tony Stark/Bruce Wayne hybrid/knockoff. I will always keep an eye on the series, due to my fondness for the character, but I don’t see it pulling me in anytime soon.

Overall Ranking: 33 out of 52

Men of War/GI Combat

Pre-DCnU Creative Team: none
Men of War Creative Team: Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick
G.I. Combat Creative Team: JT Krul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Ariel Olivetti

A philosophical question: Can you miss something, even if it was something you never really enjoyed? When I started reading comics, there was a healthy dose of war comics, especially for DC Comics: Sgt. Rock, Weird War Tales, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories, and the like.

I never read these comics, as I was more interested in superheroes, but I would see them advertised in the pages of comics. Gradually, war comics faded away along with the westerns and the romance comics. And while, I never pined for the days of yesteryear where I could follow the adventures of The Haunted Tank in G.I. Combat, I still marked its absence.

So when DC announced that Men of War would be one of the new 52 comics that would debut in September, I applauded the move.

Opinion

I read the first issue of Men of War, mostly because I share the opinion of many that there are too many superhero comics out there, and that other stories can be told. But, Men of War seemed like a cross between Sgt. Rock the Next Generation and Captain America without the super soldier formula. You had the nephew of the famous Sgt. Frank Rock who was an amazing soldier who was insubordinate despite his talents. The creative team didn’t seem to have any real fire for the title.

The Men of War series did not last past issue #8.

For this week’s column, I read GI Combat #2. For my taste buds, this is a much better outing. JT Krul has decided to modernize the 70s tale of the War that Time Forgot, which pits soldiers in a Savage Land/Lost Land setting where they are able to fight dinosaurs and other creatures.

Additionally, the writing team from All-Star Western, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, are writing the back-up feature of the Unknown Soldier. The Unknown Soldier is a character who survived the war comics era, and starred in several series over the years.

Combined, both stories make GI Combat into a more solid series. I enjoyed the title more than I did Men of War, and really pulls in a lot of the concepts that Vertigo used in their war series. I think the Unknown Solider story is a little stronger, but both certainly have their merits.

Verdict – Men of War

By even publishing the Men of War comic book, DC Comics should be applauded for a bold choice. However, you have to execute on a bold choice to make it work. There is a reason that war comics aren’t published anymore, so if you decide to bring them back, you had better have a solid creative team and an interesting take on the subject.

Overall Ranking: 50 out of 52

Verdict – G.I. Combat

It’s not fair to judge a series on only two issues. A comic book series needs a little more time to breathe than that. However, it is off to a solid start. Crossing genres makes more sense for a modern war book. However, it’s a double-edged sword to make readers spend an extra dollar for a comic that isn’t in the standard wheelhouse.

I won’t be purchasing G.I. Combat on a consistent monthly basis, but that is mostly due to budget. I am curious to see whether the creative team can make this book a success. If you like genre-crossing war stories, you should check it out.

Overall Ranking: 22.5 out of 52 10

Footnotes

1 – I wish I could decide which term I liked better. “Trades” sounds too mechanical, and “Graphic Novel” sounds like I’m trying to impress people.

2 – Probably four series, plus a cancelled or mini-series when needed.

3 – In case you’re wondering about the choices, I’m choosing titles that were published the previous week, so I can get an update on series I’m unfamiliar with.

4 – With help from Andy Kubert and Gene Ha

5 – Not counting the debacle that was Action Comics Weekly. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s raise the price of Action Comics AND publish it more frequently!”

6 – I mean count the number of times people have retconned his work after the fact. Everyone tries to ignore the Xorn/Magneto issue as much as possible. I’ve never seen his JLA stories referenced in another work. In 5 years, no one will ever mention Final Night or the time that Dick Grayson was Batman.

7 – I haven’t been paying attention to Detective Comics recently. Not sure if Daniel has permanently added Benes to the creative team, or if this is temporary.

8 – And I didn’t even mention that he was once a Hollow, a soulless body that was eventually filled with the spirit of Oliver Queen from heaven.

9 – I pick on USA Network too much. It could just as easily be characters from Franklin and Bash as Burn Notice.

10 – All of the “Second Wave” comics will get a .5 ranking added to their score to distinguish them from the original 52 comics that were published.

 

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