DC Comics Relaunch: 52 Weeks Later Part Four

And this is part four of looking at the DC Comics relaunch after close to a year. This week we’re going to look at four old-school titles that got a major upheaval with the DCnU: Flash, Hawkman, All Star Western, and Superman.

The Savage Hawkman

Initial Creative Team: Tony Daniel, Jim Bonny, and Phillip Tan
Current Creative Team: Rob Liefield, Mark Poulton, and Joe Bennett

I’ve never been a huge Hawkman fan. Back in the 90s, I gained some basic affection for the character while written by John Ostrander, who did his best to write great stories for a character who was seemingly rebooted by retconns every year. But I hadn’t read much of the character before, and I haven’t read much of him since.

But regardless, I felt bad for the character. I mean the Hawkman I grew up on, Katar Hol, had his history so devastated by Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Hawkworld non-reboot debacle, that he was removed completely from being used in the DC Universe. So, I think anyone who was a minor fan of the character was pleased that Hawkman would be included in the DCnU reboot.

Major Changes

  • Hawkman is Carter Hall of the DCnU was not a member of the Justice Society of America or the Justice League of America.
  • Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman has not been a part of Hawkman’s past (I think)

Opinion

Before the relaunch, I certainly thought that giving the title the name of “The Savage Hawkman” gives it a nice Silver Age feel, so that was a good move out of the gate. Rather than just Hawkman.

I read the first issue of Hawkman, and was thrilled with the direction. Carter Hall is an archaeologist in 2011 without (apparent) past lives, Hawk avatars, Justice League/Society affiliation, prophecies, or beloved eternal partners (Don’t get me wrong, I like the character of Sierra, but simple is better sometimes). Now, there was definite confusion there. Carter already had the Nth Metal and the wings. However, he didn’t seem to have a connection with Thanagar and was unsure about the origins and potential of the Nth Metal.

The first issue had Carter coming to a crossroads unsure whether he wanted to keep on being Hawkman. But the Nth Metal and Carter’s reputation as an archaeologist who specializes in alien technology drew him back into the superhero game. The idea of combining archaeology, alien technology, and super heroes was a good one. It was an interesting and bold take, and I liked it.

And in the second issue, it all went to pot. The creative team turned the story into where modern day Hawk gladiator uses brute strength to defeat an X-Files monster of the week, and using the Nth Metal as a deus-ex-machina device to solve any crisis created by the creative team. The villains were cookie cutter clichés and boring. Carter Hall changed from an introspective hero with a mysterious past to a Conan like tough guy who used brute strength to solve all of his problems.

After four issues, I gave up on the title. I wasn’t enough of a Hawkman fan to stick with a very mediocre title.

To no one’s surprise, a new creative team was brought on board. The surprising thing is that Rob Liefield was brought on to plot the book. This pleased me but did not excite me. Liefield has been a pretty good idea person during his comic book career (the execution and follow through of those ideas is usually what has gotten him in trouble).

I read the latest issue of Hawkman, and it seemed better to me. The plot was much tighter, and the character of Hawkman was better defined. I think too much of the plot was geared around Hawkman’s fighting prowess and people wanting the Nth Metal, but it was much more enjoyable.

Guest Opinion – Grey Scherl

I tried Hawkman when it launched and then again when Rob Liefeld came on board. The original attempt was just awful and I barely finished the first issue before giving up on it. Rob, on the other hand, made the book a bit more entertaining, and it really didn’t hurt that he brought the right team for the job. It’s hardly a book that I’d call must read, but it’s definitely more enjoyable than I feel a Hawkman book deserves to be. I mean, it’s Hawkman, it’s almost like you’re supposed to suffer for trying to read it.

Guest Opinion – John Babos

While I have been reading Savage Hawkman since issue #1, I just never felt Philip Tan was the right artist for the book. He works better on darker books in my opinion, so it will be interesting to see how his next project on He-Man will work out. In terms of Hawkman, I enjoyed Tony S. Daniel’s storytelling with his modern, yet true to the spirit of the franchise plots. However, something wasn’t clicking. There were teases that Carter Hall may in fact be the Thanagarian alien Kata Hol, but there was not a lot of advancement on those subplot threads.

With the new creative team of Rob Liefeld and Mark Poulton on story and Joe Bennett on art, the Savage Hawkman is starting to live up to its potential. The creative team has embraced the hero’s Thanagarian roots and we’re getting more sci-fi and super-heroics on the horizon. Rob clearly loves the character and has set up an interesting plot. I also quite like Carter’s new foil Xerxes. A very cool villain. Mark Poulton’s scripts are authentic and accessible. However, the real selling point for this visual medium is Joe Bennett’s art. WOW. I am so glad he’s returned to the character and readers are the beneficiary. If you were unsure to check out the Savage Hawkman, now is a great jump-on point. A slow start to the book, but a great dynamic second life with the new creative team.

Verdict

I think everyone is happy to have Hawkman back on comic book shelves, especially one that is more streamlined and simple. However, the execution has been lacking up to this point. Hopefully Rob Liefield will get things on track. It’s not a must read, but it certainly feels like Hawkman has a direction right now, and that is good.

Overall Ranking: 42 out of 52

Flash

Initial Creative Team: Francis Manapul Inked by Brian Buccelato
Current Creative Team: Francis Manapul Inked by Brian Buccelato

Several years ago, after a failed attempt to put Bart Allen in the Flash role, DC Comics decided to bring Barry Allen back from his noble death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. This probably caused one of the biggest arguments between Modern Age and Silver Age fans that I can remember. Silver Age fans were happy that the “classic” Flash was back in his rightful place in the costume of The Flash. Modern Age fans felt that Wally West was the more interesting character

Major Changes

  • The Flash has been a member of the Justice League for the last five years.
  • Barry Allen was never married to Iris and never died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Opinion

The Flash comic book (even before the relaunch) has a lot going for it:

  • He’s a classic DC Comic book hero who has been almost continuously published since 1959 save for the year and a half after Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • A solid gallery of villains who are even known as the Rogues.
  • Flash is an easily identified character, whose powers are easily known for everyone.
  • Flash’s powers have allowed him to travel to parallel universes, travel through time, and connect to a mystical speed force.

So, Flash as a concept didn’t need a reboot. Barry Allen did.

The Flash comic book is a perfectly fine comic book. Francis Manapul has created some pretty good comic book stories with some interesting new villains, from what I’ve seen. But I don’t think he has made that much progress with Barry.

To me Barry Allen is still the same bland character he has always been. Barry is a police detective, and it certainly gets him into interesting enough situations. And I get that the writers don’t want to put Barry into an instant relationship with his future wife (from the original universe). I can respect all of these decisions, but there really isn’t anything that draws me into this title.

It’s not a bad comic book, but the creative team has done very little to make Barry Allen into an interesting character. He still seems like a very 60s/70s classic cookie cutter superhero. But the book is very accessible, I am able to pick up any issue of Flash and understand exactly what is going on in the title. And that is a triumph in 2012.

Guest Opinion – Gray Scherl

I hated Barry Allen for a few years in large part due to the way he returned and took over the only Flash title in town. Under Geoff Johns that book was just…awful. Horrible pacing, bad characterization, and just not a fun book. I gave the relaunch of Flash a shot entirely due to the art and my hoping that at the very least the book would look pretty.

What I got, instead, is one of my top ten books from the entire line. Flash is funny, well written, and gorgeous. Barry Allen is a character I want to read more about, my most hated Patty Spivot is part of a relationship I care about, and really, the book is just leaps and bounds different than it was just a year ago. Easily the most improved big name title in the entire line, the relaunch has done some amazing things to breathe new life into the book.

Verdict

Well, I guess Grey likes the title better than I do. I still think that the creative team needs to do more with the character of Barry Allen to make him distinct. He doesn’t need to be Wally West, but more than what he is at the moment.

Overall Ranking: 25 out of 52

All Star Western

Initial Creative Team: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey
Current Creative Team: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey

In case you haven’t noticed, mash-ups are the latest rage. Take two concepts that work reasonably well, and combine them. Cowboys and Aliens. Ninjas and Mutants. Vampires and Werewolves. You get the point.

This title was announced last summer. A title from yester-year that hadn’t been seen since the early 70s. And in general, the only Western comic that has any reasonable success in recent years has been Jonah Hex (mostly as a comic book in the Vertigo line). So the name of the title was interesting. And then there was the ‘mash-up’ combine the vigilante/bounty hunter tales of Jonah Hex with a historical figure from the past of Gotham City, Amadeus Arkham.

It’s a great concept. So, really the only question is about the execution.

Major Changes

None major

Opinion

All Star Western is a fun book. You have the brutal nature of Jonah Hex who is paired up with the Victorian gentleman and eventual founder of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Amadeus Arkham. Palmiotti and Grey have a strong concept for the title. And I love the idea of bringing the Western concept to the DCnU, a genre that was originally a strong suit of DC Comics. If you have played Red Dead Redemption, and wanted to read stories set in that time period, then this is the book for you.

It is a very good book, one that I enjoyed quite immensely. I enjoyed seeing the origins of Gotham City, and it was interesting to revisit the classic western heroes of the past. And I felt rather bad giving the title up after the first 4 issues.

Maybe you’re asking yourself, why I would stop reading the title. Well, the title is very good, but for me the action and the story do not pull me in on a monthly basis. There was no ‘pull’ and no high anticipation for the book. And when the price point increased to $3.99, my wallet suggested that it was time to leave the title.

I think that the creative team is doing a great job revisiting the classic DC Western concepts, like Bat Lash, El Diablo, Nighthawk, Cinnamon, and the rest. But, I also think it suffers for resting between the genres. It struggles with being a superhero comic book, as it does not really give us a glimpse of a hero who we can get behind, even though Jonah Hex is certainly fun in small doses. However, nor is it deep or clever enough to really be a Vertigo book, and is unable to tackle truly mature subject matters that say a Sandman Mystery Theatre has done in the past.

Guest Opinion – John Babos

I am a convert to All Star Western. The closest I ever came to reading a comic book starting Jonah Hex was in the 1980s sci-fi DC comic book series called Hex. 🙂 What appealed to me about All Star Western and even other books set in DC’s past, e.g. first arc of Justice League, Action Comics, etc., was the fact that I could learn what changed in DC’s past as a result of the relaunch. I felt like I was in at the ground level now. While that seems more like a response from a historian, I soon realized the depth of the book. Setting it in and around Gotham City was a masterstroke since it would give the books some modern day relevance. It is set around the same time as Scott Snyder/Kyle Higgins’ Batman: Gates of Gotham, so that was a big plus for me.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have created a very engaging yarn about an odd couple in Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham. It is good pairing that with Moritat’s art really makes this one of DC’s most solid creative efforts end-to-end. The Night of the Owls issue showed the potential of the book to reach to and be relevant for a greater audience. However, it did it in its own All Star Way… half of the issue wrapped up the existing August 7 storyline and other half dealt with a Talon of the Court of Owls. It was unconventional storytelling, but it just worked. Quirky, fun, action-packed, beautifully drawn. THAT is the DC New 52’s All Star Western.

Verdict

Personally, if my comic book budget were bigger, All Star Western would be one of the first titles that I would add back to my monthly list. It is very good. If you like westerns or want to see what the early years of the DcnU are like, then you should read this. Jonah Hex is not a particularly new or interesting character, but he is a lot of fun. It’s a solid book, and well worth being part of the DCnU.

Overall Ranking: 17 out of 52

Superman

Initial Creative Team: George Perez and Jesus Merino
Current Creative Team: Dan Jurgens, and Jesus Merino

Superman has taken a beating in recent years. At one point in time, Superman had four comic book titles and a barrage of mini-series, elseworlds, and guest appearances in other books. Movies were on the horizon. And he was the standard bearer for DC Comics.

That has changed immensely. Batman was always neck-and-neck with the Man of Steel, but now Batman has moved so far ahead that Batman’s entire line of comic books practically eclipse those of Superman.

Plus, it seems like every top notch writer who works for DC Comics has the solution for ‘fixing’ Superman, from JMS’s Grounded storyline to the revamping of Superman’s origin by Geoff Johns to the truly modern take on Superman in the pages of All Star Superman.

At the beginning of the DCnU, we all hoped that someone would take the best things from these concepts and bring them into the Superman titles. Let’s examine if they’ve been successful, shall we?

Major Changes

  • Clark Kent is no longer married to Lois Lane
  • The Daily Planet has merged with cable news broadcaster, GCN, to become a single news entity, with Lois Lane as the face and lead news editor for the organization.

Opinion

Recently, George Perez had an interview where he suggested that writing Superman in the wake of the DC Relaunch was a bit of a mess. That no one really knew what was going on, and he had his concepts overwritten time and time again, because he wasn’t given any instructions on who Superman was supposed to be.

After reading his first few issues, this makes sense. Perez does a decent job creating a threat for Superman, an unknown threat with Kryptonian origins. But, the world of Clark Kent and his supporting cast in Metropolis plays out like a bit of a guessing game. It makes things come up a bit flat all things considered. With Perez at the helm, the title was enjoyable, but for me was a bit of a disappointment. I expected Perez to revamp the character much like he did Wonder Woman following the initial Crisis on Infinite Earths, but it seems like he was unable to, mostly due to his hands being tied.

Welcome to the Internet age. Back during the original Crisis, there was no real plan whether to revamp everything or not. There was no strong editorial decision making. Which is why some characters were a bit of a mess following Crisis (read about the original Hawkworld mini-series for a complete understanding of the debacle)? In 2012, there is a much stronger editorial group in charge. However, in 2012, if you tell too many people the concept will get leaked before you have a chance to showcase it in front of the world. Therefore, professionals like George Perez are kept in the dark, while the architects like Grant Morrison create new character concepts that hopefully will live for years.

For this article, I read Superman #10 by Dan Jurgens. Once again, we got a nice sense of the adult Superman and how he is dealing with new villains in the city of Metropolis, but we don’t get much sense of how Clark is interacting in that universe. I’m not sure that any writer knows how to write the modern day Superman, because they are still so dependent on the character that Grant Morrison is writing in Action Comics.

To me, they seem like two totally different characters, and that five years would not turn the Action Comics Superman into the one in his eponymous title.

Guest Opinion – Grey Scherl

Superman, under George Perez, was one of my favorite six issue runs on Superman. Sure, there were some obvious disconnects, and it became clear at several points that Perez was seeing his work edited by editorial, but he still managed to cram a lot of content into those first six issues.

Since then we’ve seen the return of Dan Jurgens to the franchise that made him famous, and while it hasn’t been mind blowing, it has been quite good. It’s nice to see Superman being Superman sometimes.

Verdict

Action Comics is still the flag bearer title of the Superman line, and to a degree Superman gets the leftovers. It is a decent title that needs to learn exactly what stories it wants to present to the comic book public. Currently, it is the only comic book that is telling us what Superman’s life is like in 2012, and it isn’t carrying that burden effectively.

Overall Ranking: 12 out of 52

Rankings

Rankings are a combination of my own personal rankings of titles, sales, industry buzz, and popularity of the creative talent.

03.     Green Lantern
04.     Action Comics
06.     Wonder Woman
07.     Detective Comics
09.     Nightwing
12.     Superman
17.     All Star Western

18.     Batman and Robin
22.     Blue Beetle
22.5     G.I. Combat
24.     Superboy
25.     Flash
27.     DC Universe Presents
33.     Green Arrow
42.     The Savage Hawkman
47.     Legion Lost
50.     Men of War

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