Tuesday, 4 October 2011

My Thoughts on DC Comics' New 52

If Blogger's stats are anything to go by, this blog is viewed daily by a wide and varied bunch of readers and most of you were brought here by Googling 'Supergirl porn'. Given your interest in naked drawings of a fictional teenage alien I'm going to skip the preamble, assume you're familiar with DC Comics' New 52 and plough straight ahead with my thoughts on the New 52.

Action Comics: Superman has gone back to his roots, for the first time!

"Back to his roots" is a phrase that's been bandied around a lot where Batman is concerned. Over the years many talented people have set out to return Batman to the basic core concept seen in his very first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (1939), a dark and brooding creature of the night. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams did it in the Seventies and then in the Eighties Frank Miller did it again. The Eighties also saw Tim Burton return the Batman of the big screen to his dark roots, and after Joel Schumacher undid all his good work in the Nineties with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, it fell to Christopher Nolan to pay the most recent visit to those roots with Batman Begins and Dark Knight. Returning to Batman's roots is an idea that has been tried so often, with such consistently good results, it amazes me that it's only now that someone has thought to try the same thing with Superman.

Action Comics #14 (1939) & Action Comics #1 (2011)

And that's exactly what Action Comics #1 is, a return to Superman's roots. Previously when writers have tried to present Superman to a new audience, for example John Byrne's Man of Steel, Geoff Johns' Secret Origin or Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, they generally seemed to have used Richard Donner's 1978 Superman movie as a template. Grant Morrison has previously presented us with his take on the quintessential Superman story, All Star Superman and he mostly uses the Silver Age of comics for his inspiration. With Action Comics #1 however, Morrison gives us a Superman that draws heavily on the "Champion of the Oppressed" originally conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and shown in Superman's first appearance in the first Action Comics #1 (1938). Seeing this take on Superman presented in a modern setting, I feel like comics readers must have felt in the early seventies while reading an O' Neil/Adams Batman story. It really is a breath of fresh air, and exactly what Superman needed. For this reason, and many others, Action Comics #1 is my favourite of the New 52.

Aquaman: Great stuff but we've seen it before.

Aquaman #1 is a perfect first issue. Writer Geoff Johns tells us what we need to know about the character but hints at more information further down the line. He shows us exactly what the character can do in an interesting way and introduces us to brand new scary-looking villains. The art by Ivan Reis is beautiful stuff, this is the best Aquaman has looked in years.

Aquaman has been the butt of many jokes over the years and Johns chooses to confront and counter practically every jibe in this issue, often in a humorous and witty fashion. While I have to agree that this approach has worked, I do wonder why many reviewers are talking like Johns is the first writer to have used it. In Aquaman #63 (2000) writer Dan Jurgens has Aquaman encounter a smart-arsed chat show host who goes through the usual repertoire of "talking-to-fish" jokes until Aquaman changes the man's tune by punching through the floor of the TV studio to stop a bomb from exploding. Further back in Aquaman #3 (1994) Peter David has Aquaman confronting Superboy's jibes by walloping him with a giant tidal wave!

Aquaman #1  was fantastic, but there's a lot of fantastic Aquaman stories out there, people just haven't heard of them!

Superman: George Perez, you get back here this instant!

Superman #1 was by no means the best of the New 52. It's biggest flaw was a completely needless narration that came in the form of an article Clark Kent had written about the issue's events. These captions explained stuff that we could plainly see happening already and served only to clutter up the panels and distract from the art. Also, Superman fought a fire monster. I always think that if Superman is going to fight a random monster then it should be a beast with a bit of  imagination and fun to it. Something like Titano the Super-Ape, Solaris the Tyrant Sun or even Kryptococcus the Omni-Germ. Anything is better than Big Generic Fire Guy.

Having said that, on the whole I really enjoyed the issue, mainly for the focus on the supporting characters, something that's been sorely lacking for years in the Super-books. Lois Lane in particular has a great moment where she shows her boss Morgan Edge why she's one of the best journalists in the business. The characterisation of Clark Kent is consistent with Action Comics #1; he's portrayed here as an idealist with an angry sense of justice. Despite it's flaws this is a book that I would be happy to get month after month.

Unfortunately DC has revealed that writer/artist George Perez will be leaving after issue 7! He'll be replaced by Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens, both of whom are very good, but there's no indication of how long they'll stay. I'm really disappointed by this news. I really like Giffen and Jurgens but these new titles need consistency. DC need to find someone who's going to stick with this title for the long haul. For years the quality of Superman stories has fluctuated up and down, from the great (Superman and the Legion of the Super-Heroes) to the mediocre (most of New Krypton) to the just plain daft (J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded). The Super-books desperately need consistency! Hopefully Morrison will stay on Action Comics for a good long while.

Legion of Super-Heroes: Did no one tell Paul Levitz about the New 52?

As a Legion fan who's been following the past year's worth of Legion stories, I just about understood what was going on in Legion of Super-Heroes #1 and I enjoyed the issue, although it didn't blow me away. But that's not a good thing! I should have been blown away! This is the New 52! When Paul Levitz last wrote a first issue of Legion he blew up Titan and gave a Green Lantern ring to a baddie! That's the kind of the thing that needed to happen here. Instead we got an average issue that felt like issue #17 rather than issue #1. A friend of mine, who's a DC fan but not a Legion fan read it and said it was "impenetrable". Levitz has made no effort to tell new readers who these characters are and why we should care about them. I'm not saying Levitz should have ignored everything he's been doing for the last year, or indeed spent the whole issue catching everyone up. But, considering the whole point of the New 52 is to pull in new readers, you'd think Levitz would have at least indicated at some point that he was aware that this issue was supposed to be a jumping on point.

The new Legion spin-off, Legion Lost was even worse. This a comic about a group of Legionnaires who are trapped in the present day. A completely new staus quo, familiar to us but alien to them! What a perfect way to present these characters to a new audience! Sadly, writer Fabian Nicieza spends too much of the issue showing us a generic monster on the rampage and not enough telling us who the heroes are. A wasted opportunity!

Both Legion comics had okay stories. I'm not dropping them yet. For a Legion fan like me they were good enough. But this is the New 52, and 'good enough' just isn't good enough!

The Flash: Who needs Wally West?

Over the past two decades Wally West, The Flash has built up quite a loyal and dedicated following, thanks mostly to two long and celebrated runs by writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns respectively. These two runs were superb, establishing Wally West has a fully rounded character and a worthy successor to his predecessor, Barry Allen. In light of this, DC's decisions to make a resurrected Barry the focus of their Flash title and to seemingly erase Wally from existence, seem absurd. Why alienate a fan base that it took twenty years to build?

But, I would argue that Flash #1 demonstrates exactly why DC have made the right decision. The process of making Wally a likeable and worthy successor to Barry depended upon a lot of harking back to the good ol' days of Barry. Wally was constantly comparing and contrasting himself with Barry, it was part of his journey, part of his character development and part of why the Waid and Johns years were so good. It also meant that nostalgia was always a big part of The Flash.  

Not so these days! Flash #1 was fast paced, fun and forward looking. We knew everything we needed to know about the character within a few panels and then we were off, straight into the story with a new tone and direction. In fact The Flash hasn't felt this fresh and new since 1987, when Mike Baron wrote Wally West's first faltering steps in the role of the Flash. Those early Wally stories really felt different in style and tone to every Flash comic that came before it, and so does this new Flash #1. How's that for irony!?

Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman: The Big, Pervy Elephants in the Room!

I couldn't let this list end without mentioning two of DC Comics' biggest missteps from last month, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 and Catwoman #1. These issues and their many, many flaws have been discussed a lot all over the internet already so there's no point in me chipping in my tuppence worth too. I will however direct you to two articles, one by ComicsAlliance's Laura Hudson and the other by comics legend Jim Shooter. They sum up my feelings on these issues quite nicely.

So was this big, huge, much publicized relaunch a success?

I purchased eleven comics out of fifty two.
  • Action Comics
  • Aquaman
  • Batman
  • Green Lantern
  • Justice League
  • Legion Lost
  • Legion of Superheroes
  • Supergirl
  • Superman
  • The Flash
  • Swamp Thing
I enjoyed them all (although some were better than others) and I'm coming back for issue #2 of all them with the exception of Swamp Thing. I told a friend who didn't get comics regularly about the New 52, and he checked out a few, including Justice League, Batman, Detective Comics, Action Comics and The Flash.  I'm pleased to say he's going to be checking out plenty of issue #2s! Also, my girlfriend, who also doesn't read comics regularly, picked up Wonder Woman and enjoyed it!

So, from my own point of view at least, the New 52 was a success, and frankly that's good enough for me!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

DC Comics' New 52: Paul Predicts!

During this past month DC Comics has released 52 all new No. 1s that revamped most of their super-hero line.  Upon first hearing about the relaunch back in June I made six predictions about how I thought the DC Universe would look come October.  Let's take them one by one and see how accurate I was.

1. Superman will no longer be married to Lois Lane, she probably won't know his secret identity.

This was a no-brainer.  DC almost wriggled out of the Super-marriage way back in 2000 when Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer were set to to relaunch the character for a new millennium. As it turned out DC went in a different direction and Superman remained in a state of wedded bliss, but it was only a matter of time before DC found a way to pull the plug on the marriage.  After all, Marvel Comics wiped out Spider-Man's marriage in 2007.  The story that accomplished this remains controversial (to say the least) but single Spidey is currently enjoying a creative Golden Age in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man under the reins of writer Dan Slott.

2. Bruce Wayne will be the only Batman again, no more Batman Inc.

The continuities of characters such as Superman, Firestorm and the Teen Titans have been completely rebooted from the ground floor up.  However the history of Batman (and his top-selling comics) has remained unchanged. Batman's recently formed hero-franchise is still an integral part of the Bat-mythos. In fact one of Batman's worldwide army of Batmen, Africa's Batwing, got his own series as part of the new 52 and a new Batman Incorporated series begins in 2012.

3. Dick Grayson will no longer be Batman, he may even be Robin again.

While Dick Grayson is indeed no longer Batman he is definitely not Robin either.  He has returned to his role as Nightwing and is very much an adult and not a Boy Wonder.  

4. Wally West will be Kid Flash again.

As of Flash #1 Barry Allen is the one and only Flash and Bart Allen seems to be the only Kid Flash operating in Teen Titans #1.  Also, in the new DC continuity Barry's only been active as the Flash for five years, leaving little time for Wally to have grown from a sidekick into an adult hero. Does Wally West even exist in the new DC Universe?

5. The Justice Society of America will be back on Earth Two.

James Robinson and Nicola Scott will soon be bringing us a new 
Justice Society of America series set on Earth 2! I for one welcome the decision to return the JSA to their original home, occupying the same space as the regular DC Earth but vibrating at a different frequency. I'm a massive fan of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, and I think he deserves to be his Earth's premier Speedster. Also, when we last saw Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, he was inexplicably dressed as (and I'm not making this up) a GIANT LANTERN! Hopefully the reboot has scrubbed this hideous costume out of continuity forever. I mean, seriously, he even had a giant handle!

6. Characters like Kyle Rayner, Conner Hawke, Bart Allen and Damien Wayne will exist on a parallel Earth where the original heroes have retired. On this Earth Wally will be The Flash and Dick will be Batman.

Like the Bat-titles, the Green Lantern books have been selling really well. As a result GL continuity remains the same and Kyle is still part of the regular DCU and hasn't been shifted to a parallel Earth. Neither has Damien Wayne (he's starring regularly in Batman and Robin) or Bart Allen (he can be found each month in Teen Titans).

But what about Conner Hawke?

For the past couple of years Grant Morrison has been promising a series called Multiversity. Morrison has said that this series will explore the 52 parallel Earths of the DC Multiverse. Morrison also stated that one of these Earths will feature "all of the nineties characters because I really miss those guys, like Connor Hawke....There’s a whole younger generation of heroes – kind of media brats almost." This was from an interview that Morrison gave a couple of years ago and a lot has changed since then. But if Multiversity is still on it's way, could Media-Brat Earth be the new home for both Conner and Wally? We'll have to wait and see.

Imagine this though. What if DC were to bring out a remake of the story from Flash #123 (1961) 'Flash of Two Worlds'?  This classic tale featured Barry Allen's first trip into a parallel world and established that the Justice Society of America dwelt on Earth 2. The concept of a DC Multiverse was born with this story. Just imagine a modern remake where Barry crosses through the dimensional barrier for the first time and meets another Flash, except, instead of Jay Garrick, the other Flash is Wally West! The Flash could once again kick off the DC Multiverse, but with a new twist.

If you hate this idea, don't worry. If this blog post proves anything it's that I'm crap at predicting comic book storylines.