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
- Green Lantern
- Justice League
- Legion Lost
- Legion of Superheroes
- The Flash
- Swamp Thing
So, from my own point of view at least, the New 52 was a success, and frankly that's good enough for me!