Thursday, 8 May 2014

Five Things I Hate About the New 52

It's no secret that I'm a fan of DC Comics' New 52. It either improved or maintained the quality of most of the DC titles I was already getting and also got me to add more DC titles to my list. I feel that a lot of the criticism that DC gets for the New 52 is unfair and this can sometimes get on my tits in a "why are all these people pissing on my chips" kind of way. But, having said that I feel that I've inadvertently painted myself as some kind of rabid DC Comics cheerleader who will defend Dan Didio to the death, even if he wrote, drew and published a comic tomorrow entitled Drowning Kittens Keeps Me Virile! The fact is, there is stuff that annoys me about DC and the New 52, I just don't bang on about it all the time because it doesn't interest me to do so.

So, in the interest of giving a more well rounded representation of myself to the internet, here (in no particular order) is a list of some of the things that have irritated me about the New 52 over the past three years.

1. The inconsistent art on Grant Morrison's Action Comics

"He got a big face."
I absolutely loved Grant Morrison's 18 issue run on Action Comics. I think the idea of Superman as a t-shirt wearing, bully-hating, two fisted, working class, champion of the oppressed is a stroke of genius. Morrison's Superman regards alien conquerors and time-&-space-bending 5th dimensional beings in exactly the same way as he regards corrupt businessmen or abusive dads; they're bullies who need to be given a taste of their own medicine. It really is wonderful stuff.

Except for one thing.

The artist, Rags Morales, for whatever reason, could not keep up with the pace of a monthly comic. Maybe this was his fault, maybe it was Morrison's, maybe it was DC editorial, I honestly don't know. But the fact is these stories had an energy and a pace to them that was constantly being disrupted by fill in artists with artistic styles that bore little resemblance to Morales'. I also felt that Morales never really did justice to some of Morrison's mind bending ideas. I'm only speculating, but I can't help but think that given more time Morales could have taken these ideas and shown us some things that we've never seen before in a superhero comic. These stories are still brilliant, but with more consistent art they could have been legendary.

2. Justice League of America

Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Comic

It has its detractors but I can't get enough of Geoff Johns' Justice League. It's almost always the title I'm most looking forward to in any given month, especially since Ivan Reis took over on art.  So when DC announced a second Justice League book, Justice League of America, I was ridiculously excited. Sadly the title proved to be a massive disappointment.  It was advertised as being a book about Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor leading a team of superheroes designed to be capable of taking down the Justice League if necessary. Its members consisted of some of my favourite second stringers; Green Arrow, Hawkman, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter, and the much hyped, brand new, brimming with potential Green Lantern Simon Baz. Unfortunately it became increasingly apparent that the title's only purpose was to lead into the next big DC event, Forever Evil. After Forever Evil began the title fizzled out with only 13 issues under its belt.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying Forever Evil, but I was sold an ongoing book about Green Arrow, Hawkman, and a bunch of other interesting characters trying to work together on a team formed for morally grey purposes. What I got was a lackluster 13 issue Countdown to Forever Evil.

And the worst thing? I don't think the much hyped, brand new, brimming with potential Green Lantern Simon Baz actually did anything in 13 issues. I'm pretty sure he only popped up at the end to scoop up Cyborg's guts.

3. Legion of Superheroes

"Why am I in this crappy comic?"

When DC cancelled Legion of Superheroes after 40 years of continuous publication, legendary comics writer (and vocal critic of DC's current regime) Mark Waid accused DC of not "support(ing)/believ(ing) in the franchise...for decades." Granted, Waid is privy to insider information and actually wrote the Legion during the '90s and '00s, but I still can't help but feel that he's being unfair. After all, when the New 52 began, DC gave the Legion two ongoings (Legion of Superheroes, Legion Lost) and swiftly followed that with a mini series (Legion: Secret Origin), several cameos in Action Comics, and a crossover with Teen Titans and Superboy (The Culling). I'm no expert but that sounds like a fair amount of support to me. In my opinion the reason for the Legion's demise is far more mundane.

Their comics were shit.

The New 52 series of the Legion of Superheroes was written by Paul Levitz. Levitz was President of DC from 2002-2009 and is a very well regarded writer, particularly for his work on the Legion during the '70s and '80s. I'm a big fan of his classic Legion work and was delighted when he began writing them again in 2010. From 2010 -2011 Levitz gave us some great Legion stories that weren't of the high standard of his classic run, but were nonetheless hugely entertaining. But then as soon as the New 52 began something strange happened. For some reason Levitz' Legion work suddenly became dull and pedestrian. The New 52 was supposed to be about exciting, dynamic stories that would tempt in new and lapsed readers. Obviously not every title lived up to this promise, but Levitz' plotlines (which involved complex and dull space politics and decades of intergalactic DC continuity) seemed as if they were deliberately designed to be the complete antithesis of the New 52. A friend of mine who loves superheroes but has never read the Legion tried the first New 52 issue and found it "incomprehensible".

A comic about super-powered teenagers from the future with names like Shadow Lass and Cosmic Boy should NOT be backward looking and dull. As far as I'm concerned the responsibility for the book's cancellation lies with Levitz.

But he wrote The Great Darkness Saga so I'll forgive him.

4. Hey DC, stop chasing away creators!!!

DC drove Liefeld away, so it wasn't all bad news.

Since before the New 52, there have been several accounts of creators leaving DC titles at the last minute, apparently due to micro managing and unreasonable editorial interference. There are always two sides to every story, but the sheer amount of disgruntled creators with a similar story doesn't speak well for DC at all. Obviously the real victims in all this are the freelancers who've been mistreated and lost work because of what appears to be mismanagement. But on a more selfish level, all this turmoil has made for some dodgy and inconsistent comics.

For example, my favourite character, Superman, has had a hell of a bumpy ride since the New 52 began. George Perez announced his departure from the relaunched Superman title after only one issue had been released, complaining of contradicting messages coming from above at DC. He was replaced by Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen, who also left after only a few issues in which they seemed to struggle to grasp the new direction of the character. Meanwhile, over on Action Comics, Andy Diggle was announced as Morrison's replacement with much fanfare, only for his departure to be announced before his first issue had even come out. What could have been an exciting run by an excellent writer fizzled out into a four part story completed by the artist.

Currently the Super-books are finally going through a much needed period of consistency. Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. are due to start on Superman in a few months, Scott Snyder and Jim Lee are on the hugely entertaining (but chronically delayed) Superman Unchained, Charles Soule is making the Superman and Wonder Woman romance genuinely interesting in Superman/Wonder Woman, and Greg Pak is doing an excellent job on Batman/Superman and (along with ace artist Aaron Kuder) Action Comics. 

Let's just hope DC don't do anything to piss off Pak, Soule and Kuder!

5. Scott Lobdell's Superman

"I don't know if you can hear me H'El, but here's some vague and unsatisfying exposition while I pummel you."

(I'm just going to talk about Lobdell's Superman work here, but rest assured I was appalled by the reports of his behaviour towards Marinaomi.)

When Scott Lobdell began writing Superman after Jurgens and Giffen's departure he seemed like a breath of fresh air. Finally here was a writer who seemed to want to do something interesting with the character. In Lobdell's first issue Superman bench pressed the Earth, fought a pre-historic Kryptonian dragon, and quit the Daily Planet. I was hooked. Over the next few issues Lobdell showed us the only prison that could confine Lex Luthor (one designed by Lex Luthor) and had Superman punch Orion so hard that Batman heard it in space. Lobdell gave Superman and Lex Luthor visible scars that hinted at some horrific past showdown between the two of them. It was pretty cool stuff. Sure, it was appealing only in a very visceral, Michael Bay sort of way, but after years of writers using the character to write essays on what they felt Superman should represent, it was a nice change.

There was only one problem.

Lobdell's not actually a very good writer.

His dialogue is clumsy for a start. He tries to write natural sounding dialogue and it just comes across as confusing and jumbled. But I can forgive that because Lobdell is so good at delivering that aforementioned visceral thrill, especially when teamed with artists as good as Kenneth Rocafort or Aaron Kuder. But Lobdell's biggest flaw as a writer is that his reach exceeds his grasp. If he stuck to big fights and light soap opera he'd be able to turn out a consistently entertaining Superman book. But he wants to do complex character development and huge plotlines (which I guess is admirable) and the result is that he never seems to deliver what he promises. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Superman writers shouldn't try to write big plots and character development. I'm just saying that Lobdell shouldn't.

Here's a quick list detailing some of Lobdell's unfulfilled promises. (Disclaimer: I quit with issue 25, so all this could have been resolved in a neat little package, but I doubt it.)

  • Lobdell's Superman is impulsive and aggressive, which is initially really interesting, but his impulsive actions have no consequences and we're left with a being with god like powers acting like a bit of a prick and getting away with it.
  • Superman and Luthor's scars have never been mentioned again. 
  • Clark Kent quit the Planet to go after the important stories as a blogger. We've yet to see him properly pursue one story. 
  • Superman is friends with a super-scientist who lives at the centre of the Earth. We still don't know what her origins and motivations are and you get the feeling that Lobdell doesn't either. 
  • A new villain turned up called H'El, with mysterious ties to Krypton. His origins turn out to be some convoluted, time travel drivel that's as confusing as it is dull, almost as if Lobdell has tacked on a recycled '90s X-Men script to his rejected Bizarro redesign. 

I stuck up for Lobdell's Superman work a lot online because of the early promise it showed, so the fact that he's failed to deliver has made me feel like a bit of a tit to say the least.


So there we go, the next time I'm accused of being some frothing, DC loving, lunatic who'll buy any old shit they bring out I'll send them here. I'm pleased to say however that there's much more stuff coming from DC that I am happy with and to be honest I'd much rather talk about that. So I'll finish with a list of things in the New 52 that you should check out if you've not done so already:

Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis' Justice League
Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo's Batman
Brian Buccellato & Francis Manapul's The Flash
Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis/Jeff Parker & Paul Pelletier's Aquaman
Grant Morrison/Greg Pak & Aaron Kuder's Action Comics
Forever Evil
Forever Evil Rogue's Rebellion

Charles Soule & Tony Daniel's Superman/Wonder Woman
Greg Pak's Batman/Superman
Batman Eternal
Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman's Animal Man
Scott Snyder & Jim Lee's Superman Unchained
Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow
James Robinson/Tom Taylor & Nicola Scott's Earth 2
Adam Glass' Suicide Squad
China Mieville's Dial H
Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman
Jeff Lemire's Justice League United