ComicsAlliance Reviews Every Comic in DC’s ‘New 52′: Week 1
The first major wave of new #1 DC Comics finally hit stores this week, following last week’s solo debut of Justice League. The biggest question for most fans facing racks and racks of new books is simple: Which ones should I try? The ComicsAlliance staff has gathered together to help answer that with a roundtable review of every relaunched DC book this week: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batwing, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Hawk and Dove, Men of War, O.M.A.C, Justice League Unlimited, Men at War, O.M.A.C, Static Shock, Stormwatch and Swamp Thing. Join Curt Franklin, Caleb Goellner, Andy Khouri, Laura Hudson, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri as they rate each book on a scale of 1-10 and try to gauge the success of DC’s bold new experiment.
Curt: I liked the non-omnipotence of this Superman, a guy who can bleed, who can be hurt, who’s vulnerable. I wasn’t sure at first if they were going for a more jerky Superman, what with him threatening the “fat cat” with a drop off a skyscraper. When he rescues the off-the-tracks train and then gets assaulted by the authorities, I thought all that was great Superman stuff. Putting his life on the line even though he’s shown that he can be beaten. I’d give it an 8 if only because I got a vaguely Zero Hour feel from it, just like I did a lot of the books. Like we’ve been here before and the new ground that we’re treading isn’t really new but just a fresh layer of sod.
Chris: I was a little underwhelmed, maybe because the jeans-and-t-shirt costume and the fact that someone actually yelled “SOMEBODY SAVE ME!” reminded me a bit too much of Smallville. There were, however, no dumb jackets. It’s definitely an interesting take on Superman that goes back to his Golden Age roots of sticking it to the people in power — there’s a direct reference to beating up slum lords and wife-beaters that comes straight from those early stories — and it’s kind of neat to see him as his younger self. It also wasn’t an origin, which was nice, but dropped you right into the new status quo with plenty of action to keep things moving. Still, Morrison’s script was a little lacking for me here, although Rags Morales did a pretty great job of drawing it. I’ll give it a solid 7.
Laura: I was really taken with the idea of Superman facing off specifically against corporate greed and the super-rich, particularly in light of how timely that issue is. We’ve seen these conflicts between the interests of the elite wealthy versus average Americans informing so much of our political and social conflict recently. Clark Kent felt like a modern Superman to me in this book, in a way that truly felt relevant to the concerns I have about inequality and injustice in our society today, and one that was faithful to the idea of Superman defending the common man (and woman) from their oppressors. 8.
Chris: I think making Superman a more anti-establishment hero really does get back to his roots in a way that reflects the zeitgeist, which is something Morrison’s always been good at. He loves to tackle things that are relevant (or at least FEEL relevant) and make them work with super-heroes.
Andy: Utterly unfamiliar, which I gather is meant to be the point. The premise seems to be “What if Superman… wasn’t Superman”? I think I expected this to be a kitschy meta-meditation on the Golden Age Superman but it seems to be quite dark and serious. Superman fighting dickish landlords doesn’t appeal to me. 5.
Caleb: I wanted to love it, but the art wasn’t totally my thing. Some characters seriously looked like they had lazy eyes, which I found super distracting. Story-wise, the characterization seemed true enough under the circumstances, and I loved that Superman saved a family with a dog. Lex’s outlook and initial plan of attack was on point. I give it a 7 and I’m hoping for an 8 or 9 in issue #2.
David: I thought Morrison utterly nailed the faux-1930s milieu, telling a Siegel/Shuster original-Action-Comics-#1-style comic while also placing it in the larger framework of a truly epic Superman story, with tons of nods to Superman continuity without them being intrusive: the Legion, Mr. Mxyzptlk, etc. I could do a roundtable on it alone, but in the interests of brevity, this was a solid 9.
Average Rating for Action Comics #1: 7.3
Curt: Animal Man had the best amount of new and old. I’ve really only read the collected Grant Morrison run, and I felt like this could be the issue that directly follows those. At the same time, everything felt perfectly introduced to somebody who’d never heard of the guy. I loved the opening interview page, with its meta aspect of having Lemire interview Animal Man, which I hope is just an Easter Egg and not some new Animal Man thing where he always interacts with his author. I’m interested to see more of the Red and more of his kid’s mullet. There was a big enough gap in relevant Animal Man stories that the mullet has come back around to being somewhat hip(ster) again. I should also mention the art, which balances the normal life and creepy dream world of the Red with aplomb. 10.
David: For me, it was the knockout win of the reboot. I expected a good comic, but what I got was EXCELLENT. It felt like Lemire was trying to hit that proto-Vertigo early-’90s mature-readers-DC-Comic vibe, and I thought he nailed it. The art was fantastic, with Travel Foreman on point and Lovern Kindzierski giving it a really impressive color palette, especially in the Red scenes. It had the most impressive last page of all the New 52 books I’ve read so far, truly creepy without relying on cheap shock value, unlike Detective Comics. Lemire’s understanding of Buddy is truly impressive — the point I realized I knew I loved this comic was in the opening-page interview when he pointed out he’d never crack down on bootleg T-shirts using his visage because he was a punk as a teenager and into the DIY aesthetic. This one was a 9.5, really, really impressive stuff.
Caleb: I’m a big Lemire fan and he didn’t disappoint here. The book feels far more like a Vertigo title than the rest of what I’ve seen from the DC reboot so far (even Swamp Thing), which sets up a nice corner for weirdness in the “New 52.” I give it a 9.
Laura: I was surprised by the joy of it. I am not a fan of the grim ‘n gritty aesthetic DC has been editorially in love with for some time, not only because it is more often than not simply violence for its own sake and a 12-year-old’s idea of “maturity” without any sophistication, but most of all because it quickly becomes tedious and is not any fun at all. This comic made being a superhero look REALLY AWESOME while still maintaining a genuinely mature appeal. Animal Man has a loving family that accepts him completely as a superhero, the police embrace him rather than hunting him, but he still faces challenges and dangers. And by the end of the book, some seriously creepy stuff. Number 9.
Andy: I was expecting to like Animal Man and I very much did. I think Lemire and Foreman establish a very distinctive, leisurely pace and tone in the first issue, one that definitely has more in common with old school Vertigo books (interesting that DC is going back to the early ’90s well for superheroes and Vertigo stuff). The Lovern Kindzierski colors are essential to creating that creepy feeling. The Believer interview conducted by Lemire was both an effective means of characterization and a cute reference to Morrison’s interactions with Buddy in his seminal Animal Man work. 8.
Chris: I’m pretty sure this is the first thing I’ve read by Lemire, but it’s pretty impressive. It’s got a compelling story that plays with super-powers in a cool way, and it makes for a very interesting take on super-hero horror. Setting things up with the “interview” on page one was an interesting device for getting everyone up to speed on the character, but I’m wondering how many new readers are going to be turned off when they open up a comic and see a big ol’ page full of text. Still, it works, and it works pretty well. Travel Foreman’s art feels a little off in some places — it’s got that ol’ Vertigo sketchiness that Foreman’s downplayed in other stuff, like Immortal Iron Fist — but there are some great facial expressions and storytelling here too. Check out Buddy’s eye-roll when he’s being examined by the doctor. That is a dude who could not be less bothered by the fact that he was bleeding from his eyes ten minutes ago. It’s definitely a standout. I’d give it an 8.
David: I just really, really hope that Lemire doesn’t fridge Ellen, as was predicted in the Red dream sequence. But I have enough faith in Lemire’s storytelling ability not to go over the exact same ground Morrison did in his run.
Laura: DEAR JEFF LEMIRE PLEASE DON’T FRIDGE ELLEN. Sometimes it’s ok for superheroes to have nice things.
Average rating for Animal Man #1: 9
David: Oh, Lord. They somehow managed to find a way to restore Barbara Gordon to being Batgirl that simultaneously insults both Batgirl fans AND Oracle fans. I’m almost impressed. I loved the Stephanie Brown run of Batgirl; I thought it was the most purely fun book DC had put out in years. The fact that it got cancelled, and Oracle got taken out of the picture, for THIS… Longtime fans are going to be pissed off at the glossing over of her time as Oracle and her hilariously inept superheroing at the end. New readers are going to be lost as to why anyone would want to jump into a comic about a PTSD superheroine. This comic is alternatingly joyless and entirely too satisfied with its own cleverness. The villain is the plot of the Final Destination movies, and don’t even get me started on Babs’s new roommate. I have never in my life met an “activist” whose idea of “activism” is taking red paint and writing “FIGHT THE POWER!” on the wall. Chuck D would be ashamed. Her dialogue, with calling Gordon “G.B.G.” because Babs stuttered introducing herself, sounds like no person in the history of people. 1.
Chris: Spot on Uzi: No joy. No fun. This isn’t the book people who liked Batgirl: Year One wanted, and it’s not the book that people who liked The Killing Joke wanted either. Who’s it for? Writing my review of Batgirl #1 was really, really tough, because the only thing you can really say is that everything about it is terrible. The dialogue is awkward, the villain is laughable; the art is rushed; the weird hammering of the timeline doesn’t make any sense; it completely removes the triumph of determination that we got from Oracle by replacing it with a Batgirl who, I’m sorry, seems weak and ineffectual in a way that might work if this was her very first adventure, but definitely not if she’s built on the premise that she’s already been Batgirl. Even if I try to divorce myself completely from the way I feel about Barbara Gordon as she existed up until this month, it’s just a poorly done comic in every respect. The best you can say about it is that it had the right number of pages and the staples held it together. I give it a 1.
Andy: Batgirl #1 is a grand disappointment if for no other reason than it took all the fun out of trolling Stephanie Brown fans all these months. With Batgirl #1, Simone and DC actually made the restoration of Barbara Gordon even more painful and offensive than we thought it would be, because they decided that it was more important that Batgirl had been handicapped than it was for her to have been a handicapped HERO. Oracle has apparently been erased altogether, as if the wheelchair was itself the thing people liked about Barbara and why they wanted her to be Batgirl again. When the panel-for-panel flashback to The Killing Joke is the best part of your Batgirl comic…
Andy: In terms of pure comicbookery, this was a pretty bad issue. It was very difficult to follow who anyone was or why they were doing anything they were doing. On one page the dialogue seemed to switch back and forth between speech balloons and captions, maybe even in the same panel. Ostensibly Batgirl was restored because of the endurance of her classic persona in pop culture. But this is not that Batgirl at all, this is a completely new one with more lines drawn all over her. However, the Adam Hughes cover is lovely. 3.
Caleb: Batgirl took Barbara Gordon from being a smart, cool older sister to a younger sister you worry about but don’t really like enough at the moment to call on the phone. 4.
Laura: I feel like we’re reading an unfinished draft of what was going to become Batgirl #1, like it escaped early somehow. The constant voiceover narration during the action scenes was distracting and sounded inauthentic; I get that Simone was trying to contrast Barbara’s inner insecurities with the intimidating “SWEAR TO ME” facade she puts on, but it felt dissonant rather than compelling. Not to mention that it weirdly withheld the one thing everyone wanted to know, probably even new readers: How did she walk again after being paralyzed, an incident this issue references numerous times? I like the idea that her new disability is PTSD, and I really hope that gets developed and explored in more interesting ways, but the finale where she freezes up and gets blamed as a MURDERER! for failing to help when she is literally standing next to the actual murderer everyone just watched throw a guy out a window — unacceptably silly. It’s a 3 for me.
Curt: I get the Batgirl criticism, but it didn’t seem that bad to me. I guess it all comes down to whatever ‘the miracle’ is that allowed Barbara to walk again. Is it gonna just never be mentioned again or will it be part of the plot? I trust Simone enough to have something else in store for that. As Sims mentioned, the roommate was a bit too stereotypically ‘alternative’ and the part at the end where Batgirl simply freezes up at the sight of a gun pointing at her spine was a bit silly. Speaking of, how the hell do you know if something’s pointed at your spine as opposed to any other part of your body? Would she have been cool if the guy was pointing the gun at her foot? I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt, only based on the strength of the author. It can’t be as silly as issue #1 seems. 6.
Average rating of Batgirl #1: 3
David: This was both worse and not as bad as I expected. As a comic, it’s pretty good. It introduces the hero, introduces a villain, gorgeous art, nice action set-pieces, decent cliffhanger. But it’s set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I didn’t see that phrase or “DRC” anywhere in the entire comic. David Zavimbe (a.k.a. Batwing) is all about “here in Africa” and stuff, and my teeth just gritted every time I read that stuff. I recognize they’re selling to a North American audience, but could you imagine someone pitching a comic “set in America?” I’m pretty sure Malawi is different from South Africa which is different from Liberia which is different from Egypt, and for the most part this book seemed to treat Africa as a huge-ass country. It was the country of Africa fallacy, repeatedly, and that totally killed any actual craft the book had for me. I’d give it a 7 as a comic and a 1 as a representation of Africa, and I’ve never even been to Africa, so that averages out to a … 4.
Chris: Batwing is about as average as a comic could possibly be. Interesting setup, decent art, atrocious dialogue and a villain that I’d swear came from Bloodlines if I didn’t know he was created this year. 5 across the board.
Caleb: My biggest issue was that I didn’t feel a sense of place. DC books usually feature cities as characters and I had no idea where anyone was. A nice wide shot or three of Batwing’s turf would have helped with that. I give it a 5.
Curt: I really enjoyed Batwing #1. Even though there were a couple of times where the dreaded ‘Africa is not one giant country’ problem seemed to pop up, it was an entertaining look at a guy I didn’t know much about. Batman as a mentor without a Robin around was a nice surprise, and the new guy seems competent and not just another Robin clone. Well, except that he’s a cop. Just like Nightwing was. I hope to see more of the lost African super-hero team and the mystery as to why they were dying is enough to get me into the second issue. Also, love any cliffhanger where you’re genuinely interested to see if it’s going to be a cop-out. 7.
Laura: There was an interesting painterly quality to the art, but every piece of narration and dialogue is just so overblown. A villain called Massacre is descibed as an “ocean of uncontrolled rage,” which is a little too junior high poetry assignment for me, and the first page where Batwing lists all the terrible things he has witnessed (e.g. “I have seen a face full of rage, inches from my own, crying out for my death”) sounds both excessively dramatic and ripped from the lyrics of the song “Superpowers” by The Dismemberment Plan. I’m not saying there’s never a time and place to shoot for badass, but if you keep everything cranked up to 11 all the time it just flattens out. I dunno, I haven’t read a lot of Judd Winick. Maybe this is just His Way, but I wasn’t impressed and I feel no need to return. Also, I felt a little weird about the whole statement that “myths are something we do very well in Africa.” I mean, yeah, but also in every single other continent or country in the world. 5.
David: Yeah, the myths thing bothered the hell out of me too for exactly that reason.
Andy: I thought Batwing #1 was pretty good. The overwrought narration fit the story the creators were telling, and the unusual artwork helped convey the sense that this is an adventure happening in a place unfamiliar to me and to the Batman idiom. I even liked the logo. Solid 7.
Average Rating of Batwing #1: 5.5
David: This comic was the best Batman comic Tony Daniel has written, which means it was a gilded turd rather than a stinky one. That first double-page spread where Batman was running on the rooftops looked like someone took a Batman statue, broke off the base and teetered it over a balcony; there’s zero kineticism. Daniel tries to point towards Grant Morrison’s Joker stories with Batman mentioning he’d have to go bad to understand the Joker, but it just comes off as too cute. And don’t even get me started on the insanely cheap last-page twist, which was total shock value that we know can’t go anywhere because it’s the damn Joker. 3.
Curt: Detective #1 actually seemed like a bad issue from Morrison’s “Black Glove” arc. There seems to be a routine murder involving the Joker, but there’s obviously more going on. Throw in a bit of “cops vs. Batman” stuff from Year One and some brief glimpses into the personal life of Bruce Wayne — and by the way, if you ever ask somebody else to write your personal correspondence to someone you’re interested in romantically, you’re sort of a scumbag — and it was both too much and not enough. There’s not going to be any big mystery behind the Dollmaker, the Joker will get his face back, and Daniel’s drawing isn’t as terrible as I remembered. 3.
Curt: “I’m trying to figure out what the Joker was doing naked…” World’s greatest detective.
Laura: Yeah, and how is he trying? He doesn’t tell us. Is he just thinking about the Joker naked? I don’t need to know that.
Curt: The face being cut off thing made me wonder what the limits of a Teen book are. Can you show the whole body being skinned? Can you show the act of skinning?
Laura: He’s just remaking FACE/OFF. Finally the classic Nicolas Cage/John Travolta 1997 blockbuster has been adapted into a Batman comic. I’ve been waiting for so long.
Chris: Nothing in this comic makes any sense at all; I know that things happened, but I don’t know why they happened, or who any of the people are, or why the Joker killed this guy’s son, or why that guy is totally cool with it, or why someone saying “Let’s make Face/Off with the Joker” happened in the comic that the actual publisher is named after. Seriously, stop and think about this for a second: This comic book came out. It was released. It is a professional publication that people were paid for and that people are expected to pay money to read. This happened. Does that make sense to any of you? I give it a 0.0
Andy: The story is a very by-the-numbers Batman thing: on patrol, chasing dudes, talking to Gordon, Joker is killing people, whatever. I was impressed with the artwork, though. This is the best thing Tony Daniel’s drawn at DC, although it is true he is very obviously aping Frank Miller in some places. A lot has been said about how the The New 52 is a throwback to the Image Comics style of the early 1990s, which we tend to remember as tacky, but the truth is some of it was quite immersive and dramatic. I think Daniel and his collaborators have successfully realized the better part of that look. Detective Comics #1 reminds me a lot of Spawn, the character Daniel made his name on. The story and its tone are similar to Spawn as well, where the tortured, inner-monologuing hero pursues an inexplicably perverse villain who performs outrageously disgusting things, like cutting his own face off, for no obvious reason than to creep you out. I don’t really like it but I bought the hell out of those comics when I was a kid. 5.
Laura: I had the same problem with Detective that I had with Batwing in terms of the incredibly bombastic scripting. “His modus operandi changes with the wind… and it’s been windy in Gotham City.” C’mon. I might be alone in thinking the Joker was written reasonably well, but all the dismemberment and skin-flaying definitely felt like a retread of stuff I’d already seen Morrison do recently in his Batman mega-arc, not to mention that Greg Rucka villain in Batwoman: Elegy. I can’t deny the final shot was dramatic but ugh. Again, I’m not a big fan of indulgent gore, and this comic didn’t earn it enough for me to excuse it. 5.
Caleb: The Joker thing made me want to stop reading, honestly. The rest I thought was just average Batman stuff. It didn’t offend me, it was just uninspired. 5
Average Rating of Detective Comics #1: 3
David: Steve Jobs as a superhero is a great idea, except that J.T. Krul just isn’t a good enough writer to pull it off. I really wish this book had a better writer for this idea, especially since the art by Dan Jurgens and George Perez was pretty damn good (if maybe not the foot I’d want to put forward for a “this ain’t your daddy’s comics!” mission statement). It was definitely Smallville-inspired, but the entire thing was just James Bond, With Arrows, Who Is Also Steve Jobs, and it doesn’t investigate any of the possible subtleties or nuances inside that. It’s such a surface-level examination, even for an issue #1, and the villains were boring as hell. But this is still the best J.T. Krul comic I’ve read, so I’ll give it a 6.
Chris: JT Krul has cribbed the younger Green Arrow from Smallville, right down to the costume and his Chloe Sullivan-esque fake Oracle sidekick. And while it’s definitely true that Green Arrow was the best thing about Smallville, that’s a lot like saying that getting ice cream in the hospital is the best part of getting hit by a truck. The end result isn’t offensively bad, but again, it’s boring and bog-standard, and there’s no point in reading average comics when there are great ones out there too. I give it a 4.
Curt: I swear this same issue came out after Zero Hour. It’s Green Arrow #0, right down to the villains having Transformer-ish names for their super-specific powers. There was also hardly any characterization given to this version of Ollie Queen. The company he works for has his name on it, but he’s not in charge and he’s butting heads with the “fat cat” director. There’s no politicization, none of the Oliver Queen as a Punisher-like vigilante, just a vanilla dude with arrows tracking down the rejects from Extreme Justice. There’s even a dude wearing a leather jacket with no shirt at the end. 4.
Caleb: Everything about this comic was PTSD from the ’90s. I keep checking for Tommy Hilfiger carpenter jeans. I’m listening to Backstreet Boys singles and watching Speed 2 to take the edge off before drinking some Surge. 3.
Andy: I found myself curiouser about the internal politics of Queen’s company than in the superhero stuff. I’d agree there’s not much to this issue, but I think the Steve Jobs approach is pretty novel. I’d like this more if Krull had gone further with that and made Green Arrow the kind of megalomaniacal genius you think of when you think of Jobs and people of his level. I loved the artwork by Jurgens and Perez, great superhero comics art with Jurgens’ typically well designed pages. 5.
Average Rating of Green Arrow #1: 4.4
Chris: Everything that needs to be said about this comic can be summed up in one sentence: It was drawn by The Rob Liefeld. 2.
Curt: I had two favorite parts: 1. Hawk telling his dad how his brother died for the first time in three years in the midst of a relatively normal conversation. “Yeah, man, Dove really gets on my nerves. BTW, did I ever tell you when your other son was murdered by falling rocks?” 2. Late in the issue when Dove and Deadman are frolicking upon rooftops in no immediate danger, Dove drops to street level, landing on and destroying a car. And then just walks off. 4.
David: I actually liked Hawk And Dove. Sterling Gates is a good writer, and I was wondering where the hell he went between Supergirl and Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost. The nice thing about this comic is that it’s actually written FOR ROB LIEFELD. Even the characterization is all framed by running on rooftops; he never lets up with the action. I don’t deny that Gates could have written a better Hawk And Dove comic WITHOUT Liefeld, but the fact of the matter is that I have to admire this comic the same way you admire, I dunno, a weightlifter who can lift with his penis instead of his biceps. It introduced some interesting mysteries, had some nice action set-pieces. I’d give it a 6.5, just to put it above Green Arrow.
Caleb: I’ve never really gotten a handle on what Hawk And Dove is outside of that episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Liefeld’s art here is actually pretty clear and the story makes sense. My only gripe is that it seems like an obvious continuation of Brightest Day rather than a true reboot of any kind. I’ll say 6.5 like Uzi.
Laura: Now, it’s very possible I’m not being totally fair because it is being drawn like Rob Liefeld and virtually anything he draws is a time machine that only goes in one direction and that direction is 1994, but where other books like Action Comics felt fresh and compelling, this didn’t. Also a great deal of the book is spent fighting a Resident Evil reject while joking about how zombies are played out but P.S. YOU’RE STILL MAKING US READ ABOUT ZOMBIES. Zombies drawn by Rob Liefeld. Oh man did you guy’s see that guy’s raaaadical sunglasses? And how everyone’s face was constantly pinched into a poop grimace? I just can’t. 3.
Andy: Sterling Gates did really good work with Supergirl and his Kid Flash Lost was among the better Flashpoint tie-ins, and he has been extremely evangelical on Twitter about Hawk And Dove. I really wanted to buy in to that enthusiasm, especially because this seems to be one of the few non-grim n’ gritty New 52 books to be found. But I couldn’t finish the issue. It’s the Liefeld artwork, I just can’t handle it. I know there are people who like it because his books sell well, but Lifelfeld’s work is the opposite of all my aesthetic tastes. I’m forced to give this a 1.
Average Rating of Hawk and Dove #1: 3.8
Chris: Hey, remember when we reviewed Justice League #1 and people said you couldn’t introduce an entire team of characters, a villain and a conflict in the allotted space because it’s just too darn hard? Well, Dan Jurgens sure managed to do it in Justice League International #1. He even puts everyone on the cover in the actual comic! It’s a miracle of modern storytelling technology! I agree that it’s not great, but it’s at least got an interesting take on the idea and characters that go off to have an adventure that seems a little exciting. Plus, unsurprisingly, I love the idea of Batman showing up to lead the team completely uninvited, because he’s Batman and he does whatever he wants. Deal with it. I will say that Booster Gold’s new costume is straight up awful, though. Solid 7.
Curt: I feel like if I’d never read a DC Comic before and I’d just gotten into the new 52, JLI would be my favorite. It had a lot of interesting characters, enough hints of mysteries to come, Batman, personal conflicts between characters, giant rock dudes. I bought the conflict between the Russian Rocket Red and the August General in Iron more than I did the constant back and forth between Batman and Green Lantern in Justice League #1. I’m really looking forward to more of this. 9
Caleb: I’m with Curt. JLI was fun! The characterization was really balanced and the backstory flowed naturally. I actually liked Booster Gold and Guy Gardner here. Batman had a stern patience when talking to the egomaniacs that I just really dig. Big fat 9 from me.
Laura: This was a comic that certainly checked all of the boxes on its to-do list. It introduced a motley crew of international characters with predictable accents — some of which didn’t get along! — generated some conflicts, and maneuvered the team into a fight with some enemies. All of these things definitely, definitely happened. It’s a steady, workmanslike book and I can get why a lot of people might have fun with it, but I would have been just as satisfied reading the Wikipedia summary. 5.
David: Justice League International #1 is a Dan Jurgens comic. I don’t know what else there is to say about it. It’s astonishingly mediocre in every single fashion. Nothing about it is astonishingly bad, nothing about it is amazingly good. It’s totally in the spirit of Jurgens’s ’90s work and his Justice League run in every way. I would not be surprised if there was a Doomsday crossover. He introduces too many characters at once, with very little personality beyond “I’m Russian! I hate Chinese people!” “I’m Chinese! We’re better than Russians!” “Sod off, I’m British!” It’s a 6.5, it’s not BAD, it’s just not …. good.
Andy: I disagree completely with David’s characterization of Dan Jurgens’ work. He’s one of my favorite DC creators, and I think Jurgens’ work (not to mention Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz in the early arcs) on Booster Gold is legitimately excellent. It was a truly fun, uplifting, action-packed, joyful superhero adventure that celebrated its nature and did a hell of a job developing this character from the joke people remember from the 1980s Justice League International into a proper hero. Booster Gold was maybe the only one of those kinds of books DC had left by the end of Flashpoint — the sort of catastrophic time travel event, by the way, that Booster’s whole mission was to prevent. So this new JLI means Booster failed, and it means Booster is back to square one in terms of characterization, and it’s where DC’s New 52 initiative starts to get real for me: I just spent a few years following a book/character that I really, really liked. For its own reasons, DC is betting that I will like this new/old version of him just as much if not more. But why would I? As I said, the character’s progress has reverted to something I got over years ago. As such, I’m forced to conclude JLI is for the brand new reader, which isn’t me, so I’m out.
Andy: I fear that will be the case with more New 52 books as we go through the coming weeks. But Jurgens is a pro and as you guys said, this comic made sense, put all the players on the board, and Lopresti’s art was pretty nice in parts (although Booster’s new outfit is dreadful, and for some reason has a W on it). Score: 5.
Average Rating of Justice League International #1: 7
David: This is men, at war. And they’re hard. And Sgt. Rock doesn’t want to lead, he wants to follow. He’s an INFANTRY MAN, guys. He just wants to be a SOLDIER and blah blah blah and zzzzzzzz and Tom Derenick’s art is boring and the backup story was amateur hour and seriously how is this one of the comics? I enjoyed its treatment of the dude in the cape, but at the end of the day I couldn’t give even a quarter of a turd about this new Sergeant Rock. I don’t even remember any other characters being in this comic, other than the sergeant who died at the end. “A Few Good Super-Men,” minus the Aaron Sorkin genius. 3, I guess.
Laura: Man, this book was a lot of things, David, but it wasn’t BORING. It channeled a lot of the stereotypical army tropes we’ve seen plenty of times before in the war tales of just about every medium, but it leaned on those familiar themes to tell a story about the death-defying feats of bravery by soldiers who jump out of planes with rocket launchers. And, we learn, superhumans may be involved as well. I definitely want to see the next issue to see what happens next, so mission accomplished, boys. 7.
Chris: Probably the most surprising book for me. I really liked it. Brandon does a great job of introducing us to the main character, the grandson of the original Sgt. Rock. I was expecting it to be a straight-up war comic, but the inclusion of super-heroes was pulled off pretty well. It feels like a revival of the best parts of the WildStorm universe, of ordinary people having to deal with the consequences of super-humans living among us, but not in a way that goes as over the top as, say, The Boys. Great, moody arc from Tom Derenick and a solid story that really makes me want to see where it goes. Definitely one of my standouts. Solid 7 yet again.
Curt: I thought it sold the anxiety that being a soldier in the middle of a super-hero warzone would convey. The art served the story well as everyone seemed realistically portrayed and vulnerable amidst the chaos. The last line of dialogue was a cliche that didn’t earn it, but I’ll definitely read the second issue. It didn’t seem to fit with all of the other issues, and I’m not even sure how I’d describe it to anybody else who wanted to check it out. Enjoyable, for sure, but it hasn’t grabbed me yet. 7.
Caleb: I’m not huge on war comics. I usually want to see history meaningfully explored or a fantasy world demolished FPS style, because the middle ground gets very muddy. Like Chris says, though, this book feels comfortable in its weird Crazy DC Universe/Sort Of A Real World skin and delivers stories that resonate the same kind of intensity a modern sci-fi movie with soldiers does. I give it a 7.
Andy: I think Men of War is actually a comic designed for NEW readers. I don’t think existing superhero fans or really existing Sgt. Rock fans would recognize much in this issue. It’s very sombre, it seems very realistic (outside of the faceless superhero element that plays hell with the mission), and the hero, Rock the younger, is very stoic and, at least at this stage of his development, not much like the Rock we know. But I think that’s the point, that this is a new character and they’re going to build him up into something. I think Ivan Brandon and his collaborators are trying to tell as sincere a war story as they can in the DC Universe, and I give them credit for making an effort at creating something that defies the overriding aesthetic of this new line. I also learned that you can put out a fire with an explosion. Also, the Phil Winslade artwork in the backup was great. 6.
Chris: You can! The explosion burns all the oxygen. Snuffs the flames. SOMEONE needs to read more Punisher Armory.
Caleb: Cyclops used to zap fires to put them out, too.
Average Rating of Men of War #1: 6.2
Chris: Best of the relaunch so far. And yes, I was surprised too. I’m not kidding. I loved this comic. To be honest, I went in expecting to hate it. O.M.A.C. is my absolute favorite of Jack Kirby’s comics, and I figured that having Dan DiDio as a writer was going to be taking something I loved and making it as awful as his genuinely unreadable run on the Outsiders, and yet, here we are. I don’t know if it was Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish doing the heavy lifting or if DiDio suddenly remembered how much fun he had doing the Metal Men story in Wednesday Comics, but this thing’s a hoot. 8.
Curt: I really didn’t like the writing on this one. O.M.A.C.’s tear through the bowels of the labs looked great, but once the Kirby references started manifesting on every page I started to wonder if this was a book for somebody new or a branch to the people who want something old. Kirby’s about as untouchable as comics creators go, and for a good reason. But I think it goes against the spirit of what he did to just re-hash everything he did, and did better decades ago. The new O.M.A.C. design I actually really liked, and the Brother Eye reveal was kind of cool, but I couldn’t help but feel like this comic didn’t do enough new with what it had. 4.
Chris: The worst you can say about it is that it’s a big Kirby pastiche — it’s got Dubbilex and Mokkari from his Jimmy Olsen run in there, for instance — but to be honest, almost everything we’ve seen from the reboot so far is a pastiche. Action’s a big tribute to Golden Age Socialist Superman, and even the good stuff like Swamp Thing and Animal Man are heavily based on work that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison did in the ’80s. But maybe it’s because Kirby’s ideas are still so fresh and entertaining even 40 years later, but this one sang. It’s a hoot, man, and throwing in new twists like the Cadmus office building and Brother Eye’s motherly instincts (“Call your girlfriend”) and it’s highly entertaining. There were some missed opportunities like not opening with O.M.A.C.’s signature splash-double-splash page combo, something that made the original book feel so huge — but the only thing I flat-out did not like about it was that, as El Gorgo artist Tamas Jakab pointd out, there’s no “O.M.A.C. created by Jack Kirby” credit.
David: This comic was entertaining for what it was: thematically vacant Kirby porn. It’s a great comic if you’ve read comics forever and want to see Giffen aping Kirby and a bunch of references to your favorite Jack Kirby DC comics. If you want to read a comic that’s remotely inviting to new readers, I can’t imagine what would draw anyone in. I liked it because I went, “Oh hey! It’s Giffen drawing Build-A-Friend! And hey, look over there, it’s Dubbilex and Mokkari working for Cadmus for some damn reason! I sure do love Jack Kirby!” And while it’s a nice nostalgia trip, it’s kind of a not very good comic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a revolutionary leap above DiDio’s Outsiders work, but it’s just not a very good comic book. I couldn’t give this to people and be like, “Hey, get excited!” unless they’re Kirby nerds, in which case, they’re not the target audience for the New 52. I’d give this a 5.
Andy: O.M.A.C. is a Jack Kirby concept whose appeal I never understood. I still don’t, but somehow I really liked Giffen and DiDio’s O.M.A.C. #1. Excellent storytelling, of course — Giffen is a master. Unlike some other books this week, I was able to follow the action throughout the story. I don’t have any handle on this character or concept, but I like the idea of the Brother Eye satellite screwing up some poor guy’s love life. Really, this was just fun to read. 7.
Curt: Not that I knew the guy, but don’t you think Kirby would be disappointed that people are just re-doing his stuff all the time?
David: I’m pretty sure this is the definition of that.
Laura: Homage and even repetition of the successes of the past are inevitable in commercial media, and I’d rather see modern creators imitate someone as brilliant as Kirby than a lot of other artists. It was a fun book with bright colors, attractive art, digital weirdness and Kirby-esque tics that I think a lot of fans will enjoy as long as they approach as an homage and not something that truly rivals the quality of the original. 7.
Caleb: I’ve never loved the idea of Kirby’s O.M.A.C. being part of the DCU beyond what happened in Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis — O.M.A.C. played out really well in its own little world. This comic was fun, though and I’ll be reading issue #2 to see how the mythology gets integrated into whatever the new DC lore is. I give it a 7.
Average Rating of O.M.A.C. #1: 6.3
David: I was really worried about this one. John Rozum did such a great job on Xombi, but there he was dictating the masterful Frazer Irving, and here he’s co-writing with Scott McDaniel, the brilliant co-creator of seminal Batman villain Orca. So it went somewhat like I expected: decent art, terrible villains, solid interpersonal interaction between Static and his supporting cast. This is definitely the most Spider-Man-y of all of the books this week, as well it should be considering Static’s pedigree. I wish Static creator Dwayne McDuffie had been around to help with this, but then again, I wish McDuffie was still around for a number of reasons less selfish than “I wish he could do good comics.” But this was a solid 7 in my eyes.
Chris: Not much to say here. I think McDaniel and Rozum do a good job of setting something up for new readers, especially if they were among the millions who saw the Static Shock cartoon. Moving Static out of Dakota and to New York makes for a nice clean break from everything, and there’s some good interaction here. I’m not a huge fan of McDaniel’s art these days, but I loved his kineticism when I was a teenager, so I can see that this one might be a solid bet for getting into the hands of that elusive New Reader. The worst thing you can say about it is that it was boring, mostly because I’ve seen this same Teen Hero setup done better a dozen times, but it does what I think it needs to. Probably a 6 on my scale. I will say, however, that the fact that we didn’t get TWO WEEKS into the new DC before someone got their arm cut off? It’s like they’re making fun of THEMSELVES now. They’re going to put me out of a job. 6.
Curt: I was glad to see that the Milestone characters are around in the new DCU, maybe not at the forefront, but they’re still kicking around out there somewhere. Static Shock #1 had the task of trying to please old Milestone fans, cartoon fans, new DCU fans, anybody who’s paying attention. I enjoyed all the parts where Static was with his supporting cast, and I enjoyed it when he was just tooling around. The art felt awful loose at times but it was as frenetic like I imagine Static flying around would be. The villains were forgettable and the last page cliffhanger was… nothing. We know he can regenerate, why is this something to be worried about? I’d go 7.
Laura: I’ve often wondered why DC’s comics can’t capture the accessible look and feel of their animated features or cartoon series, but this felt like it did. It had clean, fun art and a story that seem like they’d appeal to the teen reader. Which some of the books in the relaunch should surely do. There were several titles like this (including JLI) where I was like, “Not exactly for me, but that’s OK!” Which is fine, and I hope other people will like them. 5.
Caleb: Static Shock is a fun book that delivers a fleshed-out character new readers will care about. Static is a capable hero but you don’t want to see him lose a fight. That’s super rare. An 8 from me.
Andy: I haven’t read a Static comic since the early issues of the original, when I was a kid. I found myself getting bored on page two of this, but I think that probably has more to do with where I am as a reader than where Static Shock #1 is as a comic book. I think you guys are probably right and this is pretty good kid stuff, and I’m glad there is a book like that in the New 52. But it’s not for me. 5.
Average Rating of Static Shock #1: 6.3
Caleb: Stormwatch is a book that’s right up Paul Cornell’s alley. I did most of my WildStorm reading circa 2006-2007 in trades, but this new DC’ed take on the team seems like a mashup of things I liked about The Authority, Planetary and the original Stormwatch. More hardcore fans might take issue with some new characterization and the new continuity, but I dug what I read. I give it an 8.5.
Curt: I haven’t followed Stormwatch too closely since Warren Ellis was on it, it seemed like that was the last time I heard anything good about it. And it doesn’t seem like I missed too much, since I felt really comfortable reading the new iteration. Old character with new twists, new characters with interesting abilities, strange worlds that have yet to be explained, I enjoyed it all. Just because I’m a nerd I wish they had included something with the Martian Manhunter explaining why he’s in this corner of the world now, but I’ll live. 8.
Chris: Stormwatch was a pretty huge disappointment for me. I love Paul Cornell’s work — Captain Britain and MI13 was a better book than it ever got credit for, and Knight & Squire was one of my favorite miniseries of the past few years — and while I wasn’t too interested in this one at when I first heard about it, the fact that it’s about a team of secret super-heroes FIGHTING THE MOON gave me a lot of hope. But again, the end result feels super rushed. It’s not just the art, either, although there are certainly pages that look like they were knocked out as fast as possible. Cornell’s script is just bland as can be, and indulges in an awful lot of telling when there should be showing. Jack Hawksmoor, for instance, has some of the most visually interesting powers in comics — he moves like Spider-Man and makes entire cities do whatever he wants! — but instead of seeing it, we just have him talking about it. There are some funny jokes, but everyone involved can, and should, do better. It also doesn’t help that the big deal with books like Stormwatch and The Authority is significantly lessened when everyone falls over themselves trying to make Justice League feel exactly like them. 5.
David: I liked Stormwatch, but not as much as I wanted to. Cornell’s done excellently with a lot of team books in the past, especially Captain Britain, and his episodes of Doctor Who are utterly excellent. But something just isn’t right here. There’s a lot of “let me explain my powers”, and Sepulveda’s art alternates between awkward and painful. The tie-in to Superman #1 was super-awkward because Superman #1 isn’t out yet, and this was definitely, of all the books this week, the most tied-in to whatever the big New 52 overarching plotline is. The characterization was fine, just devoid of nuance, but Cornell’s track record shows that he’ll make up for that. I’m not fond of his take on Martian Manhunter, who’s maybe my favorite DC character and who has never, ever, EVER been a “warrior,” but I’m willing to see where Cornell’s going to take him. I like the idea of rebooting Apollo and Midnighter so we can see their ongoing romance. But it does seem like a bizarre use of the WildStorm characters, and I have to say, when Cornell sold “the villain is the moon” I was expecting something way cooler than “the moon has claws.” The entire thing just reeks of wasted potential. It’s a 7.5 for me, but largely because I set the bar so high earlier for dumbass comics like Green Arrow.
Andy: I share everybody’s respect for Paul Cornell’s work, so I choose to blame the invisible editorial forces for the general unpleasantness of Stormwatch #1. Compounding it all is a feeling of pointlessness I have about the whole thing. Like I said about Booster Gold, I just don’t understand the appeal of taking these very well developed characters back to square one. Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and The Authority are barely a decade old, really. I’m intrigued by the idea of seeing Apollo and Midnighter’s courtship, but does the whole franchise really require a fresh start? I’m aware there have been Authority and Stormwatch series in the interim that have not done well, so maybe? Are these characters ripe for reinvention, or are they specific to a time and place? Do fans of that material wish to see them regressed to some infant form? This is a question we will run into more and more in the New 52. 3.
Laura: Stormwatch is much better than Batgirl, but it does suffer from the same problem: It feels rushed. I don’t know exactly what the timetable was, but I expect a lot was asked of people who were already doing a lot of other things (like Gail Simone and Paul Cornell). I say this not to excuse anything but to hold out hope for the issues that follow, given the talent involved. Regardless, there were some really fun moments here like the giant eyeball and the malevolent hand reaching out of the moon, some good ideas with mixed execution and some rough patches. The only truly “bad” part of the comic derives from looking at its potential and imagining how it could have been better, which I think most of us are saying in our own ways. 7.
Average Rating of Stormwatch #1: 6.5
Laura: Seriously, thank God for Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette.
Caleb: Swamp Thing ruled.
David: This was a good comic, but here’s the thing: Scott Snyder needs to stop opening stories with anecdotes regarding the protagonist’s father. If I have to read one more goddamn Scott Snyder comic that starts with, “My daddy told me one day,” I am going to shoot AKs in the streets at the sky. I love Scott Snyder. He wrote some amazing Batman stories, American Vampire is absolutely great, Severed is entertaining as hell, even Flashpoint: Project Superman — which he only plotted — was the second-best part of that event next to Murderous Bat-Dad. But I think Snyder really needs to learn to stop writing so many damn captions and let his brilliant artist tell the story. I’m saying all of this out of love. But this is still the third-best book of the week behind Animal Man and Action Comics. It’s a really solid 8.5.
Andy: For a #1 issue designed to introduce a fresh take on the character, I was confused as hell by the Swamp Thing continuity in issue #1. Snyder and Paquette are great enough creators to make me care about this guy and this world with some really creative storytelling, but when he explained the history of Swamp Thing I went completely cross-eyed. Can you explain it to me? It seems like he’s saying that Swamp Thing existed, then Alec Holland died, Swamp Thing thought he was Alec Holland for a while, then realized he wasn’t, then Swamp Thing died, then Alec Holland came back to life but has the memories of the Swamp Thing who thought he was Alec Holland.
David: Andy, you’re exactly right.
Andy: Damn, I was afraid you were going to say that.
David: You actually got it EXACTLY. Which is sad.
Laura: COMICS, EVERYBODY.
Andy: Continuity confusion aside, Swamp Thing #1 was the best looking of the new DC books this week. Paquette is obviously in a very Kevin Nowlan kind of mood right now, and I hope he stays in it for quite a while. 8.
Chris: The main thing I came away from Swamp Thing with is that, man, if even Yanick Paquette can’t make your dumb Superman costume look decent, you have screwed up pretty hard. Beyond that, though, this one was a real standout. The characters in it feel like actual people, and I love that this is the first New 52 book that’s focused on a guy who is totally confused about his own continuity. I love the horror aspects that Snyder brings back in — especially since some of it seems like he’s revisiting the Brujeria, one of the scariest comic book characters ever. It feels like a man pit against an entire comic book universe of craziness that’s out to destroy him, which is a really frightening thought. Great start, great book. 8.
Curt: Swamp Thing was great. I really enjoy Snyder and Paquette’s stuff and the opening pages with various super-heroes noticing the plight of nature was a great set-up to what becomes an issue of Alec Holland trying to bury his past until it literally confronts him. I’m a huge fan of horror in comics and the complete ruination of the dudes midway through got a pretty visceral reaction from me. I think this is the best pairing of creators of the new 52 and it might be the book I’m most excited to see more of. 9.
Laura: I enjoy his anecdotal beginnings. They’re kind of literary, which you’d expect given his background, and tend to give the stories the feel of having deeper roots (sorry) than your typical first page exposition. Yanick Paquette, I have never met you but I want to give you a high five. There were moments of almost J.H. Williams III excellence in here with double-page spreads like that tornado splash and all that crazy paneling with the bees. I’m just glad he got paired with one of the strongest writers at DC for this. It didn’t give me as much bang for my buck as the story in Action Comics, but it was still well-crafted and very beautiful. 9.
Caleb: Swamp Thing begs a lot of questions but gives readers enough meat that they honestly want to continue reading to get the answers. Like Andy I’m not really clear on what’s going on, but everything looks and reads wonderfully enough that I’ll put up with 17 more layers of mystery before I feel totally swamped with weirdness. I give it a 9.5.
Average Rating of Swamp Thing #1: 8.7
Laura: Action Comics and Animal Man are barnburners. Give them to your friends. Swamp Thing is gorgeous. Kirby fans will love O.M.A.C., and we should all cross our fingers that Batgirl and Stormwatch get better because they surely can.
Andy: I think one of the things we’ve agreed on is that if DC is going to reboot something, don’t half-ass it. You guys liked Action, Justice League International and Stormwatch, those are the purest reboots of the week. Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Static Shock, these books took the if-it-ain’t-broke approach. We recognize all those characters. But trying to explicitly reconcile a reboot with a pre-boot seems to have gone a long way towards ruining Batgirl, which erased Oracle, the character who’s the whole reason existing fans care so much about Barbara Gordon at all. Batgirl is presumably just the first of several books that will attempt to reconcile, in-story, previous continuity with New 52 continuity — Nightwing, Green Lantern, anything having to do with Batman Incorporated or Robin, The Flash — and so far the results aren’t encouraging.
Curt: I’d never go so far as to say Stan Lee’s Just Imagine is any kind of great, but I prefer if you’re going to reboot make it worth it and go far away from the source.
Chris: The biggest problem with the reboot so far is that the ones I like are, you know, enjoyable, but the ones that I don’t are some of the worst comic books I’ve ever read. Even with the standouts, we haven’t seen anything yet that I feel like I could give to someone and say, “Here, this is why super-hero comics are great,” but there are more than a couple that I could give to someone as an example of everything that’s wrong with ‘em.
Andy: We’re also seeing some unhappy consequences of DC’s gamble. Justice League International, Batgirl, Stormwatch — I’m out, and I suspect I’m not alone. It’s clear these books aren’t made for me, and that’s fine, but success depends upon the readers they are made for actually discovering them. I hope they do.
FINAL SCORES, Highest to Lowest:
Animal Man: 9
Swamp Thing: 8.7
Action Comics: 7.3
Justice League International: 7
Static Shock: 6.3
Men at War: 6.2
Green Arrow: 4.4
Hawk and Dove: 3.8
Detective Comics: 3