Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The New 52 -- Recommendations and Opinion, Part 1

I've already talked about how much I liked the premiere issue of Justice League #1, and how it nicely tied in to the ending of Flashpoint in a light but meaningful way. The entire launch of the New DC has been a big success so far, and I simply can't tell you how refreshing it is to feel like I'm reading comics again. I say that because this all feels like a renaissance-style return to traditional comics - where issues are written for the single publication audience, instead of writing for Trade Paper Backs in mind. The writing and art is simply all over the place, strangely feeling like it's melding the artistic boom of the 90s, with the writer-driven stories of the previous decade. Comics are aiming at a wide venue of genres for people to choose from -- not just Super Heroes, but horror, science fiction, western, war stories, and indy-style titles. It's just a fantastic atmosphere to see in the market-place - and of the titles I've read and seen, it's all been going excellently - and I hope it will continue to do well as series progress down the line.

There is a downside, though, to return to traditional Comic Book form. Sales are important. All series are going to run for 6 issues, after which each series is going to be re-evaluated. A lot of good series are inevitably going to get the ax, ending at issue #6. DC has more books coming down the pipe-line, but its a little intimidating to sign on to a lesser known title - fearing it will be canceled if not enough people buy it like you did. DC is aiming high here; they want to see big sales across the board. Yet don't worry - every issue is getting a lot of exposure and hype, and the lesser known series are actually selling out because retailers didn't order enough of them - making them valuable on the immediate re-sale market. Even a popular books like Batgirl have gone for $10 on ebay, on the very day the issue came out in stores. That is quick and very impressive!

Another side effect of the push for sales is also a push to keep books on schedule. A number of artists solicited to be doing art for certain books suddenly up and disappear, with another person filling in. DC isn't kidding around - they want issues coming out on time, like clockwork. That's very much an older-style mentality when it comes to comics these days. It's nice to know the issues you expect will be there each week -- but I also don't want quality to take a nose-dive. So far I don't see that happening; comic companies for a while now have regularly been putting out more issues of a title than a single artist can keep up with, so co-regular artists cycle in and out on a book every few months. Most editors these days do an excellent job putting together artists who's styles compliment each other, to ease the transition when a different artist is needed. I don't think DC wants to have switch-in, switch-out art duties, but I think they have back-up plans to fill in the gaps when artists can't keep up. Again, this is very much the older-style of creating comics, where if you can't get things done on time, you're going to wind up not doing them at all. Luckily we have some very dedicated artists who seem up to the challenge.

As for the issues I'd recommend? For the first two weeks of the New 52's releases, here are the issues bought and would recommend.

Action Comics #1

Grant Morrison wrote the most definitive and classic Silver Age inspired Superman tale ever - with All-Star Superman, detailing the final days of Superman's life. It was simply breathtaking in it's creativity, execution, and style. So it seemed like a dream come true for Morrison to tackle a new version of Superman for the New Millennium. Unlike All-Star Superman, this version of Superman is a much more extreme return to Superman's origins, while likewise re-inventing the Man of Steel for a whole new generation.

A lot of casual fans don't realize how heavy handed Superman was when he premiered back in the day. He wasn't the big blue boy-scout he's been known as for half of the last century. He did stand for Truth, Justice, and the American way - but that usually involved battling corrupt officials, taking down wife-beaters, breaking up illegal rackets, defeating slum lords and tearing down an entire tenant housing complex, and ending a war between Hitler-like tyrants by taking them both by the scruff of their necks and putting them in their place. Simply put - Superman was a rebel and maverick. He stood for everything that was good and right - which usually had him tackling the great social issues of the day back then. The purpose was, really, a kind of power fantasy -- being able to just leap in and fix things with you're own two hands, and having little being able to stop you.

That's the kind of Superman Grant Morrison is reviving -- but of course with a modern-take. Superman is hardcore crusader, using his developing powers (he can only leap tall buildings right now, just like when he premiered in 1938) to stop corruption in the seedy city of the future: Metropolis. Superman's approach to things now, that he reminded a bunch of corrupt cops of, is this...

"You know the deal, Metropolis.
Treat people right or expect a visit from me."

This is, of course, are the early adventures of Superman, right when he was starting out. Making this kind of Might-Makes-Right Superman for the modern day will of course, eventually, be the realization that he can't put everything right. In future issues his powers and origins are set to be explored in more detail - including the introduction of Superman's new costume (sort of leather-armor style, like from the recent movie), because right now he's just wearing a T-Shirt and a cape on his back.

Developments in Superman's civilian identity, as Clark Kent, are different at first as well; but instantly familiar. Lois and Clark work for rival newspapers right now, which should be interesting. This is a Lois Lane earlier in her career - but her feisty spirit and can-do attitude are front and center like they always have been.

This was simply one of the best first issues for the new DCU that anyone could have ever asked for. It was simply amazing in it's energetic style and approach, launching so many new fantastic ideas and concepts for the new Superman mythos that the issue bears re-reading - but it's all made comforting by the warm and touching art of Rags Morales. If there's a single issue of DC's New 52 that you should read - it's this issue.


I was excited about this book for quite a while, and it didn't disappoint. Another thing about the return to older-style comic is that action is taking a leading role in the stories. Things simply are not going to be boring - and at the Secret Scifi-Run-amuck facilities of CADMAS Labs. Taking inspiration from Jack Kirby's original creation , Keith Giffen and Dan Didio bring you a mile-a-minute action piece, as OMAC is activated for the first time by the mysterious Super Spy Satellite Brother Eye, and ordered to rip CADMAS apart to it's very core - and not letting anything get in his way!

It might have been a singular path of destruction this first issue - but what an incredible and enjoyable thing it was to see. Every manner of Kirby-styled oddity is thrown in OMAC's way, all failing to stop his rampage.

At the end of the issue OMAC's human host, lab scientist Kevin Cho, is rudely made aware that his body is not longer his alone to command - and a lot of different forces are going to be invading Cho's life and ruining everything. It's essentially a sci-fi frankenstein monster series - and if you want to see mind-bending creativity from the certifiable insane mind of Keith Giffen, then this is the book you have to try.

Stormwatch #1

I was never really into Wildstorm's series of books. Wildstorm was a company that artist Jim Lee founded to create his own style of books, which was ultimately bought by DC - and with the New 52 is being added to the DCU's new continuity. I'm completely new to this series, so let me tell you that previous comic reading experience is not required - simply an open mind for epic Sci-Fi adventure. Written by Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, I guarantee this is going to be the go-to book for fans of the New DCU.

Stormwatch centers around a team of very arrogant but well intentioned super heroes that has for centuries been protecting the world in secret. The current iteration of Stormwatch is lead by Jack Hawksmoore - probably my absolutely new most favorite character ever - as he is the "God of Cities". He has track-lining on his feet and hands, enabling him to scale walls -- and he can communicate and control cities. He can suddenly make an alleyway become sideways to disorient, reanimate bricks to anything he likes - which I believe is only the small-scale demonstration of his powers. His powers simply seem instantly epic - like something out of Greek Mythology, but with a modern twist. Literally with this one character, I'm wishing I had been reading Wildstorm books all along. When asked about Superheroes, the likes of Superman and Batman, Hawksmoore had this excellent and concise explanation...

"They're amateurs. We're the professionals.
Stormwatch has been protecting the world from alien threats for centuries."

The central DC hero added to this team is J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. He is going to be the glue that is going to keep this insane collection of self-important super-powered heroes together. Their first job in this issue? They want to recruit a hero named Apollo - who's faced Superman equally in battle, and could quite possibly be the most powerful person on the planet. Yet Apollo isn't looking to sign up and fights against the group. When J'onn fights him, Apollo asks if this is what they do to people who turn them down - kill them? J'onn is snapped out of the fight and lays things out very clearly: An incredibly powerful threat is coming, and they need his help to stop it.

The threat might have something to do with the moon. See this impressive and scary looking eyeball. Called the Scourge of Worlds, this creature revealed to be laying inside the moon itself wishes to prepare Earth for an even greater threat - and the Scourge of Worlds prepares planets, to make them stronger, through devastation. Add in a huge horn that ties in slightly to the upcoming Superman #1, and you can see there is a mess of threats on the table here. This is simply going to be EPIC!

The one side of this book that initially made me think twice about signing on is, to be blunt, the gay thing. Apollo and Midnighter, two prominent heroes starring in this book, are essentially a gay Superman and Batman. I'm not trying to be homophobic, but this isn't exactly my favorite aspect of the book - and might turn some readers away. According to Cornell, he's writing them out and proud - which really isn't the wrong direction, really; these characters, when created for the series "The Authority" in the Wildstorm books - them being the gay Superman/Batman-style characters was there entire deal. Obviously, in this series, I think we're already seeing the development of not just token gay lovers - but actual characters with more personality and history than perhaps they where originally written with. Simply put - this book is too good to not read because of any trepidation about Apollo and Midnighter's orientation. It's going to be in the series; but it's not what the series about. This series is an epic, dark, ultra powerful Superhero team book - and should not be missed.

Demon Knights #1

This is another title written by Paul Cornell, which is loosely tying in with Stormwatch, as the beginnings and origins of when Stormwatch was founded - during the Dark Ages in Medieval Europe. The series stars Etrigan the Demon, a creation of Jack Kirby being re-invented here only a little, and grouped together with a Seven Samurai-like cast of colorful characters. Etrigan's fellow immortal companion Madam Xanadu is Etrigan/Jason Blood's girlfriend, and when visiting a tavern all our cast of characters encounter each other. The rest of the cast include Vandal Savage - another immortal and amoral brute; a power-house Amazon from Paradise Island; an arab inventor; a Horse-bound, apparently handicapped archer; and the Shining Knight (from Grant Morrison's Seven Soliders, re-imagined as girl disguising herself as man. She is not fooling anyone, apparently.)

The entire series seems very medieval, grand and epic - but not without entertaining banter, witty jokes, and a general atmosphere of hearing a grand tale being told in an old English Pub. The menace of two sorcerers, Mordru and the Questing Queen, grandiosely carried atop the back of traveling dinosaurs, just happens to be on a collision course with the pub where the Demon and his new friends are waiting, ready for a fight. And what a fight to expect in issue #2 - apparently Mordru and the Questing Queen's usual tactic when something gets in their way: simply throw dragons at it.

This really is a charming and delightful book - and I'm fairly confident, while set in the Medieval Era away from other Super Heros, this book is going to grab enough readers simply because of Paul Cornell and the connection to the future of Stormwatch. (Though reading both books isn't required.)

Green Lantern #1

One of the series least affected by the changing continuity of the New 52 is that of the Green Lantern franchise. Still, while the history that came before is the same, things are a bit different. For instance, Hal Jordan is no longer a Green Lantern. He was finally booted out of the Corps by the Guardians of the Universe. And to illustrate how bad management has become in the center of the universe? Sinestro, the greatest traitor to the Green Lantern Corps ever, is allowed to keep a Green Lantern ring, which forced it's self upon him, and won't come off - and the Guardians set him loose! A very complex explanation could have been given for this shocking turn of events; but it was nicely made simple and understandable -- the Guardians believe the ring choose Sinestro because he has a chance at Redemption. Sinestro's first visit while free is to his home planet of Korugar. While absent from leading his self-titled Sinestro Corps, Sinestro is shocked to find his soldiers have enslaved the planet, instead of simply protecting it as ordered. Sinestro is forced to kill one of his own men, who mistakenly thinks Sinestro has betrayed them and become a Green Lantern again.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Hal Jordan's life has turned to @%&$. Hal was always somewhat of an irresponsible guy, even before getting a GL Ring - but suddenly not having one leaves him at a severe disadvantage. He has no car (he use to fly everywhere), he's flat broke, and his urge to continue being a hero stupidly gets him thrown in jail. To add to his now suck-tacular life, he offends Carol Farris, who leaves him to walk home in the rain. And guess who's waiting for him at home? Sinestro wants this Ring off his finger, and he tells Jordan if he ever wants it back he's going to have to do everything he says.

This issue was very good, and people who saw the movie should recognize all the players - if not why they are all in this particular situation right now. It's easy enough to understand, and while it might be over quickly, there's a reason this is one of the few series not changing at all in the New DCU - it's because it's a great series, and well worth signing up for.

I'll come back with Part 2 of my Recommendations and Opinions on this exciting month in comics. I hope, even if you're not a regular comic fan, to find a title that speaks to you're tastes and give it a try.

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