Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New 52 -- Recommendations and Opinion, Part 2

I've really enjoyed almost everything about the new DCU Reboot. The comics are fresh and exciting again - but there is one noticeable stain upon the whole initiative: the Batman books. I like the Batman books. I tried two of them this month - and while the issues I tried where good, and not too violent -- that cannot be said for the likes of Detective Comics #1, which had a final page showing the carved-off face of the Joker nailed to a wall. That just added to my disappointment with the Batman-office in general lately, as the previous Detective Comic arch was utterly inappropriately labeled - as it featured cannibalism. I kept hearing how good the story actually was; but I for one was quite disgusted by it - and I'm not even a little kid, which Batman books are more than likely to be given to. The less said about the utterly pornographic Catwoman #1, the better. It's a rather large disappointment to see - that such violent content is being mislabeled as either "T", or "T+" - when it's content that should be getting an "M" rating. Yet DC doesn't want to put an "M" rating on a Batman book - which begs the question why they are allowing such content on one of their lead characters to begin with?! I for one would like to read a Batman book that isn't marred by psychologically scarring violence and sex. I was intending to buy the new Jonah Hex book -- but I put it right back after seeing the prominently displayed dead hooker, nailed to the rafters as a warning for Hex to get out of town. I quite frankly don't know whether to trust the Batman books in the coming future, or the title Green Lantern Corps, written by Batman and Robin writer Peter J Tomasi, which stacked a mountain dead of bodies up as warning to the GL Corps, in addition to slicing disposable Green Lantern characters every which way. Seriously - DC - get the violence under control!

Anyway - regardless of that, here are the rest of new DCU issues I tried this month.

Superman #1

While Grant Morrison is redefining Superman's early carrier for a new generation in the pages of Action Comics, George Perez and Jesus Merino have the somewhat more challenging job of establishing Superman's modern status quo - without stepping on the toes of what Morrison is doing. Perez really rises to the occasion - though perhaps at the detriment of a more fun story.

See, this issue is PACKED full of new information about Superman's new universe. The Daily Planet has been bought by Galaxy Broadcasting Systems, with the old Daily Planet building being demolished, in favor of a new Daily Planet - now called PGN, The Planet Global Network. There's an entire sense of the failing of print media, on it's last legs in real life, being forced to move into the new multi-media age. Clark Kent is dead set against it, and is sticking to the print-media side of the organization, instead of taking an Anchor desk job. Lois Lane has been promoted from Anchor to Executive Vice-President of New Media; essentially meaning she'll be in charge of airing the weekly news. While all of this change might seem like a positive direction, I've simply never liked the idea of Clark of Lois being on TV as anchors. They did it before in the 70s and 80s. It's always felt forced - trying to re-interpret our characters for how journalism has changed, and it feels forced here as well. I don't see why the Daily Planet can't be what real news papers are doing - having print and digital editions. This just feels a bit more complex a transition than neccessary, just to make Superman feel more modern.

That said, I think in general it might have been a mistake to have George Perez headline this title, instead of somebody new to the Superman mythos. Because while this is suppose to be the all-new, all-different Superman -- it all feels very much like the old Superman. The style, pacing, and even panel design on this issue feels like a comic I might have been reading years ago. That's not Perez's fault, by any means - as he does what he does best: he brings the classic-style of comics that he helped create over the course of his carrier. The problem is -- I want something new! I don't want a Superman-book that feels like the old Superman.

Not getting in the way of Morrison's stories might also be in play here, to a harmful degree - the villain introduced in this issue couldn't have been more boring. It's a fire elemental monster -- and I feel like I've seen Superman face this kind of threat more times than I can count. Not this fire-monster specifically --- but the generalized, faceless, alien threat added to a story just as filler. The only interesting new development in the issue is a giant alien in the Himalayas blowing the world's largest horn - heralding some kind of big threat. That plot, though, doesn't go anywhere at all in this issue - and in fact specifically says to find out more about the horn in Stormwatch #1. Stormwarch #1 told us to find out more about the alien who blew the horn in Superman #1. This just feels like a needless and forced tie-in.

I am being overly harsh, though. For what it is - this is a very good issue, and expertly designed. If you're looking for the most bang for you're buck, this issue is it - each page packs in more story-development in every panel than some books have in an entire issue. There are 26 pages to this issue #1 - and each one is densely written. That's not a bad thing -- it takes you twice as long to read this issue than any other comic in the relaunch -- but it's simply not plot-development worth focusing on. It introduces all of the various, and pointedly ethnically diverse, Daily Planet employees - but it all feels very old and stale.

Oh, and the worst part of the issue? Lois Lane has a new boyfriend - and it sure as hell isn't Clark Kent. I know comic characters are suppose to be relatable to fans - but forgive me if I'd like to have a little escapism from my own lack-luster dating scene - and not see Superman be cuckolded, especially on the heels of making Lois and Clark's marriage not exist! I'm probably going to drop this book right away. Go read Action Comics instead. Clark and Lois might not be together in that book either, but at least I'm not feeling disgusted and grossed out by seeing Lois having shirtless gentlemen callers in her apartment - all while Clark can hear Lois summarily reject him through the walls.

Batman #1

This is a title I wasn't intending on getting. Its written by Scott Snyder, the same writer who did the cannibalism story arch I mentioned earlier in the pages of Detective Comics. So why would I try a title written by the writer I was previously having such a big problem with? Simply put - I loved the art of Greg Capullo. It just looked energetic and fun - and after examining the issue to death for any overt violence, I decided to give the issue a try. Let me be clear - it's not necessarily Scott Snyder I have a problem with; his tenure on Detective Comics, while gruesome, has been praised as one of the best Batman stories ever. He writes very well here too -- it's primarily the editors on the books who I'm blaming, who give the go-ahead for plots involving such overt violence to begin with - the writer who was given the green light shouldn't necessarily be blamed.

This issue starts off with a good format for introducing many of Batman's rogue's gallery all at once, as Batman is stopping a prison break out. It's fun and action packed, and with a twist of the Joker showing up, but instead of fighting Batman - he joins with him to help him take out the other bad guys.

It's later revealed that Batman and Dick Grayson where doing an undercover operation, with Dick using a holographic mask to make him look like the Joker, so he could be in Arkham and find who on the inside was allowing a breakout to happen. It was a random prison guard; the entire sequence wasn't meant to be a large plot-point, but a way of introducing us to Batman's rogue's gallery in an entertaining fashion.

Seeing as this is a book that may be an introduction to Batman for new fans, it appropriately covered other parts of Batman's life. All of his former and current Robins are briefly introduced as Bruce Wayne hosts a dinner presentation for Gotham's social elite. Older sections of Gotham are going to be torn down, to begin construction of new buildings, to help improve Gotham City. It's a symbolic way of having the Bat-verse move on towards a new direction.

Batman is eventually called back to duty when a dead body is found. This is perhaps the one part of the story, featuring the dead body - who looks like a human pin-cushion - that is violent; but isn't overt. This person isn't bleeding all over the place - he's already dead; so its not too violent so far. Batman gathers samples of evidence, including DNA, but is shocked to find out who that DNA points to. I won't spoil that plot-point for you.

Over all this was a good issue. It nicely introduced us to Batman's current status, and all of his supporting cast from James Gordan, Harvey Bullock, to Alfred and Vicki Vale where all characterized nicely, letting anyone who doesn't know who is who. I'll have to check out issue #2 before buying it -- but I might give the second issue a try to see where all of this is leading.

Batman and Robin #1

This is a title primarily focusing on Batman and Robin, and their unique and new relationship as father and son. For those new to comics that don't know, the current Robin is Damian Wayne, Bruce's biological estranged son. Damian is rude, argumentative and arrogant - but utterly charming in the continual way that he clashes with his father, who is constantly trying to instill discipline into the boy. Bruce didn't have a chance to raise Damian when he was growing up, as his villainous mother, Tail al Ghul, raised Damian to be a killer for the assassin's cult the Demon's Head. So being argumentative and arrogant is a real step in the right direction for the kid!

For people who read the previous Batman and Robin series, where Damian partnered with Dick Grayson while Bruce Wayne was M.I.A., Damian got along much better with Dick. It's humorously and accurately pointed out that Damian found it easier to honor and respect his father when he wasn't around.

This issue has an emotional scene where Bruce is trying to show Damian the location his Mother and Father where gunned down in. Yet in a surprising and refreshing twist, it's revealed that Burce is doing this because that area is going to be torn down and renovated by the city. There's a declaration of no longer dwelling on where his parents died, but rather on how they lived. While Damian couldn't be more of a snot during these scenes - it was nice to see this clear indication of moving the Batman-mythos in a new direction.

The main plot of the issue details a new villain, called NoBody, who is killing off members of Batman's international Batman Inc - in some vendetta against Bruce Wayne. The Batman of Russia is kidnapped and killed by being dipped in acid -- a rather violent scene, but not yet a deal-breaker for the series.

Peter J Tomasi does a good job of setting everything up for his new run on the series - and artist Patrick Gleason did a solid job. Gleason, in particular, is an incredible artist, and I look forward to seeing him give a fresh and energetic look to the otherwise dreary world of Batman and Robin.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

Coming out on the heels of a Frankenstein Flashpoint mini-series, comes a new on-going series that I will find an audience and continue on past issue #6 -- because this series is simply a fun, dynamic, and plain crazy monster book - and simply a refreshing change of pace from all the Super-Hero titles.

Frankenstein, introduced years ago in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory series, sees the character, mixing the Marry Shelley version of Frankenstein with the more recognisable Universal Studio's version - creating a unique and ancient battle-hardened warrior, always fighting to protect humanity from evil. The Flashpoint mini-series was written by Jeff Lemire, and this on-going mini-series is written by him as well.

To frank, I was going to completely pass this book by. It just wasn't on my radar, and I fear that might be the same for other people. Yet this is a book I think a lot of people would enjoy, and should give it a shot. It's a futuristic, mad scientist monster series - with a quick-paced plot, with insane but charming ideas. The art by Alberto Ponticelli might not be everyones cup of tea - but his sketchy and loose drawing style fits in perfectly with the monster filled world of Frankenstein.

The series features Frankenstein acting as an Agent of S.H.A.D.E., the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive. The leader of this group if Father Time - an enigmatic and eccentric person who apparently has to regenerate into a new body every few years. He's regenerated into the body of a little girl right now, creating this really adorable dynamic of a pint-sized 12 year old bossing Frankenstein around. It's really just a silly and fun twist that I really like.

The plot of the story is pretty simple - a town has been over run by hoards of monsters. S.H.A.D.E. is keeping the situation contained, but Frankenstein has to go in to try and solve the situation and rescue survivors. Father Time has a surprise for the usually loner-Frankenstein - a new squad of monster-themed troops for him to command. A vampire, mummy, werwolf, and mer-lady round out the group.

I simply love this book, and implore anyone interested in picking it up and giving it a try. I was going to pass it up until I saw another equally glowing review of the series, and I'm glad I was persuaded to give the book a try.

Green Lantern Corps #1

Like Batman and Robin, GL Corps is written by Peter J Tomasi - who returns to the title he helped build for DC Comics. Kyle Rayner is no longer on the book, which is a shame because of the bother-like camaraderie between Kyle, a dreamer, and Guy Gardner, a goof-off. Partnered with Gardner this time is John Stewart, who while not a stick-in the mud, is a much more serious Green Lantern than Kyle ever was. There's a good sense of friendship between the two, though, that's immediately displayed when they both experience difficulties with their regular jobs, given that their identities are public knowledge.

The issue is mostly set up, with John and Guy eventually returning to Oa to get a case to work on. They are in luck - because a Green Lantern Sector House has recently gone dark, and a group of GLs lead by John and Guy fly out to investigate. What they discover is a rather gruesome mountain of dead alien bodies, piled high into the sky, with two random GL members erected on stakes - as a message to the Corps. The issue opened showing the deaths of these two GLs - and while the blood might not have been red, limbs where being cut off repeatedly, until there was a heap of bodies and body parts. This is exactly the kind of violence I'm talking about - and this issue was labeled "T", when "T+" would have been more appropriate. The art is very good - but also very realistic looking, making scenes like this doubly gruesome. I always need titles to cancel on my pull list, and this might very well be one of them just because of this.

Green Lantern New Guardians

This new GL series stars Kyle Rayner, and is made by former GL: Corps creative team Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham. Being moved from the GL: Corps to this new title at first seems like a demotion for Bedard - but I think being the title with the mission statement of focusing on all the different Colored Corps is a pretty decent consolation prize.

This issue is really simple, but effective for readers who are new to Green Lantern. Kyle's origins story is pretty much re-hashed, as Ganthet gives Kyle that last Green Lantern ring in the universe. For fans, this is good as it's establishing the lack of change for Green Lantern continuity - though I think Kyle's regretful first girlfriend Alex is being left out of his origin now. That's all for the best, really, given her gruesome death when Kyle was first introduced.

Anyway - the issue quickly moves to the present, showing Kyle using his powers, and explaining some facts about the GL Universe along the way. Tyler Kirkman's art just looks stunning here - especially a splash-page, showing Kyle rescuing a falling construction crane. (How flimsy are construction cranes in comics anyway?)

The whole issue seems short, though, as it quickly moves ahead to show the crux of the series - all the other Colored Corps Rings are coming to Kyle Rayner, saying he has been chosen - just like he was chosen by the Green Ring. Representatives from all the Colored Corps are moving in, demanding their stolen Rings back - which is where the issue ends. This all seems very, very promising as a fun new series - but this first issue just felt very short, on a whole. I'd still recommend it, though; especially if you want to learn about the wider-world of the Green Lantern universe.

Legion Lost #1

My comic store was having a Buy 3 DC Comics, get a 4th free. I was due a 4th free issue this week, so I looked and looked to find something to add to my pile. I was having such a hard time finding something, anything, to get. I was planning on getting the Jonah Hex title -- but, as I explained above, the dead hooker turned me away. I looked and looked, and eventually decided to try Legion Lost. I like the Legion of Super-Heroes, and was reading the series when up until a while ago when I needed to drop some titles - and the Legion franchise was simply demanding too much of my money each and every month. So I ended up dropping the series completely. So trying out this issue, where this group of Legionnaires are cut off from the main book and trapped in the past seemed like a perfect opportunity.

The issue was very good. Fabian Nicieza writes all the fan-favorite characters comprising this cast very, very well. The art by Pete Woods is exceptional. The story is simple enough as well; the Legion is tracking down an escaped villain who fled to the past, and who is going to spread a virus in Earth's early 21st century. They manage to catch this guy, but not before the virus has spread - in addition to their Time Machine being busted.

The one downside to this issue is that much of the plot isn't explained. This issue is clearly spinning out of events that happened in Legion of Super-Heroes #1 -- which I didn't read, and subsequently left me putting the pieces of the plot together as it went along. The cast is fun and dynamic. I'll probably not continue reading this - but don't let that make you pass up this title if you're interested. I'd be buying it if I had more money; but I don't. Simple as that. So if you're interested, then it's a good series a try, especially since it's somewhat disconnecting itself from the main title, and should be more relatable since it's going to take place in the present day.

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