Saturday, December 31, 2011

New 52 Year-End Review

As we enter month five of DC's New 52 initiative, I figured I'd take a look at my own stack of DC comics, and explore the state of things in the Internet's favorite format, the bulleted list.
  1. Action Comics: I love it. In fact, the only things I don't love about it are the rushed-looking fill-in art, and the two-issue break from the main story. Hopefully the latter helps Rags Morales catch up on the former. I'm also not thrilled with the jump ahead to the present, and I hope this isn't the last we're seeing of young firebrand Superman.
  2. All-Star Western: One of the best titles of the New 52. There's very little to not like about Jonah Hex fighting the Crime Religion in Gotham City.
  3. Animal Man: Possibly the best book of the line. Lemire is knocking it out of the park with this mix of pitch-perfect family characterization and creepy superhuman horror, and Travel Foreman's art handles both with aplomb. I'm looking forward to the inevitable collision between this book and Swamp Thing.
  4. Aquaman: Probably the most surprisingly enjoyable book of the New 52. I've hypothesized before that Geoff Johns does best when he's writing fewer books, and it became clear toward the end of the old DCU that he was spread too thin and treading water on various characters. Aquaman marks a nice change of scenery for him, and I think that's part of why this book is so much fun. It also seems like Johns is taking a more intentionally upbeat approach to this comic, and so there's a lot less death and gore and limb-removal than you might expect from a Johns book of late. I'll stick with this one, at least for the time being.
  5. Batgirl: I've liked this first arc well enough, but I'm pretty lukewarm on the title as a whole. I like Barbara Gordon, but so far there's not a lot to her character. Simone's doing a slow burn, setting up Barbara's recovery as a mystery and building a small supporting cast, but there just isn't a lot of momentum here. It doesn't help that Barbara's defining characteristic right now appears to be "damaged and out of practice." I'd like to see a character that integrates who she was as Batgirl and as Oracle, but that's not the case yet.
  6. Batman: Oh man, Batman is probably the best straight-superhero book DC is publishing right now. Intrigue, action, secret societies and Batman out of his element? It's fantastic. It's not surprising, given how good Snyder's "The Black Mirror" arc was. Capullo's art is something of a surprise; I didn't know a lot about him going in, but his fluid, somewhat animated style is generally great. There are some talking head scenes that look a little funny, but I think that's just a matter of not being used to his particular style quirks. There are few comics I look forward to each month as much as this one.
  7. Batman & Robin: A theme that seems to be running through the Batman titles I'm reading is that Bruce is doing some much-needed growing up. In Batman, he's learning that he's not indestructible and moving beyond his parents' death. Some of that is explicitly happening here, too, as he also tries to become a father to the son he never knew. I'm not entirely thrilled with yet another new villain from Bruce's past who knows his identity, though so far NoBody is better than Hush by leaps and bounds. I'll stick with this one at least until the NoBody story ends, and we'll see after that.
  8. Batman: The Dark Knight: I wasn't reading this pre-Flashpoint, and I didn't pick it up afterward. So far, I haven't heard anything to make me change my mind.
  9. Batwing: Another surprisingly good comic, if only because it skirts, so far, Winick's various plot quirks. I like how David is clearly distinguishable from Batman, and I like that Winick is building a global superhero community, fleshing out the younger New 52 world quite a bit. The only thing that I dislike is that there's yet another black superhero with electrical powers. I don't quite get why that trope is so common.
  10. Batwoman: I've finally been catching up on Rucka's Detective Comics run, so hopefully I'll have an opinion on this book soon. But I don't expect to have any actual problems with it.
  11. Birds of Prey: Another surprising hit book. Birds of Prey is fresh and fun and action-packed, and it's a shame that so much of the press on female-centered DC books has been spent on Catwoman and Voodoo. Swierczynski and Saiz are turning in an excellent comic full of interesting characters, and consequently Birds of Prey is really better than it's been in awhile.
  12. Blackhawks: Never quite cared enough to pick it up. How is it?
  13. Blue Beetle: I really, really want to like Blue Beetle, and maybe once it's done with this retread of the origin story, I will. Right now, though, Tony Bedard and Ig Guara feel like a pale shade of Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner, and the book's focus on pain and violence over characterization doesn't help that. I'll give this book a little more time, but I really hope it takes a turn for the better soon.
  14. Captain Atom: Another surprising comic for me; I didn't intend on picking it up at first, but I've quite enjoyed it since. I've especially liked Captain Atom's more godlike presence as a hero, and how he's trying to deal with that. It's a nice mesh of the classic Captain Atom with Dr. Manhattan, in a way that doesn't feel entirely derivative or repetitive.
  15. Catwoman: If I wanted hentai, I'd buy hentai.
  16. DC Universe Presents: This Deadman story probably didn't need as many issues as it's taking up, but it's a fun ride. I'm interested in seeing the Challengers of the Unknown in a couple of months, but I'd really like to see this series become less of a TPB farm and more of an anthology title. Why doesn't this book have a second feature?
  17. Deathstroke: I've heard surprisingly good things about this title, but it just doesn't appeal to me.
  18. Demon Knights: Easily the better of Paul Cornell's two books, and one of the most entertaining titles of the New 52. If it feels like any previous title, it's Secret Six, with a quirky mix of characters and over-the-top threats and settings. I hope it goes forever.
  19. Detective Comics: I know some people who like this, but everything I've heard suggests that I picked the Batman titles that are right for me.
  20. Flash: This book is amazing, and would be even if only because the last Flash title was so underwhelming. Manapul and Buccellato are not just turning in the best Flash book in years, but they're doing it by taking a fresh approach to the character's powers, and playing with the medium in ways that you usually only expect from a J.H. Williams III. It's a beautiful, excellent title, and possibly the biggest turnaround from pre- to post-Flashpoint.
  21. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: There's a nice Morrisonian feel to this book, with crazy concepts stuck on top of crazy concepts, and given only enough explanation to get you through the action. I love the pacing and characters, and I can't wait to see the big O.M.A.C. crossover.
  22. Fury of Firestorm: I'm on the fence about this book, and I suspect that I'll be dropping it when Gail Simone does. I like the characters well enough, even if the tension between Ronnie and Jason is kind of grating by this point, but there's just not enough meat on the bones.
  23. Green Lantern: Who would have thought a buddy-cop book starring Sinestro and Hal Jordan would be so enjoyable? It's not my favorite title, by any stretch, but it's a good-looking and entertaining superhero book, and I think the change of status quo has really refreshed Johns' writing.
  24. Green Lantern Corps: Another one I'm kind of on the fence about; it seems like all the Johnsian dismemberment and over-the-top violence has been shunted to this title. I'll keep reading through the beginning of the next arc, I think, but I'm not sure after that.
  25. Green Lantern: New Guardians: Dropped after the first issue. There just wasn't enough there for me.
  26. Grifter: Dropped after that disappointing and dull first issue.
  27. Hawk & Dove: Yeah, right. No remorse for not picking up this one.
  28. Huntress: This book feels like one that's been sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be published. I like Levitz, I like Huntress, and I like that this story is more globe-trotting action-thriller than superhero book. It's "The Bourne Supremacy" or "Quantum of Solace" with tights and crossbows, and that's just fine with me.
  29. I, Vampire: I wasn't planning on checking this one out, but I liked Fialkov's "Superman/Batman" story, so I gave it a shot. It's the kind of book that I might revisit in trade, but not something I felt like sticking with on a month-to-month basis. The most recent cover, with Constantine as a vampire-hunter, was intriguing enough that I'll almost certainly pick up that first volume.
  30. Justice League: Hoo boy, Justice League. It's easily both Geoff Johns' weakest and most uneven title. I've described it as a big dumb Michael Bay action movie, and that continuously seems to fit, down to the unnecessarily complicated character designs. Seriously, Darkseid could probably have done with an update to the skirt, but that redesign is a lesson in excess. This book is problematic on several levels, and is a pretty good example of why, for instance, the original Justice League of America introduction wasn't an origin story. This would be better as a prequel, and it'd be way better if it didn't feel the need to form the League (and Cyborg) in the middle of the largest possible threat. Where do they go from here? Fighting the Key?

    But the biggest problem is consistently the one-note characterization. I understand that ensemble books sometimes need those shortcuts and shorthand methods of developing character, but the problem is that this is the flagship title, literally the book that was meant to introduce us to these characters. So far, the characters with any depth at all, surprise surprise, are the ones whose solo titles Geoff Johns is writing (or has recently written, in the case of Flash). That, plus the book's weird place between eras of the New 52, makes this a frustrating book. Hopefully it might get better? But I kind of doubt it.
  31. Justice League Dark: Didn't pick it up, despite some good press.
  32. Justice League International: Yeah, I'm pretty well done with this book when the first arc is over. It's way, way too uneven in terms of tone, plot, and characterization.
  33. Legion Lost: Dropped after that jam-packed (and not in a good way) first issue.
  34. Legion of Super-Heroes: I'm lukewarm on this title. I guess when it comes to the Legion, I really prefer a teenage version, and I don't feel like I know enough about the Legion Academy kids to really care about them. There's nothing really wrong with this book, though it often feels pretty densely-packed, but there's nothing that really stands out enough for me to want to keep buying it either.
  35. Legion: Secret Origin: I'm not a fan of the behind-the-scenes machinations that are framing this series, but it scratches my teenage Legion itch. The one thing I don't understand is whether or not this is a limited series. The other minis that DC's publishing all have "# of #" on the cover, but Secret Origin doesn't.
  36. Men of War: I still really want to like this comic, but every issue feels like some key pages fell out. The last page of the main story of the first two issues basically negated everything that happened up 'til that point, and issue #3 referenced none of it. I'm all for comics not holding the reader's hand and trusting in their reading comprehension abilities. But there's a difference between that and making no damn sense. I understood "Final Crisis," I didn't understand "Men of War." I dropped it, but there's a chance--based on a stronger #4--that I may pick it up again, especially with the changing creative team.
  37. Mister Terrific: Probably the title that most disappointed me. I really wanted to like the science genius hero title, but the bad science and bad stereotypes were just too much for me to handle.
  38. Nightwing: Not a book that I anticipated buying, but one that I'm pretty happy with. Higgins was largely unknown to me at the beginning of this, and I wasn't a fan of Barrows' art, but I think the only things I've disliked about Nightwing are the red in his costume, the "adopted at 16" origin, and the '90s-style villain Saiko. The actual plot and art? I'm in for a while, at least.
  39. O.M.A.C.: I keep saying this, but this is totally the most surprising book of the New 52. Sure, Keith Giffen is usually good for good comics, but Dan Didio's not known for being a great writer. So surprisingly enough, O.M.A.C. turns out to be among the best titles of the New 52 in terms of all-out crazy fun, and it's the best Kirby-esque comic I've read since Tom Grummett did Kamandi with Superboy. I wouldn't mind this book going weekly.
  40. Penguin: Pain and Prejudice: The Penguin is not my favorite Bat-villain, and I can't say I was super-familiar with this creative team going into the title, but I've been on a big Batman kick, and I thought I'd give it a chance. I haven't had any problems with this book, and I like the idea of the Cobblepots as one of the major cornerstones of Gotham, but it doesn't really stand out either.
  41. The Ray: That first issue had a lot of infodump narration, but it was pretty fun, and it's nice to see a book whose entire core cast is all people of color. It's also nice to see a character whose power set is kind of reminiscent of Superman Blue. I'm interested in seeing where this title's going.
  42. Red Hood & the Outlaws: DC cares so little about this book that they can't even remember the title. Don't see why I should care either. Avoided.
  43. Red Lanterns: Of the rainbow corps introduced over the last few years, I find the Red Lanterns the least interesting. I haven't heard a word about this title since issue #1 came out, and that suggests that it's not really anything to crow about.
  44. Resurrection Man: I feel like this series is moving a little too slowly, but I'm sticking with it. The creative team and premise is too promising not to. And I like the crazy cosmic aspect as well.
  45. Savage Hawkman: How's this one? I never bothered.
  46. The Shade: Cully Hamner is one of the best artists in the field, and this is Robinson returning to characters he wrote quite well. I wish this series made sense in light of the New 52, but that's a small price to pay for great globetrotting adventures with the immortal Shade.
  47. Static Shock: Another book I wanted to like, but despite the Batman Beyond feel and the Milestone connection, it just wasn't doing anything for me. McDaniel's art wasn't helping that, and the fact that Rozum's leaving doesn't fill me with confidence for the future of the title.
  48. Stormwatch: This book has never felt like it found its footing, and while it was filled to brimming with crazy ideas, it was equally filled with characters who spent most of the time explaining who they were and how their powers worked, like a Chris Claremont book. I'm looking forward to the creative team, and I hope Paul Cornell's next project is a little more stable.
  49. Suicide Squad: By all accounts, this book is an exercise in scraping deeper into the barrel with each issue. Could it be a meta-plot to cause readers to commit suicide? Only time will tell.
  50. Superboy: I'm kind of tired of the "I have to learn why I should be a hero" plot, and it sucks that the New 52 has made all the Superman Family characters into fish-out-of-water types. If it's got an S-shield on it, though, chances are I'm buying it, and there's nothing actually wrong with the writing or the gorgeous art here. I just want to see the Superman Family go in some new directions.
  51. Supergirl: I'm enjoying Supergirl a lot more than Superboy, if only because this feels like the introduction the character should have gotten under Loeb and Turner. I guess that's the curse of being such a Super-fan...I can't look at things outside of the context of the last twenty-odd years of Superman family stories. Where Superboy already went through this kind of development and whatnot, Supergirl spent years without a consistent characterization, background, or creative team. This is a much more reasonable take.

    One thing I do like is how they're differentiating the powers of the Superman family, which should be good for making them distinct characters in the future.
  52. Superman: I'm sad to see PĂ©rez going, especially since I've generally enjoyed the old-school feel of this book. Giffen and Jurgens will probably keep that sort of thing up, and I hope Giffen's presence means we'll get a little higher quality than Jurgens' usual workmanlike scripting. Jurgens isn't bad by any means, but he's rarely great on his own. Giffen has a midas touch, though, and I'm excited to see that play out.

    That being said, I kind of wish we'd get a smart--perhaps even super-smart--Superman. He's not a lout or anything in this book currently, but he's also not the super sci-fi genius I'd kind of like to see after 30 years of a more down-to-Earth version.
  53. Swamp Thing: I've been really enjoying this take on Swamp Thing, and I kind of hope we see the protagonist keeping his Alec Holland least as an option. I don't know, I like that there's this tension and reluctance in him to become the monster again, and I'd like to see it play out like something other than a Ben Grimm story. That said, the overall mythology of the Rot and the Arcanes is fantastic, and makes for some great body horror.
  54. Teen Titans: One Lobdell too many. I just have no interest in this book at all, and even the crossovering with Superboy isn't really making me reconsider.
  55. Voodoo: I think I might just have to start avoiding books where the solicits and descriptions say "sexy" more than any other adjective. If I were buying periodicals based on sexiness, I wouldn't be shopping at a comic store. Dropped.
  56. Wonder Woman: Quite enjoyable, even if I'm not thrilled with the change of Diana's parentage--or the recent "all the Amazons are gone again" cliffhanger. But this is the best take on the Olympian gods since Rucka left, and I'm excited to see where it's all going.
Overall, it's been pretty good. I'm buying more DC titles than I was before, and I'm pretty excited about most of the ones I'm buying. I'm also buying more Marvel books than ever, which generally means I spend way too much money on comics--and that may come to a breaking point in 2012 sometime. I'm neither made of money nor longbox space. But right now it's a pretty cool time to be reading good comics. Some things I'm anticipating for the New 52 in 2012 and beyond:
  • New old characters: There are a lot of MIA characters in the New 52 DCU, and I suspect that, in addition to the Atom and JSA, 2012 will bring us the Fifth World, maybe a new Doom Patrol, WildC.A.T.s, and of course some variety of others. I'd really like to see a book with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, but who knows about that.
  • Retcons: There are some things that just cannot hold. I suspect that the first non-Palmiotti-and-Gray team to get their hands on The Ray will forget about his constant nudity. The iconic image (and thematic resonance) of a young Robin will eventually win out over the silliness that Bruce adopted Dick as an older teenager. In fact, the whole "five year history" thing will be expanded before you know it--if it hasn't already. We've already seen how well the absolutes and edicts of a line-wide reboot hold, and when it comes to the things that people really recognize and enjoy, the momentum of history will bowl right over arbitrary ultimatums.
  • Renumbering: I still fully expect to see Detective Comics #900 in early 2013.
  • Superman Family: The new Baltazar and Franco title focusing on the Superman crew? Count me in. I hope there's a Lois Lane feature!

And that's it for now. See you in 2012!

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