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New 52 in Review: Week 1

Review

Christopher Holden kicks of a series reviewing the New 52 with…

ACTION COMICS

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” This is the depiction of Superman generations grew up with during the Golden age of comics and through Max Fleischer cartoons. In Action Comics #1, Grant Morrison is making that Superman canon again.

Over the course of Superman’s publication history, Superman’s powers, sense of morality, and characterization has changed drastically; as has our perception of the character. All these changes have occurred in reboots and re-envisions, giving each generation their own Superman, but depriving past generations of the version they had grown to love. Action Comics is placed five years in the past, when Superman has first arrived on the scene, and Grant Morrison takes advantage of this in order to make Superman’s fictional history mirror how he has changed in reality. Bringing the Golden age to the present, Superman begins his adventures with only the powers listed above, and is seen fighting crime in a manner we today see as more akin to Batman’s tactics, but seemed par the course when the character was first introduced. The crimes he fights are similar in nature to those he first faced during Great Depression fueled stories, perhaps in an attempt to parallel today’s economic downturn.

Although his jeans, cape, t-shirt, and work boots ensemble appears ridiculous on the cover, it surprisingly works quite well throughout the issue, especially during action filled panels. The issue focuses primarily on Superman himself, but does indulge the audience with the inclusion of some of his main cast; namely Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Sam Lane, and Lex Luthor. Only a few panels are shown of Superman as Clark Kent, but they are enough to help frame the character, and show where he is in life. Clark wears baggy, loose fitting clothes to disguise his identity, and works at the Daily Star, while Lois and Jimmy are at the Daily Planet.  The alternate cover by Jim Lee further alludes to the Max Fleischer cartoons by showing Superman surrounded by the robots from “The Mechanical Monsters,” which he may actually face in a later issue.

I was very impressed with this first issue of Action Comics, not only in their wonderfully amalgamated depiction of Superman, but also of the world he inhabits. Grant Morrison’s writing is superb, and leaves me with a great sense of nostalgia mixed with anticipation for what’s to come.

ANIMAL MAN

The debut issue opens up with a magazine article on Buddy Baker and how his social activism as Animal Man has made him a cultural fad, with his “A” emblem becoming a rallying symbol for hipsters. A large emphasis is placed on Buddy’s family life and the effect his powers and careers have had on them. This, added with his passivity and vegetarianism, helps present Animal Man as very human, very relatable character. Strange, alarming, mysterious and exciting, this comic is everything you would expect from a great Animal Man tale. I do miss the jacket, goggles, and orange parts of the outfit, though; especially since the new suit looks like a rejected Aquaman outfit from the ‘90s.

 

 

 

BATGIRL

The redaction of Barbara Gordon’s time as Oracle, and the restoration of her full physical capabilities has been a matter of great controversy with the premiere of this comic. Although I may not agree with the decision to change Babs’ history, I do believe D.C. approached the change in the right way by acknowledging the events of The Killing Joke, and using it as a point from which the character can grow and develop. Polarizing this was the decision to revert Barbara Gordon back to simply being “Commisoner Gordon’s daughter” when she is not Batgirl. That is to say, in this new history Babs has spent the last three years in physical therapy while still living with her Dad. For our full review, see here.

 

 

BATWING

I admit, going in I didn’t expect much from this title. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is an all around very well put together comic. The artwork is clean, aesthetically pleasing, and helps move the action smoothly and beautifully. Although it could be argued that the main character stands in the shadow of the Bat, Batman’s influence is that of a mentor and is somewhat marginal. The antagonist, Massacre, is realistically evil, making him incredibly menacing and scary. Batwing offers a beautifully drawn story about crime fighting in a world unfamiliar to most, which strides from the normal metropolitan setting, and makes for a very entertaining comic.

DETECTIVE COMICS

Living up to its name, Detective Comics #1 is at its heart a hard boiled mystery. Most of the tale is narrated by Batman, allowing us to see what he thinks, and how he perceives characters such as the Joker. The antagonist of the first arc is the mysteriously creepy Dollmaker, whose motives have yet to be seen, but has a strange relationship with the Joker, who for reasons unbeknownst to even Batman, is naked for half the issue. The dialogue and tone are reminiscent of Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Long Halloween, as are Batman’s relationships with Jim Gordon, and the GCPD. The changes in Batman’s costume are practically unnoticeable, and the Joker is presented as a much darker version of his Silver Age depiction. Throughout the issue, we are treated to clichéd badass Batman statements such as “You can’t run. I OWN the night” which help to make this seem like the definitive version of Batman. The final page is shockingly disturbing and imbues the reader with a multitude of questions while leaving them begging for the next issue. Honestly, this is some of Batman at his finest, I highly recommend picking it up.

GREEN ARROW

Oliver Queen is dead. Long live Oliver Queen. If you liked the Smallville Green Arrow, you will love this new series. If you liked the loud mouthed, chili cooking, opinionated, hard travelling, goateed bastard that was the canonical Green Arrow, then you will hate this series. The character of Ollie appears to be completely re-envisioned into a shoddy ripoff of Tony Stark, sans the interesting character flaws and quirks. No relationships with his former supporting cast are shown, and there is only a slight mention of his origin, but nothing specifically about the island. Instead of a formerly rich trust fund failure, Oliver Queen has accepted the role of the head of Queen Industries, and is apparently somewhat of a wunderkind. The theme of modern technology is articulated throughout the issue, with Ollie even ripping off 007 and creating his own Q division and Q gadgets, including Q phones and Q pads for the kids.  This new Green Arrow seems to have his sights set on the younger generation, but I hope that this is just a faze and that the true Ollie eventually returns.

HAWK AND DOVE

Unlike almost every other DC title, Hawk and Dove #1 does not see the characters reinvented or reinvigorated in any way, despite the fact that they desperately need a change. The duo are uninteresting, do not mesh well, and Hawk is an incredibly unlikeable character. Rob Leifeld’s characters all look like the same angry person. One redeeming aspect of this book is the mention of the first Dove, Hawk’s heroic brother Don, who died tragically during Crisis On Infinite Earths. Unfortunately no mention is made of the second Hawk, Dawn’s British twin sister Holly, who was a significantly more interesting character than Hank (who ironically killed her while a Black Lantern). Kestrel, Hawk and Dove’s arch nemesis, makes an appearance at the end up the issue looking like a mis-colored doppelganger of Hawk, but posing no real threat, providing no hook to encourage the reader to buy the next issue. This is one series I certainly would not waste my time on.

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL

DC has been teasing us with a new JLI for quite some time now, and this new series does not disappoint. The first issue has a solid story, great character interaction, and it maintains a good balance of action and humor. It has a great ensemble cast, but long time fans will mourn the absence of Ted Kord and the Dibneys, who could have easily been reincarnated in this new DCU. One interesting thing the issue leaves open to interpretation is whether Booster Gold is still secretly a time traveler. There is a quick throwaway line where Booster remarks to Rocket Red and August General in Iron about how Russia and China will be close friends in the future, which gives hope that Booster has held on to his time bubble. This is a fun title, and I’m excited to see how it progresses.

 

 

MEN OF WAR

This is an outstanding war book, potentially on par with DMZ, that just happens to take place in a world where gods walk among us, where one super powered man can do “more damage in five minutes than a year of armed men could do.” The Tom Derenick’s rough, scratchy pencil lines provide significant detail in both the action sequences and the characters expressions, while sketching out a gritty, yet realistic setting. The writer immerses the reader into the soldiers’ world by employing a steady stream of military jargon, which is nicely translated at the bottom of each panel.  Protagonist Joseph Rock, Grandson of the original Sgt. Frank Rock, lives up to his Grandfather’s legacy. He’s a hard man but is all too human; the kind of man you could see yourself following into battle, or better yet, from issue to issue.

 

O.M.A.C.

O.M.A.C. is DC’s love letter to Jack Kirby. Cover to cover, the artwork is made to emulate the King’s style. From Dubillex to Mokkari and the original Brother Eye,  O.M.A.C. is laden with numerous Jack Kirby characters and motifs. Veering from the original O.M.A.C.’s futuristic storyline, this tale takes place in modern day Cadmus labs, and substitutes Kevin Kho for Buddy Blank as the series protagonist.  O.M.A.C. provides a fun, action packed science fiction story with a sense of nostalgia, in a modern retelling of a classic tale by the King.

 

 

 

 

 

STATIC SHOCK

Picking up from where his story last left off, Virgil Hawkings (Static) is presented as clever, witty, technologically inclined, and extremely likeable; making him very much the contemporary version of Spider-Man he was originally intended to be. Outside of a cameo by Hardware and a brief mention of Dakota, Static’s origin isn’t touched upon. Instead, an emphasis is placed on the dynamics of his family and his relationship with them, making him a more relatable and sympathetic character. There is also a great deal of action to follow, including the re-emergence of Static’s old foe Virule. This is a great comic for old Milestone fans, but is easily accessible for new readers of any age.

 

 

 

STORMWATCH

Geared more towards Wildstorm fans who are well acquainted with the characters, Stormwatch #1 may be difficult, though not impossible for new readers to follow, and it will certainly delight older fans. Apollo’s new appearance gives him a more Roman look on the cover, but on the interior pages, he resembles the Plutonian from Mark Waid’s Irredeemable far too much. Wildstorm fans will enjoy seeing the return of Jenny Quantum, still in child form, as well as the first meeting of Apollo and Midnighter.  For those DC purists who worry about the Martian Manhunter’s presence, it is revealed that he is still a part of the Justice League. His head is of a slightly different shape and he wears a variation on his classic costume, which will look different when he’s with the JL. Although the first issue was a little bit confusing, I’m intrigued to see what role Stormwatch will play in the new DCU.

SWAMP THING

Focusing on Alec Holland, the premiere issue picks up following the events of Brightest Day, and does a great job briefly connecting this new series with both its past Vertigo continuity, and the new all encompassing DCU. The artist, Yanick Paquette, does a great job, and shows that artists besides Jim Lee can draw Superman well in his new costume (although it still looks a bit off).  Although well written, this first issue serves primarily as prologue for the story to come. The seeds of interest have been planted, and I can see this series growing into something fantastic.

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