This is the disembodied voice of Alex, being broadcast atcha from the Lagoa region of Portugal. Yup, I’m on holiday. Which means lots of food, lots of drink, but no comics or blogging for me. So, it’s my pleasure to introduce renowned playwright, occasional blogger and all round good guy Mr Michael “Meckett” Eckett. With a bit of luck, he won’t show me up too badly. So kick back and enjoy the reviews.
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo
Reviewed by Michael
I love a good writing device. Particularly in a single issue comic it allows an easy structure to present itself, juxtapose images and explore different world views without it feeling forced. Scott Snyder’s decision to base the narrative of Batman around completing the sentence of “Gotham is…” using three words or less introduces us to the world inhabited by Batman and also brings Gotham to the forefront as a character in its own right.
Gotham is a city so tainted that it corrupts and destroys everything and everyone within it; even one of Gotham’s better police officers can be worn down by the vices the city perpetuates. So in a city this bad, the good men, like Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon are extraordinary.
Batman #1 plays with all the toys that make Batman great; detective work, big ideas in the form of Wayne tech and badass fighting. It opens with Batman against a breakout at Arkham; villains old and new are deftly handled by the caped crusader in a frenetic yet clear fight scene. If you recognise all the villains, you understand the stakes whilst new readers get a fun introduction.
Capullo’s Batman in the opening is all gritted teeth and cloaked in shadow framed by a jagged Gotham, covered in grafitti and detailed decay before we see his Batcave, something expansive and reassuring. The iconic trophies are all there alongside Batmobiles of the ages alongside a brooding Bruce Wayne. Out of the mask Bruce heads to a party with Dick, Damien and Drake; and we see the other side of Capullo’s Gotham, a bright warm area for the rich, lacking in detail, ignoring the harshness outside. Instead we focus on the facial expressions and postures of Gotham’s elite, Damien’s sneers, easy going Dick Grayson’s slouches and playboy Bruce Wayne charming a room. Capullo’s cartoony style makes these moments even more charming.
I really like Snyder pushing Bruce Wayne as a force of positivity as a philanthropist and not only a crimefighter; Bruce has realised he needs to fix Gotham itself and that he can’t rely on Batman, Gordon and his Robins who have thus far survived being tarnished by Gotham. But the cliffhanger suggests at least one of them might not have escaped the city’s clutches.
Batman #1 is a really fun, well crafted comic and as an introduction it’s fantastic. If the run lives up to the promise shown here we could be in for a real treat because it really is everything I want out of a Batman comic.
Birds of Prey #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz
Reviewed by Tim
Fighting! Spying! Car chases! Explosions! Birds Of Prey has it all, and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s a great example of a first issue done really well. Like Justice League, we’re only introduced to a portion of the cast in this issue, but unlike Justice League, there’s a definite sense of intentional team-building going on, with Black Canary out to put together a team, trying to recruit Batgirl (in a nice nod to the old Birds Of Prey series) and dealing with a snooping reporter and some stealth-suited assassins.
Swierczynski gives Black Canary, Starling and Charlie Keen, the reporter, individual voices and enough characterisation to make them pop off the page, and the plot, while simple, has enough promise. As a new season of American television starts up and some promising pilot episodes start to appear, it’s reminded me of what I look for in a first issue – the plot doesn’t matter as much as the character dynamics do, and Birds Of Prey makes enough of an impression to make me feel confident in where it’s headed. The art by Jesus Saiz is great, atmospheric and polished, with really smooth action sequences full of movement. The only thing I’m not so keen on is the cover, which makes the character designs look a little clumsy, whereas in the book they feel appropriate and stylish. It’s also gratifying, after yesterday’s comics, to see a comic book full of women drawn with realistic bodies who aren’t sexualised so much I feel like I’ve opened an issue of Nuts.
Birds Of Prey doesn’t do anything extraordinary – it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook or mess around with format, aside from some well deployed flashbacks, but it gives us a super-polished first issue that makes none of the mistakes that have plagued a few of DC’s other titles. Instead, it creates a promising foundation for a superhero action-thriller that doesn’t feel rushed or cluttered with exposition. It has the kind of simplicity of purpose and drive that all of DC’s first issues should have had.
Blue Beetle #1
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Ig Guara
Reviewed by Bret
After having just read the end of Blue Beetle #1 I can sum it up in one word, one noise and then a lengthy complainy sentence. So here goes… the word is “disappointment”, the noise is “AAARRRRGHGGHG” and the complainy sentence begins “WHAT THE HELL?! YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT LIKE THAT!!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!! YOU BUILD UP THAT SORT OF AN INTRO AND YOU DON’T EVEN LET ME SEE THOSE DICKS GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE?!!?!!”
Blue Beetle was very good and ticks a lot of boxes for me, and as always, SPOILERS AHEAD. The back story is explained in a short prologue so you don’t feel like you’ve skipped a beat when you start reading. The characters are introduced naturally and I like the fact that we’re getting a Puerto Rican hero who doesn’t come off as stereotype. The art is very nice, and compliments the story greatly. There are a couple of characters who aren’t named or explained and I’ve criticised that in other books from the New 52 but here the art work is so refreshingly clear that you can tell who’s who and what’s going on without a running commentary from the cast. Also, (and this may not be new to the Blue Beetle at all but it’s new to me) I LOVED the fact the source of the Blue Beetle’s power is an intergalactic scarab that’s only about as big as your palm and looked upon by the Green Lanterns as vermin.
This is a clear origin story, and to be fair, more like the sort of thing I expected from DC’s relaunch. I understand that with titles like Green Lantern and the JLA you don’t need to introduce characters as much because people will already know who they are… but at the same time if you’re taking everything back to the beginning… aren’t origin stories what you would expect? Anyway, the point is that Blue Beetle was definitely an origin and as such I (as a new reader to DC) feel like I am more inclined to now go back and buy issue 2. Having been there from what feels like the start, I feel more involved in the character.
Overall, it’s an engaging story which left me in enough suspense that I want to go back and buy more just to find out what happens, with really nice character and art work. Lets hope enough people read it for DC to take note of what’s been done right here.
Captain Atom #1
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Freddie Williams II
Reviewed by Michael
In the opening action scene Captain Atom realises he can manipulate molecules other than his own, transforming metal into dust; but at the same time his hand begins to disintegrate as he loses control of his body. It’s a fun little metaphor for him losing his humanity as his powers become more god-like. Of course Captain Atom doesn’t see it as fun, as using his powers could kill him, so when he flies off to absorb the energy of a nuclear reactor meltdown and stop a volcanic eruption in New York you feel a genuine threat to his existence.
It’s the small touches in this comic that I particularly enjoy; we never learn Captain Atom’s real name thus distancing and dehumanising him, and he is never inked, but coloured straight onto pencils which gives a nice effect and makes the bright blue Captain Atom stand out from the rest of the art.
Conversely the things that detract from the comic are also small things. Most new scenes also have a clock counting up from a point in time (possibly the accident that gave Atom his powers) but towards the end of the book the clock goes back in time rather than forward. And whilst the dialogue and narration flits between peppy and introspective sometimes J.T. Krull comes out with a rather odd phrase. Freddie Williams II inks over his pencils but they are sometimes a bit heavy for my liking and more often than not ordinary people can end up looking quite creepy.
Whilst issue one balances out to be quite average there are a lot of nice things to be found in Captain Atom and if a few of the kinks are worked out it could be a very decent book in the future.
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Guillem March
Reviewed by Tim
Man, I finished Red Hood and the Outlaws feeling like I needed a wash from all the cheesecakey art on display, and then I read Catwoman, and realised it could have been so much worse. I was hoping that the awful, awful cover wasn’t an indicator of the content of the comic, with it’s soft porn inspired pose and Catwoman spilling diamonds suggestively over her breasts, but no, you open up to the first page, and you’re greeted with four panels of Catwoman’s bra, with her face cut off in each panel, because who really cares about that?
Part of the controversy surrounding the DC relaunch was centred on the shift away from female creators, in an industry where women are already severely under-represented, and accusations of sexism can fairly be levelled at the representation of many female characters. You’d think that DC would make an effort to counteract this by portraying its second biggest female character a strong, positive light. Instead, we have a title where, out of the 20 pages, over a third feature the main character in her bra, where most of the action panels would rather focus on Catwoman’s ass than what’s going on, where the only other female characters are a former show girl and prostitutes, and where, instead of the typical cliff-hanger on a moment of tension or a dramatic reveal, we are left with Catwoman and Batman having extremely awkward looking sex, because her most important function is as a hero’s girlfriend, right?
It’s not all bad news, I’ll admit. It passes the Bechdel Test, and when Guillem March’s art isn’t pushing in on Catwoman’s butt, its simple, good-looking, with clear storytelling and some creative flair when it comes to composition and panel structure. The plot is engaging enough, with plenty of hooks for future stories, and we’re given enough of Catwoman’s inner thoughts for her to have a voice and a personality. But like Red Hood I keep coming back to the sexism. This kind of regressive misogyny doesn’t belong in comics any more, and you would think that DC’s attempts to reach new readers might include making their titles friendlier towards women, especially the ones where female characters are front and centre.
I keep coming back to a scene in the middle of the book, where Catwoman, in disguise, seduces and then attacks (possibly killing) a mobster who appears to have killed her mother (the flashback is a little unclear). She follows him into the toilets, where he’s alone, pops open her shirt and moves in seductively before beating him up. She’s a stealthy character and he’s alone and not expecting an attack – there’s absolutely no reason for her to seduce this character that she detests, beyond the reader’s titillation. It rings so false and exploitative, and I can’t begin to understand what Judd Winick was thinking when he wrote the scene, beyond “sexy sexy danger”. Catwoman deserves better than that.
DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1
Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Bernard Chang
Reviewed by Michael
The most frustrating thing is that there are quite a few positives that are completely overshadowed by the negatives. After having the same things repeated to us over a montage of static images lacking any flow or storytelling, we then get a bit more into the new Deadman status quo. Deadman’s reasoning and drive for possessing individuals and solving their problems is no longer to figure out who murdered him but to atone for his life as a bit of a dick. It adds elements of reincarnation and karma to the mix, definitely allowing for more emotive storytelling but it’s all squandered because we don’t see Deadman living any of these lives; we’re just told that he has. The comic actually lets us know that we could be reading a story about a Chinese-American Spy, a covert operative or a genius scientist but instead get to listen to how each of their lives are rubbish and that Deadman feels he’s failed them. It’s not at all engaging and so dour that the big emotional cliffhanger doesn’t land.
The art from Bernard Chang is a bit of a mixed bag too; his gaunt figures and clean pencils lend themselves well to the tone of the book with Deadman himself looking particularly good. However his figures are sometimes too oddly contorted with weird facial expressions and in moments where a visually interesting image could lift an information dump, there are instead just a lot of people standing around with a glowing red outline.
I’ve been keeping up with Tim’s reviews for the other weeks of the new 52 and he’s had a couple of complaints of books “telling” and not “showing” and this seems to be another disappointing example of that trend. Deadman introduces some interesting concepts but doesn’t feel the need to explore them beyond concepts or indeed make any other part of the book interesting. It feels like a waste of potential of something that could have been one of the more fun titles of the DC relaunch.
Rating, the score I’m suggesting this book deserves, a final grade for the book: D+
Green Lantern Corps #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin
Reviewed by Bret
Guy Gardner and John Stewart. 2 of Earth’s Green Lanterns (or as they’re constantly called in this book “GL’s”) are feeling like they don’t have a place on their home planet any more and set out to investigate a rash of GL deaths that have occurred in Space Sector 3599. Sounds like it might be a bit much to a reader who’s unfamiliar with the DC Universe? Well actually no. The first issue of Green Lantern Corps makes the smart move and spends a couple of pages fully introducing both its main heroes and its villain. Not only that BUT it even manages to avoid introducing characters by having them just stand there and recite their life history. No no, here we’re treated to little side stories that sum up who it is that’s being introduced while still being entertaining.
I’ve never read any of Guy Gardner’s stuff and have always judged him by the fact that he insists on wearing his stupid collar up on his stupid waistcoat like some 80’s throw back. IT DIDN’T LOOK GOOD THEN GARDNER AND IT LOOKS EVEN WORSE NOW! However, I found myself liking Guy. I also found the so far nameless villain to be genuinely threatening. The art work doesn’t shy away from demonstrating violent murder in what is clearly going to a story in need of adult supervision. After killing some people in a way that reminded me of the laser beam scene in the Resident Evil movie (you know the one) I think the only way to make it any clearer exactly how bad that bad guy is, is to have him kick a puppy… maybe with laser beams…
Seriously though, this is clearly a very well thought out, character driven story that puts weight into making a highly sci-fi tale about aliens and outer space feel realistic and believable. It would have been an even better rating, but I just can’t forgive that waistcoat.
Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Francis Portela
Reviewed by Tim
What can you say about superhero names? They’re a tricky art – a lot of the good ones are gone, you need to strike an appropriate balance of iconic and character-driven, and when you sit down and actually think about it, even some of the established names are pretty ridiculous. Shadowcat? Green Lantern? Wonder Woman? We accept these names because we’ve grown up with them and because there’s a suspension of belief that you have to buy into. But I have to admit, the names in Legion kept pulling me out of the story. As awesome as a lot of the Silver Age was, names were often not the strong suit – there’s a reason “Speedy” became “Arsenal”. The Legion, which as far as I can tell began as a kind of galaxy spanning Teen Titans, and the names show this – they’re full of adolescent identifiers, which is fine if you’re playing up to that tone or dealing with young heroes, but when you have a character called Colossal Boy lamenting the loss of his wife, it breaks the flow. It doesn’t help that most of the characters are drawn as teens or young adults – apart from Star Boy WHO HAS A FULL GROWN BEARD.
Anyway, on with the actual review. Legion suffers from a lot of the same issues as Legion Lost. There’s little sense of a relaunch or continuity reboot here – past problems are mentioned with no guidance for new readers, the Flashpoint storyline is referenced, and characters come ready equipped with tons of baggage and issues with each other. The huge, sprawling cast doesn’t help – we deal with 16 named characters in the issue, plus enemies, and it’s a little bit of an information overload. It improves on Legion Lost’s exposition dump by using character detail box-outs that give us names, codenames and powers without forcing it in as un-natural sounding dialogue, and the characters are all fairly distinct looking.
The main thrust of the plot, with a group of Legionnaires investigating a gone-quiet base on a border planet, is simple enough for a first issue that’s also packed with subplot and flits around four different locations, and the artwork by Francis Portela is crisp and clean, with a good handle on the action and great detail work, especially in the lush alien backgrounds. The issue falls down, at least in terms of being a relaunch, by trying to cram in too much information. The signal to noise ratio is all off – Paul Levitz does a good job cramming in characterization where he can, but the issue could do with a lot more room to breathe.
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Eddy Barrows
Reviewed by Bret
And here it is. Seems I’ve been waiting for you Mr Grayson, without ever even knowing who you are. You see at some point when writing reviews you’ll be asked to give your opinion on something, and even though it’s good, doesn’t make any of the mistakes you normally look for and you know full well that all the fans will hold it high and say “This. This is what comics should be about” you know in your heart of hearts that you just didn’t like it. And pointing that out will ALWAYS upset someone.
Again I feel the need to state that Nightwing wasn’t a bad comic. It was very stylised and well drawn. The plot took it’s time to explain who Nightwing was and what he’s done in his life to get to where he is now. There were a couple of very nice fight scenes and it even showed us Nightwing’s home life as Dick Grayson to give us something to associate with as normal people. It all sounds great right? Well maybe.
I get the feeling that fans of Nightwing, Batman and DC in general will get a real kick out of it. The tone definitely nailed Gotham’s nitty-gritty hotbed of crime and sin, but it’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. Dick Grayson was likeable but, you know, nothing special. And the story? It was okay.
This is just going to be one of those things. If you disagree with my opinion you’re probably right. Read what I’ve written? What am I complaining about? Nothing really. It’s just… I didn’t care about the book. Any of it. Nothing grabbed my attention and everything felt like stories I’ve read a hundred times before. Well told yes, but still nothing that would want to make me go back and buy again.
Overall most people will love Nightwing, but there will be a small number of people out there who, like me, just don’t care enough to rate it higher. And it should feel grateful because I really wanted to give it a D.
Red Hood & The Outlaws #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort
Reviewed by Tim
The story, which sees Jason Todd and Starfire rescuing Arsenal from a Middle Eastern prison, and then planning their next move on a tropical island, could be an old X-Men arc compressed into one issue, with some reasonably well-executed action sequences and cryptic warnings about future broken up by the main characters lounging about in swimsuits, dealing with their personal lives. Kenneth Rocafort’s art is reminiscent of Jim Lee’s, if a little looser, but with a similar tendency towards cheesecake when it comes to female characters.
Admittedly, Starfire has always been a character built for the 13 year-old boy market, but the way she is portrayed emerging from the water like a Bond girl and offering no strings attached sex to Arsenal is more than a little skeevy, and there isn’t a single panel featuring her that doesn’t reek of sexualisation and male gaze. It’s off-putting in an otherwise acceptable first issue. There are a couple of witty one-liners in here (and a couple of stinkers) and I enjoy the way that Arsenal’s black eyes form a domino mask not unlike his costume (although I’m not sure if that’s intentional).
As for plot set up, the cryptic warnings from Essence (not a character I’m familiar with) fall a little flat without any context for them, but it feels like there’s some mythology at work behind the scenes here, and plans are being made for future plot developments. The characterisation falls a little short, with no real motivations for any of the characters presented, and little to distinguish them from each other beyond Starfire’s apparent emotional detachment/amnesia.
The further we get into this project, the more I am seeing three distinct strands in these first issues: the good, the bad and the depressingly mediocre. I’ve mentioned before the opportunity for reinvention and boundary pushing that this relaunch offers, and the more I read issues like this, that take no risks and offer nothing new, the more pointless the whole exercise seems.
C’mon, DC, you can do better than this!
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
Reviewed by Bret
Supergirl to me has always been more interesting as a character than Superman. Firstly because I’m a little shallow and she’s a gorgeous blond, but mostly because she wasn’t raised on Earth and so doesn’t always see things from a human perspective… and I like that. She’s not from around here and hasn’t been raised to be as caring towards her fellow man as good ol’ Clarkey boy was. That’s a good foundation to have DC tell some interesting stories which I can happily say they’ve nailed with their first issue of Supergirl’s new title.
To be honest, not a lot actually happens in the book. SPOILERS HERE! She crash lands on Earth like a meteorite, gets spotted by some military types who dispatch some men in battle-mechs to capture her. Then they fight. And that’s it. But, during what would seem like a very simple and possibly boring plot we really see the essence of what Supergirl is all about. She is a lost teenage girl who has no idea where she is, why she’s there or what’s going on. She’s panicked and frightened and under attack by strange robot looking things who don’t speak her language and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Imagine how you would feel if you woke up in a strange place and laser beams suddenly started blasting uncontrollably out of your eyes. Freaked out, I would wager.
The art work does a stunning job of underlining the confusion. There’s a single panel where she stops fighting for a second to look in horror at the blood on her hands which just captures the moment perfectly. My only criticism with the art was her costume. I don’t know if she’s either wearing skin coloured trousers or a Superthong but either way, I found the amount of crotch and bum shown to be a little distracting… especially as she’s only a young girl.
Overall, this isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking as not much actually happens. However, the content that is there avoids all of my normal complaints whilst managing to be heartfelt. But if you’re going to live in my house then you’re going to follow my rules and I will not have you leave the house looking like that young lady.
Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang
Reviewed by Michael
Before yesterday I don’t think I’ve read a Wonder Woman comic. I’ve obviously been exposed to Diana through various crossovers, the Justice League cartoon and my girlfriends pyjamas. I think I have a pretty decent idea of the concepts, the origin and some of the stuff fans are sensitive about but Wonder Woman, like a lot of the DC titles with long histories, always felt like it might be hard to get into. I know Wonder Woman exists in the same way that I know the pope exists but have never felt the need to read a comic book about him.
Armed with only a vague idea of the character and some background reading on the relaunch, which consisted of people arguing about what will cover Wonder Woman’s lower half and writer Brian Azzarello saying this will be more of a horror book, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. What Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang present to us is a book with the Greek Gods at the centre. It is a world where the debauchery and murderous nature of the Gods is still around in the modern day and Wonder Woman is placed in the middle of it all, defending humanity from the horrors they face from the Gods’ meddlings. It’s an interesting take on the character and bringing the mythological side of the character to the forefront is something I personally enjoyed.
The book opens with one such God (I think it’s Apollo as there’s a ‘sun’ pun and he changes appearance upon sun rise but it’s a different depiction of Apollo than I’ve seen before and it is never made explicit) who leads three mortal women to a penthouse before turning them into his fates and sacrificing them by the end of the book. From there we segue to another God in a hooded peacock cloak (thus suggesting it’s Hera) who promptly hacks off two horses heads in order to birth centaurs. It’s an entirely silent scene carried by Chiang’s artwork who balances the feminine grace of Hera with the grotesque creature creation. These centaurs are sent to kill a young lady named Zola all because she’s been impregnated by Zeus. With Hermes (actually named) failing to protect her, he sends her via magic key to a slumbering Wonder Woman. Because Zola is both frightened and headstrong she uses the key to transport both her and Wonder Woman to Hermes and the heavily armed centaurs. Wonder Woman is a little more suited to fighting and she takes down the centaurs whilst the captions relay Apollo’s conversation with his Fates and this leads to the final revelations of the issue in both strands of the plot.
Coupled with earthy, vibrant colours from Mathew Wilson, Cliff Chiang’s art is a wonderful thing to behold; his storytelling is fluid and exciting and his facial expressions tell us everything we need to know. Even though there’s no dialogue in the fight scene, we see all the emotions and reactions Diana and Zola go through whilst throwing in some cool fight moves. Coupled with Azzarello’s dialogue the comic is able to simultaneously show and tell and better connect us to the characters.
It’s hard to say what a new reader might want or expect from the comic but I feel like we didn’t learn too much about Diana, about her motivations or origins; all I really felt I learned was that she likes to sleep naked and head-butt horse-people. And perhaps the parts with the Gods could have used a bit more clarity, some names might help the uninitiated. However I think the things left unsaid make the comic more intriguing rather than vague or confusing.