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Project 52

Project 52: The Aftermath

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up Project 52’s coverage of the DC Comics relaunch. It didn’t take long for us to start jonesing for more, and so we all got together in a dark corner of the internet, and laid out our thoughts on the relaunch, the comics, and the process of reading and reviewing a hell of a lot of comics. The results, heavily cut down to make them faintly readable, are produced below. How many of your titles will you be picking up next month, now you’re not reviewing them?Michael: Batman and Wonder Woman. Snyder has a good take on Batman and I really want to see how he writes Bruce Wayne some more. I’m a Greek Mythology nut so I like that they’re playing that up in Wonder Woman.Alex: In my case…. Action Comics, because Grant Morrison is Grant Morrison and I want to know where he’s going with it all. Swamp Thing, because it was brilliant and the art was sumptuous.Oh, and probably Wonder Woman and Batman, though I might wait for the digital copies to drop in price after a month. With the exception of Swamp Thing, though, they’re all just out of curiosity of what they’ll do with it.Bret: Animal Man and the Green Lantern one that I’ve already forgotten the name of. The one with Kyle Rayner [New Guardians]. I would also like to pick up Action Comics #1 as I never actually read it.Tim: I think the only thing I’m going back to in singles will be Frankenstein, but I’ll definitely pick up some in trades. Probably Aquaman, Wonder Woman (I’m a myth nut too) and Birds of Prey.Oh – I might do singles for Stormwatch too, but that’s more for affection for the characters than on the strength of the first issue, which looking back was probably weaker than I originally thought. And I’ll steal Bret’s Animal Man and New Guardians. Will you be buying anything when it comes out in collected trades?Alex: I’ll probably pick up the trade of Batwoman, and maybe Justice League Dark if it gets good reviews.Bret: To be honest, now that I think about it I’m probably going to wait till they’re all out in trades. I’ve just never been a fan of singles really. I wanna read the whole story at once, not in parts.Tim: Writing for the trade is a real problem that this relaunch highlighted. It feels like few people know how to write a compelling single issue anymore.Alex: My non-comics-reading friend Geoff was asking about that from reading the reviews, actually. He’s looking for comics recommendations at the moment, but we totally put him off the idea of reading single issues.Michael: I really think this relaunch would have been stronger if the first issues felt complete and managed to hook people. Relatively speaking, we’re all non-DC readers: what preconceptions did you have about what makes DC comics different, and did this impact on your enjoyment?Michael: I think DC is better known for their cosmic stuff now than some of the other companies. Marvel has the street-level characters and DC has the Gods, and those who live amongst the starsBret: DC for me is now summed up by the idea of great powers and some flimsy characters behind them, like we got back in the four-colour days.Alex: My opinion of DC has always been tied up with the idea of convoluted continuity we mentioned in a lot of the reviews. For example, I’ve also been rereading Final Crisis, and while I enjoyed it, I still have no real idea what’s going on or who half the characters are.Tim: It varied from title to title. The two Legion titles were almost completely incomprehensible to a newbie, but I thought something like Aquaman did well by relying on general public perception of the character, rather than lots of continuity nods.Michael: I actually think my very vague perception of Deadman hindered my reading of it in a different way. I was slightly aware of the character from his appearances in the animated DC Universe and yet I was still put off by the amount of time the book spent telling me the new status quo.Tim: It was a tricky balancing act as far as status quo and continuity goes – trying to make things accessible to new readers without alienating old ones, and explaining how things sit in the new relaunch without turning issue one into a flood of exposition. That ties back into the whole ‘done in one’ first issue thing – if you give yourself one issue to hook people in, they’re more likely to stay if Issue #2 is explaining the character’s place in the new universe for all the continuity nerds out there.[Ten minutes are spent grumbling about continuity, the minutiae of how everything fits together DC’s new ‘Five Years’ timeline, and suggesting DC might already be writing themselves into another Crisis.]Bret: …Ultimately though (and I feel this is something DC just doesn’t understand) story is more important in a comic than continuity. If you can tell a good tale, it shouldn’t matter if it lines up with something that happened 30 years ago. That said, there is that weird woman in red. I take it you all spotted her? It looks like she appears in every issue.Tim: Yeah. Maybe a year down the line, she’ll have a miniseries just explaining how all the continuity lines up. I’m sure it will be riveting reading.Michael: Seems like she might be there for DC to take this all back if they need to. An escape strategy. What were your first impressions, and what do you think will be the lasting legacy of this relaunch?Bret: When I heard about the New 52, I wasn’t excited. I just rolled my eyes.Michael: I honestly thought it could be a good idea in theory. If they stick to it. I think it’s one of the best chances comics have ever had to bring in new readers, […]

Project 52, Week Five: Comparing notes on Justice League Dark

And so we find ourselves at the end of our little adventure at last. Five weeks, four gentlemen of the blogosphere, 52 comics. Somehow, we reviewed ’em all. So, to celebrate, let’s finish off with a double review: Alex vs Bret on… Justice League Dark #1 Written by Peter MilliganArt by Mikel Janin Bret’s Review: You know that feeling you get? When you’re surrounded by cool people talking about cool things and you don’t have any idea what’s being said but you know you’d better keep damn quiet and pray you don’t get asked a question, because you know full well if you open your mouth you’ll sound like a fool? [deep breath after long sentence] …That’s the feeling I got from Justice League Dark. I feel like this comic was better than good but I honestly don’t know why. I’ll start with the bits I fully understood. The Justice League, after having investigated some kooky goings on, have narrowed down their suspects to the Enchantress who then swiftly defeats them with magic. Against Batman’s will, Zatanna decides magic is her thing and so steps up to deal with the threat. That’s all we see of that side of the story and it’s only 6 pages worth. The rest of the time is spent introducing this new other team who I should imagine will join forces to defeat the foe which the Justice League could not. HOWEVER! I don’t know who most of these new guys are. DC have taken a stance of “our characters are so bad ass they don’t need introducing” and normally I’d have a problem with that but here I get the feeling that it’s my fault I don’t know who anyone is! As I know characters such as Deadman, Shade the Changing Man and John Constantine have all had their own solo titles I feel like DC have essentially put all these guys together in one book. And the nerd part of me that was obsessed with collecting all 150 Pokemon LOVES the fact that they’re doing that. It’s what I loved about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. But here I don’t know who anyone is (except for John Constantine who I now know is a 100% English stereotype, complete with use of the words “geezer”, “bloody” and “bollocks”) Did any of this make the book less fun for me? No. I actually really liked it. The scene with the June Moons on the motorway really made me sit up and pay attention. The characters first appearances were handled nicely as well. Even though they didn’t give a full explanation as to who everyone was or what they could do, I got the sense that it was deliberate which I’m okay with as long as it suits the story. It’s got some great art work to boot and every scene has some stunning backgrounds. Overall, it was a very good book, let down only by the fact that it had so much content that it couldn’t fit an entire story into its first issue. There have been worse comic crimes by far. Rating: B- Alex’s Review: I guess it’s probably a sign of just how many comics I’ve read of this New 52, but everything is beginning to meld into one. It happened with The Dark Knight, and now it’s happening with this. Odd bits and pieces of it reminded me of other issues, but I couldn’t tell which ones, exactly. Justice League Dark is basically equal parts Demon Knights and Swamp Thing. Bad global things are afoot, outside of the standard Justice League jurisdiction. Bad magical things. And so a collection of weird, magicky characters – drawn largely from the Vertigo stable – have to team up and sort it all out. Most of whom get the spotlight for a page or two, which establishes them nicely. And… that’s about it really. All the pieces are set (more than Justice League #1, but less than Animal Man #1, for anyone playing along at home). There are a few nice ideas, especially in how the magic threats manifest themselves, that feel more neatly integrated than Demon Knights’ ever did. The proper Justice League (the one we haven’t seen come together yet, back in the actual Justice League title) fail to fight off a swarm of rotting teeth in a series of panels that heavily recall Swamp Thing’s horror scenes… This is the last comic I’m reviewing for Project 52, and it’s late at night and I’m tired. All of these might explain why everything feels so amorphous, so melted into one. But it’s started to happen, and while Justice League Dark is a good comic, it’s unmistakably a victim of this. There’s nothing – except Janin’s Irving-esque digital art – that makes it stand clearly out from the rest of the fantasy/horror-tinted titles I’ve read. It doesn’t help that two of its characters are shared with other titles – DC Universe Presents’ Deadman, Demon Knights’ Madame Xanadu… Already, to gather material for this review, I’m flicking repeatedly back through it. Already I can feel the onset of: Now, which one was it? With all the creepy stuff… The one with the green dude? Maybe? No? I’m absolutely sure it had Superman in it… Rating: B- This has been Project 52. Thank you, and good night.

Project 52, Week Five (Teen Titans/Hawkman/Dark Knight/Firestorm/Superman)

And so we near the final curtain. Reviews #47-51 of Project 52 include the new rather garish-looking Teen Titans, Tim taking a look at the relaunch’s two most ridiculously named titles, and close on the title that Imogen “Smallville-fancier” Dale said was the only one she’d be interested in reading about – Superman #1. Teen Titans #1Written by Scott LobdellArt by Brett BoothReviewed by Bret The first word in the comic summed it up for me. “Meh”. It was okay, Teen Titans didn’t do anything wrong, it was just very average. I think Teen Titans is probably feeling the wrath I’ve been building up whilst reading a lot of DC’s new 52 because SO MANY of them commit the same crime. And it’s not a big crime, but when you add all those little crimes from all the separate stories it starts to become like Kid Flash’s middle name. A problem. See, on the cover of Teen Titans #1 there are quite clearly seven characters. How many do we meet in issue 1? Four. One of whom is only on the last page as what I feel is a desperate attempt to say “look! We do have more coming next issue! Spend money here again!”. But I’m sorry, that attitude isn’t good enough if you’re going to relaunch all your major titles purely because someone like me, who is reading A LOT OF THEM, is going to pick and choose the best of the bunch and go back and buy those and ONLY those. That means you can’t hint that the good stuff in your comic is coming later, you need to show the good stuff NOW because you are in competition with all the other new comics and I can’t afford to continue to read them all. SO! That’s what let Teen Titans down. We get a good explanation as to who Red Robin is, a bit of an explanation as to who Kid Flash is and less again for Wonder Girl, who made it quite clear that her name isn’t actually Wonder Girl… but never told us what it really was. So like it or lump it sister, you’re now getting called “Wonder Girl” from here on out. The art was nice and really did of good job of the action sequences which in turn helped to avoid large blocks of text when introducing characters. But again, quite frankly it’s not enough to make up for the lack of plot. Don’t get me wrong a lot happens but I feel like I just watched the first half hour of Mission: Impossible and then had Tom Cruise turn to me and ask what I thought. As Ramona said to Scott, it’ll sound great when it’s finished. Overall, as what feels to me like a work in progress I honestly don’t feel I can rate this comic. I’m sure it’ll be much better once it gets underway BUT they chose not to do that so I’m stuck giving Teen Titans a C. It’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a great story that could have been told in 20 pages, but as I won’t be coming back I guess I’ll never get to read it. Rating: C The Savage Hawkman #1Written by Tony S. DanielArt by Philip TanReviewed by Tim Hawkman, like Aquaman, is one of the B-list DC heroes who stood to benefit greatly from the relaunch. While semi-recognisable to the vaguely-comics-aware public, he suffered from slightly goofy powers, a horrendously complicated origin and backstory, and a terrible costume. While Aquaman addressed the preconceptions that people may have had about the character and simplified the origin to the essential core, The Savage Hawkman instead adds a new layer onto the character and complicates his mythology even further. And while Aquaman’s costume remains about as bad as it always was, Hawkman’s has got even worse. The issue starts engagingly, with Carter Hall dragging the Hawkman armour out to the woods to bury it, and once and for all say goodbye to life as a hero. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned, and he finds himself with new armour that appears from underneath his skin (how very Iron Man) and fighting an ancient alien symbiote thing (how very Venom). It’s a decent enough gimmick to make the character feel a bit more relevant and able to compete with the other heavy-hitters of the DC universe, but a relaunch should be about stripping a character back to their core and finding what works, not piling new information on. To writer Tony S. Daniel’s credit, we’re not made to feel like we have to know much of Hawkman’s background, but by making his “Nth Metal” armour such a key component of the story, you’re already saddling us with assumed knowledge. The art by Philip Tan is gorgeous, with a painterly style that matches the tone of the comic very well, lending it an old-school adventure feel that works with the idea of Carter Hall as a heroic, Indiana Jones-style archaeologist, and Tan even manages to make Hawkman’s armour seem threatening and aesthetically pleasing. However, the costume, like the comic itself, has taken something that more or less functioned and rather than explore what actually worked, has decided to instead just add a load of extra stuff on top (A shield that’s a claw! And his axe should also be a mace! More spikes! More explosions!) And Morphicius is a terrible name for a villain. He sounds like a subspecies of climbing shrub. Rating: B- Batman – The Dark Knight#1Written by David Finch & Paul JenkinsArt by David FinchReviewed by AlexDid you read last week’s Batman #1, as reviewed by the eternally handsome Michael Eckett? If so, I can save you $2.99, right here and now. Loosen the staples holding that issue together, switch the pages around a bit and you’ve pretty much got Batman: Dark Knight #1. That’s not exactly a criticism, but… Look, both comics open with captions of Batman […]

Project 52, Week Five (Voodoo/Aquaman/i, Vampire/All-Star Western/Blackhawks/Flash)

Part two of this, the final week of Project 52’s reviews of every single #1 in the DC’s New 52 initiative, brings our most surprisingly positive review yet, an angry inner dialogue on sexual politics, and what Bret has been teasing on Twitter as a “430 word bitch slap” straight to the face of the Fastest Man Alive. Voodoo #1Written by Ron MarzArt by Sami BasriReviewed by Alex Immediately before reading this comic, I did something potentially rather silly. After last week’s apparently rather pervy selection of comics, I read Laura Hudson’s piece on Catwoman and Starfire’s apparent ‘liberated sexuality’. It was a well considered, satisfying read which filled me with exactly the right type of righteous indignation. Then I did something much, much sillier: I read the comments. To quote one choice example: “Sorry PC Police!!! – The Perverts & Fan Boys are taking Back comics!! – just like in Video Games & Japanese Anime – You’re sorry ass Gender blurring B.S. doesn’t sell. NO One wants your Close-Minded “world view” and twisted social gender role restructuring. DC wants to get NEW readers and by New they mean one’s that are “Normal” and don’t hate Sex” So when I opened Voodoo, and was greeted by the sight of our heroine on all fours, displaying her cleavage to the reader, surrounded by dollar bills, I … it didn’t make me feel good about humanity. It turns out this ‘Voodoo’ (apparently DC’s first black female to get her own ongoing series) is a stripper with a mysterious past. And so it is that we’re treated to a page of her dancing and posing in her pants, before cutting away to the comic’s actual characters: two government agents – one woman, one man – watching the show. It is at this exact point that my mind splits in two. Alex #1 [reading page three]: Ah, okay. I see what they’re doing here: the guy’s not being played sympathetically. He’s got big reflective shades on. I’ve done enough Film Studies to know my audience metaphors: the shades hide his eyes, the way a screen or page removes us from the reality of pornography. He’s the Male Gaze, and he is not an attractive prospect. Alex #2: But what exactly is it that’s being reflected in those shades? A woman stripping, in comics’ classic far-as-we-can-go-without-being-softcore cheesecake fashion. And [page four] here’s a waitress encouraging him, also with a big rack and a top we can conveniently see down in every single panel. Alex #1 [page six]: Ah. Um… Hang on! Here’s the ballsy female agent. The one that straight up told the pervy audience metaphor he was a jackass and stormed out. And look! Her non-stripper presence has irked some underage gentlemen trying to get eyes-on with their first pair of titties. These men are definitely not sympathetic. They called her ‘lady’… Alex #2: …and then immediately accuse her of either “looking to party” or being a lesbian. Alex #1: Exactly! Unsympathetic! They’re That Guy from the comments thread. And [page eight] she just knocked them all out. Damn satisfying. Alex #2: I’ll concede that. Look I was about to make an argument about the problems with the Female Hardass archetype, but [page nine] we’ve cut to the strip joint’s dressing room. Where all the woman are conveniently in the process pulling their tops off. Alex #1: It certainly is all very Showgirls… with the standard ‘oh, we’re all doing it to pay for college/our kids’ clichés and bitching about the “balding fatty” clients. Um, is Showgirls feminist or misogynist? I forget. Alex #2 [page twelve]: Shhh, it’s time for another action scene. By which I of course mean stripping. Which goes on for … [page fifteen] four pages! Alex #1: (During which, to be fair, the sunglasses fall to the ground with a noise that, if you listen closely enough, sounds distinctly like ‘METAPHOR!’) [page sixteen] But that’s all okay because Hardass Lady Agent’s back and… Alex #2: …and she’s having sex with the male agent and wants him back so she won’t be alone tonight. [page seventeen] Before jumping back to more stripping! Alex #1: Yes. But stripping intercut with a one-panel moment of horrible surgical violence and [page eighteen] Voodoo’s transformation into a big scaly monster. Alex #2: A monster which is still wearing lacy pants and has its breasts covered by a few demure strands of hair. Alex #1: Thus turning both of those cheesecakey signifiers inside out, surely? Who’s turned on by the breasts of the Creature From The Black Lagoon? Alex #2: C’mon, Alex, you’ve been on Deviantart. Alex #1: Ick. But… [page nineteen] the violence! The blood! The return of the shades and the dead open eyes of the pervy audience-representative. This can’t be meant to turn anyone on, can it? Alex #2: Can it? And I can’t decide. This is either a clever satire which plays with your expectations by titillating, titillating, and then dropping a big boner-killing landmine in your lap, or a prime example of comics’ dodgy politics, which remembers on the last few pages it’s supposed to be a thrilling sci-fi story. Either way, it’s all told very competently, setting up three characters, killing one off and ending with a compelling thrust to the next issue. And, when it’s not focusing on improbable breasts, Sami Basri’s art is beautiful and complemented well by Jessica Kholinne’s colours. But at the end of the day how much I like this comic boils down to which Alex is right and so… Alex #1’s Rating: A-Alex #2’s Rating: E Aquaman #1 Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Ivan ReisReviewed by Tim Poor Aquaman can’t get no respect. He’s the ruler of 70% of the Earth’s surface, but to most people, he’s a cheap punchline, the guy who talks to fish, who rides a dolphin to emergencies and can’t help out unless the fight is taking place next to a convenient inlet, or possibly a fjord. Geoff Johns takes […]

Project 52, Week Five: Comparing Notes on… Green Lantern New Guardians

It’s the final week of DC’s New 52 wave of #1 issues, and the final week of Project 52. So in celebration/memorium, let’s play with the format a bit. Starting with Tim and Bret having the kind of verbal intercourse I can only have in my head. Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 – A Discussion, between Mssrs Timothy Maytom and Brettania Canny (Written by Tony BedardArt by Tyler Kirkham) Tim: What did you feel about this one? Bret: I…liked it. As I’ve said, I’m still new to the DC universe, but Green Lantern’s always been someone whose interested me. I like the idea of the power, but at the same time, I didn’t realise you could have more than one at the same time until I started reading these. Having now read Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps and been introduced to three of the four Lanterns, now there’s this new guy. And from the single issues that I’ve read, this guy’s actually my favourite. T: Kyle Rayner, from when I’ve read pre-reboot stuff, was always my favourite. The way that he replaced Hal Jordan, and then Hal came back, always reminded me of a story from the ’60s, when Stan Lee was writing Spider-Man. No matter what they did when writing Gwen Stacy, they couldn’t make her as interesting as Mary Jane, even though Gwen was meant to be Spidey’s true love. So in the end, they just gave up, and made Mary Jane the love of his life, and it feels like the opposite of that with Green Lanterns. Kyle Rayner is always the more interesting one, and yet they make Hal Jordan the main hero. B: He was there first, and it goes with DC’s love of their history and origin stories, which ties into the whole reboot thing. The beginnings are seen as more important than the journey the characters have been through. But having read New Guardians, I’m confused. In Justice League, we see Hal Jordan five years ago as an established hero. In Green Lantern Corps, we see John Stewart and Guy Gardner, look at me with the knowledge, head off to the Green Lantern planet and it’s all hunky dory. But in this issue, we go there, and everyone’s dead, and we have to assume it’s at the same time. T: There’s a bit later in the book that says “Present Day” but does that mean anything before it was in the past, or what? B: Yeah, page one, and everyone on Green Lantern Planet is dead, and the blue guy is saying “I’ll use the remains of my power to make this last ring” and unless you’ve killed off three Green Lanterns off-panel, it’s not really the last ring. And does Kyle Rayner live under a rock? Because when he gets his powers, the blue guy says, “Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps” and Kyle says, “Welcome to the what?” like he’s never heard of them. T: We establish in the issue that people know who they are; you have people saying, “I like the one with the brown hair” and stuff. B: They do seem to be tying it into other titles, like this Red Lantern with the bat wings appears in Red Lanterns, but she seemed like she was being set up as a major character there, and if she’s now being ported over to here, it makes me wonder if they’ve mucked [-keepin’ it clean ed] up their timeline already. T: Having not read any of the other Green Lantern titles, I quite liked this issue. I thought it did a good job of establishing Kyle Rayner; it introduced some of these other Lanterns, as this is the multi-Lantern title. It didn’t really explain why they were being brought together, but there’s the sense of a mystery beneath it all, what with the whole “everyone on GL Planet is dead”. B: This scratches that itch I have for collection, what with the “one of every colour” concept, and if I were going to read a Green Lantern title, it would probably be this one. T: Is that on the merits of this issue, or more to do with the concept behind it? B: Well, there are three factors. One: I liked Kyle Rayner. Two: I like the “there’s a different ring for each emotion” idea, and if I was going to write something in this universe, that’s the kind of book I’d write, that threw these characters together. And Three: I always appreciate a book that’s willing to say “I have a story to tell, rest of the universe be damned”, much like X-Factor does for Marvel, and I feel like this could have a similar attitude. T: It’s very much a set-up issue; not a lot happens. There’s a really nice splash of him saving a crane from falling down, which shows off why I like Kyle Rayner, as he really puts the whole “your ring can do anything” to use. In Justice League, we had Hal Jordan making jets, ‘cos he’s a pilot, and here you have giant ’40s workmen saving stuff, which I find cool. I’m not so sure it’s going to be one of these books where the writer has a story to tell and is just using the toys from the universe, but I get that it could be that. We have all these different characters forced together… B: And it’s not just that they’re different, they’re representing a lot of directly opposing concepts, which I think is cool. As a story on it’s own, it’s okay. The art is fine. T: Yeah, there were a couple of nice pages like that splash, but it’s mostly passable without being special. B: I’ve sort of accepted that most of DC’s first issues aren’t telling a complete story, which is a shame, because you could have done that here with some tweaking, but I also can’t think of many other actual origin stories, with a character […]

Project 52: Week Four

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. Batman #1Written by Scott SnyderArt by Greg CapulloReviewed 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. Rating: A Birds of Prey #1Written by Duane SwierczynskiArt by Jesus SaizReviewed 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. Rating: A Blue Beetle #1Written by Tony BedardArt by Ig GuaraReviewed 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 […]

Project 52, Week Three (Mr Terrific/Demon Knights/Deathstroke/Suicide Squad/Legion Lost/Superboy/Grifter)

Grifter #1Written by Nathan EdmonsonArt by CafuReviewed by Alex A few years back, there was this TV programme called Lost. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it; apparently DC haven’t, given that the logo for Legion Lost (reviewed below by Tim) looks like this: And it’s fine that DC have never seen, nor heard of, this moderately successful TV programme. Some would argue, after that ending, that it’s actually for the best for them. But you’d think they’d at least have a researcher with his eye on these popular TV things, in case something like Grifter ever happened. Okay, so Grifter stars a ever-so-slightly-Southern conman with long blonde hair and swarthy good looks. I’m not great at visual description, so in case you need help, he looks roughly like this: …oops, sorry, I meant like this… I’m being unfair, aren’t I? I pulled the oldest trick in the book there, switching the pictures round for a cheap laugh. It was beneath me and I apologise. And I’m led to believe that Grifter is a pre-existing character (and frankly, looking at that costume, he could only be a product of the ’90s). However, what I’m saying is: if you have a character who is really rather similar to another character so embedded in the collective pop-culture consciousness, it might not be all that wise to open your first issue on an aeroplane. And as the weird stuff on that aeroplane starts to mount, and you make dark references to mysteries not yet of the reader’s ken, it might not be the best idea to start revealing that by flashing back to the character’s life before things got all weird. And then proceeds onto several shocking reveals, including a ‘messing with your sense of time’ twist. (Admittedly, there are aliens or some such. Which Lost didn’t have. However, which existing Lost-ripoff The Event did have. On an aeroplane. With someone pulling something out from under their skin, in a slightly gross way, as also happens here.) I mean no disrespect to Nathan Edmonson here. I’ve heard Who is Jake Ellis? is a fine comic book, but this issue seriously reads like he got the call from DC, found out he’d pulled the short straw labelled ‘Grifter’, and decided to spend his advance getting bombed in his flat in the company of a couple of boxsets. Which, being fair, is exactly what I’d do too. LAD. Rating: E Mister Terrific #1Written by Eric WallaceArt by Gianluca GugliottaReviewed by Tim A character called ‘Mister Terrific’ is always going to have his work cut out for him. For someone who is presented as the third smartest man in the world, as well as a billionaire businessman, you’d have thought he would have invested in some market research first. It’s been interesting reading the second- and third-tier titles of this new DC Universe for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that each has been establishing their particular corner of the world. Men of War’s primary strip showed us war in a super-powered world, Stormwatch took us into the renegade black-ops weirdness just under the surface of traditional superhero antics, and Resurrection Man began exploring the cosmology and metaphysical roots of the New 52. As well as establishing a tone for the title, they also stake out a boundary in this new, different world. War is like this, angels work like this; while the big names tell their stories in the centre of the universe, the smaller titles are out at the fringes, marking territory. Mister Terrific seems set to do this for the realm of super-science in the new DCU. Having finished the comic, I took some time to think about science-based heroes in the DCU, and realised there are remarkably few. In the Marvel world, you can’t move without tripping over a scientist-hero (Iron Man, half of the Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner, whatever Hank Pym’s calling himself nowadays…) whereas in DC comics, there’s Steel, the Atom and Mister Terrific, and that’s about it. Sure, Batman is supposed to be a scientific genius, but that’s not how he’s framed by stories, and that’s not the world he inhabits. Maybe it’s that so many of the characters were devised in the ’30s, when there was less of sense of scientific exploration, and a lingering resentment towards the big business figures who’d let the Great Depression happen. Who knows? But it’s clear that there’s a vacancy for a scientific figurehead in the DC universe, and Mister Terrific aims to fill it. You’ll notice that I haven’t actually said anything about the comic itself yet, and that’s mainly because it left very little impression. It was fine as an opening slice of superhero action. Eric Wallace establishes the character, his supporting cast and his little corner of the world well enough, and Gianluca Gugliotta’s art tells the story with the minimum of fuss and enough spark to keep it moderately interesting; but both as a character and as a first issue, Mister Terrific has very little to make him pop. His origins feel so entirely generic that they give the character no real definition, and the story we’re presented with, while competent, has none of the sense of wonder or exploration that science heroes should inspire, and never truly breaks out any of the weird and impossible technology or concepts that the book could support. There’s nothing especially wrong with the issue, but it feels like superheroes-by-numbers, and the opportunity that these first issues present to reinvigorate characters shouldn’t be squandered on such generic fare.Rating: C- Demon Knights #1Written by Paul CornellArt by Diógenes NevesReviewed by Alex I want to like this comic, I do. There’s a lot to like about it (okay, here be spoilers). An exploding possessed baby which, continuing the trend of the DC New 52 embracing the horror genre, is genuinely creepy. The love triangle between Xanadu, the demon fella you see to the right there, Etrigan, and his human […]

Project 52, Week Three (Green Lantern/Batwoman/Resurrection Man/Frankenstein/Batman & Robin/Red Lanterns)

Welcome to week three of the new DC Universe, and week three of Project 52. In this edition we’re playing with one of my favourite things in the world: symmetry. We’re starting out with the star of this summer’s most high-profile flop, Mr G. Lantern, before moving over to Batman. The wonderful centrepiece is provided by Tim, with two of the smaller-name titles of the New 52 launch. And then it’s back to the Batverse, and out with the naughty Red Lanterns. Green Lantern #1Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Doug MahnkeReviewed by Bret This is complicated for me. Having just read Green Lantern #1, I want to write two very different reviews. The first would say that it’s been refreshing to read a book from DC’s New 52 starring one of their main characters that actually turned out to be quite good. From other mainstream stories I’ve read I’ve come under the impression that it’s only DC’s more obscure or wacky line-up that can deliver the goods, whereas their main characters haven’t moved far past simple four-colour stories of amazing powers, with no real depth. However, I’m happy to report that Green Lantern tells an interesting tale of how longtime Green Lantern villain, Sinestro, has been given a green power ring that gives him amazing abilities, whilst long time hero, Hal Jordan, has lost his ring and now has to adjust to a life full of bad dates and eviction notices. It’s an interesting read seeing Jordan fail on every level while, in contrast, Sinestro has been given power and tasked to take down the former members of his Yellow Lanterns. The pacing is good, and they manage to introduce the characters without large chunks of text to wade through. Even the art is nice AND we’re treated to an action sequence or two which actually feel plot relevant. All good, you might think? Well yes, but then there is that other review sneaking around in the back of my mind. The one that says “Hey, you only know who these guys are from ‘cos you’re geekier than your average Joe. And isn’t this a first issue? Aimed at people who haven’t been uber-geeks since before the Spice Girls were famous? Yes everyone knows who the Spice Girls are now, but that’s my point dude! Stop changing subject! Green Lantern TOTALLY assumes that you know who Sinestro is and who the Sinestro Corps are. It even expects you to know where Hal Jordan has been for the past few years, why he hasn’t been on earth AND how he lost his ring. That to me sounds like a lot of assuming to be made. Especially if this book is aimed at first-time readers.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for this comic to have history. It’s clearly left them to tell an interesting tale. But wasn’t the point of “The New 52” to be just that? “New”? And having read Green Lantern #1, I feel a little cheated. Like I now need to go back to the comic shop and say “Hey, are you sure this is issue 1? ‘Cos I need to read something to bring me up to speed on exactly what’s happening with these guys. And also, you remember the Spice Girlsm right?” but then I suppose that’s what Wikipedia is for. Filling in the holes left by lazy writers. A decent story makes Green Lantern a B. The fact that if I didn’t already know what was going on I wouldn’t have enjoyed it makes it an F. So we’ll go half way and say…Rating: C- Batwoman #1Written by W. Haden Blackman & J.H. Williams IIIArt by J.H. Williams IIIReviewed by Alex I hadn’t read Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ acclaimed Batwoman run on Detective Comics, nor had I read the #0 issue last year. So please excuse me for saying some things that will be stupidly obvious to anyone who did. This is an incredibly good-looking book. It’s the girl at the party with everyone’s eyes on her, as J.H. Williams does his usual shtick of mixing painterly wobbly-framed segments with more traditional inked art. When it comes to comics’ combination of words and pictures, my interest tends to fall firmly on the textual side. But what sticks about my two dips into this issue is how it looked. It’s reminiscing the next morning about talking to that girl, the alcoholic haze not dimming your memory of the way she moved, but not remembering a word she said. Your friend suggest, uncharitably, that she must be empty-headed. And that’s not fair: Batwoman’s story is interesting enough, it’s just that the memories of how it’s told keep getting in the way. The page that lays out all the exposition around its edges, in a series of images that suggest a dozen artists illustrating Batwoman’s past. The skull-faced baddie wearing a suit, with a pink novelty tie. The panel borders shaped into logos and thunderbolts… There’s something to be said about how Batwoman isn’t interested in this relaunch. It wasn’t born of the New 52 – that last #0 issue was nearly a full year ago and this issue was scheduled months earlier. It’s a straight continuation of the Detective Comics story. But it still works as a #1, lays out everything you need to know effortlessly. Or, at least, I think it does. I just keep thinking about that art… Rating: B+ Resurrection Man #1Written by Dan Abnett & Andy LanningArt by Fernando DagninoReviewed by Tim Resurrection Man, one of the lower-tier titles in DC’s relaunch, poses an interesting question. When your hero’s power is coming back from the dead, how do you put him in peril? This series answer seems to be: get metaphysical on his ass, as the issue quickly establishes that Resurrection Man is somehow involved in a struggle between Heaven and Hell (albeit hidden behind references to “Upstairs” and the “Basement Office”). The whole Jesus parallel has yet to be raised, […]

Project 52, Week Two (Batgirl/Justice League International/OMAC/Hawk & Dove)

The last lot of this week’s reviews. This time it’s one of the most interesting/controversial comics to come out of the relaunch, with the de-disabled Batgirl; the second Justice League title; our first proper trashing, and a piece I think we’ll all remember as ‘My Man Ommy’. If I might be so self-congratulatory, I reckon this is the best set of reviews yet (note that my contributions to this post are minimal). 14 comics down, 38 to go. Bring it. Batgirl #1Written by Gail SimoneArt by Ardian SyafReviewed by Tim There is so much to be gleaned about Batgirl from the wonderful front cover by Adam Hughes. The art is of the high standard one has come to expect from Hughes, detailed without being too busy, painterly but with a pop sensibility. Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl isn’t sexualised, nor is she striking an aggressive pose, but instead is leaping forward, into action. And she’s smiling! She looks like she actually enjoys being a superhero! Batgirl was always going to be an interesting relaunch, after they announced that Barbara Gordon was once again going to be taking up the mantle, but they weren’t going to retcon away her shooting by the Joker and subsequent paralysis. Given that, in her guise as Oracle, Barbara become such a symbol for disabled comics readers, someone they could identify with who wasn’t defined by her disability, it seemed strange and downright regressive of DC to change the status quo in this regard. Most comic readers never knew Barbara as anyone other than Oracle, so there was no great clamouring for her to be restored. Still, with Gail Simone writing, I trusted that the transition would be at least smooth, if not perfect. Like with Batwing, the breathing room that dealing with a single hero as opposed to a group is evident here. However, where Batwing used that space to allow Ben Oliver’s stunning art to shine, Batgirl instead crams in twice as much story. No decompression here! It’s a credit to Simone’s mastery of writing that the issue doesn’t feel weighed down or overly stuffed by the various storylines at work here (prologue, action sequence, introducing supporting cast, more action, flashbacks) and instead feels solidly packed with a great mix of plot and characterisation. We are quickly given a firm grasp on Barbara as a character struggling to readjust to the heroic life, but nonetheless determined to put a positive spin on things. Unlike her mentor Batman, Batgirl brings levity and wit to her escapades, which makes her dramatic freezing under pressure all the more shocking. The art by Ardian Syaf is nothing extraordinary, but does a very solid job of storytelling, with enough creativity in the layouts to keep things interesting and the action sequences fast-paced and flowing. Whether taking Barbara out of the wheelchair and putting her back in the Batgirl costume is the right decision is tough to judge at this point, but as far as the comic goes, it does a fantastic job of introducing a character’s history without feeling like a lecture on them. A good first issue that does everything it needs to with charm to spare.Rating: B+ Justice League International #1Written by Dan JurgensArt by Aaron LoprestiReviewed by Alex Ah, a multi-national superhero team. Is it time we had The Conversation? It’s always bugged me how location-specific superheroes are tied down to stereotypes. The identity of characters get completely overwritten by Being Russian or whatever. After all, it’s not like Batman is defined by Being American. This is probably true of most pop culture, I guess, but it’s more obvious in comics where identity is worn on your brightly-coloured sleeve, in the name and costume and powers a hero has. At best, it shows a limited, America-centric worldview. At worst, it’s … well, it’s kind of racist, isn’t it? It was getting better, with Batman Inc especially navigating identities for its various Captain Foreigns that were formed equally by place and self. But JLI is a step back. The team is drawn together by the UN from around the world, and the issue is a textbook characters-meet-and-squabble story. (Hint: they will probably all kiss, make up, and forge the necessary team spirit just in the nick of time). That’s fine, although it’s done a little clumsily. But beyond Green Lantern (no, not the one from the other Justice League comic, one with a much worse haircut, and still not the black one that people actually like) having issues with Booster Gold as team leader, most of the conflict for this squabbling is drawn from the characters being from different countries. These are meant to be people we look up to with awe and wonder, and for some of them, their first response when meeting someone of a different nationality is to say ew, you’re not like me. I’m being a bit unfair here – the superheroes don’t have costumes and powers defined by their nationality, mostly – but the fact is that nothing else about the issue stood out. It’s reasonable enough comics, and it’s rather nice to look at (Lopresti turning in yet another example of sleek cartoonised art), but there’s nothing special about it, apart from that one character talks in broken English about Russian supremacy and Russian winter and Russian alcohol and another says things like “mate” and “sod it” and “blimey charlie, guv’nor!”. Rating: C- O.M.A.C. #1Written by Dan Didio & Keith GiffenArt by Keith GiffenReviewed by Bret O.M.A.C in one word is OMAZING! You know when you find something on Youtube that’s so bizarre that you have to show people? O.M.A.C (henceforth referred to as “my man Ommy”) has completely captured that experience. Firstly, this little adventure is titled “OFFICE MANAGEMENT AMIDST CHAOS” which, let’s face it, just rocks on every level. Five pages in I found myself wondering “who is this crazy blue man with a fish tail for a Mohawk? Why is he talking to that screensaver of a sunbathing girl? […]

Project 52 Week Two (Action Comics/Batwing/Detective Comics)

Today’s second injection of undiluted Review straight to the base of your spine. This time, it’s some of the big boys: Superman, Batman, African Batman and …er… Static Shock. Action Comics #1Written by Grant MorrisonArt by Rags MoralesReviewed by Alex Lex Luthor: “The brown tree snake, introduced to the U.S. territory of Guam right after World War Two, caused dozens of indigenous birds and reptile species to become extinct. The cane toad, sent to Australia as a pest control agent, decimated local biodiversity.” And Grant Morrison, put on the first issue of Action Comics after the rebooting of the entire DC universe, gets to overwrite the entire history and metaphor of Superman. The first issue from a writer like Morrison, is pretty much a guaranteed Statement of Intent. Last time he touched the Man of Tomorrow, Morrison wrote him as an omnipotent Sci-Fi Jesus. He came down from the skies and cared for all of humanity, and sacrificed himself to save us. This isn’t quite that Superman. Apart from being younger and less all-powerful (and wearing jeans! Can you imagine Jesus wearing jeans?), the central metaphor is different. It’s laid out pretty clearly on the first page: “Rats. Rats with money. And rats with guns. I’m your worst nightmare”. This is Superman as the champion of the oppressed, delivering social justice. It’s something Morrison has often discussed being at the heart of the character from his very first appearance: smashing a car on that iconic cover from 1938, the last time Action Comics had a #1. And so Superman’s targets are corrupt businessmen who take advantage of cheap labour, men who hit their wives, and xenophobes. Being honest, the metaphor and the Brand New Direction are more interesting than the actual plot. It’s thrilling enough, and well-told, but there’s nothing about the story that leaves me craving the next issue. It’s not even that heavy on Morrison’s trademark Big Ideas. What will bring me back is faith in Morrison, and Morale’s gorgeously cartoony art (why couldn’t all the new books look like this? This is what Accessible Comics in the 21st Century should look like). Most of all, I want to see where the book’s going to go with all the underlying stuff, what it has to say about social justice and inequality. Rating: A- Batwing #1Written by Judd WinickArt by Ben OliverReviewed by Batwing is the first solo title I’ve reviewed, and the difference it makes to the pacing of the comic is immediately felt. Rather than having to cram in multiple introductions (or, in the case of Justice League, only introduce a few characters and leave the reader feeling short-changed) it has one central figure to build a story around, and while a supporting cast and recurring villains are also introduced, their characterisation isn’t so essential, so can be dealt with at a more leisurely pace. Batwing doesn’t feel nearly as rushed as other titles have, and as such feels more like a story in its own right, rather than a preamble to the real meat of a title. I haven’t been reading the “Batman Incorporated” arc (I can already feel Alex tutting at me across the Internet) so this is my first encounter with Batwing. I must admit, the concept of “Batman of Africa” struck me as both a little hokey, and lodged in the Silver Age (people do realise Africa isn’t one big country, right? Tell me I’m not in the minority on this…) but Judd Winick makes it work by highlighting the similarities between Gotham and Batwing’s Tinasha (such as a corrupt police force and a brazen criminal culture prone to theatrics) without sacrificing the cultural identity of the Congolese setting, or falling into stereotypes. The universe relaunch works in the title’s favour – with superheroes reinvented as a more recent phenomena, the huge disparity in global distribution is easier to accept, and Winick and Ben Oliver seem to be addressing this ever further by building a superheroic mythology for Africa in the DCU. More than anything, the art sells me on this book. Ben Oliver’s pencils and inks are gorgeous; astonishingly detailed, with realistic expressions and great costuming without sacrificing dynamic layouts or a sense of weight and movement in the action sequences. It’s a truly beautiful comic, aided by Brian Reber’s painterly colouring, which gives the daytime sequences a kind of heat haze while adding a moonlight glow to the action at night. Time will tell whether Batwing will generate enough sales to keep it going far beyond its first arc, but if the standard continues to be this high, it deserves a long and healthy life. Rating: A Detective Comics #1Written by Tony S. DanielArt by Tony S. DanielReviewed by Alex Detective Comics #1 is a very competent comic. That’s a virtue, no doubt, but when it’s the main thing that stands out, it’s also a limit. Don’t expect anything transcendant or life-changing, don’t expect to be grabbing your friends by the lapels and saying, look! read this!. It’s a fairly by-the-book Batman story, told well. You know: there’s a criminal on the loose, the cops don’t trust Batman but Gordon does, Bruce Wayne breaks hearts, Batman punches the Joker repeatedly in the face… It doesn’t use the relaunch to do anything new, and the story would have fitted just as neatly in the status quo six months ago. Everything’s the same, including Tony S. Daniel, who’s been a regular artist and/or writer on Batman for nearly five years now. Except, okay, the police don’t trust Batman, which, as someone commented on the JL review, feels a little like a character being brought more closely in line with his film counterpart. Nevertheless: I’m pretty hooked on the central whodunnit, which is at it should be in something called Detective Comics, and that last page is seriously ballsy. Daniels’ art is looking better than I’ve ever seen it, and he makes a surprisingly good writer. He manages to fulfill both ends of the […]