Project 52

Project 52: Week Two (Men of War/Green Arrow/Swamp Thing/Stormwatch/Animal Man)

You remember how DC are scrapping all their comics and launching 52 new ones, right? You remember how we’re reviewing them all? Me, Tim, and Bret? Good. Then enjoy the first dose of this week’s Project 52, including reviews of Green Arrow and Swamp Thing. Men Of War #1Written by Ivan BrandonArt by Tom DerenickReviewed by Tim Men of War is one of DC’s attempts to branch out a little beyond straight-up superheroics – in this case, to a military anthology title. That said, it’s still located within the DCU – the main story in this issue (a modern day version of Sergeant Rock) features a US Army operation that goes tits up when a mysterious superhuman attacks the same target as them. The back-up strip, titled “Navy SEALs: Human Shields”, is much more of a standard military tale, located, like the main story, in some unnamed Middle Eastern country, featuring a team of SEALs pinned down by sniper fire. Both stories are heavy with military jargon (helpfully annotated with translations) and gung-ho spirit. The Sergeant Rock story casts the main character as a scarred enlisted infantryman, still only a Corporal at the beginning of the book, who disobeys his superiors but makes brilliant tactical decisions. His mentor is an equally rebellious badass who is killed in action at the issue’s end, field-promoting our hero. Ivan Brandon creates a compelling tale of what military action in a superpowered world might look like, contrasting the power of one powered individual against the human squad, and Tom Derenick’s art is dynamic and atmospheric, with suitably craggy-faced heroes and explosive action.The back-up strip didn’t work quite as well for me. Jonathan Vankin’s writing felt overly expository, and Phil Winslade’s art, while agreeably reminiscent of British military titles like Commando, was too sparse and his faces all look the same. In addition, there was a hefty undercurrent of conservative values (know your audience, I suppose) with some unfunny homophobic “jokes” and digs at the Peace Corps, as well as a “oh course I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black!” moment that felt a little preachy. Overall, as a genre I’m unused to, I enjoyed the first story more than I thought I would, but the second spoilt the experience for me somewhat. Final Grade: C+ Green Arrow #1Written by J.T. KrulArt by Dan Jurgens & George PerezReviewed by BretOut of the 4 new comics I picked up today, Green Arrow was the one that interested me most. I’ve seen Smallville and liked what they did there with the green leather-wearing archer, Oliver Queen (even if they were trying oh so hard to make him Batman). Sadly the first issue of Green Arrow misses out on the emotional complexity and the “do what it takes to get the job done” attitude we saw from ol’ Ollie in the show. Instead, his new solo comic ends up reading more like a Saturday morning cartoon. And not a very good one at that, with a parent friendly “it’s not good to be a bad guy” moral brought up every other panel and all. I think it’s the fact that, despite passable foreground artwork, the background of the panels were often a single colour block rather than showing any hint of detail. That and the fact that heavy amounts of text were used to tell the story. This made the characters come off as simple and patronising to me. But then maybe Green Arrow has a younger audience in his line of sights. Having said that though, I did find it odd that our seemingly child friendly hero went from using concussive, blinding and freezing arrows to shooting a guy through both palms and forcing him to accidentally electrocute himself. The sudden burst of blood and violence felt very out of place in this black-and-white world of right and wrong. Overall lazy colouring, generic characters and text to explain what I should be seeing explained through art make Green Arrow misfire. Rating: D- Swamp Thing #1Written by Scott SnyderArt by Yanick PaquetteReviewed by AlexFor a comic about Swamp Thing, this issue sure is a brilliant advertisement for the New DC Universe. It opens with a sleek panoramic view – Clark Kent in Metropolis, Batman under Gotham, Aquaman in an unidentified ocean. And so, in three pages, it manages to establish a credible worldwide threat and introduce the heroes and universe better than last week’s Justice League managed in its full 40 pages. It helps that Yanick Paquette’s art is so incredibly gorgeous, of course. Superman’s a square-jawed lump of handsome, and the new costume manages to look regal. Even Aquaman looks good in this comic. And then the Swamp Thing story begins, and it’s an intriguing one. The changes to the Swamp Thing mythos – one with which I must admit only a passing familiarity – don’t feel unnecessary. It feels like a true fresh start, and the changes are woven into a compelling mystery. But that’s not all! Then there’s a brilliant horror sequence that’s probably the creepiest bit of comics I’ve encountered. But wait, there’s more! It alludes fascinatingly to “the events of last year!, just suggesting the slightest edges of a history. And there’s some fun Palahniuk-style facts about botany. And! And! AND! …There’s a lot squeezed into this comic. Snyder takes full advantage of the situation that’s been presented to him, in every facet. Even the DC universe being born again in media res is used to create a sense of mystery. And so it makes a convincing case for this entire relaunch – mystery isn’t something we’re used to in the familiar world of Superman and Batman, and without mystery, any sense of wonder can dissolve – and for the way this character – who, in the most praised comics written about him, appeared in a separate reality – fits into a world of superheroes. It’s comics at a hundred miles an hour and this review was meant to be […]

Project 52, #1: Bret Canny vs Justice League

Hey. My name is Bret. One or two of you may know me better by my online presence as “The Red Bobcat”. An awful name, I know, but one that I’ve had for so long that I could change no more than you could just decide to change who your siblings are. My font is Comic San MS, text size is 12, grasp on the English language is basic and my style with which I write things online is sloppy. So! You’ve been warned! Be prepared to read words like “gonna” instead of “going to”, “rents” instead of “parents”, “tomoz” instead of “tomorrow” and “awful thing that makes me want to scratch my eyes out” instead of “Britain’s Got Talent”. The reason I’m telling you all this: my good friend Rin Tin Tim asked me if I’d like to get involved in a thing he was doing where he would read, review and then blog about all the new DC comics that are coming out. Now I have to tell you, I am by no means a DC fan. I do read comics but I am very much a Marvel boy. So when I questioned Timbelina about the new comics that were coming out, I was surprised to hear that DC were relaunching all of their big titles from issue 1. “Resetting the DC universe”, I thought. “Hmmm, heard that one before, DC”. But what do I know? I don’t think I’ve ever actually picked up an issue of Batman before… apart from that time he beat up Predator. So, what the hell, I decided! To be fair if they’re starting everything again from scratch I’m probably DC’s perfect demographic. I’m geeky, I’m willing to spend money AND I know Jack all about all things DC but am willing to learn! Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. I should probably warn you now: SPOILERS! The first comic I’m going to write about is DC Comic’s very own JUSTICE LEAGUE (their choice of capital letters, not mine). My plan was to read it first, then write about it straight after. However I got half a panel in (not joking) and already had so much to say that I thought I’d better blog while I’m reading it. That’s right, you’re going to read pretty much the first thoughts that cross my mind as I go. God help you. So we have a cover. It’s your average “all the heroes jumping out at slightly different angles from one point in a generic looking orange background” affair, but whatever. Do I know all these guys? Well, yes. I’m not DC fan but I don’t live under a rock. It’s hard not to notice Superman and Batman straight away. They look a little younger than I would have imagined, but then this is a reset. Plus everyone’s costumes seem a little more detailed that I would have thought. Wonder Woman’s wonder corset for instance seems to be made from a metal of some type… ouch! Also, where the hell are Superman’s red pants? All I can see is blue down there. I know pants on the outside has never been a great idea, but that is just how it is with Superman. And is that Cyborg bottom right? What’s he doing there? I thought he was just a Teen Titan? I really hope he’s there for more than diversity and wasn’t bumped up to the big boys just “because”. Anyway, lets open her up. Batman’s being chased by helicopters and we’ve jumped back in time 5 years already. That’s not a bad thing. Especially as it looks like everything was exploding 5 years ago. Happy memories. Bats is in pursuit of some Zombie/Scarecrow looking dude. So far all he’s said is “RRK”. I assume that translates to “Oh look, Batman is being shot at by those helicopters”. WAIT BAT-MAN! LOOK OUT! THAT’S NO ZOMBIE/SCARECROW! THAT’S A ROBOT/ORC! You should have known by the way he said “RRK”. Call yourself the world’s greatest detective… pfft! The page fills with green light and I can only assume it’s Green Lantern? Turn the page… HA! Fire truck to the face. Yeah that’s Green Lantern alright. OH MY GOD! ROBOT/ORC HAS WINGS?!? AND NOW SPIDER LEGS?!? Ha, DC you’re winning me over. Mostly because Green Lantern’s pointing out the same things I am. “What is that? A Transformer?” Well played, sir, well played. Well now their talking about Superman. “They say he’s an alien”. Not sure how anyone would know that because surely good ol’ Clarky boy keeps that to himself no? Next chapter. We’re in Metropolis and watching someone play American Football. But not for long as Lantern and Bats have turned up. Lantern seems to think he’s going to be able to out muscle Supes, resulting in. Lantern getting hit in the face by a multicoloured cylinder. We’ll assume that’s Superman. And then it ends! Abrupt but at least it’s promised to show us a fight between Batman and Superman next issue! There were a lot of things I liked. The fact that Green Lantern didn’t realise Batman was real for instance. Because, let’s face it, that’s how it would be in reality. I mean if you heard that there was some guy dressing up as a lobster and beating the crap out of robbers would you believe it? I also like the fact that normal people in DC’s new universe seem to hate capes rather than idolise them. Have DC taken a leaf from Marvel’s Spider-man and X-men titles? This issue would have been an A except they didn‘t explain why Lantern bothered keeping Bats with him. Lantern made fun of Bats for not having powers and Lantern even locked him up in the fight against Supes… so why take him to Metropolis at all? I understand that it’s hard to explain how a utility belt holds up against invulnerability. But as a new reader, DC failed to explain what help Batman can be in […]

Project 52, #1: Alex Spencer vs Justice League

For me, it started with Spider-Man. The X-Men would come later, but first the Spider-Man film, and then onto Marvel’s website. After-school dips into the library of Marvel’s free online comics reader, dotComics. All done in secret, quietly ashamed of my new habit. For the new DC Universe, it starts with Batman. Of course. The Justice League will come later. For me, this couldn’t be much further from where my relationship with comics began, literally and metaphorically. Literally: I picked up Justice League #1 from London’s Orbital Comics, far from that bedroom in Staffordshire. Metaphorically: A comic printed on real, sniffable paper, read on a train squeezed between passengers giving me funny looks. (This kind of stuff matters with a new #1. Some people get overexcited and want things like variant covers and polybags, but it brings out the luddite in all of us. It warms up big heaped spoons of nostalgia.) And perhaps most importantly, a comic published by DC. As I suspect is going to be a theme of our reviews, Marvel was my entry drug. Superman? Wonder Woman? Green Lantern? These characters didn’t matter to me. Batman, though… Ah, Batman. And that’s how Justice League starts. With Batman, chasing a villain and dodging the police. But don’t forget: this is a new Batman, with swathes of his history (or continuity, as we call it in comics) chopped off. Gruff, black cowl & cape, mistrustful, yellow utility belt, sneaky and smart… The exact same Batman, then. We haven’t shifted far from Status Q, by the looks of things. As a representative of the new DC Universe, the message it’s sending seems to be: don’t worry. things won’t change too much. (It’s telling that the sketch stuff in the backmatter shows designs for new costumes that were rejected for being too different.) Still, the reboot means this comic gets to tell the story of how Batman, Green Lantern and Superman meet for the first time. And how they meet is with the adversial tension and fisticuffs that are a solid tradition of superfriends meeting for the first time. This provides a few nice moments – Green Lantern trying to work out what Batman’s powers are in particular – and momentum for the issue’s plot. The plot being, essentially, get x from a to b (where x = Batman and Green Lantern, a = Gotham city and b = wherever Superman is). The pieces are moved around so that the punching can continue. And that’s it, except for a four page vignette woven into the middle of the story. It offers a glimpse of another character, pre-secret origin, and breaks up the action so the story is a little less formulaic. But this isn’t a story, really. It’s an introduction, to the new readers this relaunch will hopefully pull in. Here’s the world, here’re the characters, here’s the threat. In this it succeeds. The characters are established quickly and easily. Their personalities are drawn a little large, perhaps – Green Lantern’s unbelievably cocky, Batman doesn’t trust anyone – but they’re clear. It’s a reintroduction, too, to the old readers this relaunch hopefully won’t put off. As that kind of reader, I was looking for clues of how it’s going to be, closely studying speech bubbles and the art. Frankly, if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have noticed Jim Lee’s artwork. Lee is an artist whose reputation I’ve never quite understood. He’s headlining the entire relaunch, designing costumes and drawing this flagship title, but his scratchy inexpressive art isn’t likely to open new readers’ eyes to how beautiful a comic book can be. It’s serviceable art that tells the story in a traditional, musclebound way. Again, it says: not much has changed. Justice League #1 is certainly a first issue. But the first issue of a line-wide reboot, the standard-bearer for an entire universe? The kind of comic people will be nostalgically blogging about in ten years’ time? Hmm. Final Grade: C

52, #1: Tim Maytom vs. Justice League

First: an introduction. Anyone who’s talked to me about comics knows that when it comes to superheroes, I’m a Marvel boy. Marvel comics were what got me into comics, and they have been a constant presence in my life since I was 7 years old. That said, when I was around 16, I was buying largely out of force of habit. X-Men, so long my bread and butter, had hit a creative slump (I was reading the British reprints, so there was no sign of New X-Men and the revitalisation it would bring yet) and I was considering giving the whole comics thing a rest. Then, at our city library, I came across three very important titles: Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Warren Ellis’ The Authority and Grant Morrison’s JLA. All three spoke in a much more mature voice, and showed me the potential that comics had as a storytelling medium. Watchmen and The Authority led me to more adult titles – Vertigo and Wildstorm, and eventually on to independent and small press comics. Morrison’s JLA showed me that even an all-ages, continuity bound tale of superheroes could feel fresh and exciting. Now, DC is once again relaunching in an attempt to revitalise their stories and attract new readers, but it’s not just one title – it’s 52. And because I’m a sucker for big formalist exercises, I’m joining with my friends Alex and Bret, and (potentially) some exciting guest stars to review the whole stinking lot. So…Justice League #1. As a statement of intent, Justice League does the job just fine. Interestingly, it’s set five years ago, which I guess allows for the sort of continuity wrangling that this reboot requires, and establishes a world where superheroes are a new, unknown quantity, hunted by the police and not yet used to working together. The opening narration, “There was a time when the world didn’t call them its greatest super-heroes”, suggests that eventually we will move forward to a timeframe when the Justice League are respected and even beloved by the public, which to me should be the status in the DCU. More than Marvel, the heroes of DC are iconic, larger than life, and placing them in a more grounded*, cynical world suggests “darkness” for the sake of it. The story is a fairly standard tale of superheroes (in this case Batman and Green Lantern) meeting for the first time, resulting in a clash of personalities that almost comes to blows, before they team up to investigate a threat that leads them to Metropolis, and the still new-to-the-world Superman. Batman’s characterisation is fairly well set now, and Green Lantern, seemingly informed by the recent movie, is presented as a cocksure, arrogant figure who occasionally refers to himself in the third person (ugh). Jim Lee even seems to be drawing him as something of a pretty boy (after all, Ryan Reynolds is a very handsome man). As far as the rest of the art goes, Lee’s Batman feels a little clumsy – not the urban ninja figure I think of him as, and the action feels a little stilted. That said, he does some nice work with the layout during the detour to the soon-to-be Cyborg, and his splash page of Superman at the end feels suitably grand. I’m not sure how I feel about the new costume for Supes – costume design has never been Lee’s strong suit, so getting him to redesign DC’s most iconic, profitable heroes feels like a poor decision. Overall, it’s a fine enough start for the new DC universe. Were I a more regular DC reader, I’d be interested as to how the Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman will be portrayed in this new paradigm, but as it is, this first issue wasn’t enough to make me want to carry on reading the title. One can only guess what the next month will bring. Final Grade: B- *As grounded as a universe containing gods, mutants, aliens, robots, Atlantis and people in tights beating each other up can be…

Project 52, #1: The Ado

I’ve already done the hype thing for Project 52 on my Tumblr, but for those of you who don’t want to venture into those dark waters: Fact One DC are cancelling every last one of their titles, and starting at #1 all over again, in theory creating a whole new universe that’s younger, sleeker and different. Renumbering isn’t unusual in comics, but this includes titles like Action Comics – the comic which introduced Superman, and has been running since the ’30s for 904 issues without ever going back to a new #1. Fact Two There will be 52 of these new titles. That’s a potential $160 to be wasted on comics (trust me, I’ve done the maths) in one month. So I’ve assembled my own super-team – my Justice League, if you will – to take that particular bullet for you, and read and review every single one of those titles. Alex Spencer, the incredible Self-Hyper. Tim Maytom, the astounding Trivia Lad. And introducing Bret Canny, the mysterious Third Man (whose secret identity is that he’s a housemate of Tim’s, I believe, but shhh). Fact Three This week – the first of five – is an easy one. One final lingering thread from the old DC universe (Flashpoint #5, which we won’t be looking at) and the First Ever Title of The New DC Universe, Justice League #1. All three of us will be looking at this in turn, and I’ll be adding the reviews as they come in. So with no further ado, it’s time to find out what Tim thought… Tim’s Review