The New 52

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 […]

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