Just like last week, I’m going to provide a plot synopsis and review for each issue that came out this week. I’ll talk a little bit about my general feelings about the relaunch thus far, and how week two did overall. Finally, for those who like awards, I’ll give out awards to The Must Read Book of the Week, to The Most Pleasant Surprise and, finally, to The Biggest Disappointment.
Click through to find out more!
There were only two Batbooks this week, but they were both leagues ahead of anything last week brought us. Batman and Robin #1 was a solid B book, an extremely user-friendly entry into the new Batcanon that still managed to have some character – something last week’s Detective Comics was sorely lacking. In the A-plot, Batman and Robin are called in to foil a robbery of the Gotham University Research Reactor by a group of thugs stealing irradiated control rods, while in the B-plot, a mysterious supervillain murders the Batman of Moscow and vows to come for Bruce Wayne.
In between all the action, writer Peter Tomasi competently reintroduces Batman and son to new readers, solidifying his origin even as he quickly moves Batman past it. Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray are a fine art team, using a crisp, clear style that only sporadically confuses the action. Readers looking for something more ambitious won’t find much exciting here, but anyone who enjoys a good Batman story will probably find a lot to like in this series.
The writing on Batwoman#1 isn’t quite as crisp, but it’s not only the more ambitious book: it’s also far prettier. Kate Kane, heiress to the Kane fortune and goth girl extraordinaire, is dealing with one of Gotham’s weirder mysteries: a ghostly, weeping woman kidnapping and drowning the children of Gotham’s latino families. As she does that, she navigates a new romance with the boss of her ex, as well as training a side-kick of her own: Bette Kane, formerly Flamebird, once a Teen Titan.
J.H. Williams III is a fantastically talented artist, and while I’m not sure how gifted a writer he will prove, Batwoman #1 actually has a lot going for it. An easy A- overall, it’s an engaging book you’ll want to read over and over again. You’ll find something new to appreciate each time, from its innovative paneling to a routinely superior job on the coloring by Dave Stewart. It looks like nothing else you’ll read this week.
Deathstroke #1 doesn’t fare quite so well. Opening on some overwrought exposition calling Deathstroke “the scariest badass on the planet” and a man who can “do the impossible”, a “master strategist” before reiterating just how big a bad-ass he really is, Deathstroke #1 really, really wants to be cool. Unfortunately, for a master strategist, Deathstroke’s only strategy seems to be ‘overwhelming force’.
The book hints at developing a supporting cast, but Kyle Higgins pulls that away almost as soon as the idea is presented: Deathstroke is too cool for a supporting cast. The book is largely just the execution of an assassination/recovery mission Deathstroke is paid to do, with little by way of twists or unexpected character beats. It’s above average for a Deathstroke story, a C+ overall, and I give it credit for telling a complete story in a single issue, but I have a hard time imagining this will appeal to anyone other than 13-year old boys.
This is going to sound kind of ridiculous, but bear with me: Demon Knights #1 is very, very good. Epic fantasy in the DC Universe doesn’t sound like it should work, but writer Paul Cornell pulls it off with ease, introducing a hard-to-swallow concept with much more style than he managed on the similarly-weird Stormwatch. Following the fall of Camelot, a mismatched group of powerful people – immortal thug Vandal Savage, Avalon-born seeress Madame Xanadu, and the last living knight of Camelot, the Sir Ystin, to name a few – and brings them together to defend humanity from the weird threats of the Dark Ages.
Demon Knights offers grade A storytellingand an art team to match, as Cornell, Diogenes Neves and Oclair Roberts manage to give strong impressions of their characters in their brief introductions, and have smartly positioned the pairing of Jason Blood (and Etrigan) and Madame Xanadu as the heart of the book. We get multiple origin stories handled with ease, a fairly chilling scene introducing the villains, and the start to a solid adventure. Fantasy fans will find a lot to like here.
After last week’s surprise smash-success with Animal Man #1, Jeff Lemire tackles another Grant Morrison property to slightly less acclaim in Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1, a pretty good book that feels like it could be so much more. Lemire quickly introduces Frankenstein’s bosses, the oddball Father Time (who now looks like a little girl) and U.N. liaison Ray Palmer, responsible for much of the technology that makes S.H.A.D.E. (The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive) shine.
Lemire has a solid opening story, one that should leave the reader begging for more… if they can get to it. After getting a couple mountains of exposition out of the way introducing new readers to S.H.A.D.E., Frankenstein, and the cast in the most pedestrian way possible, we finally get to the heart of the book: Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos fighting a town overrun with bizarre, demonic creatures. The premise promises thrilling pulp action. The scratchy, static art from Alberto Ponticelli doesn’t deliver quite as much as you hope. It’s a B+ book with a lot of promise, but it’s off to a so-so start.
Last week, my roundup missed two books, and one of them was Green Arrow #1, so for the sake of completeness I grabbed a copy this week. Scratch that, I’ll rephrase: so that you wouldn’t have to, I suffered through Green Arrow #1. Bad art combines with a mediocre script to produce what is handily the worst book of the relaunch, an overstuffed, pandering affair that wants to appeal to the Smallville crowd but can barely manage to appeal to anyone at all. Grade: D+ — and avoid at all costs.
Long-time readers here will know that I’m rarely a fan of Geoff Johns’ work, but my review of this week’s Green Lantern #1 would have to be mostly positive. Though it’s not nearly as new-reader friendly as it should be – unless you were reading Johns’ old Green Lantern series (which is virtually unchanged here, because this is Johns’ relaunch), you’ll wonder why Sinestro is a Lantern and Hal Jordan isn’t… unless you’re a new reader, then you’ll wonder why anyone cares about Sinestro being a Lantern and why this Hal Jordan fellow is even in the book to begin with.
That said, it’s a fairly well-paced book, though painfully low-impact – Sinestro gets a Green Lantern ring. Hal Jordan wants his Green Lantern ring back. The end – but Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy do excellent work on art, and what Johns avoids in plot, he almost makes up for in character work. It’s a B overall, but it bodes very well for Green Lantern fans, particularly any new or lapsed ones inspired by the recent film.
Grifter #1 is a so-so action book with an irresistible hook that will leave you craving more. Cole Cash is a con man – he even looks like LOST‘s Sawyer – who just made a big score. But before he can reunite with his lover, he’s kidnapped off the street. He wakes up 17 days later, strapped to a table in an abandoned warehouse, no memory of the last two weeks — and he’s hearing voices. Something is out to get him. What is it?
Nathan Edmonson’s script isn’t always as clear as it needs to be to get the premise across, but as an origin story for a new hero, it’s incredibly promising. The issue is short on character beats, but Cafu, Gorder and Dalhouse make an incredibly competent art team. It’s a B+, fun sci-fi action. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s a solid sci-fi conspiracy book right now with a lot of potential.
As far as high-concept sci-fi goes, Legion Lost #1 probably has something for everyone. A group of sci-fi superheroes from the 30th century come back in time to prevent someone named Alastor from releasing some kind of pathogen in our time. They fail to stop him, and when they capture him, they also crash their time machine, winding up lost sometime in a future they may no longer recognize.
Fabian Nicieza has hard work cut out for him, introducing a group of D-list characters few readers, even long-time comic-fans, will be familiar with, which may be why he barely tries. There’s the requisite bits of dialogue where people explain their powers unnecessarily, and credit Pete Woods for doing a very good job on the art, but Legion Lost was a slog to get through, a bad, undercooked introduction to a complicated concept and this week’s weakest book. C-.
Mister Terrific #1, on the other hand, has everything you’re looking for in a science hero. Michael Holt is charismatic, athletic, brilliant and rich – he’s everything a man should want to be. When he’s not busy pushing the scientific community forward, he works as a superhero for the government, stopping mad scientists from abusing their abilities. But when an ordinary man suddenly becomes one of the smartest men alive – and becomes a ruthless, cold killer to boot – Holt is tasked to find out what could have caused the change, and how he can stop it.
Eric Wallace briskly rushes through a solid, engaging action scene – one of the crispest, most engaging of the week, thanks to Gianluca Gugliotta and Wayne Faucher on art – before giving us Holt’s origin in a four short pages. The issue never feels overstuffed or crowded, and it’s a satisfying if fairly unambitious read with the beginnings of a strong supporting cast. A-, and I’m looking forward to more.
I was a little surprised to see Red Lanterns #1 on the list of books for the relaunch. From what I’d seen of them in Blackest Night and other stories, they mostly seemed like rage-driven lunatics, psycho-killers just out to hurt people. And while I’m sure there’s a good book there, comics have never been particularly nuanced in their depictions of violence. That said, writer Peter Milligan has gone a different route: Atrocitus, leader of the Red Lanterns, is having a crisis of, uh, rage. He can’t bring himself to get angry anymore, and the other Lanterns are sensing this and suggesting revolution.
It’s an interesting idea, but he doesn’t quite pull it off here. The supporting cast of sub-vocal brutes is dull, the relentlessly red coloring is exhaustive, and there’s not really a story to speak of. The introduction of a pair of human brothers whose grandfather was recently murdered suggests that Milligan has more in mind, but as an opening issue goes, this one didn’t quite work. B-.
There’s a lot of weird stuff in comics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s why I love the medium: there’s nowhere else in the world you can go to see Frankenstein’s monster decapitate Hitler with the sword of the Archangel Michael. But from way up there in the ‘weird ideas’ pantheon comes Resurrection Man #1, a revival of a 90’s book with a cult following.
You see, Mitch can’t die – not permanently anyway. Shortly after any death, his body reforms and soon he’s up and walking around again, each time with a new super power. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning don’t spend a lot of time on an origin story, but they don’t need to: the concept is simple, and the Resurrection Man isn’t a superhero, but a man on the run from Heaven and Hell alike. Like Grifter, it’s a so-so action book set in part on an airplane with deadly passengers. But unlike Grifter, Resurrection Man‘s first hints at a deeper mythology fall largely flat. Still, it’s solid B storytelling, and Abnett and Lanning are incredibly capable creators, particularly in the mythic, cosmic framework they’re setting up here.
The other of the two sold out books from last week was Paul Cornell’s Stormwatch #1, a fairly simple exercise in superheroics brought down to a B- by over-exposition and an art team poorly suited for the kind of wide-screen action comics Cornell seems to be writing. It almost reads as a cornerstone of the DCU, an ensemble superheroics book that will deal with the big threats before anyone else even sees them, but Cornell will have to get over the stiff dialogue and bizarre powers before it can really take that place.
It was hard not to pre-judge Suicide Squad #1. Really, really hard. Replacing fan-favorite Secret Six – and using many of the same characters to much lesser effect – and abandoning long-time Squad writer John Ostrander, Suicide Squad #1 also failed to make friends with its pandering cover and hilariously Hot Topic Harley Quinn redesign. But after reading the first issue, I have to say… it’s not bad.
The plot is simplistic, a done-in-one story with a predictable twist, but writer Adam Glass wrings a lot of tension out of its horrific imagery. Easily the darkest title of the relaunch, Suicide Squad #1 opens with the main characters being tortured to find out who they work for. This gives us an excuse for some origin stories, as well as a background of how the Squad operates. Glass doesn’t have much new to say, but artists Federico Dallocchio and Ransom Getty bring his script to life in fantastically disturbing ways. Like many books this week, I’d give it a B, but the last page hook, the intro to their next mission, has me tentatively looking forward to more.
Finally, we reach Superboy #1, the last book of the week and the most-changed character by the relaunch. Beginning with his origin – he’s a clone grown in a lab, intended to be used as a weapon – Superboy moves briskly along, introducing a number of characters (including what appears to be a non-powered Caitlin Fairchild from Gen13) as we see the experiments the scientists from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. are subjecting him to, while Superboy himself slowly becomes more and more cognizant of his imprisonment.
Scott Loebdell does fantastic work introducing us to all the important players of the book, while artists R.B. Silva and Rob Lean give the book a distinctive, cartoonish look that fits perfectly with the atmosphere. It’s an enjoyable, engaging origin story for Superboy, a very promising B+ overall, and I’m excited to see the book grow.
Overall, this week was stronger than last week, for me. There was nothing as bad as Green Arrow, and only Legion Lost approaches Hawk and Dove-levels of badness.
What’s more, I think this was a much more friendly week for new readers. Most books at least contained an origin story. Some, like Mister Terrific, Demon Knights and Grifter even managed to make that origin an entertaining part of a larger whole, rather than getting swallowed up in it. There’s a lot of weirdness on display here, and a lot of books that seem destined to become cult hits.
Only Suicide Squad was really unfriendly to kids, and unlike last week’s surprisingly gruesome Detective Comics, I think the title should be ample suggestion that it’ll probably be pretty dark. Meanwhile, we have books where Frankenstein teams up with a werewolf, a mummy, and others to fight giant monsters, a misunderstood teen Superboy betrayed by the adults in his life, a book about Batman training a ten year-old Robin and others that should appeal to people of all age groups.
Lacking the knock-down, drag-out awesomeness of last week’s Animal Man or Action Comics may make this week seem like a let-down, but I don’t think that’s true: it was a surprisingly solid week, one with a lot of experimentation. Only Green Lantern, Deathstroke and Batman and Robin may make it look like nothing in the DCU has changed, but what can I say: Resurrection Man is, at least for a single week, a major player in the DCU.
And that’s amazing.
Must Read Book of the Week
Demon Knights #1
If I had an award for “Most likely to be canceled tomorrow”, it would probably go to Demon Knights. It’s an epic fantasy in a medium that doesn’t like fantasy. It’s most recognizable characters are Etrigan and Madame Xanadu. It takes place hundreds of years in the past, making the likelihood of a cross-over slim. But you know what? Forget all that! Demon Knights #1 is by far the book of the week, a clever riff on the fantasy genre that suggests the DC Universe has always been fantastic… it just used to be fantastic in different ways. The action is solid, the art is great, the pacing is spot-on and the characterization is surprisingly deep. I can’t wait for more.
Runners-up: Batwoman, Mister Terrific
Most Pleasant Surprise
Mister Terrific #1
I didn’t really expect much from Mister Terrific #1. I don’t think anyone did. And yet, writer Eric Wallace delivered a rock solid first issue, one that managed to open on action, introduce it’s lead character, give him an understandable origin story, set up future mysteries, introduce a villain and end on an interesting cliffhanger. New readers should find a lot to like here, as well as any reader looking for a solid action title, though writer Eric Wallace faces an uphill battle with established comics fans disgusted by his late, unlamented Titans run.
Runners-up: Superboy, Suicide Squad
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Unlike the runner-up (Legion Lost), this is actually a fairly good book that falls prey to an extreme case of exposition-itis. Lemire, who was responsible for the relaunch’s best book so far, Animal Man, has an irresistibly pulpy hook here, a catchy title, a fantastic hero and a solid supporting cast – but extreme over-explanation damages the pace, making the book feel slighter than it should. I still highly recommend it, but its first issue (the only issue it will probably get to grab a reader) feels like a warm-up.
Runners-up: Legion Lost #1
Books I’ll Be Getting Next Month
Though this month lacks a truly stand-out debut, comparable to Action Comics #1 or Animal Man #1 (only Demon Knights approaches that level of quality), it also has far less chaff. There’s nothing as flat out bad as Hawk and Dove #1 or Green Arrow #1, and there’s much less mediocrity. Only Legion Lost and Deathstroke made reading on sound less than desirable. That said, here’s the list that made the cut…
Batwoman Demon Knights Frankenstein
Grifter Mister Terrific Resurrection Man
Stormwatch Suicide Squad Superboy
– Cal Cleary