NewU Reviews: Week 3 of the DC Relaunch

Batman #1

We’ve now seen most of the DC Relaunch, gotten a pretty good idea of what’s being offered.  We’re seen the good sides (some excellent creative teams, diversity of characters and genres) and the bad sides (some fairly sexist portrayals of women, very few books aimed at younger readers), and gotten to sample a bit of everything.  Just like the last two weeks, I’m going to provide short reviews for each of this week’s books, give some super meaningful awards like Must Read Book of the Week, and then clue you all in on what I’ll be following next week.  Read on…

Batman #1

When you think of Batman, what do you think of?  You think of Robin.  You think of Bruce Wayne.  You think of Alfred. Of Two-Face, the Joker and maybe even Harley Quinn.  But I think, for a whole lot of people, when they think of Batman, they think first and foremost of Gotham City.  And that’s the brilliance of Scott Snyder’s Batman #1, a tense, thrilling story that is confidently introduces every part of the Batman mythos and seems built around Batman’s relationship the city he tries so hard to protect.

After putting down a mass-breakout from Arkham with the help of a surprising ally, Batman returns to Wayne Manner, where he’s (along with his adoptive family: Dick Grayson, former Robin, Tim Drake, former Robin, and Damian Wayne, current Robin) throwing a party to support a massive construction project in Gotham City – one that will bring the city into 21st century and help leave Gotham’s past behind.  Like James Robinson’s legendary Starman did with Opal City, Snyder is confidently turning Gotham into a real place.  A scary place, where anything can happen and you never know who you can trust, perhaps.  But it’s that kind of ambition that nabs Batman #1 the first A of the week – and the title of Best New Batbook.

Birds of Prey #1

Birds of Prey #1 fares less well, with a largely unthrilling opening entry.  Like with Suicide Squad last week, Duane Swiercynski’s Birds of Prey has to deal with a lot of unfair expectations: namely, how does it live up to Gail Simone’s rightfully-beloved run on the book?  It doesn’t even come close, but despite that it’s a solid new start for the ladies, a workmanlike premiere in which we meet the new team – which no longer includes Barbara Gordon for no real reason at all – but introduces Black Canary’s new partner, Starling.  The pair of them are embroiled in a criminal conspiracy (and Black Canary is wanted for murder, a holdover from an old plot), but that doesn’t stop them from fighting crime and saving lives, most notably here that of a journalist out to expose them.

Jesus Saiz’s art isn’t the most dynamic, a flaw in such an action-heavy book, but he has a decent sense of staging and an excellent sense of design – one of the few books this week with a female cast that isn’t drawn like strippers.  The book shows some promise, and seems to be taking the Justice League strategy of slowly building the titular team, but it looks like it may read better in trade.  A solid B overall, Birds of Prey #1 is engaging, but hardly memorable.

Blue Beetle #1

I know most of you haven’t heard of Jaime Reyes – and most of you who have never read John Rogers’ legendary run on Blue Beetle – but Blue Beetle #1 does a solid job introducing the character to a whole new audience.  Like last week’s Superboy #1, Blue Beetle is a complete reboot: none of Jaime’s previous adventures existed.  It’s tragic, to lose one of the strongest character arcs – and one of the best supporting casts – in the last decade of comics, but new writer Tony Bedard opens with a solid retelling of Jaime’s origin, one almost completely divorced from past DC continuity.

And credit this: all the pieces are in play for Jaime’s cast to grow strong again.  Already reintroduced is Paco, this time as an older boy who has already dropped out of school and joined a gang, Brenda and her secret crime-lord aunt, the Reach and Jaime’s parents, among others. Bedard tries to play up Jaime’s Latino roots, peppering the issue with a lot of Spanish and Spanglish, which does give the dialogue a little flavor.  It’s a B+, a solid and eventful origin for another new teen hero.

Captain Atom #1

Every week has to have a loser, and I feel bad for J.T. Krul, because just like his epically bad Green Arrow #1 has been the worst book of the relaunch so far, Captain Atom #1 is this week’s weakest link.  Despite impressive, stylistic artwork from Freddie Williams II, Captain Atom #1 is a C book at best, an action-packed issue that somehow still manages to be fairly boring.  Fans of the character may find something to like here, but I doubt new readers will be particularly entranced by the unexplained running timer, the mutating rat things, or the problems of a guy so powerful he’s becoming incorporeal.  There’s a good story buried in here somewhere, but it’s pretty far down at this point.

Catwoman

I was not expecting to give an B+ to a Judd Winick book at this point.  Catwoman #1 is hardly an origin, but she’s not a character that really demands one: she’s a sexy thief working in the most dangerous city in the world.  The issue is light on plot but heavy on mood – and on cheesecake.  Illustrated by Guillem March, Catwoman is an impossibly busty, sensual thief, extremely comfortable with her own physicality, be it violence or sex.  And while I do hope that the levels of cheesecake are toned down in the future – at this stage, it feels deeply exploitative to an almost satirical degree – I can’t deny that the issue was fun, energetic and lively.

The plot, as it is, sees Catwoman’s house blown up by some angry thugs she probably stole from recently, forcing her into hiding – and forcing her to take a new job, fast.  So she decides to infiltrate a Russian mob party and gather intel, finding out what’s going on in Gotham in the near future.  She runs into some trouble while she’s there, and catches the attention of Batman while escaping.  It’s simple, but it’s a joyous, thrilling book, the first genuine guilty pleasure of the New 52.

DCU Presents #1

DC Universe Presents #1 is an excellent idea for a book – I just wish that it were better executed.  An anthology title focusing on a variety of characters from DC’s long and storied history, the first arc focuses on Deadman.  A murdered acrobat – there sure are a lot of those this week! – given a chance at redemption, Boston Brand is winning back his soul, one good deed at a time.  But as the years have gone by, he’s starting to lose faith in his mission, and when he’s prompted to try and fix the life of a depressed, legless veteran, he finally snaps.

Paul Jenkins’ ambition should be respected, and Bernard Chang’s art is excellent, but the pair may have bitten off more than they can chew.  The story has some intriguing elements, but Jenkins’ struggles to make Deadman’s existential crisis as interesting as it could and should be, while Chang struggles (and frequently succeeds) to find ways to make this look great.  It’s a B book so far, solid and intriguing, but it needs more heart – and it needs more stakes for our already-dead hero.

Green Lantern Corps #1

Not much new here, though I suppose there doesn’t really need to be – writer Peter J. Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps #1 acts as a reintroduction to Guy Gardner and John Stewart, the two Green Lanterns positioned here as a leads for the series. Someone, it seems, is knocking off Green Lanterns (again).  After fruitless experiences on Earth trying to reclaim a piece of their old lives, Guy and John return to Oa and decide to lead a force trying to track down the murderer.

The extremely unfortunately titled “Triumph of the Will” is a simple start to a simple story, and Tomasi handles the affair with admirable confidence.  Why shouldn’t he?  He’s basically still writing the same book he was last month, and the month before that. It’s a B, competently handled, but readers looking for a fresh start should look elsewhere.

Legion of Superheroes #1

While Paul Levitz’ Legion of Superheroes #1 is a great relief following the complete disaster that was Legion Lost, it’s still a largely unexciting, uninspired piece of storytelling.  It’s not bad, but I doubt the barrage of character introductions – the Legion team is already massive, and they talk repeatedly about needing to recruit – built around a ramshackle plot will draw a lot of new readers in.

There’s not much to say about Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing #1, a simple execution of a simple premise.  Coming down from a year of being Batman, Dick Grayson is glad to have a chance to relax a little into his more comfortable role as Nightwing.  And while he’s revisiting that piece of his past, the circus his parents died performing in, is back in town.  He can’t resist visiting, but afterwards, he’s attacked by a mysterious masked figure who murders two cops trying to get at Grayson.

Though the twist at the end of the issue is intriguing, the issue is just a little bit too low-impact. Eddy Barrows does fine work on art, improving greatly over his work in the last few years.  The action is dynamic, the paneling works well with the plotting, but overall, it’s a pretty solid, extremely simple story with one of the easiest characters in comics to write.  I’d give it a B, but there’s not much to get excited about here.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1

Pretty much the second I put down Lobdell’s Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, I knew the Internet would explode.  Though not technically a complete reboot – it actually maintains some aspects, like Starfire’s relationship with Nightwing – character-wise, it may as well be… and the darker turn all three characters take here will almost certainly rub many fans the wrong way.  Red Hood and Arsenal are bad boys on a tear through the world, righting wrongs and kicking back.  Starfire is a promiscuous alien princess whose empathy and understanding of humans extends only as far as her two boys manage to entertain her.  Together, they fight crime.

It’s a simple premise, only sporadically well-executed.  There’s a little – okay, a lot (okay, a ridiculous amount) – too much ogling of Starfire, and Lobdell’s treatment of a sexually forward woman is more ‘teen boy fantasy-land’ than an honest portrayal of a strong woman, but it fits with what the book is trying to do.  It’s going to get more criticism than it deserves, particularly from fans of Starfire, but at the end of the day, it’s just a B- grade book, not bad, but not nearly good enough to weather the storm I see coming.

Supergirl #1

Supergirl has something of a checkered past, something Michael Green and Mike Johnson have thankfully had the opportunity to completely erase in Supergirl #1.  Kara has just landed on Earth – and she has no idea where she is.  Coming up in Siberia, Supergirl doesn’t know how she got where she is and she can’t speak the language of the locals, so when they try to capture her and take her in, she defends herself – and finds herself with amazing powers she had never had on Krypton.

It’s a simple story, so Supergirl #1 doesn’t give us much by way of plot, but what’s there is well-handled.  Green and Johnson display a solid grasp of Kara’s personality, while art team Mahmud Asrar, Dan Green and Dave McCaig have given the book a lovely sense of style, particularly in Kara’s new costume.  Overall, an A-.  What the book lacks in ambition so far, it makes up for in execution.

Wonder Woman #1

I’ve read a fair number of Wonder Woman stories, and she’s always been an exceedingly difficult character for many otherwise capable writers to work with.  Fan (and read/RANT) favorite Gail Simone, for example, turned in some very good Wonder Woman stories (“The Circle”), but her run was often marred by weird tangents and over mythologizing (“Contagion”).  The tendency, of late, has been to have Wonder Woman ceaselessly worry about who she is, about how she fits in, about what she stands for.  All this is a very long-winded way of saying that new writer Brian Azzarello has almost completely avoided that, and has turned in a wholly enjoyable and very promising new start for the character with Wonder Woman #1.

Expertly handled every step of the way, Wonder Woman #1 does for the character’s ties to Greek mythology what Batman #1 does for Gotham City.  With the help of artist Cliff Chiang, Wonder Woman has a dark, distinctive look while she battles gods and demons.  Dealing with a new half-mortal child of Zeus being born – and the struggles of various gods to kill the mother before she gives birth – Wonder Woman is light on the titular heroine, but gives us a good sense of what she does: defend us from ancient, powerful, narcissistic beings most people don’t even know are there.  Azzarello and Chiang have crafted a thoughtful, engaging new take on the Amazon, and another easy A for this week.

So, is there a theme to this week?  I think there was.  It feels a lot like this was a week dominated, for better and for worse, by female characters.  From the debuts of strong, bad-ass female heroes in Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Birds of Prey to the bizarre, critically despised Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, this was dominated by female heroes.  And often not in a good way.

I’ve talked before about the lack of solid books aimed at younger readers, or even appropriate to younger readers.  Lately, DC has cordoned off books that children can read into a small subset of titles, all spin-offs of popular cartoons, ignoring the fact that a significant portion of their audience is probably going to be under 18.  And while 15-year old boys will absolutely LOVE Catwoman, the DCnU is probably a little darker than it should be, most writers abusing gratuitous violence to quickly raise the stakes on otherwise mediocre books.

It’s a simple writing trick, and it’s one I’ve noticed more and more as the month went on.  Not enough to turn me off the relaunch – many of the stories, teams and ideas have been very strong, and I definitely commend DC for the risks they’re taking – but enough to give me pause.

Despite my negative review, it may be part of why I so enjoyed DC Universe Presents #1 – there is the intimation of strong violence, yes, but what we’re seeing is the aftermath of violence.  The consequences.  Comics rarely show consequence, and that’s entirely what Deadman is about.

I can’t say how the relaunch will turn out, but right now there are warring impulses in the DCU, exactly the kind of warring impulses that leads a company to release a book like Catwoman on the same day they release a book like Birds of Prey.

Must Read Book of the Week:

IT’S A TIE!

Batman #1 & Wonder Woman #1

Batman #1

Wonder Woman #1

DC’s relaunch has really shown us what their Trinity should look like.  Action Comics was an unqualified success, a brilliant re-imagining of Superman’s first years in Metropolis.  Batman #1 and Wonder Woman #1 do the same for their respective heroes.  Ambitious and measured, Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello has given DC’s most popular heroes the title they deserve.  Creepy and delightful, with surprising depth and a lot of promise, both books should reinvigorate readers and intrigue a whole new generation.

Runners-up:  Blue Beetle #1, Supergirl #1

Most Pleasant Surprise:

Supergirl #1

Supergirl #1

Remember when Kara Zor-El was a bratty teen girl with a hilariously cheesecake physique who seemingly lived in permanent fear of the wardrobe-malfunction that was surely only minutes away?  Well, thankfully, Supergirl #1 contains not even a hint of her existence.  Gorgeously illustrated by Mahmoud Asrar, the new Supergirl may not know why she’s here, but she’s tough as nails and powerful to boot.  This was a solid reintroduction to one of DC’s most enduring, least-defined characters.

Runner-up: Blue Beetle #1, Catwoman #1

Biggest Disappointment:

None. It was a good week. Enjoy it.

What, I have to have one?  Fine.

Captain Atom #1

Captain Atom #1

Runners-up: None. Leave me alone.

What I’ll Be Picking Up Next Month

Batman

Blue Beetle

          

Birds of Prey

Catwoman

 

 

Supergirl

DCU Presents

 

Wonder Woman

– Cal Cleary

read/RANT

For more on the New 52, click here!

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2 thoughts on “NewU Reviews: Week 3 of the DC Relaunch

  1. “one of the few books this week with a female cast that isn’t drawn like strippers.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that line XD As far as Red Hood and the Outlaws go I was put off by Starfire’s portrayal. But otherwise completely loved the book, and I’d expect after a few issues (or even in the next one) that Starfire’s lack of memory at least won’t be playing much of a role. If it doesn’t, I think I can fully go into enjoying the book.

    I do feel a bit sad Nightwing isn’t in your list of what you’ll pick up next week. Otherwise though I only have very minor differences on some of your ratings (along with a slight shock Blue Beetle was runner up on so many categories).

  2. Red Hood didn’t change much. The grade vacillated from a B+ to a C+ back to a B before ending where it was. Most of the reason for that was the re-read. The main ideas – three rough, no-nonsense heroes on a violent, globe-trotting adventure – worked for me, and I’m even willing to give Lobdell the benefit of the doubt on Starfire. But the ‘mythology’ Lobdell tried to set up was (in my opinion) VERY clumsily handled. It didn’t make much sense, the references were shoe-horned in, and everything was ‘tell’, rather than ‘show’. I still actually think the book has some potential, and am on the fence about picking it up, but I have to say, but enjoyment was hampered by the cheesecake.

    My enjoyment of Catwoman was less hampered by the cheesecake – though I still found it really very extensive and at times utterly unnecessary – and more by outside sources as I talked with friends who read the comic. A lot of my friends are women, and I was shocked to learn that a number of them were creeped out, disgusted, embarrassed and otherwise put off by Catwoman.

    I thought it did a decent job of doing the tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, of keeping the tone light and the cheesecake self-acknowledging and winking. But as I talked to one of my friends, I couldn’t deny that, for instance, we see Catwoman’s breasts, legs and ass repeatedly before we ever see her face (three pages in!), and that she spends a huge portion of the issue in undress, doin’ somethin’ sexy.

    I still had it at a B+, but I had to admit: my friend was right. There wasn’t a lot of positive female depictions this week, but there was A LOT of leering male fantasy on display.

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