Monday, September 19, 2011

DC's New 52 : Week 4 Reviews

Just like that guy in that movie always says .. "Here we go AGAIN!!" I would like to start this round of reviews with a statement that will sound odd coming from me. As a writer for Dread Central, I am no stranger to blood and guts with my coffee and bagel first thing in the morning. That said, it is a rare moment when a movie, book or other form of media catch me off guard with content dripping with the red stuff. I have, however, come to realize that when these elements are placed in a certain way alongside the story, character development and fit the tone of the film, the entire project is the better for it. Just cutting people to shreds and flinging organs doesn't do it for me, and I find the public agrees with me, as is reflected in reviews and box office results. I respect what DC Comics is trying to do in bringing a more realistic feel to their books as well as a grittier, almost angrier world for their heroes to shine through, but this constant display of gore for the sake of gore isn't very satisfying. I've read DC comics for years now and only dropped off a couple of years back when I lost my connection with the characters I loved and saw DC shifting other characters so violently as to not make any sense. I get that this is to be looked at as a "new beginning", but does every book need to include bloodshed and a dismemberment of some sort?! I honestly don't know what the creators are going for here, but I would advise them to be very careful. I don't expect a great deal of the new readers they are targeting are also fans of gratuitous gore and the readers who have been here all along would probably read a horror comic if they were looking for such things. Oddly, the books that were pushed on me AS horror titles present the subject matter with the quiet intensity of a great horror film, exploring the human element as much as the abject terrors they face. Perhaps, your hero books could learn a lesson from them.

Nuff said..on with the show!! Last week was a mixed bag of dislike and like, but I'm happy to report this week's batch left me with far more to smile about.

Batman #1 - You know the story. A boy witnesses his parents brutally murdered in a botched robbery attempt. Bruce Wayne grows up hard, traveling the world to find experts who would teach him the skills he could use to strike fear into the criminal elements of Gotham City and more importantly, survive the experience. In his time as The Batman, Bruce has had three sidekicks and a son, brought his brand of justice to the world through specially trained heroes following his code and even conquered death itself. Now, we return to Gotham; a city intent on tearing itself apart with new twisted individuals bent on terror around every corner. Bruce Wayne is back in the cowl, ready to pummel anything that goes bump in the night, armed with cutting edge bat weaponry and the most high tech gear the Bat Cave could house, now available at his finger tips.

So, how do we re-introduce Batman to the world? We throw the entire populace of Arkham Asylum at him! Right out of the gate we see Batman doing what he does best; namely taking down his top villains with the crunch of bone and crashing of glass as his theme music. To be sure, this is the most clever way to say to those old school readers "Settle down! As you see, all your favorite baddies are still kicking in the New52, albeit with some slight tweaking to their looks here and there." Happily, you'll find these re-designs not far from anything we've seen in the past and nowhere near as drastic as those in "The Batman" cartoon which had Joker running around barefoot with a straight jacket on. I will point out an appearance by The Joker which had him sporting the slit-mouth look rather than the classic mug they already established in Detective Comics #1. Odd, but not unforgivable in the context of this story. This is a "getting to know you" issue on one hand, while in the other, a way to show die hard fans what is new in this universe. Gordon still meets a shadowy figure on a rooftop from time to time, the Bat Cave still sports a giant penny and robotic dinosaur, Dick Grayson is still up for a little backup if the situation calls for it and Tim Drake and Damian Wayne are still very much welcome at Wayne Manor. Oh..and Alfred is not CGI. Most importantly, Batman #1 sets a tone. This is Gotham, and it belongs to The Bat. He's got every street wired and every good man on his side...and he'll need all this in play when a savage new killer surfaces, making him doubt the goodness in those men he holds closest. Batman #1 is constantly entertaining, parading out old friends (good and evil alike) to present a force for hope amid the chaos threatening to swallow this city whole every day. This is CLASSIC Batman at its finest with a sharp look to compliment those dark alleys and crazed expressions while also enhancing the humanity behind every genuine smile and snarky smirk. If the tone and tempo of this book are any indication, we are in for one excellent ride.

Birds of Prey #1 - Meanwhile, in another part of Gotham City, a reporter is hot on the trail of some super powered femme fatales who beat back the big bad and aren't supposed to exist...sort of like the A Team with boobs. OK, not really, but I was dying to make the comparison. For the ladies of the DCU, it is business as usual with Black Canary (a blond with exceptional fighting skills and a scream that can shatter your skull) and Starling (who shows little more power than some killer moves and a punk rock attitude) battling creeps straight out of a Metal Gear Solid video game for pretty much the whole issue. It may be a bit of a spoiler, but I couldn't write less about this issue if I tried. I've never read an issue of a comic that had so much action while absolutely nothing is happening. You barely get introduced to the main characters and by the finale, you have no sense of a plot forming. It seems as if the writers were reaching for a detective story feel with plenty of inner monologue from Black Canary, but it lacks any sort of intensity or style to pull it off. What's left is the merest hint of a mystery with time jumps and the reader left in the middle of it all, wondering which way they should be facing. Sadly, Birds of Prey left me flat.

Catwoman #1 - Selina Kyle is the Catwoman. Adrenaline junkie, sexually aggressive predator and genuine force of nature would describe her best. Once she crashes into your life, you'll never be the same. We join Selina doing what she does best..fleeing those who would put a bullet between her eyes! Diving in head first is really the best way to enter Catwoman's world. It's how she lives, after all. Now it is time to scare up some quick cash, so buckle up. Selina seems like a slightly unhinged girl, so going to work means equal parts sex and violence..and tonight's menu will see more of the latter. This book goes from 80mph to a relaxing 30 and back up to 90 before you can blink. Watch Catwoman slide through danger as if she were untouchable with blood drenched claws and a smile on her face, then return home to her family of kitties who make her appear almost normal. Almost. Catwoman is a manic whirlwind flight through yet another side of Gotham City. It may be prettier, but it is just as dangerous. The look of the comic utilizes a slightly more artistic take on the standard "hero art" playing on the lush shades of color that exist in the city at night, giving the book a sort of sex appeal. I had a great time blowing through this psychotic read up until the last pages which threw a visual at me that is forever burned into my eyes. It's something you can't unsee, and you may endlessly debate if you ever wanted to see it in the first place. There used to be a fine line walked in super hero comics. Sure, they often soak the panels in blood for shock value, but those more intimate moments were best left alluded to. Now the lines are blurred in the New52. All the old rules are out the window..and I'm not sure I like it. In this instance, going too far almost ruined the whole experience for me. I'm going to be very interested to hear what the rest of you say about this comic in the days after it's release. As it stands, I may not be returning to this title. If you thought the last page of Detective Comics was a little over the top, you haven't seen anything yet.

DC Universe Presents #1 - Here is your all purpose introduction to Deadman AKA Boston Brand, who squandered his life in empty pursuits, stepping on those he felt were lesser than him along the way. His demise reminds us that there is always a bigger shark in the sea. In death, Boston strikes a bargain to work off his bad karma by aiding those lost souls living empty lives, and with every victory, he comes one step closer to eternal peace. How exactly he goes about steering them toward a more fulfilling life is unclear to me. It involves him jumping into their body and living their life for a time, but how does that help them to grow as a person if they are no longer in control? Questions aside, the writing in this book is engaging, so you'll fly right through it. The body jumping aspect of Deadman's power also allows for some lighter fun as he seeks the help of those with a heartbeat and is none too subtle about it. The look is as moody as the content with each shadowy setting lending excellently to the manifestation of Deadman's power which envelopes his host in a pink glow. It is all very appealing. Though there are some lighter moments, the bulk of this introductory story is deep and brooding, so be prepared for drama before you step in. I'll be sticking around for at least one more issue to see where the actual plot is going. I've got an understanding of his powers and the many lives he has lived, so now we can see what this guy in tights does to make the world a better place.

One note: In Hawk and Dove, I'd swear we are looking at post "Blackest Night" Deadman..who is actually LIVE in back from the dead. If that is the case, why are we following the exploits of still dead Deadman in this book? For a cohesive new universe, I sure do find myself confused more often than not.

Green Lantern Corps #1 - Somewhere out in the cold of space, aliens are SCREAMING. Toss another hero book into the "may as well be horror" pile! GL Corps opens up on a detention center set upon by some vicious, relentless force that is short on words and long on bloodshed. After this quick intro to the book's big bad, we jump down to Earth where Guy Gardener and Jon Stewart are dealing with human problems for once. Fortunately, they are still Green Lanterns and can leave behind our mundane existence whenever the mood strikes them. This reminder that the human Green Lanterns may still face problems that are constantly echoed in a "street-level" book like Spider-Man is a refreshing change from the GL stories I've grown accustomed to. Before long, it is time to take action, so we follow our boys alongside a handful of ring slingers to hunt down the seemingly unstoppable menace we began the book with. The layout of this comic will be familiar to anyone who has watched a great movie. The main characters are not introduced directly as much as they are dropped in our laps in a situation that allows us to take in the breathe of their personality. The writing keeps these moments real and highly enjoyable. In counterpoint, the horrific nature in which the unseen villain strikes in between those human moments builds the tension throughout the book, as we know these forces are destined to clash. To say I'm looking forward to the hunt for this kill-crazy alien and the epic battle that is sure to come from that meeting is an understatement. GL Corps has all the beats of an excellent, action packed Scifi film with the horrors of an ultra creepy Resident Evil scenario thrown into the mix, creating a cosmic tale that's just too good to pass up. Snap this one up while you can!

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 - Back into space with the Legion, a group of young space heroes keeping the peace in the universe in the 31st century. Wasting no time, the book drops us planet side for the start of a mission requiring some degree of stealth. The familiar faces of Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy are present with Chemical Kid and Dragonwing bringing up the rear. We get a brief taste of each character's personality before heading back to Legion HQ for additional beats with Mon-El and Brainiac 5 and quick cameos from Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, Dream Girl and Comet Queen. The action is very slowly ramping up on the alien planet while the rest of the Legion discuss things that seem at the epicenter of those events that created DC's New 52. Flashpoint is named directly! For those who have been trying to unravel the riddle of the "Pink Lady" and her suspected link to Time Trapper, this is the book where Glorith lives and quietly wishes she could master time to undo the horrible things she has seen. Shades of things to come if you ask me! The book is somewhat slow, no doubt mired in its need to give you a sense of each character's personality....all 20 of those characters. Yawn. The real action doesn't begin until the last 4 pages or so and doesn't amount to much. Those that have read Legion before will probably be very happy to see their familiar friends still in action. For someone unfamiliar with this book and it's heroes, the events can be confusing and tedious with very standard hero art lacking in any spectacle to wake up your tired eyes. If the art inside were anything like the dynamic cover, I probably would have payed more attention to the story. As it is, the plot will probably reveal itself to be just as integral to the whole of the 52 as Stormwatch is said to be, but I'll most likely sleep right through it.

Nightwing #1 - Now we are talking about a character I know a thing or two about! I followed the tales of Dick Grayson as he took on a place more savage than Gotham to prove his skills were worthy of Batman's pride. I stuck around as Dick moved to New York when DC seemed to be trying to ground their universe in our reality. The stories were still wildly creative and fun, so I continued on. The Batman went to his grave and Dick took on the mantle..and I was out. Dick proved to be a lesser Batman, prone to fits of anger and lacking in the detective skills that made Bruce Wayne second to none. NOW, Bruce has returned, allowing Dick to get back into his speed suit and take to the rooftops, looking for trouble in the town he cut his teeth on... Gotham! The writers of this book recapture the light nature of Dick who is just as human when he is on the hunt as when he is in street clothes. This humanity does not diminish the action as we follow Nightwing into battle delivering strikes you can feel through the panel, thanks in no small part to art capturing the speed and ferocity of these moments with eerie realism. As Dick's past catches up with him, a newcomer to the city starts making a name for the point of a knife. Remember those jarring moments of horror I discussed in my opening rant? Nightwing has one of those which proves to be so nasty you almost don't want to continue on. Luckily, this is just a quick beat, and though it did sour my overall experience, it didn't ruin it so much that I am done for good. There is enough vintage Nightwing action in this book to make me come back for more, but DC had better chill on the Nightmare on Elm Street level violence! I'd like to have some fun without the bloodbath from time to time.

Quick Note: Read Batman first, then Nightwing. It seems Batgirl 2 will spill over into this story line as well.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 - DREAMTEAM!! Take the arrogant swagger of Arsenal paired with the borderline psychotic excellence of former Batman protege Red Hood, backed by the sheer power and raw sex appeal of Starfire and you've got a recipe for AWESOME! As you flip to page 1, you'll quickly find the art is just as engaging as the images on the cover. This is not your typical men in tights book. The action kicks off fast and furious like a well timed comedy skit with armed soldiers dropping like flies at a rate that would make Deadpool blush. Basically, it's a Bruce Willis movie. Snappy banter and explosions just make my heart happy. After we escape the flames, the meat of the story kicks off as Red Hood AKA Jason Todd is briefed on some mystical horrors happening in other parts of the world and our anti-hero seems to already know where to point his guns for justice. This book has more charisma than any 10 comics on the shelves today. I never thought I'd have so much fun watching three fairly self involved characters interact. While the first half of the book boasts action that goes off the rails, the second half packs in some hysterical conversations including a reference to past comics and their relevancy to our orange skinned hotty that will make you fall out of your chair. This comic is an overflowing glass of kick-ass and I can't wait for #2!

Supergirl #1 - If our DC history is still primarily intact, then Superman cashed on planet Earth as a baby, allowing him ample time to adjust to the ways of human beings and the effects our sun has on Kryptonian physiology. Supergirl...has no such luck. It seems Supergirl went from a normal life on her home planet to a crash landing on a strange new world in an instant, but she has no time to figure out why as a military force converges on her location, intent on her capture. Amazing powers manifest as robot attackers move in and we have a recipe for chaos. The art style chosen lends to the relentless action with frenzied panel placement helping to toss you around as you try to follow every super-charged clash. You will DEVOUR this comic in under 5 minutes and love every minute of it. It's an all out super battle introducing the Girl of Steel to a new audience through a flurry of confusion, pain and anger..much like the average day of any teenage girl (except this one might be able to throw a tank at you!) This book is crazy fun.

Wonder Woman #1 - An ominous figure casts a spell allowing him to find that which he desires. At that same moment almost a world away, a being summons creatures born of carnage. In an instant, the life of a girl named Zola will be changed forever and only Wonder Woman may be able to spare her from the horrors that seek her out. The story takes off like a wild horse broken free of it's fence and takes next to no opportunity to tell a story or allude to a plot beyond the normal sort of "Girl of Destiny" shtick I'm going to assume. Honestly, I have no idea what is going on here. It's like I sat down in the middle of the movie and now I have to hope for a little exposition to catch me up. No such luck. Details are revealed and remain meaningless. Violence is displayed with great pride and lack impact without any sort of context. Oooo..more blood. So what? I'm so damn desensitized at this point I'd welcome a 4 hour director's cut of Seven. I have far too many gripes about this book, so I'll just stop here. Let's just say I wasn't feeling it at all. I will note that I recently had a great time reading Gail Simone's Wonder Woman, so maybe that bar is set way too high now. The Wonder Woman of the New 52 is just lacking on all counts. This is no fun.


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