Saturday, September 24, 2011

The best of the new 52

POLL: "The best of the new 52"
I have to say, personally, I find more uncomfortable changes about the DCnU than cool ones. However, I'm not going to get into that ranting now; instead, I'm going to recommend the best stories I read of the "new 52". Whether we like the DC reboot or not, some stories are good and some are bad. Here is my ranking of the best issues:

10. Justice League Dark
My rating: 8 of 10.
I'm not sure about the concept. It reminds me of those themed Justice League teams they made for a 2001 story. Having heroes with diverse backgrounds and powers is kind of the point of Justice League. Having said that, this story feels like it's going to be good, but like Aquaman #1 and most of the 52, this first issue doesn't stand alone. We do get to see more than two of the members gather (take that, Justice League #1!) and the introduction of an interesting threat that justifies a team like this, though.

9. Aquaman
My rating: 8 out of 10.
I can't believe it, but Geoff Johns did it once again. Aquaman #1 might have that fanfic aftertaste that characterizes its writer, long with the feeling that nothing happened; however, it feels really solid and it got my attention. This is the cool Aquaman portrayal I've been waiting for ages. He's not just some guy who talks with fishes, but a true superhuman king. I just wish he didn't have the bitter attitude. If it were a perfect world maybe he wouldn't be like the version from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but he would be a bit like Destruction (from the Endless).

8. Action Comics
My rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Grant Morrison is taking Superman back to the basics. The new Action Comics #1 echoes the original one of 1938, showing a Superman that makes no apologies to fight injustice and corruption and a Clark Kent that still has a lot of character to develop. In a role that echoes his cameo in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #52 and 53, Lex Luthor is introduced as the idea man who helps the army to take down SupermanWe also get the start of his envy of Superman. All in all, this issue didn't blew my mind, or showed something unseen before, bu it is definitively a nice setting for the rest of the series.

7. Superman
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
An old hallmark building is not demolished (never) but sold, changing the timeline can't possibly make white people black and I'm already tired of the drama that we're going to have between Lois and Clark before they move in together. With that being said, Superman #1 is a terrific issue. It completed an adventure, worked as a great story arc hook and introduced Clark Kent's world. The rest of the 52 rarely accomplished the three things. The story focuses on the new Daily Planet and its coverage of a fight between Superman and a strange alien; and while doing so, George Perez took the classic Superman supporting cast to the modern world.

6. O.M.A.C.
8.5 out of 10.
Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio rock! This book is pure Kirby fun. It mixes all previous versions of O.M.A.C., a bit of TVs Freakazoid! and some Hulk, which is probably why it feels like a Kirby power punch. This is the only book that truly stands on its own. Yes, it leaves a lot of unresolved issues, but it freaking feels like a complete story, something I didn't get from any of the other issues I've read so far. The story is basically about the mysterious O.M.A.C. hurricaning his way through Cadmus in order to get some secret files for Brother Eye. We learn that the blue hulk is Kevin Kho, a nerdy researcher for Cadmus who is dating his coworker, Jody Robbins. The rest is intelligently left as the mystery that will get us to buy the next issue.

5. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 presents a world that is as much of a pastiche as the body of the main character itself. This campy cocktail includes classic and modern horror, battle, disaster, super spy fiction and super science; so, what's not to love? This issue we learn about the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive (S.H.A.D.E.), a really weird super government organization that manages a network of strange creatures (the Creature Commandos) who take care of super natural situations. Once the introduction is over (as simple as that sounds, a lot of the new 52 didn't get past that) this issue truly delivers the sensation that the survival of the World depends on the super bad-ass Frankenstein and his awesome team.

4. Wonder Woman
My rating: 9 out of 10.
I've waited so long for the Wonder Woman title to be great! The only reason this issue doesn't go higher in my rank is because it felt a tad short. The storytelling is solid, bold and interesting. Azzarello just made Wonder Woman rock by setting her in a very contemporary world that is still being manipulated by creepy and menacing supernatural forces from Greek mythology and by presenting her as a seasoned warrior that can defeat them. I know this had been done before, but this time you can't take the supernatural for granted. She's not a strong woman anymore, she's just strong, period. Strong compared to men, women or gods. You name it, this Wondie is going to kick its butt, so go buy it... Now, b*tch!
...Sorry, I got carried away.

3. Swamp Thing
My rating: 9 out of 10.
This issue makes it official for me: Scott Snyder is the king of horror and suspense, and the master of creepy introductions. Swamp Thing allows his macabre tales to finally go supernatural within the world of DC and, contrary to Batman #1, this time he skips the introductions to go straight to the first mystery of the series, which is masterfully presented. After resurrecting, a more cynical and pessimistic Alec Holland is dealing with his new life - a one day at a time sort of deal. He is not the ecologist he used to be. Meanwhile, the world is plagued by a really bizarre and eerie force that could give the Linda Blair a run for her money.

2. Animal Man
My rating: 9.5 out of 10.
Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Travel Foreman are people to watch. I applaud DC for picking this creative team. They are reinfusing DC line with the good old postmodernism that was lost when a number of properties became Vertigo territory in the mid 90s. Following the tradition established by Morrison with the original series, Animal Man #1 mixes elements of horror, suspense and action to present the life of Buddy Baker, a "regular" Joe that has to balance his everyday family issues with the hard and frequently surreal situations and dilemmas he faces as a superhero. Foreman plays with the format to take away the typical sense of balance we would get from conventional comic art.
In this issue, we learn that Buddy has reached fame as an environmental activist / actor / superhero, and that he is not quite sure about the career path he should take. He has not been very active as a superhero, but he goes on to save the day after hearing a report, anyway. However, in the process, he finds out that really strange things are going on with his powers and with his daughter, Maxine, who develops her own.
1. Batman
My rating: 9.5 out of 10.
Scott Snyder takes us for a full joy ride of the Batman universe. In a single issue he delivered a fight against most of Batman's rogues gallery, a couple of twists, a new situation, a mystery, and introduction to most of the supporting, a description of Gotham City and a the start of a new story arc. If the homework for the writers of the new 52 was to produce 52 comic book issues that introduce new readers to the DCnU and leave them hooked along with old readers, Snyder aced it with Batman #1.

Other readings that were decent or OK for me were:
  • Stormwatch: 7.5 out of 10, your typical recruitment story with another otherworldly threat. However, I think it delivers and that its very well worth a shot.
  • Demon Knights: 7.5 out of 10. The story was OK, but I thin Paul Cornell got most of his ideas from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In my mind I was hearing its music in my mind the whole time - maybe that's why Jason Blood (the bearer of the Demon) and Madame Xanadu didn't seem to use horses. The baby scene reminded me of this:
  • Batgirl: 7 out of 10. I liked the new take. Barbara Gordon can once again start his career as a tap dancer. -- Wait!... I'm being told she used to be a superhero / librarian, not a tap dancer. So, just eliminate the mental image of the tap dancing ginger. Anyway, Gail Simone used DC's universal timeline alteration to imagine a compelling comeback for Barbara as Batgirl, complete with the challenge that victims from extremely violent crimes usually suffer. Perhaps this was what Alan Moore originally had in mind for her after making the Joker shoot her in The Killing Joke
  • Justice League: 6.5 out of 10. Yes, wonderful art, great cinematic scenes, but this is barely more than a teaser, which doesn't really work for 22 pages. As an issue, it feels exactly like this:
         I think the South Park kids truly have the same reaction as most of te JL fans, though.
  • Justice League International: 6.5 out of 10. When people read "Justice League International", they expect to see campy and maybe surreal superheroics with tons of great sitcom type of humor. However, since DC seems to have something against humor after 2004, this time we only get a bunch of talking bureaucrat heads and a generic superhero team. I trust Jurgens, so I wouldn't be surprised if it gets better, though.
For different reasons each, I strongly recommend avoiding CatwomanDetective Comics, Red Hood and the Outlaws - since I don't like to rant in this blog, I won't bother you with the details.

One flaw that I bet DC didn't see coming was the number of mysterious threats that are happening at the same time: the Swamp Thing plague, the Aquaman creatures, the Frankenstein creatures, the Greek gods thing in Wonder Woman, whatever is going on in the Outlaws, the Justice League Dark things, the Stormwatch cosmic menace, etc. The theme was a bit more repetitive with the Dark line of comics. I hate huge crossovers, but would be a bit more credible under an overall event that is related to the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012.
In general, all the issues that I've read seem to follow a similar format. We get a general introduction to the main characters, their setting and to the story of a first arc, leaving in a cliffhanger. I find extremely disappointing that there seems to be no stand alone issues and that a lot of issues don't even finish with the introduction. A constant problem that I'm seeing, perhaps due to the influence of Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, is that a lot of issues are mere teasers in which little happens. I understand that they are thinking about the way they are going to look when they compile them as trades, but the single issue format demands that, whether it is part of a longer story or not, it has a three act structure (setup, confrontation, resolution) so that the readers get something out of it. Multiple part stories in a comic book shouldn't feel like a mere story that has been elongated and randomly split. Each issue should be an adventure, even if it's part of an arc. Take any trades of great series like Swamp Thing, Sandman or Animal Man  to see what I mean. I invite everybody to back to The Anatomy Lesson and see how it's done. As Stephen King described them in his introduction to Sandman: Worlds' End, these issues should be "installments in a longer, unified tale", "eggs in a single basket", not bits of an installment or "an egg".

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