Thursday, September 29, 2011

DC Comics The New 52 Week 4: Part 1

Well, the wait is finally over!  The New DCU is upon us, and whether you're ready or not, this week sees the release of 13 all new series.  It's strange, exciting, and truly a great time to be a fan of the medium of comics.  Now, on the review side, I'm trying to be as spoiler free as possible with these reviews, mainly due to the fact that experiencing them yourself is paramount.  I'm also going to try to do full reviews for a lot of these new series, though time constraints and my current sanity level will prevent me from doing all of them.  That said, in these The New 52 Articles, I'll give you a quick rundown of what was good, what was not so good, and what are the books to seek out.  So without further ado, TO THE BOOKS!

All-Star Western #1
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Moritat
Company: DC Comics
This was one of the books that I was most looking forward to. Not because that Jonah Hex is a favorite character of mine, he's really not, but the concept was so strong. Hex giving Amadeus Arkham a hand in tracking down the criminally insane in the blossoming insanity of 1880's Gotham City...It just screamed cool. In execution, it's actually a bit better than that. Writers Gray and Palmiotti, who have been in charge of the Western themed Jonah Hex book since it was relaunched a few years back, really put together a tight script. It pulls bits and pieces from things like From Hell and The Alienist, the tense and methodical serial terror, and puts what is essentially a superhero in the middle of it. There's also a good explanation of Hex's character, what makes him tick and what drives him to do what he does too. He's very believable and the way he's seen as almost as a force of nature when he gets going has an almost Punisher like effect. Drawing this little ditty is the artist known as Moritat. Known for his covers and his work on the title Elephantmen, his work on All-Star Western is beyond impressive. It's evocative, has a solid line, draws the reader in, and really provides an on the ground, first hand view of what life is like in this burgeoning city. The entire affair has an almost muted tone to it, but it's very intentional and sets a great mood for the story. All in all, with a story that gets under your skin and a powerhouse artistic talent drawing a very character-centric tale, this one does more than impress.

Aquaman #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Company: DC Comics
Johns tries a little too hard with this one, but for the most part he's fairly successful in making Aquaman, traditionally one of the more laughable heroes (at least to some), into a much more interesting and powerhouse of a character. The first issue is a bit of a slow burn, but Johns really allows the reader to get into the headspace of Arthur, and allows them to know how our hero feels as the world laughs at him. I'm also a huge fan of the apparent need for the character to escape Atlantis and the title of King. It's a plot point that I'm sure won't be thrown out, but we've seen it for so long and something new and different is what this character really needs to keep people in the seats. Reis, who worked with Johns on Blackest Night, turns in some really smart artwork too. The design work for the villains of The Trench, which feel very Cthulhu-esque, are creepy and evoke a deep sense of terror. That coupled with his smooth storytelling and high impact action makes this title stand strong. Essentially, Johns really is on a roll with the work he's providing for the new relaunch of the DC Universe. Aquaman however, with its blend of humor, action, and creepiness may be my personal favorite at the moment.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1
Writers: David Finch & Paul Jenkins
Artist: David Finch
Company: DC Comics
Mired a touch in corny, over the top caption boxes, David Finch and Paul Jenkins' The Dark Knight feels crazily like a bit of a throwback to the Silver Age stories of old. But not in a good way. Essentially, this is just another Batman story. It too, like the main Batman title last week, deals with problems at Arkham Asylum and a breakout involving many of his typical rogues gallery. I really think this is an every day event now, or at least it certainly feels like it is. There is even the similarity between the books with Wayne giving a speech about Gotham. There are some differences, but the inclusion of a Internal Affairs officer who is looking into Wayne financing the Batman Operation isn't the greatest of plot points. Then there is the art. Like I've said before, Finch is a decent enough artist. I think there's a lot to be said about his action set pieces and the level of detail that he brings to his backgrounds. He has a lot in common with artists like Jim Lee and classic Ed Benes. The one issue that I have with his style is that his faces typically look either very stock and similar to one another or sometimes extremely awkward. His Bruce Wayne in this issue looks wonky and it proved to be a real distraction. At the end of the day though, The Dark Knight doesn't impress.

Blackhawks #1
Writer: Mike Costa
Artists: Graham Nolan & Ken Lashley
Company: DC Comics
For a book that follows a group of elite soldiers out to put the kibosh on terrorist groups that are trying to take over the world, you need to get a writer who understands such a concept. It only makes sense then if you seek out the writer to one of the best G.I. Joe books that has hit the shelves in the past decade. That book would be G.I. Joe: Cobra and the writer is Mike Costa. The first issue of Blackhawks gets across the gist of that concept and provides copious amounts of action, character work, and that crucial ingredient, entertainment. Costa gives us a helping of action at the books outset and then settles down a bit as we see a government stiff pay the Aviary, the teams remote base, a visit. It's a solid way to play the first issue as it allows the reader to be put in this man's shoes and experience things firsthand. The books one downside is the art. Nolan (provides the layouts) and Lashley (provides the finishes) have talent, but there's a frenetic side to the finished product here that doesn't do the book any justice. It's too messy and loose, too confusing at times which doesn't allow the action to have much focus. The bare bones for a good book are there though. The concept is great and what we get in the way of character background is neat. In other words, it's a great start.

The Flash #1
Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccelatto
Artist: Francis Manapul
Company: DC Comics
Let's just get this out of the way first. While I think Johns' return to the character of the Flash was decent, it wasn't the end all be all that we all thought that it would be. There seemed to be something missing to it, some sense of fun-ness or some spark of energy. It seems that with the team of Manapul and Buccelatto, that missing spark has been found and nurtured. The result is an issue that has  solid story about friendship and villainy, about being able to move faster than the speed of light, and yes, having a bit of fun. The writers use Flash's power set well and actually make Barry Allen a bit more...What's the word? Human? Not dull? In other words, he has character and the relationships that he finds himself in feel real and realized. The art, as one could have guessed, is beautiful. Manapul knocks you out with the way his smooth and slick style portrays the powers and world that Flash inhabits. The subtle sound effects (take a look at the actual panels to see what I'm talking about) and the way he's able to cut loose and be very inventive with panel layout and structure sets his work apart from many other artists. His style simply has an inviting quality to it that connects some missing synapse in your brain and bashes you over the head with awesome. It also doesn't hurt that Buccellato provides some sumptuous colors to tie it all together. So yes, I demand more of the same from this title with the upcoming issues.

The Fury of Firestorm #1
Writers: Gail Simone & Ethan Van Sciver
Artist: Yildiray Cinar
Company: DC Comics
I'm really torn with this book. Three things are going on with this first issue. One, you get the introduction of Ronnie Raymond, a high school jock that has all of the traditional problems you have at that age. The second thing is the introduction to Jason Rusch, a brilliant teen who certainly has his own problems to deal with coupled with a few extraordinary circumstances that teens don't usually have to compensate for. The third thing is a story about a group of individuals, members of an almost black-ops organization, that to keep a lid on the Firestorm protocol, maim, murder, and torture. Writers Simone and Van Sciver do a fine job with our two high school students and their respective stories. Each feel very different and unique and each bring something different element to the table, just like the writers do. It's the third element, this hit squad, that brings the book down a few notches. The violence is very in your face and splashy and you see these individuals revel in the torture of defenseless men and women. That can work in books like Secret Six or Suicide Squad, titles  but it feels a bit wonky in a book like this. Cinar's more painted style is nice however. It gives the book a much more animated feel and I am a fan of the overall design work that was put into the two different Firestorms. So yeah, there's both good and bad inside this issue. I hope we see more of the good next time.


  1. I was a little disappointed in the first issue of Firestorm, but not as much as you were it seems. I suppose that it was too different from the halcyon early days I remember so fondly when Fury of Firestorm #2 was one of the first two comics I ever picked up. It also probably didn't help that I didn't read a ton of Jason Rusch-era issues as I pretty much ignored DC at that time. I don't really know what to expect of the character.

    Like you, I thought the fighting with Ronnie was a little forced. But most of all, I really want Professor Stein around. He always grounded Firestorm and without him, I'm going to have to alter my expectations. I'll keep reading for now, because I really want it to succeed, but I hope issue 2 is better.

    Aquaman, on the other hand, was excellent. That was a pleasant surprise. I'll also have to give All-Star Western a try. Wasn't going to check it out, but your review convinced me.

  2. Br'nn, I completely agree with you about the absence of Professor Stein. He's an integral part of that character and while I know it was the first issue and things can change, having him essentially missing from the start felt odd.

    I have always like Firestorm as a character and found the new version that they did on Batman Brave and the Bold to be fantastic riff on the traditional mold. We'll just have to see what issue two brings to the table.