The New DC Universe: The Good and the Not So Good

scan of Action #1

I’d like to take a short break from Marvel Month and write up more of my thoughts on the freshly rebooted DC universe. The change in lineup has been a frequent topic here at Panel Discussions, and since I’ve recently purchased more of the fresh issues, I’d like to discuss them a little. As I’m a pretty forgiving reviewer, I’ll go ahead and say that nothing I’ve read has been bad, it’s just that many issues haven’t been as good as they should be.  I’d say it’s perfectly acceptable to hold the issue ones and twos up to a high standard, since DC did take apart a long history of stories to launch this huge project. With all of the issues I’ve read, I can comfortably group them into two categories: ones that seriously wowed me, and ones that were fine comics but not as great as a new start should be.

The good-but-not-great:

The biggest upset for me was Justice League Dark. As you may recall, this was a series I had really looked forward to. I’m a big fan of comics that don’t strictly adhere to reality; I like stories with magic, occult references, or imaginary worlds. Justice League Dark, featuring a magician, a ghost, a medieval enchantress and so on, seemed like it’d be the greatest comic ever. I just bought the first two issues, and while I did like them, they seemed weak. (Spoiler) After two issues though, it peeves me that they aren’t even a team yet. More should have happened. The issues did establish the characters to a degree, but I feel that was something that could have been put off for later. Fans need to have an idea of how this team operates and what sort of adventures they’re going to get into. Instead, we find out too much about Deadman and Dove’s romantic life and that Zatanna is a quirky, off-kilter character.

To a lesser extent, I was a bit let down by Birds of Prey. It’s an important series for me because it’s one of the few comics my girlfriend actually enjoys, and it doesn’t get much better than to have a conversation about superheroes with a girl. Precisely the problem I have with Birds of Prey #1 is that the characters don’t really seem like girls. The tone of Gail Simone’s run with the series seemed to be “Girls can be superheroes too” whereas the new series seems to suggest “girls can be men too.” I felt like the characters on the team were all masculinized, which unfortunately makes the series rather generic.

Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman #1 were also a bit underwhelming. I like Cliff Chiang’s art, and Brian Azzarello is definitely a writer worth following, but for a comic like Wonder Woman, it should’ve started off big. Instead, the issue was pretty moody, and (spoiler) featured decapitated horses. I don’t really want decapitated horses as an image that’ll stick with me when I think of Wonder Woman, but there they are in issue #1. Similarly, Swamp Thing, a highly anticipated comic, had great art and a talented writer attached, but had too little content in the first issue. Also like Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing also features dead animals, in this case, thousands.

So I guess my main complaint is that the issue #1s should have exploded with life and energy and started off things on a high note, but too many decided to be somber or subtle. If you read older comics, you’ll see that so many of the famous heroes had their origins first told in just a few pages. I think Bruce Wayne’s childhood and rise to power is covered in 3 or 4 pages by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Spiderman’s exposition is done in 8 pages or so. Why then spread it out over numerous issues? If anything, do flashbacks as the story goes along.

The Good:

scan of Static Shock #1

This might come as a surprise, but for me, it was the lesser known/marginal series that really started out right and impressed me thoroughly. Static Shock, for example, isn’t a well-known or extremely popular character, but I thought his first issue was terrific. Right away we get the sense of his character, we are given insight into his family life, and we get to see him in action, taking on a technology based foe, which sets up right away that Static Shock is a different kind of superhero who’s here to take on foes others wouldn’t know what to do with.

Justice League International was also refreshing. Half of the comic is just the characters bickering with each other, but it’s fun to read. My girlfriend even likes this one. Plus, it ends with an old fashioned giant monster battle.

Batwoman was just plain amazing, but I knew it would be. J. H. Williams III is one of the most fantastic artists working today. I’ve been following his career with great interest, and read his previous work with Batwoman as well as the work he did for Grant Morrison. Here, he has upped his game. His comics unfold like trippy, pop-art fantasias, the likes of which we don’t see much outside of classic Jim Steranko comics. Dave Stewart as a colorist goes way above and beyond with his work here too. I would say Batwoman is a must-buy.

Action Comics is I think the most complex DC book on the stands right now. Grant Morrison is making a point not just to come up with new adventures for the world’s oldest superhero, but to actually change how we perceive him. In all of the different manifestations of Supes, his attitude has been more or less the same: boy-scout with a touch of scout master. Here, Superman is edgy, has limited patience, and is unpredictable.

Finally, the comic from DC I’m the happiest with would have to be Batgirl. I read Gail Simone’s writing every chance I get, and I think here her writing is sharper than before. The first issue is amazing for how much content it had crammed into it. In other hands, the story of Barbara Gordon regaining her power to walk would be spread out over 12 issues, but here it’s dealt with in just a few pages. In issue 1, we see Barbara leave her parents’ house, become roomies with a stranger, and gets into a pretty intense fight at the end. I’ve read issue #2 of this series and was equally impressed.

For various reasons, I haven’t yet read even half of the new series at DC. Sooner or later I will read most, but it’s a lot to expect from a fan, especially one who doesn’t want to spend every cent he has on comics. Batgirl, Batwoman, Static Shock, Action Comics and Justice Leage International were definitely worth it.

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