Today I’m going to go through the next batch of new number one issues from DC’s ‘new 52’. And like last time, I’m going to read each comic straight through once, then blog my immediate reaction, rather than a more considered one.
As always, I’m only buying those comics which I think have at least a chance of being decent, so if you want my opinion of the Rob Liefeld Hawk & Dove, or anything written by Judd Winick, you’ll have to pay me large amounts of money.
Today is my fifth day without caffeine, and the first of those days I’ve managed to make it as late as 1:30 PM without having a little nap. Will my caffeineless state make these comics seem like psychedelic, hallucinatory masterpieces? Or will their lack of Thrill Power force me into a coma? Read on, as I delve into…
Blue Beetle #1
Writer Tony Bedard
Pencils Ig Guara
Inks Ruy Jose
Colours Pete Pantazis
Letters Rob Leigh
Well, that was a whole lot of rubbish. The series that John Rogers and Keith Giffen did with this character, a few years back, was not the greatest comic ever or anything, but it was fun, funny, and a decent way to spend ten minutes a month.
This, on the other hand, tries to recap most of the background that was dribbled out over a year or two by Rogers et al in a single issue, turning it into foreground. And it does so charmlessly, with not a single memorable line or event.
And the incompetence makes it borderline racist. It’s certainly not *intended* that way – Bedard says in the back-matter that he’s Puerto Rican and so identifies with the hispanic immigrant experience – but having all the characters speak in perfect English *except* for a very few Spanish words, which we could be expected to guess from context (“N-no–! Por favor… we ran tests in Mexico City!– That is the real escarabajo azul in the backpack–! I swear it on the virgin…!”)
This tries to do too much in one issue, and ends up being a confused mess. I accidentally swallowed a filling while reading this, and it was far more dramatic than anything in the comic.
Writer Peter Milligan
Pencils Ed Benes
Inks Rob Hunter
Colours Nathan Eyring
Letters Carlos M Mangual
This is, in its own way, an equally bad comic – probably, on any objective scale, a worse one. Certainly, the art is as bad as one would expect from Benes, and Milligan clearly can’t be bothered at all. It’s just generally sloppy – as an example, an old man in the UK says he “fought a war for you”. The old man’s age is later given as 73.
Now, 73-year-olds in the UK actually lived their young adulthood in the most sustained period of peace in British history, so unless he fought in Suez when he’d just turned 18 (almost impossible, as only highly-trained troops were sent there, and British troops were only there for two months- only 16 British soldiers died in that war) he *might* have been a professional soldier in his mid-40s during the Falklands conflict, but in general people of that generation are the least likely to be able to say “I fought in the war for you” in the whole of history. And that level of can’t-be-arsedness seems to pervade the writing.
But at the same time… there’s an *energy* to this comic, a sense of over-the-top grand guignol ridiculousness, that’s totally missing from Blue Beetle. This seems to be aimed precisely at the hearts of 14-year-old boys, and is like listening to ten Iron Maiden albums in a row then watching a slasher film while drunk on a single pint of cider. There’s an energy, and an intensity, here, that make it worth reading despite being, frankly, terrible.
This is going to be the new All-Star Batman And Robin, with people making great claims for its subversive genius precisely because of its apparent incompetence. And given that Peter Milligan, one of the most intelligent and able of comics writers, is writing it, those people may well be right. I’ll certainly pick up at least the second issue.
Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.
Writer Jeff Lemire
Line Art Alberto Ponticelli
Colours Jose Villarrubia
Letters Pat Brosseau
This is the kind of comic that should be the staple produce of the Big Two, but isn’t. Full of nice little touches and ideas, this is very much the Frankenstein ongoing series that we could have expected coming straight after Seven Soldiers.
If anything, the only problem is that Lemire might be slightly too in thrall to Morrison, but in an age when so many comics are about little more than mopey superheroes sitting around complaining, seeing Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy and a black lagoon creature sent into a town overrun by monsters on a rescue mission is certainly refreshing.
Best of the bunch so far, by a long way, but little to say about it.
Writer Paul Cornell
Pencils Diogenes Neves
Inks Oclair Albert
Colours Marcelo Maiolo
Letters Jared H Fletcher
In many ways, this comic shows more potential than any of those I’ve read so far, but it’s not yet living up to it. Cornell is here very much just putting his pieces in place – moving Vandal Savage, Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu and Sir Ystin together, and planting a few seeds. This is clearly influenced both by Kirby’s original Demon comics and by Seven Soldiers, and like those starts with a fall of Camelot, and seems to be leading up to the creation of a team of seven.
Cornell’s a good writer when he wants to be, and these characters have a lot of potential, especially given that they appear to be mostly immortals. And the multiple falls of Camelot are obviously going to be a major plot point, given how heavily they’re referenced in this issue. But like many of these stories, it seems that this issue is all set-up and no pay-off – although the cliffhanger, dinosaurs crashing through a pub wall, promises something more for the next issue.
And last but, I presume, best…
Writers J.H. Williams III and W Haden Blackman
Line art J.H. Williams III
Colours Dave Stewart
Letters Todd Klein
Look at that list of people. You don’t really need to know anything else, do you?
This does have a script (one that actually has some of los mismos problemas as Blue Beetle, with people speaking Spanish only when it can be understood en el contexto), but is competent enough, setting up a new storyline while connecting it to the past – though this is clearly the story that was meant to happen months ago, straight after the Detective Comics run with the previous Batwoman stories in it.
But this isn’t a comic you read for the script. This is drawn by the single best artist working in mainstream comics, coloured by the best colourist, and lettered (though he doesn’t get much chance to show off) by the best letterer. Every single page is a masterclass in putting together a comics page. Every image is beautiful.
It has faults – Mr Williams is slightly too fond of objectifying the female form – but this is a beautiful, gorgeous piece of work from a master of the form, and is as far above the rest of the comics I’ve reviewed here as Pet Sounds is above Jan & Dean Meet Batman
I get my copy of Batwoman in about a week and a half (I save 10% by having my comics order come monthly rather than asap). After the end of Bryan Q Miller’s Batgirl (which made me cry it was so awesome) I think this is the only one of the new 52 I am really looking forward to.
They’ve been pretty underwhelming so far, but Action Comics and Swamp Thing were good. Batwoman’s clearly the best so far by a long way though.
I thought Batwoman, Swamp Thing, Action Comics and Frankenstein all showed promise, but for me Animal Man and Wonder Woman have been the only real keepers so far.
Those are proper comics, those are. They’ve got pages and staples and everything!
I’ve not actually read either Wonder Woman (which I’ve heard literally nothing about other than the pants debate) or Animal Man (which I have on order at the comic shop) yet, but the four you list as having promise are definitely the four I’ve enjoyed most out of those I *have* read.
All of the DC books I’ve read this month have been either action comics, horror comics, or action-horror comics. If you put them all in a line with Action Comics and OMAC at one end and Swamp Thing and Animal Man at the other, Wonder Woman would sit right in the middle of the two extremes.
I go up and down on Brian Azzarello’s work, but Cliff Chiang is brilliant and together they manage to both suggest that their protagonist is a remarkable woman-of-action (clean bold lines hitting at all the right angles) and to that she exists in a world that is properly ‘orrible enough to pose a threat to her. I dunno, if I tried to explain the plot it would sound a bit like an episode of Xena: Warrior princes, what with all the battle of the gods stuff, but it was the most convincing #1 I read this month, so… it’s all in the execution, basically.
I’ve read Demon Knights and Batwoman and agree with you on both being set up issues, but as a new reader to DC (I’m a recovering Marvel boy who reads books from most of the major publishers but not DC!) I was pleased with that. I wasn’t expecting too much from them and this was pleasantly surprised.
Unlike Legion Lost, Catwoman or Captain Atom which were hugely disappointing.
Did the 73-year-old’s outburst occur during a discussion of North Atlantic cod fishing rights?
I did think of mentioning the cod wars, but since the sum total of fighting in the first cod war consisted of one shot and two blanks fired, and in the last two just some nets cut, I thought that would be a bit of a stretch…
Am I too stodgy and inflexible a fanboy for being disappointed that neither Shining Knight (in Demon Knights) nor Frankenstein were written in keeping with the characters that appeared in Seven Soldiers? Shining Knight in particular is unrecognizable, and I’m really not sure what the point of the character is if she’s not here in the “fallen” present day. Frankenstein is better, but he’s portrayed mostly as a befuddled lunkhead rather than the poetic engine of destruction he was in SS.
Add to that the fact that, yes, dammit, I want Etrigan to be a rhymer whenever possible, and I feel like this batch of writers is really doing a poor job of keeping to the correct “voice”. I suppose these characters are constantly being reinterpreted and I should be more open-minded, but I’m not sure what the actual point of these changes are yet. In most cases it seems like the writer just couldn’t be, as you Brits say, arsed.
That’s a nice review of Red Lanterns, by the way. It definitely wasn’t a good comic, but I can’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy it and you got the why of that quite nicely. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed the silliness of the old guy’s “I fought a ware for you” blather. It just read as STANDARD OLD GUY TALK to me and I imagine it was written with a similar lack of thought or attention.
Still: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY CAT?”
What indeed, Ed Beanz, what indeed!
JH Williams’ recent work is relentlessly impressive, but I enjoyed it more when he was working with Moore and Morrison. It felt like he tried to take both of them on, like he was trying to add as much information as possible to their already information rich scripts.
His work on Batwoman (both with and without Rucka) feels a lot less ambitious to me. It conveys so much more than it needs to, but what it’s conveying seems comparatively un-engaging.
This isn’t to say that he needs to go back to working with All Beard or No Beard, but rather that I’d like to see him step it up, maybe even to go full Mazzucchelli!
Oh, I absolutely agree. He’s a great collaborator, and those two are really the only two writers in the superhero comics world who can equal Williams. And a good collaborator will push anyone to new heights.
But I’ll still read anything he draws, because he’s *so good*. And maybe his writing skills will improve, though he’s certainly better than half the writers working for DC already.
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