Two Years (ish) of DC Comics’ New 52

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Someone asked me on Twitter if I was still reading comics (they pointed out I hadn’t posted many reviews of them lately). I have been, but because I’ve been reading them in big chunks, interspersed with work reading, as well as both fiction and (future-work-related) non-fiction books, I’ve been letting the comics reviews slide a fair bit. There is another reason, of course: not all of the comics have been single storylines, or complete storylines, which makes reviewing them really tricky. Once you get to around issue #10, anything you write about the story is likely to throw out spoilers. This, I think, is maybe a weakness of reading and reviewing comics on a weekly basis – and is really why I stopped doing that almost a year ago (that and financial considerations). Regardless, my insatiable need to read All The Things With Words means I have been reading a good number of comics via ComiXology’s app on my iPad. With the exception of the frankly phenomenal Hawkeye, I do not buy any issues full-price. I just can’t afford to. So, as and when things go on sale or are discounted (either one or two months after release), I’ve been collecting issues to read in bursts.

That being said, the number of series I’ve been reading has also been steadily culled. I usually give each series a single “volume” – that is, what would appear in a collected, printed trade hardcover or paperback. It’s been a useful way of separating storylines, as well as providing a “book’s worth” to review. (Ahem, if I bothered to review them, that is…)

So which of DC’s New 52 have I kept reading? Which ones will stay? And which will have to go, and why? Below is a brief run-down (by no means exhaustive) of the titles I’ve been reading, collected by theme/larger series…

[I may add to this, over time, as I remember other titles I’ve tried, or just think of something else I’d like to add.]

GREEN LANTERN SERIES

I’m starting with this one, because I recently completed the vast “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern” cross-title events. It was an epic undertaking, and sadly it sometimes felt like it. Not to mention being rather more expensive than I would have wished (or should have given in to). The two events, really one mega-event, had its interesting and gripping moments, but ultimately outstayed its welcome. By the time it ended, expectations were so high, that it fell a bit flat. This, I’m noticing, is a common feeling at the end of comics Events…

Overall, though, the extended family of Green Lantern titles remain interesting. Not all of them are as consistent or gripping as I would like. Green Lantern is still very good. Red Lanterns is possibly the weakest, now, after what had been a promisingly dark beginning. New Guardians is starting to fizzle a bit, too, despite my continuing interest in the wider spectrum of Lantern corps. Green Lantern Corps has some very good moments, too.

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With Geoff Johns’s run on the flagship title now over (an epic, redefining era for the character and mythos, filled with many exceptional moments), and with each title now having hit their 20th issues, I think I’m going to retire the series from my ‘pull-list’. Mostly, this is a financial decision, but it is also because the story has hit a point when I feel like I’m overdosing, and just simply want a break. The expanded 20th issue of Green Lantern was a nice wander down memory lane, and offered some intriguing hints for what is to come, but I’m just not prepared to dive back in for a little while longer. When I do return, I think only Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will be priorities.

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BAT-FAMILY TITLES

The Batman family of titles remain my favourites, and (in my opinion) also the best-written. The flagship title, Batman, still written by the excellent Scott Snyder, continues strongly. In the wake of “Death of the Family”, we got some shorter, stand-alone issues and stories, which offered a nice breather. The latest Bat-event has now begun, though (“Year Zero”), so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. I’ll be keeping this title on the list, and will actually be writing a review of the first three parts of “Year Zero” in the near future (#21-22 and Annual #2).

I’ve been following Detective Comics, too, but it hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a little while. I’ll probably stick with it a little while longer, but it may have to go at some point. [As a somewhat related aside, I’m considering delving into the pre-New 52 Detective Comics stories, as some of them sound pretty great.]

BatmanDarkKnight-11-ArtGregg Hurwitz’s Scarecrow story for Batman: The Dark Knight was one of the best Batman storylines I’ve ever read. No joke. Yesterday I picked up the final part of his Mad Hatter story-arc (it’s been discounted on ComiXology), and will be reading it all in one go. I will certainly write a review for it, too. Hurwitz has done a truly fantastic job with this title. Very highly recommended indeed. It’s staying on my to-read list.

Batgirl is still going strong, with some potential closure on the question of Barbara’s serial-killer brother. Gail Simone’s keeping the quality high, and the story engaging and fresh. The artwork, too, remains strong throughout. A keeper, and I’m looking forward to picking up some of the creepier-looking recent issues in the near future.

I’m still enjoying Nightwing, as the story and character remain interesting. Post-“Death of the Family”, Dick Grayson moves to Chicago, which I think will be really great for the character – not only is it a change of pace from Gotham, but it will hopefully open up the possibility for plenty of original stories and enemies. I have every intention of continuing with the series, but I may wait longer chunks of time and binge on a complete story-arc each time I do.

Batwoman-09-ArtI haven’t been keeping up-to-date with Batwoman, despite every intention to do so. I had been waiting for printed collections before I left NYC, but chose to de-prioritize it after “Death of the Family” started, because it wasn’t connected. I enjoyed the more horror-leaning aesthetic and storylines, though, so I do hope to get caught up again. (I’ve read up to issue #9, so there is a fair bit of reading to do before I’m up-to-speed… Won’t be too soon, sadly.) It is probably the most eye-catching, artistically of all the New 52 titles. Really superb, original compositions.

Batwing is in the same position as Batwoman. It’s a series I certainly want to read more of, I just can’t afford to right now. Writing duties have changed hands (#19), and it looks like the new team (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) have taken the series in an interesting direction. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get back to it.

One of my favourite series remains Red Hood & The Outlaws. If I had to say why it remains such a good read for me, I think I’d struggle to say. I like the characters – especially Jason “Red Hood” Todd – and they dynamic between them is really good. It’s a bit different, with a more sci-fi feel to it than other Batman-related titles, but perhaps it’s this difference that gives it a fresher feel? It also tied in really nicely with “Death of the Family”. I imagine this will be a keeper for some time.

I’ve also managed to read the first volume’s-worth of new title Talon. James Tynion III is doing something really interesting with this character, and I hope he becomes a permanent member of the DC stable. The first storyline was a slow-burn narrative, but with plenty of action sequences, as we follow Calvin Rose make a sort-of life for himself, with a couple of allies. And also a rogues’ gallery of his very own. It’s quite different to Batman, and I liked a lot about the series. It took me longer than it perhaps should have to adjust my expectations of story-type (I’d not been sleeping and was exhausted when I read it). Nevertheless, it is a pretty great story. The first book also has one hell of a cliff-hanger ending…

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My favourite series in the Batman family, though, has got to be Batman & Robin. Each issue is superb, but the silent issue #18 (image above), is one of the most powerful comics I’ve read. Absolutely superb, and I’ll be writing reviews of Volumes 2 and 3 in the near future. A must-read series (along with Hurwitz’s Dark Knight).

Teen Titans, led by Tim “Red Robin” Drake, has had a lot of ups and downs. Scott Lobdell’s humour can work pretty well, but overall I just don’t think I care enough about the characters to stick around any longer than I already have. The future storylines, which seem to feature six-eyed demons, also don’t appeal much.

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SUPERMAN FAMILY

Personally, I think there has been too much crossover and needed catch-up to fully follow all the storylines, which is also too much to justify financially.

Superman-11-ArtI actually like the Superman series. I seem to be one of the only people who liked the first story arc, which offered some interesting modern-era-media concerns into the story (I studied the role of the media in politics as part of my PhD, so maybe that’s why I liked it more than some others). I did get bored when the DC Powers That Be tied this series in with the daemonites storyline (which was just dull – sorry, there’s really no other way to describe it other than “just dull”, in the end). I bought the issues for Volume 3 (#13-19), not realising that they were all “H’el on Earth” issues. I have no idea if I have to read the other two Super-titles to ‘get’ the story, but it has made me hesitate (perhaps stupidly, seeing as I do own them)…

What of Superboy? Meh. I lost interest, despite enjoying Volume 1. I just never got around to reading any more of the series. Will I in the future? Perhaps. But probably not in the near future.

I finally read the first volume of Supergirl, and while there was some good stuff therein, it was mainly all-action-all-the-time, which left minimal time and space for actual story. Distracting readers with endless set-piece-battles does not a good story make. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series, sadly.

Which brings us to Action Comics. I remain on the fence: Grant Morrison has finally left the series, but I’m not sure if it’s ok to just dive in with the new writers’ work. And my OCD shudders at the incompletion prospect…

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JUSTICE LEAGUE TITLES

I just finished Justice League #17-19 the other day, aiming to catch up for the latest cross-over event, “Trinity War”. (See? Told you there were a lot of them…) I must say, though, that I was thoroughly underwhelmed with these issues. The story was just weak. The artwork wasn’t great (not to mention schizophrenic, as multiple art-teams were involved). The series has not been without its strong moments, though – for example, when Batman discusses his contingency plans with Superman, and the “Throne of Atlantis” cross-over story.

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Aquaman has been a good title throughout, but due to financial constraints, I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much as I would have liked. It remains a keeper, but not an urgent one. I’ll pick up issues in chunks.

Brain Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman has been interesting. I have a weakness for anything linked with Mythology (especially Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and as in this case Greek – all of them formed a large part of my youthful and formative reading). The story sometimes veers into the WTF-territory, which I’m not a fan of. But, at the same time, I think the interpretations of the Gods and mythical creatures and characters is really interesting. The first two volumes (“Blood” and “Guts”) were strong, despite a bit of a dip in quality in Volume 2. I’ll keep reading this for at least one more story-arc. And I really do like Cliff Chiang’s artwork.

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For some reason, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with The Flash. I enjoyed the first volume a good deal. Perhaps it’s my innate caution when a storyline suddenly features Gorillas…? It is becoming clearer to me that I really like my comics a little less ‘out there’, unless they’re obviously meant to be totally out there – Hellboy and Justice League Dark (below), for example. I’d like to catch up with this at some point, though, as I do find the Flash to be an interesting character. Speaking of, though, I picked up a few more of the Flashpoint comics recently (again, a ComiXology sale), so I hope to get those read and reviewed at some point soon.

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THE DARK & EDGE

I really like a lot of Justice League Dark – the artwork is often pretty great, and the story has some great moments. It feels like it’s weakening a bit, but this might be because the creative team had to tread water until the “Trinity War” event could start. I hope it picks up again. I thought Lemire was going to revive it nicely, and on the strength of his first handful of issues, I bought a fair bit of his other work (including Sweet Tooth, which enjoyed an excellent 99c sale on ComiXology not so long ago). We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. I’m sticking around for “Trinity War”, but I will re-assess afterwards.

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The only other series I’ve maintained from these ‘sections’ of the New 52 is Demon Knights. I have the issues for Volume 2, but because I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy fiction, I haven’t felt an urgent need to read these. I will, though, as I like the option of reading some fantasy in my comics. Watch this space, I guess.

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Constantine-01Overall, it looks like I’m losing steam with DC’s wider New 52 line. Some series remain strong, true, but I’m not sure if reading them on an issue-by-issue basis is enough for me. Too often, the story feels incomplete, insufficient, rushed, or what have you. Maybe I just need a bit of a break from them? Who knows. I have picked up some issues from two of the newer series – Constantine and Justice League America – primarily because they are connected to the “Trinity War” event. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to get The Phantom Stranger or Pandora

Instead of spending my few funds on more super-hero comics, I’ve been picking up some other comics. The aforementioned Sweet Tooth, as well as American Vampire, Locke & Key, and a handful of others. I’m also going to try to get back into the G.I.Joe titles, and maybe dip in to some more Dark Horse (Star Wars and The Massive), Image (Chew, Thief of Thieves) and Zenescope titles. I will also, actually, be delving into the back-catalogues of both DC and Marvel, too – I have a number of older Superman stories, for example, as well as a wealth of X-Men stuff to catch up on.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? Or opinions on the New 52 this far in? Feel free to share in the comments, below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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“Trinity War” Artwork

Green Lantern, Vol.1 – “No Fear” (DC)

GreenLantern-Vol.1-NoFearWriter: Geoff Johns | Artist: Carlos Pacheco (#1-3), Ethan van Sciver (#4-5), Simone Bianchi (#6) | Inks: Jesus Merino (#1-3), Prentis Rollins (#5) | Colors: Moose Baumann (#1-5), Nathan Eyring (#6)

Hal Jordan is back from the dead – now watch as he re-establishes his life as a pilot. Standing in his way, though, is one of the deadly Manhunter androids followed by the Shark.

Collects: Green Lantern #1-6

After reading Blackest Night, its prequel Agent Orange, and Green Lantern: Rebirth, I’ve finally got around to reading the first collection of Geoff Johns’s pre-New 52 run on Green Lantern proper. And I was… well, not exactly bowled over, but nor was I exactly disappointed. It’s a fun book, and I’m sure it would be a good buy if you’re a fan of the character, but haven’t managed to read that much of his back-story or pre-New 52 adventures.

The first four pages of the book are a blitz-through of the story of how Abin Sur selected of Hal Jordan to be his successor. There’s a mention of the yellow impurity, which was properly explained in Green Lantern: Rebirth. The main story begins, as Jordan is trying to get a new job, back in the US Air Force. He’s struggling a bit, given that the guy he clocked to get his initial discharge is now heading up the program and division he would have to join to get re-upped. Awkward, for sure…

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The next two chapters focus on a rogue “Manhunter 2.0” and Hal’s attempt to put it down. As it turns out, Manhunters are not so keen on humans…

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The book is a little uneven beyond this, as we’re informed that an entire, new Green Lantern Corps is being called up, after the ravages of Parallax, which at least means they don’t know what Jordan became and what he did when he was possessed. Very strangely, at the start of one chapter (#4), what appears to be an alien, a gray, stepped out for a cigarette and is hit by a military jeep…

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There’s a lot of cryptic information and nuggets throughout this book, but it didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere. Jordan goes to see Hector Hammond. Who has a huge head… I wasn’t entirely familiar with the character, but he features in the rest of the book.

In Chapter 5, we get… SHARKS!! Big, f**k-off evil ones. In another example of characters evolving “millions of years” in one go by an apparent freak accident… It gets to the point when it feels a bit like a narrative crutch. Thankfully, we do get an explanation for all this rampant evolution. And also a huge fight against a shark-beast that Jordan apparently has clashed with in the past.

Also, while reading this book, I was initially very confused about the creepy little German-speaking gremlins that kept cropping up at seemingly random moments…

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In the final chapter, everything is finally tied up, and the German-speaking gremlins are explained. This was really weird. Quirky, not necessarily in a bad way, though. They appear to be experiment-obsessed aliens who like to dick around with others species’ genetics, technology, and evolutionary stage.

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The artwork throughout is strong, as you can see from the samples included here. It’s not particularly stand-out, but it serves its purpose well – Johns’s story is well-realised. It was not, however, anything I felt particularly strongly about.

“No Fear” is not a bad book, overall, nor is it a bad start to a newly re-booted series. It’s a little bit unfocused, but at the same time it is starting to show signs of the quality I’ve seen in later books and the New 52 Green Lantern (which is the reason I decided to pick this up in the first place). At this point, pre-New 52 Green Lantern isn’t nearly as strong as the first two volumes of the New 52 re-boot. I’m not sure it’s as good for new readers, either. That’s a lot of dissembling after I said it was a good book… But, in view of the series at large, “No Fear” just isn’t as strong as other collected editions or story-arcs. It’s rather quirky, though.

Will I read volume two and beyond? Absolutely. I’m just not in as much of a rush to do so as I was after reading Blackest Night and the New 52 Green Lantern.

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“Green Lantern: Rebirth” (DC)

GreenLantern-Rebirth-TPBGeoff Johns re-boots the Green Lantern series

Writer: Geoff Johns | Artist: Ethan van Sciver | Colors: Moose Baumann | Inks: Prentis Rollins (#2-6) & Mick Gray (#5-6), Marlo Alquiza (#6)

Hal Jordan was considered the greatest Green Lantern of them all. But Jordan lost control, allowed himself to be corrupted and transformed into the villainous Parallax. Later, Jordan reappeared and made the ultimate sacrifice – a sacrifice that allowed him to become the Spectre, the Wrath of God. After several years of activity on Earth, The Spectre became restless and sought a way to prove himself worthy of that noble reputation. See how a man born without fear and seeking to rebuild his life, puts cosmic forces into motion that will have repercussions not only on Earth but across the universe.

Green Lantern: Rebirth is the book that re-booted the franchise and character pre-New 52. Penned by Geoff Johns (who is fast becoming one of my favourite comic authors), it explains how Hal Jordan, who killed himself while possessed by the malevolent entity Parallax, comes back to life. As super-heroes are so very wont to do. It’s not a bad place to start, but this could be because I’ve read other Green Lantern books and series, not to mention later chapters in Johns’s run (don’t ask why, but I’m reading it entirely out of order).

So, as this book begins, there’s a lot of new and weird shit going on. First off, Hal Jordan is no longer the being Parallax. Instead, he appears to have become the Spectre, an incredibly powerful being created (maybe by a god) to go around the DC Universe meting out justice. Secondly, one of Earth’s other Lanterns (there are four), Guy Gardner is some kind of alien-shape-changer-hybrid, and no longer in the Green Lantern Corps. He is still on good terms with another Earth Lantern, John Stewart. Kyle Rayner, the fourth, final, and youngest human Lantern, who we meet in the first pages as he crash-lands back on on Earth, is oddly absent for a lot of this book.

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The first chapter is very focused on scene setting, for which I was grateful. The Justice League make an appearance, as they try to figure out what’s going on: Gardner appears to have gone biologically nova – he unwittingly unleashed a massive power blast that destroys a Green Lantern-themed bar (a bit tacky, but there we go), and seems to have lost control of his shape-changing abilities. It’s a big mess. There are signs of Jordan returning, and not in a good way, as many of his former colleagues in the Lantern Corps and also the Justice League only see him now as the Spectre. Batman, on the other hand, is highly suspicious. As he is wont to be.

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We learn more of Hal’s powers as the Spectre, when the Justice League confront him after he fixes the old, dilapidated airfield where he learned to fly, where his dad died, and where he met Carol. But then the other Lanterns start going nuts – Stewart attacks the Justice League members, and then Guy Gardner gets his ring back and then he, too, goes mental and starts attacking everybody.

The third chapter finally gives me the catch-up I’d been waiting for; as we get a very good history of Parallax, the Guardians’ battle with him (it?), and also the nature and cause of the “yellow impurity” that has a strange, detrimental impact on the Corps: they have a weakness against the color yellow… (This made me snort. I think it’s daft, and I can’t see how they managed to get this past the editors way back when. At least now, though, they have a decent explanation…)

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Then, of course, everything come to a gigantic battle-crazy climax, as revelations are had and surprises dealt out. Sinestro enters the mix, and things get even crazier and more brutal. I think I preferred the second half of this book, but I do see why Johns took the approach he did. I have a feeling that, had I read this issue-by-issue as released, rather than in one go, I may not have continued with it all the way. So yes, the final half of Green Lantern: Rebirth saves the book from leaving me completely lost and disappointed. It was still more all-star than I would like (why does the Justice League have to appear all the damned time?). I enjoyed the portrayal of Batman, as a suspicious… well, dickhead. And the pathetic fallacy of having him portrayed as always deep in-shadow was nicely done.

If you want to delve back into the pre-New 52 relaunch, then this is a book that could help. But, at the same time, maybe starting with Volume 1, “No Fear”, would be enough?

(I have already read “No Fear”, and I can say that both would have worked as starting points for me – with, again, the caveat that I’m not entirely new to the setting and characters.)

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