Finally, DC Comics much talked about relaunch is in effect with a week of brand new number 1 issues hitting both comic shop shelves and digital storefronts. As a regular reader looking to the full-line relaunch with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I’ll be taking a look at some of my personal highlights from the DC books released so far in this new venture.
Justice League #1
Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams
DC closed out its old continuity with Flashpoint issue #5, springing in to the future on the same day with ‘Justice League’. Despite featuring the entire roster on the front cover, this issue focuses on an early scuffle between the Gotham City Police Department and Batman, who in turn is hot on the heels of a mysterious alien creature. Interrupted by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the pair fend off the helicopters and marksmen to continue investigating their extra terrestrial foe, leading to a reveal of who the first major opposition that the soon to be formed Justice League will face off against. As the pair squabble their way towards Metropolis in search of a certain other alien life form, we are introduced to the young Cyborg-to-be Vic Stone and treated to some fantastic banter between Hal and Bruce. When the unlikely duo finally reach Metropolis, they find a Superman with powers beyond their expectations.
As an introduction to the new universe, set five years previously to the current timeline represented in DC’s other comics, Justice League #1 serves readers with a story light on exposition, but heavy in action and character. The pace of the book is astounding, reading especially quickly for an oversized issue. Sparing us the well-worn origin stories of its heroes, we are instead privy to a bizarre first meeting between two recognised and beloved characters for the first time - and somehow, it works. Hal’s amazement at the fact that the Batman of Gotham is in fact real and not an urban myth, and Batman’s constant irritation by the flashy and confident Lantern’s refusal to dim the lights at any moment sets up what could be a fascinating dynamic between the two. At this point in the new DC timeline, Superheroes are still untrusted and cause confusion and panic to both citizens and authorities, and offers great potential for the rest of this initial arc especially considering the differing attitudes towards the job that the team will undoubtedly have. How the rest of League fit together, and how they end up meeting, is something I’m greatly looking forward to seeing unfold in the coming months.
Lee’s artwork deserves special praise. While many readers have become desensitised to his work, Lee reminds us of just how dazzling his art can be. The detail is relentless, and should this standard continue with future issues, a large format hardcover collection will be something well worthy of purchase. Overall, a great statement of intent for the New 52.
Action Comics #1
Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant
The book that received even more anticipation than ‘Justice League’ was Grant Morrison's return to active duty with the character that started it all for DC Comics, and like Justice League, takes us back to a time before superheroes were accepted and established within society. It is also a time before the Last Son of Krypton discovered spandex.
Much ridiculed by concerned fans, Morrison and Morales’ Superman is decked out in Levi’s and workboots, in what the author refers to as a “Bruce Springsteen” take on the character. While an amusing change that certainly gained some fast and easy column inches, the costume also represents the ethos and motivation behind this early version of the character. We are taken back to a more honest and rugged man of steel, removed from lofty existentialism and concerned with one thing alone; doing the right thing.
He shakes down gangsters and con-men, leaps tall buildings just to see if he can, and wins over the people (and presumably, the reader) by saving the skins of the guy on the street, not hovering above them as an untouchable icon. Superman is accessible again.
Detective Comics #1
Tony Daniel, Ryan Winn
While most Batman fans will be eagerly awaiting Scott Snyder’s debut on the main Batman title later this month, former Batman writer and artist Tony Daniel takes on the historic volume 2 of Detective with a strong opening issue. Most of the writing comes in the form of interior monologue, some of which is very heavy handed, but proves to be a necessity considering that this is the first time we are seeing Batman in action post Flashpoint. While most of Batman's post Crisis world remains unchanged, merely existing within a compressed timeframe, it's still important to get a handle on how this version of Batman thinks about his work, his associates and reads the situation as it's unfolding.
Daniel’s art is strong, remaining familiar but with some slight alterations in style from his previous work on Batman. This adaptation should be applauded, and hopefully the standard will be maintained throughout his time on the book. While some confusion arises over just when in the new timeline this arc occurs, it confirms the status of many characters within Gotham such as Jim Gordon, and sets up what looks like to be another memorable game of chance with the Joker manipulating situations like no other can. The final page is a wonderful cliffhanger, and in itself should have readers keeping faith in Daniel after much criticism of his handling of Grayson in the pre-relaunch Batman book.
Most importantly, it should put fans minds at rest. Despite all of the shake-ups and changes in the DCU, the Bat-centric side of the company output looks like it will build upon the excellent work of the past few years. And, speaking of the Gotham crew...
Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes
Most controversial of all the new editorial decisions at DC was not Superman's lack of trunks, but bringing Oracle out her wheelchair and back in to action as Batgirl. I won’t get into the debate over whether giving Babs her legs back was the right thing to do or not - it’s far too sensitive a discussion point. What I will state, is that Gail Simone has produced a superb first issue for Barbara’s return to the suit.
The Mirror is an angel-of-death-like villain whose modus operandi involves bringing a disturbingly ironic end upon those who somehow avoided fatalities against the odds in the past. Opening with an idyllic white picket fence setting, The Mirror drowns the survivor of a boating accident with his gardening hose. Crossing the victims name from a long list, one target in particular stands out: The Mirror is coming for Barbara Gordon.
Simone’s dialogue choices are just as impressive as fans of Secret Six would expect, with Barbara’s super-confident quips hiding how Batgirl really feels about being back on the frontline. We see some important moments in her home life too, a touching scene in which Barbara says goodbye to her fathers home, making the move in to her own apartment at long last. Her roommate is an interesting parallel to Barbara, and matching her up with an open and unguarded realworld friend will surely bring out the best in the guarded heroine as she deals with a brand new type of everyday life.
After managing to dispatch a vicious group of thrill-killers, Batgirl is faced with an enemy in The Mirror that knows exactly what happened to Barbara that fateful night at the hands of The Joker, leading to a moments hesitation that ends in disaster. The action is brilliantly depicted, with intelligent spatial awareness and movement, creating a brand of physical combat that is kinetic, acrobatic, and unique to Batgirl, which is going to be interesting in comparison to Batman, Nightwing and Batwoman on the streets of Gotham. While Batgirl may have been miraculously healed, issue #1 shows that there’s more to getting better than being physically able, treating both her injury and renewed status with sensitivity. Being paralysed is more than just a plot point for Barbara Gordon, now more than ever.
Judd Winnick, Ben Oliver
While Batman Incorporated is on hiatus for the time being, one of the standout inductees to Bruce Wayne’s international bat club arrives in the New 52 with a monthly title all of his own. I get the feeling that this will be overlooked by most readers, but on the strength of the first issue, they would be making a pretty horrendous mistake.
Opening with a brutal fight scene between Batwing and the machete wielding villain Massacre, the book sets its tone early, and in a suitable manner for a hero book set in one of the most disturbingly troubled continents in our world. It’s less gadgets and laughing gas, more spit and sinew, and manages (so far) to avoid any heavy-handed clichés about Africa and its political and social situations. David Zavimbi could turn out to be a really great character to have behind a cape, an idealist police officer facing crime on two fronts. The opening issue pulls very few punches, with some incredibly bloody and violent imagery, and sets up the idea that it's going to take more than dressing up as a bat to perturb the criminals of Tinasha.
Swamp Thing #1
Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette
Following Alan Moore’s seminal work on Swamp Thing is no enviable task, but if any writer in modern comics should be up to the challenge, it’s Scott Snyder. True to the writing pedigree shown in American Vampire and Detective Comics, Snyder brings a new and intelligent approach to the long and intricate history of Alec Holland, combining multiple elements from the often corrected backstory of the character to further the mythology with this confident opening issue.
Following the events of Blackest Night, Holland spends his days as a construction worker in Louisiana, saying goodbye to his life in science. After a discussion with Superman (he stopped by for a chat) the downbeat and confused Holland returns to his lodgings where he is haunted once again by vivid nightmares of The Green. It’s all highly entertaining, despite the fact that events concerning the main character being heavily expository and essentially a low key dialogue scene - events elsewhere in the issue providing much more visceral enjoyment, with some brilliantly disturbing moments that turn the book in to a full on horror story in mere moments, matched skilfully by Paquette’s brilliant imagery throughout the issue.
Animal Man #1
Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, Dan Green
Alongside Swamp Thing, Animal Man kicks off the ‘Justice League Dark’ range of titles. While Swamp Thing goes out of its way to remind readers early on that the book is part of the larger DC Universe, Animal Man #1 feels oddly detached, but is probably all the better for it, reading more like a Vertigo release than a main line DC comic.
The issue breaks house style immediately by incorporating a recap page in the form of a magazine interview between Lemire and Buddy Baker who is now less of a superhero and more of a low level celebrity. Cleverly, the second page reveals that Baker himself is actually reading the same interview, worrying about how he came off in print in a discussion with his wife. This in itself isn't just a great device to clue readers in on one of the more obscure characters within the DCU, but also a clever nod to the fourth-wall breaking antics of Animal Man stories in the past.
Within just a few succinct and beautifully drawn pages, we are introduced to a wonderfully human character, a devoted family man who sees his image on ironic t-shirts instead of the evening news. Encouraged back in to action by his family, Baker easily gets back in to the swing of being Animal Man. What he isn’t prepared for, is the fact that he may not be the only member of the family with a unique affinity for the animal kingdom after a shocking and superbly executed nightmare sequence, that sees The Red taunting Baker with a chilling message of things to come.
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