Sunday, September 25, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Action Comics #1

This is my second review of the current DC Relaunch. I want to start by saying, I'm not against reboots. My feeling is that reboots allow you to move iconic characters forward without losing the ability to return them back to the qualities that make them icons without undoing the stories that evolved them. My only issue with this one is that DC got a partial reboot just a couple years ago with Infinite Crises and with the average story taking almost six months worth of issues, I don't really think that got as fleshed out as much as it could have. I'm also a huge fan of the Superman work but Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, especially Superman: Secret Origin which was just released collected form this year, and I think it's a shame to throw that out when it's still so fresh. But I'm going to judge each comic individually on their own merits.

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Rags Morales
Inks by Rick Byrant
Cover Price: $3.99

In a nutshell:
Superman, hero for the little guy!

Despite his icon status, perhaps because of it, Superman is one of the hardest characters to write and make captivating. Part of it is because Superman is up on a pedestal and I would argue that he belongs there and that it's very possible to tell good stories using the character by tapping into the readers core fears, hopes, and inspirations, especially in a cynical age where we could use it. Perhaps part of the struggle writers have in doing it is because Superman's become this household name and corporate representation to everything Americana, which makes it hard to distinguish him and to give him an opinion or have him take risks. Well, this Superman breaks the mold, or at least the mold that we've come to think of him as. In truth when Superman first started in 1938 he has a little more swagger. In fact in his very first story in the original Action Comics #1 he breaks into the Governor's mansion and breaks all kinds of laws to stop a wrongful execution and beats up a wife beater. He's going to make sure that right is done and he's not concerned about breaking some rules to do it (after all, he's Superman, who is going to stop him?). Grant Morrison's current take on Superman appears to go back to these roots and this story starts off with Superman taking on corrupt capitalists and not in the most delicate way. Grant Morrison is about as close to a rock star as there is in comics and even though you know he's a bit of a provocateur he's definitely an A List writer.

Why did I pick it up
I love Superman but enjoy so few of his comics. Grant Morrison wrote All Star Superman which is one of my favorite comics of the last decade and even though everything I've heard about this series makes it sound completely different, this is the one book of the New 52 that appealed the most to me. Also, perhaps because I loathe Jim Lee's new costume design for Superman, the T-Shirt and jeans seems to work for me, which I wouldn't think it would.

The Good:
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this issue, definitely appreciating a Superman that has a progressive edge to him, especially as it seems there is more and more ingrained corruption in our society and the media and politicians have become so accepting of it. This Superman is a little radical in today's world and, from my perspective, that's not radical at all! This isn't my favorite take on Superman but this is a Superman I was to read and, so far at least, it's a Superman comic I want to follow. Art is important to me and Rags Morales has a style I can appreciate (lets put it this way, Superman's jeans actually look like jeans, not skin tight spandex with seams). This Superman is all new and yet looks classic. Superman isn't married to Lois Lane in this version which I know will upset some of the die hards the way it did with Spider-Man when his marriage was retconned, but it gives us a chance to get a little more romantic chemistry into the book and one of the good things about rebooting a series is that you can get to unload baggage without undoing it.

The Bad:
It's not Superman Secret Origin! No, seriously, for two decades John Byrne's Man of Steel set the ground work for Superman and when Geoff John's Secret Origin replaced it, it was such a good story, it's a damn shame that almost immediately it is undone, especially because I felt there was something magical about the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank Superman stories and I was hoping to see more added to them. That's less of a criticism of this story as it is praise for another story. The only concern I have about where this book is going is the glimpse we got of General Lane (Lois Lane's military father) and Lex Luthor who look like they're going to be the main antagonists of the book, and I'd really hate to see typical arch enemy/evil mastermind scheming pull away from the part of the story that I think is the more appealing. But we'll have to wait to see.

Is it worth it?
This and Justice League are the only books from the relaunch that I've noticed having a $4 cover price as opposed to the $3 price that most of the other books have (which in my opinion is already too much in the current economy especially because you can find most comics a year later on ebay for a fraction of the cost and with the collected editions becoming the more desired format). But, if $4 is something you're willing to spend on a comic book, this is the one to pick!

Friday, September 23, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Justice League #1

Since DC has relaunched their line this month with new #1 issues of their mainline titles as well as a (partial) restart to the history of their characters, I've been searching for reviews that could give me the scoop on the books I haven't been checking out. In doing so I found very few reviews of the ones that I have been checking out that have matched my own feelings on those books or the feedback from other fans at the comic shop I do work for. So I've decided to review the books that I had enough initial interest to pick up. This is the first of those reviews.

Justice League #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Jim Lee
Inks by Scott Williams
Cover Price: $3.99

In a nutshell:
Where's the beef?

My main problem with this comic is that I feel like I've read it already. I get that this book is supposed to appeal to new readers, but that doesn't mean there aren't new ways to introduce characters in comics and team them up so that the story will be fresh. The story structure is very similar to the first issue of All Star Batman and Robin and the changes seem to be for the sake of being more provocative but really, these ones are kind of tired cliches at this point, not just in comics but other popular media as well. The majority of the story is about Green Lantern meeting Batman, we get a glimpse of pre-origin Cyborg, and most of the characters in the comic aren't in it. We see that Batman is an outlaw, but we've seen that before so it's not really a shocking start and the dialog feels contrived. Besides the dialog, it's not that the story is bad, it's that it feels like half an episode and doesn't really give us an idea of what the Justice League is about and why we should care. Since the story starts with the captions explaining that it is five years in the past, perhaps what it could have used is a scene preceding what is now the opening scene that shows the entire team in an actions sequence in the present time so we get to see the characters on the cover that haven't made an appearance yet (which is almost all of them) and we get a sense that something actually happened in the comic.

Why did I pick it up?
Curiosity, primarily. The advance images with the costumes really put me off but Jim Lee and Geoff Johns are top talent. While I'm not a hard core DC fan, I do feel a connection with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and the other "Super Friends" that I grew up with. So having really mixed expectations, I decided to take a risk on the chance that it might end up being an iconic story after all.

The Good:
This isn't Jim Lee's best art, but it's still Jim Lee with Scott WIlliams on inks (the under-appreciated member of that art team).

The Bad:
The costumes look dated, they seem to follow the trends of the 1990s with the only addition from the current trends in comics being a ridiculous amount of seams in patterns that don't make much sense. Superman has armor now for a costume and a ridiculous looking collar that reminds me of alternative versions of him we saw in 90s stories like Armageddon 2001 and the DC Year 1,000,000 Annuals. Of the DC trinity, only Batman has any story time, Superman doesn't show up until the last panel, and Wonder Woman isn't even in it which really doesn't give anything for the female reader who might be checking out the comic. The characters just seem in general to be snarky, confrontational, and pissy (kind of like fanboy posturing on internet message boards) which I don't find offensive but isn't interesting and has sort of become a cliche in modern comics. The cover is a week design, the character renderings on it and strange poses and angles are not examples of Lee's talent and the orange background cover and weak logo don't help. The characters that are supposed to be in a normal non-superhero setting looks like they're posed like superheroes and they are tensed up for battle, which might mean those kind of scenes are Lee's "Achilles Heal" as an artist (and perhaps one of the reasons Hush looked so awesome is because no other writer focuses on tailoring their stories to their artist like Jeff Loeb does). Geoff Johns has done so many amazing stories that were just home runs for me. Both him and Lee are A caliber talent. But they didn't bring their A game to this issue!

Is it worth it?
For $4 in today's economy, when most of the other books are selling at $3 with a story that feels incomplete, not at all! Which doesn't mean the complete story won't be good, but for a first chapter this really doesn't hook you. If the rest of the story arc delivers perhaps the trade would be worth it. But this single issue is not!