Thursday, March 22, 2012

DC's Relaunch Analisis, Recommendations, and The New 52 Purge

It's been a while since I posted about comics, or posted at all for that matter, and there are few reasons for that that maybe I'll elaborate on at some point in another post, but today I'm going to scratch my comic itch. The six month mark for me is the sort of marking port for the beginning of my DC Comics New 52 purge.

I've had mixed feelings about the New 52 marketing campaign that DC started seven months ago now. For those that don't know what it means, the New 52 means that DC is restarted its entire line of comics with 52 all new series starting with a new #1 issue. The idea is that it would be a jumping on point, and, while I don't agree with relaunching Action Comics and Detective Comics, both of which have been in print and have been consistently numbered since the 1930s (for those of you who don't know DC was once called National Publications, took on the DC branding as the initials for Detective Comics, it's oldest running comic), I do think that jumping on points are good thing. Most of DC's history (more commonly referred to by comics fans as "continuity") was restarted, however some of their titles got what they refer to as a "soft reboot", basically allowing what were considered to be successful story lines to continue in the relaunch. This sort of thing can be a bit confusing, especially if your the kind of person who wants to connect all the dots and try to make sense of the larger reality in comics. It doesn't personally bother me as I've seen a number of "continuity" shifts over the years and you have to have an appreciation of suspension of disbelief when it comes to reading ongoing stories about superheroes, some of which have been in constant publication since 1938.

I'm more traditionally a Marvel Comics superhero fan. Marvel is the company that publishes characters like Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four. I started collecting Marvel Comics first, particularly Spider-Man who was a character I could relate to and whose stories helped me survive the more traumatic experiences of my childhood. The Marvel Universe felt more familiar to me, it felt more grounded and yet more fun at the same time. But in the 1990s the quality at Marvel fell and a lot of the hype driven trends made it very difficult for me to enjoy Marvel Comics, which is the time that I started really getting into independent comics, particularly ones outside of the superhero genre. Now, since the 1990s have ended, a lot of really amazing comics have been produced by Marvel. But there is still a sense that I have at times that their continuity has advanced so far that I don't recognize many of the characters I used to enjoy, there are way too many events that make it hard for me to enjoy a single title and, while there are a few Marvel titles that I think are out of this world amazing (Winter Soldier and Daredevil are two I would strongly recommend), I have a really hard time jumping onto Marvel titles.

Despite my connection to Marvel with the comics, DC's superheroes were my introduction to superheroes with Superfriends, the Superman movies, and the Batman and Robin TV show. DC's heroes, particularly Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, are icons. And I think that DC has done a relatively good job in comparison to Marvel in treating it's characters like icons. There are a lot of things about the New 52 relaunch I really like. For example, I'm glad that Superman isn't married to Lois Lane now because part of the fun in comics is that soap opera element and if the characters have all settled, it's hard to build the same kind of romantic tension. There is that danger of going to the other extreme from where Marvel is at, where the characters play so much of tribute to themselves that it's hard to tell interesting stories with them anymore. No matter what you do you are going to upset someone. But what DC has done is very brave. The problems I have with it are specific and involve particular trends that don't appeal to me, many of which reminds of me that period in the 1990s that drove me away from superhero comics. But what DC has provided are icons that I recognize and a place where I can jump on, and enough diversity within their books that even though there is a lot I don't like, what I do like I really really like and can enjoy and feel comfortable jumping into without being bogged down by bloated continuity.

But as I've said, my New 52 purge has began and the most simple reason for this is that I have limited income. I'm a single dad whose kids live with him more than half of the time, I have lots of bills, I have other interests, and there are other comics I enjoy, not all of which involve superheroes and some of which are being published in deluxe formats that cost a lot of money. I checked out more titles from DC's New 52 than I normally would because I wanted to sample what looked good to me. And now that I have, there are some books that I love love love, some that I think are really good, some that I think are pretty good, some that I want to like more, and some that really aren't working for me. I also find that there are certain titles that I have fallen behind in reading and I only have so much time and so many things I've been meaning to get to. I also feel, as I often do with big business which has a tendency to pat themselves on the back too much, that it's important to remind DC not to take us for granted.

So what I'm going to do now is give a brief summary of the DC books I've been reading since the relaunch, and whether I recommend them or whether they're part of my purge. I'm going to be clear, most of the books I'm not recommending are not bad books. In fact, most of them are good books. But comics cost between $2.99 and $3.99, and that's the better part of a five dollar bill. My presumption is that you work hard for yoru money, that you don't have an unlimited budget, and you have other interests, so that anything short of awesome isn't worth me pushing on you. Also, keep in mind that these are only the titles that I've been following.

Action Comics
Action's first issue had the strongest start of the New 52 books and taking Superman back to his earliest roots where he had a bit more bravado and was a champion for the disenfranchised, really felt relevant in the modern world where business seems to have a parasitic relationship with both their employees and customers and cronyism and manipulators seems to run our government. But then the book just seemed to drift and explore more of the "fantastic" qualities of Superman rather than the populism that was in the first issue. I'm not purging this book yet, but now that he's in that awful costume that is so out of date, it's hard to remain enthusiastic for this book when it hasn't gone anywhere for a while. Not Purged, but Not Recommended, at this time at least.

All Star Western
I love Jonah Hex. I think Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have done a great job with him since day one. This is a good book. Sometimes it's a great book. But I find myself falling behind in reading it. If westerns are your main thing you should check it out, but I've got it scheduled to be Purged after it's Court of Owls back stories. Still, I might pick these up as back issues down the road...

Geoff Johns has applied the magic that revived Green Lantern to Aquaman to tell straight forward superhero stories that make character relatable and cool. Recommended

One of the things I was excited about was the return of the real Batgirl, whom I consider an icon. Unfortunately the costume redesign loses everything that made Batgirl's costume both sexy and cool. Sometimes I think artists get so hung up in what they think is modern that they forget that marrying the modern with what is retro has been an enduring formula. The story is fine, but not strong enough to pull me in. Purged

This is DC's best book right now, and that's not just my opinion. Scott Snyder, who has made a name for himself on a comic called American Vampire, really gets what makes Batman work. Everyone LOVES this book. The Court of Owls storyline that is the next classic Batman story. And even though events from this storyline will spill into other titles, the story itself is complete within this title. MUST READ!!!

The draw for this book is J.H. Williams art. When he is the artist it's one of the most beautiful books DC produces. But with shakeups on the alternate art team, which didn't excite me that much in the first place, I'd much rather get this book bimonthly, than pay good money for filler. I do like the character so I suggest you Cherry Pick this one. Get the collected stories that Williams did with Greg Rucka in book form and then do the same when the first book collecting this new series comes out.

I truly believe that Guillem March is going to turn out to be one of the master artists in comics, but there is so much that makes me feel uncomfortable with this title. When sex and violence are combined in a graphic way, it disturbs me. I don't really like seeing corpses with a t-shirt so tight that their huge boobs are pushing out while having a bullet hole in their head. It makes me feel sick, and I'm a guy who would probably like the woman in that t-shirt in any other situation (even if I don't admit it out loud). If the story didn't drag on so much I'd try to get past it because I think Guillem March is more than he is usually dismissed as. Unfortunately I don't think that the stories in Catwoman are going to be the place where he's going to get to prove that.

The talk in my comic shop hasn't been favorable to this one but I'm not sure how many of those people are actually reading it. I actually like this one. It's the other side of Batman than what's shown in Batman. However, while I think Batman is a book that would appeal even to people who aren't normally into Batman, this one is I would say that if you already like Batman, I recommend this one. As far as my purge, I'm currently On The Fence with this one.

I think that Francis Manapul is showing what an artist can bring to storytelling when he's also the writer. It's a good book. But I'm finding myself falling behind reading it which means it's due to be Purged at the end of the current storyline.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

I loved the first storyline and I found myself going from not being into the internal art to being absorbed by it. Unfortunately there was a filler team up issue after that first story but it doesn't hurt it enough for me to Recommend it.

Green Lantern
Geoff Johns continues to do his Green Lantern magic and the interaction between Sinestro and Hal Jordan has been key to refueling this title. Unfortunately that while I enjoy reading it when I do, I'm still falling behind which means I'm just not as enthusiastic enough to spend money. Due to be Purged at the end of the current storyline.

I, Vampire
I like this one so far and I dig vampires so I'm Recommending it.

Justice League
The biggest disappointment of the DC relaunch. I am excited about the Shazam back up feature and with a new main storyline I'm hopeful that Geoff Johns will start to bring his A-game, but I'll be waiting for the trade for the Shazam feature because this one is already Purged.

Justice League Dark
The only thing I can say about this book is that the art looks great and everything else I've read by Peter Milligan has been fantastic, unfortunately while I've bought this book I'm yet to read the first issue which means that it's going to get Purged after it's coming crossover with I, Vampire. Now when I finally sit down and read it, maybe I'll absolutely love it. But I can't continue to spend money on something if I keep passing it up for other things.

Swamp Thing
Again, we get to see how amazing of a writer Scott Snyder is and with amazing art by Yanick Paquette, this one is Highly Recommended.

Wonder Woman
This isn't the Wonder Woman I wanted, but it is a Wonder Woman comic that sucked me in and that I love reading every month. Highly Recommended