Spoilers for the last four weeks of DC's books. Haven't read 'em? Look away, look away, look away, Dixieland.
Breaking news: Dan DiDio has just punched Superboy-Prime right out of the DC Universe. Film at 11.
Just over a month following my last mighty missive about DC Comics' relaunch of 52 of their titles, I'm back with some thoughts, after having read all but four of the titles I've signed on for. (To be read: Aquaman, Justice League Dark, Superman and Voodoo. Am I a masochist? Consider the books I've already read, noted below, and then attempt an answer.) What did I think of the books? Which books will I continue reading? And hey, just what did I think of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio's recent announcement that all company events bearing the umbrella word "Crisis" have been retconned out with the relaunch?
Those are all questions I'm just itchin' to answer. Shall we?
To date, I've read twenty-three "New 52" titles. The old cliche goes, some are good and some suck. Some of them--albeit very few--are fitting for the new audience that DC states they want to lure in. A few will appeal to those fans who are lapsed readers. For the vast majority, however, it's business as usual, with almost nothing really changed from August's books. And then, there are a couple--just one or two, mind you, and I think you know which ones--that are patently offensive and should be canceled as soon as possible.
Of course, they won't actually be canceled because DC has made it obvious that they thrive on controversy, and apparently every bad word about these books only serves to drive sales figures up, up, up. Joker's face ripped off and hung on the wall in Detective Comics? Controversy! Babs Gordon, out of her wheelchair and back to fighting crime as Batgirl, but with acknowledgment of her previous handicap? Controversy! Mister Terrific and an apparently unpowered Karen Starr (formerly Power Girl) possibly being "friends with benefits"? Horrors! Superman ran around in a li'l cape and jeans in his early days, and has never dated or married Lois Lane? Holy Toledo! Amanda Waller, formerly Suicide Squad's rotund leader, now a svelte, sexy lady who might weigh 100 lbs. after eating dinner? Great googly moogly!
And I haven't even gotten to Catwoman's sexcapades with Batman where they keep most of their costumes on in a fetishized scene. Nor have I told about former Teen Titan Starfire, who once had a long-term relationship with Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, being reduced to a caricature who doesn't even remember who she fought or slept with--little more than, to be blunt, a pretty, curvy set of warm, wet holes that occasionally speaks.
It's been all over the internet now, of course. And hey, did anyone mention that Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 came out on the exact same day as Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans magnum opus, the hardcover graphic novel Games? You know, a book where Starfire is actually treated with some degree of humanity? For maybe the last time ever? And of course DC closes the book on their end with the proclamation that everyone should look at the rating on the book and take a big dose of STFU. Yes, hooray for tact, DC. You care about the bucks, not the content. We get it.
(Yes, I actually went out and bought Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. I didn't want to give DC a dime for the book. Alas, my decision was made a little better when I considered that my retailer had already paid for the drek that lined his shelves, and I'd be doing him a disservice by not relieving him of the book. I did, however, tell him that I most definitely would not return for any subsequent issues, so he need only take my copy in consideration when adjusting his future orders downward.)
There are, of course, equal-opportunity digs at male characters. Ray Palmer, the original Atom, is a mere scientist in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. And...wait. Did any male character who was obscenely obese get trim? Did any paraplegic male character get up and walk? Is any male character reduced to humping the leg of any female in sight?
Don't misunderstand: there are parts of the new DC Universe I enjoy. As in my earlier review, I love I, Vampire. It's a brilliant reinvention of the original concepts by J.M. DeMatteis and Tom Sutton. I also really enjoy the stylishness of Batwoman by J.H. Williams III. Couldn't honestly imagine anyone else making the book quite so good. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is just goofy enough to work. I'm giving Resurrection Man another month or two, but boy, would it thrive under a more stylish artist. Speaking of stylish artists, Yanick Paquette is the next Kevin Nowlan in Swamp Thing, and the story by Scott Snyder fires on all cylinders even as it undoes everything Alan Moore did in "The Anatomy Lesson." Animal Man is the creepy polar opposite of Swamp Thing and I loved that cliffhanger. I even liked Snyder with Greg Capullo on Batman but at the same time I don't feel any compulsion to buy the next one. Aside from the astonishingly sexy art by Guillem March on Catwoman, there's little to recommend--for titillationists only. All-Star Western is okay enough and I could get it in collected editions, but I've the feeling I should reach for Jonah Hex Vol. 1 first. Nightwing? I'm really, really close to picking up number two. And Batgirl? Gail Simone takes into account the ongoing evolution of the character, doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, and gives me adventures of Babs monthly without my having to dig in the back issue bins. What's not to love? (Okay, besides the overcomplicated costume!) Yes, Batgirl is sublime. As for Grant Morrison's Action Comics...it's Grant Morrison, and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't match the complexity of Batman Incorporated, alas, nor is it meant to.
Still, there are a lot of misses. I couldn't stomach Justice League no matter how much I used to enjoy Geoff Johns' scripts. It just felt like a team-up between the two heroes everybody should recognize from the movies, with another movie hero at the end in case anyone started to fall asleep. Hawk & Dove is typical Rob Liefeld, and although I like the relationship between Dove and Deadman....it's Rob Liefeld. Green Lantern tries too hard to turn Hal Jordan into a jerkier Peter Parker. I'd almost be interested in picking up issue two if not for the fact that Johns has burned me out on Sinestro. O.M.A.C. is DC's very own version of the Hulk, right down to the sci-fi milieu, but the "lead" plays just a bit part in the book so far, hardly a character at all. In DC Universe Presents Deadman, Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang don't give me anything better than Neal Adams & co. already offered in the seventies. Wonder Woman, I found guilty of trying way too hard.
In the "didn't make enough of an impression to care" department, I humbly submit Justice League International, Demon Knights and Stormwatch.
Aside from Red Hood, the biggest travesty I've discovered so far has been the book for which I held out the most hope. When DC promised a "reimagining" and a land of new and exciting concepts--when they said the character never existed before now in this post-"Flashpoint" universe--I should have known something would go horribly wrong. And, well, remembering the old jokes about a previous series being named after the fury instead of the character himself...just shoot me now.
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men is the biggest dud of them all, if you don't consider the horrendous treatment of the women of the DC Universe to be worse offenses. (I kinda do.)
I've still got the next two issues of the series on order from the good folks at Discount Comic Book Service, but from reading the first issue, it was just too kooky, cliche, and derivative to stand a decent chance of working. Where would you like me to start? Cliff Carmichael is recast as a super-badass black ops guy who likes to kill people. Instead of being a potential mentor, Professor Stein is still dead. And Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch are about the most generic study in contrasts I've ever seen, all their attributes recited by rote. The Large Hadron Supercollider in Europe replaces the Hudson Nuclear Power Plant for a topical touchstone of superscience. And I haven't even gotten to Firestorm him/themselves!
Long ago, when the series was first announced, I looked at Jason and Ronnie's costumes and thought they were ridiculous. I get the idea: one character is mainly in red, and one is in yellow, and when they merge, hooray! Something vaguely resembling the original Firestorm!
Bzzt. Wrong answer. The bad news is that the costumes don't look any less ridiculous in the issue itself, which actually has capable artwork by Yildiray Cinar. The worse news is that when our heroes merge, they turn into Fury, a Hulky, Anti-Monitor-esque character that oozes nuclear fire and speaks in sixties slang. You can even tell right now that Jason and Ronnie won't be the only two characters to "plug into" this new entity. There are six circles on Fury's chest, y'see, and only two of them are now occupied by emblems that match the ones on their costumes. So I'm guessing we'll get to see four more nuclear characters. Firehawk, Pozhar...Atomic Skull, Tokamak anybody? (And if there are six total slots, why do we have seven nuclear men/women? Check the middle of the book...)
And, pardon me for drawing attention to cliche, but...Jason turns into Firestorm by saying the magic word? What are we, twelve?
Incredibly, "God Particle," the first story in this new era of Firestorm, is co-written by Gail Simone, who wrote Batgirl, which is one of my very favorite books in the "New 52." It seems she does her best, but I've really got my doubts about this new direction. I've got the uncanny feeling I'm about to drop Firestorm for only the second time ever. It's really that different and that unrecognizable to me. We'll see if Simone, Van Sciver and Cinar are able to make me reverse course, but it's not looking good.
All of the above brings me to this week's news from Dan DiDio that none of the events labeled "Crisis" happened the way we remember. Is it really that much of a shock? It appears that, with rare exception centered around most but not all facets of Green Lantern and Batman, everything about DC continuity prior to last month is up for grabs. That means you're best off not even acknowledging any events that occurred before four weeks ago as part of DC continuity. Unless they happened to Batman or Green Lantern. And in those cases, only about seven out of ten of those things happened. Get out your graphing calculators, kids, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.
Look at what hints at the past we've got in the books, and we're only a month along. Already we know the original Dove (from Hawk & Dove) died during "the worst crisis the world's ever seen." In Red Hood and the Outlaws, Arsenal clearly quizzes Starfire about her previous team, the New Teen Titans, bringing up names including "Vic," which is likely a reference to Cyborg, a.k.a. Victor Stone. The only problem is Cyborg has been set up to be a founding member of the "New 52" version of the Justice League...so why would he have been batted down to the Titans? Similarly, if Final Crisis never happened, under what circumstances did Bruce Wayne "die" so that Dick Grayson became Batman for the better part of a year (referenced in Nightwing #1)?
DC is on a slippery slope with this new approach to continuity. If they really are serious about September being a new beginning, then they should keep the references to pre-"Flashpoint" events to a bare minimum. If they're trying to put the continuity genie back in the bottle--as I postulated in my previous post where I labeled the recently-finished event the "Anti-Crisis"--they should work hard to adhere to their own new set of rules. Without that commitment, the company fails in the same way as they did during the fallout to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Already we're seeing all manner of new stories that dredge up new versions of the past. Superman showed up in Metropolis wearing a little red cape and blue jeans some five years ago. At the same time we've got him showing up in Justice League, also five years ago, wearing his armor.
I've heard that Batman has been around for ten years, but I don't know how much stock I put in that idea. He must have been around for some time, as he's on his fourth Robin right now...who just so happens to be his illegitimate son. I have to suppress a chuckle every time I see a reference to DC publicity painting Robins as Batman's revolving door internship program. Please.
My point is that if we're really not supposed to think about older continuity, then the whole line should have been rebooted like Man of Steel and Wonder Woman did in 1987, and like only a few books--Mister Terrific, The Fury of Firestorm, Supergirl and a few others--did last month. If we're not supposed to try and fill in the blanks what happened and what didn't, then there shouldn't be four Robins, multiple Batgirls, Batmen across the world, etc., etc.
And if they care about historical interpretations of classic characters, then they shouldn't take characters that are familiar to kids from animated series like Teen Titans and make them into thoughtless sex drones.
Lastly, let's please, please, please not clear the decks of "Crisis"-type events just for the sake of 2012's line-wide event, First Crisis, No, Really, We Swear, Why Are You Looking at Us Like That, Just Shut Up and Buy It Already, These Aren't the Droids You're After. You've already given us hints that everyone's going to start to crossover in the third and fourth issues of various series, but please, if I wanted to read interconnected chaos, I'd be a Marvel Zombie forever and ever, amen.
DC, really, with the relaunch, I'm pulling for you guys. If you're successful, then maybe Marvel will lay off the aforementioned chaos. Then maybe we'll start to heal the industry.
I'm getting the idea you're gonna blow it. Don't do that. Don't.
Or Hulk will smash.