This month, DC Comics is publishing 52 first issues in an effort to pull in new readers. (You can find my other reviews here and here.) The third week of their New 52 initiative—which came out last Wednesday—features some decent work with the company’s most iconic characters, some mediocre stuff, and some awfully sexist dreck. Find a big, nerdy roundup review of all twelve comics after the jump.
- This is like the textbook definition of "sexy," right?
Birds of Prey, the female cloak-and-daggery supergroup written by pulpy mystery novelist Duane Swierczynski, isn’t especially sexist, but it is a bad comic, full of cliches, awkward transitions, and vapid characterization. Compared with the earlier Birds series, this feels like a dud. Captain Atom, which reimagines the title character as a more Dr. Manhattanish figure, is bland, talky, and dull. And Legion of Superheroes is a total fucking mess. As I said last week, I’m a big Legion fan, and I still can’t fucking figure out what’s going on here or why I should care. The art, too, is notably bad: The last page features what I think is supposed to be a shocking panel that raises the stakes for the heroes, but the reveal is instead tucked away in what is perhaps the most undramatic action panel I’ve seen out of all DC’s first issues so far. This is like a rock song played by a tone-deaf kazoo player. What a mess.
This brings us, then, to the inoffensive middle ground. Supergirl is as forgettable a comic as you can slap together. Nothing really happens—Supergirl comes to on Earth for the very first time with a bad case of amnesia. The last page sets up a big fight with Superman to come (it feels as though half of DC’s 52 first issues end with the threat of a fight with Superman) and there’s no indication why anyone should care. DC Universe Presents Deadman tries to reimagine the title character as a kind of Quantum Leap-style do-gooder, hopping from body to body and resolving spiritual crises in random people. The writing isn’t so bad—it’s a little heavy-handed, but I’ve read much worse in a superhero comic—but the bland artwork and the pedestrian way Deadman’s origin is presented make the whole package feel like a flop. Neal Adams’s weird, wonderful work on Deadman raises the bar to levels that Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang simply cannot hope to reach. Nightwing is all right. Kyle Higgins explains pretty well that we’re reading the story of Batman’s first sidekick, all grown up, but he doesn’t explain what makes Nightwing more than just a, well, kid sidekick all grown up. Reading Nightwing doesn’t make you want to die, but it doesn’t especially make you want to read the next issue, either.
Blue Beetle is a reboot of DC’s New Mexico-based Spider-Man riff. It’s solid comics, with Tony Bedard’s script tugging us along in a cheerful enough way, establishing the character's origin, and introducing a couple of credible threats by the end of the issue. (I’m a sucker for the Brotherhood of Evil.) Ig Guara’s art is good stuff—he’s got a future in superhero comics for sure. It’s a fun introduction to a young character who stands to be DC’s biggest breakout hit in at least a decade. This comic is everything that Static Shock wasn’t—fun superhero comics starring an interesting young protagonist.
But the best two DC Comics to come out this week are Scott Snyder’s Batman and Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. Snyder’s is the more traditional take on the character—this is your basic Batman story, with a breakout at Arkham Asylum (again?), a comprehensive look at the supporting cast, including a female reporter named Vicki Vale, and a few nods to technological advances adding to Batman’s crime fighting skill set. Greg Capullo’s art is, while slightly inconsistent, a dramatic and atmospheric addition to the script. It’s a good, solid Batman comic book that will keep your interest and leave you feeling that you got your three dollars’ worth of entertainment.
Wonder Woman feels like one of those late-80s DC Comics just before the Vertigo-mature readers divide that teeters on the edge between superhero fantasy and dark-edged horror. Wonder Woman, here drawn with an appealing exoticism and imposing stature by Cliff Chiang, seems to be the only defense humanity has from weird, fickle gods who like to mess in their affairs. Wonder Woman is one of those characters who needs a solid mission statement, and Azzarello seems to understand that by making her the line between reality and weird mythology. This is something that Superman can’t do, and if Azzarello can keep the dark horror vibe running, this relaunch could wind up being one of the most memorable takes on the character. His Wonder Woman almost makes up for the truly wretched depictions of women in Red Hood and Catwoman. Almost.