Wow. Talk about going out with a whimper. This week’s selection of DC’s first issues (find the three previous weeks’ worth of reviews here, here, and here) is really, really bad. There are no knockouts, and only two decent books. After the jump, I’m going to wade through a bloodbath of comic-book mediocrity and tell you which two books are worth your time. (Consider this your nerd alert.)

Dishonorable mention goes to the worst book of the week: Ron Marz’s Voodoo. Bad enough that a third-rate Wildstorm character is taking up space that, say, a Shazam, Chase, Dial H for Hero, Manhunter, or Heckler comic could have filled on the 52 roster, but they also had to make it almost as demeaning as last week’s misogynistic buffet. The main character is a stripper who spends the vast majority of the issue stripping. A little bit of plot seems to happen around the edges of the stripping, but the whole issue feels like it could have taken place in about a quarter of the pages, without all the terrible soft-core wank material (If you’re interested, I wrote a little bit about decompressed comics yesterday on Google+). What a stinker.

Wait, what? Ugh!
  • Wait, what? Ugh!
And it’s not the only stinker. Two non-superhero genre comics—I, Vampire, and Blackhawks—were virtually unreadable thanks to a confluence of shitty writing and awful art. Of these two, at least I, Vampire feels like it could move into interesting territory, and a few panels are pretty. Blackhawks is just an off-brand G.I. Joe comic.

Three of these comics could just as easily have been published in the EXTReEAMZ Image Comics era of the early ‘90s: The Savage Hawkman features boring characters mucking about until a HARDCORE SUPERHERO shows up and fights an EVEN MORE HARDCORE bad guy (the villain’s name is Morphicus, which is an exceptionally terrible super-villain name). David Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight only fails to earn the “worst Batman comic of September 2011” title because of Tony Daniel’s offensively bad Detective Comics. It features another Arkham Asylum breakout (the second one this month) and a stupid “twist” on a familiar Batman villain on the last page. The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men is a shitty Firestorm comic, featuring two Firestorms in different-colored costumes (it worked for Green Lantern, right? And it’ll mean an additional couple thousand dollars in action figure revenue!) and a kind of Firestorm/Hulk mashup character named Fury. Firestorm could be a fun comic book, if it was handled right, but this kind of clenched-jaw bullshit is all wrong for the character.

George Perez’s Superman comic book is just the kind of Superman that makes Grant Morrison’s stellar Action Comics necessary. It’s a busy, boring story about Superman fighting a monster while Clark Kent has some emotional problems. There’s an attempt to update the cast and the Daily Planet setting into something more “contemporary” (of course, it all feels about as automatically dated as the 1970s attempts to turn Clark Kent into a television broadcast news anchor) and a boring fight. Next month, Superman will fight another monster who will be a different color than this month’s monster, and the Superman merry-go-round of mediocrity will continue. This book makes Action Comics look even better in comparison.

Then there’s the forgettable stuff. Teen Titans introduces a new, slightly edgier take on the team (“Don’t call me Wonder Girl!”) and it’ll be forgotten as quickly as all the other non-Wolfman-and-Perez Teen Titans books. Aquaman tries so hard to make Aquaman into a badass—people mock him as a lame character in the book, as a kind of meta-commentary from Geoff Johns—that it actually features him ordering fish and chips at a restaurant, in an effort to remove the sissy “defender of the sea” image from the character. It’s yet another Aquaman #1, and this series is sure to meet the same fate as all the others. Justice League Dark desperately wants to be a necessary title (it appears that the team is assembled intentionally by the Justice League to confront the dark magic that makes the superheroic Justice Leaguers uneasy) but it feels perfunctory, save for one creepy scene where writer Peter Milligan revisits his take on Shade the Changing Man. (You really should read Milligan’s run on Shade; it’s a perfect explanation of why I’m so disappointed in Dark.) Green Lantern: New Guardians puts together a team of one lantern from each of the multi-colored corps. This whole rainbow lantern idea is dumb—it’s the kind of fan fiction a ten-year-old would fantasize about, and then forget the minute he discovers girls—and this book is a decompressed mess that clumsily puts together the team you see on the cover, with no surprises on the way.

Hooray for the best of the so-so!
  • Hooray for the best of the so-so!
Only two books are worth your time this week. All Star Western is a pretty good comic, but it’s unfortunately not as good as the Jonah Hex series that preceded it. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti continue to write Hex as a compelling character, but they stick him in a rootin’, tootin’ Gotham City of the old west and give him a whole cast of characters and a mystery to solve. This is not the right kind of story for Hex, who is a man of few words, and a loner. The fish-out-of-water vibe doesn’t work, the references to latter-day characters (did you know the Penguin’s great-great-great-great grandfather used to be the mayor of Gotham? Do you care, now that you know?) feels like a forced attempt to make the book relevant to superhero comics readers, and while the story is at least dense, it doesn’t feel right for Hex.

This means that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s Flash is the best book of the week. There’s plenty to like here. Manapul’s art is energetic and inventive, with a couple of truly weird and wonderful page layouts. The central mystery is a bit uneven—are we supposed to believe The Flash killed somebody? I can’t tell what the reader is supposed to think at all—but the characters are interesting and we haven’t seen super-speed illustrated in quite this way before, either. The problem is with the cliffhanger. It’s not really clear—again, are we supposed to believe The Flash is having a breakdown? Because he seems too competent for that—and it’s not really that dramatic. I’d basically be buying the second issue just to see some more of this fine artwork, while hoping that the story cleans itself up and becomes tighter and more coherent with the next issue. Why did DC wait until the last week to drop all the duds? The fact that this is the best book of the lot is a pretty damning indictment of the final quarter of the New 52.