It’s been quite a while since we reviewed anything on Alternate Cover – but with DC’s All New Brand New Exciting New 52 New Comics! launching this past week, it was difficult not to want to take a look at all thirteen (fourteen, if you include the prior week’s Justice League #1, which we have) titles and see exactly how well they stack up. After all, every other comics site is doing it, so why can’t we?
Heck, look, if even James is interested in reading fourteen DC comics and talking about them, you know you’re on to something.
Anyway, read on for our takes on all of the books, presented in our wildly popular and not-at-all-similar-to-Comics-Alliance “having a conversation over email” format…
Justice League #1
Seb: We’ll do the rest chronologically, but let’s start with this, since it came out first. And… well, all I can really say is “Pfffft”, frankly. Most of the problems with it have already been covered elsewhere – namely that, for whatever strengths it might have as a chapter of a story, as the big flagship launch issue of an entirely new universe that we haven’t seen before… it’s a catastrophic failure. Comparisons with Grant Morrison’s first JLA issue might seem unfair (but why not? The book’s supposed to be aiming high), but in 1997 we got an introduction to the entire team AND the story of them fighting their first threat. In 2011, we’re given… an eighteen-page argument. A few pages with another character they haven’t met yet. And an out-of-character Superman turning up at the end. Well, yay.
James: I’ve really done my best to try and see Justice League through the eyes of someone reading a comic for the first time, but all that line of thinking comes back to is that if I bought this comic – the one called Justice League – I’d want to know why there wasn’t a Justice League in it. Yes, there’s a “Five Years Ago” caption at the start, but I think the whole issue would’ve been much easier to forgive if there was a framing sequence explaining why we’re being shown the creation of the team, rather than a story about them. To me, this is Johns and Lee thinking like the kind of readers they ostensibly want to stop catering exclusively for. It’s not a story, it’s backstory.
Of course, that’s a philosophical difference. I’m just as concerned about what I see as technical failures, like the fact that Batman says to Green Lantern, “You flew us to Metropolis in a bright Green Jet?” seconds after being flown to Metropolis in a Bright Green jet. Or that there’s only one female character in the entire book, assuming you count a cheerleader with 2 lines as a character. I’ll always love Lee’s art, but that’s not enough. Unless they really are hoping for an audience of 8 year old boys, I don’t know who this is aimed at.
Action Comics #1
Seb: Fortunately, after the disappointment of JL, the proper launch book delivers everything I was hoping for and expecting.
Well, at least in terms of quality – in terms of story, it’s very unexpected. The tearaway, “socialist crusader” side of this new young Superman – yep, fine. Not only had Morrison talked this up in interviews, but most of it’s actually drawn pretty directly from the Golden Age version of the character anyway. And if All-Star Superman was Morrison’s love-letter to the Silver Age… then Action Comics is very firmly (and explicitly) his take on the Golden Age version of the character.
James: Yeah, I completely agree. It’s strange quite how 30s/40s it felt, actually, even though you’ve literally got people texting one another halfway through. I guess it’s the lack of super-villains, and costume, and the use of the military. [NB. by the time I wrote my CBR review, I had figured it out]
Seb: The surprise, though, comes from his version of Clark Kent. Because I never thought we’d get to see what it would be like if Grant Morrison wrote Spider-Man – but here we are.
James: I’m not sure it’s *that* Spider-Man inspired. There’s a hint of it, but he’s getting a much easier ride that Peter would, and he’s approaching it with far less angst. I can see the parallels, but it’s not one that I think is that strong, if I’m honest.
Seb: I think it’s more the situation he’s put him in, rather than the actual take on the character. It’s that he’s young, and starting out in journalism (although it’s interesting, actually, that he’s more established as Clark Kent than as Superman at this point), and living in a crummy apartment struggling to make rent, and he looks a bit smaller and nerdier, and… yeah.
But I approve of it, because although I’m a fan of Superman, it’s fair to say that the character of Clark Kent has rarely been treated in THAT interesting a fashion over the past couple of decades. People often call Superman “boring”, and I think in part that’s because he doesn’t have as interesting an alter-ego as… well, as Spider-Man, say. So Morrison’s line seems to be to continue to tell Superman-ish stories (albeit very old-style Superman stories) with Superman himself, but also to try and do something a bit more interesting with Clark. Giving Clark a bit of difficulty in his “home” life helps to make that side of the character a bit more engaging – and it’s only natural to look at one of the most successful attempts at that, i.e. Peter Parker.
(Although it’s not a take that’s entirely new, of course – one of my favourite things about Birthright is the fact that that book has a fresh take on Clark, too, by spending a fair bit of time exploring his life as an outsider who quite deliberately can’t allow himself to fit in properly to his new life in Metropolis.)
Anyway. This is turning into a general thesis on the character of Clark Kent/Superman, but the long and short of it is… terrific first issue. Would perhaps have liked a more Morrison-ish artist than Morales, but he’s solid enough and doesn’t do anything to actively harm what the writer’s trying to do. There are just touches throughout – a more even-handed dynamic to the Clark/Jimmy friendship by having them closer in age, the fact that Clark works for a rival paper to the Planet, and of course the portrayal of Luthor – that make it great fun and a genuinely interesting new take for a long-time fan such as myself.
James: I’ve got to admit, I don’t find it as immediately “Wow!” as All Star Superman was, but compared to the likes of Justice League #1, it’s an absolute masterclass of a first issue, and I can’t wait to see how Morrison and Morales re-imagine the rest of the setup. I’m on board for the next issue, definitely.
Animal Man #1
James: I know you loved this, but it was a bit… I don’t know. Like it didn’t really want to be a superhero comic, maybe? I’ve never read any Animal Man before, and by the time I got to the end of this, I sure as hell didn’t want to read any more. bleeding eyes, decomposing pets, a circulatory system walking around on its own? Sorry, no, not in a book that’s supposed to be about a guy who has animal powers. I liked the opening, and the fight scene, and the character’s internal monologue generally, but all I’m getting from this is that he’s going to go through some kind of psycho-emotional hell in the next few issues, and that’s not an appealing prospect.
In fairness, I can appreciate that it’s technically good. I wasn’t especially keen on the in-universe text into, but at the same time, it did help me get up to speed with who the character was, so it did its job. And the art is great, especially for the tone of the book. It’s very good at what it’s doing, I just think you’d need to be a complete masochist to want to continue.
Seb: Amusingly, I do feel almost entirely the opposite to you on every point. But I think the crucial thing is where you say you haven’t read any Animal Man before. Because I have, and so too has Jeff Lemire, clearly. Because this feels like a merging of all the best bits of the early Morrison run (i.e. before the metafictional stuff started to come in), and the early Jamie Delano run (before it all disappeared up its own arse). The family and character dynamic is firmly Morrison, and Lemire does the job of especially making Ellen an integral part of the setup; and I think that first half of the issue is probably more what the average reader would expect from an Animal Man book if all they knew was the character’s name and powers. But then all the stuff to do with “the Red”, and the general weirdness, and Maxine having some kind of strange power, is all drawn from the later, Vertigo-era run – and that’s as much a part of what Animal Man “is” to long-time readers as the “guy running around in long-johns absorbing the strength of a rhino to punch a bad guy” side.
Really, I just thought this was a superbly paced and structured, intriguing and engaging first issue that set out pretty well the stall of where the book expects to go (but then, perhaps it’s easier for me to anticipate that when I can see so clearly the past material that Lemire is drawing on). And the art is just damned near perfect, with the possible exception of the first splash page of Buddy in costume. Indeed, that’s perhaps the only element on which I agree with you, as I even really liked the exposition-dump of the magazine interview!
I’d have thought this would do a great job of hooking new readers into the Animal Man concept, though, so it surprises me a shade that it didn’t work for you, and I’ll be interested to see how others get on with it.
James: Yeah, see, I did find his powers intriguing, and I want to see a bit more exploration of that. Maybe Morrison did it all and that’s why Lemire isn’t going into it, but it seems clear from this issue that the tone and content aren’t going to be what I was hoping for. I appreciate that the character has his own baggage, but really I wonder if it wouldn’t have made sense to get into it a bit slower. As a new reader, the stuff you think is part of an Animal Man comic is the same stuff that’s scared me away, and which I’d probably have enjoyed if they built up to it.
Seb: Another of the ones I felt confident enough to buy in hard-copy, rather than digitally, because I have faith in Gail Simone writing this character. But while there are aspects of it that settle in straight away, it’s fair to say it doesn’t entirely succeed. Although oddly, the expected major hurdle – getting over the idea of Barbara not being Oracle any more – isn’t as much of a problem as I thought, although we’re still waiting for a valid explanation of her recovery (and why they didn’t just decide to write it entirely out of history with the reboot, if they really did want her back as Batgirl, is beyond me).
Rather, the main issue I have with it is that it really struggles to nail down a convincing first-person voice for Barbara – it’s kind of all over the place, and makes it a difficult book to engage with. Which, given all the time Gail has spent writing Barbara in the past, is a huge surprise, really.
James: I agree that the character’s internal tone is a bit off. There seems to be an element of that in the story, though, with her cleanly delineating her identities. I honestly don’t think they’ll bother to explain why she can walk again – anything more specific than “a miracle” is going to seem either reductive or ridiculous.
I have to say, I wasn’t that convinced by the ending cliffhanger. It really didn’t seem like a believable moment, for me (I’m referring to the accusation, not Barbara’s hesitance.) and since I’m not a fan of the character or creators, it’s definitely not a strong enough story point to bring me back.
James: God, I can barely remember what happened in this comic. Nothing about it seemed original or interesting, and the best thing he’s got going for him is that he’s named after Batman’s plane. I expected them to refer a little more to Batman Inc. since this guy’s existence seemed to be a result of that story, but they… didn’t. And frankly, if it’s not a strong Batman Inc. tie-in for fans of that story, what is it?
Seb: I’ve never seen something that by its existence so much cries out “This is all about being set in a very specific place”, and then does nothing in the story itself to actually give a SENSE of that place. It’s desperately lacking in any kind of geographical atmosphere. And that lack of development can’t even be said to be as a result of spending time on the character – because there’s none of that, either.
Desperately bland artwork, too. Nothing fundamentally wrong with it, it’s just got that slightly waxy sheen to it that I’ve never had any real fondness for.
James: Also, (we’ll come to this more later), it had some depressing violent images considering it’s an ‘all ages’ title. Impaled on a machete? Really? Leaving aside how utterly unconvincing it is to say “oh no, our hero has been fatally wounded!” as a cliffhanger, it’s just poor taste to show that much. There seems to be a lot of attempts at garnering some word-of-mouth through very base shock value in the relaunch, and I really don’t like it. I think this time, I’m just going to call their bluff and assume Batwing is dead and that this was the end of his comic.
Detective Comics #1
Seb: And speaking of violent images used purely for shock value…!
James: As I said before, I genuinely have no idea what DC think they’re doing. For them to put something this openly horrific in what they were describing as their flagship title confirms, to me, that while they think they’re treading new ground, they’re just walking in existing footprints. It’s gives me the same impression as Justice League did. Old men trying to do what they think their readers think is cool, rather than what they think is cool. That final page is an arresting image, I won’t deny Tony Daniel that – but unlike Animal Man, which used its grimness to proper effect, this just reads like the scrawlings of a teenage goth trying to upset his parents. It’s not incompetent or anything, it’s just …I find it embarrassing to read.
Seb: And quite aside from anything else… this is Detective Comics. Not Grim And Gritty Fighty Face-Cutty Comics. Where’s all the… detectiveness?
Green Arrow #1
Seb: I’m really not sure I understand the logic of having Dan Jurgens write but not draw one title (of which more later), and draw but not write another. It’s a massive waste of what’s actually some of his best artwork in quite some time (not to mention George Perez inking it!) to have it employed on a script that’s so bad.
And this is so, so very bad. Like, “J.T. Krul is the Chuck Austen of DC Comics” kind of bad. Right from an opening internal monologue that talks of “ostracizing like vermin” (when has anyone ever ostracized vermin? Oh, look, there’s a rat in the corner of the room – quick, someone ostracize it!), not a single beat that this comic hits works in any way. For starters, making Ollie Queen (a) younger and (b) a currently-successful businessman simply does not fit with his character – the idea of Green Arrow was that he spent years as a rich playboy type, before losing his fortune and becoming a crusader against social injustice. Take that away, and you’ve taken away the whole thing that made him any good in the first place.
And that’s even before we get to the wretched, dated dialogue, the laughably awful villains, or the bit where I think Krul thinks he’s being really clever by having Green Arrow suggest that his attackers should “apply for a reality show” to get attention, before a closing reveal that suggests that that is actually going to be the plot. Oh ho HO!
James: I can’t disagree with any of this, nor can I offer any further insight. It’s simply bad. Maybe Jurgens didn’t want to write and draw the same title, but a few more scripts like this and he’ll be wishing he did.
Hawk and Dove #1
James: Well, as a Marvel fan, I just have to say how delighted I am to see Rob Liefeld drawing some DC characters for a change.
But seriously, it’s really tough to judge a comic like this when Liefeld is drawing it, because the artwork makes it so difficult to imagine what it’d read like if it was actually, y’know, competently drawn. I was literally laughing out loud at the panel where Hawk is trying to steer the plane, because he could barely fit in the pilot’s seat and his hands were sort of…resting… on the controls unconvincingly.
For what it’s worth, I know absolutely nothing about Hawk and Dove, and although this issue introduced the basic concept, I’m not sure it’s done so in a way that makes me want to find out more. Hawk appears to be a complete dick, and Dove is being needlessly secretive… they’re both one-dimensional characters. Maybe they’ll get fleshed out a bit, but it seems a bit late for that because I don’t want to read any more. The idea of a “science terrorist” is quite fun, and one you can probably only get away with convincingly in a superhero universe, but it’ll take more a half-decent idea for a villain to save this.
Seb: Yeah, the “science terrorist” idea actually made for a pretty strong start to the issue. But this is a Rob Liefeld-drawn comic that doesn’t even have any of the stuff Liefeld used to do that his fans could point to as being his strength (you can just about overlook wonky eyes and no feet if the action is conveyed with enough energy and pace). I mean, at one point, Dawn’s hair is shown to be flowing behind her eyebrow and eyelashes. There’s stylised, and then there’s just nonsense.
Justice League International #1
Seb: Well, this is disappointing. On a number of levels, actually – firstly, the fact that it’s just plain not as good as I would hope for from (a) a comic with these characters and (b) a Dan Jurgens-written comic. It doesn’t do anything especially badly, but nor is it ever particularly entertaining.
But what rankles more is the fact that, in a DCnU continuity where some things have been preserved and others haven’t, it’s made clear with this issue that there was never a previous Justice League International. And that upsets me deeply and profoundly. Worse, it means that this grouping of characters is somewhat arbitrary, rather than the likes of Fire and Ice and Guy (and even the new Rocket Red, if you look at the surprisingly-good JL: Generation Lost) actually having a past relationship and group dynamic history.
If there’s one good thing to take out of it, it’s the way Guy Gardner is portrayed. I like the character a lot – but only when his brash arrogance and hot-headedness is tempered by genuine competence and a sense of duty. I can put up with him as a comic relief character when it’s Giffen and deMatteis writing him (because they gave him genuine depth, too), but too many writers in the ’90s made his character so unlikeable that it was impossible to wonder how he was ever (a) a superhero and (b) a Green Lantern. It’s why the version of him in Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps was so refreshing – still recognisably Guy, but with actual authority and respect. However, that version had never really been carried over into other DC books – until now. So if this is the “official” version of Guy that we’re going to have going forwards… well, I’m all for that (although, you know… Jim Lee redesigned every costume in the DCU… except Guy’s? Why, exactly?)
James: I’d go further and suggest that the very concept is a dud. It was never the idea of the JLI that worked, it was those creators with those characters at that time. Every attempt since has been a failed imitation at best, and this seems to fall into that category.
Men of War #1
James: I’d possibly rank this as the most interesting launch of the New 52 so far, if only because for most of the story, it appears to be a straight up, old-fashioned all-ages war comic. I know the genre was massive in the UK for years, and had its moments in the US market too, so it’s very interesting to see DC trying something like this, especially given that they’re pushing the comic into non-traditional distribution channels where it’s audience has a minutely better chance of seeing it than they do in a comic shop.
However, at the same time, they seem to have bottled it at the last second, and there’s a super-powered fight where the story really demands something like enemy shelling, or an airstrike. It’s a comic that seems to be actively hurt by attempts to tie it into the DCU. I love the art and colouring, but the story itself just strikes me as a genre mash-up that can’t possibly work without getting either reductive or insulting. Frankly, the backup strip seemed like a more interesting prospect, since it at least attempts to set itself in a recognisable place with a sense of reality to it – but either way, there’s nothing here I want to read more of.
Seb: Yeah, I’m not really one for war comics – unless they’re by Garth Ennis – but this isn’t badly written and the art is very strong. I like the conflict they’re building with Rock Jr, mindful – as most readers will be, even if they’ve never read a comic with him in before – of the legacy of Sgt. Rock and steadfastly not wanting others’ expectation of his living up to it. But if there’s a problem with it, it’s that I feel like for a war comic to justify itself, it needs to be as much about the war itself as the people fighting it. I don’t know where Rock and his people are fighting, who they’re fighting, or what they’re fighting for – and that means I find it extremely difficult to engage with it.
It’s true the backup strip doesn’t really have the same problem, but by the same token I could entirely take or leave it as it’s simply an entirely generic war comic with nothing at all that makes it jump out of a genre that I’m not especially interested in.
James: Oof. I know I sound like Johnny Negative here, but broad Kirby pastiche is not what I was expecting out of a universe relaunch intended to hook new readers. It’s a very good imitation of Kirby, certainly, but is that really the best use of Giffen and DiDio’s respective talents? To say nothing of the complete lack of plot, or indeed, any decent presentation of the OMAC concept. I didn’t know what an OMAC was when I picked the book up, and I’m not sure I do having read it. At the moment, I’d say it’s supposed to be a version of The Incredible Hulk, only he’s controlled by a satellite.
Seb: Well, it’s far from the worst comic Dan Didio’s ever done, which is something. And Giffen’s art is always interesting, and it’s impressive how strongly he manages to parody ’70s Kirby while adding something of his own – it’s energetic, and there’s a lot going on. But unfortunately, it’s something else that I’m just not interested in the concept of in the slightest – the closest I’ve been to caring about any of Kirby’s DC concepts was when Cadmus, Dubbilex etc. were in early ’90s Superman books – and the whole thing is so overblown and overcrowded that it does little to hook me in. If it’s what you dig, I’m sure this might be great – but it’s surely the least new-reader-friendly book of the relaunch so far.
James: Also, just as a technical gripe – introducing us to Kevin Kho at the end of the issue is utterly backwards, and I can’t understand why DiDio thought it might work. I think he was attempting to make it a twist ending, but it just comes across as confusing because we’ve never actually met Kevin before.
Seb: Also also, just as another – the book never actually tells you what OMAC stands for. Admittedly having it be an acronym for the title of the issue is cute, but… come on, this isn’t Casanova. We’ll have no Weird Acrostic Slogans That Evade here…
Static Shock #1
Seb: In a technical sense, this is a pretty well-made comic – just as you’d expect from Scott McDaniel. The art’s got a punchy, Wieringo-influenced feel to it, there’s a strong amount of story and introductory exposition in 20 pages (it’s another one that could teach Justice League #1 some lessons), and it sets out a good sense of what the book’s going to be.
Unfortunately, what it’s going to be it’s basically Spider-Man with Kirby-esque science powers, and if you’re going to do this sort of thing it helps if the lead character is appealing – sadly, Virgil is just kind of annoying, instead. And I can’t understand why he’s embarrassed by a middle name of Ovid but not a first name of Virgil.
Also: DC comics shouldn’t ever be set in New York. They just shouldn’t.
James: Yeah, for me, this is a case of “it’s well-made, but it’s not really my bag.” If I wanted to read a comic about a teenage superhero in New York whose powers and personal life pull in two directions, well, I’d be reading Ultimate Spider-Man. If you’re someone who isn’t going to buy a Marvel comic, a fan of the Static Shock cartoon series, or possibly even a new reader, I can imagine it hooking you, but I’m old and wisened and I’ve seen it before. There’s definitely a place for it, but once again, I’m forced to conclude that I’m not the target audience.
(I did really like the way McDaniel included a little bit of hard science in the exposition, though. That was fun!)
James: Hmmm. I’m probably most disappointed by this one. I loved Cornell’s work on Captain Britain (as you did) but that was so good that makes it feel like his attempt to write a more cynical, “realistic” superhero team is him playing against type. It feels like Ellis-lite, which is maybe all that Stormwatch can be now that it’s folded into the DCU. Mentioning on the first page that the plot out of this comic ties in with something that won’t be released for several weeks is utter, utter madness. Here’s a hint: Release Superman #1, put a note in the back that says “to find out what happened to that thing, read Stormwatch #1!” in that. Don’t tell us this is a sequel to a comic that hasn’t happened yet. It’s utterly, completely backwards, and I really think there’s no good reason the schedules couldn’t have been lined up, unless their thinking was “let’s put the weaker books at the start while interest is high – in which case, that’s hardly a vote of confidence. As for the art, not much to say except that I really dislike the colouring, too. It’s a digital oil-slick, photoshop effects-driven approach that I’m not a huge fan of. Too much sheen, not enough substance.
Now, just so I’m not relentlessly negative, let me just say that putting Martian Manhunter on the team is about as perfect a solution as I can imagine, if you want to tie it to the DCU. He fits more here than he ever did in the Justice League, that’s for sure.
Seb: Just so that I’m not relentlessly negative, I’ll say that it’s got the second-best last page of the week (after Animal Man). But other than that… yeah, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Not because it’s a bad comic – because it isn’t – but because of just how good we know the comics that Cornell is capable of are. If I’m being brutally honest, I can’t see that it really gives any compelling reason for The Authority (and I’m sorry, but… these characters are far more The Authority than Stormwatch, even if the style of the comic isn’t) to be folded into the DC Universe. If I’m being kinder, I’d say I do expect it to get better – especially with the promise of that last couple of pages.
Swamp Thing #1
James: Finally, something unexpectedly much better than I was expecting! I don’t know where Yanick Paquette’s been hiding this ability, but as far as I’m concerned, this issue is a massive step up from his previous competent-but-unremarkable Dodson-lite form. I’m just blown away by it, to the point where I almost don’t care about the writing – though I think that’s strong as well. The main thing I’m taking away from this issue, though, is that Superman’s new costume looks even more fucking ridiculous when it’s not being drawn by Jim Lee. But I’ll definitely be back for issue #2, if only to gaze lovingly at the art.
Seb: See, I seem to be the only person who quite likes how the costume looks the way Paquette draws it here – although I’m baffled by the Superman appearance generally, because it’s such an odd book for him to make only his second on-panel appearance in the “present day” and in this costume. Ho hum. And don’t get me started on the fact that yes, The Death of Superman did apparently happen according to this book, even though his marriage to Lois and the Australian Lex Luthor clone and Matrix Supergirl and the Four Supermen and all of that stuff patently won’t have done.
Anyway, guest Kryptonians aside, this is indeed very good – although I do think it’s another of the titles that suffers from not going far enough with the reboot. Swamp Thing has got a ridiculously convoluted history, and this would be the perfect opportunity to strip everything back to the original, basic concept and work from there – instead, we’ve got a sort of halfway house that’s trying to do that a little, but also make clear that everything from Len Wein through Alan Moore and onwards did actually sort of happen, kind of, maybe, possibly. But that aside, the story itself is interesting – and exactly the sort of story you’d expect from a newly-superhero-universe-centred-again Swamp Thing – and although it doesn’t top Foreman’s Animal Man for me, it’s a very lovely-looking book indeed.
Top of the Pile (Seb): Animal Man #1.
Top of the Pile (James): Action Comics #1.
Bottom of the Pile (Seb): Green Arrow #1.
Bottom of the Pile (James): Green Arrow #1.