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Weekly Comic Reviews

I Do Not Actually Look Like Jesse CusterAnd I’m back. Sorry for skipping out on doing reviews last week but I’ve been busier than I would like and it was the last thing on my mind. Also that issue of Catwoman sorta bust a blood vessel in my brain. This week was a more pleasant reading experience, so the reviews should reflect that. Let’s get started!

ALL-STAR WESTERN # 1

The first review this week is for what I have to say is the best book of the week. I feel like getting that out of the way early is important because I’m gonna gush fairly heavily on this one. I’ve been a vocal booster of Palmiotti and Gray’s work on Jonah Hex for a long time now and when the reboot news came down the pike I was surprised to see Hex getting any attention in the new DC landscape. I figured it would be the perfect time for DC to quietly push the character aside the way it has with a few other less-than-stellar selling titles. I’ve been hearing the same “the trade sales keep it alive” line in regard to Jonah Hex for a while but DiDio’s comments that new books would be judged harshly and only the best selling titles would remain in a short period of time made me wonder how this new interpretation would work for our favorite heavily scarred western bounty-hunter.

First and foremost I need to point out that this is not your typical Jonah Hex issue. Gone are the desolate western landscapes where the dust and dirt seem to fly off the page and nestle in the corners of your eyes. We’re now in the developing sprawl of Victorian-era Gotham City, a place where cobblestones have replaced the muddy central thoroughfare of the frontier town. Our Jonah Hex here is an older iteration, having experienced the frontier life and aftermath of the Civil War. He is drawn to the city on contract to help hunt down a Jack the Ripper-esque murderer who is carving a bloody swath of violence through the city leaving a trail of mutilated prostitutes in his wake. It is a story that matches the setting quite well and Palmiotti & Gray set the stage for our adventures efficiently giving us a quiet slow burn through the proceedings punctuated with sudden bursts of violent energy as if the book itself mirrors Hex’s personality.

I felt like there was more in this issue than in three lesser titles combined. It felt dense without feeling impenetrable, offering an excellent place for those who have heard how amazing Jonah Hex was and are finally willing to give the character a shot. Tying his history in with the development of Gotham City should drawin some Bat-fans interested to see how Hex fits in with the story of the Waynes, the Cobblepots, and the Arkhams. Fans of Snyder’s work on Batman will not be disappointed by the similar tone and the uninitiated should be drawn in by the sharp pacing and quality artwork.

Overall Rating: 5/5

AQUAMAN # 1

I’m an unabashed Aquaman fan. Seriously. I’ve got a good longbox full of Aquaman books and I feel like it’s a shame that nobody gives the guy a real shake. He’s a warrior king from under the sea! The logline alone should sell it but most people only view him as a joke. As such, it’s not surprising that Geoff Johns has gone in for a psuedo-meta presentation of the character where the surface world and the DCU don’t understand why Aquaman exists. I admit that it’s a bit disheartening that this is the direction he wanted to go, because it’ll be hard to dissuade people from believing everything they previously thought about the character when even the folks in the book itself don’t take him seriously. Of course it seems like Johns is also using every page of the book to prove everyone wrong. He lays the smackdown on a bunch of bank robbers, clarifies that he does not in fact talk to fish, and makes sweet love to his woman on the seashore after deciding that he doesn’t want to be king of Atlantis anymore.

This issue reads quite a bit like Johns’ Green Lantern no. 1 when he relaunched that character a few years back. As was the case with GL, Johns dives in head first and works to establish a status quo that clearly defines what sort of character we’re going to be dealing with and doesn’t divert much attention to the looming threat, devoting perhaps three pages total to setting up any sort of external conflict. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s important at this stage to prove to the readers that Aquaman is a character worth reading about. I think that Johns has done that effectively. I believe that people who weren’t fans previously will indeed have something to latch onto with this interpretation.

Let’s hope that Aquaman takes off big time like Green Lantern did all those years ago. He deserves it, damnit.

Overall Rating: 4/5

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK # 1

I almost passed on this just because I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of John Constantine being in any book with the “Justice League” label on it. It’s like seeing an old friend who used to weigh 300 pounds showing up looking like Chris Evans on the set of Captain America, your brain just can’t wrap itself around the concept of what is being presented as opposed to what you believe in your head to be true. Sort of like when a sentence doesn’t end the way you expect it banana.

That having been said, Peter Milligan’s name on the cover pretty much sold me entirely and then the contents of what was under that cover won me over entirely. It doesn’t read at all like what you would expect a “Justice League” title to read like. We do get the central Justice League team showing up and attempting to handle the supernatural threat but it soon becomes apparent that it will take a different sort of hero to sort things out. Thus we are introduced to our team through small vignettes. Shade the Changing Man shows up in a scene that is actually a bit heart wrenching. Xanadu, Zatanna, and Constantine get drawn in as well and we finish the issue with the players in position and the game ready to begin. If the issue weren’t almost entirely setup and exposition I would have given it a perfect score. I was expecting something a little bit more along the lines of JLI where they are assembled and the action has begun by the end of the issue but with so many characters to juggle I’m impressed that we got as much material as we did. It’s quite impressive.

OVERALL SCORE: 4/5

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And that’s it for this week. I hope you’ll go out and buy some of these. It’d be nice if the good books of the DC relaunch were the ones that sold the best. Basically I want you to buy 10 All-Star Westerns each and hand them out to friends. Because that would be amazing.

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Weekly Comic Reviews

I Do Not Actually Look Like Jesse Custer

It’s that time again! And lucky for you this time the reviews are on time. I hope you appreciate how much effort goes into that because I really don’t feel like being analytical at 8:00 am on a Thursday morning. I’m doing this all for you. Really. Because I sure as hell am not getting paid to do this.

BATMAN AND ROBIN # 1

I’m apologetically pro-Damien. I think he’s one of the best things to come out of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. There’s something about him that sets him apart from all the other Robins and I would say that it’s mostly the fact that he’s what Jason Todd could have been. The whole “Sidekick with an attitude” thing works for some and doesn’t for others and Damien works. Now, I will admit that too much of his schtick can be tiresome. But the same can be said for any character. I love me some Deadpool but I got some serious DP burnout following the 87 series he had going on at once last year. Luckily, DC seems to realize that Damien provokes strong reactions and therefore uses him with a deal of finesse. What I mean by this is that usually his personality is either downplayed or dialed up depending on the context of the story. In this debut issue, he’s far more antagonistic than usual because we’re being reintroduced to his dynamic with Bruce. That level of mutual respect that we had seen in previous stories seems to have been scaled back because of this new timeline and as such we get some interesting character beats from both Bruce and Damien in regards to their views on the sentiment of death and the ethos of fighting crime.

Like some other books this week, it’s clear that some holdover elements from the old continuity will be front and center for certain characters. In this case, it’s the worldwide enterprise of Batman, Inc. The fact that Batman has only been around for five years in this continuity doesn’t seem to hinder that storyline at all. We’ve yet to see exactly what parts of Batman’s history are still relevant. I don’t know if Knightfall, No Man’s Land, Murderer/Fugitive, etc. have happened in this timeline but we do know that Damien is still around and Batman Inc is still happening around the globe. Again I have to point out how troublesome this is to new readers if that’s truly what DC is trying to draw in with this relaunch. Someone picking up Batman and Robin # 1 without a prior knowledge of Morrison’s work on the character might be a little perplexed as to when exactly Batman had a son and what the hell Batman, Inc. is. Fans of those particular storylines will not be let down however, as this is a pretty direct continuation of those themes in a similar sort of style.

Overall Rating: 3/5

DEMON KNIGHTS # 1

I’ll just go ahead and say upfront that this is my favorite title of the bunch so far and if you haven’t already you need to go buy a copy and read it right now. The rest of this review is just going to be me gushing over how amazing the book is and how lucky we as readers are to have someone like Paul Cornell writing a book like this. Seriously, if there is one thing that I have to applaud DC for in this whole stunt it’s giving good writers chances to work on books that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. There are a lot of people who are going to pick this up just because of its connection to the “new 52” and they’re going to find one of the most fun, well-written fantasy adventure comics to come along in a long damned time.

I’ve always been a fan of Etrigan. I think he’s one hell of a character and he really hasn’t been given his due in the last few years. That changes here and I think it’s mostly due to the fact that Cornell knows how to write him and that he is a character that works best when he has appropriate characters to bounce off of and he gets that here with Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, and a whole host of medieval side-characters. The fact that this is set entirely in the middle-ages allows Cornell to go wild and do whatever he pleases without worrying about bumping up against someone else’s plans. The recent dust-up with Gail Simone being displeased about Batgirl’s appearance in Birds of Prey without her prior knowledge comes to mind. I don’t think anyone is going to try to appropriate anybody in Demon Knights anytime soon. There is an artistic freedom that comes with a book like this that I really can get behind.

Seriously, go buy the book. It’s the shining pinnacle of what this relaunch has to offer.

Overall Rating: 5/5

SUPERBOY # 1

This one is hard to review. It’s not a bad book. It’s actually quite an interesting read. It’s just so hard for me to disconnect this version of the character from the previous incarnation. Even more so than last week’s Green Arrow, not a whole lot of this book felt like what I would associate with Superboy. That having been said, what we’re presented with is a fresh take on the character. The scientific procedural element of the story is interesting and provides an excellent framework for progressing the issue. My only problem with the book has been that Superboy’s personality is defined by NOT having a personality. That can only last for so long before it becomes a chore to read through. I think that Scott Lobdell knows this, but he’s trying to match the character’s personality to the expected tropes of the genre he’s presenting the character in. He’s a clone, so he needs to be a blank slate at the beginning. That’s how these stories work. I think he’s trying to play with expectations a little bit and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes with it.

Superboy is a title that I’m cautiously optimistic about. The final page seems to indicate that this storyline somehow informs the new Teen Titans, which doesn’t look very interesting at all to me. I can’t really say for sure how much I’ll enjoy this past the first issue. I’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

Overall Rating: 3/5

SUICIDE SQUAD # 1

I am very tempted just to write *facepalm* and leave it at that. There really are no words to express how much I disliked this book. Anything not involving King Shark (he’s a shaaaaarrrk!) was pretty much terrible. Deadshot has lost his mustache and Amanda Waller is a young, thin slice of bland. This was just…well, a mess. I don’t imagine any other DC book has missed the mark as hard as this one has. Or let us hope, at least. I’d hate to see what could be worse than this slap in the face to what was once an amazing title.

I don’t want to sound like a cranky fanboy, but seriously…I just can’t imagine how anyone would find this interpretation of the title appealing. It’s generic, bland, and brings nothing new to the table while disregarding the elements of the characters involved that made them interesting in the first place. It’s just one big ball of missed opportunity, because these characters in their pre-reboot forms on the same team would have been interesting to see. Now? not so much.

Overall rating: 1/5

ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN # 1

So, controversy, huh? We’ve got an African-American/Hispanic Ultimate Spider-Man and that has some people angry and other people bored and other people happy as hell. Emotions! Does any of that have any bearing on how good the book is or isn’t? Not really. The initial PR stunt nature of the book is a bit disheartening because I think it might have been a little bit better received if it had come out of the box as a surprise. It’s actually a pretty decent book. It doesn’t feel like a continuation of the old series as much as it feels like an entirely new story where someone who isn’t Peter Parker somehow winds up getting spider-based powers. It’s got Bendis’ usual sense of story-flow, that is to say that it begins a bit slowly, but the slice-of-life soap-opera elements of Bendis’ writing were what made that book work so well in the early days.

I’m not going to call this one better or worse than the Parker years because it’s only been one issue and it’ll be another twenty-three or so until I’m able to see what sort of book this is really going to be. All we know right now is that Miles is going to have a little bit of a different power-set from Parker judging from that final page cliffhanger, and that he probably won’t have a costume until around issue six if Bendis keeps to his usual pace. But if everything between then and now is well written as it was back when he first launched USM, then I doubt we’ll really care.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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And that’s our show everybody. Join us next week for another round of my telling you what you should do with your money. See you then.


Bonus Comic Reviews!

I was able to get my hands on a few more of the new DC # 1 titles that I thought looked interesting enough to read and I figured it’d be worthwhile to add my two cents as to their overall quality and value. Because I’m an expert. I wrote a book. It’s on Amazon. That gives me free reign to critique whatever I want. At least that’s what I got out of all those literature classes I took in college.

ANIMAL MAN # 1

Are you reading Jeff Lemire’s excellent Sweet Tooth by any chance? If not, you should be. It’s the sort of dark, moody, effective Vertigo mystery that keeps that branch of the publishing division alive with its artistic merit. It’s seriously one of the best books on the market right now and at least three volumes are available in trade paperback for your reading pleasure. I say this because it’s not a fluke that Jeff Lemire is able to put out amazing work on a regular basis. That’s evident with his take on Animal Man, a book that, I believe, in a few years time will be held in the same esteem as Grant Morrison’s own vision for the character.

In this version we get Buddy Baker, animal rights activist, indie-film star, and part-time superhero trying to come to terms with what it is exactly that he wants to be. His unease with the way he comes off in an interview recently published in a magazine, which we get to read as the opening page of this debut issue, shows the conflict of this character in a very stark, contrasting light. He knows he does a fair amount of good as a superhero, but also knows his value as a community activist. Add this in with how his family perceives him; a wife and two children who each have their own view of Buddy Baker and what he means to them. Buddy’s son Cliff obviously wants him to be the superhero and hopes that he can in turn share in Animal Man’s adventures. Daughter Maxine just wants her father, a regular father who can provide her with what she wants/needs, and takes it very hard that she cannot have a puppy because of the way it would interfere with Buddy’s connection to his powers. His wife Ellen wants stability. Whether that comes from a movie paycheck, his activism work, or as a superhero doesn’t seem to matter much to her as long as she has Buddy in some constant form. This contrasts with Lemire’s characterization of Buddy as the sort who constantly changes everything about himself.

This is one of the best written books of the relaunch. As with most b-list characters, Lemire is given a longer leash and wider freedom to play with than if he were writing Superman or Wonder Woman. He has more leeway to play with the character and push boundaries. I don’t foresee this one being a major seller but I think it will be a critical hit and a cult favorite for years to come and all of that is deserved because this is a true standout of the relaunch.

Overall Rating: 5/5

MEN OF WAR # 1

Bringing Sgt. Rock into the modern world seemed like a fairly stupid idea. Like Jonah Hex, I always felt like the time period was essential to the character. You can do a one-off story of time displacement but it never feels right. It seemed like this time they were just going to have Sgt. Rock exist in the modern military environment with no reference to WWII. He wasn’t being brought forward, he was never back there in the first place. In Men of War # 1 we get a slight hint that this might be a direct descendant of the Rock we’re accustomed to. In the first segment where we’re introduced to Corporal Rock, an Army sergeant references his great-grandfather who was also a sergeant. I think by dropping that little line of dialog they were able to put aside my fears that this book would in any way be a disservice to the character of Sgt. Rock.

The first segment here sees Rock and his team deployed on a mission where things go pretty haywire and a superhuman, who remains unidentified in this issue but is hinted at being Superman, ends up derailing the overall plan and dumping the team in a violent crossfire. It’s fairly well staged if a bit generic but the cliffhanger ending is more effective than the rest of the issue and makes me want to see how everything plays out.

The second story is more grounded-in-reality with a group of Navy SEALs taking on some insurgents in a classified mission where technically they aren’t even in the area. The pacing is quick and reads like a comic version of Black Hawk Down with a cliffhanger ending that’s just as effective as the one in the preceding Sgt. Rock story.

It’s not an amazing book, in fact it feels fairly by the numbers, but it’s been a while since we’ve gotten a military action book and it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out…

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

SWAMP THING # 1

I’ve championed Scott Snyder as one of the best new talents DC has picked up in years. His Batman work is exquisite and American Vampire is a damn fine book. So when I saw he would be taking over the reigns of Swamp Thing I figured he was just the man for the job. His sensibilities seem to fit quite well with the themes and ideas that seem tethered to such a character and so I was excited to see how it would work out.

I can report that it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. It’s obvious that this was supposed to come off of the end of Brightest Day and reads like a sequel to a story that I missed. Snyder jumps in head first and establishes the narrative which comes off as a bit of an abrupt start. There are references here to Moore’s work on the title as well as the recent developments of Brightest Day and all of that feels out of line with the rest of the reboot titles in that everything else read like a clean break from what came before in most respects where as this one feels less new-reader friendly. I understand that a lot of these things would feel organic if I had been reading what came before but at the same time that defeats the purpose of a company wide reboot and a new # 1 on the cover.

That nitpick aside it is a well written book that I think will explain everything that needs to be explained in due time. The artwork by Paquette is amazing, as it usually is and it compliments the story and tone perfectly. I think that this will be a great book given time but it simply had a hard time coming off the starting line. Once it rounds the first corner I expect it to pull out ahead of the rest fairly quickly.

Overall Rating: 4/5