Best Shots Extra: ACTION COMICS #1, BATGIRL #1 [New 52]

Best Shots Extra, New 52 Edition

 

Action Comics #1

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Rick Bryant and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Colin Bell

‘Rama Rating: 8/10

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In Action Comics #1, emphasis on the Action, Grant Morrison and Rags Morales dial things back a bit, regressing the character to a younger and more inexperienced Superman. It’s a move that’s been expected since the first rumblings of DC’s New 52, so probably of little surprise to anyone. What is surprising is just how much the character remains quintessentially Superman despite the clock being wound back for Kal-El in both physiology and fashion sense.

Yes, he wears jeans and boots – but he’s still standing for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Indeed, his downright unprovoked persecution of corrupt businessmen gives him more of a leaning towards truth and justice than perhaps has been evident of his adventures of late, which time and again have descended into villain-punching-as-resolution. In this book Superman’s not fighting for Earth. For the time being he’s fighting for the little guy, both as a superhero and as a journalist.

Morrison gives us a character that’s more reactive, with a shorter fuse, and an added element of grandstanding that’s rarely been seen. That might be the hardest pill for ardent fans to swallow, as this is a brasher Superman than we’ve witnessed before, with a penchant for wisecracking presumably intended to underline his immaturity as a hero. It’s not an endearing arrogance, but I expect it’s not meant to be.

This isn’t an origin story. There’s no reference to the Daily Planet, Smallville, the Kents, or even Krypton. But it is a fine balance of scene-setting and action. Between the pursuit of wrong-doers and the smashing of tanks, the book finds time to lay out its supporting cast, many of whom will be instantly recognizable to anyone that’s ever read a Superman comic. There’s also what appears to be a cheeky dig at the television series Smallville, or at least I’m perceiving it that way because it suits my views on the program to a tee.

Morrison ensures that there are nods to what's gone before - both Jimmy Olsen's ringtone and Clark Kent's landlady’s curious name hark back to stories and characters originating in the Silver Age. There are also hints of what’s to come, and personally I can’t wait to see where Morrison takes Lex Luthor off the back of his appearance in this issue, where his motivations for opposing Superman are made crystal clear in an incredibly efficient manner.

Also on the efficiency trip is Rags Morales, and thanks to his art the book doesn't hang about for a second. Brilliantly paced, we're thrown into the thick of it as Superman unknowingly runs a gauntlet through Metropolis, freewheeling from one set piece to another, the stakes escalating each time.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the comic only ends as the Man of Steel is brought to a halt – the sheer inertia of it all gives you the impression that if he hadn’t been stopped, the book would’ve kept going indefinitely. Morales’ pencils convey just the right hint of arrogance and enjoyment on Clark Kent’s face as his superheroic identity remains in perpetual motion in each panel he appears; and they also nail the perfect hangdog expressions of ’aw-shucks’ when he’s out of the cape.

Looking over it, this was the perfect book to kick off The New 52 – accessible, action packed and full of character. So relax. He’s still Superman; slightly more flawed for sure, but not in a way that compromises the indefatigable spirit of the character. From the look on his face, Superman’s enjoying it. From the look of the book, the creators are enjoying it. I’m enjoying it. I think you might enjoy it too.

 

Batgirl #1

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Ardian Syaf, Vicente Sifuentes, and Ulises Arreola

Letters by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 6/10

With my first foray into the new DCU now behind me, in the form of Batgirl #1, I must say, I feel a lot of trepidation.  It's not that Gail Simone didn't write a decent comic, or tell a good story; it's that this is clearly a comic book aimed not at someone who's been a fan for years, but for someone just coming into the medium.  Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  The biggest problem to me is that this book leaves me with more questions than answers about Barbara's new status quo.  While that's clearly intentional (no need to bog down new readers with fifteen years of now irrelevant back story), it does little to invite me into the new world, or to entice me to shrug off my lingering questions about the character.

To backtrack slightly, I should say that, if DC's plan is to get brand new readers on board, this is definitely the way to go.  You don't have to know anything other than the concept of Batgirl to pick up this book.  Hell, you don't need to know more than the story of Batman to figure out what's going on.  Gail Simone deftly handles everything you need to know about Barbara Gordon and her high-flying alter ego without wasting space or barraging the reader with endless bubbles of florid text.  Further, the gimmick behind Mirror, the new villain introduced here, is immediately understandable, and definitely unique.  I found myself being easily drawn in to the deepening mystery of Mirror and the Brisby Killers, only to be jarred back out every time there's mention of Barbara's time in a wheelchair.

It's established early on that, in this new continuity, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon three years prior to the events of this story.  It's also established that, in that time, Barbara was confined to a wheelchair.  What's glossed over is what happened during those three years, and how she regained the use of her legs.  Was she Oracle?  Probably not, judging by the financial woes she expresses.  The bigger question is, how is she walking again?  The only explanation given is that "a miracle happened."  It's hard not to feel like she just got Superboy-punched when there's no rhyme or reason at hand.  It would almost be an improvement to have eliminated "The Killing Joke" from continuity entirely.

Simone's plot for this issue sets a great tone for Batgirl, making it clear that while she isn't quite the hardnosed expert her mentor is, she's got something of a mean streak all her own.  It's a fun, flighty mystery set deep against the dark backdrop of Gotham's underbelly.  Batgirl is positioned as a small, fiery beacon in a sea of violence.  It's a shame that Ardian Syaf doesn't do a better job of capturing that mood.  His art, while technically proficient, is utterly charmless.  It's static and scratchy when it should be kinetic and bold, a crime committed by many of DC's stable.  It's hard not to compare Syaf to Neal Adams, something most bat-artists would welcome, but there's little in these pages to show anything but the bad habits that Adams's legacy has brewed in subsequent generations of artists.  The lack of mood isn't all Syaf's fault, as inker Vicente Cifuentes and colorist Ulises Arreola do little to draw anything exciting out of the layouts and pencils.  Again, it's hard to call it "bad," per se, but it isn't interesting, and it's not a draw. 

It's impossible to look at Batgirl #1 without remembering what's come before, and attempting to reconcile the trappings of the "new 52" with the fact that the Bat-Family's continuity is meant to remain largely intact.  DC seems to want it both ways for some characters, but doesn't seem willing to meet the old readers in the middle when it comes to lingering questions.  I don't think that's Gail Simone's fault, but when positioned against readers wishing for answers, or at least a seamless transition, the book certainly suffers for it.  Through the eyes of a brand new reader, the book may hold up better, but ironically, it's the ties to past continuity that make this a tough call.  On one hand, the internal plot is consistent, and entertaining.  On the other, it's the unwillingness to let go of what's been done before that bogs the book down.  It's clear that DC's plan is to garner new readership, free from the shackles of continuity, but if that's the case, what's the point of holding on to the past at all?  There's no real bridge between old and new, and so I almost wish that DC had the guts to go all in on the reboot. If they're going to deny us the answers we want, they would simply eliminate the questions.  Batgirl would be better for it.

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