Best Shots Reviews: The Best DC NEW 52 Series So Far

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As we mark a year since DC announced it would relaunch its universe with the New 52, Newsarama's Best Shots review team has poured through all of the new releases to find the best of the best. With our team of more than 20 reviewers weighing in, Best Shots is bringing to you the Top 10 Best Books of the New 52. Who will stand head and shoulders above the rest? Stick around, 'Rama readers, and Best Shots will show you the cream of the crop!

 

10. O.M.A.C.: If you had said that Dan Didio would co-write one of Best Shots' favorite books from the New 52, you probably would have been met with some skepticism.  Yet O.M.A.C., which updated a classic Jack Kirby DC creation, was consistently good for all of its brief run of eight issues. Teamed with Keith Giffen, one of few people in comics able to evoke Kirby’s unique style without feeling a pale copy, Didio embraced the insanity of Kirby’s original by doing everything from jovial creator credits (“Death Row” Didio) to titles that always featured the same initials as O.M.A.C. to using “Eye” for “I” when Brother Eye spoke. There were even asterisks and editor’s notes!

The book really evoked the potential inherent in a restarting of DC’s universe — why do all books have to look and feel the same if you’re beginning fresh? O.M.A.C. was a title that responded to 1970s comics with a love letter, rather than a need to update ideas and make them relevant. There were changes, sure, but they were organic, not forced. Didio and Giffen did an amazing job of weaving Kirby’s ideas into the changes made over time to places like Cadmus and Checkmate. All the while, Giffen and Koblish drew the book in the explosive, "Krackling Kirby" manner, unafraid to make the panels big and bold or create the weirdest creatures imaginable. Unfortunately, today's comics market doesn’t seem to have room for a book this weird and this wild, and O.M.A.C. rode off into the sunset to await future use. -- Rob McMonigal

 

9. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: If you want superhero horror in the New 52, you go to Animal Man or Swamp Thing.  If you want a monster with a job to do, you go to Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli’s Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Lemire’s take on Frankenstein owes more to Mike Mignola and his work on Hellboy and B.P.R.D. than it does to Grant Morrison’s work on the monster during Seven Soldiers. Lemire has made Frankenstein a broken character like those from his Essex County series or Sweet Tooth.

Frankenstein is a soldier with a tortured past, working for a secret monster intelligence agency. With a broken marriage, a team of rookies and missions that are just too dangerous for the Justice League, Frankenstein is just like any other man in that tries to put his job before his personal life. Alberto Ponticelli has made this book look like nothing else out of the New 52. His ungraceful, wavering and detail packed drawings show the ugly threats that Frankenstein and his team of Creature Commandos have to face on a daily basis. From monsters beneath a small town to his own interpretation of O.M.A.C., Ponticelli draws threats and monsters that Batman or Superman would never and could never face.

Lemire and Ponticelli have found the heart in the monster, creating a Frankenstein who is tortured and brutal but who also cares about the people and world around him more than any creator could have ever intended. Grant Morrison showed us Frankenstein as a secret agent. Lemire and Ponticelli give us Frankenstein, the man. -- Scott Cederlund

 

8. Birds of Prey: Birds of Prey has been solid gold since Issue #1, and the story has only gotten better. Duane Swierczynski knows his way around a team book. Jesus Saiz's classic and demure style of art gave this book a rare consistency. We have the both of them to thank for one of the best things to come out of the relaunch: Ev Crawford, better known as Starling. This potty-mouthed, tattooed master strategist is a force to be reckoned with. She is good for a belly laugh, too. So is the well-timed crazy of Katana. Poison Ivy brings the mystery. Batgirl adds some shine to the team's tarnished past. And this Black Canary is a strong and down-to-earth version of Dinah that is as interesting as her scream is sonic. Every character brings something of value to the table. Throw in fast-paced action and punchy dialogue with that superb chemistry, and you've got yourself one kick-ass team that is a ton of fun to read.

Travel Foreman has taken over art duties as of Birds of Prey #9, but his knack for detail and emotional expressiveness has brought an attractive fire to the book. Dixon's Birds are classic. Simone's Birds are fan-favorites. Swierczynski's Birds of Prey is something to look forward to every month. -- Vanessa Gabriel

 

7. The Flash: There's a certain joie de vivre that comes with traveling faster than a speeding bullet, and that's been the great strength of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's gorgeously-illustrated run on The Flash.  With their training as pencilers and colorists, Manapul and Buccellato made The Flash a visual triumph from the start, kicking off their first issue with Barry Allen racing across the page and taking down a group of armed thugs with a smile on his face. From Barry's super-speed observation skills to his impossible feats of velocity, Manapul and Buccellato have taken their craft to the next level, using their artistic acumen as a logical foundation for their storytelling.

Lately, Barry's world has gotten a lot bigger than Central and Keystone Cities, with treks to the Speed Force and Gorilla Grodd's lair, but the simple throughline has remained constant. The Fastest Man Alive is back, and he's looking better than ever in the New 52. -- David Pepose

 

6. Batwoman: Batman may have to fight all the lunatics of Gotham, but who is left to face the real monsters hiding in the city's shadows? Meet Kate Kane, better known as Batwoman, a red-headed dynamo equipped not just with the latest gadgets, but also some of DC's most innovative artists. With the first arc illustrated by co-writer J.H. Williams III, Batwoman's world has been built up as a spooky, ominous, yet altogether beautiful place, and the cartoonier Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy have continued Williams's tradition of sprawling, unorthodox layouts peppered with brief bursts of Kate's menacing smile.

Yet the story by Williams and W. Haden Blackman is nothing to scoff at, either — Kate's relationship with Detective Maggie Sawyer gives some great twists for her duel identity, her monster-based rogues gallery is a nice counterpoint to Batman's, and the hunt for Batwoman by the DEO is a simple yet tense subplot. Needing no event tales or continuity shifts to justify her existence, Batwoman isn't just a showcase for great art, it's a case study in how to tell serialized superhero stories right. -- David Pepose

 

5. Batman and Robin: Even without having to sell a rebooted, relaunched line of Batman comics, finding a suitable team to follow Grant Morrison's highly popular run on Batman and Robin must have been a daunting task. Fortunately, DC Comics decided to go with the former Green Lantern Corps creative team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, whose work examining the nature of family and duty not only stands out as some of the cleanest, and most intriguing of the New 52, but has redefined Batman's relationship with his sidekick, Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Exploring for the first time the dynamic between Bruce Wayne and his young son Damian as they struggle through not only life as father and son, but as a crime-fighter and his young protege, Batman and Robin has consistently broken new ground for one of comics' oldest, most popular heroes, pushing the boundaries of what Batman's code of honor will allow, and revealing that the Dark Knight may have a bright spot after all, one fueled by his love for his last remaining blood relative — his son. -- George Marston

 

4. Animal Man: It’s clear why Animal Man has been one of the best books of the New 52. Writer Jeff Lemire has crafted an inspired tale that blazes new trails while still remaining true to the core concepts that made people like the character the first time around. For Buddy Baker, family is incredibly important. Lemire has taken that idea and combined it with the nightmarish  Red and the Rot to create a family drama that doubles as a psychological horror book.

Lemire has been aided by stellar artists including Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh. They have brought his vision to life and effectively kept the book balanced despite shifts between the grotesque and the familial. The attention paid to building a lasting mythology through the use of both memorable visuals and focused storytelling has definitely contributed to the rising profile of this book. And because of its unique place in the DCU, the potential for new and exciting stories is limitless. -- Pierce Lydon

 

3. Wonder Woman: When all people can talk before a book hits about are their thoughts on Amazons in pants, you know you've got some roadblocks. But Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chang didn't just push those blocks aside — they shattered them into pieces. Wonder Woman not only debuted as one of DC's smartest-written books, but it was (and is) a textbook example on how to draw women with power, grace, and respect.

Diana's long-established birth from clay into the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus was but one of many daring choices Azzarello made for the character. To be sure, these changes in both Wonder Woman and DC's version of the Amazons hasn't sat well with everyone. Indeed, Wonder Woman has become a very divisive title, but after nine issues readers all still talking about her with interest and the books keep selling.

While the title has lacked some consistency in the art with some fill-in work, Cliff Chang is quickly becoming one of the best artists to ever bring Wonder Woman to life. Diana has so rarely been drawn as such a perfect balance of strength and compassion. With themes of love, betrayal, victory, and loss, Wonder Woman finally feels like the character many always hoped she'd become. A modern mythical hero, more than worthy of her place in the Greek pantheon. --Aaron Duran

 

2. Swamp Thing: The fact that Swamp Thing hasn't been around for a shade under a decade and being reintroduced during Brightest Day, many were skeptical if he'd find an audience. Yet when DC put on Detective Comics writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette (Knight and Squire) as the new creative team for ol' Swampy's relaunch, it hit all the right chords.

Swamp Thing is a great mixture of some of the old mythology surrounding the character, and a layer of something new. The addition to Sethe and the power of the Rot is a good antithesis for Swamp Thing without having to jump right into the Anton Arcane rivalry. The first arc has been a slow burn that accumulated into a super sorcery smackdown that sucked you right in. It's a strong book that can hold up on its own without one of the few out there that actually had new readers in mind. --Lan Pitts

 

1. Batman: Scott Snyder’s run on Batman has received both fan praise and critical acclaim in equal amounts. Having delivered a phenomenal run on Detective Comics, Snyder moved over to Batman with the “New 52” relaunch, to deliver the stunning opening arc, “The Court of Owls.” With this arc Snyder created one of the most interesting Bat-villains in years, a secret society of owl-worshipping aristocrats that dates back to the founding of Gotham City and Bruce Wayne’s ancestor Alan Wayne. This enigmatic enemy strikes out at Batman through their undead assassin, the Talon, before luring Batman into a deadly trap that lets him see that it is not he that rules the night in Gotham, but the Owls, and they have just been waiting in the shadows for the perfect moment to strike.

The plot is gripping and action packed, and Snyder’s storytelling is tense and suspenseful; his characterization of Batman is close to perfection, and he has a real grasp on the essence of the character, with a real sense of what drives him and what he fears. The script of every issue has been remarkably smart, with highly natural dialogue, and small amount of narration and monologue that kept the exposition to a minimum, trusting instead for the artwork to do its share of the storytelling.

There can be no doubt that Greg Capullo’s artwork on Batman is some of the very finest of his career. Some fans were hesitant about whether his style would fit the title, but he quickly won over detractors with his incredibly detailed linework, his fantastic use of perspective and camera angles, his stunning cityscapes, and his wonderful character and costume design. DC managed to pick the perfect creative team for this title’s relaunch, who have subsequently produced one of the best Batman stories in recent memory. -- Edward Kaye

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