There's trepidation, there's excitement, there are interviews and panels and hype and debate. And then there's actually getting your hands on the product, sitting down, and reading.
That's what I did at DC's media event prior to their midnight launch last night in New York City. I couldn't read all the books they had on hand, or I wouldn't have gotten to talk to any of the creators and staff that were on hand, but I did get good reads of seven (and paged through several others) of the New 52 titles. We'll have our Best Shots crew taking in-depth and quick looks at these books as they come out, with multiple looks at this week's launch title Justice League #1 coming over the next few days, but I'm giving my thoughts today to kick things off.
Before I get into thoughts on the individual titles, the relaunch as a whole sets a broad tone to the DC Universe. I read a truly chilling horror book that had a laugh-out loud moment, a joyful moment, a heart-wrenching moment, and a spine-tingling scare. I read a superhero book about a hero at his start, young and impetuous, and I read a superhero book about a hero at the top of his game, calm and calculated. I read a book about a team that had laughs, true high-concept science fiction, and blended worlds that previously were completely separate. I read a couple books that took a long-time run and made it into something both respectful of the past and brand new. This is clearly the DC Universe, and it's clearly something new. The infusion of humor that Geoff Johns promised for his books was present across the board, and the books as a whole just seemed more "balanced," rather than trying too hard to keep only one tone.
So, which is which? Let's start with the book that surprised me the most and quickly became my frontrunner as the sleeper hit of the entire relaunch: Animal Man #1
Admittedly, I haven't read a ton of Jeff Lemire's work, and I wasn't too familiar with Travel Foreman. This book however has assured I'll be taking at least a second look at anything with their names on it for the foreseeable future. Animal Man as a character hasn't been very well-defined since Grant Morrison's Vertigo series, and in twenty pages is defined, placed in an absolutely essential role in the DCU, and given a supporting cast that does more than support, but really is part of his character. Buddy Baker's family is as much "Animal Man" as he is, as is shown here. The other thing about this? It's a superhero book, but it's also truly a horror book. The range of emotion shown is incredible, and there is one scene that makes my hairs stand on end just thinking about it. "Animal Man" quickly became the first two words out of my mouth for the rest of the night, and likely will be from fans when they get their hands on the book.
A close second and a true achievement, though, is Stormwatch #1 from Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda. Already a fan of both creators, it's great to see them step into a new level of confidence. Within the first half of this book, the team perfectly and seamlessly integrates the WildStorm universe of characters into the DC Universe. They make a perfect place and reason for Stormwatch's existence. They integrate WildStorm themes seen primarily in other books like Planetary. They create a huge backdrop to the last several hundred years of the DCU. They even take individual characters like Martian Manhunter, and make them more badass than ever before (not to mention explain why MM is with this squad of mostly WS folks in an expert manner). Add to all of this a fast-paced story with more than a couple fun twists, plus Sepulveda's artwork being about 10 orders of magnitude more fluid, detailed, and striking than anything he's ever drawn, and you have one incredible focal point for the new DCU. And yes, this is the book that the world will revolve around.
But what about the big heroes of the DCU? They were well represented in our sneak peek. Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales takes Superman back to basics, and the beginning of his career. He's brash, he's bold, and he's actually a little over confident. That's an interesting concept, the idea of a man that can do these incredible things stretching himself beyond his limit, and one I can't wait to see more of. Most of the supporting cast is relegated to little more than cameos, but as this is the start of Superman's story, that can be forgiven. The book definitely lives up to its name, with plenty of action to start things off, and a tease of confrontations to come.
Green Arrow #1, from writer JT Krul and artists Dan Jurgens and George Perez, is a book that definitely shows what a different direction the relaunch is taking some characters. Gone is the brooding hero whose life has been struck by near-constant loss of late, and in comes an Oliver Queen that's basically a combination of James Bond and Steve Jobs. He has a support team that works like his CRU or his M and Q, he's wise-cracking and ass-kicking, and he has so many wonderful toys. As Krul seems to have more fun writing him, Oliver seems to have more fun being a straight-up globe-trotting hero again. Jurgens art has a different quality to it than just about anything he's ever drawn, thanks to the finishes by Perez. Their combination brings a clean look with great, kinetic action. This is probably the least emotionally "deep" book of the new batch at first, but it's also an example of real superhero action. It's more flash than substance, but certainly allows for growth and is one of the most "new" takes on a character so far.
Geoff Johns is busy in the relaunch, and he just wouldn't let go of his longest-running book, Green Lantern. While the new #1 features Sinestro in the title role, the book is still also very much about Hal Jordan. It opens itself to new dynamics between every character in the GL universe, from Sinestro and his former corps, to Hal and Carol Ferris, to the Guardians, to the two main characters together. It's a twist that distills both characters to their purest forms, turns it on its head, and the end result is one of the best single issues of the book in the last year or two. Doug Mahnke clearly knows these characters well, too, and he supports Johns' lighter tone (with a mix of foreboding) well.
One of the more controversial launches, Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf, did not shy away from the controversy at all. Barbara Gordon's restored ability to walk and retaking of the Batgirl identity is tackled head-on in the very first issue. Not a lot of answers were given just yet, but it's clear that her past as a victim of paralysis will remain a theme in the story. In addition to those tense moments, special care was given to make this a book about both Batgirl the hero and Barbara Gordon the woman. Simone's joy at writing both is apparent in Barbara's joy at being both. The art shows the fun of kicking some bad guys in the face coupled with the constant pain and worry of a victim of extreme violence. This book won't dispel every fear or worry int he first issue, but it also won't hide from them, which is a good thing. Still, from the first issue, it felt more like the best that could be done with the circumstances, rather than the best Batgirl story around.
Finally, there's the book many readers already have in their hands as well, Justice League #1 The flagship title by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee leads the way as the first of the New 52, and while it doesn't introduce the entire team, it does introduce the tone of the new DC. This universe is now more focused on fun super-heroic action. It's focused on serious moments balanced by funny ones, on reintroducing established relationships while playing them up for new drama. This first issue is definitely that, a first issue, in the good and bad ways. We only truly meet Green Lantern and Batman, though two other members are teased. We don't see Wonder Woman, the lone female founder at all yet. It's clearly a decompressed origin story, and that would bother me much more if the last page didn't make me say "Hell Yes!" and a few moments inside the book didn't make me laugh out loud (a recurring theme with these books). Lee's art looks like he's having more fun than he has in awhile, and Johns writes the Hal Jordan GL vs Batman clash better than just about anyone in the business. This book is much more "high flying" than "behind the mask" but sometimes, isn't that what a superhero book, especially a team one, should be?
So there you have the first wave of reads from the new DC Universe. It's an interesting mix, with some real bouts of greatness, and an overall sense that the creators are simply having fun working on these comics. Hopefully that fun spreads to the readers, new and old, as well.Related Stories
- 10 Things We'll Miss About the 'Old' DC UNIVERSE
- DCnU Preview Art Released by Twitter
- Dear DC, Part 2: More Utterly Unsolicited NEW 52 Advice
- Dear DC: Our Unsolicited Advice for THE NEW 52