Action Comics #1: Superman gets a “from the ground up” reboot from Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. I’m still not convinced of the necessity of tossing out all of Superman’s previous history, though setting the book in the past, prior to the widespread appearance of super-heroes in the DC universe softens the blow somewhat. Morrison is a writer who has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his treatment of Superman, and it’s easy to see how his vision of a cocky, proletariat Superman who is more concerned with harassing criminal bankers and saving abused wives and squatters than giant alien robots from the future leads into the Superman from the superlative All-Star Superman. Lex Luthor is once again a semi-respectable figure, and his anti-Superman xenophobia is couched in plausible enough scientific terms to make more sense than it usually does. Lois Lane is Lois Lane, Morrison nails her voice perfectly. Morales is an artist whose work I’ve always liked, but never really followed, and his characters are expressive and attractive, even if some of the action sequences appear to be a little rushed and hard to follow (a very common problem with the relaunch titles across the board).
Animal Man #1: Writer Jeff Lemire gives Animal Man a much softer reset than many other characters, picking up seemingly shortly after Grant Morrison’s run on the title, while acknowledging in an info-dumpish text piece that, yes, all the 52 era stories still happened to him, which means that, mostly, Animal Man is continuing on from where he was pre-reboot, sans his Vertigo era stories. This works very well, as the best draw for Animal Man as a character has been the idea of a man who treats super-heroics more as a hobby, and is more concerned with being a husband and father than saving the world. And, of course, getting caught up in horrible, world-threatening plots from Lovecraftian horrors. As a super-hero horror title, Animal Man is genuinely unsettling, not so much for the idea of horrible eldritch horrors, but for the understated nature of artist Travel Foreman’s matter-of-fact depictions of creepily unnatural things.
Batgirl #1: Surprisingly, I think this rates as the most disappointing of the reboots so far. The idea of making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again makes sense on paper; she’s Batgirl on TV, in movies, cartoons, merchandise, toys…as far as the general, non-comics reading public is concerned, she is Batgirl. To fans, of course, she’s Oracle, and Batgirl is either Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown, depending on whether you’re a Tumblr Batfamily fan or a LiveJournal Batfamily fan. While the arguments against taking away the highest profile physically disabled super-hero weren’t without some merit, putting fan-favorite writer Gail Simone on the book felt like a calculated attempt to keep everyone happy while making sure the face on the Batgirl t-shirts on shelves at Target matches the face in the comic books. Unfortunately, what we got was a book that tried to keep the comics history going, when a fresh start would have been better. Instead of daring young adventuress Barbara Gordon, we get “paralyzed by fear” Barbara Gordon (no pun intended) along with her sitcom not-really-quirky-but-we’re-meant-to-think-so roommate, the dumbest cop in Gotham, and a villain whose method feels ripped off from the Final Destination movies. I’m not prepared to write off this title yet, as Simone has shown she can do good work, and in general I like both the concept of Batgirl and the character of Barbara, but this was a weak start.
Batwing #1: The fun thing about titles that you have low expectations going into is that you can be surprised by them. I don’t think anyone heard that Judd Winick was going to be writing a Batman, Inc. spin-off set in Africa and became excited at the prospect, but Batwing is surprisingly good. Winick is usually a competent, but unremarkable writer, when it comes to super-hero adventure, and while the concept of “Batman of Africa” is treated a little too on the nose here (right down to the faithful man-servant) and the opening plot, about the investigation into the murder of a super-hero is the sort of adolescent “reality” that has just become tiresome in recent years, there’s enough wit and intelligence here to propel the story, while Ben Oliver’s painterly art is absolutely lush.
Detective Comics #1: It’s hard to say just how bad this comic is. Tony Daniel’s art is the best I’ve ever seen it, which sounds very much like damning with faint praise, but I mean it sincerely. The frustrating thing about the art is that it’s in service to a story that is utterly execrable and demonstrative of everything that is wrong with super-hero comics these days. Stupidly violent and exploitative, Detective reads like a watered down version of something you’d expect to see from Avatar, and has the casually violent and bombastic tone that feels more appropriate to Lady Death or Evil Ernie than to DC’s flagship title. What little promise a high-action Joker vs. Batman story could have is brutally undermined by the introduction of a “newer and more badasser” villain who then proceeds to perform an act of violence on the Joker that is calculated to shock and only becomes dumber the more I think about it. It’s an act that simply must be undone, thus robbing the moment of any dramatic impact, and it is so crass and gross in itself that it can only exist in order to pander to the lowest of common denominators, those who want their Batman comics “darkity dark dark grim” and “hardcore.”
That the word “fangasmic” is actually used ironically on that very page is almost the final insult.
Green Arrow #1: Green Arrow gets an extensive reboot as well, deaging and returning to his “billionaire industrialist” days. In many ways this is a very old-school sort of super-hero story, with Dan Jurgens and George Perez on art giving the book a clean traditional comic look, and J.T. Krul sticking with a very direct secret-identity, man of action, beat-up-the-villains adventure book. It’s good fun, and probably a much-needed basic approach for the Green Arrow character, but that same lack of complication and straightforward nature also results in a final work that’s a bit bland. It’s neither good enough to elicit much enthusiasm nor bad enough to be worthy of much commentary.
Hawk & Dove #1: Rob Liefeld’s art is like that one friend from high school that you used to be really good friends with. You hung out with him all the time, you did everything together, and you thought you would be friends for ever. And then you went off to college and he stayed in your home town, and you had life changing experiences and grew and matured, and he stayed in your home town. And now when you see him you remember how you used to be good friends, and you try to rekindle that, but you’ve changed too much and he’s still that exact same guy.
Continuing almost exactly from where Brightest Day left off, this is another book that provides perfectly adequate, but somewhat unremarkable, super-hero adventure. There’s more attention played to the soap opera aspects of super-heroes here than in many of the other launch titles so far, with implications of love triangles past and present and a “dark counterpart” to the title characters hinted at on the final page. Most people are probably going to focus on the Rob Liefeld art, however, but for all the snark about it you’ll see online his name still sells comics. Personally I think the book would have benefited from a less idiosyncratic, or less notorious, artist.
Justice League #1: The theme of “adequate but unremarkable” continues here, which is a shame, as the first book of the relaunch could have been used, and arguably should have been used, as an excuse for DC to put their best foot forward and set the tone and quality for the relaunch. Jim Lee’s art is perfectly fine, if somehow providing an impression of being both over-rendered and somewhat rushed. What little story there is has some nice bits of characterization, with an arrogant Green Lantern, a Batman who actually manages to crack a smile, and a cocky Superman in line with his more-or-less contemporaneous portrayal in Action Comics. The major problem here is that for a comic called Justice League only three super-heroes actually show up, and they spend almost as much time bickering amongst themselves as they do fighting a shape-shifting minion of Darkseid. A “done in one” story is probably too much to expect, but a little more forward momentum would have been nice.
Justice League International #1: Another throw-back book, with clean, traditional super-hero art by Aaron Lopresti, and an extremely talky script by Dan Jurgens filled with declarative statements. It’s well characterized and appears to tie in slightly to the larger post-Flashpoint storyline that seems to be building, but good Lord, did I mention that this was a talky book? Much like Green Arrow this is a book that suffers from not being quite remarkable but lacking any significant flaws either. It simply is, and while I still have a soft spot for this kind of traditional, uncomplicated team book, it’s hard to see anyone becoming too excited about it.
Men of War #1: Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick manage to pull off the best trick of all with the revamp titles; they create a realistic war comic that manages to take place in a world with super-heroes that doesn’t feel forced, gratuitous or just plain dumb. Derenick’s art is simply fantastic, with distinctive characters and large-scale action that is easy to follow. Brandon quickly sketches the new Sergeant Rock, grandson of the original, as a believable character, and it will be interesting to see where the title goes from here. Given the “ground level” approach of the series, explicitly setting the title in the regular DC universe ran the risk of undermining the realistic approach, but by keeping the super-heroes at arms length in the title itself, more forces of nature, random and inscrutable to the average person, and their actions and effect on the world more like a natural disaster, an appropriate tone is maintained and a different perspective on the setting is achieved.
O.M.A.C. #1: Another example of how a book with low expectations can prove surprising. Even at the best of times OMAC is a bit of a hard-sell as a property. Even by Bronze Age Kirby standards, it was a fundamentally weird book. Dan Didio and Ketih Giffen run with that aspect here, ditching the more recent attempts to make the concept work as a serious super-hero book, and just giving us an extremely peculiar book that mimics the look and feel of Kirby’s DC period, tossing in explicit references to the Fourth World and the Jimmy Olsen Cadmus Project characters as well as elements of the OMAC setting. There’s a certain amount of self-awareness to the book’s humor as well; we know this is silly but we just run with it, because why not? It’s a comic book after all. Giffen crowds out the pages with large, insanely detailed mechanical constructs, creating a visual overload of information that further sets the book’s tone of unrestrained, aggressive oddness. It’s a stand out book all around, and my only question is if the momentum can be maintained.
Static Shock #1: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum give us a fun, fairly light in tone, teen super-hero book with some entertaining action and interesting characterization. Like a lot of “teen hero in the city” books, the obvious parallel to draw is to early Spider-Man stories, the main difference here is that Static lacks the narcissistic self-pity of that character. As an introductory issue, though, a fair amount of knowledge about the character is assumed, and there is very little in the way of exposition to catch new readers up to speed. Again, this is a situation where a fresh start and a clean reboot for the character might have been of benefit, instead of an attempt to continue from the previous status quo with only minor alterations, such as a change in locale and a mentor/adviser in fellow Milestone character Hardware. It’s not bad by any means, and the new villains are intriguing and the book is fun, but it falls a little short of being easy to recommend.
Stormwatch #1: There’s been a fair amount of skepticism at the idea of integrating the Wildstorm characters into the DC universe. Unlike the Vertigo characters, who had their roots in the DCU to begin with, most of the Wildstorm characters are wildly divergent in setting and tone from the general DC crop. That Stormwatch not only brings Wildstorm characters into DC, but mixes them with traditionally DC characters, means that writer Paul Cornell has a somewhat harder row to hoe than some of the other reboot writers. The results here are fairly mixed. Miguel Sepulveda’s art is highly inconsistent throughout the issue, and while Cornell continues the high-stakes, high-weirdness tone that characterizedStormwatch and Authority during their heights, the book still feels like an odd fit for the DCU as a whole, especially when it references events in both Superman and Demon Knights that, from a publishing standpoint, have yet to happen. I feel like the book has a fairly strong potential, based both on Cornell’s previous work, and on the strengths of the characterizations for Martian Manhunter, Apollo and Midnighter, the main draws for the book, despite any protestations that may be made to the contrary. But this is another weak start, and a notably weak one at that.
Swamp Thing #1: Another of the stand-out books of the relaunch. Scott Snyder continues on from the Search for Swamp Thing mini, with Alec Holland and Swamp Thing two separate entities now, but the best beats of the book are the moments where, as in Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, a genuinely unsettling horror approach is mixed with the super-hero universe. Yanick Paquette’s art is, unsurprisingly for those familiar with it, absolutely beautiful, even when drawing fairly horrific things, and it fits quite well with the tone and subject matter of the book, while still being accessible enough that the sudden appearance of Superman isn’t jarring.