New DC Comics, Part 7 – More Superheroes

It’s the end of February, and now the sixth issues have come out for all of DC’s new titles. I started out the month with some superhero titles that I was ready to review after issue #5. Here are the remaining ones.

cover to Blue Beetle #1

Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle

(Based on issues #1-6)

In 2000, Marvel spun off the “Ultimate Universe”, which featured more modern retellings of their classic heroes. This new Blue Beetle feels a lot like that: The same basic premise and characters are there, but a little edgier. The only problem is that this Blue Beetle character is less than a decade old, and provided a youthful revamp of a Golden Age hero. This one wasn’t crying out for an Ultimate-style relaunch.

Blue Beetle filled an important niche in DC’s line-up, both as a Hispanic teenager (with a healthy portrayal of the culture that didn’t feel like pandering), and with a backstory that owed a little to manga: Jaime Reyes was bonded with an alien “Scarab” that gives him a mecha suit and powers. The Scarab wanted to subjugate the planet, but Jaime’s goodness won out.

Tony Bedard has a new status quo for the Blue Beetle, and dialing up the danger and “coolness” of it has led to some fun ideas, but also lost a lot of the original’s heart. At least at this point, Jaime is finding himself ever more disconnected from his family and community, replacing that set-up with a typical loner superhero. Violence and gangs are now a more direct part of his friends’ lives, and they come across as silly exaggerations from someone who knows almost nothing about Hispanic or youth culture.

All that said, though, this iteration of Blue Beetle still has a lot of the charm of the previous one, and still does a better job than most at sharing time between a secret identity and superheroics. The art of Ig Guara is not great, but it provides a focus on people instead of scenes and action, which is an appropriate match for this title. And despite the complaints about this character’s evolution, it has been interesting to watch the status quo change unexpectedly over the last few issues. Fun superhero titles are a lot more rare than they should be, and this is still a good bet.

Grade: B-

cover to Justice League #1

Justice League

Justice League

(Based on issues #1-6)

The opening issue of Justice League made me cautiously optimistic. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee understood that their talents are best suited for bombastic, mindless action, albeit with plenty of fan-pleasing character moments, and they delivered on that. The five months since then haven’t changed much. The heroes of the Justice League have (slowly) met up and gotten to know each other while (suddenly) defeating a big boss at the end. Subtlety and plot twists are ignored in favor of explosions and splash pages, especially in that concluding issue. The story did convey the world-wide scope of the threat much better than titles like Justice League Dark, but it still feels silly and inconsequential. Its sense of importance comes less from its own content than from the fact that DC has positioned this as a cornerstone of their line.

That silly fun was enough to earn the first issue a B-, though. The rest of the storyline met those same expectations, but with one serious flaw: This is one of DC’s comics that adds extra pages in return for a higher price. These additional pages didn’t serve the story, and the text write-ups and sketchbook peeks they offered felt slight enough to be insulting. This comic works as a disposable monthly read, but has nothing to justify a higher price like that. Starting with issue #6, proper backup stories are planned, so that problem is hopefully fixed. It makes this initial story much more difficult to recommend, though.

Grade: C+

cover to Stormwatch #1



(Based on issues #1-6)

Stormwatch is a strange series. Originally conceived by Wildstorm as a “more realistic” alternative to the Justice League, DC has since bought that company and folded their titles into a world that already has a Justice League. Here, Paul Cornell tries to distinguish the team by turning them into a secret organization that actively dislikes and mistrusts the other superheroes.

Cornell is writing an excellent team book with Demon Knights, so it’s surprising to see that Stormwatch is so unsatisfying. I can’t remember who most of the characters are except for when they directly announcing it, which fortunately they do very often. Worse, I don’t feel any motivation to learn them. Six issues in, the team has had one death (of a sort), one betrayal, and hinted at several mysteries around the characters and the group that actually controls them, not to mention crazy ideas like “war with the moon”, yet it’s continued to feel bland. It has been interesting to see a retelling of Apollo and Midnighter’s first days together (these Superman and Batman analogs were possibly the first high-profile gay couple in comics), and I’m mildly curious about the Martian Manhunter’s secrets, since he has a stronger history outside the title. Other than that, this just feels like a confusing mix of superhero clichés (“we’re edgy and don’t trust superheroes” being one of the chief ones).

Miguel Sepulveda’s art echoes the writing’s flaws, with people looking bored and lifeless even when the situation should be exciting. The colors by Allen Passalaqua are sometime flat, other times a soft blur, creating a contrast reminiscent of poorly spliced movie effects.

There is no reason to read Stormwatch unless you’re already a fan of the characters from previous stories. Even then, this changes enough that it may be a good opportunity to stop.

Grade: D+

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