First Looks At DC’s New 52: The Second Wave

Earlier this week, I reviewed all the DC titles that I’ve been reading since the “New 52” launched last year. But as the company has cancelled some titles, they’ve started new replacements. Today, I’m reviewing the three “second wave” titles that I tried out, and tomorrow I’ll catch up on the third wave.

cover to Batman Incorporated #1

Batman Incorporated

Batman Incorporated

(Based on issues #0-5 and last December’s Leviathan Strikes one-shot)

DC’s relaunch interrupted the final chapter of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman story, but it’s picked up right where it left off with a new series that has the same name. For a taste of how confusing this can be, just check out issue #0 (which came out after issue #3). Most of the titles in DC’s “0 month” were nominally aimed at introducing new readers, but Batman Incorporated #0 simply checked in with characters that hadn’t shown up since the “old” Batman Incorporated, and even referred to the Club of Heroes story from a few years before that. Any new readers would be completely lost, especially given that this comic’s concept (Batman grooming a worldwide team of heroes, publicly funded by Bruce Wayne) doesn’t seem to fit the status quo shown in other current comics.

The story is the same gonzo action from Morrison, reference-heavy but fairly straightforward for him, and Chris Burnham’s artwork matches it with a dynamic and colorful portrayal of a sordid world. But while the unfolding plot is fun, its purpose seems to be falling apart. Originally, we just knew that a mysterious organization named Leviathan was so dangerous that Batman needed a worldwide effort to defeat it. The details of that threat turned out to be another Bat-family in-fight, and neither its scope nor danger seem as impressive as the Court of Owls that has appeared in the meantime.

When the old DC universe ended, Batman Incorporated was the biggest loss. Now that they’ve tried to start it up again, it still seems like we lost it. This is a well-told story, but it feels less essential with every issue. Scott Snyder’s Batman has replaced this as the excellently executed, in-continuity Bat-title to follow, and Batman Incorporated is now just a worthwhile (but not required) story for the people who are already invested in Morrison’s story.

Grade: C+

cover to Dial H #1

Dial H

Dial H

(Based on issues #0-7)

Dial H for Hero was a silly Silver Age story about a boy who gained random superpowers every time he dialed “H-E-R-O” in a special telephone. These days, of course, DC would only publish such a story if it had a dense, somewhat tragic, explanation and an ongoing plot to drive it. Author China Miéville, in his first notable comics work, rises to the occasion: Telephones actually tap into an interdimensional web worshipped by cults but understood by no one on Earth. It attracts the attention of dangerous beings from the void beyond existence (invoked by a “Nullomancer”), and the wannabe heroes who’ve found working dials struggle to keep their own identity when they turn into other beings.

Miéville has elements of Grant Morrison in his writing, mixing a barrage of fun ideas with a serious, sometimes confusing, story. Those one-off adventures that defined the original Dial H series seem to play out between the pages of this more serious story, but their fights against bank robbers and kidnappers are treated as incidental. Instead, we get hilarious hero designs (Boy Chimney! Iron Snail! Tree Knight!), and sometimes laugh-out-loud situations, but the focus is on a deadly serious race to understand the dark powers who are after the heroes. The art provided by Mateus Santolouco keeps up with the widely varied character designs, putting effort into even the ones that exist for one or two panels, and creating an aesthetic that allows all their silly designs and the gritty feel of this world.

I actually wish that the series could stay focused on the fun, Silver Age-style adventures, but the darker, difficult to follow plot keeps interfering. The story has already seemed to betray my hopes and then rekindles them afterwards, so I have no idea where it will go from here. This has a lot of potential, and I am enjoying it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it never went anywhere.

Grade: B-

cover to Earth 2 #1

Earth 2

Earth 2

(Based on issues #0-4)

When I began my catch-up with DC’s comics, I noted that there was an obvious lack of ideas. Nowhere is this more apparent, or disappointing, than in Earth 2. It’s about an entire parallel universe in which the author has a chance to recreate superheroes any way he wants. The first issue even proclaims “A different world! A different destiny!” on the cover. The contents, though, are the same clichés the company always turns to.

The opening scenario is promising, establishing that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have died and left the world without heroes. Once the new ones begin to appear, it’s the sort of mix-and-match continuity that every “fresh take” has. What if the Greek Gods of Wonder Woman’s stories gave The Flash his power? What if “The Green” of Swamp Thing stories was the source of Green Lantern’s power, and Solomon Grundy were his Rot-like enemy? Well, now we have the answer: It would feel like any other generic story. This was shown most clearly in issue #2, which got mainstream press for its homosexual Flash, but showed by the end that a male love interest would be the same as a female one: just another victim to give the hero motivation.This doesn’t feel like an exciting new universe so much as Geoff Johns’ backup pitch for a rebooted Justice League.

James Robinson is not a writer to rise above clichés, and his stories of the heroes meeting each other and figuring out their powers play out in the expected boring fashion. Nicola Scott is a good artist who deserves better than this series, but she makes the Platonic Ideal of modern superhero art: So “normal” that it doesn’t distract from the story, and without any of the awkward figures or angles that most artists create. With a good writer, her contributions look great, but with a bad one, she can’t save the work from appearing generic.

Earth 2 is more forgettable than bad, but as an example of squandered potential, it casts a pall on the whole “New 52” initiative.

Grade: D+

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