Posts Tagged ‘ DCnU ’

New DC Comics, Part 2 – Keeping the Backstory

While most of the new DC titles tried to be “new reader friendly”, they definitely approached it in different ways. A few seemed to ignore the concept entirely, and just slapped a “#1” label on top of a story that had been going on for some time now. I’m told the most obvious example was the Green Lantern titles, but I haven’t been reading those. Here are the three series I am reading that would be challenging for a new reader to start with. Ironically, two of them were new to me with this relaunch.

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New DC Comics, Part 1

We’re now entering into the sixth month of DC’s relaunched universe, and the situation looks similar to what the first month promised: Plenty of bad titles, but also quite a few good ones, with several unusual series that would never have gotten a fair chance under normal circumstances. At this point, I think that there have been a few more disappointments than I expected, but the DC Universe still seems healthier and more promising than it did beforehand.

These series are now mature enough to be harsh reality to set in. It seems that only about half of them still have the same creative team that they started with, and DC has already announced the first six cancellations. But the most cynical predictions haven’t been borne out: The customer base is still supporting more monthly titles than DC had before, and every title has stayed on schedule. The matter of scheduling has been one of the bigger surprises, actually. DC and Marvel have both been notorious for delays in recent years, but since the relaunch, DC has been quick to swap out creators or provide fill-ins where necessary. It sometimes hurts the quality, but it maintains the thrill of a monthly story, and is probably part of a strategy to keep new readers who aren’t committed enough to follow favorite creators through inconsistent schedules.

I’ve tried out twenty-two of the fifty-two series, though that number is dropping heavily now that I’ve seen what I like. My plan is to review all twenty-two of those this month. To start with, here are four basic superhero titles that reached a good conclusion with issue #5, so I’m ready to review them before #6 arrives in the upcoming weeks.

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The DC Re-launch, Month One

September is coming to an end, which means that all 52 comics in DC’s relaunched line have now been released. They’ve sold incredibly well, proving my more cautious ideas wrong. Of course, now that they’re out, the thing that matters for the future is quality. How many readers will stick around for issues #2, #3, or #25?

I’ve read 20 of these, along with online news and commentary about pretty much all of them. My opinion can be split into two contrasting views:

  • DC had the opportunity to fix any problem that they could think of and re-focus their line in a way to stay relevant to 21st-century readers. Given that, it’s incredibly disappointing that they just shuffled their heroes around among their existing creators, with the truly awful ones keeping their jobs. Most of the titles feel like generic superhero stories, with no ambitious ideas. When they did take chances, they were as likely to just make them more violent or unbelievably sexy as they were to actually try something to make the comic better. There is no line-wide ideal driving this reboot, either. Justice League and Action both take place “five years ago”, when superheroes first appeared to an untrusting populace. But all the others take place today, and they make no attempt to reconcile that brief five-year timeframe with the extensive continuity that they’re keeping for the fans. (As one of many examples, how has Batman had four Robins in this time, even ignoring the fact that the most recent one was born after he began his hero career?) Looking beyond the hype, it appears that DC’s grand plan to invigorate itself is “more of the usual, but with a big ‘#1’ on each comic!”
  • On the other hand, coming up with 52 new titles did force DC to cast its net a bit wider than usual. Most of these may be the same characters and creators that have been presiding over the company’s slow decline, but there is now room for several new ones as well. And even if most people squandered their opportunities, some of them did jump at the chance to try something new. The result is that out of 52 books, there will probably be at least 10 good ones. A few of them could even be great. Maybe this sounds cynical, but I don’t expect every comic to be good, and this is an improvement over their line-up before. Even better, the high profile of the launch and the huge number of people buying the comics means that the good ones have a chance to pick up a following. Even if DC’s overall creative direction is as lackluster as ever, I’m a lot more excited about my specific choices than I was before.

It’s always been true that the quality of superhero comics depended on how you looked at it. Just like books, music, and everything else, there’s a lot of crap. Since the comics industry is so small and depends on interrelated titles, it’s a lot harder to ignore the bad stuff. But if you do, you’ll find some great stories. This new direction for DC seems to have emphasized both the good and bad extremes.

One thing that surprised me was how dark many of the good titles were. In recent years, there has been a pretty strong correlation between how violent and gory a comic was with how lazy and poorly-written it was. There are always exceptions, but among this month’s titles, it seemed that the best ones incorporated horror elements, while the ones that stuck to (relatively) clean superhero action felt like just more of the same. I don’t know if this dark turn is intentional or not, but I expect that it’s here to stay.

If you are thinking about trying out some of these comics, there are definite right and wrong choices. Fortunately, reviews of these are all over the internet. You should be able to find out which ones sound right for you. As usual, I’m going to wait until there are a few months’ worth of releases before I start doing official reviews. If you want some quick recommendations, though, here are the first issues that I would recommend:

Justice League #1 (Comic Review)

Justice League #1 coverYesterday, I explained why I was disappointed with the Flashpoint event that ended the current DC Comics universe. Fortunately, though, the new universe kicked off on the same day with Justice League #1, and it makes me more optimistic. This is far from a perfect comic, but it’s fun.

It’s written by Geoff Johns, the same person who weighed down Flashpoint with an unfocused mess of fan-pleasing ideas. Here, he finds a more appropriate avenue for some of the guilty pleasures of superheroes: By starting over in a new timeline, he gets to introduce popular characters and have them spar as they learn to trust each other. The conceit of this reboot is that superheroes have been around for only five years, and the world was very suspicious of them when they first appeared. So this shows Batman and Green Lantern running from cops, and the heroes get to be edgy while also being perfectly good.

This issue focuses on Batman and Green Lantern’s first meeting, with Superman appearing at the end. (Relatively low-profile Cyborg also gets a few pages, but the other three founders of the Justice League are not in the story yet.) Johns’ glee at letting these heroes bicker with each other is palpable.

Of course, this is what he does best. The characters are witty and iconic, the plot is simple but smoothly paced, and it feels appropriate to the heroes. Unlike most of Johns’ writing, though, it actually doesn’t require any knowledge of previous comics. This is a very important sign for this DC initiative, of course, as it needs to be accessible. (Well-versed readers will recognize the name of the big villain that is hinted at, but that’s in no way necessary to enjoy it. It’s amazing how rarely comics get that balance right.)

Jim Lee’s presence as an artist really sells this as an event. Not just because of his art, but because he works in comics so rarely now. One of the superstars of the 90’s, his art contains everything that was wrong with 90’s comics but generally does it right. Yes, the characters are all hyper-muscled, grit their square jaws, and make every pose dramatic, but Lee can make the scenes dynamic without just reusing a few poses over and over. He isn’t known for subtlety or expressive figure drawing, but in a book like this, it’s good that even the dialog-driven scenes are fraught with tension. The one flaw that comes through here is that the pages tend to be a little too busy and packed with action. Most comic fans won’t even notice, but that may be an issue for any new readers who decide to try this out.

Really, that’s the problem in general. Johns and Lee do everything right for their established fanbase, giving them a new story in a familiar world. They make the right motions towards writing a story for the rest of the world, as well, but only get halfway there. It will make sense to anyone with a passing knowledge of the major heroes, but I don’t know if it will feel compelling enough to bring them back next month. It’s a partial story, ending on a cliffhanger, and it’s only a satisfying read in itself if you share Johns’ love of these characters and can find their interactions interesting.

It’s dangerous to read too much info a single issue of a comic, so I’ll just say this: Justice League #1 resolves many (though not all) of my cynical concerns about DC’s relaunch and shows that at least some of the creators are taking it seriously, but it doesn’t resolve my concerns about whether DC can actually bring in new readers to stop its slow decline. If you were a fan of superhero comics at pretty much any point in the past, this is probably going to be worth checking out for you. If not, then hopefully next week’s Action release will be a better place to start.

Grade: B-

How I Would Handle the DC Universe Reboot

Cover for Justice League #1, this SeptemberThe major comic news of the past month has been DC’s plan to cancel every title in their line and launch 52 new titles, all starting at #1. Some of these will be titles that existed before, but with a new numbering system and a change of creators. Others are new titles, or bring a new focus to previously-minor characters. It’s still not clear exactly how much these “#1″s are restarting the stories and how much they are continuations of what went before.

Relaunching, renumbering, and other gimmicks are hardly new to superhero comics. But this is a bigger deal than normal because of how widespread it is. Also, this is the first major change since DC Comics was restructured underneath parent company Warner Entertainment, and DC will be starting a new digital distribution plan that is aimed at attracting new readers. No one knows for sure how well this digital outreach will work, but a lot of current readers are outspokenly against it. That’s not surprising; comic readers are outspokenly against almost every change that has happened in the past generation. Whether or not this new line of titles succeeds, I think that DC will hold on to most of their current customer base. However, that fanbase is slowly shrinking, and I think this is widely regarded as DC’s last real chance to stop the bleeding. If this fails, things will go on much as before, but DC probably won’t have the goodwill to allow them to try any other bold moves for the next 5-10 years. If they are shackled to the current system for that long, I doubt they’ll be in any shape to try again afterwards.

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