Posts Tagged ‘ Paul Cornell ’

Checking In With DC’s “New 52” (Part 1)

Back in February, DC Comics’ “New 52” initiative reached its sixth month, and I reviewed all the series I was reading. Ten months later, it’s time to check in again.

From a branding standpoint, this continues to be a success. Almost all series have stuck to a reliable monthly schedule, and even though DC has cancelled several, they’ve added replacements to keep the focus on a consistent “52” rather than on the individual failures. This is much higher than the number of series that DC was publishing beforehand, and quite a few obscure characters have found success under this system.

From a creative point of view, the results are more mixed. Superhero comics are often hobbled by the attitude of “everything’s new, but don’t worry because we still have everything you used to love!” Once the newness of the first few issues faded away, it became obvious that few of the series actually had new ideas. I’m still reading more than I used to, since the monthly schedule and steady $3 price point (or $4 for extra-long titles) are much better than what Marvel is providing these days, but I doubt I would miss half of these if I stopped buying them.

September provided a perfect example of the challenges that come from mixing a corporate initiative with individual projects. The company put off the thirteenth issues of every series to provide a “zero month”, with stories from the past of each character. Some series had excellent issues that month, while others had an arbitrary interruption to their ongoing stories. It did attract attention (especially with the eye-catching covers that featured the heroes bursting through the image that was on their issue #1), but my interest still hasn’t returned since that bump in the momentum.

While I haven’t kept up on the worst of the series I reviewed back in February, I read at least the next few issues of most of them. I’m going to review all of those again over the next two days. Because there are so many, I plan on keeping these reviews especially brief, more like additions to the original reviews (which can be found by following the links in each heading). Later in the week, I’ll take closer looks at some of the series that have started since then.

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First Looks at New Vertigo Comics: Dominique Laveau and Saucer Country

Four months ago, DC’s Vertigo imprint launched four new comics. I’m not reading one of them (the Fables spin-off Fairest didn’t interest me, since I don’t read the main title), and New Deadwardians is a mini-series that I’ll review once it ends. (I’ll provide a spoiler, though: You should be checking it out.) The other two are ongoing, so it’s time for my first look reviews. The one I like will receive further reviews down the line. For the other one, this will have to be my final say.

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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.

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New DC Comics, Part 3 – The Unexpected Titles

DC’s comics are based on superheroes, but the fifty-two relaunched titles allow a lot of room to experiment. Here are three of the series that go furthest beyond the standard expectations of a DC story. Don’t expect realism, romance, or anything too different, of course, but these show that there is some territory at a major comics company beyond men in tights punching each other.

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Knight and Squire (Comic Review)

Knight and Squire

Knight and Squire

Though Knight and Squire were introduced in the 1950’s, for the past decade or so this British Batman and Robin has been solely the domain of DC’s mad genius writer Grant Morrison. I have to admit I was a bit worried when Paul Cornell began his Knight and Squire miniseries, as other writers’ followups to Morrison work have generally been embarrassing. I needn’t have worried.

For one thing, Morrison has left these two heroes surprisingly untouched. While they’ve been woven into his large DC epics, most notably the prelude to Seven Soldiers and throughout his exploration of Batman, they appeared and left without actually getting wrapped up in those convoluted plots. That leaves them with little more defining them beyond being a cheery, slightly silly British superhero team. Further, Cornell himself is British, and he’s used this miniseries as an opportunity to explore just what DC’s America-centric superhero universe is like across the pond.

Knight and Squire charactersCornell attacks this opportunity with Morrison-esque creativity, coming up with over 100 new characters for this six-issue series. While that’s partly a marketing gimmick, quite a few of them have become familiar, fleshed-out characters by the end of the story. Even the ones who just appear for a panel are still granted clever names and costumes, and help the result feels more like a bustling world than a simple gimmick. Jimmy Broxton’s art mostly fits the mold of competent, modern superhero work, but he has a playful inventiveness that fits well with Cornell’s vision. Designing multiple new characters every month is no easy task, but Broxton makes it look natural.

The world-building goes well beyond a lot of funny new characters, though. Cornell explores what it would really mean to be a British superhero, somehow mixing the gaudy costumes with a stiff upper lip and quiet reserve. In this world, most British heroes started as a self-aware reaction to the American scene, making it more a club than a frantic life-or-death battle between exaggerated personalities. The first issue sets the scene in a special pub with “truce magic”, allowing the heroes and villains to mix without fear of a fight breaking out. (It’s a relatively recent tradition by British standards, explains Squire. “It’s only been here since the Sixteenth Century.”)

The British nature permeates this, from silly jokes to serious villains (such as a cult whose vision of restoring England’s classic past highlights a dark, racist undertone to modern culture). From my American point of view, it rings very true. But then, Americans are used to thinking the world revolves around them. I suspect that a true Englishman might be surprised at how much time these people spend comparing themselves to the US.

Cornell’s real gift is for dialogue. It comes to the fore here, establishing both this new setting and the people within it. The superhero battles are actually the weak point of this series, the high points being when the action is incidental to the character-building. Of note, see Issue 1, with the pub and its truce magic, and issue 4, in which Squire has an awkward first date and we learn more about the history of both leads than Morrison ever provided.

The first four issues are lighthearted done-in-one stories, so it’s a bit of a surprise when the final two see the heroes collide with the more brutal American hero culture. Some fans have decried this turn to the “grim and gritty” clichés of modern superhero comics. It makes sense, though. “Grim and gritty” isn’t automatically bad, it’s just become the standard for lazy, uninspired writers. The England-meets-America confrontation makes perfect sense given the set-up of the first few issues, and it never sinks to violence for violence’s sake. Without giving too much away, there are some truly disappointing “grim” events, but the heroes’ ultimate goodness, and British-ness, sees them through. What makes most modern “dark” comics disappointing is that the writers forget that superhero stories should be about the good guys persevering due to their morality, not just suffering for it. Cornell gets this balance exactly right.

While Knight and Squire does suffer when it moves away from the characters to focus on plot, fortunately that’s not the focus of the series. Amazingly, this Batman spin-off managed to slip past the DC editors with its own feel, rather than the lazy “Batman in England” that I would have expected. What we got instead was unique and inventive worldbuilding. I expect to see many of Cornell’s creations appearing in other peoples’ stories in the near future. Even more importantly, I hope to see him back with these characters before long, introducing us all to this familiar yet surprising culture.

Grade: B