Comics I Read: DCU

I don't know when you'll get to read this, since at this writing I don't have power at home or Internet at work, but below are my thoughts on some recent DC Universe books. (I already covered the Superman books recently, and I'll get to "Batman" after Marvel's "Siege" books.) All these books take place after "Blackest Night" but my commentary is as spoiler-free as I can make it, except that I will be discussing the endings of "Rise of Arsenal" and "Titans: Villains for Hire".

Adventure Comics 12: Apparently the plan is to do "Superboy & the Legion" stories set in the past in this book, while the Legion picks up from "New Krypton" in their own book. So far, so good, as Paul Levitz starts with a tale that works on two levels: both as a thematic complement to Geoff Johns' issues (Clark makes a list) and as a little easter egg for longtime Legion fans (explaining why the Legion started erasing Superboy's memory of his visits to the future.) I wasn't entirely convinced that Legion fandom had been repaired enough to support two books, but if they're this good that shouldn't be a problem.

Booster Gold 31-33: As I've said before, I was worried that Giffen and DeMatteis would "bring the Bwa-Ha-Ha back to Booster Gold" (an actual quote from the cover to #32) too much. Even Dan Jurgens seemed concerned, as in his last issue he has Booster say "There are days when I'd rather go back to being the old Booster. Always looking for money, partying on and playing jokes...But Rip has convinced me that I have a greater mission in life. Protecting the time stream. No matter what the cost." The first half of #32 is almost "Metal Men" level jokey and seemed to confirm my worst fears, but then there's a serious moment in the middle that changes the second half of the story and I realized that they do get that Booster is different now. They emphasize it even more in #33 as Booster has to travel back to his JLI days (for a plot point from "Generation Lost") and realizes that he doesn't fit into his old life that well. I don't like the book now as much as I did the Geoff Johns or Dan Jurgens issues, but I do like it.

Brave and the Bold 34: The gag here is that JMS is showing the heroic actions of the Legion and the Doom Patrol, and then next issue we'll see all the things that the Substitute Legion and the Inferior Five did "behind the scenes" that the main heroes were unaware of. The problem is that this half of the story is pretty thin -- the Legion recruits the Doom Patrol from the past to help them stop a cosmic menace from eating the Earth and, um, that's basically it. There's some random stuff that happens -- the time bubble moves around a lot and there are mysterious objects appearing here and there -- that obviously is caused by the other half of the story but I wish this chapter was more complete. I am looking forward to #35, though, because JMS hasn't had the chance to do a lot of comedy lately and he can be very funny.

Brightest Day 1-4: This is one of those things that's going to be judged by how satisfying the resolution to the mystery turns out to be, but it's off to a good start. The characters Johns has picked for the journey are some of my favorites, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the new Aqualad who first appears in #4. I'm not thrilled with replacing the black Firestorm with the white one (more about that later), but at least Jason Rusch is still alive and the story of him and Ronnie Raymond is engaging so far so we'll see where we end up before I complain too much.

DC Universe: Legacies 1-2: This is sort of a cross between "Marvels" and the most recent "Astro City" storyline. Veteran writer Len Wein tells the story of a pair of boyhood friends, both starting out as thugs before one goes straight, sharing their point of view of the Crimson Avenger, the JSA and all the other early DC mystery men. The art is by Andy Kubert inked by his father, which ends up looking like some of Joe Kubert's best work. The backups are great too, with a reporter trying to debunk mystic heroes like Dr. Fate and the Spectre in #1, and a "traditional" chapter tale of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory in #2, with each hero's chapter drawn in a different style by J.H. Williams III. Anybody who knows me knows I'm preprogrammed to love this, so I don't know if I'm judging it objectively, but I think it's terrific.

Doom Patrol 6-11: After trying to explain how all the different versions of Negative Man are related in #6, and a look at the supporting characters in #7 (where Larry, Cliff and Rita don't even appear until the last page), Giffen actually starts to integrate some of the characters from Grant Morrison's run. Frankly, I didn't think it could be done well, but Giffen manages to take Crazy Jane and another character I won't reveal -- not to mention a huge surprise guest appearance by a well known Giffen character starting at the end of #9 -- and portray them in a way that's faithful to their original appearances but that fits the tone of his book. #8-11 are by far my favorite issues of this series to date. I also love what Matthew Clark and Ron Randall are bringing to the art.

Flash 1-2: I didn't necessarily want Barry back (more about that later too), but I'm liking this book a lot so far. I've been saying for years that now that everybody knows what a CSI is, that the crime lab would be a perfect setting for Barry Allen stories. Geoff Johns proves me right, especially with the ending to #2, while at the same time doing what he does so well with the Rogues. Francis Manapul does a variation of his "Adventure Comics" art style here, and he shows off the Flash's speed very well. (See especially the scene in #1 where he takes apart a car in midair or the burning building rescue in #2.) Remind me not to get convicted of a crime in the DCU, though, Captain Boomerang is in jail even though he died and came back. Talk about double jeopardy!

Green Lantern Corps 47-49: #47 is a nicely done followup to "Blackest Night" and I love the change in the relationship between the Corps and the Guardians. (Kyle: "...we're not going back to the way things were. You have to earn our trust after all that's happened...") I was never a fan of the Alpha Lantern concept (sorry, Grant), so it's fun to see them go off the rails (with help from a character we haven't seen since the Sinestro Corps War) in #48-49.

Green Lantern 53-54: #53 checks in with what all the various ring-bearers left on Earth are doing after "Blackest Night" -- I was especially moved by Flash fixing all the graves and Saint Walker apologizing individually to the desecrated dead -- and sows the first seeds of what will become the "Emerald Warriors" book. #54 explores the mystery of the White Lantern. It's a first chapter, so it's hard to judge, but I can't help but be a little skeptical about the character that shows up on the last page.

JSA All-Stars 4-7: Still the weaker of the two JSA books, but Matt Sturgis has a lot of the teams most likable young characters and writes them well. The tribute to Damage in #7 is my favorite issue to date. I desperately want to love the "Hourman & Liberty Belle" backup, but it just seems like it goes on forever without accomplishing anything.

Justice League: Generation Lost 1-4: I'm liking this more than I expected to. It's definitely serious and not "bwa-ha-ha" and I'm intrigued enough by the mysteries and the plot twists, like a new Rocket Red and some surprising side effects to Max Lord's powers, to keep reading. This book will also now be available in DC's iPad app on the same day the printed version goes on sale, which is an interesting experiment. (I would have picked "Brightest Day" over this as an introduction for the digital reader, but what do I know?)

Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal 2-4: God, this is awful. (Gonna spoil the ending here because I'm too annoyed to give a shit.) Let's just talk about #4 -- I won't even go into Roy trying to sleep with Cheshire and not being able to perform in #3 -- where Roy breaks into prison to kill Electrocutioner, who killed his daughter. Not only does Green Arrow try to stop him -- the height of hypocrisy after he executed Prometheus -- but he fails and Roy kills his victim. Then the scene jumps and, after burning his and Lian's home, Arsenal's on the mean streets of an unnamed city vowing to wreak Punisher-style vengeance on criminals. Um, so he killed a guy INSIDE A METAHUMAN PRISON and somehow escaped all the security (not to mention Ollie) while we weren't looking? At least Green Arrow was put through an "on-camera" trial and acquitted of his crime. I'm OK with well done books that make bad decisions (see "New Krypton" and "Villains for Hire"), but I get angry when they think we're stupid enough to buy this crap. (Which I guess I was in this case, but you get the point.)

Justice League of America 41-45: Mostly this is very good. I like the idea of the "legacy" JLA with Dick Grayson, Donna Troy and Mon-El (since replaced by Supergirl) and I adore Mark Bagley's art. Your mileage may vary if you prefer the traditional League, and I know people seem to either love or hate Bagley. I'm also a huge fan of JLA/JSA crossovers -- literally the second comic I ever bought in my life was the one -- so the current "Brightest Day"-influenced story is working for me. My only problem with it is James Robinson's insistence on showing everyone's internal monologue. It makes for too many captions, and I sometimes find it hard to follow when the narration switches points of view.

Justice Society of America 35-39: It took a while, but I've warmed up to Bill Willingham's story of the alternate future where the Nazis have conquered the world and imprisoned all the superhumans. Obviously, the JSA is going to win and fix time, but everyone is well characterized, some of their last stands are moving, and their method for fixing it is interesting. (They seem pretty screwed at the end of #39.) It's well done, and Jesus Marino's art fits the bleak storyline perfectly.

Legion of Super-Heroes 1-2: Another case of an "old-timer" seamlessly getting back into modern comics. Paul Levitz juggles a lot of plots in these issues, which was always part of the fun of his run, but it's accessible to new readers while at the same time pulling in some unresolved issues from his original run. He also cleverly has a direct tie to the Geoff Johns story that probably brought in most of the new readers: the Legion is forced to accept one of the villains of that story as a member for political reasons. Yildiray cinar's art isn't as great as the pre-release hype made it out to be, but he's pretty good and #2 looks better than #1 which is always a good sign.

Outsiders 26-30: New rule: Don't let the executives write the books. (Except Geoff Johns.) The "New Krypton" tie-in is kind of clever, but otherwise everyone in the book out of character and pointlessly hostile. It almost works for Prince Brion, but everyone else comes off as an unlikeable jerk.

Power Girl 8-13: I'm really sorry to see the screball comedy team of Gray, Palmiotti and especially Amanda Conner go, but they go out with a bang in #12 with another Vartox appearance. I think their run will come out to two trades which everybody who likes fun should buy. (Those of you that don't, you know who you are.) Judd Winick's debut in #13 is good, and does have some funny moments, but I would have liked to have seen him use his comedy skills from "Barry Ween" and "Juniper Lee" instead of tying into "Generation Lost" (which of course he's also writing.)

REBELS 11-17: Tony Bedard is working his ass off to sell this book, adding popular characters Adam Strange and Starfire in recent issues and even a couple of new Green Lanterns in #17. Why the heck it isn't working to bring in readers, when Marvel's cosmic books are selling well enough to host major events, is beyond me. I wish everyone reading "Green Lantern" or "GL Corps" would at least try this, and if you don't like it so be it. But I think you will. Also, for Legion fans, there's a major name from the team's past on the last page of #17.

Secret Six 19-22: I've said it before, but I have to say it again after this four-part story: this is seriously the best written book at either Marvel or DC. The balance that Gail Simone is able to strike is incredible. These issues are dark and funny and tragic and entertaining all at the same time. You'll hate the characters, but you'll love them too.

Teen Titans 80-83: I love that Felica Henderson is focused on Static and the characters from his past -- DC's definitely not using the Milestone characters enough -- and I think she does a good job with them, but at the same time the rest of the team comes off immature and bratty. Not unheard of for a teen book, by any means, but most of these characters are already established as being more mature. Also, I'm officially bored with the "Ravager" backup but I did order the trade so hopefully it'll read better in one sitting. (The "Coven of Three" backup in #83 is OK, but I like what Gail Simone's doing with Black Alice in "Secret Six" much more.)

Titans 21-23: There are some decent scenes about why Starfire decides to leave Earth, including one with Dick Grayson as Batman, in #21-22 wrapped in a so-so story by J.T. Krul. #23 is a pretty good story by Eddie Berganza with some flashbacks by the original Titans reminiscing about what Speedy has meant to them over the years. (Dick: "This, this is why Batman keeps...kept everybody at a distance. Better to be removed than to get hurt over and over and over again!") Boy are they going to be pissed when they read "Rise of Arsenal".


Titans: Villains for Hire: This is the controversial issue that you've probably heard about, where Deathstroke and his new allies kill the "All-New Atom" Ryan Choi. The thing is, this is not a bad comic book. I've liked Eric Wallace's in "Checkmate" and "Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink", and I like a lot of what goes on here: I'm intrigued by the mystery of what Deathstroke is up to, I like the characters he recruited and the stories of how he recruited them, and I love that he's trying to screw the Titans the only way he has left by using their name "in vain". And then they had to go and kill Ryan Choi, a development that I hate hate hate. I'm not even going to go into the racial aspect of it, which as a fortysomething white guy I don't feel qualified to comment on. (I do think it reflects the real world better to have a variety of faces, especially after Choi's been used on TV in "Brave and the Bold" but I wouldn't go as far as this guy. Also see Gail Simone's take on it here and here.) And let's also forget about how it's even possible to kill someone who can become sub-atomic to escape, about which Gail Simone said on her CBR board:
"I finally read the thing. I'm not going to comment on the story other than to say I am baffled by the non-use of Ryan's powers.
Ryan is a guy who shrinks. He could be sub-atomic before they even blink. Yet he shrinks to three inches, or as I like to call it, 'Stompable size?"
But even more importantly, how do you put a sword through a guy who can control his weight and mass, but also his DENSITY?
It's like a bunch of villains attacking the Flash and his response is, "Hey, think I'll take a casual stroll out of here while these people stab me slowly!". 
(More comments from Gail here.) It's just a waste of a terrific character. Look, there's no bigger Ray Palmer fan than me. I loved those old Atom solo stories and their science content (even when it was bogus.) But I don't want him back as the Atom. "Identity Crisis" was a good ending for him, and Grant Morrison and Gail Simone successfully reinvented the spirit of those old stories for the modern age. Ryan Choi was a professor, like Ray Palmer, and got involved in all sorts of weird science-related stories just like Palmer did in the old days. His book didn't sell, apparently, but since "Sword of the Atom" back in the 80's when has an Atom solo project ever sold? That doesn't make him a bad character. I actually think he's a better character than Palmer, who Choi was also a fan of by the way, and he never got a chance to catch on. And DC is supposed to be about legacy heroes -- that's why I'm bothered by characters like Wally West, Jason Rusch and Conner Hawke getting pushed aside for the versions that were old when I was a kid. It makes a certain part of the older reading audience happy, but I don't think it's the right decision in the long term.

Titans 24: Taking the above premise as a given, I actually like this. Slade's team is wildly disfunctional in an interesting way, and all the Luthor-related scenes are great. This is actually way better than when the book starred Cyborg, Starfire, etc. and I'll continue to buy it. (Which I guess sends DC the wrong message about the Ryan Choi thing, but I think their minds were made up already.)

Wonder Woman 40-44: Mixed feelings here: I'm excited for JMS' run, but I wish Gail Simone's could have gone on forever. Her run has been the most I've ever enjoyed reading this book, and I've been buying it since I was a kid. Why? I don't know if I can articulate it well, but she seems to "get" Diana as a fully realized character more than anyone I've read. From #40, after Diana saves a family from a giant snake god: Little Girl: "You're so pretty. I got your lunchbox." Little Boy: "Who cares about that? She's tough." Diana: "Thank you children. I think you're both very brave." Power Girl fans will enjoy her appearances in #40 and #41, and the story in #42-44 deftly mixes sci-fi and Amazon mythology. The mythology has been such an integral (and well done) part of Gail's run that I'm a little nervous about JMS' plans to separate her (Diana, not Gail Simone) from it in #700.

Zatanna 1-2: Other than the (to me) shocking misstep of having Zatanna use actors dressed as Dr. Light and the Joker in her stage act in the first few pages of #1, this is good solid stuff. It's halfway between the crime world and the magic world, which I think makes it unique among non-Vertigo books at the moment. Definitely a good start and worth following. (And it's so far not connected to any other DCU shenanigans, so it's good for a casual reader.)

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