Thursday, August 25, 2011

DC: The New 52 Prologue



We're here. Less than a week away from the debut of the new 52, in the form of Justice League #1 but Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. We've been waiting for months, hearing all different things, and within days we'll have access to what is already set to be the top-selling comic of 2011, reported at over two-hundred thousand copies (for comparison, it's rare and very significant for a comic to sell over one-hundred thousand in the direct market, and it only generally occurs for highly anticipated launch issues or big events).

Justice League number one. Comic's biggest superstar creators. Iconic characters. The beginning of a new, unprecedented era.

Yawn.

I'm sure the book will be...well, exactly as expected. Major superhero stories, basically an epic summer blockbuster in comic book form. But I find myself not caring that much. With all we've heard about it so far, it's an origin story that I'm not that interested in reading. We know the characters, we know the bad guy, we even know quite a few story beats. But somehow I don't care all that much.

That's the case for a number of titles. For others, I'm really, really looking forward to them.

Presented here: the top ten books from DC's new 52 that I can't wait to read.

Stormwatch, by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulvelda, is, without a doubt, the comic I am most looking forward to, and it's been so ever since it was announced. Paul Cornell's books have been some of the best comics published by the DC and Marvel for years, and this just feels like a perfect fit, especially after his year-long Lex Luthor epic on Action Comics. Many of the characters here are just as morally ambiguous, and I feel like he'll do a fantastic job of integrating the characters into the DC Universe in a way that matters--a task I'd previously suggested was impossible. In every interview, he seems to "get" the characters in a way I haven't seen since Warren Ellis' groundbreaking runs on Stormwatch and The Authority. As for the artist? I don't know much about Sepulvelda, although a casual Google search shows that he was involved in the Thanos Imperative for Marvel, which, if I recall, looked pretty decent. Solid and serviceable. I'm looking forward to watching him improve here, preferably along with Cornell for the long ride.

I was actually moderately surprised to realize that Teen Titans by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth was second on my list, especially because I just wasn't entirely sold when I heard about it. Booth's art isn't my favorite--good but a bit too flashy, without as much emphasis on storytelling--and I'd been hoping for Nicieza to take over the book, as early rumors suggested. But the more I thought about it, the more it worked for me. It's a stark departure from the hundred-issue run we just had, a run that didn't do much for me, turning many of my favorite nuanced young characters into boring, one-note teenage stereotypes. Thinking about the creative team, I realized that Lobdell was responsible for the 90's X-Men--and although some of the plotting was hit-or-miss, I loved the soap opera aspect of those books. I'm optimistic here. And for the art? Booth's designs are really growing on me, and the pages I've seen look...well, actually really, really good. Lobdell and Booth are recreating these characters, and my fingers are crossed.

Coming in third, we have Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I'm going to miss Jock like crazy--he was the perfect collaborator for Snyder--but Capullo will add a particularly dynamic new look, and I feel that action sequences were occasionally Jock's weakness. Batman is a flagship book, and for a superhero line, that often should mean big action. I may not be sold on his character designs for the villains (especially Riddler--I'm sorry, the question-mark mohawk just does not work for me), but his work on titles like Spawn and Haunt made him a perfect fit for Batman and the darkness of Gotham in general. In turn, that makes him an excellent match on Snyder, who has been building Gotham into a character of its own in his Detective Comics run. I've been claiming that Snyder's 'Tec run has been the best Batman run of the past decade, and having just finished it the other day, I maintain that position--it beats Dini and even Morrison, hands-down. I pray that he and Capullo can continue that magic here.

Yes, I'm listing Hawk and Dove by Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld as my pick for number four, and if you're judging me on this, I'm judging you right back in return. I know the jokes about Rob Liefeld--and they're old and tired, and, honestly, pretty inaccurate these days (he's improved his anatomy, his expressions, and has been not only hitting deadlines but working on multiple books a month). But you know what? I don't even need to justify it--I'm an unapologetic Rob Liefeld fan. The energy and enthusiasm he puts on the page are unparalleled by anyone in comics, and reading his interviews and Twitter shows that he's more excited for this project than anything else in recent years. It'll translate. But don't let me talk just about him--Sterling Gates has more than proven himself as a fantastic writer, especially of younger characters after his run on Supergirl that redefined the character. Hawk and Dove are two of my favorite characters, and I absolutely believe that Gates and Liefeld will bring them back in a big way.

There are no pants in Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, at least not by the title character, and I'm just fine with that--her costume is reimagined, but closer to her iconic representation than it's been in awhile. I wasn't entirely sold on this creative team at first, I'll admit--I was excited because they worked sheer magic on their Doctor Thirteen story, but Azzarello doesn't usually write what I want to read. It's all quality--but frequently not to my taste. But the more I thought about it, and the more I read about it, the more excited I got--and it was probably reading that he planned to make this more of a horror title that cemented it as my number five choice. And Cliff Chiang's art is flat-out gorgeous. I have no idea if he can hit a monthly deadline, but for as long as he's on the book, you can expect to enjoy it based simply on aesthetics alone. In all likelihood, though, it'll be so much more than that. Diana's needed an amazing run for years--Rucka and Simone's runs were missing just something--so maybe we'll get it at last.

You can't not root for a book like Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales, especially after Morrison's critically acclaimed All Star Superman. I may miss the old Superman, with his parents and emphasis on humanity and his marriage to Lois Lane--but with Morrison at the helm of the new version, I don't care nearly as much. He claims that Superman will simply never stop moving--appropriate for a book titled "Action", no? Given that Morrison has helmed more than a few of my favorite comic book runs (most noticeably New X-Men, which I continue to reread over and over, at least once a year in its entirety), I can give him all the goodwill here that he needs. And the artist? Rags Morales wowed us all with Identity Crisis, with a particular skill in delivering powerful expressions. His art isn't always to my taste, and sometimes his characters look too much like actors, but so far I haven't seen that as a problem here. Even if so, though? It'll be brilliantly written and so pretty. Done.

I've been waiting for Batwoman by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman for far too long. That wait, in fact, is why this is only hitting number seven on my list--my anticipation has faded in favor of other projects. Still, this will undeniably be an amazing book. Williams worked with Greg Rucka to present a fantastic Detective run a few years ago, giving this character--previously just a "lipstick lesbian"--much-needed depth, transforming her instantly into a character who could be around for decades to come. Despite Rucka's writing, though, the real draw was undeniably the art; innovative layouts and superior illustrations allowed Williams to catch everybody by surprise. He'd always been a great artist, but now he was one of the best. I have no idea how he'll work as co-writer with Blackman, but the zero issue was certainly serviceable--but the primary draw will still be the art, even when Williams alternates with Amy Reeder Hadley. Worst case scenario, if the writing sucks? Comics are a visual medium. Sometimes, the art is enough.

I'm very optimistic about Superboy by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva (whose work, incidentally, isn't pictured on the cover.) Part of that is probably nostalgia--I grew up reading Superboy, written by writers like Karl Kesel, Ron Marz and Joe Kelly, and illustrated by artists like Tom Grummett, Ramon Bernado (from whom I have original art--thanks, Jeff!) and Pasqual Ferry. And for me, as I mentioned before, Geoff Johns ruined the character. I'm so excited to see the character reinvented and hopefully given, once again, a real personality. The solicitations suggest that Lobdell has some exciting plots lined up for this Superboy, and I've already sung my praises about his character-driven soap opera work. But let's also give great credit to R.B. Silva, an artist on the rise. He was part of the Jimmy Olsen backup stories in Action Comics recently--which, incidentally, were easily the best Olsen stories since Kirby. His work is clean and crisp in a style all his own. And as a storyteller? Superb. For the first time in a long time, Superboy is in great hands.

Having not particularly loved Paul Levitz's Legion return, I'm all in for Legion Lost by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods. I know that he's far from Mike's favorite writer, but Nicieza has proven time and time again that he's what I want in comics, with great pacing, firm plots and a nuance for character growth. His ability to take lesser-known characters and evolve them led to fan-favorite runs over at Marvel, most noticeably New Warriors and Cable & Deadpool. He hasn't had quite that success at DC, perhaps due to lacking the right fit. Here, he has it. You've got the lesser-known, non-iconic characters spinning out of a popular franchise that Nicieza can run with. And with Pete Woods as an artistic collaborator? I've loved Woods for years, and he's only gotten better, especially as a storyteller. The original Legion Lost is a particularly favorite title for me, and although this new incarnation has nothing in common except the name, everything I've read gives me reason to believe that, just maybe, I'll fall equally in love with this title, too.

Demon Knights, by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves, rounds out the list. I'll admit that I debated a lot as to what to put here. Books like The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Green Lantern, Grifter, Men of War and Voodoo all competed strongly for this spot. But it was Cornell's past track record, plus the use of many fantastic characters, plus a unique setting...plus a desire to use at least one book from every "New 52" category (in this case, "The Dark") that led to me picking this title. Cornell's previous work set in Britain has always been brilliant, which gives this title extra points--he's just a perfect fit to handle Arthurian Knights. It was likely how unique this title is, though, that really intrigues me. There are no superheroes, it's not set in present day, and it's not a relaunch of a current title. That gives Cornell a lot of freedom to craft his tale (but sadly, may mean the title won't last long). Artist Neves hasn't done much, but what he has done is eye-dropping. He'll do just fine at the new DC comics.

And there you have it--my top ten anticipated titles. Are any of these on your top ten? If not, what are you most looking forward to? Let me know, I'm genuinely curious.

I'm also going to make a promise, here. Every week, from August 31st through the end of September, I'm going to read and review every title from DC's new 52. I'm not going to lie--I'm not going to buy all of them. But like it or not, this is a huge event in the comics industry, and if the store was still together, we'd be talking about it. A lot. Seeing what new titles work, what titles flopped, what titles should be hits but are being ignored, what titles will lead to that next big event. So, to anyone reading this blog, I ask that you join me, each week of September, for a discussion about the books. As I said--this is history in the making. Let's be a part of it.

3 comments:

  1. My top 10, in no particular order because I haven't given it as much thought as you: Action, Batgirl, Firestorm, Stormwatch, Demon Knights, Batman, Batwoman, Static Shock, Justice League Dark, Flash. Wow, that filled up fast. I'm also excited about many other books including All-Star Western, OMAC, Voodoo & Swamp Thing. I expect to continue to enjoy Green Lantern, but I don't really consider it "new" like the rest of the line.

    There really isn't anything I'm not excited about, even Hawk & Dove for the reasons you state above. How many #2s I'll buy remains to be seen, of course, but I'm on board to sample all the #1s.

    My only concern about the relaunch is that in the effort to be on time, some of the books -- Action, Blackhawks, off the top of my head -- have already solicited 2 or 3 different artists. But that may be an "old school" problem for people like me: it's unknown whether the new audience that DC hopes to attract will care about artistic consistency if they're getting good stories.

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  2. Some of the books you listed almost hit my top ten as well--Batgirl and Firestorm based on the strengths of Gail Simone, like I said. Flash, in the hopes that Francis Manapul is able to write at least moderately well to match his spectacular illustrations. Static Shock, based largely on John Rozum's recent Xombi series--Static won't be the same in tone, but Rozum's got chops. I'd be a lot more excited for Justice League Dark if Milligan's Secret Seven miniseries hadn't been one of the worst Flashpoint tie-ins, and even one of the worst superhero books I've read this year.

    Yeah, Green Lantern almost doesn't count, does it? There's understandably little change given that the formula is obviously a winning one, but honestly, even if Johns is occasionally predictable, these remain among the best "commercial" superhero books. There's rarely anything particularly innovative, but Green Lantern is a great read month-in and month-out, with occasional forays into true excellence. I'm glad Mahnke is sticking around on art, too.

    I'm concerned about the art, too. I respect DC's dedication to make every book on time, but artists have recently had a bit of a return as far as their influence goes, at least at DC, co-writing numerous books and having a significant impact on others (Ethan Van Sciver is nearly as responsible for Green Lantern's success as Johns is, for instance, due to his design work). I think that comics work best when there's an even balance between writer and artist as far as influence on a book goes, and even if the stories are good, artistic consistency could be just as important for this new initiative. Still, if DC has to make a choice, I can't fault them for sticking to their guns.

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  3. I also am looking forward to THE NEW 52 and the commitment to good story-telling that doesn't require long story arcs, cross-overs, etc. I remain hopeful that DC can pull this off -- but 52 books pulling it off seems a mountain of a task. We'll see. Surprise me, DC!

    Like you, I also made a list but I wasn't thinking of a set number. I just noted what books I thought would be most interesting (to me) and it turns out to be nine. Four of them are from your Top 10. I wrote about this earlier and announced my 3 book commitment to all of these titles. (No way can I read all those 52 #1 issues - won't even try.)

    They are (in no particular order of anticipation) - - - JUSTICE LEAGUE I'm getting this for the Jim Lee art, regardless. A good story would be a bonus. ACTION COMICS - a new spin on Superman has my interest. AQUAMAN - purely a whim, impulsive of me. BATMAN -- my favorite DC character, and I like Capullo's art. BATMAN AND ROBIN - I'm going a litle bats lately. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT my art loving instincts kicked in again. BATWOMAN Art. Recognize a trend here? FRANKENSTEIN AGENT OF SHADE- Could there be a more unlikely title? I have confidence in Jeff Lemire. ANIMAL MAN. Seems like a natural for Lemire. Like to see what he can do with this.

    I'd say between my writing about these books, your 10 picks, and what Jeff will comment on - - there should be plenty of opinion to be had on the NEW 52 just from this one blog site. I'm looking forward to it and glad it's happening - - this is the only comics site I visit on a regular basis. Just don't have time for the others - only occasionally.

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