Thursday, 8 September 2011

New 52 - Week one

Strictly speaking, I have not up until now been a comic book reader. I'm a trades reader. I like to dip into a complete arc with a beginning, middle and end, one that's long enough to get immersed in rather than 20 pages of entertainment being interrupted by a month-long wait for the next installment.

But the New 52 are out, and I just couldn't wait for the first round of trades. Not when it comes to my favourite characters. Those last two words are key. I'm not a completist. I haven't read all the issues, I can't give you a neat little review of all the first batch of the New 52. But I can give you reviews of the ones I was most interested in:

Justice League International

Yes, I know. In a week when everyone was raving about Action Comics and Swamp Thing, I was reading JLI. But Giffens' run was one of my favourite ever comics, and I just had to see how it survived in the revamp. Answer: not brilliantly. This is the first iteration of the JLI - yes, that's right, along with so many of my other favourites, the Guy Gardner-Bruce Wayne one-punch has been retconned out of existence.

But at least those two characters feature in this, along with Booster Gold. And, in fact, they are the only ones to get any kind of characterisation. It's to be expected when you have 11 characters to introduce, but the others are under-characterised to the point that in one panel a white character with short dark hair appears in the background. Either they accidentally made Ice a brunette or they made Vixen white.

Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti have the difficult job of producing a comic that is pretty much a carbon copy of a classic, but minus some of the best characters (I miss Ted). Having said that, Booster, Guy and Bats come out of it well, Booster gets a good gag about adult diapers and Godiva looks like she could be fun. With a cast list this big, though, it's understandable it would take a few issues to settle in.

Detective Comics

I wasn't going to get this one, I was saving myself for Scott Snyder's Batman, but everyone was raving about a shock ending, and I wanted to see it for myself before I was well and truly spoilered.

As it was, the ending wasn't quite as shocking as I expected it to be. Then I thought about it for a bit, and decided that, actually, yes it was.

Unfortunately, Detective is made by that ending. Without it, it's a fairly mundane Batman story, as he tries to put an end to another of Joker's murderous rampages. Jim Gordon is still his ally, still hanging around the Bat Signal on windy evenings, and Alfred is still the loyal, tech-savvy butler. Gotham is still Gotham. If nothing else, this comic serves to calm any nerves people may have had that Batman would have been changed dramatically. He really hasn't.

Tony S Daniels is a great artist (is it weird to say he draws an especially good Gordon?) and Detective's art was the best of the three comics I got. But Daniels isn't the best writer, so with him at the helm Detective will be dark and atmospheric, sure, but not revolutionary.


This was the one I always knew I'd pick up, both because of the author on the cover and to see whether my rants about what they've done to Barbara Gordon were justified.

Well, yes and no. Mostly no. This is a good Batgirl book. It's very well paced, with more crammed in than in both JLI and Detective put together. It also, unlike those two, examines both the hero and the person behind the mask. Gail Simone is reining in the snark here, but it's still funny in places, and she introduces an effective new villain.

The problem is that at the moment this could be any Batgirl. Barbara's defining feature, as both Batgirl and Oracle, was her confidence. She wasn't perfect, and as Oracle her intelligence would occassionally leapfrog her humanity, but she was always confident in her actions. This Babs is riddled with insecurities, putting her victories down to luck and kicking herself for her mistakes. Inexplicably, Ardian Syaf draws her with her eyebrows constantly drawn together in a stressed expression.

But no-one knows Babs better than Simone, and a lot is left unexplained here. We still don't know how she regained use of her legs, and no doubt as all this is revealed more layers of Barbara's character will unpeel.

Maybe I'm being too hard on these. After all, I'm writing as a seasoned DC fan, one who squeals when she sees the name Rose Wilson written in Superboy's solicit (she better have a damn eyepatch). But these comics were written for people who are new to DC. Bats is written as an EveryBatgirl because she has to be. Readers need to know who Batgirl is before they can learn who Babs is. With that goal in mind, all three of these comics were successful. But dammit - I miss the backstory!

Next week I'll be picking up Batwoman for definite (finally read Elegy recently - SO beautiful). None of the others leap out at me yet.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty spot-on assessments of these three titles. I do, however, recommend trying out Animal Man and Stormwatch as potential alternatives.