Last week I finished reviewing DC Comics's first month of New 52 collection releases (it may take more than a month to review them, but they were all released in May). As I go through the New 52 collections, each time I finish a month, I'll be here with a "Reading the DC New 52" column -- a more off-the-cuff look at the best and worst of the books, what stuck out at me, what I'm looking forward to, and so on. And I hope you'll consider the titles and chime in as well.
The first month's books are Justice League and Justice League International, Animal Man, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Stormwatch, Catwoman, and Green Arrow.
Of these, hands down the best remains Jeff Lemire's Animal Man: The Hunt. Lemire's New 52 changes are subtle -- Buddy's origins are revised, but they were never so clear to begin with -- and he preserves what has forever made Animal Man stories so successful: not just Buddy Baker, but his wife Ellen, son Cliff, and daughter Maxine. In this way Lemire doesn't reinvent Animal Man so much as give Animal Man a really great, interesting new adventure to take part in, which is ultimately what DC really needs to revive its line (I like the New 52, but if a writer would "pull a Lemire" on every title, they wouldn't need the reboot to generate sales).
If there's a temporary downside to The Hunt as a New 52 premiere title, it's that even as it will be, ultimately, one of the most "connected" books in the DC Universe, the first volume feels very insular and little to do with the world outside. In terms of universe-building, if we're supposed to look at this Animal Man volume as the first Animal Man book of the DC Universe (a pipe dream, given that Hunt itself references the Grant Morrison Animal Man series), Hunt does not largely reveal the new DC Universe to the reader as a whole, though that's the smallest of quibbles in what could very well be called a perfect book.
My second-tier picks for the best books of the first month are Justice League: Origin, Batman: Court of the Owls, Wonder Woman: Blood, and Catwoman: The Game, with Wonder Woman and Catwoman just slightly ahead. For both of those books, I'm not completely sold on either writer's direction on the book, but I love that these books are taking chances and truly reinventing the characters for the New 52 -- Brian Azzarello, with his nightmarish take on Wonder Woman's life, and Judd Winick with his "I dare everything" approach to Catwoman. Both of these are books I was still thinking about long after I finished them.
Justice League: Origin was everything I hoped the premiere Justice League book from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee would be, and moreover it was truly universe-building, as compared to Animal Man; Johns stuck in every nook and cranny seeds for future storylines in Justice League and across the DC Universe, as he is wont to do; Origin plus the Free Comic Book Day issue is a whiz-bang start to the new DC Universe. It may not be "your" DC Universe and you favorite character may not have been included, but Johns and company are telling a big story with levels upon levels, as recent releases like Team 7 suggest, and that's an excellent starting point for the DC Universe to come.
I liked Scott Snyder's second Batman book, though it almost slipped down to the third tier. It was not Batman: The Black Mirror, though few things are, and I might almost have called it unremarkable (though still head and shoulders among any number of other comics on the market) if not that I felt that Snyder really embraced the concept of the New 52, and offered a Batman for the twenty-first century, with tools and gadgets we haven't ever seen with Batman previously. Snyder's book truly did feel like the first Batman story of a new DC Universe, and no Night of the Owls will be stellar.
Third-tier picks are Green Lantern: Sinestro, Justice League International: The Signal Master, and Stormwatch: The Dark Side. I liked all of these books well enough, and enough to buy a second volume, but they were (as many of you have said in the comments sections) indeed unremarkable. I had high hopes for Sinestro, but Johns seems to move the plot in circles a bit and doesn't do anything new with Sinestro and Hal Jordan (that this book is the often-superb Green Lantern, that it's written by Johns, that it has art by Doug Mahnke, and that better things are coming, I think, is all that keeps me from contemplating dropping it).
Justice League International and Stormwatch are both "good enough," but neither contains enough surprises to rise to the level of the top-tier books, nor does either book definitive runs on these titles in the "old" DC Universe.
At the bottom of the bunch is Green Arrow: The Midas Touch. I like the teams involved in this book, but it's mostly standard superhero-versus-villain fare that might be OK on a regular day, but certain expectations come with a book being a New 52 debut, and Green Arrow doesn't offer anything "new." I'll pick up the next volume in part because new writer Ann Noceti comes on (I appreciated that Nocenti, who's also taking Catwoman, had nice things to say about Winick's Catwoman run to Comic Book Resources), but mainly because Nocenti's Green Arrow will cross-over in the next volume or so with Rob Liefeld's Hawkman, and I'm curious about that and want to be caught up for the crossover.
Well, out of space already. That's my take on the first month of DC New 52 collections -- let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments. Coming Monday, we start into month two with the Collected Editions review of Mr. Terrific: Mind Games -- have a good weekend!
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