Reading the DC New 52: Month Two

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If possibly to ease trade readers into the DC New 52, the first month of New 52 collections had a comforting familiarity. Batman and Green Lantern were essentially continuations of previous titles, and even books like Justice League, Justice League International, and Stormwatch still essentially functioned like team books of old.

It is in the second month of the DC New 52 collections that readers really start to see a shake-up. Mr. Terrific and Static Shock are the first two New 52 books also cancelled, so they're done-in-one collections -- they're also the first entries that present racial diversity as a tenet of the New 52. Red Lanterns and Frankenstein are relatively new, and relatively weird, entries into the DC Universe, a departure from the same old thing. And then rounding this out are somewhat familiar, but in ways no less distinctive, entries from Detective Comics, Batwoman, and Legion of Super-Heroes.

Batwoman is the one to watch here. It is not the least bit of news to say J. H. Williams returns stellar work, but now he's got a monthly title, which means his Batwoman work can't be dismissed as being just for a "one off" or a special. Having seen work like Williams's on Batwoman and Francis Manapul on Flash, I firmly believe the way to success for the DC New 52 is to up their artistic standards.

Writing matters, yes, but I think when most of the general public think of comic books, they picture art like that of Jim Lee or Tony Daniel on Detective. Both are cogent artists who draw attractive work, but I think it fails at this point to surprise -- and further, cluttered, distorted art like that of Scott McDaniel's on Static Shock only hurt the cause of superhero comics overall.

Williams's art on Batwoman is expansive and it tells an additional story that the script can't tell on its own. In doing so it elevates comics and demonstrates what comics can do as a medium on its own and not just as illustrated books. That's my bar now for "good" art -- art that works in an additive way to the story. Alberto Pontcelli draws wonderful monsters in Frankenstein, but his work simply depicts Jeff Lemire's story, it does not seem to reframe it. I'm hungry for more of that.

At the same time, if we're comparing Batwoman to Frankenstein, the latter has the strongest story, ruling the month overall. Lemire nails the tone of Frankenstein, perhaps not surprisingly since he nailed the tone of Animal Man in the last "month." I have not read Swamp Thing yet and I'm already super-excited for the three-way Frankenstein/Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover that should be in trade-waiters hands maybe late next year or early the next (a long time to wait!). If you asked me at the outset of the New 52, I wouldn't have guessed that "monster books" would be my personal sleeper hit of the relaunch, but there we are.

My review of Static Shock spawned some interesting discussion; I frankly thought the review of Mr. Terrific would be the more controversial, but the writer never knows these things. Mr. Terrific remains a collection, after the fact, that I really enjoyed and still think about; it was uneven and stilted in a lot of place, but I like writer Eric Wallace's portrayal of Michael Holt, and the emotional conflicts are really strong by the book's end. Static Shock, I will explicitly state, could be one of the poorest collections I've ever read, and if there's a bigger disappointment by the end of the New 52 Volume 1s then we're all in trouble.

The "done in one" format works surprisingly well in both of those books; both of them feel "complete" even with a closing cliffhanger in Terrific. I appreciate very much that DC is willing to collect these titles, in full, after they've been cancelled. I am eager to read Men of War, for instance, knowing it's a "done in one" trade -- there's less pressure on the reader (inasmuch as there's pressure on the reader at all) to read a trade that's a "special," of sorts, and not the start of a long-winded series (a trade without commitments, as it were).

At the same time, where I approve of the DC New 52 collection scheme overall -- there's been plenty to read lately, except, strangely, December -- a title where I think "McCollecting" this month failed was Legion of Super-Heroes. That we're getting the DC New 52 in bite-sized, uniform, six-to-eight issue collections is just right -- but Paul Levitz's last Legion trade collected fourteen issues, compared to a paltry seven for the first New 52 collection, and it's not enough for that title. Legion (under Levitz, at least) is a book that builds wonderfully slowly, so much so that one could read seven issues and feel like nothing happens; it needs a large collection, of the kind that the New 52 doesn't do any more. Hopefully when the second Legion collection comes along, that will help.

... And that's my take on Month Two. I'm tempted to turn now to the first Batgirl trade, but the talk of Men of War has piqued my interest. Maybe a little Men of War, maybe a little Grifter ...

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  1. I still need to read Frankenstein and Legion of Super-Heroes. But at this point Batwoman takes the lead for me this month. Followed by Detective Comics and Red Lanterns. Mr. Terrific and Static are at the bottom of my list right now. The story and art just weren't that good. J.H. Williams' art is absolutely fabulous! How can he keep up with this on a monthly basis?! Not only Daniel's writing is hit and miss, but his art isn't consistent as well (for example look at Batman when he first meets Gordon on the roof). Because of Detective's first part puts it on my second place. Storywise, RL was ok. But I'm a bit of fan of cheesecake Benes :)

  2. really enjoying your new 52 reviews, because you're a "trade waiter", and your perspective is a refreshing change

  3. I second Eric Chang's comments; your articles are very refreshing and I love the new “month-in-review” posts.

    Still haven’t bought the Frankenstein TPB yet, but it’s on my Amazon wish list (along with I, Vampire and Captain Atom)

  4. Thanks all. Spread the word -- I'm hoping someone takes me up on designing a logo for this column. I intend to keep these wrap up columns going into the volume twos, I think.

  5. I also love the wrap-up columns, it's always nice to see where everything stacks up against each other in the end.

    I have only read part of Swamp Thing but enjoyed it. If it and Animal Man are crossing over with Frankenstein, I guess I might have to pick that one up yet. I like Jeff Lemire but the premise of that one didn't really grab me. But just wait, I'll read it and it will become an instant favourite =P

    I definitely agree that Batwoman is at the forefront of the titles and easily the best when it comes to art.

    However, so far I must say my favourite book of the re-launch has been Batman and Robin, which I was not expecting. Apparently somewhere along the lines I really became interested in Damian as a character (I am also reading the older Morrison run in trade). And I love how the book really does stick to the idea presented in the proposal printed at the end which says that the father-son relationship is the A story, while being superheroes is the B.

  6. IGN has posted an article about the good, the bad and the ugly of the New 52: