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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