Reading the DC New 52: Month One

Friday, July 13, 2012

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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  1. This is a fantastic idea for a new column, I’m really glad you went with a “month in review” style post for the website. I’m right with you there on the best and worst for May and it’s pretty cool that DC has a good variety of trades available each month (a mix of A list and C list characters; and both HC\TPB formats in print). The only head scratcher for me is why the Animal Man trade was published in May and they went with publishing the Swamp Thing trade in August? Having both available back to back (especially because the comics come out in the same week…mostly) would make for a wonderful reading experience. That’s just my opinion.

    So Mr. Terrific next week…. prepare to be massively disappointed. Not only was it cancelled after 8 issue because of poor sales, but I’ve heard nothing but bad things about the art/writing. When a depowered Karen Starr is the best thing about your comic, that’s just sad.

  2. I have to say the one thing that kept Animal Man from being perfect for me was the resolute lack of personality in Ellen Baker. I haven't read much of Animal Man in the past, so I don't know how faithful her character is to past incarnations, but I've always thought Ellen Baker was supposed to be likeable and/or capable, and that's not how Lemire seems to be writing her. One piece of evidence that a strong female character (not the four-year-old scary child either) exists in this book's universe and I'd be willing to call it the best of the New 52. Feminist chagrin aside, I agree it's fantastic.

    Haven't read Wonder Woman but it looks pretty amazing. Going to have to check that out.

    So, CE, how many books does it look like you are you going to pick up a second volume for, both here and in the future? All/most/some?

  3. i_paint_the_sky7/13/2012 10:49:00 PM

    I haven't read them all but I did pick up a fair amount of these books. I definitely agree that Animal Man is the strongest but I would rank Snyder's Batman pretty closer to it.

    I also picked up Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Stormwatch which I enjoyed well enough, though I don't love them quite as much as the other titles.

    Also loving Batwoman but that was a June book (and actually the only June book I picked up).

  4. This is indeed a good idea for a column CE!
    I'm with sky to rank Batman closer to Animal Man.
    Dan Jurgens was one of my favorite artists back in the 90's, but I think his art is a bit "outdated" now. His GA looks also too old compared to the other New 52 characters.
    Talking about the 90's, it's good to see Norm Breyfogle again I think!
    I picked up all these trades and will be doing the same on the other titles. Just to give them all a try :)

  5. Great idea CE!
    I have to give you kudos on your rankings. Giving Wonder Woman and Catwoman higher placement over Batman is justifiable considering those books are taking more chances then Batman.

    That and as much as I love what Snyder is doing for Batman (hell I cosplayed as The Talon for WonderCon and Snyder treated me like a king for 10 minutes!), there just seems like an underlying fanboyism about Snyder because he's soo big right now. No body really wants to be critiqueful of his work, but that's just my opinion.

    But overall, good list. And a great article that's fun to follow.

  6. I was thinking about either using WW or Animal Man as my entry point into the NEw 52...

    yes, I still have to try it. Since all this started I increased my usual old issues and old TPBs by so much...

  7. Glad everyone enjoyed the column. Check out month two in just a few short weeks! And I'm still talking to volunteers to create the official logo for this column, if anyone else wants to contact me at the Yahoo account.

    @Ryan - I do wonder about the order they released these collections; maybe it had something to do with when various storylines ended, or something. Mr. Terrific has the Blackhawks in it, and Frankenstein has OMAC in it. None of these are really full-fledged crossovers enough to mandate the books be released in a certain order, but then again, I'm with you; it might've been interesting to see these released specifically in a reading order.

    @Anon - About the only series here for which I wouldn't have picked up the second volume might have been Green Arrow, but with a new writer coming on and a crossover coming up, probably I'll give it another shot. I would have read a second volume of Mr. Terrific, but it was of course cancelled; probably I would not have read a second volume of Static Shock, but ditto that it's cancelled.

  8. I hope CE picks up all the second volumes too, because I don't plan on buying a lot of them but I wanna see how well the series are going. :-)

  9. I read 'em so you don't have to, eh Mark? :)