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Co-Founder / Pittsburgh Underground

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comics To Rot Your Brain: The New DC 52 Reboot / Week 2 Review

Hey kids! Well, last week was officially week 2 for the DC Comic New 52. This meant a slew of new titles containing familiar faces - all of them engaging in wicked-fun adventure within the brand spankin' new DC Universe. For anyone who's every had a curiosity about the DCU, but felt that it the continuity was impenetrable - now's your time to get off your ass, high-tail it to your local comic book shop (or mine, Duncan Comics - the rockinest little shop on this side of the bridges), and jump in head first!

Last week I reviewed Justice League Issue #1 as it soared to the top of the sales charts with an estimated 190,000 sold. Not too bad for week 1 of DC Comic's much anticipated reboot. As always, nerds everywhere (especially the gang here at Pittsburgh Underground) rejoice every Wednesday - or as most of us from Nerdvana know it, NEW COMIC BOOK DAY!!!  This weekend, The Creature and I took a trip to Duncan Comics to pick up our picks for the week.

In otherwords, no - I did not nab EVERY new DC Comic. Instead, I've decided to pick my books on three criteria:

1) Old favorites that I used to collect in my teen years.
2) Books  I didn't collect, but was familiar with through other forms of media (TV, movies, animation...)
3) Brand new concepts that are new to the DCU and sounded interesting.

For week #2 of the New 52, I thought I would give you my brief two cents on my 7 picks of the new continuity.

Click Below To Read The Entire Scoop!

Action Comics # 1

Action Comics #1 / Cover Art by Rags Morales

Title: Action Comics #1
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Rags Morales and Rick Bryant
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - An old staple from my DC library!

What did I think? Fantastic story by Grant Morrison (of course), AMAZING artwork Rags Morales and Rick Bryant, and a great reintroduction to the man of steel, the last son of Krypton, the boy scout in blue - Superman.

I can't say enough nice things about this book from it's pacing to it's beautiful artwork - this is a great team-up between Morrison, Morales, and Bryant that I hope lasts for several more issues to come. Not only do I love the apprehension from the authorities and the immediate acceptance from the citizen's of Metropolis, adopting Kal-El as their new protector, but I especially like the portrayal of Supes as an alien who's only made himself known to the citizens of Metropolis for about six months. As far as I'm concerned, that's what this reboot is about - reliving the legends through their origin stories (which I'm a sucker for, incidentally).

Action Comics #1 / Rags Morales and Rick Bryant

If something does raise some eyebrows it might be that Superman looks a little bit like Superboy - donning a short sleeved version of his famous blue suit along with cape and Bugle-Boy jeans - not exactly the Superman that a lot of folks might be expecting. Try and remember though that this is just the beginning of Clark Kent's career as the man of steel, let alone as a reporter working at a rival newspaper. That's right gang - Mr. Kent is not working for the Daily Planet just yet, although he is best friends with Jimmy Olsen (looking a bit like Guy Gardner's younger brother for some reason), barely knows Lois Lane, and has no idea that Lex Luthor has been employed by her father, General Sam Lane, to find out what makes the alien tick.

Great action, great story, and a very fun read for my first purchase into the full-fledged continuity. Definitely a must buy for those of you who are big Superman fans (incidentally, this book has been sold out, but second printings are on the way!).

Animal Man #1

Animal Man #1 / Cover Art by Travel Forman

Title: Animal Man #1
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman and Dan Green
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - Not an old fan, but Animal Man reminds me of MANIMAL so I nabbed it!

So what the hell is an Animal Man you say? In a nutshell, it's the story of Buddy Baker who's powers were given to him from via an exploding extraterrestrial spaceship, allowing him to 'borrow' the abilities of any animal. My take on this - Bloody awesome! (Hey, I was a sucker for the television show Manimal from the 80's, so why wouldn't I dig this?)!

The odd thing about Animal Man in this continuity is that he seems to be one of the few characters that's much more in tune with the old continuity that ended roughly 2 weeks ago. Animal Man was one of those DC titles that spun off into it's Vertigo line of more 'adult-oriented' (and thus, odder) titles. He went through a lot of crazy changes over the years - much of his adventures becoming more surreal than the last.

Animal Man #1 / Travel Foreman and Dan Green
(Art So Good It'll Make Your Eyes Bleed)

In this incarnation, Buddy gives us the rundown of his life up till now via a full page interview at the beginning of the comic (very entertaining and kind of ballsy for a comic book). A professional stunt man, animal activist, a family man, and now a symbol to fight the system (as deemed by the left-winged hipster crowd). All of this helps the reader get up to speed for both newbies and faithful Animal Man aficionado's alike.

In true Animal Man style, Jeff Lemire takes us from the ho-hum dull drums of married life in the Baker household, some adventuring to give us all smell of what it's like to be the A-Man, and then to an evening of nightmares that has blood, guts, and other disturbing images that surround Buddy and his beloved family. Surreal, weird, all ending kind of Stephen King-creepy. In otherwords, we went from ironic nostalgia to heroic adventure to horror comic in about 22 pages. Not bad for a 'first' outing.

The artwork by Travel Foreman and Dan Green is deceptively simple at first with wispy lines and washed out colors, but once the nightmares begin, the uses of grays and reds really pop, making the surreal all the more bloody, putting you on the edge of your seat until the undeadly ending.

Animal Man Costume 1 and 2 / Previous DC Continuity 
Animal Man Costume 3 / New DC Continuity

My only slight criticism is of the new Animal Man costume. The two costumes from the previous continuity were fairly memorable. The first was the more iconic orange and blue costume with jacket and goggles. The second, was a black, blue, white version (sort of the stealthier version). The reboot costume is basically a blue and white unitard, sans the accessories. From an artist standpoint, I just don't find it very compelling, much less memorable (maybe more metrosexual). Just because I prefer the previous designs, it doesn't break the book in any way. All it really means is that everything is now new again at DC Comics and with Animal Man. Keeping an 'open mind' will be the name of the game for this title as it moves forward.

Batgirl #1

Batgirl Issue # 1 / Cover Art by Adam Hughs

Title: Batgirl #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - An age old love... Barbara Gordon, your my hero!!!

Yaaay!!! Barbara Gordon is back!!! The REAL Batgirl is back!!! Weeee!!! Yes, I love Batgirl - what nerd doesn't. Come on - a super-hot red-head with brains, the body, the costume, and the toys to boot! What's not to like? I got my first taste as a kid watching Yvonne Craig don the tights and strut her stuff on the 60's show with Adam West. Say what you want about the show, but hotchie-machie!!!

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl (1960) / Bruce Timm Batgirl

This is the Batgirl I grew up with reading all those Batman and Detective Comics as a kid (and every other Batman spin-off since). This is the Batgirl that I loved in the award winning Bruce Timm animated series. This is the Batgirl that my favorite villain, the Joker crippled with one gunshot in what might be my favorite Batman book, 1988's Batman: The Killing Joke by Allan Moore and Brian Bolland. The Batgirl that never gave up, becoming the Oracle - the information broker to the heroes of the DCU as it once was. This is my Batgirl.

Batgirl goes BOOM! 
The Killing Joke by Allan Moore and Brian Bolland

Thank you DC Comics for not trivializing one of the most memorable moments in the old continuity. Bringing Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl is not only an empowering image to behold, but also creates a character with a new layer to an already complicated psyche. The story superbly written by Gail Simone contains action, mystery, and all the best things you would hope from a Bat-centric character, but it also shows how vulnerable a hero can become when working in the biz. Her bravery is shown both externally and internally as she battles her own fears as she returns to the fray. Simone has me excited for what direction she will take the character next.

Batgirl # 1 / Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes
(That's My Batgirl!)

The artwork is in a word, fantastic - some of the best I've seen in a long time from a mainstream machine like DC Comics. Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes have paved a way for a new renaissance in comics as the images leap off the page with some of the best color work by that I've seen in a while masterfully executed by Ulises Arreola. Wrap it all up in what's sure to become a classic cover by veteran (and one of my favorites) Adam Hughs and you get a book worth grabbing up. This is definitely one to watch kids so stop screwing around and grab your copy today!

Batwing #1

Batwing Issue # 1 / Cover Art by Ben Oliver

Title: Batwing #1
Story: Judd Winick
Art: Ben Oliver
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #3 - Brand new DC Concept (Hey a black-Batman? I'm in!)

Wowie zowie! What can I say about this one kids?! At first it might appear to be kind of gimmicky. Let's face it - throughout the history of the caped crusader, we've seen a lot of off shoots within the Bat-Family: Batgirl, Batwoman, Bite-Mite, and even Ace the Bat Hound (yes, I kid you not). Batwing, however does not feel like just another fly-by-night Bat-character, but rather a great step in the evolution of the franchise.

In a nutshell, Batwing is an extension of the highly successful Batman Incorporated created by Grant Morrison within the previous continuity (which is, incidentally, being included in the new reboot soon). Essentially, after Bruce Wayne returns from the past in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne after screwing with Darksied who sent him there in Final Crisis, hedecides to recruit other 'Batmen' across the globe, ultimately franchising his own brand of dark justice. Cool idea doesn't even cover this concept folks!

Batwing #1 / Ben Oliver

In Batwing, the reader is taken to Africa, where the main character, David Zamvimbi, one of the only upstanding policemen in a very corrupt Democratic Republic of Congo police force takes on the mantel of the Batman of Africa under Bruce Wayne's guidance and support. The story written by Judd Winick is top notch stuff and quiet frankly, a very believable and topical setting. Corruption in the dark continent is sadly a reality and the story of Batwing mirrors a lot of modern day issues that plague Africa today making this story feel a little more real that even those stories that play out in Gotham City. It feels violent, desperate, and with a shocking ending for book one, I can't wait to see what happens next.

The artwork in Batwing by Ben Oliver is very impressive in it's painterly style that seems to mirror photo realistic imagery in a way that truly draws you into the great storyline. David Zamvimbi looks and feels like a real, breathing character which only adds to the emotional impact when watching one mans struggle against all the odds that are against him. If you pick up one new, original Batman title within the New 52 reboot, it should be Batwing.

Green Arrow #1

Title: Green Arrow #1
Story: JT Krul
Art: Dan Jurgens and George Perez
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - Didn't collect, but loved him in Justice League Unlimited (fine... and I own the 8" action figure too!).

The character Green Arrow (or Oliver Queen to his friends) has been around for a LONG time (since 1941 to be exact). He's gone through a lot since the 40's and he hasn't slowed down for a man of 70 years. Still, he's always remained fairly faithful to his origins - a billionaire who dresses like Robin Hood who uses an awesome array of trick arrows (glue arrows, net arrows, explosive arrows, time bomb arrows, grappling arrows, fire extinguishing arrows, flash arrows, tear gas arrows, cryonic arrows, boxing-glove arrows, and even a kryptonite arrow!) to fight the good fight as the voice of the left-wing and progressive.

Green Arrow/ Justice League Unlimited / Bruce Timm Design

My familiarity with Oliver Queen has been in a somewhat indirect way up till now. I loved Bruce Timm's characterization for Justice League Unlimited where Green Arrow was the morale conscious of the team (keeping all the other members 'honest'). He was a blast in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as a craggy one armed rogue who teamed up with the Batman to put Superman (now working with the government) in his place.

Green Arrow / Scott McDaniel & Frank Miller Versions

In this version, JT Krul gives us a seemingly younger version of Green Arrow as a globe trotting vigilante, dispensing justice to a group of fairly generic super powered villains in Paris that he caught on YouTube doing stupid things with their powers. Ollie also has a new team of folks to help him in his fight that brings back memories of team Christopher Chance in the ill-fated comic book based TV show The Human Target (which I do miss - stupid FOX). As to who these folks are and what their connection is to Ollie isn't really something that's expanded upon, thus they really made no impact on me.

Ollie is still a billionaire as he quips back and forth to one of his board members via bluetooth while pursuing the three thugs of the month. There is a faint echo of an idealistic Green Arrow here, but it's barely a whisper of the character I've known throughout the years.

Green Arrow # 1 / Dan Jurgens and George Perez
(Seriously, Where's My Goatee?)

The artwork from Dan Jurgens and George Perez isn't bad, but of the seven books I nabbed of the New 52, it doesn't seem to stand out as much as some of the others. It does have a somewhat 80's feel to it which doesn't bother me (hey, I'm a product of my era), but there are a few panels that look repetitive (especially those containing the villain Doppelganger who looks incredibly static in most shots).

Green Arrow and Speedy / Justice League Unlimited

I also need to comment on the new Green Arrow design. This is not the Green Arrow I remember from any of his incarnations and it feels less iconic than the one established in the previous continuity (to be honest, he looks more like his old sidekick, Speedy, than the hero he once was).. Maybe the plan is to start him out young and wide-eyed only to bring him to the grizzled veteran that I remember, but to be honest, he looks more like the Smalleville version of Green Arrow (LAME!) than the swash buckling hero he's supposed to be emulating. Maybe it's the lack of goatee or the emo hairstyle, but it's just not working for me yet.

Lame, Punk-Ass Version of Green Arrow from Smallville 
as Portrayed by Justin Hartley

Of all the new 52 titles, this one was the least impressive in terms of story, characters, and design. That's not to say that I'm through with Green Arrow. Again, this is a brand new book in a brand new universe so giving it some time to incubate might be what Green Arrow needs to ripen into the hero I used to know and love.

Justice League International #1

Title: Justice League International
Story: Dan Jurgens
Art: Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - Much like the Justice League, JLI is an old favorite from my teen years.

Back in 1987, I used to love all the versions of Justice League - Justice League America, Justice League Europe, and Justice League International - a well written, masterfully drawn book from the minds and hands of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. It had action, great characters, and most importantly - personality. It was so over the top in terms of funny that it made it hard to look at my favorite characters without seeing their quirks and foibles, which made them even more lifelike than your average cookie-cutter super team.

The Brand New JLI / Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan

In this new DC Universe, there are two Justice Leagues. The first aptly titled, The Justice League is the one that everyone knows and loves with the top tier characters leading the way - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Green Lantern (with Cyborg joining them soon). Justice League International is the United Nations sanctioned team in response to the uncontrolled, unsupervised, yet highly observed aforementioned group.

Dan Jurgens does a masterful job for this first issue, telling a story that feels very plausible in this universe. It makes total sense that the governments of earth's mightiest nations would get jittery about a team of super humans policing the world, thus having a strong reaction towards it. Creating their own team of meta-humans  'just in case' sounds about right (it's an international security issue isn't it?).

For this version of the team we have to think global in order to represent all nations. This means we get to revisit some old friends from the previous continuity including Rocket Red (from Russia), Fire (from Brazil), Ice (from Norway), Guy Gardner (my favorite hot-headed Green Lantern from Baltimore), the always opportunistic and now leader of the new team, Booster Gold. (from Gotham City of the 25th Century), and the Batman (the vet from the original league who is now acting as an 'observer'). Round this out with Vixen (from Africa), Godiva (from England), and August General in Iron (China) and you get the new JLI.

The Hall of Justice Baby!

Lots of moments made me smile in this book - from the beautiful revisiting of the Hall of Justice (yes, the same design from the 70's Super Friends Show), Guy Gardner storming off in his usual hammer-headed way when he finds out that Booster is the new leader and not him (very reminiscent of how he's depicted in the prior continuity), the distrust between Rocket Red and August General in Iron, Batman lurking in the shadows acting as Booster's voice of reason, the cliffhanger ending (NO!! Not the Hall of Justice!!!),. and of course four of the hottest super vixens put together in one room (ah... I can already envision the pillow fights!).

General August in Irons and Robot from Invincible
Separated at Birth?

If I have one criticism, it is with the character of General August in Irons. I can't lie, it's most likely because I'm not terribly familiar with the character as he originated in The Great Ten, a super powered team sponsored by the People's Republic of China and introduced into the New 52 by Grant Morrison, JG Jones, and Joe Bennett. I want to call him Auggie, or Iron - just something shorter than General August in Irons. Also, his design reminds me a little of Robot from Invincible, just not as interesting.  Still, I'll keep an open mind to see what happens with the character as he may grown on me and other readers alike. Who knows, if he doesn't work out we can always recruit Samurai from the Super Friends!

Samurai from Super Friends
(Gone, but not forgotten)

Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan do a fantastic job with the artwork as it's very colorful depictions (let alone accurate (sorry, I'm still gushing over the Hall of Justice) make it worth the price of admission. This is definitely a character driven book and the enormity of personalities, environments, and action are not to be taken lightly. These are two artists who are earning their paychecks and it shows. With great artwork and awesome writing, Justice League International is another book I'm excited about (I can't wait for issue #2!).

Swamp Thing

Title: Swamp Thing
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Yanick Paquette
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - I own the Alan Moore collection; the pivotal turning point in the old continuity.

Poor Alec Holland, better known as the Swamp Thing. This bastard has truly been through the proverbial ringer within the old DCU. He's been slogging around since the early 1970's with an amazing array of artists and writers to 'flesh out' his tangled existence. In a nutshell, Alec Holland, a gifted scientist, creates a secret bio-restorative formula that can create forests from deserts. As with most plots containing good intentions, evil lurks right around the corner as he is sabotaged, splashed with the chemicals during a lab fire, and then plummets into the Louisiana Bayou - only to be transformed into the horrific Swamp Thing.

Saga of the Swamp Thing / Alan Moore - Writer

I was lucky enough to jump on board the horror legend around the time that Allan Moore had started writing the Saga of the Swamp Thing back in mid-eighties, returning the character to more of it's monster roots and allowing the story to emulate the look and feel of many classic EC horror comics. This was the first book to completely abandon the ridiculous notion of the Comics Code Authority by taking the writing into new territory by utilizing more adult themes within the storyline, ultimately paying off in the end and taking the character to new heights of horror.

The Saga was also a pivotal moment in the Swamp Thing mythology in which the Swamp Thing discovers he was never Alec Holland in the first place, but walking plant that had grown from the rotten and badly burned corpse of the good doctor from his swampy grave. Not only did the plant-man absorbed the doctor's memories enabling it to think it was Alec Holland, but it solidified the notion loosing it's humanity forever. A truly sad and horrific tale for the ages.

Of course that's not where it all ended - the Swamp Thing eventually came to grips with the reality of his situation, hooked up with his arch nemesis's daughter Abigail Arcane, had a daughter named TefĂ© Holland, became an immortal elemental as part of the Parliament of Trees, eventually became corrupted by Nekron in the Blackest Night crossover, was killed by his newer, less evil doppelganger constructed from the body of the original Alec Holland (thus, actually being Alec Holland). and then becomes one with 'the green' once more. Yikes! Yes, my friends, thus was the previous continuity... now on with the new.

Swamp Thing and Abby (Arcane) Holland
from the previous DCU

In this latest and greatest incarnation of the Swamp Thing, it appears that good ol' Alec Holland has been resurrected as his former human self with vague memories of his previous life as a monster, his lost love Abigail, and all the other adventures that feel more like a nightmare than reality. After he recreates his bio-restorative plant formula, he drops out of his botany career and becomes a construction worker (in otherwords, a total 180 degrees from what he once was). In a word, poor Alec is just plain tired.

Swamp Thing #1 / Yanick Paquette - Pencils

The artwork by  Yanick Paquette is so detailed that you literally need to stop for a moment to soak in the beauty of this book. Each page is drenched in strong imagery from birds, bats, and fish dying in a rain of terror to the nightmarish horrors that seem to plague Alec Holland's mind. The story by Scott Snyder is cohesive and leaves you wanting more questions answered without alienating newbies or old-school Swamp Thing fans.

My hope is that this book will retain all it's classic horror roots with as many twists and turns that the old continuity had. At this point only time will tell, but I think the wait will ultimately worth it as Swamp Thing has peaked my curiosity once more and worth a peek for anyone interested in good, old school monsters.

GEEZ!!! That's it gang for the second week in review for the New 52 of the DCU! Stop back again here at Pittsburgh Underground for more Comics To Rot Your Brain!

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