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Co-Founder / Pittsburgh Underground

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Comics To Rot Your Brain: The New DC 52 Reboot / Week 4 Review

Jeepers creepers kids! I apologize for the late posting, but what can I say - there's a lot going on in October and not only am I burning the candle at both ends, but I've decided to throw the whole enchilada into the fire!

Well, as you can probably guess by the title of this little ditty, the following consists of my reviews for week 4 of the DC Comic New 52.  For those of you living under a rock for the past month, DC Comics has decided to do a soft reboot of 52 of their flagship titles - some which you may know, others you may not.

Being a 'soft' reboot, some of the titles are going right back to their roots and others, not so much - keeping a lot of their original continuity in tact, depending on the character. Confused? Good! Join the club my friends. I won't lie to you - the further I get into this New 52 Reboot, the more I keep asking myself why some characters are starting at the very beginning of their origin stories and others seem to pick up somewhere in between.

With that said and if you've been reading my past updates, you know I'm not purchasing EVERY DC title - just the ones with the following 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.

Alright then - without further adieu, let's begin with my six picks for week 4: Batman, Blue Beetle, Catwoman, Captain Atom, DC Comics Presents, and Nightwing.

(Please note, there may be spoilers ahead so read at your own risk!).

Click Below To Read The Entire Scoop!

Batman #1

Batman  #1 / Cover Art by Greg Capullo

Title: Batman #1
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - I'm a bat-dork through and through. Still have a full comic book box devoted to bats and his adventures so picking up the new book was a no-brainer.

To say I've loved Batman all my life would be an understatement - probably to an embarrassing level. T-shirts, action figures, movies, cartoons, animation maquettes, even skematics for the Batcave and Wayne Manor - yes, my obsession ran deep for many years. I did however, fall victim to a time were all DC Comics seemed to know how to do is mass-market the caped crusader into a flood of meaningless books and merchandising that even a fan like me couldn't keep up with (thank you Joel Schumacher - you puts!)  and I eventually disappeared into the dark lonely night waiting for a end to the insanity.

Fast forward to present day where everything DC Comics is new again, including the Dark Knight Detective. Unless you're a communist, you already know the story of Batman so I'm not going to recap it for you. I'd rather look at Bruce Wayne and the Batman family as it stands today. 

Batman has to date had a total of four male sidekicks that all called themselves Robin, one female sidekick called Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon), his father figure and butler Alfred Pennyworth, and his partner on the police force, Commissioner James Gordon. If we want to be picky, we could even include Batwoman - someone who I feel is fairly outside the Bat-family, but still operates within Gotham City, knows Batman, and looks up to him as all good bat-members should. 

What I find most encouraging about this new Batman is that he finally seems somewhat grounded (remember this is part of the 'soft' reboot so this Batman retains much from the previous continuity). He's grown beyond the tragedy of his parent's deaths and has been able to move on. He's become Fred MacMurray with Alfred as his 'Uncle Charley' while being surrounded by his three sons - Dick Grayson (the original Robin turned Nightwing), Tim Drake (now Red Robin with the Teen Titans), and Damian Wayne (the newest of the Robin's due to a tryst with Talia al Ghul in the book Son of the Demon). 

Batman #1 / Artwork by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

In a nutshell - I really love this new dynamic. Bruce is no longer alone in his war on crime. He has a reason to live, a reason to care, a reason beyond that of pure vengeance. He's in a world where he is not only trying to make it a better place for the citizen's of Gotham City, but for his own adopted family which I hope becomes a big part of this new continuity moving forward. Let's face it, the same old same old with Bats got stale a LONG time ago and I find it refreshing that he has seemed to turn a corner for the better. 

The artwork by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion in Batman #1 is top knotch and captures everything I could want from the hero I idolized as a boy. Still dark and moody, but never washed out. Light and airy when necessary - especially when we flip to Bruce Wayne's world and his hope for a new, brighter Gotham City. Bruce is finally growing as a character and it is a welcome change. 

The writing by Scott Snyder weaves us in an out of familiar settings that us Bat-fans have come to love over the years. Aptly starting in Arkham Asylum, to the rooftops of the Gotham Police Precinct, and into the Batcave, Synder rarely misses a beat to familiarize newbies and us old-schoolers alike with what it is to be Batman. Midway through we even jump directly into our first mystery complete with a team up with our old pal, hard boiled detective, Harvey Bullock, complete with a corpse tacked to the wall via a series of thrown knives with a twist ending that makes you want for more. What can I say... it's like a comfortable old shoe - the Batman I know and love.

Batman #1 / Artwork by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

All in all, I am very happy with this new direction that my old pal Bats is going in. A new outlook on life, but with familiarly dark and moody themes, it's nice to come home again to Gotham City to visit my old, childhood friend once again and I'll be looking forward to our adventures to come.

Blue Beetle #1

Blue Beetle #1 / Cover Art by Rex Ogle

Title: Blue Beetle #1
Story: Tony Bedard
Art: Ig Guara and Ruy José
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - I loved the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle who was sadly killed in the prior continuity. I loved to watch the antics between him and Booster Gold in the old Justice League comics of my teens and wanted to see if this new kid could fill good old Ted's shoes.

My Blue Beetle, Ted Kord

Times change and we need to change with them. Sometimes this is for the better, other times it's not. I won't lie to you - I'm a little pissed off that the geniuses at DC Comics killed off my Blue Beetle, better known as Ted Kord. Granted, he wasn't the very first hero to take on the Blue Beetle mantel (he was actually the second). 

He was just a fun character, who shined even more when paired with his best buddy Booster Gold in the old Justice League comics of my youth. He was Bruce Wayne without all the moody pathos. He was the go-getting inventor philanthropist type (no super powers so to speak - just awesome gadgets) who was always there for his friends and sacrificed himself trying to save them from the likes of a reorganized Checkmate organization. Quiet frankly, I thought he deserved better. I guess I would have just like to have seen him and Booster in their old age, up to their old schemes in a retirement home for former supers. Oh well, Ted Kord you maybe gone, but you will never be forgotten.

Blue Beetle #1 / Artwork by  Ig Guara and Ruy José

The newest young man to take on the guise of the Blue Beetle is Jamie Reyes and actually more in line with the heritage of the original Blue Beetle, namely Ted Kord's mentor, archaeologist Dan Garrett (the original Beetle). Much like that of Garrett, Jamie Reyes obtains his powers from a seemingly mystical (but much more alien) scarab that transforms him into a warrior of unknown power. 

Blue Beetle #1 / Artwork by  Ig Guara and Ruy José

Honestly, my feelings of poor Ted Kord's demise put aside, I really like this version of Blue Beetle. The writing from Tony Bedard has quickly made me like the character of Jamie Reyes - an average Latino kid who struggles in school, plays soccer (ok, tries to play soccer), has girl problems, and puts up with his over protective parents. He's a likable kid and you can't help but root for him throughout the book, especially when being chased by some of the coolest looking villains that I've seen in comics to date. I'm also learning some swell new Latin phrases like 'What a Mamón' and 'Face it chicha, you gotta bad case of the Pacos!". I love the dialect as it really helps to immerse you in a brand new world that begs to be explored.

Blue Beetle #1 / Artwork by  Ig Guara and Ruy José

The artwork from Ig Guara and Ruy José really rocks! It's tight, emotes very well throughout, and again - has the coolest looking villains ever (a very Day of the Dead look to them!). Although the action shots really shine, it's the everyday settings at the high school, or driving around in his pal Paco's convertible, or just hanging around Jamie's house that really makes this book stand out as one of the gems in the new DC 52 lineup. 

Blue Beetle #1 / Artwork by  Ig Guara and Ruy José

Although I miss Ted Kord, I really do love this new Blue Beetle. Who knows, maybe if we're lucky good ol' Ted might not be dead (it's happened before right?). All one can do is wait and see - at least we have a great new universe to explore with Jamie Reyes at the helm of a brand new flavor of the Beetle for a whole new generation to enjoy.

Captain Atom #1

Captain Atom #1 / Cover Art by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau

Title: Captain Atom #1
Story: J.T. Krul
Art: Freddy Williams II
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - Captain Atom was one of those titles I was lucky enough to grab up at issue #1 during the old continuity when I was just a kid. I absolutely loved the artwork and the stories back then and wanted to go on some new adventures with an old friend.

Back in the mid-eighties and being a stifled Catholic school teenager living in the vanilla suburbs of my youth, I yearned for a way to break out of the dolldrums of my everyday existence to find a window of excitement that my imagination could run wild in. One of my fondest memories was picking up Captain Atom #1 written by Carry Bates and Greg Weisman with artwork by Pat Broderick. Although the character of Captain Atom was around since the 1960's (created by Joe Gill and artist/co-writer Steve Ditko) , he hadn't resurfaced in a comic book until 1986. I was instantly hooked.

The concept was the stuff of pure sci-fi lore. In 1968, a United States Air Force officer of the Vietnam War era, Nathaniel Christopher Adam is framed for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to death under the command of Colonel Wade Eiling. Rather than execute him, he's given the chance to participate in one of those 'you probably won't survive' experiments in exchange for a full pardon. Agreeing to the terms, the hull of a marooned alien space craft's durability is tested by exploding a nuke under it. Not only does the metal fuse to Nathaniel's body, but the energy blast propels him 18 years ahead through time to a point where there are still no cell phones, Ipads, or decent video games - how's that for bad luck!

Now with 'Quantum Field' powers, he finds himself not only a man who's out of his time, but the jerk that sent him there (Eiling) married Adam's wife (who is now deceased), his kids are now roughly his own age, and the new government refuses his promised pardon (assuming that Nathaniel Adam had died in the experiment), and blackmails him into becoming the governments new secret weapon under the name Captain Atom. Yes, the poor captain can't seem to catch a break!

For a kid that felt overwhelmed by the powers that be while growing up in the days of Pac-Man, Captain Atom was a character I instantly felt empathy for. All I wanted was for him to rise up against the jerks that took advantage of him time and again (which he eventually did) and live the life that a hero should.

Captain Atom / Circa 1986

Fast forward to present day. Because this is a 'soft' reboot, Captain Atom still retains all his powers, memories, and all the other good stuff that made him the character he is today. The biggest change is that he is physically still evolving, slowly transforming from mixture his biological and meta form into one of pure quantum energy.  This is very apparent in just his physical presence alone as illustrated by Freddie Williams II. I remember my Captain Atom sporting a silver David Hasselhoff hairdo which has now turned into more of a whisp-like trail of energy from his head (he honestly looks a bit like the Silver Surfer with energy leaking from a cracked noggin').

Captain Atom #1 / Art by Freddie Williams II

Freddie Williams II has a very painterly approach to the artwork as well, sometimes being very reminiscent of earlier work done by Frank Miller (ala Ronin),using bold black blobs to illicit the idea of form. Quiet honestly, Williams should count himself fortunate that he has such as skilled colorist as Jose Villarrubia who really fleshes out the images into something that the casual observer can not only understand, but become immersed in as the action is pretty hot and heavy throughout the book.

J.T. Krull does a much better job writing for this character than he does on his first stab at Green Arrow #1 (which was one of the few new DC titles that left me a little empty when I put it down). Captain Atom is evolving - turning into an being of pure energy and possibly loosing his humanity in the process. Krull does a great job conveying this and what it might mean to a character that spent the first half of his existence as a victim of circumstance. Not having control of what is happening to him is all too familiar to Captain Atom fans and to see Nathaniel Atom start to lose control of his situation after such a long road to regain it brings back all the empathy I had for the character when I first met him when I was just a kid.

Captain Atom #1 / Art by Freddie Williams II

All in all, I'm diggin' the new Captain Atom. If this team can continue down the right path with the character in terms of artwork and story then I'll be checking him out on a fairly regular basis. My biggest concern is that it won't take much to derail the story of a human character loosing his humanity. To lose one's humanity is a fairly cathartic experience that's been used before in comics (such as in Alan Moore's version of the Swamp Thing) that's also been squandered before in comics (such as in the new reboot of Swamp Thing). Let's hope that these areas are explored further in Captain Atom as a way to evolve the character further as oppose to just using it as a shallow hook that goes nowhere.

Catwoman #1

Catwoman #1 / Cover Art by Guillem March

Title: Catwoman #1
Story: Judd Winick
Art: Guillem March
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - As part of Batman's rogues gallery of villains I couldn't pass this one up. The only version of Catwoman that I had picked up was the Frank Miller version of her story back in the mid-eighties where she was a prostitute turned anti-hero. I figured it was about time to revisit an old flame from my youth.

Well meeeowww!!! That's right gang - all I can say is hotchie-machie! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not usually one to get all weak in the knees over a pretty face. It's all in the attitude for me and let's face it, Selina Kyle aka Catwoman is all about the attitude. If you've been down the proverbial path of dating someone like Selina - a beautiful narcissist who you know is bad for you, but is an utterly irresistible drug for your your dark soul, then you may not be able to put Catwoman down so BEWARE!!!

Catwoman has been around for about as long as her Batman counterpart (we won't tell you her age, but her first appearance was back in 1940!). Her origin story is as tangled web of crazy stew - runaway, prostitute, cat burglar, Selina Kyle has been through it all. In this new reboot, we are taken back roughly to the beginnings of her career, but not so far back that she's just starting out. 

Catwoman #1 / Artwork by Guillem March

She is however, still pissing everyone off (go figure). It doesn't take the first three pages and she's already packing a bag full of cats, cloths, and whatever else she can grab just before a gang of goons storm in and bust the place up. Classic Selina! The story from Judd Winick takes our anti-heroine from one unstable situation to the next in a chain of events that keeps the character on her toes looking for every chance to be as opportunistic as one would come to expect from Catwoman. 

Although seemingly selfish and even single minded, Selina is a survivor at her core and does have a moral code even if it appears that it's lacking at times. This shows during a very La Femme Nikita moment as she poses as an incredibly sexy red-headed bartender who just happens upon a Russian mobster from her past who was evidently involved in the killing of a female acquaintance of Selina's (shown in a flashback). The nasty that Selina imposes on this award winner might be one of the hottest moments in the book and worth picking up for the imagery alone.

Catwoman #1 / Artwork by Guillem March

The artwork by Guillem March is exciting and he's definitely not afraid to try daring presentation with his panels. His use of forced perspective becomes a double edged sword throughout the book as sometimes it works great while other times it makes the characters, especially that of Selina look a little contorted. Still, if there's any character within the DC Universe that could move their body in such a way it would definitely be Selina Kyle so all is forgiven. Also, March's depiction of Selina and Batman's first encounter in this series toward the end of the issue is something to remember - I won't spoil it for you, but it's definitely on the sexier side of the DCU.

Catwoman #1 / Artwork by Guillem March

It will be interesting to see what tangled roads the character of Catwoman will follow. On one hand, you want to root for her as an anti-hero, but you also can't help but be a little skeptical of her motivations regardless of her checkered past. Still, she's Catwoman and as charming as she ever was so I'll be keeping at least one eye on her at all times.

DC Comics Presents #1

DC Comics Presents: Deadman #1 / Cover Art by Brian Sook

Title: DC Comics Presents
Story: Paul Jenkins
Art: Bernard Chang
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - The original books of DC Comics presents ran from 1976 to 1986 and gave a great smattering of stories from the cavalcade of DC characters. I may not want to spend all my hard earned moola on every DC title, but this is a nice way to get great stories from the DC Universe using characters that may not get their own title, but deserve to live out some great adventures. Plus, I LOVE DEADMAN!!!

Not every character from the DC Universe gets his or her own title. Sometimes you only seem them as part of a team (Justice League, Teen Titans, Green Lantern Corps.), other times they merely guest star in one of your favorite books for a little while. The great thing about DC Comics Presents is that we finally get to rekindle relationships with interesting characters from the DCU that we might not see all that often, but are great departures from the typical lineup.

For the our first outing from DC Comics Presents we get a great story from Paul Jenkins centering around our old pal Deadman (made popular by one of the BEST Batman artists that ever lived - Neal Adams). I've loved this character for years and although we do get to see him as part of the newest team, Justice League Dark, it's a lot of fun having him in his own featured story arch.

What I love about books like DC Comics Presents is that we also get a truncated version of the character's origin story. I'm an origin story sucker - I've always been a big fan of the mythology of comic book characters. How they obtained their powers, what initially motivated them, and what continues to drive them is as human as it gets. Let's face it, we all have to get out of bed in the morning, get dressed, and do the things we need to do to survive. Heroes do the same thing, but with a lot more pizzazz.

Deadman started out as arrogant high wire acrobatic, Boston Brand (who as far as I'm concerned, still has the BEST human name in all of comic's history!). Yes, Boston (who used the moniker of Deadman as his stage name) was a real doushbag in his day and getting himself murdered was the ultimate outcome of his doushbaggery. From there, the sexiest Hindu goddess I've ever laid eyes on, Rama Kushna, that not only gives him the opportunity to find his killer as a disembodied spirit, but also allows him to possess the bodies of others to aid them in whatever struggles they are fighting within their own lives. Of course this is all in the name of his own redemption so he will not be lost forever within the ether by bringing balance to the universe.

DC Comics Presents: Deadman #1 / Artwork by Bernard Chang

Quiet frankly, I think these are all winning characteristics of fantastic storytelling in my book. Mystery, redemption, and soul saving - what more could anyone want from a hero? As Boston Quantum Leaps from body to body, we see the heavy burden he carries with him as he retains all the memories and feelings of each person he has helped over the years. One doesn't understand the gravity of another person's deepest desires, darkest nightmares, and pain filled challenges until he or she has walked a mile in their shoes - Boston Brand has done this in spades and it shows.

The artwork is masterfully drawn by Bernard Chang. You can see the sadness in Deadman's eyes, especially once he connects with his latest host, a young military soldier who fell victim to an I.E.D. in an ambush that left his other teammates dead and him in a wheelchair without his legs.

Of all the books I've picked up for the new DC 52 reboot, this story was the one that broke my heart. Unless you've completely lost your soul, there's no way you can read this story by Paul Jenkins and not have empathy for it's characters. It hits fairly close to the bone, especially given America's current situation overseas. It's one thing to see the plight of another person, but an entirely different thing to have to feel it, let alone live it. This is the fate of Deadman as he must save this man's soul before it's too late.

DC Comics Presents: Deadman #1 / Artwork by Bernard Chang

If there is one DC Comic you need to nab within this new reboot it's DC Comics Presents featuring Deadman. This is an exemplary example of how deep a comic book can cut into you and leave an indelible mark that makes you crave more. I can't wait for issue 2 to hit the stands later this month.

Nightwing #1

Nightwing # 1 / Cover Art by Barrows, Mayer, and Reis

Title: Nightwing #1
Story: Kyle Higgins
Art: Eddie Barrows and J.P. Mayer
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - Although I never picked up a Nightwing comic until now, I know the character well from the Batman comics, being that he was the original Robin, Dick Grayson. 

You have to have a lot of respect for this guy who started as Batman's sidekick, grew up into his own independent hero, took on the Batman mantle in Bruce Wayne's absence, and then went right back to Nightwing following his return. He's also one of the only DC comic sidekicks that had a chance to really grown up - not an easy thing to do in the world of comic lore where most people rarely age.

As with most father / son relationships, the son eventually grows up. Most times, no matter how hard the father might try, the son does become his own person, has his own views on life, and eventually spread those wings (no pun intended) and soars. This was definitely the case between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Let's face it, kids don't stay kids forever and Dick grew up into his own man and with views that were slightly different from the all controlling Batman. 

It's hard not to feel sympathy for both characters when you look at things from their perspective. For Bruce, his controlling nature is what kept him and his wards alive through a multitude of dangers throughout the Batman's history. This type of overwhelming guidance is ingrained in his DNA, especially after the events of A Death In The Family in which Jason Todd, the second Robin, is seemingly killed at the hands of the Joker (and them resurfaces in the new reboot as the Red Hood and the Outsiders - go figure). He's essentially an over protective parent.

Dick Grayson however has really seen and done it all. Already an apt acrobatic roughly at the age of nine, he did everything that Bats told him to do up until his college years. Seriously - eat your vegetables, do your homework, wash the Batmobile - this kid couldn't have been a better son to Bruce Wayne. There comes a point where regardless of a parent's intentions, the parent needs to trust that they did the best job that they could with their kids and learn to trust them. If anyone was ever entitled to a father's trust it was Dick Grayson.

Nightwing #1 / Artwork by Eddie Barrows and J.P. Mayer

Fast forward to today. Dick is back in Gotham and making it on his own steam (so to speak). Granted, he doesn't believe living in the big mansion like Bruce does, but he does have a loft in the heart of Gotham City close to the action. Kind of makes sense to me, but then again, Bruce has ties to Wayne Manor and he does have an extended family to look after too.

The story by Kyle Higgins brings Dick Grayson to his roots as Haly's Circus (yes, the same one that little Dickey grew up in as part of the Flying Graysons).  While gazing at it from afar, the circus brings back memories of a simpler time for Mr. Grayson and he decides on an impromptu visit with his old chums. On his way back home an unidentified hired killer drops in to cause a little mayhem for Nightwing and the action takes off from there.

The artwork by Eddie Barrows and J.P. Mayer is in constant motion - remember, Nightwing is an acrobat at his core and this is depicted in every panel as he battles this green and black costumed assassin in an attempt to find out what's eating him (which of course we never find meaning maybe we'll get the scoop in the next issue).

Nightwing #1 / Artwork by Eddie Barrows and J.P. Mayer

All in all I like the character of Nightwing quiet a bit. He's still part of the Bat-verse as it were, much like that of Batwoman, but more a part of the Bat-family core due to his close history with the Batman franchise. He never feels like an accessory to Batman (Batman-light for example), but a continuation of a character that has finally received the much deserved respect of his peers and fans alike. Long gone is the boy wonder of my youth as you can never truly go back home. Rather, we have a new hero on the block with a pedigree that's a worthy addition to the rich history of Gotham City.

Ok gang, that's it from me for another week! I still have one more stack of books to get through for the New DC 52 Week 5 Review so keep your eyes peeled for more here to come at Pittsburgh Underground and Comics To Rot Your Brain!

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