Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
It was the strangest thing — when I woke up this morning I was younger, single, and most of my clothes had high collars and funky seams….
Okay, let’s cut that out right now. Don’t worry, I’m still middle-aged and married, with the same beat-up wardrobe. However, I have read all but one of this week’s New-52 books, and now I get to share them with you. (The local comics shop got shorted on Batwing #1, which is too bad, because as one of the few sort-of new concepts being offered, I was especially looking forward to it. Next week for sure!) Generally I thought most had at least some potential, and I was mostly impressed with the efforts the various creative teams made. Of course, that doesn’t mean I liked everything, but I did like more than I thought I would.
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For starters, I sure didn’t expect a nod to “Smallville” (“Somebody! Save me!”) in the opening pages of Action Comics vol. 2 #1 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Rick Bryant). That’s one of many nice touches in this zippy, peppy installment. It’s a great introduction to both Superman and Clark Kent, saving the world regardless of who’s in their way; and a good look at Luthor too. Lois and Jimmy are essentially cameos, although probably just for this issue. It reads like a comics adaptation of Tom DeHaven’s It’s Superman! novel — very retro-minded, although definitely not a retro story. Superman basically terrorizes Metropolis’ white-collar criminals, eyes red with barely-contained heat vision, all the while staying just ahead of his military pursuers and shrugging off tank shells with a grunt and a determined grin. Morales and Bryant’s expressive, beefy work is reminiscent of classic Superman artists including Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, and John Byrne. DC would have done well to lead with this last week as well.
Speaking of which, Justice League International #1 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) was a decent first issue, although it feels a little rushed and might have benefited from more editing. (One character says “by extension” twice in two pages, and a spread of the team shows Ice and Vixen with the same pose and expression.) For those put off by Justice League #1, this time the whole team is present, along with two new characters and a giant killer robot; but the focus is on Booster Gold, Batman and Green Lantern Guy Gardner (hmm, that combo again), and UN functionary Andre Briggs. For now, the others are either clunky one-note jokes (Rocket Red talks funny, Godiva vamps) or still too undefined. Lopresti and Ryan make the book look good, and it’s trying to develop its own identity, but this issue only shows the barest hints of one.
More successful in that regard are Animal Man #1 (written by Jeff Lemire, pencilled by Travel Foreman, inked by Dan Green) and Swamp Thing #1 (written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Yanick Paquette), since both cover very similar thematic ground. Each involves a semi-retired super-type with a deep, profound connection to a mysterious force of nature, and each pits its leads against a corrupt version of his particular force. Beyond that, though, each takes a fairly different approach to the material. As it happens, Animal Man has a bit more horror, making Buddy Baker’s ambivalence about superheroics into an actual threat to his family; while Swamp Thing initially looks like a dozen or so pages of a human Alec Holland talking to Superman and others about the hidden cruelties of the plant world. Not that that’s not enough on its own, because Snyder and Paquette sell this sort of Holland-as-Bruce-Banner bit pretty well — but Swamp Thing then reveals its antagonist, a malevolent monster/swarm/nasty something which kills and terrorizes in sickeningly inventive ways.
Both Paquette and Foreman are well-suited for their respective series. Paquette’s thick lines and heavy blacks make everything look earthy, solid, and murky where appropriate. At first Foreman’s layout choices emphasize the Baker household’s (relatively) light-hearted atmosphere, becoming more traditional as the superhero and horror portions kick in. Foreman and Green’s thin, careful work is also expressive enough to bring out the Bakers’ personalities fairly well. In short, I liked both Animal Man and Swamp Thing well enough to come back for their second issues.
At this point, to say that Gail Simone has a good handle on Barbara Gordon would be an understatement, but Batgirl #1 (written by Simone, pencilled by Ardian Syaf, inked by Vicente Cifuentes) really shows what she can do with Barbara in a solo title. Apart from her Birds Of Prey colleagues, and out of her wheelchair (after what we’re only told was a “miracle”), Babs has an updated Bat-suit and Batcycle, and finds herself battling criminals eerily reminiscent of her own experiences. As with the enigmatic Junior in the first arc of Simone’s Secret Six ongoing, new villain the Mirror is only a half-glimpsed presence at first, and seen fully when it’s too late. However, the centerpiece of this issue is Batgirl versus thrillkilling home invaders, in another callback to the incident which left Barbara paralyzed. Simone and Syaf pack a lot into this issue, with Syaf and Cifuentes’ work looking cleaner and more crisp than it has been. My complaints deal basically with Babs’ backstory: I get the impression that the former Oracle would have more civilian-life options than we’re shown here; and we haven’t yet been told how she came to walk again. Regardless, these will surely be answered in future issues; and otherwise Batgirl #1 is a very strong start.
Much of Detective Comics vol. 2 #1 (written and pencilled by Tony S. Daniel; inked by Ryan Wynn) is a Batman-vs.-Joker story so hidebound and familiar it borders on parody. Clearly Daniel feels the weight of relaunching DC’s namesake book and wants to give all those hypothetical new readers what they expect out of a Batman comic. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a lot of posing and posturing — including gratuitous pinup-style splash pages and dialogue like “That was her uncle the Joker killed…. though it’ll take a bit to identify his remains.” As well, Daniel draws Batman beefier than he did back in 2009, further reinforcing the book’s emphasis on physicality. I do give Daniel credit for an unsettling epilogue, which ties a new villain to the Joker’s latest spree. However, if I weren’t already collecting Detective, it wouldn’t bring me back for the next issue.
I was not expecting much out of Green Arrow #1 (written by J.T. Krul, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by George Pérez), so I was pleasantly surprised. As you might expect from Jurgens and Pérez, it’s a very nice-looking book, told cleanly, simply, and efficiently. It also bears little resemblance to the Ollie Queen Green Arrow portrayed in the last four decades’ worth of comic books. Instead, this iteration of the character still has his fortune and has added a couple of tech-savvy assistants. Basically it reads like a spinoff of the “Smallville” Ollie (that show again!), which is probably good for new readers, but which doesn’t give our hero much personality. Apart from the trick arrows, this issue’s fight with super-punks who broadcast their exploits online could have starred any number of characters, most of them Bat-affiliated. It’s not a bad book, and certainly better than Krul’s Rise Of Arsenal-flavored reputation might suggest, but like its lead it threatens to be handsomely bland.
Similarly, there’s not much remarkable about Hawk and Dove #1 (written by Sterling Gates, drawn by Rob Liefeld). Even Liefeld’s art is relatively tame, except for the odd panel like page 1’s panic at the wi-fi bar. The “science terrorist” Alexander Quirk is menacing Washington, D.C., but Hawk spends almost as much time comparing Dove to her predecessor (his late brother) as he does fighting zombies. Gates apparently expects readers to come to this book straight from Brightest Day, because Dove’s relationship with Deadman carries over from there. However, Gates throws in what look like a couple of references to the H&D series from twenty-odd years ago, as if those fans were just waiting patiently for the inevitable revival. The whole thing is fairly flat, despite Liefeld’s attempts at action.
Because DC needs to cultivate non-superhero genres, I like the idea of Men Of War; but because the two stories in issue #1 cover some predictable ground, the idea is more appealing than the execution. The lead, written by Ivan Brandon and drawn by Tom Derenick, concerns Corporal Joseph Rock, he who is destined to become the next Sgt. Rock, just like his legendary grandfather. It’s not a bad story, and it’s fairly good work (stylistically improved) from the inconsistent Derenick. However, it takes forever to get to the point — namely, Rock and his squad versus superhumans — and it’s not that concerned with keeping the reader straight on who everyone is. A similar problem applies to the backup, written by Jonathan Vankin and drawn by Phil Winslade, in which a different squad tries to smoke out a sniper, with a cliffhanging result. Where the first story focused on Rock and his sergeant, and then hastily added the squad, the second tries to squeeze character moments into the action. While the book may improve with subsequent issues, and/or less harried reading, for now it seems rather uneven.
Keith Giffen’s storytelling and pencils propel OMAC #1 (co-written by Dan DiDio and inked by Scott Koblish), an unabashed Jack Kirby homage which mashes the One Man Army Corps with a heaping helping of Jimmy Olsen’s Cadmus Project. Giffen really goes for the full Kirby effect, and without his efforts this would be a fairly slight issue. Here, OMAC is Kevin Koh, cubicle drone turned mohawked juggernaut, whose body is co-opted in order to break into Cadmus’ top-secret mainframe. Kevin’s co-workers include a worried girlfriend and a lout, neither of whom are developed much further; and OMAC fights a succession of familiar Kirby creations, most notably the world’s deadliest Build-A-Friend. It’s sufficiently over the top to be entertaining, but it’s hard to tell whether future issues will have either this level of energy, or a suitable substitute.
Static Shock #1 (written by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel, pencilled by McDaniel, inked by Jonathan Glapion and leBeau Underwood) was a terrific reintroduction to the witty adventures of Virgil Ovid Hawkins, a/k/a Static. Now a high-school student interning at STAR Labs in New York City, we catch up with Static trying to stop a runaway experiment and preserve the lives of innocent bystanders, only to learn that those bystanders are more concerned with the effects Static’s powers have on their personal electronic devices. Yes, it’s like Spider-Man’s inability to get everything exactly right; and no, this isn’t the first time Static has been compared to his friendly neighborhood predecessor. The difference is that Rozum and McDaniel effectively develop Virgil’s friends, family, and immediate enemies about as well as their wisecracking hero. See, Static isn’t just an ex-Milestone character incorporated into the New 52 DCU, he’s a gateway to other Milestone characters like Hardware, an armored avenger who appears here as Static’s mentor. Extending Static’s reach like that means that Rozum and McDaniel can carve out a particular Milestone-centric niche and thereby give Static Shock a unique place among the New 52. Accordingly, it’s a title worth reading regardless of what the other 51 books are trying to do.
Finally, there’s a lot going on in Stormwatch #1 (written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Miguel Sepulveda), most of it presented in rapid-fire infodumps. Stormwatch is trying to recruit Apollo, which they’ll probably do because he’s on the cover. Also, someone’s blown a mysterious horn, which summoned a giant alien who’s taken control of the Moon. There are many characters popping in and out — the Engineer, Jack Hawksmoor, the Martian Manhunter, Jenny Quantum, Harry Tanner, Adam something-or-other, Projectionist — and Cornell can’t seem to decide whether we know them all, or not at all. Although this isn’t a bad comic, juggling its various characters and plot points with moderate success, it’s far from accessible, and reads like part of a shared superhero universe which is more than a dozen issues old. If Static Shock seeks to carve out its own little niche, Stormwatch is content to wallow in New-52 lore. No doubt that’s meant to pay off handsomely down the road, but for now, it’s kind of disconcerting.
Recommended: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Static Shock, Swamp Thing
Could get better: Justice League International, Men Of War, Stormwatch
Could go either way: Green Arrow, OMAC
Sticking with ‘em regardless: Detective Comics
No thanks: Hawk And Dove
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Next week: picking up the spare with Batwing, plus Batman And Robin, Batwoman, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Green Lantern, Grifter, Legion Lost, Mister Terrific, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad, and Superboy!