Thursday, 13 September 2012

Some thoughts on the ‘New 52’ One Year Later.

I was really dubious about DC’s line wide reboot when first I heard of it, particularly when the creative teams were announced. It seemed like a who’s who of 90s Marvel rejects and Wildstorm also-rans, for the majority it looks like I wasn’t far off, unfortunately, but there have been some real successes and some genuinely good comics have been published under the New 52 banner. What follows is some thoughts on what books worked for me or not for me personally, based solely on my own forthright opinions (I won’t focus on James Robinson’s excellent Shade series as it wasn’t in the launch 52 and it was clearly written pre-reboot).

By the time the Launch came, my curiosity had grown enough that I was cautiously optimistic for some of the B and C list titles, the new mainstream Super Hero books like Justice League and the Teen Titans still looked like total shit. I’d ODed on Batman books in the years before the reboot so I was too Batman-ed out to try the Batbooks but they looked fine enough I guess and everyone I know who reads them seems to be loving Scott Snyder’s Batman. It was what was announced for the few titles I’d already been buying that worried me.

One thing that was alleged and seemingly true from the opening solicits was that DC were branching out into different genres, beyond the superheroes. When the books came out though, it became clear that although these series were ostensibly western, Sci-Fi and war books, they were all written in the modern DC superhero style. The outfits might be different but the feel of the books may as well be a Green Lantern or Justice League title. The supposed genre variation was essentially a fancy new bonnet on the same old pig.

I was particularly disappointed by what happened to Jonah Hex when it was reborn as All Star Western, the book was decent enough, but became steeped in making it ‘count’ in terms of the DC Universe. He moved to Gotham (like in Batman geddit?) his sidekick became Dr Arkham (like in Batman geddit?), the corrupt mayor of Gotham turns out to be Mr Cobblebott (like in Batman geddit?), at one point he ends up in a cave under the city (like in Batman geddit?) and fights a giant bat in one issue (like in Batman geddit?). Yes, we get it.

Another unfortunate aspect that was lost was the artistic variety, pre-reboot Hex had a selection of artists from across the globe doing alternate issues and one shot stories drawn by the industry’s finest. Now it has one artist who is undoubtedly good, but fairly uninspiring in comparison to the likes of JH Williams III, Darwin Cooke, Eduardo Risso, Phil Noto, Jordi Bernet, Fiona Staples and so on.

Basically Jonah Hex was a damn good, hard talking straight shooting, Western book, now it’s Batman: AD 1890, with some cool back up strips.

Alas, poor Jonah...

Another title that after a very strong start, soon lost it’s way was Batwoman. Initially the revamped Batwoman was written by Greg Rucka, and drawn by JH Williams III, but after the initial, exceptional run in Detective comics (collected in Batwoman: Elegy) Rucka left to pursue more personal projects (and eventually write Marvel’s Punisher) leaving Williams to script the series himself. The first few issues were beautifully rendered, but once Williams stopped drawing the title, the cracks began to appear. Amy Reeder’s fill in work didn’t have the wow-factor of Williams and it really highlighted the weaknesses in the story, leaving it a distinctly average book. The recent return of Williams and cameo from Wonder Woman have promise, but it may be too little too late.

Another book that started well, but has been getting on my britches of late is Wonder Woman, I’m still buying it, the art is delightful when it’s Cliff Chiang and very pleasant when the fill in chap comes in but the dialogue is so bad sometimes that it might end up on my personal chopping block. It has to be considered to be a success though as it has actually made me read Wonder Woman for the first time, and for a whole year. I’m certainly not the only surprise Wonder Woman fan and that’s pretty impressive, but Jesus, "Meat? Meet an Amazon!"

Fuck Off.

One of the best books from the relaunch that started exceptionally well but has lost some steam recently is Animal Man, on the whole an excellent book, with changing but top quality art teams, written by Jeff Lemire, a current favourite of mine. Travel Foreman’s art on the series’ first issues was a revelation, which set the bar very high for follow up artist Steve Pugh. Luckily Pugh is an expert craftsman and an alumni of Grant Morrison’s seminal 90’s Animal Man series from Vertigo. Needless to say there was no dip in quality, and the sheer demented malformation of the rot and the red (look it up) looks just as gut wrenchingly bizarre under Pugh’s pencil.

The book has a classic Vertigo feel, and looks incredible, but nothing has really happened yet. It’s largely been one big year long chase scene, so much so that it took me two months to realise I'd missed an issue. The concepts are great, the characters are great, the art is great, but Jesus, make something happen! The much foreshadowed Swamp Thing crossover finally happened this month so hopefully there will be a bit more than one long chase sequence in forthcoming issues, but the loss of momentum with issue zero may be the last nail.

The most concerning aspect of the reboot of course was DC editorial’s wholesale snatching back of the characters they had long since given away to Vertigo reinterpretations in the 90s and beyond. Those of us who were and are still big fans of the exciting, innovative, intelligent and downright weird Vertigo comics were rightly worried. The use of Vertigo writers Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder assuaged some fears but some of their other choices really didn’t (the less said about their ghastly new Phantom Stranger comic, the better). The reboot was especially keen to firmly bring John Constantine into the DC Super Universe by making him a member of the Justice League (Dark). About this I can say only one thing and that is fuck the fuck off you fucking fucks.

Obscenities aside, I’d like to end my extremely subjective ramblings about the New 52 (or should that be ‘Nu’ 52 as we are apparently in 1997) on a positive note, so erm.... at least they ditched Liefeld?