08 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXII: The New 52

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2011 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2016
DC Comics: The New 52
by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellatto, J. T. Krul, Freddie Williams II, Gail Simone, Ethan Van Sciver, Yildiray Cinar, George Pérez, Tony S. Daniel, Philip Tan, Eric Wallace, Gianluca Gugliotta, Wayne Faucher, Paul Jenkins, Bernard Chang, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, Jesús Merino, Scott Lobdell, R. B. Silva, Rob Lean, Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar, Dan Green, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Ryan Winn, J. H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, David Finch, Richard Friend, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Judd Winick, Ben Oliver, Guillem March, Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows, J. P. Mayer, Duane Swierczynski, Jesus Saiz, Kenneth Rocafort, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna, Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham, Batt, Peter Milligan, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter, Mikel Janin, Yanick Paquette, Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, Alberto Ponticelli, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Ferndando Dagnino, Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Miguel Sepulveda, Nathan Edmondson, Cafu, Jason Gorder, Ron Marz, Sami Basri, Joe Bennett, Art Thibert, Adam Glass, Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat, Mike Costa, Graham Nolan, Ken Lashley, Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick, Jonathan Vankin, Phil Winslade, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Scott McDaniel, John Rozum, LeBeau Underwood, Sterling Gates, Rob Liefeld, Ig Guara, Ruy José, Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods, Paul Levitz & Francis Portela

This book is unpaginated, but as it collects 52 issues, and most single issues these days are 20-22 pages long, it must contain around 1,000 pages of comics, making it nearly unreviewable, especially given that this book isn't one big story (like some other DC omnibi I've read, such as 52) but rather the beginnings of 52 different stories. Still, I'm going to try, and I'm going to do it by speaking to 1) the book as a whole, 2) the continuity issues involved, and 3) each subsection of the book. So please bear with me. Each of the issues is a #1 issue, published in the wake of Flashpoint, which reset the DC universe.

The Book as a Whole
To be honest, it's not a very satisfying reading experience. I think it could have been, but that would require a totally different way of approaching the single-issue comic than is normal in the 2010s. None of these are done-in-one stories, a format that still exists, but is probably avoided in the first issue of a series more than anywhere else, given that you want your readers to pick up issue #2. That said, I don't think they needed to be as formulaic as they are: I'd estimate the 75% of the stories here have the same structure of fight scene→bit of personal life or backstory→dramatic last page appearance of someone. Sometimes the order of "fight scene" and "bit of personal life or backstory" is swapped. As I kept on reading, I just got tired of seeing this cliche over and over again. I'd say that it was unsatisfying to not know the end to the fifty-two different stories begun here, but in actuality, I don't want to know the end of the fifty-two different stories begun here, as most didn't do enough to grab my interest in their twenty pages. Some dude turning up on page twenty does not a hook make if you haven't laid an interesting groundwork first.

The Continuity Issues
Sometimes I think people overestimate how much continuity contributes to the reading experience of a book. I've seen a lot of complaints about the New 52 that it's hard to get invested in characters when you don't know what old stories count and what ones don't. But Crisis on Infinite Earths did the exact same thing-- it was ages before the "past" of the new, integrated DC universe was completely built up, and I think people forget how piecemeal it was at first. The pre-Crisis Wonder Woman and Superman continued to appear for a year or two because George Pérez and John Byrne's reboots weren't done yet! The pre-Crisis Superman, for example, turned up in an Omega Men storyline that was explicitly post-Crisis, yet there's no way it could happen with the post-Crisis Superman. So things are going to be a bit muddy when you introduce a new shared universe all at once, and I think that's okay.

That said, I'm not sure why DC didn't got full clean slate with more of these characters. For example, we're told Animal Man has been a hero, retired from heroing, and is now returning to heroing-- but this doesn't add anything to the story when he could just be a recently established hero. Too many of the characters here have semi-complicated backstories because bits of their pre-Flashpoint backstories have been retained, but nothing is done with these backstories. Arsenal and Starfire apparently worked together on a team of teens before, but not in the Teen Titans because the Teen Titans #1 here is about the first Teen Titans team coming together. So they were just on... some team? But it doesn't really matter because they don't act like they know each other at all. Why not make it their first meeting then? Though the idea of there being a bunch of former teen sidekicks is weird anyway given DC's compressed the timeline down to five years. Like, you can have everything be fresh and new, or you can have a bunch of legacy characters, but it seems to me you can't have both. (And yet there are four different Robins!)

Like, this is neat because it gives you enough to go on if you don't know Deadman, but also upends the formula with a genuinely expected yet interesting final-page reveal.
from DC Universe Presents #1 (script by Paul Jenkins, art by Bernard Chang)
Justice League (Justice League, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Captain Atom, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Mister Terrific, Deadman)
Only three of these stuck out to me in a good way: Wonder Woman is slickly drawn, a surprisingly dei noir take on an old character. I read the first few issues of this run on Comixology back in 2011, and though I forgot to keep reading, this reminded me of what I enjoyed then. Everything I've ever seen of Francis Manapul's take on the Flash has been solid, so I ought to pick it up someday, though this one I liked more for the art and layouts than the story (it definitely fits into the cliche #1 format I mention above). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the take on Deadman here. Like, this had great ideas and amazing artwork. On the other hand, the new Justice League #1 is almost embarrassing, and Justice League International is the perfect example of the kind of comic book you just can't do in a brand-new universe-- none of these also-ran character have backstories now!

I do appreciate anyone who knows that the people of Metropolis should actually like Superman.
from Action Comics vol. 2 #1 (script by Grant Morrison, art by Rags Morales & Rick Bryant)
Superman (Superman, Superboy, Supergirl)
I can see how Grant Morrison's Action Comics #1 is a tribute to the original, with its non-stop action (duh!) and social-crusader bent on Superman, though this adds in a giant Lex Luthor conspiracy for good measure. Rags Morales is a good artist, but he's no Joe Shuster, and some of the art is too hard to follow at times. I'm more interested in what comes next because of what I know about Morrison in general, though, not because of anything actually in this book. On the other hand, Superman #1 is an over-narrated yawn, and the new takes on Superboy and Supergirl do nothing for me, and also do nothing contribute to the idea of a Superman family.

Surely Tim is the Robin who would wear Chucks, not Damian? Also is Dick supposed to like twelve here?
from Batman vol. 2 #1 (script by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion)
Batman (Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl, Batwing, Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws)
I think there are three different stories here about Arkham breakouts. That's just sloppy. Nothing here that was new to me captured my interest-- everyone here seems really invested in the EVERYTHING IS GRITTY AND SAD perspective on Batman. (I did appreciate that Batman and Robin #1 has Batman deciding not to mark his parents' deaths so much, though.) Batwoman #1 isn't J. H. Williams III's best work, alas, and Batwoman is one of those characters who suffers from the compressed timeline-- her sidekick is a former teen sidekick of the Golden Age Batwoman, and I don't see how that makes any sense these days. Birds of Prey #1 is probably the best story here, a typical-format action opener, but at least a well done one. The Batman stories contain what surely be the most actively offensive New 52 debuts, Catwoman #1 (with its hilariously awful rooftop sex scene) and Red Hood and Outlaws #1 (which should be taught in intro to feminism courses as an explanation of the male gaze).

Who is even supposed to be enjoying this? And yet it somehow lasted forty issues!
from Red Lanterns #1 (script by Peter Milligan, art by Ed Benes & Rob Hunter)
Green Lantern (Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, New Guardians, Red Lanterns)
You know, when I first got into comics books back in 2006 or so, Geoff Johns's legendary Green Lantern run was underway, and I was super-intrigued. I still haven't read it, and every time I read a piece of it in a book like this, my interest is diminished, because none of the excerpts are ever any good.

Someone went to the BODIES exhibition at the museum center...
from Animal Man vol. 2 #1 (script by Jeff Lemire, art by Travel Foreman & Dan Green)
The Dark (Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Frankenstein, I, Vampire, Resurrection Man, Demon Knights)
Bringing what had been successful Vertigo concepts back into the main DCU doesn't really work for me-- it's an off fusing of genres most of these writers can't pull off. Jeff Lemire's Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is definitely the best story here; after enjoying both Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein and Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown, I need to pick this up in full someday. Other than that, I found little here to intrigue me, not even Demon Knights #1 by my personal favorite Paul Cornell, which was a bit too confusing for a #1. Travel Foreman and Dan Green's work on Animal Man did look real neat, at least.

I don't know why we need a Jack Kirby pastiche, but Keith Giffen is really good at capturing the way Kirby drew women's faces, so I'll take it.
from O.M.A.C. vol. 4 #1 (story & art by Keith Giffen & Dan DiDio, inks by Scott Koblish)
The Edge (Stormwatch, Grifter, Voodoo, Deathstroke, Suicide Squad, O.M.A.C., All-Star Western, Blackhawks, Men of War)
Presumably "the edge" means "the edge of quality," because almost all of these were dreadful. Who wants to see abandoned Wildstorm concepts like Stormwatch, Grifter, or Voodoo brought back? I read enough of Team 7 to know nothing good can ever come out of a comic with Grifter in it. I like the idea of bringing back the war comic-- if there's one thing the New 52 lacks, it's genre diversity-- but both war comics here are terrible, with tedious action and interchangeable characters. At least Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen's action-packed Jack Kirby tribute in O.M.A.C. #1 is a blast. I'm pretty sure none of these series other than Suicide Squad lasted beyond 6-7 issues. I can see why.

Also, what's the difference between "the dark" and "the edge," anyway? And how come there's no section called "the fun"? Remember when superhero comics were fun? They don't all have to be fun, but in this book, maybe 4% of them are.

I should note that as this is set in New York City, that guy's comment is completely sarcastic.
from Static Shock #1 (script by Scott McDaniel & John Rozum, art by Scott McDaniel and Jonathan Glapion & LeBeau Underwood)
Young Justice (Teen Titans, Static Shock, Hawk and Dove, Blue Beetle, Legion of Super-Heroes)
Like I said above, Teen Titans makes no sense in this halfway house reboot-- Wonder Girl and Kid Flash aren't even the sidekicks of Wonder Woman and the Flash, because there's no time for that to have been the case in this new continuity. But who cares about these unrelated characters with the same names? A good writer could pull it off, but DC hired Scott Lobdell instead. And kudos to DC for giving the Legion of Super-Heroes a shot with two different Legion ongoings, but if I, as a longtime Legion reader and hardcore fan found these stories confusing and dull, how on Earth could they have hooked a new reader? Shoulda just stuck it out with the threeboot, DC. I was intrigued by Static Shock #1-- actual fun was had! Amazing!

One should note that all the review blurbs on this volume speak to the idea of the New 52-- none to the actual quality of stories contained within. I wonder why.

Next Week: We've met all the heroes; now it's the turn of the villains in DC Comics: The New 52 Villains Omnibus!

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