For those of you who don’t follow comics and may not have heard: this month DC relaunched its entire line of characters, starting 52 comic books over at #1. Why would they do that? To sell comics, obviously, but it makes a lot of sense from a narrative point of view. Many of these characters have been around for decades, had dozens of writers, gone through many transformations, and wound up with such complicated (and contradictory) histories that if you haven’t been following the action for at least 5-10 years, you can’t understand what’s going on now.
I tried recently. I heard great things about what Geoff Johns was doing with Green Lantern, specifically the Blackest Night storyline. So I checked out some books from the library, and they were great, but a lot of the drama hinges on who has died in the past and under what circumstances. And there have been A LOT of deaths and resurrections and substitutions and inheritances. I tried to get a grip on the history reading some other large crossover storylines (basically anything with Crisis in the title) but it was hopeless.
So I was happy to hear DC was starting everything over, and giving me a chance to get in on the ground floor. I even went to my local comic store and subscribed to a bunch of books, something I haven’t done in about 15 years. Here are my findings within a more or less random sample.
Justice League. The flagship book, launched all by itself the last week in August. I enjoy these characters most when they interact with each other, rather than having solo adventures. This book has all the key players, and Geoff Johns’ writing, so it’s clearly a keeper.
Action Comics. Superman at the beginning of his hero career, as written by the ever-imaginative Grant Morrison. A fresh take on the character, and on his home city. Makes it easy to stick with what DC calls the foundation of the new universe.
Animal Man. My favorite new title, and a big surprise. It just happens to have the best art, and Jeff Lemire’s writing is reminiscent of DC’s Vertigo imprint, best known (by me) for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.
Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. Also written by Jeff Lemire, the perfect blend of monsters and superheroes.
Green Lantern. Geoff Johns writing his signature character, so I have to stick with it, even though for a reboot it seems to carry a lot of history I’m not privy to.
Swamp Thing. Written by Scott Snyder, also very Vertigo-esque. The first issue raises lots of intriguing questions, and some implication of an Animal Man crossover.
Batman. Also written by Scott Snyder, and the only one of the 7 (!) Batman or Bat-family books I’m reading. In the old continuity Batman was always fairly straightforward, but Robin has gone through many different incarnations. This book got me up to speed on the various Robins in one full-page panel. That’s how to do a reboot! The rest of the pages were cool too.
Justice League Dark. I don’t much like the title, and I’ve never liked one of the characters (Deadman), but with the magic/occult themes this one seemed likely to be another Vertigo-style book, so I tried it. And I like it.
The Savage Hawkman. I don’t think any old-continuity character had a less coherent history than Hawkman. I tried to get on board with him, had to check Wikipedia to get any kind of foothold, and found that even with parallel universes and reincarnations no one has been able to reconcile his divergent origins. So I wanted to see how he would be handled with a clean slate…and it’s pretty cool.
Captain Atom. I decided to pick one title I had absolutely no history with…and it’s pretty good. It’s really good actually. A hero who’s immense powers are a danger to himself, and somewhat unorthodox artwork. I’ll stay with it for awhile.
Stormwatch. This is the only title I followed before the reboot–or more to the point, I followed The Authority, which is what Stormwatch turned into and where Apollo and The Midnighter came in. And these are the characters that I feel like the reboot has gotten all wrong. I was eager to see how the Martian Manhunter would fit in with this group (Stormwatch started out under the Wildstorm imprint, not part of the DC universe at all), but it’s all pretty lackluster.
OMAC. This…uh, thing (it’s a character now, it was more of a group before) seemed to loom large when I was trying to catch up on the previous DC universe, but I could never get a handle on what it was about. Apparently it’s just some crazy genetic cyborg. Not too thrilling.
I, Vampire. I read some reviews giving this one high praise, but I found it to be fairly tired war-of-the-vampires stuff.
The Fury of Firestorm. Here’s another one I checked out because I never quite got the old Firestorm. Now that I get it, it’s not that interesting.
Legion of Superheroes. This was a longshot for me, and it didn’t pan out. I remember enjoying LOS when I was in like second grade, with their vaguely uniform outfits and their outer space exploits. The reboot updates that whole scenario about as well as can be expected, but there’s no compelling reason to come back for another issue.
The Flash. The art is good, the layouts are interesting, but some of the events don’t make a lot of sense, and the story just didn’t grab me. I think I’ll be happier following Flash as a member of the Justice League.
Legion Lost. A small group of the Legion of Superheroes travels back from the 31st century and gets stranded present day. This is a much more engaging take on the Legion, but by the end of issue 1 both my new favorite characters are dead. They’ll probably be back, but aside from that their are some common time-travel pitfall that bug me (why did they have to arrive in the past AFTER the bad guy the are chasing from the future? Hello, time machine??) I may stick with this for a few issues, but not for long unless it improves.
Justice League International. Lots of characters I don’t know too well, some squabbling and secret manipulation, generally fun. Batman makes a gratuitous guest appearance. If I had unlimited funds I would keep this subscription, but more likely I will drop it after a couple more issues.
Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. This whole reboot SHOULD have been the moment when DC turns away from rank exploitation in their portrayal of female characters, but it wasn’t. I didn’t read the books in question, but Laura Hudson makes a convincing case that they blew it. So does this seven year old girl. and this comic critique of DC’s math skills is just awesome. I wish DC would get the clue, but it doesn’t look like they will. It sorta makes me feel like a sucker for buying any of their books.