Just one short day after the official launch of DC Comics’ New 52, with the Midnight release of Justice League #1, I was in the DC offices with a large stack of comics. Except these weren’t just any comics: these were nearly the entirety of DC’s next two weeks of floppies, which breaks down to almost half of the New 52. And I got to read ‘em.
But gloating aside, along with reading every single one of the comics, I also got to flip through art for nearly all 52 of the titles, glancing at concept designs, as well as unlettered proofs for the first few issues of each. It could show either a tremendous amount of confidence on the part of the publisher – or it could have been tremendous folly. Luckily, it was easily the former, not the latter… All those lines DC has been feeding us for the past few months, about great art, and all the teams stepping up their game? Turns out – for the most part – it’s totally true.
The biggest thing, though, that everyone seems to have missed in the flurry of info, interviews, and fan reaction, is that DC is actually delivering what they promised. And what they didn’t promise is a bold reinvention of the comic book form, but rather, a bold realignment of DC Comics.
Look, I’ll be blunt here: DC – with some clear exceptions – has been flagging in the quality of their books for a while. I’m not going to pick out the bright spots, and the lowlights for you, but we knew it, they knew it, and sales reflected it. So in order to make a change here, DC isn’t actually reinventing the wheel, they’re just rotating the tires and giving the car a wash for the first time in decades. I’m not trying to be glib here: for the first time in years, I’ll be happily picking up a large chunk of DC’s line.
I’m dancing around what I read, of course, so here’s a list for you: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batwing, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Hawk and Dove, Justice League International, Men of War, O.M.A.C., Static Shock, Stormwatch, Swamp Thing, Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Grifter, Legion Lost, Mister Terrific, Red Lanterns, Suicide Squad, and Superboy.
Beyond that, I flipped through a large chunk of art from – in particular – Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood and The Outlaws, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and The Fury of Firestorm.
I’m going to get some specific reactions to all these books in a second, but I wanted to clarify what I said up top, and give a general impression of the line. The major thing that I took away from all of this, beyond the majority having good art and good writing goes back to something Dan DiDio said to me this past weekend: that DC was trying to bring fun and high adventure back to comics.
I think they’ve succeeded.
None of these comics are a bold reinvention of the form (though I’d argue Animal Man maybe comes closest to that), but they’re mostly fun, exciting, and have the big action we expect from superhero comics in particular.
There’s also – and this is a big one – a lot of care put into making each of these work as single issues, which is huge not just for print, but particularly for digital. Nearly every issue I read had the following three elements:
1) Big action beginning.
2) Huge cliffhanger ending.
3) Giant one or two page splash of the hero jumping or landing somewhere in a cool pose on page two or three, with a short description of who they were.
I know it sounds like I’m being glib on that third one, but to be able to pick up most of these books with no prior knowledge and jump right in is exactly what DC wants… And what the comic book audience has been begging for, forever it seems like.
Look, there’s no way I can come into this clean. I’ve been reading comic books on and off for over two decades, and been devoting myself to knowing the ins and outs of nearly every story ever written for at least the past five years. So I won’t be able to properly judge how well, say, the in-jokes in Justice League #1 would work for a new reader. But I think I can tell that a good chunk of these books give you everything you need to know, right there, in the first issue.
There are a few exceptions, of course… A footnote referencing a book that hasn’t even come out yet on the first page of a Week One book kind of made my jaw drop. And some of the books pick right up where they left off (the Batman and Green Lantern lines are staying mostly the same, though some of the titles are more successful in coming in clean than others). But mostly, these are presented as new, clean ideas, and occasionally even simplified origin stories. And as much as there’s a part of me that wishes they were all starting from scratch, there’s no way I’d want to read fifty-two separate origins. If a book has a clear focus, and hits the three points I mentioned above, it worked.
The other major thing that won’t be clear until you all start to read these yourselves is how interconnected the universe is. Not necessarily in a crossover way, but Superman shows up in one book, Batman in another, and people know each other… But not that well. Its another one of those things that, over time, has become impossible to do with superhero books. Once you’ve met someone and fought beside them thirty times, they’re not strangers anymore, there’s no friction or tension when they show up. Here, that tension is back, and until I saw it, I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
There’s another element of interconnection that I won’t spoil here (though it’s certainly been semi-spoiled elsewhere on the Internet). Suffice to say, if you read Flashpoint #5, and thought we were done with it… We’re not quite done yet. Get ready for an Easter Egg hunt in every issue of DC’s New 52, which is going to cause a lot of fan speculation.
Anyway, general impressions out of the way, I’m not going to spoil anything, but I thought I’d give you a spoiler free rundown of the titles:
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Animal Man should be at the top of everyone’s Pull List, no questions asked. I don’t want to overhype it, but if you don’t love it from the very first page, you’re not human. Plus, gorgeous art and writing.
Green Lantern is also terrific, and I say this having not really loved the title in a while – Sinestro is fantastic as the lead, Hal Jordan has more personality than he has in ages, and it feels like a whole new book.
The Flash, as mentioned, I only got to see the art for, but Francis Manapul is a stunning storyteller. Having flipped through the first three issues, Flash fans should breathe a sigh of relief that the character is 100% definitely in the right hands. Oh, and I will give my right arm for the first introductory splash page.
Detective Comics is head-spinningly spectacular from top to bottom. I’ve liked Tony Daniel’s work before, but not only is his art incredible here, but the story is appropriately petrifying, and it has easily the best last page of all twenty-two comics I read. You are going to want this book.
Hawk and Dove is tremendous fun. It looks and reads like a ‘90s comic, and I am 100% fine with that.
Superboy nails everything fans like about Connor Kent, and is like a tripped out scifi tale set in the DCU. Plus, there’s some awesome surprises throughout for DCU fans… Not what I expected at all, but then, that’s why it’s in “The Surprises” section.
O.M.A.C. was probably the biggest surprise to me overall, but goddamn if Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen don’t just nail the Kirby look and feel, both in art and writing. I’m guessing that some people were turned off by the, “Oh, boy, look, the Co-Publisher gets to write a New 52 title,” aspect of the book. Do me favor: pretend his name isn’t on it, pretend it’s some cool indie creator, pick it up, and tell me if you didn’t know you wouldn’t say, “Oh, what a great pastiche honoring Kirby’s legacy!” Actually, don’t use those exact words, you would sound ridiculous. This just jumped from the bottom of my Pull List to the top, though.
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMERS
Action Comics’ art should blow everyone away, I think, there’s just so much personality in Superman for the first time in a long time; Swamp Thing is amazingly dense, smart and literate, and will only get better; Suicide Squad gets past the controversy, and has a killer plot and cliffhanger; and they weren’t 100% my cup of tea, but I think certain fans are going to freak over Green Arrow and Stormwatch.
I MAY NOT KNOW ART…
For the ones I only saw art for, they all looked excellent, actually: though Catwoman is amazingly sexy, as promised; I think a new generation is going to fall in love with Nightwing based on facial expressions alone; Red Hood looks incredibly slick and cool; and Wonder Woman, also as promised, looks terrifying… And Cliff Chiang deserves an award for the structure of Diana’s face alone.
So there you go… I know I left out a few, but looking over my list, there were only a couple that I was “eh” about, and given how successful this relaunch is, I’d rather focus on the positive. And it is a relaunch, not a reboot. I don’t know how many times DC said that, and we all ignored them, but it’s a relaunch through and through. As far as I can see, they’re off to a great start!