The Hits and Misses of the Post-New 52 DC You
DC Comics has left New York and settled in Burbank, Convergence and its multitude of spin-off series has finally ended and in its wake lies the DC You, the continuation of the continuity established during the New 52 but with an all-new emphasis on telling self contained, history making stories. Naturally, with a relaunch comes plenty of new #1s and changes in the status quo for dedicated fans to get caught up on, and that alone could be a hell of a challenge. Thankfully, I'm here to tell you which books of the relaunch demand your attention and to give you my infallible opinion on the best and the worst of them (in no particular order). So, without further ado...
The Omega Men
The Omega Men made waves a few weeks back with it's debut in DC Sneak Peek depicting the team's execution of the White Lantern Kyle Rayner. That may not be too interesting in and of itself (unless you're a fan of his), but the real kicker of the situation is that they did so in front of a mounted camera much in the same way terrorist cells today handle beheadings. On top of that, they even went into some of the differences between their beliefs and the beliefs of the tyrannical Citadel, which has since occupied their home system of Vega. Though that's but one of the many things which makes The Omega Men the most interesting new book of the relaunch.
The first issue picks up right where the sneak peek left off with the Citadel now hunting down those responsible for the supposed death of Kyle Rayner, who was acting as their envoy in an attempt to bring an end to hostilities. Now, maybe I'm stating the obvious here but it seems fairly clear to me that this is all set up to mirror real world interactions between a foreign superpower and guerrilla terrorist groups of the Middle East. Being a former CIA operative, writer Tom King most likely has some relatively intimate knowledge on how these situations play out and how they're ultimately perceived. By far the most interesting aspect of this choice, however, is that the invading superpower in this metaphor mirroring, to be more specific, relations between the US (Citadel) and ISIS or Al-Qaeda (Omega Men) is that the terrorist cell acts as the protagonist. The Citadel is made up of soldiers who couldn't be bothered to learn the language of those living within the Vega system, who storm a complex filled with innocent bystanders, beating and even murdering a few of them while proclaiming that they're there to help, that they're friends, words which have no meaning since they only learned them a few minutes prior. The fact of the matter is that this is an unfortunate reality without our own world and, yes, even in our own armed forces. It's a spectacularly interesting set-up which is based around a simple change in perspective and making the "terrorists" quite a bit less prone to war crimes...
But is the book actually any good? The premise could be completely ace but if the execution (pun intended) is poor than there's no point in reading it. Thankfully, it's VERY good. The interesting decision to make the most of the Citadel's language unintelligible (indeed, only words which both use and names are in plain English) adds a whole hell of a lot more than it takes away, which you would assume might be a lot, but plays further into that idea of a change in perspective. Though even still, you might wonder to yourself how a story can be properly told if you can't understand 80% of what the bad guys are saying.
Well, the somewhat lost art of visual storytelling is brought here in full force by King's writing and Barnaby Bagenda's pencils backed up by Romulo Farjardo Jr.'s colors. They both have some work to do as far as their work in smaller panels is concerned since the consistency of one character's facial structure can shift fairly dramatically from one panel to the next, even give the impression that they're a different color (or a completely different person) if they get a bit too overzealous with the lighting. That said, the dynamic use of perspective, movement and utilitarian panel layouts make for a very unique style which truly shines whenever it's applied to a larger surface area like a third-of-a-page panel or splash pages. Save for six pages in the latter half of the book, the storytelling is completely visual, uses plenty of easily recognizable though potentially complex visual tropes to inform the reader as to what exactly's going on and, thankfully, doesn't shy away from the violence inherent to such a situation. To do so would undermine one of the driving points of the metaphor, and if you don't stick to your premise than the story could easily fall apart.
If there is a single issue of the post-New 52 DC line that you decide to pick up than it should probably be The Omega men. I'm not going to say that it's the best of the relaunch since, by my reckoning, whatever's best changes with the wind, but is above and beyond the most interesting. I can't wait to figure out just how far they're going to take the metaphor and how exactly it's going to play out at the end of the opening arc. Most David vs. Goliath stories such as this tend to have a rather predictable ending but hopefully that won't be the case here since it's an ongoing series. The DC Sneak Peek for this one isn't exactly required (I was able to sum it up in a sentence or two, after all), but i'd recommend that you check it out nonetheless since it's an equally compelling read.
Spinning out of the overall fairly "meh" Grayson series, a headline hero of the now defunct Wildstorm universe gets another shot at glory after that terrible Stormwatch series. I've not actually read any Wildstorm books so I can make no claims one way or the other if Midnighter's character lines up with whatever was established there, and there's plenty beyond that to be confused by, but so far you can color me intrigued. Midnighter is often compared to Batman, something that I once thought myself, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. He's a bio-enhanced meta-human who can see the outcome of a fight before it even happens, likes to quip about the ways in which he is about to murder these terrible people, his "mother" seems to be some kind of extraterrestrial A.I. (not unlike Brainiac, though more human) and is a completely unabashed gay man. All of that comes together to form a first issue which isn't great but is by no means bad.
A lot of time is dedicated to establishing the fact that Midnighter is a homosexual, perhaps much more than is needed when you take into account that he even sleeps with another man in this issue. There're another three pages dedicated to informing us that he and Apollo's (his husband in pre-New 52 canon, I don't know if it still happened in this continuity) relationship is on the fritz, which even then is explained within a few panels. Of course, while it may be a bit excessive that doesn't mean that it's not done very poignantly or plays into any of the tropes typically seen in lesser comics headlined by gay men. It's handled very well and if I was myself a gay man than I would probably find it much more interesting (what with the lack of this kind of content) but as is it's just a lot of time dedicated to what is implied to be a casual hook-up.
All of that is easily acceptable, thankfully, since the opening immediately pulls you in and just as quickly throws you into one of the most kinetic fight scenes I've seen in the past few months. Writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO, by my reckoning, make a great team capable of some really high quality storytelling. Orlando's punchy, exceptional dialogue flows near perfectly with ACO's pencils that always manage to capture exactly what they're supposed to, even if his anatomy is at times a bit iffy. Visually, the part which stands out to me the most is the panel work often accentuated by smaller, thumbnail sized panels used as a means to relate a single, small action. It's all very chaotic and, in lesser hands, could have easily become an unreadable mess but they managed to pull it off quite well.
It's difficult to critique the story itself, which is perhaps to be expected since it's the first issue, but I think it's more that the issue is 100% dedicated to establishment and set-up. The one fight scene of the book and those involved in it will likely not play into the rest of the story and most of Midnighter's interactions with other people (including his lover) could easily go nowhere, though I do hope that they don't fizzle into nothingness since both his lover and his bartender friend have the potential to become very interesting supporting characters.
I hesitate to say that Midnighter #1 is an essential read (and for those wondering, the Grayson series thus far doesn't seem essential either), but you'll be happy with your purchase if you do decide to take a look. You've got some great visuals backed up by very human dialogue and overall great characterization. There's a whole lot of establishment which should have probably been spread throughout the opening arc a bit more, but there's also plenty of promise for bigger and better things to come.
I've never been much of a fan of the Teen Titans and I absolutely hated the idea of reading anything as douche-chillingly bad as Red Hood and the Outlaws, but I was admittedly intrigued by the idea of a Starfire ongoing headed up by the married duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. They've done some great work together in the past, most notably with Harley Quinn and Power Girl, and seeing as how there is a lack of female-led books out there it's inspiring to see them lead another super-heroine to greatness using their overwhelming charm.
As I said, I couldn't possibly care less about Red Hood or his Outlaws so I have no idea if the reason for her breaking off from them is explained in that book or not, but what I can say is that if you pick up this book without first reading its DC Sneak Peek (which are all free online, by the way) than you're going to be even more confused. I'm not a fan of books which are a direct continuation of a sneak peek or something similar, mostly because I should be able to pick up a brand new #1 and get any required backstory in the first few pages, but in this case I'll give them a pass. Sure, it was a bit much not even knowing where or even why Starfire is where she is (I thought it might be San Francisco but it's really Key West) but everything else is so easily laid out that it's forgivable. This wouldn't even be an issue if not for a new #1 being a great jumping on point for brand new readers and comics are already lacking accessibility without piling more on top of that.
That aside, however, when you get down to it you have a fairly basic, enjoyable and even heartwarming fish-out-of-water type of story which I would usually roll my eyes at but for some inexplicable reason works out just fine here. Palmiotti and Conner do a fantastic job of setting up the premise of the series, the major players of its opening arc and plenty of hints towards upcoming stories. They even managed to get all of the tedious aspects inherent to a fish-out-of-water story in the very first issue, which I can most certainly appreciate.
This time around, unlike Power Girl, the art duties are held by Emanuela Lupacchino rather than Amanda Conner. I've never actually seen any of her work before Starfire but it's immediately apparent that she knows what she's doing. Her faces in particular are very emotive and save for a few panels in the middle of the book their expressions are spot on, making for some really great visual storytelling. It's also worth noting that since Starfire is a very sexual character (albeit often times unintentionally since her ways differ from our own) she could have very easily been portrayed as a piece of cheesecake. Sure, she's obviously portrayed as an attractive, developed woman but there's nothing gratuitous about it, nor is she ever striking an overtly sexual pose. Though that said, they certainly don't attempt to shame the fact that she's a sexual person either. Along with Hi-Fi's colors, which are almost always very vibrant and well done, it makes for some of the most striking pages out on the market today. There's not a single part of the book which is dark and dreary, it's all happy and sunny, even when it's the middle of the night.
Starfire is easily the most surprising book to come out of the DC You relaunch thus far, at least from my perspective. I can't imagine that any Starfire fans would dislike this series since it seems to line up fairly well with what little I DO know about the character, but I certainly count myself among them now. I've heard about some of the horrible goings on in that Red Hood and the Outlaws book involving Starfire and I'm glad to say that much of it seems to simply no longer be a thing. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I'll say that this is the best #1 I've read in awhile and for that alone is worth the read. Just make sure to check out that DC Sneak Peek first...
What kind of person doesn't like Bizarro? The worst kind of person, that's who. I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that Bizarro would be getting his own mini-series since he had been gone for far too long. Sure, we had the B-Zero clone of Superman in Forever Evil and he WAS adorable in that puppy dog sort of way, but he wasn't THE Bizarro. You know, the one who always does the opposite? Who am world's worst superhero? Of course, a superhuman who does everything the opposite thrown into a car with Jimmy Olsen and a chupacabra on a road trip to Canada is bound to produce some laughs. It's a simple, fun premise and so far they're knocking it out of the park.
I might be enjoying the hell out of it so far and I am anxious to read more of it, though I couldn't help but notice something interesting about it: technically speaking, the writing and flow of the issue as a whole is kind of a mess. I can forgive that since this is Heath Corson's first job on an actual comic book (he previously wrote several animated films for Warner Bros.) and is thus far the biggest work of Gustavo Duarte's short career. Obviously, I couldn't definitively point the finger at one or the other, but there are several spots in which the artwork either moves ahead of the dialogue or vice versa. On top of that the book seems to have a bit too much going on for its own good. It's a really bizarre-o problem which I can't say I've ever run into before (at least in a mainstream book), and maybe it's just me, but I'd like to also stress that these problems are ultimately inconsequential.
When all is said and done you have a delightfully energetic and heartwarming "Plane, Trains and Automobiles" type of story that immediately reels you in and leaves you wanting more. Since most of the dialogue and overall goings on are actually pretty funny, any of the hiccups found with the sequential aspects of the book are easily overlooked, assuming that you DO find them funny. Again, I can look past any of the problems found here since it's Corson's first work in comics and I'd be stunned if it wasn't an issue that's worked out once he gets a book or two under his belt. He's certainly not a bad writer. Duarte's art, on the other hand, is already fantastic. It's adorably cartoon-y, superbly expressive and, frankly, it would be a damn shame if he didn't get some regular work on an ongoing series once he wraps up work on Bizarro. I don't usually go for those art styles which are made to appeal to a wider, younger audience, save for a few exceptions, but Duarte is now a member of that list. It really is all around great, from the proportions to the expressions to the colors to the overall tone.
It may seem like I spent a lot of time putting it down for one reason or the other, and I suppose I kind of did, but I assure you that it's in no way a bad book. Bizarro is a book for anyone who likes smiling. I can certainly see some people being put off by the overly happy and fun-filled tone of the book, but as someone who loves the dark, depressing stories I find it incredibly refreshing. It's not perfect, it stands to benefit from some improvements, but it's far too entertaining a read to pass up.
All-Star Section 8
It has been 15 long years since the always wonderful Garth Ennis and longtime collaborator John McCrea came together to leave a mark upon the DCU. Their last foray into this world came in the form of their under appreciated masterpiece Hitman, which has since become a cult favorite. I could go on forever about why that book is great but by far the best thing it ever did was introduce us to the world's greatest crime-fighting team: Section 8! The team was made up of some of the world's finest, including Friendly Fire, who can never quite hit the mark; Jean de Baton, whose baguette backed up by the power of the French people can be deadly; Bueno Excellente, who fights crime with the power of perversion and the leader of the whole gang: the chronically drunken and vomit covered Sixpack, who gave his life so many years ago to save the universe. But now, in their first series, a new menace is on the horizon (or maybe just another alcohol fueled hallucination) and it's up to Sixpack to reform Section 8 with both old and new members and face this threat head on!
If you gleam anything from that backstory it should be that this book is downright silly, but not in the way you might think. "Silly" is a term usually applied to upbeat, funny comics which anyone can pick up and enjoy, though Section 8 is anything but. Being Ennis' first foray back into one of his "epics", as I like to call them, he ran the risk of inadvertently working against what made the original book so great in the first place. That's not a statement against Ennis, of course, it's just a risk run by any writer who dives back into something after nearly 15 years. Thankfully, this book not only builds upon the tone seen in the original series, it openly scoffs at our PC regulated society with its trademark crude, morally reprehensible yet strikingly witty brand of humor. The downside to picking it up right where it left off 15 years prior is that anyone who hasn't read the original book needs to be brought up to speed, resulting in over half of this issue re-capping previous events or establishing the new status quo. If you're a fan of Ennis' comedy and dedication to proper story development (which usually go hand in hand), however, then none of that will be an issue.
John McCrea, who doesn't get nearly as much work as he deserves, is also back and his work has only gotten better. His biggest strength has always lied in his ability to depict grotesque, disgusting caricatures (like fat drunk guys) or monsters (like Baytor, who I'm glad to say returns), which is a perfect fit for this kind of book. The blood and gore and filth all look great, as odd as that sounds, and the joyfully triumphant bits (what few there are) of the issue are equally well done. I've always been an admirer of his expressions and use of movement as they more than get the job done while managing to also be highly exaggerated, which can be a risk for a lesser artist. It's quite jarring to see Batman, who makes a guest appearance, shift through several art style throughout the course of the book depending on what's happening, but since they're all iconic moments used to inform a joke stemming from his use of the phrase "you people" in front of a black cop, it certainly doesn't take anything away. Indeed, it only makes the scene even funnier.
Personally, this is my favorite book of the relaunch simply because I love all of the characters, I love the setting and I could never ever get tired of reading something written by Garth Ennis. He's my favorite writer by a country mile and this is the one book of the bunch which made me almost jump for joy when the full list was announced. It's surprisingly inventive, is bound to be hilarious in upcoming issues and, visually speaking, is a welcome change to the DCU.
This title is a must-read for any fan of the original Hitman series, Garth Ennis or anyone itching for a good bit of absurd, adult oriented humor. It didn't feel like too much happened since there was so much set up, but admittedly that's just a problem which returning fans will run into. If you're new to the world of Section 8 that simply won't be an issue and, when viewed from that context, makes All-Star Section 8 #1 a must have.
I had high hopes for Bat-Mite. I was so glad to see a bit of humor injected into the DCU with books like Bizarro and Starfire that it was especially exciting to know Batman, my favorite character, would get some of that in his neck of the woods as well, even if it is (I think) non-canon. I was particularly anxious to see how it would play out since preview images seemed to suggest (rightly) that it would be like the cartoons of my childhood, which were child friendly but had plenty of subtle adult humor. Unfortunately, any of the humor to be found here falls completely flat, for me.
Don't get me wrong, Dan Jurgens is a talented, funny guy capable of writing some great stories. I'm a fan of his work on Action Comics and Future's End (least what I've read of it) along with anything involving Booster Gold, but I think a lot of the time his comedy just doesn't hit the mark. And that's a major issue when you're talking about a book based around a wise cracking extra-dimensional imp who is setting out to fix the DC universe. There's no real reason for me to not enjoy this concept but I can't help but wonder if someone like a Keith Giffen or J.M. DeMatteis would have made it much more enjoyable. There's some humor in there for adults and even a bit which actually works beyond the laugh coming from the contrast in tone, but most if seems to me like something which was perhaps written for a much younger audience than it should have been.
But does that make it a bad comic? I honestly can't say for sure. There's this very odd feeling I get when reading it that makes me want to say that it's a competent book if not anything particularly special. I'm sure that younger people (mind you I'm only in my early 20s) would get plenty of enjoyment out of it. I can't say that it's a bad comic, I can't say that it's a good comic but I can say that it's certainly not anything for me or those who are looking for something a bit more mature from a writing standpoint. There's nothing wrong with being immature from a tonal standpoint, most comedy ultimately is, but there's a difference between that and writing something meant for children, which Bat-Mite seems to be. Even Corin Howell's pencils are a bit too cutsie for my liking, unlike what I said previously about Bizarro.
Personally, I found Bat-Mite to be completely uninspiring. It's a real shame for a number of reasons, but mostly because it's a black mark on the otherwise fantastic DC You relaunch. Again, I won't say that it's a bad book because there IS this strange feeling I get that it's really just me, but if you wanted a recommendation for it than it won't be coming from me. Maybe it'll pick up in later issues but if it doesn't than it'll be one of the more boring books I've read since the Flashpoint.
There are 4 other brand new #1s which came out this month, so far, but frankly it's hard to review any of them because I need to catch up on all of their reading. Earth 2: Society, for what it's worth, was an entertaining read but I haven't read Earth 2: World's End and just don't know what's going on; Batman Beyond was just "okay" but since I need to read the second half of Future's End to understand what's going on there, I do feel like I'm missing something important; I'm anxious to read Constantine: The Hellblazer but I'm currently reading the original Hellblazer book, so my opinion is currently skewed to dislike the New 52 version of John; and finally, just look back at the Starfire bit and you tell me why I didn't bother reading and reviewing Red Hood/Arsenal. If YOU are caught up, however, I'd definitely pick up Earth 2: Society and if you liked Future's End's take on Batman Beyond than that book is also worth a read.
All in all, it has been a fantastic two weeks for DC fans, lot's of really great new books and plenty of exciting changes to returning titles. Check back in two weeks or so as I work my way through all of the new #1s in the latter half of the relaunch. Martian Manhunter, Justice League of America and Robin: Son of Batman are bound to be just a few of the great new reads. I hope...