My Personal Favorites of the New 52
After a month of relaunches, reboots and plenty of changes in the status quo, DC's New 52 is officially over. Sometimes we were amazed by the quality of story found there, other times we were shocked at how terrible they were, but overall I'd have to say that the New 52 was a successful experiment. Sure, I may be a bit biased since the first issue of the relaunched Batman series is what got me into comics to begin with, but even after going back and reading countless pre-Flashpoint stories I can't see why people outright hated it. Nonetheless, I find it apt to take a short look at what I'd say are the best series of the relaunch since regardless of it's overall quality the New 52 is responsible for not only my own introduction into the world of comics but for many others as well.
I always find it incredibly difficult to adequately relay how I feel about Grant Morrison, who most people put up on this massive pedestal. Personally, I think he's incredibly overrated and often pretentiously hides behind the guise of faux complexity. That said, I'd by lying if I told you that he was a bad writer. He has written a few really brilliant pieces and among them stands The Multiversity, his multiversal epic years in the making.
It's hard to sum up like The Multiversity in 3 or 4 paragraphs since, like all of Morrison's best work, it's incredibly complex and often times confusing. But, to hopefully put it simply, the premise lies in The Flash #123 from way back in 1961 which not only introduced the multiversal concept but that those other universes are the realities seen within comic books. But now, here in the New 52, the trans-multiversal threat known as The Gentry seeks to devour the multiverse, much in the same way as the Anti-Monitor did back in 1986. This is achieved by a cursed comic book which somehow infects those who read it, thus allowing The Gentry to cross into their world. Unfortunately, I can't make it any damn clearer without giving away major plot details.
If I had to make it any simpler than that I would say The Multiversity is a love letter to comic books of all sorts, regardless of the publisher. The tie-ins, which are bookended by the main feature, range from the absurd to the disturbing, from the joyful to the depressing, and while some are less than interesting (I'm looking at you, The Just) others perfectly reflect the reasons why most of us love superheroes, for better or worse. There's plenty of cosmic action, drama and enough reality bending nonsense to last me a decade, but it all comes together as a platform for telling a handful of really great, mostly self-contained stories which might just one day lead to something bigger. It's wacky, fun, confusing, entertaining and includes a number of great artists who all do fantastic work.
Except for that nonsense seen in The Just. Which I hate.
I've already gone into how I feel about the Batgirl book now that Gail Simone has moved on to better things, but before she left it was pretty damn good.
If I had to give Simone's writing a single compliment it would be that it's human. She does a great job of telling really personal, character-driven stories, building them up to the point where you legitimately care for them, rather quickly too. They have their own unique personalities, quirks and reactions which you would think are obvious requirements when writing any story, but it's pretty surprising how many writers can get something so simple so wrong. But Simone rarely, if ever, does. That's why I love the Batgirl book.
Barbara Gordon is the ultimate example of a strong young woman who doesn't take shit from anyone, who consistently overcomes every obstacle in her way and, despite everything she has been through, never gives up. But that doesn't mean she's perfect. She can't just rub dirt on the proverbial wound and move on. Barbara is only a step away from being a real person with real feelings and real fears, someone who you and I could, and maybe even have, really known. Perhaps Simone would find it insulting since she does, after all, make her living writing superhero comics, but I rarely remember any of the action in her work. It's always the characters who stick with me rather than any one epic, badass or shocking moment.
I honestly couldn't tell you the names of the villains she fought during those 34 issues, nor could I even tell you what most of them look like, but I do remember the woman behind the mask. It's less of a book about Batgirl and more about Barbara Gordon, and I love it for that.
The New 52's primary Justice League series is an interesting beast. Overall, I think that more than half of its 41 issue (so far) run ranged somewhere between downright boring and fairly meh. Though that said, it has thus far been bookended by two really great stories with fantastic art and writing.
First, you have the opening arc, Justice League: Origins, written by Geoff Johns with art from the always fantastic Jim Lee. Telling the tale of the League's first battle together, we're introduced to a world where the age of superheroes is still in its infancy, where each of these heroes are still wary of one another but are brought together, and ultimately celebrated, after halting an invasion from Apokolips. As it also happens to be the first book of The New 52, this all comes together to form a brilliantly conceived introduction to the new DC Universe as well as its major players for newer and veteran readers alike, which is ultimately the entire point of a line-wide reboot/relaunch. It's filled with some great moments, hyper-kinetic artwork and the story, while brilliant, revels in its simplicity to form one of the best origin stories of The New 52.
Unfortunately, the opening arc is followed by a number of stories which were so uninteresting that I'm lucky I can remember them at all. They fight a ghost/person/man/thing whose family died as a result of Apokolips' invasion, Superman is infected with the curse of the Cheetah, and there are a few other standalone issues which help set up the line-wide Forever Evil event. Eighteen of the issues are either tie-ins to other events (Throne of Atlantis and Forever Evil) or deal with the aftermath of those events (Injustice League), which I always view as extensions of the primary event book rather than issues of the book they're actually in. The event tie-ins are generally very good, of course, but the real gold to found between the bookend story arcs is the back-up feature telling the New 52 origins of Captain Marvel (whom I refuse to call Shazam). Gary Frank's art is always a treat to look at and while Marvel's characterization could have been a bit more traditional, it all works out in the end.
The books most recent arc, The Amazo Virus, introduced a new, horrifying spin on Professor Ivo's android. I'd hate to spoil such a great story, and I won't, but I will say that it adds a beautiful punctuation to the events following Forever Evil and gives us the most interesting reimagining of a classic concept to be found in the New 52. This arc also gives us Jason Fabok's most high-profile work to date, and he deserves every bit of attention he gets. He is hands down one of the best artists working today and, if he keeps it up, could easily become one of the greatest artists of his generation.
Overall, Justice League has thus far been a great series plagued by a handful of less than exciting stories and an over-reliance on tie-in issues, even if they are well written, but is held up by consistently great artwork and the three pillar stories which manage to really stand out amongst the rest of The New 52. It's definitely one to keep your eye on since the early stages of the Darkseid War have been set in motion and is so far looking to become a classic.
Batman and Robin
DC's greatest strength from a storytelling standpoint is, arguably, that their stories are more often than not character driven. That is rarely any more apparent, at least in the New 52, than in Batman and Robin. This, along with its previous volume, are unique in that the Robin of this team is his biological son, Damian, rather than one of his many wards. Such a simple yet monumental change not only allows for new stories to be told but ensures that those stories have that extra bit of emotional impact which comics are often sorely lacking.
Pinpointing one reason why I love this book is next to impossible. The first half of the run follows Batman and Damian as they fight the good fight and deal with their tumultuous relationship. Damian is easily the most likeable Robin, at least in my opinion, and has a very fluid, realistic character arc within the book which makes it especially depressing that he was killed off in the events of Batman, Inc.. The upside of this, I suppose, is that we get some of the most emotionally engaging Batman stories told within the last decade and make up the second half of the book. These tales of anger, self-destruction and redemption are kicked off by Batman and Robin #18, a beautifully written story completely devoid of dialogue but drawn so perfectly that any dialogue would have ruined it. This one issue in particular is a masterful example of visual storytelling and one of only two examples where a comic book has actually made me cry, the second being the back-up feature of Superman/Batman #26.
Much like Gail Simone, Peter Tomasi excels when he's writing personal, relatable stories driven entirely by the characters involved. It's one of the rare instances in which a primary Batman title dealt with the emotional depth of Batman rather than the psychological, an examination of his feelings rather than his psyche, so to speak. Patrick Gleason also deserves praise for his fantastic pencil work, which reminds me an awful lot of the wonderful Doug Mahnke, and use of lighting to really accentuate an emotion. Most of the book is incredibly dark, both visually and thematically, but despite that it manages to be surprisingly colorful and even at times triumphant, a contrast I'll always find appealing.
Batman and Robin is a must-read for any Bat-fan, especially if you're itching for more stories about the man behind the mask.
Justice League 3000
For the better part of a year I would keep picking up Justice League 3000, I'd read it for an issue or two, always from the beginning, and I just couldn't get into it. I couldn't quite put my finger on why it wasn't pulling me in, and I still can't, but while I hesitate to say that the first 2 issues are boring that's probably the best term to describe it. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood that first time, that feeling carried over to the second time and from there it became a trend, but either way I finally broke through that barrier and found something wonderful.
The premise itself is fairly straightforward: take the Justice League and transport them to the 31st century, give them a fun, sci-fi fueled reason for being there which also gives them all a reason to be humorous and let the team loose on the universe. DC's greatest strength lies within their ability to tell brilliant stories, even the best stories, with their characters which transcend the norms of primary continuity. It's why the Elseworlds stories were so successful. So taking such an ace concept and throwing the all-star team of writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis along with the great Howard Porter on art duties, you're going to have comedic, action fueled gold.
Giffen and DeMatteis are still at the height of their game, able to weave the moderately complex plot necessary to keep you interested in the story itself rather than just the comedy, which is also some of the best to found in a mainstream book. I never thought I'd find a book where the JL had such wildly different yet simplified personalities entertaining, but these guys have convinced me otherwise. Porter's artwork also went a hell of a long way towards my eventual acceptance of this book, what with the ridiculously dynamic action, beautiful panel layouts and master's understanding of the importance of perspective. Nevermind the fact that each member's costume is made up of this material covered in a hexagonal pattern to make it look futuristic, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as the incredible amount of detail found on every page is concerned.
It's actually pretty surprising how action packed and fast paced this book feels when in reality there's not TOO much action and it's actually pretty wordy. Personally, I love and respect a modern superhero comic capable of being wordy, so long as those words have value and drive events or characters forward, while feeling like the relatively sparsely worded, action-driven stories told in contemporary comics. They both have their upsides as well as their downsides but taking the best of both worlds, as it turns out, can produce one of the most entertaining reads on the market.
One of Brian Azzarello's greatest talents, of which he has many, is to take a fantastical concept like a giant crocodile man and turn it into something normal, to take the inhuman and make it human. This is one of the driving forces between he and Cliff Chiang's masterful run on Wonder Woman, in which they often take the Greek pantheon of Gods and demi-gods and give them distinctly human, both visually and thematically, character. Of course, that's only one of the many things which make the New 52's Wonder Woman my second favorite book of the relaunch.
Before I read this series I never had too much interest in Wonder Woman as a character. I loved seeing her kick ass in the team books, just as I do the whole of the JLA, but I had never seen much of anything that compelled me to read about her solo adventures. Indeed, I heard more about the bad than I ever did the good, and that wasn't helped any by her lacking popularity when compared to Batman or Superman. Those guys have many, many wonderful one-shots and mini-series which I naturally gravitate towards rather than the monthlies, and she just doesn't have too many. Thankfully, none of that matters anymore because this series alone sold me on the idea of reading Wonder Woman's monthlies, which I have so far loved.
So what makes THIS series so special? It takes everything beautiful, inspiring, timeless and powerful about Wonder Woman and uses it to tell a 35 issue epic the likes of which she has never had but always deserved. It's her All-Star Superman, her Dark Knight Returns, it's everything anyone could possibly want out of the ultimate adventure of the Amazing Amazon.
It's then rather unfortunate that after Azzarello and Chiang left the book it was passed on to the married team of Meredith and David Finch. I don't dislike David's artwork, I actually think it's pretty great whenever he's working with a Batman or Daredevil, but it just feels like a terrible choice when you're talking about the woman who rivals even Superman in terms of the hope and power she represents. Meredith is herself very new to the world of comics and while I do hesitate to say that she is a bad writer, the leap in quality when you go from reading Azzarello's work in one issue to Meredith's in the next is phenomenally jarring. I can only hope that these are some growing pains since we all start somewhere, but it beggars the question of how she landed the job on such a high profile book.
But, when all is said and done, this volume gave us the greatest Wonder Woman story ever told. It's epic in scale, in character and most important of all in emotional impact. Never before has Wonder Woman been portrayed in such an unflinchingly powerful light and, sadly, I don't think it would be too out there to suggest she'll likely never get such an incredible story ever again.
Where do I even begin? The New 52 volume of Batman has not only been the best of the relaunch, but I think is also, above and beyond, the best ongoing series currently in publication. Maybe I'm a bit biased in that claim since it's the sole reason why I got into comics in the first place, but even putting that aside I cannot fathom anyone finding much fault with such a fantastic series.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, neither of whom are strangers to the macabre, have taken dark, surreal and violent storytelling to new heights. Being my first comic as an adult, not knowing exactly what they could hold, I was admittedly shocked by the amount of violence they were able to put on the page. As someone with a fleeting interest in the macabre myself, as well as the darker aspects of psychology, I was immediately intrigued as to just how deep they would go with their opening arc, The Court of Owls. Needless to say, things get pretty damn intense in the 11 issue epic which seeks not only to redefine Gotham City but to redefine Batman's role within that city at the deepest level. I was immediately pulled in by Capullo's desaturated, clean yet phenomenally detailed work which I very quickly realized was the absolute perfect choice for such a book. Still new to comics at the time of its conclusion (I hopped on board while the 9th issue was being published), I figured that a comic book could not possibly get any deeper, any more visually appealing, than The Court of Owls, but then came the Joker...
I'm not going to go into the details of how Death of the Family transforms the Joker, how it takes him to new horrifying heights, and I'm not going to go into its examination of the relationship between Batman and the Joker because I'll be here all day, but I will say that it's the first time I have ever felt genuine horror while reading something. It is a brilliant, brilliant piece of horror fiction which earns its place among the best within its first 6 pages and somehow manages to not only keep it up but escalate it even further for another 4 issues. I'm simply incapable of formulating words which adequately describe how eloquently written, beautifully paced and visually compelling this story is. It's a flat-out masterpiece and I implore any who read this if you're going to choose one story out of all those mentioned here in this article, let this be the one.
It would have been difficult to follow up something so mind-blowingly great, so Snyder and Capullo didn't even try. Instead, they decided to finally flesh out Batman's post-Flashpoint origins, which for me will never be as good as any other type of story simply because a great origin need not be expanded upon too much. However, these two did convince me that there might just be room for a more expansive origin story as Zero Year gave Batman his first major league villain (The Riddler), his first monstrous baddie (Dr. Death) and finally managed to intertwine the origin of the Joker (maybe) with his very own. As you've probably noticed, I'm trying my damnedest not to give anything away as far as these Batman stories are concerned, being as vague as I can, because I feel that they are all so wonderful and worthy of your time that it almost seems a disservice to give anything away outside of the premise and what it hopes to achieve. That said, if you didn't feel like reading Zero Year for one reason or the other than the only thing you're REALLY missing out on is Capullo's fantastic artwork, which shows off just how versatile and detailed he can be.
And finally, the culmination of Snyder and Capullo's epic 4-year run to date, we have Batman: Endgame, which I'm really not going to say a thing about beyond that you should probably real Death of the Family first. Like, now, even. Seriously. Go read them both. If you want to know how I feel about it just go back and reread what I said about DotF but now imagine my head exploding due to the pure awesomeness to be found here. To make a bold, somewhat out there claim, it's Snyder's own Dark Knight Returns. I'm sure you have the hour or two it would take to read them and you're only hurting yourself by not checking out the absolute best series of the relaunch.