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So let’s Talk About the DC Number Ones 9/7/11

by  in Comic News Comment

‘Cause I’m curious what you guys thought. I got eight of them, and I would’ve collected them all  if they hadn’t sold out.

Jake at my LCS explained it thusly:    DC wanted to limit supply to generate “SOLD OUT NOW!” headlines and appeal to the speculator market, so they under-printed against demand.  Which hurts long-term growth because the fans won’t care about the books if they aren’t new, and if they can’t get the first issue now they won’t buy the second, the third, and the ad infinitum.   (Also the owner rolled his eyes at me for being a sucker for the DC hype when I said I wanted them all, which is the kind of customer service I genuinely appreciate.   I want actual opinions from my comic shop!  Hooray!)

It also occurs to me that the shortages might be a way to boost digital sales, which translates into more money for Time/Warner’s corporate coffers when compared to hard copy sales.

Or, maybe, as Mike Sterling says

Like us, DC has to operate within a realistic budget. I’m sure they would have loved to have looked at the initial orders, said “hmm, better print up ten times that number to meet reorder demand” and sat on the copies ’til retailers asked for them. But that costs money, and again, there’s no guarantee ahead of time, when the decisions are being made to actually go to press, that there would be that much demand. Publishers generally do some overprinting to allow for replacement shipments on items that are lost or damaged, plus some allowance for reorders, but within reason.

On the downside, this means that a lot of people (like me!) aren’t getting comics they want, and probably aren’t gonna buy the books at all if they don’t show up the first week.   If SWAMP THING or STORMWATCH or (*snicker*) DETECTIVE COMICS were good enough I might have  added them to my pull list or bought the trade.  But, now, unless they get rave reviews from E-V-E-R-Y-B-O-D-Y assures me that my life will be an empty shell without TITLE X,  I’m going to say “Screw it” and read TITLE X through the library.

Anyway, I WAS gonna speed-review the initial 14.    Not the whole 52, because I’m made of neither money nor caring.  But I was sucked up in the hype enough to want to read the first batch.  I pre-order (and received) five of ’em, and scrounged up extra copies of three more.  GREEN ARROW, STORMWATCH, BATGIRL, DETECTIVE COMICS and SWAMPT THING were totally sold out.

So no reviews for you guys.  Sorry.  I’d do the digital thing, but (A) I don’t know how, and (B) I like paper so much better that I’d almost certainly be more lenient towards the copies I can actually hold in my hand.

I know that Burgas and Kelly are both gonna talk about ALL of the 52 and I don’t wanna step on their toes too much, and I’m looking forward to both their review and interview posts of (I assume) infinite length.

So I’m just going to lightly brush the stuff I got with the review wand.  I’m basically live-bloggin’ ’em as I’m readin’ em here.  This’ll be quick.

TIME WARP!!!

Hi, this is MarkAndrew from six hours after I wrote the introduction  traveling back in time to say:  Quick?!  HA!

BATWING: The Cradle of Civilization by Judd Winick (writer), Ben Oliver (artist), Brian Reper (colorist), and Carlos M. Mangual  (letterer).  20 pp.

Premise: It’s the African Batman!  So instead of fighting the Penguin in a Bat-suit, he fights genocidal drug kingpins.  Which is…. better?  Somehow?

Review: Wellll…. I dug the coloring.  It was both slightly to bright and a little washed out, which gave the book a unique and even foreign  feel.  And all the outside shots had this   completely digital sun was HUGE in the background, basically looking like the sun looks in real life.  Just a big brightness.  Which really did convey AFRICA to me.

And there’s some nice, slightly skewed page design.  And the book definitely conveys (with a heap of dead bodies) that this is not you father’s Batman.

(In regular Batman comics, the dead bodies would be artfully arranged. That’s how you tell.)

On the other hand:  Strike One: Artist Ben Oliver does a little interview in the back 0f the book, and all he talks about is how much he likes designing armor.   And he’s drawing the book set in Africa. He does his damndest to cram in as much high tech as he can, but the book is set in Africa. Worse yet, Oliver doesn’t seem to be much for landscapes or backgrounds, which means he never really gives the book a sense of being-from-somewhere-that’s-else.  I’m sure this isn’t a problem for African readers, but as an American I wanted more of a sense of place.    Strike Two: The book jumps all over the place, chronologically.  New reader friendly it ain’t.  Strike Three: It’s completely humorless and very violent superhero comic, which works great when the writer is Alan Moore.  Let’s check the credits to see if it is!  Ooh.  Ooh dang.  That’s no good.  Shame.   Strike Four: Is the annoyingly generic “I HAVE SEEN HoRROR/  I MUST BECOME A MYTH/I AM BATWING” internal monologue which opens the book.  That might be new reader friendly, but it makes this ancient reader right here roll his eyes.   Bought the T-Shirt back in aught four, okay guys?  STRIKE FIVE Is the dearth of decent character bits… But, wait, we’ve already been out for a while, haven’t we?

It’s not an incompetent comic, and I was psyched for the book based purely on the premise – more than any other concept of the 52.    But, quite simply, it doesn’t feel like it’s written by someone who’s spent significant time in Africa or even someone with something interesting to say about Africa.  And it doesn’t feel like it’s written/drawn by someone who can combine Batmantasy with travelogue, while gently and painlessly inserting exposition and grounding it in human emotion with extremely efficient dialog, because the book averages three-and-a-half  panels a page and there’s hardly room to do anything!

Buy the Next One? Nah.

OMAC: Office Management Amidst Chaos by Keith Giffen and Dan Dido(writer and artists?), Scott Koblish (inker), Hi-Fi (colorist), and Harvey Richards  (letterer.)  20 pp.

Premise: Kind of like the Terminator with Kirbymonsters.   Based on a crazity-assed 1970s Kirby comic.  I mean, crazity-assed compared to other 1970s Kirby comics.

Let’s just let THAT sink in for a second.  Whoah.

Review: The major WRITING difference between these books is the ratio of “Getting to know you” character moments and fight scenes!  Exclamation Point!   Omac was allllll about the punchtastic latter.  Basically, the whole book is a chance for  artist Keith Giffen  to ‘joy himself Kirbying the crap out of the scenery, with machinery and bodies flying everywhere and “frrrZZZZZTTTTZKKKKKRRAAACK” sound effects stretching across two pages!

I  had decided that this book would either be a thoughtful response to Kirby’s semi-autobiographical ideas about the corporatization of the future or insultingly dumb fan-fiction that simply didn’t understand the source material!  But, no!  This was 17 pages of fight scene!  “Lord Mokkari will enjoy dissecting you!”  “Your path of destruction ends here, my brutish friend!”  “”You may have escaped, creature.  But this is far from over!”

I don’t have that much to say about it, but I enjoyed it!  But if you’re of a more intellectual bent and require more than seventeen pages of fights or you don’t dig Giffen’s current art stylings, stay away!”

Buy the Next One? Probably not.  I’m saving up for Big Questions and Konga # 1. (Which just went out of stock!  Ahhhh dammmit!)   But I’ll grab future issues out of the dollar bin like *finger snap.*

MEN OF WAR:  Joseph Rock by Ivan Brandon (writer), Tom DeRenick (artist), Matt Wilson (colors), Rob Leigh (Letterer).  28 pp.

Premise: Sgt. Rock’s grandson fights superheroes.

Review:  Fight Scenes A. Character pieces D. And I’m ignoring the back-up story because I want to get to bed at some point.

More?  Fine.  One of my very favorite modern comic fight scenes is the Zorba/Boogie Girl superbrawl  in Bendis/Oemong’s  POWERS.  It worked so well ’cause it didn’t focus on the combatants… It was all about the cops on the street trying to stay alive and keep everyone else alive and do some damage control while masonry and laser beams hit the ground all around them.   You really get a sense of how destructive superheroes can be due to the ground-up POV.  Powers.  Volume four.  Check it out.  Awesomesauce.    And Defenick’s fight scenes here are ALMOST that good.  The main action set piece has Sgt. Rock and his friends running around on the ground while faceless (or face-obscured) superheroes pulverize entire city blocks.  And it looks GREAT.  I counted  eight separate open-mouthed “DAaaaaamn!” worthy panels –  my favorite being a (really high up!) bird’s eye view of our heroes parachuting into this terrifying  blazing inferno that looks like actual fire.  (I’m a classics nerd at heart, but I really dig modern computer coloring.)

But as good as the shooting and property damage bits are, the effect is weakened ’cause the narrative gave us no reason at all to care about any of the character’s except the Sarge.  (Who isn’t a Sarge yet, whatevs.)  I had to look back to figure out who the guy who dies at the end was, which means I didn’t even remotely care.    (OH CRAP!  Spoilers!   This guy dies at the end.  Yup.)

Come to think, I could make the same weak-characterization complaint about all three of the books I’ve read.  While I’m sure it’ll all read better in trade or as one-of-a-package digital downloads, the current nature of decompressed comics require the writers to do be amazingly incisive and efficient in their character-work, and none of these guys are up to the  task.   Which, to be fair, is a bitch and a half.  Here, Brandon does an alright job fleshing out the lead, but he’s one man surrounded by a bunch of interchangeable, predictable, uninteresting military goons.  And a lot of the interest in fictional characters comes from how the react to other interesting characters.

Buy the Next One: Only if it’s one big fight scene.

STATIC SHOCK: Recharged Scott McDaniel and John Rozum (writers), Scott McDaniel (pencils), Jonathan Glapion and Le Beau Underwood (inks), Dezi Sienty (letters) , Guy Major (colors) 20 pp.

Premise: The ever-so-young-Spider-Man-y Virgil Hawkins fights evil with electric powers and an annoying sister.

Oh, yes.  Yes.  Very much so yes.  This?  Right here?  Is the stuff.  Oh yes.

See, it CAN be done.  A full supporting cast of characters can be defined in the space allotted, and it can be funny to boot.  The “family around the dinner table” scene, here, is just as interesting as the 17 page fight in OMAC.    The majority of characters are given motivations, and most of ’em have clearly defined relationships.   And they’re given good, and funny dialog!   I wish this issue had been passed around to ALL the 52 writers, ’cause this shit  is textbook.

Honestly, there are a dozen things that really impressed me.  The villain designs.  The way the heroes powers and general attitude were efficiently explained in the first few pages.  The smooth, logical, new-reader-friendly introduction of another Milestone hero.  The establishing shots and the backgrounds, giving a sense of place to the proceedings.  The heavy use of pink on the cover.  Rock on, Guy Major, you’re my favorite supremely-confident-in-your-sexuality-colorist.

Here’s just one example of the thought the creators put into coming up with a cool comic.    The talky talk scenes tend to be fairly common-looking block panel-based grids (albeit enhanced with a neat circular camera motif in one key page.)  But the fight scenes have jagged, choppy looking corners that don’t exactly fit together –  And look kind of like a lightning bolt!  I LOVE that!

Buy the Next One: Maybe I’ll wait for the trade, because I’ve got all the Milestone-released trades up ’till now.  But it’s definitely worth my hard-earned $$$$, and will be mine in some format.

ANIMAL MAN:  The Hunt Part One:  Warning From the Red:  Not that you guys need to know the name of the trade or anything, but we thought we’d throw that shit in for no real reason, all bonus feature, you’re welcome. Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Dan Green (co-inker), Lovern Kinizierski (colors), Jared K. Fletcher (letters) 20 pp.

Premise: Married superhero Buddy Baker is “retired.”   Note that we are applying the action movie definition of “retired” which is, in common parlance, referred to as “not retired.”

Review: So the art goes from ultra-mega crappy to “Holy mother#$%^ #$%^ on a #$%^&*$ crutch, get the kids and the dog Mabel, y’all have GOT to see this” on page nine, and again on pages 15-18.

You don’t like the first few pages?  Just hang in there.  The low-definition graphics and terrible anatomy are gone like a dream… and then there’s a breathtaking dream sequence, where panels flow together (approximating dream logic) very few splashes of color are used to make the important stuff pop, and the dreamidea of  absolutely tangible-feeling surrealism is conveyed with a master’s touch.   You might ask yourself “Is it worth buying this book for just five pages of art”, and I would  answer  (intrusively, psychically) “Yes, yes, Oh My God yes!”

But that’s not all there is to like.    I’m a fan of the married with children superhero dynamic – and much like Static I’m impressed with the family based dining room conversation here.   And Buddy’s absolute joy at using his powers – even with the “grab you out of the story” art – is still all kindsa happy-making.

A-typically for a relaunch book this issue eschews fight scenes, but  there are not one, not two, but THREE scenes that were downright creepy, including a hell of a Stephen King style shocker at the end.  And this makes the book unique in the superhero field.  Let’s face it,  “Eerie”  is a tough thing to pull off in the instant-visceral-gratification world of mainstream comics, and there aren’t a lot of roll models to swipe.    Tim Callahan thought this was the best of the week’s DC releases, but I can’t quite forgive the fugglerific art.

(Although I generally really like Travel Foreman, and I’m still not sure it wasn’t supposed to look shitty on purpose. But even if that’s true, it’s… it’s not a good choice for a first issue.)

Buy the next one? Maaaaybb…. Probably.  Almost certainly, at some point, at least in trade.  My comic dollar is stretched every which-way (see above) but this was (A) good, and (B) feeling like it might turn into “really, really good” with minimal prompting and slightly better drawing.

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL:   The Signal Masters Part 1. Dan Jurgens (writer), Aaron Lopestri (drawer), Matt Ryan (inker), Travis Lanham (lettering), Hi-Fi (Colors) and Rex Ogle (editor/Coolest Name Ever.  I want your parents.)  2o 00.

Premise: The UN wants a Justice League they can control.  Oddly, Superman and Batman are not all “I could be a UN stooge?  FREAKING ROCKSTAR!  Sign me the hell up!”  So the powers that be have to do the best they can with what they got, which doesn’t even include Guy Gardner.  Hillarity, hopefully, ensues.

Review:  Right.  Good Man.  If you’re going to name your story after the trade that’s cool, but don’t get bogged down with two many titles.  Take notes, Animal Man.

Aaaand this one felt like a slightly-below-average issue of the Giffen-era Justice League Europe, which is all I wanted and more than I expected.  There are some amusing, one-note characterizations, ably supported by art that tends towards the representationalistic side of the spectrum, but being  just cartoony enough to still be funny.

Listen, originally I was just gonna do capsule reviews like this for all the books but I am physically incapable of writing a post that’s less than 2,000 words.   But I’m gonna let this one go.

Buy the next one? Nah, but I’m glad I bought the first issue.  It’s an amicable break-up.

HAWK AND DOVE:  First Strikes. Sterling Gates (writer), Rob Liefeld (artist), Dezi Sienty (letterer), Matt Yackey (colorist).

Premise: Two superheroes.  One represents war/anger, the other represents peace/self-control.  See how I did that in one sentence?  Hawk and Dove creative team, take notes.

Review: So, Mark, how’s the Rob Liefeld in this?  Still Rob Liefeld-y?

Not… not so much, and that’s a bit of a disappointment.  I’m not saying there are NO perspective and anatomical absurdities here – I’m looking back through this now, and there are plenty.    But there’s very little that grabbed me out of the book WTFing.  (Deadman’s weird little round head did, but that was about it.  It’s so round!  So, so round.)   But there’s a trade-off.  It’s not as energetic and “Rar!” as Rob L’s usual stuff.   It’s just a little bit too staid, too relaxed.    There’s one neat symbolic montage which takes the whole page and has the two leads half-faced and scowly that I kind of dig, but I like my Rob Liefeld like I like my women Rob Liefeld –  all outrageous and in your face and “I screwed up, whateves, screw you!  NEXT PANEL!  CHAAAAAARGGGGE!”

And for the 2 of you who care about the writing:

Nothing, he said sarcastically, says “Bold New Direction” like spending fourteen eighths of your comic (approximate)  recapping the last few decades of Hawk and Dove continuity.  While literally every other relaunch comic I read tries to establish a new status quo , this comic is as much textbook as it is story.  See what I did in one sentence above?  Next time you reboot Hawk and Dove, guys, do that and move the foff on. For what it’s worth all of this exposition is done competently, and it’s done while building characters.  But why are you doing it at all?!

God, there was a lot of stuff that bugged me here.  Dove (a real girl)  is dating Deadman.  (A ghost.  A ghost with a round head.  So round.  So very, very round.)  And this comic miraculously manages to make that set-up feel boring.

And it ends in my least favorite way ever –  There’s a full page splash of the mysterious reappearance of a character from Hawk and Dove’s past.  And if there’s one thing I despise about in-continuity comics, it’s last page character reveals.  And if there’s one thing I doubly despise, it’s last-page reveals of  characters the creative teams haven’t used before.  It’s pure, lazy writing, piggy-backing off fan goodwill for other people’s work in an amateurish attempt to get an “I know that guy!  I am an educated comic fan!” nerdresponse from your audience.

And let’s multiply the above by a thousand if you’re trying to be new-reader friendly.  Listen, H & D guys:  You just wasted your last page for any new reader who doesn’t know who Kestrel is.   Way to go champ!  This seal clap is for you!!!  ORT!  ORT!  ORT!!  ORT!!!    Oh, and Kestrel is the last page reveal.  Oh, and spoilers.  Oh, and screw you anyone who cares.  I hate you.

….

I promised myself I’d end this on a good note to demonstrate my Liefeld solidarity.  There’s a neat action sequence where a national monument is damaged.  That’s good comics-can-do-stuff-that-costs-a-zillion-dollars-in-movies thinking, and pretty cool.

Buy the next one? Yes, and then I’ll eat a pound of poison and stick my tongue down the trash compactor.

And, hell, nobody’s reviewed:

ACTION COMICS:  Superman Versus the City of Tomorrow!

(Dag, that’s even fun to type!)

Grant Morrison (writer), Rags Morales (artwork), Rick Bryant (inker), Brad Anderson (colorist), Patrick  Brossea (letterer)

Premise: Superman goes through his “college idealist phase.”  With a lot more ass-kicking than yours, when you just went to a couple of communist party meetings and signed up for the PETA newsletter.

Review: Dear CSBG friends and colleagues.  I. Can’t.  Freaking.  Believe.  None of you lazy bastards have reviewed this yet.   You’re all acting like their are more important things in your life, like “Oh, well, hey.  A new Grant Morrison Superman comic.  That’s fine and all, but tonight I’m washing ma hair” knowing full well that this isokay, if it’s not the most important thing in your life right now, all you mofos better be pregnant.

And you’re leaving this to ME?  With MY Morrison history?

Well, screw you guys.  I’ma go for the reversal.  I really liked it.

Granted, I’m biased.  The old school Siegel and Shuster borderline-communist social crusader is, flat out, my favorite version of Supes in his 75 year history.   I dig the crazy antics of the Weisinger Supes, I like the tongue-in-cheeks thoughtfulness of Maggin and Swan, I… well, I like all the non-Superman parts of the Byrne reboot, (examples to come)  I scoffed at the Death but thrilled to the Return of Superman, and I loves me some Loeb/Kelly/Casey/Mankhe/Mcguinness and I even kind of liked that New Krypton thing, ‘though I haven’t read the ending yet.  Does it get crappy?  I hope it doesn’t get crappy.

I’m a Superman guy.

But there’s a purity to the oldest version of the character which elevates him above the latter more cynical takes.   It’s like Siegel and Shuster really believed in this guy and what he was doing without the filters of adult irony that have defined damn near all other superhero stories.   And given their stories’ fairly realistic milleu and the lack of X-Ray vision and superdogs and such, I can almost believe that a man can… maybe not fly but leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Which is what this Superman DOES.

This here.. .This is my Superman you guys.  Welcome back.

And here’s MY Superman basically fighting the John Byrne Luthor or someone very much like him, the part-of-the-establishment Luthor, the Luthor who’s not only my favorite take on the character but one of my favorite villains in comics full stop.

So.  biased.

And the character bits are good, and the action sequences are good.   Rags Morales absolutely sells the mussle haired, beat-up, socially awkward, and proud ALL AT ONCE Clark Kent – when he’s “on” he’s one of the best body language artists in comics.   And Morrison, in just a couple lines of dialog per, defines the broad strokes of each character and gives strong hints of their relationships to each other.  (See, you can write for the decompressed format.  Just be good.   Orrr take nine extra story pages.  Whatever.)

On the downside:  This comic is a little confusing in the sense of, y’know, figuring out what’s happening.   My buds on the Classic Comic Forum are having a field day with the first page-as-example-of-the-gradual-decline-of-comics-storytelling  and it IS confusing – and it’s not the only time that the storytelling goes really wonky.

But when the panel-to-panel storytelling hits the sweet spot it absolutely destroys.  The issue ends with Superman stopping a runaway train, and it’s all heart-stopping quick cuts of panicked civilians and widescreen panels making our hero look very small and a final, static, tableau where Superman looks…. at least gravely wounded, and probably dead.  And it’s 100% effective, and as beautiful as violence can be.

As an experienced comic reader, the cool parts far outweigh the “what the hell” parts, but this can be dangerous for new readers.  Action Comics probably IS someone’s first comic, and as such it should (very subtly) double as a lesson on how comics work.  It’s DEFINITELY several thousand people’s first digital comic, and it would be nice if the creative teams could ease them into the world fo comics gently, rather than alternating between bowing and holding the door open and slamming it shut and laughing.

But, for me, this is the ass-kickingnest Superman comic I’ve read in a long time.

Buy the next one? Hell gd yeah.

So NOW, if you’ve managed to get through that, I’d like to hear you guys liked this weeks batch of comics.  How were the five I missed?

I’d rank the eight reviewed here, in countdowny terms of goodness…

8)  Hawk and Dove

7)  Batwing

6)  Men of War

5)  Omac

4)  Justice League International

3)  Animal Man

2)  Action Comics

1)  Static Shock.

How ’bout you?  Let’s here some rankings people!