So DC just finished their latest big, continuity-fixing event, their this-time-it-really-counts and honest-and-for-true this-is-the-last-time-we're-doing-this and don't-worry-we-got-it-right-this-time event, in which I guess they decided the last 30 years didn't count? Is that it? I don't know, I'm just here for the aftermath. After less than four years of the New 52, now we have DCYou! Wait, DCYou? Really, DC? Okay, then. But along with new branding comes ... new comics! All that was old is new again! All that had failed before will definitely not fail now! Let's kick out the jams, because there's one thing we can all agree on:
IT'S DC'S TIME TO SHINE, BITCHES!!!!
Okay, maybe September 2011 was DC's turn to shine. But now it's DC's turn to shine again, and I'm right there with them. New series all over the place, and just like four years ago, I'm all over it! Unlike four years ago, I'm not going to review every DC comic that comes out this month - a bunch of them are holdovers, and I don't really need to read about Commissioner Gordon wearing bunny ears to know that it's going to suck - but I'm picking up every #1 issue. Unlike four years ago, I'm going to review them week-by-week. I'm changeable - that's just how I roll! So let's take a look at the initial offerings - more Bat-books (I mean, DC might be many things, but they're not that stupid), a book starring a character I really don't like, and a gay sex scene? Holy cow, DC, it's like the West Coast "anything goes!" attitude has already made its way into your comics! Yay, comics!
Batman Beyond #1 ("Brave New Worlds Part One") by Bernard Chang (artist), Dan Jurgens (writer), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Dan DiDio (editor), and David Piña (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Batman Beyond created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett, but Tim Drake created by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick. Superman created by you-know-who and you-know-who. Barbara Gordon created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino.
Tim Drake, who doesn't really have a place in the present DCU thanks to the overabundance of Robins running around, was thrown into the future, I guess, to take Terry McGinnis's place, because Terry is dead? Oh well, it doesn't matter too much - it's Tim Drake being Batman, with a Brother Eye and Jokerz street gangs and those sorts of things. Tim is in a different future than Terry's, I guess, and he and "Alfred" aren't sure what to make of it. Jurgens takes us around the town and out to New York to visit a gulag, mostly so that we can get a sense of the world and Tim's supporting cast, which includes Terry's brother and an elderly Barbara Gordon. And he gets to fight a half-robot spider-like Superman. Because it's the future, man, and all kinds of weird shit happens in the future!!!
Dan Jurgens is an interesting writer, because he's been working in comics for 30 years and is the very definition of mediocre. I've written this before, and it's really strange how aggressively mediocre he is. I've never read a Dan Jurgens comic that challenged me in any way, and it's impressive in a way that he just keeps at it like this. As far as I know, he's created one character - Booster Gold - who has had any impact on comics, and while even creating one of those isn't bad, it still seems small. He's worked for DC for most of his career - I honestly think his endgame work on Thor is his best stuff, which is weird because he didn't work for Marvel all that much, but maybe be out of the DC arena freed him up a little - and as far as I know, he's only worked outside of the Big Two briefly, when he wrote some Valiant stuff. He's like the dude who works in the factory for 40 years and gets a gold watch when he retires because he never screwed up too badly. You know exactly what you're getting with a Dan Jurgens comic, and that's workmanlike superhero work. He goes through everything you expect from a first issue - the establishing conflict so that the book begins with a bang, the introduction of other characters with some tugging at the heartstrings for character development, another fight with an even stronger opponent, and then the "shocking twist" at the end. It's all done very well, but it's done like every single other mediocre superhero comic you've ever read in your entire life. But that's what you get when you get Dan Jurgens. It's certainly not terrible, and it's even mildly entertaining, but you might drown in the déjà vu.
It's a shame, too, because Chang's art and Maiolo's colors are pretty darned good. Chang has always been one of those Jurgens-like artists - solid, fairly workmanlike, but nothing spectacular - but unlike Jurgens, it seems like he's been getting better (I don't see Chang's art all that often, as he works on books I tend not to read, but I've seen it enough over the years). Occasionally with the "painted" style of digital coloring that Maiolo employs here, an artist's lines are softened to the point where everything becomes a muddy mess, but Maiolo and Chang work well together here, as Chang's crisp lines stay but Maiolo still uses that rendered look that's so popular these days. The rendering isn't overwhelming, though, and in a few panels, Maiolo eases back on it completely, giving us stark colors to highlight those particular drawings, which is a neat trick. Chang's action scenes are nicely done, and his rendition of cyborg spider Superman is pretty darned cool. Like a lot of comics today - especially when colorists use this type of rendering, for some reason - there are a bit too many earth tones, making the comic look dusty, but for the most part, the art is very nice. It's in the service of a standard story, but such is life.
So that's Batman Beyond. If you've never read a superhero comic in your life, you might like it. Other than that, it will feel very, very familiar.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Bat-Mite #1 ("Transplant") by Mike Atiyeh (colorist), Corin Howell (penciller/inker), Dan Jurgens (writer), Tom Napolitano (letterer), Andres Ponce (inker), David Piña (assistant editor), Joey Cavalieri (editor), and Jim Chadwick (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Bat-Mite created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. This Hawkman created by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert ... I guess?
Dan Jurgens gets to write another DCYou book, which seems odd, as if DC is still repeating the mistakes of the New 52, when they revamped their line because sales were down but allowed several of the people who had already written and drawn their low-selling books to keep on with them. Is Jurgens a draw at all? Or is he, as I noted above, just such a professional that you can count on him to produce two books a month and while neither might be great, neither will be terrible, either? Jurgens has never struck me as a particularly funny or anarchic writer, which makes him writing Bat-Mite such a weird fit. Bat-Mite is a character that deserves a writer with a chaotic, insane bent, and Jurgens doesn't seem like that guy.
And that's why this book isn't very good. Jurgens gets the bare bones of a silly plot down - Bat-Mite is banished to this dimension for some unknown reason, and he tries to help Batman thwart some bad guys, like he does, but it doesn't go very well. The bad guys were kidnapping a young lady, and when Batman absconds with her, Bat-Mite is left behind with a sexy nurse who, of course, drugs him and kidnaps him because he interfered. It turns out there's an evil doctor who transplants brains into young, healthy bodies, and she herself (being old and ugly) was going to put her own brain into the sweet young thang that Batman rescued. She wants revenge on Bat-Mite for his role in the thwarting, so she drugs him again and throws him in prison, where he finds Hawkman. Why Hawkman? Well, that's where things get dicey, but let's talk about the problems with the book before that moment first.
While Jurgens definitely goes for wacky with this story, he's just off enough that it makes it annoying to read. First of all, of course, is that Bat-Mite can teleport, so drugging him works as long as he's unconscious. He's not unconscious when Agnes the Nurse throws him in prison, so why doesn't he just blip out of there? When he first wakes up, he's trying to figure out what's going on, but once he does, why does he stay? I can guess that he wants to act the hero, but he doesn't really fight Agnes or try to get the knock-out spray away from her - he's weirdly passive. It's plot dictating character, in other words, which is always annoying. Meanwhile, Jurgens gives him some funny lines, but it still feels oddly forced, as if Jurgens knew he had to write a funny comic and therefore tried too hard. I don't know - it's just a weird vibe. With a character like Bat-Mite, you can't be too off on the tone, and Jurgens is just off enough that the entire book reads more like a mediocre sitcom rather than a crackling work of humor. Howell's artwork is okay - I like that she doesn't make Batman (or Hawkman, in his brief cameo) cartoonish at all, which highlights Bat-Mite's absurd appearance. This lessens when we get to Dr. Trauma's place, because she's a caricature as well. Howell's change of Bat-Mite's appearance - she softens his edges a bit - is not my favorite thing, as it makes the 'Mite look more like a kid dressing up for Halloween and less like an extra-dimensional imp. Bat-Mite doesn't look alien enough, and it's the same problem with the script - it's just off enough to make it not work perfectly.
The big spoiler at the end of the issue is that Dr. Trauma is planning on transplanting her brain into Hawkman's body. This is a standard comic book/sci-fi trope, and I'm sure that if Jurgens goes through with it, it will be played for laughs. I just find it very interesting that this comes out (I know it was written months ago, but it came out this week!) at the moment when Caitlyn Jenner has forced people to discuss transgender issues on national news programs. I'm very curious how Jurgens deals with this trope in the next and subsequent issues, because it seems like in a book like Bat-Mite, it can't be done too seriously, but will people get upset about it if it's not? Are DC and Jurgens sweating things out right now while waiting for the next issue to drop? I probably won't get the next issue because this one hasn't inspired me to keep reading, but I really wonder what's going to happen next issue. Actually, I'm more interested in if anyone will notice if the book contains a terrible depiction of a woman's brain inside a man's body because no one is reading the comic. We shall see.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Bizarro #1 ("Bizarro America Part 6") by Heath Corson (writer), Gustavo Duarte (artist), Tom Napolitano (letterer), Pete Pantazis (colorist), Bill Sienkiewicz (artist on half a page), Eddie Berganza (editor), and Andrew Marino (editor). Bizarro created by Otto Binder and George Papp. Jimmy Olsen and Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, or possibly Robert Maxwell and Allen Ducovny?
Long-time readers of the blog might recall that I'm not a big fan of Bizarro. I hate the way he talks, especially, because it makes no sense. He doesn't exactly say the opposite of what he means, which makes reading his dialogue incredibly annoying. So that means any comic actually starring Bizarro is going to be a tough sell. Sorry, that's just the way I feel. I don't have a huge problem with one issue of Bizarro, even though it's tough to get through, but I can't imagine reading multiple issues in a small amount of time, like over the next six months (which is how long this series lasts). I don't know - this is a fairly decent issue, but I'm not sure it's good enough to get me to buy the book.
For some reason, Bizarro happens to be hanging out in Metropolis. I don't know if it's because of the fall-out from Convergence or if Corson just throws that in there so Jimmy Olsen knows where to find him. Clark Kent (holding a Batman mug, because even he knows Batman is more awesome than he is) makes a joke about Jimmy getting a coffee-table book out of a cross-country adventure with Bizarro, which stimulates Jimmy's Fame Sensor, and they're off! Oh, and Bizarro is taking a chupacabra along for the ride. But it really isn't a chupacabra, because, I mean, that would be ridiculous, right?
Much like Bat-Mite, this is played for laughs, and it's definitely funnier than that comic, although that's not saying too much. Corson throws in a very weird plot about a used car salesman who gains a staff that allows him to control people's minds, which he's going to use to ... sell cars. As far as plots go, it's a bit weak, and it doesn't even allow for much humor - the best humor in the book is Jimmy acting like a douchebag (seriously, is Jimmy a secret douchebag who gets away with it because he looks so dumb, because he acts like a douchebag a lot in comics) and playing off Bizarro. The used car salesman plot feels dropped in for no good reason, and the fact that the foxy daughter of the used car salesman thinks Jimmy is a hottie is the most bizarre part of a comic that literally stars Bizarro. I get that Corson wants Jimmy and Bizarro to have weird adventures, but for some reason, the used car salesman who dresses like an Egyptian pharaoh, calls himself King Tut, and calls upon Egyptian gods to help him is just ... not working (wait, is he supposed to be the Batman TV show villain?). It doesn't click with me, and it's hard to explain. I know, I should be better at it, but sometimes things just don't click, you know? I think one reason it doesn't seem to work for me is that Corson already has a good plot for a six-issue mini-series - Jimmy and Bizarro's weird friendship during their road trip. If you throw in the chupacabra, which isn't really a chupacabra, you have the makings of a fun little comic. Corson doesn't need a plot, in other words. He could even throw in Regina, the used car salesman's daughter, and give us Jimmy's attempts to woo her and Bizarro "helping" out. I know, I know - I shouldn't say how I would write something, but the weird mind control plot seems out of place in this book, and kind of gets in the way of my enjoyment of it.
Duarte's cartoonish art is pretty nice, though. His Bizarro is big and goofy, while his Jimmy is sufficiently nerdy, and the way Duarte draws them interacting with each other is terrific, as their facial expressions and body language are wonderful and show Bizarro's bemusement with the world and Jimmy's impotent rage at Bizarro's bizarre behavior. Some dude at the comic book store this week thought it might be interesting to draw Bizarro in a cartoonish fashion and everyone else in a more "realistic" style, and while I don't necessarily agree with him, the one page that Bill Sienkiewicz draws, which is a dream Bizarro has, makes his point somewhat intriguing, as Sienkiewicz shows the chaos inside Bizarro's head really well. I know that the tone of this comic is comedic, but Sienkiewicz drawing a Bizarro comic would show the turmoil of being Bizarro really well. Man, now I'm imagining that. Anyway, the page has literally nothing to do with the rest of the comic, but I wonder if Corson is going to go somewhere with it and if Sienkiewicz will draw more pages down the line.
I'm not in love with Bizarro, but I certainly don't hate it. I do appreciate DC letting Duarte loose on it, because like Howell on Bat-Mite, the art is very far from the "DC House Style" of the past decade or so. There's nothing wrong with pushing the envelope a little!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Midnighter #1 by Aco (penciller/inker), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer), Steve Orlando (writer), Hugo Petrus (inker), Dave Wielgosz (assistant editor), and Chris Conroy (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Midnighter created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch.
Orlando wrote last year's Undertow, which had its charms but never really came together, but I guess it was good enough to get him noticed by DC, as he's writing Midnighter. I don't know how he'll do with the rest of this first arc, but he gets things off to a rousing start, although, like Jurgens, he follows the superhero-comic formula to a tee: An inciting event (two in fairly rapid succession, to be fair), some down time for characterization, and then the ending that sets up the rest of the arc. As I noted above with Batman Beyond, superhero comics, especially introductory ones, tend to fall into this pattern, because we need to see how bad-ass the hero is before the real threat shows up, but it's all about how the writer makes the formula work. In Jurgens's case, he doesn't really do too much with the formula. Orlando does slightly more with it, and it makes Midnighter a more interesting comic than Batman Beyond. I mean, the fact that Orlando introduces Midnighter while he's on a date and later our hero and his date have some steamy sex (that's, frankly, the steamiest sex in a DC book that I've read in years) automatically means it's going to be a bit more interesting than Batman Beyond, but it's also the fact that Orlando writes Midnighter as kind of a douchebag. I mean, does he really need to interrupt two dudes' billiards game just to clear the table in what appears to be one shot? Of course not - that's just "M" being an utter douchebag. But Orlando gets that someone who explains to the bad guys exactly how he's going to destroy them - which is a feature of the character since Ellis wrote him - might not be the most socially well-adjusted person. I mean, he injects his one-night-stand dude with a tracking device so he can instantly be in contact with him ... without actually asking if he can do it. Orlando at least has Jason - the one-night-stand dude - call him out on his creepy behavior, as it's a bit presumptuous that Jason would even want to be in further contact with "M." I mean, maybe Midnighter just isn't that good in the sack, you know? (Although, who am I kidding - this is popular culture, where every good-looking person is the greatest lover in the universe.) Orlando introduces a decent enough threat, as someone attacks a floating armory guarded by the woman who created the Midnighter, and she tells him that if he gets the bad guy, he'll be able to find out his "origin" - apparently she told him all his information was gone, but her pants are on fire, I guess. So of course he's going to do it!
It's not a bad beginning - I mean, it's pretty standard superhero quest stuff, but like I noted, Orlando does try to make it more interesting than your usual superhero quest narrative. He's helped by Aco, whose work is excellent. His tic, I guess (I don't think I've seen his art before, mainly because he's been toiling away in the DC salt mines, and I haven't been buying a lot of DC recently, but it seems like he's done this before), is that he peppers the pages with small inset panels that expand some of the main artwork, as when he shows "M" getting ready to kick ass and he's framed by small panels showing close-ups of the bad guys reacting to his speech about how he's going to kick their asses. He also places panels over the action that show, in brutal X-ray detail, the bones Midnighter is breaking as he kicks ass (and how he kills some of them). This tic works well later on, too, as Midnighter and Jason get it on, because the smaller panels show moments during the sexytimes (like someone unbuttoning someone else's pants) that are snapshots of the entire sex act but don't need a larger panel as it would stretch things on too long. It's a clever way to do things. Aco is wonderfully detailed oriented, which is nice, and while much like Batman Beyond, Fajardo uses too many warm tones, the orange/blue contrast he uses when Midnighter is kicking ass - the X-ray panels are in bright blue - is well done. Visually, this is a really nice-looking comic.
I hope Orlando continues examining the dickishness of Midnighter's behavior, because while he's definitely a great fighter, he really is not a very nice person. Sure, he gets to bang a hot dude, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a nice guy. The plot is fine, but it's Orlando's work with the main character that makes the book rather interesting.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Omega Men #1 by Barnaby Bagenda (artist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (colorist), Tom King (writer), Amedeo Turturro (assistant editor), Andy Khouri (editor), and Brian Cunningham (editor). The Omega Men created by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton.
Finally, we have Omega Men, which is the worst of the "DCYou" books to come out this week. King might have an intriguing story up his sleeve, but this first issue is kind of a mess, mainly because it's very hard to get into it. I suppose that's because King launches the book out of another event - some dudes appear to be looking for the people who killed Kyle Rayner, and I guess that's the Omega Men? Beats me - I didn't read anything about Kyle Rayner's death. So we get a bunch of soldiers who repeat "We are friends. We will not hurt you" like a mantra while they're killing and beating people. They're looking for the Omega Men, but when they find them, Tigorr and his cronies start killing them. And that's basically the issue.
I get that the Omega Men are somewhat of a known quantity in DC lore, so it's probably on me to figure out who they are, but King makes no effort whatsoever to fill us in. We know who Tigorr is because they're very vocal about finding him, but this really does feel like we've been plopped down in the middle of a story arc, which is a bit strange for a #1 issue. It's not necessarily hard to follow - the bad guys hurt people, so the Omega Men hurt them, and there's a "Viceroy" who seems to have a particular mad-on for Tigorr, and King drops what I guess is a bombshell on the final page - but it doesn't fell particularly compelling, because a lot of people get killed but the stakes don't seem very high. None of the principals are ever in any real peril, and the fact that they spring a trap on anonymous soldiers doesn't seem all that clever. King hints at a history of violence and degradation with regard to their treatment by authorities, but again, it's not on the page, so Tigorr's pronouncement that they're all Omega Men, meant as a rallying cry of togetherness, doesn't resonate. Like so many other writers of old characters, King relies on our own experiences with the characters to make emotional attachments instead of actually writing about them. It works if the reader has a long history with the characters, but it feels hollow if they don't.
Bagenda is colored by Fajardo, much like Aco was, but his line work isn't quite as strong as Aco's, so the colors tend to overwhelm the pencils more than is optimal and make the book a bit messier than Midnighter is. Fajardo's over-rendering is more obvious, and because there's not a specific reason for the orange/blue contrast as there was on Midnighter, it's a bit more obnoxious. Bagenda isn't a bad artist - his work somewhat resembles Matteo Scalera's, which isn't a bad thing - but on this issue, he either doesn't have the will or the chops to push back against Fajardo's coloring. Aco on Midnighter seems to be able to, which is why the art on that book is stronger. Bagenda also uses a nine-panel grid quite a lot, which, given the origins of the Omega Men, makes me wonder if he's paying homage to Keith Giffen. He does some pretty neat work - the way the soldier reacts to his team going into the secret passageway and getting butchered by Tigorr is nicely done, as is the scene later where he sits in a small room and shakily lights a cigarette while listening to the sounds of slaughter, and the one page with Primus carrying his package through the hallways is really a wonderfully designed page - but overall, the book could look better.
I know that in serial superhero stories, knowledge of other comics is occasionally necessary, but DC doesn't do footnotes anymore to tell us where to find backstories and they always claim that they're trying to reach out to new audiences. Omega Men isn't that good already, but the fact that we need to know what's going on because we've read other books is kind of annoying. Oh well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
One more thing about the new DC comics: the Twix ad. God, I don't care at all about Nick Lachey and the Twix advertisement - comics have done this in the past, and it's pretty clear that Twix is playing up the whole "Left Twix/Right Twix" idiocy from their latest ad campaign and I don't imagine this will become a trend. I will say one thing about it: Right Twix Nick is holding his Twix in his left hand. Fuck the heck, Twix ad people? You can't even get that right? Get that weak shit out of here! Other than that, who really cares? I will be interested to see how DC reprints this in a trade. I'm going to assume they'll just stack the art from both half-pages on top of each other. I can't see any other way of doing it.
Anyway, that's the first week of "DCYou." It's not the worst batch of comics, which is nice. We'll see what else is coming along next week! And, of course, I'll have reviews of the rest of my week's haul coming up soon enough!