The First 15 - A Look at the New DCU

Last week, DC Comics dropped a bombshell on the comic book industry (just days after I had written about a low-profile DC series that needed some extra love from readers -- a series that may well disappear before the summer's over): the venerable publisher will relaunch its line of comics with 52 brand new #1 issues in September and shuffle around 75% of the creative teams currently working for the company.

Maybe you've heard this announcement?

DC also announced that all of its comics would be released digitally at the same time as the comics hit the comic shops, but that's a topic that deserves a column all its own. Someday.

This week, I want to focus simply on what we know and how that will inform our purchases (for readers new and old) come September. We know that it's not a "reboot," or a starting-from-scratch brand new continuity, even though it sure feels like it with the line-wide relaunch. But we also know that it will feature some changes to the DCU, blips in continuity that will make Superman look younger (and, most likely, unmarried), Hawkman's past less confusing, and Aquaman cooler. Actually, Geoff Johns has been committed to the latter for the past year or two, and in his current "Flashpoint" series -- the very reality ripple that will no doubt "explain" some of the new DC continuity blips by the time it ends in August -- he has cast Aquaman as a militant deep sea terrorist who springs from the ocean with murderous intent. That's pretty cool, right? (That sounds sarcastic, but you know what? I actually really liked that pirates-vs.-Aquaman scene in "Flashpoint" #2 last week.)

Anyway, whether you're a long-time superhero comics reader, a lapsed-DCU fan, or someone who reads CBR just for the window into this strange little world called "mainstream" comics, here's what we know is coming, and what you should know about the characters and the creative teams we'll see in September:

1. "Justice League" by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

Cyborg, the former Teen Titan, replaces the Martian Manhunter as the final member of the "Big 7" of the Justice League, in addition to the usual DC superhero suspects who you're likely to find on lunchboxes and novelty underpants. Since the current Justice League team features second, third, and tenth-tier characters like Donna Troy, Jesse Quick, and Congorilla, this relaunch seems to reclaim the Justice League's spot as the premier super-team in the DCU. I happen to like those second, third, and tenth-tier characters, but I realize it's a trashy kind of obsessive love that wouldn't appeal to new readers. Probably.

Geoff Johns is not only the writer who brought Green Lantern (the character and the series) back to prominence at DC, and tried so very hard to make Aquaman cool, but he also has plenty of experience writing well-crafted team books, like "JSA" and "Teen Titans." Oh yeah, he's the CCO of DC Entertainment. That's kind of important, too. And Jim Lee, Co-Publisher of DC Comics, hasn't drawn a monthly comic since his 2004-2005 run as artist on "Superman." Also important.

2. "Aquaman" by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

A monthly dose of cool Aquaman from the ubiquitous-and-rightly-so Johns and his former "Green Lantern" and "Blackest Night" collaborator Ivan Reis. Reis is one of the top three or four superhero artists in the world able to keep up with a monthly deadline, so this series seems built on a stable foundation, and it certainly has a nice pedigree.

Here's the thing: Aquaman has so rarely been a character involved in epic stories (other than bit parts in other people's epics, or as one-fifth of the "Brightest Day" mini-epic), and Geoff Johns does epic well. This could work.

3. "Wonder Woman" by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

Out of the first 15 announced titles, this is the one that's most exciting. Wonder Woman has rarely been readable for any sustained length of time, and even when particular runs have had loyal fans (I'm partial to the George Perez run, until he stops drawing it), there's very little in the Wonder Woman archives that you could hand to a new reader to get him or her thrilled to read about the character. But if I were to pick the ideal creative team for refreshing the Wonder Woman character and concept, it would be Azzarello and Chiang. Azzarello doesn't particularly like superheroes, but he does write intricate, hard-edged stories, and Chiang draws everything beautifully. He has never worked on a project as high-profile as this, but he's one of the best artists to ever work for DC.

If you're only buying one new DC title out of this initial batch, this would be the one I'd recommend. By far.

4. "The Flash" by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Manapul is both writing and drawing this series, in collaboration with colorist Buccellato, and though it will surely look nice, the story is a wild card. Manapul just hasn't proven himself as a writer yet, though I'm certainly intrigued. And I don't have the auto-Barry-Allen-hate that is so prevalent among comic book pundits.

5. "The Fury of Firestorm" by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar

This one seems the most like a reboot out of all of the new announcements, with a new concept for Firestorm, but even though I'm weirdly nostalgic for Firestorm as a character (probably because of the costume, and his appearances on "Galactic Guardians" more than anything else), I've never been able to hold my interest in a Gail Simone-written series for very long. Maybe Van Sciver, as co-writer, will bring something new to keep me involved, but it would have to be the stories that held me each month, because Cinar is not interesting enough as an artist to keep me coming back. Francis Portella blew him out of the water on "Legion of Super-Heroes," honestly.

6. "The Savage Hawkman" by Tony Daniel and Philip Tan

Daniel writes and Tan draws an Indiana-Jones-meets-superhero relaunch of a series that always ends up in a maelstrom of reincarnations and alien landscapes. I suspect they'll try to keep things a whole lot simpler, but Daniel's "Batman" scripts have been a mess where everyone gets a female kid sidekick and Tan's art on anything at DC has been kind of terrible. This series may surprise me, but my faith-o-meter is showing almost no movement on this new Hawkman.

7. "Green Arrow" by J. T. Krul and Dan Jurgens

I've heard, from those in the know, that Krul has potential that we haven't yet seen in his comics. And Jurgens is an industry veteran who can pencil a monthly comic in his sleep. But this creative team on this character seems like something DC would launch in 2008, not as part of a new lineup that's supposed to entice new readers. Bland city.

8. "Justice League International" by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

Same as above. Bland city, take two, with the only advantage being a more colorful cast of characters to work with.

9. "Mister Terrific" by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson

This character getting a solo series is interesting in-and-of-itself, but Wallace has written some downright weak comics for DC in recent years, not the least of which is "Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink," which had the distinction of being the most unreadable of all the "Final Crisis Aftermath" comics, and Robinson is a middle-of-the-road superhero artist. I'm curious to see what these two do with Mr. Terrific as a solo star, but probably not curious enough to read past issue #2 unless the first one is astonishingly amazing.

And why does Mr. Terrific have a piece of fabric over his mouth? Is that face-paint in the shape of a square moustache-and-goatee?

10. "Captain Atom" by J. T. Krul and Freddie Williams II

Given my lack of excitement about Krul's previous work, I'm surprised to say that I'm eager to see what happens with this series. Captain Atom is a character who has been such a confusing mess at DC in the past decade that he has literally been turned into a dimension-hopping timebomb who has already caused the reboot of another universe (Wildstorm, in 2006). But I enjoyed the Steve Ditko years at Charlton (via reprints) and the Cary Bates revamp in the 1980s, so I have a soft spot for Captain Atom. And Williams II might bring some dynamism to the comic, even if I don't particularly like his elastic style.

11. "DC Universe Presents," featuring Deadman by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang

The only anthology book announced in this opening week (though I suspect a couple more will follow), the opening arc features a Deadman story by a solid creative team. Jenkins hasn't done anything in years to match the heights of his "Inhumans" work with Jae Lee, but he clearly has substantial writing skills, and Chang has refined his angular style over the years to become an increasingly potent comic book artist. I'd love to see this comic used as a showcase for the kind of talent we saw in "Solo" or "Wednesday Comics," but this initial writer/artist team is a good one, if a bit too safe for my tastes.

12. "Green Lantern" by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke

Although my interest in this series has waned after "Blackest Night" -- and the problem with ever-increasing threat escalation without real stories in between is that you end up with the "Van Helsing" effect eventually, meaning lots of information and action but without any heart -- I am willing to bet that Johns has a lot of tales left to tell about Hal Jordan, and Mahnke is THE best monthly superhero artist working today. If he weren't so prolific, readers would appreciate him more, I'm sure.

I'm curious to see if the "Green Lantern" movie this summer will drive people to the comics or away from them. It's a coin flip from what I can tell.

13. "Green Lantern Corps" by Peter Tomasi and Fernando Pasarin

The "Emerald Warriors" team tackles the Corps. I like Tomasi a lot, from his "Light Brigade" miniseries to his original "Green Lantern Corps" run, to "The Mighty," to his recent "Batman and Robin" arc. He's not flashy, but he knows how to structure a story and hit all the right beats. But "Emerald Warriors" has been pretty bad so far. Yet I don't think Pasarin gets the blame for that, because he has a smooth superhero style that's like early Adam Hughes mixed with Steve McNiven. It's attractive.

I blame Guy Gardner. Maybe he's not part of the new DCU. Maybe this book will be Kyle Rayner and the GL All-Stars. I'd like that.

14. "Green Lantern: The New Guardians" by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham

So Tomasi and Pasarin bump Bedard and Kirkham off GLC and onto this new series about a group of multicultural humans selected by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton to lead the worst post-"Millenium" series ever crafted by human hands?

What's that? It's not about those characters? Oh, then what is it about? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I will say that Bedard can do space opera just fine and Kirkham (as bumpy as his work on "Ultimate Fantastic Four" was) has been doing okay with "Green Lantern Corps." Still, a bottom-tier book for Green Lantern completists only. Which, to be fair, is me.

15. "Red Lanterns" by Peter Milligan and Ed Benes

The question on everyone's mind is which Milligan will show up. Because we know which Benes will show up -- the one who emphasizes ass-shots and thick-lipped women. Will Atrocitus be shown repeatedly from behind, and will he be botoxed? These are legitimate questions.

So is the Milligan one. His current "Hellblazer" run has been some of the best comics of his recent career, and he is, of course, the same Peter Milligan who co-created Paradax and Johnny Nemo, and wrote "Enigma" and "X-Statix."

He also wrote a terrible "X-Men" run and a million other bland superhero comics in the past ten years.

Will I be buying this one? Yup.

So what's the overall advice here? I'll be buying at least 12 out of this opening 15, at least for the first month. And though it's impossible to predict which ones will truly be new reader friendly without (a) a batch of new readers in front of me, and (b) these actual comics to hand them, we can predict which creative teams will produce comics that will have the kind of quality that could stand the test of time, and be something more than disposable superhero potato chips (a term Geoff Johns has used himself for the way we all chow through a weekly stack of comics). And that list is slim: "Wonder Woman," and that's about it. Although there are a handful of other comics that could end up as fondly-remembered runs (the way we remember Giffen and DeMatteis's "JLI" or Wolfman and Perez's "Teen Titans," though neither of those runs would qualify as masterpieces of the form).

Still, I am hugely in favor of this starting-over-at-#1 strategy and the creative team shuffling. It has reinvigorated the DCU already, and we're three months away from seeing the actual comics. I hope the relaunch works. I don't mind buying dozens of new comics if they're worth reading, and it's as simple as that.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan

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