All Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics of London.
Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo has possibly the worst cover of the line. Not that there's anything wrong per se but it misses a massive trick. The comic has a beautiful beginning aimed at long time and new reader alike, giving each a different experience, first by teaming up the Joker with Batman in Arkham Asylum, then showing us the Batcave in a fashion that reassures Batfans that everything is okay and normal, while also introducing new readers, piece by piece, to this wonderful world. But why it didn't have a Julie Schwartz style cover, The Batman — Fighting Alongside The Joker — Why??? I don't know. Maybe DC think the book is too cool, too edgy, but it would have been perfect. And the cliffhanger ending suggests something similar for the second issue, which we already know they won't do…
Gotham has often been described as a main character in Batman, in this issue it is the star. Batman is more like an antibody. Even on the first page we get a glimpse of buildings very much a Batface looking down. This place has a personality, but here it's one that Bruce Wayne wants to be able to tame, even if Batman knows that is impossible. His duality is far more than a cape and cowl, here it's even in the way he sees the world.
And we're talked through it by a mysterious voice, that resolves in a beautiful way that progresses the story. There's even a neat storytelling trick to introduce all the characters without getting bogged down in exposition. For a relatively new comic book writer, Scott Snyder is using the tricks in the box and bringing on a few new ones too.
Greg Capullo has been working with and for Todd McFarlane for decades now, and it's only natural he should bring that DNA with him. He's very much his own man, but the big square flatness of Bruce Wayne's face, the slope of Gordon inwards, there's even a policeman you'd be hard pressed not to recognise as Sam off of Sam And Twitch. Thankfully he is more restrained with his use of Batman's cape than his mentor was, and there's less emphasis on the splash and more on the storytelling.
A very entertaining book, nevertheless it doesn't seem to be about much. There are hints of town planning, there's a possibility of division within the ranks and there's a very nasty scene with a body and some ancient knives that again challenge the T rating of the comic (though obviously not as much as Detective Comics or Green Lantern Corps) – but it feels empty. Hoping for some filling to come.
Legion Of Superheroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela
I have never got on with the Legion Of Superheroes. Something about a rather unimaginative 30th century that seems to pale when compared with much science fiction, even of the era in which they were created. And to be frank, this issue doesn't change much. This could have been the opportunity to radically alter what a 30th Century superhero could be and this feels too much of the same. What Levitz has always excelled at is here, however, strong emotional points that provide good handholds for what may come. Moments with Dragon King and Chemical Lad, a private beat with Mon-El, they really work, especially with Portela portraying thoughts on faces with a subtle skill. But this book is laden with exposition that dulls it, without giving enough information to put the adventure in the required context.
Oh and a character who doesn't a disguise because no one knows he is a Legionnaire yet. Which is fine, except for the massive Legion logo on his chest which the bad guys then summarily fail to notice.
Again, I don't think I'll be warming to the Legion. But I'll be willing to give it a try the next reboot. Conceptually this is a book I should enjoy. I just never do.
Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang.
Azzarello said this wasn't a superhero comic, but a horror comic. Well he's wrong, it's also a superhero comic. But it is most definitely horror. If you are looking for a Wonder Woman comic to give your six year old daughter (as I am) then this is not that book. I know it seems like I've been beating a horse to death over the violence seen is some of these so called T rated books, definitely in excess of the "mild violence" they advertise, but this not so much beats the horse but slices off his head, leaving a bloody stump for another creature to rise from.
And that's not a metaphor, that's exactly what happens.
And so this is a tale of gods. Wonder Woman, Hermes, the Hecate and more. And a new character that seems to straddle both Greek myth and Christian dogma as the world around her falls apart and only Wonder Woman can save her. And no, this book is not like recent Wonder Woman books – it's more like Neonomicon, in more ways than one. I've bemoaned the DC-isation of Swamp Thing and John Constantine of late, well here, very visibly, is the Vertigoisation of Wonder Woman. Cliff's work is harsh, angular, dark, bloody, each line full of fury, staking out its territory, the very opposite of the clear precise lines Wonder Woman usually attracts. Yes, there's a massive fight scene but it's an unusual one and surrounded by intrigue, myth, doom and the retelling of old, primal stories. She's a god on earth, what were you expecting? And despite all that, simply by placing her in London, there's a nod to her Flashpoint story as well. Didn't expect that, either. Best book of the week by far.
Red Hood And The Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort.
I'm not sure if this comic is intentionally trying to annoy, to provoke, to tap you on the head repeatedly going "nya nya nya nya". But that's what it feels like. Whether it's the overlapping flipping panels throughout the book that look as if someone read We3 and then tried to have go without success, or if it's the terribly knowing and flippant sexual commentary that means even if this book would be unsuitable for a T audience, it was definitely written for them. Dick jokes, boob jokes, flippant mass slaughter, there are nevertheless some interesting ideas here. Specifically, how an alien sees humanity in a fashion that makes far more sense than Superman ever did. How a dark sense of dread implanted into a tropical paradise seems far more threatening than when seen in Gotham where everything is like that. And how international politics is generally far more complex than the Allies vs Nazis. What there is lacking is personality, soul of the characters, where a flippant line will do. This is Two Pints Of Lager instead of The Inbetweeners and it doesn't have to be.
Green Lantern Corps #1 by Peter Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna
I made the Green Lantern Saw joke already, and thankfully that opening scene isn't reflective of the whole book. I mean, come on. But it does give a sense of imminent danger to Hal Jordan and Jon Stewart, both fit in on Earth. Guy is having trouble getting a job at a school because of how his life could make the kids a target, while Jon is finding the opposite, his awareness of trouble that could strike is affecting his architectural commissions. Being a Green Lantern changes you – how people react to you, and how you react to life. You can never go back. And these home truths are told beautifully, both this and Green Lantern getting highly detailed but very solid artwork, that allows light to shine through it, embracing each line. It's a remarkable achievement, especially in comics and it deserves recognition.
Oh and a lot of alien otters die horribly. Okay, we're back to that again…
Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard, Ig Guara and Ruy Jose
Okay, this is a weird book to read right after Green Lantern Corps, when I wasn't expected cosmic. But it places the Blue Beetle form as a strong alien aggressor which already destroyed a world. A bit like in Green Lantern Corps. And then we're straight to high school. Also a bit like Green Lantern Corps. Weird. But this isn't Green Lantern… it's The Giant Robot. An alien destroying machine that's lost its purpose discovered by a boy. Except this boy is a bit older, the Robot is a suit, and it's very very Hispanic. Set in El Paso, Texas, with a Hispanic population of 53% (thank you Wikipedia) and a high school slap bang in that demographic, there's not even room for a token white. Anyway, this comic kind of does the job. Ethnicity aside, this is a rather stereotypical comic, alien artifact on Earth, everyone after it, it ends up with the down-on-his-luck teenager and whammo. Whether it is still a killing machine, whether our rebooted hero is to be subsumed by it, the battle of nature and nurture are all to come. It's all set up but no development or conclusion, it's a total written-for-the-trade experience. But it sets up the world it takes place in admirably. This is not Gotham.
DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang
Blackest Night brought Arnold Drake's Deadman back from the dead, pretty much. The reboot wipes that away. This is Classic Boston Brand, dead and loathing it, leaping from body to body, from life to life and seeking redemption along the way. Quantum Leap meets Ghost. And its that scene that sets out redemption, whether a dream or his new religion, that is the stand out. The most beautiful scene in this comic, a journey portrayed so gracefully, so visually… and so much like a Road Runner cartoon. Didn't expect that.
But like many books before this one, especially those starring minor characters, this is not just an origin story and this isn't a reboot. It's a retold flashback and then a life lived as this most intangible yet most impactful of superheroes. It masterfully moved through a large cast with care, skill and sensitivity as, well, Big Numbers did. It has a very different aim of course, but these are not discarded slivers of personalities, as the book tells us, they are staying with our most possessive of leads.
And Chang rises to the challenge portraying so many lives convincingly yet calmly. This is not a book to show off on, this is a book telling an affecting story with a massive cast in as short a space of time as possible. Yes you get a cliffhanger, yes this is also very much a trade-written book, but you're given a reason to care, enough context to invest yourself in and this is definitely a book I'll be picking up next month. And I didn't expect that either.
Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March.
This is a T+ book. Considering what we've seen in T books so far, what gruesome scenes could push a comic into such territory?
Oh, sex. Because sex is far more offensive that extreme violence. What was I thinking. And because this is Catwoman, it's rather fetishistic as well.
I mean there's violence as well. Blood is spilled. Just nothing is ripped off, sliced off or put through meat grinders.
But the other books didn't have someone shagging Batman.
There are touches of Catwomen past here. March's art recalls images of Darwyn Cooke all over the place, and the kittens in their basket are characters in their own right. It's a gorgeous book, a night in the life of Catwoman as her life gets a bit more manic than usual, with signs that things are not right with her, things are slipping, she is not her usual in control self – not quite. A bullet gets too close, chloroform doesn't last as long as it should, nothing that will affect the outcome, but enough to let you know that although this is the same Catwoman we've always know she is… slipping. And Batman is there to catch her. With his batpenis. And it looks like she's got her claws in…
Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer
And back to just the bloody violence. Gotham does its best to be a character here, but it's just not as convincing as in Batman #1. Here it is Nightwing renewing his relationship with the city around him, out of the Batsuit, embedding himself in the red and black. With the old circus in town, it's rooting him further in his past – just in time for an assassin targeting Dick Grayson to rip him right out of it, with some Wolverine blades.
This feels like an okay Nightwing comic, nothing special, nothing really meaty enough to sink your teeth, or your blades, in. Just the move from dealing with the violence of the city, to the violence being directed at you. It's not enough.
Birds Of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz
You know, if I lived in Gotham, I'd move. Seriously, who would live here if they weren't part of organised crime? I'm starting to think that the Batcrew should just target everyone who lives in Gotham, one by one, most of them are corrupt, involved in crime, or about to be turned into an evil villain. Nuke it from space, it's the only way to be sure.
Anyway, this is a comic book that very much understand its visual language, timing, pace, language, and throwing bodies around in space in infinite variety. It's opening is perfect pitch action adventure comics, wisecracking that doesn't distract from the situation the characters find themselves in and indeed, juxtaposes with the next scene.
Throughout the art is confident, slick and stylish, spaced out, and helping the story flow. Here, Jesus Saiz is Alan Davis mixed with Steve Dillon and it's a confident, engaging approach. Which is useful because Duane is happy to jump back in time, forward in time, back a bit further and then forward almost to the present but not quite. Seriously I felt like getting a pair of scissors out to reassemble the scenes in a closer-to-linear order, but I managed to resist. Who knows what this will sell for on eBay now that everything's been selling out.
The whole issues doesn't half remind me of the recent Doctor Who episode Let's Kill Hitler. I liked that as well. But it's a well structured, well told superhero mystery. Maybe I could move to Gotham after all…
But no, nuke it from space. Oh look, they took my advice…
Captain Atom #1 by JT Krul and Freddie Williams III
This is the journey from Captain Atom, a man who can fly around, absorb energy and blast stuff… into Doctor Manhattan, god of all he surveys.
This seems quite explicit. Manhattan was based on the Charlton character Captain Atom in the first place, as Atom was absorbed into the DC Universe as a regular character. But now he seems to be going quite explicitly the other way, to the worry of Stephen Hawking analogue. It's just a shame we don't gt to see more of that in the first issue, the man who walked like a demi-god, now becoming something more. Instead we get to see a rat with a secret which will no doubt pop up well as soon.
That's the problem, nit with every twenty page comic, but I'm still used to twenty-two pages, sometimes they can come up a little short, and a reader like me is left wanting, not quite sure with is missing. Just as Captain Atom is feeling less in touch with everything around himn, as well as his own identity, so I'm feeling less in touch with this book. It's not a bad read, the art is certainly acceptable, and the colours are used to great effect in dealing with the pit of a volcano, and Atom's own reality, but… like Captain Atom, I guess I'm just no longer feeling it.
Supergirl #1 by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar and Joan Green.
Remember Red Son? The story about a Superman who landed as a baby in Russia? Well, that's where Supergirl starts from, her own particular spacecraft burrowing through the Earth and popping out in Siberia. Of course, this Supergirl (and yes, it's a complete reboot) is a teenager, and may not relate to the Soviet state in quite the same way the Red Sun Superman did. Because what do teenagers do? Rebel, exactly. Especially when you send massive robot soldiers to take her down, and she just smacks them around like toy Transformers.
Oh and the scene with the Strange woman? It also coincides with Supergirl hearing around the world, specifically hearing scenes from other comics. I just read those speech balloons in Birds Of Prey #1 and Nightwing #1 both also out this week. Nice touch.
Again, this is a fairly ephemeral comic, but Supergirl's panic at the world around her, from dream, to reality, to nightmare is rather infectious.
And never tell a Kryptonian teenager to calm down. It won't end well.
So what have we learned this week? That two characters getting close with nothing that explicit warrants a T+ where graphically slicing the heads off horses and making jokes about non-circumcised penises doesn't. That I'm with Red Hood rather than Nightwing – fight Gotham crime from a tropical island if you must. Oh and Watchmen is coming…
Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London, currently showing an exhibition of self portraits from famous cartoonists, and Rebekah Isaacs popping by for a signing this Saturday. Check out their New 52 podcast here.