The New 52 Reviews – Week One, Part One

I didn’t get all of the new DC comics, as even with my local comic shop’s discount, that’s a hell of a lot of comics. Some, like Hawk & Dove, have the war criminal of art, Rob Liefeld, working on it because of his inexplicable popularity. A few others I decided not to grab, although if there’s a slow week… somehow, I might grab Static Shock.

So what are the New 52 like?

Much like with Justice League I managed to avoid reading reviews until after I’d read each title a couple of times, so that my opinions wasn’t swayed by my favourite reviewers. I’m pleased about that as most of them differ with each other, and with me. There appear to be differences in the darlings and disasters amongst ALL reviewers, and that’s interesting. To add to the challenge, I’ve lent all but O.M.A.C. out to Proofreader Alex and am using just my memory for these reviews. I like a challenge.

ACTION COMICS #1

Like Justice League, this goes five years into the past of the new DC continuity. To the first appearance of superheroes.

We open with Superman holding a businessman, Glenmorgan, who apparently may as well be, “Mr Metropolis” over his head, threatening to drop him unless he admits to his terrible behaviour. This isn’t the boy scout of the past. He’s raw, angry, has ideals about right and wrong.

After fleeing from Metropolis police with a real sense of joy in his face, he saves some people from their homes being demolished with them in it. Even better, while he gets hurt by a city tank, the public defend him. That, I love. He gets home (jumping, as he can’t fly yet) and chatting with his landlady in a dishevelled Clark persona. We see he’s in a poor part of town, BFF’s with Jimmy Olsen and working at a rival paper to the Daily Planet. All Lois Lane sees him as at the moment is competition.

He warns them to stay off the trains (too late) and as Superman tries to stop it. In the background, government contractor Lex Luthor has until 8pm to catch Superman and has outsmarted him, using the train itself as a weapon. Superman’s knocked out and pinned by it, just in time for Luthor’s deadline.

The pacing of Action Comics is fantastic, it doesn’t stop moving whatever’s happening. After my first read I had to go through it again, to see if I’d missed anything as it galloped along and I wasn’t sure where I stood with it. On my second read I realised something, this was the Golden Age Superman. The Superman of the past, before the radio plays decided to make it “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was more about a symbol for good, for moral rightness. In an age where we all look the other way when corporations screw us over, where people don’t expect the police to help, where “it’s just business” is the phrase of surrender which allows business, government and the media to screw people over, it’s nice to see a Superman against that.

This Clark Kent is brash, idealistic. He has the right values and hasn’t tempered them yet. We hear of an abusive husband who Superman threw into a river, breaking several of his bones. Superman didn’t start out perfect, he had to grow that way. He wants to help everyone, he wants to do good, but he’s a blunt weapon currently.

We’re not going to see a ‘present day’ Superman title until the last week of September, and I’m interested in seeing how they handle that Clark.

Until then, this version is my favourite early Superman so far. He’s not the dull, lifeless, personality-less Clark from Smallville or the emo equivalent from Superman Earth One. This is a Clark who wants everyone to be awesome to each other.

ANIMAL MAN #1

I knew about Animal Man from the comic “52” which I’ve discussed here before. In case people are confused, “52” is the DC Comics magic number. Like how in Alias they made “47” a number to use if they needed one, or the Lost numbers.

Animal Man is about a superhero who can channel animal powers, whose wife and children all know that he’s a superhero. This comic is written in a way which is fine for people who loved all the old Animal Man comics or are just getting into it now. It starts with an interview to show that Animal Man’s one of the more publicly accepted super-celebrities.

The story’s simple, as we see him at home with his family. His daughter wants a pet, but being around an animal for a long time makes him go a bit odd. who encourage him to go back into costume as he’s not been a hero for a while. He does so, stopping a situation in a hospital by channelling animals, giving us good exposition to what he can do.

When he’s done, he has a bizarre black, white and red dream where his daughter’s in a river of blood, his wife is dead, he’s being stripped down, skin, muscle, everything until there’s almost nothing left but a brain, eyes and blood, and the animal spirits aren’t on his side any more.

He wakes and his daughter has summoned dead animals into the garden, as she wanted a pet so badly.

The writing’s great, the art is very hit and miss. It’s best in the dream sequence, but worst in the first few pages. Animal Man’s wife has a mouth/nose problem in one panel which makes it look like her face has imploded. The fantastically-named artist, Travel Foreman, warmed up as the issue went on and hopefully this is just a blip. Outside of 52, I’ve not cared for Animal Man until now. It’s something to keep an eye on.

BATGIRL #1

For those who don’t know, because they only followed the lovely Yvonne Craig 1960′s Batman version or the animate series from the 90′s, Batgirl was shot by The Joker and paralysed. She’s spent half of her comic-existence as Batgirl and half as Oracle, the brains of all the DC Heroes.

This was so long ago that there are many readers, myself included, who have never seen a ‘current’ comic with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. So this is a big thing. There’s a huge hoo-hah about giving her back the use of her legs. I understand that it’s weird and feels like it betrays Barbara Gordon as a representative of disabled people, but these are comics and everyone changes all the time.

It’s like how killing Tara in Buffy was protested because they were killing a gay person. She died because she was Tara and the plot said so, not because she was a representative for all gay people. Barbara Gordon shouldn’t be put in a box and be kept precious because she’s a representative of disabled people. She was, and those stories still exist. There will be other disabled people, there may be more Oracle stories of her (now) three years as Oracle, but things change and it shouldn’t be taken as an intentional slight.

Anyway, this comic… Batgirl is loving being able to walk, swing and jump again, understandably. She stops a home invasion by some thrill-seeking kids who’d be antagonists in Vacancy, Hostel or anything like that. She deals with them using balletic grace, although she’s still rusty and not good with her “Dark Knight” style threatening yet. Meanwhile a villain named Mirror is killing people who miraculously lived through something. Barbara Gordon’s on his list, but he’s not there yet. There’s a brief mention of a ‘miracle’ which gave Babs her legs back, but no more specifics in this issue. I can only assume we’ll hear more of it in this miracle-based story.

Barbara goes back to college and moves in with an ‘activist’. I worry about this, she has ‘fight the power’ but I’m guessing DC won’t be willing to suggest what kind of power, what kind of activism she’s into without making it generic or some kind of naïve idealism.

The Mirror attacks a guy in a hospital, so Batgirl rides her bat-bike into it, tries to stop him and when he points his gun at the same point Joker shot her, she freezes. The Mirror throws the guy she was trying to save out of the window.

It’s okay. As someone who went through back-based crazy in my past, I can empathise with her pleasure at being mobile again, with the trauma always sticking with her. The Mirror’s an intriguing villain and this is a Gail Simone book, which normally means a mark of quality. I’m hoping any sub-standard work’s just a blip.

Next, Part Two of the first week’s reviews, while I read up on the latest releases. Damn this is a ton of comics.

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