Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two of the best comic book titles of DC’s New 52 so far, and two of the most disappointing titles as well

About six months ago, you might have seen a vanguard of television commercials promoting DC Comics’ “New 52” line. The company that has published such icons as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for nearly a century decided to completely remake their comic book series, to make them more accessible to new readers.  DC had attracted some of the best writers in comics, such as James Robinson, Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison to reboot their characters for the 21st century in fifty-two separate comic book series. Since they’ve rebooted their comic book universes about six times in the past two decades, I was a tad skeptical that this would last. It does seem that there won’t be going back for DC Comics, but I have the feeling that quite a few of those 52 series won’t be here next year. There are a few true gems in this new DC universe, and a bunch of definite clunkers, but there are even more titles that just straddle the line and do nothing for me.

My favorite titles so far are:

I think I would have to say that Aquaman ranks as one of the best, or perhaps even the best, of the New 52 titles. Excellent artwork and some of the best scripting I’ve seen in a long while. Aquaman and Mera are trying to make their own lives in the surface world. The first story arc has the King of the Seas and his wife battling both ancient sea creatures and misapprehensions by landlubbers about who and what the two Atlanteans really are. There are plenty of hints given to both characters’ revitalized pasts, more than enough to pique the interests of even casual Aquafans. If they can keep up this sort of quality in the future, I think Aquaman finally has a future as a major DC character, even without a movie or cartoon push. I would definitely suggest readers get the trade paperback of the first story arc when it comes out.

Suicide Squad
For those who haven’t read many comics, the Suicide Squad is a group of government-sanctioned operatives that have been around since the early sixties. The initial team was a team of military operatives and adventurers, but former X-Men artist John Byrne created the current team dynamic in which the Squad is made up of super-villains, who get their sentences reduced or commuted if they successfully finish their missions … and, of course, if they manage to stay alive. One interesting thing about this group is that the members do in fact die, and die quite often. The New 52 incarnation features a team centered on long-time Squad member Deadshot, with the popular Harley Quinn as an added attraction. Other members include a rebooted and apparently reformed Black Spider, the monstrous King Shark, and a new version of the old DC western hero El Diablo, along with a lot of newer villains along for cannon fodder. The stories are intricately-plotted and interesting. The first issue follows the new Squad’s indoctrination and first mission, which was to kill everyone in a sealed football stadium. The artwork is very good, the action is quick, and the character well-voiced. The only bad thing about the New 52 Suicide Squad is the fact that Amanda Waller, the group’s behind-the-scenes leader, went from being a somewhat portly black woman into your standard near-super-model type. I think this takes a lot of force from the character’s personality and was a very poor decision. Not everyone in a comic book is a superhero and they don’t all have to have super-heroic physiques.

And the two titles that I currently think are pretty much crap so far are:

Justice League
I mentioned this title in a previous blog, and it has definitely lived up to my low expectations. So far, it’s just been a dark and gritty version of the Super Friends: Galactic Guardians cartoon. There really hasn’t been anything in this title that hasn’t been a cliché, and considering that it has been hailed as the line’s flagship title, that’s a shame. The only redeeming feature is that Aquaman, as in his own title, is now more bad-ass than he was in Grant Morrison’s JLA title in the early 2000’s. While the first six issues were bogged down with the retelling of this Justice League’s origin, the nineties-style artwork and the dark feel does nothing to make me feel that this is the Justice League. And while I’ve always liked Cyborg as a character, the token nature of his appearance here belittles the good characterization he had under the reigns of Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the original New Teen Titans title.

The next story arc is going to have to blow me out of my chair to keep me from just ignoring this book.

Hawk and Dove
I think by now everyone one should know that an important adage in comics is “Don’t let Rob Liefeld draw your comics! And for Raptor Jesus’ sake, don’t let him write it!” Perhaps fortunately, he’s only drawing this book, making it the most poorly drawn comic in the whole New 52 line. I will say that Liefeld has improved his artwork since his last company-wide attempt at revamping (Marvel’s regrettable year of “Heroes Reborn” back in the early nineties), as a good number of the humanoid figures in Hawk and Dove are actually recognizable as human beings.

The book does recognize the prior incarnations of the characters, which were created in the late sixties by legend Steve Ditko, and revamped in the late eighties into a male and female team (instead of brothers). Unfortunately, the last two Hawk and Dove revivals met with sad fates; the second was pretty much ignored, and the first fell prey to spiteful writers and editors who couldn’t handle the fact they had devised a crossover event with a plot more transparent than air. Armageddon 2001 featured the introduction of a powerful, time-bending character called Monarch, who was formerly a super-hero. The fans, fueled by the burgeoning influence of the internet, guessed right away that Monarch was originally intended to be Captain Atom. To show up everyone who guessed that, the writers decided suddenly to make Hawk into Monarch, and having the female Dove killed in the process.

Hawk and Dove are now the Avatars of War and Peace. (Previously, the team had served a God-like voice, and also were said to have been created by a Lord of Order and a Lord of Chaos who were in love.). There are a number of Avatars for both sides, which have apparently been in existence for several hundred years. We see the initial villains, Condor and Swan, kill an Avatar called the Osprey to get his power. Dove is in love with Deadman. Hawk is pretty much brain-dead and brutish, not bothering to think twice about picking a fight with Robin. I suppose he doesn’t know that Robin’s been trained by the League of Assassin and is Batman’s son, but when Batman is in the picture, even in the farthest corner, you don’t mess with him or his. There’s a clichéd subplot of a mad scientist with an army of “monsters of mass destruction” out to get Hawk and Dove for stopping him from bringing down the Washington monument, and a DC cop who is willing to work with the pair, but may or may not have an agenda of his own. Hawk’s father, a Washington judge, also plays a supporting role in the first few issues.

The book is just poorly done on all levels: Mediocre art, dull scripting, less-than-vibrant characterizations. This is one of those series I tried to like, since I’ve enjoyed two well-done versions of the duo, but this comic book can’t rise above the many faults in it. I might give it a second chance if the book gets a decent artist like most of the New 52 have managed to do, but I think issue #6 is the end of the New 52 Hawk and Dove for me.

See you folks later this week! I have no idea what my next topic will be, but I'm sure something will hit me.

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