DC’s New 52 Comics Roundup – Part One [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings shares his thoughts on six of the first issues of DC’s New 52 Series, and in this first roundup, covers Action Comics, All Star Western, Batgirl, Batwing, Batman and Robin, and Birds of Prey.
“A mostly strong relaunch that shows how varied DC’s New 52 Universe can be.” ~The Founding Fields
So recently, I took advantage of the fact that most of DC’s New 52 Series had their first issues available for a mere £0.69 on Comixology, which in case you didn’t know already, is an essential comics app for anybody who likes to read comics digitally. It was the perfect starting place for me to check out as many first issues of DC’s New 52 as I could, having already covered the likes of Snyder’s Batman, Johns’ Green Lantern and Francis Manapul’s The Flash, along with others. They won’t feature in this roundup, as the reviews can mostly be found elsewhere.
I should also warn you that this is the first part of my review roundup, covering (as mentioned above) Action Comics by Grant Morrison, All Star Western by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, Batgirl by Gail Simone, Batwing by Judd Winick, Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi and Birds of Prey by Duane Swierczynski. The second part of the roundup will feature the following first issues: Catwoman by Judd Winick, Earth 2 by James Robinson, Teen Titans by Scott Lobdell, Superman by George Perez, Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Red Lanterns by Peter Milligan.
So, now that the introduction is out of the way, we can crack on with the reviews. In case it isn’t clear already, I’m only writing the reviews for the first issue of each of these titles. No more, no less.
Action Comics by Grant Morrison
#1 – The one and only Grant Morrison returns to Superman, joined by sensational artist Rags Morales (IDENTITY CRISIS), to bring you tales of The Man of Steel unlike any you’ve ever read! This extra-sized debut issue is the cornerstone of the entire DC Universe!
I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of the Man of Steel. I haven’t read any Superman-exclusive Comics, and I haven’t seen any of the movies, and nor have I watched Smallville (Although I am excited to watch Man of Steel, despite the not-very revealing Teaser Trailer), so I was hoping that Grant Morrison would either focus on an origins story concerning Superman or deal with a series that required minimal backstory on Superman, rather than like Geoff John’s confusing Green Lantern, pick up on a series that followed directly on from a previous story.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to have read any previous Superman comics to understand what was going on here, although knowing that Lex Luthor is Superman’s enemy (I mean, who doesn’t) is going to help. Action Comics takes us back to the days when Superman is younger, and more inexperienced. I like this approach of a down-to-earth, underpowered Superman because one of the reasons why I never got into Superman before was because he was just too perfect, too powerful. Action Comics succeeds for me in this regard as Morrison has provided a new look into the Man of Steel for both newcomers and older fans.
Whilst reading Action Comics, I couldn’t help comparing the way Superman was treated by Metropolis’s inhabitants to the way Batman was treated at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. Superman’s an enemy of the state, and it’s interesting to see how this will play out in the future and how the Man of Steel will (if he does) gain the respect of his colleagues in action. The Powered-down Superman allows for a nice take on the storyline and whilst Action Comics isn’t amazingly good, there are still some strong points about this first issue that I liked, the artwork being up there. Rags Morales delivers absolutely stunning artwork, that’s great – and really clean. I wish I could say the same about the dialogue though, for it’s not as good as I’d have liked it to be. It didn’t sound very realistic, almost fake.
If Morrison can get over the dialogue in the upcoming issues, then Action Comics could be one of my favourite New 52 titles. It certainly shows promise, and I will be sticking with it for sure, especially as #2 looks great, with the standard cliffhanger ending that all New 52 titles seem to display.
All Star Western by Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti
#1 – Even when Gotham City was just a one-horse town, crime was rampant – and things only get worse when bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes to town. Can Amadeus Arkham, a pioneer in criminal psychology, enlist Hex’s special brand of justice to help the Gotham Police Department track down a vicious serial killer? Found out in this new series from HEX writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with lush artwork by Moritat (THE SPIRIT)!
If it weren’t for the Jonah Hex film which I haven’t seen yet (and for those that have, is it any good? Worth watching?), I wouldn’t have heard of Jonah Hex at all until discovering this title from a review on Civilian Reader. And like Action Comics, I didn’t really need to in order to get what was going on in this story. It isn’t an origin story though, that’s what #0 is for, as All Star Western takes place when Hex is already an established character, although living several years in the past – before the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, where the likes of Alan Wayne and the founder of Arkham Asylum, Dr. Amadeus Arkham walk the streets of Gotham City, which – as it turns out, has always been a shithole.
I really loved this issue, and I think that it’s definitely in the top tier of the New 52 Reboot, up there with the likes of Batman and Earth 2 (which will be reviewed in Part 2 of this Roundup). Having not seen many westerns before (Despite The Magnificent Seven being one of my favourite movies), All Star Western was a great read and introduces Jonah Hex as a badass bounty hunter that I will be wanting to read more of in future issues.
Moritat’s art is very western-y as well, and you can sort of tell that it is the same city that will one day play home to Batman and his family. I hope that Grey and Palmiotti will explore elements such of the Court of Owls in future issues, and provide some more backstory on the history of Gotham City.
Unlike Action Comics, I felt that the dialogue between the two main characters, Hex and Arkham, to be really compelling. Arkham provides a strong narrative and makes an interesting contrast to the sociopath that Jonah Hex is, and as the characters couldn’t be more different, I’m interested to see how the writers explore their development over the course of the upcoming issues.
Just because All Star Western may not have any superheroes in it does not make it a title that you should pass by. A great first issue, and as mentioned above, it’s one of my favourites. Initial feedback on Black Library Bolthole (one of the many forums that I frequent) gave this a four out of five, but I’m considering bumping this up to a 4.5. It’s just that awesome.
Batgirl by Gail Simone
#1 – Yes, it’s really happening!
Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl – and she’s going to have to face the city’s most horrifying new villains as well as the dark secrets from her past. You won’t want to miss this stunning debut issue from fan-favourite BIRDS OF PREY writer Gail Simone!
So, Batgirl. This is my first experience with Barbara Gordon’s own solo series despite having encountered her in Nightwing #3, The Killing Joke and briefly in Batman: Arkham City as Oracle. I can’t really say for sure that I prefer Oracle to Batgirl even though I have now experienced her as both in the past, because I haven’t really had a large helping of both of them. Although I think that the whole concept of Oracle is pretty cool, so on theory, I’d have to go with Barbara as Oracle. I understand that Stephanie Brown, whom I’ve never read anything with her featuring, was the latest Batgirl before the New 52. I personally wouldn’t have minded with so little experience of the Bat-family titles in the past for Barbara to continue to being Oracle and Stephanie as Batgirl, maybe having them both working together on a series. It would have been an interesting touch and would probably have suited everybody apart from those who preferred Barbara as Batgirl.
The first issue was actually pretty entertaining. Although I wouldn’t rank it in the top-tier of the New 52 Reboots, it falls just in between the middle and the top, ranking with the likes of The Flash, Action Comics and Green Lantern.
Gail Simone’s storyline is great, and Batgirl is probably one of the lighter series that the New 52 series has given us. It’s a great place to start for the uninitiated, and there’s even a flashback to the crippling shot caused by the Joker to render Barbara paralysed. The issue delivers a great physiological approach on the character as she is still dealing with the incident that caused her spine to be broken, so if you’re a fan of those sort of stories, then Batgirl is for you. My main issue with this series that it was never explained how Barbara recovered from her injury fully, that’s what really prevents this issue from getting top marks.
But the dialogue was brilliant though, and Barbara is probably one of the more connectable characters that the Bat family has provided us with, unless of course, you’re a billionaire orphan.
My initial rating of Batgirl has given this a 3, but I’ve decided to bump it up to a 3.5 after a re-read. It’s just better than Birds of Prey, which also earned a 3.
Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi
#1 – Battling evil with his own son, Damian, at his side, Batman now realizes that the hardest part of the job may be trying to work together!
As Batman and Robin try to adjust to their new partnership, a figure emerges from Bruce Wayne’s past: His name is NoBody, and he’s not happy that Batman Incorporated is shining a light on his own shadowy war against evil…
I initially put off reading Batman and Robin as I’ve never been a big fan of Robin as a character, and thought that this series would probably be more on the cheesy side. But boy, when I decided to pick it up eventually, I was wrong.
It’s dark, and moody, and very Snyder-esque. What I love about the Bat-family titles is that the Gotham that you see in Batman and Robin, could easily play host to the Gotham that you see in Batgirl, or for that matter, Nightwing. The artwork really matches the whole darkness of the Bat Universe, and as a result, this is defiantly a title that I’ll be following.
The only thing that I didn’t like about Batman and Robin is that Damian Wayne, Batman’s son, is a jerk. When Batman takes Robin to where his parents (and Robin’s grandparents) were shot by Joe Chill, Robin really starts to get on my nerves. For your information, I haven’t encountered any Robin stories aside from Knightfall with Tim Drake as Robin, and I personally preferred Drake as Robin to Damian. But I’m interested to see where Tomasi takes the characters and how they are explored in the upcoming issues. The dialogue isn’t corny or clichéd and the plot is interesting enough for me to keep reading despite having no background on Batman Incorporated – I guess I’m going to have to pick up that title later to catch up on it. But Batman and Robin is certainly one of the better first issues of the New 52 Reboot and a series that I will certainly be following.
Batwing by Judd Winick
#1 –Africa, a land of beauty – and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict. It is in desperate need of a defender, and from the ranks of Batman Incorporated comes a soldier to carry on the legacy on The Dark Knight in the most tumultuous region on Earth. Meet Batwing, the Batman of Africa!
In short, Batwing rocks. Named after the titular character, the titular character, is by all accounts the Batman of Africa, and has a considerably large space to cover, even more so than Bruce Wayne. In the first issue, we get a cameo by the original Batman, and whilst we get no background on how Batwing became Batwing, we get a great introduction to a new villain, Massacre. And if you think that the name isn’t appropriate, then you haven’t read the first issue yet as he lives up to his name in the first issue alone, and the cliffhanger at the end is a particularly brutal one – that will be very interesting to see how Winick deals with seemingly the impossible.
Because the ending is probably the most effective so far out of all the titles reviewed in this roundup that made me want to stick around to find out more. It’s achieved its job of making me want to buy the second issue, and coupled with the interesting storyline and interesting dialogue, as well as some pretty decent artwork, Batwing is a cool concept that you will not want to overlook.
Birds of Prey by Duane Swierczynski
#1 – One is wanted for a murder she didn’t commit. The other is on the run because she knows too much. They are Dinah Laurel Lance and Ev Crawford – a.k.a. Black Canary and Starling – and together, as Gotham City’s covert ops team, they’re taking down the villains other heroes can’t touch. But now they’ve attracted the attention of a grizzled newspaper reporter who wants to expose them, as well as a creepy, chameleon-like strike team that’s out to kill them.
Birds of Prey is my last issue of Part One of the New 52 First Issue Roundup, and I’m not really sure where I fall on it. Having not encountered any of the characters before, I knew little of their backstory but Swierczynski skirts over this well and manages to keep the reader informed.
The narrative is nonlinear, which confused me a bit where the introduction didn’t as much. The issue is a slow debut, but something that’s as bad as Catwoman, thank god. It’s certainly one of the more action packed of the New 52 Titles though and Jesus Saiz has some pretty enjoyable artwork, which makes up for the jumbled storyline.
I’m not really sure where I fall on Birds of Prey though. It certainly has potential and whilst not all of the characters on the front cover are introduced in the first issue I think, I’ll be sticking around for at least two more issues. The characters are enjoyable and strong, and the mystery created is pretty interesting.
So, before I leave the end of Part One, here’s the rank of the order of the first Issues from best to worst from what I’ve reviewed above. I will do a full ranking of the first issue of every New 52 title that I’ve read so far including ones not reviewed in this two parter with tomorrow’s roundup.
- All Star Western
- Batman and Robin
- Action Comics / Batgirl / Batwing
- Birds of Prey