I’m having a rough go of this DC stuff, guys. A real rough go. If I had to pick one book this week to tell you to avoid like the frigging plague, it would be Teen Titans. Don’t do it to yourself, readers. You deserve better.
While That’s E is my LCS, occasional place of employment, and all-around hub of awesome, working in Boston can make it difficult to swing by store hours during the week to pick up comics. That activity is typically reserved for the weekend when Boyfriend and I—now Fiancé, hip hip!—have the time to chat with our friends behind the counter, praise the latest works we’ve enjoyed, or talk smack about that week’s failures (at which point hilarity and raucous laughter ensue). But when Wednesday rolls around and the excitement of new comics fills the air, it can prove hard to wait those extra few days. That’s when I usually wander around Harvard Square during my lunch hour and inhabit Million Year Picnic, a quirky little hole-in-the-wall shop with cozy shelves and some super nice people running the register who clearly know their comics. And when I went in there this week, the item I immediately grabbed for a quick read-through was Aquaman #1.
Laugh at me all you want, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Aquaman. His was the first comic I’d ever read when I was a kid, secretly borrowing my brothers’ comics to read whenever they were out of the house. I can get into the myriad reasons why I love Aquaman and will defend him ‘til the end, but that’s a topic for another post (which I’ve been working on for like six months and might never see the light of review day). When DC announced this title, I was actually excited. Aquaman! What!? And not belligerent old hook-hand Aquaman either—no! This was the young, sexy blonde Aquaman that had made my tiny toddler heart skip a beat (he was so pretty!). As I flipped through the pages gawking at the beautiful artwork and reading the story, I knew immediately that this would be one of few keepers for the New 52.
Geoff Johns loves Aquaman. He’s proclaimed as much time and again during interviews, but you don’t need to hear him say that in order to get it. Reading Aquaman #1 felt very much like Johns’ love letter to Aquaman. He cares about this character, and we see that from page one. The entire issue is devoted to building up Aquaman—first with a display of brute strength in the opening pages, followed by a glance at his reputation and insight to what’s in his heart, ultimately ending with a declaration of intent. And in between it all, it is funny as heck. I’m not sure a New 52 book has given me as much enjoyment yet as Aquaman did. I loved this, and if Geoff and Ivan Reis (whose art was ridiculously great) can keep the momentum, I’ll be hooked for the long run.
Uh, no pun intended.
I hate it when this happens. You hear so much hype about a book—it’s built up and talked about everywhere and every review you read is like “THIS IS AMAZING!” and you think, oh my, I can’t wait to be hit with the awesome. Then you get the book and … the balloon has popped. To smithereens. You’re deflated and your pieces are scattered everywhere, and you don’t feel like picking yourself back up.
That’s kind of how I felt after reading this issue. Despite how gorgeous it was for the eyes—as though anyone would expect any less from J.H. Williams on that—it left me deflated. Yet, I’m not really sure what my expectations were. Story-wise, I had none. I’m not a huge Kate Kane follower, but I liked her enough to sample this. The only thing I left the issue with, though, was a sizeable dose of confusion. I haven’t read Greg Rucka’s acclaimed run on Detective—the only Batwoman I’d read was the “zero” issue that came out last year or so—and as such, I had no frame of reference for a lot of what was happening in this book. Whatever happened to “new reader-friendly”?
Could I follow along with this? Yes. I could piece together most of what I think I needed to know by the end of the issue. But was it easy, or even rewarding? Not really … I didn’t leave it feeling as such. I’d like to blame that on the fact that J.H Williams, like many on the New 52, is artist-turned-writer. That’s not an easy transition to make. I’d also suggest that this title was never actually meant to be part of the New 52—it wasn’t written to entice new readership or be part of this comics-holy endeavor. It was just a title that kept getting delayed and kept getting delayed and eventually found its way to being a part of this. I think it’s done some harm.
I’m going to read issue two. I’ll likely stick out the entire first arc, because I think whatever nitpicks I have with this can certainly be overcome. I will say that the opening scenes in particular were incredible, and I’m looking for more of that to come. Overall, the book just didn’t hit me the way I was expecting, and so much of that I’m sure has to do with the internet hype. Drowning it out for next month.
Ugh. I really … I didn’t want to do this. I staunchly and adamantly shot down this book before it came out; very loudly voiced my hatred at the concept of a new Birds of Prey without Oracle or Huntress or Gail Simone behind the board. I was NOT going to give this a shot. But in a week where Catwoman and Starfire were degraded and exploited beyond all comprehension … suddenly, a female team book felt more alluring. And really, let’s face it—I’m a masochist. Comics fans in general are absolutely masochists. We know it’s going to be bad—we know it’s going to hurt, but damn it, we just can’t look away. We just can’t stop.
So I picked this up. And … it broke my heart.
First of all, let me get this off my chest: Dinah’s outfit is absolutely dumb. Dumbest thing ever. I will say that I’ve never minded the fishnets in her previous getup—I thought her outfit was fine, and no, I didn’t think she looked like a hooker. I thought she looked like a badass biker chick, though much of fandom had complained that the fishnets were tacky. DC’s answer to that, apparently, was to re-tool her costume and add even MORE fishnets? Up her ARMS, no less? What the hell, guys. This is the stuff that makes me want to cuss my head off. (I’m trying to tone it down—it isn’t easy.) It’s just the most senseless outfit of all the redesigns, and that’s saying a lot considering there is some genuinely BAD stuff out there. My eyes … they bleed.
Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about this book. The Birds of Prey, to me, has always been about friendship. Well, it’s about girls kicking ass too, but mostly, it’s friendship. The unfailing, strong-in-the-face-of-all-danger, love-you-no-matter-how-many-times-you-screw-up friendship between Dinah and Barbara. Then Huntress eventually came along and stirred the pot, and the book became even more amazing because the relationships built between the three women was not something that was found in any other DC book, or any other comic book period. Add Zinda Blake to the mix, and things still kept getting stronger. Four ladies, four unshakeable ties. A family. That was the Birds of Prey. And I came back for it month after month after month, because it felt like these were my girls. You find things you relate to and after so many years of a book like this, you build these immensely personal ties and attachment to it. Not having the Birds anymore—my Birds—is heartwrenching.
This? If they had called Duane Swierczynski’s version anything else—anything at all other than “Birds of Prey,” I might have actually been able to swallow this. But I can’t. I keep looking at this book hoping that it’s what it was—what I want it to be, but it’s not, and I’m not MEANT to look at it that way. We’re supposed to look at it as something new. It’s its own thing. DC is asking us not to compare it to what came before. But that’s really unfair, and it’s just not something I can do. DC built this attachment of mine; they gave me a security blanket that I loved and loved, and they can’t expect me to throw it away for some new toy.
I’m genuinely sorry about it, too, because the artwork on this was flawless. One issue and I am already a huge Jesus Saiz fan. And as much as I wasn’t crazy about Swierczynski coming on board, I have to give credit where credit is due—he writes a pretty damn good Black Canary. Maybe even second best to Gail. Unfortunately, I won’t be sticking around to see what he can do. He screwed that up for me the moment he introduced Barbara Gordon in this issue for no apparent reason whatsoever outside of raising a million continuity questions that he doesn’t proceed to answer. I can’t look at this with the new eyes that it needs. Maybe some day … but for right now, looks like I’m out.
Yeeaaahhh … I have to say, I was really on the fence about this one. I had no idea what to expect until a few weeks back when I watched this hysterical interview with Brian Azzarello about his run on the book. He has such utter disdain for the interviewer in it and he’s so frank with his responses that I couldn’t help but be oddly endeared. Suddenly, any worries I had about the title just kind of fell away.
Despite being turned off by the idea of yet another revamp for Wonder Woman, after over a year of horrible, pedantic, pointless WW issues during the “Odyssey” story arc of Straczynski’s ill-conceived run, I was suddenly DESPERATE for a title re-launch. Time to kick the lame pants and jacket, adolescent writing, and cheesecake artwork to the curb. Cliff Chiang on art duties? GODSEND. Brian Azzarello writing? Er … I hadn’t read the guy. There was a 50/50 chance this could work.
I liked this issue. It took me two reads, but I liked it. The first read through was a little rough—Azzarello wasn’t lying when he said he wanted to introduce a “horror” element to Wonder Woman, and at first, it just seemed like a whole bunch of violence and gore. But on the second read through, the issue took a much better shape, and I caught things I didn’t catch the first time around. The tone was different, and I actually liked it. It was hard, but in a good way. Azzarello re-introduces some of the Greek gods, and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—they actually come across really cool, powerful, and scary. When was the last time the gods were actually scary? They SHOULD be scary. It’s refreshing to see. Especially interesting is the fact that this doesn’t feel as “mythological” as it actually is. You’re not watching the gods walk around in togas and hang out on Olympus the way you did during Greg Rucka’s run (which I loved as well). It’s not in-your-face ancient mythology. It’s modern day, and it WORKS. So much so that I’m surprised.
The story involves a human girl named Zola who has unknowingly gotten herself mixed up in godly affairs—literally—and it’s up to Wonder Woman to protect her from the wrath of who we presume to be Hera and Apollo. I was very concerned with how Wonder Woman would come across under Azzarello’s pen. Would she just be a violent Amazonian? Would she retain any of her compassion? Would she wear pants? (Just kidding.) My favorite renditions of Wonder Woman have always been the loving, empathetic ones—Simone’s and Rucka’s. An overly violent Wonder Woman goes against the grain of everything the character represents.
That said, she isn’t afraid to kick ass when ass needs kicking. She isn’t afraid to kill if it’s what must be done (see Maxwell Lord). And in this issue, Wonder Woman kicks a lot of ass in what is one of the most well-choreographed, beautifully drawn fight scenes I’ve read in ages. Cliff Chiang kills on this book, illustrating a Wonder Woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, but can also show concern where it’s called for.
Did this completely fire on all cylinders for me? Not entirely. I have a few nitpicks, to be sure—for example, this being her own title book, it felt oddly as though Wonder Woman somehow wasn’t in it very much. I also wasn’t crazy about the use of her lasso in one scene, and I feel like some of the dialogue can be tweaked as we move forward. But overall, this is a HUGE improvement over the garbage Wonder Woman fans have had to suffer through over the past year. I am most definitely on board here, and the creative team has set my expectations high. For the first time in a long time, I can’t wait for the next issue of Wonder Woman.
Hmmmmm … Well, I can tell you that excitement of mine didn’t last too long.
Man. This was so … it was …
Okay, here it is: this was average.
So I’m having a very difficult time forming the words to adequately summarize the issue. I reiterate—it’s average, and you know, that’s kind of a big problem you don’t want to have when you’re pitching yourself and your entire line of comics very hard to those elusive new readers. What this should have been was MIND-BLOWINGLY EXCELLENT. This should have kicked things off with a bang, knocked me out of my chair, and had me smiling like a Cheshire cat for the rest of the day. But instead I’m … I’m just kind of … confused.
Let’s start with the great: the artwork. I am a complete and utter sucker for pretty much anything Jim Lee does, so having him draw this book is a sweet, delicious treat for my superhero-hungry eyeballs. While I wonder about his ability to produce on a monthly deadline, I will bow to the fact that he delivers here. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is
only 24 pages of Jim Lee goodness, and I’m all over it. If I were a smoker, I’d need a puff after staring at the panels in this book. The final page … oh my God, yes. I want THAT. You go, Jim Lee!
Now, unfortunately, the not-so-great: the story. You know, only the second most important thing in a comic. I have not read very much Geoff Johns in my time—I skipped over all that Blackest Night, Brightest Day hoo-ha, so I don’t have a lot to compare this to in terms of his varying levels of talent. I can only go by what I have in front of me, and what I have here is average.
It’s not necessarily that the story is even that bad. I just question the route taken here as far as using the first issue to “form” the Justice League. The story opens up with Batman chasing/being chased by minions of Apokolips. That’s all well and good, until Batman starts firing some weird missile/projectile weapons from his arms. I know, right? What is that about? We all know Batman doesn’t use guns, and although these are technically not handguns, the page spread certainly brings them to mind. I’m going on a tangent, but it’s just kind of a weird scene, and it honestly got me off on the wrong foot right away. Batman eventually meets Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and the two verbally spar as they flee the oncoming authorities … or whatever. This is five years in the past, you see—a time when vigilante superheroes are not so adored by the public. We also transition to a couple of separate scenes featuring Vic tor Stone, but frankly, I have no love for Cyborg, so he’s completely unimportant to me. I’m actually a little peeved that he’s even being set up as a “founder” now.
The reason I wonder why Johns has chosen to tell this story immediately is because, let’s face it—this issue is the Batman/GL show. That’s entirely all it is. And while that may be fine for readers like ourselves who know these characters and this history, think about the new reader coming off “the street.” If this is meant to be accessible to them—if I’m not a comics reader and I decide to wander into a comic shop looking for Justice League #1 because I saw it advertised somewhere and I’m intrigued by this cool-looking cast of characters—how am I going to feel when I pick up that first issue expecting to see a team and not getting one? How am I going to feel expecting to see Flash or Wonder Woman and not getting either one? Seasoned comics fans know how misleading covers can be. Newbies don’t.
So, to me, the way this could have been remedied would have been to open up the first issue with the team already established—maybe they’re fighting some giant dude or whatever, I don’t know—and they’re quipping with each other back and forth, and Batman is his usual brooding but badass self, and Flash is cracking jokes left and right, Superman is eye-beaming something to smithereens, and Wonder Woman’s punching a dude through a wall. Wouldn’t the action taken here and the dialogue provide the perfect vehicle to demonstrate to you exactly who these people are and how they get along? Meanwhile, if you so choose—or perhaps you can leave this for the next arc—you can have “flashback” scenes showing all these important first meetings and the formulation of the team. The best way to learn about these characters and their relationships is to actually see them in action. It’s all about show, don’t tell. Johns didn’t need to give us the step-by-step in order for us to get it. Heck, we could have understood this team without ever seeing them come together at all, and to me, that would have been so much more interesting to just piecemeal it on my own by watching them.
So, it’s not that this was all bad—just that it was average storytelling. Is that really the best that Geoff Johns has?
I have one more major nitpick here. When this reboot was announced, we were told that we’d be reading all new stories. Yes, it’s the story of the Justice League coming together, but it was going to be a new one. Something we hadn’t read before. Well, I ask you—doesn’t this
kind of remind you of this?
Batman getting blinded by GL’s light. No? Okay, how about this
GL thinks Batman’s pretty much a jerk either way. Still not convinced that we’ve seen this meeting before? I have one more for you. Take a look at this
Why, look at that. Green Lantern gets his RING stolen … TWICE?! Yeahbuhwhaaa?!?!
The first photos in each set are from this week’s issue of Justice League. The second photos in each set are courtesy of Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin from just a few years ago. It’s déjà vu all over again, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to do much better than this to keep my interest, DC. I suppose I should expect Superman’s first meeting with Wonder Woman to be a ridiculous fight that ends with an even more ridiculous kiss, based on what we’re going for here. I mean … that’s what happened in All-Star, isn’t it?
By the way, I bought the standard shelf issue of this comic book, as I will with any other. The polybagged combo pack with downloadable copy just isn’t for me. I have a huge stigma against the idea of digital comics, but that’s a post for another day. Ultimately, Justice League #1 was an okay read, but it didn’t blast through any ceilings. Here’s hoping the following 51 offer something better.
This week, I found myself surprisingly excited for Justice League #1 … and that’s kind of weird. If you read my teary-eyed, rage-filled rant over the New 52 when it was announced a couple of months ago, then you know I was heartbroken and angry. DCnu? What? I didn’t want new. I wanted the old stuff—the good stuff. The stuff that got me into this publisher in the first place. My Wonder Woman and my Catwoman, my Birds and my Bats. Except that DC claimed that the old stuff was NOT good stuff anymore (despite all their earlier statements otherwise), and they now needed something new and fresh. You, dear comics fans—you, who have loyally and perhaps misguidedly been there from the very beginning, were being told it was time to let go … again. The search for “new readership” deems that we also become readers of the new.
So I ranted and raved and pissed and moaned, and got myself all worked up over this like the fangirl that I am, because hey—I care about these characters. And frankly, it didn’t feel like DC cared as much as I do.
But that’s kind of silly, right? Of course they care. It might not feel that way on occasion—when you are reading about gimmick after gimmick, event book after event book, tie-in after pointless tie-in, you kind of start to question the ideologies behind these companies, don’t you? Are they doing these things because they genuinely think it makes for a better story, or is it solely about being a big business—a bit of a heartless machine? Well, it’s a combination of both, and that can sometimes cause the line to blur. But at the end of the day, the people behind the scenes live and breathe comics the same way that we do, and I am trying hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. They seem pretty excited about it.
So I want to be excited for this, too. I want it to work. I want it to be good, and FUN.
Some of you—many of you—hopefully attended the midnight release of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1. I won’t be getting my copies until late tonight, so it’ll be a few hours yet before I can form some thoughts on the debut of this initiative, but the excitement is there. It’s hard not to be after getting texted at quarter to 8:00 this morning with a lovely spoiler from my friend Phil (thanks a lot).
(Skip over these images if you don’t want to be spoiler’d. Really.)
<Update: Deleted! He’s had enough embarrassment.>
I’m the one in the green, obviously. Please ignore my friend’s deplorable use of grammar and punctuation.
So, yeah. It’s 2:30, which means I have another four and a half hours or so before I can get to the comic shop. I’m excited and I’m giving this a chance. I hope it doesn’t let me down.