Monday, November 7, 2011

Reviews: DCnU- Anatomy of a Reboot Part 2

When we last left our intrepid comic company, they had embarked on a line-wide reboot. And the first books had finally hit the stands...


 This was a mixed bag, some books were good, some were crap in a bag. Honestly, it was no different than an average pull list on any other month other than the spectacle of 52 new #1's making the non-comic enthusiasts dig deep into their pockets for the printed page (or digital edition- more on this). Fifty two of them! This was a great move by DC. Flooding the market with new books; a media blitz that including advertising on all the pertinent websites, Previews magazine, even TV; everywhere you looked, DC was in your face with pictures of their pretty, pretty new books. 

But, for the most part, they were more flash than substance. It was the 1990's all over again and the hype machine was all over the new hotness: Image Comics- the creator owned megabeast that gave us Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Gen13, and so much more. But for every Spawn (a long running, mostly well written- or at least well intentioned book) there was a Tribe 8 (a one book wonder that only sold because of the word Image on the cover).  And that was my initial impression of the first few books of DCnU.  Sure there were some gems, Animal Man and Stormwatch come to mind... but you couple that with flops like Batwing and Superman and well...

But 52 comics is a lot to go through at once. So let me sum up in the best way possible.. Thematically in pros and cons.


Thinking Outside the Box: With Titles like I, Vampire; Frankenstein, Agent of Shade; and the phenomenal Demon Knights, DC has proved it's not afraid to think outside of the proverbial box. I, Vampire has revamped the character Andrew Bennet, an oft forgotten vampire while Demon Knights takes characters like Etrigan, Vandal Savage, and Shining Knight and puts them in a suitably bloody dark ages setting. Toss in books that were part of the usual superhero fare like Animal Man- revamped into a dark, creepy, almost Vertigo inspired take on the popular superhero tale; and a slow, deep tale like Swamp Thing that has more depth than any of its previous incarnations and you have a new sense of wonder lost in the malaise of the usual superhero suspects.

Bring On the Wildstorm.: Okay, I'll admit this is a bit of a personal preference. If you can forgive some godawful writing and fan service on the part of the Voodoo book (It's really bad and pretty much just there for breasts- more on this later), DC has done a pretty decent job of starting to incorporate the former Wildstorm universe into the DCnU. Voodoo's old WildC.A.T.S. teammate (in a universe we can assume never existed now), Cole Cash shows up in his own book, Grifter, as a veteran that might be the only person that can see the aliens among us.. and starts to do something about it. It's a glorious romp, if low on substance. By contrast, with the addition of the Martian Manhunter, Wildstorm mainstays Stormwatch return as the "professionals" to the Justice League amateurs. It's very cerebral and surprisingly good. Even Gen13 alum Caitlin Fairchild shows up in the pages of Superboy as the head scientist in charge of the "Superboy" project for an organization called N.O.W.H.E.R.E.. She hasn't gotten any powers as of yet, but she's still a welcome addition.

Pretty Pretty Pages: Artists have, in more cases than not, outdone themselves. Of course there is the expected beauty that Jim Lee brings to Justice League, or Greg Capullo's work on Batman, or Francis Manapul on Flash the art is, for the most part, top notch. That isn't to say that every book is as well handled, but it seems like a lot of attention was put into trying to put out the best looking product possible, and for a visual medium, that goes a long way. I'd love to say that it's on every book, but that would be impossible for any publisher, in fact, it seems even Jim Lee won't be on Justice League forever. And who could blame him, those pencils are top notch and unless he's locked in a room and not allowed to see the sun until he finishes a story arc, I can't see him doing more than half a dozen books at a time.

Direct to Digital: This was a no-brainer. Don't get me wrong, I am a collector. I will always prefer the feel of actual pages in my hands. I don't really mind the longboxes cluttering up my attic. For me print is by far a superior medium to digital, but same day release for print and digital is a good idea any way you stretch it.  Not everyone A) has access to or B) wants to go to a comic book store to get their weekly pulls. For them allowing a direct download to Comixology's free DC application for PC and Apple devices is a very wise move. I was afraid it would negatively affect the brick and mortar stores, but the people downlading comics aren't usually going to stores to but their comics anyway. If anything, it is likely to create an interest that may make readers wish to have some titles in print or collected volumes.. so bravo.


Know your Characters: This is a difficult one to articulate. In the past, DC understood the underlying theme behind their characters. Even when doing Elseworlds titles, those themes were understood and continued from book to book. Batman: the greatest detective- smarter, wiser, and though haunted by his past, a much bigger badass than we could ever hope to be. Superman: the iconic inspiration to us all- able to do the most fantastic things in a way that makes us revere him above all others. These are themes that even crossed into film. Think about Superman Returns. Even though we had a movie where Superman did nothing but lift things for two hours, we still got the sense of awe from the people of Metropolis. But now Superman is hated and feared, hunted by the police of Metropolis- not just as a kid, which makes sense, but as Superman, years later. This seems like a change for change sake rather than expanding the way you tell the character's story. We've already read this story with Spider-man. The Man of Steel is not Spider-man.

Inconsistency:  This is a matter of writers and line editors not talking to each other. And since the two Superman books take place over five or six years apart, they are not a good example. But the Batman books. Ugh. Okay, here's the problem and to a degree it links back into Know Your Characters: There are multiple batman books out each month, not including the justice league books, and Bruce Wayne is a different person in each one. Since Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce has become more and more of a paranoid sociopath, preparing at all times to take down his allies, not just his enemies. This is the Bruce Wayne we see in Batman: The Dark Knight. In Batman, the best of the Bat Books, he is much more of the super-science based ultimate detective he was in the Denny O'neil days. Detective Comics is really a villains book, but he's much more of a reactive character that is several steps behind his villains. And in Batman and Robin, Bruce is essentially a non smiling version of the Dick Grayson Batman that we had the pleasure of reading for the last year or so, only this time he ends every paragraph with: "Because I'm your father." Forget continuity if a single character is so different in his own books.

If you Have to Tell me you are Cool Every Other Panel, You Arent:  Nuff Said.

Continuity: Okay this one is a doozy. First there is the obvious: I don't believe that "mired in continuity" was a good enough reason for a reboot. If someone wants to get into comics, they can pick up any comic on the shelf- not just a number one- and start reading. "Wont they get confused?" you ask. No. Because there is this wonderful invention called the internet. In it, nerds like me detail EVERYTHING about geek properties like comics. EVERYTHING. I mean seriously, my favorite character is a mostly forgotten 1970's marvel character named Nova, and I can find every appearance he ever had online.  Either way, they did it.. so lets dive in.

Problem 1) The new continuity is more confusing than the old. Because it's kindof slapdash including things here but leaving things out there, the DCnU continuity is harder for an experienced reader to follow because they don't know what parts of what book to pay attention to and what to ignore. New readers are even more lost, because they don't have ANY back material (and now the internet is rendered powerless by stupid editorial decisions) and the story starts five years in with some books (Action Comics and Justice League) taking place in the past to try to fill in some gaps. Unfortunately these books are coming out slowly so those gaps aren't being filled in a way readers can access easily. So it's not ANY reader friendly. And it would be easy to fix too: just put that character's back story in the back of the #1's for like 3 pages in a sort of cliff's notes. Or even make a full comic of just backstory like Marvel's old Marvel Saga book from the 1980's. At least we'd know what the hell is going on.

Problem 2) The missing characters. There's a lot missing and while some like the JSA and Captain Marvel are due out next year, we've still yet to hear about fan favorites like Wally West or Stephanie Brown or Nightrunner. I still don't know why Wally didn't make the cut into Teen Titans and Bart Allen did even though he claims no relation to Barry. Heck, for most of my generation, Wally West IS the Flash. Barry was this older character that is used to give weight to Wally's story like Jason Todd and Bucky used to to Batman and Captain America. But DC cast him aside and completely forgot about him in everything except the awesome Young Justice cartoon. Fail. I'm not saying he should be Flash now, but SOMETHING. Taking away fan favorite characters with no explanation is the worst kind of continuity error... or editorial error depending how you look at it.

Problem 3) Is it really a Reboot or a Restart? In a lot of ways, the DCnU didn't change enough. A lot of titles are more or less the same as before and except for some exceptional changes like Superman being hated and Etrigan in the dark ages, DC didn't take a lot of the risks it could have. For example, Dick Grayson was Batman and bat book continuity wasn't supposed to change. So why did he go back to Nightwing? Here was their chance to create something new with a more savvy Dick, the guy that was the Batman of Gotham and led the Justice League. Give Nightwing to Stephanie Brown as Barbara took back her Batgirl mantle. That's the book I would have been interested in reading. Or progress Superman's story a bit and make Supergirl his and Lois' daughter.. have him have to raise her rather than retelling the same tired Kara Zor-El story over again. If you are going to remake continuity, REMAKE IT, don't just retell it again but make it.. oooo... scarier.... (sarcasm font). Shit or get off the pot, guys.


Rob Liefield: Rob Liefield drawing Hawk and Dove? REALLY? Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? I would seriously kill a village of small, needy, starving kittens if it meant this guy would never draw again. He's that fucking bad.


Oversexed: Okay, this was really bad. In an effort to , I don't know, give boners to it's more adolescent readers, DC REALLY sexed up some of its titles. Catwoman issue #1 was almost all about sex starting with two pages of partially clothed Selina Kyle body parts before you ever saw her face. I think they were trying to make it endearing while it was sexy, but it just wasn't. The book ended with her coercing Batman into rooftop sex, but the whole issue felt incredible unnecessary. Suicide Squad recostumed fan favorite character Harley Quinn in a completely unexpected way. For a character that was already sexy without showing skin, this seemed like overdoing it and completely without reason. Finally, the worst of them was the way Starfire was handled in the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws. Starfire had always been a sexy character, scantily clad but only giving it up to express her love for those she cared about. But here, the new incarnation of her was little more than a sex goldfish. She was simply there to show boobs to the reader (cleverly covered, of course) and has no memory of her previous exploits making her a perfect fucktoy for her two male teammates. SO MUCH FAIL I HATED EVEN WRITING THAT SENTENCE! 


Financially, yes Issues 1 and 2 of most books sold very well. They sold well enough to give DC the lead in October's sales according to Diamond. So much so that Marvel reacted by laying people off and cancelling books- a stupid move done in reaction to numbers that won't continue, but whatever. The thing is, I don't see the longevity here. Ultimately, the numbers will go back to where they were before with Marvel selling 50% of the unit share every month and DC hovering in the 30% range. The reboot is a stunt, that's it.. and it is great for short term numbers, especially making your goals going into Q4 of a bad year, but it does not revamp a company or an industry facing an uncertain future. 

Final Rating:

Underwear on the Outside uses a FASERIP rating system derived from TSR's beloved Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game from 1984. We will give a numerical score somewhere between 0 (for the REALLY GODAWFUL) and 1000 (for the "slit your wrists because now you can die it's that good"). These numbers fall into categories on the chart above. Through varying degrees of dislike we would likely not recommend things from Shift 0 up to Typical. We feel fairly "Meh" about Good and Excellent. We'd spend money on Remarkable and Incredible but anything above that we get into varying levels of like, love and geeking out.  There's also a little space there numerically. We may give one item a rating of 35 and another 38. Both are considered REMARKABLE, but we think one is a little better than the other. 

As a whole, I give the DCnU a Poor 5 rating. While there are some gems in there, I think the whole thing is flawed from the editorial level down and I find myself hoping for a Crisis more and more with every month. 

So let's list some of those gems You can assume that the rest falls into my rating above:

Justice League: Remarkable 34 Beautiful book, slow on story but really nice to look at.

Justice League International: Remarkable 32 Building up to be a solid title. Interesting mix of new and classic JLI characters.

Wonder Woman: Amazing 50 One of the best written DC books. Plus, I don't feel like Diana is in any way diminished by her handling in DCnU.. if anything, she's far improved.. GREAT take on the mythology.

Supergirl: Excellent 26 Classic tale of Kara's origin but lots of kryptonian on kryptonian action. Well done, much better than the other Super titles.

Batman: Incredible 44 The best Bat title, solid writing coupled with Greg Capullo's fantastic pencils.

Nightwing: Remarkable 31 A solid Nightwing book. I would have liked to have seen more of a change here, but the formula works.

Green Lantern: Incredible 42 Speaking of a formula working. Oh, and Sinestro taking Hal's place? Awesome.

Animal Man: Incredible 45 Superhero horror story with an environmental heart.. despite it's less than stellar art, it is a great read.

I, Vampire: Excellent 20 Andy comes back from supernatural obscurity. A good book, but I don't see much longevity in it.

Demon Knights: Amazing 55 Same goes here, but DAMN I love this title. Dark ages, characters I like and they're all assholes? Good stuff.

Stormwatch: Excellent 25 This is like X-files for superheroes. It can get kind of cerebral, but that's not really a bad thing.

Grifter: Remarkable 30  Ah Grifter.. so many aliens, so many bullets

Blue Beetle: Remarkable 38 The spanglish wonder! This book is light and fun as it should be for a dark, and harsh origin story.

Thanks for the read... sorry for the length.


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