Saturday, October 22, 2011

DC's NEW 52...Should I stay or should I go?

Last week on this blog...I, the fearless writer and creator of Lucius Hammer...tried my hand at writing honest and hard hitting reviews of the new DC Comics re-launch. My reviews I thought were insightful, thought provoking and truthful...but I was very liberal and scathing with regards to the adjectives I used when a book was supremely disappointing to me and my partner and co-host here at Ravenhammer Headquarters, Christian Colbert, sent me a nice e-mail saying that I should pull the blog post out of respect to the creators that I ravaged. His point was..."You never know if we might have to deal with these people in the future. You'd be surprised how quick things get around on the web." Well...he was right. I pulled down my passionate yet acerbic rants because I also know what it feels like to be raked over the coals of a critic. But my internal argument to this point is that bad is bad. I will hopefully never release a comic book that is knowingly garbage in my lifetime, but if this were to happen...I would want someone to tell me so that mistake would never be made again. I decided to revisit some of those DC 52 books again this week with reduced vitriol but with the same opinion and something extra that I didn't include on the last go round...HOW I WOULD RE-LAUNCH THE DC 52 including what titles I would have chosen and omitted compared to the ones they are actually publishing....so....let's try this again. Action Comics # 1 in terms of its significance is most likely the most important book in this overhaul of the very established yet stodgy DC Comics Universe. We will discuss why DC Comics is "stodgy" a little later but I must admit that going into Action # 1, I was already a bit biased. Grant Morrison is the writer of this brand new take on everyone's favorite Kryptonian and if you know me.. you know that I was insanely satisfied by his modern masterpiece of superhero literature, ALL STAR SUPERMAN and that I consider it canonical SUPERMAN text. It explains SUPERMAN in a nutshell to the unwashed masses and restores the impossible wonder that often lies dormant in SUPERMAN comics written by lesser scribes. When I first read ALL STAR SUPERMAN...I was hooked from page one. ACTION COMICS # 1 has that same jaw dropping thrill surging through it. Rags Morales is the illustrator and he is extremely competent in depicting Metropolis as a classic city going through some growing pains. This is not the pristine Metropolis of old...this is a real city or being treated like one. We get our first glimpse of Superman as he is administering some tough love justice to a banker who is taking advantage of the common man in his capacity as a trusted public figure. Superman is not happy with this cat and he demonstrates his disappointment by dangling him over the side of skyscraper balcony. I have heard many complaints from fanboys and comic shop nerds that this not their daddy's Superman. Whatever...if you are a true and die-hard Supes fan then you know in the original first issue of Action Comics, Superman was a no holds barred, pimp slapping, door busting, brawling bruiser who would pull your card in a minute. In fact the notion of Superman being an overgrown boy scout doesn't really take hold until a handful of issues later. Morrison, once again in his efforts to reflect what is so amazing about these characters and their literary DNA, resurrects the notion of SUPERMAN the SOCIAL ACTIVIST/ENFORCER. This is exciting to me because it's a seldom explored nuance of Superman's character that separates him from the others in the DC Pantheon. You have this all powerful twenty something running around a big city with a blue t-shirt, a red cape and construction boots taking the law into his own hands...this sets the tone for DC's explanation of the first superhero...and I found it very compelling. Some complaints because in the end...it's not yet as good as ALL STAR SUPERMAN...the art was uneven in places. And sometimes the younger version of Clark Kent comes across as a variant of Peter Parker. In fact ...in a lot of ways, this whole re-vamp smells like the Marvelization of DC Comics. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. ACTION COMICS is full of action and it delivers. Story Grade; A- Art Grade- B+ Next up is Detective Comics # 1...which is, as we all know the showcase for Batman. I am a huge Batman fan. Isn't everybody? As a kid, I was probably a bigger Spiderman and Superman fan but as I got older...Batman crept up on me. I grew up reading Denny O'neill's atmospheric, pulpy and dark Batman adventures. Neal Adams and Jim Aparo helped paint the picture of what The Dark Knight should look like during the seventies. Then something happened when I graduated from high school...Frank Miller released his graphic novel magnum opus...The Dark Knight Returns. When this happened...Batman was incontrovertibly changed forever and thus giving birth to a whole slew of misguided, overly violent, nihilistic superhero comics that have culminated in what we have here with Detective # 1. Tony Daniel is the artist and the writer, and while I applaud his efforts as a fellow creator...I can't help but point out that this book is not Batman to me. This book is tonally more at home with Red Dragon or Kiss The Girls (you know...those serial killer novels)...Batman is his usual hellbent, shadowy sentinel of Gotham..."I am the night." is something he utters throughout the course of this book and I get it...he's a bad mo fo and all that jazz but it's getting kind of tiresome. And catch phrases like "I am the night." if not paired with the right scenario or accompanied by an awe inspiring piece of art can be so terribly cliched or "nineties". The artwork was not up to par for me...Batman seems to be out of proportion in some panels...and in other he looks decent...but nothing special or ominous which is how I like my Dark Knight. The Joker in his most recent incarnation is obviously about as crazy and violent as Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and Hannibal Lecter. Within the first two or three pages of the story we see him wielding a butcher knife that would make Michael Meyers blush with shame. Once again, I feel this portrayal is a bit off key and does a little bit of pandering to the recent takes on the Joker's multi-faceted persona. The Joker is a maniac; a homicidal one at that...but he is subtle and is an artisan of murder. He is not an over the top...blood soaked...corpse bludgeoning ghoul. This is how he is written in Detective # 1...a rabid, bloodthirsty beast who is wildly flailing about with a steak knife. If you like darkness and the whole grim and gritty scene just for the sake of grim and gritty...this may temporarily satisfy your appetite but as far as Batman goes...in my opinion this book is closer to Silence of the Lambs than the Caped Crusader. Story Grade; D Art Grade; D Now...the fun part! How would I have treated these same books had I been given the carte blanche to re-launch and redirect. ACTION COMICS was good but not great and I think it wasn't great because it was missing a few things. I think Rags Morales is a great pick as artist...even if he showed some really rough spots here and there in his panel work. I however might have been tempted to secure someone like Bryan Hitch...or Frank Quietly. Superman is an EPIC comic book and that epic atmosphere must permeate the art and writing. These guys hit home runs every time they step up to the plate. As far as plot changes...I believe I would have included at least one transition scene from Smallville to the Metropolis contrasting the two key locations in this hero's journey and play up the country mouse/ city mouse paradigm. I also would have waited to introduce Lex Luthor much later in the story...right now I feel like they are trying to shoe horn him in and it feels kind of awkward. To me, Lex Luthor has always been one of the greatest comic book villains right up there with The Joker and Dr. Doom. I would take the time in a re-launch and set him up as someone whom Superman despises...a guy who has no powers per se but always makes Superman lose his cool and act outside of his character which is what all good antagonists do. I didn't see much that excited me about Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen either. Both of these characters are kind of hit or miss for me...Olsen will eventually become Superman's "pal" and Lois Lane his girlfriend...I think there could be some interesting storylines within that little triangle. I also think that Jimmy's fascination with Superman is a rational explanation for him getting involved with different aspects of the superhero community as Jack Kirby suggested years ago when he was working for DC. But this book should be about country alien boy comes to the big city...city tries to eat boy...but boy becomes Superman. That's the formula...now in addition to Lex Luthor...there's Braniac...a classic and ingenious idea...sort of a HAL 9000 in humanoid form from Krypton. There's also prisoners of the Phantom Zone. Zod, Ursa and Non? I would definitely play up the whole lost survivors of Krypton thing with Supergirl, Kandor, and Mon-El. There's so much to play with in the Superman universe it's ridiculous. As for Detective Comics...I would definitely have used Ivan Reis or Eddy Barrows for the art chores. Ivan Reis is blowing it up on Aquaman and Eddy Barrows has Nightwing looking like a classic run in the making. Right now...I feel that Batman needs a facelift. His adventures are dark and dour...most of his exploits revolve around murderers and psychopaths, and while that can be fun in an escapist sense I believe Batman needs some light and maybe more adventure and intrigue than the grim and gritty. I would love to see a well illustrated run chronicling Batman's adventures with the League of Shadows and more definitive encounters with Ra's Al Ghul as the mastermind of some overarching year long plot. Clayface and Killer Croc would also be Rogue's Gallery members I would consider for possible revamps and incorporate in more stories. Cat Woman, to me, has lost her bite in terms of being a dangerous and engaging villain for Bats. I would nix their romantic connection and perhaps make their relationship more toxic. She would definitely become Bat-Man's fatale attraction. The Joker has been all over the map...but is my favorite super-villain of all time. I would definitely take cues from Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger's Joker and turn him into that chaotic terrorist who's motivation is to promote disorder. Arkham Asylum is a great fixture in Bat Man's universe...but I would make the Joker this mysterious, uncontrollable force of nature that continues to be a pain in the ass to Batman, and to be problematic to Bat Man he has to be on the loose. He has to be threatening to the point where Gotham is constantly worried about this dude and when he's going to rear his ugly head. Last but not least...Commissioner Gordon would become a major character through which we can see the dilemma of working with Bat Man, needing Bat Man, but also being leery of him because he is a vigilante. If it were up to me I would go for a mixture of Gary Oldman's cerebral, understated Jim Gordon and the righteous, two fisted Commish from Batman Year One. Another thing I would strive for above everything else is to make Bruce Wayne as interesting as Bat Man. I am captivated by Christian Bale's portrayal of Bruce Wayne. He's got this slow burn kind of obsession thing going on that you can see right below the indifferent rich guy facade that is fascinating. I think Bruce Wayne has to be interesting for us to dig Bat Man. Anyway...that's it for now. When I review the DC New 52 again...we'll take a look at Swamp Thing and Animal Man.

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2 Comments:

Blogger J.R. LeMar said...

I don't think you should have pulled your blogs because you're worried that you might have the option of working with some of the creators in the future. If you meant what you said, then stand by your words.

October 22, 2011 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Johnny Golden said...

I really appreciate your reviews and visions of how you would handle these revamps, Brian. I have been picking up a smattering of the new 52 based on positive, insightful reviews and due to that have generally been pleased. It is a mixed bag of course, but I've been enjoying Action Comics and have every bit of faith in Morrison's take on Superman as social activist/enforcer. Some of the new Superman has me squirming, being an age old fan and heavily influenced by the Christopher Reeve films, but I give DC credit for shaking things up and taking chances. I have steered WAY clear of Detective #1 due to horrific reviews, and your description here has cemented that. Batman however, has been off to a good start in general, though I'm not a big fan of Greg Capullo's artwork generally. Let's get on the horn soon and finish what we've started in terms of collaboration, as well as get fresh moving forward! I have been inspired lately want to ride this wave.

October 23, 2011 at 1:36 PM  

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