Monday, August 15, 2011

Looking with squinty, skeptical eyes at the November solicits for DC's New 52 (Month 3)

In truth, a while back I quit reading "Previews" or looking at anything more than titles of books coming out.  (A) The solicitation information was always one of four or five boiler-plate bits (B) The information was usually hyperbolic and misleading, anyway. And (C) I quite like looking at comics on the rack at my local comic shop and pondering those crazy covers to make a buying decision.*

As exciting as talking about "The New 52" from DC was in the first weeks of the announcement, in the back of my head I was always aware that we'd have a couple of months' worth of solicitations available before the first issue of the New 52 hit the stands (and we'd be spinning our wheels all summer as DC geared up for the effort).  With the New 52, I've felt obligated to get an idea of what I might (and might NOT) spend my money on.

Monday afternoon, the solicitations hit for November's releases, the third month of DC's New 52. DCNu effort.  And maybe I'm tired or in a bad mood, but...  If there was any doubt that New DC is the Old DC, somehow rebooting the line with the same heads and talent in place, curiously, did not seem to shake things up a whole lot, and we're already back to simple tricks and nonsense.

That said, a few things still have me absolutely excited.  And this is where my personal taste comes into play.

Here's my favorite copy of the November solicits:

Frankenstein and The Creature Commandos crash-land on the invading alien planetoid and all-out mayhem ensues, but nothing can prepare them for the coming of The Titans of Monster Planet! And just when they thought things couldn't get worse, Father Time receives a troubling message from his past.
I don't know what any of that means, but its exciting!

Its also telling that I actually like this cover:

I am not sure this is what Mary Shelley had in mind, but I'm gonna run with it
But I was less excited by what I saw elsewhere.

1)  Both VooDoo #3 and Captain Atom #3 are ALREADY relying upon guest-star appearances from un-related characters.  We'd be fine if, say, Superman showed up in Supergirl (he does in issue #2, and we''re assuming its story-driven), but I don't need The Flash showing up to give Captain Atom a pep-talk or team-up before I know who Captain Atom actually is.
2)  I want to want to read Azzarello's Wonder Woman, but he's given her an evil sibling with the name "Strife".  Not only is that totally 90's, it is totally 90's.
3)  Superman #3 looks like they don't actually have any idea what's happening yet based upon the solicitations, or who is going to write or draw the comic.  Not a good sign, and I miss Roberson already.

And that cover might inform you why the red shorts were key to the design of the costume.

behold the power of Superman's steely super-butt
4)  I'm going to admit - most of the Batman Family titles sound to me like comics I've read before a thousand times over.  There's nothing here that sounds like something I really care about reading.  That makes me so, so sad.
     -Batman and Batman and Robin BOTH feature "someone from Batman's past back to haunt him".
     -Detective features a "new" villain who is another dime-a-dozen serial killer character that Alan Grant would have done on a bad day when he wanted to work on something else
     -and pretty much everything else looks like boilerplate stories for those characters from Nightwing to Penguin to Huntress.
5)  I like and trust Peter Tomasi of GL Corps, but DC needs to slow down a bit on the GL body count ratio.  When killing truckloads of GL's is now just SOP for kicking off an issue, you sort of lose the shock value.
6)  This cover confirms every suspicion I had about the Constantine-starring Justice League Dark comic and why I will not buy it.

7)  All-Star Western seems to be earning the award for "Most Increasingly Poorly Titled Comic" as the story takes place in the East Coast port city, Gotham.  I'm still curious, but...  at least try, DC.
8)  It looks like DC Direct is either really cutting back or shutting down.  These don't even appear to be New 52-look JLA figures.
9)  Blackhawks - can't help but notice that "Lady Blackhawk battles the Internet!".  If that's a new villain's name, hellllllloooooooo 1992!
10)  What, exactly, is Black Canary kicking at here on the BoP cover?
that's just awkward, Dinah.  Quit trying to participate.

There is some stuff I quite liked:  

1)  The Jim Lee cover to JLA #3 is all-action and interesting.

I'm getting use to WW without gold in her costume, but I don't love it.  Also, someone please tell me those are Nu-look Parademons so I can get excited about the storyline.
2)  This Firestorm book looks like it could be kind of cool.  Instead of multiple minds in one Firestorm, multiple Firestorms.  Its an intriguing idea and gives us both Ronnie and Jason as the hero.
3)  The Elseworld's 80-Page Giant looks fun!
4)  yes, yes, I'm plenty pleased about Morrison and Morales on Action, but I saw that solicit forever ago now.
5)  Vertigo is reprinting Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place as a Vertigo Resurrected comic.  I can recommend.
6)  If you've never read Waid's Life Story of the Flash, its being released as a DC Comics Presents volume.  Crucial Barry Allen reading.
7)  I'm a little embarrassed about being happy to have 3 separate Legion comics with two by Levitz.
8)  I'd sort of given up on Scott McDaniel, but I really like this cover to Static Shock

Unfortunately, the solicitation copy isn't anything to write home about.
9)  And I'm glad to get my hands on another REBELS trade.

All in all, its not that bad, but for a "New 52", its not exactly got me wondering what its all about.  We got a new Superman and Superman Family, and, for reasons I don't get, a new Flash and Wonder Woman.  But as the months roll by before I get my hands on these first issues, my skepticism is growing, and that's not what I was hoping for.

*one day we will talk about why I prefer the covers of comics as done up until the modern age, especially the Bronze and Silver Age comics with characters exclaiming their dilemmas directly on the cover.

Enemy Ace.  He has prblms.


Jake Shore said...

I was talking to the owner of a local comic shop about what he thought of the relaunch. He said he wasn't sure. He expects a little uptick in sales, but doesn't know how long the new buyers will stick around. And many of his older collectors have said, they're done.

I'm more and more convinced this is a good idea for DC going forward. I'll be honest, I was never a DC fan. I have always thought Marvel was light years better in terms of its universe, its characters, and creative talent. When I started collecting comics in the late 80s, DC's monthly books (with a few exceptions)were absolute crap. Having said all that, I think DC has surpassed Marvel over the course of the last decade. They have more and better talent, they are telling better stories, and taking care to promote their flagship characters. With Marvel's universe becoming so convoluted and inaccessible (once a DC problem)and frankly dark, this relaunch will be so much more appealing for new readers.

I'm pretty pumped about Justice League, and plan on giving the new DCU a fair shot. And to be honest, you, Mr. Signal Watch have a lot to do with it. Finding your blog, through a common appreciation for the Man of Steel, has reignited my interest in comics. Our conversations have challenged me to bring myself up to date with the DCU. I've been spending way too much money buying Green Lantern: Secret Origin, All-Star Superman, Superman: Birthright, Superman: Braniac, Justice, and pining for a bunch more that have peaked my interest. So I don't know if I should thank you or not. :)

My conclusion is that DC is a resurgent (if imperfect)brand, with some quality stuff outside of 1986. And they just seem to be a few steps ahead of Marvel with adapting to changing audiences and mediums.

Jake Shore said...

Also, what's with all the segmented, modular lines all over JLA's uniforms?

The League said...

Well, as per the lines: that's all from the fact that DC let Jim "I never met an extra line I didn't like" Lee redesign the costumes. I like Lee's art, but the lines aren't going to fit everybody's style. I am honestly very surprised that they didn't fly this all past a few other artists before they ran with these designs.

The League said...

I guess I can only say what I'm feeling right now about superhero comics.

A lot of it is coming down to dollars and cents for me. $3 per comic is enough to test a comic, but not enough to give it three whole issues to see if I'm liking how a storyline or character is shaping up.

In re-launching/ booting, etc... DC has absolutely given us an opportunity to walk away. Giving me three solicits'-worth of covers and blurbs is enough for me to get an idea of how this will go for at least part of the next year.

I'm not walking away, but compared to four years ago, my DC consumption is way, way down. That said, I recently organized about 13-18 months' worth of comics and I literally only had about ten floppy comics from Marvel after filling two long-boxes.

I walked away during "Secret Invasion" (around issue 2 or 3) and never came back. Now, they don't care about my money, but I'm inclined to agree that Marvel has made themselves as impenetrable as DC at their worst, and has done themselves no favors with ignoring the Marvel Adventures line and investing so much in the Ultimate line. And, I sincerely wonder if the Marvel staff understands the difference between writing "heroes" versus "protagonists" or knows how to write a story where the greater good is at stake rather than just a sealed world of heroes and villains locked in a chokehold on each other.

I am very concerned we're headed into another period like DC in the late 80's (I didn't read DC back then, either, outside of Batman and JLI). We'll have some creative brightspots, as that period had "Batman: Year One", but we'll also have a lot of flotsam. I don't, for example, expect to see "I, Vampire" make it to the end of the year. I don't see "Men of War" or "Blackhawks" making it.

But, I can't predict behavior anymore or myself, let alone anyone else. I'm not leaving DC, but I am feeling a certain freedom to say "you know, I'm not buying any Batman for a while".

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I got a really good laugh out loud moment when I saw that Justice League Dark cover. To see John Constantine riding a sportbike at top speed with Zatanna shooting eldritch energy bolts at some vaguely demonish threat is HIGH-larious.

It's like Rob Liefeld is re-writing Watchmen to make it "more cool". I'm sold on the trade just for the lulz.


Simon MacDonald said...

Again I'm most excited about titles that have almost nothing to do with the other parts of DC. Things like FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E, Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Demons Knights. I really want to like JL Dark but as the solicits keep coming out it seems less likely that this'll be a good book.

I'm still struggling with how everything has changed but Green Lantern and Batman storylines will continue unhindered.

Jake Shore said...

Marriage and children has brought my comic consumption way down. The advantage is that I wait and find out what books sound good, or are generally praised, and and just purchase the TPBs. That approach usually makes me Johnny-come-lately to a lot stuff, but it saves time and money. But now that I'm sucked in again, there are a few individual series I'm chasing.

I love your hero vs. protagonist, and "greater good" observations. I think you're right one. I'm curious - can you expand your observation of the Marvel Adventures line?

As far as DCU relaunch, one of DC's biggest weaknesses is that the characters outside the first tier heroes (Superman, Batman, Flash, GL, WW, etc.), and a few of the second tier (Green Arrow, the Atom, Captain Marvel, Firestorm), are pretty lame.

I think if ever there were a chance to give some of those characters new life or revamp them, this relaunch is it. Could Hawk and Dove gain a new following? I agree, however, that a shake-up in the creative teams would have been helpful to that end.

Matt A. said...

Maybe it's just me, but when I saw that Frankenstein's Monster cover, I instantly thought of the Berserk manga.

horus kemwer said...

Feh - as long as Xombi and Unwritten still come out on schedule, it's hard to care about the rest of this rigamarole.

re: Marvel, though: aren't you guys reading the Jonathan Hickman stuff? Both his FF and Secret Warriors are awesome (of course, I do read them in trade . . . ).

The League said...

Matt, I had to Google the "Berserk" Manga, but I can see it.

Jake, I think Marvel Adventures was an opportunity for Marvel to have a good "bridge" into their mainline universe by telling short, straightforward stories in one or two-issue stories. Marvel has barely promoted the comics and hasn't sought a way to get these comics into hands outside of comic shops where the audience is looking for a different product than casual buyers.

This is a problem for both DC and Marvel, and one they spend a minimum of energy looking to solve. Well, or did until DC decided to reboot everything, I guess.

I don't know if there are good characters or bad characters, but I do think execution matters a whole heck of a lot. Morrison's "Animal Man" took a D-list character and did a whole lot interesting with him. I don't know if the Direct Market, however, can support much in the way of their B or C list characters if fans won't give new approaches a chance, and history says they won't.

Yeah, you can look at the endless array of characters ever copyrighted by DC and there are some that leave you wondering, but I think DC's got more than 100 characters I genuinely have affection for, from Rocket Red to The Question, from Johnny Thunder to Kilowog.

A lot of these can't carry a book, and I'm fairly certain I'll see one of my favorite supporting characters (Mr. Terrific) tank under a solo title nobody was asking for. Asking a character few people recognize to hold his own in this reboot as a fairly standard superhero doesn't even make sense to me, and I'm a bit bitter I feel DC is setting this character up to fail through their myopic editorial and publishing decisions.

The League said...

The only Hickman I'm reading is "Red Wing" which is sort of not living up to its promise. I'll circle back on his FF at some point.

Jake Shore said...

This is a bit of a tangent I guess, but you've piqued my curiosity. Given what you just said about Marvel Adventures, and that it was created for younger readers, has Marvel (or DC) effectively abandoned the idea for making comics for kids? I ranted about this years ago:

Are kids (say 13 and under) no longer a target audience for the big publishing houses? If not, why? Should comics primarily be marketed to 36-year-old fanboys like me? Just wondering.

As far as DCs characters, I think I overstated things rather clumsily. Let me try to clarify. As I stated earlier, Marvel's characters and its universe have, in my opinion, far greater depth and breadth. This is the consequence of having a greater well of creative talent. Lower tier heroes like the Iron Fist, Spiderwoman, the Inhumans, and Black Panther end up being far better characters than their DC equivalents.

To put it another way, DC's starters are All-Americans, but Marvel's roster goes five deep at very position, and they have better coaches, uniforms and a nicer stadium (or a least they used to).

You're right that a good writer like Morrison could take Aqualad and make a must read monthly book, but Marvel didn't make many Aqualads to begin with, and had a lot more Morrisons for a long time.

But not anymore. Which is why DC maybe ought to take some chances with its extended universe.

All this fanboy-armchair quarterbacking is taking its toll on my self esteem, so I'm gonna shut up.

Simon MacDonald said...

@horus kemwer Unwritten is consistently one of my favourite books that comes out. I just wish the trades would get here quicker. I was lucky enough to meet Mike Carey and had him sign the first 3 trades.

I've read a bit of Secret Warriors and it is an amazing spy story. I'm hoping it gets one of those omnibus editions so I can just grab the whole thing at once.

@The League, well I did like Mr. Terrific in the JSA but I can't see how his solo adventures will actually catch on. The character just doesn't make sense without the JSA and apparently there is not JSA in the DCnU. That means a lot of characters that I absolutely love won't be seeing the light of day for a long time.

@Jake Shore, I think what you were getting at is that DC's characters were originally very two dimensional and bland while Marvels characters had a bit of weight to them as they all had interesting Achilles heel type foibles. Now DC in the past decade or two has attempted to give their characters some more weight but it ends up being too murdery or rapey for my tastes and not at all suitable for the kids.

The League said...

I guess what I'm thinking boils down to one of my mantras, and that's that: there are no bad ideas, only bad execution

In bringing the DCU up to date, they've had some success under Morrison and Johns for updating their list of characters, but they've failed not so much to create new characters (that's a separate discussion) but to cultivate writers who could be the next Johns or Morrison. Instead, DC has kept around a squad of yes-men for Didio who work to fulfill editorial mandates.

And this actually loops back to the 3rd month of the New 52.

All of these guys were able to pitch "new takes on old properties", but are they able to actually DO anything with "I, Vampire" or "Blackhawk" or "Mr. Terrific"? Its one thing to say "well, now Mr. Amazing isn't a hands-on-hips superhero, he's a space marine", but what was the story they were planning to tell with that?

By keeping around guys who've been trained and rewarded for projects like "Countdown" - where the writers' lack of creativity led to those places Simon alluded to - Didio and Lee can't possibly be doing much more than shuffling the same deck of 52 cards.