Saturday, October 1, 2011

DC Comics New 52, Week 4 - Part 1 (Aquaman, Flash, Firestorm, Blackhawks)

Well, the final week of the New 52.  Truthfully, I'm hoping the hoopla ends but the enthusiasm remains.  Its been fascinating coming into Austin Books for a solid month and seeing all of these titles sold out every single week. 

I should add, I don't know if ABC had a secret stash or what happened, but they have copies back in stock, which means your local shop might have that issue of Animan Man you missed.

What did I NOT get?

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #1 - the aforementioned plan to purchase Batman in trades remains in effect
GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #1 - same goes for GL books
I, VAMPIRE #1 - I haven't even read American Vampire yet, which looks much more my speed.  I'm sorry if I have a knee-jerk reaction to all-things vampire right now.  Jamie plied me with wine and got me to watch the first three Twilight movies.
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1 - The solicits just did nothing for me.
THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN #1 - I dunno.  The solicit made it look like a terribly generic superhero book with nothing new.  And I just got over re-imagining Hawkman, like, three years ago.  Too soon.
VOODOO #1 - well, since I have no idea what this is about or why I should care and its tied to comics I didn't read the first time, and the solicits were written as if I knew and sounded like "mystery happen to lady! who she? what she do?" I figured - I'm spending enough money.

What I did get (Part 1):

Aquaman #1 - writer Geoff Johns, artist Ivan Reis

I've come to understand that Geoff Johns would be an amazing offensive coordinator, but he's not the guy you'd necessarily want to see at quarterback.  He's great at ideas, he's great at figuring out how to get the pieces moving in ways that will get you over the goal line and win games, but he may know how to throw a spiral, but he's not the guy you want on the field actually busting through lines, seeing escape routes and lacks other writer's abilities to perform with natural athleticism.

That's a bad analogy, but its my way of politely saying he can tell an interesting story and provide great framework, but he's still super-awkward sometimes with the specifics from dialog to being just way, way too much into decapitations.

There's a defensive posture to this book that Johns plays to varying levels of effect.  Sometimes (hell, mostly) its clunky, but I do think its important to establish Aquaman as Johns wants us to see him/ for the new era.  Directly acknowledging the usual jokes about Aquaman (that somehow have become stand-up comedy fodder in the real world) is certainly a tactic, and it gives the story a certain comfortable familiarity that sets you on Aquaman's side, or could.  Somehow, Johns remains an entertaining storyteller, even when he's as subtle as a marlin to the noggin.

Its an interesting choice to focus more on what its like to live with being Aquaman rather than jump into a plot I don't really care about yet or do an origin issue.  I think that's okay.  In the right hands, the mythology as the destruction of Krypton or the death of the Waynes is more tragic than the origin of Arthur Curry, but I think there's a charm and tragedy to the romance of the lighthouse keeper and his Atlantean princess.  And I think Johns does a better job than he'll get credit for telling parts of the origin and showing others.

I also appreciate that Johns establishes Aquaman's power-set, something often hinted at but rarely defined in the past 15 years that I can think of, and does it in a mix of show and tell that I think would convince a newish reader.

But this is a superhero comic, and as such, there's a threat that only our outrageous friend can take on.  Yes, the threat presented seems 2-dimensional and perfunctory, but that's okay.  We'll get to that.  This issue just wants to let you know that Aquaman is here, and set the stage.

If I can express an opinion (here we go):  I think the choice of placing Aquaman on the shore and more of a defender of the coast than a guy playing politics in an underwater fantasy kingdom is a good idea.  Frankly, the Atlantis stuff always turned Aquaman stories into a murkily-defined fight over a throne I could never figure why Arthur would want.  And I like that Mera is along for the ride, hopefully as more than just supporting cast.

Man, what a long, strange trip for Aquaman since the promising days of Sub Diego to a series and back to this.  I won't detail it, but its clear DC just had no idea what to do for about 8 years there.  But, shockingly, just reintroducing the King of the Seas back as a wave-watching superhero may be the formula that works.

I had a thought while reading this issue, that had I read this comic as a kid, and knowing my tastes back then, I would have LOVED this comic.  I would have appreciated the elliptical sharing of the origin, the outsider status and "I'll show 'em" nature of Aquaman's set-up here.  I would have found the tri-dent, outfit, eating fish'n'chips, and oh-yeah-here's-my-sea-queen-wife bit all completely rad.  And I still like all that stuff.  You just have to take it with the awkward delivery that's Johns' trademark.  But I put up with Claremont on X-Men for however many years, so I can deal with Johns' weirdness on this.

Flash #1 - by Francis Manapul

Well, this is certainly Flash with a new continuity.

It doesn't read much like a new #1, and feels, instead, much more like the first issue of a new storyline where new readers might be hopping on.  I'm not up-to-speed on all my Flash, but I did read Flashpoint, so I know why there's a new continuity.  Anyway, it seemed odd not to even try to explain Flash to a new reader anywhere in the issue.

But maybe "he wears a red suit, is sort of jolly and really fast, but isn't Santa" is all patently obvious.  I don't know.

I'm not sure that the comic was particularly good.  It was fun, yes.  Well drawn and colored, certainly.  But it didn't assume for new readers very well, and it both seems to be leading into a super-hero type story that I don't really... care about, I guess, and asking us the reader to embrace some scenes that are written in that "people are doing things because that will drive the story forward" sort of writing I normally associate with bad TV, rather than from a place I totally got.  Does someone on the police force really just jump out a window and run into the street with no shoes on (I know its The Flash and he can handle himself, but it just played oddly)?

And I admit, I felt all kinds of joy drift out of me when I saw the "problem" on the last page.

Anyhow, its actually not that bad, but if it weren't Flash, I don't know how excited I'd feel about a second issue.  I'd have liked a lot more development of Barry Allen, to get us a status quo in place, especially as Flashpoint was entirely about Barry managing his status quo (at the end of the day, that's exactly what it was about).

Firestorm #1 - written by Ethan Van Sciver & Gail Simone, art by Yildiray Cinar

I think I can sum this up as "disappointing".  I think there's a core of an interesting idea here, one that turns the whole "merging into Firestorm" idea on its ear and turns it into a herd of Firestorms.  But there's just nobody in this issue to side with or sympathize.  Jason Rusch, a character I've always liked more than Ronnie Raymond (no, I don't know why.  Maybe because Ronnie Raymond always struck me as a dope on Super Friends when I was a kid), comes off like a real jerk, and we get a Ronnie Raymond defined by his depressing homelife and stupidity.  Its like superheroes by way of amateur Samuel Beckett or something.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this comic, but for the interesting, new and very good here (the whole Firestorm concept as its redefined) we get the completely implausible "school paper" angle (yes, school papers always go to print without a teacher reading what teenagers write).  And the dialog is surprisingly, improbably bad.  Has anybody called anyone "Sweetcheeks" outside of a Claremont-penned Wolverine comic in the past 40 years?  Man, that last page was horrible.

Its almost tempting to see if issue 2 picks up the nose and keeps this particular plane from hitting the ground. I am really torn on what to do.

There's much to dislike here, more than to like, but from a plot perspective, I'm kind of interested.  But, man, how Simone and Van Sciver made a comic entirely about unlikable characters is beyond me.

Blackhawks #1 - written by Mike Costa, art by Graham Nola and ken Lashley

Back in the day, Larry Hama had pitched a series to Marvel to re-do SHIELD, and that concept more or less became what he did on GI Joe (this is on Wikipedia.  Look it up.).  Around the same time, the original Blackhawk was canceled.

As I understand it, Mike Costa writes GI Joe for whomever is publishing GI Joe comics at the moment, more or less picking up on the path that Hama put down at Marvel 30 years ago.  Now he's writing Blackhawks, a concept that has been gone for 30 years.  Only this isn't about jet-planes.

Nothing about the solicits appealed to me, but as I'm on a bit of a military comics kick at the moment, I thought I'd check it out.  And my initial instinct was correct.  There's nothing in this comic I particularly liked, but I think somebody out there might enjoy this book.  It just wasn't for me, but the "problem" of the first issue made very little sense.  If you're a covert ops squad - why would you have a logo painted on the side of your vehicles?  Or wear badges on your clothes?  That sort of seems like the thing you'd cover on Day 1 of covert-squad school.  Sort of how you wouldn't want to be a spy in Moscow in 1983 and wear a little American flag pin on your lapel when you went out for tea.

I have a pretty specific idea in my head regarding who the Blackhawks are, and I think there are plenty of stories there as an international squad of jet high-tech jet pilots (back in August, The Admiral was telling me about how he still remembered what planes the Blackhawks flew from when he was a kid - the F-90).  The concept has been adapted routinely in modern comics, but never taken front and center, at least partially because the era of the jet-pilot as hero is retreating in the rear-view mirror as America has more or less schieved aerial supremacy and its hard to figure exactly who The Blackhawks would be going head-to-head with, I suppose.

Costa does so a good bit to get us partially introduced to the team, set-up and future challenges to the characters.  But its all pretty much what we've seen for two generations with GI Joe, so its hard to ignore the "sameness" of the effort.

Still, I'm not exactly enamored with turning the whole concept into a GI Joe knock-off.  So, maybe somebody out there loved this.  I think this just felt like the typical flash and lack of substance you see in so much of comics, of writers copying what other comics writers did before them, and not giving anything back.    But it does diversify the product DC is offering at this time, I guess.


Simon MacDonald said...

Our only overlap was Firestorm and we both came out feeling the same way. It's just not a very good story.

The League said...

I was glad I'd read your review to soften the blow before I got to the issue. We've had different opinions before, but once I started reading I was think "oh, geez. I see what Simon was saying."

I'm just sad about the Firestorm problem. I had so many hopes for this book.

Simon MacDonald said...

I'm so glad you've come around and realized I am right about all things. Curious, what DCnU books do we diverge on?

The League said...

I'd have to go back and look. But... you were willing to even BUY JL Dark. I am not.

Simon MacDonald said...

About 5 bad puns related to Dark came to my mind. Yeah, I'm intrigued by the concept wasn't 100% on the execution but willing to give the second issue a try.