Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The New 52" (so far)

Devon and myself (and the whole Thor's Comic Column crew) are in the midst of preparing the first week of reviews of "The New 52" (EDIT: it's up now. We aren't running the full gamut (we're far too poor, far too limited in time and there are far too few of us to do so) but what we do have covered should be pretty good... if I do say so myself... which I do.

As I noted in the last post, I have just under two dozen of "The New 52" in my pull list for this month (which seems about three times as many as anyone else I know), but ultimately I'd like to try them all out for myself, as much as an academic exercise as a consumerist endeavor.

Firstly, I should note that this week at my LCS, things were buzzing. Number 1s were flying off the shelf and unlike Justice League from last week, many of this weeks books seemed seriously under-ordered. Men of War was looking pretty thin, and word was that Batwing was close to selling out. I've heard others talking of sell-outs at their LCS, so at least this first week (or first month) seems to be a success. Although I would hope that the people coming into the shop are new, or at least lapsed comic book readers, I'm skeptical, thinking instead that most of the books are being picked up by people like myself: long-time comic book readers who don't really know anymore which of "The New 52" they should pick up, so they're trying an unusually higher volume of comics this first month.

This first week (let's face it, the one title debuting last week doesn't quite count), I've taken in Action Comics, Batgirl, Stormwatch, Men of War and Static Shock. I skimmed through a few others at the LCS, and a few more previews on-line. My initial impression is purely a reactionary one. I'm disappointed in the art, almost uniformly. This isn't to say there isn't some good work being done, just none of it, so far, has really made an impression.

On Justice League, I'm not, nor have I ever been, much of a Jim Lee fan (I generally prefer cleaner lines, and less of them), and quite frankly I think he's well past his prime, or perhaps gone soft from lack of regular flexing of his illustrative muscles. I've read a lot of praise for his work on the book last week but I found it kind of sloppy to look at. I didn't hate it but it didn't scream the work of a "premiere artist" to me.

Rags Morales, on Action Comics, is an artist I've liked since way back in his Black Condor days (circa 1992). His work has varied in quality (from good to phenomenal) depending on the inker he's working with, and in recent years I've found his work striving too much for realism. Mostly, I just think as of Identity Crisis he draws eyes real creepy-like, and wish he'd stop. He's a solid, proven artist, and a decent fit with Grant Morrison, but he's still not a big, big talent like, say, Steve McNiven over on Captain America with Ed Brubaker or even a surprising under-recognized talent in need of a big break like Jamie McKelvie (who's just started an arc on Secret Avengers with Warren Ellis).

Adrian Syaf on Batgirl and Miguel Sepulveda on Stormwatch both put in a solid effort but neither really stand out. Syaf's style isn't particularly distinguished in any way, while Sepulveda can go big (he did well on Marvel cosmic stuff a while back), but I find the consistency of his character work, particularly faces, to be off-putting. Tom Derenick on Men of War is very well suited to the military genre, so no real complaints there, but again, nothing spectacular. Static Shock's Scott McDaniel is perpetually tolerable to me. I really don't care for his style but I can appreciate it at times.

Looking at some other books, Travel Foreman's work on Animal Man is so exceptionally clean, it looks like an Ikea catalog. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as I tend to like that style a lot, but it also looks a little too minimalist at times. Tony Daniel, some people love him, I'm not one of them. He's good, but he's not stellar. Dan Jurgens on Green Arrow gets some much needed pep from inks by George Perez, but it's still Dan Jurgens, a fully capable visual storyteller but dull dull dull. Aaron Lopresti on Justice League International is a veteran workaday illustrator, the kind of guy you should be glad to have on a middle-of-the-road book like Justice League International, still very few people are reading JLI because Jurgens is writing it or Lopresti is illustrating it.

Of this week's illustrators, four should be taken note of... Yanick Paquette (on Swamp Thing) should have become a superstar thanks to his collaborations with Grant Morrison, yet, he's not. Swamp Thing with Scott Snyder isn't a bad placement, but it's not A-List like Batman Incorporated was, or had he been reteamed with Morrison on Action.

Keith Giffen looks like he's channeling Kirby full bore on OMAC, just such a shame the character design is so much more hideous than the old, hideous Kirby OMAC design. Also a shame: he's working on the book with Dan DiDio, who must have some dirt on Giffen to get him to help him out all the time. DiDio's Outsiders was such a disaster that I put him on my "permanent boycott all work with his "written by" byline on it" list.

Rob Liefeld. Hawk and Dove. Say what you will, Liefeld gets attention. He has his fans that give it to him, and he has a legion of detractors who also give it to him. His artwork, from all examples I've seen of this book, is as horrendous as it's ever been, as if he's made it extra-special-awful just for those who love to complain about how awful his work is. It's like he knows, and giving his nay-sayers more of what they want. The guy is a super-star, and for as long as he's on Hawk and Dove it will be a minor hit (I just don't think he's going to be on it past the first five issues or so, after which it will shortly be canceled).

Finally, there's Ben Oliver on Batwing. I have no idea who this guy is, but of every title I've looked at this week, his work is the only one that popped, and may actually entice me to buy this otherwise maligned-in-advance book. He's perhaps a little light on the background department, but his sense of light and shadow is absolutely remarkable. I'm not certain Batwing's going to be the breakout character of "The New 52" but Ben Oliver just might be the breakout artist. I guess we'll know when Marvel poaches him to put him on a status title.

This went on longer than I thought.

Other impressions, in brief:

The heroes of the new DCU seem to generally be at odds with the police/military, and, perhaps with the public, and, perhaps, with each other.

Gail Simone seems to be transferring her more twisted tendencies from Secret Six to Batgirl. I'm not sure that's appropriate.

The books seem to be making a pointed effort to establish new villains right out the gate. So far only Lex Luthor in Action has made any real impression.

Most of the books seem to be trying to start already in a new status quo... it doesn't seem like the most friendly route for new readers (or even old readers). Not that I want 52 new origin stories either...

Of the five books I got this week, the only one I'm firmly not getting again next month is Batgirl. Though Gail Simone owned Barbara Gordon over the past decade, she doesn't seem to know what to do with her now.

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