Saturday, April 6, 2013

365 Comics... 95/96: Animal Man #19/Green Arrow #19 (2013)

I've lost almost complete patience for The New 52(!) recently (which I can't believe 20 month's later is still being referred to as "The New 52!"), and close to disliking DC Comics as a publisher in general.  The excitement/anticipation/hesitation I had for the new DCU at the onset can be seen in earlier posts in this very blog (it pretty much dominated Devon's and my posts here since its announcement mid-2011), and I was keen to be part of the conversation and to see how this new universe would distinguish itself from its past and its competition.  I have tried at least 1 issue of 2/3 of their New 52 titles since September 2011.  But after 8 or nine months, after the first round of cancellations and second round of new titles, the disenchantment began.  Between month 8 and month 16 I started shedding titles, taking my monthly pull down by a half and then a half again.   By the time we get to today I have 7 New 52 titles (of which 2 are finite... I, Vampire ends this month, Batman, Inc. shutters in July), leaving me with about a quarter the DCU titles I was reading a year ago.

I'm having a problem connecting with the new universe in general after investing heavily in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths for 25 years.  I was 11 or so when I found Giffen/DeMatteis' Justice League and John Byrne's Superman on the spinner rack at my local book store, and I was fixated.  So, I understand the impetus for doing it again and I don't begrudge DC for making the effort to try and revitalize their company, their properties, their characters, and I was perfectly ready willing to join the ride but I realized that beyond the brassiness of rebooting their entire line-up of titles, there was nothing revolutionary to what DC was doing.  It seemed apparent then (even more apparent in hindsight) that, with few exceptions, the entire publishing lineup was editorially driven, rather than creatively so.  While editorial consistency was obviously required in rebuilding the line, it seemed to be the sole focus.  The rather shocking turnaround of creative teams on the majority of their titles is  endemic at DC, and telling of just what kind of company DC is these days.

The reports last month of Joshua Hale Fialkov walking off his Green Lantern titles and Andy Diggle  and Tony Daniel leaving Action Comics are just the latest in a long string of creative debacles at DC.  Talent seems to be the afterthought when it comes to most of DCs titles.  The titles I continue to read, Batman, Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Batman Inc. are the scant few that seem to have the least editorial impact, and I'm invested in these characters because of the intensely strong creative vision the writers and artists (they're also among the scant few titles to maintain a consistent creative team throughout their runs so far).  Almost everything else, unless Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder or Grant Morrison is involved, seems to be covered in a thick coat of greasy editorial fingerprints.  In the case of both Green Arrow and Animal Man,, these were titles I was ready to drop after assessing my feelings about DC surrounding the John Stewart debacle.

But those are both titles from one other name that seems to be granted some semblance of liberty in creation of his comics.  Jeff Lemire came into DC with almost entirely creator-owned output under his belt (critically acclaimed creator-owned product mind-you), and backdoored into the DCU proper through Vertigo much like Scott Snyder did.  His Animal Man run was an early surprise hit, and, like his other title, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. he emerged out of the shadow of Grant Morrison's defining work with those characters and put his own indelible stamp on them.  He left Frankenstein to pursue Justice League Dark, and has become a bit of a go-to player in DC since (notably taking on the launch of Constantine after creative troubles became apparent early on).

Last month Lemire took over Green Arrow, one of DC's most troubled titles (which is saying something considering the vast chasm of troubled titles they have).  Green Arrow's profile rose dramatically with the surprise success of CW's Arrow TV series, and so far the comic has had four writers and even more artists cycle through in less than 20 issues.  What they needed was a defining character arc and, taking a page from Marvel, matching the character that's represented in popular media.  (With the looming Man of Steel, could matching that film's representation of the character be part of Andy Diggle's conflict with editorial?)

I gave the first issue a shot, despite telling myself I was going to ignore Green Arrow altogether in the New 52, and wound up liking it, more as an analogue to TV's Arrow (a definite guilty pleasure for me) but also because I like Lemire, and I like his pairing with Andrea Sorrentino whose work on I, Vampire quickly transcended his Jae Lee influence and became its own strikingly powerful storytelling beast.  Together, Green Arrow was worth taking notice.

Animal Man I liked immediately, and liked even more after Travel Foreman left and Steve Pugh came on.  I loved Pugh's work on Animal Man back in the early-90's working with Jamie Delano, creating the arc Flesh and Blood which I think is as seminal an Animal Man story as anything Morrison accomplished, if not moreso.  I should revisit it, as in my recollection I see it as a blueprint for some of what has occurred in the title in Lemire's run.

I've talked about Rotworld already (see 365 Comics #70), a well executed (though far from flawless) epic that drew me into the crossover with crossover with Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing (see 365 Comics #39).  But it was so concretely a finite epic that I felt like issue 18 of both Animal Man and Swamp Thing were perfect stopping points.  But I knew that would do a disservice to the lower-key family drama superhero comic Lemire had so wonderfully established early on.

So I've given them another month, and I think they're staying on the pull list, but it's still a shaky commitment.  I'm sad that Pugh is leaving/being pushed from Animal Man as this issue is a triumph of his ability to evoke emotion from his illustrations, as Buddy Baker and his family bury his son Cliff.  It's also so evident that Pugh has these characters and this weird world Buddy inhabits deeply rooted within him.  There's rarely a flaw in what he's portraying or how he portrays it.  This issue of Animal Man does seem like a jumping off point just as much as a jumping on.  It's a reflective issue, giving me time to assess my investment in these characters, given the turmoil Lemire has thrown them into (it seems to be having the opposite intended reaction in me that it's supposed to, it's driving me from the characters instead of deeper into them).

With Green Arrow, I'm in for the first arc but I don't know if I'll make it beyond that.  It seems like there's a good stand-alone story in here, but again, I'm not convinced I'm invested in this character, certainly not in the way that I am with CW's Arrow (at the same time I'm not so invested in CW's Arrow that I feel it necessary to pick up the Arrow spin-off comic).

It's also unofficially officially "WTF" month at DC, wherein all of the New 52 feature gatefold covers with the hidden part being a surprise reveal.  With both of these covers, neither gatefold is all that what-the-fuck inducing, but at the same time, I find them both very attractive.  I spent some time this week at the shop unfolding all this week's gatefolds and finding myself stimulated almost to the point of buying some new titles (but I didn't, the cynic in me recovered quickly).  Turns out, I really like gatefolds.

[Doubling up today after our silent reflection Thursday.  My thoughts about what Roger Ebert meant to me can be found over at "Graig and David Sometimes Disagree".  I touched on my affection for Carmine Infantino very, very briefly in 365 Comics #58  and 365 Comics #4 but you can bet it won't be his last appearance here]


Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about "Animal Man" is how I can completely buy Buddy/Maxine's reactions to Cliff's death as well as Ellen's. Buddy and Maxine realize that the superhero game is full of miracles, resurrections, and back doors out of death; Ellen refuses to go there because, as she sees it, there is a way of things and violating that would violate Cliff. This is not drama for the sake of drama; it feels right.

I still imagine that Maxine's going to resurrect Cliff, in two or three issues, and Ellen will embrace him just fine. But for now things are where they should be.

As for "Green Arrow", I know lifelong fans of Oliver Queen who have grown to actively despise the character because of the Nocenti run. That is a new standard for terrible writing.

KENT! said...

If there's any problem I have with Animal Man it's how Lemire writes Maxine. I think she's great, but as a four-year-old she's way too together and composed. In that way (and visually too) she seems more... 6-ish :) But otherwise I think you're right KB, that Buddy and Maxine's reactions are spot on and Ellen's is definitely that of a frayed woman.

As for Maxine resurrecting Cliff, I despair if it winds up being like the end of the first issue... eep!

Anne Nocenti said about Green Arrow in an interview recently that she could never get a handle on the character and that she wasn't very happy with her work there. Sounds like she's in the consensus. Heh.

King Beauregard said...

Nocenti has no excuse. Shortly after she got the "Green Arrow" gig she told interviewers she knew nothing about the character except for a peek at Wikipedia, and even then, from her further comments it was clear she didn't read the Wikipedia very well.

I would personally have given her my better "Green Arrow" comics so she could get up to speed with the character, if only it might have spared us whatever the hell she thought she was writing. But there's no way it should have come to that; she's been in the business long enough to know that you should actually know something about the characters you're supposed to be writing. "This Bat Man character ... bats can fly and they eat bugs, I bet that's what Bat Man does!"

I don't have any familiarity with "Animal Man" prior to nu52 (therefore I am qualified to write it, amirite?), but precociousness is sort of an occupational hazard when it comes to comic book children, so I roll with it. Last thing we need is an Avatar Of The Red who is in a funk because she missed "Elmo's World".

KENT! said...

LOL... I think Maxine being moody because she missed Elmo's world is a terrific idea