Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Comics! New 52 - Week 3!

This was the first week I actually found myself enjoying "the New 52," DC Comics' month-long barrage of first issues designed to relaunch its entire line of comics and re-invent its 80-year-old continuity for the 21st century. And I can't be precisely sure of the reason why this week sat so much better with me than the previous two did, although I can hazard a few guesses.

Guess number one would be personal investment - as in 'lack of.' Virtually all the titles re-launching this week (with one enormous exception we'll get to shortly) star characters who've never really triggered that much interest for me - standard, sometimes iconic DC characters, yes, but still: nothing I really care about, and so nothing whose desecration would bother me all that much. There have always been such characters for me at DC - one-note superheroes like the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, etc - and one of those characters has always been (and this amazes me too) Batman. Don't get me wrong: I love it when the character is done right and hate it when the character is done wrong - but neither the central guy nor any of his multitude of spin-off characters has ever really spoken to me on the particular carrier-hum accessible only to true fans. I realize this puts me in a tiny minority, since the entire breadth of the known universe considers Batman to be the coolest super-hero of them all. But there it is.

This week's re-launches feature a large swath of the Bat-line of comics - there's the first issue of "Batman" itself, the first issue of "Nightwing" (about Dick Grayson, Batman's first Robin, all grown up and fighting crime on his own), and the first issue of "Catwoman" (this week DC launched its three marquee-recognition female characters - Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Catwoman, and good for them - marquee-recognition female characters are mighty rare in the comics world, and all three of these characters deserve their own titles). This is comforting: DC's out-of-control slapdash creators could do pretty much anything to these characters and I wouldn't have that lump in my throat of caring too much. Which brings me to:

Guess #2 why this week pleased me so much revolves around the aforementioned new continuity - probably one of the reasons I found this week so enjoyable was because it was also recognizable: as far as I can tell, DC has tinkered almost not at all with the general currents of Batman continuity from pre-52. Bruce Wayne is still Batman. Dick Grayson was still his first Robin, Tim Drake his second, and Damian his third and current. Batman still has an quasi-amorous danger-fascination with Catwoman. Dick Grayson still spent a year filling Batman's cape and cowl while Bruce Wayne was otherwise occupied. These three titles (and "Detective" and "Batman and Robin" before them) read like nothing so much as high-octane straight-up continuations of the storylines that were percolating all summer long in the Bat-books. And that 'high-octane' brings me to:

Guess #3: These as fantastic productions. Judd Winick writes "Catwoman" with a novelist's assurance, and Guillem March's artwork is unabashedly sensuous (the, er, climax of this first issue made me hope there was one specific item in Batman's utility belt that I've never before actually hoped was there). Kyle Higgins' main character in "Nightwing" is a perfect combination of boyish and battle-hardened, and Eddy Barrows' artwork (and great cover) is absorbing. And what to say about "Batman"? The superb writing is by Scott Snyder, and the incredible artwork is by Greg Capullo, here excelling even his customary high standards. The Bat-titles have always attracted top-notch talent, but these three issues stand out even by those measurements. I was hugely entertained, even while I was acknowledging that it didn't make a whole lot of difference - these titles, these characters, have just never moved me, no matter how well-done they are. As marvellous as these issues are, the real acid-test is always how you feel about that particular character or title that feels personal to you. Which brings me to:

Guess #4 why this week's "new 52" crop pleased me: this is the week "The Legion of Super-Heroes" debuts at #1, and I read it, and it was sigh-of-relief good. I ordinarily wouldn't have doubted that, since writer Paul Levitz is a Legion legend in his own right and can be counted upon to do everything right (and artist Francis Portela is no slouch himself - this is some fine pencilling on a pretty tough book to draw) - but how was I to know what kinds of pressures had been brought to bear on him by the DC Powers that Be? How was I to know he hadn't been ordered to create another Juvenile Delinquent Legion? (Legion fans will catch the reference to the team's darkest, dumbest hour, now hopefully comprising the only fragment of Legion history we've all agreed to forget)

Fortunately, such is not the case - like the Bat-titles, this issue makes several references to the summer's story-lines and shows a clear line of development from them - the footprint of the "new 52" reboot (hee - pun only belatedly discovered) is soft here, this is more or less the huge, noble, squabbling Legion I know and love, with classic Levitz moments of perfectly in-character barbs and reflections. This week, at least, I can breathe a huge sigh of relief: one of my favorite comics was left virtually unchanged by this company-wide revamp.

The relief can't last, however. "Superman" #1 comes out next week.

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