Friday, September 30, 2011

Comics! A Tale of Two Heroes!

This week concludes the initial spread of DC Comics' "New 52" relaunch, and I guess the idea was to finish things off with a bang: the new first issue of "Superman," written and drawn by comics-demigod George Perez. But the issue itself only underscores everything that's wrong with the "New 52" - not only is it a disappointment, it's the single worst  issue of the month. The besetting worry about this whole reboot was fairly straightforward: fans were concerned that the whole thing hadn't really been thought out carefully (this concern wasn't exactly allayed by DC writers telling everybody that the whole reboot came about by chance, while they were at a story conference riffing ideas about a possible love-triangle involving Superman ... "So who should he fall in love with? I don't know (*pauses to chug Red Bull*)... what if we just scrapped everything?"). These are some of the most iconic comics characters in the world, after all - and Superman and Batman are two of the very rare comics characters that have become cultural icons even outside the comics world. Revamping such icons should be the careful work of long preparation, not a quick gimmick done to goose sales for a month. DC editors have been assuring worried fans for months now that they're perfectly aware of the importance of what they're doing, and that they and all the creators involved are completely dedicated to making this relaunch one for the ages. So regarding the first issue of the new "Superman" title, the relaunch of the flagship character not only of the company but of the industry, I have one question:

Why does it stink?

I could handle it being simply different from what I myself would have wanted (in fact, since DC has decided to change Superman's costume, I was resigned to it being different from what I myself would have wanted), but this isn't that. This is a bad comic book, in every detail. Not only are fans handed the mother of all insults the minute they open the thing (George Perez does the scripting and the ... breakdowns? His work is finished and inked by somebody else? So Perez had a more pressing commitment than Superman #1?), but nothing improves from there on out. There's a ridiculous "newsprint is dying" plot, there's an amorphous fireball-villain, there's Justin Bieber (calling himself Jimmy Olsen), and there's the new Superman in his new supervillain costume - he looks exactly like some alternate-universe evil-Superman John Byrne would design in about fifteen minutes after too many jagermeisters. This new Superman spends most of the issue pouting, and when he does try to pull off a fairly simple helicopter rescue, he fails - Superman fails, in the middle of his very first issue.

The whole issue fails. It's cluttered, murky (the whole thing is set at night, for Rao's sake), talky, and completely undramatic. Its Superman is a bragging, ineffectual prick, and it's Clark Kent is even worse - a sanctimonious, unlikeable loser who mopes because he isn't sleeping with Lois Lane (that's another huge twist in continuity - no more married Kents; instead, we're back to the days of Lois saying, "Hey, where was Clark the whole time?" - because those days never got repetitive or, you know, insulting). DC's most conspicuous character is its most conspicuous "new 52" failure - so I have to do without Superman in my diet until this whole idiot mess gets re-revamped a few years down the line.

The failure of "Superman" #1 is only further underscored by the stunning success of "Aquaman" #1, also released this week. The issue is written by fan favorite Geoff Johns and drawn sumptuously by Ivan Reis, and the whole thing is exactly what a relaunch first issue should be (nevermind that it's received way more attention than it deserves - Johns is unhealthily fascinated with this Golden Age gold-and-green version of Aquaman; he masterminded an entire company-wide mini-series solely in order to resurrect the character from the dead and make him iconic again, and now there's this series, the end result of a decade of obsession)(I'm not complaining, mind you - Aquaman's a neat character who's always deserved and almost never received first-class treatment - but I could wish all this energy were being expended on making Wonder Woman the character she should be): it's fast-paced, it introduces us to the main character (something "Superman" #1 is both arrogant enough and stupid enough to think it doesn't need to do), and it sets the first plot in motion. It's all addictively good.

There are changes here too, of course - but they're for the better: this version of Aquaman is physically more powerful than any previous version we've seen, and that's good - and something I've been advocating for years (including many times right here on Stevereads). This Aquaman is super-strong, super-resilient (Reis re-uses a panel sequence from that resurrection mini-series, showing our hero get shot in the head by machine-gun fire and suffer no more than a cut and some irritation), super-fast ... and Johns writes him with a curious mixture of innocence and vulnerability that certainly sets him apart from all the other strutting, posturing "New 52" heroes. This series will be a pleasure to follow, unlike virtually all of the other "New 52" attempts I've seen this month. The two "Legion" titles were merely acceptable; "Justice League" was a pandering mess; "Wonder Woman" suffered yet another complete overhaul; "Superboy" has been ret-conned out of all personality; "Teen Titans" became "X-Men," fully half the first issues felt like completely unsustainable fill-in stuff, and worst of all, my favorite DC character, Superman, has been transformed into a Mattel-costumed Doctor Manhattan rip-off nobody in their right mind would ever cheer as he flew past. Out of the whole misbegotten mess, only a few bright spots: the Batman-family of books fared remarkably well, Green Lantern & co came out without a scratch ... and we have a new Aquaman to follow with interest.

In the meantime, I think I'll post about good ol' Marvel Comics for a while now ...



justin said...

Oh, Stevie- there's plenty of time for most of these new comics to grow on you. You're wearing just as much armor as Supes... around your heart.

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