Friday, 16 September 2011

DC's Fifty-two Number Ones

The DCnU - plus ca change; plus c'est la meme chose.Generally speaking, I'm not a buyer of pamphlet comics. I'm one of those annoying "wait-for-the-trades" type of people. I'm with those who believe the vast majority of mainstream monthly titles are poor value for money, containing far too few pages and far too many splash pages; that they are constrained by far too rigid an observance of continuity; and that they rely far too heavily on gimmicks, crossovers, and "events" in place of good story-telling.

When DC announced its intention to repackage all its titles and relaunch them as fifty-two new "Number 1s", I was as sceptical as anyone that the editorial teams really understood what they needed to do in order to grow their readership; to attract readers like me and - more importantly - new, younger readers. But I wanted to be wrong. I wanted so much to be wrong that I even broke the reading habits of several decades and sought out a whole bunch of the new Number 1s launched this week. I've not read them all yet, but here are my thoughts on those I have. As you'll see ... I've yet to be convinced that anything has really changed!

Superman trades his underpants for a pair of blue jeans. But keeps his cape. Jerk!Action Comics - At the very end of Justice League #1, Superman made an entrance. He only had one line but that line seemed to characterise him as an arrogant jerk. Not as arrogant a jerk as Green Lantern was in that title, but then GL had more pages to show just how arrogant a jerk he could be.

Here, Superman has many more lines and far more pages to show us his real personality. And guess what? He's not only every bit as arrogant a jerk as GL, he's also every bit as psychotic and heavy-handed as Batman. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that his first story arc will see him dropping those personality traits and becoming more like the nice guy he was pre-relaunch. If he doesn't, I can see this Superman failing miserably. As it stands, this title is going to have readers rooting for Lex Luthor and booing and hissing every time Big Blue makes an appearance.

Oh, and just as an aside, why bother dressing the main character in every day jeans and a t-shirt, if you're also going to tuck a red cape into his collar? Awful. 3/10

Still a second string hero.Green Arrow - solid but, ultimately, very ordinary superhero fare. Essentially this is one extended fight sequence, but one which also delivers a whole bunch of exposition, introducing us to GA's alter ego as Oliver Queen and two members of his support team. (I do like my super heroes to have a support team!)

The only other feature of any note is that this comic possibly has more women in micro-skirts than anywhere outside of a Bruce Timm cartoon.

Overall, it's passable enough, but does nothing to answer the big question: did a second-string hero like GA really warrant his own title or, the editorial decision having been made to launch no less than fifty-two new titles, is he just there to make up the numbers? 6.5/10

Imitation. The sincerest (and most unoriginal) form of flattery.Detective Comics - completely lacking in originality and seemingly designed specifically to alienate young readers.

The dialogue and artwork in this title are both far too reminiscent of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. One or two panels, I'm sure have simply been copied wholesale from DKR. A deliberate homage, or just an uninspired piece of plagiarism? I'd like to go with the homage theory, but the comic borrows so heavily in just about every department, that it's difficult to be charitable.

It's hard to believe that, a quarter of a century after Miller's seminal book, DC's editors and writers are still trying to copy its "grim and gritty" violence, and still haven't learned anything that it had to offer in terms of wit, characterisation and story-telling. 3.5/10

Batman in Africa. Where everyone speaks fluent simile.Batwing - one sign of just how stale the superhero universes of both DC and Marvel have become is the fact that they continue to rely on resurrecting age-old characters and seem to have little success in introducing new characters. Batwing is a reflection of DC's self-doubt. Nominally, he is a new character but, in reality, he isn't. He's just Batman in Africa.

He's mentored by Batman, dresses like Batman and, in this first issue, the writing is so sparse he isn't even allowed to show any kind of individual personality. When characters are allowed to speak, they spout the kind of risible similes that haven't been attributed to native Africans since the days of Rider Haggard. Where a western murder victim would cry simply "No!" or "Don't!", the writer here apparently believes an African would be more likely to say: "I do not want to be butchered like a cow."

The presence of gratuitous gore, including close-ups of a bloody machete thrust through a chest and severed heads, will ensure that this title does little to open up the DCU to newer, younger readers. 5/10

Recovering from a broken spine? Hey, anything Batman can do ...!Batgirl - the best of the Bat-books (so far). There are problems with this title but, compared to the very low standard of the others, they're small.

Gail Simone has the unenviable task of persuading us that, just three years after being shot in the spine, Barbara Gordon is now able not just to walk again, but to swing from rooftops and trade blows with the scum of Gotham's underworld. (Oh, well, at least she isn't returning from the dead!) Ironically, this ludicrous premise is also a source of the book's strength. It means that - unlike Batwing or the Batman in Detective Comics - Batgirl has a backstory which adds depth and context to her actions.

It's not perfect. Some of the scene shifts are clumsily handled, and Batgirl's admission that she feels fear comes far too late in her opening battle to be credible. By then, the cocky, self-assured comments she's already made during the entire fight, make the admission sound like an afterthought on the part of the writer, rather than an integral part of the character's mindset. Still ... at least she says it. 7.5/10

1980s mullet meets 1970s mohawk in a 1960s throwback. Now with added Kirby dots!O.M.A.C. - like GA #1, this is very ordinary stuff. Despite the glossy digital colouring, the artwork is very reminiscent of Silver Age Marvel. Facial expressions and body shapes all seem to belong to an earlier time. One huge panel even features vast laboratory tanks filled with a glowing green liquid and - wait for it - Kirby dots! Nostalgics may get a buzz out of that but, sadly, the storytelling is as dated as the artwork.

By the end of the issue the reader has only really learned one thing: mild mannered Kevin Koh is the incredible Hulk. Or at least a version of the Hulk called OMAC that's part machine and controlled by a sentient space station known as (yes, you guessed it!) Brother Eye. A Brother Eye which, despite being the most advanced mechanical brain ever invented, rather annoyingly still spells "I" as "Eye", just as its equally annoying pre-relaunch predecessor did. You'd have thought a genius inventor might have installed a rudimentary spell-checker among all that other software that must be in there.

Oh, and OMAC sports a hairstyle that's part mohawk and part mullet. I've taken an extra half a point off for that. 4.5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment