The New 52 – 3rd Week

And here we are with Week Three – a big week for superheroines, both good and bad. A few gems in the rough, and then a bunch of rough. So why don’t we get started….? Watch out for snakes spoilers!

Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Now this was a good book. One of the best so far, in my opinion, and definitely the best of the Bat-books. It’s got character, it’s got intrigue, a mystery, and lots of punching. And, a little unusually for the Bat franchise, it has hope.

One of the things that surprised me about last week’s Batman and Robin was that Bruce Wayne was ready to move beyond his parents’ death, something that was the most formative moment of his life. When I read that, I was taken aback and wondered if that was something that all the Bat-books would incorporate, or if Peter Tomasi had just written it for himself.

Looking at this story, though, it really looks like Mike Marts, who edits this book, Batman and Robin and Detective Comics as well as Batwing and Batwoman, has a plan for the emotional growth of Bruce Wayne, and it’s evident here.

Bruce Wayne has a dream for Gotham City – a dream to create a new Gotham, a better Gotham, and he plans to use his prodigious fortune to do it. In a speech before a gala of prospective backers, he talks about hope and optimism, about concentrating on what Gotham City could be one day, instead of how it is now or how it used to be. It’s a very optimistic tone, almost as though he’s looking to put Batman out of business one day.

And of course there’s good Bat-action bookending the piece. An uprising at Arkham Asylum and a gruesome and mysterious murder that leads to a message threatening Wayne’s life. What’s more, it looks like the murderer is someone who could very easily pull off the deed.

It’s a tight, well-written book that I’m looking forward to following.

Birds of Prey by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz

I never read the original Birds of Prey series, so I have to confess that I don’t know much about it. What I do know is that it was a group of female super-heroes originally organized by Oracle (Barbara Gordon) to fight crime. Their membership changed from time to time, but they were supposed to be a good showcase for female characters, who often get short shrift in superhero comics.

Somehow, it seems that they have gone from being group of superheroes to a group of vigilantes, chased by the law and all that. Team mainstay Black Canary is now wanted for murder, of all things, and they’re trying to do good while not getting caught by the police. Now she’s working with a woman who calls herself Starling as they try to build up a new Birds of Prey team.

And of course, people are trying to kill them. Par for the course, really.

Murder most Fowl? (See what I did there? Birds? Fowl? … I’ll stop now,) According to the characters in this book, Black Canary murdered a man “with one punch.” Wikipedia is absolutely no help here – anyone want to fill me in?

Blue Beetle by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara

As part of this reboot, some characters are going back to their beginnings and others are not. For example, we’re not being re-shown how Superman came to Earth or how Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot dead or how Hal Jordan got his ring. We know those stories – they’re modern mythology already. Other characters may have different origins, but their writers are holding out on us. Wonder Woman, for example – her origin has bent and twisted around a few times in the decades she’s been around, so it will be interesting to see exactly what her backstory is now. In other books, their origins are recapped quickly, but so far it has been rare to see the moment replayed where a hero gets his or her powers as the introduction to the book.

This seems to be that exception.

Jaime Reyes is the third Blue Beetle, actually. The first two are dead, and neither of them were Beetles in quite the same way that Jaime is. The first (Dan Garret) had a mystical blue scarab that gave him super-strength and invulnerability, to a point. The second (Ted Kord) had no powers at all, but was a brilliant inventor and adventurer. Jaime is the youngest and most powerful of the Beetles, without a doubt, but he lacks the experience and maturity of the other two.

There is an alien culture out there called The Reach. They’re a warrior society, and their scarab symbiotes seek out hosts to turn into warriors in their quest to take over worlds. Once the scarab finds a host, it overrides that person’s brain and basically turns them into a drone that does the bidding of The Reach. A nasty bunch, them. The Green Lantern Corps can’t stand them, and the feeling is mutual, and that leads to a damaged scarab landing on Earth during the heyday of the Mayans.

Flash forward to today – there are a lot of people who want to get their hands on this scarab. They don’t know what it does, but they know it’s better that they have it than someone else. Unfortunately for all these warring crime lords, Jaime Reyes ends up with the scarab latched to his spine and taking hold of his brain, which must make his little day-to-day problems of being a high school student seem pretty petty. Bad enough he has a protective family, annoying siblings, jocks at school who want to beat him up, a dropout best friend and a would-be girlfriend whose mother just happens to be one of the crime lords trying to find the scarab. This can’t end well….

AWK-ward… Jaime, as you might guess from his name, is Hispanic, which is a good thing for diversity in comic books. If his cultural heritage is handled with respect, it can really add depth to his character and make him stand out from a lot of the other heroes of the DC Universe. Maybe that’s why seeing a page “translated from the Spanglish” kind of made me flinch. Keep in mind I’m not an expert. It’s entirely possible that bilingual families do switch languages in the middle of making a point during an argument, but reading something like, “Lo siento, mijo, pero there’s no way I’m letting you go to la casa de Amparo Cardenas!” felt like Tony Bedard was waving a big flag in front of me and saying, “LOOK! THEY’RE HISPANIC! THEY SPEAK SPANISH AND EVERYTHING!!”

Also, a note to Mr. Guara (or Pete Pantazais, the colorist – I’m not sure who’s responsible, but I imagine they’ve both been reading this on the edge of their seats, just waiting for me to say something about them. Really.): I imagine plaid flannel shirts must be annoying to bring out on the page, and I appreciate your wanting to make Paco look authentically thuggish, but man, that shirt looked awful. It’s like you just selected the pattern in Photoshop and hit “Fill.” The plaid pattern doesn’t follow the contours of his body or the movements of the fabric or anything. Just… ouch. Everything else looked great, but that shirt really bugged me….

Captain Atom by J.T. Krul and Freddie Wiiliams II

Captain Atom has always been an interestingly-powered character, basically just being atomic-powered. Whatever that means to you. When last I saw him, he was saddled with an interesting problem – any time he absorbed a lot of energy, he would jump through time. And occasionally through universes.

Now he has a new set of powers and a new set of problems. Unfortunately, between the powers and the way he’s drawn, he reminds me of nothing more than a less cosmic (and less well-hung) Dr. Manhattan. He can rearrange matter, control the decay of atoms, and he’s bright blue. To be fair, Manhattan was originally based on Captain Atom, so I suppose it’s all come full circle now.

His problem, then, is that while he can make atoms fall apart with the wave of his hand, he’s also risking losing himself. The atoms that make up his body are vulnerable and fragile, and if he should draw on too much power, there’s a good chance that he could end up killing himself.

Which, of course, appears to be exactly what happens by the end of this issue. I reckon he’ll get out of it, of course – one rarely kills their title character in the first issue of his eponymous comic, but you never know. It is a bright new age.

Pretty blue man: The art really is very nice, I have to say. The drawing is rough and gritty, inked very heavily by (I presume) Williams. Captain Atom, on the other hand, looks like he was done in colored pencils, with very little inking done at all, at least not in the same heavy black that everything else gets. It makes him look that much more ethereal and inhuman, so excellent choice there.

Catwoman by Judd Winick and Guillem March

I wanted to write this review on the train, but there was a small child sitting next to me. I couldn’t risk exposing her to this comic. I know, this is the country where middle-aged men read bondage comics on the subway, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

Why, you might ask? What was so horrifying and terrible that it made me reluctant to be seen reading it in public?

(whisper) BREASTS!!

Not naked or anything, but there they were, in lacy bras and everything. Just… BAM.

Catwoman is sexy, this much is true. Catwoman has always been sexy. Even on the old tv show, go back and look at how Eartha Kitt just owns the screen whenever she’s on it. Being sexy is a big part of who Catwoman is and how she does what she does.

But it’s not all she is, and this book basically says that being sexy is pretty much all she is. Sure, there’s a flashback to an abusive past in there, and sexy-lady-get-mad and all that, but it’s buried inside a bunch of pinups of Selena Kyle that look like they’d just barely pass the adult filter over on DeviantArt. Maybe a straight male reader of comics got a little more out of it, but I certainly didn’t. I felt bored and uncomfortable, and that was even before she date-raped Batman.

You heard me. The last few pages of this book just made me feel… squicky.

There is more to Catwoman than the sexiness. There is her gray morality, her love of breaking the law while still being basically a good person, and her infatuation with a man who stands in the way of getting what she wants out of life. These are all great character hooks to hang a story on. But to me, this comic decided it would rather be wank material and slash fiction, and that’s really not what I’m looking for in my comics.

DC Universe Presents by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang

DC Universe Presents has always been a showcase title for those characters in the DC universe who, for one reason or another, never got their own comic. Each character would get a short story arc to themselves, and they were often quite refreshing. After all, when you have heavy-hitters like Superman and Batman and Green Lantern starring in multiple books, it’s nice to know that there’s a place for the B-list heroes as well.

This series starts off with Deadman, a ghost who can temporarily possess people in order to help them out of whatever misery life has thrown their way. This reboot gives us a recap of Dadman’s origin, plus an explanation of his overall mission that sounds suspiciously like the driving story behind Quantum Leap: He has to find and help people in order to eventually become the person he was always meant to be, instead of the arrogant jackass he was before he died. Jenkins and Chang do a nice job of re-introducing us to a man who used to be the center of everyone’s attention, but who now is utterly invisible to the rest of the world.

I has a sad…. While Deadman has often been written with a certain gallows humor, he doesn’t often come with happy stories, and this one will be no exception. Having said that, I’ve always appreciated the message of Deadman tales: life is a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Part of his endless mission is to help people in misery find reasons to go on with their lives, no matter how hard it may seem. What’s more, he does this with little to no reward – very few people even know he exists, and of those, a tiny number can talk to him without some kind of medium. I would love to see someone smarter than I write a theological treatise on Deadman – I reckon he falls closest to being a Bodhisattva – a kind of Buddhist saint who delays his own enlightenment in order to help others. But hey, what do I know?

Green Lantern Corps by Peter Tomasi and Fernando Pasarin

I do love my Green Lantern comics. This book, like its previous incarnation, focuses more on the Corps as a whole, and two of the more interesting human Lanterns – Guy Gardner and John Stewart. The first is a brash, impulsive jerk, bordering on jackass, depending on who’s writing him, and the latter is more of a quiet, methodical former Marine who probably takes the job of being a Green Lantern more seriously than any of his human colleagues. As their story begins, they’re discovering that the Corps has really become their lives. They do this by trying to go back to the lives they led before they got the rings.

Unfortunately, Guy realizes that he could never be a high school football coach again, not when he would have to rush off to save the world all the time. And John realizes that his own standards as an architect are too high for the people he would be building for. After all, when you’ve seen entire worlds break apart and die, you might err on the side of caution in your designs. They decided not to wear masks or hide who they were, which makes having a normal Earth life pretty much impossible for them. They’ve seen and done too much.

After a panel or two of introspection, they decide to go where their talents can be best appreciated: Oa and the Green Lantern Corps. Fortunately for them, there’s a problem that needs solving – the mysterious murders of Green Lanterns in an outpost, and the loss of all life on the water world of Nerro. With their team of Lanterns, they learn that there’s something very powerful out there with a vendetta against Green Lanterns.

Buddy Cops: John and Guy are great characters to see together. As John notes, they both wanted to stand out as Green Lanterns, rather than try to blend in with everyone else. They’ve both had long and difficult histories as characters, and they’ve grown a lot since they were first introduced.

Legion of Super-Heroes by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela

A small disclaimer here: I am an unapologetic Legion fanboy. I’ve been reading their stories since time immemorial, and I love everything about them. I love the futuristic settings, the wild and exciting alien worlds they go to, the variation in powers and personalities, and the sweeping cosmic scope of the books. I’ve read the old Legions, the newer Legions, sat through reboots and re-imaginings, and I even own a Legion flight ring.

So I’m going to follow the Legion comics no matter what happens. The emotional investment is still too great.

Having said that, I’m not entirely thrilled with how the LSH has reappeared in the DC Universe.

We saw them show up in the “present” back in Legion Lost, and I was really hoping we could get some backstory in the main title. Alas, we did not. What I got was confused. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t able to follow the last series to the end of its run (Legion isn’t available as a digital download yet for some reason), but the promotional copy says that they’re recovering from “the worst disaster in its history,” and if you know Legion history then you know that’s saying a lot. This book doesn’t do a lot to fill you in, though. Some characters have died, Mon-El wishes he still had a Green Lantern ring, and for some reason Glorith – yes, Glorith – is a member of the team now. There’s a bunch of other new characters to take in, too – Harmonia, Dragonwing, and a new Chemical Kid.

On Earth, the Legion is struggling to rebuild after whatever it was that happened. On the world of Panoptes, a planet meant to watch over the empire of the evil Dominators, something is going terribly wrong, and it’s up to the Espionage team to find out what it is.

Again, I’m going to continue to buy this book, but if I were a new reader, I might think otherwise. It’s like walking in on a huge production with no real information about what went before or who these people are. As an introduction to the team, it’s pretty rough and graceless. And that’s coming from someone who knows these people.

I see what you did there…. Paul Levitz is known as one of the great writers of Legion stories, which does give me some hope for this book. I noticed he did a cute trick in this issue. Nothing huge, just a subtle transition between different viewpoints. When he transitioned from one team to another, he made sure that the last and first words spoken were either identical or very close in meaning. Not essential to the success of the story, but it shows a certain care in writing.

Which made some of the sledgehammering a bit harder to take. For example, Glorith saying she wished she could turn back time to undo the death of a teammate. Maybe this is because I remember who Glorith was last time, but that’s pretty severe foreshadowing right there, and just after we meet her, no less. A lot of the writing seemed pretty heavy-handed and forced, really, right up a final line that really should have had a “Dun-du-DUUUUUNNNNN!” right after it.

Nightwing by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows

It has been suggested that you read this book before you read Batman, and I have to agree. While Nightwing is part of the Batman franchise, and Dick Grayson wore the Cowl for a year or so, he is a very different person than Bruce Wayne, and approaches his life and his mission in very different ways. He has all of Batman’s drive, but he also has a certain sense of joy in what he does. He enjoys the thrill of chasing down a crazy man with a knife and executing complex acrobatics to get into a moving train just before it reaches the tunnel. He takes his mission seriously, yes, but he’s been a superhero for most of his life, and he seems to have really accepted his place in the world and learned to love it.

So when a hired killer comes after him – after Dick Grayson, to be precise, rather than Nightwing – he finds his place in the world upended. This killer has been hired to take out Grayson, calling him “the fiercest killer in all of Gotham,” which is news to Grayson himself. Something is very, very wrong here, and he needs to figure out what that is right quick.

Character-building: Establishing a character is one of those things that some people do with elegance and economy and others do with all the subtlety of a dump truck. Fortunately, Higgins and Barrows do a really good job of it. With some simple interior monologue and art, they manage to tell us a lot about who Dick Grayson is and how he’s so very different from Bruce Wayne.

Bruce lives in a vast mansion out in the country with a secret cave full of high-tech equipment. Dick lives in a loft in the center of one of Gotham’s bad neighborhoods. Bruce keeps his costumes on display, in hermetically sealed capsules. Dick takes his off after a patrol and throws it on the floor. Bruce sees his past as fuel for his never-ending mission. Dick sees it as a comfort to return to, if only for a visit. Bruce is all business all the time. Dick seems to be one good moment away from breaking into a grin and saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m a superhero!

Which makes the ends of this book and Batman all the more jarring. So go to it.

Red Hood and the Outlaws by Scot Lobdell and Kenneth Rockafort

After thinking on this book for a while, I had something of a vision. A waking dream, really. George Perez and Marv Wolfman going to Scott Lobdell’s house and punching him as hard as they can. To me, that would be a just and deserved punishment for what Lobdell has made out of one of their creations, Starfire. Let me explain:

This book is basically an action-buddy story starring Jason Todd (former Robin, once dead but now better, who now calls himself the Red Hood) and Roy Harper (who was Speedy, sidekick to Green Arrow and who now, thankfully, has both his arms.) together they wreak havoc and cause chaos, which is fine in a goofy, adolescent way.

They are joined by Starfire, a former Teen Titan who is probably one of the cheesecakiest super heroines in the entire DC universe and always has been. She’s tall, she’s an alien, she’s stunningly beautiful, and prior to the reboot, she was a genuinely nice and interesting person. Sure, she had some less-than-stellar moments, but she usually managed to maintain her core as a character. Despite being an alien princess sold into slavery by her own sister, growing up an an environment of slavery and abuse, and being on a world that doesn’t like aliens very much, she still managed to be… Nice. Loving, even. I mean sure, if you piss her off she will kick your ass, don’t get me wrong, but she had a certain depth of character that was founded on her love for her teammates and friends.

The new Starfire? She doesn’t even remember her old teammates anymore. She’s willing to have sex with any man who accepts her offer, and she has so little regard for Jason and Roy that she says she usually can’t tell them apart. But that’s okay, because they don’t really care that much about her either. She is first introduced – I kid you not – by the size of her breasts:

ROY: Tanks – three, straight ahead! I hope you have at least one good backup.
JASON: 38 of them.
ROY (thinking): I don’t get it. Who do we know who carries a pair of 38s?

Turn the page aaaaaaand…. Starboobs. I mean Tittyfire. No, Starhooters!

Starfire, floating in midair, breasts akimbo.

Now, to be fair – Starfire’s costumes have always been revealing. This one is only slightly moreso, but not too far removed from what she wore when she was introduced a couple of decades ago back before we were tripping all over porn on the internet. And like I said before, she’s always been cheesecake material. But Rockafort has basically chosen to draw her in the worst tradition of women in comics – back arched in painful contortions, breasts the size of her head and her butt sticking out all over, straining at her swimsuit as she propositions her lover’s friend for a round of empty, meaningless sex with no threat of any emotional attachment later.

She is the dream girl for emotionally stunted men.

Now I don’t mind sexy in comics, though I prefer my cakes more on the beefy side rather than cheese. A shirtless Roy Harper was kinda cute in this issue, and if they’d had him in a tiny red Speedo that just barely strained to contain him as he emerged from the water, his pale, tattooed skin glistening in the tropical sun while he bent over and posed to emphasize….

…wow, I blacked out there for a minute. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. If Roy had gotten the same treatment as Starfire, it might have mitigated things. But he didn’t.

There’s a story in here somewhere, something about Jason Todd and a bunch of witchy women and blah blah blah. Jason was never a very likable character to begin with, and I don’t like him much now. This book doesn’t quite reach Catwoman levels of badness, but it’s not good.

Supergirl by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar

This is definitely the week for female superheroes. Some of them have been done well, some badly, and Supergirl seems to fit more into the former category. We start off her story knowing very little about her, which is pretty much as much as she knows about herself. She emerges from a ship that crashed into Kansas so hard that it bored through the Earth and emerged in Siberia. She doesn’t know where she is or how she got there, or even what planet she’s on. All she knows is that it’s cold and she’s being attacked by people in giant mecha-battle suits.

And then the sun rises and things only get stranger.

That’s pretty much all we know. Whereas a lot of the reboot titles try to pack information in as tightly as they can (see Batwoman), this one is keeping everyone in the dark, including its title character. And you know what? That works for me. We don’t need to know everything right out of the gate, and just finding out who a character is can be a fascinating story.

The Girl of Steel: The promotional material for this book presents an interesting take on her character – a girl with the powers of Superman, the impulse control of a teenager, and a general lack of warm feelings for humanity. Chances are that she’ll be used as a foil to Superman’s traditional love of All Things Earth, but I hope she holds on to her cynicism for a while. After all, it’s not undeserved, and I think it would help keep things interesting on a philosophical level…

Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

Okay, she’s not wearing pants anymore. Happy?

One of the things I’ve always liked about Wonder Woman was her connection to Greek mythology, something I’ve been interested in for a long, long time. If you follow the adventures of Princes Diana, you know that there really are gods and monsters out there. Gods like Zeus really do go out and randomly impregnate woman, monsters like centaurs are on their way to ravage and kill, and gods like Hermes and Apollo are playing their own long, complicated games with humans.

And in the middle of it all is Wonder Woman.

In this story, she finds herself protecting a young woman, Zola, who is carrying the latest of Zeus’ children. This is not nearly as great as it sounds, as there are now people out there who would like to see her dead before she has her baby. And that’s really about as much as we know at this point. Zola has been touched by the gods, like it or not, and she’s part of a much bigger adventure. With luck, Wonder Woman will be able to see her through it alive.

It’s a maddeningly mysterious beginning, accompanied by the statements of oracles,who have never been known to state anything with precision or clarity. But it’s certainly interesting enough to follow for a while.

Dress-up Time A big part of the reboot involves costume changes. Some heroes, like Batman, have fairly minor changes to their look. Others, like Superman, are a little more radical. There have been plenty of attempts in recent years to update Wonder Woman’s costume, and every time it is met with screaming rage by the fans – especially the recent pants (which I have to admit I didn’t mind at all). It’s a hard line for artists working with super heroines, especially those as iconic as Wonder Woman. On the one hand, she is a warrior and should dress with that in mind. It would make more sense for her to think of her costume in terms of functionality and protection rather than aesthetics.

On the other hand, she is a woman in comics, and as such it is expected by the iron chains of tradition that she look like a swimsuit model. Add to that a costume that’s really changed very little since she was introduced sixty years ago, and you have something of a hot-button issue no matter what you do. I think the costume she has now is pretty good – it looks a little less flashy than it has traditionally been, and has more of an armored look to it. It’s still a swimsuit, but Chiang does a good job at not drawing her like a swimsuit model or a stripper, unlike some of the other female heroes we’ve seen this week….

AND FINALLY… Yes, it’s time for our Mystery Woman Montage! Some of the scuttlebutt on the web is that she’s the “ripcord” for the reboot – i.e. an intelligent actor who can reverse things, if necessary (i.e. if sales don’t work out). I think it would be a monumentally stupid idea for DC to do something as big as this and then turn around and say, “Just kidding! Here are Superman’s panties back!” so I figure she has a different role to play. In the meantime, it’s an entertaining game for readers….

See you next week!

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