Posted by Don MacPherson on June 12th, 2011
Before moving onto my thoughts on the second half of DC’s new fall lineup of titles (the first half is discussed here) and what DC did right and wrong with those choices, I first want to discuss briefly what it’s done right and wrong in another respect. Overall, regardless of how one feels about these new comics and the impact this broad publishing initiative might have on the comics marketplace, I think DC is to be commended for how it’s conducted its publicity campaign thus far. Not only has the September relaunch dominated industry news and discussions, but DC has managed to penetrate the mainstream media consciousness with this move. People outside of comics are aware of the relaunch. Furthermore, it’s managed to control the story well and kept a significant number of players from spoiling its secrets. And with DC’s announcement this week it will follow up that PR campaign with national television advertising, the publisher has demonstrated that this is not business as usual. Such dramatic shakeups in any business, let alone the comics publishing industry, are rare, and one has to respect the willingness to take on such an immense professional undertaking.
While I’ve taken issue with some of the choices DC has made in terms of specific titles in this relaunch, there’s been little to criticize as far as the publicity is concerned. There’s really only one aspect with which I take issue, but unfortunately, it’s a significant issue. DC forgot (or so it seems) to do one thing for this initiative, and that’s to identify. DC hasn’t named its baby, and that’s led to some possible misinformation and misrepresentation. Newsarama and Comics Beat have taken to calling the initiative “DCNu,” a play on “DCU” (short for “DC Universe”). Others keep referring to the relaunch or reboot, and DC officials have maintained it’s not a reboot. Maybe the publisher is holding off on announcing the branding identity for the relaunch so as to give it something to announce later on, thereby keeping the initiative in the pop-culture news cycle. Still, failing to name this line-wide endeavor seems like a missed opportunity to me and a painfully obvious move that DC shouldn’t have been able to overlook.
Anyhoo, on with the second half of my title-by-title, team-by-team commentary…
With the climax of its popular Brightest Day event earlier this year, DC made a big deal out of the decision to bring its iconic horror character Swamp Thing back into the DC Universe proper, and a relaunched title featuring the elemental hero was the next logical step. Actually, it was an obvious step, but where DC went right was with its choices of creators for the new book. Writer Scott Snyder has impressed many with his work on Detective Comics recently, but he also brings some Vertigo, mature-readers credibility with him, given the success of American Vampire. Artist Yanick Paquette (whose name DC has unfortunately misspelled in its solicitation information for this title) also boasts something of a refined and popular profile thanks to his recent work on Grant Morrison-penned Batman stories. This is not only a formula for a sales success, but for some good storytelling. I’m there.
Writer Jeff Lemire has demonstrated he’s adept at telling stories featuring oddball characters, so tapping him to write a new Animal Man book was likely an easy and smart choice for DC editors. Lemire’s been teamed with the art team of Travel Foreman and Dan Green, and as I recall, Foreman delivered some interesting and unconventional visuals in several issues of the much lauded Immortal Iron Fist series from Marvel a few years back. I think Animal Man is a hard sell to a wider audience, but this one’s got a shot at connecting. I plan on reading it; we’ll see if it holds my interest and that of other readers.
Justice League Dark is one of the goofiest ideas to emerge from the 52 new titles, but it’s also one of the most telling. Given the lineup of John Constantine, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu and others, this has about as much to do with the Justice League as The McLaughlin Group. It seems clear to me that DC is trying once again to expand its Justice League brand in the same way that Marvel has successfully transformed the Avengers into its most popular brand. DC has had a supernatural super-team before with Shadowpact, but I’m guessing DC hopes the Justice League label will give new take on the concept more staying power. At first, I thought the concept to be ludicrous, especially with Constantine’s and Xanadu’s inclusion. But writer Peter Milligan has been responsible for some smart, challenging comics in the past, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at least for an issue or two. Spanish artist Mikel Janin is pretty much an unknown quantity to me, but samples on his website show a lot of energy and edge that might serve these characters well.
I know many have heralded the work of writer Paul Cornell, both for Marvel and for DC, but I’ve found his work so far to be somewhat unremarkable, though capable. So the announcement of Demon Knights — a medieval super-hero series starring Etrigan the Demon, created by Cornell and artists Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert — didn’t do much for me. I found it also further spotlights the fact that DC hasn’t really known what to do with the Demon property since the Garth Ennis-helmed series ended years ago.
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is another unusual choice by DC, but the property has a great pedigree. It was Grant Morrison who started this interpretation of the literary monster in a Seven Soldiers limited series a few years ago, and again, putting that property in the hands of writer Jeff Lemire for the relaunch is a logical move. Furthermore, artist Alberto Ponticelli is coming off a critically acclaimed run on Unknown Soldier, and his style is a good fit for the title character. I’m looking forward to this, even though I thought this past week’s Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown was a bit too formulaic and predictable for my taste.
The return of Resurrection Man was another big surprise in the relaunch lineup. The original incarnation of the title, published more than a decade ago, didn’t have the strongest sales, lasting only a couple of years, but it was a great premise and a fun, dark book. I’m pleased DC has tapped the original writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, to, ahem, resurrect this book. Abnett and Lanning’s recent return to DC is also noteworthy, as the writing team was essentially behind a full line of cosmic, space-opera comics at Marvel until recently, so it’s a bit of a coup for DC. I’m unfamiliar with the work of artist Fernando Dagnino, but my affection for the character and the writers’ rep are enough to get me to check the book out.
When it comes to the I, Vampire relaunch, I’m torn. I’m pleased to see a rather obscure DC horror property returning to the forefront, and I’m interested to see what indy writer Josh Fialkov might do with it. On the other hand, given the cover image by artist Andrea Sorrentino (who also handles the interiors), it seems clear to me that this is DC’s effort to capitalize on the Twilight/True Blood trend. DC is far too late getting to the party, and the attempt to tap into trends doesn’t strike me as a strong foundation for a new comic-book series. I won’t be inviting this vampire into my home, and I suspect it won’t be long before he’s staked through the heart… er, I mean, cancelled.
Voodoo was the first one of the DC’s new 52 titles that revealed the publisher would incorporate some of its Wildstorm characters into the new direction. Judging from the solicitation information (which notes that “Priscilla Kitaen has just found out she’s a monster … a half-alien hybrid…”), DC is starting over from scratch with the character. There’s no reference to her WildCATS membership, for example. Written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Sami Basri, this book is really an unknown quantity. Even Basri’s cover art — featuring a closeup of the title character’s face — doesn’t give a strong indication of what we can even expect visually. I suppose it could’ve been worse… it could’ve featured a closeup of Voodoo’s ass. Since I was never a fan of the character in the 1990s, there’s not much here that’s piquing my interest.
I was quite surprised to learn DC was maintaining a count of two titles featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes among the new 52. I don’t follow either of the two current Legion titles, but after seeing the teaser images and text for Legion Lost and Legion of Superheroes (which is, for some reason, missing a hyphen for the first time in its long history), I’m keen to reconnect with the Legionnaires. Legion Lost, by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods, boasts a familiar premise — featuring a team of Legionnaires stranded in the present. DC already did this back in the mid-1990s and it was a lot of fun, but I think there’s still plenty of mileage in the premise. What has me interested in the future-set Legion book — penned by longtime Legion writer Paul Levitz — is the richly imaginative and unique artwork by Francis Portela. His cover alone makes it look as though this comic will be quite lovely. Furthermore, since there’s the potential for a reboot or revised history in play for this title, my hope is that Levitz’s new take on the Legion will be much more accessible and unburdened by decades of continuity.
Wow, but those character designs on the cover of the first issue of the relaunched Teen Titans are ugly, aren’t they? I really don’t get why DC is intent on eliminating any sense of innocence or fun among its sidekick characters. Everything about the look of the characters screams that it’s trying to be an edgy, over-the-top Image comic from the early 1990s. The creative team — made up of writer Scott Lobdell and artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund — says the same thing. This reinterpretation of the Teen Titans may prove to be one of the biggest missteps DC will make with this initiative.
We’ve already seen that DC made room for its Wildstorm characters in its new lineup, but I was pleased to see it also saved a small part of it for Milestone Media — namely, a Static Shock series. John Rozum, who’s no stranger to Milestone’s characters, is co-writing the book with artist Scott McDaniel — there’s that promotion of artists as writers or co-writers turning up again. With inker Jonathan Glapion, they make a solid enough creative team. Still, I have to admit I’ve been really followed Static much in the past. If this was a new title outside of the context of DC’s relaunch project, I doubt I’d be reading it, so I can’t really see why I’d do so within the context of the line-wide initiative.
Offering up more evidence of a 1990s influence on some titles in the line, DC is bringing back Hawk and Dove with artist Rob Liefeld. Really? Rob Liefeld? He illustrated a five-part Hawk & Dove limited series back in 1988. It was an early work from the artist that eventually led to bigger and better things… well, better for him, not necessarily for the world of comics. He’s joining writer Sterling Gates on this revival. I honestly can’t fathom what DC is thinking here. Not only is there no chance that Liefeld will be able to maintain a regular schedule, but his fanbase just isn’t what it once was. On top of that, DC has already tried this. Liefeld joined writer Gail Simone on a two-part Teen Titans story a few years ago (featuring a new Hawk and Dove, both women this time) that went nowhere. I expect the same will hold true for this attempt.
We’ve already seen DC’s “mainstream” super-hero characters make their presence known in the Wildstorm continuity and vice versa, but the teaser for the new Stormwatch book promises more of a lasting merger, with Martian Manhunter joining some of the more popular Wildstorm characters on a new super-team. Among the other players in the book will be Apollo, Midnighter and Jack Hawksmoor, better known as core members of the Authority, but I’m pleased that DC is using the Stormwatch brand instead, recognizing that it’s what eventually evolved into the landmark Authority series. In the first part of this rundown of DC’s 52 new books in September, I said that I’ve not really been all that drawn to writer Paul Cornell’s work. Stormwatch may prove to be different. With art by Miguel Sepulveda, I’m intrigued enough to see how these creators fare with these unusual characters.
One of the things DC is doing with this initiative is to reinvent some of its lesser-known properties for the 21st century. Blackhawks is one such title. Instead of featuring a team of World War II fighter pilots, this new series, set in the present, features “an elite group of mercenaries” who want to “kill the bad guys before they kill us.” I’m unfamiliar with writer Mike Costa’s work, and I’ve always found that Ken Lashley has offered capable but rather standard super-hero art in the past. The premise doesn’t interest me, and I don’t see that DC is giving its audience a reason to seek this book out.
Now Sgt. Rock and the Men of War (which is possibly titled just Men of War, which would be an odd choice — why dump a recognizable character name from the title?) features a slightly similar premise, but it boasts a much stronger hook. Instead of the classic World War II comic hero, the Sgt. Rock in the title refers to the original Rock’s grandson, who leads a team of soldiers in the modern DC Universe. Written by Ivan Brandon and illustrated by Tom Derenick, it sounds like it’s got a bit of a Suicide Squad riff to it. While I’m not sure this twist on Sgt. Rock is the right move, it’s something a little different. As for the art, Derenick strikes me as an unusual choice. He’s best known for fairly generic, deadline-driven super-hero artwork. His work definitely doesn’t have the kind of edge to it one would expect from such a project. I’m on the fence about this one as a result, and given my desire to keep my comics spending under control, that means I probably won’t end up reading this comic.
Though it’s hardly boasted the strongest monthly sales, Jonah Hex was a decent performer for DC in collected form, so I wondered if DC would make room for it in its new lineup. It has, albeit with a new/revived title. All-Star Western — still written by Hex scribes Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (whose name is also spelled wrong in the solicits) — tweaks the Western story formula a bit by connecting the hero to Gotham City, no doubt in an attempt to draw in Batman fans. With Moritat on art, I’m on board, as I was a semi-regular reader of Jonah Hex in the first place. I’m even more interested in this book give that it’ll carry a backup feature, spotlighting different DC Western heroes. As a result, it’s not holding the line at $2.99, but the reader will get extra pages for an extra buck. On another note, I have to admit I was surprised that DC tapped Palmiotti and Gray to write only one of these 52 books. The writing team has been a reliable resource for the publisher for several years now, so their limited role in this initiative struck me as odd.
The next series on the list — Deathstroke — takes us back to the 1990s once again. DC tells us little about it, save for the fact that the title character is a “metahuman mercenary” out to solidify his rep once again. Looks like this book (written by Kyle Higgins with art by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert) will be a DC iteration of the Punisher archetype. Not interested. DC managed to popularize the character again in recent years by focusing on him as a villain. I expect returning the character’s status as an anti-hero will fall flat.
I’ve never been terribly taken with the wise-cracking rogue of the WildCATS, so at first, when DC announced Grifter would be among its new lineup, I was put off and disinterested. And then I read who was writing the book. I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the quality of the storytelling in Who Is Jake Ellis?, written by Nathan Edmondson, and that DC is placing this character in his hands — a fresh, new voice in comics — pleased me to no end. Now, maybe he won’t be able to work his magic with the character, but I’m certainly willing to see what he and artists Cafu and BIT have in store.
DC Comics co-publisher can be something of a polarizing figure in the industry, but say what you will about the man, but there’s evidence that he truly loves comics. Case in point is his decision to co-write a new OMAC series with penciller Giffen, who illustrates the book along with inker Scott Koblish. Whether Didio should be writing comics is another issue, but it is encouraging to see he has Giffen, a seasoned veteran who truly understands the nature of the medium, as his guide. Honestly, I’m not a big OMAC fan and hadn’t planned on picking up this title when the initial rumor about it broke. But I have to admit that cover image is striking. Nevertheless, this is another one of those books that I go could either way with, and that probably means I’ll be skipping it in the end.
I’ve been a fan of Suicide Squad from the first issue of the John Ostrander penned series of the late 1980s, and whenever the concept turns up again in a DC title, I’ve always been curious enough to check it out. This new incarnation is penned by Adam Glass, who’s about to show us what he can do when writing super-villains with the upcoming Flashpoint: Legion of Doom mini-series. He’ll be joined by artist Marco Rudy, formerly the artist on The Shield (which I never read), but I do recall his work from the first issue of Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape. He employed something of a mind-bending, weird style, so I honestly don’t know what to expect. I do know that I don’t care at all for the cover image (by Ryan Benjamin), which seems more focused on Harley Quinn’s penchant for fetish rather than black-ops super-villain intrigue. the cover makes me want to steer clear, but my personal love for the Suicide Squad concept is at odds with that reaction. I don’t know what I’m going to do about this one.
Now, one could dismiss the inclusion of Blue Beetle in the lineup of the new 52 titles as another example of DC’s push toward more diversity in its world of super-heroes, but there’s certainly more at play here. When the previous incarnation of this series was cancelled, its hero was just beginning to find a new fanbase thanks to the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon, and the Blue Beetle has proven to be a popular, recurring character on that show. Bringing him back for another stab at a solo title was a smart move on DC’s part. Tony Bedard, another one of DC’s go-to guys, has been tasked with the writing, but what’s interesting is that Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers artist Ig Guara is on board as the artist. I’m honestly curious about this new book (despite the fact that I only followed the previous incarnation of the series for a couple of issues), so I’ll give it a chance when it debuts in September.
Like many others, I think DC is giving up something of weight by renumbering Action Comics, the longest-running ongoing comic title, with a new #1. I suppose there’s no point in lamenting it now, especially considering that I suspect that DC, following Marvel’s many examples in recent years, will eventually return to the original numbering, no doubt as part of a marketing hook. In any case, Action promises to be one of DC’s finest offerings in September. Writer Grant Morrison transformed how many modern comics readers viewed Superman with All Star Superman, so I can’t wait to see what he has in store with this new interpretation. It’s also a relief to see that he has a hand in this relaunch initiative, though it’s a lost opportunity that it’s only with one title. Artist Rags Morales’ realistic style will no doubt emphasize Superman’s human side. I can’t imagine that this won’t be a critical and sales success.
The George Perez cover image for the first issue of Superman leaked early, and as a major Perez fan, I eagerly anticipated reading a book he’d write and illustrated (even though the prospect for the latter on an ongoing, monthly basis seemed unlikely). When the book was officially announced, I have to admit I was quite disappointed to learn that Perez was only contributing breakdowns to the interiors and that it was Jesus Merino who was billed as the main artist on the book. While he’s a fine inker, I haven’t cared for Merino’s solo work on such comics as Justice Society of America and pages from the recent Action Comics #900. Still, I’m willing to see how it’ll look when he’s following Perez’s breakdowns. Even if they aren’t any help, Perez’s writing is a draw as well. His work on Wonder Woman in the late 1980s was intelligent and emotionally resonant, and I’m interested to see what he has in store for the Man of Steel.
While I will be checking out the two main Superman books, I won’t be doing the same for the other two members of the Superman family of titles. While I enjoy the work of upcoming Supergirl artist Mahmud Asrar, I’m ambivalent about the participation of Superman/Batman writers Michael Green and Mike Johnston. And the description of the reinterpreted title character as having “the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman and none of his affection for the people of Earth” doesn’t make me want to read the book.
It seems that DC decided to bring a similar edge to Superboy, who’s described in the solicitation information for his title as “a deadly weapon.” It appears from the cover art that DC might be endeavoring to bring the published incarnation of the character in line with what we’ve seen in the Young Justice cartoon. While I enjoy that show, I won’t be signing on for the new comic, to be illustrated by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean. The main reason: it’s written by Scott Lobdell. While I’ve enjoyed a few of his stories in the past, for the most part, his work just isn’t for me. If Lobdell’s titles prove to be solid performers for DC, we can expect more of these interpretations of its characters. I hope that doesn’t come to pass, as these Kewl concepts don’t appeal to me, and I’m not interested in more of that approach.
Overall, DC has a mix of talent participating in its new line. There are a few new (or relatively new) voices joining the DC Universe choir, but for the most part, the powers that be at the publisher have opted to stick with creators with whom they (and the DC readership) are already familiar. Not everyone’s back, and personally, I’m struck by one absence in particular. Artist (and sometimes writer) Scott Kolins has been a mainstay of DC super-hero comics for years now, and his influence has been felt across a wide variety of titles. He not only contributed to various iterations of The Flash, he also contributed to two or three Flash-related mini series, Justice Society of America, DC Universe: Legacies and a Solomon Grundy limited series that featured a diverse array of weird DC monster characters.
Of all of those creators who didn’t graduate onto the relaunch line, Kolins’ omission may be one of the most surprising. Of course, that may mean nothing. DC is obviously planning beyond this September relaunch. It has Grant Morrison and artist Christ Burnham working on followup to Batman Inc. for release next year, and it no doubt has other projects and titles in the works. I hope one of them involves Kolins, preferably in an artistic capacity.
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.