Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday Is DC New 52y Fresh & Fruity For All I Care #122

Action Comics #1 (2011)
Aquaman #1 (2011)
The Huntress #1 (2011)
Stormwatch #2 (2011)

Action Comics #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Hello hype, my old foe. I like the art of Rags Morales, and since a Treasury Edition of Superman #1 was one of my first comics, I dig the return of a lower powered Man of Steel as social avenger. Still, folks giving this glowing reviews must be totally high off All-Star Superman, because fuck all actually happens. It's two action set pieces sandwiching a few pages of Peter Parker Clark Kent scraping by as a young turk reporter with a cell phone. Nice update, lots of potential, but don't you dare ask me four bucks a month for something so slight as this, especially when acting under the guise of working class heroism in a bitterly recessive economy.

Aquaman #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Was this a comic book story? It had very pretty art by Ivan Reis that's the best the character has ever had. There were sequential panels, including a prologue and epilogue that foreshadow an upcoming story. In the middle was all this crap copied and pasted off a message board where trolls flamed and Aquaman just kept saying "nuh-uh." I think someone decided to turn a Newsarama interview into a visual narrative. That didn't work out so hot.

The Huntress #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Paul Levitz wants to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Decompression, silent action, sparse dialogue, the absence of thought balloons in favor of captions, light exposition, mature elements, and a hero who speaks casually of murder. What Levitz can't hide is a clear, conventional narrative and a reliance on action movie tropes. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, since a lot of these New 52 titles are so desperate to make an impact amidst like-minded books all fired off in the same month that they read like a desperate nerd at an orgy probing ears and nostrils in hopes of securing any possible avenue of entry. By comparison, The Huntress is so calm and assured, you just know it was being prepared months ago completely independent of the relaunch. I guess we'll know for sure once there's some clumsy references to Earth-2 shoehorned into the fifth issue.

Anyway, I've always had a great affection for the Huntress, and this book pushed all my favorite buttons with the character, so I'm hopelessly partial in my enjoyment. Helena [Last Name Withheld For Now, the fuckers] is a badass bitch covered head to toe in a reasonably practical costume with light body armor performing boss martial arts moves and shooting people with a crossbow. I love all that shit, so I'm in. There's some titillation, but it isn't at Helena's expense, which I greatly appreciate. The art by Marcus To is lovely, like the love child of Gary Frank and Sam Basri. He never sacrifices storytelling for money shots, every picture is pretty, his Huntress is athletic while still feminine, and he's great about referencing complex martial arts moves. I'm going to be pissed if he disappears after a couple of issues, because this is a perfect match of creators and character so far.

Stormwatch #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I enjoyed this second issue well enough, in spite of the fact that it worsens the flaws of the debut, and in part because my expectations have been lowered since then.

I was a little put off by the newly DC exclusive artist Miguel Sepulveda's so plainly tracing/shopping from Mongolian Death Worm that DC had the pages redrawn for the second printing. I still like the basics of his style though, and since he mostly handles the monsters/alien landscape pages, he's in his element. However, the real surprise was supporting artist Al Barrionuevo. While I enjoyed the guy's work on the 2006 Martian Manhunter mini-series, he was still rough around the edges, and aping Bryan Hitch a little too hard. For that book, Barrionuevo insisted on long, narrow, "letterboxed" panels for a supposed "widescreen" effect, but it just made everything look like it was getting squashed in a compactor. Today, Barrionuevo has really opened up his page layouts so that they have more energy and variety. Barrionuevo clearly loves following in Hitch's footsteps on Stormwatch, but he's also picked up a strong Phil Jimenez influence which makes for a quite palatable union. The guy gets another shot at the Manhunter from Mars, and while this is also a deviation from the more familiar model, it's close enough to classic to please me much. I hope Barrionuevo sticks with the series, since he slides in very well with Sepulveda. He may not have quite the same razzmatazz, but he's a a better storyteller with more fluid figures, balancing each other's strengths and weaknesses.

The scripts are where I find my ambivalence toward this book. When it was announced that the title would be at the forefront of the Wildstorm integration into the DC Universe, I was concerned about it starring a bunch of Warren Ellis creations, new characters in a similar vein, and the one doofy DC 1950s sci-fi super-hero. I thought the Martian Manhunter might be the book's Jon Kavanaugh or Seth Bullock; a white knight corrupted by circumstance, or an inflexible objectivist on a morally subjective team. Instead, the Martian Manhunter is about the only pre-existing character who seems consistent. The Authority were a bunch of self-justifying puffed-up jackasses, but they were of the likeable John Constantine mode. The new Stormwatch, to date, has been more like a Justice League consisting of Triumph, Guy Gardner, Vibe, Orion and Maxima. In other words, they're a bunch of jerks, and I not only do not recognize them, instead finding them derivative of DC counterparts. Apollo is the isolated, unsure pre-Superman Clark Kent. Midnighter was pretty much always the very model of the ultraviolent Über-Batman, but now he's an extra-creepy Queerstalker to boot. I don't recall the Engineer being a backbiter, and the pleasant enough new characters from last issue are either abandoned or take a nasty turn this month. It's bad enough that the book is so new reader unfriendly, mired as it is in a complex backstory-in-development, but do the characters have to be so irritable as well?

That said, the new issue flowed pretty well, despite some backpedaling and pacing geared toward the trade. Paul Cornell's writing isn't inherently bad, so I'm hopeful that he'll eventually catch a breath and properly introduce Stormwatch to its readers. The threat is getting fleshed out, twists are promised for the next issue, and this is supposed to shape up into a lynchpin title. I can see the seeding for interesting events down the road, but I'm already impatient for the book I expect this to be, and I feel like I'm reading a second or third story arc instead of the first. Onward with fingers crossed, then...

By the way, since market analysis posts are very dry and niche, I thought I'd offer a bit on Stormwatch #1 at the tail end of this review. It was the 30th best selling book of the DC New 52 in September, placing it squarely at middling for the launch. Technically, that put it in a statistical dead heat with The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1 (hi Shag!) and behind such books as Red Hood and the Outlaws, Birds of Prey, The Savage Hawkman and Superboy. However, every single one of those comics was ordered with the knowledge that they would be 100% returnable for a full refund. Stormwatch was the ninth most popular non-returnable book of the launch, ordered with full awareness that retailers would have to eat unsold copies. That's a serious vote of confidence in my book, even if orders were only about a quarter of the best-seller of the month, Batman #1.

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