I’ve been disconnected from comic books for a long time. It’s why I really only read a couple of modern monthlies in trades, the occasional graphic novel and shitloads of old-ass back issues. Decades of gnarled canon have left writers with nothing to do but scrape the bottom of the barrel and I can’t help but hate the results. Back in the 80’s, DC hit the reset button on their own titles with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which basically started everything over en media res and Marvel dipped a toe in total creative overhaul with their line of Ultimate comics but, wouldn’t you know it, they couldn’t commit and left their Ultimate titles running alongside their regular Marvel U titles. Both Crisis and Ultimate titles were free to do their own things and while both had varying results, I always felt like the end-product of both had more positive than negative going for them. Now DC is doing it again. It probably has something to do with sagging sales and since killing off Superman and Batman were great publicity stunts in the past, why not just do the Crisis all over again and start fresh?
I do say, good sirs and ladies, why the hell not?
Let’s assume that you don’t know what’s going in DC because you don’t usually read comics or you’re one of those prejudiced Marvel-only fans. Both of the majors do a big summer crossover event where one major story arc winds through a central title and then through all their other books. This year’s DC event was called Flashpoint where The Flash and the other iterations of him (Kid Flash, Impulse, etc.) found themselves in an alternate timeline where everything in the DCU is drastically different. It turns out that Flash went back in time to save his mother from her death and succeeded but the old butterfly effect fucked with everything else, started a very bloody war between the Amazons and the Atlanteans and is going to result in pretty much the end of all things. So he goes back in time to fix it and… Here we are.
DC, who graciously sends me copies of their horror-related books, has sent me four of the latest 52 (hopefully with others still to come). Each one is a jumping off point for the new DC Universe but where some allege that supers in the DCU are a new paradigm, others leave you with the impression that they’ve been around for a while or existed long in the past. I’ll explain in my thoughts on some of these books.
Swamp Thing #1
Ripped from the headlines! Birds, bats and fish are dying in large numbers all at once, all over the place. Superman seeks out Dr. Alec Holland, a botanist who turned his back on his profession for obtuse philosophical reasons to hopefully gain a little insight into what is happening but Holland will have none of it. He wants a simpler life where he’s not reminded of the fact that even the plant world is as chaotic and as violent as the human world. He is also haunted by mysterious memories of being the monstrous Swamp Thing and he seems to understand that it all actually happened to him but he is not that thing anymore. Holland is haunted by dreams of Swamp Thing and in a fit of rage he nearly throws his biorestorative formula into the swamp but he’s stopped by the freakin’ Swamp Thing!
I was really looking forward to this one since the Alan Moore/Steve Bissette books from the 80’s are some of my favorite comics ever. I break for Swamp Thing. The relaunched title boasted some great art by Yanick Paquette but the story, admittedly a set up issue since it’s a number one, is mostly Superman arguing with Holland. It’s clearly leading up to the trademark dark horror that Swamp Thing is known for but so many pages are wasted on Holland turning Superman down for a date. It was a bit of a let down. Good looking book with a hint of good things to come in the form of a villain who makes his victims something akin to the Invunche of some of those great Moore issues.
Animal Man #1
In the New 52, Animal Man isn’t the hero that he used to be. It’s been a while since he’s put on the costume and these days he has a family, is an animal rights activist and starred in an upcoming indie movie. However, his past as Animal Man is intact. Everybody knows who he is and what he can do. When insecurity strikes, he puts on the costume once more and intervenes in a hospital hostage situation that leaves him bleeding from the eyes. That night he is haunted by creepy dreams of The Red, the source of his powers but the book ends on a seriously creepy note as it is revealed that Animal Man isn’t the only one in the family with powers.
I’m not familiar with artist Travel Foreman or writer Jeff Lemire and while Animal Man may not have made me a fan of Foreman’s art, a sketchy thin-line style that’s heavy on action panels, Lemire’s writing fucking stellar and in a single issue introduces you to who Animal Man is, what kind of person he is (remarkably complicated) and why you should like him. It also sets up the story for where the rest of it is going. No small feat. I usually curse out number ones because they reveal so little in their quest to hook you for future issues but Animal Man #1 is the shit! The family dynamic, a truly compassionate hero, a cool power and sweet action panels make the lead up to the horror qualities of the book something I am seriously anticipating. Animal Man #1 is not to be missed!
Set in the Congo, Batwing continues the adventures of African Batman from the pages of Batman, Incorporated as he establishes himself as the only force of law in a country whose police are completely powerless and corrupt in the face of drug slinging warlords. Here, Batwing faces off against Massacre, a massive killing machine with unstoppable urge to murder everyone. He finds himself on the trail of a killer who brutally murdered a pack of hardcore gangsters as well as a member of the African equivalent of the Justice League. The final pages of the book leave you wondering how anyone could survive a wound like that.
It may seem a little tasteless to set a superhero story in a nigh-lawless African nation but if you’re going to do it you had better do it right. Boasting the best art of the four books reviewed here with pencils by Ben Oliver and outstanding colors by Brian Reber, Judd Winnick’s story wanders a bit starting at the end and ending at the beginning but the feel of the setting and the circumstances of pitting seriously hardened criminals who’ve seen it all against a guy in a bat costume is so gritty and different that you’d be hard pressed to find a book like it anywhere. Black Panther is sort of the Marvel equivalent but Black Panther is ridiculous by comparison. Winnick’s story and set up, similar to Batwing’s actual pre-New 52 origin, is compelling enough to make you forget that he came up as a member of The Real World cast.
Sorry. This book was stupid. Dwayne McDuffie must be PISSED!