Friday, November 4

Justice League Dark #1 and Teen Titans #1 (Nov 2011) (and a couple of digitals)

“In the Dark Part One: Imaginary Women”

This was not a title that I immediately latched onto in the first announcement of the New 52, but over time the idea of a “Justice League” made up of some of DC's more mystical characters intrigued me so I gave it a shot. It's still going to have to grow on me, but I'm willing to give it that chance. There's enough here that seems interesting enough, and the art of Mikel Janin (not the cover artist, by the way, that's Ryan Sook) is quite attractive and appropriately moody for a title like this.

Of the characters who appear on the cover, the only ones I'm really familiar with in any way are Deadman, Zatanna, and Madame Xanadu. I don't know if I'd read anything with John Constantine in it before that recent Search for Swamp Thing … thing …, and although I know I've read stuff with Enchantress, my knowledge of the character is almost as close to zero. And Shade the Changing Man? – never read anything with him unless it was as a minor character appearing in some big crossover, and without checking I don't know if he ever did. Zatanna's probably the one I'm most familiar with, from her many appearances in previous Justice Leagues as well as Paul Dini's Detective Comics run (I have the first trade of her own recent series, also by Dini, but haven't gotten around to reading it) and Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers. I've generally liked her. Deadman … well, you can't have been a DC Comics fan for as long as I have without having been exposed to him throughout the years – I remember his backup status way back in Aquaman ca. 1970 and I'm not even going to try to enumerate various appearances other than to say that apparently the gist of what happened in Brightest Day fairly recently is still part of the character's history. He's always been a take-him-or-leave-him character for me. Madame Xanadu, similarly semi-omnipresent here and there over the years, but I really liked the first two trades of the recent Matt Wagner Vertigo series. As I said, there's enough here, and the idea looks interesting enough that I'm in for at least a while.

In a nutshell, the Enchantress is looking a bit dessicated, trapped (?) in some remote farmhouse while her power, driven by what Batman has concluded is insanity, is wreaking havoc on the world. Xanadu is affected by it, as is some blonde woman who seems to exist in multiple copies – most of them coming to bad ends. Three powerful members of the “real” Justice League – Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg – basically get their butts handed to them as Batman and Zatanna look on from afar, whereupon Zee mystically binds Batman to keep him from interfering as she heads out to take on Enchantress: “... The world just can't afford to lose you,” she tells him, “Me, I reckon it could get along just fine without. … Dnib sih teef!” Meanwhile, Shade is drawn toward to Xanadu – away from his lover who in the process discovers that she is really just a figment of his imagination (as she fades out of existence without him there to maintain her being, “A-m I even real? H-have I ever truly existed?” – “Yes! Of course you're real! … As real as … I can make you ...” Wow.) And somehow Constantine is drawn in as well, but he only gets a bare page. Mysterious blonde girl, caught in a mental fugue state repeating something about a “crooked house … c-crooked … lane” from beginning of the issue to the end, is drawn to an apartment where the door is opened by Dawn, as Deadman looks on – the girl manages to announce, “I'm looking for a … deadman.” We're left with a glimpse of Xanadu's vision of the future, which doesn't look good for this new group that is coalescing. Note that it looks like the Demon is there as well, fallen with them on a mound of dead bodies. “Next: The War Against Enchantress Begins.”

A couple of comments: First, this is one of the only appearances I've seen Superman in the present DCnUniverse in an extended scene outside his own book. I can't say I really like the brash arrogance he heads into battle with here. Those qualities I don't really have a whole lot of problem with in Action Comics set as it is at the beginning of his career, or even in the main Justice League title which is set explicitly five years in the past … as long as they're there to show growth toward the more mature, level-headed hero we should be seeing in the modern period of his career. I didn't really get them from Superman itself, also presumably present-day, but if this is going to be the “new” Superman characterization overall, I think DC is making a mistake. I'll just have to see how this all develops, but that's my thoughts right now. Second, for what it's worth, on the splash page we have Madame Xanadu contemplating various tarot cards floating around her. A few of their faces are visible – “III Death” with Deadman, “I The Magician” with Zatanna, “XVI The Sickness” with Shade the Changing Man, “[?] The Hanged” with Enchantress (I think), “IX [?]” with John Constantine, and “0 The Fool” with mysterious blonde woman. And, what looks like a Seven of Spades...? Maybe those who know the characters much better than me can see some significance here … and for the playing card interloper hopefully it will be revealed even to the rest of us. Just as a thought/observation, though: We have six characters on the cover; with the Demon shown dead on the last page, that would be seven.  (Assuming Dawn or the blonde girl aren't the seventh ... or one of them could be if Enchantress goes away.)

“Teen Spirit”

This is obviously a companion book to the Superboy title also written by Scott Lobdell, which I rather liked despite its awful cover. But even though the two #1's are written by the same author, a scene where they intersect comes out differently here, which I consider to be a bit sloppy. It's not that each version is supplementing the other. The same things are said with different phrasing, and where there is correspondence of phrasing the characters are in an obviously different location when they have their exchange. That just seems a bit sloppy to me since we are meant to see this as two different views of the same interaction. Whatever, the gist is there (and this oddly enough has me beginning at the end!) – that that creepy guy Templar from Superboy #1 is commandeering the Superboy Project to deal with new little problem that has just arisen, the sudden advent of a second generation of metahumans.

It's something that Tim Drake, former Robin the Boy Wonder (he didn't come up with the name), most recently going by “Red Robin” but seemingly receded into the shadows, has been observing – the emergence of reckless new teenaged metahumans such as a “Kid Flash” with whom the superhero Flash disavows any connection or knowledge (so who is he?), a runaway named Cassie Sandsmark who has been dubbed “Wonder Girl” (don't call her that!), and others Tim has been tracking … and so have others, Templar's organization. At the beginning of the issue “Kid Flash” tries to be a glory hog interfering with firemen fighting a housefire – with tragic results – which Tim observes via live newsfeed just before he is attacked in his New York LexCorps Towers lair by Templar, who wants him to join up. Tim refuses and flees, hooking up with Cassie who has just been attacked under the guise of a traffic cop stopping her for grand theft auto – then they confront a black helicopter and she unleashes her power, destroying it with great disappointment since it's actually automated and she therefore doesn't get to “clock a few skulls together.” Then that final scene described above, which ends with the tagline promise, "We're not even close to the end."

Because I like the Superboy title and I like Tim Drake, I'm in this at least for a while. Overall this isn't as bad as I feared it might be when first announced, although I really wish they'd stuck with the traditional Teen Titans motif of sidekicks coming together as a “junior Justice League” rather than (apparently) wiping it from existence. Of the characters on the cover, we obviously are introduced only to four in this issue (including Superboy, which may be stretching it). The other three we see only in Tim's monitors. I can't say I like the art that much. When Brett Booth first appeared on Justice League of America not too long ago, his style seemed okay, but I've liked it less and less the more I've seen it. It's a bit too scratchy and angular for my taste My bigger quibble is (and he's not the only artist who doesn't seem to have a basic grasp of anatomy, but he's who I'm discussing now) that body parts are often distorted in some fashion. Most notably, Tim looks like he's been hit with a head-shrinking ray a few times. Even on the cover, unless purple-clad dude near the center has the superpower of blowing up his fists, Good Lord that's too much perspective! – his fists, obviously a number of feet behind Kid Flash, are nonetheless as big as the latter's head! I will say that Cassie looks pretty good throughout, and I do like her costume redesign, although what's the point of a hoodie as part of a costume with basically a tube top? – and I've never liked the asymmetrical armor look in any context I've ever seen it unless there were an obvious reason one arm/shoulder would be armored while the other wouldn't (such as if she habitually carried a shield with her left arm therefore the right arm would be armored). … Somebody please redesign Tim's costume – and get rid of those wings, although at least they are shown to be functional both for flight and armor. Nonetheless it's just an ugly costume. His latest pre-Flashpoint Red Robin costume had just finally achieved a good look – it's gone too soon.

I do like (well, that's maybe not the right word, but it fits well with the New 52 situation as I understand it) Tim's muttered question as he contemplates a photo of (presumably) himself as Robin and Batman – “Look what you started. … Seriously. What were you thinking?” Much as they are a beloved staple of superhero comics that have been there from the beginning – Robin being originally introduced in 1940, I believe – imagining such a phenomenon as sidekicks in the “real world” of today just doesn't work. It's typically part of the suspension of disbelief that we engage in. But were there a real Batman who took on a child as a partner, there's no way society would sanction that! It's been dealt with occasionally even within Batman comics in recent years. But it would most likely lead to tragic results – “copycats” and “showboaters” such as seem to be emerging here being just the most benign, I would think. That could be a lot of what's going to be dealt with in this series, and while I would again have prefered the basic Teen Titans mythology to be left intact, maybe tweaked like the history of the Justice League is being, this has the potential of being an interesting new direction to take the DCnU into.
* * *
And that's the end of the stack of DC New 52 titles I got in almost a month ago, from September, the first month. Overall, I think it's clear there are things I like and things I don't like. That's to be expected. My worst fears went unfounded … that this would be such a disaster it would finally, after forty-plus years, drive me away from DC Comics altogether. Honestly it would have had to be really bad for that to happen. But so far, DC may have even gotten a net increase in the amount of my money each month, at least in the short term. There are series that I'm just giving a chance, but there are also some real gems here. Nevertheless, I'm not sure this will, in the long term, accomplish what DC is hoping, lead to a significant upswing in sales, especially from new readers. Nothing much here wows even me so much that I think it's going to take off like wildfire.

Before I sign off this post, I want to make note of a couple of other things I picked up digitally. There, DC has gotten money from me they wouldn't have otherwise, and probably will end up with a further increase in the number of titles I get, in one form or another.

First, there was Batwing #1. Frankly, until I heard much positive buzz on this I figured this would be just about the first DCnU title to be cancelled. It's the only Bat-title I passed up buying the first issue. Based on good initial reviews, I picked it up as soon as it dropped from cover price to $1.99 digitally. It is really good and I'm probably going to start picking it up as issues if I can see where the second story arc begins. I'll get the rest of the first arc a month behind digitally, then probably get the trade too. High-tech “Batman” in Africa. Who'da thunk it?

Second, and this mainly resulted from one of Multiversity's contributors picking it as one of the things they really liked from the New 52 last week, I picked up I, Vampire #1 digitally – again once the price went down. That's likely going to be the only way I'll buy digitally … get 'em down to a buck an issue and I probably will buy more, hear me DC? Anyway, it's a reworking of a concept from the 1970s in House of Mystery (I think – maybe it was House of Secrets), but now integrated into the same DC world of superheroes including the Justice League. Vampires secretly trying to take over the world … ultimately vs. superheroes? It'll have to go there eventually in some way, shape or form … and it's just offbeat enough to be interesting. As is, the first issue is well written, with art that somewhat reminds me of that on Justice League Dark in its appropriate moodiness, maintaining the original stories' basic premise of a hundreds-of-years-old vampire with a conscience contending with his insane lover who's bent on vampires taking their “rightful” place.

Anyway, Cheers, and thanks for reading!

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