I’m Reading DC’s “New 52” Comics (Part 1)

As you may or may not know, this month DC Comics relaunched its entire line of superhero titles with a batch of 52 comics all starting at issue #1.

They’re doing this in a bid to increase their readership and market share in a time when comic sales are declining. They’re also fully embracing the digital market for the first time (something neither they nor Marvel have done previously), with every title available digitally on the day of release.

Creatively, they’ve decided to reset the timeline of the stories. The characters are (mostly) younger now, operating earlier in their careers. Some of the previous canon of events are still considered to have occurred (Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon was shot by the Joker, paralyzing her; Superman died and came back in that ludicrous Doomsday storyline used in a previous desperate bid for publicity), some did not (Superman hasn’t married Lois Lane). The mish-mash of what officially happened and didn’t happen, and when, is implicitly perilous to the goal of solid continuity for the DC universe, and could easily spin out of control as everything is juggled by the many creators involved.

The first batch of titles is out, and I’ve read them. Here are my impressions:

Action Comics #1
Script: Grant Morrison  Art: Rags Morales/Rick Bryant

The original Action Comics #1 was where it all started, the book that introduced Superman, and thereby costumed superheroes, to the world. At that time, Superman was nowhere near as powerful as he gradually became; for example, he couldn’t fly yet, though he could, indeed, leap tall buildings at a single bound. He also symbolized the interests of the poor and working class, taking on reality-based villains like corrupt, greedy businessmen (and yeah, we kinda need someone to do that still, don’t we?).

Grant Morrison canonizes that fledgling take on Superman, honoring the character’s origins and original creators in the process. Action Comics doesn’t take place contemporaneously with the rest of the New 52 books, but a few years back, when Superman was new on the scene and the only existing superhero. He’s young, cocky, and not as powerful, and yes, all about the big jumping but not the flying. He has yet to adopt his full uniform, wearing instead a short red cape, a blue T-shirt with his S logo, and blue jeans with work boots, like a superhero envisioned by Bruce Springsteen. And he’s after corporate villains, just like back in the day.

Hunted in the field by the police, and behind the scenes by the military-industrial complex in league with Lex Luthor, Superman has ample opportunity to exhibit his jumping ability, as well as the fact that he’s faster than a speeding bullet. Is he more powerful than a locomotive? Well, that turns out to be an important question.

Morrison’s writing is crisp and clever and the art by Morales and Bryant is muscular and kinetic. Also, in the depiction of Superman we get here, and the glimpses of him so far in other titles, the hero seems more assertive than traditionally portrayed. Superman has usually been a very reactive character, existing in a standby state, launching into action when something disastrous happens or a villain takes action. But now he is out in the world, taking the fight to the bad guys, being proactive in investigating possible problems (as befits a man who is also an investigative reporter). He’s also vigorously confident, as you’d assume a man with his abilities to be. As a result he seems much stronger, much more imposing, much more interesting.

This is damn good stuff, and I recommend it highly.

Animal Man #1
Script: Jeff Lemire  Art: Travel Foreman/Dan Green

I’m going to keep it brief because I’ve got quite a few comics to go, but I want to say I like this comic a lot. Wry wit, suburban family life, superhuman career issues, and deep, dark gothic horror mix very well, and this first issue ends with a creepy kick.

Batgirl #1
Script: Gail Simone  Art: Ardian Syaf/Vicente Cifuentes

Barbara Gordon, paralyzed by the Joker a few years ago, somehow returns to ass-kickery, though how this happened we’re not yet told. The art is strong, the story intriguing, the characterization deft and human…though the fact that Batgirl, who is not only a protege of Batman but the daughter of the police commissioner and, as it happens, one of the most brilliant minds in the DC universe, can’t afford to live without a quirky roommate rings my “plot device” alarm a bit too much. Still, a strong start and hopefully Simone will keep things moving.

To be continued…

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