We’re approaching the five month mark for DC’s New 52 relaunch and the point where I made a conscious decision to regularly buy book series again instead of dipping in and out of series. Back in 2010 I was very enthusiastic for DC’s Brightest Day which introduced me to a bunch of old characters I didn’t know and prepared me for what I was going to encounter in the New 52.

So here’s what I’m reading, not all DC, but you’ll notice the Marvel sized hole which I’ll talk about at the end of this post.

ACTION COMICS

I have a lot of time for Grant Morrison and, naturally there are many who don’t. The teenage me loved The Invisibles and inspired me to seek out his more seminal work (i.e. the Doom Patrol run, my favourite panel of which is a perplexed Superman staring at the painting that ate Paris while someone remarks “And the Doom Patrol went in after it…” Morrison created situations only his crazy misfits could figure out and it works brilliantly).

It was however Morrison’s touching, exciting and funny All Star Superman that immediately made Action Comics a must-buy. All Star was Morrison’s love letter to the Silver Age of Superman – space-faring, gadget building, time-travelling adventures in day-glo colours. Best of all though it had real heart as the prospect of Superman’s death overshadows every story. Action Comics is therefore Morrison’s look at Act One Scene One – the Golden Age of Superman. He can’t even fly yet, but is already the subject of persecution from a intellectually-driven Lex Luthor who sees himself as the ultimate defender of the human race. Some may argue that Clark has become a Peter Parker-clone here,  but that doesn’t detract from the great set-pieces that Morrison creates. A fresh look at the birth of Superman and a story well-worth retelling.

JUSTICE LEAGUE

This is the Michael Bay blockbuster title, a notion that the sales and reprints ultimately support and what it lacks in deep characterisation and plotting it makes up for in balls-out action. Geoff Johns isn’t skimping on the threat either – this is Darkseid hand-picked from Kirby’s roster of bad-asses and he’s apparently turning the Earth into a version of Hell. What I like about this book is that the action hasn’t really let-up over five issues without resorting to a fight-of-the-month structure (which is also OK – see OMAC) and given each hero room to breathe (though if I’m honest Wonder Woman is faring worst right now). Great moment in the last issue that involved one hero unmasking and telling Hal Jordan how much of a dick he is…

AQUAMAN

So the Aquaman-is-a-joke stuff at the opening seemed quite laboured, but a few issues in and Aquaman was dealing with some slimy fish demons that lived in the eternal darkness of the deep sea. This was a bloody fight and pulled Aquaman into the realm of near-horror. I’m looking forward to seeing how Johns develops Aquaman’s mythos with Atlantis in this new story arc and hopefully a villain like Black Manta will get free of the Bermuda Triangle to face off to him. Next issue is looking like it’s a Mera-centric one which is great (cos, sorry, but she hot).

BATGIRL

Batgirl was of interest to me for two reasons – 1) How do you take a character with a seemingly immovable back story (hmm, that works in two ways) and reinvent her, putting her back to busting crimes? and 2) I’d followed Gail Simone on Twitter and found her to be by far one of the most interesting writers tweeting, which also made me genuinely intrigued about her writing. Batgirl doesn’t disappoint, Simone created a great first villain for her in The Mirror and showed that Barbara Gordon was more than up to the challenge. One issue, where she has a protracted fight/chat with Nightwing seemed to drag a bit and now her Mum’s shown up, I’m worried that the whole thing might take some sort of unfortunate Glee direction, where every female character has maternal issues. However it’s worth it for Batgirl kicking ass and her thoughts that punctuate the action that reveal both the pleasures and frailties of the character.

HAWK AND DOVE

Hmm. Wasted opportunity perhaps? When I picked up Brightest Day, I had no idea that H&D even existed until I saw Hank taking an SUV full of terrorists to pieces. I liked both characters, at least the way Johns and Tomasi were writing them. Hank was a young man built like a steroid-pumped linebacker with an anger management problem. Dawn was his long suffering partner who fancied the infinitely more likeable Boston Brand. Sterling Gates tried to expand on that relationship, with Hank still unable to come to terms with the loss of his brother and living up to his father. However the supposed rage that Hank feels, seems so ridiculous that it’s hard to see his problem as anything but a sexual one. He likes Dawn, he should like her like a sister, but he clearly doesn’t. Sadly this element of H & D’s relationship is parked in favour two evil avatars showing up and causing havoc. It’s going to be canned after issue 8, which is a shame, as the potential for this duo remains great.

RESURRECTION MAN

Maybe it’s cos Dan Abnett still writes for 2000AD, the Black Library and, hell yes, Doctor Who, but Resurrection Man feels like it’s torn from the pages of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and is all the better for it. Whenever Mitch Shelley dies he’s brought back to life inside another body, like a morbid version of Quantum Leap. Only Mitch’s been screwing with this mortal coil for too long and now the very powers of Life and Death are out to get him. Throw into this a sexy, deadly and funny extraction team, plus a old-style villain called the Transhuman hiding in an old people’s home and this book is very easy to like. A big surprise for me.

WONDER WOMAN

Jim Shooter doesn’t like the new Wonder Woman, Brian Azarello’s beautifully visceral and downright unpleasant (at times) take on the Amazon Princess. He complains it’s too difficult to understand and doesn’t do the character justice. Issue one took me a few reads too, but compared to something like Alan Moore’s Promethea (which is no more or less complex), this tale of Gods and Mortals still works for me. The Gods are vain, spiteful and, perhaps unsurprisingly, lack humanity. Wonder Woman sides with the mortals through necessity and ends up protecting her half-sister and Hermes from a swanky pad in swinging London.  It’s an interesting choice of city to base WW in and adds to the otherness of the current manifestation of the character that Azarello wants to remove from the cosy DC setting of something like Justice League. I definitely hope Azarello keeps going with this, if only to see WW get some revenge on the gods who have wronged her and humanity. It may be a slow-burn but I’m hoping for a great pay-off.

ALL STAR WESTERN

From the “here’s a cool idea” file, Jonah Hex rocks up in 19th century Gotham City, encounters a crime-ring obsessed with the future and teams up with Dr Arkham to fight bad guys – and it works! Hex is grim, taciturn and not suffering fools gladly, which is a shame for the long-suffering Arkham. All Star Western has succeeded in being both an acceptable Western, but also a good Hex story too (IMHO) with enough interest, action and wisecracking to keep this genre alive and well. While the fantastic elements might annoy some purists, there’s still lots to enjoy here.

OMAC

OK, this one I was really annoyed about DC cancelling, cos OMAC is awesome. Yes – it’s pretty much a giant blue man with a Mohawk fighting a different cast of monsters/bad guys every month, but it shouldn’t be as much damn fun as it is. Issue 1 throws you in the deep end with the action as the unassuming Kevin Kho is turned into OMAC and controlled by an AI called Brother Eye that is currently orbiting the earth. This is the collected edition I’m buying you for Christmas or better yet, grab all five OMAC issues while you can.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES

I’m this close to giving up with Paul Levitz’s Legion. I have no idea what the fuck’s going on. By issue 3/4 I thought I was getting the hang of it, then number 5 came along and I felt my eyes glazing over. I don’t know who’s sleeping with who or why, I don’t have space in my brain for all the heroes the run is encompassing. I really want to love this SF/Super-hero comic, but why couldn’t they start at the beginning. I DO have Secret Origin to read, but haven’t dared begin that yet.

THOSE DC TITLES THAT FELL AT THE FIRST HURDLE…

These are the books I dropped after issue one – DETECTIVE COMICS, had an interesting opening, but didn’t go far enough for me, why not KILL the Joker in issue 1, that would have put the cat among the pigeons, talking of which CATWOMAN, trashy, ugly, but worst of all BORING. JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, OK this made it to issue 2, but I found the team a bit odd. LEGION LOST, in hindsight I should just not have bothered. ANIMAL MAN – a book that’s been highly praised, but I didn’t really get on all with all the dead animal stuff and body parts which was also true of SWAMP THING and JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK (the teeth!). Meanwhile THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN and SUPERGIRL actually had quite promising first issues, but for reasons of time/cost, I left collecting them. In DEMON KNIGHTS issue 1 a bunch of people were in a pub and… that was it.

ALL THE STUFF THAT ISN’T DC

COLD WAR: THE DAMOCLES CONTRACT

Or John Byrne gets to do an old-skool James Bond story set in the UK ala Moonraker (the novel) and it’s really bloody good. The standout moment so far is a double-page spread of a motor car race seen as an aerial view. Solid dialogue and an intriguing plot all add up to this being a great comic.

2000AD

The current Dredd arc – Day of Chaos has been superb. Some have argued the PJ Maybe storyline distracted from the main plot, but I disagree, it was a slow-burn but well worth it. Wagner’s writing is superb and Dredd is as formidable as he’s ever been, but can he alone stop the disaster that’s about to befall Mega City One? There have been other favourite strips recently too. Gordon Rennie’s Absalom throws open a case regarding London’s history while both Ampney Crucis Investigates and Indigo Prime have done their bit for extra-dimensional weirdness. It remains fresh and fun to read and I look forward to Wednesdays because of it.

SO WHERE’S THE MARVEL STUFF?

I haven’t been near any of it. With the exception of Point One  which I believed kicked off some interesting premises I’d look forward to reading this year, it’s been difficult to get into the seemingly never-ending variations of X-Men and Avengers. I’m going to keep on watching Marvel to see something I want to read (Scarlet Spider intrigues me), but one wonders if Marvel will go the way of DC and relaunch. Time will tell, true believers! Anyway I look forward to seeing Stan Lee speak at the London Super Comic Con at the end of February.

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