Thursday, September 15, 2011

DC Relaunch Week 3 Reviews - Batwoman, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, Grifter, and Superboy

It's Wednesday which means it's time for a fresh batch of comics for DC's New 52 #1's! Don't know what I'm talking about? You can find Week 1 here and Week 2 here to get my takes on those week's releases that grabbed my fancy. As always, I'll be posting these reviews over at iFanboy as well since they have a really nice database of user reviews.

Batwoman #1

For some reason, Batwoman has constantly been running under my radar in all these months leading up to the big relaunch. It's pretty inexplicable for a variety of reasons. The first is that you cannot ignore the sheer brilliance of artist J.H. Williams III. His work in comics never disappoints and never fails to wow me. Secondly, Kate Kane (secret identity of Batwoman) is my favorite bat-family character as well as my favorite female character in any comic. I fell in love with her in reading the collection of the story Batwoman: Elegy by writer Greg Rucka with Williams on the art. The story was inventive, deeply emotional and personal, and also down-right creepy at points.

Maybe I was ignoring Batwoman because I didn't want to get my hopes and expectations up for the book. DC is giving several artists a chance at writing their own books with the relaunch, and with every one of them I've been really hesitant and nervous about the results. With Batwoman, I can happily say that Williams carries on not only the look of the Elegy story but the quality in character interaction and quick, snappy dialogue that made Elegy work so well.

I'm not exactly sure why I like Kate Kane so much. Maybe it's the fact that she's a female version of Bruce Wayne that breathes a fresh kind of life into the character. It could be her strict military background, her Westpoint training (which makes her sound a lot like old man Batman from The Dark Knight Returns), and her relationship with her father (a retired colonel). Whatever it is, the way Rucka - and now Williams combines this realistic interpretation of a modern high tech superhero with super natural and truly horrific villains. The story presented here follows a very creepy track of kidnapped and murdered children all from the same block by a villain who you might recognize if you're a fan of urban legends and modern ghost stories. The villain is the perfect opponent for Batwoman and match for the style of the book due its relatively dreamy, drippy disposition.

Williams and co-artist W. Haden Blackman dazzle with some jaw-dropping double-page spreads that are both bewildering and yet easy to follow the intended flow of dialogue and story. I've had a generally positive reaction to the New 52 #1's that I've purchased, but nothing has impressed me or made me more excited for next month than Batwoman #1. It's even more exciting than Animal Man, so go figure.

Story: 5 out of 5 stars
Art: 6 out of 5 stars (I realize this is impossible, but Williams is the best out there, bar none)

Batman and Robin #1

It took me a while and two reads to decide on how I feel about B&R. I liked the series immensely when Morrison first launched it (big surprise there), but don't have any real experience with Peter J. Tomasi, the current write for the series and the relaunch. I was actually going to pass on it at first, waiting for it to drop down a buck, but then I saw the preview pages for the book online. As always, art almost always is the true deciding factor for buying a comic for me, and I really liked what I saw from artist Patrick Gleason throughout the whole book.

The story is a neat one and follows up the pre-relaunch story of Batman Inc. The idea is that Bruce Wayne, back from the dead, has spread his Batty influence around the world. He's got counterparts now in Africa (as depicted in the New 52 Batwing series), Japan, and as we see in B&R, Russia. Each Batman has their own nationality's flavor to warp the character into something more interesting. The villain of the series is made to be quite unbeatable and has an agenda against all of Batman Inc. I liked the depiction of the villain ("Nobody" is his name as best we can tell) as a true threat who is just brutal and appears to know much, much more than is on the surface. It actually reminded me a bit like the villain in Batgirl #1 in this way.

For me, the art was really the star of the show. Gleason's lines are precise and clean. Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Gotham as a city are portrayed in deep, impenetrable shadows. Robin is drawn particularly nice throughout, and I will always love the difference in size between the huge Batman and tiny Robin as most obviously portrayed in the Dark Knight Returns, but on display here through the 10 year-old Damian Wayne Robin.

The art convinced me to pick the book up, but I most anticipated seeing how Tomasi would portray the father-and-son relationship between Bruce and Damian. I'm quickly coming to realize that these #1 books are often not designed for me at all. I felt Tomasi kept repeating himself portraying the conflict between father and son, but then again, this is a conflict I anticipated and was informed of as a result of my general interest in comics. I'm sure readers picking this book up for the first time probably appreciate the introduction to their rocky relationship. The thing I believe Tomasi nailed was how mirthless Wayne Manor is with Damian as the Robin. Robin's always been the light-hearted foil to Batman's grimness, but Damian's a trained assassin from birth - arguably more hardcore and definitely less forgiving than Bruce. I'm not quite sure how Alfred can stomach all of it, but I'm excited to read #2 to find out.

Story: 3 out of 5 stars
Art: 4 out of 5 stars

Demon Knights #1

Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot to say about DK #1. I went in for it since I like Paul Cornell's writing and it appeared to have maybe some semblance of a tie to Stormwatch (which I really liked last week), and I obviously like fantasy heroes, stories, and literature. Still, it failed to overall grab my interest and attention. Everything was put together well, and some of the characters were actually quite appealing, but overall it just didn't click.

I feel lame not having much at all to say about the book, but it's difficult to write an opinion about something you feel is just completely average. The one thing I really liked is the love triangle between Etrigan The Demon, his human host Jason Blood, and the witch Madam Xanadu. Etrigan and Jason share a presence like the Hulk and Bruce Banner only that Etrigan is sane and intelligent... and a demon. Both Etrigan and Jason are independent in their memories, intelligence, and experiences, and they are mutually exclusive, so the two have never really met and don't know what happens while they're away and phased out of our reality. The result is kind of a Quantum Leap sort of effect if Sam kept leaping into and out of the same person. Cornell has set up a competitive love triangle between Etrigan and Jason for Madam Xanadu which will probably play out in some pretty fun ways.

What I'd like to see with this series is that the first arc is an origin story (which this first issue supports) and then the rest of the story takes place in modern day. All the "Demon Knights" are immortal (the team includes Vandal Savage who's easily my favorite of the team), so a modern take on the team with more history than any other super hero team ever would be great. It's probably not going to happen, but it'd be lovely to at least see these characters interact in the modern DC universe. I'll be passing on the book for now, but will keep up generally with how the story goes.

Story - 3 out of 5 stars
Art - 3 out of 5 stars

Grifter #1

My adoration for the Grifter character comes from the fact that I'm a kid of early 90's. I grew up on a steady diet of X-men comics and always longed to read some Image comics but never really had the opportunity (I don't know why) to get some. Grifter was originally a member of the Wildcats team from Image, and what I know of him I know from the cartoon and a guest appearance in the amazing Sleeper series from Wildstorm. He's one of the refugee characters from the Wildstorm universe that made his way into the main DC Universe. For some reason, all these Wildstorm characters have really grabbed my interest, so I knew Grifter would be a for-sure pick up.

So how did #1 turn out? With an intriguing mystery that works to further explore the paranoia pervasive throughout the new DC Universe, I liked Grifter a lot. It pulled me in right away, and I couldn't help but like this new version of Cole Cash. He's disoriented, confused, and anxious, and the story is told in a fashion that really reminded me of Memento. This first issue is called "17 Minutes" and those 17 minutes are quit tantalizing as a mystery that will be unraveled throughout this first arc. Neither we nor Cole know what happened to him in that short time period, and he seems to be even more out of the loop than he guessed at first blush. I'm very much looking forward to seeing this story unravel.

I don't really know where the story is going, but I do know that it hooked me enough that I want to see what happens in #2. The cast is nice and small, and the alien menace is creepy and completely surrounds our protagonist. I love how crazy Cole looks throughout this first issue and, I'm sure, the many issues to come. I feel like with Grifter we're getting a man-on-the-street view of why the new DC Universe is so suspicious of aliens as a whole, and it's probably going to be invaluable in the months to come as more and more books start talking about the alien threat looming over Earth.

Story - 4 out of 5 stars
Art - 4 out of 5 stars

Superboy #1

How did Superboy make me want to buy Teen Titans #1? Don't get me wrong, I want to be excited for Teen Titans, I love the idea of the teen superhero team, but the art just throws me off completely. With Superboy #1, Scott Lobdell does the impossible and makes me want to see how Teen Titans #1 is going to turn out.

Superboy was another book that I just wasn't sure about until I saw the online preview of the first couple of pages. The cover really does a poor job of showing off just how vibrant and clean the art is on the inside. Superboy's new costume, revealed on the final page, is awesome. It's just too bad there are so many images online that make Superboy look just terrible in the new DC Universe.

There's more to this book than the last page though. The whole thing is a fascinating character study of Superboy in the first few months of his life. Grown in a lab from a combination of Superman's DNA and a mysterious human donor's genetics, the new Superboy focuses his powers (and perception) on his psychic powers. I love how Superman is often depicted as being able to sense so much more than the average human of all that goes around him due to his super hearing and vision. Superboy has a similar level of perception but it appears to be due to his entire body being one big sensory organ on a scale we haven't seen before. This results in Superboy being a very interesting character. He feels a lot like a Man from Mars through out this first issue, and it's a really fresh take on the character.

Let's go back to the art to finish out this review. I'm an unabashed Invincible fanboy. He competes with Hellboy constantly for being one of the best developed characters outside of Marvel or DC. Superboy gives a very familiar, exciting feeling both due to him being a young hero and due to the art. Like I said before, it's a bright book with sharp, clean outlines of characters. This is the first thing I've read from R.B. Silva, and all I can say is that he blew me away. I now want to read everything the guy has ever drawn after reading Superboy #1. The two main female characters - which I'm assuming will be pulling Superboy between the two different ends of his personality spectrum - are drawn quite differently and are  never simply eye candy for the reader to enjoy. Silva draws them to appear competent and ass-kicking in their respective specialties, and ultimately Superboy shows off way more skin than either of the girls ever do.

I put off reading Superboy this week for me last comic because I honestly wasn't very excited about it. Boy am I pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked to say that I enjoyed reading this even more than Batwoman. Out of all the books I've picked up for the New 52, Superboy has me most excited to read on a month-to-month basis. I'm putting a lot of stock into the book and now know what it feels like to be nervous about the survival of my favorite little book. As an X-men fan from the 90's, I've read a ton of Scott Lobdell, and I can very easily say this is the best thing I've ever read from him. This even beats out my previous all-time favorite Lobdell story in the Age of Apocalypse Generation Next storyline.

Whereas Batwoman #1 is the book I'd recommend to experience readers as the first New 52 issue to pull them into the relaunch, Superboy #1 is the book I'd recommend to the new reader or reader who wants to get back into comics after years of being away. It's good, it's tight, and best of all, it introduces the reader to a great character without being repetitive or talking down to the reader. This is going to be a hard book to beat for the rest of the month, and is a great sign that the New 52 is going to continue to reveal some great hidden gems.

Story: 5 out of 5 Stars
Art: 5 out of 5 Stars

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