By T.J. Frenzel
Staff Writer, Kessel Runner
DC’s much-discussed New 52 has managed to pull me back towards superhero comics. Unlike previous events, I think the top-to-bottom relaunch of the DCU has at least a chance at a lasting, positive influence on the franchise.
Rob has been covering the New 52 with some great feedback, and I wanted to chime in and share my top picks so far.
As much as I love DC, they have a pretty spotty track record with issues of diversity. Most recently the spotlight has been on the portrayal of female characters as, basically, sex robots (reference Catwoman and Starfire), but race is a tough issue too — so it surprised me that DC’s official Batwing description was “the first black character to wear the Batman mantle.”
Talking about race is tough because a lot of it can depend on perception. For instance, in Mister Terrific #1 the title character says something like “How about just saying, ‘Thanks, black guy!’”
Some people were offended by that, but I have a black friend who sprang to mind immediately because he says things like that all the time, in much the same situation (levity, not rescuing people from a guy in a stolen mech-suit). It’s just his way.
Now me, I’d have stopped at calling him the Batman of Africa, which he is. Why make a big deal of out saying “Hey, we made a black guy Batman!” I’m not actually offended, I just think it’s odd.
My first impression on reading issue #1 was Wow — I don’t know who this Ben Oliver guy is, but he kicks ass. I don’t always dig the photo-realistic look, but it’s stylized enough here that it works for me. Also, I find the Batwing design to be really cool. I’m not sure why it’s more practical for Batwing to wear the (apparently) heavier armor — and is he flying? — but it looks nice.
It isn’t until issue #2 that we start to see Batwing’s character step away from being a Batman clone, but I’m starting to see it; Batwing is a bit younger, more impulsive — not dissimilar from an early Nightwing. Maybe Judd thought we needed a gradual departure from a traditional Bat-title rather than throwing us in willy-nilly, but I hope it continues in that direction.
I’m a fan of the Bat-family, and so far Batwing is sitting towards the top of that pile (aside from Batman himself, of course).
It’s only one issue in, but so far Demon Knights is a welcome departure from what I normally read from DC — which is part of the attraction. I love men in tights — er, kevlar? — as much as the next guy, but so far my favorite part of The New 52 has been trying out some of the other genre titles.
In Demon Knights, we’re quickly shown Jason/Etrigan’s origin before skipping forward to the Dark Ages. Fans of Batman: The Animated Series may recognize The Demon Etrigan (originally created by Jack Kirby), who is merged with Jason Blood by the wizard Merlin (yes, that Merlin) in the time of King Arthur’s court.
Comically, Paul Cornell’s setup for the series is to have Jason and a young Xanadu meet several familiar characters in an inn, much like the standard D&D campaign.
Like most of The New 52, Demon Knights is only one issue in, but Cornell’s use of humor and Diogenes Neves’ fantastic art are a great combination for a fantasy title. And although I didn’t expect it at first, Demon Knights may end up being a sort of team book — he’s hinted that we haven’t met all of the cast yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with this slightly off-kilter title.
Scott Snyder has received a lot of accolades for his work on Batman titles, but surprisingly I thought Tony Daniels’ Detective Comics #1 had the better debut. Tony provides both art and story, and gets off to a great start with issue #1 — a classic Batman tale that introduces The Joker, Commissioner Gordon, and others into the New 52. It also has a great Gotham noir sensibility to it that I found extremely gratifying, and issue #1 ended on a great note.
Issue #2 had a couple of bumps. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like DC is trying to shoehorn a couple of soap opera pages into every freakin’ issue. Sure, there’s always a love interest, but seriously: Batman’s juggling a reporter and Catwoman, Batwoman pines for Renee Montoya (while dating), Mister Terrific has a catfight over him brewing in the background — what gives? Did they hire all the ghost writers that are looking for work after All My Children? I don’t need my superheroes to read like The Bachelor, thank you very much.
But aside from that, I’m looking forward to seeing where Tony is going with Joker and The Dollmaker, who is (as far as I know) a new villain for The New 52.
I’m not ready to proclaim Huntress a breakout hit quite yet, but I’m on a bit of a quest to find a female character I can…err, get behind, and so far Huntress seems like the best candidate.
As I said before, there’s a bit of controversy over how women are portrayed in the DCU — deservedly so. I wasn’t exaggerating when I referred to Starfire as basically a sex robot — she’s already slept with both of her male team members, has no emotional connection to sex, and oh — she has trouble telling men apart. Sex. Robot.
Anyway, after talking with a friend I realized that Harley Quinn is the only female DC character that I really like — or at least the only one I could come up with on the spot. I’m not really a Wonder Woman fan, and honestly I’d be okay with Catwoman being done away with entirely (take Damian along with you, thanks).
Huntress is a character I’ve always like the idea of, even if she isn’t always executed well. In most cases she tends to be a little too one-note; she’s super angsty about wanting to take out the mob in all its forms, and her willingness to kill is always a point of conflict with other superheroes. Perhaps it’s because she isn’t well known that creators tend to want to re-introduce her each time out, but it gets a little tiresome.
But so far Levitz has managed to avoid that trend, portraying her as not only martially competent but pretty suave as well, able to get things done both in and out of costume.
Huntress #1 takes place in Italy, and as a guy who’s never left the continental US I can authoritatively say that Levitz and artist Marcus To manage to imbue Helena with a sophisticated European attitude that can be sexy without feeling icky, and so far her story doesn’t suck.
Brief aside: If you’re a fan of the Bruce Timm cartoons, the Huntress/Question episodes of Justice League Unlimited are excellent.
This one might be too early to call, but so far I prefer it over Batwoman and Batgirl, so I’ll be checking out issue #2.
Dan Didio and Keith Giffen’s O.M.A.C. is fast becoming one of my favorite new titles. Also originally created by Jack Kirby, the new acronym stands for “One Machine Attack Construct,” a type of bio-tech that has infected the body of Assistant Manager Kevin Kho.
The upshot is that it puts him at the mercy of the technological entity Brother Eye, who can transform Kevin into the hulking blue O.M.A.C. at will, using him to do its bidding.
O.M.A.C. is a great example of how fun a comic can be. Though Brother Eye and O.M.A.C. have a storied history at DC, they’re essentially approachable for the new reader at this new “jumping-on” point — and perhaps importantly, just fun to read.
This title is something of a throwback in the best possible away, with plenty of nods to comic legend Jack Kirby and that era of comics in general. I keep expecting the exclamatory narration at the top of the panels: Will Kevin regain control of his life? What else will Brother Eye throw at him? Find out next time!
It’s fun, and Keith Giffen does a great job channeling that energy. Props to the rest of the artist team for a great looking comic, as well.
Front page image from whatculture.com. The Huntress #1 page from insidepulse.com.
For more from T.J. Frenzel, check out 2BitGeek.com.