Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Can you "jump on" with the new 52? Thoughts from a Marvel-minded newbie.

Ever approach someone who is wearing a Batman shirt to talk about Batman, and then they turn out to be as passive a fan as can be? They’ve read Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, both of which they own in trade paperback form, but that’s pretty much it. They probably also have read Watchmen or something, and they think Green Lantern is really cool but haven’t read much Green Lantern (meaning they have never read any Green Lantern and know almost nothing about it).

I’m going to be up front: I am sort of like this person, only I don’t have any Batman shirts and I’m the one approaching you, which makes it worse. You’re here on the 52 Review and you want a DC follower to compare notes with. I am actually of the other ilk, the opposing bloodline, the one sometimes referred to as the “true believers” but who to you I suppose must be no such thing.

Now I do hang out on /co/ sometimes, just like the next guy. I know about all kinds of DC-related things, and have probably seen just as much Power Girl cheesecake as you have. It’s just that to me, DC characters are like pre-Socratic philosophers. I know them mostly from fragmentary descriptions by other people. I wasn’t there.

So along comes this whole relaunch deal and the internet is up in arms, as internets tend to be, and I’m thinking oh, more of this crap.

Then I think, but why not? Maybe this will suck for people who love DC and maybe not, but either way I’m not one of them. Maybe I’ll try it, and see if a born marvelite can jump in and feel welcome.

So here I am to tell you the answer, whether you like it or not.

I am a sucker for moments where guys display how powerful they are by making other guys who are powerful look like total boobs. Pretty much any time where you see some character who you know is a badass get their shit smacked, thus declaring the smacker of the shit even more badass, I’m going to get a big kick out of it.

One of the all time great shit smackings.
So naturally the end of Justice League #1 really did it for me. And you know, I was on board with the majority at first: I didn’t like the new costume designs. But Lee has really made them work here, and based on the last panel of this book, I now think Superman’s the best he’s ever looked. You know what my favorite part is? It’s that turtleneck aspect. It really makes it look like he means business, and when you combine it with “I don’t handle easy,” well, Superman is downright intimidating in this book. Which he should be.

The funny thing is that I was more or less indifferent to the story until this moment at the end. Sure, I said. I get it. Green Lantern is cocky, Batman is more experienced and his sneakiness means he can steal the ring right off that cocky finger. This all made sense, but I didn’t feel compelled. Then Superman happened and suddenly I am compelled. I will definitely be reading Justice League #2.

She is the only one who can
model our new lipstick for albinos.
Batwoman #1 is a story about a lesbian vampire who fights child-snatching ghosts and cigar-smoking zombie CEOs of cosmetics manufacturers. It’s funny how thoroughly I can actually feel that this is what I read while knowing that it isn’t. (Also, that sounds very much like it would be an actual indie comic, so much that I wonder if DC shouldn’t have a few lawyers ready for this one, just in case.)

It hit me when I was transferred to “the lipstick building” how thoroughly this comic was not actually designed to soften my landing.* I wondered in what way I was meant to associate this building with lipstick. Is it a place where lipstick is designed? A place where everybody wears lipstick? Is it, in fact, a building that is designed to look like a giant tube of lipstick? When I realized that my third idea—the one I took the least seriously—appeared to be correct I thought to myself, “Toto, we are not in 616 anymore. Unless the Fantastic Four now live in the Blush Building and I missed that.”

See? Vampire.
Accessibility just wasn’t the goal here, and as I understand it that’s thrilling to people who read pre-relaunch Batwoman. That makes much more sense to me than the book itself does. Even the art, which is undeniably beautiful, is not welcoming from a reading point of view. I’m not a fan of “creative” panel layouts and regular use of double-page spreads, but it’s apparent that Williams, as a comic book artist, puts a great deal more emphasis on “artist” than “comic book.”

As obtuse as I find it, I’m happy for the fans this book was obviously written for. I will not be reading Batwoman #2.

*The editor has informed me that the lipstick building is a real entity. Who knew! Apparently not me. Now I'm even more amused at my reinterpretation.

Not what's happening to Clark,
despite that he's unmarried.
As a Spider-Man junkie, I’m pretty miffed about the upcoming reboot movie. It’s not the fact that it’s a reboot, or because the guy they picked to play teenage Peter is a 30-year-old giraffe. It’s because they’re retelling Spider-Man’s origin story, which everybody already knows. I don’t want to sit through it again.

If Action Comics #1 had started with the story of how Kal-El was ejected from a dying Krypton and landed in Smallville where he was raised by the Kents, I’d have been similarly annoyed. I watched the Superman animated movie when I was a kid, so I know all this.

Instead I’m reading about a Superman I’ve never seen before, and that rules. Now, Superman has never drawn me in the way my favorite cape characters have, but I’ve come to understand his strengths as a character much better in the last couple years and I do know well enough what he’s like. I’m not sure I know anything at all about this Superman, though.

This Superman is young and inexperienced, and he can’t fly. He actually gave me little Spidey smiles a couple times. I’ve never thought of Superman as having much of a sense of humor about what he does, but here he is yelling “catch me if you can!” while he gleefully outruns police cars. When asked by a girl if he can really jump the Metropolis Tower, he says, “Never tried from here,” and he’s grinning despite just having been blasted by a tank.

The fact that he’s not completely invulnerable and can’t fly yet, and that he seems like his powers are still fresh and thrilling to him, give him a little touch of that famous Spider-Man “relatability” that first turned me into such a frothing marvelite as a kid. I want to know more about this guy.

I don't understand how someone
looked at this and said,"Let's make
 a super hero based on that!"
You know, I finished off Green Lantern and I couldn’t help thinking maybe I shouldn’ t let Batwoman get away with its excuse after all, because this is how it’s done.

I have a hard time accepting Green Lantern because lanterns are a pretty terrible theme for a super hero. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t just call him Green Ring. But I easily managed to enjoy this book. It was actually nice that I was jumping into an established storyline because I could immediately tell that every major interaction between the characters had a lot of history behind it.

Johns did a brilliant job of letting me know that history existed without making me feel bewildered for having missed it. From just this issue, I’ve already gathered Hal’s history and behavior as a Green Lantern, Sinestro’s turncoat nature, and the nature of Hal’s relationship troubles with Carol (they’re the same as his troubles with being a Green Lantern.) And none of these things were revealed to me through lengthy exposition, either in dialogue or narration. They all emerged naturally through dialogue that made sense. That’s a sign of really great writing.

Just a basic strangling? Justice League did a
better job of showing off GL's powers than GL #1!
The one thing that this was lacking was action. Action Comics... well, you’d think this would have to be the case from the name, but at any rate Action Comics got me hooked on a character I’m only a little familiar with by giving him a lot of personality, but also by showing me just how exciting it could be to watch him doing his thing. I didn’t get that from Green Lantern. I’ll be checking out the next issue for sure, but it will have to do more to gets is hooks in me permanently.

I have things to say about Mr. Terrific that I think are going to be funny.

But first, let me get something straight here. I don’t want anybody to read this as a declaration of superiority. I just can’t help myself.

Mr. Terrific? More like Mr. Not-as-Fantastic!

Okay, stay with me here. Let’s keep in mind that Mr. Terrific boasts, in this comic, about being the third smartest man in the world (the humor of that is pointed out by another character, but I’m honestly not sure if the author understood what he was doing there). It’s well known back home in little ol’ 616 that Mr. Fantastic is the smartest man in the world. So if the two were pitted against each other in a battle of superfluity, Fantastic would just stretch his neck out, look the guy over for a moment, and wonder why DC was insulting him by sending over their third-tier Mr. Adjective Guy. Don’t they have a Mr. Super-Duper or something?

Mr. Terrific would probably respond by attempting to reverse the polarity of the gravity waves of his positively and negatively charged nuclear ion pulsar floopy doops. In like, the fifth dimension, or something.

I will not be reading Mr. Terrific #2, but I am eagerly awaiting hilarious screencaps from it.

Batman and Robin has been reborn in the new 52 as a reinterpretation of the classic Joel Schumacher film, Batman & Robin. This issue takes inspiration from the film’s plot, as it features a weathered father figure attempting to discipline his younger and rasher pupil—who in turn feels underappreciated and demands to be treated as a partner.

That was probably mean of me, and nobody involved in making this book really deserved it, but I’m just plain sick of this tired old master-student plot. I suppose you could argue this is different because Batman is literally Robin’s father this time, but I’m not sure what functional difference it makes.

“I’m light years ahead of all the past Robins!” Damien shrieks like the wretched little creature he is. He is also far more annoying. I don’t know why there are still people who haven’t realized that snotty little kids never make interesting characters, because if you make them any more complex than that they either stop being believable or step into Glass family genius territory.

But I can be forgiving, and it’s possible I’m still being too harsh, because after all they probably did this for me. I’m the new guy here and it’s only by chance that I already know who Damien is. I suppose, as a new #1, Tomasi felt this issue had to introduce us to the Batman/Robin dynamic, and that’s fair. I just happen to hate it.

I mentioned in the beginning that there is a punchline to all this, and I think the time has come to strike. Not perhaps the easiest one for me to deliver, because as it turns out I’m punching myself.

I’ve always had the sense that it’s stupid when companies want to do relaunches in order to make new readers feel welcome and comfortable. If you really want to jump in, I’ve always said, you can pick up anywhere and use Wikipedia for people and things you don’t understand. Often you don’t even need to do that, because as issues go on you’ll figure it all out from context.

I am now in the awkward position of confessing that Marvel and DC may understand this issue far better than I do. (My impression is that a reader is not supposed to do that concerning any subject, ever, especially not on the internet.) But I still don’t know why an evil skeleton man would be sending agents after Batwoman in a giant tube of lipstick, and the Wikipedia button on my bookmarks bar has been staring at me the whole time I’ve been writing this.

Dare I close with a... with uh... well, I’ll try it out and you can hate me if you want: ‘nuff said.

By T.K. Tunstal with 4 comments


Someday I will write a "why Damian Wayne is awesome" post. He really is great. He's just a tricky sell. It took me a long while to love him.

This was lot of fun and I really hope you read and review more books! Still would love to hear what you think of some of the Dark and Edge stuff.

I LOVED this! It's the same free-form humorous thought process style of writing I usually prefer. It's creative and gets your point across without losing the readers attention. You're fair in your views and back up what your opinion with clear, but funny examples. I, for one, welcome you to the DC Universe. I know it's a rocky start here, but I hope you'll stick with us.

also, it might be different post-reboot, but I've always thought the two smartest men in the DCU were Lex "I can cure paralysis in an hour and a half" Luthor and Dr. Sivana (Captain Marvel villain).

People always think number 2 is Batman, but I think Bruce is more of a polymath/master tactician, and he's always relied on a lot of other DC folks (including Mister T and Ted Kord) for all his tech.

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