Reading the New DCU

The new 52 (of which I bought 20) marks the first I’ve bought a monthly issue in . . . I can’t even really remember but it has been at least 10 years. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised that I broke such a streak for DC. I’ve never been much of a DC reader ever, even in trade format, with the exception of some of the Batman line. Most of my exposure to its wide range of characters comes from their animated productions. This seems to put me in an odd middle of the road position of not being new to these characters but not being a hardcore fan. In the end, it seemed like the perfect situation to be in.

Like many others, the first thing I picked up was Justice League. And by the way it was the only book I picked up with a $3.99 price tag, since it ended up being one of my favorites I don’t mind too much. This issue was a lot of fun, just plain a good time with explosions, banter, and a clear hint (Darkseid) of what will bring all these heroes together to form the Justice League.

I’m glad they decided to focus on a few characters making assembling the Justice League a part of the story. I was able to get a real sense of the personalities of the heroes as well as the world. I also liked the decision to dispense with origin stories for guys like Batman and Green Lantern while giving us one for a lesser known character like Cyborg.

I love witty dialogue so Justice League was a treat and even made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Oh, and let’s not forget Jim Lee’s artwork. The man pretty much defined superheroes for me; I love him. I had fun reading this, there was a balance between dark and playful which is exactly what I’m looking for.

Fun times continued in Demon Knights and Static Shock. They were enjoyable reads and I liked the characters but didn’t feel any heavy emotional investment was being asked of me.

While I heard some complaints that Demon Knights wasn’t new reader friendly, I found it to be. I have no clue who any of the characters are or how they factor in to the old DCU but I am a sucker for a fantasy setting which it used well along with touches of Arthurian myth plus it was really over the top.

Static Shock was a little more grounded with a much more youthful chord to its adventure feel. It was nice to see a hero that wasn’t emotionally dark and has a relatable (living!) family life. Static’s actions and attitude come off as a teenage but not the kind that you can’t stand.

Red Hood and the Outlaws was pretty crazy, but with a leader like Jason Todd you’d imagine that would be the case. I am of course glad to see Roy in action and the team up is fun and lively. I’m on the fence about Starfire and her sexcapade lifestyle, but I didn’t mind overly much considering none of the other females I’ve been reading in the new 52 are such swingers. I found this book entertaining but not captivating.

On the other hand, Teen Titans takes the younger set team-up in the right direction. And now I dearly wish Roy was in this book instead. Tim Drake starts to seek out heroes which firmly places him as leader and his awkward hey-follow-me attempt is funny. Wonder Girl is his first recruit, I’m unfamiliar with her, but curious, and we only glimpse Kid Flash and Superboy yet so far. (Thumbs up for Catlin Fairchild cameo.) And thank goodness the cover has been reworked since that preview image. Fun, young, I’m happy. I am curious how this fits in with the Superboy solo book.

Batman was something I’d been waiting for after hearing a lot of good buzz before its release. It did not disappoint one bit. Great writing, great art, great action, great great great! It starts with a bang as Bruce takes on a lot of familiar faces at Arkham. Then we get to see that Bruce Wayne cunning and charm giving it a good balance.

The art was crisp and I loved the presence Batman had even when standing still. I enjoyed the cameo of my dear Tim Drake along with Dick and Damian, but I thought it could be a little confusing. Still I found this a good intro to Batman the detective with a good hook at the end, and an accurate portrait of the city of Gotham.

Batman: The Dark Knight really paled in comparison especially because the story was practically the same, except told in reverse, and not as well.

I was a bit surprised to see Dick in Nightwing looking much older than he did in Batman. That is a minor note in an otherwise fine debut issue. We really get in the head of Dick and I love him confronting the circus again. I was glad for the action at then end even if it felt a bit standard because much as I love the man I don’t want a book purely featuring Nightwing’s internal struggle.

I tried to pick up many of the comics with female leads.

Batgirl was pretty good though incredibly hokey in a 1980’s-like vibe. The complaint heard a lot was that Barbara Gordon shouldn’t be nervous as a hero and I just can’t agree. This book is supposed to be her first time back in action after three years of being in a wheelchair, seems pretty reasonable she’d be shaky. And in this first issue there is nothing to indicate she was spending those three years as (other) alter ego Oracle; we don’t know what has gone on in those three years yet. Babs has an interesting perspective to start from and I’d like to see where she goes.

She also showed up briefly in Birds of Prey which was a good book but doesn’t stand out (probably because there was so much good stuff the week it was released). It was mostly high-spirited action so I didn’t get a good sense of the characters yet, but I loved Black Canary with the addition of her being wanted for murder. Many of the new 52 seem to be playing up the “wrong side of the law” aspect, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it just as much.

Batwoman, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl all lean more towards serious in their stories but each are very different from one another.

Batwoman is dealing with a serial kidnapper that has a supernatural bent. I liked the story but at the same time I wish they hadn’t tried to cram so much about Kate’s past into it, I felt overwhelmed. The double page spread history lesson was beautiful but confusing.

The artwork is a real highlight in this book minus her constant torpedo boobs.

I also enjoyed the art of Wonder Woman with its heavy lines giving it a woodblock feel. The more I re-read Wonder Woman the more I liked it, the first time through it was just so different it felt shocking. It has a lot of impact with the prophecy and Greek mythology, which really draws my attention however Wonder Woman isn’t really given much character or introduction. It doesn’t feel wholly superhero like so for that alone I want to see a bit more.

Supergirl on the other hand is nice and introductory which is great since I only know the character by name. She spends the first issue disoriented and fighting mech armor, and looked awesome doing it. She comes off as relatable despite being an alien in a strange land.

I decided to pick some titles that are outside my usual tastes: Animal Man, and Swamp Thing, and Justice League Dark. All of which were well-written with unique art styles to accompany them. And all also lean toward creepy/horror which isn’t really my thing.

Animal Man has a very cerebral feel, at times it is hard to believe it is a superhero comic, it certainly is off the beaten path.

Swamp Thing reminded me of something you’d see in those 70’s mystery comics, lo-and-behold when I looked it up it originally ran in just that: House of Secrets. I enjoyed the mystery element of his condition, perhaps it is like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of thing; also curious how he will be a superhero.

Justice League Dark is a whole other level when it combines supernatural/horror with a team of heroes. I liked that oddness, it kept me interested. We meet the whole cast in snippets learning just enough. It’s unclear where everyone fits yet and I’m totally new to all these characters but they accomplished making me want to know more.

I am really sad to say that Green Arrow, Justice League International, Legion of Superheroes, and Grifter were all forgettable titles.

I was most upset by Green Arrow, my love for archers is well documented (not really) and yet there is nothing to like about the exceedingly generic first issue including the static art.

I also felt let down by Grifter, a character I really enjoyed in the past, but this issue just doesn’t go far enough in establishing anything. I may give it another issue just because I want to see this character back in action so much.

Justice League International left me with a bland feeling. I really had no idea who these characters were (minus Bats and Green Lantern) and I still didn’t have a sense of them by the end of the book. Legion of Superheroes had a similar problem of throwing too many people at me, but it was made worse by a putting me in the middle of a plot that seemed to have start a long while ago.

Jumping around the timeline was a bit disconcerting at times since some stuff takes place as much as “5 years ago,” certain aspects of the present were weird like in JLI when they talk about the Justice League proper. Also I’m not sure about the decision to have so many Robins (1 current and 3 former) running around as far as easy of understanding the world. I personally don’t mind too much. But it just goes to show they’ve removed some of continuity but not all of it so it isn’t totally a clean slate for everyone.

I’m not completely convinced after reading these that they are trying to attract newbies to superhero comics. They may be after fallen fans and tempting fans who have gravitated towards Marvel more. Still I think there are many jumping on points for anyone curious about superheroes. Just not everything is as new user friendly as advertised. But I can understand fans can’t forget everything they knew about characters or give up so easily on developments and storylines they loved and neither can the company that created them.

Also most of what I read still seemed aimed at the 18-34 crowd with a few skewing a little lower like Static Shock and Supergirl. It was interesting to see what titles they were pushing to a younger audience easily seen through which ads they used, but everything I read regardless was rated T for teen. I’m sure that is a sweet spot rating, kind of like PG-13, but I would have liked to see more of an effort to make a few titles all ages. Especially considering a character like Batman who has three solo books.

I was hoping to jump into the digital age with this reboot, but with prices the same as print I just couldn’t do it yet. It is great that they are finally releasing books same day online at least. And with the promise of issues dropping in price after the first month, I will probably be keeping up with many of these comics albeit a month behind. That being said, I want to read issue #2 of: Justice League, Batman, Demon Knights, Teen Titans, Nightwing, Batgirl, Supergirl, Birds of Prey, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, and Justice League Dark; where before I was buying none, zero, zip. I think that’s what you’d call a success.

Favorite: Tied between Batman and Justice League
Surprise Hit: Swamp Thing
Big Disappointment: Green Arrow

Good for New Readers: Batman, Supergirl, Justice League, Batgirl, Static Shock


3 thoughts on “Reading the New DCU

  1. Ricardo E. Hernandez says:

    Ahhh DC….you can pop as many Robins as you want…..I can actually imagine Damian as Teen Titans leader in 10 years.

    Yet all of them aren`t even close to my boy, Terry McGinnins. He can solo a royal rumble against the Justice League without having to form a “titans” group. He can walk and swing it as a pimp with 2 hero girls, two villains, and a supermodel in his pocket. He can even make the Joker have a bad day. XD

    Can`t wait for january for the new Batman Beyond comic.

  2. Jared Nelson (@JLayneNelson) says:

    I’m pretty much in the same boat as you, most of my exposure to DC comes from movies and/or cartoons, so I know who some of the major characters are, but I don’t have a deep emotional investment in any of them. Prior to this I had only read Batman occasionally, picking up a story arc here and there.

    Most of what I’ve read has been worth picking up a #2, but if I had to pick 5 right now I would go with:

    Justice League
    Wonder Woman
    Aquaman (Still can’t believe it)

    I’m glad that DC has done well with this. Here’s hoping that they don’t try to undo it after a few months.

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