Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Editorial: This Shouldn't Have To Be Rocket Science

Before I begin, if you love the state of comics at the moment, you may want to look away. If you read on, then get ready for a bucket full of vitriol, and feel free to return fire and tell me I'm wrong.

Looks "epic".
I won't be reading.
I've been saying this for a while, but recent comics just haven't been cutting the mustard in my book. I'm not saying all comics, but the vast majority put out by Marvel and DC are definitely in this boat. Recent reviews of cross-over books have demonstrated to me that we are no longer going for decent story and characterisation, rather flashy art, derivative stories without substance, and death of popular characters.
I've given this list before, but here are the core gripes I have with comics in 2012 (and it goes back a few years):

  • Art focussing on splash pages and panels with little space for plot or dialogue.
  • Art that focusses on irrelevant detail or realism, without giving clear indications of movement so instead of a dynamic image, we get a static image akin to a photo (I'm not talking "phototracing" specifically, but that's the extreme case).
  • Decompressed stories that take six months to do what should take one or two.
  • Stories by fans, for fans, with no clear entry point to the characters or continuity.
  • Reboots/Relaunches/Resets that set out to make the books readable and inside a year include most of the continuity we already had, but only confuse things further.
  • Any book that aims to "dance between the raindrops of continuity" (or milk fans for every cent they can, using nostalgia as a pry-bar on their wallets). Similarly, any story written just to explain any contradictions in continuity. I'll harp on the contradiction existing, but that's a gripe for the second story. If it's bad enough to need a third story to fix it, then the third story needs to get it perfect.
  • Characters being killed and then resurrected.
  • Lack of new characters.
  • Crossovers/Events.
I'm sure these aren't things that I'm alone on. I'm sure that every one of these problems can be fixed. I'm sure that there are three simple explanations for each one of these complaints. I'm sure that these problems are stopping comics from being more popular.

Splash Pages and Decompressed Storytelling
A whole page for exposition on one panel.
At least we learn who the character is.
These two go hand in hand. Logically if you increase the number of splash pages and splash panels, decrease the amount of dialogue or plot per panel, and keep the page count the same, you end up with either shorter stories or stories drawn out over a longer period of time. That doesn't mean you can't do decompressed stories without dropping panel counts, and upping splash art. You can, it just means that you pack in a lot more irrelevant information. So why do it? Arguably it was driven by the desire to produce more "cinematic" comics, the likes of Joss Whedon and JMS writing for comics, "realisim", and an attempt to respond to the surging popularity of Manga.

Crap. Tell the truth, a pause where nothing changes before getting to the punchline of a moment works great in cinema and TV because they have time built in. Comics don't. You took 2 or 3 panels (half a page seems to be what this normally takes - so 1/44th of the book) to set up a "moment". Was it really memorable? Did I cry, laugh out loud, or otherwise have an emotive response (other than to curse such "moments"? No? Wasted. Time in comics is typically "this then this" with the availability of "several hours earlier" or "two weeks later" type captions. Human "moments" can still be done with that, it just has to either be a bit less subtle (exposition via thoughts, captions, or speech always worked for Stan Lee), or be that much better at your craft. (Can you draw a wry smile? Can you draw someone being shocked, or chuckling in the corner of a panel - you've got it worked out then)

Half a page. For awkward silence.
No clue who anyone is.
Here's another reason decompressed stories are easier: you don't need as many ideas for a story, just more ideas for pacing the story. For some people 10 pages of dialogue about the problem is much easier to come up with than 10 pages of resolving the problem (for better or worse). You want comics that sound like the way people talk in cinema and TV, okay, but don't you want the plot that goes with that?

Look, Splash panels and pages are a good thing: when used correctly. Not every page should be a splash. Not every page should be four panels or less. Splash-art has existed for decades, but it was still used to tell us something.
How do you use splash-art right? Try picking up the Peter David X-Factor Visionaries. Plenty of splash art. plenty of plot advancement, plenty of strong characterisation, and plenty of fun. The trick is to make sure that you explain what's happening, and why. This isn't cinema. It's also not the 1960s where absolutely everything was spelled out on the page, to the point that you really struggled to get through more than two issues at a time.
No idea who anyone is, but that
blonde woman seems like leadership
material. Also note things happen.
If you want to see decompression in action, go pick up the first issue of Supergirl from the New 52. Should have taken about 3 pages for that story. Pick up Bendis' entire run on the Avengers books from Disassembled through to Siege. There's really only four stories there: Disassembled, Civil War (which he didn't write), Secret Invasion, and Siege. Took him how many years for that? New Avengers #1 through Siege was one character arc for Sentry. And at the end of the day, there was no real development (He's crazy, maybe he's better, no he's worse than ever, boom he's dead).

What's the solution? Cut the splash pages and panels back. There's not ever going to be a hard and fast rule for this, but if you take less than 10 minutes on an issue, think about the splash pages. Think about whether we need the n-th degree of detail on a cloud in the background, or whether we can use that space to advance the plot. If digital art hasn't made the trivial background details simpler and more automated to produce, we need to question why it's there. More importantly keep in mind that time doesn't pass naturally in comic books. It can't be made to. Can't do it in a novel either. Rather than try and shoe-horn it in, acknowledge that, and work with it.

Static Art vs Dynamic Art

Iron Patriot is moving, is everyone else just posing though?
Pick up a comic from 2012 from almost any "big name" artist. Now pick up a comic from 1980 from anyone. Notice anything different? Yep the colouring is better in 2012. The 2012 paper quality is better. The 2012 inking and shading look better. Lighting effects look more realistic in 2012. For that matter, the people look a bit more realistic in 2012. And the 2012 incarnation doesn't want you to see where anyone came from, or where they were going to.
So Colossus has tried a haymaker (no effect) and Shaw
knocks him across the room. Clear what happened.
Anyone else see the problem? This isn't an illustrated novel where the pictures are there to help you understand what things look like. This isn't a cartoon, TV show, or movie. This is a comic. The picture is absolutely important. It tells me what's happening (but not necessarily why). It tells me who's involved, their mood, what they're wearing, whether they're hurt or not, where they are, and also what things look like. It also tells me how things interact. Illustrated novels do the majority of this by describing with words. Cinema, television, and cartoons do it by showing you moving pictures. Comics are unique in that they are a halfway medium. The need to show you how things move. Not doing that is the same as giving you a set of photographs and telling you what people are saying. It almost works, but you lose the dynamic nature of the story.

This will seem picky to a lot of people, especially anyone who started reading in the last ten years. It is absolutely not a trivial issue though, and it's one we fans have caused by demanding better art. It's also absolutely simple to fix. Integrating it cleanly with the modern art style will take a little bit of work, but it's something to fix. Alternatively, don't put it back in and we'll have everyone talking about how they got places, or why they're ducking someone's fist. It wasn't elegant in the 1960s, and it won't be any better now.

By Fans, For Fans
We get an homage, a retcon, and something
only fans care about. All in one.
This has been building for decades. From the moment you had Batman, Superman, or Spiderman fans writing the stories, or doing the artwork, you had to run the risk that the book became more insular. I'm not saying I could do any better (I'm fairly certain that I couldn't), but when your knowledge of the character is getting in the way of trying a new kind of story for that character, when you won't let the character develop, mature, retire, or stay dead, there's a problem.

Derivative stories are a gold mine for anyone who's been a fan. Infinite Crisis follows on from Crisis On Infinite Earths. The 1990s Spider-man Clone Saga follows on from a short story arc in the 1970s. X-Men Schism is a monumental derivative of every Wolverine vs Cyclops argument (and Professor X vs Magneto discussion) that didn't involve their love lives. Flashpoint is derivative of Age of Apocalypse (and they aren't even from the same company). Creatively going to these same wells over and over again bleeds the shared universes dry. Because we know we've seen it all before. We're changing details down in the weeds. This time it's a fight over a keg of beer, that time it's a fight over how ate the last piece of cake. By all means, see if there are story ideas that come out of past events, but don't make those the only stories, and don't justify them as a "logical extension" of a past story. The logical extension to any past story is the one that followed it.

No excuse for this one.
On another front, it's not a bad thing to have the characters progress and change (or even regress) if it's in line with what we know of the character. It is a bad thing to have them return to an earlier incarnation if only to suit the whims of a writer or editor. Yes, this is going to be about One More Day. Editorially mandated, "One More Day" is a Sider-man story that deals with Peter Parker's last ditch effort to try and save his beloved Aunt May at the cost of his marriage in a deal with a devil. Because all his attempts in Back In Black failed. Including trying to enlist super-science and magic.

In reality, the story exists for no other reason than to break up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker's marriage. Because then EIC at Marvel Joe Quesada wanted it done. The reasons given were along the lines of "the marriage was a bad idea, we want to undo that and have a chance to tell single Peter stories". We had Single Peter. From 1962-1987. If the marriage was a bad idea, and we would get fresh ideas from a single Peter Parker, why were those single Peter stories tired and stale by 1987? And why is it better to have a 30+ year old man running around acting like a cad than a 30 year old man happily married? Because the characters weren't being done justice? How about that writers didn't know what to do, and editorial took an easy option that also aligned with what they, as fans, recalled were "better" stories.

Here's one solution to stopping the derivative work, and stopping the contiual cycle of character's marital statuses and who's been resurrected lately: anything from here on out stays, and people learn from their experience. Spider-man dies that's it. Next time someone uses Lois Lane to get to Superman he issues an ultimatum - hurt Lois and you die. There are decades worth of stories with the characters you know and love doing what you want to recall them doing. Go read those, and get out of the way of progress. Don't make me read an alternate (Ultimate) universe story, just do that in the main continuity.

They don't have to suck, they do need
to stay relevant.
At the moment, these things get used when the continuity of a character, series, or universe becomes too complex to easily follow, has contradictions, is so overwhelming that it distracts readers, or a major change is seen as needed to allow the writers to tell good stories. Also, sales bumps from a rebranding/reboot.
Of those reasons, I'd agree with straightening out contradictions (if it absolutely must be revisited, and we aren't essentially getting an interruption to other storytelling just to clear things up), and doing what's needed to allow writers to tell good stories.
Here's what I see the problems as being:
  • Throwing everything out and starting again every 5 years is a sure way to annoy people that read that long. We know we'll get some of the same stories again, and we don't want them.
  • It inevitably ends up as another piece of continuity that needs to be explained.
  • It's best not to draw more attention to a contradiction than is absolutely necessary. If you never point out the contradiction, and the complaining is minimal - who cares?
  • It prevents characters from progressing.
Can we solve this? Again - everything that happens from here on out is fixed. Death is death. Characters act based on their years of experience. They don't back down from who they are.

Or... keep the continuity you want. Peter Parker never married Mary Jane and just lives with her. He calls her his "wife" as shorthand for "de facto partner" or as a joke. Batman never disappeared through time while Dick Grayson took up his mantle, Bruce just had a vacation. Read the story how you want, don't have your hands tied by some guy who was reading Green Lantern before John Stewart existed. Yes this will be problematic for you, but Id be shocked if Grant Morrisson doesn't view this as your responsibility as a fan. It's your story take it however you choose to.

Continuity Dancers
You've been warned.
The less I can say about this the better, but the phrase "dancing between the raindrops of continuity" is  somewhat of a Marvel special, and shorthand for "we want you to buy this based purely on nostalgia." Ignoring the completely cynical nature of this type of publishing here's the core problems:

  • Some poor person has to find a spare 30 seconds of compressed continuity that they can slot some sort of story into.
  • You know when it's set, so if you buy this you know what the status quo is on entering and exiting the story.
  • There is no room for concern over anyone's wellbeing to exist.

I'll modify that last point mildly. There can be room for concern if you insert a new character. And we don't know from any advance media (be it an interview, or solicitation for a new story) whether they'll survive or not.

Barring that happy situation, all we have is a poor retcon that changes nothing, and a (likely) poor fanfic that tells some unnecessary tale or other.

The solution to this is blindingly simple: don't publish it, don't buy it. We had the publishers trying to prise every last dollar from us in the 190s. Look how that ended.

A Character Dies
How long did this last? 'Nuff Said.
There comes a time in the life of more or less every character that they've been made to behave so appallingly, writers have so little to do with them, or they've been underused for so long that there's only one outcome: death. And much of the time, it's not a bad thing. No, the bad thing is... that they come back.
Sometimes it's obvious that a character is only dying so that they can come back. Normally this is when a whole team of characters is killed. Oftentimes you can see a character that's deviated a long way from what people liked about them, and then you can tell they're up for death. But if they are at all popular, or weren't created just to be killed they'll be back. Sometimes in the same issue.
The prevalence of this is such that Wikipedia have this list.
If we truly want realistic comics (as realistic as you can get with magic, gods, space aliens, mutants, and all kinds of other super-powered folk about), then death is death. You kill a character, they can't come back. You can't have an alternate universe version step in and take over, you can't bring them back via science, or magic. They're dead. Have an afterlife, have their adventures in hell/heaven/wherever for a time. Have people communicate with them via mediums. Don't bring them back from the dead. Bringing them back just leads us all to speculate when they'll be back (movies related to the character are a good bet) which defeats the dramatic purpose of them dying in the first place. We may not know they're coming back., but we do know they'l be coming back.

The only way to solve this is if we can stop the resurrections. And then stop the mindless killing policies in place. If you want to ever use a character again, you don't kill them, crippling and maiming only.

New Characters
This guy connected? This guy?
New characters that succeed and survive these days (and that are part of main continuity and not creator owned) are rare these days. Partly because they take a while to connect with the audience over an established character, partly because writers would rather spend the time and effort on something that they own rights to, and partly because many writers these days are just not good at establishing and developing characters. Keep in mind that if I'm right and comics are being produced by fans, for fans, then there's no reason for any new characters. Ever.

But by not having new characters we're doomed to keep telling variations on the same stories. Acording to Christopher Booker there are only 7 basic stories. According to me, comics tend to use about 6 of these, and one of those infrequently. And I can handle that level of variety. I can't handle the same story with the same core roster of characters every time. So let's throw some new characters in. My might even end up using all 7 story archetypes.
Assuming you don't think this is a problem, please explain why Wolverine appears in so many comics. Or Batman. Or Spider-man. Sure they help sell more books. But that also means fewer books without them included, and less page space for other characters. Which means the page space left is divided among the next most popular tier of characters. And then the next. So we get 15 different variants on Wolverine and Friends. Great if you like Wolverine. Everyone else, not so much.
All because new characters don't sell, or at least not as well as established characters. Except that The Walking Dead is one of the most popular collected edition books out there, and has its very own TV show. Except that Invincible is still here years later, and still better than much of the dross Marvel and DC churn out. Except that many "popular" characters hit troughs in popularity and stay there until resurrected by decent creative teams.
So what's the real reason? Collectively, we fear change. Spider-man can't have all these new powers. He can't have organic webbing. He can't have stingers. Couple years later, he can't not have those things, despite how infrequently some were used. We can't leave that character dead.
And when we do try an origin it's awful. Simply awful. That's one key thing reading the New 52 omnibus drove home.

And that is why we absolutely must drive character and plot progress to the point that we can retire and replace all the characters we know and love. It's that, or we must all do a much better job of promoting the smaller titles that do include new characters. And that means breaking up the Marvel/DC duopoly. Because those two aren't going to change things. If they can't grow the market, the only option they have is to maintain the stranglehold they have.

Did not suck. Had ramifications. Just sayin'.
I know. These aren't new. They've been going in something resembling their current form since the 1980s. But they weren't always so awful as they are now. Shadowland should have been a Daredevil arc. Fear Itself was really just a Thor story (once you strip out Bucky not dying, and The Worthy). Blackest Night was just a Green Lantern story. Why did we have to make an event out of it? Why did so many titles have to drop what they were doing to get on board? There's no creative reason. In a shared universe all it needs to take is that an editorial caption pops up one day to say something is after the events in another book. That's what used to happen.

Then marketing folk got involved. And don't get me wrong, there were plenty of bad crossovers in the past, and plenty of bad events. Plenty that should have ended differently. But we didn't get two or three bad Crossovers/Events per year. And each one didn't interrupt half the ongoing storylines of the company. When that did happen, the stories were frequently bad. Just go read the Inferno Crossovers Omnibus. It has little to do with the main story, and has a definite air of milking a cash cow. On the other hand go read the X-Men Fatal Attractions crossover. That was one issue of each X-Men book (excluding Cable from memory), and you could read any one of those issues without reading the other parts of the crossover. If we must have events, and we must have crossovers, that's what we should be doing. Each book is self contained, but put them together and you get a great read. That's what the EICs and similar promise us all the time with crossovers and events nowadays. But realistically, if you didn't read Fear Itself, Journey Into Mystery didn't make a lot of sense. If you did read Final Crisis, you had to read some of the ancillary tie-ins.

Sucked. Funny thing: it's the issue
of X-Men after Fatal Attractions.
The part that strikes me as being funniest is that whenever creators go for "epic" moments, they come off as contrived and superficial (Wasp dying in Secret Invasion made no sense). When they let things happen without trying to throw a spotlight on it, they generally connect and become memorable (Thor bringing Loki back to Asgard during JMS run on the book sticks out as a good moment).

It's not hard to fix from a creative point of view. It's hard to fix from a sales point o view. Sell the crap out of all the books in your line by making them largely good, and knock this off, and it's not an issue anymore.

What's Right
Having laid bare my opinion of what's wrong with comics in 2012, I feel I at least owe a statement on what I like.
I have a lot of time for anyone who wants to do something that is creator owned. Not because I support Creator Rights, but because I believe that it's actually allowing variety. I also believe that it brings out the higher levels of creativity in writers and artists. They aren't bound to produce creative shorthand for characters with decades of printed history. They can show us that they truly are artistic people.
I have a lot of time for comics that aren't about superheroes. Or at least comics that balance the ledger. Not because I'm anti-superhero, but because there's more than one way to tell a story, and more than one way to connect with an audience.
I like that digital comics are becoming popular. I may still think them a far different (and inferior) medium than their printed counterparts, but I acknowledge that people are starting to plan for the digital age.
I like that comic book adaptations are a source to be mined for the film industry. I don't have to watch them all, and I don't have to like them all, but I have a way to see the characters I know in a way that can be readily incorporated into the public psyche. Which gives me hope that there's a way to do comic books so that they will connect with more people.
I like that we have moved on from the failed bastions of creativity that ruined so many characters in the 1990s. We may have replaced them with people that aren't a lot better, but we're moving in the right direction.

What I don't want to do is blame anyone. We all have different tastes, and different reasons for buying different books. Sometimes we buy a book that we know is bad because we want to poke fun, or we want something that's ridiculous to take our minds off the day to day concerns. That's fine. You don't have to justify anything to me or anyone other than yourself. But let's not pretend that what we have before us are, in general, the best comics we'll ever get.

If you want to look at the golden utopia solution to the ills above, I direct you to a blog from Jim Shooter (yes, that Jim Shooter). Those of you following Mr Shooter's blog may find that some of what I've listed lines up with things Jim has written about in the past. And I agree with many things he says about the quality and future of comics based on where we are now. I also believe we can make things better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

He said there's a storm coming in.

It can't be bargained with.
It can't be reasoned with.
It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear.
The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight...

... I review The Terminator Omnibus Volume 1. It's not an omnibus like you expect from Marvel or DC. It's a paperback from Darkhorse and runs for 352 pages. Amazon want a laughable $35 USD (I picked up this copy for about $5 on Things From another World's Black Friday sales last year). I'll be up front that I wasn't expecting a lot despite it getting a good wrap from my wife. Also keep in mind that this started being produced just before Terminator 2 came out.

So to the book. There are four different story arcs included, three of which deal with one running set of characters, the other being a singular tale. Here's a tip: don't get too attached to the characters early in the first story. That said, by the end of the first story we've more or less ironed out the unnecessary characters. In essence this volume focuses on trying to protect Sarah Conner, and prevent future tech from being used to create the future. Whether there was someone from the production team for T2 feeding people the idea that the future tech is as big an issue as the Connor family, I don't know. I do know that a team of future soldiers come back to try and protect Sarah, destroy future tech, and then party off into the sunset. Until the machines also send back a team of Terminators. The story from this point is admittedly light on. There's a lot of violence and blood. The art is very late 80s and not influenced by anyone I can identify. And the Terminators seem to lose. Almost. The story does give us two things that we've since seen in movies: Lady Terminators, and man-machine hybrid Terminators. Hrm.
Second story is a tale of another Sarah Conner and what happens when the machines target the wrong lady for termination. Not that it would bother them. This one has a lot more human drama interspersed with the main "robot hunting people" plot, and it helps make it feel more like a complete story. Terminators still lose.

Good thing Johnny Blaze isn't the
son of Scott Summers and
Madelyne Pryor
Third and fourth story pick up the character from the first story... and one of the humans is turning traitor! Oh, and more terminators come back. These two tales start giving more depth to these characters in terms of granting them the gift of guile. So I enjoyed the third story (despite that it really resolved nothing) quite a bit. The fourth story introduces a repaired "Vengance" Terminator (seriously check out this robots head) whose primary mission is now to terminate our friends from the future. The interesting part in this idea is that the Terminators are truly showing their ability to approach their overall mission by changing their immediate mission. It's something we've never really seen in the movies, but that must obviously happen. From an engineering point of view (and a management point of view) that's something many people can't seem to cope with, trust a machine to do it right. The fourth story is also the betrayal story, where human greed gives the machines a chance to get exactly what they wanted in a way that their programming could never comprehend.

Overall, it's a fairly good book. It's not stellar, but it's not trashcan fodder. Without having read volume 2, I'd hope that the story continues to evolve. The core concept of The Terminator (be it comics, books, or movies) is a solid and enjoyable one, but it's one that needs breathing space. In other words, by the time I was finished reading this book, I'd had my fill of Terminator for the time being.

I wouldn't recommend this book to people that don't like the Terminator movies, that's just a wasted effort. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that doesn't like anything but spandex comics, again it's a waste. However, I believe that the remainder of society have a good shot at enjoying this. The comic book readers will be able to use this as a short and enjoyable break from superheroes. The non-comics fans will view this as further Terminator stories. What i will say about this book is that it's a good gateway book to get people reading comics. It didn't have to be brilliant comics, it had to be solid, and it had to present familiar material. It does both those things, and considering my comics ambivalent wife enjoyed it, I call that a success.

Next time out, I go to the movies again.
Now pay attention 007!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Visionary Volume

So much better than
After the debacles of the last couple posts, it's nice to be able to say only positive things about a book. Refreshing. Reinvigorating. Surprising, since the book is a collection of 1991 and 1992 X-Men related stories.
In any case, Volume One of the Peter David X-Factor Visionaries is a delight to read. The stories don't try to reach for instant classic, and they don't presume to be anything that they aren't. Larry Stroman's art, while not everyone's cup of tea, is highly stylised but at the same time clear as to who's who in the zoo, and what is going on. To think that I had to pay only $12 USD for this from Amazon is remarkable.

A basic rundown of events is that this is set in the aftermath of the X-Tinction Agenda (where the various X-teams overthrew the nasty Genoshan government) and the American Government are looking to replace Freedom Force (essentially the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants being sponsored as a federal mutant task force) and the original X-Factor (also the original X-Men) are looking to join the X-Men. The Government pick up the X-Factor name, and a roster of Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man, and Quicksilver. Oh, and Strong Guy. Mustn't forget Guido. Mr Sinister (still a relatively new character at this point) is lurking in the background, and puling the strings of a politician. A multiple Man dupe has been shot, and it's unclear who the real MM is. Some wacky scientist with a grudge against mutants is trying to build a machine for killing them - and failing. And at the same time that this is going on, we develop the core character traits of the team, and their relationships. You can absolutely pick this volume up without any of the lead-in I gave. You also don't need to know who any of the characters are. It helps if you know Havok and Polaris were an item. Or that Havok and Wolfsbane were bonded together by Genoshan scientists. But you don't need to know that.

I'd love to say that this was still relevant. It's not. It's great nostalgia value though. It's a great lead in if you plan to read any X-Men crossovers from X-Cutioner's Song onwards. It's great if you want to compare this version of X-Factor to Peter David's current X-Factor (which has a very... familiar... roster). It's great if you don't care about modern continuity. And it's good value.

The only let down with this is that it's only 144 pages. But they're all well used.

My recommendation for this is simple - if you liked the X-Men before everything went to pot in the mid 1990s, read this. If you like Peter David's work, read this. If you like a good team book, read this. You aren't committing to much (there's only another 3 volumes), so if you do want to keep reading, there's room to do so. The only person I don't recommend this to is someone who lives only in the modern continuity. And for them I have three words: Journey Into Mystery.

Next review, something I haven't read yet but that's recommended by my wife.
You recommendation has
been targeted for review, Honey.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

We Have Nothing To Fear...

Wait, it's another event with
a stylised cover system!
Have you ever considered how Odin got to be the All-Father? Has that little concept been bothering you through the decades of internecine Asgardian political squabbles that happen in Thor? If it has... you need to go and get the Journey Into Mystery Fear Itself tie in. And maybe the Thor one as well. This 248 page volume (from Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen - available from Amazon for about $19 USD) only gives you a very brief description of that. It also deals very little with people being scared of things. Mainly it's another excuse to interrupt all the ongoing Marvel plot lines, mess things up, kill a couple characters (or maybe not), and make inordinate sums off of fans.

The story (such as it is) is that Sin (Red Skull's daughter) raises Odin's older brother to use as a weapon for world domination. That quickly goes by the wayside as The Serpent wants it all, raises his own army (including converting some heroes and some villains to fighting on his side). Odin wants to execute a scorched earth policy on Earth, but Thor wants to fight to save Earth. In the end Bucky dies (somehow he's back already as the Winter Soldier) and Thor dies (and is replaced with a new thunder god).
The art is fine, nothing wrong with it. The problem is entirely with the story, and it's not something I expected from Matt Fraction who, frankly, is a better writer than this. So here's just a few of things wrong with this:

  • The Watcher seems to show up at most cross overs these days, this being one of them. Only this time he's really only there to cop an earful from Odin. Could have been most anyone that copped that earful.
  • The Asgardians defeated Galactus just before Fear Itself. Surely one other Asgardian is not harder than that.
  • Thor vs Odin has been done to death. In earlier incarnations it's been a useful way to discuss the relationship between parent and near-adult child. Here it's just about a difference of opinion for leadership of a people. It's possibly a comment on the ills of deciding a people's fate in an undemocratic fashion, but I think that's drawing a very long bow. More likely it's just there because you have two guys that used to rule Asgard in the same room, and they disagree, and they've never really gotten along.
  • When the hammers get dished out you clearly need to have some knowledge of the Marvel Universe (for example older readers that are a bit out of date wonder why Betty Ross is a hulk, newer readers don't even know who Attuma is so the panel with Nerkkod is a waste of quarter of a page). It certainly makes sense that you should for a line wide cross-over, but look at it this way, every facet of the Marvel Universe will be impacted by this thing, though in some cases it's a one-shot or similar, and to understand what happens in a cross-over title, I have to understand what's happening in the main title. Because we don't like paying twice for the same content. That means that if I wanted to try reading some current Marvel issues, I've picked exactly the wrong time to get on board. As an experienced reader I know that. As a new reader, I have no chance whatsoever.
  • Cap's shield is broken, and not restored perfectly. And Cap wants it to stay that way. Despite having it fixed to an immaculate state every other time it's been destroyed.
  • Bucky (not really) being killed.
  • Heroes being driven bad by nasty hammers from space.
  • Tony Stark boozing to get Odin to help him. I mean, can he even get drunk post Extremis? And should he be designing weapons if he is drunk?
  • Ben Grim gets killed. And Franklin Richards brings him back. Couldn't he have done the same from Thor?
  • The Avengers all get weird Asgardian weapons, except Cap, because Tony doesn't know the shield's been broken. Guess Heimdall din't pass that one along.
  • It's not clear what kills Thor, but we are once again without Thor for a while. And isn't the prophecy meant to be about Jormungandr (the World Serpent), not The Serpent? I mean, we've had the Midgard Serpent in Marvel titles before, and he's shown up at Ragnaroks past. Unless it's something that's to be explained away by the Ragnarok from Thor Disassembled not going as per normal.
So yeah, just a couple of problems with that story. At least we didn't get a whole issue of fighting free wrap up like most Bendis events, but this didn't do much to make me think it'll be worth reading in 5 years time. All that really happened is some minor changes to status quo that will render this cross-over  irrelevant as soon as they are undone.

Recommendation: read this if you want to follow Marvel for the next six to twelve months. Don't read it if you want to retain a high opinion of Matt Fraction.

Next review: something from the good old days.
90's comics didn't suck entirely!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The New 52 Omnibus

Note - The JLA never appear
as a group in this book
The New 52. A lot of time, money, and effort went into crafting this relaunch, and a lot of time, money, and effort has been spent on reviewing each issue of each title. If you let that stand as any barometer of this review it's intimidating, and requires the best possible review strategy be applied to reviewing The New 52 Omnibus, a collected edition of each of the 52 new first issues.
Alternatively, I've decided to aim for something else. There's plenty of places that a potential reader could find out which titles are likely worth reading on an ongoing basis, and there's plenty of places to get a review of each issue in this book. Most likely anything I could say by way of reviewing each issue would be redundant, and less informative. For that reason I've decided to review this on the basis of the reasons I chose to purchase this beast of a tome.
Reason One: This book represents an interesting idea - a gazette of a single release cycle's worth of issues from a publisher. This idea is nothing new to fans of Manga, where stories are typically published as a single story in a "tankoban"volume, such that reading the issue's first printing is just one of many different issues being read. The order of printing here is different, but the concept is an interesting one.
Reason Two: Rather than rely on any set of reviews of a title, or waiting to see which are worth reading, this volume was to form my personal basis for assessing which (if any) titles from The New 52 I would pay interest to. In order to make this succinct, I've considered a few things, all of which build up to answering the question of whether I'd read each title individually or not. Areas of assessment are:

  • Would a new reader have a chance of understanding what the hell is going on, and as a consequence, were I a new reader, would I read the next issue?
  • Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end? In other words, do I get a full story, or just part of a story?
  • Is the art any good?
  • Is the story given any good?
  • Are there other titles I need to read to understand what is happening?
  • Does the content given irk me for any other reason?
Each issue will be rated based on how I would answer all of these questions in combination, and result in a decision that is one of:
  • Continue reading without reservation;
  • Continue reading for several issues to make a final decision; or
  • Would not continue reading.
With the review criteria established we move to...
What Is It Like To Read A Gazette Of Ostensibly Unrelated Issues?
Actually it's not all bad. Yes the volume itself is thoroughly unwieldy to handle. Yes there's a lot of material that I wouldn't be reading if DC were to release such a book each month. Yes it's far too expensive to expect it to be done each month. You do get a lot of different stories though, so if you aren't enjoying something, the next title is only a handful of pages away. The idea is something I'm interested in, and something that I think merits further investigation, especially given the nature of most comics readers.
Consider this: If you read Superman, you likely have at least a passing interest in Action Comics, Superboy, and Supergirl. When these titles (inevitably) begin to cross over, it will likely become impossible to read just one of the titles. With that in mind, is there merit in publishing these works as just a single issue each month? The experienced comics reader tells you that for they would be most irritated at having to buy all 4 titles, and that there's no guarantee that the titles won't crossover elsewhere (for example Superman and JLA, or Superboy and TeenTitans), and would likely drop a comment that the cost and time frame to publish a consolidated volume would be prohibitive. That doesn't address the question of whether it's a superior approach for enticing new readers, or for the dedicated fan who would get all those titles.
In this particular instance there are only a couple issues that actually reference each other directly, a couple subtle hints at referencing other titles, references to things that happened before the relaunch and have been kept about, and a whole bunch of continuity issues to sort out. (Like how did the Guardians of Oa go from being just Ganthet in Green Lantern New Guardians, to being a whole bunch that kill Ganthet in Green Lantern?) That's something manga titles rarely do - cross over or reference each other.
I personally have no objection to reading my comics this way. Assuming I want to read all these comics (which I'll deal with shortly). Assuming that the gazette isn't every title from the publisher, because the binding of an omnibus always makes it hard to read text near the spine.

In this particular instance the concept works, simply because the problems of not wanting everything in the volume, and dealing with cross-overs (were the volume smaller) do not exist. I do not expect it would always work, and realistically any attempt to force it to work carries with it the bogey-man of the industry - the potential to lose readers.

The next concern is what's worth reading, and what I enjoyed reading. Keep in mind that I'm trying to assess each relaunch title on its merits as indicated by one single issue.

The Reviews
Let's assume I went down to my local library, borrowed this, and used it as the sole indicator of what I was buying. Let's also assume that I don't have any long term attachment to the characters, or creative teams.

Justice League
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jim Lee
It's easy enough to understand what is going on. The cover has nothing to do with what happens in the book itself, and could be considered misleading as only 4 of the characters on the cover are actually in the book (and if you add that Vic Stone isn't Cyborg yet, it's down to 3). The story is by no means a complete story. Barely a beginning really. Batman and GL are tracing some alien bomb tech thingy. They go to Metropolis only because Superman is an alien (though their being in Metropolis gives them a reason to meet Superman). Vic Stone's introduction has more or less nothing to do with the rest of the events, and is either the most obvious foreshadowing ever, or seems completely irrelevant.
My Verdict: Nice art, but this was obviously nothing but set-up for later issues. I wouldn't get the next issues, and I'd wait until I knew something was happening.

Justice League International
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Aaron Lopresti
Obviously this is set after the Justice League are an established force (though if they're the JL, not the JLA, why would you need to have a JLI?), and obviously this team is being forcibly created by the UN. Couple of immediate questions though: why does Booster Gold have a Legion flight ring (observant new readers would have picked this up from Legion Lost and Legion of Superheroes), and does it work?
The story does a much better job of establishing who is in the team than JL did, but again, we get given the beginnings of a story. Obviously there's at least one more issue to finish the story of JLI vs giant robot. I don't care enough about this group of characters to see what happens. Maybe if we'd spent less time on internal team politicking, we could have seen the end of that fight, and I'd have been able to decide if they were a cool team of heroes.
My Verdict: Not going to try reading again.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis
Seems like a fun book. I got teases of something else happening, though unrelated to the main story. References to Aquaman being lame are something I'm familiar with from Family Guy, and Aquaman was well introduced as a character. It's clear that Mera is at least Aquaman's girlfriend, but we get very little more than that. The one criticism I have is that there's very little content here. Funnily enough I look at who wrote this, and then who wrote JL, and it's the same guy. As a new reader I'd be wondering if seeing the name Geoff Johns on a book meant that I was paying for minimal content.
My Verdict: I think I'd read more of this. Not because it was super compelling, or had a huge cliffhanger, but because it was well written, and gave me at least one full story. Obviously something's happening with those fish-faced things, and I'm sure I'l get more in future issues, but if nothing happens for a while, and I get a full story each month, that's fine with me.

Wonder Woman
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang
Very little about this book makes sense. Very little about this book recommends it to being a repeat purchase. It seems to be all mysterious setup for strange happenings to come. And realistically, none of it was engaging enough to make me think I'd want to read it again. The art though, is a conundrum to me. It's clearly different from the last three titles, and aesthetically less "pretty" for my liking. That said, it offers me something none of the others did: I can actually see when something was moving. That's right, motion lines are consistently included here. Those other books, yeah I could see what was happening and that things must have been moving, but the pictures weren't dynamic. The could easily have just been photographs for the sense of motion imparted (ie none). I liked that I could sense things happening, rather than imagine it.
My Verdict: The art doesn't make it up. I won't be reading this again.

The Flash
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Bucatello
Art by Francis Manapul
Again, not a full story. Geez, this is getting frustrating. You read 20 some pages and find that you've not go the whole story. In any case, the art is clear, and it's another different approach. Motion lines seem to be used only when Flash does something, and flashback sequences have somewhat of a faded watercolour effect applied. The story gives me little about the Flash himself, and seems to cast this guy as a bit of a loser like Spider-man. There's not a lot of content, but the cliff hanger is at least better than the last couple cliff hangers, and makes me feel like maybe there's an interesting concept behind this.
My Verdict: Art's fine by me, Story was a bit light on, but the concept seems to be good. Feels like something will definitely happen next issue, and that it'll be a doozy. Think I'd give it another go.

Captain Atom
Written by J.T. Krull
Art by Freddie Williams II
This was fractionally less confusing than Wonder Woman, but that upside is negated by the boredom that comes with it. There's nothing compelling here. Unfortunately, the more of these issues I read, the more I'm introduced to some guy who has some power, and in the course of fighting some bad guy or other, falls foul of some other thing on the last page or two to set up a cliffhanger. Is that all I can expect here? non-origin stories that try to give a very small glimpse of the main character, and then throw me at a cliffhanger? Is all the really story going to be in issue 2 for each of these books? This isn't leaving me like I want to read more comics.
My Verdict: I got absolutely nothing from this. At least the art in Wonder Woman was worth discussing, and the story confused me. This didn't even have that. Won't try it again.

The Fury of Firestorm
Written by Joe Harris and Ethan Van Sciver
Art by Yildiray Cinar
An actual origin story. Well, I'm not missing anything on the background of this character at least. There's definitely some shallow characterisation going on in the background, but at least I know core motives, etc. So these two kids that hate each other combine to become this one superpowerful being, that seems kinda cool. I'm sure the next issue will follow on from where this ended, but at least if it didn't, I've got a full origin story. I think I can look forward to the next issue with some promise of a new full story. The art wasn't quite to my liking, but I can't have it all.
My Verdict: The writing could use a little work, and the art's not quite what I like to see, but the story was somewhat interesting, and I don't know exactly what will happen next. Could be an interesting title, and one I'd be watching.

Green Arrow
Written by J.T. Krull
Art by Dan Jurgens
If you liked Matt Fraction's Iron Fist, there's a fair chance you'll like this. Not much by way of introduction to the characters involved, and it certainly isn't a complete story, but it's still a decent read. My core complain is that Ollie is a bit of a preachy bastard, and should sometimes shut up and fight.
My Verdict: I think I'd read this on a regular basis.

The Savage Hawkman
Written by Tony Daniel and Jim Bonny
Art by Philip Tan
Very short story, very light on content, very splashy art. Really this did nothing beyond emphasising that I want nothing to do with archeological digs (there's always an alien thing, or a mystic power that's going to kick your ass, and that's if the Nazi's or Communists don't do it first). Thankfully I didn't know what the current Hawkman origin was so I couldn't get upset if it had changed.
My Verdict: Pasing on this, not a hard choice to make.

Mister Terrific
Written by Eric Wallace
Art by Gianluca Gugliotta
We get an origin story, and we get a similar "sciencey guy fighting something" opening sequence to what we had in Captain Atom (there's more of these to come). The story itself wasn't that compelling, but seemed like it might be going somewhere in an issue or two.
My Verdict: Check back on this one in a few issues time to see what happened.

DC Universe Presents Deadman
Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Bernard Chang
Have you ever seen Quantum Leap or Highway to Heaven? If so, this is a bit like that. Deadman jumps into a person's body to help sort their lives out, only he wants to start living his own life again. Or at least figure out what the point to all this good work is. It's clear there's more to follow, and it's clear that (at least the first arc) is going to be about Deadman sorting out a motive for continuing on his soul saving path. We got an origin, and some backstory, and we can see there's a lot of potential for further stories. The art was okay, but not spectacular.
My Verdict: I think I'd read this again, but it'd be one of those books that I can't see being an indefinite read. At some point I'll either get bored of it, or it'll have wrapped up. Either way, it's a good concept for a while, but longer term, needs an end point to be established. Ultimately I think I'd pass.

Action Comics
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Rags Morales
How many years did Morrison want to be working on this? How long did we hear about this during relaunch announcements? And really, it's not that great. It's as close as I can ever see Superman being to a street hero, but that's a bit of a problem. He's already overpowered for most fiends he'll encounter, and he'll only get stronger. Even at Morrison's best, I can see this is going to be running the same risks as the first season of Smallville, but with nasty ol' capitalists and crims in place of disaffected youths with Kryptonite poising. There's nothing wrong with the story given, in fact I liked the ending of it, but I can't see it lasting for a great deal of time.
My Verdict: Trade wait this one, and take it one arc at a time. Especially since Grant Morrison can vary in quality from arc to arc, and seems to perform better with particular artists supporting him.

Written by George Perez
Art by Jesus Merino
We get a whole story, we established a status quo, and showed there was some backstory to be mined. We also establish that Clark and Lois are not a couple, leave alone ever been married. This book has the potential to be worth reading or a regular basis, but I couldn't say if it'll get there or not. If it tries to keep rooted in the relationships that make Clark Kent, rather than the adventures that make Superman great, the potential I've seen could be realised.
My Verdict: One to watch. If and when it's clear that this sticks to the character driven story telling of this issue, it should become a regular read. And I hate Superman, so go figure.

Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by R.B. Silvia
Blink and you've missed this issue. It's a bit of an origin story, but it's also a case of establishing Superboy as a troubled character that is going to be struggling to establish an identity. Funnily enough, I expect the book to struggle to establish an identity, and a readership. It's a complete story, but the whole story is still just setup for the rest of the series. The impending conflict of the story will clearly be Superboy vs the Teen Titans (from within) and Superboy vs N.O.W.H.E.R.E. And it's already established that Superboy is Superman sans conscience, so that's obviously an element of character conflict and development that's to be continued.
My Verdict: I'll be interested to see just how predictable this title is, but I don't anticipate paying for the privilege.

Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
This is a book with almost no content. I can't believe anyone was paid to write this. The art is delightful, but there's so many splash panels and pages, that I can't keep looking at it forever. That said, it's another origin story (though more via inner monologue than via explicit depiction), and it sets up future stories (and while it seems obvious that the next issue would deal with Superman and Supergirl getting to know each other, it would also be feasible to do something else with the story).
My Verdict: Initially, I was actually quite pleased with this (despite the brevity of the story), but on a secondary look, I think this is really a case of waiting for a trade to see if it's worth reading.

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo
So many Bat-titles. So easy to get confused about which was which. This one is the start of Batman investigating a case where a threat is made against Bruce Wayne, with evidence indicating the threat is being made by Dick Grasyon. Since that would seem a most unlikely situation, let's also throw in that at the start of the story Dick is using ultra-Bat-tech to impersonate Joker while in Arkham. It also establishes that Damian Wayne is the current Robin, and Tim Drake is Red Robin. I'm not sure how far into the New 52 timeline this is meant to be, but that means Bruce has churned through to his fourth Robin (assuming Jason Todd is Red Hood because of his Batman related woes), and that one of them (Dick) has recently stood in for Bruce himself (though the reasons aren't established). I know on his blog, Jim Shooter panned some of the panel layouts and the opening art. It's a fair call, considering he was reviewing it with a view to demonstrating what a new reader might think. It's something that's not as big a concern to the seasoned reader wanting to try the New 52.
My Verdict: Plot is likely promising. Money is on someone impersonating Dick Grayson, but then I didn't find any of this enough of a draw card to try again.

Detective Comics
Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel
Lots of big splashy art pages. Batman's hunting Joker, Joker's going a new kind of crazy, and really there's not a whole lot more to it than that. It's a book strong on graphic violence, light on characterisation, and with a bit of plot progression thrown in. Seems to exist largely for the last page shock image of Joker's face nailed to a wall.
My Verdict: Pass. You've read better, of you've never read before.

Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Hayden Blackman
Art by J.H. Williams III and Amy Reeder
Picks up where the Batwoman series (pre-New 52) left off. It's beautifully illustrated, and again deals more with supernatural mystery, and Kate's familial issues than it deals with punching bad guys. I'm not sure I see the need for a sidekick for Batwoman (I found her far more intimidating as a solo act, much like Batman), but it will allow for new character development, which is a good thing.
My Verdict: I'll be following this one along while I wait for the trade. If it's as good as it was pre-relaunch, it'll be worth reading.

Batman: The Dark Knight
Written by David Finch and Paul Jenkins
Art By David Finch
I dunno, this is another Batman book, it's hard to really differentiate between this, Detective, and Batman if you have to pick a single solo Batman book. It really serves to illustrate the ineffective security of Arkham Asylum though, when you consider that Batman also featured a fight in Arkham, and Detective has Joker already on the loose.
My Verdict: If you want a shock value book, read Detective. If you want what looks like being a decent Batman story book, read Batman. If you want a muddle of the two, read this. On the other hand, if you want good Batman stories, go read stories from years gone by that were innovative, fresh, and packed with content and characterisation.

Batman And Robin
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Pat Gleason
Definitely a book that could have been a tremendous flop given that the chemistry of the book previously was based on Dick Grayson as Batman, and Damian Wayne as Bow Whinger. While Damian is still annoying and snarky, Bruce definitely seems to be able to snap him into line... or can he. The story is worth reading. It's clear Bruce has a challenge in training Damian (likely more than Jason Todd ever was), and while we get what seems to be a full case solved to an untrained observer, it's also clear that this is just the beginning of a larger story.
My Verdict: Best Book featuring Batman as a primary character thus far. Definitely one to keep reading.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf
Not a full complete story in and of itself, but it's interesting that this seems to be one of the books most obviously tied to pre-relaunch continuity. The art is delightfully clear to read, the story is, I think, a good treatment of what a person in Barbara's position would do. I liked where the story was going, and from what I hear, the issue of Barbara's fear of getting hurt again is a prominent feature of the series. Could get old if it's all it's about, but thus far I liked it.
My Verdict: Bucks the trend of incomplete stories being intolerable, and a bit of backstory being poorly presented. Worth reading more of.

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Ben Oliver
This book frustrates the hell out of me. When the New 52 was being solicited I had this earmarked as a pointless exercise, and an early flop. To my amazement, it's actually quite good, or at least what there is of it is quite good. See the story is overly short. The art is pretty, but overly splashy (and too static). But the story telling is great. I don't know what to do with this beast. I desperately want to like it, but paying full price for it seems unfair.
My Verdict: Keep an eye on it. If you see a trade of this going somewhat below price, get on it.

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Guillem March
Ah the smut controversy book. From the cheesecake cover, through the cheesecake opening pages, and the BatCatsex at the end, this book seems to be entirely about delivering readers their monthly does of T&A. It's an easy book to read, though as I've said the plot seems to be purely an excuse to get to the smut. Again, the overuse of splash pages reduces this to a 5 minute read, which is disappointing, though who ever pays that much attention to the storyline in porn?
My Verdict: Superhero smut is an idea that rates well with me. Unfortunately I'm the guy that expects that if you're going to put a story in porn it needs to make sense, and add to the action. I don't see the story here doing that. And really, that pisses me off. I can get my supe porn from Rule42, so I don't need this book. Needs to cost half what it currently does.

Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Eddy Barrows
Seems this book is all about showing Dick Grayson as immature, and Nightwing as underprepared when compared to Batman. Which is interesting since until recently Dick Grayson was Batman. This story seemed like a nostalgia trip for both the reader and the character, and that's not a good way to kick off a relaunch title. I didn't rte the art as anything overly special, so I can't recommend the book on that basis.
My Verdict: Nightwing fans will likely love this. Everyone else will likely want their money back.

Birds Of Prey
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz
One of the two worst Bat Family books. I think it's in this grouping solely because the heroines are a bit more street level, but otherwise there's no crossover immediately obvious. Here's the deal: the story is awful. The characterisation is awful. The art is average.
My Verdict: Leave this one on the stands to send a message to DC that we won't put up with this shit.

Red Hood And The Outlaws
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort
And here's the worst of the Bat Family books. The Art is awful. The storytelling is awful. The Plot is awful. The characterisation is awful. Who buys this crap? I've read decent Jason Todd stories before. I've read decent Starfire stories before. Those are your draw cards, right? Why do such an awful job with them?
My Verdict: In all honesty, if you can justify why you bought and enjoyed this, I'd love to hear it. Personally we need to purchases less copies of this title than we did of Birds of Prey.

Green Lantern
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke
I understand that this is meant to be picking up where GL left off before the relaunch. Fair enough, but assume you snared me as a new reader with this relaunch idea. I saw that movie with Ryan Reynolds, and boy it did suck, but the idea looked like it had potential. So I picked this up. Reynolds character isn't even a Lantern at the moment, though it seems he has been in the past. And he's totally making the worst of every situation he's given. And there's this one panel where the pink bit between his eyeball and the corner of his eye socket is over-illustrated and he really looks like a stalker. Why do people go on about comics again? Why was everyone in the store raving about how good the guys that made this book were? Man it just sucked! Also, those little blue dudes totally killed that other little blue dude. This is important if you read all the GL titles.
My Verdict: If I didn't know to expect better from Geoff Johns, I'd be advising people to steer clear of this bok. Especially new readers. As it is, I can only suggest it needs  few issues to prove itself.

Green Lantern Corps
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin
Here's a book that seems confused. It's all about aliens being brutally slaughtered, while two Green Lanterns whinge about people knowing their secret identities. Yeah it could turn out well. It definitely has potential. But based on this issue alone, I won't recommend it. Throw in that at this point Kyle Rayner has been a GL, and we don't know which guardians are alive, and I'm confused about where this sits in continuity compared to GL.
My Verdict: Apart from it getting harder to provide useful comments on these stories the further I get, it's getting easier to tell people not to read something. Maybe there's something in that... Oh, don't read this book.

Green Lantern: New Guardians
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Tyler Kirkham
Right, so I read GL first. Then I red this. This starts with all the guardians EXCEPT Ganthet being killed. GL had Ganthertbeing killed by all the OTHER Guardians. Just quietly, what the HELL is going on here?! This could almost make sense if Ganthet doing this resulted in some other group of Guardians killing him, but the two seem unrelated. So this is a new origin story for Kyle Rayner as far as becoming a GL. However he almost immediately becomes every other type of lantern too, thanks to some more mass xenocide. A large portion of this book (once it's clear it's about superheroes) is aliens dying  and rings flying off places. Surely people don't want to read al about rings flying places right? IT's just boring after a while. This is clearly going somewhere (given it's poised for a BIG FIGHT SCENE at the end of the issue), the problem is I'm going somewhere too: away from this book.
My Verdict: Don't bother. The continuity issues alone make me shake my head in disgust. There's nothing to redeem this book.

Red Lanterns
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Ed Benes
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid stupid stupid. That's what I think of this book, and it's attempts at the concepts of "story" and "art". If you read this and enjoyed it, then good for you. Don't let me put you off. If you wanted to know what I think is wrong with it, try reading it yourself, and if you enjoyed it you may as well just go with that.
My Verdict: This was worse than Red Hood And The Outlaws.

Justice League Dark
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mikel Janin
I'm going to open this by discussing page One. The use of tarot cards could have been a great way to introduce all the characters that will form the Justice League Dark team both visually and by summarising their traits in a straight up fashion. Like Marvel's X-Men books having been doing for the past few years. But more naturally. Unfortunately the concept didn't work here because not all the character's cards are shown, and because you have one showing half a person, without giving the character trait. The thing that annoys me most is that in trying to make it look like a natural way of doing it, they've given more space than necessary to Madame Xanadu, and not enough to the exposition. There's another crack at showing the whole team on the last page, but it doesn't help. Potentially a great concept, but poorly executed.The point of this book seems to be purely to establish that the JL can't handle every situation (particularly those involving magic), and that magic people in the DCU are generally jerks. Also there's a new team of magicky types being put together to help the JL. And that's as far as the book gets. Really. I don't know if I can even say this book is all setup, because some of it seems like setup for the setup.
My Verdict: There could be a really good story to come out of all this, but so far I feel like I'm reading the first issue of a Mark Waid JLA story from the early 2000s. If I heard that the story as a whole was worth reading, I'd consider grabbing the trade, otherwise I'll just leave it alone.

Swamp Thing
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Yanick Paquette
Right, so all over the world there's these animals dying. And of course Superman visits this construction worker. Who was kinda sorta maybe Swamp Thing. Not so sure about that. Definitely a messed up backstory. There's also these other guys trying to steal someone else's archeological dig. It wasn't clear to me why they were doing this but, hey, crims will be crims, right? Swamp Thing kills the crims, and then visits Mr Construction. And the story will continue.
My Verdict: Are you a big Swamp Thing fan? Are you at least conversant in the history about the character's identity? If not, just ignore this book and move along.

Animal Man
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green
Animal Man has never been a character I paid a lot of attention too (and hey given what I think of Grant Morrison, I'm not going to try digging up copies of his run without a great price being offered), but this may make me rethink this. It doesn't spend a lot of time on his backstory, and it doesn't labour what his powers are, really they're simple enough in detail anyway. In any case, the story is dealing with issues in Buddy Baker's life since he stopped being Animal Man. He seems much happy with it than his family, but he also finds he's getting weird reactions (and dreams) from using his powers, and that his daughter seems to be able to raise dead animals. This is not normal people. Clearly he's going to try looking into things further in the next issue. Which I may read. If the stylised art doesn't scare me off.
My Verdict: Could be a good one to watch. Suspect it might make a good trade.

Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
Oh balls, I forgot this book entirely, and then had to read it again! If you want a book about a bunch of monsters fighting other monsters for some stupid and unresolved reason, then read this book. I'm not recommending it to anyone, and if asked will tell them I thought it had bad art, was heavy handed with the characterisation, and had a silly story.
My Verdict: I've had better times upending a compost bin.

I, Vampire
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino
Just pretend this book doesn't exist. I can only assume it exists because Twilight and True Blood are popular vampire franchises (though I challenge the factual validity of vampires presented in Twilight).
My Verdict: Just leave it alone. It's not actively hurting me, but let's not encourage it to keep going.

Resurrection Man
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Fernando Dagnino
Didn't I read a book about some guy who has some kind of mission to do that keeps him coming back from the dead? I did right? Wasn't it DC Universe Presents Deadman? Yes the underlying theme is somewhat similar (by which I mean, it seems similar at first glance, but is almost entirely different), but at the same time clearly following a different path. This version is less Quantum Leap, and much more Supernatural. Probably a good thing, differentiating titles (pity they didn't do that with Batman, but that's not my problem). The story is something you can follow, but you just end up wondering what the point of it is. Given it ends with Madame Xanadu playing with tarot cards, I was wondering if the whole point of this book is going to be to get Resurrection Man in to JL Dark.
My Verdict: If you need a supernatural themes book that seems to be going somewhere and doesn't have a sense of humour, try this. Otherwise, leave it alone.

Demon Knights
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Diogenes Neves
See this is the book for me. If you want to know how to approach this consider it as something of a similar title to Marvel's Journey Into Mystery since Loki became the primary focus, and you've more or less got it sorted. The art is average, but the story, use of humour, and characterisation is better than many others in this review.
My Verdict: While I won't say I'd definitely read this all the time, it's definitely something I could read from time to time. If it didn't have continuously ongoing storylines, this'd be the perfect book to pick up when you wanted a fun lighted hearted read. As it is, I'll be thinking about getting a trade.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Miguel Sepulveda
Did not get much out of this. It's in the same time frame as Action Comics (judging from the horn thingy), and may be up for a cross-ver there. Seems this book was written as some sort of DC vehicle to provide a Brian Bendis style book. That is, talking heads and the occasional punch. After nearly 10 years of that on Avengers, I'm bored with it.
My Verdict: Not a Stormwatch fan, not a Martian Manhunter fan. No reason to read this book.

Written by Nathan Edmonson
Art by CAFU
This to the whole jumping around with timing of the story trick that some people love. I like it when it's done well and not overused. This book used it to setup a cliffhanger during the story and then allow the book to be an origin anyway. I don't mind that at all. This book is clearly an origin though, and it leads me to believe that if I kept reading, I'd get more information about just what happened to Christopher Argent, and would also handle the ongoing attempts to capture him.
My Verdict: Morally ambiguous characters with ill-defined origins were very popular in the 1990s. Pity it's 2012. I don't actively dislike this book, but I'm not interested.

Written by Ron Marz
Art by Sami Basri
So it's cops investigating a stripper with an ill-defined past. The stripper turns out to be some sort of alien thing. One of the cops end up dead. This reminds me of Species meets a cop drama. It was alright, nothing glaringly off. Did seem a bit short though.
My Verdict: If you like the premise as established here, go with it. If not, give it a miss. I'll pass on it.

Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Joe Bennett
Slade Wilson, the best assassin in the world is an unloved commodity in this story. And I can't work out why. He's clearly as capable as ever, but for some reason his services aren't in huge demand. Don't ask me why, I'm not privy to those details. So in order to make some more money (he's already incredibly wealthy), he takes a job working with a group of kids to stop Iran getting The Bomb. The kids don't entirely suck, but Slade does the heavy lifting. Including fighting some test tube monsters grown by the target (who incidentally looks like he's a sketch of the vampire in the old silent film Nosferatu). Slade survives and kills the team he was hired to help. What will happen next is likely Slade goes after those behind the job, and will rebuild his reputation. But I won't be there to read it.
My Verdict: Bad characterisation, mediocre art, average story, and a focus on people being shot in an unemotional way. That's not good work, and that's not worth getting more of.

Suicide Squad
Written by Adam Glass
Art by Marco Rudy
I can't help but compare this to the pre-relaunch incarnation of this title, which was funny and intelligent. This is like a Guy Ritchie fan writing a bad derivative sequel. The art is not pretty, though I get the story. There's too many perspectives for a single issue, there's no-one likeable in the group, and again, it's all setup.
My Verdict: Leaving this one alone too. DC, you aren't doing well at enticing me to read your titles.

Written by Dan DiDio
Art by Keith Giffen
Really, this is incredibly bad. The art is like bad John Romita Jr work, the way that Kevin got time to change into O.M.A.C. is as awful here as it was in the 1960s when Peter Parker would cut out on something with a poor excuse only for Spider-man to appear. O.M.A.C. seems like some sort of Hulk clone but with technological basis. The next issue brings in Brother Eye.
My Verdict: Hearing this title was cancelled didn't bring a tear to my eye. I just hope Batman appropriates the tech that was floating around here for awesome purposes.

All-Star Western
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Moritat
Take a Western character and dumb them in a major city. And try and make it feel a bit like a Unforgiven meets Sherlock Holmes (the Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr one). Surprisingly it works a bit better than you might be cringing in the corner thinking about. The art is very dul. Not sure why. Just because it's set in the past doesn't mean things need to be all sepia tones or grayscale tones. I'm not drawn to this title, but not repulsed by it either.
My Verdict: Can't say I'll be reading this regularly, but if someone gave me a trade I'd probably be able to enjoy it.

Written by Mike Costa
Art by Ken Lashley
Elite black ops squad does things and has personal dramas. Might be better if we compressed it to about 5 pages, and added another 17 pages of similarly compressed content.
My Verdict: Too decompressed to really get into it, and didn't end up doing much.

Men Of War
Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Tom Derrenick
This is actually two titles, but in the one book. The first is a modern day Sargent Rock story. The second follows some other guys I've never heard of. Neither was particularly compelling, but given nother issue's worth of Rock, I could be tempted to read that book.
My Verdict: Throw away the non-Rock part of this title, and keep it just as compressed, and you probably have a winner. If that's what they do for collected editions, I would likely get a copy of Rock. Otherwise I'm not paying for something I'll read half of.

Teen Titans
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Brett Booth
This is basically the teenage version of Justice League, right down to using only one or two characters properly, not really establishing what was happening, and having Superboy introduced in the last couple pages. Those reading Superboy may see the obvious Superboy vs TT clash coming already. Otherwise, they'll definitely see it coming after reading this.
My Verdict: Like JL, I'll pass on this. All setup, no pay-off, and no indication when the pay-off will be.

Static Shock
Written by Marc Bernadin
Art by Scott McDaniel
A less creative version of Robert Kirkham's Invincible, that seems like a one character version of Marvel's New Warriors as it was in the 1990s. PS, this is another book that makes me think I read the same set of events and origin already.
My Verdict: Pass. Nothing compelling here.

Hawk And Dove
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Rob Liefeld
There's one reason to at least pick this up on the shelf, and that's if you haven't had a decent laugh at Rob Liefeld's art for a while. Granted neither Hawk or Dove have pouches on their costumes, but he still worked them in. There're still panels where different parts of Dove's body doesn't line up right, feet are still badly drawn or obscured. Hawk is hyper muscled. Dove's breasts are either plum sized or as big as her head. People do not have upper lips, sometimes they don't have lower lips. All the men have late 90's boy-band hair. To be able to rib on Liefeld like this again is a guilty pleasure, but not enough to keep me going indefinitely. The story is banal, but better than most. There's not an overly laboured origin, though there's hints at backstory that don't really shed much light. Maybe next issue.
My Verdict: Much as I like to laugh at Rob Liefeld's art, after a while it just makes me angry. And it's not like I can turn to the story to ignore the artistic issues. I'm not surprised this got cancelled after 8 issues. Suspect Dove will transition to JLDark. If Hawk joins her, they at least get page time as a team.

Blue Beetle
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Ig Guara
If you were hoping for Ted Kord, turn around and leave now. If you wanted a sensitive treatment of Latin-Americans, don't bother either. If you like Jaime Reyes, teen drama, incomplete translations from Spanglish, and poorly explained sci-fi stuff, try this. But don't try and convince me this was a good issue.
My Verdict: I'm passing on this as well.

Legion Lost
Written by Tom DeFalco
Art by Pete Woods
A team book where the team is already formed. And then stuff just seems to happen to strand this team in time. They're in the modern day, but then so is Booster Gold, and he also has a flight ring. Don't know if his works either. Does it matter? Probably not. Will this go somewhere? Probably. Will it be worth it? Don't know.
My Verdict: Watch to see how this turns out via internet reviews. It could be good, it could be another rubbish teen angst book.

Legion of Super-heroes
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Francis Portela
This is the Legion Unlost, and they are also already a team, and I don't really care about it at all. The Legion Lost at least had an interesting premise. This was a tip you in the deep end and hope you swim type book. Probably fine for existing Legion readers, not for the rest of us.
My Verdict: I'm passing on this too.

Wash Up
In the final tally I've got has 4 books worth reading, 15 to watch before committing to a trade, and 33 that I won't read again. That's not a good strike rate, even assuming I turned all 15 of the maybes into yeses. Apart from getting me to buy all 52 issues in an omnibus, and many others getting them all as single issues, DC ought to have made a huge drop in readers here, and they also ought to have picked up only a handful of new readers.
So what went wrong for me? Really it boils down to a few things:
  • The "ills of modern comics"
    • too many splash pages, and an over emphasis on art
    • too many decompressed stories that gave me little actual content
    • too many issues without a complete story
    • too many titles that were not compelling, or featured art so bad I didn't want to look at it.
  • Laboured origin stories that were as subtle as Stan Lee's use of slang in the 1960s
  • Obvious reliance on readers identifying characters
  • Obvious reliance on readers being conversant in recent continuity
  • Poor panel layouts
  • Poor characterisation resulting in one dimensional characters with poorly established motives
  • Poor story telling
Yeah it sounds harsh when I drop all of that criticism, but being fair, I read through every word, on every panel, on every page, of every one of those 52 issues. And it was largely unrewarding. While I don't wish DC ill, I certainly hope that if this relaunch continues to succeed, it's because the quality of the whole line picks up dramatically. I fear that won't happen though, and Marvel's inevitable need to retaliate with "shocking" changes will draw them down similar holes, which is really to the detriment of the comics industry as a whole.
The thing that jumps out at me every time I think about those origin stories is that surely they could have been done better. Surely if new characters were regularly debuting in new series, writers and artists would be better at this. Surely when it's rebooting a character it's easier. And if they couldn't be better, surely those origins should have been saved for Free Comic Books Day (which coincidentally would have been a great time to do the New 52 launch and give a bunch of teasers to save plowing through this crap). At the end of the day DC, like TLC, only has itself to blame.

So where do I go from here? Well, there's a handful of titles I fell I can commit to buying trades of. There's others I might get trades of, and the rest I will just ignore. In any case, I do prefer Marvel titles, and recently have not been reading a lot of their current output either.
Here's my top tip to new readers: don't jump in with modern stories, do s a little research on the internet to find the stories that are recommended as good introductory books (this doesn't equate to good books overall - I wouldn't wish Watchmen on a new reader), buy those, and then go from there. There's plenty of good DC work that's been collected. Find that. Read that first. Build up familiarity with the DC characters. Then find out what they've been up to lately. Sure, things will have changed a lot in some cases, but if you are going to commit to comics, you need to get used to retcons and reboots really quickly.

Overall, I don't recommend anyone buys this Omnibus. Partly because it doesn't do anything particularly well, and partly because the fewer of them that are available, the more I can eventually sell mine for.

Next time out, I'll try something significantly shorter, that doesn't take 2 weeks to write a review for.
Be afraid.