Saturday, 1 October 2011

Project 52, Week Five (Teen Titans/Hawkman/Dark Knight/Firestorm/Superman)

And so we near the final curtain. Reviews #47-51 of Project 52 include the new rather garish-looking Teen Titans, Tim taking a look at the relaunch's two most ridiculously named titles, and close on the title that Imogen "Smallville-fancier" Dale said was the only one she'd be interested in reading about - Superman #1.
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Teen Titans #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Brett Booth
Reviewed by Bret

The first word in the comic summed it up for me. “Meh”. It was okay, Teen Titans didn’t do anything wrong, it was just very average. I think Teen Titans is probably feeling the wrath I’ve been building up whilst reading a lot of DC’s new 52 because SO MANY of them commit the same crime. And it’s not a big crime, but when you add all those little crimes from all the separate stories it starts to become like Kid Flash’s middle name. A problem.

See, on the cover of Teen Titans #1 there are quite clearly seven characters. How many do we meet in issue 1? Four. One of whom is only on the last page as what I feel is a desperate attempt to say “look! We do have more coming next issue! Spend money here again!”. But I’m sorry, that attitude isn’t good enough if you’re going to relaunch all your major titles purely because someone like me, who is reading A LOT OF THEM, is going to pick and choose the best of the bunch and go back and buy those and ONLY those. That means you can’t hint that the good stuff in your comic is coming later, you need to show the good stuff NOW because you are in competition with all the other new comics and I can’t afford to continue to read them all.

SO! That’s what let Teen Titans down. We get a good explanation as to who Red Robin is, a bit of an explanation as to who Kid Flash is and less again for Wonder Girl, who made it quite clear that her name isn’t actually Wonder Girl… but never told us what it really was. So like it or lump it sister, you’re now getting called “Wonder Girl” from here on out.

The art was nice and really did of good job of the action sequences which in turn helped to avoid large blocks of text when introducing characters. But again, quite frankly it’s not enough to make up for the lack of plot. Don’t get me wrong a lot happens but I feel like I just watched the first half hour of Mission: Impossible and then had Tom Cruise turn to me and ask what I thought. As Ramona said to Scott, it’ll sound great when it’s finished.

Overall, as what feels to me like a work in progress I honestly don’t feel I can rate this comic. I’m sure it’ll be much better once it gets underway BUT they chose not to do that so I’m stuck giving Teen Titans a C. It’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a great story that could have been told in 20 pages, but as I won’t be coming back I guess I’ll never get to read it.

Rating: C

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The Savage Hawkman #1
Written by Tony S. Daniel
Art by Philip Tan
Reviewed by Tim

Hawkman, like Aquaman, is one of the B-list DC heroes who stood to benefit greatly from the relaunch. While semi-recognisable to the vaguely-comics-aware public, he suffered from slightly goofy powers, a horrendously complicated origin and backstory, and a terrible costume. While Aquaman addressed the preconceptions that people may have had about the character and simplified the origin to the essential core, The Savage Hawkman instead adds a new layer onto the character and complicates his mythology even further. And while Aquaman’s costume remains about as bad as it always was, Hawkman’s has got even worse.

The issue starts engagingly, with Carter Hall dragging the Hawkman armour out to the woods to bury it, and once and for all say goodbye to life as a hero. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned, and he finds himself with new armour that appears from underneath his skin (how very Iron Man) and fighting an ancient alien symbiote thing (how very Venom). It’s a decent enough gimmick to make the character feel a bit more relevant and able to compete with the other heavy-hitters of the DC universe, but a relaunch should be about stripping a character back to their core and finding what works, not piling new information on. To writer Tony S. Daniel’s credit, we’re not made to feel like we have to know much of Hawkman’s background, but by making his “Nth Metal” armour such a key component of the story, you’re already saddling us with assumed knowledge.

The art by Philip Tan is gorgeous, with a painterly style that matches the tone of the comic very well, lending it an old-school adventure feel that works with the idea of Carter Hall as a heroic, Indiana Jones-style archaeologist, and Tan even manages to make Hawkman’s armour seem threatening and aesthetically pleasing. However, the costume, like the comic itself, has taken something that more or less functioned and rather than explore what actually worked, has decided to instead just add a load of extra stuff on top (A shield that’s a claw! And his axe should also be a mace! More spikes! More explosions!)

And Morphicius is a terrible name for a villain. He sounds like a subspecies of climbing shrub.

Rating: B-

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Batman - The Dark Knight#1
Written by David Finch & Paul Jenkins
Art by David Finch
Reviewed by Alex

Did you read last week’s Batman #1, as reviewed by the eternally handsome Michael Eckett?

If so, I can save you $2.99, right here and now. Loosen the staples holding that issue together, switch the pages around a bit and you’ve pretty much got Batman: Dark Knight #1.

That’s not exactly a criticism, but… Look, both comics open with captions of Batman narrating a little speech at us which turn out to be an actual speech being given by Bruce Wayne at a fundraiser where he’s then stopped by a character who could be a new ally or foe. There’s also a fight in Arkham Asylum against a multitude of escaped supervillains.

Like I said, it’s not a criticism. It’s just (I presume) a stunning coincidence. And, like Detective Comics #1, show the boxes that Batman stories feel they need to tick off. However, it does serve to highlight how Dark Knight compares to Snyder’s Batman. Those events I’ve mentioned make up almost the whole of this issue, but in Batman, they were only half of the story: we also got to see Batman’s relationship with the police and the assorted Robins, some detective work, some new gadgets and the Batcave.

So, it ticks off significantly less of those boxes. Which is a ridiculous comparison by which to judge a comic, I realise, and I actually didn’t enjoy Batman as much as the rest of the internet seems to have (C+, probs). But it shows up Dark Knight as a little sloppy. There, Batman’s speechy captions provided an interesting device; here, they’re borderline incomprehensible. (Fear is a cannibal that eats from both ends? Seriously?) There, the last page reveal provided a tug to buy the next issue; here it’s … well, borderline incomprehensible again.

Honestly, I went into this issue with a ready-cooked bias. David Finch, whose art I don’t really enjoy, also writing? I expected to hate it. And I didn’t. Finch’s art still isn’t my bag, but everything works just fine… I’ve just read a few too many Batman comics this month that have tried to hit the exact same series of notes, and it’s starting to get a little fatiguing.

Rating: C-

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The Fury of Firestorm #1
Written by Gail Simone & Ethan Van Sciver
Art by Yildiray Cinar
Reviewed by Tim

And the award for the clumsiest title in the New 52 goes to…Firestorm. Or to give it the full title, The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men. The title is sort of indicative of the comic itself – a little unwieldy, and with a few too many levels to it. There’s the vaguely religious mercenaries, the corporate conspiracy, a slightly gratuitous level of torture, the ham-fisted attempts at addressing racial politics, plus a superhero origin story with two narrators. The issue feels like such a jumble of plot, set-up and thematic elements that the central core concept – two contrasting characters with similar powers who can combine into a third form – gets lost beneath all the other elements fighting for your attention. Whether the central concept actually works is difficult to tell – at the moment it feels a little Captain Planet-esque, and the third form, introduced on the final page, doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting. The two clashing protagonists, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch, come across as more worthy of note.

The book’s attempts to delve into race are brave but feel clumsy, and need more space to breath than they are given here. Rusch, who tries to illustrate to Ronnie the racial inequalities that surround him in the most aggressive, unhelpful way possible, strikes me as a bit of a blowhard. This may be intentional (he later boasts about how clever he is, and how Ronnie couldn’t possibly understand what’s going on) and it’s perfectly valid characterisation for the smarter character to be egotistical, blunt and have poor people skills (for example, Hugh Laurie as House) but when you then have that character as the voice of some reasonable points about white privilege in modern America, you muddle the message somewhat. While a debate between a sheltered but well-meaning Ronnie and Jason, who has legitimate arguments but is abrasive and rude, could make for a fascinating comic given the room to establish the characters more fully and let the discussion play out, jamming it into such a tangle of plotting does a disservice to the ideas under debate.

It’s a shame, because the book feels at its best during these discussions. When the mercenaries appear at the school, and Ronnie and Jason are transformed into Firestorm/s, both the art and the writing seem to lose something and devolve into lots of shouting and the comic equivalent of CGI explosions. Having read Aquaman, it has hammered home how important characterisation and tone are in these first issues, towering over plot in terms of what matters and what makes a good book. Firestorm gets it completely wrong in this regard, piling more and more plot elements on what could have been a solid spine for the title until it buckles under the weight.

Rating: C-

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Superman #1
Written by George Perez
Art by George Perez & Jesus Merino
Reviewed by Bret

Well well well. Just as I’m done bitching that so many of DC’s new 52 have only told us half a story, along comes Superman to save the day. (Spoilers ahead.)

You know what, I’ve never really liked Superman comics. It’s not the character himself; I really liked Smallville for instance. No, it’s more the setting. It doesn’t matter how many references to modern day they make, it stills feels like it’s set in the 1950s to me. And even though this issue still has a twinge of the past about it, I’m glad to say they seem to be dealing with modernising their universe. First up, the Daily Planet building gets ripped down and rebuilt into something looking more like Stark Tower. Secondly there’s a lot more talk about how a newspaper can’t cut it in today's world and so instead we see reporters racing to be the first to get their article online. But most importantly, it’s the way people behave. Superman in his first issue is a bit of a whiny bitch. He’s not happy that the Daily Planet is being bought out by a bigger news company and starts an argument with Lois about it. But really there’s subtext because what ol’ Clarky boy is actually upset about is that the Man of Steel doesn’t have the balls to tell the girl he likes how he feels about her to her face. Something that stings all the more when his super-hearing lets him know what’s going on between her and another man behind closed doors. Brilliant stuff, that I can actually relate to!

The story itself has a definite beginning, middle and end which is SOOO refreshing to read in a first issue. And even though at times the plot felt so fantastical that is was starting to leave us normal humans behind, it would manage to somehow keep it grounded to a human perspective. Even if it was just by putting normal people in the firing line and dealing with the cost to human life when a couple of aliens battle high above the city. And I know that not everything has to be about human understanding and that Superman should absolutely be about the fantastic but at the same time, if I can’t measure the danger he’s facing to a scale I understand then the threat loses its tension, like an ant worrying about the global economy. Superman finds a balance, though, to show both the fantastical and make it relatable. The action sequences for instance are narrated by tomorrow's news headlines looking back at what happened at the time. A little confusing to start with but actually a very clever way of making you feel more involved.

Overall I liked it. It’s true to say that I prefer Clark Kent as a character to Superman but I also appreciate that sometimes you just need to punch a giant fire monster in the face.

Rating: A
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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.