Thursday, 15 September 2011

Project 52, Week Three (Green Lantern/Batwoman/Resurrection Man/Frankenstein/Batman & Robin/Red Lanterns)

Welcome to week three of the new DC Universe, and week three of Project 52. In this edition we're playing with one of my favourite things in the world: symmetry. We're starting out with the star of this summer's most high-profile flop, Mr G. Lantern, before moving over to Batman. The wonderful centrepiece is provided by Tim, with two of the smaller-name titles of the New 52 launch. And then it's back to the Batverse, and out with the naughty Red Lanterns.

Project52
Green Lantern #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke
Reviewed by Bret

This is complicated for me. Having just read Green Lantern #1, I want to write two very different reviews. The first would say that it’s been refreshing to read a book from DC’s New 52 starring one of their main characters that actually turned out to be quite good. From other mainstream stories I’ve read I’ve come under the impression that it’s only DC’s more obscure or wacky line-up that can deliver the goods, whereas their main characters haven’t moved far past simple four-colour stories of amazing powers, with no real depth. However, I’m happy to report that Green Lantern tells an interesting tale of how longtime Green Lantern villain, Sinestro, has been given a green power ring that gives him amazing abilities, whilst long time hero, Hal Jordan, has lost his ring and now has to adjust to a life full of bad dates and eviction notices. It’s an interesting read seeing Jordan fail on every level while, in contrast, Sinestro has been given power and tasked to take down the former members of his Yellow Lanterns. The pacing is good, and they manage to introduce the characters without large chunks of text to wade through. Even the art is nice AND we’re treated to an action sequence or two which actually feel plot relevant.

All good, you might think? Well yes, but then there is that other review sneaking around in the back of my mind. The one that says “Hey, you only know who these guys are from 'cos you’re geekier than your average Joe. And isn’t this a first issue? Aimed at people who haven’t been uber-geeks since before the Spice Girls were famous? Yes everyone knows who the Spice Girls are now, but that’s my point dude! Stop changing subject! Green Lantern TOTALLY assumes that you know who Sinestro is and who the Sinestro Corps are. It even expects you to know where Hal Jordan has been for the past few years, why he hasn’t been on earth AND how he lost his ring. That to me sounds like a lot of assuming to be made. Especially if this book is aimed at first-time readers.”

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for this comic to have history. It’s clearly left them to tell an interesting tale. But wasn’t the point of “The New 52” to be just that? “New”? And having read Green Lantern #1, I feel a little cheated. Like I now need to go back to the comic shop and say “Hey, are you sure this is issue 1? 'Cos I need to read something to bring me up to speed on exactly what’s happening with these guys. And also, you remember the Spice Girlsm right?” but then I suppose that’s what Wikipedia is for. Filling in the holes left by lazy writers.

A decent story makes Green Lantern a B. The fact that if I didn’t already know what was going on I wouldn’t have enjoyed it makes it an F. So we’ll go half way and say...
Rating: C-

Project52


Batwoman #1
Written by W. Haden Blackman & J.H. Williams III
Art by J.H. Williams III
Reviewed by Alex

I hadn’t read Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ acclaimed Batwoman run on Detective Comics, nor had I read the #0 issue last year. So please excuse me for saying some things that will be stupidly obvious to anyone who did.

This is an incredibly good-looking book. It’s the girl at the party with everyone’s eyes on her, as J.H. Williams does his usual shtick of mixing painterly wobbly-framed segments with more traditional inked art.

When it comes to comics’ combination of words and pictures, my interest tends to fall firmly on the textual side. But what sticks about my two dips into this issue is how it looked. It’s reminiscing the next morning about talking to that girl, the alcoholic haze not dimming your memory of the way she moved, but not remembering a word she said.

Your friend suggest, uncharitably, that she must be empty-headed. And that’s not fair: Batwoman’s story is interesting enough, it’s just that the memories of how it’s told keep getting in the way. The page that lays out all the exposition around its edges, in a series of images that suggest a dozen artists illustrating Batwoman’s past. The skull-faced baddie wearing a suit, with a pink novelty tie. The panel borders shaped into logos and thunderbolts…

There’s something to be said about how Batwoman isn’t interested in this relaunch. It wasn’t born of the New 52 - that last #0 issue was nearly a full year ago and this issue was scheduled months earlier. It’s a straight continuation of the Detective Comics story. But it still works as a #1, lays out everything you need to know effortlessly. Or, at least, I think it does. I just keep thinking about that art…

Rating: B+

Project52

Resurrection Man #1
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Fernando Dagnino
Reviewed by Tim

Resurrection Man, one of the lower-tier titles in DC’s relaunch, poses an interesting question. When your hero’s power is coming back from the dead, how do you put him in peril? This series answer seems to be: get metaphysical on his ass, as the issue quickly establishes that Resurrection Man is somehow involved in a struggle between Heaven and Hell (albeit hidden behind references to “Upstairs” and the “Basement Office”). The whole Jesus parallel has yet to be raised, but you can feel it around the corner already, and the Lady Gaga-esque Suriel who attempts to abduct/kill/rescue Mitch (it’s not quite clear what, probably intentionally) is a suitably fresh take on the appearance of angels.

It’s a clever tack to take, and establishes a corner of the DCU for him to explore, and an atmosphere of foreboding and dread that permeates the comic. Resurrection Man is an odd duck – he doesn’t suit the typical pants-on-the-outside version of superheroics, and DC seem to almost be positioning him as a Constantine-type figure (which is funny, given that they’ve only just finished dragging him back into mainstream DC continuity), what with the whole religious angle, and the hobo-chic that Mitch rocks throughout the issue (clothing seeming something of an issue when you spend a large chunk of your time being autopsied and sucked through jet engines). It is no doubt intentional that the only time he is actually referred to as “Resurrection Man”, it is treated as a title, as opposed to his actual name.

Abnett and Lanning, best known for their work revitalising Marvel’s cosmic heroes in Annihilation, write a well-constructed comic, with snappy enough dialogue, and a layering of threats and agendas that is reminiscent of pulp detective fiction (only with more exploding planes and angels being struck by lightning), and Mitch’s internal dialogue gives us plenty of insight into the grim details of his powers. Fernando Dagnino’s art works best when he’s establishing the shady, noir-ish tone, with heavy inks and interesting choices when it comes to panel construction, but he fails a little when it comes to the action sequences, which lose some of the clarity and sense of space that he had earlier in the book.

Without the name recognition of other books to draw on, Resurrection Man does a good enough job of giving readers a reason to be intrigued, and shows that the superhero genre can support a decent amount of variation when it comes to tone.
Rating: B-

Project52

Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
Reviewed by Tim

Comics, as a medium, can support all sorts of stories. From the kid-friendly antics of The Beano and The Dandy, to the sensitive slice-of-life tales produced by the likes of Adrian Tomine, to journalism and biography and every other type of fiction and non-fiction there is. That said, when I think about comics at their purest, I think of comics like Frankenstein. They have moments that I refer to as COMICS! It’s Iron Man being brought back to life by one of Thor’s lightning bolts channelled through Captain America’s shield. It’s Superman using the miniaturised Kandorians to punch a child’s cancer into remission. It’s Frankenstein being teleported into a three-inch hovering ball that houses the shrunken base of a government agency with a ridiculous acronym that is dedicated to fighting evil, to receive his orders from a Japanese schoolgirl.

If Resurrection Man is being positioned as the DCU’s new Constantine, Frankenstein is quite clearly its Hellboy. The premise of the comic is heavily indebted to Mike Mignola’s iconic hero, down to the squad of supernatural beasties there to support his adventures. Where they differ is tone. Hellboy was a salt-of-the-earth, short-tempered slob in a world of grim mysteries and dark shadows. Frankenstein is a dour, Milton-quoting gentleman in a world of mad science and pulp insanity. His team are mostly well-drawn archetypes at this point, with enough friction between them to generate one-liners and enough story hooks to suggest their backgrounds will be well explored in the future. The issue is very heavy on exposition, but manages to mix up the format in which it is introduced between captions and monologues enough to keep the pace brisk. The art by Alberto Ponticelli is sketchy in style, but feels appropriately visceral, with some nice horror moments and an appealingly chaotic splash of Frankenstein and his Creature Commandos tearing into the monsters. The character designs feel organic and stylish, and the art complements the relentless nature of the comic. As a protagonist, Frankenstein isn’t that well defined yet, but Lemire has at least given him a distinctive voice, and his relationship with his wife looks to be a defining aspect of the character and a way to explore his place in the world.

Mostly, Frankenstein sustains itself on the sense of pulpy fun that infuses every page. It’s a comic that throws everything it has at the wall in the hope that something will stick for every reader, and that’s an approach that I can’t help but admire, especially in a first issue, when capturing interest is crucial.
Rating: A

Project52


Batman & Robin #1
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason
Reviewed by Alex

There’s a lot of symmetry between Batman & Robin and Batwoman, if you’re looking for it. (Earlier creative teams picking up pretty much exactly where they left off. Man/woman in a cape & eager-but-arrogant son/cousin sidekick. Opening with a mysterious ghostly figure doing a crime. Parent troubles. Ginger Commissioner Gordon.)

But what’s most important among all that symmetry is what’s different. I’d never read Batwoman before. Batman & Robin, however, is a comic I followed for two years, from its very first issue. Those 16 issues are part of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, probably my favourite superhero story ever.

So I think it’s fair to say that I had some expectations. That there is a context when I say that this comic isn’t really that good. It opens well, with the aforementioned ghostly mystery-villain offing a Russian member of Batman Inc (Bruce Wayne’s ‘Batmans-around-the-world’ scheme), but everything else I like about it can be summed up as: phew, they’re not retconning all that Morrison Batman stuff out of existence. Dick Grayson still had a go at being Batman, Batman Inc still exists, and Brucey still seems to be the guy that travelled from prehistory to the end of time and had a resulting epiphany.

It’s not fair to judge it by those standards, I know, and especially when we’re bearing the standard for accessible, new-reader-friendly comics. But ignore that, and it’s still not a very good comic. In fact, it’s actually slightly less of a good comic. Batman and Robin both act a little off; the dialogue is very very Basil Exposition, and there’s the clumsiest appearance of a weird hooded dude yet. It isn’t the perfect mirror image of Batwoman, it’s the evil twin.
Rating: C-

Project52


Red Lanterns #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Ed Benes
Reviewed by Bret

I can honestly say that Red Lanterns was not what I was expecting. I’m new to the DC universe and some things (like Superman and Batman) I’m familiar with, but some things (Red Lanterns for instance) I don’t really know anything about. I know that Green Lanterns exist and that they have bad guys who are Yellow Lanterns, but that’s about it. Getting an understanding of who all these different Lanterns are, and what their powers might be, was the main reason I wanted to read all of the various Lantern #1s. Sadly Red Lanterns fails to not only explain who the Red Lanterns are or what their powers are, but also fails to entertain or tell any kind of a narrative at all.

The “plot”, and I use the term loosely, consists of 3 parts. Part A is a quick action sequence involving the main character, who is a red alien, and his pet cat, beating up blue space lizards. The lizards seemed to be torturing someone, so let's assume they probably deserved it… but I would like to point out that it’s never made clear as to who they actually are. The fight lasts for all of seven pages before Parts B and C begin. Part B is set on Earth and for some reason is a story about how a granddad gets killed during a mugging and about how his grandchildren deal with it. Part B pops up periodically throughout Part C and isn’t given an ending or explanation as to why it’s there. I assume Part B gets concluded or brought into the main plot in the next issue, but I’ll never know because this comic did nothing to make me want to go back.

So then onto Part C which makes up the brunt of the book, in terms of how many pages are devoted to it. Part C is the main character monologuing. Yep, just one long monologue. It consists of ten whole pages in which he complains about how he’s really angry about things that have happened in his life, but also sad now because he’s not as angry as he used to be. Which is bad because it would seem that the other Red Lanterns who he’s “created” (without so much as an explanation as to what that actually means) are not going to like him any more.

And that’s it. That’s the whole book… hmm… apart from the fact that all the members of the Red Lanterns seem to be vomiting blood. Including the Cat. But I thought I’d skip that part in the main review. So, who are the Red Lanterns? I don’t know, and now I don’t care. Well done issue 1, you’ve earned yourself an...
Rating: F- (see me after class)

Project52 square

No comments:

About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
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.