The New 52 Review Revue: Week Four, Part One

The final week of new #1 issues from DC Comics's New 52 initiative has come and gone, and it's probably the weakest week of the run yet, but it wasn't without a few spectacular bright spots--even if one of them is a buck extra. From a Batman that feels a little too familiar to a Jonah Hex book that's not quite the way fans remember it, there's a fair amount to be said about the final 13 issues, starting--now.

All-Star Western #1 - *****

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; art by Moritat

Those looking for a simple extension of Palmiotti and Gray's Jonah Hex work may be disappointed here, but probably only for a minute. It isn't the same title, and it seems unlikely to be one-and-done stories for the time being, at least.

What we have here is a kind of strange police procedural set in the Old West, except since the main characters are a bounty hunter and a psychiatrist (before there was any real proper term for it), I guess it's more like Psych, Bones or Castle where at least one of the main characters isn't actually a cop.

Many of the scenes, if you were to remove the names from them, read like a Batman comic. This doesn't feel as cookie-cutter as it might, though, and instead builds a kind of strange timeline for Gotham City, suggesting that the city has always had someone like Batman looking out for it.

The title is also interesting; it certainly earns its T+ rating, but does so in a way that's more tasteful and less insane than many of the T-for-teen stories we've seen out of, for example, the Green Lantern family of titles which have featured disembowelment at least twice this month.

Honestly, part of the understated feel of the gore here might simply be Moritat's style—but whatever it is, it's both more effective and less shocking here than it has been in some of the other titles, and the violence—just like the cheesecake and the fight sequences and just about everything else about this terrific new title.

Aquaman #1 - ****

Written by Geoff Johns; art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

Geoff Johns had a full-court press of media engagements this week trying to convince anyone who would listen that his new title would teach all his doubters that not only CAN Aquaman be cool, but he actually has been all along and that it's the fans who weren't paying attention. This is the kind of argument that's used frequently for characters like Aquaman, Hawkman and Captain Marvel, and it's not often effective. That said, when Johns talks about Aquaman—both in and out of the title—it feels like he's talking about Booster Gold all over again. Disrespected, underrated, taken for a fool—sound familiar? And Johns's run on Booster Gold (followed by current Justice League International writer Dan Jurgens's subsequent run) was some of the best comics of the last few years.

The book bolsters his argument, but sometimes feel like it's trying too hard to do so. The anonymous blogger whose quote was used to promote the comic gets to Arthur a little bit too much, and when he storms off without his lunch it feels a bit like Tony Stark having his face spit on in Stamford. Does an A-list superhero really allow himself to be so rattled by someone who's clearly just trying to be a jerk? It seems sophomoric. Maybe that's alright, given that we have an Aquaman here who's younger, less experienced and just now really finding his way in life—but it feels wrong somehow.

That said, Johns is the master of the quiet, emotional moment. Aquaman might storm off after his encounter with the blogger, but what he does next is magnanimous, unexpected and perfect for the character—both who he has been and who we want him to be.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 - ***

Written by David Finch; art by David Finch and Richard Friend

Another week, another Batman comic that starts with the Dark Knight rappelling through Gotham while Bruce Wayne delivers a speech that's relating his experiences as Batman to his experiences as Gotham's favorite son. It's a device that was clever before, but now just seems predictable and tired, especially when there's a very similar device being used in Superman #1 this week.

I'm actually a fan of Finch's art, not as skeptical of it (or of Tony Daniel's, for that matter) as many fans here, but it seems to toggle back and forth between exceptional and barely passable, with the former mostly being the superhero/action sequences and the latter largely centering around when he tries to draw “regular” people.

This isn't a bad book, but there's just not enough here yet to differentiate it from the other three monthly Batman titles, which each seem to have done a better job than this one of making themselves unique. And as for the "twist" at the end? Well, it's exactly the kind of thing that's intended to get the hardcore fans' attention but instead it just comes off as silly.

But, what do I know about fan response? I said the same thing about the rainbow lantern corps. More on them later.

Blackhawks #1 - ****1/2

Written by Mike Costa; art by Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley

In spite of the controversy surrounding this book's ever-revolving art team, the first issue looked good with breakdowns by Graham Nolan and finishes by Ken Lashley. It was also a terrific read—no superheroes in sight, but fighter aces (how long until we get a crossover with Hal Jordan?) and a solid backstory involving genetically-enhanced superbaddies pretty much sets the team up for what promises to be a solid little action movie of a comic book.

The big cliffhanger at the end? Well, it's pretty predictable but it's the thing that takes the title from one-off fight-of-the-week action stories to a serial. And the scene that it's delivered in is notable for being one of the only sex scenes in the whole of the New 52 where nobody complained about retcons, character changes or the lingering spectre of those gendercrunching stories.

Also notable is the ground-up reconstruction of Lady Blackhawk, who of course is the only one of the original Blackhawks to have any kind of fan following, after her recent appearances in Birds of Prey, JSA and Manhunter. It's pretty impressive they managed to retool her completely without facing any kind of serious blowback.

The Flash #1 - ***1/2

Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato; art by Francis Manapul

Following on the heels of a run by Geoff Johns that ended with Flashpoint and the complete reinvention of the DC Universe, this title seems poised to be a disappointment to many fans--and it will be, for some.

Barry Allen, after all, is still a fairly dull character. The fact that he's no longer married to Iris and has finally worked up the courage to ask out some hot blonde from work doesn't magically fix that. And the fact that his timely disappearance to become The Flash when a villain attacks immediately raises the question "Where did that coward go?" instead of "Why did he show back up the instant Flash left?" shows you the kind of Silver Age feel they're trying to set up with here. That said, the whole sequence was a bit reminiscent of the gala that Barry saved in The New Frontier, and any association that you can draw in the reader's head to a story that good is probably a feather in your cap. The art is not only great, but the style matches up nicely with the character and Manapul's experimentation with panel structure and visual storytelling helps seal the deal.

It's a good thing that it's a technical fantastic book, though; missing "my" Flash (Wally West), the opening line of "I'm Barry Allen...the fastest man in the world" is a little bittersweet.

The Fury of Firestorm #1 - *

Written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone; art by Yildiray Cinar

I like Ethan Van Sciver as much as the next guy, but this title is not just the low point of the week, but possibly the worst book of the relaunch as far as I'm concerned. With one-dimensional characters who walk and talk like something out of a bad '80s high school movie and point-of-view characters who are nearly impossible to find sympathetic, the book takes a character who's harder to love than Aquaman is and doesn't handle it with nearly as much care.

As an artist, Van Sciver's name will sell a book. As a writer, he's an unknown quantity. Still, that only really explains the hokey dialogue if he were the scripter, a duty that's credited to Gail Simone (she and Van Sciver are credited as co-plotters). While I've never really fallen in with the Church of Gail, a vast group of fans who consider her one of the top talents in comics, I do see her a strong writer with a good grasp on most of DC's characters and to see such a profoundly disappointing comic come out of her is a bit disappointing. Her Batgirl didn't exactly set the world on fire, but it was a strong book with a sense of itself. This one, though, seems like it should be the first issue of a six-issue miniseries that struggles just to establish these characters.

As a first issue, this one fails because it feels too muddled and inconclusive to provide any sense of closure or even context for new readers. As a relaunch, it seems like it tries to do too much work in too few pages and ultimately comes out the other end weaker for the effort. Firestorm is a character who should be awesome, should be powerful, and should be a top-tier property for DC and Warner. It's been years--decades, really--since anyone treated it that way and this doesn't seem a likely jumping-off point for great success.