This has been a rather herculean effort, reading and reviewing all of these comics. Since this final batch is a touch late, excuse us if we don't spend a whole lot of time on each individual issue.
That said, the whole line is in a much different place than it was a year ago. Even with some truly awful books out there, it's easy to argue that DC is in a stronger place, post-New 52, than they were before. The real question, though, becomes whether that's a quality issue or whether it's just a matter of reducing the strain that decades of continuity puts on books and making things more accessible to a wider audience.
Many readers had an opportunity to try out books that they ordinarily would have hesitated to buy, because of impenetrable backstories. It seems as though many of those readers have jumped back off, but even so the launch of the New 52 (and each subsequent new "wave" of titles) have made for great jumping-on points.
All-Star Western #0
Jonah Hex gets the Superman treatment here, with a #0 issue and "origin story" that goes back to when he was a newborn and his father was fighting for him.
The sweeping scope of it makes this story feel a bit like Little Big Man. It's an interesting device, particularly coming from a creative team whose Jonah stories have largely been pretty intimate in scale over the last several years. This is a hard book to do "right" with a zero issue because not much changed about him other than his presence in Gotham, and we saw how that unfolded at the start of the series.
This is routinely one of DC's best books, showcasing the upside of genre diversity and showing other creative teams with bigger stages how it's done. This month is no different, although it feels a bit more subdued and artsy than usual.
A good Aquaman book is widely believed to be such a rarity that a good, high-profile Aquaman book has been treated like it's one of the best things DC is publishing. For the better part of the year, that frankly hasn't been so. It's been a good, solid book but nothing as spectacular as Batwoman or Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
The zero issue, though, is a terrific, character-driven book in the way that Geoff Johns is capable of doing but so rarely has the opportunity to do since his books are always expected to be driving the next big event. There's certainly some of that in here, but most of the story is just about Arthur as a man--and the art and colors--less polished and more earthen in their execution--work beautifully with it.
I love seeing something that reminds me of the bat-robots from Kingdom Come in this title. I would, however, still rather have it be non-canonical. It simply doesn't fit with the world established for the New 52 and frankly the sensibility of Morrison's Batman comics, especially with the art here, seems to have drifted into the very indie-style arty books, like The Invisibles and Happy!, that he seems most comfortable with if push comes to shove. There's nothing wrong with doing one of those books featuring Batman, but it doesn't fit with the way the rest of his books feel.
Batman: The Dark Knight #0
It's really hard not to like this title--Hurwitz is a talented writer with an ear for dialog and an eye for characterization, whose novels often get a little dense and wobbly around the middle. That seems to set him up as a perfect comics writer, as the monthly format means that he's restricted, plotwise, by the demands of the medium.
That said, while there are some genuinely great character moments in here and this issue does more to establish Bruce Wayne as a three-dimensional personality than almost any single issue of Batman I can remember, it's simply not all that satisfying taken as a whole. The big blocks of exposition boxes simply take a little bit of the wind out of the story's sails, leaving the book with a pace that seems too slow for its own good.
That's not unique to this comic, or to Hurwitz, either. That's something that happened a lot throughout the zero month, doing some collateral damage to some of the best issues. It almost feels as though certain issues were waiting on editorial clearance for some of what they wanted to do and had to simply letter it at the last possible minute after the script got approved.
The Flash #0
Absolutely beautiful art.
But do we really need yet another issue where we waste precious page count on a backstory for the stupid bow tie? How many people are reading this who didn't already pick up Flash: Rebirth?
(Also, yes, I'm annoyed that they used Mark Waid's old Wally intro.)
The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men #0
This is a book that's had a long, rough road and that will be headed in a very different direction following this issue.
So how did this issue, the wrap-up not only to the series' first year but arguably to the whole storyline as kicked off by Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver last year, play out?
Quite well, actually. Joe Harris does an admirable job of playing up the differences between the characters in a way that's more organic and believable than the superstars who preceded him did in the first few issues (before everything got all Firestorm Corps-y and individual character stopped being a concern). As the powers start to manifest themselves after an absence, it's Jason Rausch (with nothing particularly going for him) who is ready to embrace Firestorm again, while Ronnie Raymond--a popular jock with "better things to do"--isn't. It's simple, elegant and far less likely to offend someone or to come off as ham-fisted than the race stuff introduced in #1.
The issue effectively sets up the next stage in Firestorm's evolution, including giving us a compelling reason why the two guys who just spent a year fighting bad guys together might not be quite so happy to be back in each others's skin, so to speak.
I, Vampire #0
Generally, I'm a fan of both I, Vampire (one of the most under-appreciated titles on the racks right now) and of quiet, character-driven issues--but something about this one just didn't work. The muddy quality of the art, which usually serves the eerie feel of the book pretty nicely, was literally washed out by the rain that was going on nonstop in the background and left the whole thing with a kind of unresolved feeling.
Justice League Dark #0
It's hard to shake the feeling that Nick here was intentionally being drawn to resemble the Keanu Reeves version of Constantine, isn't it?
In any case, the young Constantine faces off against The Cold Flame, which odds have to be pretty good will play a major role in the Justice League Dark's next adventure since their name is dropped roughly two hundred times during the issue. It's an enjoyable read--a compelling story that doesn't tell us much of any interest or value that we didn't already know...but it feels somewhat unnecessary. John Constantine is one of those characters whose younger and more vulnerable days may be best left to the imagination.
That said, the art was great. It's worth reading just for the pretty pictures, and even if it feels a bit like excess baggage, the worst Jeff Lemire story is still better than most of what's on the shelves any given week.
Red Lanterns #0
How is this book still in print? Is Geoff Johns's Green Lantern really that powerful, that it can keep both this and Green Lantern: New Guardians, two books about which nobody is talking, afloat?
Of course, that's a question not specific to the zero issue but rather more a question that could be aimed at DC editorial and/or the readership who are apparently buying four Green Lantern titles a month. The never-ending series of GL events surely can't hurt, as the four titles end up tied into one another.
Yes, yes, we get it. There's blood and violence and anger. Next.
The Savage Hawkman #0
For a man on his way out, Rob Liefeld sure wrote a LOT with this issue. It's not a classic of American letters or anything, but this issue is dense, entertaining and informative--and Joe Bennett is in rare form, dishing out an issue's worth of surrealistic, Kirby-style, sci-fi-infused superheroics.
As a member of a generation that grew up reading Superman post-Crisis, it's only fair to mention that I prefer the Last Son of Krypton when he's actually...well...the last of something. The increasing frequency with which DC and their Super-writers have been going back to Krypton--literally and metaphorically--in their stories since 1999 has been a continued source of exasperation, particularly since most of them were frankly not very good.
Open-minded readers, after all, can be won over by a good story.
And Kenneth Rocafort's art in this issue is just plain stunning. Plus--bonus!--we get to see a version of the black-and-silver "rebirth" suit from the Reign of the Supermen. None of that is enough to overcome a lifeless rehash of Superman's origin story that casts Morgan Freeman as a Kryptonian politician and Jor-El as a poor man's version of Reed Richards from Mark Waid's Fantastic Four run.
This is not the worst of the zero issues, not by far--it's perfectly readable if you're into that kind of thing. It is, however, the worst jumping-on point imaginable for new readers, which is what the publishers always claim these big "event" months are meant to be for.
This book had to be great.
A new character, spinning out of a big event but without the benefit of keeping the creative team that made that event work? Check.
A really, really '90s-looking full-page ad in other DC books this month? Check.
It's a recipe for fans to hate the book, not having even given it a chance.
James Tynion IV, though, carries the day and Guillem March--whose work is just gorgeous here and usually is, in spite of a few well-documented flaws--elevates an already-strong script with his beautiful work.
It's a stylish book that will be accused, of course, of imitating Azrael. But even though the two have a bunch of similarities, Tynion and March make it their own, and the whole thing feels frankly less like a name-brand superhero title and more like something independent. Particularly the art, which seems more reminiscent of Rasl than Batman.
Teen Titans #0
Not a great issue, not a bad one--which is basically how this fairly unremarkable title has gone. That said, we needed an entire issue dedicated to justifying Lobdell's Red Robin retcon about as much as we needed to spend time on Barry Allen's bow tie.
This is the book that arguably never had a chance out of the gate. It's surprising, frankly, that it wasn't one of the first books cancelled but it seems as though in the early going, DC was eager to try and shift the blame for the book's failure onto the creative team, staff back up and kick it back out.
But since none of the WildStorm-related books are exactly setting the world on fire, it's no real surprise that this is the finale for Voodoo; after an arc in Grifter, she'll likely be folded into StormWatch or Team 7 or just fade into the background until DC figures out what to do with WildC.A.T.S.
In any event, the zero issue provided some nice closure for the character--presumably that's easier to do on a title like this, where the cancellation likely didn't take anyone by surprise and so it's been building for a while. Still, it sets up some pretty serious questions and sets the stage for them to be answered--or not--in Grifter.