The New 52 Review Revue: Week Three, Part One

This was an interesting week. As I pointed out yesterday, there were an awful lot of female leads and female team members in this week's titles, and it still managed to be the week that most upset a bunch of people about gender roles in the relaunch. Similarly, it had a pretty high number of books I didn't imagine myself to have much (if any) interest in, and a few that I really, really thought I would like.

And I was wrong about almost all of them.

Batman #1 - *****

Written by Scott Snyder; art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

Alright, so this is one of the four that sounds the most impressive--Action Comics, Detective Comics, Batman and Superman all get new #1s for the first time in decades as a result of the New 52 relaunch and, so far, the results have been pretty good. One of the best titles of the week, Batman headlined a generally strong week of comics across the board and should have, by all rights, been the book everybody was talking about.

This book, like all of the Batman titles, is pretty much more of the same except that the same guy isn't in the Batman costume was was a few months ago. With Bruce returned, they pretty quickly make it clear that Dick will continue to be part of the title for the foreseeable future. It's a back-to-basics approach to Batman that seems simple, smart and sparse in a way that I can't remember Batman being since Bruce returned to the cowl after the events of KnightsEnd and Prodigal.

Alfred Pennyworth is here in what appears to be his restored physical form in the issue, too, putting aside any of the questions raised by the lack of a physical Alfred in Detective Comics #1. So everyone who was worried about that can exhale now.

Birds of Prey #1 - ***1/2

Written by Duane Swierczynski; art by Jesus Saiz

With Birds of Prey being written by somebody other than Gail Simone, the pressure is on new writer Duane Swierczynski to get a quick and firm handle on the characters, winning over the folks who had just recently been so excited when Simone returned to the title with its relaunch after she left Wonder Woman.

Probably, then, it's a surprise to most readers that Dinah Lance is single and wanted for a murder she didn't commit, and the second lead in this issue is Starling, a new character created for this iteration of the team. Other than the presence of Dinah and a brief cameo by (a now-walking) Barbara Gordon, this version of the team has almost nothing to do with its previous incarnation. That said, it's a smart take on the characters with strong characterization. Its divorce from the past Birds of Prey helps to establish a version of Dinah who isn't joined at the hip with Oliver Queen, and a version of the team that is easy for new readers to jump onto. And Jesus Saiz's art is characteristically fantastic; like his run on Manhunter, the Birds each have their own look and shape; they don't have the typical gargantuan breasts and 12-inch waist of most superheroines.

That said, it would be nice if one of the superhero team books DC put out would have all of the members on the team at the end of this month (I exaggerate, of course--Justice League International has its act together--but you get the point).

Blue Beetle #1 - *****

Written by Tony Bedard; art by Ig Guara and Ruy Jose

In spite of the fact that we know stories like Infinite Crisis happened, apparently they didn't happen just the way we remember them.

Instead of being introduced to the basics of his scarab by Booster Gold and Batman, Jaime Reyes has just been merged to the scarab here. There are other similarities, too; his relationship with his parents is a bit more strained and he's a bit more of a typical teenager here than he was before. That said, it synchs up remarkably with the Smallville version of his origin; the Scarab is known as an entity but there doesn't appear to have been any previous earthbound Blue Beetles. The scarab ends up in a backpack and merges itself to Jaime through that.

The bottom line is, Jaime is one of DC's most well-known and marketable minority characters and this series is setting him up to be as completely accessible to a new audience as possible. It succeeds there, as well as in re-establishing his terrific supporting cast from the "old" DC Universe as much as you can while still having to roll Jaime's superhero origin and the mythology of The Reach into the issue.

Captain Atom #1 - ***1/2

Written by J.T. Krul; art by Freddie Williams II

The ongoing adventures of Dr. Manhattan start here!

That's not cynicism; it's just calling a spade a spade. Dr. Manhattan is the most fascinating and appealing take on the Captain Atom character we've seen since DC obtained the property from Charlton. The whole Monarch fiasco is now behind us and we get to focus on Captain Atom the way we recognize him from Generation Lost: As an incredibly powerful metahuman with a complicated and conflicted relationship to the government that "made" him and a crazy amount of power making him question his physical and spiritual humanity.

Like Krul's Green Arrow, though, the premise itself is better than the first issue. The art of Freddie Williams II is terrific, although it's interesting to note that in spite of a series of denials at various levels by DC of my initial joke ("This isn't Doctor Manhattan," they've said time and time again), the long-silver hero glows blue with the energy he's processing for pretty much the entire book. He doesn't have exposed toes or genitalia, but other than that we get a lead character who could be a part of Watchmen: Year One.

There's nothing wrong with that...as long as Krul can find a way to live up to that promsie.

Catwoman #1 - ***

Written by Judd Winick; art by Guillem March

This is one of those books that everyone has an opinion about, including the people who haven't actually read a copy.

Ultimately, though, it's what I expected, more or less, from a Judd Winick take on Catwoman, and from the DCnU version of the character, to boot. Of course there will be sexual tension and a possible relationship with Batman; it's one of those things the average non-comics-reader knows about her, and in many ways it defines the character to a mainstream audience more than anything we've all learned about her from reading real-live comic books over the years. And if Superman and Wonder Woman are going to have a tryst early in the run, of course Batman and Catwoman are going to do it, too.

Selina here is not really in control the way I'd like her to be, though; her life is spinning out of control for the first 15 pages and the one thing she's able to take control of is her relationship with Batman. It's an interesting perspective, since in all of DC, I don't think there's a person who controls the nature of his relationships more than Batman, but with Catwoman, a character who can't seem to get anything else right in life, she's able to say "Every time, he protests...then gives in." When you really analyze that, it says something about the character that almost negates the awkward silliness of a five-page softcore porn-style sex scene at the end of it.

March's art is fantastic, likely to bring in a lot of readers and bring some of them back--the question is whether, long-term, Winick can make the character compelling. He's off to a rocky, but promising, start.

DC Universe Presents #1 - ***

Written by Paul Jenkins; art by Bernard Chang

Deadman is the star of the opening arc of this promising anthology title, and it's an odd choice. While at least some of the events of Brightest Day have happened to the character in Hawk & Dove, where he's in a relationship with Dawn Granger, here we meet up with a version of Deadman that's more emotionally compromised, less satisfied with his task, and essentially starting at square one. It may, of course, be a flashback story but at the end of the day they could have done without that little bit of confusion.

There's a lot of talking here, and ultimately not a ton happens until a provocative final page that certainly invites readers back for more. I certainly will be.

Still, I can't help but feel like given the spotty track record of anthology titles since the Crisis on Infinite Earths, they might have done better to start with a different opening arc--maybe a character that has mainstream awareness and where there's a little more action.