When talking about the two major comic book companies in the world my opinion has always been that the problem with one of them – DC to be exact – is in my opinion most of their characters just outright suck. Ot at least they do when they are compared to their distinguished competition over at Marvel. Marvel has their big guns like Captain America, Iron Man, FF, ect. but then they also have been able, through time, to create ‘New Classics’ like The Punisher, Wolverine and Deadpool*, to name but a few. All these newer characters began as veritable asides and are now top tier. I’m not saying any of these characters are fail-proof; without good writers (and sometimes even with, i.e. overbearing editorial agendas, which both comics clearly suffer from) any comic book can suck, no matter how cool the character(s). However, if you put the B-grade characters, C-grade and even A-grade from Marvel up against the same tiers at DC, I believe Marvel wins almost every time just on the potential the characters have, as well as their resident ‘coolness factor’. Marvel has names like those I listed above, what does DC have?
Okay, I admit that’s a pretty harsh list, however it is pretty much where my list of who is cool in the DCU ends. But my intention here is not to be an overbearing Marvel Zombie Asshead, so I can definitely extend beyond my own self-righteous prejudices and admit that, on a broader and more Univerally-aware platform, DC does have some more characters that work pretty well and hold a large fan base in sway. Supes, WW, Ryan Reynolds – most of the JLA folk do it pretty well. But from there we get what? Booster Gold? Hawkman? One million derivatives of those aforementioned JLA’ers. HA! (NOTE: in case it’s not clear yet, I am specifically leaving Vertigo out of this. I dig Vertigo)
So after trailing Marvel for years in the cool factor (How do you spin Cyborg off into a movie? Answer – you don’t!) approximately six months ago DC comics did something very bold indeed – a soft reboot of their entire Universe.
Now what the hell is a soft reboot? Well, I’m not entirely sure of all of the specifics of the ‘New 52’ the same way I’m not entirely sure of the old continuity – I’ve never cared that much. I go to Marvel – sometimes – for continuity and am simply impressed with DC when they hire people to tell good stories and make me eat my words about their characters. And I have to say, aspects of the ‘The New 52’ have indeed done just that.
To me this is the comic book equivalent of eating meat – to quote the great Jean Renault, I like a good steak but I don’t want to know how it got on my plate, meaning the closer you look at the details of the things you enjoy the less you may find yourself enjoying them. Thus far I’m staying pretty far outta the main foray of titles and sticking to some of the fringe books and writers and how they actually do seem to be reinvigorating a tired cosmos overladen with baggage. It’s making me kind of want to check out titles like Red Lanterns and JLA but a man can only have so much superhero every month, so that probably won’t happen.
Sooo, what titles, specifically, am I enjoying?
Justice League Dark – While I initially cringed at the idea of John Constantine, Shade the Changing Man and a host of other classic Vertigo characters being brought into a Justice League franchise I really must say this is working for me. It seems to me that what DC is doing is carving out a little niche of their main Universe as a home to that classic, dark-magic theme that Vertigo originally housed when their adult-oriented imprint was home to titles such as Sandman**, Books of Magic and Swamp Thing. For the last ten or so years Vertigo has become more of an HBO/AMC-drama type venue, leaving a lot of these characters homeless. Now they’re being used to add a new, darker lining to this rebooted Universe and it’s really working. But that’s writer Peter Milligan for you.
Swamp Thing – Speaking of ol’ Swampy this title is really, really good. Five issues in and I’m not going to put it up against Alan Moore’s run or anything, but the always awesome Scott Snyder*** has found a way to take Alec Holland’s previous continuity and re-start it in a way that pays homage to the title’s previous creative icons and yet still offers something new. Something that is at times, quite chilling. And again, it’s a Vertigo character re-inserted into the regular DCU, mapping a special avenue of darkness through the fringes of the new Universe, something that could really pay off down the road, especially as it apparently ties into Animal Man, which my good friend and comic dealer Mike has told me repeatedly to read. Mike, if you’re reading this, sorry I didn’t just take your word on it – go ahead and put me down for Animal Man.
Demon Knights – Another interesting thing DC is doing with this new Universe is telling multiple timelines of its history concurrently. For example, Madame Xanadu – another Vertigo transplant – is one of the characters in Justice League Dark, set present time, but she is also one of the characters in Demon Knights, set back in medieval times. So far this hasn’t exactly been a team-by-design book so much as an ‘Oh shit, we’re all trapped under the same circumstances and it’s lucrative for us to work together’ situation. Castles and dragons, which is usually a pass for me, but factor in Knight and Squire’s Paul Cornell as the writer and a strange backwards/forwards time undercurrent and I’m pretty interested to see where exactly this is going and how it is going to tie into some of the stuff in the present.
Action Comics – Two words for ya: Grant. Morrison. He is the only thing that can get me to read my most hated of all superhero characters and he always blows me away when he does write him. So far, this is no different. Takes place five years before the books set in the present and is kind of a throw back to the character how he appeared in his original incarnation.
What titles have I read that I didn’t like?
Frankenstein, agent of S.H.A.D.E. – DC wanted a Hellboy-like title and from what I can see that’s exactly what they’ve gotten. Too bad, Morrison’s revamp of this character during Seven Soldiers of Victory was pretty interesting, and to waste it on copying a pre-existing title from another company is a shame.
Aquaman – Yes, I know it is ironic and even slightly amusing to see Aquaman first order a fish and chips dinner and then act baffled by a bystander’s assumption that he talked to fish instead of simply controlling them, but if you haven’t heard, irony is a dead scene and Aquaman sucks. I get why people dig Geoff John’s neo-classical, silver age approach, but I personally do not like comics that try and balance the naivete of the 50’s with the tech of today.
Hawk and Dove – okay, I didn’t actually read this but I still feel the need to talk youngblood-varnished smack. Two words: Rob. Liefeld. If those two words don’t convince you, here’s two more. Hawk. Dove.
* I don’t get it, but analytics say different. This guy could have his own late night talk show if he wanted. I remember when he was introduced as a mouthy, spider-man like assassin. I liked him – in the background. Headlining seems absurd to me, but what the hell do I know?
** And there is precedent here, as Morrison’s run on JLA back in the late 90’s saw him pull Daniel, the then new Dream King, into the DCU.
*** Scott’s Severed miniseries is THE SHIT