DC Comics New 52 COLLECTED Reviews – Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Suicide Squad and Stormwatch
Hm. How embarrassing – I’d assumed I’d posted this months ago.
Anyway, I intend to get back to more timely reviewing – I really want to talk about Saga, and Hawkeye, and Superior Spider-Man – but before we do, I should probably tell you guys about some more DC New 52 collections I’ve read and possibly enjoyed.
This time around, we’re going to look at some of the edgy/weird titles, and this time, I’m pretty well shocked to find two books I really really liked. Positive reviews! This will probably not be a trend.
Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against The Dark
Demon Knights manages to pull off in six issues, using many of the same ingredients, everything that Justice League failed at. It’s a team book with some recognizable characters thrown together by chance, many with conflicting motivations or attitudes, each with a particular skill set, tasked with defending against an invading horde, finding a mission and reason to stay together after the initial events.
But unlike Justice League, it does so by being exciting, good-humored, and intriguing in its teases of future developments and possible betrayals. And unlike Jim Lee’s shiny and shallow art style where poses trump storytelling, Diogenes Neves (who improves with each chapter) focuses a lot of attention on the physical acting of each character.
With an ensemble book, probably the best thing a writer can do to ensure the audience returns – more than upping the ante, though there are some great cliffhangers in here – is develop characters the audience wants to spend more time with. And this is a quirky batch – Vandal Savage’s good-times barbarian, the intriguingly lusty Etrigan, and the downright hilarious Sir Ystin among them – are a lot of things, but mostly, they’re just fun to watch. Even when they are doing terrible things, I find them more sympathetic and emotionally recognizable than any single member of the Justice League.
And when you’re enjoying watching Etrigan more than Batman, you know Justice League really is that terrible.
Essentially DC’s Hellboy/BPRD, fighting monsters of mad science, Frankenstein is a consistent good time. Even the scratchy, messy art works for it, matching the book’s general attitude (to quote Patton Oswalt), “Science: We’re all about Coulda, not Shoulda.”
One chapter is titled “Fear of a Monster Planet.” So, that pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Oddly, the character Frankenstein most resembles, in terms of attitude and bluster? Black Dynamite. It took all of one issue before I was hearing Michael Jai White as Frank’s voice.
Of course, this book has already been cancelled, but its writer, Jeff Lemire, transported Frankenstein over to the Justice League Dark book he’s taken over, so it’s not a total loss?
(Justice League Dark‘s first arc will be reviewed soon.)
Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Kicked In The Teeth
Look, Braak did the hero’s work here, pushing himself the first two terrible issues when it came out last year, but I – clearly not heeding these obvious warnings – actually read the whole collected thing.
Here is my verdict: This is an UTTERLY UNREADABLE COMIC BOOK. It is easily one of the worst things I have ever read, and we’re gonna leave it at that.
God, even the collected edition’s title, “Kicked In The Teeth.” It’s trying SO HARD to be badass and it’s just fucking pathetic.
Stormwatch, Vol. 1: The Dark Side
In trying to transplant the Stormwatch/Authority concept over from Wildstorm to DC proper, Paul Cornell goes for a pastiche. He plots out bombastic crazy threats a la Ellis’s Authority (the moon is possessed, there’s a secret mystical city hidden deep below Colorado), while peppering in the creeping paranoia of the Act II Stormwatch series, and even throws in a bit of Planetary’s “explorers of the unknown” concept near the tail end.
So it very much plays like Cornell’s idea of what an Ellis book that emerged in the DC universe might look like. Unfortunately it also plays like an iffy Ellis cover band. The dialogue’s too self-consciously edgy (people keep referring to “Bastards,” but in such a stiff and put-on way that it sounds like when your mom tries out a new slang phrase), the threats aren’t sufficiently established so that they weigh anything, and the characters are pretty vaguely drawn, relying on the audience’s previous recollection of the Authority to provide context.
(Not that they were all that deep during Ellis’s run of the book, but then they didn’t have to be – they were Justice League analogues, particularly Apollo/Superman and Midnighter/Batman. Here, they have to be distinct on their own terms.)
And then there’s Cornell’s decision to start with the team not only fully formed, but starting to crack up because of perceived bad leadership (which we don’t really get to see, other than Adam One spacing out on occasion) and team distrust (which…if you KNOW a guy’s power is to be a masterful liar, why on earth would you let him on your team? How would that even be useful when your general goal is “Stop alien threats before they get out of control”? This is never explained).
There’s a way this might work, but Cornell hasn’t found it – the first arc’s plot is too scattershot, with the moon, the secret city, recruiting Apollo and Midnighter, and the infighting jockeying for attention. This probably would’ve been an interesting second arc, once the reader was comfortable with the basic premise and the characters.
(And had an answer to the glaring question, “What the hell’s Martian Manhunter doing on this team if he’s also on the Justice League?”, the answer to which is revealed in the last issue as, “Editorial has just informed us that despite our previous claim, Geoff Johns just went ahead and said the Justice League never recruited anyone else, so…just enjoy that he’s there at all?”)
But Harry Tanner decides to betray the team in the first issue, before we know anything about him other than “His name is Harry Tanner, Eminence of Blades and he is on the moon.” And Adam One’s leadership is called into question three pages in by the Engineer before we even knew he was the leader.
In all, it’s a book that doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with itself – which might explain why Cornell was off it after his first arc (an annoyingly typical trend among DC’s current line of titles, ensuring none of them have a coherent mission statement or tone).