Monday, July 30, 2012

Mainstream Reviews for Recent DC Releases


Not sure if Meta or simply well-played nose-thumbing.

Here we have a dilemma.  There are poignant ways to go about the process of homage, and it's a rare and delicate thing that DC Staffers or Corporate Masters have in mind for the controversial Before Watchmen series.  True, characters and plot-points in Watchmen were themselves derivative from previously created characters, and thus beholden to similar strictures of critique, but that is not to say that they are beholden to the exact same strictures as this series, indicative as it is of a more common malaise in this day and age: prequelitis.  

It's a polarizing issue.  On one hand, it seems like DC is cashing in, and some fearful pundits point to the injustice of Moore's (if not Gibbons) legacy being besmirched by inferior product. Another argument goes something like: "If the creator or creators of the project don't like it, they should look to how bad their predecessors had it. Besides, DC owns the characters, they can do as they like."  On yet another hand, there is admittedly rich territory to mine in the mythos that Moore laid out, perfect and self-contained as it is.  

This series was inevitable, however dubious it seems.  

I recently passed a copy of the graphic novel Watchmen to someone that had never read it before.  Our conversations concerning plot and character were in depth and appreciative of the aesthetics inherent in the comic's structure.  It's still a classic and deserves a classic's respect.  It's interesting to note that Alan Moore's manner of approach was then and in many ways still is a righteous example of the medium's potential unleashed. Pacing, segue, and breathtaking detail combine to create effects no camera could hope to capture, and no future savant could properly match.  This new reader asked about the movie, and then I told him about the Before Watchmen project, as magnanimously as possible. He then made the next logical cognitive leap and likened the project to Lucasfilm's dreadful prequel trilogy.  To an extent, he has a point, but the qualifier from the project, ambitious as it is, is this.  Each of the series are self-aware to a fault, and their style is distinct to each creator.  

The talent called out for these projects is solid.  The characters are familiar enough to the legions of fanboys turned pro calling the shots that a justifiable love becomes apparent, even if it can't match the stark intensity that Moore's project possessed.  There is plenty more to be said, but for the sake of some sense of brevity and in the interests of keeping from straying into either malignant critique or sycophantic praise, I'll give that the best example of the potential for the various series (thus far) is Before Watchmen: Minutemen, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.  Cooke's style is best suited for this particular trip back in history, with DC: New Frontier preparing him quite well for bygone idealism gone sour.   


Justice League of America, still in-fighting after years of teamwork and struggle. I'm falling asleep now.

Tedious splash pages and uncharacteristic actions lend a hot-headed spin for the whole team in Justice League of America (JLA).  The more I read JLA the more distant I feel from the characters I had become accustomed to for so many years, and more frustrated with their less charming simulacra.  My first true JLA experience was the first issue of Grant Morrison's supremely refined run, which took in all running plotlines at DC whole cloth and spun a series that lasted through multiple cosmic crises, without missing a beat on who these characters are.

More than archetypes or stereotypes, the heroes of this particular group need to personify the super aspects of their superhumanity, with their years of experience backing up their every action, while embodying the human side in as elegantly as possible.  Stories with the universe's big guns need to reach far and they need to matter.  Instead, the plots plod along with no sense of potential as a crew of people that still don't seem to know each other at all simply deal with and react to matters that possess no sense of history or weight.  There's no drawing out of tension in the story, feeling like an overproduced jog through styles.  It often seems an excuse to needlessly splash-page, and smacks of Jim Lee's influence far more than the minutiae macro-scripting usually provided by Geoff Johns.  The first part of the series involved an invasion from Apokalips that occurred "Five Years Ago"... but what's actually happened in the time between then and now? Blackest Night? Brightest Day? Final Crisis, certainly not. Final Night? Zero Hour, perhaps, but Crisis on Infinite Worlds? Has Superman died? Did anyone even care? Who knows? I understand the draw to "here and now" the New 52 seems dead-set on, but what's happened in the past five years in the New DC Universe?

It seems the new reader gets less bang but more importantly the years-long loyal fan hasn't got much to go on, either. The entire team bickers and plays out their roles like rusty parodies of themselves.  There seems to be no breathing room for personalities in the larger-than-life splashpage world, so each character degenerates into their roles as near-stereotypes fused with near-archetypes.  Flash seems overly timid, while Green Lantern seems little more than a jock with a ring, whereas Superman is more like a quiet boy-powerhouse than a force of nature, and Wonder Woman is an unapproachable too-foreign hothead.  Batman? Oh, he just slinks around commenting on what useless twats he's working with, not much use or insight.  Cyborg practically runs the show in terms of being a linchpin of the team's dynamic, their teleporter, their go-to guy, but even that feels forced.  Perhaps Geoff Johns (and even a fan or two) remembers that the real linchpin of the team was and always will be the Martian Manhunter (we get only a brief glimpse of the one time the JLA attempted to recruit him, a two page firefight, but maybe since he's recently ditched Stormwatch he may yet show up again).

Recent arcs are general and truncated awkwardly. There's a "new" villain with a vendetta against the team, but the vendetta is vague and silly, his powers emotionally manipulating but ultimately empty, because the punch they're supposed to pack relies on content that no reader of this series actually has (yet, I know, yet).  This is the fundamental flaw and underpinning critique I have for the series (at this time).  Perhaps one sticks with this series in part out of a pouty nostalgia and partly in vain hope that the comic might accomplish a difficult task: feeling something for these newly-minted replicas of characters that knew and understood one another in a discarded universe and have had years, decades, almost a century of history together, up in a puff of comic fluff.  Perhaps what I want out of this series will take years to get to, or perhaps in the attempt to please everyone punches are pulled by editorial restrictions.  Johns is a long-haul writer and a capable scribe, so perhaps forthcoming events will shape/round out the missing back-stories, or maybe, just maybe, issue zero won't seem like filler.


It's all a conspiracy. No, really. Kinda. Mostly.

Complex, quirky, and variable, we have a comic here in many ways like a strange gem with a spirit of Bosch inhabiting it. Dial H is one of the more fascinating new series to emerge from DC's stables.  When a fat chain-smoking schlub named Nelson Jent uses an alleyway pay phone to get help for his friend (who fell in with a real bad crowd), he accidentally dials up powers from a vast array of quirky characters.  Bitten by a radioactive concept originating from the 60's wash of surreal characters (the original Dial H for H.E.R.O), the series has a bent to it that reminds one of Morrison's old Doom Patrol run, while simultaneously owning the bits of backstory that new readers and even some old readers are likely ignorant of.  The story by China Mi√©ville explores a ground-level classic format, that unfolds like Japanese origami to reveal layers quite unexpected.  The protagonist, Nelson, plays out a perfect down-on-their-luck fool, and we root for him against all opposition, which itself truncates and expands and gains texture as the story plays itself out, in simple and complex strokes.  The art by Mateus Santolouco is a perfect compliment to the progress of the plot, intriguing and complex enough to revisit again and again.  Each character presented is so weirdly bent and surreal you have a giddy expectation of the next transformation. A fun read, and self-aware enough to pull off what seems at first blush to be silly and atonal in nature.

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