Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Point of Diminishing Returns: The DC Reboot, Week Three

Aaaannd we're back! Two posts in one night, bringing us up to date on the DC Reboot with a look at the funnybooks of Week Three, which came out just yesterday. That's ground-breaking speed for this blog, my friends, but I'm afraid it's come about as a result of some diminishing returns for the Reboot. In Week One, I bought five titles in all, three of which I'll be checking out again next month. In Week Two, I bought four, but only one of them will be getting a second look. And this week... Well... After getting burned so hard last time out... I only bought two comics.

Some of that is because this week didn't bring me many new talents to try out, or any indie comics faves graduating to books they can actually make money doing. No, Week Three seems to be all about Known Quantities. Writers and artists I already know I don't like, whose books I feel pretty safe skipping without fear that I'll be missing anything worth my time and money. Which doesn't explain why I bought this first book...

Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

I'm not a big fan of Brian Azzarello. I don't think he's a bad writer, really. He's just maybe one that doesn't appeal to me. He often has really intriguing ideas, but I usually walk away from his work feeling like I've seen the same things done better elsewhere. And that bothers me.

But his Wonder Woman, I'm incredibly pleased to say, does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, other than Grant Morrison's Action Comics, it's the Reboot book I've enjoyed the most thus far. It's a fresh new start for a character desperately in need of one, and you can see the facelift in action just from artist Cliff Chiang's cover alone:


click to embiggen ... or you just might piss her off!

That's nice work. An action shot that goes a long way toward getting across the tone of what's inside. The rain of arrows, the bloody sword, the sun setting behind dying trees... Yeah. That looks like something I wanna read. Even the new logo, with its boldly modern design and "weathered" finish, fairly screams at you that this is going to be something new.

And it is. Azzarello says that it's as much a horror comic as a super hero comic, and that's worked out well for him in this first issue. Taking the horror approach imbues his villains with a sense of weird menace they might not have had otherwise, and simultaneously makes Wonder Woman's harsher fighting style seem less shocking. For instance, once you've seen a couple of centaur bad guys get born like this:

click to embiggen

It doesn't seem like such an extreme reaction to do this to them a few pages later:

click to embiggen

That's all artwork courtesy Cliff Chiang, an interesting funnybook stylist who in recent years hasn't done nearly enough interior art to suit my taste. He's got the kind of sure hand and imagination to really make Azzarello's ideas sing, and he's got some of them doing arias in this first issue. The plot involves the Greek gods getting wrapped up in human affairs, and Chiang's delivered on some really fascinating, really alien, designs for them. His Hermes has surprising avian qualities that work better than they should, but it's his idea for Apollo that I like the best: he bursts into flame at dawn, but at night, the sun god's skin is jet black.

The issue isn't perfect, of course. Azzarello opens on a conversation between Apollo and a trio of Oracles, but once he's introduced us to them, he abandons them, only to have their conversation start up as a running narrative, without setup or explanation, 12 pages later. And when those 12 pages involve bloody centaur live birth and the introduction of Wonder Woman herself into the story... It's easy to forget where you started, and who these people suddenly talking over the fight scene even are. I settled into the groove fairly quickly, mind you, but that initial moment of confusion was unnecessarily distracting.

Overall, though, this is strong work deserving of a wide audience. I'll definitely be back for more next month, anyway...

Grade: A-

Supergirl #1
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Dan Green

Much to my surprise, I liked this book. Granted, I'm all down with the idea of Supergirl as a juvenile delinquent. But this one had a big question mark by it for me. Much as I'm amused by the premise, it's written by two TV writers who've never worked on a show I liked, and I'd heard rumblings that superstar-artist-in-the-making Mahmud Asrar maybe wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Toss in that this proposal beat out one from Brian Wood (who was, in many ways, born to write this character), and the mix of resentment and suspicion should have sunk it. But it survived the flip-through test, and I brought it home, half-suspecting I'd made a terrible mistake.

It all came out okay, though. Asrar's Supergirl is drawn like the 16-year-old girl she's supposed to be, and while I wouldn't say his pages are anything particularly special, they are dynamic and pretty to look at. Which is more than I can say for many of the artists whose work graces these DC Reboot comics. It would be nice if we could get rid of those ugly boots Jim Lee saddled her with, of course, but that's hardly Asrar's fault.

The story's fine, too. Green and Johnson do a nice job expressing Supergirl's confusion, and the slow revelation of her powers through a running battle with some kind of power-armor robot guys plays out well. I suppose some might argue that not enough happens, and that we don't find out enough about how Supergirl got to Earth, but I don't have much patience with those kinds of arguments. This issue's all about establishing character, and that's an important thing to do in a series with a lead who's probably not going to be the most likeable character once things really get going. I like her here, though, and all this time spent establishing everything she's lost will go a long way toward explaining why she sours on Earth later.

I won't call it great comics, but it is pretty good. I'm not sure I'll be willing to shell out three bucks a month for it, mind you, but the cheaper month-late digital downloads are actually kind of tempting...

Grade: B

And that's Week Three. I very nearly picked up Paul Jenkins' Deadman, too, but... My memories of last week's let-downs, coupled with how little I've enjoyed Paul Jenkins' work in the last few years, drove me away. So another not-so-great week with me for the DC Reboot. Still, Wonder Woman is one more DC book I wasn't buying before, so maybe that's a win after all...


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