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10 July 2012

New 52 Purge: Or... Let's blast through this stack of comics so my wife can have her kitchen back.

I've been writing about comics for over ten years.  I love writing about comics.  I really do.  Other than making comics, playing guitar, drinking rye whiskey and riding roller coasters, it is one of the main things I like to do.  If you, dear reader, had done your job and told a thousand of your closest friends to read my blogs then maybe I could write about comics all day long instead of working at a job I hate and spending to much time thinking about which local bridge would guarantee the fastest most painless exit if I were to execute an Olympic gold medal level swan dive from its highest point.  (Do they do swan dives in the Olympics?  Do I care?)

But enough about me.  Comics!

So, the New 52 is a thing that happened and continues to happen.  I wrote a 100 thousand word essay about it last year.  Maybe you read it.  Maybe you should read it now.   It has been almost a year since the New 52 started and in that time a fairly ridiculous stack of comics accumulated in a book shelf in my kitchen.  I want them to go into my basement and stop mocking me but first I want to write about them.  Just little.  Oh, and there are gonna be some spoilers in here if you have not read these already.  But, these comics are pretty old and the spoilers are usually revealed weeks before the comics come out so why am I even typing these letters?

Wanna hear it?  Here it goes!

Wonder Woman issues 1 and 2 by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and several other people.
This comic is about Xena Warrior Princess versus some crazy emo goth gods that would rather be at a rave circa 1994.  The writing is fun.  Real nasty stuff.  Soap opera pregnancies.  Murdered ponies.  Kids, they love the murdered ponies.  It's neat mythology/horror/adventure thing but it really does not have much to do with Wonder Woman.  Sure there is a very tall lady with a really long neck in a costume similar to Wonder Woman's but she has very little to do with the real Wonder Woman.  Which, kind of ruins the whole gimmick of "now we will reveal our amazing twist on her origin".  But you don't care because this comic just jumps right in with the horse murder and soap opera rave drama without doing anything to establish who the main character is.  It depends on you already knowing who she is and then trying to get all up in your face with their wicked new twist.  But I thought this stuff was supposed to be "New".  Why do I have to have an idea of who Wonder Woman is for you to twist that idea?  So, without any character development or set up, I see a lady doing Xena things and I'm gonna think she's Xena because she sure ain't Wonder Woman.
Cliff Chiang's art is really neat to look at though.  All the ladies appear to be about 10 feet tall and two feet of that is neck.  And those crazy white Mike Allred eyes.  Freaky spooky.  No matter how you hold the comic the eyes are looking right at you!  I liked the 1st two issues enough but not enough to buy more.  Comics is very expensive.  If these were comics I could share with my daughter, because, ya know, Wonder Woman was created for girls, I would buy it.  But, I'm not really ready to expose my daughter to dead ponies and crazy emo rave gods that wanna get everyone pregnant.   Call me old fashioned.

Swamp Thing issue 1 by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette and a bunch of other people.
Eh, this comic was okay.  I bought the one issue and liked it but it did not thrill me or leave me guessing.  Scott Snyder starts off with standard horror movie set up. I was underwhelmed.  Maybe I should have given it another chance but like I said, comics is crazy expensive yo.  Snyder is good.  I think his run on bATMan is one of the two or three best things in current on going monthly periodical comics.  And that Paquette guy can draw the balls off a big ass pick-up truck that has those brass bull balls hanging from its tow hook to make it look like it is a big bull or elephant or something.  (This is a thing that is pretty much standard issue on pick up trucks where I live.  Pray for me people.  Send me prayers and money.)
Around the time the New 52 started, I watched that old Swamp Thing movie on Netflix.  The one where Laura Palmer's dad is Swamp Thing.  What was up with that lady's hair?  Wow.

Green Arrow issues 7 through 11 by Ann Nocenti, Harvey Tolibao and a bunch of other people.
Okay, little secret about your old pal Shannon.  Green Arrow is my favorite DC Comics character.  But not just any Green Arrow and not the Green Arrow of the past decade or so.  My Green Arrow is the one that Dennis O'Neil created in 1969ish and Mike Grell carried on through the 80s and early 90s.  My Green Arrow has been dead since Mike Grell's last issue in 1994.  And that's okay.  I can totally re-read those comics and enjoy them plenty.  I did not at all care about the New 52 Green Arrow.  He appears to be the Smallville Green Arrow but I would not know because I did not read the first 6 issues.  But then along came Ann Nocenti.  Ann Nocenti is one of my favorite comics writers.  You hire her to write a comic book and I will probably buy it.  So, when she started her run with Green Arrow 7 I was there.  And it was great.  This Green Arrow is not my Green Arrow but it is in Nocenti's hands.  The comic is basically about super high tech James Bond/Tony Stark adventure violence and sex.  But mostly sex.  Mostly sex with identical triplets that look like that blond Black Widow from a while back.  Oh, and they are mostly evil.  And sexy!  Now that's a comic book!
And the art blows me away.  This Harvey Tolibao is the real deal people.  Every panel is full of speed and and intensity.  Notice there is no inker credited on the book.  They brought in inker after inker to work on the book but they gave up after the fifth inker's hands exploded tyring to contain Tolibao's frantic energy.
And those faces!  Every character looks like they are in some sort of drug crazed post climactic frenzy that makes them want to rip their own flesh off.  Now that's comics people!  That's comics!  (Except for issue 10 which is drawn by some other guy and is pretty much just filler.  You could skip that one.)  
Comics publishers!  Let me make this really clear for you- if you want me to buy your comic, maybe you want to hire Harvey Tolibao to draw it.  Oh, and let him draw the cover too for crying out loud!  Damn shame that DC did not use Tolibao for the covers on these things.  Hate that!

Justice League issues 1 (sort of) and 8 by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Carlos D'Anda and a bunch of other buys that got paid a lot less than Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.
I read maybe two thirds of the 1st issue of Justice League and swore I'd never read another Geoff Johns or Jim Lee comic again.  Someone compared it to the type of comic that would come free with an action figure.  I say that is a huge insult to action figure comics.  An action figure comic would have had someone at the toy company proof read the thing to make sure it made sense and had a point.  Justice League 1 had nether.  And Jim Lee's art could never look as fluid and life like as an action figure frozen in plastic.  Honestly the worst mainstream comic I tried to get through since 1993.  (Can ya guess what comic that was?  Here is a hint- Jim Lee was involved.)
But sometimes you swear against things and then still get suckered in.  One afternoon I had a few minutes to kill so I found myself in the local comic shop (which is actually a video game store).  They don't have a lot of comics but it is a new store and it is the 1st store in the history of the county in which I was live to sell direct market comics so I'm just happy they have anything.  Justice League 8 caught my eye because it had that rip off of that one X-Men cover that everyone rips off and it had Green Arrow.  I had just read Ann Nocenti's great Green Arrow comics and thought there might be some slight chance the comic would not be awful.  The comic is full of words and they are very hard to get through.  I've said this before but the only Geoff Johns comics I ever liked were the ones James Robinson wrote. Carlos D'Anda's art is pretty good.  He's of that post Ed McGuinness rubbery school where everyone looks the way Captain Marvel is supposed to look.
The end of the book has a Captain Marvel  Shazam story that reads like the worst after school special you never saw.  The dialog is so bad it made me angry.  DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns everybody!

DC Univerese Presents: Challengers of the Unknown issues 6, 7 and 8 by Dan Didio, Jerry Ordway and a bunch of other people.
Okay, let's just get Dan Didio out of the way first right?  I have not read enough DC Comics in the past ten years to have much of an opinion on whether or not Dan Didio is a good "Co-Publisher".  And it is hard to give him credit or blame for the New 52 since at least a half dozen people like to show up for the photo ops when they talk about this thing.  All I really know about they guy is how he sells himself in interviews and panel appearances.  He comes off like he wants to be the super villain.  Like he wants to be the Vince McMahon of this thing.  He is very abrasive and condescending toward his customer base and the retailers that carry the burden of his decisions.  I don't for one second care enough to play armchair psychologist and try to figure out why.  Maybe he wants to be an affable Stan Lee type but he's just not any good at it.  Or, maybe he really wants to be Vince McMahon.  I do not care.
Now, as far as Dan Didio the writer goes, the only previous thing I remember reading was his Metal Men story in Wednesday Comics.  It was not one of the better things in those books but he was going up against some insanely fierce competition.
Now, this comic.  This Challengers of the Unknown miniseries wrapped up in DC Universe Presents.  This comic credits the story to Didio and Jerry Ordway.  So, I'm not real sure how much Didio wrote.  My guess is that they used the old Marvel method.  I'm guessing he and Ordway agreed on the idea then Ordway drew the thing and Didio added in some dialog.  But who knows?  And who cares?  I did not buy this comic because of Dan Didio.  I bought this comic for three reasons.
1)  I like the Challengers of the Unknown.  Especially Jack Kirby's issues.  It is just a great comic book idea.  A non-super powered team of adventurers traveling around the world fighting crazy 50s B movie monsters/aliens and foiling evil masterminds.  
2) I like Ryan Sook's covers. 
3)  I like Jerry Ordway's comic books.  Ordway's art and storytelling are old fashioned.  And by old fashioned I mean good.  I mean competent.  I mean that a character's face in panel six still looks like the same person from panel three.  I mean that the page layouts are exciting and the action makes sense.  I mean that he is very good at making comics.  
And Challengers is a great fit for Ordway.  He gets to draw crazy locations, monsters, action and boobies.  I could look at this stuff all day.  
And the story is okay too.  Or at least the idea is.  Basically they have taken the original Challengers idea and turned it into a reality TV show.  And while, that sounds like the kind of unimaginative thing you'd find in an 80s Archie comic, it makes total sense here.  The Challengers really were celebrities already before they teamed up in the original comics so the reality show thing is a good fit.  
The adventure is simple.  It is the standard quest for ancient stones/runes/gems/totems across the world thing that you saw in the first four or five GI Joe cartoon arcs and at least one summer blockbuster every summer you've been alive.  Now, the dialog, it's pretty lousy.  There are moments where it approaches clever satire but for the most part, it is rambling clumsy exposition describing what Ordway already successfully drew for you.  So, my advice, just don't read the words.  Just sit back and enjoy Ordway's action, monsters and boobies. 
Demon Knights issue 1 by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves and a bunch of other people.
This is a good looking sword/sorcery/demon/wizard comic with some fine art by Neves but the excitement never shows up until the last page.  Lots of talking and set-up going on when we really just want to see the Demon Etrigan slash through some monsters.  (See, I could have gone with "see the Demon get medieval on some monster asses" there but this a high class blog bro.)  It's a bit too formulaic for me.  Nothing against formulas, they just pick a formula I'm not that into.  They picked the Lord of the Rings fantasy formula where the heroes meet up in a medieval bar and talk a lot.  I prefer the Conan fantasy formula where the hero brutally murders a lot of people before we get to page four and is getting down with the hottest ladies in the kingdom by page six.  And what is up with medieval bars anyway?  Did people in the way backie times really spend that much time singing songs and drinking mead in The Green Dragon?  I figure they were probably busy plowing the fields or dying of some horrible disease like the common cold.  This comic reminded me a lot of the Crossgen comics.  And that's okay.  Those were some good looking books.  I mean, I guess this is an okay comic, I just wish it were a Conan comic.  I wish a lot of comics were Conan comics.

Batwoman issue 1 by J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackmon and and a bunch of other people that probably also have initials. 
I was excited about this comic because I was a huge fan of Alan Moore's Promethea and knew that Williams' art was amazing.  And the art in Batwoman is amazing but the comic does not make any sense to me.  It feels like coming in fifteen minutes late to a season four episode of some TV crime drama.  I don't think Williams saw any of the PR about the New 52 being a relaunch or reboot because there is nothing about this comic that is a starting point.  There is nothing about it that explains who the characters are or what their motivations are.  It is great too look at but I was totally lost and did not get the impression that buying issue 2 would help.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. issue 1 by Jeff Lemire, Alberto Ponticelli and a bunch of other people.
This is an issue of Hellboy only Hellboy is Frankenstein and the art is not as good. I think Jeff Lemire's Animal Man is great but not one single panel of this thing held any interest for me.  Oh well, they can't all be Tiny Titans.

Earth 2 issues 1 and 2 by James Robinson, Nicola Scott and a bunch of other people.
This is the comic book that the New 52 was supposed to be.  This is a comic book about a new twist on the DC Universe.  As opposed to the New 52 Universe at large where the twist is... what... collars?  Can anyone explain to me what the overall theme, idea, premise, gimmick etc. of the New 52 is other than that the Justice League have collars?  It is just stupid.  Earth 2, however has a premise and ideas and all that good stuff we like comics to have.  And I expected it would because it is written by James Robinson and he has already rebooted these characters before in JSA and that was pretty great.  Robinson does a solid job with all of these characters and like his twists.  Even the big twist in issue 2 that DC tried to get some big gay mainstream press hype out of works just fine.  And the art is pretty great too.  Or at least the drawing is.  Scott has that clean solid consistency of Jerry Ordway with the detail and excitement of George Perez.  I dig it.  The colors on the other hand are a hands-on seminar on how to use every digital effect I don't like to see in comics.  But, again, they can't all be Tiny Titans.  

Batman Incorporated issues 1 and 2 by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and a bunch of other people.
It is too early to tell if this comic will escape the DC editorial cluster#^(% and have any sort of consistency but if it does, it will probably end up being the best comic DC publishes.  I'd give that title to bATMan right now because so far, it is the ONLY title that has had consistency from cover to cover in every issue.  But these two Batman Inc. comics are very good.  Burnham does a pretty good Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison does a solid Grant Morrison and that's good enough for me.  It's become fashionable to crap on Morrison but whatever.  I did not read Supergods.  It ain't got no comics in it so whatever.  As far as comics goes, he's still the best superhero comics writer we have and I'm happy to ride out this silver age celebration he's been into for the past decade or so.  Batman Inc issue 2 is the single best New 52 book I've read so far.  I look forward to issue 3.

Other random thoughts:  I've also read every issue so far of Action Comics, Animal Man, bATMan and Superman.  Action and Superman are a mess.  Animal Man is great but it is a damn shame that we were not able to get more full issues out of Travel Foreman.  bATMan is about as good a monthly Batman comic book as anyone could ever ask for and Greg Cappulo's art has been a real treat.  I did not get into those comics here because I want to talk about them more later.  

Without getting into the problems I have with the very existence of the New 52 and just focusing on the comic books as, you know, comic books...  I think what I said earlier about Wonder Woman and Batwoman pretty much sum up the line's weakness.  Even when you put top talent on a book, there is no real relaunch, no real reboot, no real jumping on point, no explanation of what makes this universe different from the last, no real explanation of who the characters are and what their motivations are.  This whole thing is 100% dependent on the reader's pre-existing knowledge of these characters and their universe.  Sure there are twists but a twist is dependent on the previous status-quo.  There is nothing fresh about any of it.  Now that does not mean it can't be good.  A good Batman comic or a good Animal Man comic is still a good comic regardless of what universe you set it in.  Which raises the question?  What was the point?  Well, I know what the point was. You probably do to.  But it is sad and bitter and let's not think about it right now.  Let's just go outside and see if we can find any ponies out there that have not yet been murdered. 

Images in this post are stolen from other websites.  I could have scanned in some images myself but my printer is at least eight feet away from where I'm sitting right now.  You should visit those websites and click on them repeatedly or something:

Thanks website people I don't know!

Your best pal ever,

Shannon Smith

p.s. Say you want a leader but you can't seem to make up your mind. I think you'd better close it and let me guide you to my twitter feed.
p.p.s. Let's pretend we went to high school together on facebook.
p.p.p.s. Google + is another place you can read the same thing I posted here.
p.p.p.p.s. I'll tumblr for ya.
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