Saturday, May 12, 2007

DC Comics: What I Like and What I Don't

DC Comics was my first.

Well, maybe not exactly. I was reading Harvey Comics and Archie for a bit before jumping into the wild and woolly world of superheroes (a term that is trademarked by DC and Marvel, btw). But DC was my first superhero experience.

Blame it on the Batman TV show. I loved the colorful villains, the wacky visual effects and the stuff Batman and Robin used to fight crime. It probably aimed me at getting my masters in criminal justice oh so many years later, but that's a side issue. What it did right away was get me eager to read Batman comic books.

My mom was not thrilled. Batman at the time was undergoing the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams renaissance, where he became dark and somewhat forbidding. Nevertheless, she bought me things that she thought might be appropriate but which I can see (in retrospect) were probably not ideal for an elementary school reader. However, Superman and Flash and most of the rest of the Justice League featured light, kid-friendly stories that were perfect for me. I became a huge fan of DC's superhero characters and read just about everything I could afford.

Flash forward (no pun intended) cough-cough-30+-cough years. DC Comics is now wrapping up its year-long "extended miniseries" 52, catching us up with the One Year Later books and how the new and improved DCU got that way.

It's been a rocky road.

What I like:
Justice Society of America- absolutely fantastic book. I can't believe I wasn't reading JSA, an oversight I will have to rectify. The relaunch of this book requires no foreknowledge, just jumps right in and bang! You get it. That's my kind of storytelling.

52- an ambitious project with a few "off" issues here and there, but overall a tremendous feat of planning, plus (I am sure) massive amounts of coffee and frayed nerves. The juggled storylines didn't precisely expand to encompass the whole DCU, as I thought they might, but they did give spotlight time to a bunch of second-stringers. Indeed, it did show a world without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, which really was the whole point.

Detective- I gave up on reading Batman comics around the time of "Knightfall." The protracted beating-up-and-breaking of Batman, then his replacement as his broken spine healed, left me disinterested. However, Paul Dini's stint as writer on Detective has reignited my interest. He's been doing great "done in one" stories featuring Batman's classic villains. If they keep this up, I might just come back as a Batman reader.

Getting better (thank Rao!):
Flash: Fastest Man Alive- Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo showed (with the 1990 TV show) that their grasp of Barry Allen was shaky at best. Going against my policy of giving the benefit of the doubt, I dropped the book after their first issue. However, this book has taken a remarkable turn for the better with the advent of Marc Guggenheim as writer-- I'm actually reading this now that the creative team's been shaken up.

What I'm not liking so much:
Wonder Woman- this is a shame because I love Terry Dodson's art. I have since Mantra, so help me. He's a great artist, especially for Wonder Woman. So what happened? Allan Heinberg. C'mon, is it so damn hard to write 22 pages a month? I know TV's paying your mortgage but don't take the gig if you can't cut it. Not to mention how badly off his take is, given where we see WW in...

Justice League of America- another book with fantastic art that nevertheless falls way short of its potential. Brad Meltzer took a chainsaw to the Justice League in Identity Crisis; now DC's seen fit to let him at the JLA full-time. It took six issues for the team to get together! I understand the whys and wherefores, honest, but this was too much.

Action- the Richard Donner/Geoff Johns story arc has gotten off to a wretched start. Delays and long gaps between issues (plus a filler after three issues that were running late?) spell a train wreck. It's an okay story-- though I'd be happier if they hadn't been doing the same thing in Batman-- but this is driving me off Superman titles generally.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder- Frank Miller! Jim Lee! Feh. At least the art's good.

I know this sounds like a lot of griping but I really love DC. I want them to do amazing stuff, and a lot of what they do is stellar. There are tons of books on the shelves that deserve acclaim-- and I hope to cover them in weeks to come.

Until then, here's hoping that DC firms up the high profile books that aren't cutting it. It'll take some work but I have faith they can do the job.

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