Thursday, September 29, 2011

Still Got Yer 52 Right Here

By Jay Stringer

I wrote a few weeks back about DC's new line-wide relaunch of it's comics. It's been quite a month, some very impressive sales figures and a lot of comics. There have been some great stories and some....less than....good......ones.

Last week saw two very controversial depictions of women. For a few days I mulled over whether to go into more detail on that, whether to make it the central issue of today's blog. In truth though, a lot of ink has already been spilled on it, and a lot of people have already made the arguments better than I can.

I agree with the criticisms of them, and I won't be picking up the second issues. But I don;t want to focus on the negatives. There have been some real fun issues this month that you can still read online, and I want to focus on those.

First, though, I want to talk about how my reading habits have changed thanks to the new day-and-date digital releases.

Every writers blog has talked about ebooks. Hell, every writers blog has pulled people in off the street to write about ebooks. Some of us have learned to carry out seances, just so that we can get more people who want to blog about ebooks.

I don't own a Kindle, an IPad, a Nook or a cranny. I'm not against them. In fact, I'm in full support. The only thing that has been stopping me from picking one up was comics. I want my mobile device to read comics. The Kindle and Nook didn't do that, and the IPad is out of my price range. (As I type this, more details are coming out of the Kindle Fire and, well, maybe.)

I've been itching to switch over to digital comics ever since I first tried reading comics online, and this week I got the chance. There are still a few titles, a few indie publishers, who I will support in print, but as of this month my comics reading is about 90% digital.

And I've noticed something.

With print comics, I would get to the store on the day of release, or a couple days later, and buy all my weeks comics. I'd take them home in a bundle, and sit and read through them reverently. Then I'd be done for another week. With digital, my finger is hovering over the button at 7pm, waiting for the titles to show up on the Comixology website, and then I'm downloading them all in one go. But Then I spread the reading out over the week. I'll sit on my laptop (still my main reading device) and get work done, or surf the net (do people still say that?) or catch up on emails, then I'll read a comic.

Of the batch I bought last wednesday, I read the last one yesterday. So that's a full week of spreading out the experience, of effectively tivo-watching my comics.

It's a totally new way, a totally different comics-reading experience, but it feels right for now. It feels like the old ritual of the paper stack is of an other time, and that this is the way I read comics now. And I'm loving it.

Okay, so which titles do I think are the runners? To be honest, if you saw any of my predictions before the month began, then you'll already know some of the titles I'm going to say, because they lived up to expectations. But here goes.


Animal Man

I pimped it at the start of the month, and at the end I still look back on it as one of the best experiences. It was old and new. It served pre-exisiting fans and new readers. It was spooky and fucked up. I'm on for the full ride.

Wonder Woman

This surprised the hell out of me. Anyone who has heard my private rants about the character, that I never fully buy into her status as a "feminist icon," will know what a shift it is for me to say this; I loved the hell out of this book. Stripping away preconceptions of super heroic shenanigans, and not going for the old, "How does Diana live in the real 9-5 world" approach, we saw a Neil Gaiman/John Hornor Jacobs-esque world of dark Greek gods living in the modern world, and Diana standing in the path of the wreckage they cause. Buy. It.

Swamp Thing

Of the new titles, this is one that I'm not sure will work as well for a brand new reader. It does, I think, rely on some previous knowledge. But it was bloody good. Tonally a little to the gothic, rustic, creepy side of Animal Man. If you know the basic premise of the old Swamp Thing story, that a scientist was in a lab fire and woke up as a swamp creature, then this is an interesting new take. What happens when that scientist has come back to life, is flesh and blood again, but remembers his time as swampy? Interesting stuff that promises to be very, very good.


For those new to the game, there are a lot of comics out there with the batman name on them. Each is a different book, whether it's Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, whatever. They each carry the bat's name on the cover. But the one I'm talking about is the one simply called BATMAN. It delivered on pretty much every level. It was witty and inventive with some of the staple ideas of the character, it had some very playful dialogue, and it threw us straight into the middle of a story. Traditionally I've always gotten my Batman fix from Detective Comics, but this month has changed that.

Action Comics

This is a ground-up retelling of the Superman story. I don't like Superman. I've also been jaded on the writer, Grant Morrison, of late. So, as with Wonder Woman, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself loving the book. This is Superman when he's young, when he's fresh to the city and before he has full command of his powers. It's the Superman of, "..leap tall buildings in a single bound," fame. Before he could fly, he could just jump very far. Here he is tackling slum landlords rather than meteorites. He's a much more grounded, street level god.


All Star Western

Each of the titles I'm putting as a 'good read' was pretty close to being a 'must read.' Each of them is a fine, fine example of a comic, but each was maybe just a notch below the ones above. All Star suffers a little bit from "pilot episode" syndrome, where it spends a lot of time explaining and setting things up. But that's a minor fault in a very strong western, and a story with a hook- it's set in Gotham City a couple hundred years ago. It's a murder mystery crossed with a western, and it looks like it might provide some back story to whats going on in BATMAN, so well worth a go.

Justice League Dark

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Two of my favourite characters- Zatanna and John Constantine- are being brought together into an occult team of anti-heroes. The first issue was too much reliant on set up devices to be a full 5 star book, but the series promises to be great.


Get this in print.The artist/writer does very interesting things with the layout of the panels, he's trying a whole new language of comic book storytelling, but it doesn't work as well in digital form as in print. It also suffers a bit from the exposition bug, which drags it down a few pegs. But overall it's worth sticking with.


I had a lot of fun with Nightwing, Batgirl, Frankenstein and Demon Knights. Each one will be getting picked up again by me for second and third issues, but each has some work to do to convince that the fun of the first issues can grow into solid ongoing stories.


If you'd told me at the start of the month that I'd enjoy the crap out of the vampire book, i'd laugh, then run and report you to the men in white coats. No, not the cricket umpires, the other men in white coats. But I, VAMPIRE started to get a buzz about it, and so I gave it a shot an, hey, is it a well made comic. Riffing a bit on I AM LEGEND, a bit on BLADE, and a lot on an old DC title of the same name, it tells of a race of vampires declaring Holy War on humanity, and of one vampire hell-bent on stopping them.

So there you have it, true believers.

Wait, that's the wrong company....

The word i've been using most this month when talking about comics has been fun. Each of these titles has been fun, in one way or another, and they've all been fun to read. Add them to two titles put out by Marvel, Daredevil and the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and it's a good time to be enjoying super hero comics again.


Scott D. Parker said...

Agree with you on most counts. Haven't read WW yet, but it'll be high on the list now. Read All-Star Western and really, really liked it. Setting a western in Gotham is a great idea. Since Jonah Hex doesn't have his name in the title, I wonder if this title will run the gamut of characters in the DCU. Hope so. Batman #1 is, so far, my favorite Bats title. (Haven't read TDK or B&R and was shocked by Detective.) Loved Action #1 as it felt like a kindred spirit of All-Star Superman, my all-time fav Supes title. Loved the over-the-topness of Frankenstein (as well as the Flashpoint story from this past summer). Batgirl surprised me, too. Also really enjoyed the meta-nature of Aquaman. Actually chuckled out loud on that one.

You know, between you and me, we're covering the New 52 pretty well. I am in agreement with you and all the others re: the sex in some of the titles. And the theme of my Saturday column will *likely* be "Since when did the drive for new readers not include kids under 12?" Talk about a market primed to read comics.

Jay Stringer said...

Bit how do you aim a book at an under 12? When i was under 12, I was falling in love with comics like BATMAN YEAR ONE, WATCHMEN, DAREDEVIL and Grant & Breyfogle's runs on Batman and 'Tec.

None of these comics were pitched at under 12's, but they were telling gripping stories. There were comics that were aimed at my age group. Thundercats comics, other spin offs of popular media characters, but they were dumbed down.

The Fuzzy Typerwriter podcast has been running a good feature where they talk to the son of one of the hosts, and he's (i believe) around 11/12. I'm not agreeing with some of his picks -he loved Detective Comics- but he's a different age to me, and his comments show that he's really engaged with the relaunch so far.

I dont think the problem is that comic books aren't suitable for kids. The problem with the industry -for all ages- has been availability. These things used to be available on street corners and news agents. Now they're in specialist shops. The only way under-12's are getting into the shops is if their parents are into comics, or if the shop has some other lure, like toys or trading card games.

The comic book industry has totally failed for two generations now at getting comics into the hands of people who don't read comics. That's changing this month. DC comics have had TV ads, cinema ads, press coverage, their titles are available online on the day of release. So far very little of what i've seen has really been unsuitable for children, and those that have been are either horror books, westerns, or war comics. The 'mainstream' books that are probably not suitable for kids have failed in execution rather than content.

And to be honest, I don't have a problem with sex in comics. just as with films, novels or TV, i have a problem if it's done badly or if it objectifies women. Catwoman and Batman have had some steamy clinches down the years, as is likely to happen between two consenting adults who fancy the pants off each other. But the failure of the issue was the way it objectified Selina Kyle, turned her from being a great example of a sassy and strong leading woman who can also be sexy, into another wet-dream who spends half the issue with her breasts hanging out and then the other half having totally impractical and rushed sex with a man dressed like a bat.