DC Comics is one of the two biggest publishers of mainstream comic books in the US, the other being Marvel. The tone of Marvel superheroes is generally described as edgier and more relatable to readers than the heroes published by DC, whose characters’ lives tend to have less angst and team up with that “overgrown Boy Scout” Superman. Marvel publishes Spider-Man (always with the hyphen), Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, X-Men and the Avengers. They’re the ones doing awesome box office lately while DC Comics, who in the last few years has turned out the films Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Superman Returns, and Green Lantern, has decidedly not. But DC (and Warner Bros. which owns DC) can claim bragging rights for having the third best opening weekend grossing film, The Dark Knight, which could even be surpassed this summer by its own sequel, The Dark Knight Rises.
DC Comics was trying to reinvigorate their brand and also revive their flagging publishing industry that now exists in a world of Kindles and Nooks. As a creative type, I was intrigued with the whole notion while at the same time cynical of the marketing hype. Would it be successful? Would the changes really enhance the legacy or be a failed gimmick in Batman’s history? As a DC fanboy, I had to give it a shot.
That September, I chose 16 of the 52 books to follow: Justice League, Action Comics (featuring Superman), Batman, All-Star Western (featuring Jonah Hex), Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Birds of Prey (featuring an all-women super team including Black Canary), Batgirl, Batwoman, Justice League International, Men of War, Aquaman, Justice League Dark, Voodoo, and I, Vampire. Some of these, like Batman, Batwoman, Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman, I chose because I was already a regular reader. Others, like All-Star Western and Justice League Dark, I chose because the descriptions of their stories intrigued me. And others, like I, Vampire and Men of War, I chose just to try something out of my norm.
These days, stories are mostly told in arcs that run from two to seven issues, so my plan was to try these first story arcs out and decide which titles to continue reading and which to give up on.
This month, the seventh issue for all DC titles were released. And I was still buying 9 of the original 16: Justice League, Action Comics, Batman, All-Star Western, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Batgirl, and Batwoman. Except for Justice League and Superman, I’m really happy with the stories told in these titles. Are they better than they were before the reboot? In most cases, yes!
Below I share my thoughts about all 16 DC titles, presented in relative order of least favorite to most favorite. If you’re into comics, you’ll be interested. If you’re not, I do hope this makes them interesting!
Justice League International – JLI was a popular satellite team of the Justice League back in the 80s and 90’s. They were brought back in the last few years in a mini-series. I was reading the Booster Gold title before it was cancelled with the debut of The New 52, so I bought this because Booster was gonna be the team’s leader and I’m a fan of Aaron Lopresti’s art. Brought together as a government-affiliated super team, the story in the first six issues didn’t measure up for me.
Men of War – I don’t usually buy war comics so I gave this a try for that reason, to try something new. The first issue I really liked. But after three issues, for a guy who played with Mego Superheroes rather than G.I. Joes as a kid, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
I, Vampire – I really enjoyed reading this title and the artwork in it. But reading issue 2 came at a time when I felt I had to make some financial cutting and this one became a victim. And seeing Twilight everywhere on the ‘net probably didn’t help.
Aquaman – Writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis try to bring the same reboot success they enjoyed with Green Lantern’s rebirth to Aquaman. I liked the adventure and artwork the first four issues delivered. But this Aquaman’s loftiness didn’t hook me like daredevil pilot Hal Jordan’s swagger did. I might pick this up again later tho’ or as a trade paperback.
Justice League Dark – I loved this concept of a super team collecting heroes who delve in magic. And the artwork by Mikel Janin is just right. I enjoyed the first story arc in issues 1-6, telling how the team is formed yet not revealing all the answers. I will probably continue reading more JLD, but I can wait for the collected trade paperback to do that.
Birds of Prey – I’ve been reading BoP for years, since the original one-shots that introduced a team up of Black Canary with Oracle (aka the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon now operating as a secret information broker to the superhero community). So picking up the new No. 1 was a no-brainer. Artist Jesus Saiz really knows how to draw women in a minimalist fashion that I really envy. But I gave up on BoP after the sixth issue mainly not because this is a bad title but because I missed the old Barbara Gordon-Black Canary dynamic.
Justice League – The artwork by Jim Lee is amazing. But the first story arc, telling how the heroes were brought together five years ago, is busy with action for great action spreads but seems to breeze through telling the story points too fast, especially in the finale. Another title that I think seems to be written for younger audiences. But I will stick with it for another four or five issues because they’ve just added a back-up feature that will tell the origin of DC’s reboot of the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel, Shazam! And being written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, I’m curious.
Batgirl – As I mentioned earlier, Barbara Gordon was a hero known as Batgirl who became a hero known as Oracle. This was after she was paralyzed by a shot to the spine she received from The Joker. Now she’s back to being Batgirl, where her disability was cured in the past two years and she’s returned to her Batgirl costume fighting crime again. Writer Gail Simone, who is one of my favorite comic book writers, continues to use Barbara’s memories of being a parapalegic in her storytelling. It might be a bit of kowtowing to old school fans of the wheelchair-bound Oracle, but I’m enjoying the stories.
Action Comics – Telling the introduction of Superman to Metropolis five years ago, I’m not really sure I’m as enthused about this title as I should be, but the artwork by Rags Morales is fantastic and the writing by Grant Morrison is miles better than the Superman title (and more appealing than his work on Batman earlier).
All-Star Western featuring Jonah Hex – Not a regular western comics reader, I bought the first issue because Jonah Hex was going to be in 1880’s Gotham City. That Batman reference hooked me in and the stories and artwork by Moritat keep me hooked every month.
Batwoman – I’ve been reading Batwoman stories since this version of Batwoman (there’ve been two now) was introduced some years ago. A former police officer, this character has a chip on her shoulder. But perhaps the biggest reason why I’ll continue to buy this title is the artwork and especially the panel layout design by J.H. Williams III. He’s really all the reason I need to continue buying this book.
The Flash – This Flash is younger and hipper than the past version of the Flash. But again, the art on this book by co-writer Francis Manapul has been outstanding. He, with co-writer Brian Buccellato, have delivered some fun action with new interpretations of his super-speed powers that could lead to tragic consequences. Cool! I can’t stop buying this title.
Wonder Woman – I was a big Xena fan when it was on TV. So I’ve always wanted Wonder Woman to enjoy that kind of success in comics and TV and film. I think this reinterpretation of Wonder Woman’s origin, who’s now not just a character formed from clay but revealed to be a true demigod, makes complete sense. Also, as drawn in a simplistic but iconic style by Cliff Chiang, Wonder Woman is less cheesecake poses, which I'm a big fan of but admitedly can be an unnecessary distraction, with more focus on her as the hero. Love it!
Batman – I am so relieved and excited to call Batman the best thing I’m reading from DC today. He’s my Number 1 hero, and what writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are doing in the first seven issues is building an incredible foundation on Batman’s history and legacy that I cannot wait to keep reading about. Hint about the latest revelation: Robin was initially bred to be a bad guy! And how this storyline is set up in the first seven issues makes beautiful, poetic sense. Could they have done this before the New 52? Yes, definitely. But any new readers gained from The New 52 publicity push jumped on at an ideal starting point.