The New 52, as Read by Non-Dorks (Part 1)


Well, Flashpoint is over and DC’s New 52 initiative is in full gear.  Since I totally dropped the ball on my Flashpoint coverage, I figured I daren’t attempt to write about these fifty-fucking-two issues, lest I expose myself as a flake even more than I already have.  My solution: Get other people to write about the books for me!

A big part of the reason DC is doing this whole reboot thing is to try to expand their audience.  They want new and lapsed readers to view this as a great springboard into the world of comic books, which had previously been so convoluted and complex as to instantly repel anyone foolish enough to try to make sense of it all.  The New 52 is a fresh start, a new introduction to these iconic characters, free from the shackles of history and continuity.

Has it been successful?  Well I’ve recruited 52 awesome people to help me answer that question.  Some of them are total comix n00bz.  Some of them haven’t read a superhero book since before I was born.  Some have always been strictly Marvel fans.  I asked them each to read one of DC’s new books and report back to me.  Over the coming weeks, I will be posting their thoughts, and then responding to them with thoughts of my own.

Warning: If you haven’t read these books yet, be aware that these reviews are chock full of spoilers.  Having said that, let’s get started…
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HAWK & DOVE #1
Read by Nate Gangelhoff
Hawk & Dove #1 is kind of like the Arch Deluxe, a hamburger introduced by McDonald’s in the 1990’s.  It’s clearly a failure, but how it’s a failure—what specifically about it reeks of defeat—isn’t immediately obvious.  Did the Arch Deluxe flop because it tasted awful, or because it had a weird marketing plan (“It’s a burger that kids will hate… because it’s a burger for grownups!”) that prevented it from ever lifting off?  I dunno. Just like I don’t know precisely why this comic isn’t good.

See, the point of these reboots (as I understand it) is to bring in new readers, specifically the type who would feel overwhelmed joining a story on installment #641 or whatnot, and would prefer to start things off on page 1 just as they would with any other written work.  Pulling this off isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s straight-forward: come up with an engaging plot and interesting characters and structure the storyline in a way that makes the reader want to continue with the next installment, over and over again.

But on top of that, these reboots also probably don’t want to alienate the fans of the original series.  If they do — if they unleash a chorus of “A RED Hawk?!? Oh COME ON!” — they might be simply trading one audience for another, making no gains.  Pulling THIS off is way easier: simply scatter references to the original series in your new version.  Keep some of the fundamentals of the story in place.  Maybe have some inside jokes.  Basically, change things up all you want, but preserve some of the core.  Since the original series is already written, this is essentially a simple matter of selective plagiarism.  “Hawk used to yell ‘HAWK!’ in the old series?  OK, done, he’ll do that in this one too.”

So when I finished Hawk & Dove #1 and my first thought (“That was a really bad comic book”) passed, my first question (“And it was bad because…”) didn’t have a ready answer.  It was a weird, goofy, lazy story…. but maybe that was the charm of the original Hawk and Dove!

Maybe when the writer of this new comic penned Hawk and Dove’s origin story (as kids, they followed a villain into his hideout, got locked in, and said out loud how angry they were about this turn of events, and how they wished they had the power to get out. Suddenly ‘the gods’ spoke up and said ‘”POWER? YOU WISH FOR POWER?” and then told the kids that if they said the ‘magic words’ they would become really, really powerful. So they said the magic words!), there’s a chance he put his elbow on his desk and buried his face into his hand and thought, “Fuuuuuck this is fucking dumb.  But that’s what people liked about Hawk and Dove! They just loved the story about the magic words.”  Likewise, how this origin story was presented (Hawk casually reveals it up to his dad while his dad puts on a tuxedo at his apartment) struck me as absurd and lazy, but maybe absurdity and laziness were the hallmarks of the original series, and the DC CEO foolishly demanded these qualities remain intact.

So: does the comic fail because it’s bad and dumb, or does it fail because the original Hawk and Dove was bad and dumb, and the new version makes the mistake of not changing it up enough?  In order to figure this out, I’d need to read the original Hawk and Dove comic, so “I don’t know” will remain my answer.

There were two elements of the story that garnered minor interest from me, though: Deadman, an apparently dead man who flies around with Dove for a few panels, and a horde of zombie monsters a crazy scientist is breeding in order to destroy things like the Washington Monument and make a statement about political gridlock.  The former seemed like a potentially intriguing character and the latter was so fucking stupid it could plausibly develop into an entertaining storyline.

But ultimately, this wasn’t enough for to want me to follow along to issue #2, because the rest of the issue gives me no faith in how they’d handle the further development of those potentially cool strands.  I mean, issue two will probably find Hawk saying, “Oh dad, before you start eating that salad?  Let me tell you what the deal with Deadman is.  See, this guy was dying, and he goes ‘I’m a dead man’, and then the gods were like ‘YOU WANT TO BE DEADMAN?’, and then there you go.”

Chadd sez:
I am more or less on the same page as Nate on this one.  Aside from the awesome JLU episode in which the original Hawk & Dove are voiced by Fred Savage and Jason Hervey, I was largely unfamiliar with these characters before reading this piece of crap.   It’s interesting to note that the character Nate was most intrigued by turned out to be Deadman, whose relationship with Dove is a holdover from last year’s ultra-convoluted Brightest Day series.  I’d recommend that Nate (and everyone else) check out the New 52 book DC Comics Presents, or better yet, just go read Deadman’s original series.  Read either of those over Hawk & Dove #1, because holy crap does Hawk & Dove #1 blow.

Nate Gangelhoff is the author of the books ‘You Idiot‘ and ‘Hit the Ground Stumbling‘. He plays in the bands Banner Pilot and Gateway District.

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RED LANTERNS #1
Read by Todd Himes
Today was the first time I went to a comic book store to buy something on the day it was released.  It was only the second single issue I have ever bought (the first being Watchmensch because I enjoy jokes!).  I purchased Red Lanterns #1 and was offered to come back tomorrow to exchange it.  At first I thought maybe this was a statement on the quality of said book’s content but instead it was because there was a small unnoticeable to me bend on the back cover.  This left me wondering a little bit as to what I had gotten myself into.  After reading this book I can say DC has gotten me (I would blame Chadd but I bought a few other books as well so I can blame this on the DC reboot when I go back tomorrow to get myself a mint condition Red Lanterns #1).  Mission Accomplished!  How was the book you ask?

Red Lanterns starts off pretty awesome (with a slightly elevated level of cheese, but hey its a comic book, right?) with some space aliens torturing another species of alien for amusement.  The Red Lanterns show up to then beat the swashes of blood and other nondescript liquids out of the bad aliens.  I am reminded of the part in Kill Bill where it turns black & white so the bloodbath can still pass by the ratings board.  This book is sporting a T+ rating though…ooooh.  The most awesome part of this carnage is it is led by a cat!  The cat seems to be the pet of our main character Atrocitus (gee, do you think something bad happened in his past?) who then busts into the evil aliens’ spaceship with the rest of the Red Lanterns.  Now this rag-tag bunch has some characters, let me tell you.  Besides Dex-Starr (the cat) and Atrocitus (red & muscles) there’s a satanic looking goat, a Madball, a bunch of dudes with weird eyes (there are at least 3 characters drawn in the backgrounds I would characterize this way, but the one who stands out most has a mouth like a Sarlacc [I contemplated calling it just the thing in the desert from Return of the Jedi but I buy comic books now, I should just embrace that I know what a Sarlacc is]).  There is also your requisite female, this one with bluish skin, with a bat cowl sporting some bat wings in place of ears and morst interestingly she has what appears to be the bones of wings coming out of her back.

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Atrocitus eventually calls for an end to the carnage and this surprises the other Red Lanterns.  Red Lanterns are full of rage and are probably just supposed to eviscerate everything and everyone.  Atrocitus explains he isn’t feeling as much of the rage anymore.  He of course explains this in internal monologue, which is probably for the best as he points out to himself his team still has all their rage and might turn on him if he shows weakness.  This also gives a chance to explain how he came to be enraged in the first place (hint: something bad happened.)  What happens with Atrocitus next is a flashback within a flashback.  First he’s on some other planet saying how he made the Red Lanterns and there were mistakes which he buried in what might best be described as a fire swamp.  Also entombed in the fire swamp is Krona the guy who wiped out the entire race of red muscly people including the wife and daughter of Atrocitus (his daughter had weird eyes too, a theme so far; she’s only in one frame before she gets set on fire).  Krona is the source of all the rage Atrocitus feels but get this, he didn’t even kill the guy – Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, did.  This somehow diminishes the rage and makes it less pure which is why Atrocitus is questioning himself at this moment leading to the flashback.  Atrocitus then reaches down to Mola Ram Krona and instead of pulling out a heart he finds the dead body still bleeds.  It is that blood which allows him to see all suffering through all time and exact revenge upon it which I guess is what a Red Lantern does for a living.

Interspersed with this flashback is a secondary plot.  It started off with an old man being mugged, fighting back and then being beaten with a brick by his attacker.  He eventually dies in the hospital with one grandson by his side and another showing up after he has passed.  The one who is late is shown as bookish and academic, the other one gets mad and punches him in the face. It is a B story in the first issue so there isn’t a whole lot of character development there.  What you’re left with is wondering how do these two tales relate?  Do the Red Lanterns show up and leave the mugger looking like he was run through a blender before moving on to the next planet?  Does one of the grandsons get recruited to join the team?  (My money would be on the bookish one, so much repressed rage probably!)  This is partly why I am looking forward to the next issue, which comes out when?  Next month?  2 weeks?  I don’t know how these things work!  I also don’t really know what a Lantern does, how they get their colors or why there are so many of them?  There is an ad for New Guardians (they don’t have those in trade paperbacks!  the first one caught me off guard) that shows like 6 different colored Lanterns (including the bat lady representing the Reds).  I can’t expect everything to be explained up front so overall I give this one an A- and I’ll be picking up issue #2

Chadd sez:
I was really expecting Red Lanterns to be one of most impenetrable of these books for new readers, considering how it stems from Geoff Johns’ last four thousand issues of retardedly dense Green Lantern mythology.  But as Todd has proven, this turned out not to be the case.  This book was shockingly comprehensible – user-friendly enough to get its basic premise across to even the noobiest of noobs, but leaving enough unsaid to intrigue a reader back for further issues.  It was also super fun!  So kudos to Peter Milligan for delivering one of the New 52’s most pleasant surprises!

Todd enjoys pizza, beer and pop culture references.  He has read some comics, mostly Batman stuff if they based any of the movies off of it.  Also Watchmen, because they made a movie out of that.

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GREEN LANTERN #1
Read by Jim Testa
One of the big problems with comic book hero movies has been that every reboot comes with yet another rendition of the hero’s origins.  How many times do we need to see Krypton blow up or Bruce Wayne’s parents murdered before we can begin one of these rebooted series without a lot of unnecessary exposition?  DC seems to have internalized this, at least in their reboot of Green Lantern.  Before you open the book, the writers assume you’re already going to know a few things:  What a Green Lantern is and can do, where he gets his super powers from (a ring that has to be recharged by reciting an oath into a lantern), from whom they take their marching orders (the Guardians of the Universe, who always reminded me of floating Muppet versions of Dick Cheney).  Furthermore, the story assumes the reader will know that Earth’s Green Lantern is (or was… get to that in a minute) test pilot Hal Jordan, whose girlfriend is the smoking hot Carol Ferris.  The comic also assumes you know that Sinestro is the Lex Luthor or Joker of the Green Arrow universe, the chief bad guy with whom our hero butts heads again and again.  None of these characters are introduced or explained per se; they’re just there in the storyline and we’re supposed to follow along.

But what have we here?  The comic begins with Sinestro, in chains, recharging a green power ring in front of the Guardians.  Didn’t he turn evil and plot against the Guardians?  Well, seems he did; in fact he started an inter-galactic war trying to topple the Guardians’ omniscient overseeing of the universe, but failed.  But now he’s getting a second chance.  The Guardians have given back his ring, removed his chains, and reinstated him as a Green Lantern.  “Do what the other Green Lanterns do,” says one of the blue-skinned floating midgets.  “Protect your sector.”

So Sinestro flies off to his unpronounceable home planet only to find the Yellows (yellow being the anti-matter of the Lantern corps, the one color a power ring is helpless against, although if you know anything about a color wheel, you’d realize it should be Red.  Blue + Yellow = Green,  Red is the primary color excluded from that equation. But what, Sinestro is red.  Is that some sort of subliminal art education?).

Anyway, some big  monster guy who looks a little like a yellow Jabba the Hut tries to kill Sinestro, thinking he’s a Green Lantern.  Then he realizes that it is Sinestro, but holy shit, he’s also back in the Green Lantern Corps.  Confusion registered, they do battle and Sinestro makes quick work decapitating him.  Then he uses his power ring to blow up the bad guy’s big yellow spaceship thingy, which back in the classic days would never have happened because green power rings couldn’t affect (or blow up) anything yellow.  This rebooted universe apparently has a few new rules.

The action shifts to Earth,  where we quickly piece together that Hal Jordan has been fired as a test pilot for blowing up too many experimental jets and also released from the Lantern Corp.  So he doesn’t have a job, a green ring, the rent, or a car.  He heroically tries to break up a mugging across the street, only to burst into a movie set and mug one of the actors.  Hal’s arrested for criminally negligent superheroing without a license and Carol shows up to post his bail.  It’s in this part of the book that I notice a significant change.  Hal Jordan is not only human, he is a putz.
Unemployed, broke, about to be evicted, begging his girlfriend for some crummy job, getting arrested for a dumb mistake.  This isn’t a hero in the DC Universe; it’s Peter Parker.   It’s the gritty workaday realism that Marvel brought to comic books in the Sixties.   Peter Parker had pimples and got bullied at school. The Fantastic Four couldn’t make the rent on the Baxter Building. Iron Man was an arrogant asshole and a greedy chain-smoking corporate arms trader out of his tin suit.  And don’t even get me started on the Hulk!   DC heroes didn’t have personality flaws back in the good old days.  Aquaman was always giving the Justice League tsuris because he needed to get back in the water; but he didn’t sit on his flippers back in Atlantis and pout about his disability – Namor was the pouty one.  Aquaman and Flash and Green Lantern just zipped up their costumes and reported for duty, and rarely (except for the occasional comedic episodes, like a visit from Mr. Mxyzptlk) exhibited any emotions at all.

So on the one hand, we have familiar templates of the DC universe, but recast into new roles:  Hal the cocky test pilot is a destitute dork; Sinestro the thoroughly evil villain is extending a helping hand; and the Guardians are showing signs they can’t be trusted.  Where does it go from here?

Let me talk about the art for a second.  There’s brief bit of sci-fi bizzness at the Guardians HQ and then a quickie space battle between Sinestro and Jabba the Yellow,  but mostly the art in this is all about close up of faces registering emotions.  Sinestro looks confused.  The Guardians should look cerebral and zen like, but instead they all just look really pissed off all the time.  Hal is alternately browbeaten, pussywhipped into taking a job he doesn’t want, and then leers like a horny frat bro when he asks Carol for a date.  These people don’t act like characters in the DC superhero universe.  They’re more like the character in a bad Woody Allen movie,  each succumbing to their own foibles, weaknesses, and quirks.

Those aren’t huge hooks or cliffhangers and I don’t know if this issue would turn me into a regular Green Lantern reader.  Does Sinestro get Hal his ring back in return for Hal’s allegiance to Sinestro’s anti-Guardian agenda?  Who wants to spend $2.99 on a comic book and get politics?  Back when I bought these for a dime, the only political question was whether Superman would bounce the bullets off his chest or melt them with his heat vision.

Chadd sez:
Jim’s take on Green Lantern is really interesting, and totally betrays the fact that his comic-reading career ended with the Silver Age books he bought as a kid.   But in my opinion, lapsed readers like him ought to be very close to the top of DC’s list of targeted demographics for these new books.  I personally enjoyed this book quite a bit – I like this new status quo of Hal bumming it on Earth, trying to figure out how to get along without his precious ring.  But that’s because I’ve been following the Green Lantern saga for a couple of years – what the hell makes DC think that new readers would be interested in a bored, earthbound Hal?  Comic dorks like me might think Jim’s expectations are a bit antiquated, but comic dorks like me are gonna be reading this crap no matter what.  People like Jim are going to tune in for rollicking space police adventures, and Green Lantern #1 is going to convince them to immediately cut off their flirtation with comic books.

Jim Testa is the self-proclaimed Dean of Jersey Zinesters and can be found muttering unintelligibly about Ben Weasel and Ergs 7 inches on the virtual pages of www.jerseybeat.com.

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BATMAN AND ROBIN #1
Read by Richard Grech
If you’re reading this than you might already know that my buddy Chadd Derkins asked a bunch of his non-comic-book-reading friends to write reviews on the new 52 DC Comic books.  The whole point of this reboot is supposedly to get new readers.  By “starting over” and throwing all the old continuity out the window, you can start off with book #1 and not feel lost.  That’s the theory, at least.

I’m not sure why I chose Batman and Robin, to be perfectly honest.  Batman is probably my favorite superhero, but there seem to be so many Batman related books that it was difficult to choose.  I never read the previous editions of Batman and Robin and I have never really followed Batman too closely in comic book form.

My first exposure to Batman was watching syndicated reruns of the Adam West TV series.  To a kid that show was the best thing ever – colorful villains, a plethora of gadgets and Catwoman’s skin tight suit.  For the longest time this is what I thought Batman was all about.  This dark side of the dark knight lived only in a comic book world that I never discovered.  I could go on and on about myself forever, but this is supposed to be about the comic book, so let’s get to that.

If the goal of these new books is to gain new readers, then I think they miss their mark.  Batman and Robin #1 starts off with a mysterious guy in a Bat suit involved in a physical altercation with an unknown character.  This mysterious villain gets the better of the mystery Bat-dude and we fast-forward to Wayne Manor.

In this incarnation of Batman, Batman is Bruce Wayne and Robin is Damian, who is apparently Bruce Wayne’s illegitimate son.  Damian is ten years old, disrespectful and impulsive.  He seems to be exactly the opposite of who Batman would trust as a sometimes sidekick much less with his secret identity.  After some bickering, Batman and Robin make their way to the site of the murders of Bruce’s parents.  Batman proclaims that he’s tired of honoring their last night on earth and instead is going to celebrate their wedding anniversary.  What an odd choice.  Batman makes a paper boat and sails it down the sewer.  Batman acts like a huge pussy and says that darkness can sail away on his boat because, well, it’s his boat.
Batman and Robin then go off to foil a caper at Gotham University where three dimwitted brothers are attempting to steal some radioactive fuel.  Batman solves a coolant problem preventing some kind of meltdown and Robin goes off after the thugs despite Batman’s orders to the contrary.  During the chase the goons manage to blow themselves up but Batman and Robin can’t figure out what happened to them.  I suppose they’ll return in a few issues as some kind of nuclear super villains.

The book ends with the mystery villain dropping the mystery Bat-guy from page one into a vat of acid and stating that he is going to bring an end to Bruce Wayne’s international circus act.

If the goal of these books is to draw in new users, then Batman & Robin has lost me from the start.  The first problem is that these characters are nothing like what I envision Batman and Robin being.  Robin is a little shitbag and Batman seems to have no control over the brat.  Not to mention that there are so many other unknowns in what is supposed to be a restart making these books accessible to new readers.

Who is Damian?  Why does Batman have a son?  Who is his mother?  Where is Dick Grayson?  Who is the mystery Bat-guy?  I suppose these questions will be answered over time, but it highlights a major issue with this reboot.  This story is already starting in some weird universe with characters I don’t understand and are so unlike what I was expecting.  As a new reader I expected some kind of origin story, not picking up somewhere in the middle of a place where there’s some other guy in a Bat costume getting his ass handed to him by a mystery villain.

I wasn’t a fan of the art in this book either. For one thing, it’s very inconsistent.  Sometimes Robin is muscular and toned; in other scenes, he’s drawn with a waifish look.  Which is it?  Does Robin have the best physique of any 10-year-old ever or is he just a regular kid?  How does that mask stay on his face, anyway?

Batman is the whore of DC Comics.  There are a bunch of books dedicated to him (eleven in all) and he also appears in other properties such as Justice League, etc.  How does a new reader figure out which Batman is “real”?  Why are there so many different Batman lines to begin with? If this is a reboot, then start with something people know.  Sometimes, less is more.  In the case of all this Batman stuff, I just find it all very confusing.  Should I read Batman & Robin?  Would I have been better off with Detective Comics?  Maybe The Dark Knight would have been the right choice?

If I was in charge of this reboot I would have handled it differently.  I would have thrown all this shit out the window.  I would have taken a Batman that a lot of people are familiar with and built from there.  One Batman. One Book.  If you’re restarting, then restart.  I think DC wanted to do something drastic like starting over at #1 but without actually making any potentially drastic decisions in doing so.  As a result you have 52 new books and I imagine that if Batman were to appear in all of them you’d have 52 different Batmans with slightly different personas, sidekicks and versions of Gotham City.  All in all, very confusing to a new reader.

Chadd sez:
While it’s probably unreasonable for Rich to expect Batman comics to be similar to Adam West’s interpretation of the character, it’s not unreasonable for him to expect to understand what the fuck is going on.  When planning these 52 new books, DC made a specific decision to maintain the current continuity of both Batman and Green Lantern.  This might be the most misguided decision of this whole shebang because, with the possible exception of Superman, those are the two characters who new readers are most likely to gravitate towards.  A dude like Rich tunes in to see Batman punching the Riddler in the face, and he is suddenly faced with a whole bunch of craziness about Damian Wayne and Batman fucking Incorporated?  How is he supposed to make sense of that?  Also, that shit with the paper boat might just be the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.  Holy crap.

Richard Grech lives in Queens, NY and spends his time raising triplets when not reading terrible comic books.  Visit his website at www.richgrech.com.

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FRANKENSTEIN – AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1
Read by Jon Vafiadis
Mary Shelley be damned!

True to the physical nature of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the reboot of Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is one part Innerspace, one part The Fly, one part ultra violence, one part marital strife, and all parts ridiculous.  S.H.A.D.E. (which is short for The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive) has recently relocated to a microscopic, traveling, indestructible, ball called the Ant Farm, which is capable of traveling at hundreds of miles per hour.  In order to fit the population of a large metropolitan city into a 3 inch sphere, one of S.H.A.D.E.’s scientists, Ray Palmer, has created a new shrinking/teleportation technology.

Agent Frankenstein is shrunk and teleported to the Ant Farm where he is bombarded by new and old acquaintances.   For some unexplained reason, the Ant Farm holds an entire city within its tiny structure and the municipal services are handled by Humanids, who are half machine, half organic material ephemeral hybrids.
The exposition starts flying fast and furiously as we are introduced to Father Time who I assume was Frankenstein’s creator.  In a twist which I think works particularly well, Father Time has moved into a new body to prolong his life and has chosen that of a pre-teen girl who looks like the Japanese school girl equivalent of Hit Girl.  At this point we are brought back to the splash page where monsters are attacking the town of Bone Lake, Washington  and Agent Frank is informed that his estranged wife has been dispatched to quell this monster uprising.  Having Frankenstein referred to as Frank is nice touch of giving this world a sense of CIA/bureaucratic realism.  It reminded me of Police Squad in the sense of the serious nature of the work despite the ludicrousness that surrounds it all.

In an even larger exposition bomb, Frank is introduced to the newest S.H.A.D.E. recruits, Division M: The Creature Commandos.  The team is composed of the humans who have voluntarily subjected to themselves to ghastly experiments in an effort to become heinous hell beasts ala Agent Frankenstein.  There is Dr. Nina Mazursky, a half-human half-fish creature, Warren Griffith, the requisite werewolf, Vincent Velcoro, the vampire and lastly Khalis the mummy whose past is a complete mystery.

Agent Frankenstein leads the team in a multi page fight against the monsters of Bone Lake as they search for survivors.  Since this only Part 1 of War of the Monsters, the conclusion of the book is a cliff hanger, which feels most like what Mary Shelley illustrated in her Frankenstein, where Frank and the commandos find a crypt inhabited by a nun and gaggles of young children.

Not being a fan of monsters or ridiculousness, ordinarily I wouldn’t have picked up Frankenstein – Agent of S.H.A.D.E.  That being said I was intrigued by what the future would hold for Frankenstein; the running conflict that this beast of a man will encounter from all the human civilians that he is trying to save, gets to true nature of the struggle within Shelley’s Frankenstein Monster.   The superficial nature of man and our fear of what’s different will most certainly dominate Frank’s adventures.  I don’t think I’ll pursue any future issues but I wouldn’t mind overhearing some real fans talk about S.H.A.D.E. and their battles with the monsters, both human and non-human alike.

I’m a bit of a traditionalist so having no preconceived notions on Frankenstein and S.H.A.D.E. was helpful in the sense that I wasn’t bothered by any changes to the first run of series if there were any.  I would have preferred a more straight forward reboot where we get see Frankenstein’s true origin rather than being thrust into the middle of his story while he meets a new cast of characters.  That way I could get a feel for the different parts of Frankenstein and how they all came together to make the man, the Agent, that he is. The rapid fire rate that we are exposed to new information felt highly indicative of a comic made in the age of text messages rather than an age of text.  A slower build would have probably suited the character a little better given his past and what struggles he must have faced but I understand that the medium requires action and a faster pace, especially in this day and age.

Overall I found the concept and for the most part, the execution to be ridiculous.  Why would anyone want to turn themselves into a monster?  Given the bureaucracy of any organization, why would Father Time bother with the discrimination that would come from being a small Asian school girl?  Why would Frankenstein choose to fight for those who would more likely greet him with a pitchfork than a handshake?   But if over the top monster creatures are your thing, pick up issue #1 of Frankenstein – Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and you won’t be disappointed.

Chadd sez:
First of all, I am completely fucking charmed by Jon’s repeated references to Mary Shelley’s novel, and I am shocked and delighted that he actually found this to be a faithful interpretation of the classic character.  Obviously, it was DC’s intent to elicit this reaction when they first introduced the monster into their comic books back in the nineteen-dickities, but this version of Frankenstein has morphed into something completely different throughout the decades.  So if Jon is actually seeing shades of Shelley in this ridiculousness, then he is reading this book in an entirely different way than I am – and that’s awesome!   Jon seems to have mixed feelings on the book, but I think he’s accurately picking up on Jeff Lemire’s intended tone – an over-the-top gonzo sci-fi/action thrill ride.  And since Frankenstein doesn’t have as much continuity baggage as most of DC’s superheroes, this is an excellent book for new readers who get a boner for that sort of thing.

Jon Vafiadis can be seen playing the guitar badly every Wednesday at 11PM at www.thechrisgethardshow.com, on occasion he puts out records at www.whoaohrecords.com, and he is a swell conversationalist.

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ACTION COMICS #1
Read by Ben Weasel
When I was a kid we had a book in our local library that was an anthology of Superman cartoons  from the 30’s through the 50’s.  The thing was friggin’ gigantic and I checked it out about every other month.  I wasn’t a comic book fan but I loved those Superman stories.  I even liked the goofy, silly stuff, like Bizarro Superman and Mister Mxyzptlk.

I never did buy a Superman comic book, and I guess the reason why I didn’t is the reason why I dislike comic books in general, and especially this newest iteration of Superman; it’s geared towards comic book nerds.  Somebody, somewhere, a long time ago, decided that comic books couldn’t have mainstream appeal, so they started appealing to the lowest common denominator instead.  And the more they did that, the less people like me had any interest in them.  Guys like me don’t want to read dark, edgy comic books – I figure there’s enough dark edgy entertainment out there without having to get it from cartoons.  And guys like me don’t mind stories that take place in an alternate universe – we just don’t like them to all take place in the same exact, dorky, predictable comic book nerd universe.

Comic book writers and publishers have been trying to turn the genre on its head for years and they’ve failed because it’s apparently never occurred to them that the comic book universe is inherently goofy. Batman is a laughable character.  For God’s sake, he’s not a tortured soul – he’s a freak in a bat costume.  It’s all silly, ridiculous, laughable.  Ben Edlund got that, and that’s why The Tick was so funny and fresh and original.  The problem with comic book people (both the writers and the fans) is that it never occurs to them that idea of telling a multi-layered, subtle, dark, complex story through cartoons is a pretty silly idea.  There are really only three ways to appeal to mainstream audiences with comic book superheroes:

  1. Make them old-fashioned, unambiguous, morally upright, unconflicted superheroes, and give them evil genius supervillians to fight.
  2. Overtly make fun of the genre (not with comic book nerd humor, either)
  3. Subversively make fun of the genre (again, not with nerdy insider cracks)

Anything else is just going to be white noise for most of us.

This new Superman blows for a few reasons, but first and foremost is that he’s dressed like a braying jackass.  He can leap tall buildings in a single bound but he can’t find a pair of jeans that fit?  And not only that, but the problem is that Superman’s jeans are too BIG for him, so he has to roll the cuffs?  Why is he wearing jeans in the first place?  And if that’s not bad enough, he’s wearing work boots.  That’s some pretty sub par crimefighting gear.  He still wears the spiffy red cape and a skin-tight blue shirt up top (showing off his impossibly tiny, girlish waist – what the hell did they do to the poor guy?  Give him liposuction?), with the working guy getup below.  It’s the costume version of a mullet and it looks as ridiculous as it sounds . Tights and form-fitting vinyl boots might look outdated but they’re actually aerodynamic, y’know?  That sort of thing kind of helps a guy who has the power of flight.

In addition to looking like a dimwit who can’t figure out how to dress himself, this Superman – apparently created for the defense department by Lex Luthor (though by the end of the story Luthor seems to be saying he found Superman in outer space or something)– is more machine than man; a loose cannon who is referred to by his creators as “it” rather than “he,” which makes sense when you see its eyes flashing red like Louis in Ghostbusters once somebody ticks “it” off.

Seriously, Superman is now Superit.  This may be the first version of Superman in which Clark Kent is more interesting than his alter ego (though only marginally, as Clark only seems to want to talk about how great Superman is).

The story makes no sense, which seems to be par for the course in comic books.  I’m sure the disjointed series of events the writers are trying to palm off as a story says all sorts of insightful things to the type of people who already have several copies of this issue safely stashed away in a hermetically sealed bag inside a climate controlled storage room but it bored the tits off me.  Halfway through the book some sort of crisis happens to Jimmy and Lois while they’re on a train.  Clark is talking to Jimmy on the cell phone, then suddenly, Superman’s squatting there in an awkward and unflattering fashion as he sends the train hurtling down the tracks with his superstrength. Why? I have no idea, and I’ve read the stupid thing three times so far.

This comic book is a mess.  This Superman sucks the big one.  The art is terrific, but everything else about it just reminds me of why I’m not a comic fan, and probably never will be.  Needless to say, I won’t be reading any more of this nonsense.

Chadd sez:
When Ben told me that his only experience with DC comics was reading very early Superman stories, I immediately assigned Action Comics to him.  After all, you can’t read a review of this book without hearing about how Grant Morrison has successfully evoked the spirit of those early, innocent stories and brought back the aw-shucks Golden Age version of Superman, protector of the working man.  I agree with that general consensus, because my basis of comparison is all the dopey shit that’s happened between then and now.  Ben’s only basis of comparison, however, is Golden Age Superman and viewing this book from that perspective, yeah, this is actually nothing like that.  While I disagree with Ben’s assertion that mainstream audiences are turned off by dark and multi-layered superhero stories (after all, gazillions of regular folk go to see every Batman movie), I can totally see why a fan of “STOP IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE, ROBBER!” Superman would roll their eyes at this book.  For us comic book nerds, however, this shit is fucking awesome.

Ben Weasel – musician, philanthropist, gentleman

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O.M.A.C. #1
Read by Dave Ninja

My assignment: O.M.A.C. #1

Note: O.M.A.C. will be written as OMAC from now on. Forever.

Pre-reading: I’ve never heard of OMAC before.  I’m looking at the cover now and I can’t believe comics are $2.99.  Also, OMAC looks like a blue orc with a mohawk.  I have no idea what OMAC stands for.

Page 1: Bioengineering firm that does stuff with stem cells.  Hot chick is looking for Kevin Kho, who I assume is really OMAC since he has a picture of OMAC on his computer screen.  His co-worker then mentions that Kevin is OCD and hits on his girlfriend (who is pissed that she was stood up for lunch. again!).

Page 2-3: Alarm goes off in the office.  OMAC appears and is breaking stuff. The issue is called Office Management Amidst Chaos, which I hope is what OMAC stands for but it’s probably just some joke.

Screw the pages: Some computer talks to OMAC and tells him to get some mainframe.  Jerk tries hitting on OMAC’s girlfriend again.  Then: “One mile beneath the surface rests the true Cadmus project.”  One mile is pretty deep.  That would take a long time to dig that far down and it would probably be pretty hot.  Why not just go a quarter of a mile down?  Would it make any difference?

For a second i thought OMAC was British, but then I realized it said “brutish”.

OMAC beats some bad guys that were super weak, then gets the mainframe thing that he wanted.  Then he teleports out and turns back to a guy who has no idea what was going on.  Some spaceship thing calls him on his cellphone and says it’s been controlling him.  Spaceship’s name: Brother Eye.  Next issue: “Things get really weird”

Thoughts: I have no idea what’s going on.  I assume OMAC is a good guy since he has a hot, loyal girlfriend.  I don’t know what OMAC stands for so maybe he really is a super hero fighting against chaos in the office management sector.  He looks pretty lame and it’s like they just threw on the mohawk because they couldn’t think of anything else to give him.  “He’s big and blue but we need something to not make him just seem like a blue Hulk or Ben Grimm.  I know, a mohawk!”  His powers seem to be that he’s big and strong and a computer in the sky controls him and can shock things.  A little flashback part mentioned that he was “born of both man…and machine.”

Maybe his mom was Vicki from Small Wonder or his dad, Robocop.

The main thing I take from this is that I’d be pissed if I spent 3 bucks on it.  It’s so generic.  I feel like I read the same story in Devil Dinosaur 30 years ago.  I can see they’re trying to pull you in by just throwing you into the story as if you were Kevin Kho, but the story was crappy enough where I didn’t care.  Also Kevin Kho didn’t seem like that interesting of a guy.

The colors and foes remind me of the Cosairs aliens from X- Men and I always thought they were pretty lame.  I do not predict an OMAC movie in the near future.

Chadd sez:
It’s pretty hilarious that, in his comparison to Devil Dinosaur (another Jack Kirby creation), Dave correctly identified this book as an homage to Kirby without even realizing it.  When I pointed this out to him after reading his piece, his response was, “I should have known Kirby was responsible for that pile of crap.”  Fair enough.  I enjoy Jack Kirby stuff, so I enjoyed the hell out of O.M.A.C. #1… but if you’re not into that style, I imagine this must seem like total garbage.  To each their own!

Dave Ninja bought Tick #1 when it came out; thus, he’s the best. Also he’s in The Four Eyes and is currently working on an Asgardian rap.

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Well, judging by this first batch of reviews, DC doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job hooking new readers so far.  Of these seven brave souls, only one is interested in continuing to read his book.  But with 45 books to go, will that trend continue?  Stay tuned, true believers…

8 responses to “The New 52, as Read by Non-Dorks (Part 1)

  1. Frankenstein is the only one out of this batch that I’ve read so far, but I thought it was great. Totally over the top ridiculous, but totally fun. I will be picking up the next issue for sure.

  2. I agree with Ben on this point:

    “Make them old-fashioned, unambiguous, morally upright, unconflicted superheroes, and give them evil genius supervillians to fight.”

    Part of what I learned to love about DC, after ages of exclusively reading Marvel and then only indie comics, was their ability to make a hero a hero. When I started reading DC I noticed their heroes were morally superior and almost infallible in comparison to Marvel’s characters who more often than not have ridiculously overemphasized human trappings. I liked reading superhero comics where right was right and wrong was wrong. Around 2005 DC seemed to be getting back to that simple superhero/supervillain dichotomy, but quickly abandoned it for the more popular device of thrusting characters into moral grey areas. While that type of story telling can be equally as compelling, I still get excited by comics where superheros are gods among men and make the choice to right by the gifts they’re given.

    • I agree with Ben on that too, especially when it comes to Superman. But Ryan, have you read Action Comics? For guys like us, with the basis of comparison of other recent superhero stuff, I think Morrison does achieve that goal. He only doesn’t in comparison to, like, Siegel and Shuster stuff.

  3. I’ll be honest, I only skimmed it. I got a little bored with week one, but I plan to re-read it. But knowing what I know, when I hear that Morrison is attached to something I expect it to be heady and not at all traditional superhero fare. Even if he’s handicapping himself for the first issue, I expect it won’t stay that way for long. I would have been a lot more excited about Action if they had attached Paul Dini to the project.

  4. Pingback: The New 52, as Read by Non-Dorks (Part 6) | The Sense of Right Alliance

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