Comic book events have been convenient ways of tricking my otherwise four-color-phobic Idle Time brethren into reading comics. Remember in 2008 when we hosted the Secret Invasion pool? Or late last year when Erik tried to organize a comics-themed podcast? (I haven’t given up on you, ghostmann) Nothing really worked. Comics is still a distant third place in the Idle Time media hierarchy.
Then DC announced its “New 52” initiative: fifty-two brand-new number-one issues, including re-boots on iconic books like Batman and Green Lantern. Incredible creative teams were assembled. Everything was going to be fresh, and opportunity for reaching new readers had never been greater. The plan met with huge opposition from DC faithful, of course; there was even a protest organized for last year’s SDCC. But for people like me, eager to see comics attack a broader audience (just don’t mess with my Marvel books), this seemed promising. Even Uncle Isey, the Holy Bee himself, long the staunchest hold-out to the funnybooks, enthusiastically declared, “I’m in.”
So the two of us, along with Rex, who never needs an excuse to be asked to read a huge pile of comics, tasked ourselves with reading all fifty-two of the DCnU’s premiere issues. We employed our patent-pending Idle Time roulette system to rank the lot and we now know, unequivocally, which of these new series are worth picking up… and which should be used for kindling and birdcage liners. Erik “ghostmann” Hanson, a longtime DC stalwart, will be chiming in on our Top list, as will the mysterious Lazy Bear, who we’ve forced out of his eleven-month slumber with comic book homework. We’re already five months in on many of the titles, and the first collected editions of these books hit shelves beginning in May. Now, then, is the perfect time to tell you what to read, and what to avoid.
This could be deemed blasphemous to longtime comics fans, but understand the criterion for ranking these books: which book would you rather keep reading? After a single issue, are you intrigued enough to pick up number two, or after being inundated with three dozen characters and an unintelligible web of origin stories tenuously supporting seemingly pre-existing plotlines, are you pissed off enough to toss LOSH under the sofa? Hey, I like Legion. I like the concept, the history, and the general space-operatic feel of the entire line. But my partners in this endeavor felt completely alienated from Legion lore and had absolutely no interest in investigating further. As an effort to bring new readers into the 30th century, this first issue fails miserably.
When Milestone Comics debuted in the early nineties, promising to correct the under-representation of minorities in comics, new universes were a dime a dozen. Dark Horse, Valiant, Continuity… none of these super-hero stables survived the inevitable crash that follows the boom. Almost twenty years later, however, and, thanks to an incorporation into the DC Universe, some of Milestone’s characters survive. What a shame, then, that Static Shock gets treated to terrible dialogue, flat and lifeless art, and a boring, juvenile story.
This mess is an even greater crime against comics history. Captain Atom was one of the Charlton characters (created by Steve Ditko, no less) later bought by DC and introduced into their universe in the late 1980’s. This was the character originally slated as the god-hero of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen before legal concern forced a re-genesis as Dr. Manhattan. Do we get a throwback to the trippy space epics of Ditko in the 60’s? Maybe a more cerebral exploration of the responsibilities of power a la Alan Moore? No, this first issue is vague and sloppy. The second issue may explain where the story is going, and may even see Williams settling on an art style. We’ll never know, because there were forty-nine other books more worthy of our attention, and one shot is all you got.
I’m sensing a pattern here. Originally a Fox Comics character that debuted in 1939, Blue Beetle was obtained by Charlton in the 60’s and then subsequently by DC, where he became the lovable gadget-wielding Ted Kord (and the real face of Watchmen‘s Nite Owl). His supporting character status for decades made Kord a fan favorite. Hell, I even liked the guy. He was just popular enough for his Infinite Crisis death to cause a stir, and just insignificant enough to scrap entirely for a completely revised version of the character: Jaime Reyes, Hispanic space bug caught in the middle of some cosmic brouhaha. Like Legion, it’s hard to follow, but unlike that book, there isn’t enough past history to warrant an extended look.
What are the odds that in the twenty-plus years since Rob Liefeld first garnered completely unwarranted acclaim for his work on New Mutants he would have learned how to draw? I’ve never met anyone who likes this guy’s art. Ever. Yes, it was different than anything else on the shelves at the time. It was shitty. Despite that, he somehow helped found Image, made a bajillion dollars before he was old enough to drink, and faded away. Good for him. Except he didn’t go away: he’s back on this abortive excuse for a superhero comic and, no, he still draws like an eighth grader. Maybe worse. The real kicker? Sterling Gates’s script is just as bad. If you’re looking for perfect writer-artist synergy, then look no further. These two harmonize wonderfully. I’ve never been more willing to set a comic book on fire.
So… those were the worst of the batch. Fortunately, there were far more good than bad, and my current monthly pull list now boasts nearly as many DC as Marvel books. Beginning next week, we’ll count down our Top 5, and, in all likelihood, produce an occasional nod to some other books worth your time and money from elsewhere in the ranking.