The New 52, Twelve Issues On – Part Two

The second week of the Issue 12s of the New 52. So how are the books holding up compared to last week’s look?

As we learnt in Wolverine #311, when your characters start complaining about the plot, something is wrong. This would be acceptable if Suicide Squad actually tried to be a proper dark comedy, but it tried to make us take it too seriously, too often, that this kind of thing grates. And this issue doesn’t even give you enough Harley Quinn madness which has been the series’ saving grace. There is a good, possibly great comic series, waiting to be told here but it feels like its being held back, never committing, never following through.

That isn’t a problem with Resurrection Man, which embraces its nature fully. Fun, complex and conspiracy filled, it sadly pales in comparison with early issues of the similar Dial H. Of course, it’s been cancelled, so there’s that as well. The penultimate issue of this series, repeated deaths, and a cyclical story arc that brings the character right back to the beginning. Which is handy because next month’s final chapter is a Zero issue, the origin of the character which is supposed to wrap the whole thing up.

Good luck…

The new Superboy starts off well, with a Superboy discovering life via celebrity entanglement and alcohol, but the whole thing switches to becoming clunky and mediocre fast. A book that has has shown some originality and spark with every issue is now suddenly becoming a little more dull and predictable, and it’s a shame. Almost as if what worked initially in now subject to change, and the change is really boring. One to drop.

Batman takes a different direction this week, and it’s a welcome one that may just freshen the book. Greg Capullo has done some of his best work on the book, but his work is very slick, which often fights against the grittiness of Gotham. It always has a veneer, it never seems real, which doesn’t quite fit with Scott Snyder’s attempt to show a new reality to Gotham with the Court Of The Owls. This issue is very different, especially Becky Cloonan’s art up from. We get the kind of story that I really enjoy, the effect of a superhero on the world and people around him, and the art totally grounds that, even as Chris Weston-alike Andy Clarke takes on the big Batman fighting scene. And a character who has tripped around in the background of the last twelve issues, gets an issue full of exposition that trips off the tongue, inspiration for someone to use their abilities to help, yet a real counter culture vibe to it all. A great issue that gives a beautifully structured series that is occasionally too cold for its own good, a lot of heart.

Frankenstein, Agent Of SHADE has been an unpinnable book, I’ve wanted to like it, it feels like I should have liked it more. A combination of some great ideas, some odd offball characters, some offworld plots, but it’s never really gelled for me as a reading experience. It’s ended up at the bottom of the pile, if it’s been on the pile at all. I mean look at it, Frankenstein’s Monster as a bad ass, working for the Man, smashing up overgrown insects. It has everything. Except me.

Legion Lost should have been more. People from another millennia, trapped in ours on a mission to save everything? The culture shock could have been played up, but never really was. Neither was the knowledge of what time may bring. So much, almost intrinsic to the very concept, was left on the shelf. Hell, with this issue it even feels and looks like a nineteen sixties issue of X-Men. And not in a good way.

Oookay. Paul Cornell used to write Doctor Who novels, at the time when they all concerned the Seventh Doctor, portrayed on TV by Sylvester McCoy. One of the ongoing plots, of both the TV series and the books, was that the Doctor was Merlin. And now, in Demon Knights, Paul Cornell gets to make Merlin living in a TARDIS. Nice. Now I have to go back through the issues to see if I missed any similar nods.

A very strong, if simple series, that sees a variety of fantasy characters playing out a Dungeons & Dragons-style game, using the narrative strengths of that medium in this one, and converging motivation, albeit temporarily, to pursue a variety of plots. Fun, frightening and fearsome, one of the New 52’s best.

This issue though commits the sin of the two issue cliffhanger. It is not alone in that…

You bastards.

Here’s a book that has rapidly improved of late. Grifter does a nice trick… it has captured the kinetic nature of Rob Liefeld’s art, transferred it into his plot, but let it be coalesced into script and art that’s far more pleasing to the eye, puling in aspects of Jim Lee and Sam Keith along the way. A long game played by a superhero against an entire cosmic army that works, enlivens, entertains and inspires. Even when someone like Deathblow threatens to get in the way. Good guys, semi-good guys, semi-bad guys and decent proper bad guys makes for an entertaining series, that has upped its game of late.

This can’t be said for Deathstroke however. Rob’s art, while as kinetic as ever, has serious flaws that make it hard, mockable even, to read, such as this silly putty version of Lobo here. There is lots to love even here, his use of blood, his silhouette-like figures below and a drive that pushes the reader from page to page, but too much is still lacking here and the eyes can tire. What began as a deep, dark assassin’s tale has turned into a comic with characters showing the depths and appearances of action figures.

Batgirl has been a great surprise, for the publishers more than anyone, as it has confronted its Killing Joke legacy head on, and creating an intelligent work about someone trying to regain her place in her world, as both a superhero and a woman. This issue, much of that is shattered as a far more confident Batwoman enters the fray and bringing the splintered panels of her book with her for a little while. And we get to see the book from a different angle, in sharp contrast to its competitors in the market. Batwoman is a stylish, elegant comic full of theme, purpose and desire, but Batgirl is far more about the person. Even if it ends a bit like a Geoff Johns comic, and a another cliffhanger that won’t be resolved for another two months… seriously, people will get angry about this.

Batman And Robin confronts its own inherent weakness full on this issue. Because it has never been about Batman and Robin, but about Batman and his Robins. Whether of nor they were Robins, I can’t tell anymore. Damian has his legacy which he embraces and rejects depending on the turn of the weather. But as he can’t avoid this issue, they can be very useful indeed. He’s the only one of the New 52 who retains this legacy issue, made more complex by actually being a son of Batman rather than a surrogate. It’s failed to reach the highs of the Nightwing Batman/Damian Robin days that preceded it, but it’s generally been a perky read.

New book, Ravagers, is such a nineties book, in talent, in look, in fashion, in tone, especially with all the images that feel straight out of Marvel’s attempts back then to do Vertigo-alike comics, like Hellstorm. But it also pushes itself hard into the New 52… such as The Red below. Maybe that’s what we’re getting – Bob Harras’ publishing high point combined with Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s creative experiences and influences combining… either way, Ravagers makes for a more interetsing book that you might expect.

Again, as last week, we are still looking at a mixed bag. A shame that some books have been cancelled while worse books have survived, by virtue of their franchise awareness. And there have been some changes of late that have taken a number of books backwards rather than forwards. But even then you can find some surprises. It may not always succeed, but at least the New 52 is trying, where it can, to be New. A bit. Ish.

Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, of London, currently exhibiting the work of Ian Churchill with a signing this Saturday.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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