In August of last year I posted a list on TR called 11 Reasons Why the DC Relaunch Might Not Suck. It was kind of a crystal ball look at DC’s New 52 project which tried to counteract a lot of the doom and gloom that fans were spouting about DC’s bold — if not entirely thought-out — relaunch. Twelve months (and several dropped titles) later, I can say with certainty that the relaunch has definitely benefitted some DC characters and comics, while it hasn’t helped others at all… and there’s a few that it has actually made worse.
Not every comic character can be Batman, of course, but on the whole DC’s made some good choices. Here are five of the titles that DC totally got right in the New 52 and you need to get NOW, and five that, well, should be put out to pulp. NOTE: This list is looking at series that the New 52 improved (or made worse) — not those that stayed the same, like the main Batman titles and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I also haven’t included any of the books that launched four months ago, like Earth 2, World’s Finest, and Dial H; let’s give them a little time to grow, eh?
I’ll admit to be originally lukewarm on The Authority and the Wildstorm universe back when there was such a thing, but starting from square one with Stormwatch opened my eyes. Originally, Authority stories consisted of “even if we win, half the world’s going to be depopulated” disasters that just soured me on the team — now the team’s specialized as all hell, colorful, family-like, and tracking down what amounts to extremely conceptual and mature threats. A ton is packed into every issue and it’s one of the few books in the New 52 where writers Paul Cornell and Peter Milligan have permission to do whatever the hell they feel like.
4) Frankenstein: Agent of Shade
Another book where everything gets piled on and yet still works is Frankenstein. And again, I couldn’t have cared less about Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos prior to September of 2011 — this was one of the few books I initially wasn’t thrilled about. But the attitude of “this world we’ve created is bizarre and we’re all cool with it” really propels this book forward. Frankenstein is a weary soldier working for an agency that’s way out of his league. It’s G.I. Joe starring monsters and anything goes. Top-shelf work.
3) All-Star Western
Just watch as Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Moritat create the past of the DCU one issue at a time. You can watch them weaving out of whole cloth everything that follows in the other New 52 titles. The buddy comedy of badass Jonah Hex and wimpy nerd Amadeus Arkham drips fun over every page. Western is such a tough genre to sell but I’d get this book as a weekly if I could. I think the creative team knows that every issue is balanced on the edge of a knife so they’re delivering great stories of old Gotham. One of the best-written books of the whole relaunch.
2) Animal Man/Swamp Thing
I’m counting them as one book, since they depend on each other so much (and tell the same story). First off, the art on both books has been world class, holding a consistent style over both books. Second, the story is advancing Alan Moore and Grant Morrison’s original Vertigo tales to their logical conclusion: if there is a Green, there is a Red, and a Rot that combines the two (it makes more sense if you read it). It’s warfare on a global, and also microscopic level. Swamp Thing went through several weak re-launches and Animal Man was a joke up until the first issue of this series dropped, but now it seems like what they’re doing really matters. And oh God, that art! I can’t get over how gorgeous it is.
1) Wonder Woman
I started reading Wonder Woman when Gail Simone started writing it and enjoyed what followed. The last year before the relaunch though, things were all over the place, and then New 52 hit. Now we’re in a world of Greek mythology, brilliant new character designs (Hades as a little boy with melting candles sprouting from his face? Wow.), and a Wonder Woman who faces metaphysical threats rather than alien invasions. IT IS SO GOOD. A colorful supporting cast is just icing on the cake — this Wonder Woman is the one we’ve been dreaming of for decades. It’s a superhero story re-imagined as horror, and its genre-bending at its finest.
5) Green Lantern: New Guardians
I wanted to like this book, but for the life of me, I can’t see why it’s not ending after 12 issues. All the Lantern Corps. are starring in each others’ books anyway, so why have a book devoted to Lantern team-ups? The characters don’t want to be there, they have nothing in common, they wander in and out from issue to issue… with the superior Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps., New Guardians is superfluous. There used to be Green Lantern stories without a cast of thousands, but I don’t remember what they were like.
The book that makes no one happy. We went from goofy Barbara Gordon as ’60s Batgirl to mega-competent Oracle then back to goofy Barbara Gordon as New 52 Batgirl who apparently forgot what it was like to be mega-competent Oracle. I’ll even suspend judgment on the whole “getting-out-of-the-wheelchair” thing because, you know, comic books. But the aloof Batgirl just doesn’t cut it once we’ve seen Barbara Gordon absolutely rule everything thrown at her back in the old DCU. Pick any other DC character to play that game with! It works with Blue Beetle! But not with Barbara Gordon. She’s better than what we’ve seen.
Deathstroke is an awesome character. He’s DC’s version of the Taskmaster, but he’s not as well utilized. If it was a book about Deathstroke the assassin, awesome. If it was about Deathstroke the Society enforcer, awesome. Instead it’s Deathstroke the whiner going on about his damn family again. DC. PLEASE LISTEN. STOP GOING BACK TO THE WELL OF DEATHSTROKE’S FAMILY. Oh, and now he’s getting a new origin along with ’90s solo act Lobo. That’s all the book needed.
2) Green Arrow
If I could point to the one character who didn’t benefit from the relaunch, it would be Green Arrow. What the old GA had going for him was his world-weary sense of dedication and the little family he’d grown around himself. That’s gone now. The book is relying on… something else to differentiate it. Maybe it’s to tie in with the new TV show, or Smallville, but the depth of the pre-DCnU Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer and Judd Winick writing is replaced with fighting bland foes with no end and seemingly no beginning. The rich young adult gag seemed played out before the first issue launched, and now he’s just another douchebag with gadgets.
1) Hawk & Dove
It. Didn’t. Work. Hawk and Dove have always been problem children; their powers aren’t very unique and what does make them interesting (avatars of Order and Chaos) doesn’t get much play. Having Dove fall in love with Deadman was a nice touch, but it never felt real or natural, so the stakes were low. The stakes never seemed high because 90% of the book was either posing or fighting. Lots of fighting, no reason to care. And while Rob Liefeld has his fans, the art was sub-par. My favorite example: the last issue (thankfully this book went good-bye) contained 74 panels. Ten of them had backgrounds.