Thursday, 3 November 2011

The New 52: Three Months On - Or, My Relationship With The Big Two

Three months ago a self confessed Marvel Zombie decided to give the D.C Universe a try for the very first time in his sixteen years collecting comic books. Three months on, my D.C pile has already outnumbered my Marvel pile on one occasion, and has come close a number of times. Why the sudden defection? Am I in danger of becoming one of the ever vocal lapsed Marvelites.

I have always nurtured affections for several of D.C's characters - primarily Batman and Superman. If D.C reprints were as widely available as Marvel ones in UK newsagents my four year old self may even have chosen the two above to collect rather than the X-Men and Spider-Man. Superman and Superman II are among my favourite comic book movies and while I never threw myself into it with the same vigour as Spider-Man's animated series, I admired Batman: The Animated Series from afar. I have no issue with D.C's stable of characters - I have just never been exposed to them in the same way that I have been to Marvel's. I have tried to get into D.C's Universe a couple of times, but have always found it daunting and have never managed to pick up one of their titles on a regular basis. Although the companies Universe wide reboot has been criticized by longer term readers, it provided the perfect opportunity for a shameless Marvel Zombie to broaden his horizons.

Action Comics seemed a perfect starting point. Set in the early days of the rebooted D.C Universe, it saw Grant Morrison return to the character following his acclaimed run on All Star: Superman. As one of the few D.C runs that I have read and enjoyed (albeit as a collected edition), his return was a definite purchase for me.

Batman and Robin was the second title to catch my eye. While I was familiar with neither writer Peter Tomasi nor artist Patrick Gleason, the idea of Batman having a son immediately caught my attention. While not a traditional part of the character's make up it seems somehow natural to me. A brief flick through #1 and Gleason's pencils had confirmed my purchase. The book looks beautiful and was worth a buy for me on the strength of that alone.

My next, and final two purchases of the New 52 were reserved for slightly more off-beat titles, with both featuring characters that I was barely familiar with before picking up their respective #1's. I, Vampire was perhaps the more surprising of the two, at least for me. I have little interest in Vampire's or the supernatural, but writer Joshua Hale Fialkov piqued my interest in the concept with an impressive interview, and Andrea Sorrentino's impressive, Jae Lee-esque pencils confirmed my purchase.

Animal Man, while being a character I knew next to nothing about, was the subject of a critically lauded Grant Morrison reboot in the 1980's. Although that alone wasn't enough to convince me to buy #1, impressive reviews led me to pick it up, despite not being immediately enamored with Trevor Green's scratchy pencils.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two less heralded series have been by far the two that I have enjoyed the most, with Action Comics and Batman and Robin flattering to deceive despite superb art and overall presentation. Weirdly though, the lack of cohesion between the two titles has actually made them more satisfying reads. The comic reading populace is clearly burnt out by Universe wide crossovers and tie ins, to the extent that even the suggestion that two titles are interlinked would see me eyeing them with a degree of suspicion. I suspect that the days of sprawling, epic crossovers are nearing an end, particularly after Marvel's latest effort, in the shape of Fear Itself was met with a collective sigh by even the most zealous Marvel Zombies. There are problems with the two - the changes made by Morrison to the Superman mythos seem awkward and Batman and Robin's pacing has been sluggish, but at least both feel like complete stories.Animal Man is apparently linked to Swamp Thing, but as someone not familiar with the latter I can honestly say that I didn't realise that the two were interconnected. Take note Marvel - this is how you tie issues together, with subtly and tact rather than brash, and rather empty proclamations. Both Animal Man and I, Vampire work superbly as exercises in how to tell self contained stories, despite the fact that both will clearly be linked with other series somewhere down the line.

That is not to say that it is all good news however. It is telling that more successful of the four books that I have sampled are the ones that are least bogged down in the continuity of the D.C Universe. It is difficult to reconcile the renegade Superman of Action Comics with the caped crusader that we are all familiar with, and Morrison's version of him seems slightly off. The supporting cast are generally portrayed well, but Superman himself seems to have been altered for the sake of it. The concept of Batman training his son is a solid one, but the reader is provided with little context, or background for their relationship. Not a problem for a hardened D.C reader, but for a novice such as myself it has been difficult to involve myself in their relationship.

The bottom line seems to be that when freed from continuity, D.C's reboot has been excellent. However, it is a little to difficult to reconcile this new universes versions of their more iconic heroes. I have never been a stickler for continuity, but I like to recognise the characters that I am reading, or at least be gradually introduced to their worlds. I don't want D.C to hold my hand, but I for one think that the new 52 could do with being a little more reader friendly. I can just about handle it, but with new comic book readers increasingly thin on the ground, more needs to be done to get comic novices involved in their more celebrated characters.

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