Thursday, February 09, 2012

8. Top 10 DC Relaunch Books

We're almost six months into the DC relaunch now, so that we've seen the finale of most of the first story arcs (and more on that in a minute), and I feel like I've seen enough to fairly rank my favorites.

I should say that we're only in week two of month six, but one issue more or less isn't really going to move my opinion on any of the books I'm reading. I should also say that by month six, I feel like every book should be at least finished with its first story arc, and several of my favorites are actually already into their second. Some of the best books had a four issue or even shorter first arc, and I think that's part of the reason for their success.

1. Suicide Squad
So many ways this could have gone wrong. Untested creative team, some really ugly costume designs on the cover of #1, the weight of expectations from one of my all-time favorite series... and instead, it is my favorite book of the relaunch by a wide margin, and the only one I'm 100% certain I'll be picking up in collected editions.

It's got great dark humor, terrific new characters, a great use of existing characters and really nice art. I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying their take on Harley Quinn, equally surprised by how well Deadshot works as leader of the Squad instead of free-floating headcase, and I love King Shark, who is violent and unpredictable and often very, very funny. Of course I hate skinny Waller and miss the pre-relaunch Wall, but that's a minor tweak, all things considered, and this is great book.

2. Resurrection Man
This one is pretty much exactly what it was before the relaunch. Abnett & Lanning know how to create a character and a setting (just look at what they've done with Marvel's space adventure stuff or Heroes for Hire), the art is really strong and I like the various mysteries running throughout the thing. And while in some ways the first story arc is still going, in other ways they're doing a more old school approach, with stories that finish in each issue (or in two or three issues) and a larger over-arcing series of subplots. In fact, issue #6, taking place in Gotham, is basically a standalone.

3. Wonder Woman
This is still one of those that could go off the rails, and I suspect, as with almost all of Azzarello's work, that it will read better in trade. But it really is a completely new, and much more interesting, take on Wonder Woman, dark and violent and grounded in mythology in a very different way than what Perez did when he reinvigorated the character in the '80s. And Cliff Chiang's art is phenomenal, some of the best of the relaunch. Even more impressive, when they brought in guest artist Tony Akins, he rose to the occasion and did the best work of his career, so that the occasional guest spot won't ruin the vibe that Azzarello and Chiang have going.

I'm not certain I'll pick up collected editions of the run, I need to see how it does in the long run, but it's a strong possibility.

4. Aquaman
Given that Johns hasn't written much that I've enjoyed in the past few years (ever since Countdown to Infinite Crisis, actually), I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying this book. A relatively short four issue intro arc, some strong art from Ivan Reis, and of course a more badass Aquaman have a lot to do with it. But I also really like his use of Mera (a character I previously could not possibly care less about).

5. Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
Lots of fun, picking up on elements of what Morrison did with the character, and just throwing in tons of little DC Universe elements while essentially being an action-adventure monster book. There have been bumps in the road, like a crossover with OMAC, and I'm deeply disappointed that Lemire is leaving the book, even if Matt Kindt is a decent replacement, but I've been enjoying it in general.

6. Catwoman
Sexy, fun, with spectacular art by Guillem March and some of the strongest writing Winick has done in a while. Sure, it can't compare to the Brubaker run, but what possibly could? It's a popcorn book for me, but I have to admit that every issue I enjoy, and it feels like these guys get this character.

7. Batman and Robin
Loses a few points for still being on its first story arc, even six issues in, loses more points for not naming the new dog Ace, but the dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Damian is fantastic, the art by Patrick Gleason really strong and the bad guy, a callback to Wayne's past and a temptation for Damian's dark side, is a perfect choice. Easily the best of the new Batman books.

8. Swamp Thing
I have to be honest, I'm losing interest in the overlong first arc, but this is a creepy horror take on a character who works better as creepy horror than superheroes, and Yanick Paquette is doing a great job on the art.

9. Animal Man
This one also had a big swing and a miss with the inexplicable decision to do the Buddy Baker movie issue with #6, but it's been creepy and haunting and really, really good up to that point.

10. Batwoman
I have to admit, beautiful as JH Williams' art is, there are times when I can't really tell what's supposed to be going on. And to some extent, Amy Reeder Hadley taking over on art is an improvement. And Williams is maybe a bit too ambitious as a new writer, playing around with structure when he should really be trying to tell a more straightforward story. But... there's so much to like about this book and it's deliberate weirdness, and he gets major bonus points for using Chase and the DEO.

A few notes on other books in the relaunch:

Action Comics - Great first two issues, than rapid nosedive into WTF-ville. I think this, like much of Morrison's work, will benefit from seeing a big chunk (like twelve issues) at a time to see what he's doing, but my initial love of the book has cooled considerably, and it's almost in not reading territory for me now.

Batman - Lots of folks seem to love this, but I can't get past Capullo's artwork. That motorcycle vs. helicopter chase in #3? Borderline unreadable, and it's not the only sequence like that. Snyder is one of my favorite Batman writers after Black Mirror, so I'll probably give this one a chance when it's collected, but I think the choice of artist just killed this book for me.

Batgirl - I can't get over what a morose, disappointing read this book has been.

Green Lantern - Love the use of Sinestro as Green Lantern, and still enjoy the read, but the Mike Choi guest art on #6 didn't do it any favors.

Justice League - Still enjoying this as an action book, but nobody feels particularly in character, Darkseid is a big disappointment (and don't redesign Kirby unless you can improve on it) and it's definitely a "read and forget" book for me. I understand why it's the flagship, and I don't dislike it, but neither is it anywhere near my top 10.

Flash - Love Manapul's art, and I feel like he took a step up as the writer and designer of the panels, but... the writing is soooo boring. With a better writing collaborator, I feel like this book could be much stronger.

Demon Knights - Overlong first story arc, too many characters... I really wanted to like this, but I'm quickly losing track of the story.

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