Saturday, 3 September 2011

Welcome to the future - the new DC universe

So the comic book world was turned on it’s head this week as DC, the second biggest comics publisher in the world released the first title in the huge re-boot of their entire main line of monthly books. Or was it? Maybe not quite as dramatically as expected.

Releasing only 2 titles this week was a definite statement of intent, and I think it was successful in generating more and more interest in the flood of new titles which follow in September – 52 new titles in total, 52 new number 1’s. To a comic book geek that is very exciting. Or infuriating, depending on your perspective. I do think it is somewhat sad that a title like Action Comics, which had been one of the longest running comic books in history, is stopped on issue 904 and has to start again as part of this renumbering exercise. But, I also think it is a bold, brave move on DC’s part to have the conviction to include all their titles in the renumbering and not be scared to make changes to sacred texts. Anyway I’m not too precious about the whole thing and I’m damn excited. Bring on the new titles.
So what about the 2 books DC released this week?

First up was Flashpoint #5 written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert. Johns, DC’s star writer has been tasked with concluding the old continuity in one comic book. Now that’s gonna be tough. But if anyone can do it, Johns can. And he does, if not entirely successfully or satisfactorily. But he gives it a damn good try, and he has produced an entertaining comic book in the process. We basically ended up with a time-travel gone wrong scenario. There was a little too much going on in this last issue of Flashpoint and I think it suffered for that. However it was great fun to see a whole host of DC characters, both major and minor, brilliantly drawn by Kubert. The inks of Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdano, and the rich colours of Alex Sinclair makes the pages really jump out and hit you between the eyes. The best bit of the issue for me was contained in the last few pages, after all the action has died down, and things have returned to “normal”. The Flash gives Batman a letter from his father which he gave to The Flash in the alternate timeline. The four panels that show Bruce, having removed his cowl, reading the letter, while The Flash stands beside him in respectful silence are masterful. The tension and emotion in the scene is palpable on the page, even before we see Bruce’s tears. This final coda to the book is a suitably emotional end and farewell to the current DC universe and it is clear that Johns is very aware of the significance of this book.

And so to the start of the new DC universe (DCNU). Our first introduction to this brave new world is Justice League #1. The biggest comic book release of the year? I ain’t gonna argue. Also written by Geoff Johns (busy man), and illustrated by Jim Lee, with colours by Scott Williams, this first look at the biggest shake-up in comics history is not as bombastic and earth-shattering as one might have expected. It focuses mainly on Batman and Green Lantern, with a four-page sequence introducing Vic Stone A.K.A Cyborg, and a great entrance from Superman. But no Wonder Woman, no Aquaman, no Flash!

Some people have argued that this first issue was too slow, not enough action, not enough characters introduced. Whilst I was expecting more characters to appear each time I turned the page, on reflection I think this slow-burn approach works well. In this age of immediacy it is a brave move to leave out three members of the Justice League entirely, only briefly introduce two others and focus most of the book on Batman and Green Lantern. What this enables Johns to do is concentrate on introducing and developing the characters over a longer period, thereby creating a greater connection with the reader. I particularly like the interplay between Batman (typically dry, refreshingly sardonic) and Green Lantern (brash, cocky and sarcastic). As a long-time fan of Batman I am very excited to see how his character will develop in this title as well as all the other ones he is going to be appearing in.

As far as the art in this book (of course acknowledging that Johns’ writing is an art) goes – Wow. Jim Lee is on fire. I’ve been a big fan of Lee since I first saw his work on Wildcats in the early 90’s. And this is surely some of the finest work he’s ever done.

Overall I really enjoyed Justice League #1. As an introduction to the new DCNU it worked very well. It was never going to be possible to encapsulate an entire new world in one book. That’s what the other 51 titles are for. And I can’t wait.

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