New to DC: The New 52? What’s Worth Reading?

In September, DC Comics launched a renumbering and reorganization of their entire comics line, at the end of Flashpoint, this summer’s company-wide crossover event. DC has dropped some of their titles, added new ones, redistributed the heroes in others, and started every series at Issue #1, in an attempt to attract new readers.

This means:

1. Streamlined Continuity.

New readers shouldn’t have to wade through 600 back issues of Superman or Detective Comics to know what’s going on and who the side characters are. In this version of the DC Universe, heroes began appearing about six years ago, which also helps clear up inconsistencies that stem from characters who have existed since the 1930s.

2. No Tie-Ins.

For at least a little while, DC comics stories are staying inside their own comics, rather than splaying out across dozens of different series. This makes it easier for new readers to follow stories in one comic without having to read all 52 issues that DC puts out each month.

3. No Tights.

The best known comics characters have hung up their iconic, yet eternally mocked, spandex. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the rest now sport more technological looking outerwear. The color and pattern designs are mostly the same, but the material now looks more like armor than pajamas. Maybe now Superman can stop getting those “underwear on the outside” jokes.

Hopefully, even the most hardcore comics buff out there doesn’t have time to read 52 DC issues a month (to say nothing of Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, and all the smaller houses). Fortunately for you, many (those more cynical among us would say ‘most’) of these series are not worth more than a cursory glance.

This review is not, by any means, comprehensive. This is my attempt to give new comics readers an idea of which of DC’s headliners are worth following, as well as a few of the lesser-known comics you should check out.

Justice League #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Jim Lee 

DC’s New 52 kicked off with the lone publication of JL #1 at the end of August. This story arc takes us five years into the past to see the members of the Justice League encounter each other for the first time, starting with Batman, Green Lantern, and Superman in this issue.

We’ve got some great visuals from Lee, and a good feel from the creators for the mixture of spectacle and fun that this title was made for. Johns’ snappy dialogue in this issue makes the meeting of giants both exciting and humorous.

Rating: 9/10 — Follow this one.

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Rags Morales

If I had to pick the comic I was most excited about this month, it would be Action Comics, with Grant Morrison in the writing chair. I’ve grown to appreciate Morrison’s writing more and more over the last few months, in All-Star Superman and his recent run on Batman. I still can’t make heads or tails of The Invisibles, though…

Action Comics also takes us back to the past, to find a younger, less experienced, but very energetic Superman, who is faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…but is a little bit less powerful than a locomotive. If you’re new to comics, be sure to check this issue out.

Rating: 10/10 — Read this–now.

Superman #1
Written by George Perez
Pencils by Jesus Merino 

Superman #1 has the misfortune of coming out two weeks after Action Comics #1. Because it’s not a bad comic by any means–it just can’t hope to compete. This issue is a pretty standard Superman story, and I have no real complaints…it’s just that after seeing all that Superman can be, it’s hard to step back down to earth and see what he usually is.
Rating: 7/10 — Good, just not spectacular.

The Batmantheon

Batman, Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman: The Dark Knight, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, Catwoman…it’s apparent that DC has a bat-fixation…and with good reason. The character’s exposure in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, as well as 70+ years of drawing in readers, have made Batman one of the most popular comic book superheroes, if not the most popular.

For this first month of DC publishing, my pick for Best Batman Book is…

Batman #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Greg Capullo

I haven’t read anything from Scott Snyder, but I’m ready to change that. In one issue, he captures many of the things that make Batman great: The high-tech gadgets, a cast of colorful side characters, and a baffling mystery to require the most of Bruce Wayne’s detective skills…plus some fun surprises along the way.

Rating: 9/10 — Definitely worth checking out.

Detective Comics is interesting, but a little more dark and disturbing than I’m used to…the last panel is one of the most grotesque I’ve seen in a Batman comic.
Rating: 6/10 — Wait and see.

Batgirl has sparked some controversy. Many fans are glad to have Gail Simone writing the character again, but many others are disappointed with the apparently casual retconning of her gunshot-induced paralysis and status as comics’ most capable IT girl.
Rating: 7/10 — Promising, but not a sure shot.

As to the rest of the Justice League…

Aquaman #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Ivan Reis

The creative team behind Blackest Night is busy on the newest run of Aquaman. I’ll admit, I never really took Aquaman seriously. He was just another underwater superhero who talked to fish all the time.

…Okay, maybe I just got him confused with Marvel’s Sub-Mariner. But now I’m beginning to think I could get interested after all. Reis does a great job at characterizing people with their expressions, a valuable skill in comics. Johns’ writing in this issue is good as well. Plus, there are piranha-faced monster men from the abyss, so…win-win?
Rating: 8/10 — I’d like to see where this goes.

Green Lantern #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Doug Mahnke

Johns is busy, writing three of DC’s larger comics lines. Maybe I’ve just seen him writing GL for too long, but of the three, this one does the least to grab me. Part of it, I think, is Mahnke’s art. The faces seem a bit inhuman and plastic to me, and make it hard to get into the characters. Still, I’m kind of interested to see what happens with Sinestro reinstated as a Green Lantern.
Rating: 6/10 — I’ll have to wait and see on this one too.

Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Pencils by Cliff Chiang

I’ll be honest…I don’t get Wonder Woman. Aside from the appeal for newly-pubescent teenage boys, I don’t know what is supposed to draw me to read about a heroine whose superpower is accessories. Plus, there’s years of crap like this to drag the character down:

Still, even after trying to put my biases aside, I can’t get into this story. There’s centaurs, and a magic key, a character who will probably end up a lesbian (plaid shirts are the harbinger of death for heterosexuality in comics), and more ancient Greek figures than the Percy Jackson books. I tried, but I just don’t like it.
Rating: 5/10 — It might not really be this bad, but I just don’t care.

The Flash #1
Written by Francis Manapul
Pencils by Francis Manapul

Well, well, well…not enough to write The Flash? You want to do the art too? Well, from the looks of this comic, that’s okay with me. Francis Manapul does some creative things with page design, which I enjoy, especially when dealing with the fastest man alive.

The dialogue is a bit dodgy in spots, but I’m willing to overlook that, and I’ll plan to see how this one develops.
Rating: 7/10 — Looks promising to me.

And now for a few comics series that you might not know about if you’re new to the genre.

Swamp Thing #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Yanick Paquette

It’s not Alan Moore, it’s not Alan Moore, it’s not Alan Moore…this is what keeps running through my head, and that’s really not fair. No, perhaps it does not compare to the historic run of brilliantly written Swamp Thing comics from the 80s, but it’s still one of the best starters for DC this month. Animals are dying all over the world, and dead things are…well, moving more, at least. It’s got a nice spooky vibe, and I’ll probably be following this one for a while.
Rating: 8/10 — Read this…but read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing first.

Stormwatch #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Pencils by Miguel Sepulveda

I have mixed feelings about this issue of Stormwatch. On the one hand, the writing has a lot of awkward exposition, hopefully due to first-issue introduction wrangling. On the other hand, it has this picture of the moon:

Also, there’s a giant eyeball…and a giant spiny worm thingy…and honestly, that might be enough to get me to check out the second issue. I love a good monster every now and then.
Rating: 7/10 — We shall see, we shall see…

Animal Man #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Pencils by Travel Foreman

When I started reading this, my thought process went like this: “Oh, look, happy family, eating supper, arguing just a little bit, oh, hey, now he’s a superhero, and he has animal powers, okay, so this is a generic month-to-month sup…wait, what? Okay, eyes bleeding, that’s a little different, but not too…dream sequence? I guess I can handle…what the frick? That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever…no, wait, THAT is…no, wait…AAAAAGGGHHH!”

This one’s really creepy, even more than Swamp Thing, but I like it. It has the feel of a Vertigo comic, like it’s a few steps removed from the rest of the DC universe. I like the self-contained-ness that this suggests.
Rating: 8/10 —  If only for the creep factor.

*     *     *

Well, there we go. I only covered about a fourth of DC’s comics this month, but if you really are new to comics, you probably won’t want to venture too deep into the other comics lines. Most of what’s left is not terribly engaging, and some of it is downright horrendous. Hopefully, this guide has given you some good stuff to look into!

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