Friday, September 30, 2011

Batgirl #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Ardian Syaf
Inker: Vincente Cifuentes
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover artist: Adam Hughes

Once you get past the Adam Hughes cover with its requisite airbrushed face, there’s a pretty solid comic waiting underneath. The creators of Batgirl deliver a debut issue that’s so jam-packed with proper scenes, characters and action that you have to check if it’s really just 20 pages.

Which is particularly remarkable because this book also shines a light on one of the biggest problems of the “New 52” stunt: Contrary to what the line-wide relaunch with #1 issues would suggest, it’s not actually what you’d call “a fresh new start,” by a long stretch.

The title character, for instance, is once again Barbara Gordon, who was Batgirl from 1966 through 1988. Following an attack by the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 story Batman: The Killing Joke, Barbara had been established as the wheelchair-bound Oracle, who became a protagonist in Birds of Prey, and one of the most intriguing DC characters in recent memory. Now, in the shiny new world of the “New 52,” it seems the events of The Killing Joke still happened—but rather than to become Oracle, Barbara was a paraplegic for three years, and then regained the use of her legs through some ominous “miracle.”

To be fair, writer Gail Simone—who had no small part in making Oracle a success in Birds of Prey—does as good a job with the backstory as you could hope for. Still, it’s becoming obvious here that DC is using the relaunch to make a few handpicked, arbitrary changes to its characters’ backstories, rather than to rebuild their world from scratch. For Barbara Gordon, this means she’s being dragged into some “What if…?” type scenario, away from her history as Oracle and back into her previous role as Batgirl. The remit here seems clear: (1) Put Barbara back in the Batgirl role. (2) Keep The Killing Joke in continuity. (3) Try not to offend too many Oracle fans in the process.

I’m not convinced this is a good approach to the relaunch, to put it mildly—neither in this particular case, nor as a general strategy. Wasn’t one of the cited reasons for the relaunch to make the DC Universe less confusing? That seems to be out of the window here, from the get-go. I couldn’t think of a worse way of trying to streamline things than to transplant a fully realized backstory with tweaks, let alone do it in the first issue. “She still got shot, you see—but she got better!”

Now, as I say, Simone is rolling with the punches and gets a solid story out of the premise that makes those goal posts integral parts of the character’s new backstory. But you can still see the joints. The flashback to The Killing Joke in particular seems like an attempt to clarify the status of that story and appease the people who’ve read it, rather than anything that particularly needed to be in this story. And the vague reference to “a miracle” that made Barbara able to walk again is, shall we say, not the smoothest way of jettisoning the Oracle period.

All that aside, though, there’s a lot more to this issue, and it’s still a good debut, on balance. The creators effectively introduce the protagonist, the villain and the supporting cast and flesh out the characters enough to make them seem interesting and alive. They oversell the cliffhanger, arguably, but given the situation the characters are in, let’s just assume that cop had a cup o’joe or two too many.

Grade: C+

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Static Shock #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writers: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum
Penciler: Scott McDaniel
Inkers: Jonathan Glapion and Le Beau Underwood
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Dezi Sienty

I’m not sure why the creators thought that cluttering up a supposedly fast-paced lead-in action sequence with captions and dialogue was a good idea. They were wrong, at any rate, so what we end up with here is a bog-standard superhero fight scene that never even works as a comic because the heaps upon heaps of excruciating exposition and bad one-liners constantly put the brakes on the pacing and keeps you from turning the page to the point where you’re no longer sure you want to.

Consequently, it’s a struggle to make it through the scene, which lasts for 10 pages, and once you do, the introduction of the villains that takes up pages 11 through 13 is a questionable reward. They, too, happen to be a dreary bunch with generic dialogue and a penchant for standing around in large groups for no particular reason.

On the last seven pages, finally, the creators introduce the hero’s supporting cast. Which is somewhat more fun, but doesn’t salvage the book from being a decidedly 1990s-flavor Spider-Man rip-off without all the sub-surface stuff that make Peter Parker more than a teenage nerd who gets super-powers and fights crime with a barrage of one-liners.

Virgil—Static’s alter ego—is African American, granted, but that’s no substitute for a proper, compelling concept. Also, Marvel just launched its own “black Spider-Man” project, and Miles Morales has the considerable advantage of starring in a book that really does say “Spider-Man” on the cover, as opposed to “Static Shock.” Virgil’s casual reference to a line from The Matrix makes me wonder how well, exactly, the creators have thought this “teenage hero” thing through to begin with—unless the story is meant to be set in 1999.

Scott McDaniel’s art communicates the story well enough, but often looks sloppy and rushed. The fact that there are two inkers involved and you can tell their pages apart further suggests that the production process didn’t go as smoothly as hoped. This is unfortunate, since McDaniel’s style is an acquired taste even under ideal circumstances.

If you were hoping for a fresh new face here, Static Shock fails to deliver. It’s an utterly generic and poorly made comic that reads like somebody found it in an old drawer.

Grade: D-

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

O.M.A.C. #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writers: Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio
Penciler: Keith Giffen
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham

In which Keith Giffen, Dan DiDio and company have their hero Kirby-crackling his way through a smorgasbord of doohickeys, thingamajigs and whachamacallits.

O.M.A.C. is a comic that’s intermittently fun to read, but still not very good. It’s fun because Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi and Travis Lanham are accomplished craftsmen who know how to get a good-looking and captivating comic out of a bunch of characters smashing and tearing through stuff (“PA-THOOM,” “RRIIIIPP,” “BASSSHH,” etc.) and shooting each other in the face (“FFRRAATZZ”) with bright and colorful beams of free jazz.

The reason why it’s not very good is because it doesn’t have anything else. Giffen and DiDio evidently don’t put much stock in things like plot, characterization or tension. Their version of the O.M.A.C. (which stands for “One-Man Army Corps”) goes right back to Jack Kirby’s: Its human host is a corporate drone who gets “activated” and sent on missions—which it carries out more or less via remote control—by an intelligent satellite named Brother Eye. And so that’s what we get here: The O.M.A.C. shows up and punches and blasts his way through a bunch of walls and floors and bad guys and Kirbytech.

He does that without much trouble, and while there’s a subplot involving his human host’s girlfriend and a colleague, it doesn’t get a lot of play. This is very much a comic about a powerful big dude with a Mohawk who smashes things, and everything else—including why he’s smashing them—is of secondary importance.

Which, as I say, is a hoot to watch, since the artists know what they’re doing. Then again, it’s not as wild and entertaining as, say, Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s Gødland, either, as far as mad Kirby pastiches go. And, in any case, without proper characters, motivations or even just a genuine, meat-and-potatoes threat for the protagonist to spice things up, the appeal here is rather limited.

Grade: D+

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stormwatch #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Miguel Sepulveda
Colorist: Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Rob Leigh

The new Stormwatch is one of the relaunched DC titles I was looking forward to, thanks to Paul Cornell, who got good mileage out of a similar concept in Marvel’s Captain Britain and MI13 a few years ago. A group of elite super-soldiers defending Earth against supernatural threats the ordinary superheroes are too soft to handle, with Cornell’s solid character work? It sounded good on paper.

In practice, though, there are too many characters here that remain too flat on the page, with hardly anyone among them standing out. They seem interchangeable in the way they act or talk to each other, which is perhaps understandable, given their number—nine protagonists, plus a villain. Even under the best of circumstances, it would be a challenge to make each of them recognizable in 20 pages of a serial that’s as driven by visuals as this one.

After reading the story, I still have no idea who some of the characters are or why they needed to be there, and it doesn’t tell me why I should care, either. I mean, a woman named “Projectionist,” with the super-power to search for stuff on the Internet? Really? Don’t they have iPhones in the new DC Universe? She’s got less personality than one, too.

The creators try to acknowledge the book’s tradition of grand-guignol visuals and storytelling, but while Miguel Sepulveda gets in a few nice shots, he’s no Bryan Hitch. He also seems to be struggling with faces, for that matter.

Stormwatch reads like a rushed and muddled mixture of well-worn genre standards, and it fails to throw anything memorable in the mix. As an introduction to a series with high stakes and an epic scope, this seems awfully pedestrian.

Grade: D

Monday, September 26, 2011

Men of War #1

DC Comics, 28 pages, $ 3.99

Writers: Ivan Brandon, Jonathan Vankin
Artists: Tom Derenick, Phil Winslade
Colorists: Matt Wilson, Thomas Chu
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Viktor Kalchev

Men of War—which revives a title that last ran from 1977 through 1980—is one of those odd hybrid books that you’d have expected from WildStorm, if the imprint were still around, at least as far as the 20-page lead story by Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick and Matt Wilson is concerned.

It’s a war comic, for all intents and purposes, but superheroes are also part of the concept. The creators establish a new “Sgt. Rock” character for the modern-day DC Universe, who appears to be a descendant of the World War II hero introduced by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert in 1959. Rock is your typical unfaltering John Rambo hardass who keeps doing extra tours of duty, because that’s all he knows. “I’m not keeping track,” he says. “There’s always work. This is my job.” And Rock gets the job done, which is why he’s recruited for “a bigger fight” before too long.

The creators do the action routine pretty well, and the art in particular is a pleasant surprise. If you doubted veteran superhero artist Tom Derenick’s capability of laying on the grit and getting down in the trenches, worry no more. Derenick and colorist Matt Wilson turn out to be a good team, and they succeed at putting a face on the story’s hellish setting.

The superhumans are basically called in like air strikes here, always remaining at a distance. They are as threatening to their allies as they are to their enemies: If they come, you better get away, and there’s no guarantee that you won’t end up as collateral damage. If you have to do a war/superheroes genre mash-up, then this is a smart way of handling it. It gets mileage out of the more unsettling aspects of superheroes and, more importantly, avoids the logical pitfalls that come with them. They’re called in for the shock-and-awe part, but they don’t seem to be the kind of people that you’d want to trust with the more delicate tasks on the ground.

The 8-page “Navy Seals” back-up by Jonathan Vankin, Phil Winslade and Thomas Chu is a straightforward war story about U.S. soldiers in an urban-warfare situation, without any fantastic elements to jazz it up. It’s less successful than the other story, mainly because the writing seems hellbent on letting no bit of researched terminology go to waste by leaving it out of the dialogue. The fact that there are four footnotes in eight pages could have been a clue that we’re laying it on a little thick, but apparently not. The art is nice, but as a story, it doesn’t add up. Vankin aims for realism, but I just don’t buy the characters. The dialogue reads like somebody commissioned a comics version of some Army handbook—there’s no authenticity to it, and the timing is awful.

As far as the main story is concerned, though, Men of War is a pleasant surprise. Brandon doesn’t just shoehorn the superheroes in, but actually finds a way to make them work without undermining his main character or the book’s concept. If he can keep it that way—which is a challenge, surely—, this should be an intriguing series. The back-up strip drags things down, unfortunately. It’s not clear what it’s doing here, either, for that matter. Its sensibilities seem completely different from those of the main story.

Grade: C+

Friday, September 23, 2011

Justice League
International #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Matt Ryan
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham

The five creators listed above have almost 100 years of experience in the comics industry between them, so Justice League International was always going to be an effort that’s at least competent, barring any major accidents in the production chain. And if you’re familiar with Dan Jurgens’s sensibilities, you could also expect one of the more conventional, meat-and-potatoes titles among DC’s “New 52” superhero books.

As it stands, though, the creators are also delivering one of the most enjoyable debut issues of the relaunch. JLI manages to be entertaining, and, unlike several of the other relaunch titles I’ve read, it doesn’t make me cringe even once.

It does take a couple of somewhat heavy-handed introductory pages to get the concept underway, but it’s a neat concept: In order to be more independent from the Justice League proper, who won’t follow anybody’s orders, the U.N. assembles its own spin-off group, consisting of members whose common characteristic is that they’re believed to be susceptible to manipulation. And off we are on the first mission.

The structure of the story is familiar, but the formula is done so well that it doesn’t become an issue. Jurgens and Lopresti seem to be enjoying themselves here. The characters—a fairly diverse bunch—seem alive and distinctive. Some of them are awfully on the nose, as far as national stereotypes go, but with one or two exceptions, they still get revealing little moments that flesh them out and make the interaction fun and authentic. In the process, the creators set up a truckload of potential conflicts. The artwork looks crisp and inviting, meanwhile, and the storytelling is clear as well as stylish throughout.

Ultimately, Justice League International delivers as a mostly sturdy traditional superhero team book in the mold of Claremont/Byrne or Wolfman/Pérez. It’s fairly formulaic, but it does the formula well—and it happens to be the first one of the new launches that actually makes me want to buy the second issue to find out what happens next.

Grade: C+

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hawk & Dove #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Sterling Gates
Artist: Rob Liefeld
Colorist: Matt Yackey
Letterer: Dezi Sienty

Quick: You’re DC Comics editor-in-chief Bob Harras, and you’ve just been tasked with assembling 52 creative teams that will reintroduce the DC Universe to a big, bright new audience of first-time readers—who do you call?

Hawk & Dove is everything you’d expect from a comic drawn by Rob Liefeld, unfortunately. The notorious artist’s repertoire of facial expressions begins and ends with gritted teeth; the way his characters are staged seems awkward and unlikely at the best of times; and his page-to-page storytelling skills still fail to meet baseline expectations. In one panel the plane’s control stick is broken, in the next it’s restored—and looks completely different than before. In one panel the protagonist is wearing a T-shirt, in the next it’s a sweater. Liefeld continues to be the most singularly careless and incapable professional artist working in U.S. comics who also somehow manages to shift a truckload of copies of whatever he’s drawing.

Writer Sterling Gates does his best to accommodate his collaborator, which means the plot and characters aim for an elementary-school type of complexity, with added hyper-violence and zombies. The script seems almost willfully dumb, and the characters are reduced to delivery machines for clunky, ham-fisted exposition that reads like it was concocted by a particularly mean-spirited five-year-old.

As long as books like this one exist, Marvel and DC have bigger issues than the lack of attention from a mainstream audience. Bluntly, no self-respecting publisher would release this kind of garbage into the world, let alone make it part of a highly publicized outreach to potential new readers.

Grade: F

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Paul Cornell Admits Defeat, Embraces Bad Storytelling

Talking to Comic Book Resources, Paul Cornell, writer of the DC Comics “New 52” title Stormwatch, addresses the need to bring new readers up to speed:

There's going to be people as unobtrusively as possible—but still pretty obtrusive because we're not writing for the trade anymore but for single issues—saying “I am so-and-so, and this is what I do.”

Evidently, it’s impossible for proper writers to introduce characters in any other way than to have them flat-out announce their identities and capabilities.

Green Arrow #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: J.T. Krul
Penciler: Dan Jurgens
Inker: George Pérez
Colorist: David Baron
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Dave Wilkins

Thanks to Messrs. Jurgens, Pérez and Baron, Green Arrow #1 mostly looks like a sturdy, traditional superhero comic should. Thanks to Mr. Krul, reading it is a fairly painful affair, anyway.

The art is good-looking and well-done, as you’d expect, given the creators’ pedigree. That qualifier up there in the first line is required, though, thanks to the particularly gruesome visuals of the bad guys, who for some reason look like they escaped from the set of a 1980s Billy Idol video shoot. Still, as far as the pencils, inks, colors and page-to-page storytelling go, this is a perfectly competent and accessible comic.

When it comes to J.T. Krul’s story, however, all is not right. It wants to establish Ollie Queen, the Green Arrow, as a major badass of a street-fighting vigilante version of Steve Jobs. Which actually sounds like an intriguing concept, in theory. Krul also throws in some vague ideas about how people use the Internet that may or may not be going anywhere in future issues, so who knows, maybe there’s some actual ambition here.

What this issue doesn’t offer, however, is any sort of particularly engaging conflict for the character, any kind of serious physical threat, or any particularly fascinating motivation for choosing to be a superhero—or, for that matter, anything at all that might give a reader a reason to care enough about what’s going on to stick around.

Instead, it paints the protagonist as an annoying old twit who is ranting about the evils of the Internet and badmouths and beats up a bunch of upstart super-villains for posting “violent videos” on YouTube and such, calling them “punks” and “losers” in the process. “I recognize all three of them from their disturbing YouTube videos,” he says at one point.

Now, if the Green Arrow’s portrayal as an out-of-touch crank who thinks the Internet was created by the devil were a deliberate creative choice, I could see some potential there. But the prevailing sense here is that I’m supposed to take this seriously and learn some Important Moral Lesson, delivered by a curmudgeonly but loveable old-school hero.

This is a really awkward mix of ideas that never come together, and it never quite hits the right note. It looks nice, but regarding the god-awful dialogue and the utterly insufferable protagonist, that’s not much of a consolation.

Grade: D

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Batwing #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Ben Oliver
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

On the plus side, this isn’t the train wreck I was expecting after reading the advertising copy and creator interviews, which dished out a lot of hoary old clichés. “Africa, a land of beauty—and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict,” the first two lines of the solicitation copy for issue #1 read.

The story is somewhat better than that would suggest. Rather than in some mythical and exotic place called “Africa,” it’s set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the city of Tinasha, to be precise. Which is fictional, of course, but that falls under creative license. Depending on what Mr. Winick is up to, it may make sense not to have the protagonist set up shop in a real town. There’s a neat twist ending, too, if I’m interpreting this right.

That said, it’s still a pretty bad comic, unfortunately. First up, the art doesn’t deliver. It more or less communicates the action, a few ropey panels aside. But beyond that, the figures never quite seem alive or in motion, also thanks to the colors. Everything in the book has an odd, sometimes lava-like sheen that seems at once murky and metallic. More importantly, there are virtually no backgrounds in this book—it’s all vast blank spaces instead. As a result, there’s a static and antiseptic quality to the whole thing that never quite lets you buy into the characters or their surroundings. Just looking at the artwork, the story might as well be set in some abandoned warehouse in New Jersey.

The writing isn’t able to compensate for that, and it adds its own share of issues. Batman keeps lurking around in the shadows, for instance, but does little more than provide clunky excuses for the protagonist to deliver exposition, because Winick couldn’t be bothered to write a proper scene with two properly fleshed out characters. “How do you want to proceed, Batwing?” Batman asks. “And his file?” he wonders. “What did you find?” he prompts. And off he goes. Also, the plot is probably more complicated than it needs to be. It throws a lot of characters with names like Massacre, Blood Tiger or Earth Strike at you, but doesn’t dwell long enough on any of them to make them distinguishable, let alone interesting.

Ultimately, this seems terribly half-cooked and underwhelming. Rather than to do proper world-building from the ground up, the creators are adding some exotic window-dressing to existing superhero tropes. At the end of the day, I don’t buy any of these characters, and I don’t buy that this is a story that plays out in Africa—or anywhere else, for that matter.

Grade: D-

Monday, September 19, 2011

Detective Comics #1

DC Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99

Writer/penciler: Tony Salvador Daniel
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Conceptually, Detective Comics picks up where Justice League left off: accessibility. Batman is still hunted by the police, which is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, obviously. The creators take great pains to provide a story that any potential new reader might be able to follow. The page layouts are fairly straightforward, and some of the core points of the Batman cosmos are established, such as the protagonist’s relationships with Commissioner Gordon, his arch-nemesis the Joker or his manservant Alfred, all of whom make their first appearance in the relaunched DC Universe here.

The page-to-page execution falls terribly flat, though. For all his efforts to provide an accessible comic, writer and artist Tony Daniel fails to name Gordon—he’s only referred to as “the commissioner,” and only after his major part in the book is over and done with. And Daniel’s Joker is a run-of-the-mill bloodthirsty lunatic with added make-up.

The dialogue, in particular, is just painful. Alfred’s more formal language proves too much of a challenge, and when characters start using phrases like “not a snowflake’s chance in Lucifer’s toilet,” it’s probably time to wonder if, maybe, someone’s trying just a little bit too hard here.

Daniel’s Batman says things like “I own the night,” or “I am Gotham.” He’s constantly rambling to himself in mind-numbing internal monologues that ruminate on things the reader has already figured out—or worse: seen—and reveal nothing of consequence or interest. “The ride back to the Batcave gives my brain time to dissect what I saw tonight,” he goes. “I’m trying to figure out what the Joker was doing naked… does he always remove his clothes first?”

Imagine this: The Joker just murdered some guy with some kind of skin mask, whose little daughter was also present, and then he escaped. And Batman’s chief concern is what happened to his clothes. It reads like the parody of a Frank Miller story, and it drones on and on.

Daniel’s art gets the job done, but still lacks a distinctive voice of its own. Stylistically, his pencils seem all over the place, with influences shifting from one page to the next—a little David Finch here, a little Andy Kubert there, some Frank Miller in the next shot, and so on. There’s nothing that quite screams “Tony Daniel” here.

To his credit, Daniel seems to be coming in with the best of intentions. But as an introduction to what’s arguably the publisher’s most significant property, this is a disaster—unless you want your audience to wonder if a proper writer just wasn’t in the budget this year.

Grade: D

Monday, September 5, 2011

Justice League #1

DC Comics, 24 pages, $ 3.99

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau

Not counting Wonder Woman’s appearance on the cover and a couple of extras in crowd scenes, there’s exactly one female character in Justice League #1, the flagship book of DC’s big September relaunch, and she’s literally a cheerleader—her speaking part, pointing at the sky: “Look! It’s one of them!”

This is, unmistakably, a comic by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, two of a handful of people who have been steering the publisher’s line of superhero comics for the last 10 years, and whose own creative contributions to the line have tended to be among DC’s most successful in the comic-book market. That, after all, is the reason why Johns and Lee were both awarded with executive positions at DC last year.

Bearing this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that DC’s new direction isn’t that much different from the old direction, in terms of its sensibilities. As far as DC is concerned, the problem of the last few years clearly isn’t that they’ve been doing anything wrong. It’s simply that not enough people have been paying attention to what they’ve been doing. That’s the point Justice League #1 drives home.

It’s not a bad comic. It is, in fact, precisely the kind of comic someone might come up with if you asked them to look at DC’s recent output, sit down at the drawing board and create an introduction to the DC Universe that’s as accessible as possible to people who aren’t regular readers of those superhero comics already.

The story begins with Batman, who’s on the run and chased by Gotham City authorities—just like you may remember him from the end of his last major film, The Dark Knight. Before too long, the Green Lantern shows up: the protagonist of the latest big Hollywood adaptation of a DC Comics property. It’s the first time they meet, so they introduce themselves to each other while fighting a creature that looks like it escaped from a Predator movie. (Or a Transformers one, as one protagonist helpfully notes.) And at the end of this first issue, Batman and the Green Lantern are joined by Superman, who is in line for another Hollywood revamp currently in production.

There are a few lines of unbelievably clunky exposition (“I’m not the only Green Lantern out there. There are thousands of others patrolling the universe. A whole corps—“), and the characters’ rationale for seeking out Superman is borderline idiotic: “Alien… maybe this is all connected to that guy in Metropolis. They say he’s an alien,” says the guy who’s part of a huge, universe-spanning corps of alien space cops. Batman is instantly convinced.

Still, it’s a sensible approach to build this story around these particular three characters, if nothing else. At the time it was written and drawn, the creators had to assume that Green Lantern—the film—was going to be a success, so treating Hal Jordan as the third major character next to household names Batman and Superman was a no-brainer.

The characters seem fresher and younger. Instead of the reverential treatment that’s become the norm, there’s a more eerie and unpredictable edge to them here. Batman clearly hasn’t everything figured out yet; Green Lantern seems like a juvenile chatterbox who’s completely thrilled with his magic ring; and Superman is treated like a loose cannon that nobody quite knows what to make of yet. Those are nice bits.

The storytelling is basic and clear throughout, but still flashy and dynamic, as you’d expect from Jim Lee. The art looks crisp and attractive, with no small thanks to Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair. There’s just enough detail to ground you in the story, but not so much as to overwhelm the action. The dialogue is brief, almost terse, and easy to read and digest. The plot is simple and straightforward, quickly taking you from A to B without dragging its feet.

It’s a very smooth, very easy read, and there’s no point where the comic makes it hard for you to move through the story—a marked improvement in comparison with other recent DC books. In terms of making their particular vision of the DC Universe as accessible as possible, the creators have done their job.

Then again, the notion that it’s a great achievement to have made a comic a casual reader might be able to understand probably says more about DC’s past output than it does about the book at hand. Accessibility is a baseline expectation, not a selling point. DC got people’s attention with its line-wide relaunch, if press coverage and preliminary sales claims are any indication. But to keep those readers coming back will require comics that are more than just plain readable.

And in that department, Justice League #1 doesn’t have much to offer. Its contents may be competent and smooth and flashy, but they’re also invariably derivative and unremarkable. There isn’t a single moment, visual or line of dialogue that sticks with you, or that doesn’t remind you of every run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen—let alone anything that makes a particularly good case for comics as a storytelling form, for that matter. The characters and their world remain as flat as the paper they’re printed on. It feels like the creators try to convince you that, honest, superhero comics can be a bit like average action flicks, too.

For a cover price of four dollars, that’s an awfully flimsy and unambitious package. Its appeal doesn’t feel as broad as it should, considering the stated goals of the relaunch. Sure, the book does a reasonably good job of introducing the new DC Universe. But is that enough? That new DC Universe doesn’t seem all that different from the old DC Universe, some window-dressing aside. It’s still a wish-fulfillment playground for old white boys, where Wonder Woman’s pants continue to be a hot-button issue. Johns and Lee are doing many things right here—and everything wrong.

Grade: C-