February 28th, 2012

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Teenagers Scare The Living @#&^ Outta Me

Teen Titans

The Teen Titans have had many iterations. Originally, Robin, Aqualad, and Kid Flash hung out together in a clubhouse and had really weird adventures together in the Silver Age, then others like Wonder Girl and Speedy joined up, and then they became the New Teen Titans with Raven and Cyborg and Starfire, and then they were just the Titans as they grew up and weren't teenagers anymore, but a new group of Teen Titans came up another generation of younger heroes came up, and then the reboot happened.

The New 52 Teen Titans, in the first three issues, are a mix of old characters Red Robin (Tim Drake), Kid Flash (Bart Allen), and Wonder Girl (Cassandra Sandsmark) and new characters Bunker (Miguel Barragan) and Skitter (Celine she-doesn't-seem-to-have-a-last-name). Other characters, Superboy and Solstice (Kiran Singh), haven't joined the team by the end of the 3rd issue, which is as far as these reviews are going (they've showed up in actual issues by now, and Solstice looks like fun). The main thrust of any plot is that a mysterious group are doing questionable things (and trying to discredit) kid heroes, and so Tim Drake's investigations cause him to run into and try to recruit various teen heroes, both for safety and to combat the threat. Cassie doesn't want to join (and is completely different from any previous version of her) but the other characters are more interested in a team, and apparently, this is the first version of the teen titans in this universe.

Huh. Scott Lobdell, the writer for this series, is also the writer for the atrocious Red Hood and the Outlaws, which has indicated that the members of the older New Teen Titans group has gotten together . . . I guess they just never called themselves the Titans?

All in all, this is only slightly above average, so far. It's not terrible by any stretch, but it's really not all that good, and I am sick of team books with the token "I don't want to be part of the team" member. It was fresh and interesting IN THE SIXTIES. It's 2012, now.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; and new "rogue artifact thief" Cassie irritates the bejezus out of me, especially since she's said token member. SHE LED THE YOUNG JUSTICE TEAM, CHRIST.
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Flash Of Another World

The Flash

Barry has a tradition of reboots and changing comic book status quo's. His creation is often heralded as the creation of the Silver Age in 1956. He helped found the DC multiverse when he ran so fast he popped up in the world of the previous Flash, Jay Garrick. His death in Crisis on Infinite Earths is often cited as one of the marks of another new age, the end of the Bronze Age and creation of the "Dark" Age. His return to life a couple of years ago began a story that ultimately ended the previous version of the DC Universe. And now, in the New 52, he's got his own title again.

And it is beautiful. No, really, the art by Francis Manapul (who also co-writes the series) is downright gorgeous, and is second only to J.H. Williams III's art on Batwoman. Barry Allen's been regressed a little bit, he's no longer married to Iris West for instance, but he's not a brand spanking new hero, he's been around for a little while. A mysterious group (there's that term again) has gotten an old friend of his in trouble and are using copies of the friend with powers to do their dirty work, and it's up to Barry, as a forensic scientist, to clear his name and get to the bottom of the mystery.

It also has the blurb. In comics from the later Silver Age up until the late 80s or so, each issue would begin with a brief paragraph summarizing who the hero or star or team were and their mission, introducing the reader to the character and situation as though it were his first comic book. Which often it was, comics being a disposable medium for decades in the US. It's just a nice nostalgic surprise.

So, Barry and Iris aren't married, anymore. They do flirt a good deal, which is cute. Probably the best handling of the "vanished marriage in comics" in recent history. They have nice chemistry, and it's hinted that they'll get back together, which is cool. The story and writing on the book has been pretty good to excellent, with plenty of cool applications of the Flash's powers (in one case VIBRATING A JET AIRLINER THROUGH A BRIDGE to save it from crashing--two words: awe some!) and the mystery is engaging enough to intrigue. The Flash is definitely one of the better books in the New 52. Don't miss out just because you're irritated that Wally West is missing.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; Wally's been missing before, but he's always come back!
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I AM FURIOUS (SMACK)

The Fury Of Firestorms: The Nuclear Men

Oh my god, that is the longest title of a comic. Firestorms is bad. Which sucks, because Gail Simone is awesome, and the idea for Firestorm is awesome, and they deserve better than this.

The original Firestorm was a composite hero, the joining of teen middle-of-the-roader Ronnie Raymond and Nobel Prize-award winning nuclear physicist Martin Stein. It was an attempt by DC Comics to try a more Marvel-style superhero during the Bronze Age of comics. There was an accident at a nuclear power plant (Stein was there to unveil new, safer technology, and Ronnie was there to try to look cool for his love interest). They merged and created the transmogrifier Firestorm, physically an enhanced Ronnie, but with Stein's voice in his head, giving advice and scientific know-how. But there were problems. Firstly, there was the traditional teen hero with bad time management stuff (like Marvel's Spider-Man). Also, Stein would black out and lose all memory of his time as Firestorm when he woke up. This eventually led him to alcoholism, but he did get better and manage to reconcile his mind and things looked good. But lots of stuff happened and eventually Ronnie became Firestorm on his own, and died, and a new Firestorm, Jason Rusch, took over. He could form Firestorm by joining with anyone, but certain people made better fits.

I'm not going equivocate: Jason Rusch was a jerkface. I believe that there are no bad characters, just bad writing, and for the longest time, Jason was written TERRIBLY. He was an asshole, and lots of people are when they're teenagers, but the problems were only exacerbated when Ronnie somehow came back and joined what was called the "Firestorm Matrix" for a few issues. Ronnie was a dolt, but he was always well-meaning and actually really insecure about his image as a dumb jock. Jason Rusch was an intellectual bully.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a bright guy myself, and have no problem with taking people down a notch while showing how smart I can be. But Jason . . . was not that way. He'd just be smarter and cooler than everyone and it got really annoying really fast, and he never really developed past that. Ronnie, with Stein's help, grew and he was always kind of a dolt his heart was always always ALWAYS in the right place, but Jason was always a cooler-than-thou type and that? Is really irritating. And the reason I make a big deal about it is because if anything, he's even WORSE in the new book.

Because he's also an entitled brat who attacked Ronnie for being a racist for NO GOOD REASON other than that he doesn't like sportos.

I honestly don't want to talk about it anymore. There's a group of government mercenary-types who are hunting down the method that Martin Stein developed to create Firestorms before he died, and for some reason (it's not explained in the first 3 issues) Stein sent the method to Jason before dying, and Jason triggers it, and both he and Ronnie became Firestorms, and they can merge to become a new being, called Fury.

And if any part of that sounds cool to you, have at it. It doesn't sound cool to me, it sounds ridiculous, and I could actually feel my head start to hurt just summarizing that. And that's just the first issue! The next two issues aren't any better, as the Firestorms' personality conflicts just seem to cause more trouble than the nominal bad guys of the issues!

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; there are just so many bad choices in this series, it hurts.
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Attack Of The EXTREME!!!

The Savage Hawkman

This is the biggest pile of 90's-era rejects the New 52 has to offer.

Okay, so Hawkman is one of the oldest superheroes. Carter Hall was an archaeologist and Egyptologist who learned he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince and had discovered a strange metal (nth-metal) that allowed him to defy gravity. He fashioned some wings, and used the prince's memories of ancient weaponry and tactics against modern threats and criminals. The prince's lover, Chay-Ara, was also reincarnated into the woman Shiera Sanders, and Sanders and Hall became lovers and crimefighters as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, eventually marrying.

And then the Silver Age happened and Hawkman and Hawkgirl were reimagined as alien police from the planet Thanagar. And then retcons happened and the Hawks were actually spies from Thanagar sent to learn all they could about Earth for an invasion. And then Zero Hour combined every version of every Hawk-hero into one incarnation of the "Hawk God."

And then Hawkman couldn't be used for a while because nobody could untangle the mess.

And then Geoff Johns fixed it by using reincarnation and Carter Hall returned.

So Hawkman has a lot of baggage, some good, some bad, but the correct solution was never to ignore it completely!

Reincarnation, adventurous archaeology, memories of past lives, romance, flight, ancient weapons, Hawkman has all these cool things, but for some reason in the New 52 "Savage" Hawkman, the nth-metal has become semi-sentient, and developed shape-shifting, and his causing Carter to rage out.

I jokingly dubbed this series "Wolverine With Wings" before it came out, and nothing in the series has countered that assertion. And it's the worst parts of Wolverine. And it's none of the good parts of Hawkman (except maybe the archaeology and flight). Add to that dark, muddy art and gruesome violence for its own sake, and I dropped this title. It's bad. It's baaaaad.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; the thought of the Gentleman Ghost returning only interested me until I learned that he was no longer a gentleman, nor a ghost. The Hooligan Zombie doesn't have quite the same ring, you see.
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What You Are In The Shade

The Shade

This is a tricky one, because it's another miniseries (so it started a month after the regular New 52 and in the first three months had only gotten to issue 2) and also because it's a 12-issue miniseries. One sixth of a story is difficult to judge a story by.

The Shade used to be a villain for the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. He had shadow powers. That was pretty much it until James Robinson created the series Starman in the 90s. A celebration of old and new, Starman was one of the best comics of the 90s, period. Definitely top 5. It introduced us to Opal City, and managed to make it feel like a real, lived-in city. It also managed to make it seem like Opal City was as old as Gotham or Metropolis, but nope. Original to the 90s series. Starman also reinterpreted a bunch of older stuff for a modern sensibility, and transferred The Shade into a rogue-ish anti-hero. Robinson's Shade has been a sort of break-out character: a seemingly immortal villain with a code and standards, always ready to protect his adopted city of Opal from threats, but not one to flinch when it came to killing people to meet his own ends. He had a complex backstory and was both sympathetic and cunningly amoral.

So he got a miniseries in the new 52.

It's only 2 issues in (at the end of the third month of the New 52), so there's not much to go on here. The art is nice, but a bit jarring on occasion. And it's James Robinson writing one of his most beloved characters (Robinson has his flaws, and his Cry For Justice was terrible on almost every level, but he's still a damned good writer). Get this comic if you love democracy!

Or well-written comics, whichever.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; it managed to do more service to Deathstroke in just a couple pages than in his own stupid series, people! GET THIS COMIC.
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The Babe With The Power

Voodoo

Like I've already said, I never got in to Wildstorm, so I never got into the previous version of Voodoo. New 52 Voodoo is an alien with shapeshifting and low-level mind-reading powers who is spying on Earthlings. Presumably, her species is preparing for an invasion. The first issue introduces us to Voodoo, the stage name of the alien as she works in a strip club in New Orleans, and the pair of government agents whose job it is to bring her in. Voodoo believes that, if she's caught, she'll be dissected, so isn't too keen on revealing herself. She isolates one of the agents, kills him, and takes his identity as she escapes. So right away, the titular protagonist is not all that nice, but also isn't some rampaging alien monster. Well done moral ambiguity is rare in comic books, but good to see every so often.

Also, the first issue being set in a strip club, there were plenty of sexual poses and not many clothes on the women, but whereas stuff like Red Hood or Suicide Squad got lots of flack for their portrayal of women, Voodoo didn't get as much because a) it actually wasn't gratuitous and b) the story was well-written enough to give it a bit of a pass. However, Ron Marz left the book after issue #4, which is a shame, because Voodoo was a surprise hit under his pen.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; I did like that they didn't make any strained Katrina references during their time in New Orleans. The city still isn't 100%, but it's nowhere near what it was immediately after the storm, and it's good for media to reflect that.
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Goddesses Give Gifts And They Take Them Away

Wonder Woman

Of all the New 52 comics with major changes to the titular characters, Wonder Woman is probably the best one. That isn't to say it's one of the best books of the New 52, although it is one of the better ones.

Wonder Woman, of course, started out in the Golden Age, one of the first superheroines, and definitely the longest-running. She's an Amazon from Themyscira, or Paradise Island. She was given gifts from various deities of the Grecian Pantheon, and grew up loved and trained by the other Amazons.

Until the new 52, where she's just another demigoddess cast-off of Zeus who grew up being mocked for her now-false origin story of being carved from clay and granted life by the gods.

If you can get past those changes, this is actually a pretty good book. The strength of it, however, is not in Wonder Woman, but in the reinterpretation of the deities. Cliff Chiang, one of the better artists in the business, and Brian Azzarello (in my opinion, a quite good but overrated writer) have breathed new life into the Olympians, made them strange and otherworldly immediately. It's incredible, and elevates the book completely.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; people say nerds don't like change, but really, we don't like needless or bad change, and giving Diana pointless angst through her changed origins is stupid in the extreme. But it's done. It'll either be reverted or it won't.