I was going to do this article first because I realised it had been a year since the momentous DC Rebirth lauched. I also wanted to because as a DC fan from childhood who’s seen the company and the characters I’ve grown up with go through a wildly chaotic period, it was good to see and hear that things were stable, that DC was finding their feet again.
But then I realised that DC has a lot of titles. A lot. How can I possibly review them all? Originally I considered doing it as a series of reviews and doing it in chunks. Too long, too boring, too time-consuming. But what was the alternative?
Well for your convenience (and mine), we’re trying something a little different here and I hope it works for you too. Basically I’m taking an idea from DC’s own playbook and breaking up their titles into sections, for eg: the Bat-family of books, Krypton-family books and so on and so forth. I’ll be talking briefly about all the titles that I’ve read since the reboot and giving my views and reactions as a long-time fan. Please note though, yes there will be titles not covered, because in the end I am just one dude and I can’t read everything – plus I don’t like to judge things too early if I can help it, so any comic that has had less than 6 issues will also not be on this list as they’re too new in my view to judge them.
Now, let’s get reviewing!
DC as a whole has been in a chaotic and frankly bad place for several years now. They rebooted a universe with a hardcore fanbase in order to bump sales, they failed pretty hard across the board, they kept doing too-frequent soft and hard reset-ish events and big over-the-top events and melodrama and pushing the grim-dark agenda and it didn’t work. Sure, there were the odd decent runs and titles scattered here and there, but overall it was very much a big failure to me as a whole. Now, after a load of hype and controversy about rebooting yet AGAIN – especially with the news that the revered Watchmen comics were being sort-of folded into the DCU as a result somehow – there was a lot of anticipation and expectation, both good and bad.
Once the big moment came, it seemed to the majority of readers that DC was finally getting it right again and hope was rekindled both in the tones and stories in the comics and in the readers who had been fighting each other and been unhappy for a while over one thing or another. But is everything great again? Or are we just happy DC has good comics at all? Or is DC killing it and back to rule comics? Lets find out:
HANNA BARBERA COMICS/REBOOTS
I want to start with this lot to get it out of the way before I get to the meat and bones of the DC catalogue of heroes.
This was a line of books that I had mixed feelings about when I heard about it. I grew up watching all this stuff on Cartoon Network and such and nostalgia is a powerful thing. But I told myself to keep an open mind and let creativity have a chance.
I was wrong, so very wrong.
The only good thing to come out of this is Future Quest, a merging/crossover storyline that includes Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, The Galaxy Trio, the Herculoids and Birdman – it’s well written by Jeff Parker who is a consistently excellent writer and the rotating artists have somehow managed to do a bang-up job with the art styles, keeping it old-school and simple, yet not just carbon copied.
On the other hand the titles like Wacky Raceland, The Flintstones and Scooby Apocalype are really, really terrible. And unlike Quest of Space Ghost, I have no undying nostalgic love for any of these comics’s original cartoons, I simply remember them as being entertaining. But these gritty, serious reboots are downright terrible. Don’t read them. Please.
BATMAN FAMILY OF BOOKS
Arguably the biggest cornerstone of the DCU almost always has been Batman and over time the ever-growing titles of books around him and the Bat-family. So in a sense the focus here and the scrutiny was going to be intense, especially after all the noise of Gordon-Bat and the storylines that Scott Snyder had been telling for the past several years. I was hesitant to put too much faith into it all after some terrible Bat-comics, but I have to say that under the pen of folks like Tom King and some truly well-suited artwork from folks like Marcio Takara and Jason Fabok, the core of the Bat-verse is in good hands for now. Diving in headfirst with storylines like the superheroes Gotham and Gotham Girl in the main Batman book and the setting up of the new team over at Detective Comics (that led to one of the most heart-wrenching deaths in comics in years), the main books have been a hell of a good ride and continue to be so – if you read no other Bat-books, read these, they’re not perfect but they’re pretty damned good.
Aside from these two, we have a big family to cover. Batgirl in her most recent revamp generated a lot of positive interest and fans and now has a book of her own plus one with the Birds of Prey – and they’re both decent books, though I must admit they were not for me, mostly because I have a connection to the Barbara Gordon that was and while I appreciate what they’re going for, this new, “hip” and cool Batgirl is clearly aimed at a reader younger than my 3 decades (which is good actually) and in a sense is more new-reader friendly. Don’t avoid it just because it’s a “girl”, they’re decently done titles and I admit, I do actually like the new costume. Fan-favourite sidekick Dick Grayson/Nightwing on the other hand has not been doing as well – his self-titled solo series was actually not very good and though I like Tim Seeley as a writer, I have not really enjoyed his writing all that much on this character. BUT that said, the title had a recent arc called “Bludhaven” and I must admit I decided to give it a second try and this arc was genuinely good. It made me want to maybe give this book a try, but only time will tell if I stick with it.
The big disappointment, maybe the saddest part of this line, is the much hyped All-Star Batman. It’s got Scott Snyder on script and J.R.Jr. on art and everyone expected brilliance. I must admit though, I didn’t, mostly because while I liked his earliest stuff when he took over writing for Batman, Snyders stories post his excellent “Court of Owls” has been uneven at best and pretty irritating more often than not – and All-Star Barman I’m afraid is like a showcase of all the things I didn’t like about Snyders Batman. Maybe it shows he was never really that suited because this was the book where he had essentially free-hands to do as he felt, but the result is a pretty terrible story, poorly thought through with characters that feel wrong somehow and in the end just not fun. And Romita… what can I say, I loved his dads work, I loved his work too, but somewhere in the last many years I have found his work has lost something. Sure his quality and finish is fine, but the designs, the flow, much of the detail, somethings just not the same – like Frank Miller‘s artwork.
SUPERMAN/KRYPTON FAMILY OF BOOKS
Next up, lets move to the other big pillar of DC: Superman.
Now unlike Batman who has been mostly doing alright even through the worst of the recent years, Superman has been in a sort of tailspin ever since the truly garbage “Grounded” storyline by J.M.S some years ago – no matter what they did, these books just couldn’t stay solid. Grant Morrisons Action Comics run and the odd issue here or there showed some hope, but nothing lasted and the books suffered.
But then DC did something strange and unexpected. They killed Superman, again. But it was specifically the New52 Superman who was dead and in his place was the Kal-El from before the reboot, the one we’d all loved and who was not grim or serious and was a true hero at heart and somehow Peter J. Tomasi was hitting the story beats and characters really well, especially Clark, Lois and their son Jon. For the first time in years I was enjoying and looking forward to a comic called Superman. Sadly however, the same I can’t say for Action Comics, which has bored and annoyed me a little and the alternate Clark Kent storylines made me think of the kind of bad stories that had been told in recent years that I hoped we had left behind. That culminated in a, well, very weird storyline merging the old and the new (sort of… it’s not fully clear…) into a “new” Superman and Lois Lane and while I’m unsure how this will affect the future issues, I’m happy that the fake-Kent stuff is over.
Supergirl on the other hand started off with a big bang and with her TV avatar giving her a lot of press and new fans, it was promising. But in the end the book has not had the greatest stories and in fact the whole opening with not just a Cyborg Superman but having it be her father was just, well, stupid. Plus they pretty much cut and pasted stuff from the TV show like making her work for the DEO, involving Cat Grant in her life, etc, etc and that is just pandering and not original and takes away from a comic that I think could have been very good because if nothing else, writer Orlando does get the character. For a good Supergirl book, I recommend the still new but excellent Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki who is killing it with this and her Hulk series over at Marvel.
(Whew, tired already… need to keep it shorter!)
Superwoman – a book starring of all people, Lois Lane and Lana Lang as friends of the now-dead Superman who both absorbed parts of his powers and are both now Super, except that one is dying and they both are trying (sort of) to be heroes too. On the face of it, should have been at least interesting, but the writing is not good and frankly I recommend it to no one – the art however is quite good, that is worth mentioning. That leaves us with last but not least: New Superman by Gene Luen Yang – maybe the single most curious entry of all the new DC books in many ways. We have not only a new Superman, but a Chinese one. Written by Yang who was actually writing some surprisingly good Superman comics before the reboot (some!), I picked it up because I was curious and because I love his writing – and I was not let down. After a slow/not good or bad start, the series really picked up and between great scripts, the great characters and some decent art, this is a good book that’s worth trying out.
THE TEAM BOOKS!
So I elected to cover a bunch of their team-titles in one go as it’s easier and also for another reason that I will just put forth:
They are almost all mediocre or borderline bad.
Bryan Hitch is doing the main Justice League book and while I love the man as an artist, this is a “meh” comic that I would read if I had nothing better lying around, but that I would rather pick up an old comic than read this new awesome looking series says a lot to me.
Then we have Justice League of America which stars Batmans Justice League after the events of the “JL vs. Suicide Squad” crossover. This is a crappy book. One of the few books I would say is actually just forced and pointless. I was happy that the original Lobo was back, but even the Main Man isn’t enough to make me keep reading this terrible, terrible book.
Suicide Squad… what can I say about this book… it was badly done before Rebirth began with some really crap stories and badly written characters. Then it got a crappy movie with badly written characters. Then Rebirth came along and it gave us a crappy comic BUT with shockingly well-written characters! So I would sort of reach back into the comic every few issues and what I realised was that the book suffered from editorial syndrome – the bane of DC comics for over 10 years now, i.e, there was a plan the bosses had and until that played out and the writer had more room to tell their own story, the comic was never as good as it could be and in this case that plan was to build up to “Justice Leagues Vs Suicide Squad”, the most boring, over-hyped, mostly pointless event that had no good fallout once it was over. Except that Suicide Squad actually became a better book once it was over, though Romita was brought on for art for some strange reason and despite him the book was good and now he’s gone so it might be worth following hereon.
There are also the GL books but I did not enjoy them enough when they started out to keep reading them frankly. I really love Robert Vendetti‘s work over at Valiant, he wrote some of my favourite comic stories at that time, but though he’s been writing GL stories for some time now, they have always been just “Okay”. They’re not bad, but they’re not all that great either – so if you are a GL fan, sure, check out Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps to get your fix. Its sister title Green Lanterns has been a mixed bag for me, because I love the characters, especially Jessica Cruz who is a truly interesting new GL after a LONG time, but the storylines have been not even as entertaining as Vendetti’s. Which is sad because I want to read about her and Simon Baz but if the story ain’t good, what’s the point?
And lastly we have the two Titans book! Titans itself is essentially a reunion book of sorts for the Teen Titans of old, bringing back Wally West, Donna Troy and Nightwing and the crew and it is indeed a very solidly written book. The adventures are a little uneven I’ll admit, but you can see how much Dan Abnett gets these characters and between his characterisation and solid artwork from Brett Booth, this is one of the best team books DC has today and for fans of these characters, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Teen Titans on the other hand has had a hard time I feel – after some great writing to start off the series, it seems to have struggled to find its continuing voice. For fans of characters like Damian Wayne, you will probably enjoy this, but overall I found it a middling book at best.
It sounds like a vague way to address the remaining titles but after aaaall that stuff above, frankly my brains slowing down…
BUT, I will go on, for you fellow comic fan. Of the other titles from DC, there are actually a lot of very good ones to be found and in a sense I’m happy that this section comes at the end because pretty much everything here is at least good if note fantastic.
First and foremost: Wonder Woman. Writer Greg Rucka has always been a favourite of mine and is considered a solid writer in general who has never written a bad comic to my knowledge. Taking on the challenge of Wonder Woman, he dove in headfirst with a story that literally addressed the fact that there was so much contradiction and retconning and revamping and alteration in her past – and sent her on a journey to rediscover herself and to learn the Truth and it has been a glorious journey! It takes a little getting used to, but the issues alternate as Rucka is ambitiously writing not one but two story arcs side by side and they both take alternating issues to bring new chapters and the 2nd storyline is a Year One story and while I had mixed feelings about that, I took it all back and just started enjoying things right away. Accompanying are artists Liam Sharpe and star artist Nicola Scott and between these three amazing creators you have what might be one of the best books at DC today.
A book that I didn’t know where to fit so I’m sticking it in here is Red Hood and the Outlaws by Scott Lobdell. This was a title that even pre the reboot generated a lot of heated debate and while I will admit I actually enjoyed a lot of the ideas and things that it brought to the table, especially to do with the rapport between Jason Todd and Roy Harper and Jason’s past, the book overall was not great and their buddy-hero series that followed was frankly even weaker. Which is why I was utterly shocked when I picked up the first issue of this series starring Jason Todd alongside Artemis and of all people, Bizarro – and I really, really liked it. I don’t know what he did, but somehoe Lobdell has totally nailed writing a good comic with this series and Dexter Soys artwork, especially his action sequences are just a great read and I recommend this to anyone and everyone. It’s a strange little comic but one well worth reading.
Then there’s Aquaman and The Flash. I don’t really have any strong feelings about these books either way. Both have genuinely good, solid artwork and the stories are decent enough. So read them if you like the characters, but personally I stopped because there’s only so much I can read and these were just “okay” to my mind.
I round up my reviews here with Green Arrow, a title I was hopeful for because I love the character but had a terrible time and gave up on it in the New52 until Jeff Lemires mind-blowing run, after which it floundered but never was truly good. But now under Ben Percy and a rotating artists pool, we have a truly solid GA title that so many issues in is still going strong – and honestly is telling stories 10-times better than the stuff that you get with the TV Green Arrow and I recommend it to any fans of the character and of Black Canary who is back with the Emerald Archer (sort of…) and between them we have some great fun!
In closing, I give my list of (dis)honourable mentions, i.e, titles that I read and just couldn’t read anymore, I thought about it but decided that I disliked these enough that I want to tell people to not waste their time with them as there are many better comics to be found:
– Batman Beyond
– Blue Beetle
– Dark Knight III: The Master Race
DC has indeed come a long way. They have regained ground, learned from some mistakes and are on a good path. They have more good titles than bad after a long time and have been doing a commendable job getting on board more interesting and varied talents to make their comics and tell stories.
They are still suffering from some amount of Editorial Syndrome and I hope that they big-guns (I’m talking to you Didio, Lee, Harras, Johns) let go their ego’s and all take a further step back and maybe stop trying to fix everything and justify their mistakes and all that and just focus on making good comics. Honestly I had all but forgotten the whole Watchmen thing until it came up again in a recent Batman issue and we could have just forgotten it as an anomaly as the universe reset itself from a bad place to a good one.
I hope these guys know what they’re doing and I hope they get it right this time – but regardless, until we come to that moment, I’ll read the DC titles I’m enjoying after many years and spend time with characters I care about and what will come tomorrow, well we’ll see.
Thanks for reading fellow comic fan, I hope this helped in some way – if it didn’t or you disagree with me, feel free to express that online as is your gods given right.
Till next time folks!
Writer: Akshay Dhar
A writer when life permits, a music and nature lover, (attempted) humourist, nerd, scribbler, day-dreamer, arm-chair philosopher and random road-tripper… A strangely hopeful cynic first and foremost from all accounts.
Once a young geek-ling who migrated and “matured” from comics to literature and more esoteric reading and ideas – eventually found his way back to the wonderful worlds that come from putting a dreamers’ pen to paper!
Loves to let his mind wander and at times it takes forever to find its way home. Loves all comics so long as they are not just pretty pictures – but will make exceptions for masters like Geof Darrow and J.H.Williams III.
His own blog can be found HERE.