Last night, I read the free preview of the New 52, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 and Catwoman #1.
The introduction in the free preview is signed by the two co-publishers, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio. I wonder who wrote it. It says:
“WELCOME TO THE NEW 52!
This September, DC Comics explodes with 52 new #1 issues!”
I wouldn’t use the word “explodes” if I were them. The last time DC had an “explosion” and launched a slew of new titles, an “implosion” soon followed. But, okay, that’s ancient history and most people who read that intro won’t know or laugh.
The intro goes on:
“The entire line of comic books is being renumbered, with new, innovative storylines featuring our most iconic characters helmed by some of the most creative minds in the industry.
“Not only will this initiative be compelling for existing readers, it will give new readers a precise entry point into our universe.”
You can nitpick the imprecise copywriting. All readers exist, characters being “helmed” conjures an image of King Arthur’s troops…. But, who cares?
By “existing readers” I guess they’re referring to everyone who reads comic books now, not just the current crop of DC readers. Us. People to who at least understand what they mean by “renumbered” and some of whom care that there will be #1’s on the covers.
By “new readers,” I suppose, they mean people who have long wanted to read DC comic books but were waiting for a precise entry point to happen along. Plus people who previously had no desire to read comic books, whose interest has been stirred by the substantial PR effort behind the “initiative.”
Because new readers have been given a “precise entry point” I assume the doors are slammed shut and locked once the #2’s come out.
OPEN MESSAGE TO DC COMICS:
EVERY ISSUE SHOULD BE AN ENTRY POINT!
All right, I’m old. According to the tag line JayJay appended to my name at the top of this page, I’m a “Large mammal.” I suppose then, I must be a woolly mammoth or a megatherium or something. I learned my trade when comic book publishing was a still a mass market business.
But, let me take them at their word. They want to get all of us and at least some of them, the new readers interested and onboard…
…with this offering, for one:
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
As one of us, I suppose I should know who the three characters are. I don’t. Good. Makes it easier to shift my mind into New Reader mode.
It’s amazingly well drawn. I think anyone would take the image to be a symbolic shot rather than an actual scene from the story—a generic action pin-up. But good.
Here we go, still in New Reader mode….
Story page one:
Again, it’s beautifully drawn. There are captions that give me a clue about what the situation is. The copy in the captions is conversational and expresses opinions, so I assume someone is narrating. Whoever it is, the prisoner must be the one he or she is referring to, one Roy Harper. Okay so far.
Pages two and three:
First, a strangely shaped panel for no apparent reason. But, what’s going on is clear enough, even to New Reader me. Except that I paused at Roy Harper’s line, “I’d shake, but I need both hands for my ball.” What? Oh…I see.
I look back at page one, and yes, his “ball,” as in ball and chain, is shown close enough to establish it, but it’s colored so much like what’s around it that I missed it. Maybe that’s just me. That’s what New Readers always think the first few times they miss something or fail to understand something, by the way. “It’s me. I’m just not used to reading things like this.”
Hmm. More oddly-shaped, crooked panels showing people with guns. Middle Easterners. Aha! The “locals” mentioned, and seen on the walls in the background of the first panel. I wonder for a moment if there’s some significance to the way these little images are strewn around, shrug, and go looking for the next words to read…
…and arrive at a tangle of art. An odd-shaped panel with another one lying on top of it. Why do they cover part of the panel I’m supposed to be looking at with another panel? If there’s an inset on a map, it’s placed out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where it doesn’t cover anything, not even Easter Island. Oh, well.
The sudden shift to an overhead angle in the overlaid panel doesn’t throw me because it’s so well and clearly drawn. Roy Harper’s head poking out into the underlying panel strikes me as strange, though. It just looks weird. Panel borders are routinely violated. They mean nothing. The mysterious quadrangles floating around between panels and into the next one puzzle me.
“Pastor Beerback” pokes out of the last panel and overlaps himself in the previous one. The little sliver of a highlight doesn’t help much. It only cost me a tenth of a second to sort the images out, but still…. Is this desirable for some reason I don’t understand?
Jim the comic book veteran talking for a moment: It wasn’t until the third time I read this that I realized Pastor Beerback was tugging on his suspender making something go “CLICK” and “TZZT.”
New Reader again: The effect shown means nothing to me, just more odd floating shapes.
Pages four and five:
The first panel’s image is not only not clear-at-a-glance, but after staring at it for a few seconds I still don’t understand it. I read the copy, hoping for a clue. More red captions. The first one says, “His name is Jason Todd.” Okay, I’ll guess that’s the guy with the red head. Press on.
In the second panel it looks like a hand is drawing a gun. Is it one of the “locals?” One of the mercenaries? They’re the only ones I’ve seen with guns. I guess that the other hands seen are Roy Harper’s, unfolding his folded-up bow. Where did those arrows come from? No clues in the captions.
Third panel…wait, the captions are now Roy Harper’s narration! What?!
At least the captions tell me what’s happening in the picture. I doubt that I would have figured it out, or, at this point, have bothered trying.
Panel four, slowly the little light bulb comes on. The drawing is confusing, but after staring at it for a while, I realize that the bits of Pastor Beerback visible are the remains of a disguise. I also make the leap that the guy with the red head is “Red Hood.” Jason Todd? Even New Reader/civilians understand, I think, that comic book costumed characters usually have regular names besides their nom d’guerre. Superman is also Clark Kent.
So, now, both armed—I figured out that it was the red head guy drawing the gun before—they kill lots of enemies.
This spread is where they lose me for good. I have to struggle too much to grasp what’s going on. I don’t have to work at it to understand most novels, most TV shows or most movies, but this takes some effort. New Reader me throws the book in the trash and doesn’t bother with comic books again.
But I shall persist for the Hell of it.
It doesn’t get better. Page six, why is the guard posted outside the gate so calm if there’s a major firefight going on inside? What blows out the gate? A reference is made to Batman…okay, even I, New Reader, know who Batman is. Or used to be.
Page seven, more strange-shaped, weirdly angled panels for no apparent reason. They’re wasting an awful lot of space. Look at all that unused space! Why?
Ahh! At last, I see. Some red captions are Red Hood narrating and some are Roy Harper narrating.
“Don’t mention it.”
“I hope you have at least one good backup.”
“38 of them.”
“I don’t get it. Who do we know who carries a pair of 38s?”
Good grief. The attempted joke doesn’t even make sense. Failed adolescent humor.
Starfire poses over wreckage. Tank wreckage? Did I miss a page? Nope, that’s page eight.
Starfire is wearing not much. There are effects around her hands indicating…something.
Page nine comes and I’m still not sure what happened to the tanks. Red Hood calls Starfire “Kori.” I guess that’s her real name. He asks her, “…could you fly ahead and take out any bad guys or tanks or anything?”
Now, let me get this straight, Red Hood. You have at your service someone who can destroy tanks and you decide it’s a good idea to enter the prison in disguise, smuggle your friend his bow and arrows, shoot his chains off and fight your way out through a hail of bullets?
This story is stupid.
Page ten. A montage, I guess. Are those borders around the long shot of the island that vanish beneath the waves, or…? Is that young boy part of the hair-flipping scene or another montage bit, possibly elsewhere on the island?
Starfire? Cheesecake. Big time. If that’s what they’re selling here, I defend to the death their right to do so.
Looks like she has narrative captions too.
Page eleven has more cheesecake and a bunch of references to people and events that are meaningless to me. The page ends with a confusing bit. Who? What? Where is Red Hood/Jason going? Where is Starfire going? I guess the shadowy female figure wasn’t Starfire. I suppose the weird word balloon was a clue….
Turns out the shadowy figure is “Essence.”
Then things get really unintelligible. On page fourteen there’s another batch of odd-shaped panels, but this time I’m guessing they show a vision Essence is providing to Jason.
I can make no sense of the images. And this is comics-vet me typing.
It goes downhill from there. Unintelligible crap.
The story ends with Red Hood surrounded by enemies I don’t have much of a clue about. Red Hood is saying or thinking or narrating, “Finally. Someone to shoot.”
Not that I really got to know the three stars of this book, not that they were introduced in a meaningful way, but at the end, I don’t like any of them. Roy Harper? A snarky kid who can apparently fire two arrows at a time and have another one nocked before its predecessors have traveled two feet.
Jason/Red Hood? A stupid, snarky kid who likes to shoot people.
And Starfire? I think she’s meant to appeal to the pubescent boy seen on page ten.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of sex, in favor of sexuality, in favor of expressions of same in any creative endeavor involving representations of the human condition. There is more sexuality in my work than in most comic book writers’ work. Sexuality is an important component of every character I write, just as it is an important part of every person I’ve ever met, even if by denial! And I’ve written a wide variety of characters with a wide range of sexual natures.
The problem I have with Starfire is that she’s a device, not a character. Feh.
Jules Feiffer once said comic books were “booze for kids.” Starfire as portrayed here is porn for kids. You know what I mean. Feh.
Get a real writer, DC. Or, Scott Lobdell, get a grip.
A blurb at the bottom of the last page promises “To be explained…”
Yes, DC and Scott, I think we deserve an explanation for what you’ve done.
NEXT: Catwoman #1
Jim, I have been a huge fan of DC comics since the early 1980s. It is now apparent that they have decided to junk all of the grand DC history developed since then. I can not imagine a point in time where a company so casually decided it would offend its most die hard fans based on the hope of winning a few new ones. It is like Marvel doing their new universe in the 1980s… but canceling everything that was worthwhile when the did so. I think this may be the end of DC as we know it, I hope someone can tell the historians that the fans didn't leave DC they were pushed. I can not buy DC comics anymore given these set of circumstances.
Okay… I was looking at sales figures for December. DC has already fallen back to the #2 slot for publishers again. Cancellations are already being discussed.
I think this was predictable. They played their 52 cards and now they have to play 52 card pick up.
Looking at the sales figures, it dawned upon me that Dark Horse's Buffy series outsells the critically acclaimed Walking Dead Comic. I think it ironic that a comic based upon a TV show that was cancelled 8 years ago is selling better than Walking Dead which had a TV show on the air last year. Personally, I don't get the fascination with Zombies. I read Walking Dead #1 online for free and you couldn't pay me to read the second issue. I thought it was horrible. I'm not a fan of Buffy either, but I do think it's funny that it outsells Walking Dead. Buffy artist Georges Jeanty told me that Jim Shooter taught him how to tell a story with art and even gave me specific examples of the types of elements that Jim taught him to address. So again, if Walking Dead is so great, why do the individual issues not sell better? Is it because you have to buy a TPB to get an actual story? My guess is … yes.
Ole M. Olsen
Defiant1: "Cancellations are already being discussed."
In fact, cancellations have already been announced:
In short: In what they're calling "The Second Wave", DC are cancelling six books and replacing them with six new ones.
The bad news for me is the cancellation of "O.M.A.C.". The good news, of course, is the cancellation of Rob Liefeld. As an old fan of Earth 2 and the JSA, I'll probably check out the "Earth 2" title as a replacement for "O.M.A.C.".
In fact, the 52 card(s) worked on me in that it made me start buying (a limited amount of) comics on a regular monthly basis again for the first time in about twenty (!) years.
I'm slowly getting up to scratch again. I'm thoroughly enjoying the 8-9 DCs I'm picking up. Finding something worthwhile from Marvel is more of a struggle to me these days. I find Mark Waid's "Daredevil" to be absolutely wonderful, and there are a couple of others I'm enjoying. But I find that I can't stomach Bendis type of "decompression". I intended to skim through the new Avengers Annual, but ended up reading the whole thing. It probably took less than ten minutes and would have been a 6-10 page intro to an "old style" story.
Part of the old me is tempted to take a chance on the "Aengers Vs. X-Men" crossover event thingy in case it may be enjoyable, but the sensible me thinks it will just be a waste of time and money. I sort of feel that I got done with "events", gimmicks, multiple covers etc. twenty years ago.
(Actually, with Bendis on board I'd probably not waste a lot of TIME, as it's quickly done and over with. Money, on the other hand…).
Can anyone recommend to me ONE single, good and more or less self-contained X-Men title to read?
Somebody at DC probably saw the New 52 as a way to allow an opening for readers that had been turned off by the crossover-heavy storylines like "New Krypton" or "Batman R.I.P" or "Blackest Night" "Brightest Day", etc. Sort of like when Crossgen had the "Key Issue" gimmick.
I write a little bit more about this here : http://comicbookrehab.blogspot.com/2011/10/its-how-we-play-game-comic-book-rehab.html
I was disappointed that the new Batgirl comic made Barbara's transition from wheelchair-bound to fully recovered jarring, but it seems like that is part of the storyline – plus, I think Gail is writing as much as possible before someone thinks of putting Barbara back in the chair. On the one hand, people saw Oracle as an inspiration – on the other hand, it was one more female character getting the short end of the deal, surrounded by characters coming back from the dead, become wheelchair-bound and recovering (Batman in Knightfall)and it often seemed like a cheap shot way to validate the events in Killing Joke, compromising a character for the sake of making a story feel epic. Moore clearly intended to end Batgirl right there.
Hope this fits and doesnt need a 2nd entry. Just discovered the blog and enjoying the inside stories that we're getting, My own opinion of the Red Hood is that Mr Shooter is pretty much correct. This is supposed to be a jumping on point for new readers, it should be an introduction of the characters. It doesnt, it relies on the reader to already know who they are and what they can do. Its kind of a half assed reboot, the heroes have only been around for 5 years? In that time apparently Batman has gone through 4 or 5 Robins and Dick Grayson became Nightwing. What kind of timeline is that? Unless Dick Grayson/Robin 1 became Bruce Waynes Ward at the age of 17 it doesnt work out to well. They should have taken this opportunity to make it 1938 all over again like what Morrison is doing over in Action, make everything Year One and let events catch up to the stories we're seeing in the new Justice League. Not to mention they could have started out with a smaller number of core titles, following up with a second wave such Superboy and the Teen Titans. Like what Mr. Shooter was planning with his possible DC rollout. As far as Starfire goes, yes her race certainly didnt have none of the hang ups religion and culture has left us with but thats not an excuse to turn her into a walking sex doll that blows up tanks and says "Me am horny, sex me now!" (ok, Im paraphrasing a lot but still..) Especially when she likely does have a lot of young girls as fans given the take on the character during the Teen Titan's cartoon. And why the hell isnt Roy Harper aka Speedy calling his close bud Nightwing and letting him know his ex has lost her memory and is getting taken advantage of by Jason (the former 2nd Robin and now current Red Hood) and didnt he used to be a possibly borderline sociopath? Bad writing, even worse heroing. Can only hope the female creators at DC get together and tar and feather Lobdell for this.
Hoo boy, am I late to the game.
I have to agree to everything you said. This was all about the pretty art, and the story just didn't matter much. All flash and glitter, little substance. Looking at the panels, a lot look more like potential covers rather than panels meant to tell a coherent story.
My thoughts on DC, and Marvel, and what seems to be a big part of the problem; other than too much "splash panel art" and too little sequential art. I think it's that both are so focused on selling their "universe", that they're willing to sacrifice good stories and titles to do it.
Here's a radical thought: I'd like to see them utterly smash their "DC Universe" and "Marvel Universe" back into individual titles, and "realities," that have nothing to do with each other; for example: the Flash can never meet Superman, or Spider-man can never meet the Fantastic Four. The Bat-series can exist together, as can the X-titles, and the Lanterns but the others are "on their own" so to speak.
This would actually let the writers actually write engaging stories, where characters change and grow without worrying about how it would affect characters they aren't writing. To me, the "best" super-hero comics were written when characters from different titles rarely, if ever, interacted. The "united" universes of the publishers seems to be hindering stories, and has since it became common for title characters to mention/meet/fight/assist each other.
I think doing away with a united universe might be what's needed to fully revive the zombie that is super-hero comics.
My two cents.
Jim Shooter wrote "Now, let me get this straight, Red Hood. You have at your service someone who can destroy tanks and you decide it’s a good idea to enter the prison in disguise, smuggle your friend his bow and arrows, shoot his chains off and fight your way out through a hail of bullets? This story is stupid."
Superman isn't expected to take care of every problem Batman encounters in a Justice League story so why should it be any different in this scenario? The Red Hood's goal was to free Roy Harper from prison and his method succeeded. Jason is a violent guy so his plans shouldn't be tidy like you propose.
Let's suppose Starfire burst her way into the prison alone. Is she supposed to carry Roy's bow and arrow before she reaches him? Won't that seriously get in the way of her ability to defend herself since Koriand'r's starbolts come from her hands?
Would wearing an unwieldy disguise be a solution to this problem? I guess but it fundamentally clashes with the way she's portrayed. If Starfire isn't transporting any of Arsenal's weapons, does that mean she's going to act as a Tamaranean shield against all that gunfire? Wouldn't the mercenaries soon realize she's there to rescue Harper and just use him as a hostage? The more prominent you treat Starfire in this conflict, Red Hood & Arsenal look increasingly inept.
Likwise, I don't see how DC can be blamed for confusing captions when it's very clear who's who. They're not all red. The story starts with Jason Todd narrating. His captions are black with red lettering and feature half his mask. Roy Harper's captions are red with white leterring alongside an arrow symbol.
Cinematic is definitely the least apt description I can think of for that panel layout. Last I checked, films are shot in rectangular widescreen frames. The frames don't tilt, spin around or overlap with each other. Incidentally, I find it very distracting when movies like the first Hulk or X-Men: First Class film scenes split into multiple "panels" in an attempt to mimic comic book layouts. They seem to forget that in a comic book you're not expected to look at every single panel on the page at once.
Maybe that shows the limitations of comparing comic books to movies. The artistic techniques used in one don't necessarily apply to the other. Although I am on record as stating that I think widescreen-shaped panels may work better in comic books than squares just as wide screens seem to work better in movies, because the human eye's field of vision is more rectangular.
I find it really annoying when people attempt to bash characters or stories as offensive because a character does something immoral. Not only is it wrongheaded, but I think it's counterproductive. Because stories tend to benefit by having characters who are complex and don't always make the perfect moral judgment, even if they're the protagonist. You used to hear this type of criticism from the religious right, but nowadays it seems to be even louder from the progressive left. Either one is an attitude that takes us closer to censorship and further away from freedom of speech.
As for "old man fanboys," I'm 34, so I hope that doesn't qualify me as being an old man yet. I consider myself a fan of Jim primarily for two reasons. I was introduced to comics and grew to be a fan through Marvel's output while he was editor-in-chief. Later, seeing him create a universe at Valiant was one of the most exciting things I've lived through in comics.
His essays on this blog are also incredibly well-written and well-structured. Rooting Out Corruption at Marvel – Part Three of a Bunch is probably my favorite because it's a complex story told incredibly clearly with a great sense of drama, suspense and character, despite the fact that it's essentially about one of the most dry, boring topics imaginable, accounting.
I applaud you, Jim, for letting criticism like this stand on the blog rather than deleting it or dismissing it as a troll, as we've seen happen on too many other comics creators' forums. I'm a free speech kind of guy so I think that shows principle on your part. It also shows that you trust the intelligence of your readers to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff. And it shows that you have confidence in your own positions by being willing to defend yourself rather than running away or hiding from a debate.
Anonymous said "It was cinematic and very clear to me."
Keep in mind that a broken clock shows the right time twice a day. Just because something is clear to you, that doesn't mean it works.
I wouldn't describe it as cinematic. I would describe it as a waste of space on the paper and pretentious like so much other crap in modern comics.
RE: "stupid" line of dialogue: Apparently you miseed the set up. At an earlier point in the story, this scene takes place:
Panel 1 (1/3 page horizontal):
Scene: Turok has dived on the Ptero and is grappling its neck, slashing away with his Seax! The Ptero is letting go of Aasta (due to having its neck hacked at by a love-crazed Native American).
Let go of my woman!
Panel 2 (1/6 page):
Scene: The Ptero is dead, Aasta is on the “floor,” which, in this case, is a Jump Jet wing—but she’s sitting up partway, rubbing or holding wherever she was bitten. No major damage, but it’s okay to suggest there was some. A little blood, maybe? Turok is checking with great concern on Aasta’s well-being.
Your woman? Hmm….
What, you save my life and then you own me?
In previous issues it was established that Turok and Aasta had eyes for each other.
Maybe the line is still stupid in your view. I can live with that. I do the best I can and the chips fall….
RE: Dinosaur hunter: In the original series, Turok killed lots of dinosaurs, yes, but he also came across lost civilizations and things from other times that came to the "Lost Valley" apparently the same way he did. He even encountered an alien being who somehow arrived in the Lost Valley in a flying saucer.
At VALIANT, we pursued the dinosaur hunter angle.
At Dark Horse, I went back to the roots, albeit with more emphasis on the various things and people swept into what I renamed the "Timeless Land" than on killing dinos.
Ad hoc review of Men of War #1 – It's actually two stories contained in this issue, and I liked the second one better. The art was almost monochromatic, with a hint of bright color here and there. Not really digging the art in the first story.
Apparently the first story is about Sgt. Rock. I don't know if it's the same Sgt. Rock from the 1960's. But this particular grunt now operates in the Afghanistan/Iraqi theater of war. (I think Afghanistan; no country was named in this story.) I did not like the intro; it should have been moved somewhere else in the story. It should have opened up with the Sgt. Rock in an office backdrop.
Apparently, this Rock guy is content to be a grunt soldier, not a leader of men. Ok… A mission ensues with a clear objective. (Rescue the Senator) So far, so good. However there appears to be a powerful figure (a man in tights… not a good sign) that just upends the mission entirely. A battle ensues, and the ranking seargant dies on the scene, but before he does, he annoits Rock as a sergeant. A leader is born.
The second story about Navy Seals is a little bit more straightforward, and an easier read with eye-pleasing art. The dialogue, plot, backstory seem okay. There's an army outpost being hit upon by a sniper and the soldiers need to confront the sniper and wipe it out. There seems to be some character development, i.e., a Peace Corps volunteer now an Army grunt.
Overall, Men of War #1 was OK. Not enough for me to buy more of the series. Having a man in tights mucking up things in the fog of war just ruins the reading experience, IMO.
Anyway, thank you for letting me borrow your soapbox for a minute there.
Finally read the two comics I bought recently. A short summary; a nice fling with a medium I once loved, but I won't be returning anytime soon.
Turok #4 – I recently found out online that Dark Horse cancelled the Gold Key line. Great timing as usual. I'd better not buy any more stuff; apparently have the opposite of Mida's touch. I won't feel too bad for Jim Shooter, though. While this Gold Key opportunity may have closed, newer doors of opportunity remain to be opened. He is certainly a capable individual in seeking out creative opportunities and to continue to make a living.
Ad hoc review of Turok #4: I vaguely recall him being a dino hunter. After reading the introduction, now I know why. A fish out of water kind of story? Time travelers? Aztec indians? Modern weaponry mixed in with ancient weapons? A Norwegian damsel in distress? Ok… I'll give it a go.
It was a ten-minute read. The art was decent, although it got muddled at times. The plot was serviceable; apparently there's a mad priest egging on his Aztec followers to sacrifice the damsel, Turok, his men, and his unlikely partner. A great battle ensues, and ends in a mushroom cloud, where Turok's unlikely partner sacrifices himself in killing off the Aztec warrior masses.
One thing struck me; A fish out of water story implies a collision of cultures and values. Yet, the damsel (Aasta) says, "Turok, you realize I saved your life, so now I own you. And you own me remember, so… Want to go steady?" Maybe I missed something; did the Norwegian girl adopt the primitive Aztec cultural values or something? Anyway, that particular line of dialogue sounded stupid.
Next, I cover Men of War #1
RE: Brainiac sleeping with unconscious Dream Girl: I wasn't the one who did that. I think it was Mark Waid. There was no suggestion of sex, as I recall. Was there? Anyway, I didn't write that. Dream Girl was long dead when I started.
I never complained about the writers' treatment of women in the course of the reviews. Afterward, in a subsequent column, I said this:
"The first two of the New 52 I reviewed, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 and Catwoman #1 were suggested by JayJay, because they were generating the most discussion online.
I tried to confine my analysis to Comics 101 basics, how the efforts compared to DC’s stated goals and how well each succeeded at what, in particular, they seemed to be trying to do. A lot of the discussion about those books both here and elsewhere online seems to be about the depiction and behavior of the female characters. I didn’t weigh in there. To me, that’s an evaluation each reader has to make for him or herself, not one I am more qualified than any other individual to pontificate about. One person’s Good Girl Art is another person’s “demeaning to women.” Etc.
The publisher has the right to publish any non-actionable material it wishes. Then we get to pick. The DC brass apparently thought the content of the two books I reviewed served their goals or would appeal to a large enough segment of the market to be worth doing. Whatever.
For many reasons having nothing to do with the controversies over the depiction and behavior of the female characters, I found a lot wrong with Red Hood and Catwoman.
But, let it be known, personally, I didn’t like the way the female characters were portrayed. It’s not that I think that there is anything, any situation or any type of character, male or female, that cannot be done if it is done with rare excellence and surpassing skill. The problem is that, too often, comic book writers and artists who belong in creator kindergarten think they’re already Ph.D’s."
So, heal myself of what?
I'm sorry you don't like the way I write women. I'm always trying to do better.
I'm glad you have the acumen to understand "paneling" that you call "cinematic" and I'm sorry that I don't. If I don't, however, I will say so.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the above.
Scene: Two-shot. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl face each other, look into each others eyes. To LLad, only physical counts—that Jimmy Carter “…committed adultery in my heart…” stuff is meaningless. SG sees in his eyes/senses forgiveness.
Scene: Saturn Girl picks up a disturbing vibe from Lightning Lad. He’s suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. Busted!
Garth, who have you been with?
None of your business. And don’t look!
SATURN GIRL (2nd)
Then stop thinking about her so loud!
Scene: In the middle of Saturn Girl’s starting to be outraged and jealous; and Lightning Lad starting to be busted, embarrassed and contrite, the SCRAMBLE SIREN established at the end of #47 and the beginning of #48 goes off. Lightning Lad is saved by the bell!
VREET VREET VREET
The scramble siren!
Saturn Girl, after being ignored, taken for granted and worked near to death precisely because of her leadership abilities by Lightning Lad had a moment of weakness (while under the influence of an intoxicant) and the thought of a fling with Ultra Boy crossed her mind. She almost did it, but stopped short. The point was that a) Saturn Girl has to have an incredibly disciplined mind due to the nature of her power, b) what happens on the mental plane, i.e., in thoughts, her own and others, is as real to her as physical things are to normal people, and c) a moment of weakness of no consequence to folks like us is a very big deal to her.
RE:Night Girl: Much set up had been done regarding the Legionnaires' new, super-durable costumes, a key element in the arc. Night Girl's clothes being torn was meant to be a further illustration of that and a realistic touch. To people of Superboy-level strength any ordinary cloth would be gossamer. Yes, it was meant to be a sexy scene. I repeatedly told Francis to be careful. Look at what he drew. Did he go over the top?
Dear Anonymous (unsigned comment),
RE: Saturn Girl: Affairs of the heart have a way of troubling even the most confident leaders. Saturn Girl did not sleep around. She didn't sleep with anyone except Lightning Lad. Maybe you missed this scene in LSH #49:
Scene: In the hallway, outside the Infirmary, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl confer. Saturn Girl is shrugging in a “beats me” way. Lightning Lad is confused and distraught, running one hand through his hair—a classic confused-and-distraught gesture. Like he needed another crisis….
NOTE: Embarrassing photo or ugly sketch of LLad’s gesture available on demand.
I agree. It’s…suspicious…but that’s what she remembers.
Why does everything have to go wrong at once…?!
Scene: Silent panel. Acting and body language are everything, here, Francis. Lightning Lad looks at Saturn Girl, struggling with the decision to ask her about her “fling” with Ultra Boy. Saturn Girl—perhaps sensing what’s coming—stares at the floor, awash in shame and guilt.
Scene: Lightning Lad goes for it. Saturn Girl still looks down, guiltily, ashamed, possibly crying.
Imra, Ultra Boy is insisting to everyone who will listen that nothing happened between you two. That’s what Element Lad told me.
LIGHTNING LAD (2nd)
Well…? Did anything…happen?
Yes. No. I don’t know…it doesn’t matter.
Scene: Two-shot of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. He’s pressing for answers. She’s still crying.
I invited him…no, I dragged him into my mind…and what happens there is real…to me.
Did he actually touch you…physically?
SATURN GIRL (2nd)
I…don’t know. Maybe not. I think.
Man! That is some especially misguided trolling up there. Good job, anonymous (and clever name!) – usually trolls are just annoying but that kind of cracked me up with all the self-righteous indignation and all. "Like wow" indeed.
On a somewhat related note, if no one's seen it (and before they release an Americanized version that likely won't be as good) put Trollhunter in your queue. Good, fun stuff. I'd provide a link, but I'm fairly sure you all have Google. 🙂
Ah, the trolls crawl from their bridge.
To quote the bystander in "Superman II"…
This is going to be good…
*Gets out the popcorn*
Waaaaaaiiiit a second…
Aren't you the guy that turned Saturn girl from a confident leader into someone with really low self-esteem, who can't understand why leadership is more important than relationships, and sleeps around instead of talking about it? The one who had Night Girl's outfit shred to pieces in her first appearance? Aren't you the one who had Brainiac 5 sleep with an unconscious woman (which is rape, by the way, maybe look that up).
The women you write are sex objects and clusters of soap opera like cliches and offensive stereotypes strung together nonsensically.
I have no issue with a lady being depicted as wanting to have sex without commitment. But I forgot that a lady sleeping with two people is only okay if she does it out of a lack of self-esteem rather than her own desire. I forgot it's only okay if she behaves immaturely and nonsensically (low self esteem + telepathy? Really?).
Like wow. PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF.
For the record, I had absolutely no problem understanding the paneling and what was happening. It was cinematic and very clear to me. The fact that you can't follow along is amazing and sad.
Dear God. I am freaking flabbergasted that you of all people are complaining about this. Your women are TERRIBLE! Truly horrendous, offensive, terrible things driven just by their want to have sex. Any strong female character placed in your hands gets turned into ridiculous, sex fiending vapid nothingness defined only by the men they're going after. And on a professional level, considering how truly horrendous your writing has been in the last few years, I can't believe you'd actual step by step try to tear down another writer and their artist. You are such a horrible piece of work in every way to comic books nowadays, and I truly can't wait until you're too old to write anymore and you and your 'unwilling to change old man fanboy' loyalists leave comics alone.
"Helmed" modifies "line", not "characters".
And of course "existing readers" means "people who currently exist as readers of comics", not "readers who are nonfictional".
You can't possibly be that stupid, can you? Rather, you're just trying to be snarky, failing miserably, and thus accidentally coming off as stupid? Right?
B. Austin Price
Or as I see it, we got a lot of really cool books that I wasn't reading before that I am now! The batbooks are fantastic! (And Penguin is amazing!), the Green Lantern books are also amazing (I've never really read GL except for Golden Age), and some other are really good too, such as the deliciously creepy Animal Man. I loooove the new (old) take on Superman, which is actually closer to the Golden Age tough guy version that I love most! Yeah, there are some stinkers too, but overall I'll accept some stinkers for every All-Star Western! And this is from a Marvel Zombie and DC occasional reader!
As best as I've seen anyone explain, their parent company WB wanted to do a marketing push for their online digital comics, probably as a cross-marketing effort with the Green Lantern movie and DVD. They ordered DC to relaunch their entire line at #1 issues to create an obvious "starting point" for new subscribers to jump on board.
From the end result, it sounds like WB didn't worry about micro-managing the actual content and DC wasn't wholeheartedly on board with the notion of starting everything over. WB also gave them a short timeline to work with, but nothing that experienced creators shouldn't have been able to handle better than this. It seems we ended up with a compromised product that was far less than it needed to be to make significant and long-lasting gains in the marketplace.
I don't understand why DC had to relaunch all their titles to simply keep doing the same old stuff.
The differences and great enough to annoy their faithful readers, mild enough that people can still recognize the characters, and nonexistent in the eyes of "new" readers.
To non-comics fans, these still look like the same ol' superhero comics they've never wanted to read in the first place.
Dayum! Not surprised to see you pop up here on Jim Shooter's website. Back when I was still reading comics, I had a friend who had Legion Outpost issues. Color me green with envy! Apparently, my friend went to San Diego Con before the movie people turned it into a boondoggle, and got the Good Stuff(tm).
Care to share some of your stories about your days in the LSH Fan Club? I love Jim's old stories his participation in the comic book industry. I find them fascinating. What did DC think of the LSH Fan Club? Was the LSH Fan Club truly the first organized comics fandom effort? What did Jim Shooter think of your efforts at the time? (I think Jim was away from comics, but I remember the Pulsar Stargrave storyline.)
Oh- Thank you for having a hand in LSH's 'resurrection' in the 1970's. Without you and people in the LSH Fan Club, we'd never would have memorable stories written by Jim Shooter, Cary Bates, Paul Levitz, and drawn beautifully by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell.
Seems to me, Glenn, that what you were proposing was a "Stop the Madness" type thing – a well-defined approach to putting the breaks on a shrinking market by changing focus from servicing a dwindling fan base to one where accessibility was emphasized. A back to basics approach.
How about a whole year of NO CONTINUITY?
Every issue a self contained "elseworld", where you can do anything.
Have characters die and come back to life the next issue, do drugs, turn gay, bi, have someone eat a baby, blow up the universe with a time paradox, and don't take it back.
Have a character spend a whole issue on the toilet without paper, and have to MacGuyver his/her way out of it.
Just total chaos and mayhem.
Y'know, all the stuff the artists/writers have really wanted to do.
They're sick, they'd love it.
Y'know, to shake the dust off.
I mean, with all these elseworlds, and reboots, coming quicker, and quicker, we've got that situation pretty much now in the industry, but I'm saying just drop the pretenses, and convoluted setup.
Just come right out and say "no continuity…at all".
Hurl open the gates, see what happens.
What's the worst that could happen?
Hasn't the worst already happened?
If everything you do is wrong, what you think is wrong must be RIGHT.
George Costanza realized that.
To Jerry Novick–
I pitched a "reboot" idea circa 1997, to Marvel's then-EIC. It wouldn't have been a complete rewriting of history. More like a step back, a breather, where all of the titles could get on the same page, have the same starting point, and then start moving forward. Only the most key, essential, crucial elements of each title's backstory would be emphasized. Otherwise, the stories would be more self-contained, more accessible to new readers, and would adhere more to each title's core "mission statement." Obviously, my idea didn't fly. In fact, as I recall, it was dismissed pretty much as I was pitching it, and never spoken of again.
But here's the thing–I was a lowly Associate Editor at the time. Jim was EIC when he pitched his Big Bang idea. His idea carried a lot more weight than mine–and actually leaked out to fandom.
Jim, even with your hint that there was a ball & chain in that image, I still had to hunt for it, so its not just you who had issue with that.
And oh god, why did they do that to Starfire. First impressions are important. Your first impression of a female character should never be masturbation fodder for the reader. Honestly, this kind of stuff is the reason why I rarely even pick up a comic anymore.
Glenn & Jim –
I don't think Marvel ever really needed a big reboot; continuity has never been a big problem there. Sure, some of the origins were getting dated with their references to Vietnam, World War II, and so on – but a retcon could handle that.
But I think if both Jim and Glenn had a "big bang" for Marvel on their creative minds, it must have held the promise of something I'm not seeing through my 1960s – 1980s Marvel Zombie Glasses.
So I'm dying to hear what you were both thinking!
I proposed it. It was shouted down immediately. There was never any serious consideration given to the Marvel Big Bang. That doesn't mean it wasn't the subject of some talk, gossip and what-iffing around the office for a little while. Come on, Glenn, you know how it goes.
God d*** it is good to hear someone with brains voice a clear opinion about some modern comics. Thanks Jim – what a breath of fresh air to hear someone shoot straight and not apologize for some of the stuff that comic publishers are putting out nowadays
Jim Shooter wrote:
The "proper ending" plan you describe, promotion included, leading up to the "Big Bang" relaunch is very much like what I had in mind when I proposed the idea years ago at Marvel.
Jim, I thought you said in an earlier post a few weeks ago that the "Jim Shooter Big Bang Relaunch of the Marvel Universe" wasn't for real. So it really WAS something you had intended to do? What would it have entailed? And when would it have happened? Thanks.
Mike Flynn- Would you happen to be the same Mike who founded the LSH Fan Club back in the 1970's with Harry Brojertes?
Brent E- Point taken. That said, on a lark, I decided to visit my local comic book store. Yep, it's still in business. The same owner was still there, and it was 1995 all over again, except for the gray hairs… He remarked, "Hey, long time no see!"
I went ahead and bought two comic books for the first time in 16 years. Men of War #1 and Turok #4. I didn't go for the obvious titles, i.e., T&A fantasies, or men in tights fights baddies. I'll read them later and do an ad hoc review. However, I have a strong feeling that I will merely confirm my suspicions that the industry has little changed since the 1990's.
To Anonymous who said, "It seems more people look at it as a jump off point." Truer words have never been spoken. For me, it was DC's Zero Hour. Previously, I had pared down my comic book buying habits just down to one handful of titles, and was doing so out of sheer inertia. Zero Hour happened, and I jumped off.
RE: http://craigshappyplace.blogspot.com/ I didn't read many of your reviews because I don't want to color my own thinking. I want the books to be fresh to me if and when I read them. But you make some interesting observations, about Blue Beetle, for instance (which I'm not going to review). I like your recommendation system, which speaks directly to the decisions buyers have to make. Good luck.
I have always held you in the highest regard as both a writer and a businessman because you hold to standards of professionalism and always seem to have the readers interest as your primary concern. As a full-time comic book retailer for the last 15 years, I have to say that I agree with your assessment of this comic. It's pretty and it's readable…but it should have been SO much more than it is. In the end, it's another missed opportunity to gain reader traction because the book essentially has no heart.
"All I can say about Scott Lobdell is that his writing Iron Man was the best thing about Heroes Reborn."
I second that. The first Heroes Reborn IM issue, even without crossing every t and dotting every i, was an engaging introduction to characters who appeared to have complex personalities and histories. It hinted at interesting things about the Heroes Reborn universe: for example, that the "big brains" of that world (Reed Richards, Victor von Doom, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark) had all attended the same university, presenting them as knights of the Round Table who would have had a falling-out. That guaranteed a sense of unity to all the stories that would eventually feature them.
IM #1 was a good example of how to reinterpret classic characters, without assuming any prior knowledge on the reader's part. It was also internally consistent, and its basic plot made sense (quite unlike the quasi-simultaneous Fantastic Four Reborn).
Ah, entry points.
And speaking of sex, … no never mind. Not right now. Keep sex off the blogs, I say, although it may be informative of every thing we say and do, it leads to situations, how shall we call them? Awkward.
Never turns out pretty. Often, humiliating. That said, let the DC Comics universe beware that there is now embarrassment aplenty to fill one's void …
Um, moving along.
DC Comics not being conducive to continuity.
What is conducive to continuity? Come to think of it, one of the first sagas I got into was Doctor Strange. My brother had collected a lot of the Strange Tales reprints, Marvel Premiere's and of course, the self-named book, and wasn't that one of the most amazing continuities in comic experience? Bwah ha ha (but I liked it).
Legion of Super-Heroes was pretty good, through the early eighties, sort of. There was a point where I just gave it up. Fanboys be damned. They're like bed bugs when you give into them. Don't give in.
What do you think the actual relationship is between continuity and sales? No, don't answer that. I get it. I was glad that different 70s sagas got to be concluded somewhere in the Marvel Universe. Sure, it's annoying, when you see a comic that means nothing in the wider scheme of things, except a writer got a paycheck, and so did the art-and-editorial team.
But continuity is that rare gem that accentuates the mundane-ness of the comic-consumer experience. Good story and art, ditto. To be appreciated when it comes along. I liked how Scott McCloud, in his Understanding Comics, gave out ratios of action to subtle-stuff. Always, action was the driving-force.
I was recently looking at a crap pencils submission I made to Marvel, back in 1982. They were returned, thank you. I had enclosed a slightly under-sized SASE. In 1984, I inked it, and then, last week, I colored the first two pages on the computer. There was a bit of action fun in the first page. Exposition on the second, and then it just dragged on unbearably badly for the final two pages, and I finally gave up on them. Making good comics is a heck of a lot harder that it seems to the uninitiated.
I did like seeing what the New DC 52 was all about, up above. Interesting insight. It got me thinking about how I got hooked on comics. If the stories hadn't have grabbed me, I wouldn't have stuck. But I wonder how much maintaining continuity is like fishing. Ever wishing for a bite.
Just warning you in advance. Do NOT review Hawk & Dove #1. Your head will explode, and we don't want to lose you.
All I can say about Scott Lobdell is that his writing Iron Man was the best thing about Heroes Reborn. Not exactly saying much, but I look back on his writing those 6 issues of IM as an oasis of quality in what was otherwise a big load of crap. [–MikeAnon]
You say: "at least the New 52 is a real, bonafide effort to get new readers, with a full-on marketing campaign extending beyond the boundaries of current comic fans."
I disagree. A full-on marketing campaign would actually do market research and try to get a grasp of what consumers want and what consumers might be inclined to buy if enticed.
This marketing effort is more like taking mud and throwing it at the wall to see if it sticks. That method is better than nothing, but it's hardly a "full-on" effort. The flaws I see is that they've alienated a lot of their old consumers in the process of trying to get new ones. The fundamental flaws, inconsistencies, and ineffectiveness of their product has not been addressed. There doesn't appear to be any realization on their part that the product is fundamentally lacking the characteristics to attract readers and collectors over the long haul.
As Jim mentioned above, every comic should be and entry point for a new reader. Every comic should make the reader want to come back for the next issue at the end. These are fundamental marketing elements which are left out of many modern comics. Being able to read a comic is an aspect of marketing. I recall a series awhile back where I couldn't tell who was who if not for the logo on their chest. All the male characters looked alike.
I saw some DC Comics ads on the IFC. They were horrible. I honestly cringed when I saw them. If that's "full on" marketing, they really need to work at it better.
(that was 3, this is 4. sorry for writing a novel on your blog Jim!)
With that said, I think you’re misreading my use of the word “sexism.” I wasn’t thinking in narrowly political terms and I wasn’t intending to make a political critique. I’m talking about a way of telling stories that reduces female characters to sexy devices. I intended it more as an aesthetic critique: its bad storytelling that does a disservice to the full depth of human relations, and specifically to a class of humans who already don’t hold an equal position in those relations.*
And, back to cheesecake for one more bite: I don't think that cheesecake is necessarily misogynist, but its not necessarily innocent either. Male superheroes are (mostly) drawn like warriors; female superheroes are (mostly, and more and more lately) drawn like strippers. There’s a huge difference in those images and the people that, in real life, inhabit those roles, a difference in social status and respect, a difference in power, security and life outcomes. Presenting those as equivalent images, IE not doing the work in the story to supply fully rounded characters to flesh out those images in a meaningful way, means presenting a certain amount of misinformation, papering over some hard truths about the difference in men’s and women’s positions in our society. Sure, you can call that a political critique, but its also about bad storytelling, storytelling that’s bad because its easy and dishonest.
* and yes, I know, Starfire isn’t human, but her audience is, and they deserve better.
On the other hand, this I disagree with this statement "The standards for judging artistic content vs. judging political content have nothing in common." Art operates in a social-political continuum. its not artificially separated from other human affairs. It reflects political and social trends in its content and its production and distribution structures, it advances social and political viewpoints in what the artist chooses to depict and how they depict it and what they can and cannot get sold and distributed.
But this isn’t a simple formulation. You can depict or express sexism or any other dark impulse in ways that use those impulses to tell us something about the human condition. I’m not arguing that good art has to make people feel good or advance a particular political agenda in order to be good art. Good art can and should have the potential to use whatever evocative powers it has its disposal in the pursuit of rendering some kind of affective truth. Good art should be dangerous and unsettling. But, good art or bad art, mild or dangerous, a critique of its political aims and effects is always a legitimate part of understanding it. And anyway, we’re not talking about good art here. We’re talking about the first issue of Red Hood. It doesn’t unsettle anything in its target audience; it offers them vapid wish fulfillment. Its pablum, and the fact that it contains a misleading and one-dimensional depiction of female sexuality doesn’t make it not pablum.
2: I do agree with this: "There can be an artistically brilliant creation that contains grossly offensive content and there can be trite pablum that offends no one's sensibilities." I think that's entirely true. Part of what I was trying to say & that I think Laura Hudson gets at as well) is that the kind of sexism on display in Red Hood is also a kind of bad writing. The sexism, ie the use of female characters as shallow, sexualized devices whose thoughts and actions reflect adolescent male fantasies (and don’t even really reflect those fantasies in an interesting way) is a way of writing poorly.
And, as far as “excluding a whole class of readers”- that’s my paraphrase of a point that Laura Hudson makes much more eloquently about how little effort these comics make to offer female readers the same kind of entry point and wish fulfillment that they offer male readers. I see your point about homogeneity, but when the class of readers that's undervalued is a whole gender, that's a different kettle of wax.
Ahh- I can't paste in what I wrote earlier because its too long! I broke the internets! ok, so I'll try it in sections. I apologize for being so long winded, but I wanted to try to get this right:
1. I didn't say that cheesecake in general is necessarily misogynistic. And I'm not sure that the equivalence you draw between bodice rippers and cheesecake really holds up, especially if that equivalence is based on the idea that either one is only consumed by one gender. But, like I said, some people just plug up their ears when anyone calls "sexism" on something.
For the record, I like some cheesecake and I like some erotic art that’s well beyond cheesecake. In terms of my personal taste, the drawings of Starfire here don’t make for effective cheesecake, but that’s not what I think is really wrong with the comic. A cheesecake surface with some half-baked misogynistic filling is, I think, bad, and its an all-too-common flavor of bad.
Actionlad, the lad of action
I've found Mr. Shooter's comments to be correct more times than not and after having collected comic books for more than 30 years I have been thinking more and more that the "New 52" is a good opportunity for a jumping-off point.
Jedi- I wrote a long response to your post, but I can't seem to get it to paste in. short version: you're misreading me. I'm not offering a "political critique" at least not with a large "P." Cultural politics or the politics of expressive culture does play into it, I guess, but here's the deal: its bad storytelling and "sexism" here is short for the particular kind of bad that it is; a bad that includes, as a characteristic of its badness, a one-dimensional depiction of female sexuality that seems designed to reflect the fantasies of adolescent boys, and which doesn't reflect those fantasies in interesting, original, or insightful ways.
I don't object to cheesecake per se, or think that its necessarily misogynistic. True, the way that Starfire is drawn here isn't effective cheesecake for me, but that's not what I think is wrong with the book. Its more like…a cheesecake surface with some ugly misogyinist filling.
there's more, but I want to see if this posts…
Nice review, Jim, echoes my thoughts as well. I didn't understand that action sequence in the beginning at all. Nor could understand why they would keep Starfire away! As for Starfire herself, beyond the cheesecake, DC ruined this character by taking away her long term memory and making her into a toy for the boys.
EVERY ISSUE SHOULD BE AN ENTRY POINT!
… and why I don't read any of 'em any more.
I know DC is calling the new 52 a "jump on" point. It seems more people look at it as a jump off point.
Ole M. Olsen
Pierre: You are not alone. I also loved OMAC. Like you say, it was FUN! It was exactly what I LIKE about comic books. And I may not understand everything that was going on, but I want to come back and find out.
In fact, I got much the same feeling from OMAC as I got from the Valiant books some 20 years ago.
Now, if only they could get Jack Kirby to draw it… 🙂
I've browsed trough Batwoman, which many has hyped as one of the best. Didn't give me much. Animal Man felt well-written, and I WAS able to jump on (having never read AM before), but the last page put me off. I'm not a big Vertigo fan. Swamp Thing was much of the same: Fair, but I don't care much for the horror elements. Wonder Woman half felt like a Vertigo book as well, which was disappointing. Another wasted WW opportunity…
Diacanu…oh, yeah, interesting. Thanks for the tip. I guess there aren't many ideas left in comics that haven't already been done. These look like they came out in 2006-2007 mostly, except the Daredevil one is apparently about to just be released in the near future.
I'll have to check out that Spider-Man: Reign story. I've been wondering what a Dark Knight Returns-esque Spidey story would be like.
GREAT review Jim,
I enjoyed your analysis of the comic. Am looking for ward to more analysis from you in the future.
Am I the only one who seems to love the new OMAC comic?? I got a kick reading the first issue…. but I seem to be in a very small minority.
To me Batwoman was… unreadable…. but OMAC was pure FUN!!!
I feel so alone. 🙁 😉
I kind of half-jokingly thought that Marvel could stand to kill everyone off in parallel last issues,…and then I found out they had actually sorta done it…
Jim, maybe there's an alternate timeline out there where those stories were really written. Feel free to tell us any plans for endings for certain characters that might have already been percolating in your head.
It seems comics, even when they're adapted into movies, keep getting new beginnings but don't often get real endings. I think you had the right idea. You just had it 25 years before Marvel really needed it.
I remember finding this last pre-Crisis Superman story really haunting and compelling when I saw the cover as a kid. I'm not sure how many times such an attempt was made to bring definitive closure to the ongoing story of a major comic book character, even if it was the prelude to a reboot.
I know Crisis had its share of deaths for characters across the various "earths." I like that this Superman story was self-contained and not part of that reality-bending stuff where deaths or retirements of characters might have lost their meaning somewhat.
Firstly – thanks Jim and JayJay for an amazingly entertaining blog.
Just wanted to add my two cents on one of the New 52 that I liked – Demon Knights. Not mired in continuity, characters introduced, things actually happen(!), and clear storytelling. Of course, it'll be lucky to last a year, but…
It is no more sexist or misogynist to produce cheesecake art for male readers than it is sexist or misandrist to write a bodice-ripping romance novel for female readers. Either one could have shallow characterization or fully developed characterization. Jessica Rabbit was the ultimate cheesecake in Who Framed Roger Rabbit but she was also a great character in a great movie.
To confuse politics you do or don't like with art you do or don't like is a danger to fair criticism. There can be an artistically brilliant creation that contains grossly offensive content and there can be trite pablum that offends no one's sensibilities. The standards for judging artistic content vs. judging political content have nothing in common.
"Refusing a whole class of readers" is not automatically a negative. Some stories will greatly appeal to one class of readers while not appealing at all to another. That's fine. To say that any creative work should appeal only to the widest group of people possible in order to have merit is to attack diversity in content. It's a sure way to invite a generic, homogenized product onto the market.
Dear David S,
The Marvel Universe Handbook tale is in the queue. Thanks.
The "proper ending" plan you describe, promotion included, leading up to the "Big Bang" relaunch is very much like what I had in mind when I proposed the idea years ago at Marvel.
But I'd like to say, anyway, that you are exactly right. There is a difference between mystery and confusion. There is nothing in terms of story and storytelling you cannot do if you do it well enough. To evaluate the success of a commercial creative endeavor, it is important to understand the goals of the creator or creating entity. Almost always to make money, yes, but goals besides that. DC stated what they believed they were accomplishing with New 52, their goals in other words. That's the yardstick, then, theirs, anyway. What we as readers may wish DC's goals were is another thing entirely. I wish their goals were more about succeeding via brilliant entertainment and honoring the icons in their care with excellence, which I believe is a surer route to making money, being "compelling" to us and appealing to new readers than relying on cheesecake, flashy art, and, to borrow Shakespeare's words, tales "…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I intend to read more New 52. I'm looking forward to the good ones often cited here.
Just chiming in to add my voice to the choir:
I think Marc reallyt nailed it upstream: Stories Not Stimuli.
I also think that Jim's critique here is a good complement to Laura Hudson's. Part of what Hudson is saying is that sexism makes for bad writing: bad because it depends on shallow characterization, bad because it refuses a whole class of readers any legitimate stake in the story and characters, etc. Still, some people hear charges of "sexism" and immediately close their ears. Hudson's take goes deeper into an important area of badness, maybe the most important in the long run, but Shooter's reinforces that the problem is not well executed sexism, its bad writing whose characteristics include shallow misogyny. As Jim says, Feh.
also this: as someone noted upstream, the captions-instead-of-thought ballons thing is a decades-old innovation intended to keep it from looking old fashioned. In an industry with more real innovation, it would be retro, or satire.
I think that someone upstream also compared the odd panel shapes to Steranko and Adams violations of the four-square box. Potentially a fair point, but what you could justify as "innovative" in 1971 should hardly deserve the same justification 4 decades later. And the way they're executed here, they need some justification.
One point of disagreement: despite the clean lines and virtuoso execution of the style, I really can't find this art beautiful. I understand that most comics are built on an aesthetic of stylized, hyper-developed bodies, but the muscalature and the boobage is just too much for me here. all I can think of when I see it is steroids and plastic surgery. It may be my age showing, but its an unpleasant and I think unimaginative set of exaggerations.
Well, Jim, looks like you might have a second career as the MST3K of awful comics.
The fans are clamoring!
This was fantastic. I would love to see Jim review other controversial comics from modern times…such as Civil War or Sins Past. Of maybe he could try to make sense of Final Crisis…
"Every issue should be an entry point." You hit the nail on the head, Jim. IMHO, the impenetrable density of continuity is what has led to the steady decline in sales.
The only thing that I don't like about the new coloring is that it has helped contribute to the demise of the inker. I am a big supporter of new coloring, otherwise. Tom Palmer seems to be one of the few stylized inkers that has survived. Most artists today don't seem to like collaborating for a meshing of styles look, and prefer to work with their own personal inker. (Jim Lee and Scott Williams, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, etc…) I miss when the inker was as important as the penciler. Palmer, Sinnott, Layton, Breeding, McLeod, Austin, and and Rubinstein added more personality to a comic series than all your look-alike computer colorists combined! But I love computer coloring. It's the only thing about new comics that are better than old.
Speaking of fish, here are the preview pages from Aquaman #1. What works best for me on these is the tremendous sense of character communicated through the facial expressions. I'm not sure I've seen that done this well from another artist. The rest of the issue had more dialogue and nicer-looking settings than this city street action intro.
Defiant1, at least the New 52 is a real, bonafide effort to get new readers, with a full-on marketing campaign extending beyond the boundaries of current comic fans. You have to give them credit for that, at least. Of course, due to this seemingly being thrown together in a rush as a way for WB to cross-market the Green Lantern movie home video release, not everything has been thought out as much as it should have been.
In other news, I see both Turok #4 and Mighty Samson #4 are on Dark Horse's shipping list this week. Good news and bad news for Jim Shooter fans, since, if I'm not mistaken, these will be the last new issues in the Dark Key line, unless the titles come off of hiatus.
I think it was a pretty safe bet that DC's 52 launch was going to make a nice big spike in comic sales. #1's normally do. Next the #2's come out and a predictable number of sales are lost. #3's come out and more sales are lost. In the meantime, all the loyal collectors that were buying for the past ten years getting every issue now have a stopping point. They probably picked up the #1's out of curiosity, but much of their collecting pride came from having an unbroken run of issues from a long running series. A comic series should be thought of as a journey. The stories evolve and the reader becomes emotionally invested in that journey. Every time a series stops, it's a justification for a reader to get off the train and put an end to his journey. Ideally, readers should be excited to jump onto a long running series and get pulled into the journey that others have dedicated their lives to experiencing. The comic industry is too busy playing games. It's too busy dangling carrots on a stick to make the collectors do whatever they want. Somewhere along the way, people wise up and realize things aren't going to change if they keep chasing the same predictable (and ultimately unsatisfactory) bait.
It's really time for the comics industry to focus on the craft. Comic companies have been fishing from the same barrel far too long. The number of fish is dwindling every year and there aren't enough efforts made to restock and actually get NEW readers. Even Archie targeted 50 year old fans when they came up with the idea of "Archie meets Kiss". Sad!
I could ramble for hours or days about everything that is wrong about comics. From story pacing, coloring, marketing, distribution… you name it.
There is going to be an implosion. The digital format may entice a few readers, but the hobby became what it is because of collectors. It became what is is because collectors wanted to buy back issues and learn the history of their favorite characters. Until publishers start making comics that are readable and have a history, gimmicks like 52 are just going to keep happening until people are fed up and just don't care. The industry flaps like a flag in the wind and has lost all insight into how to create it's own destiny rather than simply react to an audience that will simply move on when their expectations are not met.
I don't think comics should turn back the clock on advancements like coloring techniques. Sure, a bigger palette means you can screw things up in bigger, more spectacular ways if you don't know what you're doing. But you can also do great things with it. The coloring techniques now can achieve a more realistic visual look, which is what I groove on.
True, I've seen coloring that seems to clash with the intent of the line artwork or goes overkill on "fade" techniques (a la Red Hood above). But I would again point to Aquaman #1 as an example of state-of-the-art coloring that enhances every page. Just look at the sepia tones in the flashback scenes or the blood rising out of the water at one point. You could not achieve a look as effective in the story as those were using old coloring methods. The bright, crisp colors throughout gave me an impression of a very lifelike world of sharp clarity that still retained a bright, fantasy-based, colorful "comic book" feel to it.
The whole idea of playing with panel layouts is a lot more questionable to me. I get things like a character brandishing a weapon that pops out of the side of the panel. But then there's stuff like little border squares drawn in the middle of a larger panel, to indicate, I don't know, the passage of time or something. It confuses me and I have to believe there was a clearer way of drawing to get the same effect.
As for really fancy grids like in Red Hood above, it's true they're usually unnecessary or distracting, but I wouldn't want to rule it out entirely. To me it's like a special effect in a movie. If they throw it at you for no purpose, it becomes laughable and draws you out of the story. But if it somehow cleverly enhances the situation or character, it can be exciting.
I'm probably drawing this from memory from some comic, but I can imagine a cool panel layout of the Joker throwing a deck of cards in the air, and each card becoming a panel on the page as they fly through the air. It's even better if it's more than a visual effect and is used to imply something about the story such that the Joker has all those characters in the palm of his hand.
Totally agree with your assessment of these books. I'm reviewing the whole lot at CraigsHappyPlace.blogspot.com. Love to hear your thoughts.
A perfect dissection of the failed art of comic narrative. I've subscribed to the Number One issues of Swamp Thing and the Legion, and, I suppose the next eleven. Neither of these are jumping on points, both are confusing, and both of them leave me feeling I've wasted my money, yet again, on comic books that I don't understand, and, when I do understand them, I don't care to. Yet, I love old comics and the stories they tell, as a seasoned adult. Someone is missing something in this equation, and I don't think it's me.
I started reading DC post-original Crisis. Previously, I was all Marvel. DC (except for the Teen Titans and the occasional Batman story) was too much about solving paradoxical riddles, in my eyes, and not enough about butt-kicking.
I have now left the DC building. Flashpoint was a MESS – the worst thing Geoff Johns has ever done (I was a fairly big fan of his at first. Alas, no more.) And there was not a single new DC issue which interested me. I checked out JL#1 and that was the final nail. Nothing to see here, move along. A trite, dull, pointless reinvention.
Of course some new DC titles will be great, a fair number will be decent to good, more will be mediocre and some will stink to high heaven. Same old, same old. But the point is, with this new, totally unnecessary reboot, this 25+ year DC fan has dropped the entire line and has no intention of ever returning to it.
Way to go, Didio.
I know not all comics have to be fun to be entertaining. That really goes for entertainment in general. I like the ones with a sense of fun, but not everyone does. Or has to. But, I feel that a lot of entertainment has lost the sense of fun I like. Oh, there are good things out there, no question. Most people would say that Big Bang Theory or True Blood are great fun. I find no shortage of fun entertainment to absorb. I mentioned The Guild comic. I read that last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love the show it's based on and look forward to it eagerly.
But, I spent a long time this week looking at the new comic books trying to find something I wanted to read. I flipped through quite a few. I read the first few pages of some. Then I went and bought some more ebooks on Kindle. I buy a lot of books. I read quite a bit and my tastes are all over the place. I love that the prices of ebooks by independent, self-published authors has made it possible for me to buy tons of books just to try them and see if I like them. I'll buy a book for .99 or 2.99 out of curiosity and if I don't like it, well, I didn't waste too much on it. Now I went and mentioned prices and I'm sorry, it's not about the price. It's about being able to have access to entertainment (that I can afford) and feel like I'm reading something that is a labor of love. That someone put something of themselves into, some thought and feeling… some yearning. The Guild feels that way. A lot of books, both ebooks and paper feel that way. A book that someone wrote because they were moved to do so, they had stories inside them that just had to find an audience and they enjoyed writing them.
Maybe when a lot of comic book creators started making a lot of money greed replaced the love of doing comics. Or maybe the industry attracted the wrong kind of people when the money got good, people who just wanted to make a buck but couldn't care less about producing entertainment. But I know from experience that when you enjoy what you do you can produce much better entertainment. When it's drudgery, it shows in the work. I get the feeling when I look at all those hundreds of comic books that there are a lot of very unhappy people doing them.
Now I'm rambling. See what you guys started? lol.
Your review really hammers home how much many modern comics have become more about style over content. Or probably more accurately, style over accessibility, which surely must be a factor in the decline of the comics industry in recent years.
I suppose you didn't even have to use your special plot-hole-sniffing-out power, as mentioned in your Marvel Universe entry…? 😉
Any plans to share some thoughts on the evolution of the Marvel Universe handbook series with us, Jim?
Another thing I would do in a Marvel reboot is do a little of what Crisis did, at least if I recall with Superman, and really spend 6 months or a year giving a proper ending to the current Marvel titles. Promote it as The End of the Marvel Universe, with a new Big Bang to come later. That alone would generate some hype and be an interesting project since we rarely get to see actual conclusions written to the stories of superheroes' lives. And all the titles would actually be rebooted from the start, not the mixed carryover continuity of the New 52.
IF anyone else had done this review, i could honestly say i'd throw their opinion out along with the book, as rubbish. However, Mr. Shooter you have learned your craft, along side of the pioneers and creators, that built the comic book industry. Most, if not everything, was done for a specific intent, to make the telling of a story as clear as possible.
Now i don't believe you are the end all to be all in comics Mr. Shooter, but if given the choice, i chose to side with one of the last Standard bearers. You, Mr. Shooter, whether you like it or not, did something i can never do, stood, learned and created story after story with some of the best architects of comics. most of everything i learned, has been exactly what you talk about, in my i attempt to approach comics.
Now, i don't know about all the ups and downs in the industry, however i do not believe comics low readership is a coincidence. but rather something a lot simpler. poor story telling, or lack of it.
peace out Mr. Shooter
and Thank You
Stepping away from discussion of the content for a moment, I think we should acknowledge that the New 52 has been a very good marketing strategy. Comics do need good marketing if the industry is going to start growing again. I've seen a lot of people talking about this reboot that normally don't talk about comics. I've also heard anecdotal stories of people going out and looking for these comics who are not regular comics buyers. The print runs are high, they're going into reprints, and there are buyers on eBay competing to get lots of the issues.
Of course the problem may be that a lot of disappointing content turns those readers away as fast as they came in. But this has shown that there IS a bigger potential audience out there for comics. They've been sitting on the sidelines but they're open to collecting or reading again or for the first time. If the marketing had been wedded to top notch content, then this really could have signified a major rebound in demand for comics.
If I'm in charge of Marvel now, I start planning one thing, a shameless stealing of DC's relaunch idea, but improving everywhere they went wrong. They should finally go ahead with the Big Bang Jim considered in the '80s. They surely need it a lot more now than they did then to clean up a lot of garbled continuity.
Quality control would have to be job one of course. I'm certainly not confident Marvel understands the characters enough to make a reboot an improvement. I wouldn't want changes for the sake of changes, like in the Ultimates series. It should be a getting back to the basics approach, keeping the origins close to the original characters, just with some modernization.
They should also do a much slower rollout of titles. With Disney bankrolling them now, there's no reason they can't risk a few lean months with less titles offered while they rebuild an audience. I would say just debut one title a week, making each new book that week's event. After 3 months you'd have 12 titles. That's a good amount. At most I'd do it for 6 months and get up to 24.
From the standpoint of sheer sales potential, besides Batman, Marvel's characters are still more popular and resonate better than DC's with the general public. Marvel doing a credible Big Bang relaunch would probably outsell what DC's doing now 3-to-1. And if they had the right quality, the combination of classical storytelling with modern sensibilities and state-of-the-art production values, they have the power to revitalize the industry.
Of course the best thing they could do to pull this off would be to put Mr. Shooter back in charge.
Wow, looks like this post generated a lot of discussion. I have to admit, I was particularly interested to see what you thought of DC's New 52, and their attempts at reaching out to new readers. I've been reading comics for about 20 years straight now, and so far I've really enjoyed what DC has done with their relaunched titles. If you decide to seek out any past Red Hood and Catwoman, I'd like to suggest Batwoman, Batman, and Superboy. Especially Superboy, as I felt it was the strongest of Scott Lobdell's DC books (he also wrote Teen Titans).
Thanks again for your thoughts and sharing them with us.
Oh, wow, and it's cheap!!
I have a reason to live again!
Um, Diacanu, they did do that: It's called the Showcase Presents Ambush Bug edition. OK, admittedly it doesn't have the 2009 series but you aren't missing much there…
I think he probably means "pretentious", and "overrated", are beaten to death hackneyed old standbys in the fanboy community.
Try mixing it up a little with spicy phrases like "his mother goes up against a pinball machine with armies of sailors".
Or "the the stench of failure rolls off him in a sickly green fog".
Or "and his kids are ugly little troglodytes from a Barnum picture book of human misery, and I hope they know the sweet warming embrace of a car fire".
See how smoothly those roll off the tongue?
How nice that is to read?
Do more of that.
"@ Dusty: I wish you would stop calling creators you don't like 'pretentious' or 'overrated'. Especially when you know a lot of people won't agree with your viewpoint." – Norbert
I suggest you stay off the internet if you can't handle opinions and facts that you don't agree with. I'm not trying to be snarky, either, just hitting you with a dose of reality about the internet. Warren Ellis is a hack and his hack qualities demand that I say so!
Jim, it means a lot to me that the man who wrote some of my favorite LSH stories thought the same thing I did about this story.
It's also depressing that we had to experience this story.
It's part new, part old and all a mess! New things have intros – this is storytelling 101. Maybe the "New 52" means it'll take that many issues to figure it out. Thank Galactus for back issues!
Awesome review and insights Jim. I really loved this article.
Jay Jay mentioned in an earlier comment that she never got into DC comics, because the few that she tried to read were just no "fun". I feel that is what is most wrong with comic-books today. A lot of them are just no fun to read. Most of the time it seems more like a chore than a relaxing good time. What's wrong with fun? It seems that every comic today has to be dark and serious and oh so cool with over the top violence and sex and lots of gun totting dudes and dudettes in leather jackets and combat boots.
I've said for years, to friends and in online posts, that comic storytelling is a dying (if no dead) art-form. As I see it, the biggest problem with todays comics is very simple… In a single issue you only get about 10 minutes of (so-called) story… for about $4.00!!! Back in the day you'd get a complete and well told story for under a buck. I go back now and reread old comics from the 60's, 70's and 80's and I'm amazed at how much story is crammed into each issue. A 2 or 3-part story back then was like a freaking epic!!! Today it takes an entire issue to relate what used to take one or two pages. And those old stories didn't seem at all rushed or plot-thin either. They were very satisfying. Just go back and read an old Lee/Ditko Spider-Man or Lee/Kirby FF or a Shooter/Perez Avengers issue, etc. and you will be amazed at how much story you get for your time and money.
Today, you get one action scene a car chase and a half-naked chick flipping her hair… to be continued. Yawn!!!
The other big problem I see is the artwork (and layout). Someone else mentioned it earlier, but I can't stand all the over-rendered coloring in todays comics. It really makes them look like muddy crap. It totally overwhelms the senses and makes them hard to look at and makes hard for the reader to tell what's actually going on. (Just like the problem seeing the ball and chain on page 2). God how I long for the days when comics looked like comics. Clear, concise artwork with black inked outlines and nice clean, bright colors. They were just so much more… FUN.
Oh, wait, I know what DC can do for their last sale from me.
Collect Ambush Bug in three thick graphic novels.
Everything, even the Superman/Supergirl appearances.
I'll pay 60 bucks for it.
Good deal, huh?
Marvel's only getting 20 offa the Hulk stuff from me.
Oh..okay, the fights in "Hulk vs. The Marvel Universe", look good, and "Hulk The End", looks delightfully morbid..
Okay, 60 for them, 60 for you if you package up the Bug.
And we all part ways.
Come on, I know you're lurking…
If DC had any sense, they'd send you a thank you card and an invitation! You're actually doing them a huge favor with this (and the next) critique. They are knowingly foisting crap on their hoped-for readership – not with every title- and should care more about a quality product. Did they have to throw stuff together in order to make it to 52 #1s??
stephen & Magnum-
I've been so picky, I haven't bought one goddamned book, and I'm extremely pleased!
Haven't been disappointed YET!
Have by eyes on the hardcover collection of the old Jarella stories from Hulk, think that'll probably be the last 20 bucks Marvel gets out of me.
What are ya gonna do for my last 20, DC?
C'mon, hurry up, ain't got all decade, got stuff to do.
While I did use "The New 52" as an excuse to start reading comic books on a monthly basis again, I must admit that after the first month, I am a bit disappointed. I had honestly thought they would be better, more thought through and better carried out, and in fact made to appeal to both new and old readers like they have made us believe.
Instead, it's just another "crisis" half-reboot, where they recreate Superman (with a new, silly armour-like costume) and a few others and leave others alone. Why not either do it properly or not bother?
Anyway, some of the titles are actually rather good, and I'm sure I'll keep on enjoying them. Several are fair. But far too many seem to be utter garbage. In fact, I do believe the good mr. Shooter has reviewed one of the latter…
It's funny, because just prior to digging into the "New 52" books, I'd read through the entire Flashpoint crossover and found it to be a very entertaining read of the "good old" DC kind. What happened from one month to the next?
I've never been a comic book editor. And although it has been my life's biggest dream since I was about 8 years old (I'm now… ahem… 40), I've haven't yet become a superhero comic book writer and/or artist either. But still, I can't help having a few thoughts about how I would have handled a DC reboot if I was in charge:
First I would have decided on some attractive titles to publish and made sure that the number of titles would be manageable (52? It should be 25, tops! In fact, I think I'd prefer starting with, say, something like 15 for the first few months and then slowly build from there). Then I would have gotten hold of a number of decent creators who really know how to TELL A STORY AND TELL IT WELL. Then I would have gathered together all the editors and all the creators, made a plan for stories and continuity (with room for cretivity). I would have tried to build up some enthusiasm for the project among the staff and creators, knowing that that would rub off onto the pages and from there to the readers, hopefully creating a buzz. And I would have tried to make sure that everyone would be able to get some enjoyment from at least the vast majority of the titles – everyone from the 8 year old kid I was when I got my mom to buy me my first Superman book (Norwegian translation) in 1979 to… well, anyone!
But what do I know about publishing comic books? I'm sure DiDio and Lee have a well thought out plan…
Yeah right. 😉
Actually, what this has helped illustrate more than anything else, is that someone really, seriously need to give Jim Shooter a proper dayjob as an editor-in-chief (and hopefully writer) for a major comic book publisher somewhere!
I've been very picky about the New 52 books I've been picking up and so far I've enjoyed most of what I've read. Neither Red Hood nor Catwoman have remotely enticed me and nothing I've seen here of the former is likely to change my mind.
Weirdly, Francis Manupal's Flash is possibly my favourite new DC book. Although he does have a co-writer, he's largely running the show and seems a lot more comfortable than when he's taking liberties with someone else's script.
Am looking forward to reading your take on Catwoman. From what I've seen so far, it is definitely the book I am least likely to start buying anytime soon. Very tacky stuff indeed.
Great post Jim. I've been waiting to hear what an industry veteran like you would say about some of the DC relaunch titles.
For me DCnU feels like Image in the 90's all art, no plot, and lots of gimmicks. A lot of flash but no substance.
DC only gets one chance at a first impression and most of their books are pin-ups, not stories. The first 3 pages of a book should establish characters, premise and the mission of the series. From what I see in Red Hood, I don't see characters. I don't see a premise. I don't know what this is about. More importantly, I don't see a reason to CARE, so I'm compelled to keep reading the series.
With titles like Red Hood, I feel DC is headed for a second implosion. Right now there are too many titles chasing too few dollars during an economic downturn. Who has $155.48 to spend on 52 comics every month in a world of eBooks, games, Redbox DVDs and other cheaper entertainment options?
I doubt half these titles survive to a sixth or seventh issue. There just aren't enough readers to sustain them long-term.
A new #1 issue means nothing these days as books get rebooted every 3-5 years.
Great post. Personally I feel DC doesn't need a relaunch of 52 titles. What it's needed was an editor-in-chief like you to give the writers and artists the guidance and support they need to produce books that are all ages entertainment and easy to read. Every issue should be an acces point whether it's #1 or 346.
When I was a kid in the 1980s I was buying books in the 200s and 300s and had no problem accessing the Marvel Universe. Good storytelling always kept me coming back.
When DC Comics relaunched Legion after Final Crisis they reprinted the first meeting between Superboy and the Legion… Mind you when Geoff Johns refers to a past event he writes a six or seven issue Retconned story around it. Superman Secret Origins was about one tenth as good as any of the original stories.
I've been reading this blog for awhile & enjoy is tremendously. When I saw the heading for this entry, I just smiled to myself & thought 'This is gonna be GREAT!'… I wasn't wrong. You accurately sum up what is wrong with the industry today. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for commenting on the odd panel borders. The ONLY artist I've seen come close to making them legible is Neal Adams. Other than that, they are completely unnecessary and hinder storytelling.
I wish John Byrne could jump on the traditional panel bandwagon again. Every page he's done lately has had tilted borders for no apparent reason, and his work suffers for it, imo.
I think a line many commenters are overlooking can be drawn between "not understanding what is happening" and "questions to be answered later on." Although I tried out about 35 of the new DC52, I didn't read either of these books. Sure, some stories tend to start in the middle of something; "Swamp Thing" comes to mind (the hero is not currently Swamp Thing). In "Animal Man" the character is already famous as Animal Man. That does not really effect the story being told. Both are seemingly horror stories about the character that was just introduced, and if you don't have an understanding of what the story is about and who the characters are then maybe some storytelling isn't for you, but that's not to say that is bad storytelling.
Some of the most interesting films (Pulp Fiction, the Prestige, Slumdog Millionaire, etc.) jump around in time. Some of the best books change character perspectives (The Stand, Crime and Punishment). There is more than one way to tell a story that engages new readers. For as bad as Red Hood appears to be, I think Superboy #1 was just as strong at creating a new world where the reader shouldn't have any questions when they are done about the character's past because it's a fresh start.
Does the industry need to attract new readers to grow? Absolutely. Do they need to tell all the stories by filling in all the questions right away in the first issue? No, that would be boring, tedious, redundant, and inappropriate depending on the book. People posting things like "guess I was right about the entire state of comics since 1995) are clueless, offense strongly intended.
Comics are a medium; just like film, television, and prose literature. There are strengths and limitations to each. At any given time there are wonderful works being printed as well as garbage. Judging an entire medium based on a few works is as near the definition of insanity as I can think of.
(Obviously Jim, this is directed at certain commenters, not yourself.)
Like Dave said, some browsers work better than others. I have good luck with Firefox and with Chrome.
I'd bought a few of the hardcover Marvel Masterpieces (I think they were called). I was very disappointed when Marvel stopped publishing those, they were well produced and allowed me to relive my early comic book reading expereinces.
Reprint comics can make money, and of course that's why Marvel published them under my watch. The President of the company asked me to generate additional revenues to help the parent company fend off a takeover by Mario Gabelli, a corporate raider. I did everything I could think of to make quick money for the company — the No-Prize Book, the Fumetti Book, reprints, other things. The marketing strategy you suggest never occurred to me. References in current comics to reprints of old ones logically might drive sales, but to the extent that occurred, it was happenstance, not a plan.
Dear Jay C,
The modern coloring techniques using Photoshop, whatever, are means that can be used well or badly. Too many people use them badly, but some do amazing things. Whether it's the old 65-lines per inch and 64 flat colors (57 or so usable) of my youth or the hi-def repro and limitless palette of today, good coloring is a joy.
It's funny that you mention some problems with that intro, because it has some similar text to a DC radio ad which Rich Johnston critiqued:
This was the tweak I proposed:
"Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! DC Comics and [store name] proudly present a new era of The World’s Greatest Super Heroes for a new generation. Starting this September, DC and [store name] rocket into the future with new comic book series for all of your favorite super-heroes! The All-New DC Comics Universe is the perfect way for new readers and longtime fans to discover the action, mystery, and excitement of The Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, and many more! Come join in all the fun at [store name], located at…..or online at http://www.storename.com"
As for the characters in Red Hood…well, obviously you remember Starfire from the Wolfman/Perez Titans… Roy Harper was formerly known as Speedy, Green Arrow's sidekick, and Jason Todd is the former Robin that Denny O'Neil killed off with that 900 number call-in poll back in '89.
Can we vote on which comics we'd like you to review? I'd like to see you review Justice League, Action Comics, Superman, Flash, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, All-Star Western, OMAC, Hawk And Dove, or Legion Of Superheroes.
Also, as an IT guy, I just had a "no duh" moment: the comments work MUCH better on FireFox than IE.
Maybe that will help someone not lose an entire comment…like I did.
Part of the problem with the bad writing is that so many of the core readership don't seem to know the difference, and are happy with the crap. This issue is a great example, as many people are defending the Starfire depiction as her being "empowered". Whuh? It's unreal.
Also–while I'm also not against sexual or violent content in mainstream books when it's well depicted and story-critical, I'm a little uneasy in general with the sex and violence (see last page of Detective #1) in the new 52. Where are the comics for kids under 15? Have we just written them off?
As a lapsed DC reader (my pull list in the ’90’s consisted of almost everything that DC put out), I initially hated the idea of “The New 52”. Then the more I read about it, the more I was curious. I picked up Action #1 and JLA #1, and that was enough to get me hooked into picking up some of the others. I’ve read about ¾ of the new books, and have found many of them to be enjoyable.
I do wish that JayJay had picked some of the others to send to you, as I think these 2 titles are a poor representation of the relaunch. The only thing that would have been worse would have been Hawk & Dove. I enjoyed the characterization of The Red Hood moreso than I have in the past, but the rest of the book left me cold. I get the objections to the characterization of Starfire, and I’m there with you, it’s just not something I want to crusade over. Also, I’m really tired of the “Roy as a bonehead” characterization.
I got out of reading comics because I found that I had to force myself to read them, and the pile kept growing from week to week. I’ve dabbled here and there, but found the continuity too imposing, and it seemed like every time I turned around, there was a new event that was “going to change everything!” As someone who has a familiarity with the characters, I would’ve been really disappointed if every new #1 had been an origin story. I feel like I’ve read and re-read the origins so many times that I don’t need to do it again, even if they do change some details. Batgirl was my favorite of the new books, and it alludes to some of what has gone before (assuming some familiarity with The Killing Joke and Birds of Prey), but I thought it was a good opening issue. I think it’s tricky to strike a balance between giving new readers a jumping on point without dropping so much of the continuity that you anger your existing readers. People loved Barbara as Oracle, and I don’t envy the task of writing around such a hot issue.
As to the issue of whether or not the books are really selling: go to a shop on Wednesday morning. At my local shop, the lines have grown steadily every week, with people standing around talking about the books, not picking them up and running out the door to put them on eBay.
JayJay – how about giving Jim the 2 new Legion books? I’d be curious to read his .02 on them.
I did not pick up Red Hood & The Outlaws based solely on my opinion that it was a stupid title for a comic book. Then, I became aware of all the controversy over Starfire's depiction, & the innumerable bad reviews, & figured that my instincts were good & that I'd dodged one of DC's bullets, quite adeptly. Looking at the art posted here, though, I'm stunned. Yes, this guy has strong illustrative skills. He's completely incapable of telling a story, though, in a clear & concise manner. Story telling through sequential art is the foundation by which great comic books are built. This guy needs to go back & study Eisner, or he needs to leave the industry. There seems to be a measured absence of editorial input over at DC. Those pages should never have been approved for publication.
What a great advertisement for why someone should hire you as an editor.
I'm too far separated from comics to be angry over the DC reboot, but I am disapointed. When I heard about the relaunch on NPR I was interested. New readers? Great! My son is 11 years old…same age I was when I was reading the Marvel comics you edited. Unlike myself, he's been raised in an age where he knows [i]all[/i] the characters and their backstories. He's sen movies, video games, cartoons, and even plays a game called Heroclix which features comic book characters. He's dressed as Batman more than a few times. What a great target audience.
I went to the comic book store with him and we looked for some titles he might enjoy. Out of all the comics published in the past month (I was amazed by just how many) there were only two that seemed targeted for kids…one based on a TV show and another targeted for a much younger age group.
Where, in gods name, do comic book companies think the next generation of readers is going to come from?
Look, even is people decided that kids don't like comics (an odd notion indeed) not a single DC book that's been launched has been exactly new reader friendly. Many seemed like continuations of stories (such as Green Lantern or Batman) without much in the way of explanation, while others were just incomprehensible. Even if you're trying to attract adults (to whom empowerment fantasies of men in tights punching monsters may not resonate) you're still not doing a good job.
We left the comic book store with an armfull of old x-men and Green Lantern books from the eighties. He loves 'em.
I wanted to love the New 52… I really did. I was hoping for a hard reboot that shed continuity and killed the "decompressed" style of plotting made for the trade paperback, and replaced the whole thing with solid storytelling, compelling plots, and a feeling of "newness" married to the characters that I've loved for decades. What we got was confusing fan-fiction and pin-up pages designed for sale in the original art market.
I still dream of writing comics starring the DC characters one day, but alas, my comment here may have put me on the outs once and for all.
All I can say is thankfully Giffen and Jurgens appear to hold enough sway at DC so that not all of the books are a lost cause. These guys came up in the biz when storytelling was still king. And Scott Snyder does have the writing chops to keep his books compelling as well. So there are some DC books that have good, readable, compelling content.
Seriously, Mr Shooter, isn't that why you printed reprint comics in the eighties? Because reprinting stories that "current comics" referred to and advertised can make money?
And in age of e-books, DVR ROM comics, phonebook collections, trade papervacks, and reprints, why not use some elements of continuity to generate revenue? I presume that is the reason Marvel had Marvel Tales and Classic X-Men in the eighties and Marvel Triple Action starring the Avengers and Amazing Adventures starring the Original X-Men un the seventies?
Back story is only a burden if the story is so poorly written that you believe you need to read or watch something you don't have access to in order to enjoy the book or show in front of you.
Nothing wrong with continuity. A lit if people blame continuity for the immediate and current writing being awful.
DC Comics' use of good issue to issue continuity and title to title continuity has always been more dependent on the writer than the editor, I think. Steve Englehart made it happen in Detective Comics and Batman villains had more consistent continuity than the protagonists.
Green Lantern has always seemed to adopt a new continuity per story telling era or editor or writer, especially in terms if the abilities and limitations of the ring and the motivations and moral standing of the Guardians of the Universe. But I read the first Showcase collection if Silver Age Hal Jordan and continuity was fairly tight and the stories quality consistent. Clearly it wasn't the same continuity that Geoff Johns use.
I agree with the above: When checking out some of the other new DCU books, be sure to read BATWOMAN #1. You may be surprised at how damn good it is.
Oddly enough, while RED HOOD is awful dreck that needs to be cancelled immediately, Scott Lobdell's two other books for DC are really quite good. The new SUPERBOY #1 was the surprise hit of the week, and TEEN TITANS #1 is solidly enjoyably.
"Every single one seems to start in the middle of some sort of continuity. I've read 3 so far that have been recommended here and none feel like a first issue."
All Star Western feels like a first issue. We are introduced to the protagonist (Jonah Hex) through the eyes of a psychiatrist that meets him for the first time (he's not his doctor, they just become partners in a murder case). It also helps that Jonah Hex did not have a regular series for most of the past decades and doesn't carry a lot of continuity baggage.
From 80s DC there were Byrne's Superman, Perez's Wonder Woman and Miller and Macchuzzelli's Batman Year One which, though I can't guarantee you would enjoy them (I did but there's always a matter of taste), they were open to new readers.
Thank you for your review, Jim, which is all the more worthwhile for being penned by a pro (and a highly respected one, at that).
I do not pretend to know how things work behind the scenes, but I have a hard time believing anyone at DC seriously thinks that this relaunch will entice people to start reading comics in droves. The New 52 is little more than a PR stunt to which adjectives like "fresh", "new" and "original" can only be applied with disingenuity. Of course, I see the logic behind the company's apparent strategy… After decades of nonsensical messing around with classic characters, DC starts over by ignoring all the stupid stories and preserving the good ones. That would be called "streamlining continuity" or some such, but it's a silly excuse. "Continuity", whether it be complex or not, is not the problem; stupid stories are. I have never heard someone complain about a historical book because continuity was too complex; for example, Gibbons' "History of the decline and fall of the Roman empire" is both extremely complex and extremely good. It doesn't matter if a story is set in a complex universe! A good writer will find a way to make it accessible, and to draw new readers in. But admitting that a company (or even an entire industry) is generally producing sub-par material is difficult to do; much easier to blame poor results on unquantifiable things like "too much back-story".
Superhero comics don't sell as much as they used to. That's a given. They are no longer inexpensive, and they have a lot of competition from video games when it comes to entertainment dealing with action/adventure themes. But when the competition gets tough, you have to rise up to the challenge and start telling MORE entertaining stories! To do better, comics must simply BE better.
This Red Hood comic is clearly not better. In fact, it's a good deal worse than the average comic. It reminds me of other dismal attempts at reviving the industry (and the "Heroes Reborn" Fantastic Four #1 in particular).
I suspect that within a year, the 52 new titles will have been reduced to a dozen or so. And those books won't have survived on any other virtue than their telling good, intelligible stories.
I agree that these two titles are a B-List (Catwoman) and a D-list (Red Hood). To be fair, I think Mr. Shooter should review two A-List titles. Specifically, Action, as it is the centerpiece of the entire DC line, and JLA, as it is the unified center of the plotline that Mr. Morrison is weaving.
(All Star Western, while very good, is at best a C-List title, sadly.)
I am actually very interested in what Mr. Shooter has to say about Action. And I think that after reviewing JLA, he'll have something to say about the need for editors in the room.
Great comments! Great and very fair review of a very poorly-written and executed comic. I've always thought Lobdell was terrible – not much has changed.
Catwoman and Red Hood are indeed the worst-reviewed of the New 52, but they are good ones to pick, since they've generated the most discussion. (If there is anyone out there who hasn't read Laura Hudson's autopsy on these, it's essential reading.)Catwoman in particular – what a waste of an opportunity to ACTUALLY reboot the character. Ugh. I just go back and read my Batmans from the Silver and Bronze Age, when I miss the characters. They haven't existed for years, for me.
I can't add much to what's already been said. I can't stand the wannabe-cinematic style, myself. As someone at the AV Club pointed out, as well, it looks like so many characters are computer-generated and then drawn over. I don't know if that's standard practice now or what, but for as "good" as comics look these days, so many fundamentals are missing. I guess they're just gone, now, not missing. The industry seems to be selling to the worst or the worst.
If you want a couple of bright spots for the New 52, I recommend Action Comics #1 (although, if you haven't, the 12 or 13 issues of All Star Superman by Morrison/ Quitely is, for my old-fogey eyes, a much better take on it) and All Star Western #1. I've tried a few others, but the two aforementioned are probably my favorites. I haven't bought anything by Marvel OR DC regularly for years, but I'll be picking up those at least for a few months.
David Alastair Hayden nailed it as 90's Image crud.
It's depressing, I consider myself a fairly mediocre writer, and I was doing better than this when I was 17.
And yet, the big 2 probably wouldn't have taken a script from me if I was bleeding in the gutter, and needed the check for band-aids.
At least, that's what I always told myself.
Probably shoulda taken a shot, eh?
I'm in a gloomy funk now.
Oh, well, at least Jim will be taking an aluminum bat to another comic tomorrow, that's somethin…
Red Hood and Catwoman seem to be two of the more widely derided and considered by consensus to be bad titles of the 52 relaunch. I'd be interested in also seeing Jim's critical analysis of some of the more positively accepted new relaunch titles.
Dear Mr. Shooter,
I love your criticism of DC's new 52 and the issue that followed. Your point about Starfire being a device and not a character is well made. Your overall view of this issue is what makes you one of if not the best editor in comics.
DC is loosing their existing readers and is unable to attract new buyers. Good job, guys!
The great irony is all these numbers #1 are selling hundreds of thousands of copies. What the hell? What kids like trash? Nope. Large part of sales are speculators who have bought this crap for resale it in eBay. Other buyers were attracted by the novelty, but sure as hell they will not return to read a comic after this awful experience. See what happens in six months. My thoughts? This will be the infamous DC implosion version 2.0!
I love your blog, and have not chosen to post yet – but you've hit my hotspot. I AGREE with you that this is junk (okay, you were milder… I don't have to worry about offending anyone in the industry and your opinion and mine undoubtedly vary.)
I am not posting all my thoughts on the new DC; you don't have enough bandwidth (the internet may not have enough… 🙂 But a very few discussions:
ITEM: I'm fifty years old. (And I still read comics, yes. Get off my lawn and get back to your FaceTweets, ya young punk.) I BOUGHT your Adventure Comics, and loved them. I have been buying comics for forty-plus years. So I think I have a historical perspective – and that's not even counting reading a whole bunch of Golden Age reprints.
ITEM: DC cancelled good selling books just for another "Crisis" event. Oh, sure, they didn't call it that – but this is just another "Crisis on Earth-Zero – everything you know has changed!" You won't see the Justice Society, the Flash (Wally West), Power Girl, Batman Beyond, or some other popular or good selling characters.
ITEM: As with "Crisis on Infinite Earths", EVERYTHING is starting over – except for the really GOOD selling books. Batman and Green Lantern have not had any history changes – because they're selling well, and DC needs a couple of "fallback" titles to still make money.
ITEM: Per DC, ALL super hero activity has happened within the past five years… including Batman having three Robins, Green Lantern becoming Parllax, Wonder Woman having had her fifth or sixth "reboot" (does anyone know who she is any more?), Superman putting on a t-shirt and jeans to fight crime (hope he has a lot of 'em!), Barbara Gordon establishing herself as a super-heroine, getting shot and crippled, re-establishing herself as Oracle, and then re-RE-establishing herself as Batgirl… etc. I may have some of the details incorrect, but that is the impression I get – and as they've made me easily decide to drop DC Comics, I guess that's the important part.
ITEM: With so many previews and media blurbs, I was able to decide pretty early on that I was going to drop DC.
ITEM: There is ONE exception. The new Legion of Super-Heroes book is maintaining its continuity prior to FlashPoint, and I'm going to keep collecting it. Thank heavens for small favors…
ITEM: Per your quote: “Not only will this initiative be compelling for existing readers…"
No it isn't. It dissuades me, an existing reader, from reading more DC Comics.
"…it will give new readers a precise entry point into our universe.”
It might. But it also gives existing readers a darned good EXIT point from the DCU.
Sorry to ramble… gotta let this out to SOMEBODY and you seem to get it. Thank you for your consideration.
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
Pastor Dave Mason
If DC (or Marvel) wanted to do something truly different, they could demand that all writers, for one month, would have to write a stand-alone story with absolutely NO continuity. No back references & no cross-references with other titles. And the Story would have to have an Arc… Setup, Conflict, Resolution!
THEN give all artists illustration boards that are pre-ruled to "Kirby grid" 6-panel layouts. Then we would see who could tell a story and who could actually draw.
sorry for the refuses… owned by Disney and Warner, and 'course spey and bats are Superman and Batman
Dc and Marvel are today marketed names oned by Disney and Warner. THAT'S WHY THEIR COMICS ARE MADE THAT WAY. It's quite simple. Comic books are prewiews of possible film or game.. so it's cinematic. That's the motivation between the redesign of them.
I've read Shooter's story from Amalak to Nero(notice right now are two badass villains) and I've found tru'the years very few fwriters to be in his same league. But the critic is too angry. The colored captions are a Frank Miller's idea, some 25 years ago. They are accepted in comics language since then. Roy Harper is Green Arrow's assistant since the forties. I don't read dc titles, spey and bats apart from twenty years or so, but Starfire is Starfire, Speedy is (sic) Speedy, and Jason Todd is the protagonist of one of the most famous comics storyline. Also, the original Red Hood is the Joker since Robinson.
but the critic is well written. partial.ironic. assertive. appassionate. cynical. a critic is not neutral, is made this way.
It's good to read any Shooter's script.
@ Jim Shooter: this is the first time I make a reply on this board, so I want to thank for your insights and the entertainment.
@ Dusty: I wish you would stop calling creators you don't like 'pretentious' or 'overrated'. Especially when you know a lot of people won't agree with your viewpoint. I'm not trying to be snarky btw.
I wonder what Jim thinks of modern day Photoshop coloring.
For me, the vast majority of the time I find it off-putting and garish. So much embellishing and cuts and gradiants and putting in details that aren't even implied by the inked art . . .
I just find it ugly and usually just makes everything muddy, even if it's just muddy brightness.
I long for simple older 4-color of days gone by. Maybe it wasn't complex, but more often that not it served it's purpose just fine. And yes, the JayJay Valiant/Defiant style of hand coloring was also vastly superior to just about anything I see nowadays.
— Jay C
Glad to see you doing an in-depth review, Jim! I think your thoughts on modern comics are just as valuable as your stories of the industry's past. It'd be great to see a full review of a comic you liked, like the new Daredevil, as counterpoint to this.
That panel layout on pages 4-5 is just crazy. If they're going to get fancy with panel layouts, they better have airtight storytelling first. Otherwise it seems like they're putting a flashy paint job on a new car without making sure the engine works first.
I've read a few of the new 52 and agree with the "mixed bag" sentiment so far. If 52 titles is too much for them to do quality control on, then they should do less titles. They look like the hare rushing out of the gate instead of the tortoise moving slow and steady. Do 12 great titles that everyone will buy and you can build a long-term audience. If most of them are lousy, who's going to be reading them in another year?
Here are my thoughts on what I've read. The artwork and coloring in Aquaman is astounding. It's modern and state-of-the-art but clean and classical at the same time. I don't like caricatured faces and weird body proportions like in the Red Hood artwork. The Aquaman characters look like real people. Their facial expressions have great "acting" to them. The coloring is nice, bright and realistic too.
The story is perhaps a little "decompressed," but not too badly. There isn't an incredibly dense plot, but it feels like a meaningful start to a reintroduction of the character.
Justice League was okay. The banter between GL and Batman was decent, maybe a little forced. JL as expected suffers by being driven by an action plot and not examining the characters too closely. The Jim Lee art had enough "money shots" to make it worth the price of admission. The plot was interesting enough.
Between Action Comics and Superman, I definitely preferred Superman. It was by far the densest "read" of what I've seen. It had as much dialogue and narration as any '70s-'80s comic you could name. Maybe even a little too much narration that described what was already visible in the artwork. The large amount of dialogue really made me feel like I was in the "soap opera" world of older comics. I felt like I got to spend time with a large cast of quality characters. Some things in the plot should have been explained better though.
Action Comics bugged me by not at all nailing a proper portrayal of Superman. Half of what he did was classic Spider-Man behavior and the other half was classic Batman behavior. The character was unrecognizable as Superman. I don't buy that this is a young Superman learning who he is. Superman is supposed to be as morally centered and square as anyone. At least the artist did a good job choreographing the action scenes.
Supergirl was probably the worst one I've read. Talk about decompressed, I was done with it in 5 minutes. It was a mindless slugfest with no thought put into it. The art and coloring were pretty unappealing too.
At least I could follow the slugfest pretty well. Wonder Woman on the other hand was filled with bizarre mysticism and fanciful goings-on that they didn't even try to explain. I had the same reaction Jim had to Red Hood where after a point I had to force myself to slog through to the end. The art also seemed too avant-garde to fit a mainstream character like Wonder Woman.
Catwoman almost seemed like it was by 2 different artists. Some of it seemed a little sloppy but other pages were beautifully rendered. I enjoyed that it focused on her character and her internal monologue. I don't remember if they used thought bubbles, but I definitely felt like I got inside her head and got to know her. The action plot in the middle was an afterthought and felt like one, but her character was the real focus. I'd give it a middling rating but I think it has promise.
You might try checking out Batwoman, while you're at it. It also uses exceptionally over-stylized panels and a plethora of splash pages, but seems to use them in a much more balanced and thought-out manner than this book's incoherent mess. I personally find Batwoman's art to be lovely, if a little bit too self-satisfied, but I'd be interested to hear what your discerning eye makes of it.
Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff
I was more of a DC Comics fan as a kid and young adult than I was a Marvel fan. It seemed every Marvel title I loved didn't last very long. But this latest DC relaunch just reminds me of how old I've gotten. Or something….
A few years ago, I wrote in a blog post that I never outgrew comics… they outgrew me.
I'm not surprised, though. I still remember the panel discussion at the San Diego ComiCon the year Image exploded onto the scene where my jaw dropped in tandem with Peter David when Rob Liefeld (I THINK that's who it was) who went on about how if you want to make comics you just have to read and copy your favorite comics. Now, we've got creators who haven't bothered learning jack about story structure, pacing, or even simple layout techniques to guide the reader along the page and onto the next. Near as I can tell, they haven't even bothered thinking about why comics they might have enjoyed as kids were structured the way they were; they've only seen superficial Kewl Art and then aped that… and aped just the flashiest parts, like Gene Colan or Neal Adams at their most extreme. Or worse, they're aping someone who was aping Colan or Adams at their most extreme, like some of those fellows from late 1980s/early 1990s Image Comics.
At least the guys who seem like they're doing storyboards in the hopes of selling their comic straight to movies are producing stories with pacing and direction.
[Wow… that turned into quite a rant….]
I can't wait for the Catwoman review which i didn't think was as bad as this issue.
There was a lot of confusion in this issue because they are referencing things that did not happen as if they did happen.
Pretending there is a back story when there isn't one could probably be done well but i certainly don't think it was here.
And yes don't do weird panel shapes if you don't have the story telling chops to pull it off and i guess we found out that he doesn't yet.
Scott Lobdell wrote Generation X which was a great comic 10,000 times better than this trash.
I'm not sure really who this comic was made for since older fans would obviously get upset and newer fans would be left confused.
This is a very wierd thing. Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell were big architects of the '90's comics – everyone had new costumes that were worse than the originals, panels were hard to follow, it was all about guns and boobs
Here we are in 2011. Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell being involved again (And Bob Harris for that matter). What do we have? Redesigned costumes that are worse than the originals (Has anyone other than Green Lantern, Flash and Wolverine had a costume redesign that is better than the original?) and it seems to be about guns and boobs.
Go find a picture of Kory from George Perez and compare it to what is in this magazine. She was soft yet sexy. This one? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I never did read the Killing Joke. Not being a DC fan for so many years, their comics seemed too impenetrable to me. I used to get them in the bundle at Marvel and I enjoyed a few, like Watchmen and Electric Warrior. And later I read some of the stuff my friend Kyle Baker did for them. But most of the times I would try to read Batman or some of the other regular books, they were just no fun.
Dusty's right, Barbara Gordon was shot and crippled by the Joker; shortly thereafter, she was retooled as a new character named Oracle, and she became the "information broker" for the DC heroes, thanks to her computer skills. She also formed her own team of female heroines, the "Birds of Prey", which she led from afar. Interestingly, since her introduction in 1967, she has been Oracle longer than she was Batgirl, at least until the 52 'boot.
Many advocates of the handicapped are particularly unhappy that DC has now decided to somehow cure Babs of her injury and put her back in the cape and cowl, as they saw Oracle as an excellent role model figure…a woman who proved it didn't matter if you were in a chair, you could still be a hero and save the world.
What I don't get is that if Comics are trying to be more cinematic in feel, why are most artists choosing layouts that are either really odd or would be just out of place if it were translated to film. My opinions on the new 52? The best books so far have been All Star Western and Men of War. Superman comes in at a close third for me, just because of the last two pages. But being on topic, I found the action sequence really confusing because the artist does do a master shot but then the next couple of pages are a bunch of inserts until that final panel and you aren't pulled back enough to appreciate what is going on. I just hate the little insert panels.
JayJay, I haven't read any of DC's 52, and haven't read much DC for over 25 years, but I believe Barbara Gordon has been crippled ever since the Joker shot her in The Killing Joke. Have you read the Killing Joke? It's by Alan Moore (overrated) and Brian Bolland, and is one of the most well known Batman stories. Came out in the mid 80's.
Reading those DC comics is too much like work. But I just saw a new Guild (Clara) comic, so I'm happy! That's one I'll enjoy.
Things carried over from prior stories need not be confusing, though. A good writer would introduce those elements just as he or she would introduce a new element. No reason it can't be clear to any reader.
I've found the "New 52" to be hit and miss. Batgirl #1 and Nightwing #1 were two I liked (I'm not saying they fantastic or mind-blowing but they were competently written). Some other stuff has been decent and some has been so ho-hum right off the bat I'm not going to pick up more.
I agree about confusing panel layouts where the reader's not sure what order they're supposed to be following the action in. I also hate panels where I'm genuinely not certain what the hell I'm supposed to be looking at (it seems to happen frequently in modern comics).
I also hate story decompression. I don't know whoever thought that was a good idea…
Hey, Flying Tiger
I think your samurai quote shows you don't understand what the issue is here. I don't think new comics are bad because 'old stuff was different and thus better'. I also don't think that older stuff is better as a rule because darn it, ITS OLD. Jim did a really good job of pointing out what was wrong with this comic from the point of view of a new (or any) reader, not of someone who simply yearns for some halcyon days gone by or simply 'wishes things were the way they used to be'.
He also found value in the art and said so. This is about the basic nuts and bolts of telling a simple story being so out of wack that you can't comprehend whats going on from one page to another, who the characters are or even whats happening in some panels.
Time and space do not necessarily have any thing to do with those kinds of issues. In this very blog Jim has referenced old comics which suffered from the same problem of bad dialog and sloppy story telling.
The quote you posted seems to me to imply that we're all a bunch of old men wishing that things were like the way they used to be because that was our particular taste where as the reality is that some comics are not concerned with being comic books as their own dynamic stand alone art form but rather "almost a movie" or "kind of a storyboard". And some artists and writers are less concerned with telling a story as they are with flashy splash pages and complicated panel arrangements or 'snappy' dialog and other gimmicks.
The complaint is "you can't follow this, the story is dumb" which is a complaint I would level at any number of comics, old or new based on the competence of the writer, artist and editor. Not the time or place it was produced.
I haven't really read DC comics since I was little, but because of some of your comments I've been reading a few tonight. Every single one seems to start in the middle of some sort of continuity. I've read 3 so far that have been recommended here and none feel like a first issue. Batgirl was the closest and it refers to the past 3 years of being crippled and some mysterious cure. Was she in a wheelchair before? Was there a Batgirl comic before?
At least I'm comforted by a couple of things in the new 52 that I've seen… they seems to be more culturally integrated, which I like, and not all of them are infected by relaunch raunch.
LOL, Jim! I think one of the reasons I enjoyed Green Lantern #1 was precisely because of some of the baggage that was carried over from the former continuity, in this case, the Sinestro Corps, which I doubt any 'new reader' would have a clue about (and would have found it confusing in the context of how they were presented in the issue, defeating the whole supposed purpose of the New 52).
Very good article and comments. My two cents is the whole industry sucks. Nothing like the silver age as they call it now. This is the age of trash, pumping out cosmetics com'icky's.
It seems that DC has always had trouble with issue-to-issue and title-to-title continuity. Almost none at all for many years, then for the last three decades or so, oppressively burdensome continuity, which still persists. This #1 issue, presumably a "precise entry point," is heavily laden with baggage from before. I guess I should have entered earlier at some less precise point so I'd have a clue about some of the references.
First of all, thank you for explaining how the reader's experience works for you on this book…I have purchased and read about a dozen of the "new 52", and for most of the titles, I CAN'T FOLLOW THE DAMN STORY. I know I'm old now, but sh*tfire, it's ridiculous.
I even wrote to DC about this, when I got into one book too many where the story seemed to set me up to go one way, and then—as seems to be usual in my sampling of "the new 52"—it takes me somewhere else I don't grasp. (In other words, as a reader, I'm having to WORK TOO HARD to read this comic book. What's wrong with that concept?)
Like you, I am apparently too old for any of that to matter…I am 52, a reader of comic books since about forever (days of the Beatles), and my tastes are too firmly in the literary world—the one with fairly complete sentences and explanations—to matter today. That is not because of my college education; I too don’t have one, I am an intellect without portfolio. But I do have some taste, some reading refinement. I’ve been reading voraciously since I was about seven, anything and everything. So my eyes have been around some. And I can draw. I know my way around a page. I know what the thing’s about.
I do ask, seriously now, do kids understand these kinda pages, or is eye candy enough? Is the gee-whiz factor the whole thing? Is a comic book really just a bunch of pinups of some kind? Because that's what they all seem like to me. An artist's portfolio—for other artists—not a world that they want the reader to enter that is a shared place, with shared characters; but the artist's private world, that needs to explain nuthin' to nobody. A series of in-jokes but no suggestion of “stick with me, kid, wait for it, this stuff is brilliant” wit attached. Nothing to anchor the new reader and convince them the journey’s worth it.
What with one strange-paneled, artist-indulged book after another, as a "new 52" reader, I'm at much at sea as ever. No entry point for me. After a rock-em, sock-em month with DC, with few exceptions, I’m burned out. I may buy the next issue of three or four of the books I tried, but maybe not. They’re probably right; I’m too old.
Maybe I’ll just draw my own comics! Now that’s an idea!
For inspiration, I'm heading back to re-canvass my old Silver Age stuff. I've just discovered the art of Joe Maneely, and I'm going there to get my eye candy quota. And I hear there are stories in the old books, too, and that might be fun.
Fancy-dancy panel arrangements if not well thought of and constructed can confuse any reader. I stay away from those kinds even if it's well-drawn.
Wonderful post, and I admit I've also had that reaction reading contemporary comics…"Am I just too old for this?" This article articulates a lot of what's wrong with contemporary comics. About a month ago, I bought about half a dozen used Marvel and DC annuals from the mid-'80's, and really enjoyed the clearness of the story-telling. I just read Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory, and while I loved a lot of it, I can't honestly say I understood what was going on half the time. I'd love to see more of your reviews of contemporary comics.
*sigh* I, too, have had a hard time deciphering some of the panels of comics as of late, sometimes confusing whether I should read a single page, or read across two pages (I think this happened a few times while reading Fear Itself #6). The pages shown above were ridiculous!
That said, I skipped the Red Hood comic because of Scott Lobdell and because I think Jason Todd was a better character as a dead Robin. I picked up Catwoman on a whim, but haven't read it yet (but will do so before I read the blog entry on it!).
Out of the rest of the moderate stack of New 52s I have purchased, from what I actually read so far, Stormwatch was okay enough for me to try issue #2, I wasn't impressed with Justice League (but will try #2) and I was happily surprised by Green Lantern #1, which I also picked up on a whim after paging through the first few pages. Now I need to find the effort to read the rest of them (which is how I feel a lot these days about reading comics).
And to decide whether to continue buying DC, or use this new 52 for the opposite reason DC is doing it — as a drop off point!
First, I'd like to send out shout out to Mike Rockwitz (if that's you!) and thank him for something after 20 years. Back when you first got Roy Thomas back on Conan, I wrote a letter, and not only was my letter printed, but you sent me the actual bristol board original letters page! I still have it, so now I get to say thanks!
Mr. Shooter, reading your critique is painful for me because it only makes me want you back running the show at Marvel even more! You get it!! Sadly, comics are now run by people that are too ashamed of what they do. They try to pretend comics are movies, and have done away with many storytelling devices that are what makes comics comics. Writers usually dictate panel by panel what the artist draws, and even has dialogue written first.
People like Warren Ellis, who is about as big of a hack as has ever worked in comics, refers to himself as a "graphic novelist". How pretentious can it get? The writers that dominate mainstream came from independent roots, and consider themselves to be "mature", but what they really need is a good case of getting over themselves.
Scott Lobdell is probably just trying to fit in. Quesada and company killed his career for a decade because he wasn't a part of the gang, and he just got another chance after Harras became DC's EIC.
The first Avengers story I ever read (#212 "Men of Deadly Pride") featured Janet Van Dyne trying her best to spice up her marriage to Henry Pym. Jan oozed sexuality in that story, but it never drew my attention away from your main storyline. Rather, it added nicely to its eventual climax. That issue was superbly crafted and served as my entry point for the Avengers. I didn't need the characters to be labeled for me like they do today. I figured out who was who as I kept reading each month or by purchasing back issues. Readers were expected to care enough for the material at hand to do their own research and weren't talked down to or catered through heaping slices of gore and cheesecake. It's the difference between my buying multiple titles in 1981 and only a couple, thirty years later.
My gosh, I remember the Implosion. Your words may yet prove to be prophetic this time around…
As for the sequential art and its oft-bizarre layout, remember Jim Steranko? Even Neal Adams departed from convention from time to time. (Some Deadman pages in Strange Adventures touched on the experimental fringes of sequential art story-telling.)
I don't know who made this quote originally; (Jack Kirby? Steve Dikto?) Sequential art is subtly great if it can tell the story w/o caption balloons, thought balloons, or narrative asides. Sadly, it appears that, too, is a vanishing art.
And is that Starfire the same character as the one depicted in the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans? Whoa!
My take; just create new characters, new heroes, new continuities. Don't be a slave to yesterday's heroes and continuities. Oh- tell stories. Produce sensible art that follows traditional (tried and true, too!) story-telling conventions. Create realistic art, not overtly sexualized scenes, containing real people in the story backdrop. i.e., feature common items, ordinary people, and nondescript architecture. Heroes are larger than life, and they should 'pop' out as such.
Thank you for the ad hoc review. Seems like I won't be dipping my toe into comic books again for quite some time. (1995 and counting!)
I agree wholeheartedly that every issue should be somebody's first. We see it all the time in television when someone watches an episode from the middle of the season and makes the effort to watch the preceding episodes. That said, do you think "continuity issues" was ever a reason for DC's struggles to find an audience?
Flying Tiger Comics
"It is said that what is called 'the spirit of an age' is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same.
For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done.
Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.
This is the mistake of people who are attached to past generations; they have no understanding of this point.
On the other hand, people who only know the disposition of the present day and dislike the ways of the past are too lax.
-Yamamoto Tsunemoto, "Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai"
David Alastair Hayden, yes, the trend is towards cinematic, but that trend made sense when cinematic style enhanced the comic language. Nowadays, cinematic style is a goal in of itself, and when done by hands that are still learning the craft, it actually subtracts from the value of the comic.
What about those captions with color? And the ones where they insert the heroes logo? I mean, c'mon, if the writer can't find the voice of the character without those gimmicks… we are doing something wrong!
The strange shape of the paneling, has to either
a) Have a narrative justification for it.
b) You have to be creating something so innovative and groundbreaking that it speaks for itself.
These guys who make patchworks of panel just for the sake of doing it, are not contributing anything positive to the craft.
The panel where the priest gets out of disguised is really poorly constructed. I don't blame the artists on this one. I blame the editor for letting it pass.
I am constantly having fits about bad panel/page composition when I review a comic, and I have ranted on and on about the constant abuse of gratuitous splash pages, for the sake of… who knows?? The sake of diminishing the power of the splash?
There is a reason why (when you are drawing an establish titled/character) you do pencils first, and your editor makes corrections and comments before they are given to the Colorists and Inkers.
No editor in this title, or was asleep at the wheel, and it shows.
Benjamin Andrew Moore
Yeah, I'm not sure it's entirely fair to use the two most loathed of The New 52 comics as examples of the overall quality of the relaunch so far.
Jim. I have a serious problem with your review of this comic. It is far too kind.
I'll try to get my hands on some of the other books. I picked the two I've read so far because JayJay said they were generating a lot of discussion.
"This story is stupid."
Reading this blog is one of my favorite things, Mr. Shooter.
If only you could do a semi-regular podcast on comics and storytelling in general as well.
Until Marvel and DC decide to have editors edit . . .
Make Mine Shooter!
– Jay C
In marginal defense of Lobdell, I thought his early work on "What The!?!" was quite funny, before he had to replace Byrne on scripting artist-plotted nonsense on Uncanny X-Men.
I'm not a fan of his otherwise . . . but I suppose I would caution that he may not have asked the artist to vomit jagged panels of non-sequiters on every page. After getting back the art, he might have been as frustrated as Mr. Shooter has been with artists in the past and with a tough New-52 schedule not allowing any edits on the art, maybe snarky, by the 90s numbers of jokes and sextalk was his only way of compensating.
– Jay C
I didn't know Scott Lobdell replaced Claremont on X-Men. That happened after I was gone from Marvel and not paying much attention to what was going on in the books. I don't know why that would make my world a bit darker. It was a shame that Chris got booted, but I already knew that.
I think I first met Scott at Marvel, shortly before the end of my time there. I may have run into him along the way since then. I've heard that he's a good writer and it seems to me that I've read things of his that were pretty good. Issue #1 of Red Hood and the Outlaws is, in my opinion, not good.
Gary M. Miller
Once I talked with Al Milgrom about your policy of fill-ins. (Longish story short to the uninitiated: oftentimes fill-ins were constructed with multiple characters, so they could act as an issue of any of a few books.) This revolving-door policy in the name of having all books come out on time wouldn't be necessary if today's "professionals" (and I use the term loosely) had the work ethic you instilled in your crop during the late seventies/early eighties. The early failures–some in the second month–speak to an out-of-control culture.
What do artists care about? I'm getting the idea they don't get paid enough per page, or at least they don't think they do. (This gets back to an argument on this board from a few weeks ago.) So, to compensate for their "unfair" compensation, they make the individual pages as "visually appealing" as possible, all the better to be able to sell the original pages to collectors. Who cares if pretty pages make the storytelling unintelligible?
Bottom line: we need artists who have a basic understanding of storytelling technique before they start messing with it.
I'm guessing the review for "Catwoman" is going to be less harsh, but not by much. I think Guillem March is a terrific artist, if a little overboard on the cheesecake. If nothing else, he's a more competent storyteller than Rocafort on "Red Hood."
For my money, the two biggest successes of the September relaunch have been Gail Simone's "Batgirl" and Josh Fialkov's "I, Vampire." Both are very competent in a storytelling sense and don't insult the reader. They're an interesting counterpoint to the two books you've chosen to review here, Jim.
I do suppose I've gone on too long. As always, thank you for your two cents.
P.S.: Hey, you won't be at New York Comic Con, will ya?
Gary M. Miller
Thanks for bringing up your thoughts on DC's "new" initiative. I use quotes because really, this is exactly what Jim Lee did when he migrated to Image some two decades ago. (Holy God, has it really been so long?)
When you have fifty-two books coming out in one month, all with new number ones, a few things become readily apparent:
1. Some talent–it never fails–will always be "not ready for prime-time."
2. Sturgeon's Revelation remains in force: 90 percent of everything is crud.
I've harped, on and on, about DC's initiative (with my most recent missive here, about the perils of excessive reliance on continuity (and shifting away from such, natch) and other topics. Largely, the books are as impenetrable as they ever were, but they have a shiny big "#1" on the cover so everyone gives the creators a free pass. Only a few of the books are truly any good. None of them really show any originality beyond the company's already-present concepts. (The only "new" character is a Batman riff right out of Grant Morrison's "Batman Inc." expansion.) The treatment of some of the female characters in the relaunch? That depresses me.
The art you've criticized above is exemplary of the school fostered by Jim Lee and the entire nineties decade, when the industry grew so fast there weren't enough capable artists around to draw all the books, so the companies threw every art school student with a pencil and "potential" a gig. It backfired badly then and I'm certain it will backfire again now.
I'm convinced that many of today's artists wouldn't know true dedication to their jobs if their lives depended on it. When artists in the sixties like Kirby and Ditko used to illustrate multiple titles per month, there are many today who can't even keep to a regular monthly schedule. Maybe you've seen the comics news articles, Jim, or maybe you haven't, but with fourth issues solicited for December, several titles already are on their second if not third artist. Some we're told are fill-ins, but some aren't. Writers are leaving, too.
Brent has a point and I'm the one to blame for giving Jim these 2 to look at first. I became caught up in the discussion about these books after one of the readers posted a link to Laura Hudson's article on the blog last week. Since then I've read a lot of the blogs and Facebook comments weighing in on this. I was very curious to know Jim's thoughts on the matter… I may not always agree, but they are never dull.
In before this devolves into general DC bashing: Animal Man and All-Star Western were really good.
The New 52 isn't a reboot. Its about who can piss further in the wind. The portrayal of Starfire degrading. God help any young female readers who choose her as a role-model! The Starfire of the Wolfman/Perez days was sexy AND smart. Don't get me started on Harper and Todd…
The deconstruction of characters/history is nothing but a bunch of cheap thrills. DC could've rolled out something special, but instead choose a quick buck and provide little or no substance. DC is certainly living up to its moniker – Dumb Comics.
As I looked at the sample pages in this entry, I thought the artist was aiming for "cinematic" but the end result feels more like a music video with a vague, skeletal narrative partly fleshed out by images. But comics have no music, and the dialogue is no substitute for lyrics.
Apparently "existing readers" find what I call "stimuli" more "compelling" than stories. Stories have to make sense. Stimuli can be anything that pushes buttons. Starfire. Violence. Better yet, Starfire 'n' violence. Turn-ons. The "reader" is so "stimulated" that he (yes, most likely a "he") won't even notice the weaknesses Jim has pointed out.
DC can talk about attracting new readers all they want, but in reality they remain reliant on the reflexes of an aging, shrinking demographic that will buy almost anything with the sacred names and costumes that have stimulated them since early childhood. DC has no idea how to market to people who lack these reflexes, who do not feel an immediate compulsion to purchase at the glimpse of a bat shape (like the one in the Red Hood logo). Here's an idea: stories, not stimuli!
Jim-many moons ago, I showed you some pages from an artist Michael Higgins and I were looking to use for a fill in on the New Universe. You were brutally honest then, noting that the artist failed to set up the scene, there were no full figures anywhere, when there was a full figure it was cut off at the ankles, panels were titled. You were very animated then, saying, " Do I turn the book sideways to look at the page?" You wanted to know if the blacks set up the foreground, middle ground, and background. Looking at this mess, this artist could have used some art direction instead of opting for lousy composition, lack of focal points, and bizarre panels. The full page splash shows the very badly drawn woman alongside some kid under a tree with the worst forced perspective I have seen in some time. Maybe people will support this thinking that if lousy art like this can get published so can they. I have no idea why anyone would think that this will last 12 issues. If it does, well I am wrong and will come across as a bitter ex professional. Time will tell-thanks for posting this Jim.
Very interesting article; I think this could be a fun feature every now and then on here with all of the great and not so great stuff coming out.
Just looking at the new DC52, even by the same author Superboy was vastly superior, and books like Swamp Thing and Animal Man are finding new audiences with their unique takes on the superhero.
I think the two books you've selected (Red Hood and Catwoman) are probably among the poorer reviewed of all 52. If you get a chance maybe mix in one of the better ones; even if you're not a fan I'd be interested to read if you believe they are well done or not.
The last few years that I've been reading comics, I often wondered why a lot of them didn't make any sense, and not just the plots, but from page to page. I though I was getting too old to try to decipher what young talent was doing, but after reading your take on this book, I know why. In all fairness though, Batman# 1 and Detective #1, and even JLA #1 was a pretty good read to a vet like me, and would be to new readers too!
Looking forward to more from you on the 52
I agree that the loss of thought balloons has added to the coarsening of the comics reading experience. I also bemoan the lack of traditional captions. Those two devices lent additional depth and richness to the comics reading experience. It's been dumbed-down.
Scott Lobdell is the reason I stopped reading X-Men.
This "New" 52 feels very 1992 to me. Or worse. I don't remember any of the initial Image issues having such unintelligble layouts, but then again, I haven't looked at them in two decades, and may never look at them again. I would not be surprised if a large number of New 52 #1s are never read but kept unopened as "investments."
Do odd panel shapes and montages add value to original art? They certainly don't add intelligibility to the story.
David Alastair Hayden
czeskleba: Thought balloons are note considered to be cinematic in style and the trend is toward cinematic. Captions are considered cinematic, though modern film style typically looks down on narration, so it's sort of ironic. I think thought balloons are wonderful, most of the time. It's an advantage comics have that film does not.
Megatherium? No way.
A platybelodon maybe.
David Alastair Hayden
Lobdell is the primary reason I stopped reading the X-men. Of course, I know now that I should have blamed Jim Lee as well.
Jim, you talk about Scott Lobdell as if you didn't know that he is the same guy who replaced Claremont as regular writer on Uncanny X-men…
If you didn't know, I'm deeply sorry for making your world a bit darker…
Thank you! As much as I love it when you look back, I hope you can continue to comment on what's coming out now.
I have your After the Dinosaurs: The Story of Prehistoric Mammals and Man, so I know you know your early mammals. I came twenty years later, but even I find modern comics confusing, and you explain why.
The bizarre panel shapes seem to exist solely for the artist's pleasure. What exacerbates them are the random shapes behind them that serve no storytelling purpose as far as I can tell. Are they supposed to be symbolic? Were they specified in the script? Somehow I doubt that. And what's with the flying blank rectangles at the bottom right of page 3? This stuff looks like beautifully rendered random scribbling — drawing whatever feels good at the spur of the moment to fill up blank space.
31 years ago, my third grade teacher told me she couldn't read a comic book — not even one with a simple grid layout. If she had difficulty with the traditional format, how would she make sense out of this?
Maybe "sense" is irrelevant. Maybe the goal is to create a mood through images and words. Cool-looking stuff. Is this 2011 … or 1992? I feel like I've gone back in time 20 years … back to when I gave up on comics after trying the first wave of Image titles.
I can't stop shaking my head.
Casual-sex Kori is one of the low points in DC history, for sure – and I love lurid trash.
David Alastair Hayden
Ouch. But accurate. 100% accurate.
This book reminds me so much of the Image drek that meandered through the comic shop where I worked in the late 90's. A few image titles were good. But most of them were just like this. A complete lack of storytelling: artists and writers.
In general, in regard to storytelling and quality: I think the best comic artists now are better than the best 30 years ago, but the average artist is worse.
I remember when panels were used to tell stories. Too many books now are just endless pinup shots, panel after panel. With some dialogue and captions attached to try and make sense of it all.
Reverend Jim, I suspect you'll find you are preaching to the choir here. It is sad that Marvel and DC's writers seem to be so far entrenched in the sort of fan-fictiony writing "for members only" that they have no clue how to make things accessible to civilians, even if they try.
Your problem with narrative captions illustrates one of the sillier conventions of today's comics… for some reason, thought balloons have been outlawed. I've never been able to understand this, since they are a device that can add so much to a story (imagine the first 100 issues of Spider-Man without thought balloons). Today's writers try to get around the problem with rotating narrative captions, indicated by different colors or fonts, as is shown in the issue you read. So ridiculous, when thought balloons would work so much better. But they are not "cool" and everyone's afraid to use them and be deemed out of style, I guess.