Okay, so I already talked about by favorite older horror movie experiences of last year, so now it’s time for the newbies! I rarely see horror films in the theater, but do try to keep up on the new hotness mainly by listening to Shock Waves and hearing what they’re enjoying on any number of streaming services. Between that, the library and my subscription to Netflix DVD (yup, I’m the one keeping them in business, apparently), I try to stay on top of the genre, but miss a lot. These are the ones I caught!
Red Hood & The Outlaws is a weird book. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the many New 52 comics that revolved around familiar relationships between characters who don’t know each other the way we knew them to have known each other, it also has a unique look thanks to Kenneth Rocafort’s beautiful art and focuses on a three person super group, something you rarely see.
It also deals with offbeat characters. This version of the Red Hood seems almost exactly the same as the one from the old continuity, he’s the second Robin who was murdered by the Joker only to be mysteriously resurrected sometime later though, now he’s been trained by mystical assassins. Furthermore, he’s a morally intriguing character who has no problem killing as long as the victim deserve it and also has a fierce loyalty to his latest group and a burning hatred for his past one. Meanwhile, Starfire is an alien exiled on Earth with a troubled past and a short memory for and a sexually liberal attitude towards humans. And then there’s Arsenal who spends most of this trade being the jokester who can shoot arrows and fight like a mofo. They’re a loose group of comrades with a mysterious past that has something to do with the Teen Titans.
The story itself is Todd’s. He discovers that the mystical assassin group that trained him called the All Caste has been assaulted by an equally mysterious and mystical group called The Untitled. Starfire and Arsenal come along for the ride and wind up facing off against some other threats, revealing their character as they go. They’re less a superhero team and more a group of pals looking out for each other. I’m a big fan of how Lobdell approached this book. Sure, there’s a few side bad guys that could have done with beefier, less cliched backstories, but I enjoy this style of comic book storytelling that gives you bits and pieces of information as they go while focusing on character interactions. These are action stories, so keeping the momentum going is a plus in my book.
Also, did I mention how weird the book is? I like that too. It’s made all the better (and weirder) by Rocafort’s rad art. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I flipped through issues of Madame Mirage back in my days at Wizard. He’s perfectly suited for this book because he can do these big, impressive heroes while also pitting them against huge alien conglomerates and sending them through physics-bending locales. He can do it all and brings his own unique flair to it. I could look at these pages for days.
I enjoyed this trade as much as I did that first issue and will definitely be checking out future ones by this creative team. I’m hooked on the craziness.
Speaking of weird, how great is the Dial H for Hero concept? Some random man or woman stumbles upon an artifact that not only gives them superpowers, but actually turns them into different superhero identities when they spell out a word. So cool. I’ve been in love with this concept ever since I heard about it sometime in the 90s. I’m not sure if it was from an old issue of Adventure Comics I happened upon or the dial’s appearance in Superboy & The Ravers, but it sparked an instant love that spread to Will Pfeifer’s excellent HERO series.
So, when I first heard that DC was rejuvenating the concept in the New 52 Universe, I was intrigued. I’m not familiar with author China Mievelle’s work, but the fact that this concept I enjoy also appealed to this person from outside of comics was interesting. Needless to say, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to read the first volume of Dial H.
I won’t get too far into the details of this first arc because, honestly, I’m not sure I quite absorbed them all after just the one reading. Basically, a schlub named Nelson accidentally comes across the H-Dial and uses it to avenge his fallen friend. In the process he meets another dial-wielder named Manteau and runs afoul of a mysterious villain called Ex Nihilo.
There’s a lot packed into these seven issues, but not to the point where you can’t possibly take it all in. Dial H actually reminds me of the kind of book Vertigo put out in the 80s when creators were trying out-there takes on established DC characters. It’s got the basic idea, but, as far as I can tell, has no connections to previous versions or the rest of the universe. I like that approach as well as the feeling that I need to read this book again to absorb it even more, possibly before reading the second volume whenever I eventually get my hands on it.
The common thread between these two books is that their odd takes on concepts I’m familiar with. They both definitely fit into the more offbeat corners of the New 52 DCU where I’ve also enjoyed books like Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. I appreciate that DC created these stranger places. I like seeing old favorites done in seriously new ways.
I’m gonna try something a little different with this trade post: more books with shorter reviews. Let’s see how that works. As I mentioned when I read a bunch of the New 52 #1 issues, this book was one of my favorites. To me, the whole point of relaunching your entire universe is to offer readers something completely new. Some of the New 52 books don’t bother doing much of that from what I’ve seen, but Scott Lobdell does something really cool here. Instead of playing Batman’s sidekick, Tim Drake is running around as Red Robin in an attempt to save superpowered kids from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. This leads him to joining forces with fellow young costumed heroes like Wonder Girl (don’t call her Wonder Girl), Kid Flash, Bunker and Skitter. What I really like about this book is that Lobdell really just throws you into the story and doesn’t slow down too much, but still offers enough information to enjoy.
The whole book revolves around a series of mysteries large and small that continue to draw me in issue after issue. Why is the non-powered Drake so interested in helping super-kids? Why does Wonder Girl dislike being called Wonder Girl so much? Who is N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and what is their game? What’s the deal with these new characters? What’s going to happen with Superboy?
All of the above makes this a very 90s feeling book, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. People dump on the 90s a lot, but there was a lot of newness being explored in those books without getting too far wrapped around itself. And, even though this is technically a “putting the team together” story, it’s done in a less traditional way and it revolves around a less traditional team, so I don’t mind as much. Also in the 90s vein, I love Brett Booth’s art in this book. He’s got a huge amount of detail and never skimps when it comes to either background or characters. That kind of detail is fantastic and not always easy to nail.
I was less into Lobdell’s Superboy, though I’m not sure if I can exactly put my finger on why. It’s a completely different kind of story. While Teen Titans is an on-the-run, putting-things-together-as-we-go kind of thing featuring an aloof clone created in an attempt to make their own Superman who’s trying to figure out who he wants to be and what he wants to do with his newfound life and power.
I think one of the reasons I wasn’t as taken with the series is because it feels a lot more “monster of the week.” Superboy wakes up and they send him after King Shark, then they send him after another villain. When he’s talking to the woman who gets revealed as Fairchild (originally from Gen 13) and Ravager or is out in the world trying to figure out if he’s good or bad, those are much more interesting moments for me. Still, I like that this and Teen Titans lead up to a bigger story called “The Culling” that I look forward to reading eventually. He’s an interesting character with a lot in there to check out.
On the art side of things, I don’t know if Silva’s style is really the kind of thing I dig. It’s cartoony and stylized which I like, but at times it feels a little too un-detailed, like you’re just looking at shapes strung together without as much physical continuity.
I have an interesting history with Supergirl. I dug Peter David’s book, but never really read it on the regular (though I do want to go back and read the whole run in order). Then, when they brought a new version of Superman’s cousin into continuity, I was not into it because I was still a continuity nut at the time and wanted Kal-El to be the only Kryptonian around. I liked how they came up with interesting ways to have a Superboy and Supergirl in the 90s and didn’t want to see that change. Anyway, the idea of Superman’s cousin coming to Earth is one I eventually came to accept, but now that we’re dealing with an all new continuity (and I don’t care nearly as much about the details as I used to) I’m cool with it.
And I think Green and Johnson do a good job with this story. The whole thing is a fish out of water tale with Kara landing on Earth thinking she’s going to protect her younger cousin Kal, who is now Superman. It’s a lot to deal with for a girl who was kind of aimless on Krypton, especially because she doen’st speak the language.
Unlike Superboy, this book is much more of a journey story with Supergirl interacting with different characters offering her different pieces of information to help her figure out exactly what’s going on with her, ultimately leading to another planet. By the end of the journey presented in this trade Kara has a bit of an understanding as to what she wants to do with her weird new life. A life wonderfully drawn by Mahmud Asrar (for the most part) who has a cool kind of indie style that captures Kara’s fragility and strength while also balancing giant robots, monsters and pretty girls. After reading this book I decided that The Big Bang Theory‘s Kaley Cuoco should play Supergirl. Someone make that happen.
Unlike Supergirl, I had a much deeper relationship with Aquaman (also written by Peter David come to think of it). His lengthy run on that book is pretty much the be all, end all for me as far as that character is concerned. Still, when I heard that Geoff Johns, writer of some of my all time favorite comics (JSA, Green Lantern), was tackling the character I was definitely interested. And you know what, he does a great job which I’m sure is a shock to no one.
The New 52 version of Aquaman doesn’t seem all that different from the original, a much simpler, more streamlined version. He’s new to the surface world which is good timing considering a race of hyper violent humanoid fish creatures have risen from the depths to kidnap, eat and kill people. While that adventure is an interesting one, I really liked some of the book’s other elements. The waitress being surprised that Aquaman wants fish and chips made me chuckle, then you’ve got the whole issue of Aquaman in the desert which was a great idea. There’s also a lot going on with Atlantis and Mera that makes me curious about what’s coming up. And, man, Ivan Reis kills this art. He’ detailed like book, but with a darker edge that fits the book both thematically and environmentally.
Overall, I lucked out with this crop of New 52 backs. Each one took a different approach to introducing these new versions of old characters. It’s interesting to take a closer look at that aspect of the storytelling and analyze which ones I like better than others. I look forward to reading the second volumes of all of these books…eventually and if I can get my hands on them.