Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe Addendum: Saying Goodbye to Six

Last summer, I previewed all 52 of the New 52 DC Relaunch titles, and then provided a play-by-play of what the first four weeks looked like as summer turned to fall. Half a year later, we now have a much clearer idea of what these series have developed into. Which ones have worked, which ones haven’t worked as well. The ones I’ve continued to read, and the ones that have been dropped after the first month or two.

And we now know that with April’s #8 issues, a handful of relaunched series will come to an end. DC, it seems, is sticking with the 52 branding as much as possible, and launching six new series to replace the ones that have met their demise. But I’ll talk more about the six new May launch titles tomorrow.

Today, I want to check in on the quality of the current lineup of 52 and provide lamentations, or “nice-knowin’-yas,” for the six cancelled series.

First, a list! Or two!

Last fall when I last reviewed the final batch of September DC relaunch issues, I ranked the new series, not by sales or popularity, but by my own evaluation of their overall quality. Here was my September Top 10:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
  3. Animal Man
  4. All-Star Western
  5. Batman
  6. Batwoman
  7. JLA Dark
  8. O.M.A.C.
  9. Swamp Thing
  10. Batman and Robin

By that point, I had read every single first issue from the relaunch. Five months and a couple of weeks later, I have not read all 260+ issues, but I have read the first five or six issues of about a third of the DC series, and at least two or three of most. I’ve checked back in on comics I thought were pretty terrible after one issue, and all of those comics were just as terrible a month or two later. And I’ve gotten a firmer grasp on what the creative team has been up to on everything I’ve stuck with on a monthly basis. And I’ve changed my mind about a few things along the way. My September ranking doesn’t quite reflect how these comics have established themselves over the past half-year.

So here we go. The new DC relaunch Top 10, after seeing five months of these suckers:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Batman and Robin
  3. O.M.A.C.
  4. Batman
  5. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
  6. Deathstroke
  7. Demon Knights
  8. Animal Man
  9. All-Star Western
  10. Batwoman

JLA Dark and Swamp Thing, while still entertaining in their own way, have felt a bit plodding, while Deathstroke and Demon Knights have jumped into my Top 10 because of their relentless pacing and unabashed love for spectacle. Neither of those two comics take themselves seriously at all, and JLA Dark and Swamp Thing seem to be trying a bit too hard, pretending to be serious thematic explorations while balancing genre expectations with meaning.

Sadly, one on my consistent Top 10 picks – a delightfully bombastic series, during the Keith Giffen-drawn issues at least – is coming to an end with issue #8. O.M.A.C. has been cancelled. And so have Men of War, Mister Terrific, Hawk and Dove, Blackhawks, and Static Shock. All of them will end with their own respective issue #8s.

O.M.A.C. was far and away the best of the cancelled series, with a winking sense of humor about itself and gorgeously-drawn action on nearly every page. As a follow-up to a relatively obscure Jack Kirby Bronze Age series, it didn’t have much chance for survival in the comic book Direct Market of today, where only the major icons of superherodom consistently muster enough monthly readers to stay alive.

The Dan DiDio/Keith Giffen O.M.A.C. also worked particularly well in single issue chunks. I’m not sure the later-this-year release of the trade paperback will provide the same experience. It might be too overwhelmingly gaudy, with all the issues lumped together. But on a monthly basis, laying amidst a pile of usually drab, self-serious superhero comics, O.M.A.C. stood out as something exuberant. I will miss throwing it on my stack each month.

If you remember back to my Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe from last summer, you’ll recall that, of the six soon-to-be-cancelled titles, the only one I was enthusiastic about was O.M.A.C. I granted that one the coveted “Buy It! Definitely!” rating, and my pre-assessment was spot on.

Another one I was spot on about was Static Shock, and I advised everyone to “Skip it,” mostly because of the way it felt like the project wasn’t really in the hands of writer John Rozum. I wrote, “all indications point to Rozum being thrown this project to write, with the artist as a co-writer, and him scrambling to come up with something he could latch onto.” Turns out, my forecast, and intuition, was almost exactly right, and Rozum announced he was leaving the series soon after the first issue hit the stands. In January, he finally expressed his reasons, chief among which were his bystander role, even though he was the credited writer: “I wound up being shunted to the sidelines as the writer while Scott McDaniel’s ‘high concept’ criminal syndicate made up of Power Rangers and a big monosyllabic thug took center stage.”

The loss of Static Shock from DC’s lineup is no great loss.

But with that series ending, along with Mister Terrific, which also features a black superhero, and the Asian-American lead in O.M.A.C., DC’s lineup becomes proportionally a lot more W.A.S.P.y.

Mister Terrific, by the way, turned out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated. I recommended a “Skip it” last summer, but I liked the first issue enough to stick around, and even with some inconsistency in the art, I quite enjoyed what I read in all the issues since, mostly because writer Eric Wallace played up the science hero aspect of the character in a way that evoked the best of the Silver Age while still providing a modern twist. It was not only far better than expected, it was good enough to get me to continue reading, long after I had dropped 2/3rd of the DC lineup from my buy list.

Men of War and Blackhawks, DC’s two war comics, are also coming to an end with issue #8, and to my surprise, I liked the latter a whole lot more than the former. Men of War floundered with uninspired art from Tom Derenick, but it also never managed to engagingly balance the modern warfare stuff with the superhero action. It’s premise was stronger than its execution, and the back-up stories didn’t even reach the quality of the main story, until John Arcudi and Richard Corben showed up with a devilish little Civil War reenactment horror tale in issue #6.

I gave Men of War a recommendation of “wait for the collected edition” last summer, but I’d downgrade it now. Let’s change it to, “wait for the next Ivan Brandon project instead.”

Blackhawks turned out to look quite different than I assumed last summer, with originally-announced artist Ken Lashley never drawing a single issue. He inked a few, over a variety of pencilers, but there was no stable look for the series, which was, as I suspected, a G.I. Joe version of DCU action/espionage. Not bad. Fast-paced and full of twists and turns and characters who became quickly defined. I’ve been reading it every month, so there’s something keeping me coming back for more, but while I only gave it a “wait and see” last summer, I wouldn’t really recommend you rush out and get the trade. I waited. I saw. But there’s very little about it that makes me want to recommend it to anyone else if they haven’t already taken a gander at what’s inside.

And finally, the last of the six cancelled series: Hawk and Dove. I gave that Sterling Gates/Rob Liefeld series a bit of a conflicted recommendation last summer, basically saying that I’ll buy it for the raw, energetic Liefeld art, but that it likely won’t appeal to anyone else. That turned out to be true. It sold okay for a Hawk and Dove series, and it was just what I expected, with a ridiculous story about bird avatars and zombie monsters and planes crashing into monuments, until Rob Liefeld took over the writing along with the drawing and Batman showed up. But even though it wasn’t a bottom seller, it was near enough, and with Rob Liefeld shifting over to Deathstroke later this year, Hawk and Dove was slated to join the other six series in the line for the guillotine with issue #8.

All in all, there aren’t any great tragedies in the six series that were cancelled, other than O.M.A.C., but that brightly-colored series burned too brightly and too strong to last much longer anyway. It was a visual feast, but like any bountiful meal, eventually things turn to excess and regret.

There are certainly worse series in DC’s lineup than these six (Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, Superman, to name three) but DC’s cancellation decisions seem to have been based on sales and coordination problems and timing. These were six low, if not the lowest, sellers, and most of them had writer or artists shake-ups along the way. They also come from various weeks in DC’s now-steady release schedule, and it’s clear they wouldn’t want to cancel six series that all hit the shops on the same day, so they picked and chose a couple from this week, a couple from that week, and so on.

And six more titles wait in the wing. Six new launches to maintain the new 52. Some will just be newer than others.

 

TOMORROW: Six more for the New 52!


Tim Callahan would like you to note that anything with “Batman” in the title isn’t likely to be cancelled in a hurry, so perhaps DC will launch Batman and O.M.A.C and Friends later in the year.

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