Monday, October 01, 2012

Aquaman #0: If you don't like Geoff Johns' current style of writing, this won't change your mind. Not only are there three consecutive pages of nothing more than landscaped panels of Aquaman swimming... no text or words or thought balloons giving internal thoughts, there's also a couple of pages of him pretty much silently fighting a huge shark and then a string of coincidences that'd be worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs - Aquaman is looking for Atlantis. In a moment of kewl display of super-strength he rescues a couple of American boaters who just happen to know a man who lives in Norway that might know where Atlantis is, and are presumably able to give Aquaman accurate directions. He finds this man (Vulko) who is conveniently just got back home since he had been away looking for Arthur since his existence was made public. At least Paul Norris gets creator credit for the character.

To add insult to injury, the comic ends on a cliffhanger. That's right, this ZERO issue in addition to interrupting the flow of the monthly story in progress, is nothing more than an introduction to a whole new story arc that has yet to appear in the regular series. Guess people at DC need some counting lessons. The issue # that follows 0 is 1, not 13, 14, or whatever the Ocean Master storyline will be starting on. We now have a comic that can neither be filed numerically as it doesn't belong before issue 1, or by date since it isn't part of the ongoing storyline and delivers nothing new or relevant for it. All we need is a couple of fish-jokes and a gratuitously graphic death scene and this would be a complete pastiche of bad Geoff Johns writing. Only really written by Johns.

The art team of Ivan Reis, Prado and Rob Reis (who deserves probably more credit than he gets on the colors of this book) should take one of the Silver-Age Aquaman Showcases, break several of the stories back down into scripts and re-illustrate them. I think modern fans' minds would explode at seeing just how much is really being carried by the art team here and seeing stories that aren't decompressed but full of creativity and yet complete reads.

Talon #0: According to the "logic" of the reboot, I shouldn't get this comic. After all, I don't buy any of the Batman books so the only continuity of the character and concept underlying it is what I can gleam from the previews/blurbs of the Batman books that I've read. But a couple of things going in, 1) this is more of what I'd expect or want from something like the reboot, which is actual new characters and not retreads of pre-existing ones. 2) I was struck by the artwork in the previews. With Joe Kubert's death still a recent memory, the art here looks a lot like Kubert's. Close enough to be mistaken as being done by one of his sons, only a lot better than they have been recently. Enough to over-ride that I really hate the costume he wears on the cover. Guillam March is a name that's worth keeping an eye out for.

Even the colorist deserves an 8/10 score. His subtle colors often mimic brush work more than obvious computer filter gradients. The only place he really falls is that the modern style of coloring doesn't allow for just solid flat color, or solid white. Imagine if Alex Toth, the master of balancing white space with blacks was colored by today's colorists. Every open shape would be filled with colorized texture, undoing what he achieved through contrast, space and negative space. There are places, most notably backgrounds where relatively simply defined shapes or spaces, the colorist has taken to add color with texture and in those places, it sticks out like a sore thumb. March's linework is so lush and capable at providing depth, shadow and weight, it doesn't need the colorist trying to fill in the places where he left space open and kept it simple. Don't fight the artist, follow his cue.

Despite having a backstory, I'm not privy to, the comic actually delivers everything you need to know in-story. See, continuity and history does not have to be a detriment to good storytelling. Other than a passing reference to Haley Circus and the Flying Graysons, there's nothing in the comic that links to Batman or that this concept has appeared before. It's a set-up for a series, but it also tells a story. We see the growth of the character Calvin Rose from boy to trained escape artist to talented recruit to the Court of Owls to his disillusionment with the organization and escape. Told from Rose's point of view, we get into his head, we get what he's feeling and going through at all times, his frustration, despair, and growing resolve. A refreshingly dense read.

The story isn't terribly original when you think about it. We've seen the same story in Kirby's Mr. Miracle and Big Barda (part of it even seems directly inspired by that story), Azrael, the Nolan Batman trilogy and even the Bourne movies of the recent years. It wouldn't have been too hard to not create the Talons and the Court of Owls and just used the League of Assassins or the Order of St. Dumas and make this a Richard Dragon/Bronze Tiger/Shiva/Azrael story instead, take your pick. Heck, I would have LOVED to see this as a Richard Dragon book. But, the familiarity doesn't subtract from that it is still very well done and that character of Calvin Rose makes for an interesting protagonist.

The only place the story really falls is his big moment of conversion (out of The Bourne Identity), when he decides to not kill his targets but instead to help them escape. By this point, the Court is so well set up in their single mindedness and capability, one has to wonder how much he actually was able to help them. Because we know the Court would send other Talons, near as good as he is. It is imperative from their point of view that this mother and child are history. He does not have the resources to really help them escape beyond their reach. From the start we see he cannot even avoid them finding him.

Despite getting the zero issue, I probably will only being getting this book in trade (paperback, please, very few comics are deserving of hardback treatment and cost). See, what drove me from the Batman family titles years before DCnu 52 is still in place. You cannot buy one Batman or one Superman title. Eventually, not if but when, a single story will cross the whole family, no matter how distant the relation. War Games was the story that ultimately killed my interest in Birds of Prey and Catwoman. A year into the reboot, and it already has happened with Batman with the very Court of Owls storyline, crossing over into even the Jonah Hex comic. And, the current previews promises to do pretty much the same with Death of a Family story. So, as much as I like this comic and it being pretty much exactly what I would want from a comic and nuDC, I know it's not worth it to get as a monthly because DC hasn't really changed in the ways that they operate.

Reboots vs Continuity: since I touched on this a little bit, there's a fallacy behind the whole idea of the reboot and many of the defenders of nu52 seem to preach it as if gospel. That is the idea that the reboot was needed because continuity was too complex for new readers and this allows them to all be on the same page.

That's not really what DC has done though. If that was true and really embraced by DC, there would have been no Justice League book in the first roll-out, much less THREE of them. No Teen Titans. No Red Hood and the Outlaws. Zero issues after a year wouldn't be needed to explain the gaps. Batman and Green Lantern wouldn't continue as if nothing really happened. In fact, neither of those characters have ever truly been rebooted. We have never seen in the main continuity a new Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, meeting the Joker for the first time, training Robin etc presented as if it was happening just now. We've gotten flashback minis and stories giving us the retcon version of events, but significantly, they don't change what was happening in the book at the time. The closest was when Jason Todd was given a whole new origin, and previous couple of years of Batman titles was rendered a bit conflicting. Despite the new origin, somehow Killer Croc was still in continuity. So a few stories obviously didn't happen the way we saw them, but Batman himself was still the same guy as before and still operated as before. And, some of those Jason Todd stories still worked, it didn't matter too much that his background had changed.

What DC has done is not start continuity from scratch so that readers can get in on the ground floor, but replaced the continuity with another one. A new reader picking up the Red Hood and the Outlaws is going to have the same problem as before. These aren't new characters. Despite the changes, in some way they are still predicated on there being name recognition for them to be relevant and a draw. He's still going to be facing a book with characters and history he doesn't know as before. The differences being that this time it's intentional and there's no reason to go to back issues or ask the store owner or another customer or even some of the writers. They don't know either! The comics are no more accessible to new readers than they were before. What they are is equally inaccessible to established readers! They cannot lift the new readers up, so they throw the existing readers down so that everyone is on the same page, the same boat.  If continuity was too complex and was keeping people away, how will a NEW and SECRET continuity actually attract new readers and not drive the existing fans away? I don't know. The crazy thing is that somehow this translated to good numbers starting out as if everyone got the same kool-aid.

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