Brightest Day #0

Written by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi
Penciled by Fernando Pasarin
Inked by Fernando Pasarin, John Dell, Cam Smith, Prentis Rollins, Dexter Vines, and Art Thibert
56 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

For the past few years, DC Comics has experimented with the weekly series. We had three year-long series where one followed the next (52, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and Trinity) plus the twelve-week Wednesday Comics. In terms of audience reception for the first three, it’s seemed like 52 is the favorite, and Countdown the least favorite, with the latter being a bit of a jumbled mess. With Brightest Day, DC has shifted to trying out an bi-weekly series (and Justice League: Generation Lost scheduled to fill the other weeks, both kicking off in earnest next month). In terms of storytelling, though, it feels like Brightest Day is trying to feel like 52. My initial reaction, though, is that this initial issue feels more like Countdown.

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Web #6-7

Written by Matthew Sturges and John Rozum
Penciled by Roger Robinson and Tom Denerick
Inked by Roger Robinson and Bill Sienkiewicz
40 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to launch a new superhero comic in today’s market. More often than not people don’t want things that are new, instead seeing the same old favorite properties rehashed. So to introduce something new, it needs to grab readers right away, have that extra little oomph that makes people decide this new character or concept is worth reading instead of (or in addition to) an old favorite. That’s why I think that The Web (and The Shield) failed, at least enough that DC is canceling their titles in June. The sad thing is that even with a horrible lackluster mini-series (The Red Circle) to introduce the characters, coupled with some potential readers thinking, "Yuck, revamps of superheroes from Archie Comics," there was a lot of potential in these two titles. And in the case of The Web, the latest two issues seem to have finally fully realized the potential.

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Brave and the Bold #32

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

The Brave and the Bold has been a title that seems to have struggled for an identity for quite a while. Originally serving as a title for Mark Waid and George Perez’s collaborations, the departures of first Perez and then Waid looked like they may have sunk the comic. When J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz finally were handed the reins after a series of guest creators, I think most readers felt the book was already on life support and wrote it off. Now that I’ve read their latest issue, I feel the need to give them credit where it’s due: if all issues from them are this good, The Brave and the Bold deserves to be a best-seller.

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American Vampire #1

Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
40 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Lately, Vertigo’s launched their new series with a gimmick of a $1 cover price for the first issue, to try and pull in new readers. I’m amused that they didn’t feel the need to do that for American Vampire, although I do agree with their assessment. After all, when half of the issue is written by Stephen King, who needs a lower sales point to grab attention? The funny thing is, though, of the three main creators to work on American Vampire #1, I think I’d probably place King as only the third best in this comic. That’s not so much a slam on King, though, but rather how well Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque do.

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DMZ #51

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

One of the many things that I appreciate about Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s DMZ is that it never seems to stay complacent, or even in one place for very long. It’s easy to see how it could have been that way; Manhattan turned into the demilitarized zone in the heart of a new American Civil War is full of endless story possibilities, and even last month’s special one-off DMZ #50 reminded readers of that via a series of glimpses of life across the island. But with the events of DMZ #49 still weighing heavily over the series, it’s refreshing to see Wood following through in brutal honesty.

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First Wave #1

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Rags Morales
40 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I’ll admit that even after reading First Wave #1, I’m still not entirely sure why DC is publishing this comic. I’m not saying that because of quality, but rather the general idea behind it all. I normally applaud publishing initiatives that have generated lines like Vertigo, Minx, Helix, and Vertigo Crime, and a pulp-adventure line of comics from DC sounds like a lot of fun. But to do so by mashing up characters like Doc Savage, the Spirit, and Batman is such a strange hook for a book that I’m so far not convinced that this is a hook that will work beyond its initial curiosity factor.

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Starman #81

Written by James Robinson
Layouts by Fernando Dagnino
Finished art by Bill Sienkiewicz
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I was a big fan of James Robinson’s Starman since day one (or should that be issue #0?); his collaborations with Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg produced a gorgeous, memorable run of stories that weren’t just about the title character, but his friends and family, as well as the setting of Opal City. When DC announced that a handful of cancelled titles would have one additional issue each in January 2010 as part of the Blackest Night crossover, I found myself worried. Because while some of Robinson’s work on Superman in the past year or two has been all right, I’ve been underwhelmed with Justice League: Cry for Justice and Justice League of America, with their wallowing in death and destruction. It hasn’t felt like the Robinson whose Starman was at the top of my reading pile every month. So it was with great hesitation that I sat down with Starman #81.

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Filthy Rich

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Victor Santos
200 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Vertigo’s new Vertigo Crime imprint launched with two books, Dark Entries and Filthy Rich. Dark Entries seemed to miss the point a bit, publishing a straight horror Hellblazer graphic novel with a Vertigo Crime label slapped on the side. I had higher hopes for Filthy Rich, though. I suspect that author Brian Azzarello was at least partially responsible for the Vertigo Crime label, with his series 100 Bullets being an out-and-out crime series that flourished at Vertigo. If anyone could push the line forward, I’d decided, it would be Azzarello. What I found between the covers of Filthy Rich, though, was a curious throwback to earlier crime comics.

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Unwritten #8

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

So often, a new title starts with so much promise and then slowly drains it away. With The Unwritten, it’s refreshing to have a series where the first issue made me eager for more, and has continued to build on that momentum in great leaps and bounds. I’ve enjoyed how Mike Carey’s scripts not only are about the mysterious world of books and what lies beyond them, but about the effect these characters have on the real world as public opinion goes into an uproar over the real-life Tom Taylor’s actions. Here, though, The Unwritten takes a side trip into two children and how their obsession over the Tommy Taylor novels affects them. It’s a smart way to show off not only the moment of obsession, but just how powerful these books are to their readership. In another writer’s hands an interlude showing why Tom Taylor’s current nemesis (Governor Chadron, the head of the prison) hates Tom so much might have felt like it was cheating, giving such an aside to a minor character. With Carey, though, it actually feels like an integral part of the story, seeing just how Chadron’s two children are affected by the imprisonment of Taylor.

It’s also nice to see that even when given nothing fantastical to drawn, Peter Gross is able to deliver in spades. Sure, some scenes set in the prison play to what you’d expect from Gross’s art; lots of stonework and sharply constructed buildings, even amidst doom and gloom. I like the quieter moments that Gross draws here, though; Cosi at the therapist gives her a strange mix of resignation and faith about her, and watching Chadron interact with his children makes him feel that much more human as you see the conflict play out on his face. If you aren’t reading The Unwritten, the first collection is due out in early January 2010 and it’s well worth your while. Easily one of the best new series of 2009. Check it out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Lobo: Highway to Hell

Written by Scott Ian
Art by Sam Kieth
64 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I have fond memories of the original Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Simon Bisley Lobo mini-series being published. I ran out and bought every issue as they showed up, with its ode to too much violence and general insanity. While the character has been subjected to diminishing returns over the years (although even at the height of Lobo’s over-use, he seemed to always get a good deal in L.E.G.I.O.N.), I’ve never found myself actually flinching away from the character. Any good will I had built up towards the character thanks to 52, though, is now gone courtesy Scott Ian and Sam Kieth.

Lobo: Highway to Hell is a two-issue mini-series that manages to shoot its credibility on the first page. How else can you talk about an opening line of, "Head feels like Motorhead is raping it," after all? Between that and mentions of the television show Lost (no, really), it’s the first sign that something is slightly off. From there we get unfunny jokes stretched out into dozens of pages, and an entire second issue where Lobo in Hell is supposed to be funny, but it’s really just the reader in Hell because the issue never seems to end. Kieth’s heart doesn’t appear to be in this either; I understand that sometimes Kieth deliberately devolves his style, but Lobo: Highway to Hell looks like it was drawn on a napkin more times than not. This comic is embarrassing for DC Comics as a publisher. Don’t fall into the same well of regret that I’m currently floundering in. If you haven’t made that mistake already, avoid this book.