DC’s new 52

2 weeks ago, DC began an ambitious experiment that spans their entire line of comic books.  DC has set aside existing continuity to begin a new continuity that’s similar but different to the prior one that’s existed for almost 80 years.  They’re accomplishing this starting with the ending of the summer event Flashpoint, along with the first book in the new continuity, Justice League #1.  Many, but not all of our familiar heroes are in this new continuity, but their histories are different, relationships changed.  During the course of September, DC will be releasing 52 #1 issues.  Every book in their lineup has been reset to #1.  Each will help establish the new universe that’s spun out of the events of Flashpoint.

Personally, I’m a lapsed DC Comics reader.  I read many of their books (especially Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash) up until early last year.  As such, my knowledge of the old universe runs up to the start of Brightest Day.  I haven’t read Flashpoint, but I know the premise that The Flash mysteriously ended up on a parallel Earth, and somehow after unraveling the mystery of that other Earth, this new continuity was created.  Due to logistics, I don’t receive the new comics on Wednesday, as many comic fans do, so my posts here discussing the new reveals lags a bit behind what is currently known.  At this point, I’ve read Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1.  After the information we learned in Justice League, I knew my priority had to be to read the first Superman book that came out.

The new Justice League
The new Justice League

Justice League gives us our first peek at this new world, and it does so with a flashback.  The entire issue takes place 5 years prior to the present.  It shows us Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time, and alludes to some of the changes this new world brings.

Batman and his prey are being chased by Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and it’s clear they view him as an enemy.  The criminal Batman is chasing has superhuman abilities, and soon attracts Green Lantern (Hal Jordan).  Green Lantern came to investigate an “unauthorized extraterrestrial”, which turns out to be the criminal Batman is chasing, who reveals himself to be somehow connected to Darkseid.  He plants a Mother Box and escapes in an explosion, which potentially was some sort of new violent Boom Tube.  After a brief stop to introduce Vic Stone, the duo arrive in Metropolis, and the issue ends with Superman appearing.

So from this, we see that superheroes are still new on the scene.  Batman clearly hasn’t developed a positive relationship with the GCPD, and for some reason even Green Lantern isn’t known as a hero to the GCPD.  The heroes haven’t even met and teamed up, it seems like the next few issues will deal with origin stories and the initial formation of the Justice League.  The criminal they were chasing establishes that the Fourth World and New Gods are a factor here.  In the old continuity, they’d died in 2007’s and 2008’s events Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis.  It’s unclear if they’re still dead in the new continuity, as this criminal could have been a non-New God alien that worships Darkseid and has a piece of leftover Fourth World tech in his Mother Box.

The story jumps to Vic Stone, high school football star.  The name indicates this fellow is Cyborg, but he’s still fully human in the story so far.  The story only devotes a couple of pages to him, but we learn he’s being scouted by several colleges and his father’s a barely-present workaholic.  His father apparently is involved in studying the new superhuman menace.  As we know his future role of Cyborg, there’s not too much new insight to the new world in his introduction, but he’s going to be a part of the new Justice League, which the old Cyborg wasn’t in the previous continuity.  In the previous continuity, he was instead a member of the Teen Titans and later the Titans once they grew out of the “Teen” moniker.

After seeing the hostile treatment of the heroes in Justice League, when I received my comics from week 2 of the New 52, my first stop was Action Comics.  This was because one of the ideas in Final Crisis was that each of DC’s parallel Earths had a Superman, and he was a key part of each universe.  You could see this in some of the differences between New Earth and Earth 2.  In Earth 2, he wasn’t a superhero, but instead a supervillain, and so the Justice League of that world was all evil, and the universe had the tendency for evil to triumph over good.  So I sought some more information on this new world from the first Superman book I could read.  And it definitely helps clarify things.

Action Comics #1 introduces us to a new Superman.  This is a younger, angrier Superman who takes some pages out of Batman’s playbook.  His powers seem weaker than the Superman in the old continuity, and this new Superman isn’t even capable of flight.  I guess he’s back to just “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”.  He roots out evil white collar criminals as well as your regular street criminal.  This new Superman roughs up criminals and will scare them into confessing their crimes, decidedly more violently than Superman acted in the old continuity.  This helps explain the way the authorities treated heroes in the Justice League issue.  Superman is relatively new on the scene as well, and he is more of a violent vigilante than he was in the prior universe.  Without the kind leadership that the older Superman provided, there’s no one providing a positive connection to the government in this new world.  The story also introduces us to younger main characters.  Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are all much younger than they were, and Clark isn’t an established journalist yet.  So I expect our first month of #1 issues will give us similar glimpses into the early careers of many familiar and not-so-familiar heroes.

Overall, I’m very curious about this new universe.  Part of me is not enthused by the decision to have the superheroes not on good terms with the police, as it comes off as an attempt to make this new world ‘dark and gritty’, which is a trope that’s been overused of late in all media.  But the blank slate this universe offers has me excited by the possibilities that this offers long time comic book writers who are now freed from the previous status quo.  I also appreciate the decision to add Cyborg to the Justice League as one of those changes, as more of the B-list heroes deserve to graduate up to the A-list.

Digital Vs. Physical – How do digital comics stand up to the tried and true?

(This article is based off of reading digital comics on an iPad using the comiXology app available in the iTunes App Store. Also available on the Android Market.)

Comparison of physical copy vs a digital copy

When I was younger, I normally wasn’t able to read comics. My mom thought that they would rot my brain. But every so often, I would be able to sneak a peek at one of my friends’ collection and read an issue or two, or a whole story arc if they had enough issues.

I have to say, there was nothing to compare the experience of having one of those small magazines and opening to an action packed scenario that my favorite superhero team was always managing to get into.

But today, there’s a vastly growing movement from reading these comics in a physical version to reading them on an eReader. Today’s technology has been able to represent these stories in a way that could revolutionize how we experience comics in general.

I got my hands on a copy of [tag]justice-league[/tag] #1 (Sept 2011) and the same copy on my iPad; reading it on the comiXology app available in the iTunes App Store and Android Market. This review will be based on those two facts.

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Review: The Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire

Rick Riordan

“Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we’re all going to die.”

With this sentence, a story is told by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, who were born of the powerful Kane family. They work to save the world from Apophis, the Egyptian God of Chaos. In order to do this, they seek to restore Ra, the pharaoh of the Gods, to his rightful place as Sun King. In order to do this, they travel across 3 continents, the Duat, the land between worlds. They battle gods, magicians, demons, and even Katrina the camel, who is a natural disaster. They struggle to come to grips with themselves, the gods, other magicians, their question, and relationships.

I’ve been amazed at the sarcasm, the snide remarks of a brother/sister, and the numerous hilarious references put in place. If you like the quote at the beginning of the  article, you are sure to find more to entertain you. I won’t ruin the book by giving you too many more, but the humor of the book certainly helped to lift up some of the darker moments in the book.

This book is a nice, easy read, comparable in complexity to books like the early Harry Potter books. It is equally suitable for adults. It is a very gripping tale, which I am slowly coming to regard as one of my favorite series, even topping the Percy Jackson series previously published.

This book is also somewhat educational, as all artifacts and places are real, and all myths, gods, and related stories are solidly based in Egyptian lore. It has helped me to learn much about the Egyptian gods, from learning more about Ra, to learning of the existence of Gods like Bast and Des.

I do recommend that one first reads The Red Pyramid, as it covers much back story that one would miss if they jumped directly to this book. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fiction which takes the ancient world and plays with it today, and in general, for anyone who wishes to find a good book to read.

Comic Recommendation: Y: The Last Man

All comic books are tights and fights. That seems to be the immediate assumption people make when they think about the medium. To be fair, the artform’s biggest celebrities (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman) all wear spandex while  purposefully throwing their fists into faces. And when a movie not based on superhero comics is released, there always seems to be a level of shock or surprise when the film’s secret origin is revealed (usually the question “Ghost World/Redemption Road/From Hell was a comic?” followed by a brain cave-in). The truth is, comic books are a means of expressing a story and are not confined to the superhero genre. So to those of you reading this who snicker at trailers for films starring grown men wearing bodysuits made of an incomprehensible mix of spandex, leather and rubber, I give you…Y: The Last Man.

Yorick Brown and Ampersand, as illustrated by cover artist J.G. Jones

The series takes place in the aftermath of a mysterious plague that kills everything with a Y chromosome…except 22-year old amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his male Capuchin helper monkey, Ampersand. Yes, post-apocalyptic settings and population-destroying plagues are nothing new to science fiction, but that doesn’t mean that Y: The Last Man lacks originality. The complexity of the characters and their continued growth as well as recurring themes and an intricate narrative make this a completely thrilling read. The voice of this series, which mixes political thriller elements with irreverent humor (via Yorick),  is so unique that it makes you forget that you have previously read similar tales.

Throughout its 60 issues, writer Brian K. Vaughan weaves a narrative that hops around the globe as much as it does the story’s own timeline. Events unfold chronologically for the most part, but Vaughan intercuts the expertly paced plot with Rashomon-style point-of-view shifts that show you where the different characters were when the plague hit. This nonlinear approach is key to maintaining suspense as the protagonists slowly start to uncover clues about what caused the plague and Yorick and Ampersand’s immunity.

Gender politics probably top the list of Things That Will Never Be Discussed In Comics for many science fiction fans, but Y: The Last Man tackles issues head on. Vaughan uses the setting of a world populated almost exclusively by X chromosomes to make gender equality, sexuality, feminism and women’s historical importance seamless parts of the story. None of these Very Special Topics, which could easily feel lecture-y, feel out of place thanks to Vaughan’s thought-out approach. It’s also of note that the series features a remarkably strong cast of women, all of whom fight off the stereotype that many of the big-buxomed and scantily clad super heroines perpetuate. A few of these women are:

  • Agent 355, who is Yorick’s bodyguard on his continent-spanning journey and a member of a mysterious government agency whose origin dates back to the Revolutionary War
  • Dr. Allison Mann, an expert geneticist whose recent breakthroughs in human cloning prove to be important in a world with no men
  • Hero Brown, Yorick’s older sister and former paramedic
Dr. Allison Mann and Agent 355, as illustrated by series artist Pia Guerra

While the global ramifications caused by the death of every male are interesting in their own right, action fans need not fret. The mix of drama and explosions, chases, espionage and intrigue will satisfy anyone who enjoys shows like “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica.” The world of Y: The Last Man is dangerous and the series truly pulls no punches.You will root for characters who are constantly in peril. Be prepared.

Everything I’ve written so far pertains to the writing, which would be worthless if it wasn’t being illustrated by a true top-notch talent able to convey subtle emotions and complex action sequences. Series co-creator Pia Guerra is just that; she’s top-notch. Her art isn’t overly flashy or stylized. Her people look and move like proportional people. But as a series that is set on portraying what would really happen in the event of a gendercide, Guerra’s art is perfect. It sells the elements that might push probability by portraying them in a grounded fashion, and also makes the intensity of the story hit that much harder because of how familiar it all feels. Her art is so essential to the story that the handful of substitute artists the series employed match up fairly seamlessly with Guerra’s artistic vision.

If you are a fan of science fiction but have yet to take the dive into comic books, then Y: The Last Man is the comic your diving board. It’s an excellent example of the artistic heights that the medium can achieve, as well as a phenomenal serialized story that, in my opinion, nails the landing. Don’t believe me? Check it out. I just finished this series a few days ago and I’m dying to talk to someone about it.

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