Friday, 18 November 2011

Throne of the Blooded...

I'm still reading this , and will post a full review when I've finished it.

All I'll say at present is that it's just lost some points for having the protagonist have the "magic" blood of the empire's royal family through being the bastard son of the king.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The New 52

In September DC Comics relaunched its universe, effectively pressing the reset button and going from square one again. The new universe is darker and edgier, with more nods towards both Wildstorm and Marvel comics; heroes are distrusted and villified rather than being held up as the lights of humanity. In some ways this is a shame as it gets rid of what was largely DC's unique voice, will there be a Flash museum in this new iteration? It seems unlikely.

Rather than try to read all 52 titles I very much cherry picked my way through the new comics to see which ones took my fancy. Partly this was for financial reasons, the cost of comics means that I'm not willing to walk off with tons of books and partly it's because with the best will in the world I'm a bit tired of superheroes; for an idea that should be extremely flexible it's begun to feel brittle and restricted, as if it will only go so far before it snaps. Also the fetishism for the 1960s and 70s by DC's publishers has alienated me (my Flash is Wally West and my Green Lantern Kyle Rayner for instance, I have no interest at all in either Barry Allen or Hal Jordan: I'd say that they were my father's heroes if it weren't for the fact that my father never read comics beyond the Dandy and the Beano, as far as I know).

As a result I picked up a handful of comics: Action Comics, Stormwatch, Demon Knights, Grifter, I, Vampire, Resurrection Man, the Legon titles and a few others and was quite choosy about them. To my surprise a number of them were quite disappointing, Action Comics 1, which I expected to enjoy, I found lacked something. The expression "phoning it in" is overused (and in the age of the internet ridiculous) but it did feel a bit as if Grant Morrison had written it in his sleep; although it might read better in trade format.

Other titles felt similarly slim in content, Batgirl felt ridiculous, a large part of the character's history had been rewritten and the "cure" just felt like an editorial hand wave to get Barbara Gordon back into action again. Both Legion comics felt bland and confusing, Legion of Superheroes because it barely seemed to be acknowledging that there was a reboot at all, whilst Legion Lost because Fabian Nicieza's writing leant little to the characters.

I'll be the first to admit that most of these series have probably improved, it's hard to judge a comicbook series from the first issue most of the time.

Stormwatch is a case in point; the first issue came across as blandly written with abnormal art and, frankly, far too much going on (the team deals with weird stuff on the moon, an alien artefact and hunting down Apollo, who appears to be one of the few Wildstorm characters to have made it across into the new universe with any real degree of success or safety - given Midnighter's chin spike I'm not sure I can include him in the ranks of characters to safely port across). If we contrast it with Paul Cornell's other DCNu book, Demon Knights, it comes across as especially poor. It was, however, one of the few titles I actually went back to, partly because I trusted the writer to be able to deliver; a gamble I feel has paid off as the following issues have kicked the series into high gear and delivered some nice twists on the ideas laid down in the old series of Stormwatch and the Authority way back when they being published.

Demon Knights on the other hand has been "made of win" as a friend of mine has it, since the first issue. The series at present has a strong 7 Samurai feeling, with a group of characters, some of them (if not all of them) slightly dubious, uniting against a comon threat. The use of the villains has been good, it's nice to see Mordru as something other than a weird possessing force of chaos, here he seems almost to be a successor to Morgana le Fey and is certainly not the main villain, unless Cornell's planning a bait and switch later on. The use of dragons as WMD is a very good idea, what would these creatures be if not the fantasy equivalent of nukes?

There's a lot going on and some nice touches, whether that's the inclusion of Vandal Savage as something other than a wannabe world conquerer or the complicated relationship between Jason Blood/Etrigan and Madame Xanadu. It's tempting to see what's going on with the characters as a traditional love triangle or Madame Xanadu as cheating on either one of them, but I find myself wondering if Xanadu is in love with both Jason and Etrigan; could we be seeing some attempt at a polyamory on her part? Okay, it's a fucked up form of polyamory but all the same, at present it doesn't feel at present as if anything more sinister is going on.

Also, it's lovely to see an Etrigan who doesn't constantly speak in rhyme. Most writers struggle to get the rhyming element right, and jettisoning it in favour of having him only using it if he wants to cast impressive magic (I think that's what he was doing anyway) makes a lot of sense and, I assume takes the weight off the writer's shoulders not to make Etrigan sound like a complete imbecile.

The new characters for the series are interesting, one seems to be an Amazon and the Muslim scholar is a good indication that Cornell's drawing heavily from history as well as myth and fantasy; in fact in issue 3 we seem to have a play off between Christian faith and Muslim scholarship which nicel illustrates the differences between the two faiths at the time the series is set (the "Dark Ages" incidently). The Horse Woman is a novel concept, but she does feel undeveloped at present, it's hard to get an idea of who she's meant to be or what function she'll fulfill in the team. Shining Knight, whilst not a a new character, is the fresher version from Grant Morrison's 7 Soldiers series rather than the old version of Sir Justin from the 40s. It's an interesting choice, and serves to add balance quite nicely.

All in all, I feel more confident about Demon Knights than I do about Stormwatch, it feels more grounded somehow, possibly because we're getting more of a "how the band got together" story rather than being told that the team's been around for ages and also because it's much more of a stand alone project; barring time travel shenanigans I don't see a Demon Knights/Justice League crossover anywhere in the near future.

The last book that's really impressed me is Resurrection Man. I must confess I read it in the 90s during the original run and enjoyed it and it was one of the few books that DC announced with the new 52 that really caught my interest. Here we get the familiar reset, with Mitch Shelley starting his journey to find out what the hell's going on with him all over again. So far it feels very familiar, the three central characters, Mitch and the Body Doubles are all in place and the concepts are becoming well established.

There are a couple of twists on the original concepts. The first seems to be the presence of a more supernatural element; Heaven and Hell both have agents that are trying to reclaim Mitch's soul for their requisite sides for book keeping purposes (to say that I'm amused by the idea that it's the accountants on both sides that are driving this is an understatement). The second is that the Body Doubles and Mitch now seem to all have a single origin point, a mysterious group that they share in common in the past. If we piece together what's been hinted at Mitch was a scientist who engineered the process and that Bonnie and Carmen (the Body Doubles) are also creations of his.

All in all it's been good so far, but it's definitely going on a slow burn thus far and could perhaps use a slightly faster pace.

Of the books I've looked at the only ones I think I'm likely to stick with long term are Resurrection Man and Demon Knights and I'm still debating whether to stick with floppies or just trade wait. I'm slightly inclined towards the former in the hopes of keeping the series going.