The New 52: Demon Knights #1, Frankenstein – Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1, Resurrection Man #1, Swamp Thing #1, Voodoo #1

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Demon Knights #1

Writer: Paul Cornell / Artist: Diogenes Neves

Yes, yes, yes, yes. When I heard that DC was relaunching their whole line, that they were going to be re-contextualizing much of their stilted universe, a comic book like Demon Knights #1 was exactly what I was hoping for, not the shoehorning-in of extra characters and teams whose revitalization wasn’t tantamount to artistic or commercial success. While I highly doubt Demon Knights is the sort of comic that’ll ever crack the top 20 monthly sales charts, it is a well-written, gorgeously drawn book that grounds some of the more magical elements of the DC universe in the Dark Ages, effortlessly blending in the story of Etrigan the Demon, Madame Xanadu, the Shining Knight, and King freakin’ Arthur and the fall of Camelot in one issue.

Etrigan is somewhat liberated from his ridiculous gimmick of rhyme, which only the best comics scribes were able to do without coming off ridiculous, as it’s revealed that he’s a demon held captive by the wizard Merlin, who watches helplessly as Camelot is overrun by an attacking horde. In his last act before disappearing, Merlin joins Etrigan to the body of Jason of Norwich, a young knight now cursed to harbor a demon inside him. After the fall of Camelot, the world plunges into the dark ages. At a tavern, Jason and Madame Xanadu meet the berserker Vandal Savage, the Shining Knight, an Amazonian (I think), and a few others before the tavern is attacked by a horde claiming to be emissaries of the queen.

If this sounds like the set-up to a role-playing game, well, it is. Obviously, your mileage will vary, but this set-up is one that I’d probably pay $60 to play, excitedly. As the first issue in a series, it’s got everything that I’m looking for. The plot interests me. The characters, known and unknown, are a good mix of personality and gimmick. The art, which usually doesn’t matter much to me, is perfectly evocative of this slightly twisted world. Demon Knights represents the first real slam dunk of the New 52, a book that starred into the abyss of a rebooted universe and decided to roll the dice. I’m in until low sales see it cancelled (this always happens), then I’m in on the petition to bring it back.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

Writer: Jeff Lemire / Artist: Alberto Ponticelli

Given that I was a big fan of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers project, I’m genuinely happy to see some of its elements make themselves apparent in the new DC universe. S.H.A.D.E., his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents tribute from the Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein miniseries gets its own ongoing, and, within a few pages, it looks like its borrowed more than a few things from Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, which envisioned the Avengers as a government led and funded super-organization dedicated to stopping world-level threats. What Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has on The Ultimates is characters that are genuinely interesting beyond being Captain America…but different, and the characters are so C and D list that literally anything is possible.

That all sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t supposed to be. Father Time, the leader of S.H.A.D.E., is one of those ruthless, insane leader-types, willing to underwrite projects where scientists turn themselves into gillwomen and whole cities are shrunken to fit inside a steel sphere three inches in diameter. Frankenstein, whose origins are what you’d think, is a late-period John Wayne, regarding all this technological muck knowingly, trudging through it because he must. He’s got a lot to deal with, too. The gillwoman is the leader of a team comprised of many human/Universal monster hybrids–a werewolf, a vampire (sadly not a Dracula), and an honest-to-God mummy. They’re put together because Frankenstein’s wife (yup!) was sent to stop an invasion of Lovecraftian monsters from wrecking a small town, only to disappear.

I really dug this issue, but it’s pretty much a mash-up of everything I love, with a brief discussion on Milton and Keats thrown in to make sure I’d sing its praises. Jeff Lemire, whose DC Comic’s work has skewed towards science fiction, riffs on its inspirations that feels more inspired than insulting, and Alberto Ponticelli’s rough-hewn pencils lend the proceedings the grit and character necessary for a comic book about the end of the world. Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. promises to explore some of the weirder corners of the DC Universe, but it is a weird universe, and it’s good that the big, green, undead guy exploring it is cut from the same cloth.

 

Resurrection Man #1

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning / Artist: Fernando Dagnino

When I worked at the Pack Shack, I was always under the impression that Abnett and Lanning were the Lennon/McCartney of mundane DC Comics books that I’d never in a million years crack the spines of, mostly because the Legion of Superheroes is, literally, the most confusing idea in the history of comic books, and that’s what they wrote. Unfortunately, Resurrection Man #1 does little to dispel my ill-informed beliefs, even though Abnett and Lanning are working with their own character, on a completely blank slate.

It’s not that the idea itself is bland. In a world where the only dead walking the earth are doing so to hunt human flesh, it’s nice if there’s a guy or two who dies, comes back, and is relatively normal. Resurrection Man, being a disposable, reusable superhero, isn’t exactly normal, but coming back to life with the power of magnetism makes for more interesting dinner conversation than “BRAAAAAAAAINS!” It seems that each time Resurrection Man resurrects, he comes back with a power suitable for the task he finds himself against, making him stunningly useful for a guy who dies a lot. That being said, Resurrection Man’s been overdue for a stay in heaven/hell, so the forces of some shady gray area are after him, trying to stop him from coming back.

This kind of cat-and-mouse can be pretty compelling, but Resurrection Man #1 just isn’t, failing in the worst way high concept ideas can fail: by being satisfied with the concept. If things were happening, if Resurrection Man was trying to stop the world from ending/his girlfriend from getting killed, his car from getting repoed, but he couldn’t because he kept dying and coming back, losing valuable time/money/sanity, then something would be happening. As it stands, he dies and comes back, ready to continue the chase. He’s the ghosts from Pac Man, if they had their own ongoing series. Even though that sounds awesome, if the result of failure is a do-over, what’s the point?

 

Swamp Thing #1

Writer: Scott Snyder / Artist: Yanick Paquette

On the subject of integrating Vertigo characters back into the DC Universe, I’m for it as long as it’s done well. A character like Swamp Thing, after all, has a long history apart from your Supermen, your Batmen, and your Aquamen, so just hurtling the character from one continuity to the other all haphazardly would be a disservice both to what came before and potential new readers. Luckily, Swamp Thing #1 is gradually reintroducing its titular monster to the DC Comics fold, explaining who Swamp Thing was for the benefit of those who thought buying 52 new comics sounded like a grand idea while realizing that there’s room for Swamp Thing’s utter weirdness among DC’s heavy hitters.

The long and short of Swamp Thing #1 is this: The world is dying, and in ways the Justice League can’t help or figure out. Dr. Alec Holland, the former Swamp Thing, knows this, but is seemingly uninterested in solving the problem. He’s down and out after his stint as the monster, convinced that plants are more violent than we give them credit for, that, for all his brilliance as a scientist, he simply doesn’t have what it takes to solve the world’s problems anymore. Meanwhile, a group of shady looking customers look for something out in the wastelands and, in the most grisly scene I’ve seen in any of the new #1s, are compelled to snap their necks and walk around with their heads on backwards.

It’s a little gross and a little weird, and the proceedings are certainly meditative, but that’s what I expect from Swamp Thing. It’ll be interesting to see how much room DC Comics gives this title. Yanick Paquette, for instance, is a superstar artist on a book that isn’t going to sell enough copies to justify a superstar artist. How short is his leash? Who replaces him? How long does Snyder have to make his vision stick? Swamp Thing #1 gives me a lot of hope, but when the hype dies down and we’re reading issues 10, 11, and 12 of the New 52, I wonder at his ability to survive in the marketplace. I’m willing to put aside any Alan Moore comparisons until that point, so here’s hoping Swamp Thing has a long, prosperous shelf-life.

 

Voodoo #1

Writer: Ron Marz / Artist: Sam Basri

I’d love to give Voodoo #1 the benefit of a doubt. After all, it’s one of a few female solo books DC has decided to launch in an effort to reach out to new readers, and, more, it’s an effort to integrate an interesting (if ripped from They Live) idea from the clutches of the 90s comics that birthed it. But Voodoo, whose solicits ask the reader if she’s hero/villain/both, is a stripper whose tattoos murder people, and that appears to be it. Taken on it’s own, it’d be a disappointing, lifelessly drawn comic with potential but for the poor execution (DC’s own Witchblade, which, surprise, Ron Marz spent time writing), but Voodoo spends so much time stripping, changing clothes, and stripping that the comic quickly devolves into self-parody, which, to be honest, was evident from the issue’s come-hither cover. Voodoo #1 isn’t a good comic book by any stretch of the imagination. Even if you’re looking for a decent cheesecake comic, there are better ones available. I’ve seen Zack Snyder movies more capable of recognizing women as something greater than a fetish object, and he’s the guy who thought Watchmen needed more rape.

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