Last September DC did the ‘unthinkable,’ they rebooted their entire stable of comic books back to the first issue in a brand new universe. Yet, unlike every other time Marvel or DC has rebooted their universe, something about this was new and fresh and incredibly exciting. This was an attempt to cut out the years and years of continuity and bloated fiction and make comics something that anyone could jump into (except Green Lantern, because its current storyline is insane and awesome). We’re now a year into this new line, so, how is it?
I could break down every one of the 52 new titles, but that would be huge and mostly a waste of time. If you don’t like Superman none of the new Superman books are going to convince you. The same goes for pretty much every DC character. The only book that continues to underwhelm me, especially considering its character, is Batman: The Dark Knight. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but stacked up against the other fantastic Batman titles, it just can’t hold a candle to them. Avoid it, but keep reading Batman.
I would much rather take this opportunity to highlight the absolute best of the New 52. There are three titles I think you absolutely should be reading: Swamp Thing, Animal Man and I, Vampire. While I have been told I should be reading Swamp Thing many times by now, I never have nor have I even heard of Animal Man or Andrew Bennett. I actually started with I, Vampire, which pulled me into Justice League Dark since there’s a crossover. The common thread I found between I, Vampire, Swamp Thing and Animal Man is that each title perfectly exemplifies everything I love about comic books.
I, Vampire frames this battle that has been raging for thousands of years between the host vampire, Andrew Bennett, and his progeny, Mary Queen of Blades, into the DCU. At first, I was a bit skeptical. The plot pacing, dialog and art are fantastic, but I didn’t know how this epic struggle could fit in a world with Superman. Even when Batman popped up, the scale of what was transpiring seemed a bit too big. Thankfully all of my fears were put to rest when John Constantine, and then the rest of the Justice League Dark appeared to combat this supernatural force. I, Vampire not only made me invested in a vampire story again, but lets a story of this scale exist in a visual form and does it perfectly.
Swamp Thing introduced me to the concepts of the Green, the Red and the Rot. Swamp Thing is the avatar of the Green, or the will of plant life, Animal Man the avatar of the Red, or the will of animal life, and the Rot is the antithesis of both. Alec Holland isn’t just a reluctant hero, he spends a good portion of this first year of issues refusing to become Swamp Thing. As much as I love Batman and Spider-man or dislike Superman, I can only take so many superhero comics. Swamp Thing eschews the traditional formula at every turn and explains the history of the Green, Red, Rot and the Parliament of Trees in a way that only takes a few pages and let me come away feeling like I just read five years of backstory.
As much as I love I, Vampire and Swamp Thing, I think Animal Man is my favorite of the New 52 books. Not to say that those titles are lacking in the least, but every single issue of Animal Man astounds me. Specifically, Alberto Ponticelli’s art is astounding. When Buddy Baker ventures into the Red, the strange distortions of reality he experiences are innately disturbing, yet oddly entrancing. I often found myself lost in the artwork, searching the page for every detail. The visual design of the Red is so beautifully captured and displays such a concise vision. I’ve continued to go back to previous issues just to look at the art.
I may have grown up with comics, but it’s not like I’ve been around since the 30s. Comics are a weighty mistress that constantly demand an attention to details that could have happened thirty years ago. As with any all-encompassing line of titles, there are good and there are bad titles. As a whole, I applaud the New 52. It allowed me to jump into so many different comics without having to worry about years of story. I’m the guy who read all of Spider-man because I wanted to know Spider-man and as fun as it would be to read all of Batman or Superman or Green Lantern, at this point it’s impossible. Congratulations DC, now give me the next I, Vampire immediately.