Monday 3 October 2011


Dragons' Den
9x09 Episode 9
[Watch it (again) in HD on iPlayer.]

Home Cooking Made Easy
1x01 Comfort
[Watch it (again) in HD on iPlayer.]

5x23 (28/9/11 edition)
[Watch it (again) on iPlayer.]

DC's The New 52 #1s: My Thoughts

With all of DC's New 52 first issues now out, and with (most of*) the ones I've chosen having finally made their way to me and been read by me, I thought I'd offer some quick thoughts on each (in the order I read them)…

(* I have three more #1s on order from their second printings, but I figure as it's nearly time for #2s (they start on Wednesday) it was best to give in and post this.)

Justice League by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee
This came in for a lot of stick, it felt like. No, it's not the greatest book ever, but it was a more-than-solid introduction to the series and universe. It may suffer from the infamous decompressed storytelling, but the thing is, so does everything else -- that's just how comics are now, and while it might be good if that were changed, it's going to require a shift bigger even than DC's re-numbering re-launch. So with that in mind, I think this is actually pretty good: there's action, humour, mystery, and the story is both newbie friendly and prepares them for what it's like to read comics. Good job.

Detective Comics by Tony S. Daniel
Both these first two Bat books felt slower than Justice League, to my mind; or, rather, less content-filled. This particular one sees Batman encounter the Joker in a way that suggests he's been tracking him for years but never really come face-to-face with him… and, in that grisly and surprising cliffhanger, maybe he never will! This is looking like it might be set up for something altogether more unusual.

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Bit on the fence about this one. For one thing, it's not at all newbie friendly, referencing and building on a tonne of stuff from the last few years of Bat books. Luckily for me I'd been reading up a bit out of idle curiosity, but a total newbie is going to be totally lost. Fail as a new #1, then. Even more so than the two books above, this has long scenes with pages of few panels -- it's either slowly character building (followed by a decent action sequence in the second half), or a bit thumb-twiddling. The plot developing is Moscow is intriguing so I'll stick with it for now.

Resurrection Man by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Fernando Dagnino
This is one of the books I picked up retrospectively, having heard good things. The concept always appealed, mind, so I guess that says something about following your instincts. Anyway, it was worth it. This is a great example of how to do a re-launch character introduction without telling the origin story: we learn his powers, we learn there are people after him, there's plenty of enticing mystery but none of it feels like we need to know his past to understand. Can't wait to read more, and indeed it makes me want to go back and read the original run too. Can't say better than that.

Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
The only Batman-starring book in the relaunch that seems to have achieved widespread acclaim, I wasn't as completely convinced. It's got some great bits though, including the cliffhanger and some proper detective work from our hero, but equally some speechmaking by Bruce Wayne drags along in the middle. Greg Capullo's art is brilliant in places, mainly anything with Batman himself, but I'm not such a fan of his manga-ish renderings of human characters. I also still resent the excellent solicited cover being switched for Capullo's cartoonish rendering of the same scene. Maybe they feared it would raise the wrong expectations for the internal art?

Batgirl by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf
One of the best-selling and popular books of the relaunch, which lead me to get hold of it a bit later. Personally I didn't care for it a great deal -- it has an interesting villain and setup with Barbara Gordon's newfound ability to walk again (and hence her return to active superheroing), and I'd quite like to see where all that goes, but it felt even briefer than the other books I've read so far. Perhaps that's the fault of the format I read it in: with digital I don't think I savoured the art and storytelling in the same way I did the ones I bought in print. Which is kinda interesting, I suppose. That said, I'm not alone: as the CBR review I quoted before said, "it feels like Batgirl #1 has barely gotten moving full steam ahead when we get to the cliffhanger."

Batwoman by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
A long-awaited title finally emerges as part of the New 52. I have no idea why exactly it was so anticipated, but I'm sure people found it worth the wait. It's a tad hard to get into for a new reader, stuffed as it is with allusions to backstory and previous plots, but it feels like it's worth getting through that because the actual story and characters are intriguing. And, even more so, the art by J.H. Williams III is gorgeous: the crisp pencils and detailed inks really make an impact, and there's masses of innovative page layouts that demand your attention to follow (in a good way) and that you sit back and appreciate them as art in their own right. Loved it.

Aquaman by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis
"How does it feel to be nobody's favourite superhero?" a character asks Aquaman in this issue, neatly bringing his real-world status into the story. Johns does this throughout, making the book a very entertaining read. And it's true, of course: real-world popularity effects how important characters are in-universe, because that's what makes readers want to see more or less of a character, and that makes them more or less involved in big stories. Anyway, it's a fun read, with strong art, especially the intriguing well-designed villains. I look forward to more.

Batman: The Dark Knight by David Finch & Paul Jenkins
This seems to have been the worst reviewed of the four books starring Batman, and I can see why. It has the slightest story of all four, achieving virtually nothing in its 20 pages. Plus, coming at the end of the month, its Bruce-Wayne-making-a-speech centre section and a big prison break sequence both feel repetitious of Batman #1. Finch's art is fine when drawing action but I find it ugly when crafting faces, making the long-ish dialogue-based scene at a charity gala an uncomfortable read. Even the cliffhanger wasn't particular intriguing for me. The reviews are right, this is easily the weakest Batman book of the New 52.

All Star Western by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Moritat
My initial run through The New 52's #1 ends with perhaps my most anticipated book. All Star Western is a continuation of Gray & Palmiotti's surprisingly-lengthy run on Jonah Hex in all but name… well, and setting. Instead of the Wild West, here Hex finds himself in a burgeoning Gotham City, teamed up with Dr Amadeus Arkham (yes, as in the Asylum) to hunt down a murderer of prostitutes. And, in the process, perhaps tie-in a little to the modern-day arc in Batman. Clever… but, importantly, it feels like neither will be dependant on you reading the other, just offer neat commentary/parallels if you do. This is an exciting, violent, gritty book, beautifully rendered in a sketchy style by Moritat. It lived up to all my expectations and I can't wait for more.

So that's that. If you're interested, my favourite books were Resurrection Man, All Star Western, Aquaman and Batman, while my least favourite were Batgirl and Batman: The Dark Knight. Neither of those were bad per se -- Batgirl in particular had a lot to recommend it -- but I either really liked or outright loved the other eight I've read so far.

I've been intending to read even more of the New 52 #1s at some point, possibly even all of them -- I suppose I ought to get on with it, really, to see if I'd want to continue with any other series. I'm sure I'll share similarly bitesize opinions on those as I read them, but as I read them rather than in a pointlessly saved-up way such as this.