ULTIMATE COMICS: X-MEN #1: Yes, I know, it’s not a nu52 #1 or even a DC #1, but I wanted to start off by mentioning it because it’s easily – easily – better than almost every single DC nu52 #1 so far. Animal Man is really the only one that gives it serious competition as quality goes. (And remember: I was raised as a DC fanboy, not a Marvel maniac. Saying this sort of thing goes against my natural comics grain, which is why DC’s gradual slide as a company pains me so deeply.)
UCXM is a great comic because it is both a good comic book and a good #1 issue. The two are not the same thing. A good comic is a good comic; a good #1 issue fulfills certain tasks. A good #1 issue, to my mind, does the following:
PREMISE: It establishes what the comic is fundamentally about and why it exists. Action Comics is now about Superman’s first days as Superman. FF is about what the Fantastic Four do when one of them dies, and how they deal with it. Animal Man is about a superhero who’s really not much of a superhero per se, but he’s a decent family man and has to deal with super-weirdness anyway.
PIECES: It identifies all (or at least most) of the major story elements of the comic. Action Comics introduces Superman, Lois, Jimmy, Lex, Metropolis and The Daily Planet. FF introduces the entire Future Foundation and what they do. Animal Man introduces Buddy, his family, the idea of the Red, and the concept that Buddy isn’t really your average super-dude.
PLOT: It gives you a reason to want to read the next issue. Action Comics, after establishing that Superman’s powers are still growing and leaving a lot of question marks, ends on a cliffhanger. FF‘s first issue ends with Valeria inviting Dr. Doom to join. Animal Man ends with the revelation that Buddy’s daughter may have superpowers as well, and they are creepy and scary ones.
UCXM fulfills all of these, and ambitiously, because it does no less than create a brand new status quo for the X-Men that never been used before. If you haven’t been following Ultimate comics lately, the long and short of it is this: mutants aren’t the next step in evolution, but instead a biogenetically engineered weapons program that got out of hand. The civil rights metaphor is officially killed off for the Ultimate X-Men once and for all, because as Ultimate Johnny Storm points out, if mutants got their powers because of gubmint meddling or weird science reactions, then who with superpowers isn’t a mutant?
But, while establishing his new status quo (Premise), Nick Spencer makes sure to establish what his cast (Pieces) are all doing: jumping from scene to scene as the few remaining X-Men and a few newcomers who were introduced in the barely-anybody-read-it Ultimate X react to the news and declare their intentions to act or just sit around in jail, each of their inclusions demonstrating that Spencer clearly has plans for them. And then, right at the end, Spencer drops his bomb, which is just so goddamned ambitious I have to bow down and give kudos. I’m not going to spoil it easily, but I’ll put together a footnote here revealing it if you want to know.1
It’s a great comic because it is extremely well-crafted and because it reinvents a wheel that seemed impossible to reinvent. It’s a great #1 because at no point does it forget what it has to do for a new reader. Now, how many of the nu52 this week managed that?
SUPERGIRL #1: This comic is essentially one extended scene – Supergirl hits Earth, fights battlesuits until Superman shows up. That is literally the entire comic. There is no reason this comic could not have been, say, five pages long. Brian Michael Bendis looks at this comic and says “wow, that’s awfully decompressed.” Of our three Ps, it barely bothers with any of them. And it’s not a terribly compelling comic in any other respect anyway; this comic is completely skippable.
CAPTAIN ATOM #1: The solicits sold this as Dr. Manhattan: The Series, which was certainly interesting. It’s not that thing; at least not yet. But it does set up Captain Atom’s supporting cast and introduces him as a superhero efficiently enough, as well as laying out the major plotline (namely, “are Captain Atom’s powers gradually killing him”). It ends on a pretty generic cliffhanger, but all in all this is a Perfectly Acceptable Comic and a decent enough #1 issue which gracefully demonstrates the three Ps. But I probably won’t bother with the second issue.
BLUE BEETLE #1: A hard reboot starting with the origin issue: everything a new reader needs to know about the history of the Reach and the Scarabs are dealt with in the first six pages, and then it’s on to introducing Jaime and how he become bonded with the Scarab. It’s not a bad #1 by any means, although my personal preference would have been to introduce the bonding earlier – but it’s not a good comic, mostly because of the truly dumb decision to transform Paco into a thugged-out gangbanger. No, really – they did that. (You probably missed it because everybody was so hepped up about the sexist revisions this week that they forgot the kinda racist one!)
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1, NIGHTWING #1, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1: I’m doing these three together because they’re basically all the same: decent enough comics, mostly failures as #1 issues. Nightwing is a little better than the other two, at least taking up a page of Dick Grayson monologue to explain who Nightwing is and why you should care, but these are mostly just ongoings with new #1s for the sake of reboot consistency, as have more than a few others been. (Legion is particularly impenetrable, which is especially disappointing given that Paul Levitz previously wrote what I consider to be the best “jump right in” introduction to the Legion, or any superhero comic for that matter, ever in LSH v2 Annual #1.)
BIRDS OF PREY #1: This is comic #2 to stagger out of the wake of the “hey let’s make Barbara Gordon walk again and be Batgirl” thing – as of this issue I’m not sure if Dinah and Barbara ever worked together or if the Birds existed or what in the postboot, and it appears to be a conscious choice to not address that issue at all, but instead just sort of throw it at people familiar with the preboot comic so they can be distracted by the unanswered question, which – what? The new character, Starling, is not explained particularly well at all. It’s a shame, because there are elements of this comic that are good: the fight scene flows well and the cliffhanger ending is solid. But on the whole it’s a really weak first issue.
WONDER WOMAN #1:This comic is mostly an incoherent mess. It’s pointless as a #1 – seriously, it doesn’t say a damn thing about who Wonder Woman is or what she does or anything – and the way it’s paced makes this just about unreadable as a single issue. It’s quite possible that, as the first chapter of a trade paperback, this will be quite readable in its larger context – I mean, the craft is quite clearly there, as you would expect from Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. But as a single issue, no. Not even close.
BATMAN #1: This is good. I haven’t read a comic with Greg Capullo art in forever, but he’s always been very solid on art duties and he fits Batman quite well. There’s not much you need to introduce to a new reader about Batman, but this comic covers the high points – Batman wants to improve Gotham both as Bruce Wayne and as Batman, and there’s a decent framing device to explain all of the various Robins. And the cliffhanger ending, although of course obviously a red herring, is a solid foundation for a story. Probably the best nu52 book of the week.
CATWOMAN #1: See, from a #1 issue standpoint, this comic does everything right: it sets up Selina’s situation, gives her a plot, introduces the major players in the comic for the first little bit, and there’s a cliffhanger ending. The problem is that the cliffhanger ending is Catwoman and Batman fucking, which from a craft standpoint reduces Catwoman’s importance – I mean, the last four pages are a conflict where the question is “will Selina get to have sex with Bruce.” The story’s title is a reference to them doing it. That’s just a terrible, terrible idea.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #1: Yeeeeeeeeeeaahhhh that was shitty.
- “My name is Kitty Pryde. I am sixteen years old – and this is the story of how I became the most hated and feared terrorist in the history of the United States.” [↩]