A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DC COMICS’ “NEW 52″: Special One-Year Anniversary Edition
1. ANIMAL MAN
Critics and readers agree that Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man was the break-out hit of DC’s “New 52″ revamp. Lemire’s crisp and imaginative writing coupled with Travel Foreman’s phantasmagoric artwork made this story about a family man wrestling with the responsibility of being a superman a veritable masterpiece of superhero fiction. Even when Foreman was replaced by artist Steve Pugh, the series never lost its footing, and as the title moves into the new Rotworld arc – which sees Buddy Baker joining forces with Scott Synder’s Swamp Thing and Lemire’s other monster-hero Frankenstein, it looks like Animal Man will continue to be the top heavyweight contender for the best “New 52″ series.
2. GREEN LANTERN
Arguably Geoff Johns’ masterwork, Green Lantern was one of the select few series that did not get a complete revamp in terms of story – meaning that even though the title did “start over” at issue #1, the storyline that preceded the “New 52″ reboot continued unabated. Bringing Sinestro back into the Green Lantern Corps fold and having Hal Jordan contemplate life without his power ring was a masterstroke and added so much to both of these beloved and multi-layered characters. If you’ve read my review of Green Lantern Annual #1, you no doubt know how I feel about the direction Johns’ is now taking this series (which was my favorite comic book series of all time), but I still have nothing but great things to say about the first 12 issues of the “New 52″ Green Lantern series. In my opinion, any DC Comics fan – or comic fan in general – would be remiss in passing up the beautiful hardcover Green Lantern Vol. 1: Sinestro – it’s the very definition of “must-have.”
Another “New 52″ title that more than deserves the term “masterpiece,” Scott Synder’s Batman is one of the greatest and best-written takes on the iconic Caped Crusader. Snyder brought the Bat back to his dark, detective story roots in a story arc that can only be described as brilliant. His “Court of Owls” – the sinister secret society that has been plaguing Gotham since the city’s dawn – may be the greatest criminal creation in recent memory and no doubt one of the best enemies Batman has ever faced. Snyder’s writing instilled the story with a breathless pace and breathed enough life into Batman/Bruce Wayne that the character practically jumped from the pages. If you ever wondered what happened to the Batman portrayed in Tim Burton’s movies and Bruce Timm’s animated series, look no further: Scott Synder’s Batman is the direct descendent of both. Snyder’s work on the series has made it my favorite Batman series of all time.
4. ACTION COMICS
Grant Morrison’s take on Superman’s early years in the “New 52″ Action Comics has been nothing short of awesome. Morrison has brought Superman back to his roots – he’s a “man of the people,” a Superman still coming into his own – a Superman who still bleeds when he’s hit by a speeding train. Action Comics smartly creates a Superman for the modern age by going back to the past for inspiration – Morrison himself has stated time and again that his series is directly inspired by the original run of Action Comics by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. If you’re looking for a fresh take on Big Blue, and for stories that bring him down-to-earth but still make him larger-than-life, Action Comics should be in your collection.
5. GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS
One of the few titles specifically created for the “New 52,” Green Lantern: New Guardians is one of the most-fun comics you’ll read. Tony Bedard does an incredible job of balancing the variety of characters making up this new team of Lanterns, and the dialogue brings a lot of depth and humor to this series, creating one of the most tangible cast of characters gracing comics today. And the best part about New Guardians is that Bedard gets Green Lantern Kyle Rayner right: he’s the torchbearer of the entire Green Lantern Corps, the man who brought Hal Jordan back from the dead, and in Bedard’s capable hands, he’s a complex, living, breathing hero.
6. GREEN LANTERN CORPS
Peter J. Tomasi continues his fantastic run on Green Lantern Corps, making it a highlight of the “New 52.” With slick, streamlined writing and punchy, nuanced dialogue, Tomasi has created truly “widescreen” series with Green Lantern Corps. Filled to the brim with incredible action sequences and moments of heart-stopping intensity, Corps never loses its intimate focus on characters under Tomasi’s direction. This is truly a must-read series that any fan of superheroes will love the moment they open an issue. It’s one of those rare series that the author’s love for the story, characters, and universe they inhabit comes through on every page, in every piece of dialogue, every panel.
7. JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
Another series specifically created for the “New 52,” Justice League Dark serves as a vehicle to bring all of DC’s occult-themed heroes under the umbrella of one title, and let me tell you – it’s barrels of fun! Featuring team-leader John Constantine and members Deadman, Zatanna, Black Orchid, Dr. Mist, and a couple others, Justice League Dark has proven to be one of the best-written team books of the “New 52.” And when Jeff Lemire took over with issue #9, a great series got better. There’s no doubt in my mind that along with Animal Man, Lemire’s run on Justice League Dark will one-day be mentioned in the same breath as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and James Robinson’s Starman. It’s that good.
8. BATMAN & ROBIN
Peter J. Tomasi’s other “New 52″ book, Batman & Robin, is just as brilliant as his Green Lantern Corps in every sense – great writing, tangible characters, and great dialogue. Joined by frequent collaborator Patrick Gleason, whose Frank Miller-esque take on the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder lends a dark, 80′s vibe to the whole series, Tomasi has crafted a truly intense title where Batman & Robin – who happens to be Bruce’s son Damian – must work out their personal issues with each other while they take on every sort of bad guy while guardian the citizens of Gotham. If you’re looking for series with a truly emotional center, look no further: Batman & Robin is the best take on the Dynamic Duo since Grant Morrison’s run. Maybe even better.
With the “New 52,” DC Comics disbanded its Wildstorm Universe, bringing that universe and its characters back into the DC Universe proper, and with Stormwatch, writer Paul Cornell crafted a super-fun team book featuring some truly quirky, nontraditional heroes. Featuring The Authority‘s own Apollo and Midnighter, along with other Stormwatch staples Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Quantum, The Engineer and new addition the Martian Manhunter, Cornell’s Stormwatch is a sci-fi nerd’s dream come true. While there are some touch and go moments where the series doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it’s definitely worth reading. Hellblazer scribe Peter Milligan took over writing duties after Cornell’s initial 7-issue run, with some issues being better than others. The great thing about Stormwatch is that it doesn’t try to be something more than it is – it knows it’s a wild and wacky sci-fi superhero book, and it sticks to its guns. If you like good, fun, action-laced sci-fi, Stormwatch is highly recommended.
10. LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
I’ve always wanted to read Legion of Super-Heroes, but never really found a good jumping on point. Luckily, DC’s “New 52″ came along and I was able to jump into the beginning of this new Legion. A team-book in every sense of the word, Legion of Super-Heroes is a fun, good old-fashioned superhero title. Frequent Legion scribe Paul Levitz does a great job of introducing the team to new readers, and does an even better job at juggling such an extensive roster of characters, bringing each one to life. His villains are just as fun, and prove to be formidable foes for our heroes, which makes for an entertaining read issue after issue. What comes across most in the pages of this new Legion is the amount of heart Levitz has imbued in each of his characters – they are truly likable heroes, and at every turn you find yourself rooting for them, no matter the obstacle.
11. JUSTICE LEAGUE
Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s flagship title Justice League has been fun, to say the least, but it’s had its ups and downs. The series seems to really struggle with giving depth to its characters, which is a shame considering the roster of heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Other teams books like Green Lantern: New Guardians, Justice League Dark, Green Lantern Corps, Stormwatch, and Legion of Super-Heroes have been doing better at the whole team dynamic thing. Thankfully, as Justice League has progressed, the writing has gotten stronger, the characters have become more well-rounded, and the team is starting to really come into its own as the pantheon of heroes we know them to be. Definitely worth reading, if not for the fact that it’s getting better with each issue, and it probably features at least one of your favorite superheroes – if not all of them.
12. SWAMP THING
Very much the “sister” book to Lemire’s Animal Man and Justice League Dark, Scott Synder’s “New 52″ take on Swamp Thing has been creepy, intense, and down-right awesome. Snyder wisely used the “New 52″ starting point to literally bring Swamp Thing back to its roots in the form of Alec Holland. By having Holland wrestle with the very idea of becoming Swampy again through the first couple issues, Synder gave this horror-infused monster comic a truly relatable human heart, and with that firm foundation, brought back the monster in all its glory. With its psychedelic creepy-crawly moments, Swamp Thing is sheer delight for those of us who grew up reading EC comics and watching the old monster movies on TV when we were supposed to be sleeping. It’s good old fashioned creepy fun with a lot of heart – and definitely a must-read.
Well dear readers, that’s it. I’d like to give honorable mentions to Batman: The Dark Knight - whose more supernatural-themed take on Batman is definitely worth picking up – and to Superman - whose first 6 issues by George Perez were amazing in their own right, even if the series has gone down hill since Dan Jurgens took over. As always, we here at ComicBooked.com want to hear YOUR opinions, so if your favorite “New 52″ didn’t make the list, please comment on this article – let us know which book you liked best and why you think it should be included on this Special Anniversary Edition of “A Dummy’s Guide.”
Until next time, stay classy my friends.