Recommendations for the New Comic Reader – DC Comics (2016, Q3)

So I’ve been planning to do a kind of “new reader” piece for a while now. In fact, I have been working on something for a while now focused on the history of a specific character and their significant stories and whatnot. But it’s taking tons of research and I can’t see it being that regular a thing. I’ll try my hardest, but it’s definitely not something I can do often.

But I really want to write a kind of guide to help people get into comics every now and then. As in ongoing series, not just older stories. And it’s also something that can be done regularly, what with the frequent relaunches Marvel and DC seem to love. And what better time than now, with DC’s Rebirth having had enough time to cook that a series’ quality can be determined (as long as they retain the same writers, and to a lesser degree artists, that is)? Of course, this will mostly be from what I read, but will also include series that I’ve heard are good from fans and friends. To make it perfectly clear, I’ll make sure to mention how I know the series is good. Since this will be focusing on new readers, I won’t be recommending the thicker reads like Black Panther, the stories that don’t hold your hand at all like Batman, or series with over a certain number of issues even though I enjoy them. I was going to just make one list, but it was huge, so I’m separating these by publisher. Anyway, here we go. This list is arranged in descending order (most recommended to least), and series I don’t read myself will always be at the bottom.

1

Wonder Woman
Currently on issue 6 + one special issue (Rebirth one-shot)

Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman is the comic that will make you like Wonder Woman. The story isn’t that important: Diana is trying to find Themyscira after finding out that her New 52 origin is a lie. What’s great about the series is that its characterisation of Diana as a compassionate, patient and loving person who’s still willing to fight when things call for it. The plot is interesting though; it introduces a decent villain, a cool subplot featuring Steve Trevor that ties into Diana’s quest, and makes great use of Cheetah. And all that is finished off with some great mythic elements that always elevate any Wonder Woman story.

At least that’s the plot of the odd numbered issues. The even numbered issues tell the “Year One” story, which is basically what Diana’s probably going to learn herself. It’s essentially a modernised version of her Post-Crisis origin, wherein pilot Steve Trevor crashes on Themyscira, and Diana escorts him back to “Man’s World”. However, since there are foregone conclusions, Rucka doesn’t waste time detailing them, instead focusing on smaller emotional scenes that didn’t get much focus the first time around, before focusing on his own story. It ties in neatly with the odd numbered issues as well.

The art for both stories is phenomenal. Liam Sharpe’s thicker lines and strong eye-work given Diana a real sense of strength. Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman looks younger and much more naive, with a dorky innocent smile across her face. Both artists nail backgrounds, posing and expression, and are honestly just great. And Rucka knows when to cut back and let the art tell the story, or just add layers to a scene.

If you want to get into Wonder Woman, now is the time. I cannot recommend the current Wonder Woman run enough. It’s easy to get into but still has depth.

Note: The Rebirth special is pretty irrelevant and kind of just outright not good. It’s just an issue long statement that Diana’s confused about her origins. You can safely skip it.

2

The Flash
Currently on issue 6 + one special issue (Rebirth one-shot) + DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (it’s necessary)

Joshua Williamson is really good at writing interesting character relationships, and that’s what The Flash is best at. The supporting cast are all great characters, from Barry’s cop friend August Heart who feels like a genuine friend of Barry’s, to Meena, a S.T.A.R. Labs scientist who has great chemistry with Barry. There’s also a mystery about a serial killer, but it’s pretty obvious and not that compelling. However, why it works is because Williamson makes it a plot that’s more emotionally involving than anything else, and thanks to the focus on supporting characters, this works really, really well.

The art is stellar, with the lightning work being a real standout. Di Giandomenico does amazing work giving energy to everything going on, while still being able to do quiet scenes.

The only downside of The Flash is that Barry Allen is still flat. Williamson does a better job than most giving him a personality, in this case having him be burdened with the need to do more, but he’s still really boring,. Not only that, but his personality doesn’t even come across some times, which admittedly isn’t anything new for the character.

For this series, reading DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is essential, what with the focus on Wally West (I’m not even pretending that’s a spoiler by this point, the latest printing has him on the cover, as do the covers of Titans).

Williamson’s The Flash is a great series. It clearly understands what people like about the TV show and can replicate that, but also can do its own thing. With a great supporting cast and focus on character relationships and development over action, this is the best The Flash has been in a while.

3

All-Star Batman
Currently on issue 2

All-Star Batman seems to be a perfect project for Snyder. It’s a self-contained Batman story that takes place away from Tom King’s Batman. That includes actual physical distance, by the way. All-Star Batman focuses on Batman travelling with Two-Face to some vague destination to cure him, all at the request of Harvey Dent. But at the same time, a bounty has been placed on the return of Two-Face to Gotham, and Batman must fend off an onslaught of villains. The plot is uniquely fitted to Two-Face, and also allows Sndyer to show off some of Batman’s more underused villains. Snyder uses minimal narration this time around, and it really helps you to appreciate his story. The relationship between Batman and Two-Face is obviously a focus, but a big wildcard is thrown in that definitely makes this series pack even more of a punch.

John Romita Jr. is on art, and while I usually find him more miss than hit (see his month of variant covers for DC if you want a good laugh), he really delivers this time around. Romita is essentially a combination of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller, and his blocky art style is very suited to a story that has you constantly on edge. But Romita also has tons of fun with the new designs of some of Batman’s more underutilised villains, with Kirby-esque designs that really leave an impression. And surprisingly, the action is easy to follow for Romita standards, and they’re pretty intense because… well, just read it.

My problem with this story is that it features Two-Face at all. Peter J. Tomasi’s excellent “The Big Burn” was a fitting send-off for Two-Face, and I would have been fine with it being the last Two-Face story. But Snyder has said he will answer the question of… well, how Two-Face is alive, given that he seemingly committed suicide at the end of that story. I’m going to enjoy the ride, but I’m going to largely judge this series based on how it answers that question, given that it could’ve just been an out-of-continuity story or prequel.

Oh, and Batman: Rebirth leads into both this series as well as Batman, but aside from resetting the status quo (Bruce is rich again after “Endgame”) it’s almost entirely a meta commentary about the state of comic book relaunches and the need for breaking routine. Still, if you want to know more about Duke Thomas (the kid from We Are Robin who is in All-Star Batman), want to make sure you don’t miss anything (hey, it might have some hints towards the bigger story), or are just a completionist, grab Batman: Rebirth. Speaking of Duke, he stars in a back-up story that’s pretty much him learning the ropes of things. It’s pretty boring but not offensively bad or anything, but has art by Declan Shalvey (Moon Knight, Deadpool) 

If you’re looking for a self-contained Batman road trip story that likely will have tons of twists and turns, and like Two-Face, this is your comic. If you’re just looking for a comic that can run off being cool and having interesting twists, this is also your comic.

5

Detective Comics
Currently on issue 940 (Rebirth run started at #934)

Detective Comics was going to have people reading it just based on its cast, but manages to be enjoyable in its won right. James Tynion IV’s story focuses on underused-but-liked characters like Cassandra Cain (Orphan), Kate Kane (Batwoman) and Stephanie Brown (Spoiler), along with the perpetually badly written Tim Drake (Red Robin) forming a kind of Batman squad. Batman himself is in the story, but doesn’t feature that prominently. No, the focus is very clearly on Kate Kane and trying to find a role for her within the Batfamily. Batwoman is weird in that she’s very much the cousin of the Batfamily (she’s also Bruce Wayne’s actual cousin); she isn’t a central member and generally does her own thing. But the powers that be decided she needed a bigger role, so now she’s heading up the training of Cass, Steph and Clayface into a team. Unfortunately, those three get very little focus (Steph, Clayface) if any (Cass), but this role really does suit Kate Kane. It utilises her training well, and the enemy the team fight is one that works for her, though may upset some fans (I’m not entirely convinced of its merit). The writing has problems, like the way Tynion retcons into continuity a friendship between Bruce and Kate, despite them never being close (at all) prior to this story, along with one very forced moment from the first issue that you will know when you get to it. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s more than one. And of course, Tynion has some incessant need to force a tech uber tech hacker genius into his writing once again. And because this is written by Tynion, I get the feeling this will all fall apart an issue into the second-last arc.

Detective Comics is a good read with a compelling plot and villain focused mainly on Kate Kane, with a secondary focus on Tim Drake. By virtue of them being involved, Stephanie Brown gets some focus as well. But Cassandra Cain and Clayface feel very out of focus, only there for their physical abilities. And unlike Batman, this is the only place you can read about them! But it’s the first arc, and I get the feeling Tynion is going to shift focus around. If you can take some big changes to established continuity and can wade through Tynion’s typical failings.

Eddy Barrows’ art is much better here than his previous work I’ve seen. With more focus on quite character interactions and heavy snow to cover up any shortcomings, his work suits the series remarkably well. The heavy shadows inherently work in a Batman comic, and Barrows has real fun with lighting. There are also certain scenes that use a more painted look, and they’re also a real treat.

If you like Kate Kane, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain and Clayface — especially if you like them in that order — read this comic. It’s got a compelling plot, good character interaction and seems to be building to better things, with a focus on big enemy factions.

Beware, however: a crossover with Batman and Nightwing called “Night of the Monster Men” is about to begin in issue 941, and already feels out of place given the endings of the first arcs of Nightwing and Batman. So if you’re not going to pick up Batman and Nightwing series as well, maybe give Detective Comics a pass until issue 943, when the next full arc of Detective Comics begins.

4

Nightwing
Currently on issue 4 + one special issue (Rebirth one-shot)

Tim Seeley’s work on Grayson, along with co-writer Tom King (The Vision, The Omega Men) was a miracle. Not because it was amazing, though it kind of was, but because it managed to take a frankly ludicrous concept — that Dick Grayson’s identity had been revealed to the world, and he now needed to become a super spy — and made it work. Not just work, but it was frankly the best DC ongoing while it was being published. And now he’s been given the Nightwing ongoing and… it’s good!

Seeley understands Dick as a character and really seems to love getting him out of his comfort zone. While it would’ve been easy to just set-up Dick in Bludhaven, as he was Pre-New 52 when he was Nightwing, Seeley decides to follow up on the Court (now Parliament) of Owls, villains introduced in Scott Snyder’s Batman run. While I find the Owls incredibly boring, they’re not really that important as characters — they’re a plot device more than anything. They know Dick’s identity and he has to work for them, but is actually planning to dismantle their organisation. But the wildcard Raptor is thrown in as a partner for Dick and seems to have his own motives. Add some cute moments with Batgirl and Robin, some globe trotting and you have a good series. While there are some flaws with the writing of the rest of the Batfamily, they’re not that bad. It seems Seeley wants Dick more isolated, as he was for the majority of Grayson. Hopefully that’s not actually the aim of the series, because Seeley mostly excels at writing Dick’s relationships (though King’s absence can be felt).

Javier Fernandez’s art starts weak in the first issue, but really improves. It’s very sleek for the most part, and backgrounds are great. The art works for the series, and Fernandez really seems to like having Dick flip around, which is good.

The Rebirth special is more about wrapping up the plot threads of Grayson, but it is necessary. However, the series is pretty new reader-friendly and doesn’t really require you to read the previous Dick Grayson series. However, this series does reference Grayson and Robin War quite a bit.

I’d recommend Nightwing to anyone looking for a fun read with an interesting main character. Tim Seeley gets Nightwing, and though he might force some interactions with the Batfamily, it’s all to further Dick’s development and the (mostly) engaging story. But be prepared for lots of references to Grayson and Robin War.

Beware: The aforementioned crossover with Batman and Detective Comics begins in issue 5, so if you want to hop on after that crossover, wait until issue 7.

6

Aquaman
Currently on issue 5 + one special issue (Rebirth one-shot)

Dan Abnett’s Aquaman run technically began in the last few issues of the New 52 series, but you can pretty much go in blind… mostly. Honestly, reading the first few Abnett issues does help it read better, since this story does feel more like a continuation of that arc. Abnett’s Aquaman is focused more on diplomacy after the fantasy superheroics of Geoff Johns, the sentimentality and world-building of Jeff Parker, and the crap of Cullen Bunn, Dan Abnett focuses more on diplomacy and Atlantis on a world stage. This kind of stuff was lightly touched on by Johns and Parker, but Abnett is really focusing on it.

The current arc is focuses on the strained relationship between Atlantis and the surface world after what occurs at an Atlantean embassy, and there’s lots of political conflicts and Atlanteans not named Arthur sucking at diplomacy. It mostly works, but there’s a problem of characters acting irrationally then it being explained well with insight into their psyche in the next issue. It makes it kind of frustrating. But it works! I’ve yet to see an explanation that feels forced (aside from Abnett trying to force Cyborg into a significant role in the Justice League in order for Arthur to be an outsider). There’s still some forced stuff that hasn’t been explained and probably never will be, but the comic mostly works.

It may sound like I’m being negative, but Aquaman really does work. There are some things that feel forced, but they’re pretty rare. While the way character actions are explained an issue later can get frustrating, generally Abnett is good enough with cliffhangers that you want to keep reading anyway. And all of Abnett’s characters feel like they have proper roles and are well-characterised, with Aquaman being a stoic loner trying his best to reconcile his two worlds, Mera as his fiery partner ready to defend his honour at a moment’s notice, and Tula as a reasonable, if rash, ruler. And Abnett seems to be adding to Aquaman’s supporting cast as well, while still giving the old supporting cast their moments. Aquaman is a good read, but it can be frustrating, and having read some of abnett’s previous work (Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy), that may just be his style.

Brad Walker’s art is really good, though at times it can feel rushed. The brighter colours and more dynamic posing really helps emphasise the action in the comic. Though there are some… weird design choices here and there, like the awkward way Atlanteans sit in their warships (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).

If you can take some frustrating character behaviour that will probably be well explained the issue after it happens, then Aquaman is a good read, especially if you’re into diplomatic superheroes.

7

Superman
Currently on issue 6 + one special issue (Rebirth one-shot)

The first and only series in the category of “I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard really good things from people whose judgement I trust”. This series focuses on the Pre-New 52 Superman taking over for New 52 Superman (NuSupes), and he’s really then Superman most people want. This Superman has mvoed past being a jerk, and is much more mature. In fact, he’s a family man! Aside from being married to Lois Lane, this Superman has a son, Jonathan! And he’s featured in this series (he’ll also be in Super Sons with Damian Wayne, whenever that comes out), as he learns to ropes of Superhero work from his dad. At the same time, some… weird stuff comes up in the form of a man calling himself Clark Kent (Superman calls himself Clark Smith (previously Clark White, the change is not explained)). Writer Peter J. Tomasi’s best work was his run on Batman and Robin, which mostly told the adventures of the father-son team. So he’s got experience writing family-son dynamics, and with Jon being much different from Damian, there’s not really repetition.

Artist Patrick Gleason is a frequent collaborator of Tomasi’s and they work really well together. Gleason is excellent at expressive faces, and that’s really important in quieter, more sentimental series like Superman and Batman and Robin. By this point, Gleason is one of the best artists in the industry when it comes to how his eye-work alone can convey emotion. While it’s weird seeing his stuff not draped in shadow and taking place mostly at night, it’s not a fault of his; it just shows how memorable his Batman and Robin work is.

This is the best Superman has been in a while, with great writing and beautiful art. If you’re looking for a Superman series that places more importance on heartwarming moments than action, and looks to move the character into a new role then this is the series for you.

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