Ranking the New 52: 31-25

Here’s the fourth part of my ranking of the new 52 titles, from worst to best. These are the books that should be about average for the relaunch, though as I’ve noted before, these are all perfectly adequate comics. I think there are 24 that are better, but that’s due to the quality of those books, rather than the lack of quality of these titles.

31. Superman

It’s possibly the most pointless title to review, as writer George Perez is one of the first to leave. It’s one of the most compressed titles, with the first each issue featuring different, though related challenges. The good news is that all are effective tasks for Superman, which is difficult to pull off for a character with that power set. The highlight is the second issue, as Superman faces a menace that he is unable to see. Though it’s also great to see Superman seemingly snap in the fifth issue.

There’s a new dynamic post-Flashpoint. This Clark Kent is someone who everyone at the Daily Planet has known for years, without being particularly close to. Perez takes advantage of this, routinely showing events from Superman’s POV and from that of his unaware coworkers, playing on the dramatic irony. It has a distancing efffect, though it’s appropriate for a story in which Superman deals with strange memory lapses.

There are a lot of infodumps, especially with the opening of the third issue. The first issue was structured around a twist that was spoiled by the promotion of the new 52. I’d rather have Perez on art as well, but Jesus Merino’s pencils are solid.

30. Catwoman

At times, the title is unnecessarily lewd. Guillem March is excellent at details like body language and facial expressions, but it doesn’t surprise me that he did work for Playboy Spain. There isn’t much of a direction for the title, but there’s a fly on the seat of your pants attitude that fits the protagonist, as she jumps from one crisis to another without any respite. Winick provides a good sense of what Selina Kyle’s life is like, with a scene in which she lies to an old friend about possibly working together being particularly effective.

The villains are nasty, in a somewhat generic way. But it’s still convincing and vicious enough. I also like her new relationship with Batman (which probably resulted in higher sales for this title) though that first issue cliffhanger didn’t have to be quite so crude.

29. Justice League International

This is almost like an Ultimate version of the bwahaha era of the Dematteis/ Giffen/ Maguire Justice League. Except it’s not that edgy and the storytelling is old-fashioned, which is sometimes problematic when characters yell cliches like “This will be over before it’s begun!” Jurgens takes advantage of the international nature of the team, and the PR elements are entertaining.

This is a superhero team I enjoy reading, and it’s further proof that Batman just makes everything better. It’s dysfunctional superheroes done right, with all the squabbles you’d expect from a UN based superteam, that also happens to include Guy Gardner and Booster Gold. Lesser-known members are introduced successfully enough. The villain’s an above-average alien invader, and it’s an effective enough crisis for the JLI’s first battle. Penciler Aaron Lopresti is one of those guys who seems like a generic superhero artist, until you realize that everything is done right.

28. DCU Presents

This is an odd standalone arc that plays to Paul Jenkins’s strengths, as Deadman ponders his mission, thrust into the lives of damaged strangers. I do like Deadman’s adventures within that larger story, especially the meeting with Satan’s brother, and how he manages to sneak into a place that should be preferred for body-possessing spirits.

However, this type of supernatural crisis/ pondering of the Universe has been done before. Hell, I’ve read it from Jenkins a few times. And I’m not satisfied with the suddenly sinister take on Rama Kushna. Artist Bernard Chiang is the type of guy who can make two guys sitting and talking seem exciting. Although it helps that they’re on a magical roller coaster.

27. Deathstroke

There’s a Garth Ennis vibe to this, which reminds me of his Hitman and non-MAX Punisher work. I don’t know how long this series can be sustained, but so far it’s entertaining to see Deathstroke taking out lots of minor supervillains. There’s a fun twist in the first issue, solid art and a compelling mystery. Higgins does the old trope of something in a briefcase that really pisses off the protagonist, but it ties into Deathstroke’s first appearance, and the answer to it is quite satisfying. Artist Joe Benitz combines dark atmosphere and entertaining carnage quite well.

Higgins is leaving the title, and Rob Liefeld is taking over as writer. That’s a shame, as unlike Grifter and Savage Hawkman, this book is better than Hawk and Dove.

26. Red Hood and the Outlaws

This title’s much maligned for the depiction of Starfire’s sexuality. Though I’ll have to disagree with the critics about any of it being gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s the type of book where a shot of the heroine in a bikini actually ties into the narrative. The dynamic of two guys on a team with a gorgeous woman who doesn’t care who she sleeps with may be a male fantasy, but it’s something that hasn’t been explored in superhero comics before, and it results in an interesting tension for the trio.

The heroes have fun while they fight a supernatural army, and other nasty bad guys. There are some poignant moments, especially a flashback to Jason Todd’s days as Robin and one villain’s confusion over why two of the heroes aren’t on his side. Kenneth Rocafort reminds me a lot of Leinil Francis Yu, but he handles a variety of crazy action sequences quite well.

25. Nightwing

It’s a fun Dick Grayson title, showing a lead who is different from Bruce Wayne but has many of the resources, quite similar to how the character was depicted during the year in which he was Batman.

The central mystery is interesting mystery, although it’s running a bit long. There was a cool idea in the first issue that hasn’t been touched on since. The villain is solid enough, though a little generic, as that type (masked hyper-competent street-level mystery man who targets one of the heroes) has been running around the new 52 a lot. There’s an interesting twist at the end of the fifth issue, that might have been more effective with an additional flashback.

The return of the circus  is a good fit for Nightwing, and makes for a decent “Can you go home again?” type story. And it temporarily provides Dick Grayson with a meaningful supporting cast.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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