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Friday, December 16, 2011

DC's New 52 - 3 Months In (Part 3)

Sorry for the delay but onto the best of what I'm reading from DC's relaunch.

The Top of the Crop (The magical and the Horrific)

Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yanick Pacquette

I haven't yet read Alan Moore's definitive run on the character but, from what I understand, writer Scott Snyder is doing his best to take the book in a very different direction. Either way, I could seldom be happier with the results. Despite an appearance from Superman (in that fugly new suit of his) in the first issue, Swamp Thing is really a straight up horror comic book that brings to mind the early days of Vertigo - though, you know, with prettier art and better production values.

Its success lies in the combination of intriguing world building and the lead character, Alec Holland's desperate but clearly futile attempts to escape a destiny that involves his giving up his humanity. Snyder proves once again that, though he may be a new face to the world of comics, very few writers can match his seemingly effortless knack for making the most of his chosen medium to tell a great, engaging story. Add to that the sterling artwork of Yannick Pacquette - a veteran in comparison to Snyder but someone who has far too often been overlooked - whose inventive panel layouts, crisp storytelling and proficiency with the weird, the creepy and the gross, and you have a perfect horror comic book. And, by the looks of it, he's only just getting started.

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

Ditto, basically. The only difference this time being that Travel Foreman's distorted, impressionist art is much more of an acquired taste than Pacquette's clean, attractive art style, but is all the creepier for that. Also, while I have generally not enjoyed Jeff Lemire's work nearly as much as Scott Snyder's, Animal Man is actually a slightly better comic book than Swamp Thing right now: it's creepier, stranger and, with its beautifully handled family dynamic, more compelling.

Of course, which of the two titles is better is becoming increasingly academic. Though Swamp Thing and Animal Man haven't gotten into full-blown crossover mode yet (that's coming soon, apparently), they're already deeply connected - both in terms of the mythology they're creating and by their general tone. They're both clearly aimed at older readers (which is why, incidentally, I don't understand why they don't just make them "suggested for mature readers" titles and be done with it), they're both working off similar tropes and a similar part of the DC Universe - and they're two of the absolute best comics being published right now.

Demon Knights by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves

One of the most pleasant surprises of the New 52 for me is undoubtedly this rather odd and delightfully oddball fantasy comic book. However much I was sure I was going to love Stormwatch (boy, was I wrong there), I was absolutely certain that Demon Knights, with all its medieval fantasy conventions, would absolutely not be for me. The kind of medieval fantasy that the book deals with is generally not my cup of tea so I had no plan to add it to my new DC pull list. Fortunately, cooler heads and glowing reviews prevailed and I decided to give it a shot. Smart, smart move as it turned out.

Not only is Doigenes Neves one of the best new (to me, anyway) artists around - his art is clean, expressive, detailed and dynamic - the story is just an obscene amount of fun. I may not have much time for medieval fantasy but I do have a soft spot for the wonderful mythology that surrounds King Arthur and Camelot so I was thrilled to see how much of Demon Knights is based around that particular legend. I also don't have much patience for fantasy stories because of their tendencies to take themselves incredibly seriously but Demon Knights is genuinely funny and has a bawdy sense of fun that separates it from the genres more cloying entries. And it does have one of the best collections of colourful characters in comics right now. What Cornell has done with Vandal Savage, in particular, is nothing short of genius. It's simply a great book with great characters, great art, great dialogue and some seriously awesome cliffhangers and it's far, far better than it has any right to be.

That's it for now, folks. Coming sooner or later this week: Four really excellent comics starring four of DC's greatest superheroes.

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