This week DC Comics unveiled their latest sales ploy for September, "Villains Month": all regular titles replaced by "point one" issues (as in #23.1) and retitled to feature various villains of the DC Universe. Each book will also feature a special 3D motion cover, and all will be priced at US$3.99 - even the ones that are temporarily replacing $2.99 monthly books.
But wait - that's not all. You'd think they'd just replace each regular monthly with one villain issue, but that would be too simple. Instead it's pretty much the core best-selling titles that are receiving multiple spin-offs, in a desperate bid by DC to claw back some market share. So we're getting (in one month) four issues of Detective Comics, four of Batman, four of Batman and Robin, four of Action Comics, three of The Flash and two of Aquaman. There are others (Superman, Earth 2, Batman: The Dark Knight) but for now I wanted to look specifically at books I'm already buying each month.
So: Detective Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, Action Comics, The Flash and Aquaman. In August I will spend US$20.94 on these titles. In September DC genuinely expects me to pay US$74.79 to continue reading the same comics. That's about three and a half times as much. Can anyone else see this sales grab backfiring on the company? I mean, I'm continuing with Action Comics at the moment, but since Grant Morrison's left I'm not bound to that book with glue. If I stop buying it in September I could be saving US$3.99 a month - or US$15.96 in September alone. I could use that money to subscribe to Brian Wood's promising new X-Men comic instead.
I liked the New 52 launch of September 2012, and I liked the "Zero Month" of September 2013. "Villains Month"? Not so much.
Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Age of Ultron, All-New X-Men, Astro City, Batwing, Bedlam, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Daredevil: End of Days, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, The Movement, Red She-Hulk and Stormwatch.
DC Comics. Story by Andy Diggle and Tony S. Daniel. Written and art by Tony S. Daniel.So the Diggle/Daniel era of Action Comics comes to an end after just three issues. It was, of course, doomed from the start, with Diggle quitting the book after writing only one issue and Daniel agreeing to write and draw the remaining two issues of the first storyline. Next month Action Comics joins Superman under the stewardship of Scott Lobdell in a return to the "all continuing stories across all Superman titles" scheme of the 1990s. Everything old is new again. This has been a generally satisfying three-issue arc, competent but overall unexceptional. I suspect this is where I bow out from reading Action Comics for a while - at $3.99 a pop it's difficult to justify reading a book that's simply "okay". (2/5)
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco and Roger Martinez.Last issue ended with Wolverine seeing a dystopian world fall to pieces, itself having replaced a dystopian world falling to pieces. Now he's going back in time again to try and make things work a third time. With one issue to go, this book is hovering somewhere between an ungodly mess and an unwanted reset button. On an issue by issue basis the book's been genuinely entertaining. When read all as a single text, it's increasingly hard to get excited about. It's intriguing, however, that characters within the Marvel Universe are beginning to get worried about how much time travel is going on at the moment. (3/5)
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger.It couldn't escape my attention that this week I paid US$3.99 for what essentially amounts to 20 pages of conversation. Conversation with some well-crafted dialogue, for sure, but nothing I really felt that I needed to read. Now I'm fully aware that Bendis writes very slow comics - it takes an awfully long time for things to happen, but the emotional payoff is traditionally very high. In this case, however, it feels like All-New X-Men is going nowhere very, very slowly. It's beginning to feel repetitive and, I hate to say it, more than a little tiresome. This is not a good comic. (1/5)
DC Vertigo. Written by Kurt Busiek. Art by Brent Anderson.Kurt Busiek's Astro City is less of a comic book and more of a playground for one of the industry's best writing talents. This is a jumping-on point for a new story arc, since despite the issue #1 label this is actually the 60th issue of Astro City since it started some years ago. There's a wonderful inventiveness here, whether it's the strange narrator who actively breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader one-to-one, or the mysterious door that's masterialised in Astro City, or even the ridiculous superheroine American Chibi. Great writing, good art, and - thank goodness - a new Vertigo ongoing title. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira.So to recap, in case you haven't read the last two months of Batwing: with sales flatlining, DC made the choice to give Batwing a soft reboot. They maintained the current series, but swapped out both the writers and also the protagonist. Original Batwing David Zavimbe walked into the sunset, to be replaced by American Luke Fox. Luke is a significantly less sympathetic protagonist, whose main problems appear to be convincing his rich father (Wayne Enterprises head Lucius Fox) to sustain his trust fund and get off his back about not wanting to work as a high-powered executive. The poor petal. One of the things I genuinely loved about Batwing was how sensitively and effectively its writers (Judd Winick, then Fabian Nicieza) used the African setting to feature police corruption, child soldiers, military dictators and so on. In this issue Luke Fox has a fistfight with a six-legged talking lion. I'm usually a big fan of Gray and Palmiotti's work, but I think this is the worst stuff they've ever written - and I really don't see their new take saving this book from cancellation by the end of 2013. (1/5)
Image Comics. Written by Nick Spencer. Art by Ryan Browne.This is a critical issue for Bedlam, as it not only introduces a new artist in the form of Ryan Browne but it also marks the first issue beyond the initial story arc. Basically this is the issue where Bedlam needs to demonstrate that it actually has legs as a continuing narrative. It achieves this with aplomb. I'm not fully endeared with Browne's artwork, but he's following what was probably my favourite artist working on a superhero book at the moment (Riley Rossmo) and that in mind he does okay. In terms of plot and character, this issue really does push Bedlam into a strong direction for the future, with Fillmore Press being offered a professional consultancy with the police anti-supervillain taskforce. It's a great jumping on point as well, if you've been on the fence about this one - and the first six issues are currently available as an incredibly cheap trade paperback, so why not just buy that and start from the beginning? (5/5)
Marvel Comics. Story and art by Lee Weeks.It's quite a savvy choice on Marvel's part to commence a new eight-issue Daredevil miniseries on the same day that they wrap up the old one. Turns out this is a bit of an odd series though: it's not telling one eight-part story. Instead the first three issues are one storyline, then issues #4 and #5 tell a second story, and then the final three issues tell a third. It's easier to market than two three-parters and an extended one-shot, I guess. This first issue is fantastic, and features an amnesiac Daredevil racing to save a dying girl when New York City is crippled by a blizzard. Lee Weeks writes a great script and provides brilliant artwork. I particularly liked his layout and his clever use of narration. Between this, End of Days (below) and Mark Waid's regular monthly, Daredevil is really generating some stunning comic books at the moment. (Odd title though: surely Marvel are aware that another superhero kind of has a strangehold on - and more than $1,000,000,000 global box office attached to - the term 'dark knight'?) (5/5)
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack. Art by David Mack, Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz.Simply superb writing and artwork, as all of the threads from the previous seven issues pull together to tell the final chapter in the life of Matt Murdock. Now that this eight-issue series is complete, it's obvious what a phenomenal achievement it is. This is an absolutely brilliant comic book, and once collected into trade paperback form should finally give Marvel a perennial bestseller akin to DC's The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke. It is clever, mature, nuanced, intriguing and thrilling. This is the satisfying conclusion I desperately want Age of Ultron #10 to be, and proof that - when firing on all cylinders - Brian Michael Bendis really is one of the best in the business. David Mack's artwork leaps off the page as well. Now keep an eye out for this in trade if you didn't pick up the individual issues - trust me, it's absolutely worth it. (5/5)
DC Comics. Written by John Layman. Art by Scott Eaton.Readers of Batman who've been watching the gradual rise of wannabe sidekick Harper Row should hunt this issue down straight away, because it surprisingly guest stars the fan favourite character. (Am I allowed to say fan favourite? Everyone I know of who reads Batman really likes her, and I haven't met anyone who's disliked her at all.) A second surprise comes as this issue follows up on Detective Comics #0, which I had always assumed to be a self-contained story. It's great stuff, and continues Layman's strong run on this title. The Man-Bat backup strip is solid, but as with all backup strips I'd really rather save the extra dollar. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Robert Vendetti. Art by Billy Tan.Is that an actual costume for Star Sapphire that I saw in this issue? Certainly it didn't seem to be the 'almost not there' lingerie-inspired number you usually see her in. She only turns up for a few panels but it did grab my attention. Robert Vendetti has a hell of a job here, picking up Green Lantern after a decade of Geoff Johns stories. To his credit, he dives right in: this book is engaging and fast-paced. True, it does still star Hal "Most Boring Superhero" Jordan, but the supporting cast are strong. I wasn't sure if I was going to stick with this book after the end of Johns' run but this was a really enjoyable read. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Gail Simone. Art by Freddie E. Williams II.I'm enjoying The Movement, and this is a very solid second issue: it develops the plot from last month, and gives a good idea on what the book might be like in the long term. I love the surprising wrinkle that Simone adds to the plot as well. The question is whether or not this book is going to find an audience in the long-term. DC and Marvel both often struggle with this kind of book, where they are launching entirely new franchises and characters. With luck DC will stick with this title as they have with Batwing, to give it a real chance to establish itself and for Simone and Williams to find their voice with these new characters and situations. (Note to old fans of Gen 13 - there's a familiar character making her New 52 debut here.) (4/5)
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Carlo Pagulayan.I am so sad that Red She-Hulk is ending soon, because it's been a fantastic comic book: well-written, good artwork, a strong female protagonist and brilliant use of Marvel continuity and supporting characters. This issue guest stars Man-Thing and the original She-Hulk, as well as providing a wonderful "what if?" scenario to the origins of the Incredible Hulk himself. It's a shame this book didn't benefit from an issue #1 relaunch like the rest of the Marvel Now initiative - it might have provided some valuable publicity to a very deserving book. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Jim Starlin. Yvel Guichet and Jonas Trindale.Here's the thing: Stormwatch as written by Peter Milligan was a terrible comic with great characters. Stormwatch as written by Jim Starlin is a much better comic but has pretty terrible characters. I simply don't care about these people - whether it's because the previous cast got so unceremoniously swept under the carpet, or simply because Starlin is writing such generic heroes that it's hard to care. This is a shame because it does look like he's telling a good story. As with Batwing, I can't see this soft relaunch saving the book from cancellation by the end of the year. (2/5)
Winner of the Week: Daredevil: End of Days. A new classic is complete.
Loser of the Week: Batwing. It needs to be quietly retired and relaunched in a few years with David Zavimbe back in the suit.