These comics are not the same.

*Eat Your Greens Dept: It appears Fantagraphics is again going to reprint E.C. Segar's run on Popeye. Six hardcover volumes, Sundays and dailies, b&w and full color. First book due this September. Yes.

52 #1 (of 52)

So today it starts. For the next 52 weeks we will control your pull lists and your spinner racks. For the next 52 weeks we will create the one comic placed at the top of your must-read pile. For the next 52 weeks, 52 will be the reason Wednesdays are now the most important day of the week.”

- Dan Didio, DC Senior VP/Executive Editor, from his DC Nation column in the back of this comic.

Yeah! Raise your fist to the sky and pledge allegiance to this comic book! It’s not just a megaseries, it’s a way of life!

Aw, but who can blame DC’s enthusiasm, as weary as such things sound to even a halfway seasoned observer? Predictions that this project will eventually have “redefined what readers would and should expect from comics” can only ever hope to raise a bemused smile from any but the newest of new readers, though there’s actually a lot of genuine ambition present - weighing in at over 1000 pages in total projected length, pumped out at the (Japanese) Shonen Jump speed of once per week, and striving to encompass the entirety of the extended post-Infinite Crisis DCU in its narrative reach, it’s kind of tough to not admire the brazenness inherent to the endeavor, as hollow as company hype can only sound today. There’s even a cute Daily Planet website set up to track the on and off-page goings on of the project’s world (which is, of course, the world of DC entire), right down to downloadable coupons for local merchants and a winkingly satiric poll on gas prices (complete with a handy “DUH - I only know what the media tells me!” option).

And this debut issue is pretty sturdy stuff, generally well-constructed, modestly intriguing, and perfectly accessible to a reader who only followed Infinite Crisis via skimming through each issue of the core miniseries at the New Releases rack and reading about everything else on the internet. All vital background information is conveyed smoothly - there was a big crisis, rebuilding is necessary, and Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are apparently missing - and the nominal ‘main’ cast is introduced with a minimum of fuss and a welcome lack of gratuitous exposition. It could be that there’s simply no damn room in this thing for too much exposition, or maybe it’s a handy side-effect of divvying up each issue between four writers (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid - do note that Keith Giffen, credited with ‘art breakdowns,’ is responsible for blending all of it into a working whole), each one physically unable to dominate too much of an issue with tangents and long-windedness.

If you happen to be concerned that such a comics-by-committee approach might lead to bland, plot-point obsessed hopscotch storytelling, don’t worry - you’re not the only one. Fortunately this issue sports some nice bits of personality, both in terms of character work and general storytelling verve. Concerning the latter, I have to wonder if the whole project plans to stick to this issue’s day-by-day progression, indulging in some parallel narrative flourishes and bouncing between personages before settling in on a certain ‘big’ day’s events from the point of view of a temporary protagonist. Here it’s Booster Gold, gleefully bedecked with corporate advertising logos and intent on capitalizing upon a public’s thirst for bright superheroics; he even dabbles in metafiction, assuaging a little girl’s concerns regarding the DC Big Three - “Well, I’ve seen the future and happen to know Wonder Woman’s fine. They’re all fine.” He’s not the only one who can see a year ahead.

Granted, that does lead into a bit of a clash with one of this issue’s themes - the future is unpredictable, and we have to deal with things as they come. Booster becomes confused when his certainty as to the big guns’ imminent arrival is flummoxed, though we know that it’s only delaying the inevitable - how can it not? I was more interested in a different theme, an extension of co-writer Morrison’s concerns in his own Seven Soldiers: now that the hero is transformed, how can they contribute to a world in need, bereft of the guidance of the greatest of role models? Montoya thinks the Question simply doesn’t know how to use the Bat-Signal, but maybe he’s just asking the big question of DC’s supporting cast: “Are you ready?” Certainly six out of seven of Morrison’s enlightened soldiers show up in this issue (and the missing seventh is not the same one missing from Infinite Crisis #7 - right now I’m hoping DC further obfuscates the issue by pulling a Doom Force and releasing an updated Seven Soldiers #1 cover with the slogan “WHICH SOLDIER WILL DIE?” contained in an arrow pointing to, say, Justin); amusingly, none of them are paying any attention to one another, same as it ever was.

Not that every character who attains temporary primacy holds attention quite as well; Steel’s wooden conflict with his enthusiastic armored niece feels utterly familiar, complete with enraged declarations of “…it’s my armor and my life and I’ll do what I want.” John Henry then takes the car keys away by detonating her super-suit and stranding her on a roof; I sure hope she can still fly, since I didn’t see anyone checking if there’s any way down off that thing. Elsewhere, Ralph Dibny mostly just staggers around brandishing a pistol and mumbling about Sue, acting a bit like Mr. Sensitive in early issues of X-Statix (which is to say, X-Force), until a Sue-related mystery beckons from beyond the gloom. At least Black Adam gets a sequence of pure, unadulterated silliness as a suicide bomber bursts forward, clad in big red sticks of Looney Tunes dynamite, the altercation resulting in a generous squirt of gore - I look forward to future confrontations between the Green Lantern Corps and anarchists toting spherical black bombs with fuses sparkling downward.

There’s some plots set up - the aforementioned thing with Sue Dibny, mysterious forces after Captain Marvel villain Dr. Sivana for one reason or another, political instability in foreign lands. But mostly this issue is about drifting around the DCU, glimpsing bits of days quickly passed, and I think it’s a stronger issue for it. For a deeper look at the undercurrents of this issue, I commend to you Douglas Wolk’s new blog, dedicated exclusively to reviewing every blessed issue of this thing, hopefully week-by-week (and read his recent piece in Salon for a bit of a prelude). A constant companion for this constantly present series will be good to have, if it indeed follows through on its promise to never let up. Whether it will remain a decent book or ultimately live up to its unfortunate opening image of shards of DC reality swirling away as if being flushed down a cosmic toilet is a question to face on each New Comics Day.

Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin #1 (of 3)

One of these days, some strapping, effusive young soul (or in the alternative, myself) will write a big fat essay on Warren Ellis and the three-issue miniseries format, and how the former’s work with the latter might map the highs (Ministry of Space) and lows (Tokyo Storm Warning) of his bibliography, covering everything from direct explorations of his favored themes and motifs (City of Silence) to attempts to submerge his distinct style in direct genre exercise (Warren Ellis’ Blackgas). Something interesting might come of that.

Whether anything interesting will come of this latest tri-issue project, from Avatar, might depend exclusively upon the reader’s hunger for extreme gore. That’s certainly the primary attraction of this opening issue - heads are squished under mighty boots, necks are skewered with arrows, intestines pour from ruptured bellies, heads are separated from shoulders, faces are mashed into paste with hammers, and legs are snapped like sapling branches. All of it is lovingly rendered by Juan Jose Ryp, his wrinkly character designs fittingly pliable, like putty puppets filled with chunky beef stew and red karo syrup, colorist Andrew Dalhouse giving everything the candied Avatar house touch (contrast this with his moodier night hues on the aforementioned Blackgas). Much fun is had, sometimes (relatively) quietly, like giving a character a mouth full of rotting teeth, but mostly loud and proud and utterly gushing.

The plot is a simple, direct spin on that old standard, the skilled wandering fighter getting tangled up in a town's affairs. Here, the setting is a wooded past, and said wanderer is a muscular blonde he-man, a Wolfskin - such sword-wielding fighters are prized for their ability, but will never kill for cash, their sense of duty seemingly their main guiding principle. They also pack blackcap mushrooms and eat the hearts of their felled foes, and worship a god of death that favors the toughest kills. There's some additional neat ideas drizzled atop the proceedings concerning the worldview of isolated village folk, and how a divide in the village represents an apocalyptic schism in reality itself. Not to mention some racial and technological undercurrents, the perceived cowardice of guns replacing the honor of the sword and advanced, educated peoples imposing themselves as leaders upon less developed tribes. Ellis does a good job of doling such material out, and it seasons the story well.

But it's just seasoning. The real story is killing and fighting, really wet. Do you like that? Then you will probably enjoy this book. If not, I really doubt all the neat asides in town are going to attract you much. Personally, I'm up for this kind of thing enough that Ellis' notions and Ryp's & Dalhouse's energy make for a nice enhancement. And that's as far as it goes.