Saturday, October 08, 2011

One last bit of comics talk

Before I finally give it a rest, here's a little bit more interesting analysis of DC Comics' "New 52". I picked up copies of the six #1s I was still missing in London today (as well as the Order Of The Stick game - a roleplaying game based on a comic based on a different roleplaying game, which I now need to find up to five local nerds to play with me) so now I've swelled DC's coffers considerably in their September accounts, and contributed to the wholesale changes they'll doubtless be making next year when the #7s don't sell half as well as the #1s did.

Bang for your buck
All the "New 52" comics cost $2.99 for 36 pages, except for Action Comics, All Star Western, Justice League and Men Of War, which are $3.99 for 44 pages. Three-dollar comics normally have 20 pages of comic story, and four-dollar comics have 28 - the other 16 are the cover and a variety of 'house ads' for other comics or paying ads for products that comic readers might like.

Justice League #1 has just 24 story pages, despite being four dollars, but adds four 'sketchbook' pages talking about how they designed the heroes' new costumes. All other comics in the selection have at least 20 or 28 pages - the exceptions are...

Action Comics #1 runs to 29 pages of story, rather than the usual 28. But #2, which came out this week, only has 20, with a 'bonus' eight pages of the writer and artist talking about the creative process. Isn't that what the internet's for?

Swamp Thing has 22 pages, and cuts out a couple of house ads to make room. Apparently this one was written quite a while ago and had to be altered to fit into the New 52 continuity, but presumably they couldn't reduce the page count without making the story even more incomprehensible than it already is.

Batwoman is 22 pages too, and the same thing seems to apply here. J.H. Williams III's artwork looks like it takes longer than other people's, so hopefully he got a head-start.

Green Lantern also runs to 22 story pages, although a lot of the 20-page comics squeeze in a heck of a lot more plot than this one does...

Aquaman again stretches out to 22, but this one at least devotes those pages to introducing the central character.

Wonder Woman gives us 24 pages of gods and horse-decapitations and even a fleeting glimpse of Wonder Woman herself.

Batman also has 24 pages of really rather awesome story and art that I can't think of anything snarky to say about at all, and in fact I'm very grateful for it!

Detective Comics #1 also gives us 24 pages of kiddie-friendly death and mutilation (see below), but #2 in this week's selection goes back to the standard 20.

And the biggest bang for the buck comes from Superman #1, with 25 pages of extraordinarily detailed artwork that I can't believe Pérez and Merino can keep up with on a regular basis (especially as the strange release schedule seems to have #4 coming out just two weeks after #3). Now that's value for money!

Target Audiences
All of the New 52 comics are clearly marked on the cover as "T" for "Teen", or "T+" for "Teen Plus" - the most remarkably useless system of age-rating I've ever seen in all my born days. But you can get a slightly more sophisticated guide to who these comics are aimed at by seeing which advertising package DC have put in them. There are three different packages, as follows:

"Mature" adverts - the new violent Deus Ex game, Cobalt gum and grown-up things like that
All Star Western
Animal Man
Batman the Dark Knight
Green Arrow
Green Lantern Corps
I, Vampire
Men Of War
Red Lanterns
Resurrection Man
Suicide Squad
Swamp Thing

All these comics are rated "T+" except Batman the Dark Knight, Green Arrow and Green Lantern Corps. Despite the title, there's nothing particularly dark about the Dark Knight, at least not compared to the other Batman comics, and Green Arrow is similarly innocuous so far.

"In-between" adverts - the Deus Ex game and the gum, but also shoes with superheroes on them and the "Got Milk?" ad encouraging teenagers to drink lots of milk
Batman and Robin
Birds of Prey
Captain Atom
DC Universe Presents
Demon Knights
Frankenstein Agent of SHADE
Green Lantern New Guardians
Green Lantern
Justice League Dark
Justice League International
Justice League
Mister Teriffic
Red Hood and the Outlaws
Wonder Woman

"Kiddie" adverts - no Deus Ex or gum, but "Got Milk" and the shoes are joined by Lego and Hot Wheels
Action Comics
Blue Beetle
Detective Comics
Hawk & Dove
Legion Lost
Legion of Super-Heroes
Static Shock
Teen Titans

Action Comics is kiddie in #1, but steps up to in-between for #2. Detective Comics, though, is full of toy adverts and rated 'teen' despite the closing scene of the Joker having his face cut off and describing the experience as 'fangasmic', not to mention the scene in #2 of Bruce Wayne and a woman flirting and then on the next page sitting around scantily clad in a pose that can only be described as post-coital.

The "kiddie" ad selection includes several house ads for Teen-plus rated comics, strangely enough. It's all a bit confusing.

Which comics do they want us to buy?
Each comic contains two pages of promotion and creator-interviews for comics from that week, as follows:

Week 1 - Batwing and Animal Man
Week 2 - Resurrection Man and Demon Knights
Week 3 - Red Hood & the Outlaws and Blue Beetle
Week 4 - Hawkman and Firestorm
Week 5 - Hawk & Dove and Stormwatch

And each week's advertising package includes full-page ads for as many comics as are necessary to fill the page count:

Week 1 mature - Green Lantern New Guardians, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Action Comics, Swamp Thing
Week 1 in-between - Green Lantern New Guardians, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Swamp Thing
Week 1 kiddie - Batman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Superman, Swamp Thing, Aquaman

Week 2 mature - Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Batman the Dark Knight, Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing
Week 2 in-between - Flash, Batman the Dark Knight, Green Lantern New Guardians, Aquaman
Week 2 kiddie - Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing, Flash, Wonder Woman

Week 3 mature - Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing
Week 3 in-between - Wonder Woman, Green Lantern New Guardians
Week 3 kiddie - Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Superman

Week 4 mature - Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Flash
Week 4 in-between - Superman, Batman the Dark Knight
Week 4 kiddie - Batman the Dark Knight, Flash, Green Lantern New Guardians

Week 5 mature - Frankenstein Agent of SHADE
Week 5 in-between - none
Week 5 kiddie - Justice League Dark, Red Lanterns, Catwoman, Frankenstein Agent of SHADE

The non-kiddie comics of week 5 are blessed with a six-page preview of another new Batman comic, which cuts down on the space for house ads.

Action Comics #1 has a single page promoting Superboy, Supergirl and Superman. Strangely, Suicide Squad #1 has an ad for Batgirl that isn't found in any other comics.

This leaves 24 of the 52 without any in-comic advertising. The neglected comics are a mixed bunch, but they do include a lot of the really good ones that readers might not have heard of and might be inclined to try if only they saw an advert. Maybe the publishers will remedy it in future weeks.

Okay, that's exhausted everything I have to say about the New 52! I hope you were enthralled.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Super Thursday

After all the excitement of a new #1, the difficult second album comes out the next month. And when sales continue to decline, a company like DC does some other dramatic shake-up of its line of comics within at the very most a year. But just in case I was too hasty in my judgement of the first issues of the New 52, I did all of this week's 13 number twos the courtesy of at least reading through them, even the rubbish ones. Luckily, my judgement seems to have been spot on - the ones I thought would be great are still great, the ones I thought would be rubbish are indeed rubbish still. The one I thought was as bad as comics can possibly get has actually got even worse this month. Here they are, sorted into categories for easy reading:

Really really great comics that you should be reading too
Static Shock, O.M.A.C.

Comics that are well worth reading as well, if you've got plenty of money to waste on comics
Hawk & Dove, Detective Comics, Justice League International, Action Comics

Comics that probably aren't worth reading, but you might want to look at if you can get past the confusing writing and/or artwork
Batwing, Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns, Animal Man, Green Arrow, Stormwatch

Very, very bad comics that you shouldn't go near
Men Of War

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Triple Nelson

The jinx is broken! Uncannily, I stopped the timer at 22.22 seconds again today, and this time I did get the recall right! Hooray for me!

Now I just need to get under 21 seconds, which is what I was trying to do all along...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nobody beats GI Joe

For some reason, I stumbled across the GI Joe wiki thing, and had a lot of fun reading it, even though it's only about 10% complete. Watching GI Joe cartoons in Britain was hugely fun, because it was "translated" from American into a form more comprehensible to British youth - since "GI" and "Joe" don't really have any meaning over here, the series was renamed "Action Force", and the tagline "A real American hero" became "International Heroes".

This meant that the cartoons had to be re-dubbed, but instead of dubbing the whole thing again, they only recorded over every line in which someone said "GI Joe" or one of the other banned phrases. This meant that everyone had two voices - an American one and a British impersonation. Some of them sounded really similar, some were completely different. You could have no end of fun just listening to the soundtrack without paying attention to what was happening in the cartoon!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Alien abductions

I think aliens abducted my alarm clock last night. I very vaguely remember being woken up in the middle of the night, realising that the alarm was going off at entirely the wrong time, and turning it off, all without really properly waking up. And when I woke up this morning I noticed that it was five hours slow. Or seven hours fast. But it's still running normally now.

This is a new alarm clock, incidentally - did I mention that I left my previous one in Germany, by mistake? I generally forget something when I go to a memory competition, it's usually my hat, but this time it was something much less important. So now I've got an alarm clock that gets abducted. Poor thing.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

I am awesome!

I followed up yesterday's 30-minute binary and hour numbers with an abstract images and hour cards today. That's a proper weekend's training like I want to do every weekend! And I got good results in both, without a trace of fatigue after all that marathon memorising!

I am completely in the mood for a world championship now! I don't care if it's in Beijing or Bognor Regis, just somebody organise a world memory championship and make sure that Wang Feng, Johannes Mallow and Simon Reinhard are all there, because I'm going to beat the pants off them!

Superest Sunday

It's the final batch of DC Comics's "New 52"! I'm sure my long-suffering readers are familiar with what I'm talking about by now, so let's see what our last thirteen all-new comics are all about. Only two of them weren't to be found in the Nottingham comic shops this week - I'll take a trip to London to see if I can pick up some others, or else just get the reprints in a couple of weeks, because sales seem to be very brisk all over.

Superman #1
George Pérez, Jesus Merino

Pérez, who was also the inker of Green Arrow back in week 1, is credited with writing and breakdowns for Superman, while Merino provides pencils and inks. Now, when most artists say 'breakdowns', they're talking about panel layouts and sketchy stick-figures, but Pérez has something of a reputation for applying the word to what anyone else would call 'impossibly detailed pencils', and this comic does look a lot like his work...

Sorry, that wasn't really the new-reader attitude I'm trying to maintain here, was it? But I'm a big fan of George Pérez of old. Anyway, we open with the Daily Planet building, with a running narration about its history and importance to the city of Metropolis and the world, before the building is demolished.

It turns out we're at the opening ceremony for the all-new, bigger and better Planet building, as financed by the slightly sinister businessman Morgan Edge. Lois Lane and Perry White are at the ceremony, suitably impressed, but Clark Kent is boycotting it.

He's out flying around the city as Superman and reminiscing about the argument with Lois - Edge's Globe imprint has in the past been a dodgy tabloid empire not at all in line with the Daily Planet's old-fashioned ethics, and although Lois insists it's changed under Edge's new management (replacing, apparently, Mr Glenmorgan from Action Comics), Clark is unconvinced. There are some nice nods to the modern age here, because as we all know, newspapers aren't the force they once were. Lois is in television now, but poor Clark is unwilling to make that move, because everyone will see him on TV, and his secret identity is still only protected by a pair of glasses.

Elsewhere, in the Himalayas, a big giant monster blows a big giant horn, and drops it in the snow, leaving it for Stormwatch to find in their #1 from three weeks ago. That's it for the giant horn in this comic - I got the impression from reading Stormwatch that it would play a significant part in Superman, but I guess I was wrong. It might be connected with the events of this issue, but they'd already started before we cut away to the horn, so it's oddly paced if there really was a connection.

At the newly-completed Metropolis Astrodome, two security guards fill us in with a bit more exposition, while investigating mysterious little fires that seem to have been appearing and disappearing around the place. And Superman has been called into action when masked bandits steal a truck full of explosive chemical waste. But then the truck is blown up by the fire coming from the Astrodome, which seems to be alive!

While the news people scramble to get good pictures and a good view, Superman fights the fire-monster, which is talking in alienese (including, Superman believes, the word "Krypton") and, rather than setting things on fire, turns them into fire. It blows up a police helicopter, and Lois incurs Morgan Edge's wrath by ordering the news chopper to get out of there. She cleverly orders Jimmy Olsen and his friend Miko to hack into security cameras to get good footage for them.

Superman is able to defeat the fire-monster by carrying it up into space, and then writes up the story as Clark Kent, claiming to have just happened to be in the neighbourhood when the whole thing started and got an exclusive interview with Superman. He then goes to apologise to Lois, only to find that she was in bed with her new boyfriend Jonathan, so poor Clark has to go away again while his super-hearing picks up her saying that she doesn't fancy him.

The verdict? Story - it introduces the characters effectively; both the old familiar ones who everyone knows and the new ones, although it does seem to forget to mention the surnames of Perry, Jimmy or Miko anywhere in the story. The action scenes are nice, but I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the idea of seeing Clark pining for Lois and them eventually getting together, yet again. Art - really gorgeous, with a great look for Superman even despite the modern hairstyle and ugly new costume, distinctive faces and a great grasp of the action scenes. All in all - although I think the story's going to tread over old and familiar ground for the hundredth time, I still want to see what happens with Superman. I'll keep reading, and I expect I'll keep enjoying it.

Batman the Dark Knight #1
David Finch, Paul Jenkins, Richard Friend

Jenkins, who wrote Deadman last week, is the writer and co-plotter of this one, while Finch is the other co-plotter and the penciller. Friend provides the inks.

Yes, Batman again. Four of the 52 are Batman comics - Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman and Batman the Dark Knight. Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman and Nightwing are related comics set in Gotham City. Batwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Teen Titans are about associates of Batman in different places. He's also a central character in Justice League and Justice League International. That's more than a quarter of the New 52, making Batman officially the busiest superhero in the world. The Green Lanterns and Superman account for about the same number between them.

Batman is flying around in the Batplane, while the narrator talks about fear. He jumps out, displaying some odd bulgy muscles, and quickly changes into the much more wimpy Bruce Wayne, sliding on a zipline to a building where he gives his 'fear' speech to a crowd, announcing that he's never going to be afraid. It's not clear exactly what the context of this speech is - I assume Bruce Wayne doesn't hold press conferences for no purpose other than to say he's not scared of anything - but he then goes around shmoozing with the high and mighty, talking again about his redevelopment plans.

He's interrupted, though, by a Lieutenant Forbes, who knows Bruce Wayne is funding Batman, and wants to know who his inside man in the police is. But he's told to go away by the hostess of the evening's charity event, one Jaina Hudson. The two flirt a little, before Bruce gets bored with having to talk to other people and leaves.

Meanwhile, at Arkham Asylum, the inmates are staging a breakout. Again. Just like in last week's comic. This time, Batman arrives to help the beleagured police, and somehow divines that this is all about Two-Face (who was just a face (or two) in the crowd last week). He goes in, finds a woman in a bunny suit running around, and then encounters a huge, muscular Two-Face, announcing that "You can call me One-Face now!" (although he's still got the two-different-halves-to-the-face thing)

The verdict? Story - rather a lot of this is minimally-narrated action of Batman making his way through the asylum, and the Bruce Wayne scenes don't really show signs of developing into any kind of plot. Art - very nice, like all the Batman comics, but Bruce's face looks strikingly different from one panel to the next. All in all - nobody needs to read four monthly Batman comics, and this one just isn't as good as some of the others. I don't feel like I'm going to miss anything if I get my Batman fix from "Batman" and "Detective Comics".

Voodoo #1
Ron Marz, Sami Basri

Marz writes, Basri draws.

Voodoo is an exotic dancer at a strip club. While she displays her ample charms, a man and woman in the audience bicker about the level of interest the man is taking. Jess storms out, while Tyler questions a waitress about the mysterious Voodoo - her real name's Priscilla, and she spends a lot of time entertaining the soldiers from the nearby military base.

Meanwhile, Jess gets into a fight with a gang of youths outside the club and beats them all up with ease. Back inside, Voodoo is hanging out in the dressing room with her fellow strippers, and being a bit socially awkward. She explains that she's new around here, and working there to learn about men. Then she's called for a private dance with Tyler.

While she takes her clothes off, Tyler asks her about herself. She tells him her story, but he doesn't believe it. He happens to know that she's an alien, with shape-changing powers and mild telepathy and is almost certainly spying on Earth as a prelude to invasion. He threatens her with being cut to bits by scientists unless she turns herself in right now. She responds by turning into an ugly, toothy, green alien and killing him.

She takes his phone, shape-changes into Tyler, and goes to meet up with Jess.

The verdict? Story - There's not much story here. It could have been done in a quarter of the space, really. But what there is is an interesting setup, it's hard to see where it's going to go in future. Art - well, there's a lot of stripping (without showing anything), and if you have to devote the whole comic to drawing a woman dancing, it doesn't give much opportunity to show your full range. It does its job of making the three characters recognisable from one panel to the next, and the monster is very cool. All in all - there's just not much to this so far. I'm a little curious to see what the alien toothy monster gets up to, but I think it'll take months before anything happens. Maybe I'll get next month's before I decide to drop it.

Justice League Dark #1
Peter Milligan, Mikel Janin

Milligan, the writer of Red Lanterns, writes this one too, while Janin draws.

It's Madame Xanadu, the fortune-teller who showed up briefly at the end of Resurrection Man, and she's predicting terrible danger. It involves June Moone, a woman who's walking the streets in a bit of a daze, and briefly seeing a great big demon appearing from nowhere. On TV in a bar, she notices that a huge horde of June Moones have appeared on a motorway and been run over horribly.

Meanwhile, Shade the Changing Man is having troubles with his vest. That's vest in the American sense, and so it's not quite as silly as it sounds when he talks about his Meta-Vest with its terrible power to change reality. But it's still a bit silly, since he and his girlfriend Kathy argue about the vest quite a lot - it's crackling with electricity, which means he's being summoned. He has to leave Kathy, and since he used the vest to create her in the first place, this means she dissolves into a pool of goo. She's not happy about it.

In an abandoned wooden shack somewhere, inside an envelope, Enchantress is going mad. And since she's magic, this causes bad things to happen around her. The Justice League are called in, but Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg are no match for someone who can make a storm of teeth that cut them to pieces. Back at base, Batman is talking with another magician, Zatanna, who insists on being allowed to go and sort things out, even though he's not sure she's up to it.

A man called John Constantine, meanwhile, suddenly finds himself in London (next to Big Ben again - artists of America, please try to remember that there are other things in London), having just had a vision that Zatanna's in trouble. Why that would make a vortex suck him from Brighton to London, when she's in America, isn't clear, but he only gets one page to introduce himself.

June Moone, meanwhile, has found herself drawn to Dove's (of Hawk & Dove) flat, and asks for Deadman. He's there.

Shade, vest and all, has found his way to Madame Xanadu. She tells him he has to recruit people to deal with Enchantress, although she's seeing a vision of all of them lying dead, so it might be a waste of time.

The verdict? Story - there's a very limited introduction to some characters, and a feeling that we should know who these people are before reading it. The premise is set out clearly; magic and eccentric people fighting it, but it doesn't really grab me. Art - not bad, if the poses are a bit awkward, the faces are very nice. All in all - it doesn't really do anything for me, I don't much care about these characters. I think I'll pass.

I, Vampire #1
Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino

Fialkov writes and Sorrentino draws.

Boston. Two people are talking to each other in narrative captions that are supposed to indicate the different speakers by being different colours, but the way it's come out on the page, they're really, really, really similar shades of red. The only pictures we get to see on the first page are of a man's feet walking, finding somone lying down and driving a stake through their heart. "Normally I'd lock you away someone until I could find your sire," says the feeble-looking guy doing the staking, before he chops off the vampire's head with an axe, making it disappear in a shower of dust, like they do on Buffy.

"Like they do on Buffy" is a regular theme of this comic, as it transpires. Anyway, our hero is apparently Andrew, of the slightly darker red captions, and he's arguing with Mary, who thinks that they should rule the world instead of hiding away. We cut to what's probably a flashback, because it's coloured in greenish-black and white instead of the brown-and-white of the first three pages, of Andrew and Mary discussing old times like vampires do on Buffy, having a kiss then splitting up.

Back to Andrew in the brown-and-white wasteland full of corpses, and he finds a woman who's recently been turned into a vampire, allowing him to explain that these vampires just get weakened by sunlight, and can turn into dogs or big hairy monsters (which, to be fair, they don't do on Buffy) before he kills her.

We cut back and forth between the flashback and the present day - Andrew, it's clear, is a vampire with a soul, just like Angel, while Mary is really totally evil and intent on raising an army of vampires to take over the world. There's a passing grudging mention of how Superman might be a problem with this plan, but the comic clearly wants to exist in its own world where there's just vampires. Mary has now killed lots of people and turned them into vampires, and is getting on with the world takeover, and Andrew's got to stop her.

The verdict? Story - dull and derivative, it doesn't do much in this first issue beyond setting up the premise, but we can see where it's going to go from here. Art - really not very good, it tries to be cool with shading and occasional scary-faces, but it's hard to tell what's going on. All in all - not with a bargepole, I'm afraid. There are Buffy and Angel comics out there for people who want to read this kind of thing.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1
Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham, Batt

Bedard, the writer of Blue Beetle last week, writes Green Lanterns this week - he obviously likes bright colours. Kirkham pencils and the enigmatic "Batt" (no other name) is the inker.

There's a big pile of dead Guardians and Green Lanterns, which Ganthet the Guardian digs himself out of, vowing that, as the last of the Guardians, he'll make sure the last power ring gets to the right person. For some refreshingly unexplored reason, he gives it to Kyle Rayner, an unemployed cartoonist in New York and welcomes him to the Green Lantern Corps.

This whole section seems to be in the past, since the next page has a caption saying "the present day", but I'm confused. Ganthet is the Guardian who the others zapped in Green Lantern #1 a couple of weeks ago for disagreeing with them, and Kyle is established as being one of the four GLs hanging around on Earth at the moment. Was the pile-of-corpses thing in the past too, and everyone except Ganthet died at one point but got better? Or is that in the present, and was Kyle's induction the only thing that happened in the past? It'd be nice if someone told us.

Anyway, in the present day, one of the Sinestro Corps (yellow lanterns) is killing an army of aliens when his ring abruptly flies away and heads for Earth, leaving him to be gruesomely killed by the ticked-off aliens. Likewise, a Red Lantern is burning a lot of aliens he characterizes as murderers, when his ring does the same, causing him to drop dead. A Star Sapphire (which turn out to be Pink Lanterns) suffers the same thing in space, causing her fellow Sapphire to vow to live up to her former name 'Fatality'.

Back on Earth, Kyle is dealing with a disaster at a construction site, when suddenly a whole flock of magic rings of all colours fly at him, announcing that he's been chosen. And if that wasn't bad enough, along come Pink, Red, Yellow and Purple lanterns (the red one is good old Bleez, from Red Lanterns) demanding their rings back!

The verdict? Story - it introduces Kyle nicely, and the Green Lantern concept for those who haven't read the various other Green Lantern comics, but the confusing opening scene should have been explained. Art - very nice. Quite beautiful, in fact, clear and detailed, I love it. All in all - well, I'll have to look at next week's to see if it explains what's going on, if nothing else. Again, this is an opening chapter rather than a complete story, so I'll see how I feel in future months. But this first issue is holding my interest so far.

The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men #1
Ethan van Sciver, Gail Simone, Yildiray Cinar

Wow, long title. "Firestorm" is the big word. Van Sciver and Simone are co-plotters, Simone (also the writer of Batgirl) writes and Cinar draws.

In Istanbul, bad guys are interrogating a young boy, looking for something. When torturing and killing his family only gets them the information that the professor's got it, they blow up the whole neighbourhood and leave.

Back in the good old USA, Ronnie Raymond is being extremely good at American football in his high school. Jason Rusch watches contemptuously, he's not fond of jocks, but he's forced to write a piece for the school newspaper about how great Ronnie is. The interview doesn't go terribly well - Jason accuses Ronnie of being racist, they really don't like each other. At dinner with their single parents that night, Ronnie is at least thinking about what Jason said, while Jason's just generally being a jerk. I think we're supposed to get the impression that there's no right or wrong here, but Jason's so completely unlikeable, it doesn't really work.

Meanwhile, at the Large Hadron Supercollider, those bad guys are interrogating Doctor Dupin for the whereabouts of his last magic bottle. Well, they try to make it sound scientific, talking about Higgs-Boson particles, but it's basically magic bottles that we're talking about here. With the power of transmutation.

Back at school the next day, Jason is at least starting to feel a little bad when his editor Tonya yells at him, but Ronnie and his sidekick Trev come in, really annoyed about the extremely insulting article they've published. But then in come those bad guys, killing the coach and sending our teenage heroes running for their lives.

Jason reveals that he's secretly a super-genius, and takes the magic bottle from his locker. He opens it with a big boom, and he and Ronnie are both transformed into Firestorms - superheroes with lots of fiery bits (actually, the word 'Firestorm' isn't used at all, but that's the name on the cover). One of the bad guys, Loren, also gets caught up in the blast, but our heroes are too busy fighting each other to pay any attention to them. Then they merge into one big giant Firestorm, who introduces himself as Fury.

The verdict? Story - nice introduction, although Jason is so very very annoying, it's hard to sympathise. Maybe he'll get a kick up the backside in future issues. And I think we're supposed to get to know the bad guys too, they do have distinct personalities, but the way it's presented, I find myself just focusing on the teenagers. Anyway, the cliffhanger's good, and it does leave me wanting to read more. Art - another good one, everyone looks distinct from each other and consistent all through the comic, and the superheroes, when they finally show up, are extremely cool. All in all - I like it enough to want to keep reading. It's a great setup for future stories.

Blackhawks #1
Mike Costa, Graham Nolan, Ken Lashley

Costa writes, Nolan is credited with 'layouts' and Lashley as 'finisher'.

The first page gives us our mission briefing and sums up the kind of thing that this comic is about. Blackhawks field operators Lady Blackhawk, The Irishman, Kunoichi and Attila, supported by Wildman, are going in to Kazakhstan, where terrorists have taken hostages at an airport for no obvious reason. The world map on the screen is fascinating, incidentally - North America is accurately shaped, but Europe is just a weird distorted blob that's not even close to what it should look like.

Anyway, Kunoichi is ignoring the 'covert' part of the instructions in order to dangle from an aeroplane and fight people. The rest of the team get on with things in the same kind of way. It's all very military and cool, culminating in Kunoichi jumping from the plane at 300kph and shooting the water before she hits it so the surface tension won't make her go splat. I'm fairly sure that wouldn't work in real life - and while you can just ignore that kind of nonsense in most superhero comics, this one is going for a realistic feel, so it's a bit harder. Anyway, Attila gets a moment in the spotlight too, as does Wildman, but the other two are just in the background.

Back at The Eyrie, their base, Delegate Schmidt of the UN is being shown around by Blackhawks member Canada (who's actually not Canadian). It turns out The Irishman is from "The Ukraine". We get a brief glimpse of the huge amount of technology the team have, and then we see Kunoichi refusing to get treatment from the doctor, and feeling unusually full of energy and superhuman strength. And also snogging Wildman inappropriately.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, the leader of the team, is talking with Schmidt about their problem - someone took a picture of the Blackhawks logo on one of their vehicles, and now they might be exposed to the public, or something. One of the captured terrorists has worse problems, though - his boss communicates with him in prison and tells him his body has been infused with 'nanocites', which she then uses to blow him up. And back at the Eyrie, poor old Kunoichi has realised that she's been infected with nanocites too!

The verdict? Story - we don't really get much sense of the personalities of the characters here, despite a lot of scenes that seem to be designed to do just that. There's nothing really wrong with the writing, but a lot of generic tough guys fighting terrorists just doesn't appeal to me. Art - pretty good, it does make everyone look distinctive, which can often be a problem with uniformed characters, and the action scenes are handled well. All in all - it doesn't really interest me, I'm afraid. It looks like it's going to steadfastly ignore the rest of the new 52, so I don't think I'll be missing anything if I skip this one.

Aquaman #1
Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joa Prado

Johns, who writes both Justice League and Green Lantern, writes this one too. Reis pencils and Prado inks.

At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, nasty toothy things are emerging from a trench. They exchange some completely awesome dialogue: "It's true. There is an above." "Where do we go?" "Up."

Meanwhile, in Boston, masked robbers are escaping from the police in a stolen armoured van. But Aquaman shows up to thwart them, and does so without any difficulty. The police are just left to chuckle at having been helped out by Aquaman, instead of one of the cool superheroes.

Our hero goes into a seafood restaurant, still in full superhero regalia, and amazes the customers and staff. They worry he might be there to lecture them for cruelty to sea creatures, but he actually just wants a plate of fish and chips. In response to incredulous questioning from the people at nearby tables, he tetchily explains that he doesn't talk to fish, he can just make them do his bidding, and he's fine with eating them. An irritating youth interrogates him about his background, allowing him to explain that his father was human, his mother was the queen of Atlantis, and he's in charge of the place now. But when he's asked how it feels to be the superhero everyone makes jokes about, he storms out in a huff, just pausing to give the kindly waitress a couple of extremely valuable gold coins from his collection.

He goes to hang out with his Atlantean girlfriend, and tells her he's sick of not fitting in in Atlantis, king though he is. They decide they'll go off on their own and have a new life on dry land.

But on the ocean, fishermen find themselves attacked by the toothy things from down below with a talent for awesome one-liners. "There's food up here," one grins.

The verdict? Story - it's just an introduction and power-demonstration for Aquaman that barely counts as a story, but it's still very readable and fun, and the promise of toothy monsters to come is enough to keep me interested. It's true that Aquaman is the joke character of the Justice League, requiring writers to put in an underwater part of the adventure so he has something to do, and it's nice that the story acknowledges and plays on this. Art - really, really great. Aquaman looks handsome, dramatic and heroic, and the monsters are awesome. A large portion of the comic is characters standing around and talking, but I get the feeling that the action scenes to come will look good too. All in all - it's a good one, I think I'm going to enjoy reading it in future months.

All Star Western #1
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat

Palmiotti and Gray (the names are the other way round on the interior credits, just to be fair) are the writers, "Moritat" is the artist.

Gotham City yet again, but this time it's cowboy times. The 1880s, to be precise, and Gotham is a big city for the time, in the Wild West. Mysterious scar-faced gunslinger Jonah Hex is a country boy, who's come to town and explores the sordid back streets, showing off his quick draw when he's attacked by a rowdy gang.

Doctor Amadeus Arkham, meanwhile, has been called in to investigate the latest murder in a series, although police chief Cromwell dislikes his modern theories about psychiatry. Jonah Hex joins the party, and Arkham suggests the two of them should work together to catch the cowboy Jack the Ripper. Hex eventually agrees, although he's more the loner type.

They go to a saloon, where Hex sets about getting information by beating people up, while Arkham analyses his mental state. He learns that the killer has a hand like a claw and wears a ring with a skull on it. The next day, though, there's another murder, and the message "Jonah Hex, leave Gotham" written on the wall.

Later, our heroes go to a party, where they discover that a whole lot of rich and influential people wear rings with skulls on them.

The verdict? Story - it strives for a genuine 1880s tone, and doesn't quite achieve it, but the pairing of Hex and Arkham works very well; Hex is cool and Arkham's narrative about psychology is actually very well-written. Art - sepia-toned throughout, to give it the olden-days feel, which I find a bit distracting. The art style is a bit unconventional, but Jonah Hex does look extremely cool. All in all - it's readable, if unoriginal. I'm on the fence about it, but I'll probably check out the next part.

The Savage Hawkman #1
Tony S. Daniel, Philip Tan

Daniel, who wrote Detective Comics, is the writer, Tan does the art.

Upstate New York, Carter Hall is fed up of being Hawkman. He's driven out into the woods to burn his costume. Trouble is, the costume isn't just a bird-suit, it's made of "the Nth Metal", and when he sets it on fire, it attacks him.

Meanwhile, off the Bermuda Coast, a research crew have pulled up an ancient shipwreck. Alien spaceship, not sailing ship. They're impatiently wondering where Carter, the cryptologist, has got to.

He's woken up in his home, naked, with no idea how he got there. He finds that his body's healing itself rapidly from the burns and scrapes he suffered, and his colleague Terrance comes round to take him to see the wreck.

While there, he meets the boss's daughter, and is introduced to the alien mummy they found in the wreckage. But then 'the sample' (which I can't tell from the art is supposed to be the aforesaid mummy or something else) comes alive and attacks the scientists, turning one or two of them into a horrible slimy monster. Carter jumps in to help, and finds that the Nth Metal comes bubbling up from under his skin and turns him into Hawkman again.

The alien, which introduces itself as Morphicus, fights Hawkman and announces that it must have the Nth Metal. And as the episode ends, it seems to have succeeded!

The verdict? Story - falls rather awkwardly halfway between starting from scratch and continuing old Hawkman adventures, it ends up being a new beginning that still leaves me feeling I've missed something. But it does spell out who Carter is and what he does, just without giving him much of a personality. Art - a bit ugly. Everyone looks like a zombie somehow, and it's really hard to see what's going on at some points. All in all - it doesn't really interest me all that much; the central character's a bit of an enigma, and the art doesn't make it easy to follow. I don't think I'll bother with it again.

The Flash #1
Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato

Manapul and Buccellato write it between them, with Manapul also providing the art and Buccellato doing the colouring too.

In Central City, Barry Allen is out on a date with Patty, at the technology expo. He's a bit of a nerdy type, it seems. They meet a Dr Elias and have a geeky conversation about traffic and alternate fuels, until a gang of masked, armoured men crash through the ceiling firing smoke bombs.

Barry springs into action immediately, turning into The Flash, the world's fastest man. A good old-fashioned intro blurb tells us his origin: "Struck by a bolt of lightning and doused in chemicals, Central City police scientist Barry Allen was transformed into the fastest man alive. Tapping into the energy field called the Speed Force, he applies a tenacious sense of justice to protect and serve the world as The Flash!" A lot of other comics this month could have done with one of those. But struck by lightning AND doused in chemicals? Sounds like a really bad day.

The baddies, who just address each other by number, run for it, but the Flash chases them back to their plane, leaping on board and grabbing the thing they stole from the expo, but then falling out along with one of the enemies. Pushing the baddie through a window as they fall, he vibrates at the right frequency to let himself fall through the road into the sewer. Journalist Iris West takes this opportunity to say hi.

Flash returns the portable genome recoder to Dr Elias, and then it's time for Barry and Patty to get to work as police scientists. The baddie is dead, but when he's unmasked, Barry recognises him as his childhood friend Manuel.

Iris, a very pushy kind of woman, pesters Barry to talk to her, much to his and Patty's annoyance. Back at police HQ, Director Singh and Captain Frye debate the case, and learn that Manuel died of something other than being thrown through a window. The Flash borrows the genome recorder and a sample of Manuel's DNA, and finds that it's been altered in some way. Then someone breaks into his house, and surprise surprise, it's Manuel.

Then baddies break down the door chasing him, and our heroes run away. Barry manages to get away and turn into the Flash, and when he catches up with Manuel, he finds him surrounded by... a whole lot of Manuels.

The verdict? Story - it introduces Barry and his friends, and gives the Flash an opportunity to show off his powers. His personality comes across clearly, but the story somehow isn't very enthralling. Art - there are some very cool panel layouts, which makes up for the faces not looking very distinctive or expressive. The scenes where Flash is running don't have quite the sense of motion that they should. All in all - it's a bit bland, really. There's nothing wrong with it, it just doesn't really excite me. It's worth keeping an eye on.

Teen Titans #1
Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund

Lobdell, the writer of Superboy and Red Hood and the Outlaws, adds a third to the list. Booth pencils and Rapmund inks.

I'm getting used to comics with a cover showing the team lineup that'll eventually come to exist. But this one shows seven heroes, and after reading the comic I still don't know who most of them are. And although "Batwoman" and "Batman" both referenced the Teen Titans as a going concern, this seems to be chapter one of a how-the-team-got-together story again. So I guess we're in the recent past here, although it'd be nice if they let us know how these different comics fit together...

Anyway, in Westchester County an unexceptional housefire is made much worse by a teenage hero calling himself Kid Flash, trying to help but not knowing what he's doing. Following the big bang he causes by opening all the doors, people assume he's run away again, when in fact he's lying unconscious nearby.

It makes the news in a big way, and in his penthouse, Red Robin is unimpressed with the anti-teenage-hero feeling of the general public. He's got more floating computer screens than anyone in any of these comics, so he must be cool. He sighs that Batman started something that's got out of control with the teenage crimefighter, but his musing is interrupted by a sinister bad guy, complete with two henchmen.

They have, it seems, been kidnapping or maybe just recruiting teenage heroes lately, and they want to offer him a position with their mysterious employer. Red Robin responds by jumping out of the window and blowing up the penthouse.

In California, 17-year-old Cassie is driving around in a stolen car. (How old is Tim? The art in Batman made him look only about 14, but he could be older judging by the artwork here...) She's attacked by a bad guy disguised as a cop, but Red Robin saves her, tells her that he knows she's Wonder Girl, and that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. are after them both. They're attacked by a helicopter, and she grudgingly has to use her powers to save them both.

And meanwhile, in a scene we also saw in Superboy #1, Superboy is activated.

The verdict? Story - again, part one of a long story that we know is mainly intended to get these characters together into the Teen Titans. I do prefer stories that get to the point straight away. But it introduces three characters well enough that we at least know what kind of people they are, and if there's not much story to it, at least there's a promise that some kind of plot will come along later. Art - very nice, everyone looks suitably heroic and more or less like teenagers, although Wonder Girl just has the standard 'woman face' seen in so many of these comics. The action scenes do look good. All in all - probably one to start reading once this first story is out of the way.