Due to the level of interest in last week’s PopCulteer, I’ve decided to do capsule reviews of all of the “New 52” DC Comics. Some of these, I’m really looking forward to reading, and some of them, well, I’m taking one for the team. I’m going to get through as many of these as I can today, with the remainder coming in tomorrow’s PopCulteer.

by Keith Giffen and Dan Didio with Scott Koblish

All right, I’m starting out with a guilty pleasure. I loved Jack Kirby’s original OMAC (One Man Army Corps), and I’ve been a fan of Keith Giffen, despite his tendency to borrow heavily from the work of other artists. Over the years Giffen has done some remarkable swipes from artists as varied as Neal Adams, José Antonio Muñoz, and the King Himself, Jack Kirby. It’s been confounding because Giffen is a gifted storyteller in his own right, and after going through his swipe phases, he’s managed to distill his influences into his work, usually improving with each foray into another artist’s work.

With OMAC, Giffen is letting his Kirby flag fly, and the result is a really fun, nostalgic blast. This is a loud, obnoxious comic book, in a good way. DC Comic’s co-publisher Dan Didio’s script shows that he has either slavishly captured Kirby’s writing style, or he shares Kirby’s weakness for writing wonky dialogue.

How can you not love this?

This new version of OMAC begins at Cadmus Industries (another Kirby creation, not previously tied to OMAC), where we meet Jody Robbins, who’s been stood up by her boyfriend, and Tony Jay, a co-worker of said boyfriend (and not the Tony-award-winning actor who did the voice of Jafar in Disney’s “Aladdin”).

While wondering where Kevin Kho, Jody’s boyfriend is, the building suddenly comes under attach by OMAC, an energized, huge, wrecking machine of a man whose blind rage is controlled by a voice in his head that’s guiding him on his mission. He penetrates into the basement of Cadmus, where genetically-altered humanoids try to prevent him from accessing the mainframe computer and downloading all their sensitive material.

Like Justice League #1, this comic book is dumb as hell, but in this case, it’s “good dumb.” This is a pure Kirby homage, not unlike Scott McCloud’s “Destroy.” Didio and Giffen make great use of Kirby’s creations and I intend to follow and enjoy this book, which so far seems like a throwback to the 1970s. Unlike Justice League #1, there’s a whole story in this issue. We get a lot of foreshadowing and hints at what is to come, but way more stuff happens than in JL.

There are some changes from the original comic. OMAC was “activated” from Kevin Kho, not Buddy Blank, as in Kirby’s original. This is a complete reboot, so it’s not a surprise. Making him Asian seems like a cheap nod to DC’s commitment to “diversity,” but maybe they’ll do something more with that in the future. OMAC has been redesigned (probably by Jim Lee–it’s got that crappy Image Comics look to it). His outfit is a different color and his Mohawk has mutated into some sort of Savage Dragon-style head fin, but the look of the book is still pure Kirby. Maybe they’ll find a way to revert back to Kirby’s original design soon.

OMAC struck a chord with me. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I expect to stick with this book until it’s canceled in a few months. While I like it a lot, I don’t see this book having much mainstream appeal. I hope I’m wrong, but I can see this book being among the first casualties of “The New 52.”

Batwing #1
by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

First, a confession. Over the years I have found Judd Winick’s writing to be so repulsive that I no longer buy books written by him. I bit the bullet on this one, but I normally hate everything about his writing–his recycled plots, his horrible bad-sitcom-level dialogue, his forced “message” stories–so I’m going into this with very low expectations.

Those low expectations were not met. This tale of a black Batman in South Africa is an unreadable mess. The artwork by Oliver is very pretty, quite beautifully-rendered, but the layouts make no sense and the story is hard to follow. The art is nice to look at, but it doesn’t tell much of a story. It’s like a series of pin-ups, not sequential art.

Give this one a miss. Let’s hope they move the artist to another title and have him work over someone else’s layouts until he can learn his craft. As for Winick, I hope he sells a screenplay or something soon so he can leave the industry. The man has no business writing superhero comics.

Action Comics #1
by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales with Rick Bryant

This is the big one. DC tossed out 75 years of numbering on their flagship title and started over with a new first issue. Luckily, they picked the right creative team to handle it.

Grant Morrison is no stranger to Superman. His “All-Star Superman” limited series (drawn by Frank Quitely) was one of the most entertaining takes on the iconic superhero in decades. Rags Morales also has a history with Superman, and is one of the most dynamic artists working in comics today.

Action Comics #1 takes us back to the early days of Superman–five years ago in this new DC Universe–where he’s been in Metropolis acting a bit as a vigilante for six months. He doesn’t have his iconic uniform yet, instead getting by with Jeans, a T Shirt with an “S” on it, a tiny cape and work boots. This is a working class superhero.

And it’s a home run. Morrison and Morales have managed to capture the manic energy of the very first Superman story by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster and translate it into a contemporary setting. In this story Superman is out for justice, taking down corrupt businessmen, rescuing poor squatters from a building demolition and taking care of the real-world problems of the downtrodden.

THIS is what comic books should be about. After years of cosmic intergalactic threats and world-dominating menaces, it’s refreshing to see a Superman story that’s fun and engaging without somehow involving the pending end of the world.

Morales captures the visceral thrill of the original Superman

In this story we see a believable Superman. We also meet Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen of The Daily Planet, and we get to see the intrepid reporter Clark Kent, who at this point is working for the crosstown rival newspaper, The Daily Star. We also meet General Lane, who has been tasked with the duty of capturing Superman, and his high-priced consultant, Lex Luthor. It’s a great beginning, and I think I’ll be sticking with this book for a while. This is a reboot done right.

Batgirl #1
by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf

One of the more confusing things about the new DC Universe is how much of the previous DC Universe has been wiped out, and how much has carried over. This problem manifests itself most in Batgirl. This is the Barbera Gordon Batgirl, who, if you follow the comics, was shot by The Joker and put in a wheelchair in the memorable “Killing Joke” graphic novel twenty five years ago.

In the old DCU, she became Oracle, a sort of super-connected clearinghouse of information about super-villains who was in touch with a network of superheroes.

In the new DC Universe, where all the superheroes have arisen in the last five years, they still have Barbera Gordon, the daughter of commissioner Gordon, working secretly as Batgirl, being shot and paralyzed by the Joker, apparently working as Oracle for a time, then regaining the ability to walk before once again becoming Batgirl–all in the space of five years. So that’s where you have to suspend your disbelief with this book.

The pose is a bit off, but that costume has got to go.

However, it’s worth doing so. This is a great action comic, with Simone’s trademark clever writing and some really nice artwork by Syaff and inker Vincente Cifuentes. The only drawback is Batgirl’s new costume, designed by DC co-publisher Jim Lee, which looks just awful, like most of his new designs. It’s a shame that someone with such an awful sense of style is in a position to mess with all of the DC character’s costumes.

The story deals with Batgirl facing a gang of spoiled rich-kid murderers and a vigilante called “The Mirror.” While doing this she has to come to grips with her recovery from her time as a paraplegic, and her fears over being shot by The Joker. This is all skillfully done by Simone. There are nice touches, like her new friend noticing that her van has a wheelchair lift and her dad stopping by to check on her.

Once again I have to draw a contrast between this book and last week’s Justice League #1. There is so much story in this book, where there was so little in JL #1. Simone makes you instantly care about Barbera Gordon and you get sucked right into the story. While the book ends with a cliffhanger, there are other subplots that get resolved.

Batgirl, despite the confusing continuity issues with the old universe, is going to be a keeper. I just hope they can get rid of the new outfit.

Hawk and Dove #1
by Sterling Gates and Rob Liefield

Rob Liefield is one of the worst, if not the worst, artist to ever earn a living drawing comic books. This book is so poorly-drawn that I had a hard time reading it. His lack of a sense of anatomy and inability to draw faces is so distracting that I had a hard time telling if Sterling Gates wrote a decent story or not.

Apparently the story is about Hawk and Dove, who are so far removed from Steve Ditko’s original vision when he created them in the 1960s that I hate to blame him for anything to do with this comic book. Our heroes are rescuing a hijacked plane filled with monsters and when they crash land on the National Mall they clip the Washington Monument. Or something.


Is this a sex scene, or what?

The artwork in this book is so bad I couldn’t make it all the way through. Sorry. High school notebooks belonging to loner kids who never had an art class are filled with better drawings than this crap. It’s a sin that Liefield can score this gig because he’s buddies with Jim Lee, the co-publisher, while Steve Rude, one of the best comic book artists in history, gets turned away when he approaches DC looking for work.

Please don’t waste your money on this crap. It’ll only encourage them to publish more stuff like this.

Green Arrow #1
by J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens and George Perez

This is a pretty drastic reboot. Green Arrow seems to be de-aged about 20 years. His alter-ego, Oliver Queen, is the head of an Apple-like technology company, and Green Arrow has a team of computer geeks helping him out via a wireless connection. Oh, and he has a positively dreadful Jim Lee-designed new uniform.

With such a drastic change, this will take some getting used to. Krul tells a decent action story that has an unfamiliar Green Arrow going up against a team of what I think are brand-new super-villains. There’s a sub-plot about Queen’s business, which if they hold to the old DC Universe, will see Queen lose everything and become a flaming liberal “everyman.”

The art is gorgeous. Dan Jurgens has been one of the most solid storytellers in comics for the last 25 years, and George Perez is a legend.

This is a solid first issue. I’ll be keeping an eye on this book. It’s hard to tell if it’ll develop into a must-read, or if it’ll get mired in the type of story that they had to tell in this first issue. It’s a bit busy and break-neck paced, but it’s a great introduction.

Men Of War #1
by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick
and Joseph Vankin and Phil Winslade

The lead story in Men Of War sets up the adventures of Sgt. Rock. This is not Sgt. Rock of so many classic Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert war comics. This is his grandson, in contemporary times, fighting in a war zone that includes the superheroes of the new DC Universe. It’s a totally different type of war comic.

And it’s brilliant.

Told from the point of view of the average grunt, this takes the “citizens-eye-view” of “Marvels” to a new level, and shows us what it’s like on the ground when super-powered beings are destroying the world around you while doing battle. It’s the story of collateral damage.

You're parachuting into enemy territory when suddenly this super dude flies by...

Brandon’s script sets up and defines the character of Joseph Rock, the grandson of the WWII legend. He’s on the latest of countless tours of duty in the Middle East, still a corporal due to multiple instances of insubordination, all of which lead to him saving the lives of his squadron.

Tom Derenick’s art captures the action well, without relying on superhero-style flashiness.

This is a great concept for a series, and I’m eagerly awaiting future installments.

The back-up story, by Vankin and Winslade, is a more traditional war story, very well told and compelling. It follows a squad of Navy Seals on a mission.

One nice touch in both stories is the use of captions to explain the terminology. It keeps the readers from getting lost in the military jargon.

Men Of War is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise from the new DC Universe.

Swamp Thing #1
by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

Swamp Thing is a character who’s already been through one major reboot already. Originally, as created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing was scientist Alec Holland, who after an accident in a swamp, turned into the horrific Swamp Thing. It wasn’t the most original of ideas, but Wein and Wrightson executed it brilliantly and their run on the character is considered one of the best horror comics in history.

In the early 1980s, the legendary Alan Moore got hold of the character and turned the whole concept on its head. Instead of actually being Alec Holland, turned into a monster, Moore explained that the Swamp Thing was a clump of swamp mud that had become infected with Alec Holland’s soul when he died. That set up Moore’s run on the title, which is also considered one f the best horror comics in history.

Now there’s a new twist. DC has resurrected Alec Holland. This is the actual Dr. Holland who, it turns out, was killed in the swamp, but infected the monster known as Swamp Thing with his soul. When he was brought back, Holland had all the memories of Swamp Thing, but he knows that it wasn’t him.

This new series will explore his ties to Swamp Thing and how he interacts with “The Green,” the world of plants. This new series also firmly re-establishes Swamp Thing as being part of the DC Universe.

Snyder and Paquette tell a compelling story, with a cameo by Superman (whose time line is still very confusing–even though in the new DC Universe he’s only supposed to have been around five years, he makes reference to returning from the dead, which happened in 1992, our time). I can’t really get into too much detail without spoiling too much of the story,but I will say that this series could turn out to be the third testament of Swamp Thing.

This one’s another keeper.

Check tomorrow’s PopCulteer for five more capsule reviews of the “New 52” from DC.