It has now been six months since the DC relaunch, time enough for the shock and the new car smell to wear off, time to get enough issues out to really assess the quality of all of the books. At this point I am relatively satisfied with DC’s offerings. Some of the books have been disappointing, but those books have been offset by a similar number of positive surprises. Because I hate myself, I guess, I … acquired … and read the first six issues of every single one of the New 52. Then I rated them from best to worst. Actually, I’m going to go over them in the opposite order.
52) Hawk and Dove: This series is a mess. I don’t know what hold Leifeld has over DC that they keep giving him books not just to draw but to write, but they really need to put a stop to it. This is an incoherent, ugly comic with absolutely nothing to recommend about it. The original writer Sterling Gates ducked out early, and it only got worse from its miserable first issue.
51)Batman: The Dark Knight: There are two legitimately good Batman books in the relaunch and even the pedestrian Detective Comics is much better than this pile. It seems to be an artist showcase for David Finch, which is baffling because his art is aggressively terrible. He is also writing, or co-writing later, and the story is a muddle. Avoid.
50) The Savage Hawkman: I’ll give the Savage Hawkman credit for at least having interesting, if not especially good, art. But the story is a jumbled mess and Hawkman is still as big a mess as ever.
49) Teen Titans: Honestly, this one is so low mostly due to the frankly awful art. The story is competent if not especially good. There is a secret shadowy organization that is targeting teenagers and Red Robin is assembling a team to stop them. The whole thing just feels very 90s.
48) Blawkhawks: This is trying to be GI Joe in the DC universe, but misses the boat mostly due to the fact that the characters are so poorly developed. There aren’t any personalities to grab onto. The inconsistent art team isn’t helping either. This is just not a good book.
47) Static Shock: This book is lower than it might normally be if I hadn’t expected it to be quite a bit better. But writer Rozum, fresh off his excellent Xombi series, got pushed out by artist McDaniel and we got a crappy, generic teen superhero book that is only notable for some crappy cliffhangers.
46) Suicide Squad: This book has gotten a lot of negative attention, but it really isn’t that terrible. There are a lot of baffling changes to characters, like skinny Waller, but it is mostly just a below average supervillain focused book.
45) Detective Comics: The most generic and Batman books, Detective Comics is just slightly below average. It tries to hard to be shocking and edgey, but it mostly comes off as tired. There isn’t a lot to say, this is just a kind of bad Batman book.
44)Men of War: Combining frontline soldiers with Superheroes is a decent hook, but this book doesn’t really go anywhere with it. This could have been a really good book, but it needed either more or fewer superheroes.
43) Green Arrow: Just a dull, insipid take on the character. The early story’s focus on reality star villains did not mix well with the very old fashioned Jurgens art. The Giffen/Jurgens story wasn’t much better.
42) Green Lantern: The New Guardians. Kirkham and Bedard take the multi-colored lanterns and forge a new team, but the result is a muddles mess. This is really the Kyle Rayner spotlight book with other colored lanterns are his supporting characters. It feels like a book without a reason to me.
41) Grifter. This book suffers from art that is only consistent in its mediocrity. And the story is too generic and too slow. This one is sadly just not very good.
40) Red Lanterns. This book’s is better than it should be, but it still isn’t very good. There is some absurd hilarity to a book about rage monsters who hang out on their rage planet and talk about how angry they are without ever acting on that anger. Still, it is eminently missable.
39) Legion Lost. This is another book with a decent hook, a team of superheroes from the future stuck in the present, that hasn’t established a firm direction. Its just these future guys messing about in the present. The potential is still there, but this book is treading water.
38) Fury of Firestorm. This book probably moved itself up about 10 spots in the last couple of issues. The first few were a mess, all overwrought dialogue and senseless violence. Then the two leads and the struggle with nuclear powered people starting taking over and it kept getting better. Still, though, it has only risen to mediocre.
37) Superboy. The intrigue of the first few issues has given way to sheer boredom in the next few. I guess Lobdell is going to take a year for Superboy to become a hero, though everyone knew that was the end result since issue 1. The art is good, though. Each issue just feels very circular.
36) Batwing. A Batman spin-off book set in Africa with art that doesn’t take advantage of the exotic locale and a story that is boilerplate Batman fare. There is nothing here to raise this book above the rest of the middling fare.
35) Blue Beetle. This book should probably be lower, it has been an embarrassment. The Blue Beetle book from a couple of years ago was excellent. This book has, so far, taken all the good stuff out of that story and retold it as a horrible mockery. With only the slight redemption of some pretty good art.
34) Catwoman. Writer Judd Winick is trying for a sexy spy feeling to this book, but he isn’t quite nailing it. The art is often expressive and cartoony, but sometimes it just looks bad. After the widely hated ending to the first issue there isn’t really anything to garner much interest. Bland more than bad.
33) Red Hood and the Outlaws. I love Rocafort’s art. It is like all the good things about 90’s art minus most of the terrible excesses. The story so far is inconsequential fluff, sometimes amusing, sometimes insipid but generally bad action movie levels of entertaining. A fun but light book.
32) Justice League Dark. Another book with superb art but a middling story. After 6 issues the magical Justice League is still forming. It isn’t badly written, just a bit muddled and slow. Maybe I’m being too hard on it, but this book, while not bad, did little for me.
31) Resurrection Man. The Dark line has been largely good, so this book, and JLD to an extent, have the misfortune of being compared against Swamp Thing and Animal Man and being found lacking. Not that this is bad, but I have been mostly unimpressed. Though the idea behind the title character is still solid.
30) Legion of Superheroes. The Legion always seems daunting to outsiders, and the first few issues of this book didn’t do anything to change that reputation, but as I read a few issues I found myself getting sucked in. The art has been mostly pretty good, even when you throw out the Simonson issue. This is middle of the road superhero fare, but it is close to turning into legitimately good superhero fare.
29) Stormwatch. The big Wildstorm team tries to find its place in the regular DC Universe, with some success. Cornell is normally a very good writer, but he is working with a mediocre artist and shows no clear purpose for this team. The result is a comic that is thoroughly average.
28) DCU Presents. I have to question the wisdom of a 5 part story to start this anthology title. The Deadman story wasn’t bad, and I didn’t love the first part of the Challengers of the Unknown story that came after it, but I think it would have been better to get more smaller stories. I still love the potential of this book for a wide variety of tales.
27) Superman. I know I liked this more than most. It is writing is turgid and the plot is way too simplistic for 6 issues. The art has been mostly good, especially the Nicola Scott issues. Perez seemed to have tried to do too much and therefore accomplished very little. It still gave readers some decent monster fighting and a good look at Superman’s supporting cast, even if it was ultimately unfulfilling.
26) Mr. Terrific. The dialogue in this comic is terrible. The rest of it, though, is quite good. Gianluca’s art is fluid and weird and the plots are actually pretty good. But that dialogue kind of drags everything down. Still, this has largely been an enjoyable comic
25) Justice League International. Clean art and bog-standard, dull story. Not especially bad, but bland. Which is a terrible achievement with the colorful cast that this book has. I have little hope that it will get better without a new writer.
24) Batgirl. After the decision to get Babs out of the wheelchair, Simone took the hardest route of writing a story about her troubles coming back from a debilitating injury instead of just ignoring, which would have probably resulted in a better first story. After that rough, but necessary fist arc this book has gotten a whole lot better. Still, it is not on par with Simone’s best work
23) Voodoo. The first issue is set in a strip club for little legitimate story reason. After that the book, a blend of sci-fi and spy story, starting taking off. But after six issues there are still many more questions than answers. Basri’s art is excellent, and the story is just one issue away from really taking off.
22) Nightwing. This just rises up to being a good book. In some ways it is just baldly generic, but it is well done and really shows off how good a character Dick Grayson is. I am also surprised that Higgins has gotten so much new out of Dick’s circus roots.
21) I, Vampire. This is a dark and moody book about a war vampires are waging on humanity, based mostly on a lover’s spat. The art and story fit together better than any book in the relaunch. It isn’t quite as good as some of the other ‘Dark’ books, but it is still really good.
20) Green Lantern Corps. Guy Gardner and John Stewart, along with the rest of the Green Lanterns, are always fighting crazy space monsters. Though it has been mostly solidly good, it is this high mostly because Tomasi writes a perfect Guy Gardner.
19) Birds of Prey. New character Starling is a good one, as is the underlying mystery of this title, but it isn’t quite knock your socks off good. This book is better than most of the recent Simone run, but not as good as her previous one. This is a middle of the road, but perfectly good comic.
18) Demon Knights. This is half superheroes half fantasy and mostly very good. The characters are well written, as are their interactions, but the stakes still feel too small. There is a lot of fun to be had here, but it has fallen off somewhat lately.
17) Captain Atom. Krul is telling a story about a man who has become Gad and how he reacts to it. The best part is just how human Cap still is. He is as terrified of his new powers as anyone else. Still, he has done more good in the first few issues than many of the heroes of other series.
16) Deathstroke. This has been the surprise of the relaunch. There is just such gleeful violence and disregard for life and sense here. Deathstroke, out to prove he isn’t over the hill, is taking the fight to anyone he can. By chopping up anyone and everyone. With the fun there is still a pretty good central story. Amazing considering how bad I expected this to be.
15) Justice League. JL has been loud and big, but not especially great. Johns has a great handle on every member of the team, but his first story is a bit of a disappointment. It just feels sparse and confused. Despite my reservations, this is still a pretty good book. I like how much Wonder Woman smiles.
14) Supergirl. This is a bit slowly paced, but the art and writing are both really good. Though there was just a Supergirl comes to Earth story a couple of years ago, this version is so much better.
13) Green Lantern. This has been a delight. Sinestro is forced into a redemption arc that he doesn’t believe he needs and Hal is trying to adjust to being ringless. Manhke’s art is great, and the relationships between Hal and Sinestro and Hal and Carol are just great.
12) Batman and Robin. This has been surprisingly good. Really good art from Pat Gleason, and the relationship between Bruce and Damian is awesome. That relationship makes this very different from the other Batman books, making it the one besides Batman that people should pick up.
11) Action Comics. This is not Morrison’s best work, but it is still a wonderfully fresh take on The Man of Steel. Too bad the artists can’t keep up. This is still a very good comic, but it needs more structure to be truly great.
10) Aquaman. This is some really good straight up superheroes. Ivan Reis is great artist and Johns is hitting his usual solid notes. The sixth issue is a bit of a let down, but otherwise this might be the set up for one of the great runs with this character.
9) Swamp Thing. Six issues in and Alec Holland has not become Swamp Thing yet. For some reason, though, I am just fine with it. This is just a smart, borderline terrifying book. Snyder is taking the time to synthesize all the previous Swamp Thing iterations into one.
8) OMAC. This book has been a nonstop romp through the goofiness of late Silver Age Jack Kirby. It is sheer fun, especially Keith Giffen’s artwork. Every issue is crazier than the last, always in a good way.
7) All-Star Western. Even if this wasn’t the only western comic in the new 52 it would likely be the best one. Palmiotti and Grey get Jonah Hex and they get genre fiction. Intead the done in one stories of old Jonah Hes series, here they have a continuing story, with great art by Moritat.
6) Batman. Scott Snyder is telling an excellent Batman tale here. Just like he was before the relaunch. The best part is that he is doing it with mostly new characters and concepts. There are new villains and new Gothamites and new toys for Batman. The art is also very good. This is just a really good comic book.
5) Batwoman. The art here is so, so good. JH Williams is a masterful artist. The story here is fine, not mind-blowing but solid. There is enough life to it that the art doesn’t have to carry it completely, though it could. Even were the story kind of awful, this book would likely be in the top 20. The only thing better than this would be the return of Rucka to write this.
4) Animal Man. Lemire is doing the best work at DC right now, ahead of even Snyder and Morrison. Animal Man is more horror than hero, and while it is creepy, it isn’t too off putting. Foreman’s art has been sparse and perfectly complements the art. I don’t know if this is going to replace Morrison’s work on this title as the definitive run, but this is at least another good one.
3) Wonder Woman. People have reacted to this book as though Azzarello is doing something completely unheard of with Wonder Woman, in a good way. That doesn’t make it true. The team here is doing a terrific job of respecting what came before and telling a new, good story. Cliff Chiang’s art is fantastic as well. This is one good mythological mystery they are building here.
2) The Flash. This series has been an absolute delight. This is the best pure superhero book on the stands. Manapul and Buccelatto are making Barry Allen a fresh, positive hero in the face of the grimmer and brooding new DC Universe. And the art is incredible. Really, its just beautiful stuff.
1) Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. This is the absolute best book coming out of DC right now. Frankenstein is a monster that hunts monsters, and he and his team’s missions are just as messy as Alberto Ponticelli’s art. It is a combination of mad science gone wrong and mad science gone right. Even in all the madness there is more than a touch of humanity, like Frankenstein’s relationship with his estranged wife. This is just some good, fun comics.
Six books: Men of War, Blackhawks, Mr. Terrific, Hawk and Dove, Static Shock, and OMAC, are ending with issue 8, with six more to replace them. Of the new six, Worlds Finest, Earth 2, Dial H and Batman Inc look good and only The Ravagers looks truly terrible.
So what am still reading. I am still reading the top 20, except for Deathstroke and Birds of Prey, as well as Nightwing, JLD, Batgirl and Superman. I still sometimes pick up JLI, Voodoo, Legion of Superheroes and DCU Presents depending on the story.