Saturday, 5 May 2012

Free Comic Book Day: The New 52 #1 review

Hundreds of years ago, a court representing various pantheons judges three people they consider the Trinity of Sin. One man, apparently Judas Iscariot, is sentenced to 'walk the earth as a stranger to Man, as a witness to what greed can do'. The Phantom Stranger.

A second, forced to forget his own name, has his features wiped out, condemned to 'forever question your identity and forever search for answers you will never find'. The Question.

A woman is given '... an eternity of loneliness. An eternity of pain. An eternity of being told I AM evil ... because I opened a box.' Pandora

In present day Detroit, dormant extraterrestrial technology in the government's top secret Red Room is becoming active. STAR Labs scientists Sarah Charles and Silas Stone disagree as to whether they should ask the latter's son, Justice League member Cyborg, for assistance.

In Washington, meanwhile, JL liaison Colonel Steve Trevor is called to the government's clandestine Black Room - same deal as the Red Room, but with supernatural objects of power - where an unknown woman is stealing Pandora's Box. 'Reclaiming' may be a more appropriate term than 'stealing', given that the woman is Pandora. The arms of Trevor and his military aides prove no match for Pandora's mystic pistols, and she gets away and opens the box, revealing a golden skull with three eye sockets. She vows to deal with the box once and for all.

In 'the near future', Batman wears the skull on a ribbon around his neck, as an unfamiliar Green Lantern fights to grab it from him. Superman, yielding a ruddy great stone column, puts paid to that idea. And he's not alone, we're in the midst of a massive superhero battle also involving Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Arrow, Mera, Aquaman, Black Adam, Deadman, Hawkman, Atom, Cyborg and Vibe.

Yes, Vibe! The character find of 1984, dead since 1987 but occasionally seen in alternate realities and TV cartoons, is making his DC New 52 debut. And he's bringing Element Woman, one of the more interesting debutantes from last year's Flashpoint event, with him. We can expect to see the Before and After of this big battle as part of DC's upcoming Trinity War storyline, and this taster has done its job and gotten me eager to see it. For it's a sad fact that pretty much all DC has to do to grab my attention is toss a little continuity porn at me.

So as well as the revelation that the previously unknown third person in the Trinity of Sin is The Question, we get mentions of Black Orchid and Dr Mist as associates of Steve Trevor, learn that someone from Earth 2 is signaling across the multiverse, see the Haunted Tank in the Black Room and find out that Trevor has a sister ... it's sad but true, no snippet is too tiny to get me smiling. And just what is The Circus which Trevor is so desperate to protect?

As for the main plot writer Geoff Johns is seeding, I'm definitely grabbed by Pandora's quest, and how it links back to the Flashpoint event which gave rise to the New 52 Universe. I'd definitely like to see her bring down this latest version of DC's mystical court, the Quintessence, as they seem a right bunch of cosmic asses, yelling hysterically at the so-called Sinners, only one of whom - the man who becomes The Question - shows neither regret nor humility. Pandora's crime amounted to curiosity, while the Phantom Stranger played his part in a drama whose ending was written by God himself.

The art is by an all-star cast of illustrators: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and colourist Rod Reis handle the judgment opening; Kenneth Rocafort and Blond take us to STAR Labs; Gene Ha and Art Lyon look after the Trevor and Pandora sequence; and Jim Lee, Scott Williams and and Alex Sinclair close with the future battle, most of which is a four-page fold-out poster panel revealing the combatants. It all makes for a good-looking 16-page story, with the only thing I don't like being the design for the guy who may be Shazam - he looks like a Rio drag queen.

As I say, I'm all over this comic, it's sharply crafted superhero fun. I've no idea how any new people brought into shops by the freebie promotion will react, mind - they may be put off by the barrage of characters and concepts, they may be charmed by the promise of a world of weirdness to be discovered. Certainly DC deserves some credit for not going the lazy reprint route for Free Comic Book Day, instead gifting readers an entertaining set-up for what looks likely to be a blockbuster event.

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Martin - I didn't get a copy so it's nice to read a coherent summary.

    Still, the Phantom Stranger is Judas? Meh.

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    1. It's not stated, but very heavily implied.

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  2. Ditto. Didn't make it to a store to pick anything up for free. So a useful bit of background!

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    1. I wonder if DC will put this up for free, digitally - they really should.

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  3. I like my Phantom Stranger strange, so a confirmation that he's *anyone* disappoints me. Though the idea that his necklace is the 30 pieces of silver is a nice bit of character design. Judas is a bit on the nose, but at least it's the right nose.

    I'm also not crazy about changes to the Question, but this certainly doesn't preclude Rene becoming a Question of the sort I'm more accustomed to somewhere down the line. My main question -- one the Question himself will probably be unable to answer, at this point -- is what was his big sin? (And I do like that he forgot his own name -- his own identity was a central issue of the O'Neil/Cowan series, still my favorite Question stories ever.)

    Loved the references to Dr. Mist & the glimpse of the Haunted Tank. The Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask is also visible in the Black Room, and I'm wondering what that artifact is that shouldn't be rung, as well as the strange centurion-style armor in the Red Room. And did you catch the face in the storm above Pandora?

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    1. Hmm, is it a face? Probably! Maybe the Presence?

      I love looking at 'prop' rooms. Weirdly, just after closing the issue I was taking a look at the Ben Cross remake of Dark Shadows and in the first episode there's a gold mask very similar to the one in the comic foreground.

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  4. I'm totally on the other side of the fence on this one, Martin. I think the idea of making this book continuity porn flies in the face of Free Comic Book Day's stated concept and that Geoff Johns (creator of the Rainbow Brite Corps) and his need to duplicate everything until there's too much of it to be meaningful have truck again, creating this council of wizards and yet another human Green Lantern. It put me off, and the sharp artwork did little assuage my frustration. I also think that AvX--which this Trinity War comes dangerously close to reminding me of--is the worst kind of lowest-common-denominator storytelling, essentially institutionalizing "who could be up whom?" fan fiction stories.

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    1. I'm straddling the fence - I said I enjoyed the continuity noodling, but wondered how new readers would react.

      And you likely know how much I hate that the GL books have been taken over by the Crayola Corps.

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  5. Martin,

    Nice work! My LCS didn't have one of these in stock, but I'm glad to have your gimlet eyed and sober assesment. Always a pleasure!

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    1. Cheers Keith, I'll watch for your eventual review.

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  6. Thanks again for the awesome reviews you do here Martin. You easily save me time and money. I don't have a comic book store near me, so I couldn't enjoy free comic book day like you guys, put this Trinity of Sin thing does seem very interesting. I just hope this whole thing makes sense and is done right in the end, as with almost everything Johns does, the set-up is almost usually the best part, but the follow through....not so much.

    I too am rather tired of the whole Rainbow Corps thing, since it seems it's been going on forever! Johns' has become so wrapped up in this epic drama of his that he's easily forgotten that Hal belongs on Earth, as he is the GL of Earth, thus he should make more appearances there. And what about his other rogues gallery? Where's Lord Sonar and Goldface? Evil Star and Major Disaster? It's time to wrap things up for now and let poor Hal go home for awhile. He's earned it.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Dale.

      I'm nodding as regards Geoff Johns' starts and finishes, let's hope he has a strong editor for the Trinity War story.

      And yes, I also miss the old GL villains, it seems the only ones who ever appear nowadays are those who get retro-fitted into the 'legend'.

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  7. I loved the Trinity War splash page--definitely very cool.

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