I recently discovered the Booth at the End during a very boring Saturday. With nothing better do due I decided to check this show out after seeing it advertised several times on Hulu. This became one of those odd moments where I (A) wanted to kick myself for not finding it sooner and (B) was glad that I was able to watch the first two seasons all in one go.
The Booth at the End is a web series originally produced by the FX network website. Despite a bit of research I could not figure out if they are still involved or not. Either way it is currently showing exclusively on Hulu. It is what I have termed a type one web series, which is a series that is produced by a professional studio and using professional actors for distribution on the web.
The premise is that there is a man who sits in a booth in a diner. People will come to him with something they want. He will make a deal with them, where he gives them a task to do and when they complete the task they will get what they want. Part of the deal is that the people have to check in with the man and give him an update on how their task is progressing. The things the people want can range from money, to curing a child of cancer to bringing the dead back to life.
The tasks will often not appear to have anything to do with the goal, but are always something the person asking would not do of their own will. The man who wants his son cured of cancer must find and kill a 5 year old girl. The girl who wants money to save her father’s restaurant must find a shut in and make them leave their home. The young man who wants to be immortal must “mark three people” with no explanation of what that means. Another twist is that the man does not directly give the reward. Instead completing the task causes the reward to manifest on its own. In many cases the stories intertwine. One man is given the task of protecting the girl that the other man is tasked with killing.
Some people complete their tasks and they always get what they asked for. Others try and fail and still get what they want. Some are stopped by others and get nothing. And some realize that what they wanted isn’t what they really wanted after all and abandon the task.
The entire series takes place in the diner so the story is told by the people coming in to update the man. This is obviously dictated by the show’s limited budget, but rather than a weakness the show makes this aspect one of its strengths. Normally you want to follow the “show, not tell” paradigm, but here the reverse is true. What you have is a collection of private conversations and the emotion displayed is often that of someone dealing with the aftermath of their actions.
As is often the case, when you are dealing with a low budget show you need to step up in writing and acting to make up for it. I honestly believe that several actors on this series are using scenes from it on their demo reels. The scripts are strong and clever. It is amazing the amount of information they convey not only in what they say, but what they leave unsaid.
The actors on the show are a collection of actors that you see in supporting roles or guest star roles on other shows. The lead is played by Xander Berkeley who is familiar face from shows like 24 and Nikita. His unnamed character, called only the Man in the credits is a calm collected person who seems a bit detached. The man seems to have no vested interest in the people he deals with completing their tasks or not. Berkeley underplays the man but still conveys that a lot is going on under the surface.
The other stand out character is Doris played by Jenni Blong who True Blood fans will recognize as Sookie’s mother. Doris is the waitress at the diner in the first season. She does not ask the man for anything, seeming only interested in getting to know him, something he is not comfortable with. In the second season when the man moves to another diner she shows up again and reveals that there may be more going on with her.
Two other stand-out performances are Jennifer Del Rosario, who plays Melody, the only other character to appear in both seasons, and Noel Fisher who plays Dillon, a man who wants immortality whose story crosses over with Melody. Both provide very emotionally performances with Fisher providing one of the most heartbreaking performances of the whole series in his last appearance. If there is any justice he will find more work based on just that.
The nature of the show naturally provokes a lot of online speculation from its fans. Most center on the nature of the man, but I think there is a lot more interesting details in the other characters. The man is not the protagonist of the series; at least not in season one. He is a well written plot device, he servers to motivate the people who deal with him, but they are the ones that grow and change. Second season gives the man more to work with himself, giving him some growth as well, but even then it is the people who come to him that are interesting.
Put yourself in their shoes. You learn there is a man who can give you anything you want as long as you fulfill a deal with him. The deal will be difficult, maybe even unthinkable, but you will get what you want. How far are you willing to go for what you want? That’s the hook of the series.
As for the nature of the man, a lot of fans want to put him in Judo-Christian terms. They speculate that he is either the Devil or an angel. I personally think that is too simple for this show. If we look at him in context of archetype he is a trickster. He provides a deal that allows people to face a truth about who they really are while they work to complete their tasks.
I would give The Booth at the End a solid grade of A as a web series. I encourage everyone to check it out.
This weekend marks the start of Halloween Horror Nights, which I count as the official kick off of the Halloween season.
For those not in the know Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event held at Universal Studios at their Florida, Hollywood, and Singapore locations. Basically afterhours during the five weeks leading up to Halloween the parks convert over to a Halloween event.
Now a lot of theme parks do this. As you get closer to Halloween the parks will have events that range from a very kid friendly one at Disneyland to very well respected event at Knott’s Berry Farm. But this is Universal Studios, who created most of the horror images that are now an integral part of Halloween. So in 1991 at their park in Florida they decided to do the event, which was called Fright Nights during its first year. The next year it was renamed Halloween Horror Nights and expanded to both Florida and Hollywood.
It’s worth mentioning that while Halloween Horror Nights happens at all Universal sites, Florida is usually considered the bigger one, with Hollywood being a little brother and Singapore only having just started doing it last year. All three sites have their own development team and while they may have similar themed houses and scarezones they are not usually developed in tandem.
Originally the event was mostly Halloween themed shows and a traditional haunted house maze. Then performers called scarectors were added who wandered selected areas of the park called scarezones. The number of houses increased, each with its own theme. These would grow to Florida having 8 houses and 6 to 8 scarezones. Hollywood now has 6 houses, 4 to 5 scarezones, and a scary tram ride.
One noticeable difference in the houses and scarezones between sites is that Hollywood is more likely to have them themed based on an existing movie franchise, where Florida is more prone to creating original house themes and stories.
In 2000 a feature was added the really made Halloween Horror Nights stand out, the creation of the event icons. Really this was started a few years earlier when the event was hosted by the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. In 2000 however an original character was created to be the events host in Florida, Jack the Clown. Jack was not only created visually but was given a fairly detailed back story. Basically Jack was developed enough that he could have been the main character of a horror movie. But instead he was used as the main character of the event with a house and scarezone both themed after him. Since then every year except two in Florida has had an Icon. Hollywood will also use Icons, but has never developed an original one, either using one of Florida’s or an existing character from a film franchise such as Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
To date Halloween Horror Nights has created the following Icons:
Jack Schmidt aka Jack the Clown (Yes they did his last name on purpose): A murderous clown who leads the demented Carnival of Carnage. Jack is the most popular icon and has been used more than any of the others. In 2001 a new Icon, Eddie was supposed to be introduced, but after the 9/11 attacks he was deemed not appropriate and Jack was brought back and a toned down Eddie was made his little brother and minion. As Jack is partly inspired by the Joker he has another sidekick, Chance, who is reminiscent of Harley Quinn.
Albert Cain aka The Caretaker: Cain was a former surgeon turned mortician who would capture people and experiment on them. Originally Albert was meant to be a background character to the events original Icon, his disturbed daughter Cindy. However a string of child abductions in the Florida area led to Cindy being pushed back and Albert being developed as the main Icon.
Paulo Ravinski aka The Director: An Eastern European film maker who would actually kill actors on film in order to capture the realism of their deaths.
Elsa Strict aka The Storyteller: An old woman who would tell stories of horror from an ancient time, known as Terra Curentas. Originally the Terra Queen was meant to be the Icon, but there were development issues with her and the Storyteller was created for promotional materials and commercials. Her lack of a backstory is unique amongst the Icons and has been played up in subsequent appearances.
Dr. Mary Agana aka Bloody Mary: A psychiatrist who through her research into fear transformed herself into the Bloody Mary of folklore. Mary had an extensive history developed, second only to Jack’s. The Halloween Horror Nights’ website had a multimedia game set up prior to the event that would allow people to uncover her story.
Julian Browning aka the Usher: A strict movie usher at a 1920’s movie theater. He was killed after a scuffle with a patron, and now haunts the theater and enforces his rules beyond the grave.
Fear: Literally the embodiment of fear, often called Fear Himself. He was the Icon for the 20th anniversary and brought Jack, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Director, and the Usher with him as his Heralds.
Lady Luck: The embodiment of bad luck. If you gamble with her and lose she will devour you. She is second only to the Storyteller in lack of back story.
Besides the Icons there are other story elements that have appeared repeatedly.
Legendary Truth: An organization formed in the 50’s to investigate the supernatural. An online game based on a hunt for Bloody Mary treated the players as Legendary Truth agents. A similar game was set up for the 20th anniversary to uncover the source of the monsters. There has also been a house that was themed as a Legendary Truth investigation gone horribly wrong.
Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium: A mental hospital that briefly held Jack the Clown. It has been the setting for four houses and a part of the 20th anniversary online game.
Carey Ohio: Carey, a town in Wyandot County Ohio, is the hometown of one of the creative directors of Halloween Horror Nights. Both the town and the county have been the setting for several houses over the years, to the point that this year there is a house based around all the weird things that happen in Carey.
The Chainsaw drill team: Every year at least one of the scarezones is based around a group running around with chainsaws.
But all the great backstory in the world isn’t worth anything unless the houses are well executed. And this is where having a movie studio behind the theme park really comes into play. The craftsmanship behind the designs of the houses and the costumes and makeup on the scarectors is high. A lot of thought goes into Halloween Horror Nights with some park employees working year round to put the event together.
My wife and I attended the 20th Anniversary event in 2010. I’m picky about haunted houses as I use to work in what was at the time the leading haunted house in the Seattle area for a few years. I am also hard to impress because I am not a person who goes around nervous at a Halloween event because I know I am safe, so I am impressed when someone can get a jump scare out of me. At Halloween Horror Nights only one house failed to jump scare me, and even then I was impressed with how well the set, costumes, and sound was handled. Most other houses got me to jump scare at least once, and one got me five times. My wife had to remind me that I could not high five the people who got me to jump.
I was also impressed by a lot of technical details. In one house they used scarectors on wires behind a cheesecloth screen painted to look like a wall to create the effect of translucent ghosts flying by. Two of the houses used hanging items like strips of plastic or cloth in doorways and hallways to disorientate guest. You would have to reach up and brush them away and this gave scarectors a chance to sneak up. One house took advantage of the fact that your eyes would grow accustomed to the dark. A flame effect would go off when you entered a room, wreaking your night vision and distracting you so that you would not see the person hiding in the shadows.
For a break Halloween Horror Nights always has a Bill and Ted live show that makes fun of whatever was big in pop culture that year.I expect the Avengers to have a big part this year.
There is usually another show as well, but those rotate. The year we were there it was a magician that did gory tricks. This year it appears to be a circus geek show.
I did learn that there is one big difference between the Florida and Hollywood events. My sister went to the Hollywood event the same year I went to Florida. The difference is in refreshments. In Hollywood there is no alcohol available. In Florida not only are there places to buy alcohol but they had women dressed as nurses with IV bags containing Jell-O shots roaming the park.
Overall this is a fun event. If you like haunted houses you will love Halloween Horror Nights. So if you get the chance to go I would highly recommend it and I hope to go back one day myself.
Are web series the way of the future? For most of you I’m sure your answer is, “what the hell are you talking about”?
Since about 2006 I have been fascinated by the how media and the way we consume it is evolving. That was the year I really got into podcasts. One of the early ones I found was Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code. During those early days one of Adam’s assertions was that in five years 50% of the media we consume would be produced by what were previously consumers.
It’s six years later and while we are not at the 50% mark we are further along than we were. And I think there are three factors at play here.
The first is how we want to consume media. I for one do not watch anything on TV during the time it is actually broadcast. Between my work schedule and other activities I just don’t have the time. If I am interested in something I either watch it on demand, or online. When I reviewed American Horror Story, I did not watch a single episode during broadcast; I went out to FX’s website and watched. If I am not watching a show through On-demand, I am either watching it on Hulu, Netflix, or in rare cases Itunes.
And this is a growing trend. We have the technology to watch what we want, when we want, and where we want. The big media companies are catching on slowly. I am convinced that there will come a day when watching on demand is the norm and that shows will not be scheduled around a timeslot at all.
And this brings us to the other factor at play, the technology. Back in the eighties I was part of an amateur film making group. We made Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan films. Back then our distribution network was basically word of mouth at conventions and tape distribution. Also we had to rent time with editing equipment. Now you can get editing software for reasonable rates and when you are done you upload the video on-line.
So the barrier of getting your material out is gone. Instead the effort is to get people’s attention with so much competition.
So back to my original statement, why are web series the way of the future.
First I want to point out that there are basically three different types of web series.
The first is the professional series, produced by a big studio or network. These are either online side series to bigger shows, or original products that are not big enough to put on a network. Examples would be online extensions to the shows Heroes and Battlestar Galactica, or original content like the Booth at the End and The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD). The extension series can add detail to the main show, but they are general made so that they are not required viewing. A show like Booth at the End is a smaller budget scenario but can give actors who rarely get a chance at starring roles the opportunity to show their chops. LXD, which I previously reviewed, is an example of a show that would just not fly on regular TV, but given a chance online, is able to find an audience. The non-extension examples can often blurs the line with the next type
The second type of web series is the independently professional produced series. Shows like Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, The Guild, or Leap Year, which again have recognizable actors and even creators, but are made outside of the normal studio system. These can be passion projects for a creator that they cannot get backed, or an attempt for an up and comer to show they have the skills to work in the industry.
The previous two types of web series are ones that while smaller than normal TV shows can still get enough press to be successful. The third type is also the one that most fits Adam Curry’s prediction. These are independently produced shows that feature an amateur cast. The budgets are often small, so for a show to succeed there are to be something going for it like good writing and solid concepts. A great example is a show I previously reviewed called Ninja: The Mission Force. The production company, Dark Maze Studios, specializes in what it calls micro budget productions. Other great examples are Standard Action, Transylvania Television, lonelygirl15 and JourneyQuest.
A subset of type three is the internet reviewer. I’ve mentioned some of these before. The best examples can be found at That Guy with the Glasses. Some of the reviewers are also film makers so it all comes down to people looking for a way to be creative.
Of course some people do it because they want to be famous, but honestly that’s not the worst motivation. But unless they have talent to go along with ego they aren’t going to do so well.
It’s the independent amateurs that I feel personally drawn to. These are the people that in the pre-internet days no one would have ever heard of. Now they have a means to get their work to an audience and make a name for themselves.
And actually make money at it.
That is the third factor at play. People have finally figured out how to monetize web series. It can take a few forms.
The most common is ad revenue, just like regular TV. In the case of online video it is usually by going through a service, like Blip TV, that hosts the video and stiches ads in them. The service will then split the ad revenue 50/50 with the video producer. The revenue is based directly on how many views a video gets so the more popular producers can make a full time job of it.
For the professionally produced web series they will either be on a studio site, or on a site like Hulu.
A variation of the above is when a site picks up a video producer, like IGN or the Escapist. They take care of the ads and pay the producer.
Another way is crowd sourcing, where the producer gets donations from fans to produce the show. This is how the first season of the Guild was paid for. The advent of Kickstarter has been a great boon to the web series, as it has for many artistic endeavors.
Since there is money to be made people will go out and make web series. This is what will make sure that there will be more and more content. So I say give it another five years and Curry’s prediction will come true.
I could go on about individual shows, and I certainly will in future articles. In fact in a couple of weeks I will be reviewing Booth at the End.
Who knows, if the stars are right maybe one day I might finally get around to creating a web series of my own. It could happen.
On August 31st game publisher NCSoft announced that they were immediately suspending all development on City of Heroes and that the game servers would be shut down on November 31st.
While no reason has been given for this decision there are several clues. The first is that NCSoft posted a second quarter loss of $6 million. The loss was due to several factors, including rising labor and marketing costs, an acquisition and disappointing performance of their game Aion. There are also reports that there is not enough server space for their big new release Guild Wars 2. Again there is no direct connection to any of these that has been publicly stated, but I think it shows where this might have come from.
For those not aware City of Heroes was the first ever superhero MMO game. It’s a game I have a long history with. So let’s stroll down memory lane for a bit and look at what this game was and what it meant.
City of Heroes had a long development. It was announced over 10 years ago by a small company called Cryptic Studios. Originally the developers wanted to create a flexible power creation system along the lines of the table top superhero roleplaying game Champions. Unfortunately internal play testing showed that this method lead to people either creating min/maxed characters that were unstoppable, or characters build on a theme that were too underpowered to survive. Due to this fault the developers scrapped the character design system, went back to the drawing board and pushed back the release date two years.
This was pretty daring considering a lot of companies will rush a game to meet a launch date. Cryptic stated that it was better to delay launch then release a severely unbalanced game.
The result was a game that went from having an open ended creation system to one that had what was pretty standard. You selected a class just like you would in most fantasy games, Tanker, Scrapper, Healer, Blaster, and Controller. You also selected an origin but that just affected what types or upgrades you could use. Even with this restriction you could still basically build almost any character you could dream up.
What made City of Heroes stand out in character creation was the costume creation. It still stands as one of the most customizable systems for visually creating your character. People could spend hours just playing around with the different looks they could give their avatar. There would be in game player run costume contests because people loved showing off their designs. The down side is that really uncreative people would do their best to just recreate characters from comics, movies, or any other media. Since this could lead to legal issues it was against the rules. And even with that City of Heroes was sued by Marvel, but was able to win.
Game play was really standard MMO fair. Get missions which were either defeat X number of Y foes, run an errand, or go into and instanced mission zone and complete its specific win scenario. This led to an issue that affect many MMOs and still does. If you run more than one character you will repeat missions. This of course requires the MMO developers to create new content to keep its players engaged. City of Heroes actually did pretty well on this front, releasing regular updates that added new missions, zones, character classes and powers.
Another strong point was the graphics. Unless I have missed something it was the first MMO to be set in a modern urban setting. And on that front it succeeded, you had the feel of being in a real city.
Eventually they released a companion game City of Villains, which is you had both you could cross-play. Eventually they were both just effectively folded into one game.
Another big achievement for City of Heroes was when they released the Mission Architect system. It was a tool kit for players to make custom missions complete with the ability to make custom built villains. Then they could open it up for people to play their missions. It was an amazing introduction of player created content into an MMO.
I started playing the game as a beta tester and stayed with it until about 3 years ago. I had in that time leveled 4 characters to max level and I was never interested in the end game material. I found myself moving on to other games. But I let my subscription stay in place for a while. This was because even though I was not playing the game much anymore, I was still active on its discussion board.
The discussion board is probably one of the game’s biggest successes and the reason why the end of the game is being rallied against so hard. MMOs are supposed to be social by their very nature. In most of the ones I play I tend to be a solo player. City of Heroes was different. I would join pick up groups and get together with friends. And the discussion boards were and still are very active. The geek culture forum, called Comic and Hero/Villain Culture was my home base. From here I was first convinced to give the Dresden File novels a chance. It was reposts of video reviews that led me to discovering That Guy with the Glasses. It was where I would go to share geek news I had come across. I keep my subscription for almost a year after I had actively stopped playing just to keep visiting. But eventually I realized this was not realistic and dropped it, although I still periodically check the forum for news.
And that is the real tragedy of the end of City of Heroes, the end of a passionate geek community that has bonded over the years. There are of course efforts to in some way save the game, but looking at the corporate realties involved I will not be holding my breath.
So instead I will hold on to my memories of the game. I am one of those geeks who creates back story for his characters after all.
So I will remember the plight of my vampire Caliban as he fought to hold off the evil of his curse through heroic acts.
I will remember Swashbuckler and his quest to prove worthy of upholding his family legacy.
I will remember Technomancer and his struggle to overcome the miss use of his technology by the Freakshow gang.
And I will remember the friends I spent time with in the game.
The New 52 reached the one year mark this week. At this point I think it’s time for some reflection on how the relaunch has gone. I have written several times on the overall state of the DCU, as recently as last week, so instead I want to focus on the specific books. So here is my take on the titles that comprise the New 52.
A bit of honesty first. I did not collect or read every title. It just wasn’t realistic to do so. I made my decisions as a consumer, although I did manage to read a couple of titles I didn’t collect to try them out. I’ll point out what I did and didn’t read.
With that, here we go.
The first six down.
These were the first six titles canceled by DC after the relaunch
Hawk and Dove
Men of War
I was likely part of the crowd on this one. I did not collect a single one of them, mostly because I was not that into the characters. The exception was Hawk and Dove where it was the involvement of Rob Liefeld that turned me away. Needless to say I must not have been alone in those feelings as they were all gone by issue 6.
The Books I didn’t bother with:
As with the previous six these are titles I did not collect.
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
The Savage Hawkman,
Red Hood and the Outlaws
Legion of Super-Heroes
For a lot of these titles, like Voodoo and Grifter, I didn’t have an interest. For Teen Titians and Superboy I was not happy with the treatment of characters I had grown attached to in the previous incarnation. For Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman I actually read the first issues and disliked them enough to not want to bother collecting them.
So those are books I didn’t follow. Now on to the ones I have.
The books I decided to drop.
These are the books that I was collecting but decided weren’t ones I wanted to continue following.
Wonder Woman: I wrote a whole article on my thoughts on this one. I just did not like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character. I found her too cold and the changes in her origin did not sit right. I know a lot of people consider this one of the better books of the relaunch but I do not agree.
Green Arrow: I was not originally going to collect this title, but found myself really enjoying the first issue and decided to collect it instead of Catwoman. I got a kick out of the first six issues and thought this was going to be a high point of relaunch. However with issue seven writer J.T, Krul was replace with Ann Nocenti, and the quality went south right away. I realized that I was finding myself confused half the time about what the hell was going on. I dropped the book after issue ten.
The Books I have been following that are not living up to the expectations:
This is a tricky one. I am still enjoying these titles enough to keep collecting them. However I just feel they are not quite up to snuff so they are usually that last ones I read in the weeks they come out. I’d say a couple of them are in risk of being dropped if the quality dips much more.
Justice League: Yep, the cornerstone title of the whole New 52 relaunch and I have problems with it. I think a lot of my problems here are an issue with the tone of the series. I find it more cynical than I would expect with the League. Most of the characters are portrayed as arrogant, even if that is not their portrayal in their own books. Even Superman comes off this way. I am especially surprised at the writing of Green Lantern as he is not acting like he does in his own book despite the fact that Geoff Johns writes both. This even happens in the Shazam back up feature where Billy Batson has gone from a good hearted kid to a jaded brat.
Superman: This is a book I really wanted to love, but instead I just like it in a lukewarm way. I think its problems can be explained by the fact that the writers have really had their hands tied. I already wrote a lot about this back in June. Basically issue #1 felt like being dropped in the middle of a story and that feeling has persisted. The individual issues can be good, but as part of a whole tapestry not so much. And I find this insane considering it has been written by both George Perez and Keith Giffen. I am also just infuriated with the lengths being taken to keep Clark and Lois apart. Clearly it is not as bad as the complete ass pull Marvel performed to split up Peter Parker and Mary Jane, but it is beginning to feel a close second. Superman Group Editor Matt Idelson has gone as far as to say Lois and Clark will not get together at all on his watch.So basically it is a book that can be good, but not consistently.
The Flash: I’ll be honest this book confuses me. On one hand Francis Manapul is doing a great job exploring the Flash’s powers and his conflicts on being the Flash. On the other hand Barry Allen is coming off as a rookie superhero. If this book was set five years ago like Action comics and it was the beginning of his career it would make sense, but that is not the case. There is also the issue of Barry no longer being with Iris, who in old continuity was his wife. Here, unlike in Superman, it feels more organic, especially as you get the feel that despite the obstacles they will eventually get together.
Green Lantern: New Guardians: The weak link in the Green Lantern line. Again it has its moments, but I think it suffers from too big a cast and not a lot in the way of focus. It started with a great concept, Kyle Rayner suddenly having a ring of every color, and just as quickly dropped that idea to make it a team book, about a team that has members who have no real reason to work together. Not an impossible task to make work but the execution has been very uneven. Later issue have improved on this, but it still has a way to go.
Justice League International: I have enjoyed this book even though I feel there have been a lot of flaws. Sadly the flaws have been enough that this book was never widely embraced and is being canceled. The book’s strength has been the characters. Booster Gold managed to retain the character growth from pre-flashpoint, even if he lost the story. The August General in Iron actually had a character arc and growth which I would not have thought possible from his earlier appearances. Unfortunately this great character work was bogged down in some very cliché story telling. The JLI was sponsored by the U.N. but several members objected, their first threat was an alien intent on destroying the world, and only they, and no other superheroes were there to fight him. They were unpopular with the public and a terrorist group used that to try to destroy them.
Resurrection Man: Here is another book I was really excited about. I loved the original series in the 90s and was always hoping to see this character return. And even better the original creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were writing it. But after the first few issues it was clear this was not the same series as before. First off it seemed to be a true reboot with the character starting off in the exact same situation he started off the old series. Again it was not a bad book; it just wasn’t exciting me that much. I think part of it is that in the old series Resurrection Man was very much involved in the DC Universe. In the new series this could have been an independent comic with no changed needed at all. This is another book that is being canceled.
Birds of Prey: I will admit I may be a bit harsh on this book. The original series was written by Gail Simone, one of my favorite comic book writers. So this book not being written by her could only suffer. Also the heart of the old series was Barbara Gordon as Oracle. Barbara is still in the series as Batgirl, but she is not team leader, Black Canary is. And you also have several team members that do not fit. In particular you have Poison Ivy on the team. Yes she is often a sympathetic villain, but she is still a villain. And big surprise, the current story line has her betray the team and force them to help her in her extreme agenda. You could have taken bets on when this was going to happened.
The books that have met my expectations.
This next set is the books that are performing exactly as I had expected. I enjoy each one and none are in any danger of being dropped.
Detective Comics and Batman: the Dark Knight: I’ll just do these two together. They are both solid Batman books. I know that grouping them like this makes them seem interchangeable, but in this case it is more that continuity in the entire Batman book line is strong right now so they do not feel like they are happening in two different worlds.
Batwoman: I have a weird relationship with this book. I really like it, and think that J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman are doing a suburb job writing it. But it is not as good as when Greg Rucka was writing the original series. I guess it is a repeat of my complaint about Birds of Prey, but without the other weaknesses I see in that book. I especially enjoy how they are doing a Tarantino and jumping around in different time frames to tell the story.
Batman Incorporated: This was a late starter being one of the replacement books after 6 months. This is a solid continuation of what Morrison was doing with this title prior to the New 52 relaunch.
Nightwing: Of all the Non-batman staring books in the Batman line this is the most tied in to the overall continuity. It makes good use of Dick Grayson’s history as well. My only complaint is the change of the costume making the formerly blue parts red. However I do get that this is done to create a visual connection to the other Robins. Every one of them has red as the dominate color of their costume.
Action Comics: Another of the cornerstone books for the New 52. It works really well as a “Superman year one” style book. Grant Morrison does a great job telling the story of a young superman still learning about his powers and figuring out what kind of hero he wants to be. While I do enjoy the book I do have a couple of complaints. The first has nothing to do with the book itself. It is just that Action Comics was one of the longest running titles, reaching issue #904 prior to the relaunch. It was set to be the first comic to reach issue #1000. The mandate that all New 52 titles start with issue #1 has disrupted that. My hope is that at some point DC decides to honor this milestone and restore the original numbering. The other complaint is that I can’t help but feel like this book is more of a well written Elseworld title, then a cornerstone of New 52 DC Universe.
Green Lantern: The Flagship of the Green Lantern books. Like the Batman books this entire line largely ignored the reboot of the DC Universe and is continuing with the story that Geoff Johns has been telling for the last 7 years. Combine this with the fact that it is largely set off Earth and it might as well be in the old DCU. On the other hand that history allows for the continued character arcs Johns has been playing with to continue and thrive.
Red Lanterns: The odd duck of the Green Lantern books. When it started I was not sure how you could sustain this book due to the almost feral nature of most Red Lanterns. To be honest around the same time that I dropped Wonder Woman I was considering dropping this title as well. But the book turned itself around by making some of the Red Lanterns more intelligent and introducing a human Red Lantern. The story telling became more focused and I have found myself enjoying it.
Dial H: Another of the 6 month in replacement books. It is a revamp of the old Dial H for Hero book. Had this book been released prior to the New 52 I am convinced it would have been a Vertigo title. Fantasy author and first time comic writer China Mieville has taken a basically juvenile power fantasy concept and made it grand ancient alien conspiracy.
Earth 2: Really the jury is still out on this one. Of the 6 month in replacement books this one has had the slowest buildup. I am certainly enjoying it right now, but I do not feel that it has settled in to its story arc yet.
The books that have exceeded expectations:
These are the top drawer books for the New 52, the ones that I read first when I get them. Basically these are the ones that I feel have made the New 52 a success even if a flawed one.
Aquaman: File this one under “who knew”. For years writers have been trying to figure out what to do with Aquaman. This is compounded by the meme that Aquaman is a lame character based solely on how he was portrayed on the Super Friends. Geoff Johns took that meme and turned it on its head. It is a combination of deconstructing the meme, thinking logically about the real extent of Aquaman’s powers and how they work, and exploring his back story. I’m not kidding when I say that on the weeks this title comes out it is the first one I read.
Batman: Remember how I said that the Batman books had the best internal continuity of all the DC titles, well this book is the anchor point. In prepping for this article I asked my friend Aron who runs The Dreaming Comics and Games what is his bestselling title for the New 52. His answer was this one. I think a lot of credit goes to Scott Snyder’s writing. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers. One point is that this book does the best job of exploring Bruce Wayne as Bruce Wayne. So many books treat Bruce as simply Batman’s disguise, but Snyder goes for something deeper.
Batman and Robin: This is a close second to being the best Batman book. Here you have Peter Tomasi really exploring the Father/Son dynamic between Bruce and Damian Wayne. Tomasi is another writer, like Scott Snyder where they are getting to the point where I will check a book out simply because they are writing it.
Batgirl: I’ve already mentioned that Gail Simone is one of my favorite comic book writers and if anyone was going to handle Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again correctly it is her. Despite all my misgiving about this one aspect of the New 52 that I have written about before, I love this book. That’s right, even though I find how DC has handled the issue of what happened to Stephanie Brown rage inducing, it has not dampened how much I enjoy this title. Gail writes Barbara as a slightly broken character that never the less has the strength to get beyond that and be a hero. Too make a character simultaneously broken and strong is no small feat and here it is done masterfully.
Batwing: This book just caught me off guard. Judd Winick is one of the most inconsistent writers in comics today. He wrote a Catwoman book so bad I refused to pick it up, but is writing a new Bat character so well that he is becoming a favorite of mine. I think Winick, who is often a writer who falls back on social agenda writing has done good job of balancing the issues a character for the Democratic Republic of Congo is going to face, with telling a good superhero story.
Green Lantern Corps: Oh look, another book written by Peter Tomasi. This is the strongest of the Green Lantern books. It is the one doing the most to move forward the threat of the Guardians of the Universe plot. As its name implies, it makes use of the entire corps and feels like the stakes are truly universal.
Justice League Dark: Aron at the Dreaming says that for his store this title slightly outsells the main Justice League book. It was a decent book under Peter Milligan and would have probably ended up in my meets expectations category, but then Jeff Lemire took over and this title just took off. Lemire obviously loves the fringes of the DC Universe. This book also builds on a lot of ideas from the vertigo books that many of its characters come from.
Swamp Thing: At this point it should be clear that certain writers are really bringing their A game for the New 52. Here Scott Snyder gets to show his chops as a horror writer. He also has built on the Swamp Thing mythology in a way that has found a way to make sense with what the DC Dark titles are doing without ignoring the great stories that made Swamp Thing a cornerstone character for so many years.
Animal Man: The companion book to Swamp Thing in that they are telling the same story from two different angles. Jeff Lemire has taken this superhero character and turned the book into one of the best horror title in years.
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: This book is a kick in the pants. While Jeff Lemire has made Superhero Animal Man’s book into a horror title, he has took horror character Frankenstein and turned the book into the spiritual successor to Grant Morrison’s Invisibles. This got taken to 11 when Matt Kindt took over the book after issue #8. There is just a level of crazy in this book that is written so consistently that once you read a couple of issue you can buy completely into it. Half the fun of this title is just following along with the various concepts that Kindt introduces.
Demon Knights: This was easily one of the best books of the New 52 right from the start. Set in the medieval past and playing with several characters in the DC Universe that are immortal, Paul Cornell has built a grand fantasy epic. The best part for me is having immortal villain mastermind Vandal Savage portrayed in this title as a boisterous, life-loving barbarian warrior who is one of the heroes.
Worlds’ Finest: Where Earth 2 is a book I am still a bit on the fence about, its companion book has no such issues. This book has a very solid hook that Power Girl and Huntress are the Supergirl and Robin of Earth 2, trapped on Earth Prime and wanting to go home. Veteran writer Paul Levitz, who originally created the Huntress, puts the focus of the series on the relationship between the two heroes and their quest to go home. The chemistry here is perfect.
So there you have it, my take on the state of the current New 52 titles. Overall I like what I see right now, but it is definitely a mixed bag. My biggest concern is that the DC Universe no longer feels cohesive, and I think that is due to there not being a clear overall plan.
I am sure I will revisit the line again as there is a lot going on over at DC right now.