10. Action Comics
This was the title I was looking forward to the most. Superman’s early days have been explored in quite a few recent comics, but the dynamic here is compelling, with a modern take on the Golden Age Superman who fought bloated plutocrats and leapt over tall buildings (which meant that he couldn’t fly yet).Much of it is still a hodgepodge of stuff I’ve seen before: the scruffy-looking early 20s Clark Kent from Earth One, alien invasion from Birthright, Sam Lane and Metallo origin from Secret Origin, etc.
The book’s also somewhat padded at times. I don’t know if we needed a seven page sequence about Brainiac’s attack on Krypton in the third issue, when Superman was dealing with other stuff. There may be too many characters, especially villains, for the opening arc. I should dislike the strategy of charging an extra dollar for back-up stories by no-name talent, but those eight page supplements have been legitimately moving, with a triumph for John Henry Irons, and a sacrifice for Jonathan Kent. And the “Behind the Scenes” feature has been informative.
On the plus side, many of the action sequences are incredible. Steel gets a compelling origin, even if there have been prominent complaints . And I do like the dynamic between Clark and his supporting cast. I’m looking forward to the next arc, where there shouldn’t be a need to rehash beats we’ve seen before. Action Comics was #14 on CBR’s list of the best comic books of 2011, the fifth-best showing for any of the new DCU titles. Complex.com had Action Comics as the seventh best comic book of 2011, the third best showing for any of the new DCU titles.
9. Batman and Robin
The second-best “regular” Batman title focuses on Bruce Wayne’s relationship with his most difficult Robin: his son Damian. It’s an effective hook for the series, especially as they face a villain from Bruce’s past who decides that corrupting young Damian is his goal. It’s always difficult to convey this type of stuff in one of several thousand Batman comics, but there is a sense that Bruce Wayne is trying to mature, and that there is the possibility that the change in outlook will be successful. Another thing that you don’t expect to see in a Batman comic is Robin’s screw-up, and the way the bad guy takes advantage of it.
The book seems to be about a really dysfunctional family (even the villain’s part of it), and it’s an excellent source of conflict for Tomasi. Patrick Gleason has an inventive and energetic take on this duo, and captures the moods of the characters well.
The book has a great hook, as a modern war comic set in a world with super-powered beings, starring a descendant of the legendary Sergeant Rock. It’s satisfying, accessible and patriotic. Most of the characters are cyphers, but the problems, and the bad guys, are compelling enough to get past that.
It’s sadly the most underrated of the new 52 books, and the best of the non-superhero titles. It also happens to be the worst-selling of the new books, so it’s going to be one of the first to be cancelled. The back-up features are also pretty good, though slightly old-fashioned in the depiction of warfare. Tom Derenick’s work is almost like a 21st Century version of Joe Kubert’s war comics. I hadn’t even heard of Ivan Brandon until I read this book, and that just means I have some new comic books to hunt down.
7. Animal Man
It starts out as a book about a hero with domestic squabbles. And then everything goes to hell, in a title that seems more like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing than Scott Snyder’s run on the title. When the daughter develops super-powers, Lemire balances Buddy’s love as a father with the nightmarish possibility that this may be the birth of a new supervillain. Of course, that’s not as scary as the bad guys and the coming of the rot. Travel Foreman’s weird art style mostly fits the story, although it sometimes seems “off” in a bad way.
Animal Man was ranked the second-best comic book of 2011 by CBR, the highest showing of any of the new 52 titles. The book was given the exact same ranking by complex.com. Even the #1 book (Daredevil) was the same. Animal Man was also the sixth-favorite mainstream comics title of 2011 for Oliver Sava of the Onion, the third-best showing for any of the 52 New DC titles.
Francis Manapul’s art is spectacular, as he continues to bring a great sense of energy to the character. His writing debut is almost as impressive. Manapul gets across the idea that the Flash just looks at the world differently, as a hero who has been around for decades faces two major changes to how he operates. It’s one of the things Manpaul does to leave a major stamp on the character.
Reading these issues, I’ve realized that it’s disappointingly refreshing to have a Flash story featuring a new villain who has no ties whatsoever to any of the old rogues. As a villain Mob Rule isn’t that original (A little bit of the Lizard mixed with Multiple Man ) but he’s rather effective. And that arc is mixed with new discoveries for Barry and some inventive storytelling. On the one hand, I’m disappointed to leave this title off the top five. On the other hand, I’m happy that one of the major publishers has five monthly titles that are better than this.