Graphic Bits: DC Zero Month, Harvest, Hawkeye, Road to Oz and more!

Green Lantern #0 - Simon Baz

Don’t have time for full reviews of comics? Then check out Graphic Bits: bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts.

This week (5 September 2012), the Newish 52 clocks back for a month of Zeroes, and we check out some of the more interesting ones, including Action Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and Phantom Stranger. From Marvel, we look at Hawkeye #2 and Road to Oz #1, Image’s Harvest #2 and the debut of Damsels #1 – which may be only shades away from Fairest #7.

Don’t forget to listen to Behind the Panels, our weekly comic book podcast, as well.

Action Comics #0  – DC Comics, Grant Morrison (writer), Ben Oliver, Sholly Fisch (artists)

Action Comics #0“S is for story” is something that Grant Morrison reminds us of in this pre-origin origin story. With Action Comics already one big origin tale, Morrison is still able to look back in this one-shot by focusing on some smaller characters within the DCU. One of our favourite moments in Morrison’s run was the backup story in which a T-shirt salesman recounted the time that he met Superman. Issue #0 picks up here, but then shifts to another tale, in which Jimmy and Lois are trying to simply prove Superman’s existence, and two young boys get their hands on Supe’s cape. They use it not to play or to do mischief, but to literally escape the harsh realities of an abusive parent. It could have been a naff one-shot, but instead it is one of the most heartfelt books of the run. A stark contrast to the intergalactic smack-downs we’ve seen over the last few months. Ben Oliver’s art nicely compliments this change of direction in story, and there’s also a nice little backup in which Sholly Fisch draws Morrison’s background to the Captain Comet and Neo-sapiens story.

Bits Rating: ★★★★

Damsels #1  – Dynamite, Leah Moore & John Reppion (writers), Aneke (artist)

Damsels #1 cover (Dynamite)On the surface, Damsels reads like a clone of Fables, or more accurately its spin-off series Fairest (also released this week). Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see it’s not as good as either of those titles. All the pieces are there: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White slowly pitched together. Sound familiar yet? That said,  Moore and John Reppion genuinely try to draw a point of difference in their book, perhaps overcompensating with the amount of information given in this debut issue. Flipping back and forth between several stories, there is enough food here to fuel the ongoing series, but none of it is terribly engaging. As Brian K. Vaughan once said, and we’re paraphrasing here, modern comic readers give you one page to connect with them before they tune out and move onto the next rack. The biggest crime of Damsels is that is just fails to engage in this first issue. While the world is an intriguing one, setting up concepts of outlanders and several monarchies at play, the plotting is too scattered for the reader to latch onto any single element. It may have been enough to concentrate on the ‘fleeing redhead’ storyline, unveiling her story over time, yet we get a whole lot of information at once. The artwork is purely functional, neither wowing or disappointing, which is really as much as can be said for this first issue.

Bits Rating: ★★½

Fairest #7DC/Vertigo, Matthew Sturges (writer), Shawn McManus (artist)

Fairest #7 CoverSpeaking of Fairest, Matthew Sturges (Jack of Fables, House of Mystery) gives us a stand-alone issue that gives us a completely new spin on the Beauty and the Beast fable. Laying its scene in the golden era of Hollywood of the 1940s, where Beast and St. George (in their mid-20th guises) are on the trail of a deadly femme fatale through the bars and gin-joints of Los Angeles. St. George’s connection is obvious from the start, but the joy of this issue is how Beast’s involvement in the tale unfolds. Sturges manages to hold true to both the wider Fables universe as well as giving this the feel of a genuine period noir film, from the dialogue to the gritty crime scenes. You’d expect a story like this to be in sepia/black and white, and it is. Yet so effective is McManus’s artwork that we were not even conscious of this fact until the final pages switch back to a colourful modern-day. Ironically, this seems less real somehow, demonstrative of how enveloping the 1940s world would be. Only that it would detract from this excellent one-off, a whole series set in this era would be awesome, but that’s why we have series like Image’s top-notch Fatale to cover some of this ground for us. Indeed, this is the closest comparison for this first-rate issue, making this one of the better single issues of any comic in 2012.

Bits Rating: ★★★★½

Green Arrow #0 – DC Comics, Judd Winick (writer), Freddie E Williams II, Rob Hunter (artists)

Green Arrow #0 (2012)

It’s no secret that since the reboot, the once great Green Arrow hasn’t been terribly good. The reasons are many, but principally the writing team(s) have yet to settle on something resembling a compelling narrative hook for this new version of Oliver Queen. So the return, however briefly, of Judd Winick gave some cause for hope. Winick’s historic run on the series from 2004 to 2008 made some major changes, and most of these made the character a richer and more engaging one. However, with his one-shot deal at re-envisaging the origins of the archer, it’s almost possible to see the strings of company mandate behind the scenes. With Arrow due to hit the small screen next month, this edgier young archer is all about post-adolescent angst. Hamstrung by a lack of clear identity within the Newish 52 world, the umpteenth retelling of the origin is flat and uninteresting. The pre-island storyline conclusively cans most of the events of the magnificent Green Arrow: Year One, and with the introduction of a new villain, it turns one of the best character arcs in comics history into nothing more than a super-powered slugfest, surrounded by a hedonistic party on an oil rig. As the book spends a fair bit of time carefully introducing a familiar villain to long-time Green Arrow readers, this seems more like a set-up for future events than an origin story. Noncenti will return for the conclusion to the bafflingly bad Chinese saga from #13.

Bits Rating: ★★½

Green Lantern #0  – DC Comics, Geoff Johns (writer),  Doug Mahnke (pencils)

Green Lantern #0 CoverAfter the thrilling events of the Green Lantern Annual #1 last week, fans would have been on the edge of their seats wondering what was next. Like all master storytellers, Johns delays our immediate satisfaction by introducing a new character. Highly publicised by the mainstream media, DC’s first major Arab-American superhero makes his debut in the form of Simon Baz, who is introduced as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Touching on the prejudice against Muslims in America since 9/11, the book carefully establishes Baz as his own man, and someone who will bring a distinctive spin to the Green Lantern history. If Green Lanterns are chosen for their ability to “overcome great fear”, few groups have been the target of a culture of fear as much as Muslims and people of Arabic descent within the West over the last decade. DC casting one of their post high-profile heroes as Arab-American is not simply a token gesture, but a positive step. Baz isn’t an entirely wholesome character, and the fact that he has a criminal record for illegal street racing means that DC and Johns are avoiding the simple good/bad dichotomy that they so easily could have fallen into. The final pages tease the fate of Hal Jordan and Sinestro, setting us up for a corker of a new saga, and as exciting as Volume 3’s Green Lantern #50, when Kyle Rayner was introduced to the ring.

Bits Rating: ★★★★½

Harvest #2 (of 5)Image Comics, A.J. Lieberman (writer), Colin Lorimer (artist)

Harvest #2 (Image Comics)Lieberman’s first issue hit hard and fast, giving us more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing that had an appetite for Twisties with a twist of lime. In the second issue, the narrative retreats back into the cover of darkness somewhat, not hitting with quite the same force but rather quietly developing character and story in its place. We learn that the organisation that recruited Benjamin Dane to carry out organ transplants is far more advanced than the shady dealings of the first issue would indicate, and much more about our lead who isn’t done screwing up yet. In his efforts to make things right, we are led to an explosive finale that you won’t see coming, and one of the most interesting uses of medical equipment we’ve seen in a comic to date.  Lorimer’s art is still one of the big drawcards for this title, and he once again hits all the right touchstones. An intriguing title that might barrel through events too quickly this month, but perhaps because Lieberman is keen to get us to the bigger story he has waiting.

Bits Rating: ★★★

Hawkeye #2Marvel, Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth (artists)

Hawkeye #2 CoverThere was always a chance that the brilliance of the first issue was a fluke, but the winning team of Fraction and Aja once again prove that they are simply on target with this character. The real beauty of this book is that it is rarely about ‘Hawkeye’ per se, but about his alter ego Clint Barton and the fact that he can’t take a break. Indeed, in the first issue, he saved a dog, and that’s the kind of guy Clint is. If that first issue was about establishing who this Hawkeye and his New York is, the follow-up is about what this world is going to be going forward. We are reintroduced to Kate Bishop, who was briefly Hawkeye while Barton was off either being dead or Ronin. Fraction quickly establishes her as an equal, if not a superior, and their adventure against the Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime shows how effective they could be as a team going forward. Indeed, Barton resolves to do just that by the end of the issue, just as one of Marvel’s major villains vows to get vengeance on Hawkeye. The issue could work as a strong standalone, but hints at a bigger story, indicating that the off ill-treated character is in safe hands for now. Aja and Hollingsworth’s artwork is once again phenomenal, bringing a gritty realism to this world of costumed heroes. It will be interesting to see what they do when Hawkeye suits up on a more regular basis. A must read.

Bits Rating: ★★★★

The Phantom Stranger #0  – DC Comics, Dan Didio (writer), Brent Anderson (artist)

The Phantom Stranger #0The DC Free Comic Book Day issue gave us the pivotal Newish 52 story in which the mysterious ‘woman in red’ Pandora, The Question and the Phantom Stranger were introduced. This issue is the first to deliver on the promise of the bigger story that will lead us into next year’s Trinity War, but it is nothing more than exposition with a bit of uninspiring art behind it. What begins by covering the same ground as the FCBD book rapidly becomes a weighty, pseudo-biblical tale, plodding through a ton of explanatory text for what is otherwise a fairly straightforward story.  There is a bit of a reveal towards the end, with the introduction of another familiar character, but it all feels far too contrived. You can almost hear Didio screaming “And that’s the origin of that!” after every page. The series that is said to begin next month will hopefully be a short one leading into Trinity War, as what we have on the page here is not enough to sustain a series.

Bits Rating: ★★

The Road to Oz #1 (of 6)Marvel, Eric Shanower (writer), Skottie Young (artist)

The Road to Oz #1 (Skottie Young)The dream team of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s fifth foray into L. Frank Baum’s classic series of Oz books is, unsurprisingly, another delightful adventure.  The Eisner Award-winning series launches into the Baum’s fifth novel (strangely enough), and shows no signs of losing its magic. Here Dorothy begins her journey in Kansas, first meeting the Shaggy Man who is not looking for the road to Butterfield. Along with her little dog Toto, the trio soon find themselves at a previously unseen crossroads, and decide to take the seventh road. This first issue takes us up to the meeting with  Button Bright, a little boy in a sailor’s suit, and some foxes in uniforms. The deliberately unhurried pace gives this the sequential art equivalent of a lazy spring afternoon, where the destination is nowhere near as important as the journey. Young’s artwork has been one of the defining features of these comics, and in many ways have become synonymous with the very idea of Oz. This is the start of another magical adventure, and we can’t wait until the next one.

Bits Rating: ★★★★