Most readers know me for my news writing, and I’ve kept out of the Feedback section with a strict dedication to the separation of opinion and news. I’m sticking to that. So don’t look for me to weigh in on local politics, education or anything else I cover here.
With this column I thought I’d try something a little different. “Nerd N00basarus” will be about video games, comics, movies, science-fiction, technology, cell phone apps, good beer and pop culture in general — anything and everything I might otherwise think about if I wasn’t constantly hanging around municipal meetings at 7 p.m. to keep you informed.
One week, I might be chronicling a night of drinking at local bars like Oasis Café or Snug Harbor. Another week, I might tell you if “Back to the Future” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” still hold up to the high regard I held them as a kid. Soon and very soon I’ll delve into my feelings about the Keurig K-Cup coffee machine.
Anyway, this week I thought I’d lose as many readers as possible by talking about the nerdiest thing ever right away: comic books. Not movies about comics. Not the cool indie books that are getting good press in The New York Times. The actual monthly magazines that geeks and the young-at-heart line up for every Wednesday without fail. Comic. Books.
And I’m here to talk about something a little less cool than Marvel – something a little campier and harder to love – DC Comics.
Last August, DC took decades’ worth of ongoing story lines, crumpled them up and tossed them out with their The New 52 reboot. The only characters spared were the only ones succeeding with readers – Batman and Green Lantern. Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and countless others are back at Square One in stories that retell and reinterpret their origins for a new generation.
It’s a move that enraged longtime fans, but opened the door for new readers. Part of the strategy of the relaunch was to emphasize digital comics on e-readers and iPads over ink and glossy pages. As of now, it’s not entirely clear if the experiment has worked.
I’ve read comics on and off throughout my life, picking up odd issues as a kid during “The Death of Superman” and “Reign of the Supermen” arcs. I’d also steal and read my older brother’s collection of Spider-Man, X-Men and Punisher comics. Mostly, though, I got my comics fix from TV. Like most boys in my generation, I was obsessed with “Batman: The Animated Series,” the Tim Burton Batman movies and 1994’s “Spider-Man” cartoon. In high school, my comic readership turned Eastward as I got hooked on anime and manga. I borrowed countless volumes of “Ranma ½,” “Battle Angel Alita” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion” from my buddy Nick.
As an adult, I’d all but stopped reading comics. Last year that changed when an unexpected surgery laid me up and knocked me out of commission for weeks. I started reading again with a vengeance, and DC’s New 52 became the unlikely fixation of my rekindled interest. I’ve read more of it than I care to admit. Stop me on the street — even after this column — and I’ll still deny it.
So far all of that time wasted has brought me to two conclusions: 1) DC Comics digital distribution strategy might just save print. 2) There are only really four books worth reading out of the 52-plus renewed titles.
As for saving print, here’s how: Go online and check out DCComics.com. You can’t read much, if anything, for free. The whole site is a hype machine to get you to buy comics. And when you’re good and ready, they guide you to get a subscription, tell you how to buy digitally or how to find a location to buy in print. Unlike us poor dopes slinging the news, they’re not giving away their lunch.
Each week on Wednesday physical comics are delivered to magazine racks, comics shops and the like. A few hours later, they go up online either through DC’s comics application or through third-party tablet apps like Comixology. Either in print or online the books cost the same — $2.99 for most books.
One month later when the next issue comes out, the price of the digital version drops by one-third to $1.99. As time goes on, extremely old issues go down to $0.99 or even become free. We over in Newsland should take note. DC has created a bottleneck that forces readers to pay.
Here’s my rundown of the best The New 52 has to offer.
+ Action Comics. Grant Morrison, writer. Rags Morales, art.
“Action Comics, Vol. 2” brings just about everything related to Superman back to basics. Struggling to figure out his powers and struggling to get noticed as a writer in the big city, he’s now a young man filled with righteous anger over the inequity between the rich and poor in Metropolis. He’d fit right in at an Occupy Wall Street rally.
Great, classic art by Rags Morales and so far a great and compelling story.
+ Swamp Thing. Scott Snyder, writer. Yanick Paquette, art.
Amazingly this recaptures some of the magic of Alan Moore’s work on “Swamp Thing” back in the 1980s. Scott Snyder — mostly know for his work on “American Vampire” and “Batman” — has made it easy for new readers to jump on without knowing a thing.
Paquette’s art is simply breathtaking. “Swamp Thing” comes alive in bold panels that seem to grow like vines from the page. Read it if you’re able.
+ Animal Man. Jeff Lemire, writer. Travel Foreman, art.
“Animal Man” also resurrects a character from a critically acclaimed 1980s series, which in this case was written by Grant Morrison. Lemire does well taking over the character of Buddy Baker, but benefits largely from his collaboration with Scott Snyder.
Swamp Thing and Animal Man are both fighting the same villain — a dark force called the Rot. This August the two titles will fully crossover when the two heroes meet to fight side by side.
Artist Travel Foreman’s work is a mixed bag. His style is perfect for those crazy road-kill zombies spawned by the Rot, but the artwork brutalizes the visage of normal human characters turning them into a Picasso gone wrong.
+ The Flash. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, writers. Francis Manapul, art.
Most of what excites me about the new Flash comics has nothing to do with the writing, which for me is strange. But one look at what Manapul is doing artistically — how he creates dynamic images to match his story — and it all makes sense. Buccellato, who co-writes the book, is also an artist who adds color to each page. Together they’ve made one of the best looking comics published today.
Honorable mentions in The New 52 include “Batman” written by Swamp Thing’s Scott Snyder, “Wonder Woman” by Brian Azzarello and Tony Akins, “Justice League” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and “Aquaman” by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. Right now, it’s pretty safe to skip over rest of DC’s offerings.
Mike Townshend is a writer and journalist living at a compound — a Fortress of Solitude, if you will — at an undisclosed location in the Hudson Valley. When not putting an article together on deadline, he can often be found enjoying artisanal cheeses, playing video games, listening to great local bands or drinking yet another cup of coffee.