Shiny Shelf

DC Universe Presents #43

By Mark Clapham on 22 December 2011

Another year, another new line-up of stories for this British newstand reprint title.

While the last jumping-on issue balanced an old classic with some more recent stories, then this one is as bang up to date as – one presumes – Titan is contractually allowed to get, reprinting for UK newstand readers three #1 issues from August and September this year.

For the uninitiated, this summer saw a line-wide reboot of DC’s superhero comics, so these three #1s have the advantage of being part of a conscious jumping-on point for new readers.

‘Justice League’ #1 is the lead story, and we’ve already reviewed it here and here, so I won’t bang on about it too much.

Suffice to say I wasn’t keen. I am, to say the least, not writer Geoff Johns’ biggest fan, and while he has some decent sight gags and action moments for penciller Jim Lee to execute with his usual flash, Johns’s script demonstrates a lot of the qualities I dislike in his work.

In particular there’s an unthinking harshness to Johns’ writing which fits poorly with the heroic ideal. Would Batman really shoot a grappling hook right through the flesh of a perp’s leg, or just try and get out of the way of two falling police copters rather than trying to avert the crash? No, but it looks action movie ‘kewl’ when drawn by Lee, so it happens.

‘Justice League’ #1 is a shallow blockbuster of a comic that doesn’t really go anywhere, but as the lynchpin of the new DCU it’s the kind of comic I feel almost obliged to keep up with. If nothing else DCUP allows me to do that for a third the price of getting the original issues.

‘Action Comics’ #1 is the smartest story here by some margin, re-imagining the very early career of Superman in a way that draws heavily on the socialist strong-man Siegel and Schuster created in the 30s, but brings those qualities into the early 21st century.

For a longer review posted shortly after publication see here. While I’m not claiming any great insight from hindsight, I’ve read the issue three times since it came out, at least partially to try and work out why it didn’t ‘click’ for me in quite the way it did for some of my peers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about the cocky, youthful Superman with the working class costume who fights against social injustice. But for a Morrison comic this is very tame, restrained almost, perhaps as a nod to the low-key threats of the early superhero comics, back when Superman mainly fought generic hoods. There are some joyful moments of superheroic action, but few of the big ideas that we’re used to from Morrison.

Then there’s Rags Morales’ pencils, which feel patchy, especially in terms of the characters. His Superman and Clark are strong, but Lex Luthor in particular appears to have at least three different faces in one short scene. When Morales is good, he’s very very good – a sequence of Lois pursuing a criminal through a train carriage packs in a ton of character – but other pages feel fuzzier than they should be.

‘Action Comics’ #1 is a really strong issue. I just don’t love it, and I kind of expected to.

Which brings us to the final #1 reprinted here, ‘Green Lantern’ #1, written by Geoff Johns (again) and pencilled by Doug Mahnke.

While it’s debatable how many people will be rushing to buy ‘Green Lantern’ comics based on the largely apathetic response to this year’s movie, ‘Green Lantern’ #1 does have a simple hook that viewers of that movie will understand: that Sinestro, Hal Jordan’s mentor, has been through a phase as a yellow-ringed villain but has now been forcibly re-recruited to the Green Lantern Corps, at the same time as Jordan as had his ring stripped from him and been kicked out.

It’s a reasonably big, bold premise, even when applied to a fiddly concept like Green Lantern, and it makes for a much stronger comic than ‘Justice League’ #1. The art balances character and action well, and David Baron’s colours make the important distinction between the vivid colour scheme of the alien scenes and the more muted tones back on Earth. Of the three issues here, this is the one that offers the most promise of going somewhere unexpected with its story.

As a cheap sampler of the New 52, ‘DC Universe Presents’ is an excellent buy for £2.99. I’m going to stick with it for ‘Action Comics’ and ‘Green Lantern’, and consider the ‘Justice League’ stories a low value freebie, one which at least keeps me up to date with what’s going on in a title that, for better or worse, is the flagship of the current DC line.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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