DC Comics New 52 for iPad review

Which digital comics look good on the iPad and which make right-thinking folk want to punch their fist through the screen? We find out.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
10 min read

It's the end of our test month of reading digital comics, so how did Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the DC superhero universe fare on the iPad?

We've already reviewed the digital comic-reading experience delivered by the Comixology app on the iPad, but here are our thoughts on the actual comics in the rebooted universe of Superman, the Green Lantern and their superpowered pals. Which comics are gobsmackingly good, which issues just didn't work in digital form, and which titles made us so angry we nearly put out fist through the screen?

The good

Action Comics #1
Meet Superman, an all-American bloke in jeans and a T-shirt with a tea towel round his neck. Rendered in clean colours that look cheerful on the iPad screen, this comic is a fresh take on the early days of the Man of Steel as a super-powered doofus, a bit like Will Eisner's Spirit. It's somewhat confusing, though, when read alongside Superman's cameos in the other titles.

Animal Man #1
An unexpected gem. Animal Man spends almost as much time convincing his wife to let him fly to a hostage situation as he does resolving the situation itself. The book then switches gears from quirky super-shenanigans to a genuinely unsettling denouement. The artwork isn't too slick or sterile, and contrasts pleasantly with the iPad's glossy screen.

Swamp Thing #1
A character best known from the time when he was written by comics legend Alan Moore, Swamp Thing is the alter ego of botanist Alec Holland. Except he isn't. Or something. Forget all that -- this book is happily free of caped capers and blessed with slick, chunky art from Yanick Paquette, with a seriously creepy central set piece.

Green Lantern #1
For us, this comic provides possibly the most eye-popping artwork in the line-up -- Doug Mahnke's styling really pops off the screen, with beautifully rendered line work and vibrant colours. We've no idea what's going on though -- this comic is set in the aftermath of a previous story apparently, and the hero isn't even a Green Lantern any more.

Deathstroke #1
Ask yourself whether you want to read a comic in which a one-eyed, armour-wearing mercenary leaps from an aeroplane and cuts his way into another plane with a massive sword. If the answer is 'yes', then you'll enjoy this chunky, testosterone-fuelled action with a blackly comic twist at the end. It's more akin to a first-person shooter than a traditional superhero book. If the answer is 'no', then go back to your Twilight books, you big girl's blouse.

Demon Knights #1
Here we have some colourful, knockabout sword 'n' sorcery fun from Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, with nary a cape in sight. Who needs to explain why the main characters have all inexplicably wandered into the same tavern at the same time? We just want to see what happens when an unstoppable magic horde meets immovable demon anti-hero.

Frankenstein Agent of Shade #1
Textured colours and gritty artwork give this comic an extra dimension on the screen, compared to the glossy, computer-generated colours in some of the other books. Oh, and it's about a gun-toting Frankenstein's monster, leading a crack squad of creature commandos in a battle against otherwordly beasties. Absolutely irresistible.

All Star Western #1
Gunslinger Jonah Hex comes to Gotham City -- it's basically Clint Eastwood versus Jack the Ripper in Bat Town. Sepia tones and black borders leave dirt under your fingernails in this gritty Western yarn.

Red Lanterns #1
A whole comic dedicated to a gang of really angry aliens, led by a really cross chap called Atrocitus, who has a spiteful space-cat that eats people. More fun than it has any right to be.

Static Shock #1
A wise-cracking teen juggles adolescent issues with super-powered beat-downs. The sparkiest take on the classic formula in the new line-up.

The Flash #1
Old-school yet somehow fresh, it's hard not to like a comic that opens with the line: "This tech symposium is totally my kind of date!" Breezy fun with pleasing liquid colours and a heroine who's not only a capable investigator, but also keeps her clothes on.

An homage to the classic Jack Kirby style. In other words, cheerily colourful nonsense.

Resurrection Man #1
Every time our hero dies, he comes back to life with a new power -- and both heaven and hell are keen to claim him. An intriguing stand-alone premise, providing a welcome break from the intertwining continuity of many of the other books.

Batman and Robin #1
Deep, chunky blacks and evocative muted colours help this comic work both in full page and zoomed-in view. It's more character-driven than the other books that have Batman as a lead character -- there are seven -- and, consequently, it's far more compelling. There's plenty of dialogue, but that works on the iPad, preventing you from devouring the comic too quickly.

Batwing #1
The African Batman. The concept of setting a Bat character in a totally lawless environment is packed with potential, so we're keen to see more. Warning: because it's Africa, lots of people get chopped up with machetes. Ben Oliver's computer-painted art is absolutely stunning, although he does seem to have forgotten to put in any backgrounds.

Justice League Dark #1
Stylishly portentous scripting from Peter Milligan drenches this macabre tale in foreboding. The art is detailed and bears zooming in to see, although the colours are incongruously cheerful. Look out for everybody's favourite scouse necromancer, John Constantine, dropping in.

I, Vampire #1
Sumptuous, shadowy vampire tale that wears its desaturated mystery like a shroud. Twilight with teeth.

Wonder Woman #1
Now this is what we're talking about. Breathless, rollicking stuff from Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, involving murderous gods and centaur assassins and an awful lot of bits getting sliced off. The women involved may be under-dressed but at least they're in proportion. We can't wait for #2.

Batwoman #1
This is the stand-out title for us. Every page is beautifully composed, like the one where Batwoman and her sidekick are in their penthouse apartment at the top of the page, and the rest of the panels flow down in the shape of the building. Or take the next page -- a double-page spread in which the pair vault across a rooftop towards us, outlined by a flaming bird graphic.

This comic is worth taking your time over, for the stunning full-page views and the zoomed-in details, like the poster in the police station or the tiny stickers on a dead child's fingernails. It's also good to see people, especially women, wearing clothes that look like actual clothes -- something that's surprisingly rare in mainstream comics.

The bad

Captain Atom #1
Captain Atom is a bit like the fellow who gets his chap out in Watchmen, only really boring. Sadly he keeps his captain and two atoms tucked away while flying about rescuing people -- an atomic wardrobe malfunction might have livened things up slightly. Crushingly old-fashioned.

DC Universe Presents #1
A joyless run-through of the origins of Deadman, who inhabits and helps troubled people in a sort of spandex-clad Quantum Leap. The men he's shown to have helped include a spy, an accountant, a mathematician, a stuntman, a surgeon and a priest. The two women are a stripper and a girl in a belly T-shirt. Figure that out.

Stormwatch #1
A WildStorm import, Stormwatch is a team that polices superheroes who step out of line. Their introduction to the DC universe is a horribly derivative tale of attempts to recruit a superhero who isn't interested, complete with pointless posturing and fisticuffs. Here's hoping it'll rise above the hackneyed introduction and regain the subversive edge and menace of the original Stormwatch.

Grifter #1
WildStorm's two-gun-toting mercenary is reinvented as a conman with voices in his head. It's hopelessly muddled, with flashbacks and flashforwards, and a final panel that comes out of nowhere.

Legion Lost #1
Makes no attempt to be a first issue. A bunch of superpeople who we aren't properly introduced to mill about, talking about some other people we've never heard of. Incomprehensible.

Men of War #1
Modern update of the vintage war comic, with plenty of hoary old cliches reporting for duty. The back-up story is set in an unspecified Middle Eastern war zone, which would be more convincing if artist Phil Winslade hadn't left us with so many clean white backgrounds. The main story -- of a young Sgt Rock -- is a more convincing dirty brown, but Tom Derenick can't seem to do convincing uniforms, vehicles or guns, which is unfortunate for an artist who's drawing a war comic.

The sort of comic where the superteam have their logo plastered all over themselves and their vehicles, and then act surprised when someone takes a picture of them and puts it on the Web. Brainless technofetishism, like a Tom Clancy video game if Tom Clancy was eight and wrote in crayon.

Catwoman #1
Everyone's favourite feline finery-filcher frolics in her frillies. The artwork is curvy and glossy, which is fitting as this is basically soft porn. Lingeringly unpleasant.

Voodoo, our heroine, is a stripper. Yes, another one. She spends the entire comic gyrating in her smalls, glassy-eyed and muttering some tosh about how it's a good place to learn about men. The art and colour are salacious but also cold, mechanical and fake.

Suicide Squad #1
Literally torture. A supervillain dirty dozen are graphically tortured before being subjected to the most obvious twist ending in the world. Look out for Harley Quinn strolling across freezing tundra in a corset and high heels. An intriguing cliffhanger is far too little far too late.

Red Hood and The Outlaws #1
It's hard to say which is the more unpleasant -- the art or the writing. It's crass, juvenile, sexist tosh from start to finish. Reading this comic actually made this reviewer angry.

Hawk and Dove #1

The rest

Justice League #1
Batman and Green Lantern seek out Superman. Apart from a nifty bit where Batman proves he's the coolest superhero on the block by half-inching Lantern's power ring right off his finger, nothing much of interest happens.

Superman #1
Probably the clearest reinvention of an established character, with Clark Kent and Lois Lane locked in a love triangle. The real story though is an examination of the battle between newspapers and the online media. One character even sends a tweet, which, in the long term, will probably date this issue just like the comics of the 1930s in which Superman first appeared.

An Atlantean goes into a seafood restaurant and orders fish and chips. Divertingly self-aware.

Detective Comics #1
This comic wears its Dark Knight Returns influences on its sleeve even more than most, in story, dialogue, art and even colours. It's oddly gruesome, too.

Batman #1
The delicate line work, sketchy details and rubbery-looking faces are a tad '90s for our tastes, especially when zoomed into each individual panel. At least this book is accessible to readers jumping into comics due to seeing the Bat on the big screen.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1
Bruce Wayne goes to a ball and Batman fights an outbreak at Arkham Asylum. It's so similar to Batman #1 that you could be forgiven for thinking you'd been sold the same title twice.

The Savage Hawkman
The gleam of Hawkman's armour really pops off the screen in this tale of a man trying to escape his past.

Batgirl #1
We're puzzled by this comic. We don't know why DC decided to suddenly restore Barbara Gordon to health after years of being confined to a wheelchair. We're mostly puzzled because Batgirl isn't half as interesting as the wheelchair-bound character Barbara became -- and she's ten times less interesting than Batwoman, who has her own far superior book. Still, it's probably the least gory of the costumed-hero-vs-costumed-villain books, so it's a decent choice for a younger audience.

Blue Beetle #1
Slight but kid-friendly tale of a nerdy kid gaining alien super-powers in silly circumstances. It's a proper, non-confusing origin story with a bit of diversity in its Tex-Mex setting.

Green Arrow #1
Another straight costume-vs-costume tale, in which technology millionaire Oliver Queen is not only the man behind the Q-Pad, but also uses an array of arrows with different gadgets built-in. Features the sort of cringe-worthy banter between battling superheroes that gives comics a bad name.

Green Lantern: New Guardians
Vaguely manga-influenced space-faring superfolk squabble in colour-coded disco outfits.

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
Two high-school rivals become the fiery flip sides of one superpowered macguffin. Their conflict puts an unusual spin on the superhero schtick, but it's yet another book where we get the feeling we've missed something.

Teen Titans
It might have something to say about the older generation's fear and distrust of the young, but it takes the long way round to saying much at all. This comic is slow-paced but kind of fun, even if it does feature the worst drawing of a Lamborghini this side of a schoolboy's exercise book.

Green Lantern Corps #1
Intergalactic hijinks with the ring-slinging green-hued space cops. Like a couple of the other comics, it opens with some horrific murders. One for ongoing readers only.

Justice League International #1
We think it's meant to be funny.

Mister Terrific #1
Possibly the worst-named superhero ever -- even in a line-up that includes Animal Man. At least this chap has a twist: he solves science crimes. Basically, the comic offers more straightforward super-shenanigans. One sequence involves the London Eye.

Superboy #1
Superboy is a clone hybrid of human and Kryptonian, fact fans, and this book features a compelling twist on the Smallville TV show.

Legion of Super Heroes #1
Densely-packed sci-fi superheroics. New characters are introduced on what seems like every other page, but at least the different scenes are clearly delineated.

Birds of Prey #1
Only introducing two members of a team in the course of a whole book is pretty lazy. Legion of Super Heroes #1 packed in no less than 15.

Nightwing #1
Perhaps we're getting superhero fatigue, but this book seems unnecessarily bloody. Overlapping and angled panels in the fight scenes make it tough to read in zoomed-in view.

Supergirl #1
Ignoring the fact that it's basically one over-long fight scene and offers yet another female character woefully underdressed for snowy conditions, Supergirl #1 provides stylish art, fluid colours, and non-stop action. Hold your iPad sideways in landscape orientation for the best wide-screen results.

And that's it for DC's New 52! Have you read any of the books, and are you a reader of digital comics? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook wall.