The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 – DC Comics: Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, and Huntress

Green Lantern Corps - Recharge, To Be A Lantern, Dark Side Of Green, Sinestro Corps War, The Sinestro CorpsWar V. 1/2, Ring Quest, Sins Of The Star Sapphire, Emerald Eclipse, Blackest Night

No other industry screams “Blind Corporate Opportunism” like the comic book business, and DC has always proven itself to be a mighty bastion of greed.  So it should have come as a surprise to no one that DC would attempt to capitalize on Geoff Johns’ successful Green Lantern reboot by ordering up a new Green Lantern Corps mini- series. That was a success, and so DC then did a regular series, which continues to this day. None of this should have been a surprise. What was a surprise, was that it was good.

This is essentially a military soap opera, but instead of guns, the soldiers have little magic rings that help then fly in space. And they’re all aliens. Thankfully most of them aren’t the slimy kind of alien, but more the kind of alien you would see on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where they look pretty much human, but they have a ridge above their eyes, or a 3rd ear, or they have squid-like genitals that you never see (I’m looking at you Deanna Troi!). Although there are aliens that actually look like aliens (Robot aliens, planet shaped aliens, Bieber shaped aliens), you are not expected to care about most of them, therefore allowing you to keep your narrow view of the inherent specialness of humanity intact. Whew.

This series is a lot of fun., with a nice mixture of epic space battles and small human interest stories. While there are a LOT of characters to keep track of, the writers (initially Geoff Johns & Dave Gibbons, then Dave Gibbons by himself, and then Peter Tomasi) do a good job of focusing on small groups of Lanterns at a time. It’s pretty easy to understand what’s going on, and while the scope of the stories might be huge, the series never loses sight of its priority: Compelling characters first, crazy epic space wars second.

KEEP.

Hawkman

Hawkman. He looks angry because he's trying to figure out how to promounce "Nth".

A really long and boring history of Hawkman is in order: In the 1940′s, DC had a Hawkman character that was chairman of the Justice Society. He and his wife Hawkgirl, were reincarnations of old Egyptian pharaohs, and used “Nth” metal to fly. So far so good. Then in the 1960′s, DC brought back the characters, but now they were police officers from the planet Thanagar, who used “Nth” metal to fly. Ooookay. DC eventually “fixed” the problem by saying that one group of characters (the ones they created in the 1940’2) lived on Earth 2, and the new modern (well, modern for the early 1960′s), lived on Earth 1. Occasionally they would meet and braid each other’s hair.

This worked well until 1985, and the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now there was only one earth, with one history. They figured out where most of the major characters fit into this, but they forgot about Hawkman. Big time.

They “relaunched” Hawkman with the Hawkworld series, essentially reinventing the origin of the Thanagar Hawkman. That’s fine, but the mistake they made was saying that this was a brand new story, and that this Hawkman didn’t arrive on Earth until after Crisis. But if they had him coming to Earth AFTER Crisis, then who was in the Justice Society in the 1940′s? Or later on in the Justice League? Who, I ask you? WHO?????

This is the kind of stuff that keeps geeks up at night.

Oh, and then he became a Hawk God. And then it got weird. The next few years suffered reboot after reboot, and eventually DC just pulled the plug until they could finally find someone who could fix this mess.

Enter Geoff Johns. Yes, the same Geoff Johns that fixed Green Lantern. In the pages of his much liked JSA run, Johns finally got all of the various reboots of Hawkman to jibe with each other, and while it may still have been a little messy, it was the best anyone could have expected, and now DC could finally go ahead with new Hawkman stories.

Hawkman - Hawkworld

Hawkworld helped make a royal mess out of Hawkman’s continuity, and it makes absolutely no sense if you try to figure out exactly when/where it fits into the regular DCU. However, as a stand alone series the first mini series is a pretty great science fiction drama. It’s the story of Katar Hol, a privileged young man who discovers just how corrupt and evil the society that he thinks of as a utopia really is. There’s no superhero stuff, and not that much action. What it is, is a great character piece. It’s the story of one man’s redemption, and in fact, a case could be made that writer Tim Truman shouldn’t have even bothered with making it a Hawkman story.

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HawkmanThe Geoff Johns trades (Endless Flight, Allies & Enemies, Rise Of The Golden Eagle, Wings Of Fury)

You might have guessed by now that I like Geoff Johns’ writing. I do, but it’s a qualified like. I can’t say that I think he’s the character master that Mark Waid is, or a builder of tension like Ed Brubaker is. What he is, though, is a storyteller in the best sense of the word, and probably the best plotter that DC has. Then why don’t I like this more?

It’s because Hawkman sucks. He looks cool, and has a badass mace. But as a character (or at least the new angry Hawkman that Geoff Johns brings us), he has no depth. About the only character trait that he is given is that he’s mad. At everything. That’s something, but unfortunately he lives on the same planet as Batman, and we all know that Batman will always be DC’s top asshole. It’s like being the second best basketball player on the same block that Michael Jordan lives in.

Johns seemed to be completely lost in regards to this character right from the beginning, and I think the problem is that the character probably requires a subtler touch than Johns usually demonstrates. He puts him in a great new city, but then never really explores it. Johns gives him a great new job, but then never really shows him doing it. Not to mention his horrible supporting cast, who seem to come and go at a moment’s notice with no real back story or character development. The only other character you see regularly in this book is the Kendra Saunders Hawkgirl, who is so unlikable she makes Lex Luthor look like a Chilean miner. There are some nice character moments later on the series in the Shayera Hol arc, but that’s about it.

The only saving grace here is some really nice pencils from Rags Morales, but even that wasn’t enough to save this one.

CULL.

Huntresss – Dark Knight’s Daughter

As originally conceived, Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Specifically the Batman and Catwoman of Earth 2 (I touched on the whole Earth 1/Earth 2 thing earlier, but I’m going to explain all of THAT mess in detail in a future post). She was created in the late ’70′s to add some much-needed youth to the recently revived Justice Society. I thought for sure that I’d be getting rid of this one, but I was surprised to find that I actually liked this better than I do the actual JSA book from this time period.

I get the impression that Paul Levitz was really stretching his wings with this one. Up till not long before this series came out, female characters in superhero books didn’t do much other than get tied up fairly regularly while they waited for the BIG STRONG MAN to save them. They also seemed to spend a lot of time doing something called “swooning” at any hint of danger. Until the Huntress came along. Levitz’ Huntress is beautiful, smart, successful, rich, and dresses up in a skin-tight purple leotard while she fights crime. So in short, the perfect ’70′s woman.

This trade holds up remarkably well, and is a lot better than most of the other DC stories that came out of this era. Special care must be made to mention the art of Joe Staton, that is a big part of the reason I’m keeping this trade.

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Next up: One more blog post filled with characters you don’t like – Hitman, Joker, and Jonah Hex! But coming up soon – THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!!!!! And the culling begins in earnest.

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Five: DC Comics – Batwoman to Black Adam

I’ve gotten a few comments commenting on how little I’m culling, as opposed to keeping. I actually culled quite a bit of Batman, probably half a shelf worth, but right now I’m finding that most of the stuff I’m reading still holds up as worth keeping. I’m trying to downsize my collection, not eliminate it, much to my wife’s dismay.

BatwomanElegy

This the collection of a short run that Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams had on Detective Comics last year, focusing on my favourite lesbian that dresses up like a bat. Sorry, Jody Foster, you’re just going to have to keep reaching for the stars.

J.H. Williams has become one of the most unique and interesting artists in comic books today, and it’s a thrill to see him on a smaller profile book like this. Even if Greg Rucka’s script wasn’t good (it is), I’d keep this just for the art. One of the the best DC books of recent years, and I’m hoping that the new upcoming Batwoman series can keep the momentum going.

KEEP.

Birds Of Prey - 11 Assorted Trades.

One of the most successful DC “female” comics.  The concept is this: Barbara Gordon (Quick history: She used to be Commisioner Gordon’s daughter. Then his niece. Then his stepdaughter. Then his daughter again. She also used to be a librarian. Then a congresswoman. Then a librarian again. Somehow in the middle of all this she found time to occasionally be Batgirl, but then Joker shot her and showed her dad/stepdad/uncle naked pictures of her. She’s also now a parapalegic, which I think was the extra cherry on that particular day’s shit sundae. Now she’s called Oracle and works as an IT analyst/information broker for the superhero set.) decides to start sending her own agents out on specific missions she designates. Initially this is limited to Black Canary, but eventually other heroes (Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, etc) join in.

Chuck Dixon was the first writer on this series (orginally a series of minis), and the first two arcs of his run are collected in trade. These trades are decent, and worth keeping if only for Gary Frank’s pencil work, but the misogyny is running high in places. They take every opportunity to showcase Black Canary in skimpy, revealing outfits, and much is made of her horrible taste in men, and how she has very little control of herself around smarmy, overbearing assholes. That being said, it’s a good start to what would become a cult fave among superhero fans. Things went along at a decent pace for about 60 issues, until Gail Simone came along. She almost instantly revitalized the series, to the extent that for a while this was my favourite DC book.

The next 40 issues are a clinic in how to rebuild a character. Simone takes Black Canary from being a B level also-ran, to an A level world-class hero in just a few years. By the end of Simone’s run, Canary is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and was soon made chairman of the Justice League. Also, this is one of my favourite martial art comic books, and there is more kung-fu asskickery in one trade of this series than a thousand Jackie Chan movies.  

This series isn’t perfect though. The art is inconsistent, especially in later trades, and you can tell that certain editorial decisions (like marrying Black Canary off) don’t sit well with Simone. She left the book soon after, and it didn’t take long for DC to cancel it. Thankfully that’s been rectified, and Gail Simone and Ed Benes are back on the book that they made famous.

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Black Adam - The Dark Age.

One of the best recent examples of character building that I can remember is DC’s 52 series. They took several forgotten or underused characters, and spent an entire year rebuilding those characters, and giving them new purpose. It stuck for the most part, and several of them have gone on to their own series. Black Adam is a prime example of how well this worked, and between 52 and it’s follow up World War 3, Adam had been set up as one of DC’s great villains. This mini dealt with the aftermath of those series, and shows Adam trying to regain both his power and his lost love. Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s stronger contemporary writers, and he crafts an emotional, and effective tale. Black Adam is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but cheer for him, even when he’s beating the crap out of your favourite heroes. Kudos also to the great Doug Mahnke for his ever improving artwork here.

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Next up: Booster Gold. Yes, that’s his superhero name. Hey, I just review ‘em, I don’t write ‘em.

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Three: DC Comics – Batman & Friends!

More Christing Batman.

Well, since my last post covered Batman solo stories, it makes sense that this one covers the “Batman and whomever DC decided to saddle him with this month in a failed effort to artificially boost sales to dead characters” books.

As you would guess, the results here are very mixed. That being said, what I discovered is that there’s a reason why Bats works perfectly in the team up format: He’s the ultimate straight-man. Because he’s always so serious, and because his opinion is so well respected by the average comic book fan, any positive comment he makes about a character will go along way to making the average fan like a character more. From now on, I’m calling this the “Batstrategy”: “If Bats thinks Blue Beetle is smart, then he must be REALLY smart, and therefore I should spend $2.99 a month on this horrible comic that I would have never normally buy. And yes, there’s a comic book character named Blue Beetle. Not only that, but there’s actually been 3. That’s right. 3 characters named Blue Beetle. On purpose. Who reads this stuff?” You could also easily substitute Punisher, Wolverine, or Deadpool into that formula. It doesn’t work so well with Superman though. It’s not going to matter much if Superman likes someone, since Superman likes EVERYONE.

Batman & The OutsidersDC Showcase Presents Vol. 1

Wow, Batman’s being an asshole. Shocker.

I LOVED this series as a kid. It’s one of the few series I read right from the beginning as a child, and because it dealt mostly with new or underused characters, it was easy for someone not as familiar with DC continuity to follow. Plus, Jim Aparo was on the pencils, so there ya go. So when they put out an omnibus sized black & white edition of the first 25 issues of this series, I was all over it. In case you haven’t read it, the basic premise is that Batman has quit the Justice League because they wouldn’t let him do things that he wouldn’t let the Justice League do several years later when he was in charge of them. Oh comic book logic, how I love you. So he gets together a new team of younger heroes because they’re a lot easier to bully around.

I have the DC Showcase trade that collects the first 25 issues of this 1980′s series. And much like the time I bought Magnum P.I. Season One on DVD, it’s not quite as good as I remembered. Quite simply, it’s a run of the mill DC comic book from the mid-80′s. That being said, there are a few things that I liked quite a bit upon rereading:

1 – Diverse Characters. I don’t mean ethnicity, though that’s in there too. I mean actual characterization. This book is a how-to guide of how to build an interesting super team. Each character’s origin is interesting and complex, and a lot of the first batch of issues have to do with the background and history of each character.

2 – Jim “I never met a comic book I didn’t make better” Aparo on pencils. When I was a kid, Jim Aparo’s art was what I thought of when I thought of specic DC character’s, and that still remains true today.

While this isn’t perfect, I’m keeping it mostly out of sentimentality.

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Batman & The Outsiders - The Chrysalis

Speaking of sentimentality, that’s the reason I gave this a shot a few years ago. The Outsiders had been brought back as a team book, and since sales were soft they decided to team them back up with their old running buddy. Fine, except they put old Chuck “I never met a story I couldn’t take the fun out of” Dixon on scripts. I’m being harsh. Dixon is not a bad writer by any stretch. But he’s a very safe writer, and it’s hard to think of any character that he made better during one of his runs (though Nightwing might disagree). Dixon got a lot of flack in this for supposedly letting his homophobia leak through. I WISH this story was that interesting. A ho hum story not worth keeping.

CULL

Batman & Grendel – Batman & Grendel

In the mid 80′s, Matt Wagner was one of the hot young indie talents in the comic world, and so someone had the great idea to put his hit character Grendel into a story with the great and powerful Batman. This shouldn’t work. Well, actually I think a strong case could be made for saying it didn’t work. Wagner REALLY tries to give these two characters a legitimate reason for meeting. And so he concocts this complicated plot regarding two room mates. One of them falls for Hunter Rose, one of them falls for Bruce Wayne, and then kabaam! you’ve got yourself a story. The problem is that this only works if you know a hell a lot about both characters. He’s assuming that you know as much about Hunter Rose as you do about Batman, and while Grendel is definitely a well loved comic character, he’s no Batman. And so what was supposed to a compact action story ends up being a convoluted mystery that never really goes anywehere. The only thing that saved this book for me is Matt Wagner’s art, which I can never get enough of. This was his first work on Batman as well.

KEEP. Just barely.

Batman & Huntress - Cry For Blood.

I’m sure DC felt that putting Bats in the title helped the sales, but this is really a Huntress story. Greg Rucka is one of my favourite mainstream comic book writers, and he seems to have a knack for writing strong, yet damaged female characters like nobody else in the business. This was a rebirth of sorts for the Huntress, and set the stage for the great work that Gail Simone did later on with her in Birds Of Prey. Also a great guest starring role from one of my all-time favourite DC characters, the Question. Fantastic story, essential for Batman fans.

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Ok, now that’s over, I’m looking forward to reading some non-Batman stories.

Next up: Still more fucking Batman.