The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 54: Marvel Comics – She-Hulk!

She's like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So basically she's Nancy Grace.

There’s been a lot of talk about how comic culture has bled into the mainstream, and that it’s more culturally accepted than ever before to hoist your nerd flag high. I say BS. If you ever really want to know what your non-comic reading friends think of your passions, bring up the latest issue of She-Hulk at your next dinner party. And wait for the laughter. And that’s usually just from my wife.

Yes, I said She-Hulk. She’s like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So kind of like Nancy Grace.

So how did a cheap knock-off a male character become arguably the greatest feminist comic book character of all time?

Two words: John Byrne.

Byrne is currently best known for his decades-long audition for the role of the internet’s Crankiest Old Curmudgeon. But before that, he was known as not only one of superhero comics premier creators, but also one of the best writers of female characters mainstream comics  has ever seen. And while he might be best known for his revamp of the Fantastic Four’s Susan Storm, it’s She-Hulk that is his finest achievement. She was originally conceived in the late 70s as the Hulk’s cousin, and was never treated as much more than a way for Marvel to guard their copyright, until Byrne started writing her in the pages of FF. He recast her as a fun, thrillseeking adventurer that was a great counterpoint to most of the dour, angst-ridden women that starred in Marvel comics those days. But it wasn’t until Byrne got to write and draw her in the pages of her own book that she really started to shine.

She-Hulk – The Sensational She-Hulk Vol. 1

It’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking this book was in it’s day. It was the first mainstream comic to really break through the fourth wall, and interact with it’s readers in a way that no superhero book had ever done before. And even though others (Grant Morrison…cough…) have arguably done it more effectively since then, there’s no denying that Byrne got there first. But that’s not to say that the book is all parlour tricks and comedy. Byrne revamps She-Hulk in the truest Marvel tradition, and turns her into a working joe, albeit one with green skin. She’s in full lawyer mode here, juggling her career with her duties with the FF and the Avengers. Although the book is slightly dated, it still remains a fairly revolutionary comic for it’s manipulation of the medium, and one that stands up well today.

KEEP

She-Hulk – Ceremony, Part 1 & 2

This was part of Marvel’s 80′s and 90′s graphic novel experiment, and it’s one that rarely gets discussed today,  for good reason. I’m not sure if Dwayne McDuffie had ever heard of the character before he wrote this, as he somehow managed to remove all of the joy and fun Byrne had injected into the character. I’m sorry to say that this is barely readable.

CULL

She-Hulk – Vol. 1-8

There was a time in the middle of the last decade, where this might have been Marvel’s very best title. It was funny, emotionally engaging, and had plenty of superhero action. So I was a little surprised to find myself not enjoying it on the same level that I did when these trades first hit the stands. The book still starts out well. Writer Dan Slott straddles  a nice line between madcap humour and character development, and his “Spidey sues Jonah Jameson” story has to go down among the funniest superhero comics ever written. Slott focuses on the legal side of Jennifer Walter’s persona here, and fleshes out the character in ways that hadn’t really been done before. Add a great supporting cast, and some interesting approaches to Marvel continuity, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good series. But eventually, Slott (and the title) lost it’s way. The humour side of the title eventually beat out the character and story side, and the end result was a bit of mess that was neither funny, nor interesting. Although the first four trades of Slott’s run are well worth your time, by the time he hit the fifth volume he had overstayed his welcome. Peter David took over for him, and while his approach was definitely more grown-up than Slott’s, it was definitely a welcome look at the character, and one that actually stands up better than I thought it would. He turned the book into a comic book version of Thelma and Louise, with She-Hulk on the road trying to find herself. She does, and as a result we get some well-written comic book stories that manage to be better than I thought possible.

Vol. 1-4: KEEP. Vol. 5, 6: CULL. Vol. 7, 8: KEEP

Next up: Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 43: Marvel Comics – The Fantastic Four

Although its easy to point at your Batmans, your Supermans, and your Spider-Mans as the most iconic superheroes of our age, it’s unlikely that we’d even be discussing them if it weren’t for the Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four #1 is where what we know of as Marvel Comics really began in 1961, and a strong case could be made that superhero comics as we know them wouldn’t exist without it.

A family of four adventurers accidentally gets caught in cosmic rays while on a secret mission in space. They develop superpowers, and voila! The FF is born. When you’re a kid, reading superhero comics for the first time, that can come across as a pretty tame origin compared to those of vigilante Bat-creatures and snarling feral rodents. But my appreciation for the first family of comics has increased over the years, and it’s been somewhat of a surprise to discover how consistently good Fantastic Four comics have been.

Fantastic Four – Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 1-5

As has been the case with most of Marvel’s Essential collections, they don’t nearly do their source material justice. These oversized black and white editions collect the first several years of the FF’s adventures; Yep, it’s Stan and Jack. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work on the Fantastic Four is one of the greatest achievements of modern comic art. That I am getting rid of these isn’t an insult to them, it’s a compliment. I’ll be replacing them with their high-gloss, Marvel Masterwork equivalents ASAP.

CULL

Fantastic Four – The John Byrne Years (Fantastic Four Visionaries 1-8)

Although Lee and Kirby’s work on the FF is considered sacrosanct, many fans would actually jump to the early ’80′s when asked to point out their favourite FF run. John Byrne took over both the writing and art in 1982, and redefined the concept for a new generation. How? By going back to basics. In fact, every single successful run of this title can be summed up in one phrase: Tight, close-knit family that loves each other unreservedly goes on crazy, science-oriented adventures. That’s it. When you try to complicate it,  or go outside of those parameters, then you fail. Byrne understood this, and so while he did make changes, they were necessary societal tweaks, rather than a full-out overhaul. His stamp was mostly felt by the Invisible Woman character. He doesn’t get enough credit for it, but Byrne is the one who is responsible for transforming her from the vapid, blubbering, talking uterus as created by Stan Lee, into one of the most fully formed, realistic female characters in superhero comics.

There were several notable moments in Byrne’s tenure on the title, but I don’t think he was stronger than on “The Trial Of Galactus”. Reed Richards had previously saved the life of one of the galaxy’s worst threats, and was now being held accountable by an intergalactic tribunal. To a 12-year-old kid, this was a jaw-dropping story, and one that doesn’t get enough credit.

There are some flubs, mainly the marriage of Johnny Storm to Ben Grimm’s ex-girlfriend (easily fixed later on by the revelation that it was actually a shape-changing alien the whole time! Surprise!), but all in all, this is one of the better continuous superhero runs that Marvel was responsible for in the ’80′s, and I think more than a few people would say that it was the greatest Fantastic Four run of all time.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The New Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed

I’m a writer guy. I love writing, specifically good writing. And so, there aren’t many artists in the superhero world I like enough to make me pick up their books based on art alone. Art Adams is one of those, which is probably why I picked this up in the first place in the mid 90′s. The Fantastic Four have been captured, and so an ad-hoc team of Marvel’s most popular heroes (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk), team up to go after the bad guys. This was a fun story. It blends action and humour well, and Art Adams’ work  jumps off the page into your brain, as usual. Walt Simonson wrote this one, and I enjoyed it enough on reread that I’m going to try to give the rest of his run a shot.

Fantastic Four – The Mark Waid Years (Imaginauts, Unthinkable, Authoritative Action, Hereafter, Disassembled, Rising Storm)

As with Daredevil, my collection of FF stories has lots of holes it. For some reason I stayed away for most of the next 15 years after John Byrne left the book, until Mark Waid brought me back to comic’s first family. As with Byrne, Waid stuck to the basics, and focused on the FF as Marvel’s premier explorers, (or “Imaginauts” as Waid would have us believe).

In my opinion, Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run on FF really set the bar for what is still possible with fun, all-ages mainstream comics. Those who say that it’s impossible to just tell a good, old-fashioned superhero story anymore hasn’t read this run. Waid starts where are truly great superhero comics start; with the characters. He recognizes that these 4 people are comic archetypes by now, and so Waid doesn’t try to change their characters to match his stories; he changes his stories to match their characters. And so the stories, while fresh and action packed, still feel very familiar, and accessible. Waid’s writing here isn’t continuity heavy, it’s character heavy.

Of course, any writer who tackles the FF eventually has to bring Doctor Doom into the mix. To Waid’s credit, he resists the urge for as long as possible, but then tells one of the most horrifying Doom stories of all time, one that focuses on Doom as a tortured, sociopathic villain, rather than as a two-dimensional punching bag. There’s so much to love here, but I’d be remiss in pointing out a few of my favourite moments: Reed telling his daughter the real reason why he went public with the Fantastic Four; Ben telling Franklin how hard it is for him just to get through every day; Johnny becoming the CFO of Fantastic Four Enterprises; Johnny and Sue switching powers, and many more.

For superhero comics, it doesn’t get much better than this. While John Byrne’s time on the title might have been the most successful, and Jonathan Hickman’s current run might be the most critically acclaimed, it’s Waid’s that I’ll always go back to. It’s my personal favourite Fantastic Four run, and one of my all-time favourite all-ages superhero comic.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The Mark Millar Years (World’s Greatest, The Master Of Doom)

Or year, to be more accurate. Millar  and Brian Hitch only did 15 issues of the Fantastic Four, but they definitely left a mark. As usual with Millar’s comics, this story was epic, ambitious, and ultimately disappointing. There were some big additions introduced (The “mentor” of Doctor Doom, the creation of an alternate Earth to eventually move all of Earth’s citizens to, etc), but the payoff was poor, especially with the Doom’s mentor storyline. This is the catch-22 of superhero comics: If you don’t add anything new, than people complain that your book is boring. If you DO add new concepts, then people complain that you’re monkeying around with time-tested classics. Millar decides to monkey, but doesn’t take enough time to really build up his new villains, or to develop subplots (Ben’s “marriage” comes to mind), that really should take years to pay off, not months. And so although he keeps telling us that they’re real threats, we don’t really believe him. These are fun stories though, and while I won’t say that they’re essential, they’re definitely worth a gander.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The Jonathan Hickman Years (Vol. 1, 2, 3)

It might not be fair to judge these yet, as Hickman’s tenure on the book is still ongoing. Jonathan Hickman is still relatively new to the comics world, but he’s making a pretty big impact in a relatively short period of time. I’ll get into my thoughts regarding his writing skills later on when I review his non superhero material, but for now, let me say that I think that his run on FF has been fairly strong, with moments of genius. At this point however, those moments are brief. I’m also not sure he’s got a handle on all four of these characters the way that Waid did (Millar didn’t either, so Hickman shouldn’t be too worried about it), and his Fantastic Four is often colder than I would like. Who he DOES have a handle on is Reed Richards, which should be no surprise to those familiar with Hickman’s superhero work. And so he asks the question that most writers have never really explored: Why would the smartest person on earth be satisfied with being the Marvel Universe’s version of Bill Nye The Science Guy? Answer is: He wouldn’t. And so Hickman assigns Reed Richards the most difficult task of all:

Solve Everything.

So far he hasn’t quite managed to do that yet, but I like this aggressive version of Reed Richards so much I’m willing to keep giving Hickman a shot. So far, so good.

KEEP

Next up: Ghost Rider, GLA, and the Guardians Of The Galaxy

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 33: More Avengers

Avengers West Coat – Vision Quest

I’m really not sure how it’s possible that I only have one West Coast Avengers trade, as I loved this book in the late ’80s when it originally came out.This trade focuses on John Byrne’s run on the book. There are lots of interesting stuff here: The first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, the foreshadowing of Scarlet Witch’s eventual meltdown, and a complete retcon of the origin of the Vision. Plus John Byrne’s pencils were great on this run. I’m definitely looking for more trades from this era ASAP.

KEEP

Avengers – Red Zone

It didn’t take Marvel long to try to scoop DC’s Geoff Johns up for one of their books, but for some reason the pairing never seemed to click. His run got a LOT of online heat from fans, and proved to be controversial. Nothing like what was to come when Brian Michael Bendis took over the book, but at this point, Marvel still hadn’t quite cottoned to the fact that if they wanted the Avengers to become a top-tier book, they were going to need to do some serious changing. So while Johns run is edgier than previous writer’s attempts to reboot the Avengers, it still comes across as slightly forced. That being said, I did enjoy this far more than I thought I would. The “big reveal” of the arc’s villain still comes across as quite hackneyed, and not well-thought out at all, but it’s still quite a good read. Some good character moments between Black Panther and Iron Man as well. There are a few other trades from Johns’ run that I may track down now.

KEEP

New Avengers – Breakout, The Sentry, Secrets & Lies, The Collective, Civil War, Revolution, The Trust, Secret Invasion Books 1 & 2, Power, Search For The Sorcerer supreme, Powerloss, Siege, New Avengers

So it’s 2004, and Marvel finally realizes that the Avengers are done. Not the concept, but the team as it currently stood. The book had been running on fumes for quite a while, and even bringing in superstar writer Geoff Johns to revive the teams fortunes hadn’t grown any traction with fans. The book was is in the doldrums. Enter Brian Michael Bendis. By this point, Bendis had garnered some serious goodwill among Marvel fans for his runs on Daredevil, Alias, and Ultimate Spider-Man. But he had never really tackled anything with quite as big a potential scope as the Avengers. Could he pull it off? Could he make the Avengers relevant again?

From a commercial standpoint, the answer was unequivocably yes. Not only did he make the Avengers relevant again, Marvel essentially rebuilt the entire framework of the Marvel Universe around the work Bendis did on New Avengers. It became Marvel’s flagship book, usurping Spider-Man and X-Men as the top draws at the company. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the title’s success had a large part to do with Marvel realizing that an Avengers movie could work.

From a quality standpoint, the answer is a little more complicated. It’s Brian Bendis. Which means the book went from becoming a light-hearted adventure-of-the-week book to a dark, conspiracy-laden, dialogue-heavy, noir thriller. Whether you liked it had a lot to do with how much you liked Brian Bendis’ writing. I for one loved it, and still do. In fact, my appreciation of what he’s done for the book has only increased upon revisiting the work.

The first thing Bendis realized is that if he was to make this work, if he was to completely revitalize the very concept of the Avengers, he was going to have to make some tough choices. And so he threw out the baby with the bath water. In fact, he didn’t just throw out the baby, he drowned it at the bottom of the tub. He damaged Avengers Mansion, killed fan-favourite character Hawkeye (and didn’t just kill him, but gave him one of the most ignoble deaths a well-known character has ever gotten, and dismantled the team.

Enter New Avengers. The premise here was to organically grow a “street-level” team of some of Marvel’s top characters, as well as some of Bendis’ favourites. And so perennial C listers Luke Cage and Spider-Woman joined team stalwarts Iron Man and Captain America. In addition, he also brought triple A listers Wolverine and Spider-Man into the fold to garner the favour of casual fans. He also threw the Sentry into the mix, just to provide some tension. This doesn’t sound so crazy now, but at the time all of these changes were considered blasphemy, and the changes Bendis brought to the Avengers were probably the most radical since the mid-’60′s. He also provided an opportunity for more casual fans to experience the adventures of their favourites  without having to actually follow what was happening in their own books. Even though I love the team, I’m the first one to admit that not only was this not your daddy’s Avengers, it really wasn’t the Avengers at all. The team didn’t have any type of government mandate, almost never went on patrol, and really just stumbled from adventure to adventure. And for me, that was ok. And still is.

Those looking for holes to poke won’t have to look far however. While there is some long-term plotting here (the buildup to Secret Invasion, the slow recreation of Luke Cage becoming one of Marvel’s top-tier heroes), and some ideas took almost 4 years to pay off, it does seem as if Bendis viewed what was happening in the rest of the Marvel Universe as somewhat of an inconvenience. The Civil War storyline in particular seemed to take Bendis by surprise, though he deftly brought it into his master plan relatively painlessly. I’ll also never fully believe Bendis’ claims that he had the entire arc of Spider-Woman’s character planned out in advance, as the events of Secret Invasion seemed to fly in the face of reason. And while I happen to enjoy Bendis’ Mametian maelstroms of dialogue, they’re not for everyone, and one of the major criticisms of the book was (and still is) that it’s heavy on exposition, low on action. I think that was a legitimate comment at one point, but Bendis seems to have captured a solid middle ground now, blending character development with action much better than he did at the start of his run. Another critique that is often made of the book is the art. Although David Finch garnered few complaints when he started the book, he handed the reigns over to darker, more stylized artists like Lenil Yu and Alex Maleev, whose work seems to have antagonized long-time fans. Again, this happens to be a matter of taste. I happen to think Alex Maleev is one of comics unheralded geniuses, but those looking for a more traditional, detailed look weren’t happy.

For the most part, Bendis’ New Avengers has been a wholly entertaining thrill ride of a superhero comic book. Though not for everybody, I think it’s really set the bar a little higher for what is possible  (and also necessary in order to capture a modern audience) with team superhero books in the 21st century.

KEEP

Next up: Wow. More Avengers. Whee.

 

 

 

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 31: Marvel Comics – Agents of ATLAS, Alias, Alpha Flight, and Ares

Many Marvel characters that are all getting their own movies next year.

And we’re back. Since I started this, I’ve had numerous people tell me that although they like the blog, what they’re really waiting for is for me to start talking about Marvel comics, since that’s what they grew up with. Well, that moment has arrived. Kind of. For those of you unfamiliar with the superhero comic scene, here’s a brief primer. For the past 4 decades or so, most (but not all) superhero comics have been published by one of two companies: DC, and Marvel. And while superhero books isn’t what they do exclusively, it remains their bread and butter. For most of the past few decades, Marvel has been the number one comic company in terns of market share, and I would say that currently their characters are more recognizable to mainstream North American audiences than DC characters. The recent slate of Marvel movies are a big part of that success, though Marvel’s dominance was solidified before that. Some of Marvel’s top characters that you may recognize, and that I will be writing about here include: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Hulk, the Punisher, and many more characters that Stan Lee seems to have turned out in one drunken weekend back in 1961. One of the generalities that is usually used to describe the difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel stories tend to be slightly more “realistic”, though that’s a silly term to describe a character that can walk on walls.

A few things to note:

1) I’m actually way ahead in my reading. So although I’m just starting writing about my Marvel collection (and for those of you who care about such things, I started this with as many Marvel trades and I did DC trades), I’m almost finished reading them. And while I actually ended up culling more Marvel than I did DC, most of the culls don’t happen until I get to the second half of the alphabet. So a lot of the next dozen or so posts will be kept, rather than culled.

 

Two characters that I won't be writing about anytime soon.

 

2) For those of who can’t wait to see what I think of your favourite characters like Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, and the X-Men, I have some bad news for you. I have some trades for all of those characters, but not really that many in the grand scheme of things. That side of Marvel hasn’t interested me in a long time. Also, because I’m doing this alphabetically, I have a LOT of Avengers, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four to get through before I get to your favourites. As with DC, I tend to like the more obscure characters, so you’ll just have to put up with 4 blogs of how much I like people like The Incredible Hercules, and The Hood, and Squirrel Girl, before you see what I think of Wolverine.
3) Most of the Marvel trades I have consist of stories from the last couple of decades. One thing I realized when I did this, is that my trade collection is really lacking in terms of representing 1960′s Marvel comics, and that’s going to be a top priority of mine this year.  So don’t get mad at me when you see how little 1960′s Spider-Man stuff I have.

4) The quality of late ’90′s, early 2000′s Marvel trades is awful. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to handle gingerly in fear of them falling apart, and more than a few of them HAVE fallen apart. For shame.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Agents Of AtlasAgents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars, Return Of The 3D Man

This isn’t an ideal way to start this blog, as most of my rookie readers won’t know who these folks are. Long story short, they’re a collection of little known Marvel characters that writer Jeff Parker decided to throw together as a super-spy type team a few years ago. There’s way more to it than that, but it’s a start. When the first maxi-series came out, I LOVED this series, and the hardcover that collects this series still stands up quite well.  It’s fresh, has lots of action, and the dialogue is sharp. The reality is that although this is one of the most critically acclaimed concepts that Marvel has had in some time, the sales have been poor. And while Marvel should be commended for repeatedly giving Parker a chance at making this concept a hit, the quality of the book has diminished over the past few years, and it’s really only the first hardcover that still works as a self-contained story. The second series (Dark Reign, Turf Wars) starts quite well, and adds some interesting twists to the ATLAS mythos. But I think that they got the cancellation call with very little notice, and so the second half of the series feels very rushed, with some pretty major events being introduced with not enough buildup. By the time the third series (Return of the 3D Man) came out, the concept had run out of steam. Kudos to Marvel (and Parker of course) for trying something new, and at the very least we got some great new characters (Gorilla-Man in particular) that I think will be around for a very long time.

Agents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars: KEEP; Return Of The 3D Man: CULL

AliasAlias, Come Home, The Underneath, The Secret Origins Of Jessica Jones

Full disclosure – Alias is one of my very favourite superhero comics of all time. Of all time. And rereading it did nothing but solidify that opinion for me. As I said above, I’m almost done my Marvel reading, and so I’ve recently read a LOT of Brian Michael Bendis’ Marvel work. And I think that although he’s done some amazing work for the company, this might be my very favourite of the work he’s done (Daredevil is a very close second). It’s the story of Jessica Jones, a down on her luck private detective that used to be a superhero. She still has some power, but doesn’t like to use it very much. And so we follow her as she explores the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe. On the surface she’s not that likeable: She swears, she smokes, and she’s the only mainstream superhero that takes it up the a&&. Except for possibly Superman.

This is a story about redemption. Jones is a character so fully developed, that we’re happy to wait for the resolution and redemption that Bendis promises throughout. Even when she’s making horrible life choices, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are happy to follow Bendis as he gets us there. One of the things about this book that isn’t mentioned much, is that it’s the perfect length. It’s not too short, it’s not too long. When the big reveals about what caused Jessica’s retirement from superheroics finally come, one feels as if every page, and every word was crafted meticulously ahead of time, and that Bendis knew exactly how many issues this book should be before he even started writing. He’s essentially teaching a class in how to pace a comic book. This is a must read for anybody that wants something a little different, but can’t quite break the superhero habit. Special mention must be given to how Bendis takes a 3rd string villain called the Purple Man (because he’s purple), and turns him into a truly terrifying depiction of pure evil.

KEEP

Alpha FlightClassic Vol. 1

If you needed proof of how big John Byrne was in his day, look no further than this vanity project that he created to showcase his group of little known Canadian superheroes. The fact that Marvel let him get away with this for as long as they did is a testament to how big a name he was at the time, and how creative and commercial his work was as well.  The book stands up pretty well, though obviously a little dated. It’s a character driven story, which I always like, and Byrne does a credible job in giving you quick, succinct motivations and backgrounds for all his characters. From an art standpoint, it goes down as among the highlights of his career.

KEEP

Ares - God Of War

Until recently, the Marvel version of the mythological figure of Ares has never played the major role in that companies stories that his DC counterpart did in theirs. He’s been used as a B level villain a few times, and that was the status quo until 5 years ago, when Michael Avon Oeming and Travis Foreman did a underated mini-series featuring the character that would launch him into the upper echelon of Marvel heroes.  Although not a well-read mini at the time, Marvel has used several of the concepts it posits as cornerstones of their universe ever since, including the villain in the recent Chaos War cross-over. It’s a great, action-packed story, with some fantastic, dynamic art. If ass-kicking mythological action stories are your thing, look no further.

KEEP

Next up: Avengers. Lots and lots of Avengers.

The Great Comics Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 27: DC Comics – Superman & Batman

Superman & BatmanGenerations 1 & 2

Much has been made of John Byrne’s descent into madness. Or at least mediocrity. Byrne was considered one of the preeminent pencillers of the ’80′s, and also quickly showed that he had considerable writing skills as well. However,  like Stephen Harper and common sense, Byrne and great comic books seem to have parted ways at some point, and much of the work I’ve read of his in the past decade or so is pretty close to unreadable. And unfortunately these two trades are shining examples of that.

Here is the premise: These series follow the adventures of Superman & Batman from the beginning of their careers to the far future. Unlike most superhero comic books, the adventures take place in real time, as opposed to super slow superhero time. Also unlike most superhero comic books, it’s god awful and should be barred from the sight of god and man.

I’m being harsh, but that’s because I’m comparing Generations to the work that Byrne has done in the past. You see, I’m a little ahead in my reading, and I’ve recently reread the work he did in the 80′s on titles such as Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four. And they were awesome. Absolutely awesome. And so as a big fan of the man’s previous work, I think I have the right to critisize, for what that’s worth. First of all, Mr. Byrne needs to stop inking his own pencils. Immediately. The man is one of the all-time great superhero artists, but these days his art is so unfocused that it makes Bill Sienkiewicz look like Jim Lee. That’s a little comic book art humour for those in the group that care about such things.

Secondly, he seems to have forgotten that comic books are a visual medium. So, if you have Batman standing on a building, and Superman is flying down to meet him, you don’t need to have Batman saying: “Hey, it’s Superman”. We know. We can see him. You’re the one that put him there.

Thirdly, this thing is cheesy. SO cheesy. And while I think that that may have been Byrne’s point at some point, it doesn’t make for interesting reading. I’m being pretty nasty here, so let me end by saying that no one would be happier than me to have Byrne take his rightful place back among the ranks of the comic book elite.

Superman & Batman - Public Enemies, Vengeance, Supergirl, Absolute Power

These were the first 4 trades of a series that still continues today.  I’ve talked a lot of smack about Jeph Loeb in recent months, and rightfully so. His strongest talent seems to be convincing great artists to make his scripts look amazing. And so while these might not be 5 star Superman/Batman stories, they are definitely solid 3 star stories. Excessively goofy at times, and formulaic to a fault, but still enjoyable in a high camp kind of way.

KEEP

Superman & BatmanEnemies Among Us

This was the first trade of the series after Jeph Loeb left, and the kindest thing I can say about it is that it made his writing seem brilliant in comparison. Although Mark Verheiden has done admirable work in both comics and film, he turned in a hackneyed alien invasion script that defied logic and common sense. Only Ethan Van Sciver’s beautiful, but menacing pencils make this worth reading, but unfortunately they’re not enough to make it worth keeping.

CULL

Next up: Teen Titans! They’re like superheroes, but with puberty!