New DC 52 Review: Action Comics, Detective Comics, Stormwatch, and a bunch of others…

Let’s review: DC Comics (home of Gorilla Grodd, Blue Beetle, and Ragdoll. Oh, and Superman and Batman) decided to reboot their entire line of comics. Every comic they published started from number one again, including the comics that had been running non stop since the 1940’s, and nothing that we have ever  read in a DC comic has actually happened before. The goal is to streamline their admittedly very confusing continuity, in order to make DC’s comics more accessible to new readers.

I’m a little surprised that I’m doing this, as I met the whole DC reboot thing with a resounding shrug of indifference. I’m not really doing much superhero reading these days, and continuity means less to me than ever before. I was reading exactly 5 DC comics before the reboot, and they were all cancelled (though to be fair, they probably would have all been cancelled anyways.) But as the day to the reboot got closer and closer, I have to admit that I got a little excited. Why?

Because superhero comics is what I grew up on. They’re what got me hooked on this medium, and no matter how many independent autobiographical graphic novels I read, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for superheroes. They were my first love, and you never forget your first love. The thing is, it takes a LOT for a superhero comic to impress me these days. When reading these, all I wanted was a good, enjoyable story. That’s it. I didn’t care about how the continuity didn’t jive with what happened before, or who the characters were. All I wanted were good stories.

Did I get my wish?

Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Adiran Syaf

A quick summary for those not familiar with Batgirl: For decades, she was Commisioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. Who was then shot in the spine by the Joker, and ended up in a wheelchair. Barbara then became an information broker/IT support to DC’s superhero set under the name of Oracle, and as a result of the work that Gail Simone did with her on Birds Of Prey, proceeded to become one of the more interesting parts of the DCU. Other people went on to become Batgirl.

I had mixed reactions going into this book. Although I have all the confidence in the world in Gail Simone, I did think that this book was unnecessary. Bryan Miller had done an excellent job in getting me to love Stephanie Miller as Batgirl, and Gail Simone had also done an even better job over the years in getting me to love Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I loved that one of the more interesting players in the DCU was in a wheelchair, and I thought that putting her back in the Batgirl suit was gimmicky at best, superfluous at worst.

I hate to say it, but I think I was right.

Batgirl is a fine comic. There are some nice dialogue bits (always a Simone trademark), and I really liked Adrian Syaf’s action sequences a lot. And I really loved the concept of Batgirl being terrified to be Batgirl. We take it for granted that every superhero is a bucket full of courage, so it was nice to see one actually freeze up in the face of danger, and for good reason But I think one of the main things that the new DC books need to do is to show exactly WHY they should be replacing the books that they do. And there was nothing in Gail Simone’s Batgirl that accomplished that for me. You could have told the exact same story with Miller’s Batgirl, and in fact it might have made more sense, considering that character’s age, and lack of experience.

I think that Simone was put on this book because of her background with the Barbara Gordon character, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the Barbara Gordon we know. Shared experiences aside, there is a casualness and joy about this version of the character that hasn’t existed in the character in decades, and it really feels like a step back for the character, not a step forward. And I guess that’s the point. But as far as I can tell, this Batgirl isn’t much different from the series it replaced, except that A)  The name of the character is different, and B) it isn’t quite as good.

Rating: C+

Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

This is one of the most underordered of the new DC books, but I picked it up based on the strength of Judd Winick’s skills. I’ve always liked his superhero writing, and while his talents are obvious here, I don’t think they are going to be enough to really make this book a success.Although the setting of Africa is somewhat untapped for a superhero book, at the end of the day, it’s just another costumed guy fighting other costumed guys. There is nothing “bad” about this book whatsoever, but there’s also not enough that’s unique about it to justify more than a first read.

Rating: C

Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn

While Daniel’s talents as an artist are obvious, his skills as a writer have been lost on me thus far, and unfortunately Detective Comics #1 doesn’t do much to change my mind. As with most of the other DC books I read today, this was a fine superhero comic book. Rights get wronged, bad guys get vanquished, etc. etc. But the dialogue here is overly heavy-handed at times, and there are a lot of words that most likely were best unsaid. For the most part, there seemed to be almost no difference between this Batman, and the Batman we knew two weeks ago, except that A) his costume sucks, and B) everyone is about 10 years younger.

But what’s getting people talking is the final page. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME final page. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve read this year in fact. Unfortunately I had to slog through 24 average pages to read it.

Rating: C

Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

The JLI is a beloved concept among DC fans. In its hey day, the title represented an excellent mix of humour and action, both of which are traits that are sadly absent in today’s first issue. It’s hard to see just how DC got this one so wrong. It wasn’t even 6 months ago that Judd Winick was finishing up probably the best JLI story NOT written by Keith Giffen. The team was re-energized, sales were good. And then this. It’s hard to imagine a comic less fun, less funny, and less full of the spark that got people invested in these characters in the first place. That this was actually published does not give me confidence in DC’s editorial team.

Rating: D

Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

When talking to people online, this seemed to be the book people were most curious about,probably because it involved the most obvious changes to DC continuity. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care about the changes so much. I have no problem with change. All I care about is good stories. And this, my friends, is NOT a good story. In fact, this was a terrible story. Kudos to DC for trying to bring back old Wildstorm characters, but what DC doesn’t seem to understand is that the original Ellis/Millar run on Authority had NOTHING to do with the characters. It had everything to do with what was happening in the world at the time, and in comics. Authority wasn’t about superheroes, it was a reaction against them. And with all due respect to the talented writers who tried to salvage the Authority after Mark Millar left the book, but it’s a comic whose time has passed. Every interesting story you could tell with a group of heroes who have positioned themselves above even earth’s premier superheroes has been done, and with the all-ages mandate that DC has, there is NO way that they’re going to be able to tell the edgy, dark stories that the concept demands. Paul Cornell is a writer that has been given much praise as of late, but there’s been nothing since his days on Captain Britain that has really impressed me. And this clumsy, half-baked, watered down attempt at reviving a concept that should have stayed dead does nothing to change that opinion.

Rating: D

Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

I’ve never really cottoned to the Swamp Thing character. I know, I know. It’s the character that first introduced Alan Moore to North American audiences, and so there will always be a soft spot in people’s heart for the concept. But it’s never done that much for me, and I’ve ignored most attempts to update the character. So if I don’t care about Swamp Thing, then why did I pick this up? Two words: Scott Snyder. His run on Detective Comics really surprised and impressed me, and his new series for Image is intriguing as well. Unfortunately, he seems to be saddled with a LOT of baggage here, as the editorial committee at DC seems determined to cram a lot of back story down our throats. So even though in theory all continuity has been rebooted, there are still stories that apparently happened, and so most of this issue is about telling us how all of that stuff matters, even though it shouldn’t. This book looked pretty, but there was nothing in it of any real substance, and nothing that would convince me to get a second issue.

Rating: C

Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick

There have already been comparison’s to Garth Ennis’ work with this title, but I can’t see it. Other than the fact that it’s a book about military men, there is none of the emotion, or tension, or drama that you would find in an Ennis book when he’s at the top of his game. What you do get here is a solid, Sgt. Rock update. And while I have no problem with a solid Sgt. Rock update, and appreciate that there is room in this DCU for non-superpowered folks, this is simply just another ok book, among a lot of other ok books that were released today.

Rating: C

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

This was probably one of the most anticipated of the new books, and I’m happy to report that its also easily the best of the bunch. By a lot. Why? Because this was the only title of the lot today that actually took any chances, and that was anything more than just a run-of-the-mill DC superhero book. And  it was also the only one to really try to take advantage of the slimmer continuity and try to really reinvent it’s character in a real way. I mean, any superhero comic book that starts with a full-page of TEXT, and then continues with 5 full pages of a family talking around a breakfast table has to be something special right? Or terrible. Thankfully in this case it’s the former. Jeff Lemire continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in comics today with a book so full of  emotion, drama, and character development, that I kept thinking I was reading a Vertigo book. So far, it’s only one of two of the new titles that actually made me excited to read the second issue.

Rating: A

Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

When reading online feedback about this reboot, variations on this theme kept cropping up: “At least Action Comics by Geoff Johns will be great right? “. It was nice to see that at least one prediction regarding this relaunch came true. At first glance, Superman is DC’s character most in need of a reboot. He stands for truth, justice, and is a black and white figure in a world full of greys.In other words, the character doesn’t really fit in today’s world. And so what does Grant Morrison do? He exaggerates every single one of the character traits that make Superman anachronistic to this era. Morrison’s Superman is a cocky, yet naive man-child stumbling from adventure to adventure, never once thinking about the consequences of his actions. There are bad guys. They need to be stopped. The end.

That’s the way Morrison’s Superman thinks, and it’s a wonderful character flaw to have in a character that has no actual weaknesses. The other thing that Morrison does here is to capture the sheer wonder that everyone in Metropolis regarding the miracles that Superman performs on a regular basis. On page after page, we see characters react in disbelief at what this man of steel can do. It’s a refreshing take on a world that is usually pretty blase about these sorts of things. I also need to mention Rags Morales here. He’s been one of my favourite superhero artists ever since Identity Crisis, but I think he surpasses that work here. He captures the dynamic energy of our hero so perfectly, that I can’t believe he hasn’t always been doing this book.

If it took upsetting the entire DC apple cart to get this book, it was worth it.

Rating A-

To sum up: Out of the 9 books I read today, I loved 2, liked one, despised two, and thought the rest were ok. The one thing that I think DC missed the boat on is to really start from scratch with these characters. Most of these books take place about 5 years after the first superheroes were sighted. So even though OUR history with these characters didn’t exist, they still do have a history, and too many of the books needed more exposition than should have been necessary for comics attempting to entice new viewers.

Still, not a horrible first week, I guess.

 

5 things I noticed about the series finale of Smallville

Moments before the happy couple is interrupted by an alien tyrant.

First of all, yes I watched this. Like Donald Trump and crazy, I decided to give it one last chance, even though I haven’t watched in years. For some unknown reason, I wanted to see how this terrible show, that has somehow lasted longer than Buffy, the X-Files, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica, ends.

Not well, apparently. Here are five things I noticed.
1) Apparently DC’s market share in the future is about the same as the hand-out flyer my local corner store prints out has, as we see that 7 years from now, there is a DC comic book that reveals Superman’s identity. Yet people still keep calling him Clark, and no one seems to know that he’s Superman. Also, DC comics apparently aren’t increasing in price over the next 7 years.

This is your reward for putting up with 10 years of inanity.

2) In the universe that Smallville exists in, there seems to be no planet Mars. Yet we’ve seen a character that actually comes from Mars. Seriously.

3) Sneaking onto Air Force One seems to have about the same degree of difficulty as conning your way onto a public bus.

Moments before Michael Rosebaum turns the pistol on himself after realizing that he gave up 10 years of his life for this shit.

4) In the future, Lois is so ashamed of marrying someone still in the closet that she makes him call her “Miss Lane”, even though they’ve been publicly dating for years, and even had a wedding that was once interrupted by another planet.

A show that is better than Smallville

5) After what seems to be a season worth of buildup, Clark vanquishes the WORST THREAT THE EARTH HAS EVER KNOWN by pushing it. Yes. You heard me. At the end of two hours of tense, overwrought drama, he flew into the sky, and dealt with the evil killer planet much in the same way that you would with a puppy that’s crawled onto your bed.

Bonus thing I noticed: This is the worst television show that ever existed.
Other Bonus thing I noticed: You couldn’t just give us ONE clear shot of the bastard in the costume?
P.S. 10 Years? Really?

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!

 

The Great Comics Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 26: DC Comics – Superman Part 2

SupermanBirthright, Earth One

Before Earth One, before Secret Origin, Birthright was supposed to be the definitive Superman origin, or at least the most definitive since the last definitive Superman origin, which was created only about 15 years before this one. And if anybody had read it, maybe it would have been. But unlike the previous Superman origin story Man Of Steel, Birthright never really captured the imagination of Superman fans. It’s a shame, as Mark Waid and Lenil Yu did a fantastic job here. Although Waid doesn’t add as many new concepts into the Superman mythos as John Byrne did before him, he tells a much more cohesive story than Byrne. It’s an extremely safe interpretation of Superman’s origin, but it’s also very well told, and definitely worth a read.

Earth One, on the other hand, tries to add a lot of new concepts, but writer J. Michael Straczynski is so excited by his new ideas that he forgets to make his Superman interesting, or even likeable. It’s still a decent story, but it’s definitely not the savior of the Superman franchise that is was made out to be when it came out last year.

KEEP

SupermanThe Death Of Superman

While Superman’s birth is retold every decade or so, his death has really only been told once. Which sounds like a lot if you’re you, or if you’re me. But if you’re a comic book character, dying only once is pretty much a mathematical impossibility. Since this story was so overhyped in its day, I was surprised to see how well it held up. This was the comic version of a summer action movie: High on action, high on emotion, short on plot or substance. While in retrospect it might have been nice to have some back story on the villain of the piece (something we would get a few years later), it’s still a fast-moving action story with some pretty effective emotional beats.

KEEP

SupermanFor All Seasons

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are the peanut butter and chocolate of the comic book world: Ok on their own, but magnificent when they’re together. There is nothing they’ve done together that’s not worth reading, and For All Seasons is one my personal favourites of the work they’ve done. Again, it emphasizes pathos over plot, but it’s still a beautiful piece of mainstream comic work.

KEEP

Superman - Kryptonite

Although Darwyn Cooke has achieved near-legendary status in a relatively short period of time, this was one of the first comics that he wrote, but didn’t pencil. Although I don’t think he’ll be competing with Warren Ellis anytime soon, Cooke put together a solid script here. Tim Sale is one of the few pencillers that could be considered Cooke’s artistic equal, and really elevates the story.  In fact, reading Kryptonite is enough to convince me of who really did the heavy lifting in all of the aforementioned Loeb-Sale collaborations. This has some really great Clark and Lois moments, and I think it’s quite underrated.

KEEP

SupermanOur Worlds At War Vol. 1 & 2

There are two types of cross overs in comics: Cross-Over A has one central story in a finite mini-series, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but DON”T require reading in order to understand the theme, or to get the main plot beats ( A very good recent example of this is Marvel’s Civil War). Cross-Over B has one central story, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but  still have key moments that you DO need to read in order to full grasp what is happening in the main story. This isn’t my favourite (Recent example: DC’s Blackest Night). Unfortunately, for Our World’s At War DC went with option C: A dozen different comics all trying to tell important parts of the same story, with what seems to be very little editorial direction in order to make an incomprehensible story. It’s an incredibly ambitious, big-time space epic that had some really great beats, but was very poorly served by some extremely bad editing. This was a big alien invasion story in which all of earth’s heroes team up to repel the invaders. I can’t really tell you more than that, as the extremely convoluted plot that drifted in and out of the different comics involved departed from my brain almost immediately after I read the book. In fact, what does it say about a Superman cross-over when the best story came from a Wonder Woman issue?  There are still enough interesting decent character moments (Specifically I’m referring to the Wonder Woman issues) to put it in the keep pile for now, but the next time I need to add some space for new additions, this one is gone.

KEEP

SupermanPresident Lex

Making Lex Luthor President of the US was a good idea in theory. In fact, it was such a good idea that Marvel decided to pretty much copy it verbatim for their recent Dark Reign storyline in which Norman Osbourne took control of America’s superheroes. unfortunately, Marvel did a better job with DC’s idea than DC did, and the whole Luthor as President thing is usually discussed as one of DC’s poorer ideas. I liked it though, although as with the Our Worlds At War cross-over, poor editing really hurt the concept, and there’s just as much bad as there is good. Decent idea, poor execution. An other thing this one has in common with Our Worlds At War, is that I’m keeping this one, for now.

KEEP

Superman - Red Son

This is one of the weirder ideas to come from the DC brain trust in the past decade, and no one was more surprised than me that it actually worked. It’s the Superman story, with the caveat being that the rocket ship that he was sent to earth on landed in Russia. Crazy, right? Da. But still a good story. Although it’s pretty easy to criticize Mark Millar for some of his recent work, no one can say that the guy doesn’t know how to tell a GREAT mainstream comic book action story, and he’s pulling out all the stops here. Although the high concept here is as gimmicky as gimmicks get, Millar still takes the time to stay true to the character he’s riffing on here, and tells an engaging “What If” story that happens to surpass a lot of the past decade’s more mainstream Superman canon. I’ll go on record and say that this also happens to be one of my favourite Lex Luthor stories of all time.

KEEP

SupermanWhatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow

A little back story is necessary here. In 1986, DC upset their apple cart and decided to reinvent the origins of several of their key heroes, Superman included. And since that mean that the current run of Superman was coming to an end, Julius Schwartz called up Alan Moore (Post-Watchmen, Pre-bugshit crazy) and asked him to write the final Superman story. He did, got the venerable Curt Swan to do his thing on the art, and then produced one of the greatest Superman stories ever written. I’ve read this a hundred times, and it puts a smile on my face every time. The premise is this: Superman is at the twilight of his career, but his enemies come out of the woodwork to launch one final attack against him and his loved ones. He gathers those closest to him and brings them all to the Fortress of Solitude to try to defend them. Things don’t go well. This is a definitively Silver-Age Superman story, but the interesting thing here is how timeless Moore and Swan make it. 25 years later, it remains one of the great Superman comics, and I think a strong case could me made that it was the last.

KEEP

SupermanAt Earth’s End

A throw-away Elseworlds story that is better than it has any right to be. Though not something I would say was remotely essential, it’s still weird (Future Superman fights an army of cloned Hitlers, as well as the reincarnated body of Batman) enough to keep.

Next up: More Superman, but with a dollop of Batman mixed in.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 14 – DC Comics: The Justice League!

This one almost killed me. Seriously. It turns out that no other book demonstrates how good DC comics can be, but also the horrible depths that they can fall to the way that Justice League does.

So before I start I need to give you some Justice League context.

1960-1984 – The “Let’s All Be Superfriends” Years:

Putting all of their popular characters into one team along with a few fresh faces worked 

The JLA's first enemy: Telepathic Space Seafood

well for DC in the 1940’s with the Justice Society, and so DC decided to do it again in the early 1960’s to coincide with the resurgence of the superhero genre. The book originally starred Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter. This is important to remember. The line up changed over the years, with some members going away for extended periods of time, and some new blood joining. But the core premise was always that this was earth’s premier super team, and so it always had a core roster of earth’s A-List heroes. They did bring lesser known heroes onboard occasionally (Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna), but for the most part, this book focuses on big epic adventures, and didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with its heroes personal lives. Although this era is fondly remembered, I find that when I reread these stories very little sticks with me, and it comes across as a faceless blur of spandex.

 

1984-1986 – The “Why are there homeless people on the team?” Years.

The greatest Justice League tribute band in the mid-westAt the time, Teen Titans and X-Men were selling like crazy, and so DC attempted  to add some teen angst drama to its flagship book. The old JLA disbanded, and a new team was formed, composed of the 3 LEAST popular members of the old team, a spoiled trust-fund baby, an offensive Latino stereotype, and a homeless person. To no ones’s suprise, everyone hated it, and it didn’t last long.

1987 – 1996 –  The “Never met a cheap laugh we didn’t grind into the ground” Years:

And now the strangeness begins. There’s some context to note here. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths megacrisis happened in 1985-1986, and it really did a number on JLA continuity (If Wonder Woman is just becoming a hero now, how was she a founding member of the JLA? If Superman is a fairly recent hero, how was HE a founding member of the JLA?  If Hawkman is just arriving from Thanagar, who was the guy wearing wings in the JLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Questions, questions. ) For now, DC decided to ignore a lot of those issues, and rebooted the team again, this time calling it the JLI (Justice League International).

For this version of the team, they went for a combination of veterans (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), recent A-listers who had never actually been part of the JLA before (Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate), and new faces who were a prominent part of the new universe that DC was creating at the time (Dr. Light, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold), etc. They also decided to make this book funny. Yes, funny.

Although the line up changed a lot, this was the direction of the book for much of the next decade, as well as of its sister books, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Task Force. Although there are some good stories from this decade, I found that the increasing focus on comedy, as well as the ever decreasing focus on having A-listers on the team, made the JLA pretty much irrelevant.

1996 – 2006 – The “Magnificent 7″ Years:

DC apparently agreed with me, and in 1996 decided to bring the band back together. So

The band reunites to play at Aquaman's wedding reception

now the JLA was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the new (at the time) Green Lantern, and the Flash (Not the original silver age Flash who was a founding member of the original JLA but his young partner who was originally Kid Flash but took over when his uncle died in the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Except for the fact that we just found out recently that he didn’t die and he’s now back.) After an initial mini-series by Mark Waid, DC brought Grant Morrison on board to write this new JLA. And it was epic. Huge battles, huge concepts, huge EVERYTHING. The only personal issues that the JLA faced in this book were the ones that had to do with the team. This remains a high benchmark for the concept, and remains my favourite incarnation of the league.

2006 – 2010. The “I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually” years.

It’s no secret that the League has struggled creatively in recent years. Revolving creative teams, and revolving team rosters, have devalued the League’s effectiveness. James Robinson seems to be trying a lot of interesting things in today’s League, but I can’t say it’s doing much for me. That being said, the concept is still a sound one, and eventually the League will be on top again.

Which brings us to the books. Although there are MANY JLA trades out there, most of the ones I own have to do with the Magnificent Seven incarnation of the League. I’ve got a LOT of them, so I’m splitting this into several posts.

JLA - The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Grant Morrison (New World Order, American Dreams, Rock Of Ages, Strength In Numbers, Justice For All, Rock Of Ages, World War 3)

So as I mentioned earlier, this a League full of A-List heroes, tacking A-List threats. I have never been quiet regarding my criticisms of Grant Morrison’s writing, and so it was a great pleasure to discover just how much I still loved his run on the JLA when I reread it recently. I have never felt that Morrison was a character writer. I don’t mean concept, he’s great at those. I mean character. But character is a BIG part of why this book works so well, and I think that a part of it was that Morrison didn’t have to focus on it much. Because this wasn’t a book about how Superman gets through the day with Lois, and the Daily Planet, and all of that nonsense, Morrison was free to focus on loftier concerns (How does Superman deal with having every single hero on earth look up to him?) There are character moments here, but they all are related to how these characters deal with each other, not how they deal with their own private lives.

As I mentioned before, Morrison’s League dealt with universe-destroying threats on a daily basis, and this book remains a highlight in the history of the League.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)

Arguably the greatest JLA run of all time is done, and the question is, who do you get to take over? Mark Waid of course, and he knocks it out of the park.

His League is of a slightly smaller scope than Morrison’s is. He’s using continuity more than Morrison did, and character interaction is slightly more front of mind in his run. Which brings us to “Tower of Babel“, the highlight of his run. Not only is this one of the great JLA stories, it’s also one of the best Batman stories of the modern era. Although Waid’s run wasn’t very long, it’s still holds up extremely well as a worthy successor to Morrison’s arc.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Joe Kelly (Future Imperfect, The Golden Circle, Obsidian Age Vol. 1 & 2, Rules Of Engagement, Trial By Fire)

At the time, Joe Kelly had a well-regarded run on Superman, and so I guess it made sense to throw him the League. But he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Although I remember thoroughly disliking his run when it first came out, upon rereading it’s obvious that was just a reaction to some of the small changes Kelly made, as opposed to his run overall. It turns out that this was a solid run, with a bigger focus on character development than either Waid’s or Morrison’s. Of course, the highlight here was the incredibly ambitious Obsidian Age arc, a sprawling epic of time travel, death, and betrayal, with some beautiful art by Doug Mahnke. Probably the biggest misses here are the new characters that Kelly brings into the team. They never really gel with the existing cast, and didn’t seem to serve any real storytelling purpose other than for Kelly’s own ego.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)

Crucifer is upset because he's in the worst Justice League story ever written

Joe Kelly was the last regular writer on this version of the JLA, and the rest of the run was a rotating cast of different creative teams. Most of this was absolute crap, with the worst of the bunch being a truly awful excuse for a vampire story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who seemed bound and determined to make you forget how much you loved their X-Men run when you were a kid.

Crisis Of Conscience, Syndicate Rules: KEEP. World Without A Justice League, Pain Of The Gods, Tenth Circle: CULL

 

 

JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years : Odds & Ends (JLA: Earth 2, Superpower, Age Of Wonder, World Without Grownups, Secret Origins, A League Of One, JLA Year One)

Because this version of the Justice League was so popular, DC pumped out an endless amount of one-shots, mini-series, and tie-ins. Most of these were wretched, and are covered in my next post. But there were a few that actually still hold up well today. Age of Wonder was one of many Elseworlds JLA titles from this era, and honestly the only one worth a damn (Justice League as Steampunk scientists: Hooray!). Although Year One, and Earth 2 still gets a lot of praise, A League Of One was a pleasant rediscovery, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past decade.

KEEP

Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!

Wednesday Comics Woundup: Talking Dogs, Plague-Ridden Vikings, and Emo Superman

NorthlandersThe Plague Widow by Brian Wood & Leandro Fernandez

I’m going to step out on a limb here and say that Brian Wood might be the most consistently excellent writer in comic books today. And although Northlanders has gotten no small amount of critical acclaim and positive reviews, it’s definitely not enough. In a world where great comics get cancelled left and right, it’s a good thing to have such a well-done book be out there getting better with every arc.

For those of you not in the loop, Northlanders is a comic book about vikings. Each arc tells a different story featuring different characters, but the gist is always about vikings. Actually, it’s not. The gist is stories. Compelling, tense, drama-filled, stories. That happen to be about vikings. This arc is about Hilda, a woman trying to get her daughter through a plague ridden winter in 11th Century Norway.

This story is about as good as dramatic comic books get these days. Not only that, but in a series blessed by great artists, Leandro Fernandez stands out, with significant emotive skills. This is one to get, and it’s definitely on my short list for best unlimited series of the year.

Rating: A

Hellboy/Beasts Of Burden – One Shot by Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin.

For those of you who are new: Hellboy is a demon that investigates and battles with creatures of supernatural evil. He was created by Mike Mignola. The Beasts Of Burden are a group of talking dogs and cats that investigates and battles with creatures of supernatural evil. They were created by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. In this issue, they team up to investigate and battle with creatures of supernatural evil.

This was a little goofy, but still fun. I liked how easily Hellboy accepted the dogs, since in a world where Rasputin’s ghost is your arch-nemesis, talking dogs is probably not even close to the weirdest thing Hellboy sees in an average day. This was definitely more of a Beasts story than a Hellboy story, but  I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping point to either character. Great for fans, but if you’re new to either mythology and want to know where to start with these characters, check out the fantastic Beasts hardcover that came out earlier this year, or one of the many top-notch Hellboy collections on the market.   Still, Dorkin and Thompson have delivered a charming little story, and I recommend this to fans of either character.

Rating: B-

SupermanEarth One by J. Michael Straczyinski and Shane Davis.

 

His parents wrapped him in this hoodie for the voyage to Earth.

Where to start?

 

This project has been in the making for over a year. It’s essentially a reimagining of the Superman origin by superstar writer J. Michael Strazyinski, and up and comer Shane Davis. However, this origin isn’t a new one, it’s an “alternate” one, which means that it doesn’t really “matter” in the great continuity shitpile that is DC comics.  So why should you read this?

Well, I’m not convinced that you should. I have no problem with someone messing with one of the most iconic origins in comics IF they have a new and interesting approach to the character. And while JMS’ approach is new, I can’t necessarily say it’s interesting.

This is JMS’ story of how Clark Kent became Superman, and I’m really not sure what the point of this was. Although there are a few interesting choices (JMS’ Jimmy Olsen might be the most interesting version of that character I’ve ever seen, and an alien invasion being the trigger that turns Clark into Superman is an idea so brilliantly simple that I can’t believe no one has thought of it before), I can’t say that there’s enough of a new approach to convince me that this “new” Superman is worth investing in.

To top it all off, this Superman isn’t the strong, confident leader of men that we’ve come to know, love, and possibly snicker at from behind his cape. This Superman is conflicted, a little greedy, and wouldn’t be out-of-place playing drums for My Chemical Romance. Those are all interesting character traits to have, and definitely worth reading about. But not in Superman. That’s the whole point of him. If I want to read about heroes that doubt themselves at every turn, I’ll pick up a Marvel book.

I’m aware that sounds like this is awful. It’s not. It’s an entertaining Superman story. But a $20 Hardcover standalone graphic novel written by one of the biggest stars in comics should be absolutely amazing, not just a decent read.

Rating: C+

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

Sweet Jesus, no more.

Don’t get me wrong. I like good Batman stories. Well, I should considering I own hundreds of them. But I’m really tired of reading about Batman growling at every person he meets: “you’re not equipped to do this job”, and “get out of my town”, and “put a coaster under there”.

So here’s more stories about Batman being an asshole.

Batman & The Phantom StrangerBatman & The Phantom Stranger

Two mysterious assholes, on a quest of some sort.

This is a fairly disposable one-shot featuring Batman with another of my DC faves, the Phantom Stranger. It’s a pretty standard magic mystery, but Arthur Ranson’s pencils put it in the keep pile for me.

KEEP. Barely.

Batman & Punisher – Batman & Punisher Vol. 1 & 2

These are two one-shots that DC/Marvel did about 15 years ago, teaming up two of their most popular heroes. For the most part, I’ve hated the DC/Marvel crossovers I’ve read, but this is a rare exception, in that it’s a story that I would deem as indispensable if you’re a Batman OR Punisher fan. The first one involves the Punisher teaming up with BatAzrael, during the brief time that he was playing the role of Batman in Gotham City. I remember not liking this as much as it’s sequel, but upon reread it actually stands up very well. Barry Kitson does his always bang up job on pencils, and Dennis O’Neil does a nice job of character work here.

The second volume is still the highlight here, in that it’s still the ONLY work John Romita Jr. has ever done on DC characters, and the only time he’s ever done Batman professionally. This book still stands up as a really great action story, and the two page spread of Frank Castle punching out Batman gives me chills. After making fun of him earlier, I really need to give Chuck Dixon credit here for an extremely well-written story. This is better than it has any right to be.

KEEP

Batman & Superman - World’s Finest

This is a 10 year old story that still stands up well today. The premise as written by Karl Kesel is that one of their first missions together, Batman and Superman accidentally let a bystander die, and so every year on his death they get together and remember. During the course of the story, we see how they deal with seminal moments in their history: Superman’s death, Batman’s back breaking, Robin’s Bar Mitzvah, etc. Well written story that takes advantage of how diverse each character is.

KEEP

Batman, Superman, & Wonder WomanTrinity.

This is Matt Wagner’s version of the first meeting between DC’s BIG THREE. You can tell how seriously he took this assignment, and throughout the book you feel that this was supposed to be his Final Crisis, or New Frontier. Sadly, this never comes close to those lofty goals, though his pencils look great. Part of the problem is that while this is supposed to be a team of equals, Wonder Woman is written as the junior partner throughout, and in fact spends much of the story in chains. The other problem is that Wagner really doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the mythos. It’s just a decent story, with great pencils.

KEEP. Yes, I’m keeping it. I love the man’s art.

Whew. I’m done. No more Batman. Well, until I hit the J’s, and then we’ve got lots of stories about Batman being mean to the Justice League to look forward to. He’s such a dick.

Next up: Batwoman to the Brave & Bold!

Wednesday Comics Woundup: The Great Depression, and Dragons

Four Eyes Vol. 1: Forged In Flames by Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara. Published by Image Comics.

4 Eyes

6 eyes actually, but who's counting

Yes, that Joe Kelly. Deadpool Joe Kelly. Action Comics #775 Joe Kelly. Superhero workhorse Joe Kelly.

It was with some reluctance that I picked up Kelly’s I Kill Giants last year. It had gotten LOTS of positive reviews, but I’ve never warmed to Kelly’s supehero work, and for better or worse I’ve always considered him to be not much more than a poor man’s Chuck Dixon. To my pleasant suprise, I liked it quite a bit, and it made me think that there might be an actual writer underneath the superhero shlock he had been peddling for years. So when Newsarama posted the first issue of his latest series for free, I was happy to give it a shot, and was more than a little shocked to find myself ordering the trade about 5 minutes later.

Four Eyes is the story of Enrico, a boy living in a Great Depression era Manhattan very much like ours, but with one exception: Dragons. They’re an endagered species, and as with anything that’s illegal, there’s a huge black market business to be had regarding the exploitation of said creatures. Enrico’s family is inextricably tied to these creatures, in more ways than one.

This is a character story. Archetypical characters, to be precise, and a case could be made for some of them bordering on stereotype. There’s the plucky young hero looking to avenge the death of his father, as well as  the grief-consumed mother, oblivious to her surroundings. We also have an  honour-bound mob boss, and a wise old black mentor. Schlocky? Not on your life. These familiar characters are what makes this story work so well. I can’t say there are a lot of surprises, and the story progresses pretty much the way you think it would. It’s not the twists and turns that impressed me, it’s how artfully Kelly steers the ship. I couldn’t believe how sophisticated his pacing has become, and he always spends exactly the right amount of time on each character or story beat. While you might read a more original story this year, I doubt you’ll read one that’s laid out any better than this.

Enrico is in a lot of trouble

Which brings us to the art. Although I’ve seen Max Fiumara’s stuff before, I had no idea he was capable of work like this. His human characters have a slightly cartoony feel that reminded me a little of Jeff Smith’s work on Rasl, and while I could see his style not working in other settings, it sets a perfect tone for this story. And then there’s the dragons. My god, the dragons. Fiumara has created some of the most beautiful monsters to be found outside of a Hellboy book. 

This is an excellent adventure story, with great character motivation, and a unique setting. The first four issues stand well on their own, but I can honestly say that I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m also glad to rediscover a writer I had previously dismissed, and I’m looking forward to going back giving his previous work another shot. And possibly hating it even more, but there you go.
Rating: A