Catching up on DC/Vertigo Comics Collections

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Featuring: Arkham Manor, Batgirl, Batman & Robin, Bodies, Coffin Hill, Deathstroke, Detective Comics, Gotham Academy, Grayson, Harley Quinn, Justice League, Lobo, The Names, (New) Teen Titans Continue reading

Two Years (ish) of DC Comics’ New 52

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Someone asked me on Twitter if I was still reading comics (they pointed out I hadn’t posted many reviews of them lately). I have been, but because I’ve been reading them in big chunks, interspersed with work reading, as well as both fiction and (future-work-related) non-fiction books, I’ve been letting the comics reviews slide a fair bit. There is another reason, of course: not all of the comics have been single storylines, or complete storylines, which makes reviewing them really tricky. Once you get to around issue #10, anything you write about the story is likely to throw out spoilers. This, I think, is maybe a weakness of reading and reviewing comics on a weekly basis – and is really why I stopped doing that almost a year ago (that and financial considerations). Regardless, my insatiable need to read All The Things With Words means I have been reading a good number of comics via ComiXology’s app on my iPad. With the exception of the frankly phenomenal Hawkeye, I do not buy any issues full-price. I just can’t afford to. So, as and when things go on sale or are discounted (either one or two months after release), I’ve been collecting issues to read in bursts.

That being said, the number of series I’ve been reading has also been steadily culled. I usually give each series a single “volume” – that is, what would appear in a collected, printed trade hardcover or paperback. It’s been a useful way of separating storylines, as well as providing a “book’s worth” to review. (Ahem, if I bothered to review them, that is…)

So which of DC’s New 52 have I kept reading? Which ones will stay? And which will have to go, and why? Below is a brief run-down (by no means exhaustive) of the titles I’ve been reading, collected by theme/larger series…

[I may add to this, over time, as I remember other titles I’ve tried, or just think of something else I’d like to add.]

GREEN LANTERN SERIES

I’m starting with this one, because I recently completed the vast “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern” cross-title events. It was an epic undertaking, and sadly it sometimes felt like it. Not to mention being rather more expensive than I would have wished (or should have given in to). The two events, really one mega-event, had its interesting and gripping moments, but ultimately outstayed its welcome. By the time it ended, expectations were so high, that it fell a bit flat. This, I’m noticing, is a common feeling at the end of comics Events…

Overall, though, the extended family of Green Lantern titles remain interesting. Not all of them are as consistent or gripping as I would like. Green Lantern is still very good. Red Lanterns is possibly the weakest, now, after what had been a promisingly dark beginning. New Guardians is starting to fizzle a bit, too, despite my continuing interest in the wider spectrum of Lantern corps. Green Lantern Corps has some very good moments, too.

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With Geoff Johns’s run on the flagship title now over (an epic, redefining era for the character and mythos, filled with many exceptional moments), and with each title now having hit their 20th issues, I think I’m going to retire the series from my ‘pull-list’. Mostly, this is a financial decision, but it is also because the story has hit a point when I feel like I’m overdosing, and just simply want a break. The expanded 20th issue of Green Lantern was a nice wander down memory lane, and offered some intriguing hints for what is to come, but I’m just not prepared to dive back in for a little while longer. When I do return, I think only Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will be priorities.

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BAT-FAMILY TITLES

The Batman family of titles remain my favourites, and (in my opinion) also the best-written. The flagship title, Batman, still written by the excellent Scott Snyder, continues strongly. In the wake of “Death of the Family”, we got some shorter, stand-alone issues and stories, which offered a nice breather. The latest Bat-event has now begun, though (“Year Zero”), so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. I’ll be keeping this title on the list, and will actually be writing a review of the first three parts of “Year Zero” in the near future (#21-22 and Annual #2).

I’ve been following Detective Comics, too, but it hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a little while. I’ll probably stick with it a little while longer, but it may have to go at some point. [As a somewhat related aside, I’m considering delving into the pre-New 52 Detective Comics stories, as some of them sound pretty great.]

BatmanDarkKnight-11-ArtGregg Hurwitz’s Scarecrow story for Batman: The Dark Knight was one of the best Batman storylines I’ve ever read. No joke. Yesterday I picked up the final part of his Mad Hatter story-arc (it’s been discounted on ComiXology), and will be reading it all in one go. I will certainly write a review for it, too. Hurwitz has done a truly fantastic job with this title. Very highly recommended indeed. It’s staying on my to-read list.

Batgirl is still going strong, with some potential closure on the question of Barbara’s serial-killer brother. Gail Simone’s keeping the quality high, and the story engaging and fresh. The artwork, too, remains strong throughout. A keeper, and I’m looking forward to picking up some of the creepier-looking recent issues in the near future.

I’m still enjoying Nightwing, as the story and character remain interesting. Post-“Death of the Family”, Dick Grayson moves to Chicago, which I think will be really great for the character – not only is it a change of pace from Gotham, but it will hopefully open up the possibility for plenty of original stories and enemies. I have every intention of continuing with the series, but I may wait longer chunks of time and binge on a complete story-arc each time I do.

Batwoman-09-ArtI haven’t been keeping up-to-date with Batwoman, despite every intention to do so. I had been waiting for printed collections before I left NYC, but chose to de-prioritize it after “Death of the Family” started, because it wasn’t connected. I enjoyed the more horror-leaning aesthetic and storylines, though, so I do hope to get caught up again. (I’ve read up to issue #9, so there is a fair bit of reading to do before I’m up-to-speed… Won’t be too soon, sadly.) It is probably the most eye-catching, artistically of all the New 52 titles. Really superb, original compositions.

Batwing is in the same position as Batwoman. It’s a series I certainly want to read more of, I just can’t afford to right now. Writing duties have changed hands (#19), and it looks like the new team (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) have taken the series in an interesting direction. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get back to it.

One of my favourite series remains Red Hood & The Outlaws. If I had to say why it remains such a good read for me, I think I’d struggle to say. I like the characters – especially Jason “Red Hood” Todd – and they dynamic between them is really good. It’s a bit different, with a more sci-fi feel to it than other Batman-related titles, but perhaps it’s this difference that gives it a fresher feel? It also tied in really nicely with “Death of the Family”. I imagine this will be a keeper for some time.

I’ve also managed to read the first volume’s-worth of new title Talon. James Tynion III is doing something really interesting with this character, and I hope he becomes a permanent member of the DC stable. The first storyline was a slow-burn narrative, but with plenty of action sequences, as we follow Calvin Rose make a sort-of life for himself, with a couple of allies. And also a rogues’ gallery of his very own. It’s quite different to Batman, and I liked a lot about the series. It took me longer than it perhaps should have to adjust my expectations of story-type (I’d not been sleeping and was exhausted when I read it). Nevertheless, it is a pretty great story. The first book also has one hell of a cliff-hanger ending…

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My favourite series in the Batman family, though, has got to be Batman & Robin. Each issue is superb, but the silent issue #18 (image above), is one of the most powerful comics I’ve read. Absolutely superb, and I’ll be writing reviews of Volumes 2 and 3 in the near future. A must-read series (along with Hurwitz’s Dark Knight).

Teen Titans, led by Tim “Red Robin” Drake, has had a lot of ups and downs. Scott Lobdell’s humour can work pretty well, but overall I just don’t think I care enough about the characters to stick around any longer than I already have. The future storylines, which seem to feature six-eyed demons, also don’t appeal much.

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SUPERMAN FAMILY

Personally, I think there has been too much crossover and needed catch-up to fully follow all the storylines, which is also too much to justify financially.

Superman-11-ArtI actually like the Superman series. I seem to be one of the only people who liked the first story arc, which offered some interesting modern-era-media concerns into the story (I studied the role of the media in politics as part of my PhD, so maybe that’s why I liked it more than some others). I did get bored when the DC Powers That Be tied this series in with the daemonites storyline (which was just dull – sorry, there’s really no other way to describe it other than “just dull”, in the end). I bought the issues for Volume 3 (#13-19), not realising that they were all “H’el on Earth” issues. I have no idea if I have to read the other two Super-titles to ‘get’ the story, but it has made me hesitate (perhaps stupidly, seeing as I do own them)…

What of Superboy? Meh. I lost interest, despite enjoying Volume 1. I just never got around to reading any more of the series. Will I in the future? Perhaps. But probably not in the near future.

I finally read the first volume of Supergirl, and while there was some good stuff therein, it was mainly all-action-all-the-time, which left minimal time and space for actual story. Distracting readers with endless set-piece-battles does not a good story make. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series, sadly.

Which brings us to Action Comics. I remain on the fence: Grant Morrison has finally left the series, but I’m not sure if it’s ok to just dive in with the new writers’ work. And my OCD shudders at the incompletion prospect…

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JUSTICE LEAGUE TITLES

I just finished Justice League #17-19 the other day, aiming to catch up for the latest cross-over event, “Trinity War”. (See? Told you there were a lot of them…) I must say, though, that I was thoroughly underwhelmed with these issues. The story was just weak. The artwork wasn’t great (not to mention schizophrenic, as multiple art-teams were involved). The series has not been without its strong moments, though – for example, when Batman discusses his contingency plans with Superman, and the “Throne of Atlantis” cross-over story.

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Aquaman has been a good title throughout, but due to financial constraints, I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much as I would have liked. It remains a keeper, but not an urgent one. I’ll pick up issues in chunks.

Brain Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman has been interesting. I have a weakness for anything linked with Mythology (especially Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and as in this case Greek – all of them formed a large part of my youthful and formative reading). The story sometimes veers into the WTF-territory, which I’m not a fan of. But, at the same time, I think the interpretations of the Gods and mythical creatures and characters is really interesting. The first two volumes (“Blood” and “Guts”) were strong, despite a bit of a dip in quality in Volume 2. I’ll keep reading this for at least one more story-arc. And I really do like Cliff Chiang’s artwork.

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For some reason, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with The Flash. I enjoyed the first volume a good deal. Perhaps it’s my innate caution when a storyline suddenly features Gorillas…? It is becoming clearer to me that I really like my comics a little less ‘out there’, unless they’re obviously meant to be totally out there – Hellboy and Justice League Dark (below), for example. I’d like to catch up with this at some point, though, as I do find the Flash to be an interesting character. Speaking of, though, I picked up a few more of the Flashpoint comics recently (again, a ComiXology sale), so I hope to get those read and reviewed at some point soon.

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THE DARK & EDGE

I really like a lot of Justice League Dark – the artwork is often pretty great, and the story has some great moments. It feels like it’s weakening a bit, but this might be because the creative team had to tread water until the “Trinity War” event could start. I hope it picks up again. I thought Lemire was going to revive it nicely, and on the strength of his first handful of issues, I bought a fair bit of his other work (including Sweet Tooth, which enjoyed an excellent 99c sale on ComiXology not so long ago). We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. I’m sticking around for “Trinity War”, but I will re-assess afterwards.

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The only other series I’ve maintained from these ‘sections’ of the New 52 is Demon Knights. I have the issues for Volume 2, but because I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy fiction, I haven’t felt an urgent need to read these. I will, though, as I like the option of reading some fantasy in my comics. Watch this space, I guess.

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Constantine-01Overall, it looks like I’m losing steam with DC’s wider New 52 line. Some series remain strong, true, but I’m not sure if reading them on an issue-by-issue basis is enough for me. Too often, the story feels incomplete, insufficient, rushed, or what have you. Maybe I just need a bit of a break from them? Who knows. I have picked up some issues from two of the newer series – Constantine and Justice League America – primarily because they are connected to the “Trinity War” event. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to get The Phantom Stranger or Pandora

Instead of spending my few funds on more super-hero comics, I’ve been picking up some other comics. The aforementioned Sweet Tooth, as well as American Vampire, Locke & Key, and a handful of others. I’m also going to try to get back into the G.I.Joe titles, and maybe dip in to some more Dark Horse (Star Wars and The Massive), Image (Chew, Thief of Thieves) and Zenescope titles. I will also, actually, be delving into the back-catalogues of both DC and Marvel, too – I have a number of older Superman stories, for example, as well as a wealth of X-Men stuff to catch up on.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? Or opinions on the New 52 this far in? Feel free to share in the comments, below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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“Trinity War” Artwork

DC Villains Month: Mr. Freeze, Joker & Court of Owls

I don’t really know what’s going on with “Villains Month” (I haven’t been following comics news as closely these past couple of months, partly because I’ve been reading my favourite series a couple months behind). It seems to be a way to release three extra issues of certain DC comics in a month. Not sure if they’ll tie in directly to the main series story-arcs, or if they’ll work as interesting asides, or side-stories for fans who would like a little bit more.

Whatever the reason/purpose of these issues, I was browsing DC’s press site, and found some interesting artwork, which I thought I’d share here.

First up, this rather good domestic Mr. Freeze page, from Batman: Dark Knight #23.1 – Mr. Freeze:

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Writer: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Jason Masters
Cover: Guillem March

Next, two twisted and intriguing pages featuring the Joker and the Ape House, from Batman #23.1 – Joker

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Writer: Andy Kubert
Artist: Andy Clarke
Cover: Jason Fabok

And finally, this very moody, sinister page from Batman & Robin #23.2 – Court of Owls:

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Writer: James T. Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Lucas
Cover: Patrick Gleason & Mick Gray

Batman & Robin, Vol.2-3: “Batman vs. Robin” & “Batman and Robin Must Die!” (DC)

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I’m still catching up with a huge backlog of comics/graphic novel reviews, but I decided to collect these two books together. Partly because they’re obviously connected, but also because I wanted to get the reviews out of the way. After liking the first volume in Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin run far more than I anticipated (I’ve written plenty of times how I think he’s highly over-rated), I dove in to the second and third volume pretty soon afterwards. (Told you I was being slow with reviewing…) Sadly, my pleasant surprise at the quality of volume one evaporated with these two books. These are, frankly, not so good.

Volume 2: “Batman vs. Robin”

Batman&Robin-Vol.2Writer: Grant Morrison | Artist: Cameron Stewart (#7-9), Andy Clarke (#10-12) | Colors: Alex Sinclair (#7,10-12), Tony Avina (#8-9,11) | Inks: Scott Hanna (#10-12)

The new Batman and Robin uncover clues involving the mysterious death of Bruce Wayne before facing off against each other in a heated battle instigated by Robin’s mother that both heroes will regret – if they live through it! Featuring a 3-issues storyline that ties into the best-selling BLACKEST NIGHT event titled “Blackest Knight,” this new collection is a must-have for both new readers and longtime fans of Grant Morrison’s Batman epic as the superstar writer unveils more of his genre-defying masterplan!

Collects: Batman & Robin #7-12 (pre-52)

We start in London. And this is the Grant Morrison I know. The story contains some thinly-veiled (to a Brit, at least) social and political commentary. Nothing wrong with this per se, but it wasn’t particularly well-done. Also, #7 (the first chapter in this book) was a bit muddled, to be honest. Suddenly, Batwoman’s there (why?), and also the Knight & Squire. Frankly, this was not good, following the previous issues.

Newcastle vs. London? Really? Writing a Geordie accent is never a good idea. Just sayin’.

The Batwoman story and presence was dealt with in two pages. There was some linkage to Morrison’s Event that killed Batman. It was not great, and rather rushed. Oh, and then Damian takes over as chairman of the board for Wayne Enterprises! At age 10! Of course! That isn’t moronic at all!

This book starts the return of Bruce Wayne. The story has moments which are quite fun, but the dialogue can sometimes be awful… (“It’s like the whole house is coming to life.” – #10, p.11) The story jumps forward, after getting us some way through the ‘treasure hunt’, only to not bother with the end of it. This just reinforces my belief that Morrison is a lazy writer. The story was half-assed. Really disappointing. At the same time, I didn’t see the end coming. So there’s that, I suppose.

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Volume 3: “Batman and Robin Must Die!”

BMROBBMD_DLX_DJ.qxdWriter: Grant Morrison | Artist: Frazer Irving (#13-16), Cameron Stewart (#16) | Colors: ?

On the eve of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham City, the new Batman and Robin team that battled crime during his absence must deal with the return of The Joker.Then, Grant Morrison connects the BATMAN & ROBIN story with the bestselling THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE in the climactic showdown between Batman and The Black Glove.

And in a story illustrated by acclaimed artist David Finch, learn what happens to Dick Grayson after the “real” Batman returns.

Collects: Batman & Robin #13-16 (pre-52)

So, so sloppy.

That is basically how I feel about this book. It feels like Morrison is in a hurry to get things over with. The book ends with Batman Incorporated established – an event that spawned one of the worst books I’ve read. It is a dismal finish. Bruce Wayne just appears back in action at the end. There’s no real development of why or how (I assume one had to read The Return of Bruce Wayne and who knows how many other books/issues to get the full story).

So much has happened to the Bat-franchise during Morrison’s tenure at the helm, and I’m not at all convinced it’s all (or even mostly) good… This was, in many ways, complete gibberish. Maybe, as I’m sure die-hard Morrison fans will argue/wail, I just don’t “get” it, that he’s writing on a level that is above my comprehension. Ultimately, though, I just think he’s a bad writer.

I think I’ll probably just borrow the New 52 Batman Incorporated from my local library (it gets an excellent selection of New 52 books in), as once again he’s been handed the reins for another game-changing event. (Seriously, how can anyone think he’s the best choice, when compared to everyone else currently writing for a Bat-title?!)

I much prefer Peter Tomasi’s take on Damian Wayne, in the New 52 Batman & Robin. Tomasi’s writing overall is also superior in pretty much every way. Actually, everyone else working on Batman-related titles is doing a better job by far. I think I’m done attempting to find the supposed genius and/or magic in Morrison’s work. It just isn’t there, and I’m disappointed every time. Well, always except for one instance: Action Comics #0 wasn’t bad.

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A closing comment for both of the books: the art is good. The one benefit of Morrison’s reputation, is that DC has allowed him to work with some exceptionally talented artists. For that, at least, we can be very grateful. The artists who worked on both of these books do a great job throughout.

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One final comment: At least the Pink Flamingo wasn’t present in these books. He was an utterly ridiculous character.

Ok. I’m done, now.

Batman & Robin, Vol.1 – “Batman Reborn” (DC, pre-New 52)

Batman&Robin-Vol.1Writer: Grant Morrison | Artist: Frank Quitely (#1-3), Philip Tan (#4-6) | Inks: Jonathan Glapion (#4-6) | Colors: Alex Sinclair (#1-3,5-6), Pantazis (#4)

The new Dynamic Duo hit the streets with a bang in their new flying Batmobile as they face off against an assemblage of villains called the Circus of Strange. They also tackle their first mission investigating a child who’s been abducted by the mysterious Domino Killer. But will everything go smoothly? And who exactly are the new Batman and Robin? The newest era of The Dark Knight begins here!

Collects: Batman & Robin #1-6

Grant Morrison has the tendency to be awarded the privilege of writing momentous moments in the ongoing DC chronology. Sadly, I have yet to read any that have lived up to expectations. With the recent publication of the New 52 Batman Incorporated #8, I decided to catch up on some more of Damian Wayne’s tenure as Robin, and chose this as a starting point. It’s not terrible, but nor is it as strong as I would have liked. In other words, it’s exactly what I should have expected from a Morrison-penned comic…

Bruce Wayne is dead. After his death at the hands of Apocalypse in Final Crisis, Dick Grayson (former Robin and Nightwing) has assumed the Bat-mantle. As this series begins, it’s his first week on the job, and he’s nervous as hell. Damian isn’t helping matters, as he doesn’t respect Dick too much, or at least, he does only grudgingly. Damian goes off-mission frequently, and reacts badly when Grayson cautions him (“Look at you! The pathetic impersonation of my father makes a mockery of his memory! Keep your clues and your ‘detective skills’ and your limits.”).

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At the start, our caped heroes are chasing after Toad, some kind of a mutant criminal. He’s working for Professor Pyg, the leader of an extreme circus troupe, “Cirque d’Etrange”. The first three issues/chapters of the book deal with this first mission for the new Batman and Robin. It’s ultimately drug-related, but I never felt it was as well-developed as it could be. It felt quickly over, and we’re just expected to accept what we’re told. I think there could have been a lot more meat to the story.

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The second story, “Revenge of the Red Hood”… Well, this left me a little confused – is this the old Red Hood (last seen in flashbacks in the superb The Killing Joke), or the new Jason Todd Red Hood? Batman clears things up at the end of #4 and Robin also clarifies (“He looked different the last time we slapped him around.”). The Red Hood has adopted the last surviving victim of Professor Pyg, and given her a new mission and a new name: Scarlet. Together, they are taking a very hard line on Gotham crime, tear a bloody swathe through the underground elements of a city teaming with criminals and a society with a vast sea of dregs. It builds in a strange way, and I think the introduction of the Flamingo was the first sign of things reverting to the… less-good Morrison norm.

I did really like the way Morrison writes Grayson’s angst and anxiety over assuming the Batman role, especially towards the beginning, and also Alfred’s support is well-written and heartwarming. As always, the personal relationships are far more interesting (not to mention better-written) than anything else Morrison deals with in his stories. Jason Todd was rather cartoony. A pity, as he’s one of my favourite characters in the Bat-family.

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Professor Pyg and his evil henchmen, not to mention Toad as well, are just… Well, silly. This is, as usual, the problem with Morrison’s comics. He has some great bits that are ruined by distracting silliness and poor execution. I still contend that Morrison has a streak of authorial laziness in him – for example, an aerosolized pathogen, at the evil genius’s lair, and Batman finds a test tube marked “antidote” right beside it – this can sometimes be funny, but it seemed to me that Morrison was just not interested in devising a more interesting, original solution to his story. He too often goes for the easy fix (although, at least he wasn’t responsible for the truly awful Letter Finale to Superman: Red Son). It’s also as if Morrison feels he needs to exaggerate certain things, when he’s obviously capable of nuance, in order to… Actually, I don’t know how to put this without demeaning the medium, but in order to ‘make it a comic’, and differentiate it from prose. Or something. It’s maddening. Thankfully, there was some good, gentle humour as well sprinkled throughout this book, which helped diminish the impact of some of the more annoying things contained within.

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Batman & Robin Volume 1 is some of the better Morrison stuff I’ve read. I’ve picked up the next two volumes (they were on sale a while back on ComiXology), and will review them together.

If you love everything Morrison writes, I have no doubt you’ll like this. If you do not, then I can’t guarantee you’ll like this, either. But, it is among his better-quality work.