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
Quick Reviews: Graphic Novels
Here are seven mini-reviews of graphic novels/collections that I’ve read over the last few weeks. Given that some of them are from now well-established series, I decided to keep them very short in order to not spoil things for new readers.
BATMAN, Vol.6 — Graveyard Shift (DC New 52)
Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Greg Capullo
In these tales from BATMAN #0, 18-20, 28, 34 and BATMAN ANNUAL #2, look back to the early days of the Dark Knight, then see the impact of the wake of the death of his son Damian! Plus, has Batman’s worst foe become…Bruce Wayne? This title also includes three pivotal chapters from the epic ZERO YEAR storyline, and a chapter that ties in to BATMAN ETERNAL!
Another good collection, but not the best. This book collects together the shorter and stand-alone stories. It’s a good, mixed collection. I miss the larger, multi-issue and more involved storylines, and I look forward to reading “End Game”.
A must for completists, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s essential. It is, however, also quite a good book to read if you want to sample Snyder and Capullo’s Batman work — they remain a creative force to be reckoned with.
BATMAN: DETECTIVE COMICS, Vol.6 — Icarus (DC New 52)
Writer: Francis Manapul | Artist: Brian Buccellato
Batman finds himself knee-deep in a new mystery involving a deadly new narcotic that has hit the streets of Gotham City. Can the Dark Knight stop the threat before the entire town finds itself embroiled in a deadly gang war that could burn everything — and everyone — down to the ground?
Collects: Detective Comics #30-34 & Annual #3
This is a great new instalment in this series. After Gregg Hurwitz’s run on Batman: Dark Knight ended, I’ve been looking for some new life in the Bat-family titles. I think Manapul and Buccellato are the pair to do it: “Icarus” is a great story, focusing a lot on the “Detective” part of the series title. A drug ravaging the city, Batman and his allies must get to the bottom of things in order to take the unstable, deadly substance off the streets.
A great first storyline for the new creative team. Highly recommended for all fans of Batman.
COPPERHEAD, Vol.1 — A New Sheriff in Town (Image)
Writer: Jay Faerber | Artist: Scott Godlewski
Welcome to Copperhead, a grimy mining town on the edge of a backwater planet. Single mom Clara Bronson is the new sheriff, and on her first day she’ll have to contend with a resentful deputy, a shady mining tycoon, and a family of alien hillbillies. And did we mention the massacre?
Collects: Copperhead #1-5
Now this book was fantastic. A perfect transposition of the classic crime/cop story onto a weird and wonderful, Star Wars-esque science fictional setting. The writing and dialogue are punchy and perfectly paced, the artwork is fantastic. The characters are quickly established, the world and community Bronson finds herself in are great — populated by colourful characters and intriguing dynamics. Her supporting cast are interesting and diverse (in race as well as temperament), and Faerber and Godlewski give us some hints about their pasts and potential future storylines.
If you read only one new comic series this year, I’d highly recommend you make it this one. “A New Sheriff in Town” is the start of something awesome.
LOW, Vol.1 — The Delirium of Hope (Image)
Writer: Rick Remender | Artist: Greg Tocchini
Millennia ago, mankind fled the earth’s surface into the bottomless depths of the darkest oceans. Shielded from a merciless sun’s scorching radiation, the human race tried to stave off certain extinction by sending robotic probes far into the galaxy, to search for a new home among the stars. Generations later, one family is about to be torn apart, in a conflict that will usher in the final race to save humanity from a world beyond hope.
Collects: Low #1-6
This series was getting a lot of attention when it was first announced, and the first few issues were equally praised. It’s not difficult to see why — Tocchini’s artwork is striking and vivid, and Remender’s story is pretty cool. The dystopian setting is unusual and well-built. That being said, the story never quite gripped me as much as I’d expected. I like Remender’s work, and this series has some fantastic, weird and wonderful moments within. But… it also felt just a tad plodding. It was slightly predictable, too. Nevertheless, and while those may sound like damning niggles, Low is worth checking out if you’re a fan of SF comic and/or dystopian fiction. An interesting book.
THE UNWRITTEN, Vol. 9 — The Unwritten Fables (Vertigo)
Writer: Mike Carey & Bill Willingham | Artist: Peter Gross & Mark Buckingham
The worlds of FABLES and THE UNWRITTEN collide in the epic comic event by Mike Carey and Bill Willingham!
Tommy Taylor is thrust into the world of Vertigo’s hit series Fables! But a dark and terrible foe has seized the fairy-tale homelands and our world. In desperation, the witches of Fabletown gather to summon the greatest mage the worlds have ever seen. But they are in for an unpleasant surprise.
Collects: The Unwritten #50-55
Long-time readers of CR have probably picked up on the fact that I’m a big fan of not only The Unwritten, but also Mike Carey’s fiction and Bill Willingham’s Fables universe. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I started reading The Unwritten Fables. What I found was… disappointing. The story was fine, but didn’t come close to matching the quality of neither The Unwritten nor Fables. The connection felt forced, the story not as confident nor gripping as I have come to expect from both writers. The artwork is very good, of course, and is worth reading for that reason alone. Ultimately, though, I would not tell anyone that this is an essential book, and if you’ve been following either series, you wouldn’t miss anything by skipping it.
THE UNWRITTEN, Vol. 10 — War Stories (Vertigo)
Writer: Mike Carey | Artist: Peter Gross
The tenth volume of the critically-acclaimed new series from the Eisner-nominated creative team, Mike Carey and Peter Gross is the perfect jumping on point, as Tom Taylor is stranded at the beginning of all creation!
Lost in the unwritten scenes of all the world’s stories, Tom Taylor is headed back to reality — and all the gods and beasts and monsters ever imagined can’t stop him. But there’s a toll on the road that may be too high for him or anyone to pay…
Collects: The Unwritten Apocalypse #1-5
So, I liked this better than The Unwritten Fables, but the book still didn’t engage me as much as the first eight volumes of the series did. It’s still a strong series, and one I’d recommend to everyone, but this one meandered just a little more than I had hoped. The artwork in the first chapter/issue is fantastic and tries something new. This book kicks off a new phase in the story. Imaginative, innovative, and pretty twisty, if you’re a fan of the series, this is a must. If you’ve never read anything in this series before, I’d recommend you go back to volume one and get hooked now.
WAYWARD, Vol.1 — String Theory (Image)
Writer: Jim Zub | Artists: Steve Cummings, John Rauch & Tamra Bonvillain
Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can Rori unlock the secrets of her power before it’s too late?
Collects: Wayward #1-5
This is a fantastic new series. I’ve enjoyed everything of Jim Zub’s that I’ve read in the past, but this may be my favourite. Set in Japan, the comic brings to the country and its culture to life on the page. Mashing it up with folklore and mythology, this has a Studio Gibli-esque feel, while very much maintaining its own identity. Magical conspiracies, amusing werecats, and pretty cool protagonists and antagonists. I can’t wait for book two. A definite must-read, and another success for Image Comics.
The Importance of a Super-Hero Diaspora…
That’s a rather grand title. Rather than some deep analysis of why super-heroes should be based and from all over the world, this was just inspired by the fact that a). three super-heroes (at least) have re-located, and b). New York and Gotham have become ridiculously over-populated by super-heroes in Marvel’s and DC’s lines.
New York City, while I love it, has become rather ridiculous in terms of Marvel’s super-heroes. I remember at least one comic picking up on the fact that you’d have to be a moron to try to be a (super-)villain in the Big Apple, given the sheer saturation-level population of super-powered, tights-wearing do-gooders. There are the ever-expanding Avengers teams and their various off-shoots and allies. Given how often the city is destroyed, one has to wonder why they decided to locate their headquarters right in the middle of America’s most densely-populated metropolis. Thankfully, though, Marvel seems to be doing something to add some variation into the mix. Namely, The Punisher and Daredevil are leaving the city. This last one is particularly noteworthy, given how important Hell’s Kitchen and its surrounding neighbourhoods are to that book’s and hero’s identity – not to mention the rest of the city. As it happens, these have been my two favourite Marvel titles ever since I started reading them (in the same week, as it turned out). Greg Rucka and Mark Waid have done a great job with writing duties, and the artwork for both books has been stunning.
So, here are some details on the moves, both of which are part of the All-New Marvel NOW! Endlessly-Extending Prefixes Strategy…
“Frank Castle’s one-man-war on crime continues… For years, the Punisher has called New York City his home – keeping a watchful eye on the city through the sight of a gun. But when a lead on a major source of drugs, weapons, and more leads Frank out west – he sets his sights on Los Angeles. And the City of Angels isn’t ready for a devil like the Punisher! But not everything is as it appears, and Frank will soon find himself toe-to-toe with a highly trained military strike force known only as the 131! Who are the mysterious 131? And why are they out for the Punisher’s head?”
The new Punisher series was launched in February 2014. Greg Rucka’s relatively short run on the series was absolutely superb (I recently finished it off, thanks to a 99c sale on ComiXology): not only was Rucka’s writing and story gripping and appropriately gritty, but Marco Checcheto’s artwork is stunning. The new series is written by Nathan Edmondson (whose Ultimate Comics: X-Men and The Activity were pretty good). Artwork will be by Mitch Gerads. It’ll be interesting to see how the character adapts to his new environment – although, given that he has travelled abroad before (including in Rucka’s run), it probably won’t be too different. Nevertheless, I really hope Edmondson manages to maintain the quality – it’s a great character, and the extreme shades of grey in which he operates allow for some pretty great/powerful storytelling opportunities.
Variant Covers for #1 (Larocca) and #2 (Opena)
Palm trees! He still looks miserable, though…
DAREDEVIL: Moving to San Francisco
“Gifted with an imperceptible radar sense, blind lawyer Matt Murdock patrols the streets with a Billy club and a passion for justice. Only this time – it’s a brand new city, with even more dangerous foes. Join Matt Murdock as he journeys from the dark streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the sun-drenched boulevards of San Francisco.”
In March 2014, the Man Without Fear will be relocating to beautiful San Francisco. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages in the new city – his approach to vigilantism has always involved an awful lot of swinging and leaping around New York’s high-rises, so… Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how his approach changes. (To be fair, I don’t really know much about San Francisco, but I get the impression it’s not too built up…) Mark Waid will continue to handle writing duties, and Chris Samnee will still be producing the artwork. I’m really looking forward tot his re-boot (call it what it is).
It’s not just Marvel characters, though. Gotham City is home to the extended Bat-Family and ever-extending Rogues’ Gallery that have plagued the Dark Knight on-and-off for decades. Last year, however, Dick “Nightwing” Grayson departed Gotham City for the Windy City in issue #19. Here are some excerpts from CBR’s interview with writer Kyle Higgins on Grayson’s move…
“I made the decision that if Dick was going to change cities, it needed to be story motivated. It couldn’t just be because of emotional fallout and state of mind… He’s heading to Chicago to find the man that killed his parents. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the only reason he’s going and once that’s over, he’ll be heading back to Gotham City. We’ll have to see how the story plays out, as to whether or not that will happen, but as far as Dick is concerned initially, that’s what he’s headed to Chicago for… Chicago has its own mythology and its own history that we’re tapping into and it’s definitely going to be playing a big part in Dick and Nightwing’s life moving forward.”
I’m quite behind on Nightwing, having not read any issues after the end of “Death of the Family”. I’d like to pick it up again, though, at some point.
Of course, one thing that still needs to be addressed (and there are some signs that this is happening, for which we can only be happy, and hope for continued progress). Let’s hope we get a little more diverse than just re-locating a Justice League team further north into Canada (which, actually, I do think could be rather cool), and explore countries outside North America and the UK as more than just mission destinations…
Graphic Novels Catch-Up: Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Superman
Four mini-reviews of graphic novels I have read over the last couple of weeks: Captain America: Road to Reborn and Reborn, Indestructible Hulk, Superman: Secret Identity, Wonder Woman (New 52).
INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK, Vol.1 – “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Marvel NOW)
Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Leinel Yu
Hulk: Indestructible force more weapon than man. Banner: Smartest man alive. Combined, they are the strongest, smartest weapon on the planet! And NOW!, the Indestructible Hulk is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Hulk’s first official missions include taking down the all-new Quintronic Man and battling Attuma on the ocean floor! But not everything is as it seems: What is Banner’s secret hold over S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill? What and where is Bannertown, USA? And which one of Banner’s lab assistants holds a deadly secret? Plus: Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are friends but Hulk and Iron Man are anything but!
Collects: Indestructible Hulk #1-5
I read the first issue of this collection when it was first released, and rather liked the approach Waid took to the character. Bruce Banner is hired on by S.H.I.E.L.D., who continue to be wary of… the Other Guy. He’s given his own research team and lab – located at “Bannertown”. The story is pretty good, to start with, as we get reacquainted with Banner and his constant struggle with the Hulk inside him. He goes on a mission with Tony Stark (Hulk doesn’t like Iron Man very much). Then things get rather weird… The story moves into Exaggerated Comic Story, which was a little annoying, after the rather good, nuanced beginning. I would have preferred a little more investigation of Banner’s state of mind, etc. It’s strange that Waid didn’t offer this, actually, given his stellar work on series such as Irredeemable (still one of my favourite stories of all time – comic or otherwise).
There’s an underwater adventure that seemed to come out of nowhere, a big battle, and then we get sent back to Bannertown, where S.H.I.E.L.D. have hired a young, varied and eccentric staff to help Bruce with his research.
Yu’s artwork is, of course, as excellent and distinctive as always. I love his style, and have done ever since I read Superman: Birthright (which was also written by Waid).
It’ll be interesting to see how this series develops. I’ll be back for at least volume 2.
WONDER WOMAN, Vol.4 – “War” (DC New 52)
Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Cliff Chiang
Wonder Woman’s world is shocked to its core when her eldest brother, the First Born, is freed from his slumber. Now, with her family in ruins and her friends scattered, she must turn to Orion and the New Gods of New Genesis to save herself and Zola’s newborn from the First Born’s wrath!
Collects: Wonder Woman #19-23
I think I may be losing interest in this series. It seems to be spinning its wheels, while also occasionally veering into excessive (but abrupt) action. I still think Brubaker and Chiang have developed a fascinating and unique take on Greek Mythology and its leading deities, creatures, and so forth. There are moments of sheer brilliance, but then also moments that just didn’t appeal. Orion, for example. What a pointless addition to the series. (Although, his presence did give rise to one of the best couple of pages, when Diana puts him in his place, tired of his provocative lechery and chauvinism – below.)
Chiang’s artwork is great, as I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous volumes – there’s actually nothing I would fault on the visual side of things. I just didn’t love the story as much as I have in the past. Going forward, I may not follow this series as closely or quickly as I have been up to this point.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: ROAD TO REBORN and REBORN (Marvel)
Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Dale Eaglesham, Jackson Guice, Luke Ross, Gene Colan, Dave Gutierrez, Rick Magyar, Bryan Hitch
Road to Reborn: Sharon Carter’s dreams are forcing her to relive the death of Steve Rogers – and her time under the control of Dr. Faustus. But will these dreams also reveal hidden secrets about what she saw and did on the day Steve died.
Reborn: Captain America – Steve Rogers – is reborn, but is he the hero we know and love? Or is the new Captain merely a pawn of the Red Skull, or perhaps something worse? And what is Norman Osborn doing lurking on the fringes?
Collects: Captain America #49-50; #600-601
Captain America: Reborn #1-6
Yup, I’m still working my way through the fifth series of Captain America (Marvel refers to it as “Vol.5”, but given that each collection is a “Volume” as well, it gets confusing – hence the use of “series”). I’m still really enjoying it, and I think Brubaker’s characterisation of Steve Rogers, Bucky, and their myriad companions is brilliant. The antagonists remain delightfully cartoon-y – perhaps the only thing that hasn’t aged quite as well as the concept as a whole. Both of these books were very heavy on the nostalgia – even featuring a story about Captain America memorabilia collectors.
Reborn ends with a massive battle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as Steve Rogers must wrest control of his body from the Red Skull, whose consciousness has been implanted into the original Captain America’s body. Confused? Yeah, well, it turns out that the “assassination” was not, in fact, an assassination. Apparently, the Red Skull and Arnim Zola had planned to take Cap out of time (or something)… Why? Why didn’t the decades-old nemeses want to actually kill their enemy? Because the Red Skull apparently wanted to become him. Paging Doktor Freud…
Overall, though, not bad. Not the best in the series, but still enjoyable. It’ll be nice to see how the story goes forward, with Bucky still operating as Captain America. I actually rather like Bucky in the role, too – he adds some extra dimensions and insecurities, not to mention methodology. Next in the series is Captain America: Two Americas, which I’ll be reading pretty soon. [I will catch up!]
SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY (DC)
Writer: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Stuart Immonen
What’s in a name? Everything, if you share it with the Man of Steel!
Set in the real world, SECRET IDENTITY examines the life of a young Kansas man with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. All Clark wants is to be a writer, but his daily life is filled with the taunts and jibes of his peers, comparing him to that other Clark Kent — the one with super-powers. Until one day when Clark awakens to discover that he can fly… that he does in fact have super-strength! But where did these powers come from? And what’s he going to do about it?
This was a wonderful surprise. Also, a bargain at only $4 (during one of ComiXology’s Superman-related sales, each of the four extra-length issues was only $1). It’s a wonderfully-told story, too. It’s picaresque, following a “real-life” Clark Kent without powers, who has long been plagued by amused relatives and friends gifting him any number of Superman-related memorabilia, toys, and so forth. Then, one day during his teens, he actually develops Superman’s powers. What happens next? Well, that’s the story of this collection, which takes us from Clark’s youth through to old age. We see his life unfold, as he takes a job at a New York journal, gets a book deal, marries someone called Lois (though not “- Lane”, and of Indian descent), and has two daughters. Along the way, he must constantly protect his family and himself from the attentions of the government. He forms a working-relationship with one agent, though, and they strike a deal for moving forward and not getting in each other’s way or on each other’s nerves.
The artwork is pretty good. It’s slightly different from what I’ve seen of Immonen’s other artwork (if I recall correctly), but it does suit the nostalgic and emotional nuance of the story. It’s brilliant, really. Very highly recommended for any lover of Superman stories, looking for something a little different.
Some upcoming comic reviews: Sixth Gun, Vol.5; Avengers, Vol.1 (Marvel NOW), American Vampire, Vol.2; Walking Dead, Vol.1 (just in time for Halloween, hopefully); Locke & Key, Vol.2; Atomic Robo, Vol.1; Saga, Vol.2; Thief of Thieves, Vol.1… And no doubt a few others, as I’ve been reading a fair few.
Superman, Vol.3 – “Fury at World’s End” (DC Comics)
Writer: Scott Lobdell | Artist: Kenneth Rocafort (#13-17,19), Aaron Kuder (#18), Tyler Kirkham (#18), Robson Rocha (#18) | Inks: Aaron Kuder (#18), Jaime Mendoza (#18) | Colors: Sunny Goh (#13-16,18), Blond (#17-19)
H’El has come to Earth. When a mysterious ghost from Krypton’s past comes to Metropolis in hopes of finding the lost planet’s last son, his arrival comes with disastrous consequences for not just Superman, but also for Superboy and Supergirl. H’El has decided that Earth is the place to resurrect Krypton, but the price the lives of everyone on the planet! Guest-starring the Justice League, Wonder Woman, Orion and more!
Collects: Superman #13-17 [+ #18-19]
Continuing my attempts to catch up on a few New 52 titles, before I… uh… give them up… I actually quite like the Superman series. It wobbled a bit early on when the DC Powers That Be (DCPTB) decided to tie it in to the daemonite/Helspont mess that dominated the story-arcs of Grifter and Voodoo, but also roped in Stormwatch (and maybe a couple others?). I liked the greater attention paid to Superman/Clark’s everyday life, as a journalist and as someone navigating the changing industry and also his personal relationships. This collection of issues had a lot of this, too, and I’m certainly glad I read it. However, it also features the Superman issues that tie into the Super-family Event, “H’El on Earth”, which presented some issues for me.
As I just mentioned, I really like the focus on Clark’s non-super life. It’s something other readers really didn’t seem to like in earlier issues/books, but I think some of the most interesting content in the Superman mythos and character comes from his interactions with real life, how he handles his gifts, how he struggles to be “normal”, and how his over-developed sense of Right and Justice makes him stand out as a throwback to classic portrayals of the character or what would be considered “goody-two-shoes”, naïve characters today. For example, this monologue on the idealism of journalism:
Unsurprisingly, Clark loses his job after this…
I’m not sure about the way Clark’s relationship with Lois is being written. His continued difficulty with her moving on, and moving in with Jonathan (although, I can’t remember who that is, exactly), seems forced. Given the timing and the events from the end of Justice League #12 (Superman’s kiss with Wonder Woman, and the start of their relationship), I found it difficult to consolidate his sense of justice and decency and this jealousy (even if it did make him out as more human). I felt bad for Diana, to be honest, that he is with her and yet pining for Lois. Given that the New 52 Superman had been steering clear of a Clark-Lois romance (I thought purposefully), it felt a little bit like a manufactured conflict for Clark. It’s well-written, though. Just felt a little out of place, given the stated intentions of the DCPTB. I would, however, accept that I may have missed something, given how much time lapsed between reading these issues and anything before.
The “H’El on Earth” stuff, which is woven around and over Clark’s ‘mundane’ life, is kind of a typical, Supehumans-Breaking-Stuff-in-Large-and-Improbable-Manner tale. It’s… fine. But if you think about it, highly over-done. I’m looking forward to an understated Superman story. Something that doesn’t require him to just be invincible and strong enough to bench-press more than the weight of the Earth (as we are informed he apparently can do, at the start of issue #13). The exaggeration is, I understand, part of the charm of Superman – for some, it seems to be all they want. But for me, I would really like some more variation in the approach to the character.
I do so love Batman’s cavalier attitude…
After “H’El on Earth”, there are two issues of strangeness, involving Orion (who made out with Wonder Woman in her solo series), and Hector Hammond (of the massively-bloated head – who I last saw in Green Lantern pre-New 52, I think… I don’t quite remember). Issue #19 was not too well written, sad to say. It felt clunky, with some info-dumping, and a little too heavy on telling and lesser writing for the first six pages. What happened? Things improved at Lois’s house-warming party. But then everyone starts to act strangely, and the issue ends as Orion catches up with Superman. I was left none-the-wiser as to what was going on. I guess I’ll have to wait until I can pick up the next few issues (those that will comprise volume 4, I suppose).
Not bad, but starting to show cracks. I hope this gets better, and doesn’t end up spinning its wheels, while the DCPTB try to come up with another cross-series Event to generate sales. In the meantime, I shall investigate some of the older Superman stories – for example, For Tomorrow, Lex Luthor, Superman For All Seasons, Secret Identity and maybe some others.
Awesome BATGIRL Cover
I haven’t shared any comic cover art recently, After I spotted this one, though, I had to share it (thanks to Abhinav, who shared it on Facebook, which is where I saw it first):
It’s Alex Garner’s cover for Batgirl #24, which is part of Gail Simone’s “Wanted” storyline. It’s pretty good, no? Internal art is done by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion. Batgirl is one of the best DC New 52 titles, and it has rarely dropped below very good. I’m waiting for all the issues in this storyline to be released (Volume 4, in the collected hardcovers), before catching up. I’m rather looking forward to it.
On My Growing Frustration with Marvel & DC Comics…
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few days. I’m not really sure what this post is supposed to achieve, either. But, I thought I’d write it down. Mostly, I think, it indicates a shift in how I’m going to read and review comics.
Since I started reading comics again, in September 2011 with the launch of DC’s New 52 reboot, I have slowly started to become more and more frustrated with the near-endless cross-over events. Sure, this is not a new complaint from comics readers, and certainly it won’t do anything to change things. But, it will change things for me.
I understand the business rationale for cross-over Events: it encourages people to try new series, which in turn could lead to consistent interest in previously-unread series. Or, at the very least, a short-term up-tick in sales that isn’t bad for the publisher, either.
For me, though, it is annoying. I’ve always approached Marvel’s titles with eyebrow firmly raised, because it’s a given that any title will be involved in an Event at least twice a year – and, in 2012-13, it seems like the rate of Events is spiraling so far out of control that the only conclusion is that Marvel’s brain-trust (or, more likely, executives) have zero imagination, and can’t conceive of any title surviving/succeeding on its own. Which is too much cynicism for creativity and long-term success, in my opinion. “Avengers vs. X-Men”, “Age of Ultron”, “Infinity”, and even in the Ultimate Comics line, we had “Divided We Stand/United We Fall” and the Ultimate Comics series will be brought to an end with the “Cataclysm” Event.
Let’s take a look at DC: First, there was the Bat-family “Night of the Owls” Event, which had one tie-in issue per series (more or less). Then there was the larger “Death of the Family” Event, which was pretty good (but a little flat, by the end), and quite expensive for anyone who wanted the whole picture/story. Now, Batman will also have the “Year Zero” event, which will include 10 tie-in issues from other series. Sigh. There was the “Throne of Atlantis” Event, which was relatively short, and only connected two titles together (Aquaman and Justice League). There is the just-completed “Trinity War” Event, tying together Justice League, Pandora, Justice League Dark, Phantom Stranger and Constantine. Now, we have “Forever Evil: Blight” (18 issues, total), which is a cross-over between Constantine, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, and Justice League Dark. In addition to this, there was the early, tedious daemonite cross-over mess that tied together too many series early on in the New 52’s history. Green Lantern series had the Rise of the Third Army and immediately-following Wrath of the First Lantern.
Valiant Comics have had at least two cross-over events, too. Which is rather excessive for a line that has only been going (after a renewal) for little over a year. And all of the Events mentioned in this post don’t account for all of the ones that have been unveiled, or are pending.
This endless crossing over, mixing is just too much. For me, anyway. So, I’m going to stick to a very limited number of New 52 titles, and also Ultimate Comics series, some older Marvel series (mostly Captain America-related), and explore more offerings from other publishers. Perhaps the only exception will be Vertigo Comics (the “mature” imprint of DC Comics), which has some truly excellent series – many of which are already complete, which makes it easier to plan purchases and reading.*
It’s just too expensive to get the whole picture with the Big Two. Marvel have been ridiculous for a long time. DC, after pulling off a great re-boot, seem to have caught the Cross Over Bug a little too hard, which has just killed my enthusiasm to fork over all that money. Getting the whole story is very important to me. As, I’m sure, it is for a lot of reading junkies. If you’re going to pursue a strategy that whiffs of gouging… Count me out. I have rent and food to pay for (which I can barely manage as it is).
So, yeah. I’m not really sure if this post really achieves anything. But there we go.
* That being said, even Vertigo are going to be running a Cross Over: Fables and Unwritten… It’ll hopefully be short, though, and does benefit from being comprised of two of my favourite comics.
Quick Review: BATMAN #20-21, Annual #2 (DC Comics)
Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Greg Capullo | Inks: Danny Miki | Colors: FCO Plascencia
Witness The New 52 origin of The Dark Knight in BATMAN: ZERO YEAR! Twists and turns are around every corner as Bruce Wayne takes the final steps toward his destiny! And in the backup story, learn more about how different Gotham City was at this dangerous point in time.
The second chapter of “Zero Year” delves into Bruce Wayne’s past with the Red Hood Gang and his run-ins with aspiring District Attorney Harvey Dent! And in the backup story, a secret moment from Bruce’s training abroad is revealed for the first time!
Covers & Best Variants for #21-22
These three issues comprise the beginning of a new, larger Batman story-arc. I thought I’d pick up with my comics reviewing, again, and this seemed like a perfect place to start. This storyline, “Zero Year”, focuses on Bruce Wayne’s evolution into the Batman. “Wait, hasn’t this been done before?” you may ask. Well, yes, it has. But Scott Snyder seems to have decided to go even further back, and take a little more time investigating Bruce’s change and development of the idea of the Batman.
Scott Snyder did a great job with “Death of the Family” (despite that going on just a teensy bit too long), so I was looking forward to seeing how he would approach the origin and evolution period of Batman. So far, on the strength of these two issues, he’s doing a great job, and I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds.
The first of these issues starts off with what appears to be a dystopian Gotham City, not dissimilar to a post-apocalyptic New York (think of NYC in the I Am Legend movie), overrun by thugs. I hadn’t expected that. (See images, above.) The story then jumps to a different time, leaving all of my questions unanswered. We learn that Bruce has only been back in Gotham for a few weeks, and Alfred is struggling to understand and accept his ward’s approach to cleaning up the city. Bruce’s Uncle Philip Kane has tracked him down, though, and wants his nephew to take over Wayne Enterprises. Which, of course, Bruce doesn’t want to do. He’s waging his battle against the Red Hood Gang (doing some pretty crazy stunts), which I last read about in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
In issues #21-22, the story is really only being developed. Bruce is outed by his uncle, Alfred is pushing him to come out of the shadows, to revive the Wayne name and status, and to honour his parents’ legacy and memory. Bruce meets Edward Nygma. And that’s about it, really. A bit tricky to really say much more, as we’re still only seeing the opening moves in a much larger storyline. There will be some cross-over into the other Bat-Family titles, too.
These two issues are pretty good, it’s true, but I think we’re still way too early to be able to write much more than that. As can be expected, the artwork is also top-notch, and I had no complaints in that department at all.
Story: Scott Snyder & Marguerite Bennett | Writer: Marguerite Bennett | Art: Wes Craig | Inks: Craig Yeung, Drew Geraci, Wes Craig, Jack Purcell, Sandu Florea, Marc Deering | Colours: Ian Hannin
A special “ZERO YEAR” tie-in! Bruce Wayne’s first year as the Dark Knight has just barely begun…and already dangerous elements are coalescing, leading Bruce toward his final destiny.
Despite broadcasting on the cover that this is connected to “Zero Year”, it isn’t, really. There is some mention of Bruce’s early days as a vigilante, as he broke into Arkham Asylum and bumped into the Anchoress. That being said, this is a really good issue – at just six pages longer than a normal issue, I’m not sure it justified its higher price-tag, but I think Bennett (a protégé of sorts of Synder’s) does a great job with the characters and story. Batman has been invited to test the security of an all-new, super-high-tech wing of the Asylum, which is intended to hold the worst of the worst. Unfortunately for Bats, the Anchoress blames him for Arkham’s change in purpose (it really did used to be focused on curing and treating the inmates, rather than merely incarcerating them).
A solid issue, and certainly well-worth reading, but don’t be fooled by the mentions of “Zero Year”. It is tangentially connected, and not in a way that will be essential to the overall storyline. (Unless something weird happens later, I suppose…) I certainly look forward to reading more by Bennett.
Two Years (ish) of DC Comics’ New 52
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.
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.
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.]
Gregg 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.
I 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…
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.
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.
I 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Overall, 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.
“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:
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…
Writer: Andy Kubert
Artist: Andy Clarke
Cover: Jason Fabok
And finally, this very moody, sinister page from Batman & Robin #23.2 – Court of Owls:
Writer: James T. Tynion IV
Artist: Jorge Lucas
Cover: Patrick Gleason & Mick Gray