Quick Shot Reviews: Catching up on Graphic Novels

GraphicNovels-201508

Despite the near-total-silence on the graphic novel/comics side of things, I have continued to read a whole bunch of new and old collections. Generally speaking, though, I haven’t been overly impressed. Here are mini-reviews for ten stand-out collections I’ve read recently. [I’ll hopefully do a few more posts like this in the not-too-distant future, as I try to catch up with recent titles.]

Featuring: All-New X-Men, American Vampire, Black Magick, Daredevil, Extraordinary X-Men, Huck, Justice League, Lazarus, Lucifer, Sheriff of Babylon Continue reading

Advertisements

Quick Review: SUPERMAN UNCHAINED Deluxe Edition (DC Comics)

SupermanUnchained-DeluxeWriter: Scott Snyder | Artist: Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, Scott Williams

From the skies above Metropolis to the four corners of the globe to the star-streaked spaceways beyond, one man is synonymous with the word “hero.” Since his arrival marked the dawn of the superhero age, Superman has waged a never-ending battle for truth and justice, no matter when or where.

But before the dawn came the darkness. When another with incredible power, far more than that of mortal man, fell to the Earth. One who could spell the end for the Man of Steel.

Collects: Superman Unchained #1-9

This is a pretty good Superman story. As the name suggests, it’s off-the-hook, action-packed and large-scale. The stakes are high (global peril!), the action is huge, and the story stretches back to the 1940s. Superman is up against a group of techno-terrorists and a mysterious US military department that appears to have been manipulating events behind-the-scenes for years. Teaming up with a surprise ally, Superman must get to the bottom of the terrorists’ schemes, and negotiate a peace with the US military. Meanwhile, his friends and allies step up to help out as and when they can.

The writing is very good, the artwork is stunning, and the action comes fast and often. By offering no pretense as to what this story is meant to be, Scott et al can really go all out. There’s a lot of over-the-top action, presented in eye-catching, stunning artwork. It still manages to be less over-the-top than the Man of Steel movie, mind… If you have any interest in the character, then Superman Unchained should entertain.

Superman Unchained Deluxe Edition is published next week.

Review: THE WAKE (Vertigo)

TheWake-Complete

Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Sean Murphy | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help with a new threat, she declines, but quickly realizes they won’t take no for an answer. Soon she is plunging to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oilrig filled with roughnecks and scientists on the brink of an incredible discovery. But when things go horribly wrong, this scientific safe haven will turn into a house of horrors at the bottom of the ocean!

Collects: The Wake #1-10

This is a tricky one to review. This is the whole ten-issue run of the series, which means a lot happens. The multiple timelines, the expansive scope of the story… There’s a lot crammed into this book. It’s the most ambitious of Snyder’s stories that I’ve read, and while I found it excellent on a number of levels, the second half really let the book down. Continue reading

Quick Review: BATMAN #20-21, Annual #2 (DC Comics)

Batman-21A-Art

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!

Batman-21&22

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.

Batman-21-Interior6

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.

Batman-22-Interior2

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.

Batman-Annual-02Annual #2:

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).

Batman-Annual-02-Interior2

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

DCHeader

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.

GreenLantern-20

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.

*

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…

Batman&Robin-18-Interior8

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.

*

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…

*

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.

JusticeLeague-19

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.

WonderWoman-12-Art

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.

JLDark-18-Interior2

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.

*

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.

TrinityWar

“Trinity War” Artwork