Review: Year One: Batman/Ra's al Ghul trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Considering movies, where some movies you see in the theaters, some movies you rent, and some movies you borrow from the library, Year One: Batman/Ra's Al Ghul is one you borrow from the library. Not because it's bad, mind you -- it's pretty good, actually, and offers at least one significant addition to the Batman mythos -- but as a trade collecting two forty-eight page Prestige Format comics, there's not a whole lot of bang here for your $10 buck. Indeed, writer Devin Grayson offers pages and pages of dialogue-less fight scenes -- they're admirable, at least in that Grayson writes a excellent Batman, but you might prefer to spend your money on something with a bit more content.

[Contains spoilers]

In the wake of Death and the Maidens, Batman received a posthumous letter from Ra's al Ghul positing that the Lazarus Pits were a force of nature, and that in destroying them, Batman has upset the natural balance; case in point, the dead begin to rise in Gotham, and it's soon overrun with zombies. A second level of Ra's letter gives Batman a series of clues to discover how to create a Lazarus Pit; after battling hordes of Ubus, Batman finally restores order and builds a pit -- in the Batcave.

Grayson write a silent, no-nonsense Batman that's just the right mix of Dark Knight without the common smug superiority. Through Ra's letter, she offers a compelling moral argument; the Demon's Head questions whether Batman frustrates his own quest for peace by saving people who only continue to pollute the world. The philosophical thread runs through the book from beginning to end, interrupted by fight scenes; to get the full picture, this is a story best read in one sitting. If anything, I might only have questioned the decision to tell the story solely from Ra's point of view; it's hard to tell if Batman's even slightly swayed by Ra's words, since we never hear Batman's own inner thoughts.

Paul Gulacy does double-duty in the book, drawing not only modern Batman scenes, but flashbacks to Ra's early life. Reflecting ancient Asian artwork, Gulacy draws with thin lines, buffeted by Laurie Kronenberg's muted pallet for the past scenes. In the present, Gulacy at times resembles Graham Nolan's full-figured Batman work; there's also, however, much resemblance between Gulacy's Batman here and the Batman of the Tim Burton movies, with an angular cowl and Keaton-type profile. Similarly, this story features many of those "wonderful toys," including Bat-cycles, Bat-planes, and Bat-snowmobiles. I found the story went down a lot easier if I pictured it as a movie.

There's no question that this Year One story was meant as a tie in to the recent Batman Begins, and I imagine there was some consternation when the producers discovered that Ra's, the silver screen's newest villains, was -- in the comics -- dead. I was frankly somewhat surprised to find that this story didn't at least suggest Ra's resurrection, but he's gone for now, at least -- I'm confident he'll be brought back one of these days. This is not, as I had also thought, much of a sequel to Death and the Maidens -- Nyssa and Talia do not appear. I liked the final pages of this book, and I hope that some other writer picks up on them, but a few pages are barely worth the purchase price. Year One is very pleasant, but not necessarily groundbreaking.

[Contains full covers, character profiles]
Collected Editions 2015 Comic Book Gift Guide

Outsiders: Crisis Intervention mini-review

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Judd Winick's Outsiders remains one of my favorite new comics concepts, and re-reading the three Outsiders trade paperbacks in preparation for Outsiders: Crisis Intervention, I was struck by how well Winick writes the story of a super-team trying to do so well and ultimately doing so poorly--each mission is a PR disaster, their "independent" funding ultimately comes from Batman, their intel from Deathstroke--Winik's created the greatest of hard-luck heroes, and I'm eager to see their new adventures after One Year Later, when Winick can really cut loose. This is indeed to say, however, that Crisis Intervention does lack some of the verve of the previous Outsiders trades; it starts of well enough, with a Fearsome Five rematch drawn by Matthew Clark that gives each member of the team, old and new, a chance to shine. Once Donna Troy comes on the scene, however, the story becomes fairly muddled (written, at least in part, by Jen Van Meter), featuring a Rann/Thanagar War crossover that ultimately has no real connection to the events of Infinite Crisis and smacks of filler, lacking as well Winick's trademark humor; there's a protracted scene of Starfire, Jade, and Shift trying to escape a space shuttle that's far too confusing for it's own good. If anything, the end of the trade is worthwhile mainly for it's examination of Arsenal's role with the Outsiders, and how he'd really be a better fit with ... well, you know. In a string of hits, Outsiders: Crisis Intervention is a miss, and it unfortunately seems largely to be Infinite Crisis's fault; again, I'm looking forward to things shaping up after One Year Later.

[Contains full covers]

Odds and Ends for 3-19-07

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fans of Collected Edition's DC Trade Paperback Timeline will want to note that we've now launched a companion blog to Collected Editions, the DC Trade Paperback Timeline Updates blog. This replaces our formerly RSS-only updates system, and the new blog will offer further insights into the thinking behind the placements of trades on the DC Trade Paperback Timeline. Take a gander, won't you, and let us know what you think?


To the person who asked Dan Didio and Bob Wayne at the Wizard World: Los Angeles DC Nation panel whether there would be a second trade of Justice League Elite (to which they apparently said "yes"): I love you.


At that same Wizard World DC Nation panel (reported on by Newsarama), Wayne also mentioned that the four 52 trades would contain commentary from the creators. And according to posters over at Comic Bloc, Didio mentioned that the Manhunter series (are you reading Manhunter yet?) has been saved at least in part due to good trade sales. Yay traders!


If you'd be interested in writing Marvel trade reviews for Collected Editions, please send an email to collectededitions(at)(y-a-h-o-o).com. Briefly talk about what your general reviewing philosophy and what you'd like to review.


That's all for now, though I will mention that Collected Editions has been hard at work at a super-secret project, set to launch very soon ... keep watching.

Review: Robin: Days of Fire and Madness trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

For a while I've had something of a quandry trying to reconcile the work of Bill Willingham on Fables, which I very much enjoy, and the work on Bill Willingham on Robin, which hasn't been my favorite. Add to that Willingham's newest creation, the Shadowpact as seen in Day of Vengeance, which I also enjoyed. So when the Shadowpact goes calling on Robin, it remained to be seen whether one would elevate the other; unfortunately, this is not the case.

Robin hasn't really worked for me since Chuck Dixon left -- mainly because the character has never felt quite natural under another writer. In Robin: Days of Fire and Madness, Willingham places Robin in two ill-fitting situations: one, as part of a military special operations group (where we're supposed to believe Robin might actually consider leaving Batman to work for the government), and then against a horde of supernatural demons.

Dixon's Robin worked for me because, for the most part, it was the adventures of Batman's junior partner in Gotham City; pitting Robin against supernatural characters like the Warlock's Daughter takes the gritty-Batman appeal out of it -- battling ghosts, Robin could just as easily be Blue Beetle.

Willingham plays Tim Drake as something of an immature kid -- a little dumbstruck in combat, awkward around girls -- and it seems like this ignores his leadership in Teen Titans and the overall length of his time as Robin.

The barrage of purposefully silly super-villains at the end doesn't help, as this has even less to do with Robin or the Shadowpact, and serves mostly as OMAC Project filler. Willingham gets points for his portrayal of Superboy and Robin's friendship, but with the advent of One Year Later making most of this trade moot, Robin: Days of Fire and Madness would definitely be one to cut if your budget made it necessary.

Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter review

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

[This review contains spoilers for Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter]

Certainly I can understand why Cassandra Cain's murder of Lady Shiva and apparent turn to villainy at the end of Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter would be controversial; it does indeed fly in the face of a whole lot of characterization of--and more than that, progress made by--the second Batgirl over seventy-three issues of her series. At the same time, if we posit that Andersen Gabrych--who, for all intents and purposes, had a stellar run on Batgirl--only had so much time to wrap up Batgirl, and likely faced an editorial decree as to what Cassandra Cain's mindset had to be when the story ended (this is pure speculation on my part, but it's been known to happen before), then I have to say that Destruction's Daughter works for me; it's not what I might have preferred, but the story progresses logically and Cassandra's turn, in the end, at least makes semblances of sense. Though I've decried Batgirl's trade gap previously, it does now work over six volumes to show her first and second battles with Lady Shiva, and then ultimately her move to Bludhaven and her search for Shiva again; if, ultimately, the most important thing is that the trades tell a good story, then the Batgirl collection all together is a good story.

And certainly, one can't say that Gabrych seems to take Cassandra's turn lightly. This trade hits all the requisite notes, including lovely scenes with Bronze Tiger, and with Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Gabrych does due dilligence to the Spoiler, as well, and even appropriately references the question of Shiva's children vis a vis Batman and Jason Todd's meeting with her in Batman: Death in the Family. And putting the new Batgirl in the old--almost--Batgirl costume at the end of her run was inspired as well.

Snap Judgments also weighs in on the Batgirl debate, somewhat more succinctly (also contains spoilers). And for a slightly more ... irreverent perspective, check out these Casstoons.

[Contains full covers]

Review: Infinite Crisis and Infinite Crisis Companion trade paperbacks (DC Comics)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

[Contains spoilers for Infinite Crisis and related titles]

Reading the Infinite Crisis hardcover in conjunction with the The Infinite Crisis Companion actually added more to the experience than I had originally thought. The Day of Vengeance Infinite Crisis Special seemed somewhat tertiary to Infinite Crisis as a whole, but included some fantastic magic-based-hero cameos (including Empress, Traci 13, and Freedom Beast); the Omac Project Infinite Crisis Special was more an introduction to the new Checkmate series than an Infinite Crisis crossover, but it did have an interesting element of following Batman's team of heroes from the end of Infinite Crisis #6 through to the Villains United Infinite Crisis Special, and then in to Infinite Crisis #7--for fans, especially, of the new Justice League of America, each of these specials showcase Black Canary, Black Lightning, and Vixen, among others. The Villains United Infinite Crisis Special was otherwise more of just a hodge-podge to me--some startling violence, yes, and plenty of cool cameos on both the hero and villain sides, but only a loose plot, really, that seemed more like filler to me than any of the others--though I did like the hero-villain standoff in the end.

It was the Rann/Thanagar War Infinite Crisis Special, of them all, that I felt packed the most emotional punch. Though overall it still left me a little cold (maybe it's the Ivan Reis art, which has always been too "sketchy" for my tastes), the death of Jade was truly a show-stopping moment, including both Kyle Rayner and Alan Scott's shared pain. this was almost worth, I think, putting in Infinite Crisis itself--Superboy's death affects Superman, and Robin and Wonder Girl--and therefore their respective mentors--but Jade's death cuts through both the Green Lanterns and much of the JSA; it might almost have been worth showing both deaths in Infinite Crisis #6, instead of just Conner's. Insead, we have a somewhat jarring change in Kyle Rayner's appearance in Infinite Crisis without any explanation; the Rann/Thanagar War Infinite Crisis Special offers that explanation.

While I am in favor of the revisionism that DC's employed with the Infinite Crisis hardcover--perhaps against popular opinion--I don't know that the major changes really enhanced my enjoyment of the story. Certainly I'm pleased with the finished Phil Jimenez "red sky" fight scene, as well as the George Perez wrap-up page; at the same time, the "Nightwing is still alive" page reeks of having been shoehorned-in when Robin is still crying over Nightwing's body pages later. And I'm all for super-hero crowd scenes, but the extra page in the church just made me go "Huh?"--there's more Agent Liberty in Infinite Crisis than in the past ten years, but are those two women Cadmus Clones from Joe Kelly's Superboy days? Is that bat-thing a Metal Man? Who's the kid with the teddy bear, and why is the Joker's Daughter growling at some long-haired guy? It's very weird. Not to mention coloring errors abound that weren't fixed--at one point, I think a figure colored as Captain Marvel was meant to be Junior, since Cap is already in the Rock of Ages; in the Companion, when Alan Scott says Jade is "[her]self again," I get the sense that Jade's skin tones were supposed to be normal there, not green--and someone needs to be reminded, in a couple places, that Empress is African-American.

But these are small items, and all told, Infinite Crisis and the Companion together make a nice story. Andy Khouri, in the Comic Book Resources Year-End Round-Up Top-Five List, sums it all up nicely:

"Infinite Crisis" - I'm not sorry. The last time I had this much fun reading comics was when I was twelve years old. From "Identity Crisis" to "Countdown" to books like "Rann-Thanagar War" and "Villains United," the entire Infinite Crisis saga was such a ride. I love "Crisis On Infinite Earths" and this sequel was exactly what I wanted. Alex Luthor tries to destroy the universe! The original Superman, the first superhero ever, is murdered! By Superboy Prime! Now the single most deadly villain ever! To say nothing of the sweeping commentary of superhero comics, of DC itself, and of fans. "Infinite Crisis" was totally mental, and so well-executed, I just can't in good conscience pretend this comic by Geoff Johns wasn't at the top of my reading list during its run.
I also thought that George Tramountanas, in the Comic Book Resources Year-End Round-Up Trends, Part Two, offered an interesting examination of Infinite Crisis and 52 in terms of how DC's using fill-in artists to make books ship on time, and then fixing any errors when the books go to trade. Frankly, it sounds to me like the lead-time offered by trades is really what most series need--something we've discussed in terms of recent delays with Wonder Woman, among others----and make it trade-only, offering, say, six issues or so every six months in a trade. I don't know if the unit costs are less or more, but it might just keep the title alive.

Well, we're far afield now. My advice: if you're going to get Infinite Crisis, get the Companion, too. Off now to read the tie-ins. Later!

On DC cartoons ...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Is it possible I like the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon more than Teen Titans? Certainly I like it more than I thought I would, and so far this season there's rarely been a "miss" episode like Titans, just "hits." Does this make anyone else feel strangely guilty ... ?