Superman: Ruin Revealed trade paperback review (DC Comics)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Riveting. Once again, Greg Rucka has turned in a comics project that is absolutely riveting. I admit, I had my doubts about Superman: Ruin Revealed, coming off the somewhat lackluster Superman: The Journey and the earlier parts of the Ruin triology. But though this trade had its slight drawbacks--I don't think the constant Infinite Crisis interruptions really did it any favors--the final two issues are pure Superman magic, and deserve their place among the echelon of great Superman stories.

It's about the time we realize a beaten, power-drained Superman is going to have to be faster than a speeding bullet to keep a revenge-mad cop from killing Pete Ross that I realized I could not take my eyes away from the page. In the climax of Ruin Revealed, Greg Rucka is creating conflict on so many levels, and bringing so many stories together--from Lana and Pete to Lupe Leocadio, to Superman and Ruin and Mr. Mxyzptlk--that the strands of the story are almost like a symphony playing. There's so much of the build-up of this story that I didn't like--Ruin's fanatical, out-of-nowhere obsession with Superman, Mxyzptlk's annoying interruptions of the story, Lana and Pete's conflict--that it's amazing how well Rucka turns it all around; Mxyzptlk's exit appearance, much of it told in black-and-white, is done especially well. And, most importantly, Rucka makes the story relevant to the Superman mythos itself, bringing the climax down to speeding bullets and the definition of heroism.

I also liked how Rucka brought three of his supporting characters together at the climax of the story, in one last pre-Infinite Crisis hurrah. Throughout Rucka's Adventures of Superman run, almost separate from the main story, Lois Lane has hunted the sniper who shot her in the Middle East. The leads she follows brings her to Jonah McCarthy, former of Rucka's Wonder Woman run, revealed to be a secret agent for Maxwell Lord's Checkmate. Under duress, McCarthy reveals that the sniper Lord used was Sasha Bordeaux, of Rucka's Detective Comics and The OMAC Project stories. As such, we now have Batman's former bodyguard shooting Superman's wife, under the direction of one of Wonder Woman's former employees. I felt that the fact that Rucka has Lois leave Sasha not with understanding, but with threats of vengeance, was a fantastic lead-in to the Big Three's conflicts in Infinite Crisis--the wounds run so deep that even their supporting casts find themselves in conflict. Lois's role in the Ruin trilogy didn't always work for me, but this conclusion was imminently satisfying.

If anything, this trade falters only in the weaving of Infinite Crisis. The trade starts with two great chapters of Clark trying to prove Pete Ross's innocence, and then the trade jumps to leave room for Superman: Sacrifice. When it returns, Superman goes off on an adventure with Zatanna tied in to JLA: Crisis of Conscience, then finally returns to hunt Ruin--only to be drawn away again by the explosion of the JLA Watchtower. Finally, the story hurdles towards its conclusion, but the path can't help but feel a little wobbly. It's hindered too by wide variety of artists, though main artist Karl Kerschl, who's work took a little getting used to when he started early the year before, ultimately offers great stuff here.

[Complete covers, text pages for Superman: Sacrifice, Infinite Crisis, and others.]

Well, with that jolt of fresh air, I'm on now to Superman: Sacrifice, and I'll see how that holds up. From there, Wonder Woman: Mission's End and more as we complete our review of the Infinite Crisis crossover trades.

Review: Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 2 trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

This review from frequent Collected Editions commenter Jeffrey Hardy Quah:

I don't think I've ever read a bad, or even mediocre book from Ed Brubaker, whether it's A Complete Lowlife, Sleeper, Point Blank, Catwoman or Gotham Central. You can always count on Brubaker to deliver a well-crafted book filled with fascinating character beats and insight, along with good old-fashioned fight scenes. His writing, along with former Gotham Central collaborator Michael Lark's artwork, was the only reason I started reading Daredevil regularly.

The new creative team did a great job following up on the new status quo left behind by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, bringing us into Matt Murdock's head as he battled his inner demons in a federal prison, while keeping it accessible to new readers. I don't know how their first story arc compares to the Bendis/Maleev run, but it was pretty damned good.

After the events of the first volume, Matt Murdock finds himself travelling around Europe, on the hunt for the person who ordered the hit on his friend Foggy Nelson. This means lots of careful detective work, some not-so-careful detective work, bullfighting, and regular fighting. Also, a very brief battle between the mafia and ninjas. There are a couple of twists and turns as well to keep things even more interesting, as Murdock thinks, angsts, punches, kicks, bludgeons and smells (yes, his heightened sense of smell is a major plot point) his way towards the identity of the person pulling his strings.

The first volume was really an excellent, accessible book, in spite of having to continue directly from Bendis's story, as opposed to being able to start fresh with a clean slate, as these things usually go. The second volume is still a good book, but where it stumbles is, strangely enough, in its accessibility. Without spoiling anything, the identity of Murdock's manipulator seems to rely on the reader's knowledge of previous Daredevil stories (I have no clue when this character originally appeared). It's not confusing, mind you; Brubaker does his best to explain who the person is without making it feel expository, and long-time readers will probably treat this as a great "WTF" moment. New readers like myself, on the other hand, have no reason to care at all, which is frustrating.

The art chores are handled by regular penciller/inker Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, along with guest artist David Aja and colourists Matt Hollingsworth and Frank D'Armata. Lark, as always, is superb in his detailed, realistic character and environment designs. The world looks like the real world, and the characters look and "move" like normal people would. You'd think his style would seem stiff and out of place in an action superhero book, but it fits Daredevil like a glove. David Aja's style is very similar to Lark's while maintaining his own identity, using lots and lots of shadows and slightly exaggerated facial expressions. Unfortunately, while D'Armata colours the first chapter (Aja's), a different colourist, Hollingsworth, takes over for the rest of the book (Lark's), and while both are excellent colourists, their styles are different enough that the transition is quite rough and takes a while to get used to.

Again, this is a good superhero book, marred only by that aforementioned continuity point. This particular storyline is complete by the end of the volume, resulting in a new status quo, and I'll definitely be checking out Volume Three.

(A very minor nitpick: who the heck designed this book? I swear, some of the images used for the credits pages in the beginning were taken from the previous volume. Murdock even wears his prison clothes. Talk about lazy. Yeesh.)

[$14.99 cover price. Includes single-issue covers by Lee Bermejo, as well as original cover sketches and pencils by Bermejo.]

Review: Top 10 by Alan Moore (Wildstorm/America's Best Comics)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

[Guest review by Doug Glassman]

When I say "Alan Moore," a few titles might jump to mind. The Killing Joke. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While these are all brilliant books that belong in the libraries of every comic book reader, I'm here to talk about a slightly lesser-known work that may just be Moore's best: Top Ten, from America's Best Comics.

(This review is for the original twelve issues of Top 10, collected in two trades. There's also a graphic novel, The Forty-Niners, and two follow-up mini-series, Smax and Beyond the Farthest Precinct. Alan Moore wrote all but the last, which was written by Paul DiFilippo. They're all worth getting, in my opinion, but this original series is most certainly the best. I also suggest that you get both trades, since the twelve original issues tell a full story.)

Top 10 is a brilliant fusion of the police procedural and the superhero team. It takes place in a world extrapolated from the pulp heroes of the 1940s, with "science" added generously in front of other words. All of the "science heroes" live in their own secluded city, Neopolis, and a city filled with superhuman threats requires a police force that is also superhuman. Enter Precinct 10, led by the '40s hero, Jetman. Immediately you'll be hit by references to everything from Blackhawk to Mazinger Z, and that's the real fun of the series. Every background character, advertisement, shot of graffiti, and song lyric is a pun on superheroes and other pop adventure icons.

The song lyrics are especially great. Like on NYPD Blue, there are montages where the characters drive to missions with no dialogue, only music. This is a risky in a print medium, but Moore pulls it off thanks to great timing. Lots of the other references, especially the ads and graffiti, are very tiny. I recommend Jess Nevins' annotations to find all of the jokes.

One of my favorite gags takes up nearly an entire page in volume 2 and involves a travel hub across dimensions. A poster reads "Vacation on Infinite Earths" and features Firestorm, Pariah, and the second Blue Beetle in a conga line. Bat-Mite, Lola from Run Lola Run, the Mirror Universe Spock, and Death and Dream of the Endless are all on the same page. It has to be seen to be believed. If that doesn't sell you on this series, I honestly don't know what will.

But there's much more to Top 10 than just the in-jokes. All of the characters have their own quirks. Jetman, for instance, hides a massive secret while maintaining a fatherly relationship with his workers. The main character, Robin "Toybox" Slinger, is the rookie daughter of one of the original Precinct 10 founders. Her partner is the giant, gruff anti-hero Smax, sort of a mix of the Beast and Wolverine. Shock-Headed Peter hates robots, which puts him in conflict with the many robotic members of Neopolis society. These are only a few of the quirky officers. One of the greatest, Joe Pi, is a true Japanese super robot in the vein of Go Nagai, and while he enters the story very late, almost everything he does is hysterical.

Just like the cop procedurals it is based on, Top 10 has characters that enter and leave permanently, with great consequences. At first, there doesn't seem to be a main plotline for the twelve issues, but one emerges by the last issue. Plots weave in and out and sometimes collide violently. A few great sub-stories include a teleporter accident involving a giant alien and a Hovercar; solving a crime based on an ancient Norse myth; and the only Yazidi superhero's forced career as a gladiator. The art is split between Zander Cannon doing the layouts and Gene Ha doing the finishes. As required by all of the sight gags, Cannon and Ha's art is very detailed, but at the same time has a unique "scratchiness" to it.

Whether it's for the great action and humor, or for the continual sight gags that pay homage to decades of comic book history, Top 10 is worth your time. Each story can be read individually, or you can read them all together to create an epic superhero story that will forever change the way you think about the Justice League. In a way, it's a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for superheroes, bringing together the best of comics instead of the best of Victorian pulp literature. The series deserves a place on your shelf.

[$17.95 cover price for Book One, $14.95 for Book Two. Book One includes a text prologue by Alan Moore, full covers and character design gallery. Book Two includes character sketches and full covers.]

Superman: The Journey trade paperback review (DC Comics)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Regarding Superman: The Journey, I'd say on one hand, you get the story that you're promised. On the other hand, the distinct flaw in all the Infinite Crisis build-up is all too apparent here--that is, in order for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to rise up from the ashes in Infinite Crisis, the writers first have to, purposefully, take the characters down a notch. In the case of Wonder Woman, Greg Rucka did a nice job of showing a logical turn of events through which Wonder Woman would kill Maxwell Lord, and therefore be at odds with her allies. For Superman, however, writer Mark Verheiden gets the unenviable job of showing Superman as somewhat lost and ineffectual, so that Superman can return found and effectual in Infinite Crisis. A good idea in theory, but somewhat lackluster on paper. There are some good moments here, and plenty of Infinite Crisis fodder, but ultimately the book struggles to rise higher than its premise.

In the wake of For Tomorrow, Lois and Jimmy reunite with Superman in his new Fortress of Solitude in the Amazon. Returning to Metropolis, Superman battles Bizarro, newly recruited by the Secret Society, while Lois investigates the OMAC threat. Supergirl arrives to let Superman know she's going to space with Donna Troy, and Superman fights the villain Blackrock while Lex Luthor struggles to reach the Antarctic to defeat Alexander Luthor.

Superman's "journey" in this trade begins with the exotic new location of his Fortress, but becomes the figurative "dark journey" that he and Lex Luthor take to reclaim their lives. While fighting Blackrock, Superman comes to realize he's been focusing too much on the past, he says, and not enough on the present--and here's where our problems begin. For one, this realization comes while fighting Blackrock, of all villains--and the truth in this case is that all the good villains really are taken for other Infinite Crisis plotlines. Using an obscure villain takes some of the punch out of it, but even more, Superman's problems boil down to the OMAC attacks, Kara's arrival (which isn't really even a problem), Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord, and Lex Luthor (who Superman never encounters). Frankly, I have to think Superman's had more on his plate before, and really he has--his concerns here seem mostly artificial, played up to suit where Superman's emotional state needs to be for Infinite Crisis. To that end, there's nothing significantly wrong with these stories--nice art by Ed Benes, and Mark Verheiden's dialogue rings true to Superman--but it just fails to rise above the ordinary.

Some of what bothers me when writers take on Superman--and which I have faith that Richard Donner and Geoff Johns will avoid--is the tendency to turn the characters against one another for lack of a newer idea for a story. The case in point, we have stories here both where Jimmy Olsen insults Clark Kent after taking his job, Lois asks Clark to give her some space, and Clark spies on Lois with a Superman Robot. The drama is somewhat artificial, and since we know these characters can't stay mad at one another for long, tends to be fleeting in its suspense. Better here is the more legitimate scenes of emotion, as when Supergirl comes to tell Superman she's leaving with Donna Troy, or as Lex Luthor plays cat-and-mouse with an OMAC. It's for this reason I think the final issue, of them all, works the best, as we see John Henry Irons, Supergirl, and Bizarro all preparing for their roles in Infinite Crisis; the emotion here is not forced, but rather comes naturally from the storyline.

I would note, from a trade perspective, that despite the fact that this trade has a gaping hole in the middle where Superman: Sacrifice fits, the stories hold up very well even if you only have a passing knowledge of Superman: Sacrifice. Even Blackrock's origin, shown in Superman: Sacrifice, is explained extraordinarily well. At the same time, this trade has a two page excerpt from Action Comics #831, which also appears in the Superman: Strange Attractors trade. Does anyone have that issue, and know if between the two trades, we get the whole thing?

[Contains thumbnail covers.]

Continuing on a Superman run now to Superman: Ruin Revealed, and then to Superman: Sacrifice. Come join!

Review: JSA: Mixed Signals trade paperback (DC Comics)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

[In times of national tragedy, please remember you can always lend your support through the Red Cross.]

Geoff Johns delivers again with JSA: Mixed Signals. It's a shame, almost, that so much happens so well in JSA; in a way I feel as if I'm fighting event fatigue -- first the JSA travels to the past and teams up with the original JSA, and then the JSA returns to Kahndaq and has to fight the Spectre, Eclipso, and Black Adam, and then Donna Troy arrives, and then Mordru escapes, and then and on and on. Which would certainly be more of a problem if the overall stories and art weren't just so good.

The trade gets off to an eccentric start -- first there's an obligatory, and fairly generic, attack by an OMAC; when Donna Troy arrives on the scene, the story derails almost completely, following Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, and Air Wave to New Chronus (with barely a JSA member in sight), though Johns does get points for a nice Alan Scott/Hal Jordan scene that touches on the themes of the new Green Lantern series.

After that, however, comes another wonderfully rollicking Johns-ian JSA story, as half the team faces off against Mordru over the fate of, well, Dr. Fate, and the other half travel to the Fifth Dimension to save Jakeem Thunder and the Thunderbolt from a mystery enemy (the revelation of which again shows Johns's comics continuity mastery). There's also a nicely-done one-shot focusing on Stargirl which begins to delve into Infinite Crisis, and also (I think) sets the stage for the upcoming Justice Society of America series. JSA artist Don Kramer writes some issues here, and he has the rhythm of the characters down well enough that it's hard to tell what's Kramer's and what's Johns'.

A high-quality JSA trade, on par with the rest.

Rumor Mill: DC to release Tangent Comics TPB ...

Monday, April 16, 2007

You heard it here first ... in line with recent goings-on in the DCU, DC's scheduled the first volume of a Tangent Comics trade ...

UPDATE: Confirmed by today's solicitation news ...

Trade Perspectives: Superman "Last Son" Delays ...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

As the Internet turns itself inside out over Geoff Johns and Richard Donner's Superman "Last Son" storyline defaulting itself to Action Comics #11, I'm just reminded how good it is to be a trade paperback fan ...

Trade Perspectives: Marvel announces Civil War trades checklist

Friday, April 13, 2007

Not to turn this blog too Marvel-centric lately, but Newsarama's got a press release on Marvel's Civil War trades checklist. What a seriously brilliant idea! Followers of Collected Editions know we've been counting down the Infinite Crisis crossover trades for you, and the Identity Crisis ones before that, but there's never been anything this formal--now Marvel trade fans can feel like they're part of the crossover, in trade form. Any chance DC will do the same with their next big event?

Green Lantern: Revenge of the Green Lanterns trade paperback mini-review (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

After reading the last couple of Infinite Crisis crossover trades, I'd begun to fear mightily for the state of the industry; if these were the issues that surrounded Infinite Crisis, One Year Later couldn't come soon enough. But once again--and most surprisingly--Green Lantern has come to the rescue. Though the One Year Later jump that comes in the middle of this trade is most jarring, Green Lantern: Revenge of the Green Lanterns commands that I finally put to rest my concerns about the resurrection of Hal Jordan. The first three stories are just plain fun--Green Lantern and Green Arrow in a riff on "For the Man Who Has Everything," and a Batman/Green Lantern follow-up to Rebirth--but
it's when Green Lantern jumps One Year Later that this story really shines. From intrigue within the Corps to a fantastic Hal Jordan/Guy Gardner team-up (it's so great to see Guy taken seriously, instead of being played for laughs); wonderful use of one of my favorite villains; and Ivan Reis's artwork actually working for me, this hardcover is a joy--not surprising that it comes from Geoff Johns. To top it all off, Johns creates an incredibly compelling conflict for Hal in the wake of One Year Later, recovering from having been a prisoner of war, and violating new (apparently) national boundaries as Green Lantern, Revenge of the Green Lanterns is a gripping read. This one comes with a high, high

Review: Avengers Forever trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

[Hi all -- Collected Editions here. As you know, this blog has been mostly DC-centric over the past two years; however, we recognize that there are more trades out there, from more companies, some of whom are raising the bar for trade paperbacks even faster than DC is. To this end, we're now featuring select guest reviews about non-DC trade paperbacks! First up is reviewer Doug Glassman, who's also reviewed at the website. If you want to review a non-DC trade for Collected Editions, contact us at collectededitions(at)yahoo(dot)c-o-m. (And would you believe, there's still more super-secret surprises coming soon from Collected Editions ...) Take it away, Doug!]

As recent events in the Marvel Universe have shown, the Avengers have had a rather complex and tumultuous history. With the team torn apart and one of its most important members dead (for the time being), let's take a look at a book that both helped clear up and complicate Avengers history. It's Avengers Forever, by Kurt Busiek (with Roger Stern) and Carlos Pacheco (with Jesus Marino).

The book takes a winding trip through Marvel history past, present and future, uniting seven Avengers from various points in that timeline. From the past, there's Captain America from shortly before the Captain America No More story; Hawkeye from the Kree-Skrull War; and an absolutely insane Yellowjacket. The Wasp and Giant-Man represent the then-current Avengers line-up. That's not a misprint: the team has two Hank Pyms, which makes for a very fun story. Finally, representing the future are Songbird and Captain Marvel. This was the story that put Genis on the map, and while he's currently dead, I think he'll return soon enough. The team dynamics are intense and encourage some strong moments. For instance, Yellowjacket fears becoming Giant-Man, and while Songbird and the Wasp are friends in the future, the current Wasp only knows Songbird as a member of the Thunderbolts and therefore untrustworthy. The temporal villain Kang the Conqueror slowly becomes one of the main heroes of the book, equal to the ersatz Avengers, while Rick Jones does what he does best: hang around and get in trouble.

As for the actual plot of the book, it's rather complex, involving Kang trying to stop Immortus, who is the future version of himself. Sort of. I'd prefer not to spoil it here. Busiek and Stern take full advantage of twelve issues allotted to the story, taking a long detour about two-thirds of the way through the book to do some retconning of the history of the Marvel universe. Amongst the plot holes filled are the events of The Crossing (which precipitated Onslaught) and the history of the original Human Torch and the Vision. In another book, this would be out of place and distract from the action, but here it gives the reader some important backstory.

The entirety of part nine, for instance, is the history of Kang, and knowledge of his history and his many incarnations is required to figure out the last part of the book. At times, it seems like all of the backstory is overwhelming, but there is hope. Throughout the book, footnotes are provided on what characters are referring to, identifying people and places that go unsaid otherwise. And there are plenty of cameos. Encountering random minor characters from old stories is one of the great joys of the book. The 1950s Avengers encountered early in the book, for instance, are now appearing in the Agents of Atlas series. Marvel's Western heroes and sci-fi alternate dimensions are featured as well, and a certain bald villain from the distinguished competition shows up in a quick flash. At the end of the book, the cameos pile up to include alternate Avengers that are both good and evil, even including a few from the Avengers: United We Stand cartoon. The footnotes are great at pointing these out.

The art team of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino does a great job in handling this massive number of characters. All of the action is nice and clear (definitely a boon when the writing gets complicated). Since it's a Marvel space-time epic, there's a massive amount of fun space visual effects, including lots and lots of varied explosions. I especially like Pacheco and Merino's version of Captain America: since the character is at a vulnerable point in his career, he seems vulnerable, and this changes as he becomes more and more confident. Yellowjacket, who quickly becomes one of the most fun characters of the team, is gleefully manic throughout and looks the part of the mad scientist. One odd art note: as the book progresses, Hawkeye's sideburns get larger and larger until they become epic 70's mutton-chops. It's a look that's not exactly out of character for him.

Avengers Forever demonstrates how to do an epic rooted in continuity that still knows how to have fun. By actually explaining what's happened before (or at least giving you a place to go to find out about it), the reader isn't so easily taken out of the action. Add in some strong characterization, great action and art that really conveys the plot, and you've got a book worth picking up. The book is not exactly hard to find, but it did come out seven years ago and is probably due for a reprint. Fans of Captain Marvel, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Thunderbolts and, of course, the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, should seek this out.

[$24.99 cover price. Includes an introduction by Kurt Busiek, main covers to issues 1-12, images of the alternate covers for issue 4, and source notes.]

Odds and Ends for 4-8-07

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I've come to something of a delayed realization that there are a lot of pages missing from the Infinite Crisis crossover trades. Maybe I'm overstating it slightly, but in regards to those "infinite forms" pages that each comic was supposed to have in the same month as Infinite Crisis #5, a bunch of them are missing. To wit, there's at least two gone from Superman: Infinite Crisis (of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, respectively), and one gone from Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 2, Robin (either in Teen Titans: Life and Death or Days of Fire and Madness), Green Arrow: Heading into the Light, and JSA Classified: Honor Among Thieves, and it remains to be seen whether the page will be included in Manhunter: Origins. This affects the reading enjoyment of the trades not one bit, but it does upset the completist in me--Hey, DC, leave those pages alone! (And keep up the good work!)


New updates to the DC Comics Trade Paperback Timeline ... you have been reading the Updates Blog, haven't you ... ?

Review: JLA: World Without a Justice League trade paperback (DC Comics)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

[Spoilers about for both JLA: World Without a Justice League and Justice League Elite (the whole series).]

JLA: World Without a Justice League functions, rather strangely, as something of a sequel to Justice League Elite; at least, if you're a big fan of Manitou Dawn (all two of you), this is the trade for you.

As the final trade of a JLA series once headlined by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid, there's a terribly disappointing lack of reminiscent nostalgia here, though that may me determined more by the Infinite Crisis-inspired JLA meltdown than the author's sense of closure; it doesn't help that Tom Derenick's art, though a good choice for this mostly Green Arrow-centered story, remains not my cup of tea.

Ultimately, World Without a Justice League boils down to Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Manitou Dawn trying to stop the Key from murdering everyone in Gotham, with Envy of the Seven Deadly Sins complicating the process. When you consider that Manitou Dawn cheated on her husband with Green Arrow, Green Arrow cheated with another woman and ruined his relationship with Black Canary, and Batman dissolved the Justice League in part because of Green Arrow's decision to mind-wipe him, the interpersonal dynamics do have the makings of a powerful story, and in some ways it works; but considering the little-to-no relevance this story had to Infinite Crisis as a whole, ultimately it comes out feeling a little short.