Review: Wonder Woman: Love and Murder collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, June 30, 2008

In the "Keep a consistent creative team" versus "Ship the book late" debate, I tend to side with the creative teams. Though this meant something of a long wait for the collection of Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman? (and an even longer wait for the Superman: Last Son hardcover), the consistency of the art and plot throughout the story made it worth it. But, while it's easy to ignore the delays that plagued monthly buyers while I'm reading Who is Wonder Woman?, it's a little harder to ignore the effects those delays had on the following volume, Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman: Love and Murder.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder would be a passably good Wonder Woman story, if not for the fact that it treads, rather forcibly, right over the same ground tread by Allan Heinberg's Who is Wonder Woman? One gets the sense that this is not the fault of Picoult, who's more than proven her writing prowess, but rather of DC Comics Editorial, trying to toe the line between following up on Who is Wonder Woman? and not spoiling the events of the final issue, which hadn't been released at the time Picoult's run started. This makes the collection of Who is Wonder Woman? good for trade readers and bad for monthly readers, and Love and Murder the opposite.

To wit, Love and Murder completely ignores the fact that, at the end of Who is Wonder Woman?, the villain Circle altered Wonder Woman's powers such that Wonder Woman is completely human in her Diana persona. Despite vague mentions of Diana needing to learn to "be human," Love and Murder indeed ignores the events of Who is Wonder Woman? so much that Circe actually appears in this story and chides Wonder Woman for not being in touch with humanity, and Wonder Woman never pauses to say, "But ... didn't you just make me human yesterday?" For trade readers, you'll find here an awkward and somewhat strange case of deja vu.

Picoult, to her credit, has admirable intentions. In as inscrutable as Circe's motives are here, the reader gets the sense that Circle blames Wonder Woman for not being true to herself; in the end, Picoult suggests that Diana's time in Man's World had made her different than her Amazonian sisters--and ultimately, puts her in opposition to her own mother. Picoult picks up on the dichotomy of Wonder Woman, that she's an ambassador of peace who keeps the peace with violence, and that she was a gift from the gods to the Amazons who instead, essentially, gave her away to Man's World--in this, Picoult finds a Diana who's tried so hard to fill all of these roles that she's never paid attention to what she herself desires. It's a take that plays fast and loose with continuity, but still makes the effort to create a viable theme out of the Wonder Woman milieu.

Picoult also does well-enough for a new comics writer with the Washington, D.C.-demolishing action sequences. Maybe I'm a sucker, but there's something I love about seeing the Justice League gathered together to fight a fierce menace in the sky, even if that menace is slightly-confused Themyscarian Amazons. Picoult also offers some pleasant humor throughout the story; her take on Nemesis strays a bit more immature than his presentation in Heinberg's story, but the interplay between Nemesis and Black Canary late in the story made me laugh.

I'd describe a bad Wonder Woman story as one where there's gratuitous ripping of Wonder Woman's clothes, or maybe one where she's forced to spout "Great Hera!" a lot. Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman isn't bad in that way. It's just that it's a story written very obviously in service to the Amazons Attack miniseries that was already on its way, and also one that's essentially prevented from really creating any new events in Wonder Woman's life or even touching on new events. That's unfortunate, of course, because my expectation is that a comic book by Picoult would be as popular as her novels are, if she were allowed to create a new character or given unfettered access to an existing one. Instead, we have a Wonder Woman story that's just "there," which is about the last thing this character needs right now.

(Tom Spurgeon also reviews Wonder Woman: Love and Murder at the Comics Reporter blog.)

[Contains full covers, introduction by Jodi Picoult]

We continue our Wonder Woman reviews, and our lead-in to Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 1, next time with Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack.
Collected Editions 2015 Comic Book Gift Guide

Trade Perspective: DiDio and the State of the DCU Wrap-Up

Saturday, June 28, 2008

[Contributions can be made in Michael Turner's name to The American Cancer Society.]

My post the other day on what Dan DiDio's done right at DC Comics brought in a lot of great comments both here and at some of my favorite blogs, and it's given me a lot to think about regarding the state of DC Comics.

At Siskoid's Blog of Geekery, Siskoid notes quite a number of things he would do if he were editor of DC Comics. One suggestion that struck me was to tie creators more closely with their trademark books. Indeed we've seen a change in quality and tone when Gail Simone left All-New Atom or when Geoff Johns left Teen Titans, and I don't mind Siskoid's suggestion of making these titles mini-series rather than letting another team run a book into the ground.

This goes along with a number of frustrations that Kelson posted at Speed Force, including how DC mis-handled The Flash. In retrospect, if DC had just let the Flash property sit after Geoff Johns left, resurrecting it perhaps with Rogues Revenge, we'd be a lot better off than the black mark of the sub-par beginning issues of Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.

I know DC Comics is a business, but part of the problem is that there are times when I think DC should just leave the money on the table instead of going for every money-making outlet, and they don't. Kelson notes he's tired of mega-crossovers, and one of our anonymous commentators mentions they feel Final Crisis has been over-promoted. Infinite Crisis had its tie-ins, sure, but those began six months, not a year, before the crossover, and they were far more limited; even before that, Identity Crisis seemed to have no planned crossovers until it started doing well. Even as I believe that Dan DiDio puts an emphasis on good stories, DC needs to understand that sometimes keeping a story good means not merchandising the heck out of it.

For example, "Sinestro Corps" has been held up as a model for crossovers in that it was relatively self-contained and still an "event." DC has promised more stories in that vein, but already their "Batman RIP" story is spinning wildly out of control in terms of offshoots. If DC wants a self-contained crossover, limit it to two books, like Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, Batman and Detective, or Superman and Action; let other titles reflect the events, but don't make them "part" of the crossover. It's far too easy for things to get very bloated.

At the same time, we're not exactly thrilled when DC tries to do things right, either. Jeffrey points out his own indecision on DC's handling of delays, an indecision I share; we don't like when stories like Last Son are held back in order to complete with one artist, but we also don't like when a book like Final Crisis gets a second artist in order to stay on schedule.

Some fans have suggested that the solution is as simple as having artists who're consistently on time, but I don't think it's that easy; I think delays are inevitable in any publishing business, and the more important thing is how they're handled, not that they happen. As Mr. Fob notes, failures mean that at least DC's taking risks and trying new things. Then again, is it false advertising of a mini-series is advertised with art by J.G. Jones but months later it's ended by Carlos Pacheco? I'm not sure.

Finally, another anonymous poster mentioned that a lot of times DC's problem is that they're being judged too harshly in comparison to Marvel. I read a blog post the other day (wish I could remember where) that talked about how Marvel doesn't really have continuity, or at least not reboots like DC does (until "One More Day"), and I think it's a good point. One thing I liked about Identity Crisis is that while it changed some continuity, it didn't make a gigantic reboot like Infinite Crisis nor work to explain past continuity errors.

If there's one wish I could have for DC Comics, it's that they stop trying to make mistakes of the past make sense, and just move forward. Stop writing big events entrenched in stories that may or may not have taken place, and move forward with stories that deal with the here and now. It's a recipe, I think, that would benefit a DC Comics moving on in to the future.

Thanks for reading. New reviews coming Monday!

Review: Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Quest for Cosmic Boy trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tony Bedard's Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Quest for Cosmic Boy is a surprisingly complex, well-crafted comic book story. Though Bedard has a significant comic-writing track record, the only story I'd read by him was a somewhat off-the-cuff issue of Legion in the Dominator War trade, and I was worried how a full set of issues would work out. Quest for Cosmic Boy, as it turns out, was not what I was expecting--it was better.

In The Quest for Cosmic Boy, newly-elected Legion leader Supergirl is encouraged by Brainiac 5 to send three teams of three Legionnaires out to look for the missing Cosmic Boy. On Winath, Lightning Lad's home planet, Brainiac sets up Mekt Ranzz to take the blame for Cosmic Boy's supposed war crimes; on Lallor, Brainiac has the team rescue abandoned Legionairre Wildfire; and on Earth, he arranges for Supergirl to return to her own time.

There's no resolution for Cosmic Boy in these pages; instead, Quest for Cosmic Boy turns out in the end to be a deceptively complicated Brainiac 5 story--and that, we might say, is how Brainiac 5 stories should be. With "Rashomon"-like skill, Bedard weaves four or five stories, moving backward and forward in time until Brainiac's plan comes clear in the end. This makes for confusing storytelling initially--at first I thought Bedard glossed over events far too quickly--but every piece and string is masterfully fit and tied by the end.

That said, most of the plot here works to tie up loose ends from the "Dominator War" storyline. There's not much here to attract new readers, who're probably better off starting with the first Jim Shooter trade to come, or even with the next Legion reboot. As has often been a problem in the various Legion remakes, this book spends a little too much time on Legion in-jokes, like the ERG-1 talking about the Legion "starting a wildfire" or Tenzil Kem's eating abilities. I also felt like some characterization was lost in both Bedard and Mark Waid's Legion stories, under the assumption that the reader already knows who these characters are from past Legion incarnations--how and why the Wanderers have a Coluan* who's not as smart as Brainiac 5, or what the deal is with Jeyra Entinn, is never fully explained.

Not only does Mark Waid hand the reigns to Tony Bedard in this trade, by the way, but Dennis Calero takes over for Barry Kitson. In contract to Kitson's mainly straightforward super-heroic art, Calero's work is far darker and more shadowy, colored with a watercolor palette. It's an unlikely choice for Legion of Super-Heroes, but one that I thought worked quite well for this in-between storyline. I wouldn't mind seeing Calero elsewhere, either on a story with a tone that lends itself better to his art, or even as a change on another super-hero book.

Me, I'm a sucker for continuity, and one difficulty I've always had with Legion incarnations is how, being in the future, the title often doesn't have any connection to the DCU proper. Well, between Booster Gold's cameo in the last trade and the ties to World War III here, I've been impressed with how this Legion has been integrated with the DC Universe (even as it may not last that much longer). I only wish there'd been a way for Legion to actually influence World War III, like Brainiac 5 actually having a hand in defeating Black Adam, perhaps. But overall, I've enjoyed the series's relevance.

[Contains full covers]

The Quest for Cosmic Boy doesn't move this Legion title forward much, but it's a nice interlude in this Legion incarnation, especially as the clock begins to run out on it. It's also helped to cement Tony Bedard's reputation for me, and I'll be eager to see what he does next.

* What's Brainiac 5's favorite drink? A Coluan and cream! Ha!

Trade Perspectives: What DiDio's done for DC

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's been a fascinating week in comics-news-dom with the rumors of Dan DiDio's firing. Rich Johnston at Comic Book Resources put it best that "based on nothing but fan discontent based on message board postings, this wishful thinking was whipped around the internet long enough until people convinced themselves that it was going to happen, even reaching outside of the fan community."

In and of itself, the fan blowup over the DiDio rumors is an amazing phenomenon, and one worthy of further study. But we come here today, as they say, not to bury Dan DiDio (or analyze comics fandom), but to praise him. I've spent the week, frankly, wondering if I'm reading the same DC Comics as everyone else -- personally, I think Dan DiDio has DC Comics producing its best work in years.

Let's talk about it. My reasons follow; if you agree or disagree, please leave a comment below -- or better, post on your own blog, link to this post, and email me (address at right) to let me know about it. I'll post a list of the responses later.

My reasons are these:

1) DiDio revitalized the summer event crossover. Say what you will about violence or tone or art delays, Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis were riveting. Were you ever as interested, in the reading, with Genesis, or Joker: Last Laugh? Maybe there's too many crossover titles, maybe crossovers are too expensive -- but under DiDio's DC Comics reign, crossovers have been good.

2) DiDio has created greater continuity inside the DC Universe. You may not have liked when Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord, but the confluence of Wonder Woman, Superman, and The OMAC Project was inspired. You may not have liked that Bart Allen died, but when Countdown, Flash #13, and the end of Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga all hit at the same time, I think it really did break the Internet in half for a minute. You may not like the events happening in the DCU (and sometimes, you're not supposed to), but you can't deny that the universe is more cohesive than ever before, and personally that's something I enjoy.

3) DiDio puts emphasis on a good story. Superman: Last Son is by all accounts a debacle, but you have to admire the goal: delaying the story until the original writer and artist could finish it; ditto on Wonder Woman and other titles. Additionally, DiDio's been a big supporter of "indie" DC Comics, those titles with low sales but cult following like Manhunter and Blue Beetle. This, too, was something missing from DC Comics in the Chase and Damage days, and something I think we want to encourage.

Agree? Disagree? Again, let's talk. If you'd like to respond, please leave a comment below, or post to your own blog and let me know by email, and I'll link to your response. Thanks!

Review: Helmet of Fate trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 23, 2008

If you're a big fan, perhaps, of the Golden Age characters reborn in the Helmet of Fate miniseries, you might find the trade paperback collection worthwhile. I'm not, and so while all the stories found here are entertaining in a Showcase or 80-Page Giant anthology type-way, I don't have much to recommend purchasing this trade over the next one on your list.

The premise is that, after the events of the Day of Vengeance Infinite Crisis special, Dr. Fate's helmet travels from the Shadowpact's Detective Chimp to the new Sargon the Sorcerer, Birds of Prey's Black Alice, the new Ibis the Invincible, and the JLA's Zauriel. I spoil very little that you couldn't already figure out by revealing that none of these, ultimately, become the new Dr. Fate. Indeed, even though we know the Fate story picks up in the late Steve Gerber's Countdown to Mystery miniseries, there's no hint of what's to come at the end of this trade; Fate's story remains unresolved.

Of the stories, one of my favorites was Gerber's decidedly horror-story take on the angel Zauriel, something we haven't quite seen before (was I the only one craving Bloodwynd here?); art by Starman's Peter Snejbjerg doesn't hurt, either. Horror writer Steve Niles recreates Sargon the Sorcerer, while fantasy writer Tad Williams takes Ibis; of these, Williams's Ibis has a stronger character (a bullied American-Egyptian teenager gains magical powers), though the story itself is overall generic. Gail Simone's Black Alice story shows the aftermath of the character's mother's resurrection in Birds of Prey, while Bill Willingham's Detective Chimp story is cute all around.

Certainly, there's a wealth of talent here; the above are joined by cover artist Brian Bolland and more. Still, one gets the sense that nothing established in this trade is likely to be touched upon again, making the effort seem a little futile. This is, to be sure, a DC Comics magic character anthology, and if you like anthologies, this might be for you. Me, we all know I'm too much of a crossover fan; a disconnected trade like this just doesn't do it for me.

(Jim Roeg at Double Articulation offers a cogent run-down of many of the good things about Helmet of Fate, a lot of which I agree with.)

[Contains full covers.]

On now to a bit of Legion of Super-Heroes, and then we'll see what's on the shelf from there.

DC Comics Trade Paperbacks for Early 2009

Friday, June 20, 2008

In addition to a couple of books we already knew about, including the deluxe version of Batman: RIP and Superman: Brainiac, here's some additional collections coming from DC in early 2009:

- Batman and the Outsiders: The Snare - the second collection of the new Batman and the Outsiders.

- Batman: The Return of Hush - Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen's upcoming Hush story

- Batman: The Strange Deaths of Batman - by various; looks to be a collection of classic "I killed Batman" stories (Ten of a Kind, anyone?)

- Birds of Prey: Club Kids - a new Tony Bedard collection, with likely the Dark Side Club issues

- Black Lightning Year One - not yet solicited, this one's by Jan Van Meter and Cully Hamner

- Catwoman: The Long Road Home - the last five or six issues of the Will Pfeifer run

- Checkmate: Chimera - the beginning of the new Bruce Jones run

- Eclipso: The Music of the Spheres - collects the Countdown to Mystery backup by Matthew Sturges

- Flash: Emergency Stop - a collection of late 1990s Flash stories by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison that appeared mid-Mark Waid's run, including the well-regarded Black Flash storyline.

- Huntress: Year One

- Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come, Part 3 - Three parts? How long is this storyline?

- Manhunter: Forgotten - the next Marc Andreyko Manhunter trade. "Forgotten," perhaps, as in "Gone for a while, but not ..."?

- Nightwing: Gemini Rising - the new team of Peter Tomasi and Rags Morales

- The Question: Welcome to Oz - the next Dennis O'Neil collection

- Robin: The Final Fight - by Chuck Dixon and Chris Batista. There's also Robin: Violent Tendencies on the horizon prior to this.

- Supergirl: Way of the World - the next Kelley Puckett trade

- Superman: Atlas - a hardcover that credits both James Robinson and Jack Kirby, so this must reprint Kirby's story where Atlas first appeared.

- Superman: Shadows Linger - the next Kurt Busiek Superman trade. May contain the Insect Queen story.

- Vigilante: City Lights, Prairie Justice - a mid-1990s miniseries by James Robinson, starring the Greg Saunders Vigilante

- Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth - the next Gail Simone collection

I'm pretty excited about that Superman: Atlas hardcover; don't know if I'll pick up Flash: Emergency Stop, but it's nice to see that era get some coverage. What'll be on your buy list?

Review: Shadowpact: Cursed trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I read Bill Willingham's Shadowpact wanting it to be his Fables, and unfortunately, it's not Fables. Even as I enjoy Shadowpact, at times it's hard for me to believe this is the same writer as Fables, just as it was hard for me to believe during Willingham's run on Robin. Ultimately, however, I thought Shadowpact: Cursed was a story superior to Shadowpact: The Pentacle Plot, and the end did leave me eager for the next volume.

One jarring thing about Bill Willingham's Robin stories were the short, jarring scenes, and this gets even worse in the second chapter of Shadowpact. Sometimes Willingham would jump back and forth between different scenes in Robin with only a page's difference, and rather than packing more story into each chapter, it just made the whole thing feel unfocused. In Shadowpact: Cursed, this is raised to a level of inanity--each scene begins with a narration box that reads, for example, "In Gotham City," but then when it switches the next box reads "Back in Gotham City ... again," and "Still in Gotham City." The writer, it seems, recognizes the choppiness and embraces it, when he might as well just cut it out. Rather than making Shadowpact seem boyant, which I think is the goal, it translates to a poor reading experience.

On the other hand, it wasn't until I re-read Shadowpact: The Penacle Plot that I got how Willingham starts each chapter with a bit of introduction from the Phantom Stranger. Like EC Comics of old, this gives each chapter of Shadowpact a Tales from the Crypt introduction, and I enjoyed it very much; it also helped, in Pentacle Plot, to lessen the need for chapter breaks and help the book to read like a graphic novel. Unfortunately, Shadowpact: Cursed has the issue covers breaking the chapters; I never quite thought before about the impact of covers within the trade, but now I'm sure I'm against it. I'd rather see a cover gallery at the end, and pretend I'm reading one big story in the trade.

In terms of story, Shadowpact: Cursed begins with the Shadowpact united in a fight against the Demon Etrigan, but most of the story follows just Blue Devil, Nightshade, and a couple of mostly-new magical heroes battling to retrieve Blue Devil's trident from Hell. My inclination would be to prefer to see the Shadowpact together rather than these new heroes, but Willingham does a good job introducing them and making me want to learn more about the DC Universe's other magical denizens. As well, although the Enchantress doesn't take a front-seat role in this story, her efforts to keep alive an injured Nightmaster were surprisingly touching.

Just as Ragman got his own issue in The Pentacle Plot, both Nightmaster and Blue Devil get special focus here. Blue Devil is an old favorite of mine, though nothing really new is revealed about him; Nightmaster learns, however, about the legacy and increased powers of his sword. With Ragman, Willingham showed how his seemingly evil powers were really a blessing; similarly with Nightmaster, Willingham shows how the hard-luck hero is actually part of a majestic legacy. One of the tenets of the Shadowpact group is that they're second-hand heroes doomed to fail, but Willingham continues to show in these profiles how the heroes are stronger than even they themselves may think.

Shadowpact also appears to be unlikely ground for Willingham to examine what it's like to be a hero in the DC Universe. Increasingly the Shadowpact has been faced with media coverage, even when reporters can't quite get their names right, and Metropolis even built a memorial to the Shadowpact when they supposedly died. In Cursed, the Shadowpact reveals their three rules of superheroing--which involve saving bystanders first, themselves second, and the villains third--and some controversy brews about these rules among the rest of the super-hero community. I know the Justice League appears in the next Shadowpact volume, and I'm eager to see if this comes up; by tying Shadowpact to a "real world" issue like media scrutiny, Willingham makes this "magic" title far more accessible than some of its predecessors.

If I'm hard on Shadowpact, it's only because I've become accustomed to greatness from Bill Willingham. Shadowpact: Cursed ends with a light cliffhanger note, and while I felt this story had its flaws, the end made me eager for the next volume. I've also seen, unfortunately, that Shadowpact is cancelled with issue #25, though hopefully DC will collect the last issues in a final volume. I'll say again that Shadowpact has been in my opinion DC's most accessible magic title in a long time, and I'm sorry it won't be around for much longer.

[Contains full covers.]

We'll stay on the magic train a little longer with Helmet of Fate, and on then maybe to some Legion. Thanks for reading!

13 on Countdown ... Nah!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

First, thanks to everyone who commented or emailed in support of Collected Editions' 13 on 52 series; Spacebooger most recently linked over, but I know there's been more. Writing the thirteen-word summaries fun and interesting and challenging, and I'm glad I undertook it.

The obvious sequel would be "13 on Countdown to Final Crisis" (or possibly "51 Words on Countdown to Final Crisis #51," counting down from there). I thought about it long and hard, and ultimately I've decided not to.

The decision goes back to some of the impetus of creating Collected Editions. In part, I started Collected Editions as a place where I could talk with other fans about trade paperbacks as if they were monthly comics. That is, we wouldn't look at Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter as if it were issues #104 through #108 of Birds of Prey, but rather as the next volume of the Birds of Prey saga -- looking at each trade as an issue, if you will.

This is also something I try to accomplish in my reviews, examining each trade paperback as a whole entity, like a regular novel. Each Stephenie Meyer book may be one in a series, for instance, but each gets reviewed on its own merits; that's how I wanted to look at trade paperbacks as well.

I broke from this for 52 in part because it was such a cool concept, a weekly comic book series that actually corresponded with the months and weeks of the year. There was something magical, I thought, about the original 52 reading experience, reading the Halloween issue on Halloween and the Father's Day issue on Father's Day. The dates didn't quite line up when I went through 52 with "13 on 52" a year later, but it still approximated the 52 experience.

One of the big differences between 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis is that, while 52 was a year without the Big Three, Countdown to Final Crisis is a year inside the DC Universe, literally. 52's linear connection to the outside world is what made it special; Countdown to Final Crisis's connection to the events of the DCU is what makes it special. In that vein, I'm more interested in reading Countdown to Final Crisis in conjunction with other DCU storylines than I am in having the weekly reading experience (hence, to start, my Countdown to Final Crisis trade paperback timeline).

So, what you'll see here not too long from now is a review of Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 1, followed later by reviews of the second, third, and fourth volumes. My aim will be to review each book as if it were a book, on its own self-contained merits, and see how it reads. This is pretty much business as usual at Collected Editions, but it never hurts to restate it. I'll also be taking a close look as I go at how various other DC Comics trade paperbacks cross over and coincide with the Countdown to Final Crisis trade paperbacks.

And as for Wednesdays? The general schedule for Collected Editions has been new reviews on Mondays and Thursdays, and "13 on 52" on Wednesdays. Now? I'm not sure. I take it as something of a challenge to come up with some new and interesting stuff for Wednesdays. I might not have something every week, but I will a lot, and if you have any suggestions, please don't hesitate to comment or email me at the email address on the sidebar.

It feels good, going into this next era. Collected Editions has been on a little over three years, and I find myself with renewed excited for the upcoming comics, trade paperbacks, and storylines coming up, mostly Countdown to Final Crisis leading in to Final Crisis and beyond. Thanks to everyone who's read and supported this blog; I appreciate every one of you.

That's it. A new review coming tomorrow. Take care of yourselves.

Review: Robin: The Big Leagues trade paperback

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Reading Robin: The Big Leagues, I had an undeniable sense of the Tim Drake Robin character finally coming in to his own. The Big Leagues isn't perfect -- in fact, Robin: Teenage Wasteland is by far the more superior collection of Adam Beechen's Robin run -- but what Beechen establishes here in terms of both Tim's youth and his maturity, as well as his new post-Infinite Crisis relationship with Batman, is remarkably interesting and inspiring.

Adam Beechen's exploration of Batman and Robin's new father-and-son status breathes new life into their partnership. The Big Leagues collects five issues; the middle three pit Robin against a team of vengeful super-villains, while the first and last focus on Tim's two fathers -- Bruce Wayne and the late Jack Drake -- and taken together, these are deeply emotional stories. In the first, Tim tries almost desperately to make a good impression on what is essentially Bruce Wayne's first-ever Father's Day; in the last, Tim re-establishes his commitment to do Jack Drake proud. Beechen demonstrates here a masterful understanding of the forces moving Tim Drake at this time -- what he's lost, what he's gained, and how all of that motivates him sometimes even at cross purposes.

Given that we're used to Robin living under the same roof as Batman, as Dick Grayson and Jason Todd did, it's sometimes easy to overlook the magnitude of the idea that Tim Drake is now Bruce Wayne's son, even if adopted. This is something no Robin (Nightwing aside) could ever say: Robin is now Batman's son. Beechen, I think, gets this -- though Bruce's concern for Tim in this trade may come off a little overdone, the point is to demonstrate how Bruce has become really, truly paternal. In the final scene, Batman makes his own commitment to Jack Drake to take care of Tim, and it's a gigantically powerful moment.

The mid-section of this trade has Robin fighting a bunch of bad guys brought together by Dodge, Tim Drake's spurned protege. I give Beechen points here once again for demonstrating the "new" Robin that functions with full faith from Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and also for bringing back some of the anonymous villains from the end of Bill Willingham's Robin stories. Unfortunately the story's not terribly meaningful short of Robin's interactions with Dodge, and even there it seems like Beechen writes Dodge out mainly because of the end of Beechen's Robin run. The surprise Teen Titan cameos here also would have been more effective were they not telegraphed in the initial trade paperback artwork.

Mostly because of Batgirl issues, Adam Beechen's work on Robin has been controversal and often decried; personally, I think it was fantastic, my favorite since Chuck Dixon (and I couldn't be happier that Beechen is soon to be writing Batgirl herself). I look forward to reading his work on Teen Titans, given how much I enjoyed him here.

[Contains cover thumbnails.]

On now to Shadowpact. Thanks for reading!

My Unsolicited Take on the Chuck Dixon/DC Comics Split

Thursday, June 12, 2008

By now you've heard from any of a number of sources about Chuck Dixon's terse board message announcing his departure from DC Comics.

I'm sure Mr. Dixon has his own reasons for the split, and the last thing he needs are uninformed knee-jerk opinions from some blogger (namely me). But ... if Avi Green is right, and Dixon is leaving because he's upset about how Batman RIP changes his Batman and the Outsiders plans, my take is this:

First, when you play major league baseball, and your coach tells you to hit a home run, you hit a home run. Alternatively, if the coach tells you to make a sacrifice play to bring another runner home, you take one for the team. When you're writing for DC-freaking-Comics, you don't balk at being asked to take part in crossovers, you make the best of it; this is what makes Geoff Johns, Geoff Johns.

Second, when you write for DC or Marvel, or really any company where the characters appear on Underoos, you're playing in their sandbox, with their toys. If they say Superman needs to grow a third arm today, man, you ask, "How many fingers?"; they say Spider-Man's going to wear polka-dots, you ask, "Pink or purple?" And you can be assured, any big changes you make to a character, they're going to be undone one of these days. Anyone who thinks differently is kidding themselves.

This has been your unsolicited opinion moment for the afternoon. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Review: 52, Volume 4 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Worlds died and, for a change, worlds lived. I've finished reading 52, Volume 4, and I'd say that of the four volumes, volume 4 was my second favorite, just short of volume 1 (with volume 3 vying for the second spot, and volume 2 in last place). In volume 4 I think the team finally found the right balance between single-character stories and multi-hero adventures, done-in-one stories and cross-issue tales. 52 still struggled to find its footing even in the end, but I found the conclusion quite satisfying overall.

In the fourth volume, Steel rescues Natasha from Lex Luthor, though Luthor later makes plans to escape the charges. Sobek eats Osiris, revealing himself to be one of the Four Horsemen; Isis is killed in battle with the Horsemen, and charges Black Adam to avenge her. Isis's death brings Renee Montoya to Kahndaq, and then to Gotham, where Bruno Manheim has kidnapped Batwoman; Renee becomes the Question and joins Nightwing to save Batwoman. Black Adam attacks Bialya and then Oolong Island, where he's captured by the mad scientists; the JSA rescues him, but his rampage brings about World War III. The space heroes are reunited with their families; Ralph Dibny is killed fighting Neron, but returns as a ghost with his wife, Sue. Booster Gold, Rip Hunter, and Skeets stop Mr. Mind from devouring the Multiverse.

I noted week 51, included in this volume, as one of my favorites of the series. Along with art by Joe Bennett, who I think really distinguished himself as the 52 artist in the series, issue 51 has a great mix of humor, sadness, character cameos, and short (but not choppy) scenes with a number of characters. Compare this issue, for instance, with week 40, which is almost entirely devoted to Steel and Luthor, and just feels too long. 52, in my opinion, worked better when treated as a mini-series, with numerous ongoing plotlines, rather than when treated like a monthly series with "issues." I know the next weekly series, Countdown, has been plagued by its problems, too, but it'll be interesting to see how the pacing matches up.

I expected the various storylines at the end of 52 to overlap Robert Altman-style, and I was a little disappointed that they didn't. Sure, we got the shout-out to the various plotlines in the end, but I spent much of my reading-time trying to figure out how Steel would become involved in the Booster Gold story, and the like. Ultimately, I guess, you can draw a tie through the stories--Skeets attacked Infinity, Inc., Renee met Black Adam--but I expected the heroes to all end up together. Then again, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing how, in this way, 52 becomes a lot like Seven Soldiers--each 52 character played their part in saving the universe, without ever meeting.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the return of the Multiverse to DC Comics lore. I'm not opposed to it, let's say, but at the same time I recollect well that the Multiverse was abolished in the first place because it just became too confusing, and I have little faith that this won't happen again; let's face it, continuity falls apart almost constantly, and the Multiverse just offers more opportunities for that. But as I said in my review of 52: The Companion, I do like how DC's lately making Golden and Silver Age stories back "in continuity" now, and the return of the Multiverse contributes to that. Let's look at it like the return of Superman's super-intelligence: I like the idea, and I trust the writers who came up with it; we'll just have to see how it plays out from there.

[Contains full covers, "Previously ..." section, commentary, sketchbooks.]

Thanks for tuning in for the Collected Editions 52 reviews, and for spending these 52 weeks with us; it's been a blast! Keep your radars tuned to Collected Editions; more reviews on the way!

13 on 52: Week Fifty-Two

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 3.)

Thirteen words for Week Fifty-Two: Mr. Mind silly, but yay Multiverse's return! With Ghost Detectives, new Elongated Man?

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Fifty-Two? Post them here!

Review: World War III trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, June 09, 2008

DC Comics's World War III, the mini-series taking place before Week 50 in 52, makes unquestionably for a somewhat awkward collection. While I understand's DC's decision not to put World War III in the fourth 52 collection and break up the story's flow, it's hard to believe anyone but 52 readers are going to buy the World War III trade. JSA and Black Adam fans will find much to enjoy here, though they too are probably already reading 52; however, longtime Martian Manhunter fans should take note, as World War III works to bridge the changes between the old and new J'onn; the Manhunter functions here in a framing copacity that I found completely congruous with J'onn's general portrayal.

Ultimately, the goal of World War III was to bridge the 52-One Year Later gap where the 52 series itself failed. Any of a number of series get the assist here, from the JSA to Checkmate and the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, Supergirl, Firestorm, the Spectre and more. For the most part I found these assists somewhat unnecessary--the Batgirl/Deathstroke meeting hardly explains more about Cassandra's change, nor is Donna Troy wearing Wonder Woman's armor explained; Jason Todd taking on Nightwing's persona was explained in that title, and hardly needed repetition here. Others, like the scene with the Kate Spencer Manhunter and with Checkmate/the Suicide Squad, were so tied to plotlines in those respective titles as to make them inscruitable.

As a 52 fan, I'd say that I did enjoy World War III. The sheer scope of the destruction shown, and the number of heroes that appear, makes a nice counterpoint to the splash page at the end of Infinite Crisis, showing all the heroes who will fill in for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But while World War III is a good Martian Manhunter story, if nothing else, I hardly felt like it was integral to the 52 story; if DC has decided simply not to publish World War III, I hardly think we would have missed it. For the 52 completists, go ahead; for others, consider borrowing this one from the library instead.

[Contains full covers, 52 summary.]

Our review of 52, Volume Four coming Thursday!

Review: Nightwing: The Lost Year trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Again, it's always a good thing to see Marv Wolfman, verily the creator of Nightwing, take the reigns on this character's series. And in Nightwing: The Lost Year, as with Nightwing: Love and War, Wolfman tries hard to address and explain some of the factors that have made the Nightwing character feel somewhat aimless of late, and contributed to what many would agree is an overall decline in the book. Unfortunately, while Wolfman tells a story that felt to me far more natural to Nightwing than Love and War did, I was still left with a sense of having seen most of it before.

In Nightwing: The Lost Year, Nightwing must discover whether Liu and Metal Eddie, members of a ninja gang Dick Grayson joined while estranged from Bruce Wayne, have returned to crime after being released from jail, or whether they're being targeted by a new Vigilante with ties to the old Teen Titans foe. What follows is two parallel stories, one of Nightwing solving the mystery in the present, and the other of a conflicted Dick Grayson falling in love with Liu and sorting out his conflicted relationship with Batman.

With help from a Nightwing Annual by Marc Andreyko at the beginning of this trade, the story argues that Dick Grayson's betrayal by Liu during these formative years became the basis for his later faulty relationships with Starfire and Barbara Gordon. In the way in which Wolfman delves into Dick's unrecorded past in order to try to explain his present, it's a creative, well-intentioned try.

Unfortunately, what Wolfman attempts here has the effect of moving Nightwing backward, even as it tries to move him forward. We've already discussed how Bruce Jones's Nightwing in Nightwing: Brothers in Blood is hardly the kind of guy you'd want to spend time with; Marc Andreyko's Dick Grayson in this trade is also pretty sleazy, if well-intentioned. When you couple that with Marv Wolfman's contention that Dick's youthful indiscretions with Liu lead to his later failed relationships (Wolfman even puts to question the old chestnut that Starfire was Dick's first sexual experience), the argument becomes that it's not that Nightwing's become a little lost lately, in this retcon he's actually been lost all along. I realize DC's flailing in trying to reconnect the Nightwing character with audiences, but this feels like the wrong direction.

Wolfman returns as well to another of his creations, that of Vigilante. I wasn't familiar with the Vigilante most referenced here, Adrian Chase, and even my recollection of Pat Trayce (who used to hang out with Deathstroke) is a little spotty, though I think the character's costume and concept is interesting overall. On one hand, Wolfman doesn't require detailed knowledge of Vigilante for the reader to enjoy this story, but on the other, what few clues we're given about the Vigilante's identity absolutely require detailed Vigilante knowledge. Moreover (to spoil it), the identity of this new Vigilante is not revealed at the end of the story, which did feel to me like a letdown. It's another way that Nightwing: The Lost Year tries very hard, but ultimately can't break out of the weakness that's lately affected the Nightwing title.

What Nightwing: The Lost Year has going for it is that it's, for the most part, a straightforward Nightwing story. Wolfman, perhaps knowing how many issues he had to play with before the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossover, eschews the one- or two-issue stories he wrote in Love and War; in that way, this book reads more as a graphic novel than a collection of issues. Second, the story is more an urban vigilante mystery than the super-heroic, sometimes supernatural tales in Love and War, which feels more suited to Nightwing overall.

Birds of Prey was a comic that, amazingly, rebounded after creator Chuck Dixon left, becoming even stronger under Gail Simone; Robin is a title that's had fits and starts since Dixon left, but ultimately remains strong. Nightwing, unfortunately, has just never regained the oomph that it had under Dixon, but I remain hopeful that maybe the next team will be the trick. Hopefully.

[Contains full covers.]

On now to the final volume of 52, the next Robin trade, and then perhaps some Shadowpact. Be there or be square!

13 on 52: Week Fifty-One

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 3.)

Thirteen words for Week Fifty-One: Perfect versatile issue. Bennett rules 52. Love Buddy's return, reason for Robin's duds.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Fifty-One? Post them here!

Review: Fallen Angel: Down to Earth trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 02, 2008

I'm one of those fans, admittedly, who picked up Peter David's Fallen Angel because of David's decidedly brilliant choice to model the Angel after the Supergirl of his recently cancelled series. That tie, however, wasn't ultimately enough to keep the series afloat, nor did it help that the title existed in a somewhat strange midway between the DC Universe proper and DC's mature Vertigo imprints. I wonder how Fallen Angel might fare if it were released now in our post-Infinite Crisis era of more mature titles like Checkmate and Secret Six.

The second Fallen Angel trade, Down to Earth, doesn't answer many more questions about who the Angel Lee is (though her former life as Linda Danvers seems less certain all the time), but it does provide more details as to how Lee came to Bette Noire. Through a series of three connected adventures, Lee fights Black Mariah, recovers the holy shard that brought her to Bette Noire, and then bails out Mariah for having lost the shard.

These stories, combined with a "one year earlier" tale of when Lee met Doctor Juris, provide us enough background on Lee to essentially recognize just how much we don't know about her. I thought, going in to Fallen Angel, that the mystery of Lee was the mystery of how she ended up in Bette Noire; instead, it turns out that Lee is in Bette Noire by happenstance, and that her powers and the tragedy that compels her are buried far deeper. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the complex stories contained here, but in the end the mysteries of the Fallen Angel still remain.

One point in this trade finds Lee caught in the unlikely position of a receiving a scathing critique from a nun, followed by advice from the bartender Dolf (who, it's suggested, is not just a Dolf, but Adolf). Dolf suggests, with great irony, that there's no such thing as good and evil, but rather "greater" and "lesser." Lee then saves Mariah, and she's coy with her reasons for doing so. The idea Peter David presents here is one of greater and lesser evils; Lee takes the shard from Mariah because Mariah stole it, but saves Mariah because the villain that threatens Mariah is one worse than Mariah herself. This is all predicated by a chilling issue where Lee tortures Mariah for the location of the shard; to be sure, Lee works here for the greater good, but David gives the reader to understand that "greater" doesn't always mean "pleasant."

Having recently finished reading a bunch of Manhunter trades, I can't help but see similarities between Manhunter and Fallen Angel. Manhunter is certainly more of a superhero title than Fallen Angel, but the title characters share an anti-hero ethos that makes me consider again how Fallen Angel might fare as a DC title just a few years later. There's also an undeniably Manhunter-esque camaraderie that begins to grow in Fallen Angel's supporting cast toward the end of Down to Earth. Fallen Angel is populated mostly by villains, but when the Lee saves Black Mariah in Bumper's lair, it seems like something almost akin to friendship blooms between the three. I do regret that DC didn't finish collecting this series, as I'd be interested to see how these relationships continued to grow.

[Contains full covers.]

Back to the DC Universe proper now for some Nightwing and Robin. We also have Shadowpact on the horizon, and more. Stick around!