Review: Teen Titans: Titans of Tomorrow trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sean McKeever introduces a new era of the Titans with Teen Titans: Titans of Tomorrow. In comparison, this new Titans run already seems weaker than the one before, and a number of false starts hasn't helped; that said, McKeever's script doesn't have many egregious problems, and a couple of bright spots do give hope for Teen Titans going forward.

In one of DC Comics's strongest recent eras, the early lead-in to Infinite Crisis, Geoff Johns revitalized what seemed to be a terminal DC franchise, the Teen Titans, mainly by populating it with A-list characters. Gone were the alien Titan clones and even the newer New Titans like Pantha and Baby Wildebeest, in favor of characters more in line with the classic Titans and even the Justice League: Superboy, Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash. The first new Teen Titans collection, by Johns with Mike McKone, A Kid's Game, deserves its place as a new classic.

Post-Infinite Crisis, however, Teen Titans lacks much of that star power. Robin and Wonder Girl remain with the team; however, new members included the Blue Devil-sidekick Kid Devil, Deathstroke's children Ravager and Jericho, and the J'onn J'onzz-inspired Miss Martian. They're each interesting in their own right, but overall Titans lacks the verve of Johns' initial run. Now in Titans of Tomorrow, we find the team line-up changing again, with Jericho out and Blue Beetle and Supergirl in. The latter are popular characters in their own right, but the number of changes so soon into the One Year Later era make it feel like this title's still trying to find its equilibrium.

None of this is necessarily the fault of writer McKeever, though this repetitive story (which McKeever apparently inherited from Johns) does little to excite the franchise. As with Teen Titans: The Future is Now, the present-Titans encounter a team of their doppelgangers from the future, and for the most part there's not even the moral ambiguity of the first tale; it's pretty clear the Titans from the future are bad and the Titans from the present are good. As with the earlier tale, the future Titans spout vague warnings of the next DC crossover (then, Infinite Crisis; now, Final Crisis), though it's even less clear here than before what the future Titans need of the past ones, or why the future Titans former enemies, Titans East, now fight alongside them.

Additionally, it's quite tiring that McKeever splits the Titans to individually fight their future selves, much as Johns just did having the Titans fight their evil counterparts in Teen Titans: Titans East. (This, as I understand it, is the second in an unintentional string of three-such stories, followed by a fight with the Terror Titans in Teen Titans: On the Clock.) Also as with Titans East and Titans Around the World, Wonder Girl appears as a weepy, dramatic stereotype, mourning the loss of Superboy, a far cry from the strong leader Peter David wrote in Young Justice. McKeever offers some closure on Wonder Girl's mourning in this story, hopefully for good. It's OK for the characters to miss Superboy, but it all borders heavily on melodrama.

What I did like, and what I look forward to in the next trade, is the budding dynamics McKeever creates between the characters. Kid Devil steals nearly every scene he's in, and his affection for Ravager makes both his character more appealing, and hers. Blue Beetle rounds out the trio, and the running gag where everyone treats Beetle as a Titans member even though he hasn't actually been invited is very funny. As well, that Blue Beetle are destined to have the same kind of legendary friendship as the former Blue Beetle and Booster Gold is apparent from the moment the two hit the page together, and I'm eager to see where this goes (the only difficulty is that it seems Robin is slowly becoming the least interesting character on his own team). McKeever also picks up Miss Martian's voice perfectly from Johns, and she fills well the supernatural role previously held by the Titan's Raven and Young Justice's Secret.

Titans of Tomorrow sports a number of art teams, not even counting guest spots by George Perez, Mike McKone, and Todd Dezago in the issue #50 tribute scenes. Of these, I liked Ale Garza's youthful, cartoony art the best. I liked least the heavy, dark, sketchy art of Eddy Barrows, though I enjoyed what I've seen of upcoming issues better than what I saw here. Unfortunately, the inconsistent art only reinforces my sense that Teen Titans still struggles to find itself post-Infinite Crisis; I can only hope it all gets figured out soon.

[Contains full covers]

Connected with Titans of Tomorrow, we'll now turn to Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars, and then maybe some Trials of Shazam from there.
Collected Editions 2015 Comic Book Gift Guide

Review: Supergirl: Beyond Good and Evil trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You may want to skip Supergirl: Beyond Good and Evil and the following trade, Supergirl: Way of the World, and just start with the Sterling Gates creative team that comes along after. After Joe Kelly's madcap, just-so-wrong-it's-right take on Supergirl in Supergirl: Identity, writer Kelley Puckett and artist Drew Johnson offer a more traditional take on Kara Zor-El that ultimately has less controversy ... but also seemingly less substance.

I firmly believe that Kelley Puckett's run on Batgirl, along with art by Damion Scott, should be listed as a definitive Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) creative team. It was obvious Puckett understood the character, writing a series of nearly-silent one-shot issues that developed Batgirl while remaining true to the core of the character. To this end, I expected very much to enjoy Puckett's work on Supergirl; he's shown he can write young, female characters in an even, unexploitive, interesting way.

The difficulty is that Puckett writes Supergirl here almost as if she were Batgirl. There's great, great swaths of silent pages here, as Supergirl exchanges knowing glances with Superman as she looks back into Krypton's past, or fights the classic Supergirl-villain Reactron (in a new, fairly generic form). This silence only reinforces the plainness of Puckett's Supergirl story; as opposed to Joe Kelly's bad-girl Supergirl, Puckett's Supergirl has an equal stranger-in-a-strange world vibe, but shows it only through the generic superhero tropes of saving civilians and battling bad guys.

Puckett, to his credit, is moving toward a larger tale where Supergirl, bucking traditional superhero tropes, tries to cure a disease-ridden boy instead of just stopping robbers. This is not new territory, though Puckett does imbue it with some suspense, as in the final pages an alien whisks Supergirl off to a future she's destined to destroy by aiding the boy in the present. Unfortunately, this glimmer of uniqueness comes only at the end of this tale, and it takes a while (a long, silent while) to get there.

Indeed, the middle of the story has Supergirl looking back on Krypton such that she sees her father sending her to Earth -- an origin story that conflicts with Joe Kelly's origin just one trade earlier. I understand the thematic reason for this, as Supergirl's seeing Krypton die again makes her that much more determined to save the dying child, but again it's a far less edgy, more "vanilla" origin for Supergirl than what DC Comics recently established. Over in the Superman titles, Geoff Johns has slowly rolled out a new vision of Krypton, and my guess is that Supergirl needs to be revamped to go along with that; it's an awkward post-post-Infinite Crisis retcon (a la the current second revamp of Hawkman) that would no doubt confuse more casual readers.

While we're on the topic, I also continue to be bugged by how writers portray Superman in the Supergirl title as this worrying fogey. I distinctly remember a conversation between Superman and the Kon-El Superboy where Superman talks about his love for Metallica albums and dance contests; Kon saw Superman as a friend and mentor, not as a third wheel. I don't mind some conflict between Superman and Supergirl, but as a fan of both titles, it's tiring to see Supergirl groan about Superman over and over, when the reader's supposed to relate to Superman elsewhere in the DC Universe. It makes me glad Supergirl will be a greater part of the Super-family with the next creative team, as maybe things will be more aligned.

I was glad, by the way, to see Action Comics #850 reprinted at the beginning of this trade. While it suffers from some of the same "fogey Superman" troubles I mentioned above, the completist in me is glad to have it. I like the watercolor-like art from Renato Guedes here; Drew Johnson, who's work I liked on Wonder Woman, does an nice job on Supergirl, though she looked much older here than with Ale Garza or Ian Churchill.

Kelly Puckett's Supergirl isn't bad, insulting, or embarassing by any stretch ... it's just slow. I'm eager for a team that can find a balance on the character where she's not over the top, but also has interesting adventures.

[Contains full covers.]

Up next, a bit of Teen Titans (also featuring Supergirl) and then some Blue Beetle.

Review: Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's amazing, or perhaps a little sad, that a single book can demonstrate both the comics industry's increasingly progressive attitudes toward women, and also the juvenile mindsets that reinforce comic books as a boy's club instead of a medium open to everyone.

Yes, Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar on one hand spotlights the mature, rocky relationship between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance that remains one of the most interesting corners of the DC Universe. On the other hand, it devolves in the end into some pre-wedding silliness that defeats any efforts this book might otherwise make to have itself taken seriously.

Tony Bedard writes the first two parts of Road to the Altar, both an excerpt from Birds of Prey #109 and a four-part Black Canary miniseries. In the Birds of Prey pages, Bedard has Barbara Gordon play the voice of the reader, recounting every bad thing Ollie's ever done to Dinah, so as to get it all out in the open. Remarkably, it all boils down to only one true act of cheating -- and ultimately, Bedbard falls back on the "changed man" theory that I discussed alongside Green Arrow: The Road to Jericho.

Though Barbara comes off as a little shrill, the reader knows deep down that Black Canary marrying Green Arrow is borderline nonsensical, and it's nice that at least one character points it out. Black Canary invariably falls back on the argument "I love him anyway," because of course, love is inexplicable -- much like this turn of events. Still, the reader roots for Ollie and Dinah to get hitched (hoping all the while that another writer won't come along and ruin it), so the paltry explanations don't needle as much as they could.

Not to mention, the second part of this trade, the Black Canary miniseries, read like a classic Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey story -- and if Ollie and Dinah marrying means more stories like this, I'm all for it. Bedard (not, unfortunately, the regular writer on Green Arrow/Black Canary) takes on the unenviable job of writing Black Canary's adopted daughter Sin into limbo, and even though we all know what's coming, Bedard held my interest throughout. Canary goes up against perennial Green Arrow-villain Merlyn, offering a nice contrast to Ollie's battles with him; there's also a great "heist story" tone to Sin's kidnapping and Team Arrow's resolution. The final scene where Dinah accepts Ollie's proposal is, again, a little nonsensical, but it has sweet moments and stays true to the characters overall (with nice art by Paulo Siqueira, too).

And then we get to the Black Canary Wedding Planner.

I do understand that I'm taking this final chapter too seriously, and DC Comics, with writer J. Torres, meant the story to be all in fun. But where Tony Bedard's dialogue between Green Arrow and Black Canary felt serious and meaningful, Torres writes the characters as whiny and silly. I can't help but think that if, say, a Brad Meltzer fan who liked Identity Crisis heard about Green Arrow's wedding, liked how Meltzer wrote Ollie and checked out this story, they'd be flabbergasted by Torres's Wedding Planner. The jokes are repetitive and barely groan-worthy; Ollie and Dinah come off as people you'd barely want to know, let alone attend their wedding.

Not to mention, Torres ends the story with Black Canary taking her super-hero friends to try on lingerie (as if), including the most awkward, un-sexy-looking Wonder Woman panel ever. It's hard to know if Torres meant this sequence to be titillating or humorous, but it's neither; instead, it smacks of self-impressed adolescents drawing pornographic stick figures and giggling about it. I believe, ultimately, that's the impression the wider non-comics reading world has of comic books, and Torres's sequence just proves the stereotype. In a book that demonstrates the complex relationship between two long-established comics characters, the Wedding Planner sticks out at the end like a sore thumb.

Overall, however, Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar is an exciting read, better than I was expecting, and it leaves me eager for the first issue of their new series.

[Includes full covers]

On now to a bit of Supergirl, and then maybe to Teen Titans. Come join!

Review: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of the three Geoff Johns-written Superman stories I've read recently, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes is my favorite. Last Son utilized more of Superman's supporting cast, and Escape from Bizarro World was a visually intriguing look at one of Superman's classic villains -- but neither story had Superman being super like his team-up with the Legion.

There are moments in this book when you can, indeed, hear the John Williams theme playing in the background. Johns teams with new Action Comics artist Gary Frank, and together they give this story a perfect sense of pacing; in the climactic battle, Superman falls from the sky, and Frank holds the moment just long enough before Superman's triumphant rise. Frank's first real image of Superman in costume is equally iconic, as a falling Clark becomes a flying Superman, and you can just imagine the red-and-blue blur in the middle. It doesn't hurt that Frank's Superman looks remarkably like Christopher Reeve (likely intentionally), especially in profile.

I didn't necessarily feel like I got my Legion "fix" in this story, but at the same time, that left me just craving Legion stories more. Johns for the most part bypasses the Legion's "Big Three"--Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl--in favor of less iconic Legionnaires like Wildfire, Dawnstar, Colossal Boy, and Polar Boy.

As opposed to the Legion's appearance in Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga, I felt Johns mostly stayed away from Legion in-jokes and obscure references in this book; instead, the Legionnaries sniped at each other a lot (especially Wildfire), and I wasn't always sure who did or didn't like whom and why. Still, much of the fun of Legion for me is the variety of powers and costumes, and in that, Johns delivered.

I know that not too long ago I kiddingly railed against DC Comics's move to foil stamp the front of all their hardcovers. It does still annoy me -- but the holographic foil on the front case of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, I must admit, is pretty cool. I do wish there'd been more additional material in this book, though; the two-page collage of Gary Frank's sketches is pretty slim compared to what you might find elsewhere.

As with most Johns-written books, there was a strong thematic thread here, this time of isolation and the different ways the characters react to it. The main villain, Earth-Man, takes revenge on the Legion because he feels they spurned him and left him alone; Superman, meanwhile, flashes back on how isolated he felt in his childhood until the Legion took him in. Earth reaches the brink of war here because of their isolationist tendencies, contrasted with the love between Colossal Boy and Chameleon Girl. I don't know that Johns uncovers any new ground here in pointing out Superman's human-but-not-human status, but the themes and inter-relation of the plot makes the collection reading experience feel more complete.

[Contains full covers (and variant covers), introduction by Keith Giffen.]

I can't wait for the Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds (shouldn't it be universes) collection that follows this up; but even moreso, I'm curious to see the shape of the Legion that comes out of that story -- DC's set high stakes to produce a definitive Legion series, and I'm curious what they'll come up with. As for me, I'm heading toward a bit of Green Arrow/Black Canary, and then perhaps some Teen Titans from there.

DC Comics Fall 2009 Trade Paperbacks and December 2008 Solicitations

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Amazon is very slowly updating their DC Comics collections for Fall 2009. In addition to the Final Crisis hardcover we mentioned the other day, they've also got the paperback of All-Star Batman and Robin (with or without cussing?) and the hardcover Superman: New Krypton Vol. 1: Birth, beginning the Geoff Johns/James Robinson crossover.

Couple of notes on DC Comics's December 2008 solicitations:

All-Star Superman Volume 2 hardcover - Still waiting for Absolute edition. In 2009, I bet.

Batman: RIP The Deluxe Edition - I'm pretty excited about this, given it's DC's first mainstream foray into deluxe oversized editions with their hardcovers. The price isn't higher than a regular hardcover, and I'm willing to fork over the money for hardcovers when I'm getting an added benefit, like the larger size.

Eclipso: Music of the Spheres - This collects the Countdown to Mystery backup tales. Interesting that DC didn't bill this as a "Countdown" tie-in, suggesting maybe the "Countdown" label's lost its sheen. The cover image here reminds me of the 1990s Eclipso series, which is long overdue for a collection given its ties to the modern JSA series and others.

The Flash: Emergency Stop - The solicitation for this trade says it collects issues #130-135, but #135 is the third part of a crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, so this is probably incorrect. The full Grant Morrison/Mark Millar run went to issue #141.

Tune in tomorrow for more trade paperback reviews!

Final Crisis hardcover solicitation

Monday, September 15, 2008

Amazon now lists a Final Crisis hardcover for $24.99 at 240 pages, arriving in stores in June 2009. If the page count is right, and each issue of Final Crisis is 40 pages, that doesn't quite add up to seven issues ...

No confirmation of this quite yet on other sites (and strangely the listing only comes up when you search by ISBN, not any other way), but we'll keep watching. More news as it breaks ...

(Thanks to Chris Hilker for the heads up!)

Review: Superman: Escape from Bizarro World collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Eric Powell makes Superman: Escape from Bizarro World something to behold. From the zombie Bizarros on just the introductory pages, struggling en masse to be the first to ravage Superman, crawling over one another and even sticking fingers in each others' eyes in their mad rush, this book portrays Bizarro in a mad and hideous glory rarely seen before. Escape from Bizarro World itself is just three issues (rounded out by some classic Bizarro tales) and the plot itself doesn't cover much ground that other writers haven't touched previously, but it's a worthwhile experience nonetheless.

As with Superman: Last Son, Geoff Johns writes here a fully accessible Superman story. The Man of Steel gets called to Smallville when Bizarro kidnaps Pa Kent; in short order, Superman arrives on the new Bizarro World, where he finds a society of Bizarros turned against "Bizarro #1," who believes that only Pa Kent can help him make it right.

This is a current Superman story, following from Bizarro's appearance in Last Son, but it uses only the most easily recognizable Superman characters. Any casual Superman television or movie fan would have no trouble grounding themselves in this tale in short order. At the same time, Super-comics fan may find Johns' limited use of Superman's wider supporting cast a little simplistic; I'm not sure we've found a happy balance yet between Johns sticking with just Lois, Perry, and Jimmy in Action Comics, and writer Kurt Busiek's somewhat awkward use of Subjekt-13, Lana Lang, and Jenet Klyburn in Superman.

Johns writes a most effective Pa Kent here, flashing back to scenes from Clark Kent's youth where, unable to play with normal kids for fear of hurting them, Pa did his best to act as a substitute friend for his son. In the bizarre parallels between Superman and Bizarro, we also see parallels between Superman's two fathers--Superman to the holographic head of Jor-El to get advice as to how to defeat Bizarro, while Bizarro kidnaps Pa Kent for help when the Bizarro population rejects him. Even as Superman wants to abandon Bizarro, it's Pa Kent who perhaps sees some of young Clark in Bizarro, and explains to Bizarro how his super-powers come with the responsibility for caring for his (square-shaped) planet.

As an aside, I'm a bit disappointed with what the tone of these stories suggest--if foreshadowing here and in Last Son is to be believed--that Johns intends to do away with Pa Kent (no spoilers, please). Yes, I understand how Pa's death functions in Superman: The Movie and in Smallville as a way of making Clark his own man--but the comics-Superman has lived so long with Pa alive that I hardly see how it turns the story.

Johns's big contribution to the Superman mythos so far has been the floating Jor-El head (that offers a heck of a deus ex machina in a ready-made spaceship here, though cute, Eric Powell, that this resembles an early-1980s Superman Corgi toy)--killing Pa while keeping Jor-El's hologram only reinforces Superman's alienation, when the whole point is that he's adopted humanity, people, not that he's an alien! As well as Pa comes off in this story, I just can't see the logic in getting rid of him.

Escape from Bizarro World, as I mentioned, doesn't cover much new Bizarro ground. Aside from Bizarro's new Bizarro-generating "Bizarro vision," the Bizarro World is still square and the inhabitants still talk backward. Where Bizarro World gets clever is when Johns begins to examine some of the ridiculous society's subtler issues--in contrast to Superman, the inhabitants of Bizarro World hate Bizarro #1 because he saves them from danger, and Bizarro needs a secret-identity not so as to have a normal life, but so as not to be reviled. Bizarro Lois, in this iteration, loves Bizarro Clark and hates Bizarro #1, not knowing they're one and the same.

And Eric Powell's Bizarro Dawn of the Dead-rejects swarming en masse over Superman is something to behold. This may not be the definitive Bizarro story, but it may be the most visually gripping.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Brian K. Vaughan, Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71, and Man of Steel #5]

One more Superman collection to go, with Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Join us next time!

Review: Superman: 3-2-1 Action! trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For Countdown readers, Superman: 3-2-1 Action is a must-read. For everyone else, maybe not as much. Kurt Busiek continues his work on Superman here with this handful of tales about Jimmy Olsen that are at times, as with Busiek's new Olsen origin, quite affecting. At other times, however, as with Busiek's current-day story of Superman and Jimmy fighting the new Kryptonite Man, it seems Busiek struggles to rise above the inherit goofiness of Jimmy to make a cogent story, a struggle faced by the writers of Countdown as well.

The premise of 3-2-1 Action, as follows from Countdown, is that Jimmy Olsen's been receiving on-again, off-again powers and resolves to become a super-hero. Long-time Jimmy Olsen fans will recognize his powers as those that Jimmy had in the Silver Age; the super-hero name he takes, Mr. Action, is a similar throwback. Unfortunately, "Mr. Action" just sounds goofy these days, and the costume Jimmy takes is similarly goofy. Whereas in 52 Booster Gold was a funny character dealing with serious situations, in Countdown Jimmy comes off as naive and his adventures do, too, and it makes it hard for the reader to view the storyline with any importance.

Busiek, picking up from this, can't really seem to rise above the immature tone Countdown's laid out for Jimmy. Busiek's writes an interesting origin story for Jimmy, portraying him as a plucky youth akin to his friends in the Newsboy Legion; the main story, however, offers a nerdy, breathless Mr. Action who one imagines wouldn't make it on the page at all if his name weren't Jimmy Olsen. After his first outing as Mr. Action, Jimmy thinks about having defeated an "honest-to-gosh" super-villain and lusts after the "hot girls" who cheer for him -- it's a bit like reading a story about someone's immature little brother. Chuck Austen showed tremendously how Jimmy Olsen could say "gee whiz" and still be cool in Superman: Metropolis by mixing optimism with sophistication; Busiek's Jimmy has none of that sophistication.

I've so far liked Busiek's Superman himself, and there are some nice moments here, especially when Superman drops in on Metro County Hospital having overheard a conversation about the Kryptonite Man with his super-hearing. The biggest revelation in the piece, however -- Jimmy learning Superman's identity -- gets truncated so as to fit within the confines of Countdown. Superman's quick acceptance of Jimmy's knowledge, and his subsequent resolve to petition Jimmy for membership into the Justice League, seem too easy for such a momentous occasion. It all carries the same breezy tone that befits a Jimmy Olsen adventure, but that same lightness makes it hard for me to care about what's going on.

It's even more clear that Jimmy Olsen can be written "right" when you compare the main story of 3-2-1 Action to the Legends of the DCU story reprinted at the end, by Mark Evanier from a plot by Jack Kirby. Granted Evanier's Jimmy is slightly older than the one Busiek has to work with, but he's also cooler, springing to help fellow Metropolians in need without any of the "aw, shucks"-ness of Busiek's Jimmy. Evanier's Jimmy, like Kirby's Jimmy before him, is young and headstrong but has a spine, and this is a Jimmy I can enjoy; smooth, classy art by Steve Rude helps the overall tone (if you haven't read the fantastic Rude-drawn World's Finest Superman/Batman tale, run, don't walk, to get a copy).

In recreating the Superman mythos post-Infinite Crisis, Busiek applies a number of retcons to Jimmy Olsen's history. I appreciate, on one hand, Busiek making Superman more involved in the creation of Jimmy's signal watch; the Byrne version had Jimmy create the watch to summon Superman after a classmate tried to commit suicide, which is meaningful but not necessarily epic. On the other hand, we also get hints of a subplot involving Jimmy's missing parents that is less interesting, I think, than the ties to the Kirby-created Evil Factory that the Super-teams set up post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's interesting now to see the Byrne Superman mythos being swept away, with shades of how DC fans felt after the original Crisis.

To be clear, I'm glad I read 3-2-1 Action. As someone who's following Countdown, there's a bit, at least, about Jimmy's new telepathic powers that explains away some confusion from Countdown (though it's hard to say whether the explanation was by design or to resolve an editorial error in Countdown). But if you'd been on the fence about the Jimmy Olsen character, or were looking for a good self-contained Superman story to read, probably this isn't for you.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Kurt Busiek.]

Me not review Superman: Escape from Bizarro World coming up yesterday! (That'll be the end of the Bizarro-speak, I promise!)

How do you want Final Crisis collected?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

There's a conversation that you can probably skip about how fans would like to see Final Crisis collected, going on over at the DC Comics Message Boards. The trolls take over pretty quick -- at least six of the replies suggest collecting Final Crisis in some sort of trash receptacle, with a bunch of other responses shushing the previous replies.

I'm curious about this, though, and I've been watching my sources lately for some hint of how Final Crisis might be collected; with all of Countdown to Final Crisis now solicited in collected format, Final Crisis can't be far behind. And as Collected Comics Library reported, Dan DiDio said at SDCC that Final Crisis and its spin-offs will be collected "in the order that makes the most sense to everybody."

Of course, making something make sense to everybody tends, I believe, to make it make sense to nobody. My guess is that DiDio meant "everybody," as in DC Comics and not everybody as in "you and me," otherwise we'd have a mess on our hands.

Here's what I think we can expect:

* Final Crisis Companion -- the one-shots Last Will and Testament, Rage of the Red Lanterns, Requiem, Resist, and Submit

* Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds - on its own, or with Action Comics #864 ("Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes")

* Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge - on its own

* Final Crisis: Revelations - on its own

The only ones I can't figure out are Final Crisis: Superman Beyond and DC Universe #0. Superman Beyond is just two issues, too large to go in the Final Crisis collection and too small to be collected on its own. Ditto DCU #0; I'm not sure DC wants to put a non-Grant Morrison/JG Jones tale in the Final Crisis collection, but maybe so.

Either way, I think we can expect deluxe format hardcovers all around.

How would you like to see Final Crisis collected?

Review: Superman: Camelot Falls Volume 2 collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, September 08, 2008

So which is better, Superman: Camelot Falls or Superman: Last Son?

Though, again, DC Comics intended Up, Up, and Away to be the debut of the "New Earth" Superman, fans pretty quickly caught on that the real meat of the Superman relaunches was Last Son by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert, and Camelot Falls by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco. Mostly due to delays on the Last Son side, both stories had an erratic schedule in comic form, with Superman (carrying "Camelot Falls") having to step in where Action Comics ("Last Son") fell behind.

It's obvious reading Camelot Falls that this is the more "monthly" of the two Superman titles. Whereas Last Son keeps a single focus with nary a subplot that doesn't relate to the main story, Camelot Falls is obviously a collection of issues, loosely tied under the auspices of Superman's battle with Arion. In one, Superman wrangles the Fourth World "Young Gods" run amok; in another, he fights the military Squadron K, set up to stop him if he's ever mind-controlled. I don't mind the randomness of this book, necessarily; the one thing I don't want to lose in this trade-era is the monthly, rather than even-driven, feel of comics.

The difficulty with Camelot Falls is that, in acting as a monthly storyline, the book repeats its premise over and over ad nauseum. This is, again, mostly the fault of other titles, as to accommodate everything from Last Son to Countdown, "Camelot Falls" had at least a couple (likely unexpected) breaks between its chapters, with the final chapter relegated to a Superman Annual. Still, a good volume of pages at the beginning of each chapter of Camelot Falls are taken up with Superman thinking and re-thinking over his moral dilemma, until it seems that most of the book involves Superman thinking only.

And the moral dilemma that Superman faces in this book ... just isn't that interesting. Essentially, the Atlantean sorcerer Arion (who, though supposedly a younger version of the DC hero, shares few ties with the other) claims that by protecting humanity, Superman staves off a coming crisis that will only be worse when it finally arrives. Of course, Superman immediately takes this very seriously and begins to fret about his place in the world -- except the reader knows Superman's not about to pack it in, so his resolution is obvious from the beginning. What follows are pages (and pages) of Superman alone, worrying, a throwback to the "crying" Superman pre-Infinite Crisis; in contract, Geoff Johns's Superman in Last Son is equally as intelligent, but more proactive and assured.

One area where Kurt Busiek does complicate Arion's challenge is when Superman faces off against the alien Subjekt-17. The alien, whose origin closely resembles Superman's own, claims he knows where to find the missing Arion, but will only reveal the information if Superman attacks him; Subjekt-17 had previously been tortured by humans, and would only agree to help humanity by force. In a story that constantly reminds Superman that he's not human, Subjekt-17 forces Superman to side with humanity through one of their worst traits -- violence. The ending here is still fairly telegraphed -- does anyone expect Superman not to defend humanity? -- but Busiek and Pacheco do a nice job showing Superman's horror as he must beat Subjekt-17 senseless.

The first volume of Camelot Falls moved fairly swiftly, as it went from Superman's encounter with Subjekt-17 to Arion's appearance and a glimpse into a potential future. The second volume, however, dispenses with the build-up in favor of tackling the more cerebral aspects of the problem, and I'm just not sure it translates as well. Last Son, on the other hand, is a far more accessible Superman story that uses a familiar cast of Superman's friends and villains; Busiek and Pacheco do an admirable, artful job with Camelot Falls in a story that represents Superman well, but never quite achieves an epic feel.

[Contains full covers]

What's that? More Superman, you say? Well, all right! We continue with Superman: 3-2-1 Action coming up next.

Review: Superman: Last Son collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

[Review contains spoilers for Superman: Last Son]

Though Up, Up, and Away is technically the first appearance of the "New Earth" Superman, I think we can all agree that Superman: Last Son, the first solo Superman outing of current series writer Geoff Johns, bears some note. DC Comics apparently thinks so, too -- though the book didn't warrant the blind front stamping that Grant Morrison's Batman and Son got, it does have an uncharacteristic matte jacket finish and printed endsheets. With 3-D glasses included, Last Son is a pretty sharp package -- but after the long delay (see Funnybook Babylon's Last Son chronology) was it worth the wait?

About halfway through Last Son, I got to thinking that the story was somewhat uncharacteristic for a first Geoff Johns storyline. As compared to his initial arcs on Flash or Green Lantern, where was the strong sense of setting, or the interweaving of character and plot?

It wasn't until the end that I got it, that in Superman's desperate fight to save Chris Kent, son of Zod, that Superman actually saw what his own life might have been like had he not been raised by the Kents. It's this personal tie that makes Last Son more than just an action story, and I look forward to how Johns continues to explore the Man of Steel.

Further, I realized after finishing Last Son that this is a Superman story I really feel confident I could give to the most basic Superman fan and they'd understand it, while it still works within mainstream Superman continuity. Whereas Johns has sometimes revamped a character's supporting cast to bring them more in line with his new take, he instead pares down the Superman cast to their basic elements: Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Ma and Pa, and all of them are immediately recognizable by any Superman movie or TV fan. This volume includes a brief introduction by Marc McClure (Superman: The Movie's Jimmy Olsen), though Adam Kubert's Clark Kent far more resembles Brandon Routh than Christopher Reeve.

Where Geoff Johns really applies the "Johnsian effect" is to Superman's villains. General Zod has been both revamped and resurrected (the John Byrne take on the character officially retconned from existence), as now a semi-tragic figure who tried to help Jor-El save Krypton, but whom Jor-El repudiated because of Zod's violent ways. I'm not sure I necessarily needed to sympathize with Zod (nor Booster Gold, nor Black Hand), but it does offer an interesting new spin on the destruction of Krypton.

As with the new heroes that Johns briefly and effectively introduced in Justice Society: Thy Kingdom Come, Johns makes quick work of the updates to other members of Superman's rogues gallery. Metallo, without much undue explanation, now harnesses the power of a couple different shades of Kryptonite; similarly the Parasite has returned to life, and Bizarro has taken on a more feral nature. Johns also name-checks both Brainiac and Doomsday, suggesting new, yet-unrevealed Kryptonian ties for each.

So, to return to the question posed at the beginning, was Last Son worth the almost three-year wait? Well, maybe. It's certainly a good Superman story, nothing to be embarrassed about, and the accessibility of the story is a big plus.

At the same time ... former Super-titles editor Eddie Berganza once said that he could tell a Superman story was good when he could hear the John Williams Superman theme in his head while he was reading it. For a story that's supposedly co-written by Superman director Richard Donner (though Donner's immediate absence from subsequent projects makes one wonder if his role here was for marketing only), there's something of a dearth of iconic Superman moments. Indeed, even as I applaud the writers' restraint, I think this story could have handled at least one "kneel before Zod" reference -- there's nary a "nudge, nudge" or a "wink, wink" to be found here. My guess is that Last Son may hold up better in another reading; until then, I'm certainly enthused enough about Geoff Johns's Superman tenure to keep reading.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Marc McClure; hardcover edition has 3-D pages and detachable 3-D glasses.]

More Superman on the way with the second part of Camelot Falls and on from there!

Trade Paperback Timeline updated with One Year Later, Countdown Volume One

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Just a quick note that I've updated the DC Trade Paperback Timeline with additional details for One Year Later, through the first volume of Countdown. This is fairly complete, I think -- missing a couple recent Superman trades and a bit of Green Arrow/Black Canary stuff -- and if you see anything else that needs correcting, please let me know.

Find more details about the latest timeline update at the DC Trade Paperback Timeline Update Blog.

Also, it's slowly dawning on me that we've essentially completed our One Year Later trade reading now, moving full force into Countdown. To that end, I'm going to prepare a small One Year Later retrospective for next week; One Year Later was essentially a DC un-crossover, but yet an era with similarities to the interconnectedness of the Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis eras, and I'd like to pause and take a look before we move on.

Second, I've updated the nascent Collected Editions store with a One Year Later section, which goes along with the books you'll see on the DC Trade Paperback Timeline.

Your feedback is always appreciated -- and if you're reading along with the DC Trade Paperback Timeline, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks all.

Review: Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume One collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, September 01, 2008

The only bad thing about Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume One is how long we have to wait, as they say, for the next exciting episode. Geoff Johns brings his usual level of excellence to Justice Society, making even the tiredest comic book cliches new again in a blast of costume-wearing superhero greatness, and if part one is this good, I can't imagine how rock solid part two will be.

The "Thy Kingdom Come" storyline that begins in the third chapter of this book stands as a sequel of sorts to the Johns-penned Infinite Crisis. Power Girl recalls the death of the Golden Age Superman Kal-L in that tale, tying his dying words to her new chairmanship of the Justice Society, just as a new Superman who strongly resembles Kal-L makes the scene. Other books have referred to Infinite Crisis, but the way the characters recall both Kal-L and Superboy-Prime make this a natural follow to that story.

Johns obviously tries to have his cake and eat it too here, having killed off the Golden Age Superman but still returning an "older" Superman to the Justice Society. I like the post-Infinite Crisis attempt to bring the DC Universe more in line with its history, putting a Superman into the Justice Society case in point, though I worry about the effects it has on the DC Universe overall. The whole point of chasing off the Golden Age Superman in the first place was so that new readers wouldn't wonder why there were all these Supermen running around; having an "older" Superman around, in my opinion, makes the younger Superman less special.

What I like so much about Johns's Justice Society is how unabashedly the book embraces superhero culture. The first chapter brings us the origins of the new Citizen Steel, as the other heroes assume Steel will become a hero even before he himself knows. Johns similarly ends the book with the origins of a number of other heroes--a new Amazing Man, another of Black Lightning's daughters, the great-grandson of Franklin Roosevelt--their stories coming one right after another in simple, understandable form, all of them only too happy to play a part in the Justice Society. This is the legacy of Infinite Crisis shown also in Brave and the Bold -- the DCU is filled now with interesting, easily understandable heroes who like one another and work toward the common good. We've been so long in the grim and gritty, this is a breath of fresh air.

There's a scene at the beginning of "Thy Kingdom Come" where the Justice Society serves pancakes at a fire station, straight out of Norman Rockwell, that by all rights shouldn't work. I'm hard-pressed to believe that the Avengers ever end up riding to fight a fire with a dalmation tagging along, but the Justice Society does -- and it's not nearly as corny-looking as it sounds. These are not simplistic heroes -- the moving second chapter has Damage taking the villain Zoom hostage -- but they're also not ones that Johns understands have to be "badass" to be cool; they're just cool on their own. It's all helped a lot by Dale Eaglesham's art, which I've always felt has a dark tinge even in the lighter scenes, giving this aged team a modern feel (and when's Eaglesham going to get to pencil a major DC crossover, I'd like to know!).

The main villain of Thy Kingdom Come doesn't even make the scene in this volume, but the characters -- from the junior Red Tornado, Cyclone, to the new Amazing Man and Wildcat, Damage, and the Kingdom Come Superman -- are just so interesting that the story is gripping nonetheless. Justice Society, frankly, more than Countdown, seems to me the real spine of the DC Universe -- that is, the series that sets the tone -- or should, at least as far as I'm concerned -- for all the rest of DC Comics' titles.

[Contains full covers, alternate covers, character biographies, "Previously" page.]

On now, at long last, to Superman: Last Son, and then a bunch of Superman stories from there.