Review: Green Arrow: Year One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 29, 2008

[This review comes from guest blogger Jonathan Atkins:]

Green Arrow: Year One is a re-telling of the origin of Green Arrow by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock (real name Mark Simpson) that tries to do what Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli did for Batman to its title character. Although it might not be quite up to the standard of the sublime Batman: Year One, this is still a fresh and convincing new start for a long-running superhero that serves as an excellent way for readers unfamiliar with Oliver Queen, the man underneath the Robin Hood outfit, to get a good grasp of where he comes from and what he’s all about.

Like Mike Grell before him, Diggle seeks to ground Green Arrow in a world more like our own, but does so in a way that does not completely jettison previous interpretations of the character. Frank Miller did the same with his origin story for Batman, and it is an effective technique as it helps to humanize a superheroic protagonist and makes them more accessible for a new reader. Daringly, however, Diggle makes the decision to eschew Green Arrow’s future stomping ground, Star City, in favor of basing the entire narrative around Oliver Queen’s time spent marooned on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a brave move and one that pays off in spades by focusing the action and allowing the title character to really take center stage – and when a protagonist undergoes a change as radical as Queen’s, it’s character development that you want to see.

From the very clever first page, which shows the green arrow of a compass spinning without a true direction at magnetic north, we see a future Green Arrow ultimately find his own direction over the course of a convincing narrative that never once strays off the introspective path set for it. Diggle doesn’t let the character stuff get in the way of telling a rollicking story, however, and fits in some twists and turns and explosive scenes to stop the plot’s pulse from getting too relaxed. Some slight social relevancy is unobtrusively worked in as well, foreshadowing the politicization of the character by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in the seventies and providing some brains with the ballistics. A slightly silly villain, the oddly named and appropriately dressed China White, seems a little out of place amongst the cast of the collection. Although she might be essential for the sake of the story, contrasted with the real villain of the piece – a treacherous employee of Queen’s – she pales in comparison.

With a mixed medium, it’s no surprise that comics can only get so far with strong writing before the quality of the artwork becomes an important factor in the overall quality of the finished product, but fortunately the art team of Jock and David Baron shoot straight and true throughout this collection. Jock’s jagged pencils are stripped of any unnecessary clutter, lending the numerous action sequences a truly kinetic quality and perfectly conveying the speed of the obligatory storm of flying projectiles that are always accompany of a Green Arrow adventure. David Baron, the colorist, does a great job of establishing the backdrops for the story with lush but instantly distinguishable environmental tones that do not take anything away from Jock’s work.

My only other real issue with Green Arrow: Year One not previously mentioned is that some parts of the plot are stormed through with an unsatisfactory swiftness in order to reach the keynotes in the tune Diggle wants to play. In particular, it would have been nice to see a little more of Queen’s transformation from playboy to master archer; as the one issue used to cover this never really conveys the desperation of his plight or the time that passes, although this was probably because Diggle didn’t want to lose his readership in the story’s original, serialized form. That sort of efficiency sums up Green Arrow: Year One really: as a story it’s utterly fat-free and does everything it needs to do without any unnecessary grandstanding or complication. And, although a reader might sometimes crave a little fat to pad a good story out, too much is ultimately a bad thing (especially for a monthly title) and this is competitive collection for the reintroduction and revitalization of a typically B-list character.

[Contains full covers. If you'd like to write a review for Collected Editions, send an email to the address on the sidebar.]

More reviews on the way! Everyone have a safe holiday and a happy new year!
Collected Editions 2015 Comic Book Gift Guide

More DC 2009 Collections Details ...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Following our run-down the other day of details on about Final Crisis Companion and Batman: Black Casebook, here's notes on some more DC Comics collections coming in 2009 ...

BATMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER? DELUXE EDITION HC Writer: Neil Gaiman Artists: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang, Mark Buckingham, Bernie Mireault, Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley Collects: BATMAN #685 and DETECTIVE COMICS #852 and stories from SECRET ORIGINS #36, SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1 and BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE #2 $24.99 US, 128 pages

- Neil Gaiman is the only writer listed for this hardcover (note, by the way, deluxe edition) -- Secret Origins #36 is a Poison Ivy origin tale by Gaiman; Secret Origins Special is a Riddler and Penguin (and Two-Face?) origin by Gaiman; the final is a Batman: Black and White story by Gaiman.

BIRDS OF PREY: PLATINUM FLATS TP Writer: Tony Bedard Artists: Nicola Scott, Michael O'Hare, Doug Hazlewood and John Floyd Collects: BIRDS OF PREY #119-124 $17.99 US, 144 pages

- Note Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Bust collected the Sean McKeever stories; Club Kids and Platinum Flats collects the Tony Bedard stories. Birds of Prey ends with issue #127; the final issues may very well appear in a Batman RIP Companion-type trade.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD VOL. 4: WITHOUT SIN TP Writers: Marv Wolfman and David Hine Artist: Phil Winslade and Doug Braithwaite Collects: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #17-22 $17.99 US, 144 pages

- As noted before, this series has now gone to first-run paperback, not hardcover.

DC COMICS CLASSICS LIBRARY: THE FLASH OF TWO WORLDS HC Writers: Gardner Fox and John Broome Artists: Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella and Sid Greene Collects: THE FLASH #123, 129, 137, 151 and 173 $39.99 US, 144 pages

- Collects #123, the first Flash of Two Worlds story; #129, another Golden/Silver Age Flash team-up; #137, with a Justice Society cameo; #151, with Jay Garrick and the Shade; and #173, with Kid Flash Wally West.

FINAL CRISIS: ROGUES' REVENGE HC Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Scott Kolins, Doug Hazelwood and Dan Panosian Collects: FINAL CRISIS: ROGUES' REVENGE #1-3 and THE FLASH #182 and 197 $19.99 US, 144 pages

- Along with the Final Crisis tie-in miniseries, Flash #182 is a Geoff Johns Captain Cold profile, and #197 is the origin of the newest Zoom.

GREEN LANTERN: RAGE OF THE RED LANTERNS HC Writer: Geoff Johns Artists: Shane Davis, Doug Mahnke, Mike McKone, Sandra Hope, Chrisian Alamy and Andy Lanning Collects: GREEN LANTERN #26-28, 36-38 and FINAL CRISIS: RAGE OF THE RED LANTERNS #1 $24.99 US, 176 pages

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL VOL. 2 TP Writers: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and John Ostrander Artists: Kevin Maguire, Bill Willingham, Luke McDonnell, Al Gordon, Bob Lewis and others Collects: JUSTICE LEAGUE ANNUAL #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #8-13 and SUICIDE SQUAD #13 $17.99 US, 208 pages

SUPERMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW? DELUXE EDITION HC Writer: Alan Moore Artists: Curt Swan, George Pérez, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dave Gibbons, Rick Veitch and Al Williamson Collects: SUPERMAN #423, ACTION COMICS #583, SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11 and DC COMICS PRESENTS #85 $19.99 US, 128 pages

- In addition to the two-part Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, this deluxe-size edition also includes the famous Alan Moore annual "For the Man Who has Everything," and an equally well-known Superman/Swamp Thing team-up.

TERROR TITANS TP Writer: Sean McKeever Artists: Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson Collects: TERROR TITANS #1-6 $17.99 US, 144 pages

BATMAN: HUSH TP Writer: Jeph Loeb Artists: Jim Lee and Scott Williams Collects: BATMAN #608-619 $24.99 US, 320 pages

BOOSTER GOLD: REALITY LOST TP Writers: Chuck Dixon and Dan Jurgens Artists: Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund Collects: BOOSTER GOLD #11-12 and 15-18 $14.99 US, 144 pages

- Skips the two-part Rick Remender story from issues #13-14.

DC COMICS CLASSICS LIBRARY: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA BY GEORGE PEREZ VOL. 1 HC Writer: Gerry Conway Artists: George Pérez, Frank McLaughlin and John Beatty Collects: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #184-186 and 192-194 $39.99 US, 176 pages

- As issue #184 starts in the middle of a Jim Starlin storyline, I've a suspicion this collection actually starts with Justice League of America #186.

FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS HC Writer: Geoff Johns Artists: George Pérez and Scott Koblish Collects: FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #1-5 $19.99 US, 168 pages

FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS HC Writer: Greg Rucka Artists: Philip Tan, Jeff De Los Santos and Jonathan Glapion Collects: FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS #1-5 $19.99 US, 168 pages

REIGN IN HELL TP Writer: Keith Giffen Artists: Tom Derenick, Bill Sienkiewicz, Justiniano and Chad Hardin Collects: REIGN IN HELL #1-8 $19.99 US, 256 pages

- So glad to see this collected all in one volume. And for only $2.50 an issue ($1.50, if you can find a discount).

TEEN TITANS: CHANGING OF THE GUARD TP Writer: Sean McKeever Artist: Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose Collects: TEEN TITANS #62-69 $14.99 US, 192 pages

TRINITY VOL. 2 TP Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza Artists: Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Mike Norton, Tom Derenick, Art Thibert, Andy Owens, Jerry Ordway and Wayne Faucher Collects: TRINITY #18-34 $29.99 US, 400 pages

- Lending credence, again, to the idea this this will only be three volumes.

Heroes of the DC Universe Puzzle - Part Two

Thursday, December 25, 2008

More from our Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle ...

Observations from the Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle:
1) Batman remains a mystery, often rumored but never seen.
2) Why so glum, Tempest? Is it Aquaman's hair always waving in your face?
3) Plastic Man, despite our prodding, takes the high road and refuses to give us the finger.

Updates to come ...

Review: Majestic: While You Were Out trade paperback (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quite a while ago I reviewed the Superman crossover Majestic: Strange New Visitor, and ever since that time I've had the subsequent Majestic trade, While You Were Out, sitting on my shelf. Spring cleaning -- or in this case winter -- offered a chance to check it out.

Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning offer an imaginative science-fiction tale along the lines that made their Legion run so appealing. Here, the writers' imaginations seem to know no bounds, and in swift procession they offer a deserted planet, an ancient space ark, a bevy of alien species, even an entire civilization created within a space ship -- and that's just the first storyline. I was not entirely taken with the story of While You Were Out itself, but I thrilled to the concepts the writers unfolded.

For me, Majestic: While You Were Out didn't hold up to Strange New Visitor. Whereas the earlier trade, amidst a bit of action, also featured Majestic and Superman chatting in a diner for a couple pages, the latter dedicates five full pages of the first issue to wordless fighting, and later chapters offer even more. This is a visually appealing and creatively sci-fi collection, but I didn't always feel I got enough bang for my buck.

It's possible that I'm projecting too much of what I'd like Majestic to be on the series, instead of taking it for what it is. Strange New Visitor was a largely earthbound story, literally and figuratively, putting Majestic in a Superman-esque superhero role; While You Were Out, I think, puts Majestic in more cosmic settings, and this didn't hold as much interest for me. Abnett and Lanning do well to isolate Majestic in the beginning, letting the reader continue to get to know their hero; by the end, however, Majestic faces off against a bunch of WildStorm heroes, none of them fully introduced, and I found myself simply lost and ready for the story to be over.

(An interesting side note: page six of the first chapter of this book essentially spells out the basis of DC Comics's new Multiverse, a good three years before 52 or Final Crisis. That's right. The Bleed is the membrane between numerous multiple universes? Uh-huh, page six. You'd think someone planned it that way.)

The WildStorm books have an audience out there somewhere, and while I've tried sometimes to make it me, usually I just can't get into them. I'm glad, ultimately, that WildStorm has become another of the DC Comics New Earth counterparts; I find I much prefer visiting the WildStorm Universe with the DC heroes than living there. But that's just me.

[Contains full covers]

A review of Green Arrow: Year One coming soon. Don't miss it!

Details for Batman: Black Casebook, Final Crisis Companion

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The latest DC Comics Direct Channel has a breakdown of the contents for the Final Crisis Companion, Batman: The Black Casebook, Robin: The Teen Wonder, and more. Here's all the details, with explanations of relevant issues. (Spoilers may follow for Batman RIP and others; don't know, haven't read 'em, so proceed at your own risk. Please no additional spoilers in comments.) Thanks to Kelson for the heads up.

Writer: Judd Winick
Artists: Mike Norton, Diego Barreto, Wayne Faucher and Robin Riggs
$17.99 US, 128 pages

- The Green Arrow Secret Files contribution is an origin of Green Arrow story written by Judd Winick.

Writer: Todd Dezago
Artists: Ethan Van Sciver, Eric Battle, John Stokes, Prentis Rollins and others
Collects: IMPULSE #62-67
$14.99 US, 144 pages

- The Flash Presents makes far clearer the intentions of this trade.

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Artist: Ed Benes
$19.99 US, 144 pages

Writer: Jim Shooter
Artists: Francis Manapul and Livesay
$24.99 US, 144 pages

- This indeed completes the Jim Shooter run on Legion.

Writer: Jim Starlin
Artists: Ron Lim, Jim Starlin, Rob Hunter and Al Milgrom
$19.99 US, 168 pages

- The Hawkman special here suggests that volume two will have the Adam Strange special. Is anyone else just loving how DC's letting Jim Starlin run wild with the DC cosmic characters in a series of miniseries (instead of an ill-considered ongoing)? I wish they'd do the same thing with the supernatural characters.

Writers: Dennis O'Neil, James Robinson, Chuck Dixon, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, Bill Willingham and Geoff Johns
Artists: Dave Taylor, Lee Weeks, Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, Damion Scott, Tony Daniel and Marlo Alquiza
Collects: BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #100, NIGHTWING #101, BATMAN #428 and 442, ROBIN #126 and 132 and TEEN TITANS #29
$17.99 US, 160 pages

- Legends Of the Dark Knight #100 is a story of Dick Grayson's training as Robin; Nightwing #101 has Dick setting out on his own; Batman #428 is the death of Jason Todd; Batman #442 is the first appearance of Tim Drake; Robin #126 has Spoiler Stephanie Brown becoming Robin; Robin #132 has Tim Drake moving to Bludhaven; and Teen Titans #29 has Tim Drake versus Red Hood. Now, you know I say any collection is good collection, but this strikes me as fairly ridiculous. The third part of "Death in the Family," the first part of "Lonely Place of Dying," and the first part of "Fresh Blood"? This seems a largely disorganized trade, when a collection of Silver Age or Earth-2 Dick Grayson adventures might've filled a far better gap.

Writers: Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III
Artists: John Paul Leon and Steve Mitchell
$19.99 US, 192 pages

- This is solicited as Static, not Static Shock, and they really should rename it, otherwise they're never going to duck that misnomer.

Writers: Geoff Johns, Joe Casey, Mark Schultz and Joe Kelly
Artist: Pascual Ferry, Cam Smith, Derec Aucoin, Brandon Badeaux, Mark Morales, Duncan Rouleau, Marlo Alquiza and Mark Farmer
Collects: SUPERMAN #185-186, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #608-609, SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #130-131 and ACTION COMICS #795-796
$14.99 US, 192 pages

- The list above must be missing Superman #187, which is part five of Ending Battle. Superman #185 is indeed a Geoff Johns issue, a one-shot with Major Disaster that ties thematically into Ending Battle, so it would be appropriate to include it. It makes me wonder if they might ever reprint the Geoff Johns/Joe Kelly four-parter that followed a bit later, "Lost Hearts," which included later-Blue Beetle cast member Traci 13.

Writers: Gary Frank, James Robinson and Sterling Gates
Artists: Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jon Sibal, Wilson Magalhaes and Pere Perez
$24.99 US, 176 pages

- Ah, $25 for a hardcover with remarkably few actual Superman issues in it. Some days it sucks to be such a sucker.

Writers: France Herron, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger
Artists: Dick Sprang, Charles Paris, Sheldon Moldoff, Stan Kaye
Collects: Stories from BATMAN #113, 134, 156 and 162, DETECTIVE COMICS #215, 235 and 267 and WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #89
$17.99 US, 144 pages

- Batman #113 is the story "Batman: The Superman of Planet X," which features the alien Zur En Arrh; Batman #134 is either the story "The Rainbow Creature," "Batman's Secret Enemy," or "The Deadly Dummy"; Batman #156 is "Robin Dies at Dawn"; Batman #162 has Batman turning into the King Kong-like "Batman Creature"; Detective Comics #215 features "The Batmen of All Nations" also seen in Batman: The Black Casebook; Detective Comics #235 tells of "The First Batman," Thomas Wayne; Detective Comics #267 is the first appearance of Bat-Mite; and World's Finest Comics #89 also features the Batmen of All Nations. I can't tell you how excited I am about this trade; the best thing about writer's reinterpreting old stories are these collections where we can cite the original source material.

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Marco Rudy, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
Collects: FINAL CRISIS #1-7
$24.99 US, 240 pages

Writers: Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann and Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Ryan Sook, Matthew Clark, Norm Rapmund, Doug Manhke and Christian Alamy
$19.99 US, 200 pages

- We see now that Superman Beyond indeed ends up in the Final Crisis Companion, along with the Final Crisis Secret Files. With Rage of the Red Lanterns coming out on its own in hardcover, we now know how the entirety of Final Crisis will be collected, with two big exceptions: DC Universe #0 and DC Universe: Last Will and Testament. Better start combing the back issue bins!

Writers: Grant Morrison and Mark Miller
Artists: Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, Pop Mhan, Mike Parobeck, Joshua Hood and others
Collects: THE FLASH #136-141 and a story from SECRET ORIGINS #50
$14.99 US, 160 pages

- According to Kelson, Secret Origins #50 is a Grant Morrison retelling of the "Flash of Two Worlds" story.

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: John McCrea
Collects: HITMAN #1-3, THE DEMON ANNUAL #2, HITMAN #1,000,000 and a story from BATMAN CHRONICLES #4
$14.99 US, 144 pages

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Howard Porter, Gary Frank, Greg Land, Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgenson, John Dell, David Meikis, Mark Pennington and others
Collects: JLA #10-17, PROMETHEUS #1 and JLA/WILDCATS
$29.99 US, 304 pages

Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Tony Harris, Wade von Grawbadger, Mark Buckingham, Steve Yeowell, Wayne Faucher, Richard Pace, Mitch Byrd, Stefano Guadiano, Gene Ha, Dusty Abell, Dexter Vines, Phil Jimenez, J.H. Williams III, Bret Blevins and Michael Zulli
$49.99 US, 432 pages

- The Shade miniseries, too? I'm so all over this.

Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Artists: Ed Benes, Rafael Albuquerque, Rags Morales and John Dell
Collects: SUPERMAN/BATMAN #50-56
$19.99 US, 192 pages

- Nice to see Superman/Batman #50 here. I'd like to see a collection with the recent Superman/Batman annuals, and also Superman/Batman #25.

Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Mike Norton, Tom Derenick, Art Thibert, Andy Owens, Jerry Ordway and Wayne Faucher
Collects: TRINITY #1-17
$29.99 US, 416 pages

- Interesting that this has issues #1-17, whereas the 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis collections had thirteen issues each. Might DC be reducing this to three volumes, instead of four?


What's on your "must have" list here?

Review: Wonder Woman: The Circle collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Mercedes Lackey very nearly gushes in her introduction to Gail Simone's Wonder Woman debut in Wonder Woman: The Circle, calling it "the essence of everything I always wanted Wonder Woman to be." Indeed, while I don't think Simone's Princess Diana, as presented here at least, is quite the ultimate depiction of the character, there are certainly more than a few brilliant flashes that suggest it could be.

Simone, I believe, offers a take on Wonder Woman that many writers have attempted, but never quite achieved. In every battle Diana fights--whether with super-gorillas, enhanced Nazis, or a crazed Green Lantern--Simone takes the reader almost step-by-step through Diana's strategies, both her attempts to overcome her enemies and to make peace with them. This is clearly Wonder Woman the warrior, Wonder Woman the diplomat, Wonder Woman the Amazon, presented clearer than ever before.

In addition, Simone surely breaks new ground with her depiction of Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth. Simone, expertly, uses the lasso sequence only once, so as not to lessen the power of it, as Wonder Woman and a penitant Captain Nazi are transported to a vague "truth-scape" inside Nazi's mind. The panels that follow are heartbreaking, and the reader can't help but share Diana's compassion for this otherwise repugnant villain. This is one of those flashes of brilliance that suggests that Simone may deliver not just a better Wonder Woman than we've seen before, but may even break new ground with the character.

Unfortunately, I found The Circle's story itself somewhat flat. The initial chapters are greatly compelling, as Diana fends off a Nazi attack against Themyscira and we get hints of an Amazon plot to kill the baby Diana in the past--but at the end of the story we really don't learn anything new about Diana's origins, and I couldn't help but be disappointed. The second story, "Expatriate," offers more of Simone's masterful take on Diana--and even better, spotlights Simone's fantastic revamp of long-time Wonder Woman supporting character Etta Candy--but ultimately the story doesn't rise far above standard superhero fare. Simone's got a great take on Wonder Woman, but it seems she's still trying to find the right story with which to showcase it.

I was also vaguely annoyed by the suggestion that there might be more than we know to Wonder Woman's origins. Just as Superman is the last survivor of Krypton and Batman watched his parents die, Wonder Woman (at least recently) was formed from clay on Themyscira by her mother Hippolyta. The heroes' origins have withstood changes and shifts before, but for Simone to make it her first act to change Wonder Woman's beginnings in some way speaks to the perceived difficulties that many writers have had with the character. To posit that Wonder Woman needs reimagining is to say that the character isn't full and right as she is--that the preeminent female DC Comics hero has been "broken" for at least the past twenty years. Personally I'd rather see Simone build an adventure for Diana based on her current origins, than immediately turn to changing them.

We can't, in addition, ignore the giant elephant in this trade--it very much looks like Simone's leading toward Diana having sex with her partner, Tom "Nemesis" Tresser. Not that there's anything wrong with that--if anyone's going to finally cross that boundary, it seems well and right that it be Wonder Woman's first regular female writer, Simone. At the same time, when Diana's been condemned by male writers to always having to have a boyfriend, it's almost a shame that Simone gives her a boyfriend as well--though, of course, the same double-standard doesn't apply to romantic interests for male heroes. I do applaud both Simone and DC Comics for taking this risk, and I hope that after it does happen, it ushers in an era where Wonder Woman's romantic life becomes perhaps not as important as other aspects of her adventures.

Wonder Woman: The Circle is, in my estimation, imperfect, but not far off the mark. I loved, as constant readers know, Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman--but whereas Rucka's run may have had too much Ambassador Diana and not enough Wonder Woman, Simone's Wonder Woman so far is very bubblegum superheroic (moreso, perhaps, because of Terry Dodson's pleasing but bubbly art) with not as much seriousness that gives, say, Batman it's weight. Rest assured, however, that Simone shows that Princess Diana is in capable hands; if each volume grows better than the last, Lackey might get her ultimate Wonder Woman yet.

[Contains full covers.]

We're going to dart out to the Wildstorm Universe next with Mr. Majestic, and on from there. Join us!

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, December 15, 2008

A review is supposed to be unbiased, judging a work based on the merits of the work alone. A blogger, alternately, is inherently biased, providing opinions that build on the opinions expressed in posts prior. We can discuss that dichotomy another time, but this is to preface the review by saying I wasn't inclined beforehand to like Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising, disappointed as I was in writer Jim Shooter's comments when his run on Legion ended. And indeed, while Enemy Rising has some merits, it doesn't necessarily surprise me that DC Comics ultimately cancelled the book after the next trade.

I have not been a long-time Legion fan, and it was Mark Waid's new take on the Legion (plus the Legion cartoon) that made me a fan. Legendary 1960s Legion writer Jim Shooter received the unenviable job of following Waid's run on Legion -- but whereas Waid's run felt like a new, unique take on Legion, Shooter's felt like more of the same.

The basic continuity between Waid and Shooter's runs remain, but the premise of Waid's Legion -- thirty-first century teenagers obsessed with twenty-first century culture -- is all but gone. One of the biggest differences is that Shooter's Legionnaires use thirty-first century faux curses (each, to me, sillier than the last), when the whole point of Waid's Legionnaires was that they talked like twenty-first century teens. A few times, one of Shooter's Legionnaires actually explains to another a bit of twenty-first century culture; the posters that the various Legionnaires have on their walls are all thirty-first, not twenty-first, century icons. There's a few moments where the script recalls the Legion's twenty-first century obsessions -- when the Science Police try to steal comic books from Phantom Girl, or when a character makes a passing remark about how thirty-first century adults don't tend to meet face to face -- but it's such a small part of the story as to be the exception that proves the rule.

The title's continuity aside, this is a fair Legion story. Most of it centers around Lightning Lad Garth Ranzz trying to keep the team afloat both mission-wise and financially as the new team leader; Garth is unbelievably bad at his job (that is, Shooter didn't quite convince me Garth could be as bad as he is), though this exploration of the logistics of running a futuristic "legion" was interesting. The other half of the story focused on Legionnaires on missions; while it was hard to have much curiosity about Shooter's generic behemoth alien destroyers, there's always a thrill in seeing the Legionnaires in action using their various powers.

Shooter's story -- to its detriment -- works best at its most even-keeled. When Shooter tries for high emotion, the story quickly switches to melodrama. Witness, for instance, the near laughable love scene between Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad ("Take me, own me," she opines. "Do something ... shocking."), or how Invisible Kid goes on ad nauseum about his love interest Giselle. This is fair superheroics, but it's not compelling story -- whereas Waid's was compelling -- and the latter is surely what Legion needs right now.

The completist in my will be picking up Shooter's final Legion trade so as to see how all of this ends, but as far as I'm concerned, the end of this latest Legion run is really just an example of what this title needs to rise above when the next team starts.

[Contains full covers, expose on Legion flight rings.]

On now to Gail Simone's debut on Wonder Woman with The Circle, coming up next.

Review: Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just when I'd about given up, Michael Green and Michael Johnson return Superman/Batman to greatness with Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite.

I remember how excited I was when Superman/Batman premiered with Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness in 2003; anyone who's followed the book since then knows its gone steeply downhill. Mark Verheiden's Enemies Among Us was a fun a-continuity celebration of Silver Age comics, but after Alan Burnett's Torment--which had equally shaky continuity and no real relevance, without the tribute factor of Enemies--I began to think Superman/Batman might be relegated to the filler stories bin with Superman Confidential. But Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite changes all that.

Green and Johnson write a Superman/Batman tour de force, one that stretches from Arkham Asylum to the Fortress of Solitude, and from deep under the ocean to Dinosaur Island. He starts with a simple enough premise--Superman wants to get rid of all the kryptonite on Earth--but quickly, quickly complicates it. Batman's on board to help, but the two heroes find that nearly no one--from other heroes to the US government to some of Superman's closest friends--thinks it's a good idea. What follows is a riveting morally ambiguous story where everyone has a point and no one's quite right, and Green even manages to meaningfully tie the story to events in the Superman titles and Final Crisis.

What Green and Johnson accomplish here is a cogent deconstruction of the concept of kryptonite. It's an item much lampooned--consider, the most powerful man in the world, and he can be taken out by a little rock that near everyone has a piece of--and yet the writers offers a compelling reason why kryptonite is necessary, even essential, to Superman and the Superman legend. The writers also gets points for going over and above in his exploration of kryptonite--its prevalence; its many colors; how Smallville and other media use kryptonite; how kryptonite stands as a metaphor both for Superman's birth--Krypton--and his death; and more. Whether kryptonite will really be less prevalent after this story remains to be seen, but this could very well be the definitive Superman/kryptonite story.

I don't say this often, but I imagine The Search for Kryptonite is a story that might've read almost as well in single issues as it does in a collection. The secret is that Green and Johnson make almost every issue feel self-contained even under the rubric of Superman and Batman's kryptonite hunt; while these days sometimes writers make one-shot issues feel artificially wrapped, I felt like I was getting a full story in every chapter of this book. Consider the third chapter, for instance, in which Green and Johnson write a Batman/Zatanna team-up so lovingly you'd think you were reading Paul Dini's Detective Comics, and still it all comes together as a Superman/Batman story. There's great, great stuff in here.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Shane Davis's art in this volume. Davis offers clear, movie blockbuster-style art here that is a departure from some of the more cartoon-y styles we've seen in Superman/Batman, but works wonders nonetheless. His Rags Morales (or is that Brad Meltzer)-esque closeups on speak volumes, and his take on Doomsday late in the book is especially powerful. I've never really been one to buy comic book art, but there's a splash page of Superman and Batman taking no guff in a diner that I'd be proud to have on my wall. It doesn't surprise me a bit that we may see Davis again in some of DC Comics's high-profile Green Lantern crossovers coming soon.

[Contains full covers]

Truly, I believed Superman/Batman was done for, and I've never been so happy to be wrong. More reviews on the way; check back here soon!

Review: Countdown to Adventure Volume 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pre- and post-Infinite Crisis, DC Comics has tried to revitalize its science-fiction and supernatural genres with a string of mini-series set in each realm. Countdown to Adventure, with the eponymous "Countdown" in the title, is both a pre-Final Crisis crossover book and the latest of these science-fiction series (following Mystery in Space)--but it's also a subtle, moving epilogue to Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange's space adventures in 52. Writer Adam Beechen's Countdown to Adventure, I'd say, is a "thinker"--I finished it, pondered over it for a while, and found more and more meaning in the story as I thought it over.

Countdown to Adventure essentially takes the end of the space heroes' saga in 52 and then says, "Now what?" Whereas other 52 heroes like Renee Montoya and Booster Gold better achieved their own potential during 52, the space heroes struggled simply to survive; their changes were more insular, learning to rely on one another, than empowering. Countdown to Adventure finds the space heroes now necessarily separated--Adam Strange back on Rann, and Animal Man drawn back to the responsibilities of his family--only to find they're not necessarily sure how to survive without one another.

I felt initially disturbed that Beechen makes some waves in Animal Man Buddy Baker and his wife Ellen's historically model marriage, but I quickly came to understand the necessity of these waves. Buddy, like a soldier returning from war, feels no one can understand what he's been through except his fellow soldiers--in this case, the beautiful alien princess Starfire now living in his home. Beechen pits Buddy's growing reliance on Starfire against Starfire's burgeoning independence--in the absence of her powers, Starfire makes an attempt at a "normal" life--and there's great story power in the contrast of the two characters' arcs. By the end of the story, both heroes' lives return to the status quo, though Ellen ends up helping save the day in a way that might encourage other writers to give her a larger role in Buddy's adventures.

Beechen impressed me also in his use of Adam Strange. Though I can't stand that Beechen (or perhaps DC Comics Editorial) put Adam Strange back in his old fin-head costume instead of the new spacesuit that Pascal Ferry designed for Adam Strange: Planet Heist, I did think Beechen picked up on an important and previously untapped aspect of Strange's character. Adam Strange is essentially part of the bourgeoisie of the planet Rann--a vaunted hero and married to the daughter of the Rannian high muckety-muck Sardath; his feet, even without his jetpack, don't ever really touch the ground. Beechen turns this into a point of contention between Strange and the Rannians after Strange is stripped of his heroic title, and I felt we really learned new things about Strange as he had to face his own position of privilege. The end of this book brings a change for Adam Strange that I hope other stories will use as well.

Adam Beechen brings the 52 space heroes to such a good conclusion here that it seems, in a way, like the end of DC Comics's space saga for now. Fortunately DC's got Rann/Thanagar: Holy War right around the corner; I haven't heard the best reviews about the next series, but I for one am glad DC's cosmic renaissance hasn't ended just yet. Nice work here from Beechen, who brings the same level of excellence as he did in his run on Robin.

[Contains some, but not all, covers. Maybe the rest will be in volume two, along with the missing Forager backup stories?]

Back now to some Superman/Batman, and we'll see where we end up from there. Thanks for reading!

Heroes of the DC Universe Puzzle - Part One

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Colder weather means it's time to break out a puzzle ...

Things I've learned so far from the Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle:
1) Plastic Man is really annoying; he's hard to find, and he gets into everything.
2) Wonder Woman's cleavage never ceases to make a mess of things.
3) It's almost as if Batman isn't there at all!
4) Aquaman's hair looks frighteningly like Supergirl's.

Updates to come ...

(* Anyone have an image of what this puzzle is supposed to look like? I couldn't find one online ...)

Review: Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 01, 2008

As is the case with Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis, sometimes if a trade paperback is drawn really well, and features a whole bunch of your favorite heroes in one adventure together, it doesn't matter whether or not the story makes a whole lot of sense. Indeed, The Chrysalis contains so many new bad guys and vague evil schemes as to make it inscrutable, but the characters are rich enough that plot becomes almost a secondary concern.

Chuck Dixon's Outsiders reads in a sense more like Batman and the Justice League Task Force--that is, more random, varied heroes go in and out of this title than the Hall of Justice bathrooms, and the makeup of the team changes at least two or three times. Part of this, I know, was because Chuck Dixon took over the reins of this title from Tony Bedard before it even began; but it's something that, at the same time, works for the title.

We start the book with Katana and Catwoman on a mission together; this later morphs into a fight between Batman and Hawkgirl with original Outsider Geo-Force looking on; and it ends with a grand smackdown between Batgirl and Green Arrow (all this, and Francine Langstom, too). It makes Batman and the Outsiders something between a Brave and the Bold team-up book and Birds of Prey, with Batman in the all-seeing Oracle role, and the wide variety of characters is just plain fun, even if the plot hangs off the story a little bit.

It's hard to say exactly what The Chrysalis is about. Dixon creates a new "very bad" company headed by a brand new evil genius; the villain's plan involves an OMAC with vague ties to Batman's Brother Eye, but it's never quite clear what that plan is. Dixon perhaps lets Batman keep too much of his own council here; none of what's going on seems a surprise to Batman, but the reader struggles to keep up. Dixon might have been better off using an established villain; it was hard for me to know what was at stake in the heroes stopping the villain's plot, whereas the Green Arrow/Batgirl fight had far more resonance.

In as well as Dixon wrote some of the characters--Martian Manhunter, Catwoman, and Metamorpho, to name just a few--I was surprised by how I didn't like his take on others. Dixon's Batman here seemed far more like his pre-Infinite Crisis self--jerky, mysterious, demanding--than the post-Infinite Crisis team player we've come to know. But even more off-putting is Dixon's take on Thunder, who's been previously established as a pre-med Tulane graduate; Dixon presents her as a petulant brat, speaking in slang in a way that seemed disrespectful to her portrayal by other writers before.

I also couldn't help but groan when I saw Dixon villains Hawk, Bunny, and Militia in this story. One of the things that soured me on Dixon's Nightwing and Birds of Prey, much as I liked other aspects, were his continual use of these one-note, silly villains who continually appeared in his stories, including Mouse, Giz and the trio above. Seeing some of these bad guys in this trade only confirmed my fears that Outsiders would go down the same road (if not for Dixon leaving the title after the next collection). Hopefully we won't see them again next issue, but will get a better sense of the main villain's ultimate goal.

The stories here are pencilled by Julian Lopez and Carlos Rodriguez, with inks by Bit, and I thought all three did a fantastic job. The scenes is spacious and bold, perfect for an action-packed story, and perhaps by virtue of the common inker, it's even hard to tell the two artists' styles apart. There's a bunch of new-to-my-eyes artists I've been enjoying lately-Cliff Chiang and Jesus Saiz among them--and these artists strike me in much the same vein.

[Contains full covers]

We're going to Countdown to Adventure now for all you Countdown fans out there, and we'll see where that takes us next.