Review: New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 2 hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is part two in our series on the New Teen Titans Archives:

And then there were the Greek gods.

I have a confession to make -- I don't really like DC Comics stories about the Greek gods. Bringing the Greek gods on the scene has always seemed an excuse for writers to use overly flowery language and make esoteric references to myths I've never read -- indeed what kept me out of Wonder Woman for a long time was the incessant use of the gods, and I loved when they got a makeover in Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman run.

Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduce the Greek gods to the New Titans for the first time in volume two of the New Teen Titans Archives. While I enjoyed very much the multi-part story that gives the women of the New Teen Titans a chance to shine on their own, I couldn't help but see "Clash of the Titans" as the launching point for not only a slew of Greek god-focused Titans adventures, but also the launching point for the modern age Greek god stories by Perez, Phil Jimenez, and others in Wonder Woman, which never enticed me as much as, say, watching Deathstroke throw down with the Titans.

To be sure, Wolfman uses aspects of the Greek gods and the Amazon mileu to great ends. The parent/child conflict of the Greek gods is a perfect foil for the Titans' own struggles; Wolfman also offers an excellent page where Raven and Starfire debate which is more like the Amazonian peace-loving warriors, well illustrating the dichotomies inherit in the Wonder Woman mythos.

The second major story in this volume, which teams the Titans with the remnants of the Doom Patrol, might rank as one of my favorite Changeling stories. Nowhere the is the multi-faceted nature of Wolfman and Perez's Titans better present than when Garfield Logan, who for twelve issues has been little more than annoying comic relief, finally gets truly angry and risks his life to try to save his missing stepfather. The writers provide a turn for this character that is both surprising and completely natural, and it demonstrates the strength of the series even more than how well-rounded the main characters always are.

For modern Teen Titans fans, there's an interesting short story at the end of this book where the eventual Tempest and Red Arrow, Aqualad and Speedy, team with the New Teen Titans. The story itself is a rather simplistic "Say No to Drugs" tale, but it's fascinating especially to see Speedy -- not yet his current Cheshire-loving, Huntress-dating self -- in a rather staid role. I should mention here too that fans of the current Wally West will barely recognize his pre-Crisis incarnation throughout these books; he's conservative, reserved, and not at all the outgoing Wally we know now, and I'm learning a lot about the character that I hadn't realized before.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Marv Wolfman, bonus story]

So those are some off-the-cuff thoughts about New Teen Titans Archive volume two. I'm curious to hear from some readers who also read these volumes, or who recall reading the original series, and how these stories struck you now and then. I'll be back soon with thoughts on volume three.
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Review: New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 1 hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, December 28, 2009

As it comes time to the end of the year, I've been looking to my shelf to see what I might've meant to read this year and never got around to. One such set of books is the four-volume New Teen Titans Archives, the only DC Comics archives from the "modern age" of comics.

If any comic can be considered above reproach, these ground-breaking stories by Marv Wolfman and George Perez certainly fall into that category. Rather than a formal review, what will follow here and in the next few posts will be some more off-the-cuff thoughts and observations in reading this series, which is likely a must-read for anyone wanting full exposure to DC Comics history.

[This review well spoils the New Teen Titans Archive volume 1]

One of the first things that struck me in reading these stories (New Teen Titans #1-8) is how the writers set up these characters as near perfect superheroes. Of course, you and I know the exploits of the original New Teen Titans as the stuff of legends, but back then no one had heard of Cyborg, Starfire, or Raven -- and yet by the end of the volume, Wolfman calls them "the best of the best." Though the Titans do face some growing pains in learning to work together, they are all for the most part natural superheroes, even those like Cyborg who had been "normal" until just before the start of the book. Superheroing for them is the easy part; it's the emotional journey of finding themselves that proves more challenging.

Contrast this with the modern incarnation of the Teen Titans. Whereas the New Titans needed no adult supervision nor anyone to train them to use their powers, the Teen Titans under Geoff Johns warranted a chaperone. I chalk this up in part to needing to give the original Titans something to do in the current era, but also a strange shift in our sensibilities -- in the wake of any number of school shootings, I wonder if this reflects a "children are dangerous" ethos in the mid-2000s that wasn't present in the early 1980s.

I recognize, of course, that there's something of a purported age difference between the Wolfman/Perez and Johns-era Titans. At the same time, we could argue, a story is what its creative team makes it: Johns' Titans no more needed a chaperone than the writer wanted them to have one -- that is, chaperones could have been written out of the series and subsequently have been.

In fact, the most recent Sean McKeever Teen Titans team functions without adult supervision, but that team highlights the other difference from the Wolfman/Perez era -- those heroes are not the best at what they do. Sure, the Wolfman/Perez era Titans bicker and some don't get along with others, but not on the scale of McKeever's Titans, nor do they suffer the kinds of humiliating failures that McKeever's do (Red Devil throwing essentially a frat party, and Wonder Girl alienating a whole room of potential recruits, to name a couple of examples). The Wolfman/Perez stories highlight to me how it's possible to have interpersonal drama on a team book without outlandish or overly melodramatic storylines (and this is a difficulty of many modern team books, not just McKeever's Teen Titans).

In reading the first volume of the New Teen Titans Archive, I tried to approach it as if I knew nothing about the characters, and I found the mysteries inherit in the series quite compelling. At the center of it, of course, is Raven and her reason for bringing the Titans together -- more than the slow revelation of Trigon or that Wolfman and Perez keep Raven's features hidden until the emotional scene with her mother Arella, what always gets me is the scene just after the Titans fight the Justice League, after they find out that not only might Raven have brainwashed Kid Flash to think he loved her so he's stay in with the Titans, but also that Raven approached the Justice League before the Titans and the Justice League rebuffed her because they could sense Trigon's evil within her -- when the Titans walk away and the team seems disbanded, that's just a perfect dramatic moment.

My second favorite is the mystery surrounding Cyborg's origins. I think everyone can tell from the start that Cyborg is a little too mad at his father, Silas Stone -- mad enough that we can tell that probably Silas isn't the villain that Cyborg makes him out to be. Then the Titans Tower comes along and it seems its creator might have nefarious purposes, and then we find out Silas created it (a fact unfortunately never referenced these days) and that he's dying, and that it was Cyborg's mother who caused the accident all along, when Cyborg blamed Silas for his mother's death. So many twists and turns, wrapped up in such a wonderful, bittersweet ending -- Wolfman says they really hit their groove on the book in the third volume, but the stories in this first book are really quite remarkable.

Finally, I remained impressed through this reading how Wolfman and Perez managed to tie every story back to the theme of family. Most notable are not just Raven's issues with Trigon and Cyborg's with his father and Robin's with Batman, but how the Titans' very first enemy, the Ravager Grant Wilson, unknowingly competes with his father, Deathstroke the Terminator. I also appreciated that even seemingly silly villains like the Fearsome Five contain the siblings Mammoth and Shimmer -- in the same vein as we now see in Geoff Johns' material, there are no throwaway characters here, but rather everyone has some sort of roundedness that makes them pop off the page.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Marv Wolfman, preview story and pin-up pages]

That's my take on the first volume of the Teen Titans Archives, in which the Titans come together, get a headquarters, and fight Deathstroke, the HIVE, the Fearsome Five, and Trigon. Thoughts on volume two coming soon.

Review: Outsiders: The Deep trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I enjoy Peter Tomasi's work, and Outsiders: The Deep continues a line of quality work that includes Nightwing and Green Lantern Corps. But despite an interesting premise and some welcome continuity notes, the story never quite distinguishes itself beyond standard superheroics, and it makes me hesitant to continue following this title.

Alfred, Batman's faithful butler, leads the Outsiders -- I can certainly see how many might dismiss this as preposterous, but I rather enjoyed it. To me, it seems even more ridiculous that Alfred could be Batman's partner all those years and not be capable of heroics of his own; indeed it's past time someone acknowledged, as Tomasi does, that Alfred is in essence Batman's father. Tomasi achieves a tone somewhere between Mission Impossible and Charlie's Angels as Alfred directs the Outsiders remotely, and the cloak and dagger beginning was about the best part of this story.

Tomasi attempts to take a page here from Geoff Johns' playbook, positing a connection between everything else you've ever read about the Outsiders -- that Batman hand-chose all the teams because of how they represent his own abilities on a grand scale, and that the major villains they fought over the years have all been foot soldiers for a shadowy organization called, of all things, the Insiders. This might have been interesting if it worked, but Tomasi fails to offer any real proof for the last point, and indeed the Insiders present as such run-of-the-mill villains -- they'll live forever even if it causes the death of innocents -- that perhaps it would be better if they weren't so tied to Outsiders lore.

The true strength of this story is in the long history between the characters -- that's the real "deep" here. Geo-Force, Katana, and Black Lighting, especially, have never been A-list superheroes, but they've stuck by one another a long time. When Geo-Force and Lightning fight (or Geo-Force and Katana kiss), Tomasi brings out the nuances of their feelings for one another, with clear, expressive expressions from artist Lee Garbett.

Similarly, I appreciated Tomasi making full use of continuity in this book. Outsiders: The Deep rests on both Final Crisis: Revelations, and DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, and Tomasi effectively weaves this story. Geo-Force's rivalry with Deathstroke the Terminator burns palpable in their scenes together on the page, and Tomasi also writes the first meeting, in recent memory, between Ra's al Ghul and Vandal Savage, noting recent changes to both characters. If you were a fan of either of the previous stories, this is your next stopping point, though the tertiary nature of those tales can make The Deep also feel like an afterthought.

Indeed, my difficulty with The Deep is that nothing much comes of the book's sound and fury. Amidst numerous cut-scenes of the Insiders worrying about their immortality, the Outsiders run around a bit, fight a robot, run around some more, fight Deathstroke, and then defeat the Insiders largely through a deus ex machina shuttle crash; Ra's al Ghul and Vandal Savage barely have anything to do with the plot at all. The Outsiders are right, the Insiders are wrong, and the story's resolved neatly in the end. Tomasi makes no egregious mistakes and treats the characters with care, but the story offers no larger payoff for the reader, and as such I'm not left with much impetus to come back again.

Of course, it's perhaps because of this very thing that, after the next volume, Outsiders: The Hunting, this title gets a new writer (Dan DiDio himself) ... and begins to tie to Superman: New Krypton. That's something of a dilemma for me, because on one hand, I'm none too impressed with the current Outsiders tenuous ties to Batman RIP, and I don't expect the ties to Superman to be any more solid; on the other hand, the completist in me wants everything related to New Krypton even if it's just the barest mention in an issue. And if I'm already going to buy the next Outsiders trade after The Hunting, it stands to reason I might as well just buy Hunting as well. And while I recognize I'm in a quandry of my own making here (and "I could stop any time," so to speak), this is where a comics fan begins to get a little frustrated.

[Contains full covers, Garbett sketchbook]

Despite that reading this Outsiders makes me miss my much-favored team from a few years past, Peter Tomasi treats some old heroes with respect in this volume, and I appreciate it even if The Deep wasn't quite a hit for me.

Trade Perspectives: DC for February/March 2010, Collections and Co-Features

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A programming note: Starting next week and continuing the week after, the Collected Editions blog will have a special look back at a DC Comics Archives series while a large amount of our readership goes on vacation. Please continue to feel free to leave comments on the site, and we'll be around for any breaking news should it arrive.

***

I felt disappointed last month that DC's February 2010 solicitation of the Gotham Sirens: Union hardcover only included the first seven issues of that series, and none of writer Paul Dini's uncollected work, but there's a ray of hope in DC's March 2010 solicitations. The first collection of Dini's other new Batman series, Streets of Gotham (renamed for the trade Batman: The Streets of Gotham: Hush Money) contains Detective Comics #852 and Batman #685 -- that is, the "Faces of Evil" issues that followed Dini's Heart of Hush storyline. Now if we could only get collected Detective Comics #851 and Batman #684, two issues that followed directly after Batman RIP ...

The JLA Deluxe Edition Vol. 3 (or JLA Omnibus) contains, as we predicted, the Sandman, Ultramarine Corps, and "Crisis Times Five" issues. A bit of a surprise is the JLA #1,000,000 issue, some compromise between ignoring the DC One Million crossover referenced in this collection and not re-collecting the entire series. This story is not actually collected in the DC One Million trade paperback, so it's not a complete loss for completists; if I recall, this particular issue takes place largely on the present-day JLA Watchtower, and it's possible it could read relatively seamlessly within this book, or so I hope.

I'm glad to see that Oracle: The Cure contains some missing Birds of Prey issues, but there's still some debate as to whether issue #125 is in here, or only #126-127. If there's just one Birds of Prey issue left uncollected from the end of the end of the run, and Oracle: The Cure turns out to be just five issues when it could have been six, I will be very annoyed.

Additionally for the completists out there, Booster Gold: Day of Death has the Brave and the Bold issue #23 that included Booster and Magog. Granted, I still scratch my head as to why the DC Universe needed a Magog series; according to Marc-Oliver Frisch over at The Beat, the book's sales have dropped a total of 50% over its first three months.

The collection of Scott Kolin's Solomon Grundy miniseries, thankfully, also includes the "Faces of Evil" special. If you want a real throughway from Final Crisis to Blackest Night, this Solomon Grundy miniseries started with one and ends with the other.

Finally, apparently Superboy: Redemption, the collection of the first new Adventure Comics issues, has been renamed Superboy: The Boy of Steel. Apparently this includes issues #0-3 and 5-6, dropping the Blackest Night crossover in issue 4 (presumably, the only contents from issue #5 are the Superboy co-feature, and not the second part of the Blackest Night story). Maybe the Blackest Night parts will end up in the rumored Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps volume two collection?

We imagine the Legion stories from Adventure Comics will be collected on their own; the material from issue #0 is likely just the "Origins & Omens" section.

***

In some other bits of news, DC announced via The Source today that it will publish the long-unavailable Superman vs. Muhammad Ali in not one, but two hardcover editions. The Source calls the first hardcover a "deluxe" edition with sketchbook and new cover by Neal Adams, but whether "deluxe" means "deluxe format size" (like Batman RIP) is unclear. The second hardcover will have the same trim size as the original tabloid comic, so it stands to reason that the first should be "under-" or regular-sized. Surely there'll be a price difference, too -- I wonder if they'll be released on the same day or separate from one another.

It's interesting that DC chose to publish this in hardcover (72 pages plus a sketchbook isn't a lot) rather than as a perfect-bound comic (like some of the faux annual "reprints" a few years back). Say what you will about the ongoing monthly comics versus collections debate, but there seems to be a sense at least that collections equal permanence. For something as short as Superman vs. Muhammad Ali to end up in hardcover posits the collection as the ultimate destination -- the previous "floppy" (I use the term sparingly) version of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali didn't beget a floppy reprint, but rather a collection (and the paperback can't be far behind).

On the other hand, see DC "redefining" its co-feature program, moving away from the definite co-feature-to-collection pathway. Says Dan Didio to Comic Book Resources, "We were looking at something like Ravager when thinking about having enough material later on to stand alone as a collection, but ... it works much better for ... stronger stories if we don't concentrate on collecting the co-feature."

That is, many of the first wave of co-features were written to be twelve or so segments long to make up a collection, but now DC's finding that they're better off letting the co-feature determine its own length and how it interacts with the main series than "writing for the collection." I'm very OK with this; there's the danger, of course, that shorter co-features may never be collected, but I'd rather dig up a co-feature in single issues later on than sit through a poor story that's been unnecessarily drawn out. DC doesn't collect everything I want them to, but they collect enough of the highlights that I'm optimistic this will work out.

***

That's all. A new review coming tomorrow, and then our special review segment begins next week. Be safe and careful out there.

... oh yeah, and while you're sitting snug by the fire, don't forget to check out the new Collected Editions' mobile site on your cell phone! Take us everywhere!

Review: Batman: Battle for the Cowl hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

In any number of close-up scenes of character interaction in Batman: Battle for the Cowl, Tony Daniel writes and draws an interesting Batman crossover, much in the spirit of Knightfall -- the Bat-family fights a crazed vigilante for control of the identity of Batman. But it's when the action zooms out that both plot and artwork get a little sketchy -- as well done as some parts of Battle for the Cowl are, other parts left me scratching my head.

[Contains spoilers for Batman: Battle for the Cowl]

I give Tony Daniel much credit for writing and drawing the three issues of this book, and if Batman RIP hadn't already done so, Battle for the Cowl would cement Daniel as one to watch. In a style just on the border between animated and realistic, Daniel draws a breathtaking wrap-around cover of the Bat-family, chilling fights between the story's villain and Nightwing and Robin respectively, and I love his mod Catwoman that never quite puts on her mask. His diminutive Damien, at least, likely defines that character for the stories to follow.

The best replacement for Batman, we already know, is a Boy Wonder, and Daniel's story sees first Tim Drake and Jason Todd, and then Todd and Nightwing Dick Grayson, duke it out to be Batman's successor. While Daniel's Jason remains just too crazy to be interesting as a villain (Jason still comes off as a "whiner"), I give Daniel points for daring to suggest there may have abuse in Jason's past -- perhaps the most cogent explanation for Todd's ever-present attitude so far.

Daniel gets in lots of little moments -- Tim in the yellow-circle Bat-costume that reflects his early days with Batman; Catwoman's classic, "I wondered whatever happened to the Caped Crusader"; and that Tim attacks Jason with, of all things, a Death in the Family-inspired crowbar. The story is a feast for Batman fans not unlike Legion of Three Worlds was for Legion fans, and Daniel pulls it off nicely.

But yet, even as I consider myself fairly up to date on the DC Universe, some parts of this didn't jibe for me. At the outset, Robin notes that Nightwing and Batgirl called in their allies -- but why Batgirl? Wasn't she until recently completely estranged from the Bat-family? Our first shot of Damien has him in the Batmobile with a girl he picked up -- but since when does Damien date, how did he get the Batmobile, and why isn't he with his mother Talia?

Nightwing has supposedly turned emotionless, when he was plenty emotion-full at the end of both the Nightwing and Robin series; apparently he doesn't want to take on the cowl initially because Batman told him not to in a video -- but the reader gets no hint of this until the end, and therefore Nightwing's actions seem largely incongruous most of the time.

I have a guess, actually, that much of the missing material here either resides in the Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion, or otherwise in yet-uncollected transitionary comics between Batman RIP and this book (see "Last Days of Gotham"). Indeed the presence of certain Outsiders characters here suggests I've probably read certain books in the wrong order, since I don't know who they are or when they joined that team.

No crossover necessarily stops to fill in readers on every background detail, but Battle for the Cowl felt especially fuzzy -- this ought be the natural throughway from Batman RIP to the new Batman & Robin book. Daniel appears at times to lose focus, both in story and art; characters not in the foreground are often dark and indistinct, and similarly some events, like Gotham coming under martial law, are told through narration when they might have been stronger demonstrated firsthand.

Judd Winick is next up on Batman, but I'll be more curious for the issues when Tony Daniel comes back around. Battle for the Cowl isn't perfect, but I wonder if it'll hold up better under a more knowledgable second read, and I have an inkling there's great work from Tony Daniel to come.

[Contains full covers, sketchbook pages, Gotham Gazette issues]

Wildstorm's Worlds of Warcraft, Starcraft switch to graphic novel format

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Via IGN by way of The Beat comes news that DC Comics' Wildstorm imprint plans to cancel its ongoing Worlds of Warcraft and Starcraft series in favor of, you guessed it, ongoing graphic novels.

The release does not indicate whether the graphic novels will share continuity between the volumes. This is key, in my opinion; if they don't share continuity, then this isn't much different than IDW's line of unrelated Star Trek miniseries, for instance -- just a bunch of "specials" under the banner of "original graphic novels."

If they do share continuity, then hold on to your horses, Mary -- that would mean another comics series released solely in trade format by DC Comics. If once is a chance and twice is a coincidence, I'm looking for number three ...

You can fit what I know about these two series on the head of a pin, but here's upcoming World of Warcraft: Panderans and Starcraft hardcovers which might be these projects (shipping sooner than Superman: Earth One, too!).

The Wildstorm blog The Bleed has a brief mention of the graphic novel switch; ComicBookResources' Robot6 blog also weighs in on Wildstorm and the Superman: Earth One details.

Review: Batman: Private Casebook hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Paul Dini completes his trilogy of "smart" Batman stories with Batman: Private Casebook, and the stories here are remarkable, if largely overshadowed by the events of Batman RIP. These done-in-one tales evoke the more self-contained Batman stories of the mid-1990s, but yet read all together, we find a continuing tale through which Dini carves himself his own distinct corner of the Bat-universe.

[Contains spoilers for Batman: Private Casebook]

A handful of new and old characters reoccur throughout the three volumes, and Dini ties them all together in the final book. Dini reveals the identity of the new Ventriloquist, and suddenly nearly every story in this book interrelates, most notably that of Bruce Wayne's playboy friend Matthew Atkins -- a drunken doppleganger of Bruce himself -- whose murder Batman solved last time around. Atkins and the Ventriloquist touched nearly everyone else in Dini's books -- Zatanna, the Riddler, the Penguin, Harley Quinn, and more -- and this final volume reveals a grand tapestry the reader only glimpsed before.

I've also appreciated throughout these books that Dini gives the reader a chance to solve the mystery, hearkening back (or so I recall) to Silver Age comics that did much the same thing. In most of the chapters, including the Mad Hatter story here, we're shown a galley of suspects before the murderer is revealed; when Batman and the reformed Riddler match wits, the reader gets a chance to intuit the unspoken clues. My favorite was when Bruce Wayne uses sign language to communicate with Zatanna just before he's kidnapped; if the reader catches the signal, they get a clue to Bruce's later rescue. It goes without saying that these elements play to the "detective" aspect of Dini's Detective run, and I've found it a nice change from the everyday story.

Moreover, it's been interesting how, in a way, there really aren't villains in these stories by Dini. Harley Quinn and the Riddler each reform here, including a classic scene between the Riddler and the Penguin where Penguin, too, talks about "going straight"; and Batman must save the Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy each from prosecution themselves. The real villains in these stories are walk-on characters like Vox and Gotham Jack, whom Dini defines only long enough to make them interesting, but not so much as to steal the real focus of the stories. There a sense, perhaps in thematic relation to Batman RIP, that this is the end of Batman's rogues gallery -- not only will Batman be replaced, but that his rogues are retiring along with him.

The real draw for me to this book was the promise of a conclusion to the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossover -- and a better conclusion, at that, since the crossover itself was widely panned. Unfortunately, I didn't think this chapter added much -- Batman uses his detective skills in that he psychoanalyzes how Ra's resurrection might affect his current motives, but the final battle between the two contained none of the majesty of, say, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan's sword-fight in Batman: Legacy. The real surprise is what happens to Ra's here, but I'm not sure that alone is worth the price of admission.

[Contains full covers]

Ultimately, even as I enjoy the ambition behind Dini's stories, I know they don't hold my interest as much as Grant Morrison's Batman stories -- as with Kurt Busiek's Superman stories versus Geoff Johns, I know that Dini's run isn't "where it's at" for Batman. I'll pick up the next collection, Heart of Hush, because I like Hush and because of the tenuous Batman RIP ties, but it'll be in paperback, at least, before I turn to Dini's next series, Streets of Gotham.

Certainly, however, this book cements my respect for Dini for what he's tried to accomplish.

Superman: Earth One price and page count solicited

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One big question mark in last week's announcement of DC Comics Earth One original graphic novel initiative was what the price point would be, and how many pages.

We get at least an inkling of that answer today with this solicitation for Superman: Earth One, at $19.95, 128 pages, and hardcover.

Here's some rough math, and please correct me in the comments section: Your average issue of Superman is $2.99 and 22 pages (that's story pages, if I understand correctly, not including advertisements). 128 pages is five to six issues; let's split the difference and say five and a half issues would be about $16.45.

So to start with, we see that Superman: Earth One is more expensive than the same number of comics issues. But everyone and their uncle gets some kind of discount on comic books, at least 30%, so let's say Superman: Earth One will actually cost about $14.00, not $19.95. Now we're looking at each "issue" of Superman: Earth One costing about $0.50 less than your average comic book.

This is important for two reasons:

1) A side benefit of being a trade-reader has always been that the books tend to cost less than single issues. This only makes sense; as with movies and other media, the customer gets immediate gratification (the weekly comic) and pays a premium for it, or gets delayed gratification (the later collection) but saves money to offset the wait. By rights Superman: Earth One should cost less than equivalent single issues.

2) Price will be key for garnering readers. If the cost of Superman: Earth One were ostentatious (and it could be, given that it's technically a "first run" book), this would be another reason to dismiss the Earth One concept out of hand. $19.95 is considerably low in comparison to other hardcover collections (Superman: New Krypton volume 1 was $24.99) and that means we'll see an even cheaper paperback to follow.

One sore spot about this announcement is the release date, September 2010. Granted any of these details could change -- including the page count and price -- as the release gets closer, but September is a very, very long time to wait for the Earth One books to begin -- DC runs the danger of losing excitement for the project before it even begins if it's after next summer before it starts (though this gives lots of convention lead-time to advertise). I expected something more like March or April. Maybe it'll turn out Batman: Earth One is coming first, but currently it doesn't look that way.

Five and a half issues, from my perspective, is still better than nothing. I remain very excited about Earth One, especially since it begins to look, if not thick, then affordable at least. What do you think?

***

Couple more new solicitations in addition:

* Batman and Robin Vol. 2: Batman vs. Robin - The second volume of the Grant Morrison series also in deluxe oversized format, like the first volume and Batman RIP

* Justice League of America: Team History - The first James Robinson/Mark Bagley trade after Cry for Justice

* World's Greatest Super-heroes Deluxe - This appears (unconfirmed) to be a deluxe format edition of the painted Alex Ross stories written by Paul Dini. These were previously only available as very large paperbacks and an Absolute edition; "deluxe" is a far more manageable size. Could this be the beginning of an Absolute-to-deluxe trend?

* Batman: Life After Death - Following Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows, here's the next volume in the solo adventures of the new Batman, by Tony Daniel

What's on your to-buy list? Does Superman: Earth One made the cut? Chime in at the comments section below.

Review: Supergirl: Who is Superwoman? trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Having read Supergirl: Who is Superwoman?, I'd like to nominate writer Sterling Gates for the comic book equivalent of the Nobel prize. The nomination, however, isn't for Gates' current work; though Who is Superman? is enjoyable, I nominate Gates in the spirit of current American politics -- not for his current work, but for the change his work represents and for what he might do in the future.

[Contains spoilers for Supergirl: Who is Superwoman?]

What surprised me most about Who is Superwoman? was how similar it was to Supergirl volumes past. Understanding from interviews that Gates wanted to break from the "screw up" persona that's marked DC Comics' current Supergirl, I expected a character specifically more poised and established. Instead, Gates' Supergirl remains as stubbornly headstrong, overly self-assured, and wildly emotional as she's been before; there's still the distance between Supergirl and the readers, who often shakes their head at the folly of Supergirl's actions.

Who is Supergirl? works because this Supergirl is naive, but no longer silly. Yes, this Supergirl gets so angry that she flies headfirst into an empty costume without realizing Superwoman is inside it, and yes, this Supergirl gets so mad at her mother that she bloodies her hand smashing a Kryptonian crystal, but these are actions that I can at least realistically attribute to a teenage girl. Gone are the days, first of all, of Supergirl hating Superman, and gone are the days of Supergirl in "riot grrrl" gear tarting it up in a nightclub. In comparison, Supergirl's bespectacled new Linda Lang persona is necessarily wholesome, more Clark Kent than Paris Hilton. Gates seems to realize that a "bad girl" Supergirl only reinforces the worst stereotypes of how comics portray women; better to err farther on the "nice" side, still without making Supergirl infallible.

Admittedly, I am tired of the "teenage superhero as well meaning juvenile" paradigm. It wasn't that long ago when sidekicks were precocious versions of their mentors -- Chuck Dixon's Robin, for instance, stumbled over his cape once in a while, but we ultimately knew he could handle cases just as well as Batman; today's Teen Titans, by contrast, bicker with each other about unauthorized parties in Titans Tower. An immature Supergirl isn't as interesting for me to read as the headband-wearing Supergirl of ages past who was a superhero on par with her fellows -- but then again, even that Supergirl took a while growing up in the Smallville orphanage, so maybe I'm idealizing the situation.

As far as the story, Gates' offers a cogent mystery in the identity of Superwoman. Read in conjunction with Superman: New Krypton, there's a bunch of red herrings as to who might be Superwoman, and Gates (with artist Jamal Igle) plays fast and loose with panel appearances to tease Superwoman and her secret identity in two places at once. Superwoman's identity ultimately ties directly into Supergirl's own troubles -- both are confused young women choosing poor paths in hopes of honoring their fathers -- and while Gates didn't explore this explicitly, I'm pleased to see the Superwoman mystery working on more than one level.

But, if I still had some difficulty with how Gates portrays Supergirl, I had even more trouble with how Gates portrays the people around Supergirl. Yes, I understand that the public's mistrust of Supergirl is a parallel to how normal teenagers can't catch a break, but I find it hard to believe that Metropolitans, used to Superman, hate Supergirl that much for interrupting a baseball game to stop a supervillain. Moreover, Lois Lane's reaction to Supergirl having accidentally killed Superwoman is gigantically over-the-top; it's obvious to the reader that Supergirl isn't at fault, and so the prolonged scene of Lois kicking her husband's only living relative out of their apartment instead of listening to and helping Supergirl (this, the same Lois Lane meant to have coddled the young Chris Kent not too long ago) seemed like more unnecessary drama in the life of Supergirl.

Who is Superwoman? is less perfect than I thought it would be, but it's still a marked improvement over Supergirl volumes past, and that alone is saying something important. Gates puts as Supergirl's primary focus catching bad guys, and Jamal Igle's art is clear, attractive superhero fare similar to Dan Jurgens or Jerry Ordway, without sexualizing Supergirl more than is necessary or appropriate. I wonder, frankly, whether Supergirl (or Teen Titans) is a book for me or not, but at least it's a Supergirl title I'm proud of and that has a place now in the DC Universe.

(For more on Supergirl, the Supergirl Comic Box Commentary does a nice job recapping issues collected in this book.)

[Contains full covers, introduction by Supergirl actress Helen Slater, Origins & Omens pages.]

Review: Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't even stop to read this review; just go out and get Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian. Go on, go; we'll wait. This book gets my highest recommendation. Yes, indeed -- Gail Simone's latest volume of Wonder Woman is that good.

[Contains spoilers for Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian]

Bottom line, the best thing about Rise of the Olympian is that the stakes are emotional, not physical. Wonder Woman's epic battle with new-villain Genocide evokes Superman's original battle with Doomsday, except that here, Diana grapples with the moral implications of her battle. It's one thing for Diana to want to kill Genocide in order to stop the villain's rampage while struggling to discern where heroism ends and vengeance begins; it's another thing when Wonder Woman learns that Genocide is her own future self (more Bizarro than Doomsday), and that the evil she finds in Genocide is actually the same urges for revenge within her own self.

Diana gets beat terribly far down in Olympian, but the story rises to a level beyond the latest personality-clash-fueled dissolution of the Justice League because here, Diana's torment stems from her own true character. Genocide threatens to kill Wonder Woman's paramour Nemesis unless she admits that she doesn't actually love him -- the villain is Genocide, but Diana's the one who causes the pain. Similarly, Diana's choice to kill Genocide, which she tries to take back a moment later, ultimately allows Genocide to escape, such that when the villain rises again, Diana will know that the destruction results from her own bad choices. The stakes that Simone introduces here are greater than what you find in your typical comic book, and it makes for entirely gripping reading.

Not to mention, I'm a sucker for a good mystery, and Olympian has plenty of layers to peel back. Genocide is a great villain on her own, but it's ever better when the reader learns she's made from Wonder Woman's future corpse (shocking!) and that she's being controlled by classic Wonder Woman villain Cheetah -- and even better than that is the revelation that the god Ares not only controls them both, but also has a henchman within Zeus's new Olympians, too. As with Superman: New Krypton, there's a great conflicts in this story on many fronts, more than just hero-fights-villain, that kept me turning pages to the end.

I also appreciated how Olympian evokes classic Wonder Woman stories -- though maybe evokes them too strongly. The presence of Ares as the main villain, the meddling by Zeus, even Wonder Woman's renunciation of the Amazon way have all been elements of Wonder Woman stories before, and indeed it is a little repetitive. (No one believes Wonder Woman will permanently stop being an Amazon any more than they believe Superman has really abandoned Earth, of course.) But even the Greg Rucka run on Wonder Woman -- and I say this as someone who loved the Greg Rucka run on Wonder Woman -- didn't quite feel like a "traditional" Wonder Woman story, in that Wonder Woman is a superhero who fights super-villains both human and mythological, splitting her time between Man's World and Themyscira. Olympian "feels" like a Wonder Woman story (moreso, certainly, than New Krypton feels like a Superman story), and as such I'm willing to forgive re-treading some well-worn ground.

To be sure, I'm looking forward to the next volume, which doesn't unfortunately arrive until March. There's plenty still to be discovered -- Wonder Woman's renunciation of the Amazon way doesn't interest me nearly as much as, for instance, the tie between the alien Ichor race that destroyed the Khunds in Wonder Woman: The Circle and the ship that delivered the gods back to Earth at the beginning of Olympian. It seemed to me that the gods didn't even know who they were in the beginning, and despite Athena's interaction with Diana, I'm not entirely convinced the gods are even who they say they are. Certainly Zeus's murder of the god Kane Milohai has yet to be explained, and I'm eager for the answers.

(For an interesting take on Gail Simone's Wonder Woman stories so far, with comments from Gail herself, see the Hooded Utilitarian blog.)

[Contains full covers, Origins & Omens pages]

This is a great, great Wonder Woman volume. Did you enjoy it as much as I did? The Superman and Batman titles get lots of attention right now, but with the recent announcement of Wonder Woman being re-numbered to #600, maybe it'll coincide with some publicity for this storyline. Thanks for reading!

DC Announces Earth One Superman and Batman Graphic Novels

Monday, December 07, 2009

Let's talk about DC Comics: Earth One.

The first thing to do is separate the medium from the message. The "message," or content, here is a brand-new DC Comics continuity, set on a new DC "earth," with new origins for Superman and Batman. About this aspect alone, I have reservations. Leaving aside the other aspects of DC: Earth One, this makes for the third new origin of Superman in the last ten years; it just gets repetitive. I echo Kelson that the public already knows these origins already, and to rewrite over and over again with minor tweaks doesn't break new ground, but rather just makes the characters feel stale and the comics companies seem like they can't say anything new with the characters.

That said, I'm rather eager to see Geoff Johns take what, if I'm not mistaken, is his first shot at a Batman solo title.

I also have to quibble with the name, "Earth One." Well, we know that the established DC Comics continuity made up of 52 earths, with the main continuity called "New Earth"; should readers take from the name that this new continuity takes place on Earth-1 of the 52 (which I thought had already been established as something else in Trinity)? Else, unless the multiverse concept will have resonance in these new books, why call it Earth One at all? i imagine this is supposed to be some take on "Year One," but having "Earth" in these seems unnecessarily confusing.

That said ...

I am so very, very excited about this announcement. Consider this: original graphic novels -- trades, TPBs, whatever you want to call them -- about DC Comics superheroes, set in their own continuity. That is, not Elseworlds or specials or Prestige Format one-shots, but books set in a (if not the) continuity. Books that build on one another, books that follow one another, and books that cross over (or why else have continuity?).

What excites me is that for the first time, this very blog (and wait-for-traders all over the Internet) could talk about a new Superman or Batman adventure that's part of continuity (well, a continuity) right when it comes out. That is, the Earth One books, at last, won't be collections of books that everyone else has already read -- instead they'll be new, brand new, in graphic novel format.

Comic Book Resources quotes Geoff Johns that the plan is for two novels every year. My sense is that what DC has announced is much like how manga is produced -- not individual issues, but collected volumes -- but that manga volumes come out at a much faster rate. It seems to me that if the first volume is the origin of Superman and Batman, and the second volume introduces some villains ... we'll be at volume four before we really start getting in to meaty stories. I'm happy about this, but would it be too much to hope for perhaps three volumes a year? That way, by the end of the second year, the titles can start feeding in to an Earth One Justice League ...


Bottom line, I consider this a red-letter day, and a great step forward for lovers of collected comics. Keep following Collected Editions, and we'll have more on Earth One as it's revealed. How fun!

What do you think of DC Comics: Earth One? What's the next title you'd like to see after Superman and Batman? Chime in!

Review: Hawkgirl: Hath-Set trade paperback (DC Comics)

One of many good things about walking in to the after-Thanksgiving sale at my local comics shop was the opportunity to purchase Hawkgirl: Hath-Set at a discount given that I was none too pleased with earlier Hawkgirl volumes. Hath-Set turns out to be proof positive that there's nothing harder to come back from than a rocky start -- even as writer Walter Simonson's stories picked up in the absence of earlier artist Howard Chaykin, the third volume of Hawkgirl still sees the end of the series. Simonson offers some good characterization of the modern Hawkgirl character, especially as seen through others' eyes, but the story spins its wheels in such a way as to signal that the end is necessarily nigh.

We learn from Hawkgirl that Walt Simoson should be writing Batman. Both here and in Hawkgirl: The Maw, Simonson presents a Batman who smoothly transitions from Bruce Wayne to Batman as a kind of slick playboy James Bondian-Batman, equally at ease at a dinner party as when fighting crime, and friends with the late night janitors of the Gotham museum. This classy Batman makes for an equally classy Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders, whose fighting style Batman admires even as he's impressed by her knowledge of ancient artifacts. No more the moody twentysomething from the early pages of JSA, this Hawkgirl -- the reader sees through Batman -- holds her own, and does so with a flair reminiscent of Barbara Gordon's days as Batgirl.

Indeed, Simonson -- and Brad Meltzer before him, in the pages of Justice League -- accepts that this new incarnation has been around ten years now (hard to believe), and it's time to stop treating her like a newly arrived stranger. Most of Geoff Johns' run on Hawkman presented Kendra in Hawkman's shadow, but lately she's in the Justice League, calls Batman and Superman "Bruce" and "Clark," and gives each kisses on the cheek to thank them for their help. This is a necessary change, I think; in the absence of resurrecting Shiera Hall (though Simonson does that briefly here, too), who was herself a cornerstone of the Justice League, it makes little sense to treat Kendra like a new character that no one knows. In that way, I enjoyed seeing Simoson plant Hawkgirl firmly in the center of the DC Universe (much as Peter Tomasi did recently in Nightwing: Freefall).

The six issues of Hawkgirl: Hath-Set, however, run about three issues too long. First, there's a two-parter in the beginning that pits Hawkgirl against the Female Furies and an Apokolyptian weapon; the lead-in to this in Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns was considerably more interesting, and in the end nothing changes and everything goes back in its place. Perhaps the only benefit is reading Simonson writing the New Gods again, if only for a moment.

Second, the culminating battle between Hawkgirl and Hath-Set goes on at least one issue too long. Hawkgirl and the mummified Hath-Set spend nearly an entire issue standing in place, jabbing one another with swords, and trading insults; then they go on to do it again in the next issue. Simonson writes for the monthly reader and not the collection -- as perhaps he should -- with the effect that the narrated setting of time and place repeats itself rather unnecessarily seemingly in mid-scene. There's nothing bad here, per se, but just a sense of dragging that usually foretells a series about to be cancelled.

Surely one could argue that the cancellation of Hawkgirl (and Manhunter, and Birds of Prey) portends bad things for female-led comics in the DC Universe. That might be true, but rather I think Hawkgirl just started on the wrong foot and could never quite right itself. Pity that Simonson couldn't make more of a statement at the end of the book; the story ends with no real closure on Hawkman and Hawkgirl's relationships, likely to leave it open for the next writer to play with. This might've at least given the Hawkgirl series a place in history, if nothing else.

[Contains full covers]

Review: Showcase Presents: House of Secrets Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

[This review comes from Collected Editions blog contributor Derek Roper]

You know how you leave a place that you used to love and when you came back to it, it's lackluster? Well, that's the feeling I have with Showcase Presents: The House of Secrets Vol. 2, which collects issues #99-119 of that series. The first volume had Twilight Zone-level horror stories and cool endings. This ... well, this doesn't have that and it also doesn't have the writers (such as Len Wein and Marv Wolfman). What it does have are stories that don't fit, and often seem to take the reader for granted in the process.

Usually, The House of Secrets is the main character of the book, but not this time. There's more focus on the stories than the house itself, but not in a good way. The writers could have found time to work in side stories and develop Abel's character, but instead Abel is presented as a complete 360 from his characterization in Vol. 1. It seems as though in the blink of an eye Abel has changed from a cowardly man (that is what was so great about him) to a smart mouth punk. In an introduction to one of the stories he says "So, remember -- even if you're a dummy (and most you readers out there are dummies), you can still have your revenge!" Maybe writer Steve Skeates thought this Abel would be more appealing, but it feels like an insult to the readership.

As far as art goes, I still think these stories should be in color (yeah, yeah, economics, I get it) but it would really add so much to the story. A horror story (visually) is 50 percent story and 50 percent art. Would Psycho have had as much impact if it was just Norman Bates telling the tale?

Now, to touch on some of the stories . . .

I don't read linearly in these types of books, so the story I was drawn to was "The Demon and the Rock Star." Dean Taggert is a musician who wants it all and encounters a demon who grants him some of his desires. In return, the demon needs three victims. It is up to Taggert to select them by putting a jewel in each of the victim's pockets that is a signal to let the demon know which one to kill. One of the last victims is a girl he liked. She broke up with him so he gave her a beautiful gem necklace (that is, demon-tagged her) and went on to perform in his show. As with all horror tales, there is a twist. The girl couldn't accept the gem and instead sewed it onto his performance outfit; in the end he went down in an inglorious blaze. The plot hole is, if he could keep the gem before putting it in the victim's possession, then why did the demon kill him?

While stories like the "The Demon and the Rockstar" suffer from time and greater audience maturity, there were also some that didn't make any sense to me at all. In "The Night of the Nebishi," Morty Kranz was a mousey man and took verbal abuse from his boss and then his wife. He would have nightmares about phantoms and dragons. He would wake up screaming (and sometimes with cold water thrown in his face via his wife) almost every night. Finally, he went to the hospital and stayed the night. That was also the night two aliens (a cross between the McDonald's fry kids and barbarians) landed and were going to take over the earth. But they didn't because Morty threw some sticks and stones and prevented the whole invasion. Your guess is as good as mine.

I did find, however, two stories that were entertaining. One was a tale of dwarfs who were taken hostage by two circus owners in "A Carnival of Dwarfs." It gives the reader the feeling that all the abuse that these little creatures take was going to come back ten fold on the two men. It was nice to see that the writer, Michael Fleisher, threw in a red herring with a withered old-man about whom the dwarfs pleaded "But please don't hurt our old friend! Please!" The end had a feeling of Nosferatu meets Gulliver's Travels.

And then there's the always wild "Abel's Fables." These short strips show hilarious bad situations. Highlights were a vampire ordering dinner and looking at the Maitre d' with hunger, and the violinist who lost his bow that ended up in an unpleasant place. Something that was new, not seen in the first volume, are the "Cain & Abel" comic strips, in the same vein as "Abel's Fables" but more about sibling rivalry than spookiness.

Aside from the two decent stories, I felt this volume should be left up on the shelf; it doesn't even compare to its predecessor.

Review: Justice League of America: Worlds Collide hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 30, 2009

There's a general consensus that once writer Dwayne McDuffie had Final Crisis out of the way, the quality of his Justice League of America picked up considerably. Never in McDuffie's run were his stories bad or embarrassing to the characters; in fact, his characterization was always strong even if the story plots -- due to McDuffie himself or the aforementioned pre-Final Crisis editorial fiat -- sometimes lacked real verve.

Whether with Final Crisis behind him or the new inclusion of his former Milestone characters, McDuffie's previous Justice League volume Second Coming showed marked improvement over the two before, and Worlds Collide is his best Justice League yet. We mourn, then, that it also collects McDuffie's final issues of the title.

Indeed, the great strength of McDuffie's Justice League run all along has been the characters. Throughout, I for one have enjoyed the "doomed from the beginning" romance between Hawkgirl and Red Arrow; McDuffie also well spotlighted Vixen and Red Tornado in the last volume. Here, at the end, McDuffie finds character gold in the unlikely pairing of the female Dr. Light and the young Firestorm; Light is over-angry and Firestorm overly-flippant, but they quickly bond as Justice League outsiders. As well, time hasn't lessened McDuffie's touch with the Milestone characters; his Icon remains as noble as his Hardware does enjoyably overconfident.

Left with a handful of Justice League second-stringers in the wake of Final Crisis, McDuffie creates a plucky sub-League that's surprisingly fun to watch. McDuffie pits the team against Starbreaker, a classic and powerful Justice League foe, and convincingly demonstrates how this team -- Zatanna, Green Lantern John Stewart, Firestorm, and Dr. Light -- could reasonably take down Starbreaker on their own. McDuffie gets points for characterization again -- his League comes together solely for the purpose of upholding League values, and the way the four quickly learn to care for one another makes them all the more endearing; there's a "soul" in this story that wasn't there before, and the reader suddenly cares because, it seems, the writer does, too.

Unfortunately, by choice or again by editorial fiat, how McDuffie gets to this clear space isn't entirely pretty. The real victim in this volume is Black Canary, the chairwoman to whom little of the League has shown respect throughout McDuffie's run (part of a storyline, he says, to ultimately build Canary back up). In Worlds Collide, much of Canary's team either resigns or joins a rival League (including Canary's own husband, Green Arrow) such that Canary herself quits.

For those who thrilled to see Canary take charge, branching off of Gail Simone's take on Black Canary in Birds of Prey, to see Canary's League end in flames is a disappointment. After years of writers casting Canary as the victim, chairing the League represented not only a victory for Canary, but for the portrayal of women in comics. But one difficulty with a character gaining their strength is that sometimes writers don't know where else to go, and therefore must break the character down again -- we see this not only with Canary, but even with Oracle in Birds of Prey after Simone's departure. Again, I'm not sure any of this is actually McDuffie's choice -- in one chapter, Canary and Oracle actually discuss whether it's "sexism" that's been the problem with Canary's leadership in the Justice League, and one wonders if this isn't another instance of McDuffie making his own statement on his troubled Justice League run through his characters.

Indeed, it's hard not to hear McDuffie in a a rather startling exchange between Canary and Green Lantern Hal Jordan halfway through the book. As Hal announces his intent to form his own League (in James Robinson's Cry for Justice), he ticks off on his fingers what very little Black Canary's Justice League has accomplished. Indeed it is very little, mostly helping fellow Leaguers rather than saving the world -- as compared to Grant Morrison's JLA, this League's accomplishments are paltry. McDuffie could very well be speaking about how his own writerly hands have been tied; most of what this League has done has been in service to either crossovers or forthcoming miniseries, and the reader imagines they feel McDuffie's frustration in Canary's own.

What came next, of course, was McDuffie's firing from Justice League reportedly for airing his frustrations about the direction of the series. Those frustrations, it seems, mainly involved the interruption of crossovers in the series -- yes, McDuffie dealt with a bunch of Final Crisis, but I recall Grant Morrison has as many crossovers with JLA and seemed to take them more in stride -- Superman showing up in his blue costume, and Wonder Woman's mother joining the League, as two examples. No comic, I'm sure, is easy to write, but I wonder if Justice League is as hard as it seems, or if it just takes a certain kind of writer to write it. James Robinson takes the League next, with a membership that seems geared more toward working with the current changes in the DC Universe rather than being derailed by it -- I'll be curious if Robinson's run, finally, becomes a "lasting" League run, rather than the fits and starts we've seen so far.

[Contains full covers]

One good thing to come out of all of this is the announcement of Milestone Forever, a new miniseries by McDuffie. The return of the Milestone characters in Worlds Collide (and how McDuffie ties it to past Milestone history and to Final Crisis) is one of the best parts of this volume, and I'm eager for more Milestone on the way.

Thanks for reading!

Review: Justice League of America: Second Coming hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It seems the best of times and the worst of times for the Justice League of America title. In Second Coming, writer Dwayne McDuffie presents a Justice League tale that is interesting and well-steeped in League history, though suffers from a general sense of unimportance. This is fine Justice League, but I dare say Justice League needs to be better than "fine" in order to make a mark.

For the most part, Second Coming serves to rejuvenate two fan-favorite Justice League characters, Red Tornado and Vixen. These are necessary steps, and under different auspices both stories might succeed far better. Focusing on Red Tornado and Vixen, especially the latter, makes this feel less like a Justice League story than a character piece with plenty of guest stars (though McDuffie gives nice moments to both Black Canary and Zatanna, and also Animal Man). Neither Tornado nor Vixen change here, nor do any other Leaguers, such that this story could have taken place just as well in JLA Classified as in the main title.

McDuffie recognizes that Red Tornado, to be sure, has been in this position before -- his body destroyed, the League trying to rebuild him -- and turns the story on Tornado's sense of trying to change his life. The change, Tornado's proposal to his girlfriend, is a good one (I thought they were already married), though it doesn't help the reader escape the same ennui that Tornado feels. McDuffie takes up a good chunk of Tornado's story in this book with the Justice League fighting Amazo -- that is, again. There's nothing notable about this incarnation of Amazo, no gimmick or special circumstances; it's just a hero/villain slugfest with an equally simple, the heroes acknowledge, solution. McDuffie gets the voices of all these characters, especially Tornado and Zatanna, but ultimately this part has little to distinguish itself.

Much like Gail Simone's long Black Canary storyline in Birds of Prey, McDuffie has stripped Vixen of her powers, her League status, everything -- only to restore her in this volume essentially the same as before. Arguably, Vixen gains a healthy dose of respect from the League (as, one imagines, she is meant to gain from the reader), but frankly, I liked Vixen just as much as I did before. McDuffie writes a good Vixen story, don't get me wrong, and a fine one-off tale of an alternate Justice League, but I felt more relief to see Vixen's powers back to normal than I did cheer at her recovery. It's hard to say at this point what original writer Brad Meltzer might have intended for Vixen's haywire powers in the first place, but I hope from here on to see less drama surrounding the character and more of Vixen as a valued member of the League.

At the end of Second Coming, the reader learns that Anansi, source of Vixen and apparently Animal Man's troubles for a white, was essentially "just kidding." The trickster character claims he's been testing Vixen for the purpose of strengthening her for a fight ahead -- that is, Anansi isn't a villain, and all his villainous acts can just be swept under the rug. It's an unfortunate amount of noise to ultimately signify nothing; Anansi makes interesting claims about fabricating the aliens that gave Animal Man his powers, and also about having ties to problems with the Multiverse in Final Crisis, but that he "takes it all back" in the end contributes to the story falling flat.

Of course, one always has to watch when a writer introduces a "storyteller" character into a story, as McDuffie does with the Anansi. It's perhaps too easy to read McDuffie's well-publicized frustrations with writing Justice League in what Anansi says -- for instance, Vixen admonishing Anansi to "put everything back" in its place, and Anansi refusing because it's what "they" want him to do. McDuffie decrying "excessive continuity" through Anansi is worthwhile for a laugh, though the details of his plan to use Vixen to "reassert ... control" (over the direction of the Justice League title, presumably) smacks a bit of desperation.

There's a lot I liked about Justice League of America: Second Coming. McDuffie references an earlier meeting between Animal Man and Vixen, technically out of continuity -- good. McDuffie offers some "guy talk" where Superman is sensitive and Green Lantern is brash in giving Red Arrow advice -- good. And there's a beautifully illustrated scene of Black Lightning having a heart-to-heart with Hawkgirl (not sure if this is Ed Benes or one of the guest writers), marred only by a mix-up of Hawkgirl and Black Canary's backstories. It's a good book, not a waste of time or money (though it contains remarkably few issues for a hardcover), but McDuffie fails to do anything new with the Justice League here. After their long years of history, I'm not sure just teaming up these heroes cuts it any more.

[Contains full covers]

(Blog@Newsarama contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco has an interesting take on Second Coming on his blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday.)

Review: Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 23, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds.]

As should come as no surprise, Geoff Johns and George Perez's Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds is a big book of caped and costumed superhero fun. Johns not only takes the opportunity to bend the classic Legion of Super-Heroes mission alongside twenty-first century social issues, but also amends what many readers will see as poor choices made by DC Comics in the time leading up to Final Crisis. Be warned, however -- even as I'd venture there's something here for everyone, to really understand every detail of this story requires a knowledge of DC Comics' Legion lore that this reader, to be sure, didn't have.

Johns succeeds with the Legion here much in the same way he did with Green Lantern: Rebirth, reviving the classic interpretation while preserving the modern versions. All three Legions get a place -- the newest Legion as stories from Earth-Prime, the Zero Hour Legion shunted to a parallel Earth though remembered through the remaining speedster XS, and the classic Legion as the new continuity. In this, and in some slight of hand involving the Final Night crossover and the modern Superboy and Supergirl's meetings with the Legion, Johns establishes that all the Legion stories you love still did happen, won't be forgotten, and are integral to the current Legion. Most everything included (sorry, John Byrne Superman years) and very little left out.

In the past, Legion has always paralleled themes of racial and global harmony, as teenagers from different "worlds" join to live and work together. Johns' new Legion status quo has xenophobia run rampant on Earth (similar, we could say, to issues facing the United States) while the rest of the universe looks to disassociate itself from Earth because of their xenophobia (much the same, again, to the tarnished reputation of the United States world-wide). Into this comes Johns' Legion, young adults from different backgrounds working together against the push and pull of their own planets; it's a small tweak, but one that revitalizes the relevancy of the Legion much the same as the Green Lantern series has been an allegory for the plight of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina.

The big news however, at least for me, is that Johns uses Legion of Three Worlds to resurrect Superboy and Kid Flash, both controversially killed since Infinite Crisis. I already knew about the resurrections, but I was quite surprised that Superboy's return related to Starman's actions in Justice Society. Much the same, I knew Kid Flash Bart Allen would be back via Brainiac 5's lightning rods, but not that the original, "forgotten" team up of the three Legions involved rescuing baby Bart and his cousin Jenni from the Reverse Flash. Johns ties together plots from this past year's Superman and Justice Society with nary a thread left hanging -- rare in these days -- and the execution is very, very impressive.

Legion of Three Worlds follows the classic Legion recruiting some Multiversal help to defeat the rampaging Superboy-Prime of Infinite Crisis fame. Prime recruits his own Legion of Super-Villains, allowing Johns to delve into extreme Legion apocrypha and spotlight even more esoteric Legion characters. It's here unfortunately where Legion of Three Worlds shows the difficulties inherit especially in the classic Legion series: there's just so many characters and relationships. That Wildfire has an unrequited love for Dawnstar I get, and also that Lightning Lord is Lightning Lad's brother, but when we get into the White Witch/Black Witch/Mordru situation, I for one was hopelessly confused. One hopes that in Adventure Comics or wherever the Legion may appear next, Johns and subsequent writer Paul Levitz have the space to take things more slowly and let new readers get to know the characters better.

In truth I've kept up better with the post-Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis Legions, who largely take a back seat in this tale. Indeed there are some nice moments, both "cute" -- the inclusion of the every grouchy Gates, that the second Ferro Lad is just called "Ferro" and that we once called Phantom Girl "Apparition" -- and also that Johns cleans up some trailing Legion plotines, like the second Lightning Lad stuck in Element Lad's body. But the two alternate Brainiacs, who get the most screen-time, spend much of it bickering at one another in a rather rudimentary way -- the second Brainiac sits in awe of the adult Legionnaires, while the third Brainiac has only snide comments for anyone over the age of eighteen. It's a very rough distillation of the temperament of the two Legions -- likely all Johns had space for -- but the result feels somewhat simplistic.

Regardless, Legion of Three Worlds deserves a special place alongside George Perez's JLA/Avengers and likely also JLA/Titans, Kingdom Come, and Green Lantern: Rebirth. All of these are books that deftly celebrate DC Comics minutia through echoed words and phrases, recreated postures and poses, and more in-jokes packed into the background than you'll find anywhere other than an issue of Ambush Bug. The book begins in the thirty-first century Superman Museum, and the artifacts here -- Dubbilex, the Tangent Superman, Superboy's original jacket -- are just a taste of what's to come. There's material here for DC readers from the Legion's beginning to just a few years ago; something in this book is sure to delight.

The book is tagged as a Final Crisis crossover, but the cross occurs in one direction only. Final Crisis references Legion of Three Worlds (turns on it, even), but Legion in no way references Final Crisis, and in fact largely contradicts some of the comics that follow in Final Crisis's stead. This should worry the reader not at all. Final Crisis and Legion do eventually match up a couple months down the road, and the offending scene in Legion is easily dismissable. Chalk it up to all the time paradoxes that go on in Legion of Three Worlds; the incongruity is a blunder, but it doesn't overshadow what's otherwise a well-written, well-drawn story that celebrates the DC Comics history it's built on.

[Includes full, variant, and unused covers]

Comic Book Holiday Gift Guide 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Collected Editions blog is back again with our picks for this year's top ten ideas for trade paperback presents for the comic book lover, fan, or collector in your life.

Last year we offered eleven suggestions of books could you get for under $25 -- and, with a little Collected Editions magic, free shipping, too! This year our focus is on ten complete volumes -- standalone books or sets that you can get your favorite comics fan, where they won't have to run out and buy twelve more books in order to understand it. Not all are under $25, but most are -- and we're back with more tips how you can get free shipping!

* Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1

A deluxe hardcover makes a lovely, impressive gift under your Christmas tree, and you can't go wrong with the newly-released first volume of the Eisner award-winning Fables series, which pairs fairytale characters with modern, real-world settings. This book features the first and second Fables storylines previously only available in paperback, in this director's cut oversized edition. And, Fables writer Bill Willingham just released a Fables prose novel; pair this book with Peter & Max: A Fables Novel to make a lovely set with free shipping.

* Asterios Polyp

Every comics fan knows David Mazzucchelli's name as the artist on Batman: Year One, but he's also drawn novel adaptions and cartoons for New Yorker magazine. His first graphic novel, Asterios Polyp, would be a cerebral change-of-pace for your favorite comic book fan, the richly illustrated story of a New York architect whose misanthropy culminates with a self-imposed exile to the American midwest. Pair this book with one of two great graphic novels, Will Eisner's The Dreamer or Amanda Vanhamaki's The Bun Field, and you've got two trade paperbacks for just about $25.

* Absolute Death

Be forewarned, this is a pricey book, but it's sure to leave your loved one happy. Ask any comics fan, and you'll find that among their top ten gateways into comics was something to do with writer Neil Gaiman's character Death -- either her appearances in Sandman or her much acclaimed miniseries. Don't let Death's goth girl appearance fool you -- these are stories full of philosophy and magic, and a necessary addition to any comics fan's shelf. Free shipping on this and any book you might pair with it.

* Astonishing X-Men Omnibus

Keeping with our focus on done-in-one volumes this time around, this gigantic X-Men hardcover collects all twenty-four issues of Astonishing X-Men written by Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday. Whedon's run also won Eisner awards -- whether your favorite X-Men fan loved X-Men Origins: Wolverine or hated it, this collection will give them something to enjoy. Shipping on this book is free!

* Trinity Vol. 1

Among the Final Crises and Blackest Nights of the past year, DC Comics's weekly Trinity event starring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman slipped quietly under the radar. Just in time for the holidays, all three volumes of this sweeping, fifty-two part superhero saga are now available in paperback; tied up in a ribbon, this too would make a nice complete set under the tree. Pair one volume with our illustrated Beowulf stocking stuffer, or pick up all three -- either way, free shipping!

* Bone: One Volume Edition

Talk about hefty -- this graphic novel clocks in at over 1,000 pages for just over $25. Independently published and called one of the top greatest graphic novels by Time magazine , the art style of Jeff Smith's Bone looks at first like something from the Sunday funnies, but is really a sweeping fantasy saga in the spirit of Lord of the Rings. Another done-in-one volume -- this is every Bone issue in one place, and sure to keep the recipient reading for a long time.

* Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Two-Disc Special Edition)

One of my favorite trade paperbacks is the first volume of Superman/Batman, Public Enemies, so I was more than a little excited when DC announced they'd bring Jepf Loeb and Ed McGuinness's story to the small screen. Admittedly, the DVD's been met with mixed reviews, and doesn't quite do the original story justice -- at the same time, there's something about McGuinness's manga-inspired, big muscled art, especially combined with voices from the original Superman and Batman animated series, that's very compelling. Together, the book and movie are good for free shipping -- another great package, and your comics fan can decide for themselves which is better.

* Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Scott McCloud launched a series of books about comics with this, the illustrated Understanding Comics. Using the medium's own vernacular, McCloud examines the language of comics and how they use pictures to make meaning. This should be on any comics reader's shelf -- I read it a while back, and it completely changed how I read my comics and the details I noticed from panel to panel. Pair with the The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks for a bit of irreverent fun (and free shipping), or just about any of the other full trade paperbacks on the list.

* Star Trek: Countdown

I loved, loved, loved the newest Star Trek movie, and not just because they were willing to take risks like the relationship between you know who or blowing up you know where. I also loved it because of the continuity, that's right, that J. J. Abrams still managed to make the new movie fit with all the old ones (obviously, I'm something of a continuity wonk). For the Star Trek fan on your list, Countdown further bridges the gap between the old and new Star Trek continuity -- it's a fun book that adds a little more to the movie. Add to Understanding Comics for free shipping, or your favorite sci-fi fan might like the Flashforward novel, Dilbert's Scott Adams' essays Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!, plus Will Eisner's The Dreamer to boot -- once again, four books just about $25 and free shipping!

* The Bun Field

This abstract story by Italian artist Amanda Vahamaki redefines the graphic novel genre -- a moody piece where reality is fluid and the rules of perception are made to be broken. I've read Bun Field, the abstract story of a day in the life of a inquisitive child, a couple times since it came out, and I find a different meaning in it each time. I like the idea of pairing Bun Field with The Dreamer, looking at where comics started and where they're going; include Star Trek: Countdown alongside and you've got free shipping.

And for more help qualifying your order for free shipping ...

* The Dreamer

At this very moment, the graphic novel The Dreamer by legendary comics creator Will Eisner is only $5. Eisner literally invented the graphic novel format, and The Dreamer is Eisner's own autobiographical tale of the early days of the comics industry. If you want to add some more weighty trade paperback reading to your gift-giving this year, you can't go wrong with this one; pair The Dreamer with Asterios Polyp and the lighter Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! for free shipping.

* The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks

From the big screen to the Blackest Night, I don't have to tell you zombies are all the rage this year (and what says the holidays like zombies?). Max Brooks takes on zombies throughout history in this illustrated "guidebook," just one in a series by Brooks. Better yet, this will round out your free shipping with Understanding Comics, Asterios Polyp, and just about everything else you'll find on this list.

* Flashforward

While not a graphic novel, I was fascinated to find in the bookstore that the new ABC series getting so much attention is based on this novel by the same writer, with reportedly more of a focus on the government action. I've got a copy on order from the library, but in the meantime I've been thinking of picking this up as a stocking stuffer myself. Pair with Star Trek: Countdown and just about anything below for free shipping.

* Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Explains Cloning, Blouse Monsters, Voting Machines, Romance, Monkey Gods, How to Avoid Being Mistaken for a Rodent, and More

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame offers this book of essays on religion, technology, and just about anything else that comes to mind. Though a little outside the realm of graphic novels, if you've got a Dilbert fan at home, this 400-page book is less than $3 and should help you on your way to free shipping.

* Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes

John Howe of the Lord of the Rings movie fame illustrated this slim volume which retells the legend of Beowulf. While not perhaps the shining jewel of your gift list, this will make a nice stocking stuffer for a fan of fantasy artwork, or a younger reader you'd like to introduce to the epic poem. At just over $5, pair this with Asterios Polyp and The Dreamer and get free shipping, or drop it in with Bone: One Volume Edition for a shipping-free stocking stuffer.

Happy holidays to all, and to all good reading!

(Lots of bloggers, by the way, have Amazon links like the ones above, and when you buy anything after clicking on these links, that blogger gets a few cents. This holiday season, if you're buying gifts through Amazon, consider clicking on someone's link before you buy; I know I will. There are lots of hard-working bloggers out there (see blogroll), and this is a great, easy way to support them.)