Beginner's Guide to the Watchmen graphic novel and What to Read Next

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Watchmen is generally considered the holy grail of graphic novels, one of the bestselling trade paperback collections in stores. With the Watchmen movie in theaters and getting good reviews, Collected Editions blog readers -- many of whom are new to waiting-for-trades, may be wondering about all the Watchmen products out there, and if you liked Watchmen, what to read next. Here's the Collected Editions run-down:

The Books:

Watchmen: The Absolute Edition
Collected Editions owns the Absolute Watchmen, and if you want the Watchmen experience with all the bells and whistles, this one is for you. At 13 x 9, this hardcover is a good bit larger than the regular paperback (IMAX size, for instance, versus seeing Watchmen in the theater), and includes a bunch of additional information about the history of Watchmen, including promotional art by artist Dave Gibbons, and excerpts from writer Alan Moore's Watchmen scripts. Might be interesting to compare the comic book scripts with the movie, come to think of it. (Read the Collected Editions review of Absolute Watchmen.)

On the other end of the spectrum is the Watchmen softcover, which contains all twelve issues of the original series. This comes in at less than $15 on Amazon, cheaper than most trade paperbacks, so if you want the Watchmen experience without all the frills, this is a fine alternative.

Watchmen: The International Edition
Recently released, this paperback is somewhere in between Absolute Watchmen and the regular edition. It's got some of the retouched pages from the Absolute edition apparently, a new cover, and it may also contain some of the bonus pages from the Absolute edition (though I have conflicting reports on that).

Ancillary Titles:

Watching the Watchmen: The Definitive Companion to the Ultimate Graphic Novel
That this is a book about Watchmen written by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons is likely just about all most people want to know. Gibbons talks both about working on Watchmen and also offers more promotional and unpublished art from the series. If you're really into Watchmen, this is a great companion.

Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test
I'm a fan of these pop culture philosophy books (which also include Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way). A bunch of philosophers and essayists consider issues of politics and morality (in addition to the most important: is a comic book literature?) in a series of vignettes about Watchmen. A great companion to the book or movie, in my opinion.

The Dark Age: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics
This gem from a few years backs talks not just about Watchmen, but the whole grim and gritty era that Watchmen began and that carried through both the economics and storytelling for the comics era in the 1980s and 1990s. Writer Mark Voger looks at Image Comics, Spawn, the deaths of Robin and Superman (and the breaking of Batman's back) in this comics journalism volume.

Background Titles:

The Question: Five Books of Blood
As you may or may not know, the Watchmen characters are based on Charlton Comics characters later bought by DC Comics, including the Question (Rorschach), Blue Beetle (Nite Owl), and Captain Atom (Dr. Manhattan). DC recently replaced the original Question, Vic Sage, with Gotham police detective Renee Montoya, and this is her first solo adventure. It's written by Greg Rucka, one of my favorite writers, and worth a look.

The OMAC Project
Greg Rucka also writes this story of Blue Beetle. Though Beetle only appears in the first chapter of the book, the story deals with his legacy and how he affected other heroes. There's good parallels here between Blue Beetle and Nite Owl's journey in Watchmen.

Captain Atom: Armageddon
This recent Captain Atom volume has him traveling to the Wildstorm Universe (a bit rougher and more Watchmen-esque than the DC Universe). Captain Atom is far more "human" than Dr. Manhattan, but it might be interesting to see on what the Watchmen character was based.

What to Read Next:

Saga of the Swamp Thing, Book 1
A new DC Comics promotion will release single issues that might interest fans of Watchmen -- but why read a single issue when you can get a whole collection? DC's first suggestion is Saga of the Swamp Thing; this ground-breaking horror collection by Watchmen writer Alan Moore contains his first eight Swamp Thing issues.

Transmetropolitan Vol. 1: Back on the Street
Writer Warren Ellis offers this sarcastic post-modern tale of investigative journalist Spider Jerusalem. Funny and cynical, "Transmet" (as it's lovingly called) survived a failed DC science-fiction imprint to later join Vertigo comics, and is one of my favorite series.

Absolute Planetary
It's hard to describe Warren Ellis's Planetary except to say that it's a dark conspiracy-ridden cross between The X-Files and Indiana Jones. Ellis is known for the kind of dark meta-interpretive superhero comics that take their inspiration from Watchmen; if you like Alan Moore, chances are you'll like Warren Ellis.

Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas
Preacher is a dark, violent, urban supernatural western (how's that for a description!) as a fallen preacher travels cross-country with a vampire on a search for God. Fans of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill will enjoy this thoughtful, gory, take-no-prisoners comic.

Identity Crisis
Of all the books listed above, Identity Crisis is the most "superheroic," involving Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League. Like Watchmen, however, Identity Crisis involves a dark conspiracy among the heroes, leading back to their predecessors; like Watchmen, this story by Brad Meltzer is a serious, human look at the people behind the costumes. (Read the Collected Editions review of Identity Crisis.)

Absolute Dark Knight Returns
How DC could recommend a group of books to go with Watchmen and not mention The Dark Knight Returns is beyond me (collected here with the controversial sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Back). Published about the same time as Watchmen, this definitive Batman story by Frank Miller (300, The Spirit, Sin City) is credited, with Watchmen, with beginning the grim and gritty era of comics. In a future Cold War America, a criminalized Batman leads an urban revolution against the corrupt government, ending in a famous showdown-to-the-death with Superman.


Nite Owl Dark Roast
This Watchmen coffee tickles me every time I see it. Comes in a collectable Watchmen can; I'll probably drink it and then keep the can to refill with store-bought coffee.

Collected Editions blog readers are a knowledgeable bunch -- if you've got questions about Watchmen books that I didn't answer, just leave a question below. And for those who have read the book, what else should new readers try?

Official Final Crisis hardcover details revealed

Newsarama's got confirmation from Mega Con on the story you originally heard at the Collected Editions blog, that the Final Crisis hardcover will indeed now contain the seven-issue miniseries, plus Superman Beyond #1-2 and Final Crisis: Submit. The Final Crisis Companion, originally supposed to include Superman Beyond and Submit, will have the Final Crisis #1 Director's Cut and Final Crisis Secret Files, along with Final Crisis: Requiem and Final Crisis: Resist.

Read these related Collected Editions stories:
* Final Crisis collection details change, and Batman RIP hardcover news
* Trade Perspectives: Batman: RIP and Final Crisis Further Thoughts
* Trade Poll: Which to read first, Batman: RIP or Final Crisis?
* Final Crisis hardcover solicitation
* How do you want Final Crisis collected?

In other Mega Con news, Dan DiDio and Vince Letterio (Direct Sales) downplayed the possibility of a Young Justice trade paperback right now, though the recent upswing in requests for this makes Collected Editions think it's not too far away ...

So the real question is, with the change in the Final Crisis hardcover's contents, will current orders be cancelled, and will be book be resolicited with a new price?

Review: Superman: Shadows Linger trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kurt Busiek delivers the last stories of his Superman run, before moving to the weekly Trinity series, in Superman: Shadows Linger. I've enjoyed Busiek's run on Superman even as I haven't been able to shake the feeling of disparity between the heft, for lack of a better word, between Busiek and Geoff John's simultaneous run on Action Comics. Shadows Linger, I think, provides some good examples of where Busiek's run succeeded for me, where it didn't quite work, and how it was ill-served, if not by DC Comics, than at least by the circumstances themselves.

Since Busiek and Johns re-introduced Superman's super-intelligence in Superman: Up, Up, and Away, Busiek has continued to impress me with his use of it. Busiek's Superman, whom we posit fights three evil geniuses and an alien invasion before breakfast, seems especially good at his job, with all the requisite knowledge--of chemistry and physics, especially--such a job might take. To this end, Superman's able to identify specific moon dust on sight in Shadows Linger's first story, and trace the trajectory of a baseball hit toward the moon a week earlier in such a way as to make it perfectly bean an errant bad guy; in all of it, Busiek finds a way to make Superman not standoffish or more alien, but more likable and fun because of his knowledge. That the second story ends with Superman creating a stalwart library of Earth's knowledge is a fitting coda to Busiek's run.

At the center of Shadows Linger is Busiek's reintroduction of two classic Superman villains, Insect Queen and the Galactic Golem. Of the two, I liked Busiek's reinterpretation of the Insect Queen better because he stuck largely to the original mythos, connecting Lana Lang to the queen (though not, unfortunately, tying this Insect Queen to the one Lex Luthor worked with in JLA: World War III). I found the ins-and-outs of the Galactic Golem in the second story too hard to understand for the creature to really resonate with me, but I did like Busiek's demonstration of how Superman's self-sacrifice turned the heart of the villain Paragon.

Unfortunately, both these stories felt fairly light to me. Possibly it's because Busiek is leaving Superman, and as such it's unlikely we'll see Insect Queen or the Galactic Golem again soon; possibly it's because, as this story's being told in the weird space between the pages of Superman: Last Son, we already know for the most part what's going to happen to all these characters around the corner. But also, I can't help compare this story to the big shiny return of the Legion of Super-Heroes in Action Comics, which had Gary Frank on art, ran six issues, lead into Final Crisis, and received a hardcover collection. It has no bearing on Busiek, but one can't help but see his Superman as one to be flipped through before the main event.

Alternatively, DC has given new Superman writer James Robinson's first solo arc on Superman, The Coming of Atlas, hardcover status. They started Busiek in hardcovers, too, before going to paperback, while Robison's solo stories are quickly folded in to the ongoing New Krypton storyline with the next volume. Will Robinson's stories feel off-sided as well, and will Robinson handle the super-intelligence as well as Busiek? I'll be curious to see next time around.

[Contains full covers.]

Thanks to Kurt Busiek for some entertaining Superman stories; I'll also be eager to see how some of the plotlines he began in Superman reach over into Trinity.

You voted for what Collected Editions reviews you wanted to see, and Superman: Shadows Linger won! Tune in soon for our runners-up!

Review: Robin: Violent Tendencies trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, February 23, 2009

[This review contains spoilers, no pun indended, for Robin: Violent Tendencies]

By the last two chapters of Robin: Violent Tendencies, legendary Robin writer Chuch Dixon has righted a major wrong and likely saved DC Comics some face in the process; the conclusion, while not terribly surprising, is wholely satisfying. Unfortunately, perhaps through editorial fiat, Dixon must take four other chapters to get to that point, which ultimately don't feel like much more than filler.

It was great to hear that Chuck Dixon was taking the reigns of Robin again, as Dixon previously wrote nearly 100 issues of the series plus a couple mini-series; Robin, like Nightwing, has had highs and lows under various writers, but no writer quite seemed to "get" the series like Dixon. As hoped, Dixon brings with him a couple former stalwarts of the series, namely Robin Tim Drake's good friend Ives, and Robin's Redbird car. And while the story may have had one-too-many narration boxes at times for my tastes, Dixon certainly still has a flare for Tim's voice; when he talks in the bowling alley about how female villains are his weak spot, this was clearly classic Dixon/Robin.

But unfortunately what Violent Tendencies offers in terms of nostalgia value doesn't quite pad out what it misses in terms of story. The crux of Violent Tendencies is that Robin goes in the trail of a violet-hued thief named, ironically enough, Violet, who puts him in mind of his former love Spoiler, believed dead; it's coincidence then that someone dressed like Spoiler follows not too far behind. Violet is for the most part just as one-dimensional as the name/clothing match suggests, and Robin trails her for a good majority of the book. What follows are some fairly engaging action sequences and lots of Robin's internal dialogue, but nothing earth-shattering until the end of the book. Dixon leaves Robin after this collection (and apparently, DC Comics) and as such I have no expectation of ever seeing Violet again; it makes much of the beginning of this story feel flat.

The important thing here, of course, is that Spoiler is now no longer dead. At a time when DC Comics was likely bumping off one too many female heroes at once, Spoiler's death is one that shouldn't have happened and has now been rectified (though no one could argue that the death wasn't intended to be permanent until fan outcry came along). I also appreciated that Dixon handled Spoiler's resurrection in a fairly logical manner, as opposed to the take-it-and-move-on rebirth of Jason Todd.

However, the difficulty that remains, in my opinion, is the same one that caused DC to want to bump off Spoiler in the first place. Chuck Dixon did such a good job the first time around of making Spoiler Stephanie Brown the perfect girlfriend for Tim Drake that no one else could measure up, and that makes for boring, boring storytelling if you're a writer wanting to inject some romantic tension into a Robin story. The concept that the protagonist can never, ever date anyone else than the character they're dating right now is something writers have a hard enough time with in Superman, let alone the teen drama Robin. My guess is that even though Spoiler's back, it won't be long before DC imprisions her in a Kryptonite-powered warsuit finds some way to write her out, else I fear some other writer will come along and take a hatchet to her.

There's a lot, I'd say, that my own comics reading, as well as Birds of Prey, Nightwing, and Robin owe Chuck Dixon. I had some sharp words on the situation when Dixon left DC, but as I finish this Robin trade with appearances by Ives, Spoiler, and the Redbird, I did want to acknowledge Dixon's contributions. Maybe he'll find his way back to DC, one day. Robin: Violent Tendencies isn't perfect, but it does what it's supposed to, and I don't imagine most Robin fans will miss it.

[Contains full covers]

Up next ... you chose what review you wanted to see, and the Collected Editions blog delivers! Tune in, coming soon!

Review: Nightwing: Freefall trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Peter J. Tomasi offers the most respectful, appropriate rendition of Nightwing that we've seen in a long, long time in Nightwing: Freefall. It still strikes me as another in a series of entirely misguided takes on the character, and it's hardly surprising that, a few trades from now, DC Comics has decided to cancel and/or relaunch this title. But Tomasi, at least, has his heart in the right place; this is the Nightwing that DC should have started with after Infinite Crisis.

Freefall finds Nightwing on the trail of someone snatching superheroic corpses, a scheme tied up in the war between Talia al Ghul and her recently resurrected father. It's an investigation Nightwing joins largely by accident, and I wondered at times whether this was truly a Nightwing-specific story, or one where any hero could play the title role. What I found is that, were this a Batman story, the Dark Knight would be so tied up in mixed feelings about Talia that the story couldn't help but deal in melodrama; with Nightwing, Tomasi's instead able to give us a straightforward, more upbeat superhero detective story without all the strings attached. Here, Nightwing isn't Batman-light but Batman-lighter; Freefall offers the action without the grim and gritty.

Tomasi writes Nightwing as I'd like him to be (if not exactly where and why). Considering the sleazy Dick Grayson we saw in Bruce Jones's Nightwing: Brothers in Blood, Tomasi's Dick Grayson is a saint, charming around his new co-workers and love interest, and moreover friends with the entire DCU Universe, from the Bat-family to Superman, the Titans, and the JSA. This was Batman's object lesson in changing his ways during Infinite Crisis (legend has it that Dan DiDio halted Nightwing's Infinite Crisis death sentence for this reason also), and it's on display here. Tomasi's Dick Grayson acts normal, and it's hard to understand why others writers couldn't pose him the same.

Great credit for this story must also go to Rags Morales, who drew an emotional Nightwing in Identity Crisis and does an equally nice job here. Much of this far-more-proper Nightwing comes through in Morales' clean lines, detailed architecture, and renditions of New York City. Morales is also the perfect pick to draw the great assembly of DCU characters who appear here; Morales, in my opinion, still draws the definitive Dr. Mid-Nite off his pivotal scene in Identity Crisis.

And yet, Tomasi's Nightwing, for all its respectfulness, doesn't hit the mark either. Dick Grayson, as head curator of the Cloisters? Not only is Dick suddenly gleaning all the knowledge necessary to head one of the foremost medieval museums in the county more far-fetched than a man dressed as a bat fighting crime, but it's also completely and totally out of character. I far sooner see Dick as a police officer or gym instructor (as lacking in dramatic tension as that may be) than a museum curator.

Not a little of Dick's new job seems to be in service of Tomasi's determination to make New York city a main character in his stories. As with Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps issue of The Sinestro Corps War, it seems Tomasi has literally mapped out how a superhero might get from here to there in New York City, and then populates the story accordingly. This is on one hand a lot of fun (I liked Nightwing swinging past Lincoln Center), and on the other hand incredibly annoying and beginning to get repetitive. When Nightwing talks about obscure New York landmarks, Tomasi loses the character's voice in favor of his own, and it drew me, at least, out of the story (though I learned a lot!).

Chuck Dixon wrote what I think will ultimately be remembered as the definitive Nightwing, positing Dick Grayson as a down-to-earth twenty-something with an urban home base fighting police corruption, up to and including Dick becoming a police officer himself. Of the writers who have come after, none of their renditions have quite achieved my own imagining, at least, of what the original Robin might be like as an adult--not reluctant mobster, not damaged playboy, not soul-searching gymnastics instructor, and not museum curator, either.

But I give Peter Tomasi credit for writing a comic--and a Bat-family comic especially--that is deeply steeped in the DC Universe, and one that puts a bit of shine back on the original Robin, to boot. Tomasi's got me for the next volume, no question.

[Includes full covers]

Next up in the Bat-verse is Robin: Violent Tendencies, with the return of ... ?

Final Crisis collection details change, Batman RIP hardcover news

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If it wasn't clear before that the Collected Editions blog has the best commenters ever, Jeffrey Hardy Quah got his copy of the Batman RIP collection hot off the press and let us know that it contains the Batman story from DC Universe #0. Does this mean that the Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and other parts of DC Universe #0 might also be collected in their respective trades? If someone sees it, let us know!

As of today's DC Comics May 2009 solicitations, it seems the Final Crisis Companion's contents have changed to now include the Final Crisis #1 Director's Cut and Final Crisis Secret Files, and no longer reprint Final Crisis: Superman Beyond and Final Crisis: Submit (thanks, Bob Schoonover!).

At the same time, Dylan Palmer points out that the page count for the Final Crisis collection on Amazon has jumped from 240 pages to 352 pages. I don't know that I agree with Dylan that Batman: Last Rites will appear here, but maybe Superman Beyond and Submit instead?

If we get the Final Crisis collections we've been hoping for, that'll set a big precedent for crossover collections to come. Here's hoping!


To everyone who emailed about guest blogging for Collected Editions, I've been a little tied up but I'll get back to you soon. And are you following Collected Editions on Twitter yet?

Thanks all - this blog wouldn't be here without you. More reviews coming soon!

Review: Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sean McKeever accomplishes a near-perfect changeover from previous Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone in Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust. I haven't found much to like in McKeever's recent work on Teen Titans, taking over from Geoff Johns, but whereas I felt McKeever's Titans dipped in story and characterization, McKeever preserves the humor and atmosphere of Simone's Birds of Prey.

Much of Metropolis or Dust sees the new Birds (now consolidated to Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Misfit, and Oracle) split on separate, unrelated-but-thematically-tied missions, which start and conclude together. This, to begin with, evokes such Simone Birds of Prey stories as Between Dark and Dawn and Perfect Pitch, where at least one storyline emphasizes more a Bird finding herself than punching bad guys (though there's that, too).

McKeever makes the interesting choice to de-emphasize the star players Huntress and the Lady Blackhawk Zinda over Misfit, sending the former to investigate a bit of Zinda's Golden Age history. There's little lasting that comes out of this story, but it's fun to see McKeever explore more of Zinda's character, and also to deepen the friendship between Huntress and Lady Blackhawk in the absence of former-Bird Black Canary. I did feel that Huntress deferred perhaps a bit too much to Zinda, even given the Blackhawk's Golden Age battles, but McKeever certainly gets things right in the relationship between the two characters.

In the other story, McKeever offers the long-awaited team-up and fight between the unstable young Bird Misfit (is that Junior Birdwoman?) and the equally unstable teen goth magician Black Alice. I have, at times, not terribly liked either of these characters, but in combining them (and in the story of Misfit's guilt over having possibly killed a villain) McKeever presents such wonderfully disturbed individuals that one can't help both smile and sympathize.

We also find Oracle Barbaraa Gordon in the role of reluctant den mother to the two teens. It's not the first time Barbara's done this, having taken the second Batgirl Cassandra Cain under her proverbial wing. But whereas strategy and fighting were second-nature to Batgirl, and it was only literacy that former-librarian Barbara had to teach her, teaching even manners to Misfit fills Oracle with frustration. There aren't many more issues to Birds of Prey, we know, but were the series to go on I'd have been curious to see how this relationship evolved (akin, now that I think of it, to the Oracle/Black Canary relationship in the Birds of Prey television show).

Of course, as much as I liked McKeever's stories here, he's only the writer for this one volume, giving way to two more volumes by Tony Bedard before the series end. Keep reading; we'll let you know how those hold up before too long.

[Contains full covers, profile paragraphs]

We'll continue in the Bat-verse now with Nightwing, Robin, and more from there!

Open Letter to Newsarama

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dear Newsarama,

Thank you for being one of my favorite comics news sites over almost the past ten years, from the ViewAskew days and the blue layout to the present. I've enjoyed features and columns too numerous to count, though most recently I've liked the 20 Questions with Dan DiDio and the Blog@Newsarama.

One request: fewer videos. Maybe it's just because of the recent New York Comic Con, but it seems there's more videos on the site than usually lately. The Adam Kubert interview about Batman and the Outsiders is a video; the update from Greg Rucka is a video; the latest conversations with Dan DiDio were also videos.

I understand that being in person with these creators in New York gives a unique chance for one-on-one conversation, but for me, it means less reading of Newsarama. I'm most often reading Newsarama articles as a break from other things or in between one task and another; the time it takes for a video to load along with the requisite sound makes this impossible. I'm excited to see an interesting headline on Newsarama, only to have to close the window when I see it's a video.

Consider, please, we video-impaired. Perhaps transcripts of your video interviews could go along with the videos, or text excerpts from the videos could be offered later on. Give those of us reading a chance to join in, along with those of us watching.


Collected Editions blog

Odds and Ends: Twitter, Guest Bloggers, and Choose the Next Review!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In preparation for the next Collected Editions blog template, coming soon to a screen near you, I've taken a giant leap into the twenty-first century and joined Twitter. All the random trade paperback and comics thoughts you could want are now at (that's "collecteditions," not "collectededitions"). Tweet away!


Over the summer, the Collected Editions blog is going to need about a month's worth of guest reviewers. We did this a year ago November, and it was a fabulous month featuring reviews of electic favorites and new classics. If you'd like to be a part, email me at the address at right and let me know what books you're interested in reviewing.

Hey comics retailers and publicists! If you've got any comics swag, video games, sci-fi books or the like that you'd like to donate to the Collected Editions guest reviewers, please be in touch. I can guarantee you publicity (including links to your site) at the top and bottom of all the guest reviews. Be in touch!


Decide what I review next! Here's the books I'm about to review for the Collected Editions blog. Use the handy poll below to choose which review you'd like to see first!

If there's another book you'd like to see reviewed here, please let me know in the comments; can't promise the budget will support it, but I'll see what I can do!

Thanks as always for stopping by. More reviews coming soon!

Review: Booster Gold: Blue and Gold collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, February 09, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Booster Gold: Blue and Gold]

Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz combine all the expected fun and suspense (and quite a few unexpected surprises) into Booster Gold: Blue and Gold, but the real joy here is seeing artist and Booster Gold creator Dan Jurgens return not only to Booster, but the Jurgens-era Justice League and a couple other 1990s Jurgens creations. Dan has been one of my favorite artists since back in his pre-Death of Superman days, and this second volume of Booster Gold is a nostalgia fan's gold mine.

If you ask a crowd to name their favorite Justice Leagues, you'll get a variety of responses: the Satellite era Justice League, for instance, or Keith Giffen's Justice League International; maybe the current Meltzer lineup, or Grant Morrison's Big Seven. One or two fans might even single out the Detroit League. My favorite League, however, spun out of the end of Justice League International, the post-Breakdowns, pre-Death of Superman and/or Zero Hour Justice League. That's right, I'm talking about Superman, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Guy Gardner, Maxima, and Bloodwynd, as written and drawn by Dan Jurgens.

To be a fan of this League, you likely had to be an ardent Superman reader at that time. Superman's leading the Justice League (for, in that continuity, the first time) was a natural offshoot of storylines like Superman: Panic in the Sky, which transitioned Superman from a relative loner and reluctant leader to the frontmost character he is today. Superman's discomfort with Ice's attraction to him (when Lois and Clark's engagement was brand new), his attempts to manage Guy Gardner, and his work to put Maxima on a straight-and-narrow path all overlaid well the Superman stories of the time, culminating of course in the Justice League's involvement in The Death of Superman.

The rest of that League, in my mind, encompassed the best of Justice League International. Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Guy Gardner -- sure, Mister Miracle and Captain Marvel had their moments, but these five always seemed to me the core of the JLI, the ones the stories couldn't have been told without. Jurgens's run put these characters in more superheroic situations than the previous Justice League International, but still kept more humor than the later Morrison or Meltzer runs. Witness this League up against Starbreaker in issue #65 (where I think Blue Beetle defeats Starbreaker despite being "powerless") and their sacrifices against Doomsday; this is an oft-forgotten League, but for me it doesn't get much better.

I digress. The point is that Booster Gold: Blue and Gold gives Jurgens a chance to once again draw that League, and in the more than ten years since, Jurgens hasn't lost a step -- his Ice, emerging from her homeland in her 1990s costume, is especially effective (as is, separately, the running gag where Blue Beetle thinks everyone else had been declared dead). Jurgens also draws the Vanishing Point that he used for a long time with the Linear Men (though there's no appearance, unfortunately, by Waverider) and the Zero Hour-era Parallax and Extant. Whether Johns and Katz tailored this story specifically with Jurgens to include all these Jurgens highlights, or whether just happy coincidence, if Dan Jurgens was your favorite before then Booster Gold: Blue and Gold will be a happy reminder now.

Not to be left out, Johns and Katz provide a Booster Gold story that, if not quite everything I might want out of a posthumous Blue Beetle/Booster Gold team-up, still delivered some fantastic surprises. I agreed whole-heartedly with the characters about half-way through that Booster's father, even dressed as Supernova, was something of a poor foe for Booster, so I was delighted when Supernova was revealed as Mr. Mind (and I was still taken entirely by surprise despite the preview in Booster Gold: 52 Pick-Up). Also great was the writers' resurrection of Goldstar in the end; having not read the original Booster Gold series, I have no real connection to the character, but given the overall theme of loss in this story, it was lovely to see Booster win in the end. The writers also pull off a great Back to the Future moment in suggesting that Batman's been holding photographs of Booster Gold ever since Barbara Gordon was shot, waiting for all the pieces to fall together.

Booster Gold: Blue and Gold moves rather swiftly toward it's inevitable end, and it's unfortunate, as I think we all knew going in, that the story couldn't end with a living, time-lost Blue Beetle (or could it?). But to read Blue and Gold is to read a story that touches Zero Hour and DC One Million, Justice League International and Infinite Crisis -- in short, a filled with more unbridled DC Comics joy than perhaps one hardcover can handle. If you like that kind of thing, then this book's for you.

[Contains full covers, origin of Booster Gold from 52]

Switching gears now to Birds of Prey, and we're going to run through a whole bunch of new trade paperbacks from there. Stay tuned!

Review: Teen Titans: On the Clock trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

There's a scene in the beginning of Teen Titans: On the Clock where Robin gives a supposed rousing speech about the role of the Teen Titans and their place in the DC Universe. Says stereotypical bad girl Ravager, "Commence barfing." Unfortunately, for much of On the Clock, the reader's sensibilities are with Ravager, rather than Titans stalwarts Robin or Wonder Girl, who each come off particularly whiny and judgmental. On the Clock gets off to a bad start in that I'm not necessarily sure we like these characters any more; lackluster story and art don't help the case.

Given that the original current Teen Titans roster has been reduced to just Robin and Wonder Girl, it seems increasingly important that these two characters anchor the team. Unfortunately, Titans writers Geoff Johns and Adam Beechen had each written Wonder Girl as extrodinarily whiny of late, offsetting any actual emotion the reader might share in her mourning of Superboy's death, even as Robin pined over starting a relationship with Wonder Girl. While new Titans writer Sean McKeever does put an end to the possibility of that much-decried relationship, Robin and Wonder Girl don't improve in this collection. Wonder Girl appears overly critical of Ravager, even as Ravager nearly gives her life for the team, making Wonder Girl seem the one who can't get along; Robin, for his part, pontificates and orders his teammates around such that the reader wouldn't ever imagine wanting to spend time with this character. McKeever accomplishes the goal, perhaps, of endearing the reader to new characters like Miss Martian and Kid Devil, but at continued cost to the two Titans founders.

As with the previous volume, Teen Titans: Titans of Tomorrow, On the Clock suffers from a bit of plot repeat-itis. Titans of Tomorrow featured the Titans, split off individually, fighting their dark future reflections; On the Clock has the Titans, split indivudally, fighting a group of Titan duplicates, the Terror Titans. Titans of Tomorrow repeated a similar plot from Beechen's Titans East, but now McKeever is essentially repeating himself. I don't favor these stories where the Titans split only to come together in the end; it contributes to this feeling that the Titans aren't a team so much as just a loose group of individuals, and not ones who like each other all that much, either.

In addition, I didn't much care for the Terror Titans, whom McKeever doesn't really introduce and none of whom were presented as competent enough to hold my interest. When Johns wrote Titans, villains like Brother Blood were built up and nuanced -- there wasn't much to the Terror Titans to want to see them succeed, even a little, against the Titans. McKeever succeeds here only for the most part where he did in Titans of Tomorrow, in his writing of the new, mostly unexamined characters. Miss Martian is an interesting, conflicted joy to read on every page, as is Ravager; I also liked Kid Devil's team-up with Blue Beetle in the last chapter, though McKeever's Blue Beetle is a plain "good guy" without much of the depth found in the character's own series.

One additional bright spot was the appearance here of the Dark Side Club. In and of itself, the Club isn't differentiated here much from Roulette's metahuman fight club in JSA or others, but the hints of Final Crisis loom loud and large. This is commercial crossover pandering at its finest, and I love, love, love it. I also appreciated how McKeever made mention of the Birds of Prey's interaction with the Dark Side Club, tying the two series together.

To be honest, if I were reading Teen Titans in monthly issues I think I might very well drop it. I'm surprised and disappointed to feel this way given the auspicious start Geoff Johns gave this title a few years ago, but McKeever's writing just doesn't move me. Eddy Barrows art still seems rather dark to me, as well; I liked it with Ruy Jose inking, but not with Jimmy Palmiotti and others. What keeps me on this title is more its ties to Final Crisis and the forthcoming Deathtrap crossover; it's not a terribly convincing reason to keep reading a book, and I'll probably have to reassess after I read the next volume.

[Contains full covers]

(Because I've been so negative here, I wanted to link to a positive review. I didn't find one yet, but here's a Comic Book Resources article that refers to the On the Clock issues as "bestselling.")

We're following Blue Beetle from title-to-title; next up, Booster Gold!

Trade Perspectives: Batman: RIP and Final Crisis Further Thoughts

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A few thoughts on the Collected Edition blog discussion from last week of which collection to read first, continuity-wise, Batman: RIP or Final Crisis:

Among a number of great comments (thanks all!), Spooky notes that "if you want to read the two hardcovers without interruption, then you should read Batman: RIP first, because the majority of it takes place before Final Crisis. But be aware that both hardcovers (when read uninterrupted) spoiler each other!"

Therein, as they say, lies the rub.

The results of our (first ever) Collected Editions blog poll had 90% of respondents for reading Batman: RIP first, versus 10% for reading Final Crisis first. From what I understood from everyone's comments, Final Crisis #5 spoils Batman #683 (at the very end of Batman: RIP) while Batman: RIP spoils the first chapter (I think) of Final Crisis, but not in a major way. If I've got all that right, then indeed Batman: RIP is the one to read first, though I'm not happy about the situation.

This strikes me as a problem unique to wait-for-trading, one we might see come up more and more as more crossovers, and their ancillary titles, are collected in trade. Identity Crisis tie-ins like Flash: The Secret of Barry Allen and JSA: Lost branched off the main story rather than intersecting, but Teen Titans: Titans East and Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 1 intersected and each spoiled the death of a character found in the other book.

I think this comes from an increased effort on DC's end to let independent titles stand on their own during crossovers (Infinite Crisis versus The Sinestro Corps War, for instance), but what we get is the awkward intersection of stories as we see here. It's good, don't get me wrong, for Batman, and good for Final Crisis, but troubling for the trade reader. Ultimately it seems there no perfect order to read these two volumes completely, and I object as a trade reader to having to go back and forth between two volumes to avoid spoilers.

But such is life. Thanks for thinking this through with me. I'll touch on this topic again, for sure, when I read these two books, and I'd love to hear any additional thoughts you may have. New reviews coming soon!


Separately, I was re-reading Nightwing: The Lost Year last night -- anyone know if the new Vigilante is supposed to be a character we've already met? I have a sick idea who it might be -- I don't want to spoil it here, but email me at the address at right if you want to know.

Review: Blue Beetle: End Game trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 02, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Blue Beetle: End Game]

With Blue Beetle: End Game, outgoing John Rogers perfects a somewhat familiar pattern we're beginning to see in superhero comics of late: that of a reborn or legacy hero who discovers a new aspect of their already-established powers, and therefore ties together and becomes a greater sum of their previous parts. Witness Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E, for instance. Witness Green Lantern: Rebirth. And witness this latest chapter of Blue Beetle, which in essence brings to a close the book's first twenty-five issue storyline.

The original Blue Beetle Dan Garrett, Rogers posits, had the potential for superpowers but not the ability to access the alien beetle scarab's intelligence database; Blue Beetle Ted Kord had the intelligence, but was prevented from utilizing the scarab's powers. Enter therefore Jaime Reyes, the first Blue Beetle with both powers and the ability to communicate with the scarab; Jaime becomes not an aberration, but the culmination of the untapped potential of all the other Blue Beetles so far.

To be sure, Rogers's revisionist history plays fast and loose with what was actually established in Blue Beetle series past, but the effect is to tie together all the former Beetles -- perhaps even to create a Beetle legacy where there wasn't one before. And the places where Rogers gets creative with the "facts" are balanced out by just how reverent the story is to Jaime's predecessors, Ted Kord especially. Indeed, the book brims with shout outs to the former Justice Leaguer -- including a fantastic costume change for Jaime late in the game -- such to firmly tie the most recent and newest Beetles together.

End Game finds Jaime in his final battle against the alien Reach that both created the scarab, and intends to enslave the earth. Rogers finishes not just the Reach storyline here, but also brings to close threads dealing with Jaime's friends Brenda and Paco, the villain La Dama, the Posse, and others. Rogers also redeems some seemingly villain-of-the-week stories that I felt bogged down Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars by showing how even insignificant moments factored into the Reach's ultimate plans. As Rogers leaves the book, he leaves it so cleanly that the reader is left with the sense, as I mentioned before, as if the first four volumes of Blue Beetle are one long, engaging story.

The teen superhero genre is a troublesome one for the adult reader -- a well-done story can be groundbreaking, like Geoff Johns's initial run on Teen Titans, while Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E was ultimately too juvenile for my tastes. Blue Beetle is teen superheroics done right -- a book where the protagonist is neither too adult nor too immature, but rather demonstrates what it means to be a hero through the eyes of someone still learning. As I've mentioned in past Blue Beetle reviews, Jaime Reyes is just so earnest that it's hard not to like him, and it remains true here. Blue Beetle is a fine example of teen superheroics in the tradition of early Chuck Dixon Robin, and I hope the next team to take over keeps up this level of quality.

[Contains full covers]

We'll follow Blue Beetle around the DC Universe for a while now, with Teen Titans: On the Clock coming up next.