Review: Solomon Grundy trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Scott Kolins earned a fan for life in me with his artwork on Flash -- nay, even just with his artwork on Flash #178, where Kolin's two-page spread of destruction made me recognize Gorilla Grodd as a viable villain for the first time ever. Kolins brings much of that same behemoth energy to writing and drawing Solomon Grundy; this mad monster mashup doesn't add up to more, in the end, than a rather loose and inconsequential Blackest Night tie-in, but there's a great amount of fun to be had nonetheless.

Watching Solomon Grundy stomp around the DC Universe, often illuminated by the glow of Green Lantern Alan Scott's green ring, I imagined this must be the appeal of the Incredible Hulk's more rampaging moments. In a nutshell, Solomon Grundy follows the swamp monster from battle extraordinaire to battle extraordinaire with some of DC Comics biggest bruisers. Those looking for deep insights into international politics or ruminations on the nature of superhero storytelling can go elsewhere -- Solomon Grundy is all about the action, with occasional breaks for flashback scenes of nightmarish Victorian demon possessions.

This isn't usually what I favor -- the dark comedic violence of Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! didn't amuse me, and the horror-filled Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre turned my stomach. Kollins achieves just the right tone of bizarre (and even guest-star Bizarro-type) horror humor, however, with art increasingly reminiscent of Doug Mahnke's Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein (and Frank's here, too), just slightly more cartoony. Kolins throws at Grundy not only Bizarro and Frankenstein, but also the Demon, Killer Croc, Amazo, really everyone short of Lobo; what results is such a fun rampage that one can't help but sit back, enjoy, and duck under the occasional piece of flying debris.

Kolins strings together these battles with a vague storyline in which Grundy's human form Cyrus Gold can free himself if he finds his own murderer and the weapon they used. Why Gold gets the opportunity now (besides proximity to Blackest Night) is never quite clear, nor is it clear how the Phantom Stranger finds out about it all. The identity of who killed Gold comes out in the end, but Kolins leaves vague the exact demon involved in Gold's resurrection, preserving perhaps incidental ties to Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers.

Solomon Grundy is hardly a villain that needs explanation. Even as I appreciated how Kolins carefully acknowledges a number of Grundy's previous appearances, I've no great expectation that anything Kolins establishes here about Grundy will necessarily be referenced in Grundy's future stories. There's a cogent mystery in the book, and if the reader cares to take the time to reorganize Gold's out-of-synch flashbacks, there's a bit about how Gold sought out his long-lost mother and helped murder his sister's abusive husband, but none of it amounts to much -- again, the book simply goes out on a lead-in to Blackest Night note. The real delight of the book is in the mayhem, and the reader ought not expect much more than that.

I'd mention one other strong aspect about Solomon Grundy, however, is Kolins's use of Alan Scott. In various modern age portrayals, Scott has come off as super-serious (often in comparison to the more friendly Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick) and a dabbler in the supernatural. Both of those elements are in play here, as Scott spends most of the book denouncing Gold's attempt at redemption even as the Phantom Stranger draws Scott further into the journey. Scott suffers some personal injury about halfway through the book, and the strength he subsequently shows is significant; I don't know that I'd invite Alan Scott over for a party, but Kolins certainly demonstrates this Green Lantern is not one to be messed with.

Be not fooled -- Solomon Grundy is Blackest Night bait of the worst kind, an eight-chapter story that changes really nothing in the DC Universe and is highly unlikely ever to be touched upon again. That said, this story is also a whole lot of fun, and Kolins artwork looks as good here, if not better, than ever before. If you're looking for a fun, light read, nothing wrong with this book for that purpose.

[Contains full covers, "Faces of Evil" story co-written by Geoff Johns]

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17 comments:

  1. I'm wondering if much or anything is made of the Starman connection. If there was, that'd get me reading this one!

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  2. There's just one panel in a one-page recap of some of Solomon Grundy's incarnations, that mentions Opal City and shows the tip of Jack Knight's Starman staff. Not sure that's quite enough of a Starman connection to get you reading this one; for all of Justice League: Cry for Justice's warts, that book feels more like a part of the Starman story than this does. This is a good monster fight-fest, though.

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  3. Hix or CE, If I enjoyed Johns' early JSA run, would I like the Starman omnibus's. I like Robinson and really enjoy the JSA, more so when I starting reading his initial run on JSA and that elseworld tale, Golden Age. I've been going back and forth on whether to pick up the omnibus.

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  4. Most certainly so (and, consider, the hoards of fans who recommend Starman, plus the faith DC has in it to release the omnibus editions, can't all be wrong). I had considered the first trade (issues #0-5) the weakest and most super-hero-y, but the omnibus solves that by going up to issue #16. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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  5. What is truly amazing about Starman is how mapped out it was. I mean in those early issues. You pretty much see what Jack Knight will come across in the whole run of the comic. Beautifully written and the one comic I can't recommend enough.

    Plus you have a Hellboy, Batman and Starman team up

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  6. I read pretty much all the Starman issues at the time, but I think those Starman Omnibuses may have caught tie-in issues I've never even heard of. Impressive work all around.

    It's hard to think of another book that deserves the omnibus treatment now that they're collecting JLA, too. Maybe the current Green Lantern series, or Mark Waid's Flash run from Return of Barry Allen through Dead Heat or so.

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  7. I'd go so far as to suggest Animal Man Omnibuses. Ideally, I dream of Johns' earlier Flash getting the treatment, but when such a big deal has been made of Barry's return and a possible movie, I doubt DC will make much room for Wally on their slate - at least not in so high profile a fashion.

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  8. There are four books that had massive influence on at least the last 20 years at DC.

    1. Waid's Flash - Grant Morrison is on record as saying it inspired him to update the JLA and led to widescreen storytelling. I think it is evident in the DC work of Peyer, Johns and Loeb's Superman/Batman.

    2. Starman - a hero with a non-heroic personality, a story planned to be told over 7 years, the revelance of the JSA in the modern day. Johns, Goyer, Andreyko, Curtis-Johnson and Pfiefer.

    3. JLI - teams that are built for fun as well as danger. Dan DiDio, Winnick, Palmiotti and Gray.

    4. Suicide Squad - I would argue that the work of John Ostrander is the single most influential of all of these. Ostrander began a story-verse where he carried supporting characters from title to title and developed them over years. Examples of this are Father Craemer, the Hayoth, Cliff Carmichael etc. Greg Rucka followed this approach like a religion - you can see planning for his Checkmate run in his Batman work, through His Wonder Woman run and beyond. The spirit of the Squad lives on in Gail Simone's Six and Birds of Prey, Winnick's Outsiders, All through 52, Brubaker's Batman, Gotham Central, Johns Flash work, Meltzer's Identity Crisis, Andreyko's Manhunter, Catwoman again. Hell, there's an arguement to be made for it's influence on the Marvel universe too.

    Honourable mention to O'Neil Question and Chuck Dixon's commanding grip on the Batbooks for more than a decade.

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  9. Collectededitions - I remember trying to track down those issues of Shazam. Which was pretty hard since the store I went to at the time would not get a lot of extra issues for that series.

    I also like the fact that the final Starman Omnibuses will include that issue from Blackest Night. Since that was the only issue of Blackest Night I read. Nice closure to the whole series.

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  10. The more I hear about the old Suicide Squad series, the more eager I am to read the upcoming collection of the original material. I very much hope DC intends to collect the entire Ostrander-verse, as it were -- Suicide Squad, Captain Atom, Firestorm ... did he also write Checkmate?

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  11. Paul Kupperberg wrote Checkmate (not beloved by me). Ostrander and his late wife Kim Yale also wrote Manhunter. Cary Bates wrote Captain Atom for much of the run, but Ostrander did write the final arc setting Nathanial Adam up to become Monarch (which DC editorial consequently ignored in favour of buggering up the Hawk and Dove book).

    The Ostrander-verse was next seen in The Spectre series and finally Martian Manhunter. Both are worth tracking down and I'd be unsurprised if the Spectre run is never fully reissued in collections. It is undoubtedly one of the great DC runs.

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  12. So -- characters from Suicide Squad later appeared in Spectre and Martian Manhunter?

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  13. Father Craemer, the squad's Chaplain (how awesome is that concept) became the confidant of Jim Corrigan. Count Vertigo's story continues in the Spectre too.

    The Israeli superteam, the Hayoth appear in both Spectre and Martian Manhunter.

    Suicide Squad also has a connection to the Power of the Atom series, but I don't recall if Ostrander wrote that series at all.

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  14. Getting things back to Solomon Grundy, I see this book as DC's reward to Kolins for good and faithful service. Writers get rewarded by having all the their back catalogue in print (Robinson, Morrison) and many artists given the chance to choose their own subject matter, just love drawing monsters fighting monsters. Mike Mignola is the foremost proponent of this concept. I met Aaron Lopresti at a Sydney Comic Con in the 90's and that guy is just loves himself a monster book (he was most famous for Sludge at the time). Seeing his Garbage Man art from SDCC this year, I wonder why DC doesn't just let him draw Swamp Thing in his triumphant return to the DCU.

    On the flipside, DC also punishes writers by making sure their back catalogue is out of print and not added to - not naming names .

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  15. collectededitions, that was Paul Krupperberg (sp?), who wrote the Checkmate issues that crossed over with Ostrander's suicide squad/firestorm/manhunter.

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  16. Agreed one big stumbling block to ever seeing the original Birds of Prey material back in print is DC's relationship with Chuck Dixon. Likely why we won't see a "Death of Green Arrow" collection any time soon, either (besides the fact that's only about five of us wishing for one).

    If Garbage Man does well, I don't see how DC can't do a Swamp Thing book. But, Garbage Man kind of reminds me of Breach -- let's not have a sub-Swamp Thing book (like the sub-Captain Atom book); DC might as well do the real thing.

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