Review: Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Geoff Johns has an unfair advantage in that he conceived of the Blackest Night crossover, and therefore the tenets of the story are nearest to his imagination. It remains, however, that his Flash story rules the second volume of Black Lantern Corps; it achieves what I feel most Blackest Night stories (including Johns's own) have been lacking, letting alone that it includes fantastic art by Scott Kolins. I was rather hard on the first Black Lantern volume, and the Wonder Woman and JSA stories here are only slightly better, but the Flash story alone makes this book worth it.

[Contains spoilers]

The Black Lanterns, it's been established elsewhere, are not the loved ones of the DC Universe's heroes, they just look like them. This makes the Black Lanterns one-dimensional; once the hero figures out the trick, it's no different than fighting any other shapeshifter. What I've hoped for in Blackest Night are instances of real emotional resonance, where the fact that an entity arrives with all the deceased's memories actually has some bearing beyond a superficial fight scene -- something that actually builds upon the relationship between the living and dead characters. Batman fighting the Black Lantern Ventriloquist had no such resonance, while Mera revealing to the Black Lantern Aquaman that she never wanted children did.

The Blackest Night: Flash chapters of this book also had that resonance. Even suspecting that the Black Lanterns are constructs, Captain Cold and the Rogues set out to find Cold's deceased sister and eliminate the Black Lantern Rogues because, of course, the Rogues take care of their own. At the same time, the new Captain Boomerang supplies his Black Lantern father with victims in an effort to bring him back to life.

Johns bucks the typical Blackest Night tropes in two ways here: Cold hunts the Black Lanterns (instead of vice-versa) even though he knows they're constructs, and Boomerang falls under the thrall of a Black Lantern rather than just meeting and fighting it. What follows is another of Johns's trademark deep stories about the Rogues, as Cold must re-acknowledge that abandoning his sister predicated her death; though Cold pretends to be emotionless, we learn this isn't entirely the case. Cold's path crosses with Boomerang at the end of the night and in a horrifying scene, Boomerang's desperation to save his father costs him his life.

The Flash Barry Allen is present, too. I'm enjoying Johns's take on him, though his part is less interesting mainly because it's mostly covered in Blackest Night itself. I did like experiencing the Blue Lantern "hope" ring from Barry's perspective, and experiencing Black Lantern possession through Wonder Woman's eyes later on.

What's notable is that Johns explains Barry's character here perhaps better than in Flash: Rebirth (Barry's mom died, he was emotionless; he became the Flash, met his wife, and had emotions again; he died, came back, started out without emotions but then regained them) -- and that in this, Johns finds a way to make Cold and Barry foils much like Cold and Flash Wally West were; Barry's constant struggle is to express his emotions and "be in touch," while Cold's struggle is to bury his emotions and remain aloof.

(Though why Johns avoided having Barry meet his resurrected Black Lantern mother, I don't know.)

Regarding the other stories:

As a fan of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman run, I had high hopes for his Blackest Night: Wonder Woman. Yet, even with the promise of a face-off between Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord, whom she killed, the story was surprisingly bland. The Black Lantern Lord is a laughing devil, far more like Dr. Psycho than Lord, and appears mainly in the first chapter; in the second and third, Wonder Woman fights Mera both as a Black Lantern and as a Star Sapphire.

Ragnell can articulate far better than me why Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire is a questionable choice; I was more puzzled by Rucka's proposal that Wonder Woman holds unrequited love for both Batman and Superman, which seems rather easy territory already well-mined by other writers. While again, Rucka's portrayal of Black Lantern possession from Wonder Woman's perspective is nicely terrifying, this story is for most part a fight scene, without the politics or moral ambiguity of Rucka's Wonder Woman work. Though Wonder Woman affirms her decision to have killed Maxwell Lord, there was none of the revisiting or re-examining of the event that I expected.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that James Robinson's Blackest Night: JSA picks up from the end of his Blackest Night: Superman story; neither of these add much to the Blackest Night mythos, but the stories gain scope in duplicate. Even as we know all Black Lanterns are evil, Robinson turns this well in having the Black Lantern Damage do good for a bad purpose, and indeed Robinson had me half-believing he'd changed the rules before the story ended. Liberty Belle/Jesse Quick's emotion over the Black Lantern Damage and Johnny Quick is convincingly moving.

This almost makes up for Blackest Night: JSA's end, where the Black Lantern-killing super-weapon that Mr. Terrific created, in a bit of comic book ridiculousness, can only have worked that one single time. In addition, whereas Robison follows in great detail the life and deaths of the Golden Age Sandman, Mr. Terrific, and Dr. Mid-Nite at the beginning of the story, none of them ever really fight or interact with their counterparts; again, it's an instance of the Black Lanterns looking like familiar figures, but there being nothing to the story beyond the resemblance.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook]

Still, inasmuch as I liked Francis Manapul's work on Superboy and I'm looking forward to Flash, I believe I'll always think of Scott Kolins as the definitive artist drawing Geoff Johns's Rogues, and that -- along with the demonstration of what a Blackest Night tie-in could be -- makes this volume worth it for me. With the seemingly more personal "cancelled issues" in Rise of the Black Lanterns coming up next, I hope that's more what I was looking for.

Review: Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The first volume of Black Lantern Corps is my first real disappointment with Blackest Night. These are not terrible stories, mind you, and as a matter of fact the "Titans" chapter by J. T. Krul is good enough to make me optimistic about Krul's upcoming run on Teen Titans. But unfortunately, neither the "Titans" nor "Batman" or "Superman" chapters amount to much; having just read Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps, I can certify that this book is entirely skipable. Indeed, while there's a miniscule amount to be had from seeing your favorite dead hero or villain back on the screen for the moment, none of the Black Lanterns retain enough of their old personalities to even make that worth it.

[Contains spoilers]

I just raved about Peter Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps volume, so perhaps my biggest surprise reading this book was how unremarkable Tomasi's Blackest Night: Batman story is. The first page, where artist Adrian Saef mis-draws new Robin Damian in Tim Drake's old costume, seems an omen; Tomasi can't seem to get Batman Dick Grayson nor Damian's voices right, neither when Dick tells Damian to "shut up" (too harsh) nor the handful of times Damian gets scared (too weak). I'm not even quite sure that guest-star Deadman's ability to see a person's life when he possesses them is quite kosher -- it's not something I remember Deadman being able to do before.

All of this speaks to an uncustomary carelessness on Tomasi's part (even having written Nightwing before) that lessened my enjoyment of the story. Tomasi does echo well at one point the death of Tim Drake's parents in Identity Crisis, but I feel I have to credit that story more than this one.

James Robinson's Blackest Night: Superman is better, in that Robinson is one of the driving voices of Superman right now and the characters seem more in-character. Whereas Tomasi works with so many dead Bat-villains that most tend to fade to the background, Robinson uses just the Earth-2 Superman and Lois Lane, and the Psycho Pirate, and this is a riff on Crisis on Infinite Earths which, if not addressed directly, at least gives the story an additional ironic layer.

Robinson's trademark stilted dialogue is perhaps more noticeable here, however, because of the brevity of the tale; it's also especially strange how the Superman story would seem to make a great change to the overall "New Krypton" tale, when Blackest Night is all but ignored over there. I was also sorry not to see New Krypton's Nightwing, Flamebird, or Mon-El make any appearances.

But the biggest problem with these two stories is that they have ultimately no bearing on Blackest Night. Each ends on a vague "let's go join the fight" note, neither bringing to nor suggesting anything about the crossover. The Black Lanterns are completely one-dimensional; Dick shows no great emotion when faced with the Black Lantern Blockbuster, in whose murder he's complicit, nor is Superman ever convinced the Earth-2 Superman is the real thing. Most notably, Robinson never pulls the most emotional trigger and resurrects the newly-deceased Jonathan Kent, which really would have pained Superman. Basically, the two miniseries are long fight scenes that don't amount to anything in the end.

Krul's Blackest Night: Titans is only a little better. There's a good arc here in Beast Boy accepting his complicated feelings for Terra; also, Krul demonstrates he can write a flip-but-not-silly Kid Flash, which is a good sign to me about his forthcoming work on Teen Titans. But, if you've read Blackest Night then you already know Dove has some kind of power to stop the Black Lanterns; in this way, while the "Titans" chapter has a greater bearing on Blackest Night, you could pick up most of this from the miniseries itself. Krul as well seems to sidestep some of the easy emotional territory of this story, keeping Red Star off-screen even as his adopted family Pantha and Wildebeest return from the dead.

I would say, however, that Black Lantern Terry Long -- still with the mutton chops even more hopelessly out of style than they were when Terry was alive -- gets the award for about the most frightening Black Lantern I've encountered so far. Krul writes some nicely emotional scenes when Donna Troy has to fight her dead husband Terry and, especially, her dead infant son Robert, though this is marred only slightly by what a huge continuity quagmire it is -- I had thought Robert, especially, was just a construct of the Dark Angel creature who tortured Donna some years ago thinking she was Wonder Woman, and that Donna having a son had been retroactively removed. This reminds that, even post-Infinite Crisis and with stories like DC Universe: Legacies ongoing, DC still doesn't have a standing origin for Wonder Woman and Donna Troy, and they probably should.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook pages (note King Snake referred to as "King Cobra," with an incorrect origin)]

If you're looking for a Blackest Night volume to skip, then, this is my first suggestion. These are not terrible tales of "your favorite hero fights zombies," but neither are they remarkable. With Dick Grayson face-to-face with a resurrected Blockbuster, or even Azrael for instance, I would have hoped he'd have something to say, some coda to those previous stories, but it's not the case. In this outing of Black Lantern Corps, I think DC has a missed opportunity.

Coming up, the review of Black Lantern Corps volume two!

Review: Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 23, 2010

In the first two pages of Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, writer Peter Tomasi reveals that a major character told a major lie unbeknownst to the reader a couple volumes back. It's a moment that's shocking, and yet entirely true to the character -- and the story maintains this level of emotion and action almost all the way to the end of the book. Maybe because I was never a fan of the original Green Lantern Corps series, I never get very excited going in to the new series, but Tomasi's last outing, Emerald Eclipse, was one of DC's best books this year, and this volume is equally good, only a smidgen behind Blackest Night: Green Lantern in terms of the best of the crossover companion volumes.

[Contains spoilers]

Just as the Green Lantern volume celebrates that title's fiftieth issue, this book feels like an anniversary of sorts. Right in the center of the book is a two-part story called "Red Badge of Rage," one issue of which follows Kyle Rayner and the other Guy Gardner, and both feel like a "rebirth" for the characters. Kyle dies to save Oa, and what follows is a truly harrowing sequence where fellow Lantern Soranik and the Star Sapphire Miri struggle to resurrect him; Guy Gardner's rage at Kyle's death, meanwhile, causes him to become a berserker Red Lantern.

There is romance, drama, action, and (considerable) violence all in these pages, and it's believable and heartfelt because Tomasi ties it all to who the characters are. Even Kryb, horrific baby-stealer of the Sinestro Corps, ends up sympathetic in these pages, with her sorrow over the death of "her" babies turned Black Lantern zombies. Indeed, it seems as though Tomasi has been setting up, for years, the reader's abhorrence for Kryb solely for the purpose of turning it all around in Blackest Night's "War of Light." It's this kind of expertise that makes Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps more than just a cosmic DC Comics title; this is very, very strong stuff.

As well, whereas the horror of the Black Lantern zombies becomes old hat especially in the Green Lantern volume, Tomasi's Black Lanterns come off rather more seductive and ultimately tragic. The reader appreciates Kyle's confusion over the resurrected Jade zombie; as well, artist Patrick Gleason gives Kyle a bold, angular heroism in the scene where Kyle and Jade simply talk that is perhaps the best Kyle has ever looked. Similarly Tomasi's sequence where Lantern Kilowog fends off the attack of a former instructor, and must then face all the dead Lanterns that Kilowog ever trained, is absolutely heartbreaking.

If there are any drawbacks to this book, it's that it stops at some point being a Blackest Night tie-in. There's maybe one issue too much dedicated to the Lanterns trying to free Guy from the red ring that seems like it might be a placeholder while other Blackest Night action takes place elsewhere, akin to the one-shot John Stewart issue in Green Lantern. It's not a bad chapter, but Blackest Night falls away.

After that, Green Lantern Corps jumps into the thick of the Blackest Night action for its conclusion, and heaven help you if you're not reading Blackest Night. The majority of Corps is a rather self-contained tie-in, as opposed to the very dependent Green Lantern volume, but the end of Corps is thoroughly in Blackest Night and makes no effort to explain itself. Some parts, even, don't much make sense -- how is Guy able to shatter the Black Lantern Ice when she's possessed but not actually dead? What power causes Kyle to believe he's Major Force? And if the Anti-Monitor wants to escape from Nekron's battery, why do all the Lanterns fire at him? To the extent the story goes off the rails here, however, the chapters before that point are well worth it.

Green Lantern Corps ends with a Blackest Night epilogue, of the sort I imagine we'll also see in the next volume of Green Lantern. Aside from a great scene with two of my favorite characters -- Lanterns Vath and Isamot, the partners from warring planets -- not a gigantic amount changes in the Lantern status quo post-Blackest Night, and even Tomasi notes, through Guy, that it's another moment of rebuilding themselves after a half-dozen before. As much as I liked this story, I have to admit that parts weren't much different than the wild multi-Lantern fight sequences of Emerald Eclipse. Tomasi moves to Emerald Warriors after this volume, with Tony Bedard joining Corps, and hopefully that's a shakeup that will continue Corps level of excellence, reinvigorating the title while adding a companion just as good.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook]

Green Lantern still leads as the best Blackest Night volume in my opinion, but Green Lantern Corps is a close second. Next up, we explore the wider DC Universe with Black Lantern Corps -- see you then!

Review: Blackest Night: Green Lantern hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Between writer Geoff Johns's Blackest Night and Blackest Night: Green Lantern hardcovers, the former is obviously the "parent" volume. Blackest Night has a handful of holes where events happen in other titles, but can more or less be read as a complete story beginning to end; the Green Lantern volume, however, is basically a collection of scenes and supplementary "tales" tied loosely together with text pages that summarize the events of Blackest Night. That said, however, I found the Green Lantern volume to be the stronger of the two, both in surprises and in widescreen action, helped mightily by the art of Doug Mahnke.

[Contains spoilers]

If the Blackest Night event weren't momentous enough, the Green Lantern volume sees this latest Green Lantern series arrive at issue 50. As such, the anniversary issue must serve double-duty, furthering Blackest Night while also celebrating what a momentous occasion it is that a comic starring Hal Jordan -- once considered an untenable part of the Green Lantern franchise -- should have reached the half-century mark and be as popular as it is. Johns accomplishes both with "Parallax Rebirth."

The two-part story picks up from a brief scene in Blackest Night where a black ring possesses the Spectre; the Spirit of Vengeance never appears in Blackest Night again, but suddenly attacks Hal and the multi-hued Corpsmen here. In a flashback to Green Lantern: Rebirth, Hal recognizes that the Spectre didn't help him fight the freed fear-entity Parallax because the Spectre is afraid of the raw emotion that Parallax represents; in order to stop the Black Lantern Spectre, Hal willingly chooses to let Parallax enslave him once again.

The story's parallels to Rebirth are exactly what they should be; Hal fought to free himself of Parallax in Rebirth, and here he chooses to bind himself again -- what ought be his greatest fear -- for the greater good. This time around, in the most significant sign of the ground Green Lantern has covered in fifty issues, Hal's arch-nemesis Sinestro tries not to bury Hal in Parallax, but rather to save him from it; there's also a lovely scene where Hal's on-again-off-again girlfriend Carol Ferris helps to dispel the last of Parallax's influence. The freed Spectre agrees to help Hal fight Blackest Night villain Nekron, making up for the Spectre's quick exit a few years ago.

Between Hal's re-possession by Parallax and freeing the enslaved Spectre is a fantastic fight between the two giant entities, complete with crushed city blocks and plenty of supernatural gore. The double-page crowd scenes of Blackest Night were impressive, but Mahnke's spreads of just these two behemoths towering over Coast City had me gaping far more than Blackest Night did. Johns's fight contains a bunch of twists, including the Spectre becoming at one point a Red Lantern; I didn't know about any of this going in to Green Lantern, and I loved the surprises page after page.

Aside from "Parallax Rebirth," most of the rest of the Green Lantern volume basically profiles the main representatives of the other Lantern corps, with each narrating a different page or issue. In just a couple scenes, Johns gives the berserker Red Lantern Atrocitus a great amount of depth, and he could now be the Green Lantern character I'm most eager to learn more about. Johns also hints that Indigo Lantern-1, as she's called, has an untold history with Sinestro, Hal's predecessor Abin Sur, and the Green Lantern Corps; whereas this character was too mysterious for me to care much about before, these tidbits tie Indigo-1 to the ongoing action in a way I'm excited to see explored.

There's also a couple chapters here, mainly disconnected from the immediate action of Blackest Night, that follow Green Lantern John Stewart and his guilt over the destruction of the planet Xanshi. I like John, mostly from his portrayal on Justice League Unlimited, but he recovers so quickly from his shock both at the resurrection of Xanshi and of his former wife Katma Tui that these chapters aren't very gripping. In another scene Hal ignores the taunts of a resurrected Abin Sur, recognizing that the Black Lanterns aren't the deceased souls they appear to be; indeed, one place I felt Blackest Night didn't work is that after the heroes (and the readers) get the "trick" of the Black Lanterns, the villains lose much of their shock value. It's in this way that I liked the Parallax/Spectre fight better, in that it had some real stakes as opposed to John fighting a not-quite-resurrected Katma.

Alternatively, the pages in which Sinestro fights the resurrected Arin Sur, newly-revealed sister of Abin Sur, are second-greatest only to "Parallax Rebirth." By Johns's hand, Sinestro has become perhaps the best-realized villain in the DC Universe, and this story goes to show there's still more we have to learn about him. Sinestro having scoffed at Abin Sur's "Blackest Night" prophecies becomes increasingly tragic when we learn that Sinestro was nearly Abin's brother-in-law; there's so much wrapped up in Sinestro's hate for Hal Jordan and how it stems from Sinestro's guilt about Abin that it sizzles on every page. The last shoe to drop is whether this makes Arin the mother of Sinestro's daughter, Green Lantern Corps's Soranik Natu, which would make her Abin Sur's niece. Here again, Johns both surprises and builds toward the future in interesting ways, and all of that gave the Green Lantern volume more heft for me than Blackest Night itself.

[Contains full and variant covers, sketchbook pages, Blackest Night text pages before each chapter]

Blackest Night continues to bring with it some surprises; reading the main volume, I had no idea that the characters fought the Spectre, and even after reading the Green Lantern volume, the flow-through is still a bit confusing (if not just inexact on its own). I'll be curious to read the Green Lantern Corps volume next to see if the third part fills in the gaps, and if it's as much a "companion volume" as Green Lantern was. Stay tuned!

Review: Blackest Night hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 16, 2010

DC Comics might very well have called it "Blackest Night: The Brave and the Bold."

Blackest Night, the latest miniseries event from DC Comics, does double-duty both as a line-wide DC crossover, and another chapter in writer Geoff Johns's ongoing Green Lantern series. As such, whereas DC crossovers usually take as their center DC's Big Three characters -- Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman -- Blackest Night ostensibly stars Green Lantern Hal Jordan, except for the moments when Hal's busy in the Green Lantern title and Johns switches the focus to newly resurrected Flash Barry Allen. Hal and Barry's "brave and bold" friendship, not seen in comics in over twenty years, drives the thematic depth of Blackest Night, and it's engaging even as the bucking of DC's usual stars may feel offputting to modern readers.

[Contains spoilers]

The New World's Finest
Indeed, for fans of Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis or early Justice League work, Blackest Night is very much about the "internal League" that Meltzer suggested. While the Big Three might get the most accolades, the real force of the League when the action ends is Hal and Barry, the Atom Ray Palmer, and then the zombified Black Lanterns who comprise the story's most high-profile villains -- Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, and Firestorm. Blackest Night is nearly not at all about the Big Three, but rather spends much of its time excising the final guilt left over from Identity Crisis's murder and mayhem, and returning the League to Silver Age status. To an extent, Blackest Night might also have been called Justice League: Rebirth.

As a fan, I rather balk at Superman not saving the day -- he's DC's first superhero, for one, and for two and three he's the leader of both the Justice League and the Super Friends; it's almost blasphemy for Superman not to save the day. But, I'll grant that my affection for Superman stems in part from a general lack of any other DC superhero to latch on to in the same way -- in the mid-1980s Hal Jordan earned his reputation as a "whiner," and much as I like Wally West, he never demonstrated leadership enough to outshine Superman.

Blackest Night turns this; Hal and Barry emerge not only as DC stalwarts (at one point, the Atom and Aquaman's wife Mera stand in for Superman and Wonder Woman, but Barry, Atom notes, remains the Flash), but also as interesting characters in their own right, especially together. Again, Blackest Night takes many of its cues from re-establishing Hal and Barry's friendship: Hal died a sinner and Barry a saint, but death, Blackest Night opines, is the great equalizer; Hal is too reckless and Barry too cautious, and their struggles in Blackest Night teach them each a lesson about the others' approach. If their friendship is a little too neat, at least it feels fresher than Superman and Batman's bickering that's become commonplace of late.

(As well, though I'd rather look for story meaning within the story, one can't help also perceive the economics of this situation. It must certainly behoove Johns -- newly named DC Chief Creative Officer in charge of representing the DC heroes in other media -- to buffet DC's second-tier heroes. Johns, let's be clear, wrote a great Big Three in his previous Infinite Crisis crossover, but with a recently-failed Superman movie, the Batman trilogy coming to a close, and the Wonder Woman concept constantly in rewrite, the DC Universe must necessarily re-center toward heroes like Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman if those properties are ever to be strong enough to carry movies and television shows. Spider-man and Wolverine don't always save the day at the Marvelous competition.)

The Week We Almost Lost Earth One, and What We Learned From It

Friday, August 13, 2010

I have been very excited about DC Comics's forthcoming Earth One Superman and Batman graphic novel series, and so I was as concerned as everyone else by the news that it was potentially on the rocks. This, after there's been a distinct lack of Batman: Earth One news that suggested Earth One might already be in trouble.

If you blinked this week, you might've missed it, so here's how the story unfolded as near as I can tell, and then a couple thoughts about the reactions to the Earth One rumor.

Crisis on Earth One
It seems the Earth One story started on Monday when Kevin Huxford at SCHWAPP!!! rightly noticed a line in Comic Book Resources's reporting of the CCI Superman panel, in which it appeared J. Michael Straczynski suggested the first Superman: Earth One book would be an original graphic novel, followed by single issues to be collected in subsequent collections. Conor Kilpatrick at iFanboy and Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading picked up the SCHWAPP!!! story.

On Tuesday, The Beat looked to DC for confirmation of the Earth One format change; Dan DiDio and Jim replied (in unison?) that "plans ... have not changed," but a little wiggle room in the statement left the possibility of having single issues at some point still unanswered.

Wednesday, Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool had a statement from Straczynski himself, who said he'd been mis-quoted and that he'd actually been comparing Earth One to his other series Brave and the Bold at the time. iFanboy also posted the statement with a mea culpa from Conor. Right away, however, both Blog@Newsarama and Robot 6 went to tape -- actual recordings of the panel -- which showed that Brave and the Bold wasn't mentioned in the exchange at all; even as he apologized, it seems Conor wasn't so off-base, at least in terms of reporting what was said at the panel.

Both The Beat and Comics Alliance picked up the fact that nothing, ultimately, has really been explained, though they both settle on the cause of the confusion maybe just being end of convention tiredness; if Straczynski didn't actually say Brave and the Bold, maybe he meant it, or thought the person asking him a question said it.

Lessons from the Crisis
A couple of thoughts I had in the midst of all this:

1) Earth One is more popular than it once was. If we take our Time Bubbles back a ways, we'll remember that when DC announced Earth One, there was somewhat lukewarm response in concerns that having "another Earth" confused the DC Universe further; that having another Superman origin in addition to Secret Origin and Birthright only continued to dilute the character; and that the general price and page count for the Earth One books wasn't viable for comics shop readers. Some pro-Earth One attention is a good thing.

2) A dual graphic novel/single issue format is unlikely. Once the initial "Earth One is cancelled" concerns passed, much of the late attention this week focused on Earth One's first volume coming out in original hardcover, and then the second volume coming out in single issues before DC collected it. I don't much like this idea, as it defeats the immediacy of the Earth One collections (everyone reading the same thing at the same time), and it's seemed so unpopular online that I can't believe DC would proceed with it, even if it had one been in the cards.

3) What about single issue-waiting? The above said, I wonder if there's any viability to DC keeping the Earth One books as original graphic novels, but releasing single issue chapters of the OGNs after each one, in the time between the volumes. At least one reason (among many) that fans still collect single issues is that immediacy I mentioned; that, among other things, one doesn't have to wait a year after everyone else to read Blackest Night or the like. I'd be fascinated to see, if this were turned around and the collection were to come out first and the single issues second, would any fan "single issue-wait," as it were, instead of trade-wait? Taking the immediacy out of it, will fans still buy mainstream single issues?

Seems to me, the real headlines for this story won't be when Superman: Earth One volume one comes out, but when we later see what DC does with volume two ...

Review: 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

After our Top Ten DC Trades with Female Protagonists list the other day, a Collected Editions reader wondered why, if I liked Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman and Checkmate runs so much, why I hadn't reviewed 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen, which includes elements from both of those series.

The answer is that the Four Horsemen miniseries seemed to me like the worst kind of crossover bait. I had a hard time seeing the necessity of a miniseries involving the Four Horsemen, essentially one-shot villains vanquished at the end of 52, except for the money DC Comics might make on a book with 52 Aftermath in the title. Black Adam: The Dark Ages filled in, at least, some of the gaps between Black Adam and Felix Faust's final appearances in 52 and their next appearances elsewhere; Four Horsemen reminded me of those Star Wars novels that tell a giant story about an insignificant background character, ultimately signifying nothing.

[Contains spoilers]

Having now read the book, I'm still not entirely convinced this is a book that needed to take shelf space away from something else. That said, there are a number (even a surprisingly great number) of in-roads through which a reader could find some value in grabbing a copy of this book on the cheap, not the least of them is dark, sketchy artwork by Pat Olliffe, which I had felt cast something of a pall over the final collection of the more-hopeful All-New Atom series, but that I found better-suited and enjoyed much more in this volume.

The first of Four Horsemen's hooks is that, perhaps purposefully, whereas Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were absent when 52 pit all the DC Universe's heroes against the Horsemen, this time it's DC's Big Three who fight the Apokolyptian villains. Writer Keith Giffen offers an effective "trinity" story that ends with a nice, unusually quiet moment for the heroes. Giffen's take on the three heroes' relationship reminds me of the epilogue of Mark Waid's Kingdom Come, especially in the dialogue between Superman and Batman -- they banter, they put each other down, they finish each others' sentences, very much like brothers who compete but still care about one another.

If anything, I felt Giffen's characterization of the heroes together was a bit too easy. Batman works with the other heroes, but otherwise he's unnecessarily a grump, insulting a few too many times Checkmate operative Snapper Carr; the first time Batman tells Snapper to "shut up" is humorous, but the twelfth time is a drag. Giffen has one of the Horsemen give Superman a magic-infected bite early on in the series, and this too-conveniently de-powers Superman so as to not overwhelm the other heroes. And while I very much enjoyed Wonder Woman's interactions with the character Veronica Cale from Rucka's run, Wonder Woman is separate from Superman and Batman for most of the story, making this not a true "trinity" story until almost to the end.

That said, it is a relief to read a "trinity" story that doesn't beat the reader over the head with the characters' similarities and differences, and rather is just a superhero case that happens to involve these three. To an extent, Big Three team-ups now seem to be considered "events" in the DC Universe, whereas I miss when the Super Friends working together was just natural.

The book's second hook is the aforementioned Checkmate agent Snapper Carr, a concept given some legitimacy by the character's subsequent appearance in Rucka and Eric Trautmann's Final Crisis: Resist. Snapper's history is a bit unclear in current continuity, but he's a fascinating character especially teamed with DC's Big Three -- this is a sidekick, mind you, who betrayed the Justice League. It's as if Robin were to sell out Batman to Two-Face -- that story isn't specifically referenced in Four Horsemen, but it underlies in interesting ways, especially in Batman's dealings with Snapper. Giffen also suggests that Snapper knows every secret identity of every DC superhero, which is certainly controversial for a Checkmate agent. If you enjoyed Checkmate as I did and noted Snapper's appearance in Resist, here's what started that off.

Finally, it turns out Four Horsemen is, above all else, a lead-in to Keith Giffen's new Doom Patrol series. Halfway through the book, nearly apropos of nothing, the core members of the Doom Patrol show up on Cale's Oolong Island to help Cale and her fellow mad scientists defeat the rampaging Four Horsemen. I don't imagine there's much here that can't be picked up from the first issues of Giffen's Doom Patrol, but the scenes of arguments between Doom Patrol chief Niles Caulder and Veronica Cale are also very strong, and it seems some of Horsemen's final loose threads will be tied up in that series. As such, if you're a Doom Patrol completist, you might start here; and, I liked seeing just the core members of the Doom Patrol in action again in this story without all the extra members or continuity trappings, much in the same way Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman appear here in fairly iconic form.

What lacks the most in Four Horsemen is, tellingly, the Horsemen themselves -- War, Pestilence and the rest aren't aren't any more well-defined than the sum of their names, and their mission beyond destruction is never entirely clear; at times I wasn't even sure which Horseman was which. Frankly I don't think any Four Horsemen story can ever really be about the Horsemen so much as about the heroes fighting them. To that end, this miniseries accomplishes some nice character points among DC's Big Three and the rest, and maybe I'll find some additional relevance in it once I get to Giffen's Doom Patrol; for now, fair stuff, but as I suspected not a "must read."

[Contains full covers by Ethan Van Skiver (though strangely half-covered by chapter numbers)]

Still, every book is someone's favorite, so if Four Horsemen spoke to you, please chime in and tell us why.

Review: Batman: Long Shadows hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows is an interesting little Batman (or "Batman Reborn") story. I say "little" because Long Shadows has none of the meta-textual flash and bang of Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin -- but neither is it, as I feared, a cookie cutter repeat of the similar Batman: Prodigal storyline. Instead, whereas Long Shadows is a rather straightforward story about what it would be like if Dick Grayson took over the cowl from a dead Bruce Wayne, it wins points from me for being a rather convincing take on the situation, at that.

[Contains spoilers]

How ever much things in Gotham City return to normal after the return of Bruce Wayne, I'm finding the value of "Batman Reborn" is in the thought experiment of "how would [enter character] do things if Bruce wasn't around?" This is reflected well in the new Batman/Robin relationship and in elements like moving the Batcave (back) into a Gotham City highrise in Morrison's work, and in how Batwoman: Elegy reimagines a Bat-character for the twenty-first century.

This is also reflected in how Winick, moreso than Morrison, examines how Dick Grayson would be a different Batman than Bruce Wayne. Winick fortunately dispenses with much of the "am I worthy of the cowl" angst right at the beginning, and quickly moves to how Dick makes the Batman persona his own -- incorporating more gymnastics into his fighting style, filming his villain take-downs so the police have evidence for court, and assessing the size and weight of his cape so as to make the costume closer to Nightwing's.

This isn't the stuff of superhero action battles (though Long Shadows has that, too). Rather, it's nitty-gritty detailed stuff that probably never even needed to be mentioned, but that I found interesting to learn about nonetheless.

Winick also puts strong focus here on the relationship between Batman Dick Grayson and his faithful butler Alfred. Again, there's fascinating detail here, like Alfred discovering Bruce's childhood drawings because, of course, the family naturally begins gathering up a deceased loved one's possessions once they're gone. I also enjoyed Dick and Alfred's discussion about how their working partnership is different -- Dick is more inclined to take Alfred's advice than Bruce was, and Dick worries and seeks approval from Alfred far more than Bruce did.

And of course, with the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, there's some tears and emotion to be expected, which Winick takes on well with the first chapter's epilogue to Battle for the Cowl; I especially liked the rationale for not holding a funeral for Batman. Later on in the book -- pursuant to Winick's reputation for sometimes being a "soap opera" writer -- Alfred and Dick's mutual appreciation meetings become mildly heavy-handed, but enjoy it while it's there -- no doubt Bruce will be back to his clammed-up self not too long after he returns.

Winick gives every character in the book a talking partner -- Dick has Alfred, Penguin has Black Mask, Two-Face has an anonymous henchman; even Commissioner Gordon alludes to wanting to have a sidekick with him when meeting the new Batman. There's a way in which Long Shadows is something like a play, where every character has a sounding board with which to express themselves with. If intentional, it's a unique way for Winick to structure this story, and goes to the general theme of Long Shadows, how everyone -- Dick, Alfred, Gordon, even Two-Face -- look for surrogates to fill the void left by the death of Batman.

We find in the end that even as Dick does a fair job as a stand-in Batman, Winick leaves no question that the former Robin is not there yet. In the book's ultimate battle between Dick and Two-Face (who, let's not forget, Nightwing handily beat in Peter Tomasi's Nightwing: The Great Leap), Two-Face nearly murders Dick before he's saved by Alfred, dressed up as Batman. Ultimately the Batman hero in Long Shadows is Alfred, or else it takes Alfred and Dick together to equal Bruce Wayne on his own.

This is dangerous ground -- Winick, Tony Daniel, and the rest of the Bat-team only have so long to have Dick find his feet before Batman returns, else Dick comes out of this Bat-era seeming ineffectual (which, for Bat-purists, might be OK). All of it -- from artist Mark Bagley's wonderfully youthful Dick Grayson to the banter with Alfred -- just makes me all the more eager to see some writer's revitalized take on Nightwing, frankly, but there's a bunch of books between here and when that happens.

[Contains full covers]

Ultimately, I didn't find Batman: Long Shadows as lackluster as I had heard it was. This is not required reading for the "Batman Reborn" saga, to be sure, but if you're curious about the tinier "what if"s that go into the loss of Batman, Long Shadows does a nice job filling in the gaps.

Review: Zero Hour: Crisis in Time trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

There's a tendency among the DC Universe to look at things in threes. There's the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Modern Age of comics, for instance. Batman, Nightwing, and Robin approximate DC's three heroic generations. And twenty years after Crisis on Infinite Earths came its sequel, Infinite Crisis, and then Final Crisis rounded out the trilogy. What then to make of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time?

In this age of Barry Allen returning and Wonder Woman retaking her place as a founder of the Justice League, I sometimes forget that DC Comics didn't wait twenty years to reboot their continuity after Crisis on Infinite Earths; their next reboot, Zero Hour, came just nine years after the original Crisis. And Zero Hour, written by Dan Jurgens with art by Jurgens and Jerry Ordway, is still in print, so DC and its fans must see some value in Zero Hour (aside, perhaps, from the appearance of Parallax Hal Jordan) even despite it being something of the "forgotten Crisis."

As a trade paperback, Zero Hour suffers in some of the ways as many crossover collected editions do, but was ultimately more readable than I expected. I tried to imagine the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the main characters, and the Showcase '94 stories that start the book do a good job establishing Waverider as a loose cannon among time travelers, and also setting up Waverider's conflict with Extant. That alone, if you're interested in just the broad picture, will get a reader most of the way through the book.

In addition, Zero Hour has a strong theme of the older generation retiring and the new generation taking over. It's almost painful to watch the retirement or death of a number of JSA members in this story -- reflecting a difference between that time and now in terms of the viability of these older characters -- but a new reader will be able to connect Jay Garrick to Bart Allen and Alan Scott to Kyle Rayner and see the torch being passed; then-Darkstar Donna Troy and young heroes Damage and the Ray also have big roles here, spotlighting the burgeoning "third generation" of the time.

At the same time, many of the smaller details will be largely inscrutable to new readers, glossed over here and expanded upon in the tie-in issues, as with many crossovers. Between two issues, Guy Gardner and Steel leave the main group after a catastrophe never fully explained. The Legion of Super-Heroes would be entirely rebooted during and just after Zero Hour, though this is only vaguely referenced in a couple of panels; Aquaman simply appears in a panel without a hand, barely touching on the events of his series. And indeed Parallax gets very little build up in order to preserve his surprise appearance, but I'd worry the lack of explanation is bound to confuse a reader unfamiliar with the character.

The only real Crisis-type continuity change seen in the pages of Zero Hour is the merging of a variety of Hawkmen -- I felt this was satisfactorily explained in these pages (though that's not to claim it makes sense); other continuity changes would only come in the Zero Month event that followed Zero Hour. In terms of actual relation to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour is gigantically more subtle than the Infinite Crisis that would follow. Waverider reveals that the entropy that Parallax uses to destroy and remake the universe is energy left over from the original Crisis, and he mentions the death of the Multiverse, but it's all in hushed tones -- suggesting the still queasy relationship DC had with bringing the Crisis into continuity during that time, versus Infinite Crisis addressing the original series outright.

If Zero Hour doesn't succeed entirely as a follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, it's in this point; Infinite Crisis takes up the actual story of Crisis on Infinite Earths, whereas Zero Hour simply acknowledges Crisis and shares some impetus to reboot in common. Zero Hour, that is, would only whet one's appetite for a sequel to the Crisis, not fill that hunger itself.

A few other notes, as a modern reader looking back on this story: Guy Gardner -- who in his own title was at this point slowly losing his buffoon image by the deft hand of writer Beau Smith -- starts the book still being lectured by Batman, but ends up with strong leadership moments in the end; I was surprised by how much of a Guy Gardner story Zero Hour turns out to be. On the other hand, poor Jurgens seems not to know what to do with Power Girl, drawn matronly and nearly unrecognizable in the midst of another writer's ill-advised pregnancy storyline; she's almost an entirely different character from the one who later appears in Infinite Crisis.

Jurgens and Ordway represent quintessential superhero art to me, and I have a soft spot for the Armageddon 2001 story that preceded Zero Hour and for the character Waverider; to that end, Zero Hour has a special place on my bookshelf. The story is strange -- a great Waverider story on one hand and a rather terrible JSA story, by current standards, on the other; a villain story like Underworld Unleashed on one hand, but a natural (time) disaster story like Final Night on the other -- but holds up, if nothing else, in that classic Jurgens/Ordway art. For a fan reading back over DC Comics history, Final Crisis I could take or leave, but Zero Hour, this "forgotten Crisis," brings a smile to my face.

[Contains full covers (with logos, no less), timeline of the newly rebooted DC Universe, afterword by editor KC Carlson]

I'm curious, if you're someone who didn't read Zero Hour the first time around, but found the collection or the single issues later on, what did you think of it? (Of course, I'm happy to hear about your original Zero Hour memories, too!) Thanks; more reviews coming up.

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]

More reviews coming soon ... right here!