Thursday, September 30, 2010
Be that as it may, Night and Day contains a handful of one- and two-issue stories that are pretty good, especially those written by the book's latest semi-regular writing team Michael Green and Mike Johnson. Whether by coincidence or by design, most of the stories take place in dreams, illusions, or false realities -- that is, there's a way in which Night and Day focuses on the mental partnership between Superman and Batman, rather than the physical villain-hitting partnership (though there's that in this book, too). "Night and day" could to an extent not so much refer to the differences between the two heroes here so much as the barrier between what's real and unreal in these collected adventures.
The first and likely the best story in this volume is Green and Johnson's two-part "Gothamopolis." Superman and Batman find themselves in a world where the Justice League and the New Teen Titans are combined not unlike the combined DC/Marvel universes in the Amalgam Age of Comics. This is creative and different, and demonstrates the writers good knowledge of the characters; the implications of Batman (Bruce Wayne, I should say) meeting an amalgam Dick Grayson and Hal Jordan -- one whom he trusts very much, and one whom he has trouble trusting -- is especially brilliant.
Not only does the story riff on the well-known Teen Titans: The Judas Contract story, but it also includes an appearance by an especially classic Justice League villain. I appreciated that Johnson and Green went back to the well rather than creating a new and potentially forgettable foe. As an added bonus, the art for "Gothamopolis" is by DC Comics's rising star Francis Manapul; given all of that, you can see why I still give Night and Day a nod -- even though the story takes place in an indeterminate time before Final Crisis and will more than likely never be referenced again.
The biggest surprises in the book, however, come in Green and Johnson's titular story "Night and Day" (issue #63) both their final issue of Superman/Batman and one that serves to wrap up a couple dangling plotlines from their run. The story opens in a dystopian world where Batman is one of the few able to fight Gorilla Grodd's all-consuming mind-control -- and, the writers reveal, it was Grodd way back in issue #49 that caused Lana Lang to make Earth uninhabitable for Superman, and has finally succeeded.
"Night and Day" doesn't cover much new ground as far as Superman/Batman team-ups go (the returning Superman, again, inspires the downtrodden as a symbol of hope), but the Grodd revelation is a welcome one. Green and Johnson's The Search for Kryptonite was a near perfect Superman/Batman story, and the only out-of-place detail was Lana's errant behavior, which was potentially to be explored in the Superman titles before plans changed; that this is finally explained is a nice gift for continuing readers.
Even more interesting, however, is that the reader finds at the end of "Night and Day" that the entire Grodd scenario is just a computer simulation designed by Batman for training purposes. Given "Night and Day"'s ties to Search for Kryptonite, and the fact that it's Green and Johnson's last issue, is this to suggest all of Green and Johnson's Superman/Batman run was just a simulation? (Only Batman, I'd say, would have a computer simulation of a "Gothamopolis" adventure that itself takes place in a dream world.) Superman/Batman has been so little reflected in the ongoing DC Universe that it hardly matters, but it's an unique touch -- first they explain the inconsistencies, then they suggest it was all imaginary anyway -- and an interesting way to go out.
Night and Day closes with a two-part Blackest Night tie-in that's also a follow-up to Scott Kolins's Solomon Grundy miniseries. I enjoy Kolins's art and I liked the madcap monster madness of Grundy, but I wouldn't venture this story, "Night of the Cure," has much more to offer. Kolins does well with Bizarro and Man-Bat standing in for Superman and Batman, but he doesn't go as far as to team them in any way like Superman and Batman, nor does he really continue the story of Grundy who, as a Black Lantern, isn't quite the same person as in the miniseries. The S.H.A.D.E.'s Frankenstein also appears, and personally I could read Frankenstein fighting monsters all day, but there's not much else to recommend this either as a Grundy or Blackest Night story; I didn't feel it added to either one.
Rounding out the book are a one-shot Robin/Supergirl team-up by Green and Johnson with art by Blue Beetle's Rafael Albuquerque, and a Halloween story by Peter Johnson (of the Supernatural TV series) and Matt Cherniss, including art by Brian Stelfreeze and Kelley Jones. The first is the more chilling of the two scary stories, as Robin and Supergirl's supposed first team-up exposes them to horror after horror in Arkham Asylum; the second is another more mundane "dream" story, but Jones's few pages with the Joker are especially affecting.
[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]
As I mentioned, with Superman/Batman switching creative teams entirely over the next two volumes, I may not purchase them so quickly. Superman/Batman is becoming something like Batman Confidential in telling one-off stories that spotlight more the writer and artist that the story itself; that's OK sometimes, but it's not the kind of book I'd pick up regularly. Michael Green and Mike Johnson did a bang-up job on Superman/Batman; I'll repeat that their Search for Kryptonite was near perfection, and maybe the real draw of Night and Day is just to support these writers' finish. With their departure, however, there's part of me that thinks it might just be time for DC to wrap Superman/Batman up, rather than keep it going into what I see as ultimately irrelevance.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Save the rest, however -- the big headline here is a Flash by Geoff Johns hardcover omnibus.
Flash and Bang
There's long been speculation that something like this might be in the offing, buffered by the fact that a good number of the collections of Johns's much-loved, much-acclaimed Flash run are out of print. At least, this suggests, they were out of print for a reason.
For those keeping score at home, the omnibus collects Flash #164-176, which is the Wonderland and Blood Will Run collections. Both the stories from Flash Secret Files #3 and Flash: Iron Heights were included in the latest printing of Blood Will Run; the Flash: Our Worlds at War special is previously uncollected.
I am thrilled that it looks like DC intends to go all the way through Geoff Johns's Flash run. If we're at about two collections per volume, however, that means we're probably looking at four volumes total for this omnibus series -- volume two collecting Rogues and Crossfire, volume three collecting Blitz and Ignition, and volume four collecting The Secret of Barry Allen and Rogue War.
And that's if and only if DC intends to collect only Johns's Wally West work. The series title is "Flash by Geoff Johns" -- whether at the end we'll start to see omnibus collections of Johns's Barry Allen series as well remains to be seen.
I really enjoyed Johns's Wally West run, so I'm thrilled as punch it's getting the hardcover treatment. I'd be just as happy to see a Flash by Mark Waid omnibus for that matter, too.
The one other thing to note in DC's release (aside from the fact that, right now, they have Azrael issues listed for Brightest Day) is that all of these, with the exception of a Green Lantern: Secret Origin reprint, are hardcovers.
If there was ever any doubt that the era of hardcover is upon us, note that Wonder Woman has gone back to hardcover, as has the new iteration of Green Arrow, and also the new series Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors; we saw in last week's 2011 advance solicitations that Birds of Prey is rolling over to hardcover, too.
I'd bet that with new Teen Titans writer J. T. Krul, we'll see hardcover over there as well. There's no escaping that hardcover is the new trade paperback -- just about every series I believe that DC can release in hardcover first, probably they will from now on. I like the durability of the hardcovers, to be sure, but the price -- oh, the price. And anyone choosing to "wait-for-the-paperback" is going to face a challenge now, as more and more of these books come out in hardcover first; that wait will just be longer.
But, hey, Flash by Geoff Johns omnibus, eh? Exciting stuff, and I look forward to more of the same on the way.
Couple of links to other reactions:
* Speed Force: Flash Omnibus to Reprint Geoff Johns’ Wally West Run
* Robot 6: DC announces Geoff Johns Flash omnibus
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
If you'd like to see your name in lights here on Collected Editions, please get in touch at the Yahoo account, or drop me a line on Twitter or at the Collected Editions Facebook page, and let me know if there's something you'd be interested in reviewing.
Or, if you'd like to contribute a post on your experience reading, buying, ordering or switching over to trade paperbacks, I'd love to see some of those. And I'm open to meta-reviews, too -- if you'd like to offer a contrary perspective on a book I've reviewed, or revisit a book in light of one of our reviews, I think that might be interesting.
Thanks everyone to your continued support in Collected Editions's fifth year; I look forward to hearing from you. There's a new review coming here on Thursday.
Monday, September 27, 2010
While I was not too enthusiastic about Harras' JLA: World Without a Justice League, I have heard good things about his editorial tenure at Marvel.
And, though Harras' new position puts him in a long management line that also includes Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns, I can only hope that Harras having been in charge of the collections group means something good for DC's trade program, which has often seemed -- in interviews with DiDio and others -- like the afterthought of DC Editorial, even as they continue releasing newer, shinier, and pricier collections.
No doubt the major news sites will have interviews and such with Harras coming up, where they'll address the crossover between his new editorial and old collections position -- but I did want to pause and recognize Harras' promotion as something that might, potentially, be good for the trade waiters.
Karl Kesel's Batman & Superman: World's Finest is not the best of the Superman/Batman team-up miniseries (I reserve that honor for Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude's World's Finest). It does, however, does have an interesting premise in aligning the disparate events of the Superman and Batman worlds into one cohesive story, especially the death of Jason Todd with Superman executing the Phantom Zone criminals, and "Reign of the Superman" with "Knightfall."
Sterling Gates's new World's Finest takes a similar approach, bringing together the current "Batman Reborn" and "New Krypton" storylines. I wouldn't venture there's anything earth-shattering here, but the book is big on fun and Gates gets all the characters' voices right; for those of us who enjoy understand how the DC Universe coincides, this is a satisfactory excursion.[Contains spoilers]
Notably, Gates ducks some of the easier team-ups at the start of this book, choosing to pair Red Robin with the Kryptonian Nightwing rather than with Superboy, and absenting Mon-El altogether in favor of the Guardian with Robin Damian Wayne. I might've liked to see Batman Dick Grayson's response to his new Nightwing namesake, but I appreciates that Gates follows up on a small but poignant scene from Kurt Busiek's Superman run, remembering the impact Tim Drake had on Superman's adopted son Chris.
While the story feels maybe mildly incomplete without Mon-El, the Guardian is the better fit of the "Metropolis characters" to pair with Robin because of his previous friendship with the Newsboy Legion. I liked that Gates didn't feel compelled to have the Guardian or Robin learn anything, but rather part mistrusting one another, not unlike Superman and Batman have in the past.
Further, after Peter Tomasi's general mis-characterization of Damian Wayne in Blackest Night: Batman, I had some concern whether Gates would get Damian's ten-year-old assassin brattishness quite right; he does. As a matter of fact, I specifically read World's Finest as the "next appearance" of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl after Batgirl Rising, a book in which Damian is a key player; no doubt Gates can write Batgirl, given that he ably handles Supergirl month in and month out, but whether Bryan Miller's distinct Batgirl/Robin interplay seems much harder to duplicate. Gates delivers, however, and even adds his own touch in a funny end panel where Supergirl lectures Damian for calling Batgirl names. As I mentioned in my Batgirl review, there's a way in which the "Batman Reborn" characters are more of a family than they have been previously, and I like this familial aspect a lot.
There is not, at the end of World's Finest, any deep meditation on the nature of the Superman or Batman families or their differences. If anything, whereas everyone claims to miss Bruce Wayne, Superman notes he and Dick Grayson's first "world's finest" team-up with the implication that Dick is perhaps easier to work with than Bruce, and the reader knows it's true -- one wonders if that's something Bruce will have to deal with, not being the "favorite" Batman, when he returns.
As the Super-titles are Gates's bailiwick, World's Finest ends with a connection to "New Krypton," and really not at all with "Batman Reborn" -- which is fine. I'm not sure either series will actually pick up on World's Finest, but it's enough that World's Finest ties in to something both in terms of the characters and the plot; the best team-ups, in my opinion, forward the series of all the characters involved, and World's Finest does that sufficiently as far as I'm concerned.
Rounding out this collection are a DC Comics Presents Superman/Robin Dick Grayson team-up from 1981, and Action Comics #865 by Geoff Johns, from 2008. The latter is a prime example of what Johns does for comics; while other writers might have scratched their heads (or started from scratch), Johns offers a fairly simple story that returns Toyman Winslow Schott to his roots, preserving and at the same time overcoming the violent Dan Jurgens story that saw Toyman kill Cat Grant's son Adam.
This is one of two previously uncollected issues from Geoff Johns's recent Action Comics run -- included here because of the Toyman's role in this story -- and I appreciate that DC gives it the light of day; only, I wish they hadn't left off the last page. That page features Cat Grant just before Superman: Brainiac, and while it wasn't relevant to World's Finest per se, I would have liked DC keeping it for the issue's overall historical value.
[Contains full covers, dedication and text pages from Sterling Gates. Printed on glossy paper.]
Again, World's Finest isn't necessarily ground-breaking, and there are other Superman/Batman Dick Grayson team-ups out there, including in Superman/Batman. But, especially in World's Finest's Superman/Batman and Supergirl/Batgirl chapters, there's a certain element of humor and zaniness (as the heroes fight a giant robot) that adds to the overall charm of these kinds of team-ups. If you want just the facts, World's Finest is not for you, but I liked the level this adds to the "New Krypton" and "Batman Reborn" storylines.
Thanks for reading!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I'm a Spoiler Stephanie Brown fan. I do also like former Batgirl Cassandra Cain. Roundabouts Batman: No Man's Land to Batman: Fugitive, when Cassandra was Batgirl and Spoiler dated Robin as a member of his supporting cast, it seemed the pieces fit pretty well. Moving forward to nowadays, though, with Batman "dead" and a general trend toward consolidating characters across the DC Universe (fewer Atoms and Green Arrows, not to mention fewer ancillary Batman supporting cast members like Orpheus and Onyx) the roles played by Spoiler and Batgirl seem rather redundant; it rather seems time for one true iconic Batgirl to join the Bat-family, and I think that Batgirl is Stephanie Brown.
(I realize I'm breaking the hearts of a good number of Cassandra Cain fans, of whom I count myself in that number. Just go with me on this for a bit.)
The first best part of Miller's new series is how familiar it feels, if you like that sort of thing. Stephanie Brown is a hopeful college freshman, as the first Batgirl Barbara Gordon was. She is, Miller includes with a wink and a nod, a part-time library clerk, echoing one of Barbara's first jobs. She has a love-hate relationship with Robin Damien Wayne (though more of the sibling-type than Barbara and former Robin Dick Grayson, given that Damien's only ten-years-old). And, whether you like the utility garter or not, there's something about Stephanie's brighter (albeit purple-hued) costume that just shouts "Batgirl." Cassandra was a darker, angsty Batgirl for a darker time, but it's not that darker time any more.
And Miller's take on Batgirl is not just lovingly familiar, it's also faithful. In a fit of inspiration, Miller echoes the "candle scene" where the Dick Grayson once swore an oath to Batman on becoming Robin, but here Barbara, now Oracle, swears her own oath to help Stephanie as Batgirl. Barbara similarly supported Cassandra, but there's an "official-ness" to echoing the oath, letting alone that the new Oracle/Batgirl relationship speaks a bit more to the historic Batgirl personality -- funny, zany, a little looser than Batman. Like Mark Waid on Flash or Marv Wolfman introducing Tim Drake as Robin, Miller hits the right notes of new and old that make Stephanie easy to accept as Batgirl in a way that feels almost inevitable.
Did I say funny? What surprised and impressed me most about Batgirl Rising is just how funny it is. It's not just the one-liners, though Miller has those down pat ("I'm almost fifty percent sure nothing could go wrong," and then Barbara teasing Stephanie about her banter and Stephanie doing the same to Damien); it's also situational, as when Stephanie's defeat of a fire-based villain accidentally freezes Damien in a block of ice. And not only did I think artists Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott achieve just the right mix of cartoony and serious, they're funny, too -- see the scene of Damien as the odd kid on the college campus, managing to stand under the only tree with no leaves and two ravens. Great stuff.
Obviously having Bruce Wayne really dead is an unworkable situation, but Batgirl Rising goes a long way toward answering why the "world without Bruce" story is worth telling. Batgirl aside, Barbara and Dick take an almost parental role in this story, trying to fight crime and keep their respective sidekicks safe. They have an argument toward the end of the book that's not about the actual conflict but rather a reflection of how much they both miss Bruce; their resolve at the end to pick up and continue Bruce's mission is inspirational in its heroism.
I'm not thrilled that Tim Drake is this amorphous Red Robin, but otherwise through Batgirl Rising I get it -- I see how Dick as Batman and Damien as Robin and Stephanie as Batgirl with Oracle on the side could be a viable status quo for the Bat-verse, and I'm sorry for only a moment that we know, as the characters don't, that Bruce is on his way back not too long from now.
Miller gives the reader a lot to look forward to for next time. Aside from Oracle and Batgirl's burgeoning partnership, there's Oracle's mentoring of the paralyzed former Teen Titan Wendy Harris; here again, Miller creates something new while echoing in Oracle and Wendy the relationship between Batman and angry Robin Jason Todd, or even in Alfred's caring for the traumatized Bruce Wayne. There's also a romantic triangle that's nicely unique, in that Commissioner Gordon is trying to set up his daughter with Detective Nick Gage, who Batgirl herself has her eye on. It's not the same old thing, and it's clear Miller's given the characters' interrelation some thought; it shows through in reading this book.
From the first page, as Stephanie is about to stop a deadly teen drag race, Miller's book feels like nothing so much as Chuck Dixon's original Robin series -- this isn't a Batman book with another character in the lead, but rather a story of a specific hero trying to stop crimes specific to her own skill set, as Dixon did with Tim Drake. I've mentioned before that as I've watched the Teen Titans title go through a rough patch, I've at times wondered if the era of the teen superhero isn't over -- if it's all smarmy jokes and bickering, what's the point? Instead, Miller offers a new take on Batgirl that, with no disrespect to what came before, feels like a Batgirl title. I liked this one, and I'm looking forward to the next.
[Contains full covers (by Phil Noto, no less) and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper.]
Next time, we follow Batgirl and the rest of the Bat-family to Metropolis for Sterling Gates's World's Finest. Don't miss it!
Monday, September 20, 2010
* Legion Lost
Probably among my top ten most wished for trade paperbacks is the excellent, excellent twelve-part miniseries Legion Lost by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Bridging the end of the post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes and the beginning of the short-lived Legion series, this is a decidedly darker take on a select group of Legionnaires lost outside the normal galaxy. Twists and turns abound, and the smaller group gives the writers plenty of room to focus on the characters themselves. I have not always been a Legion fan, and this series had my attention beginning to end.
* Infinity Inc.: The Generations Saga Vol. 1
Maybe second on my ten most wished for trade paperbacks would be a collection of the Roy Thomas/Dann Thomas/Jerry Ordway series Infinity Inc. The extent to which this series about young Justice Society-ers still affects the modern DC Universe can't be overstated -- Jade and Obsidian, Nuklon (later Atom Smasher), the current Hourman, Fury and Silver Scarab Hector Hall (later Dr. Fate) with their Sandman Morpheus connection, the DEO's Mr. Bones, and more. The book is listed as volume one, and the book's first storyline was ten issues -- here's hoping we end up with all fifty-three issues collected.
* Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps
Scheduled to arrive in stores in June is the Tales of the Corps paperback. The other Blackest Night paperbacks aren't solicited yet, but I imagine they're not far behind.
* Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
* Green Lantern: Brightest Day HC
That there's a new Green Lantern Corps collection coming, in hardcover, is mixed news: I'm glad for the new collection, but I'm sorry this series has transferred to hardcover halfway through. However, note that this book is written by both Tony Bedard and Sterling Gates, whereas the post-Blackest Night Corps stories are only written by Bedard. Looks to me like we'll finally get the missing Green Lantern Corps #21-22 by Gates in a collection -- hooray!
See also the first Green Lantern collection post-Blackest Night, a hardcover also branded as Brighest Day.
* Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Endrun
Birds of Prey gets its first and much-deserved hardcover with this initial collection of the second series. Inasmuch as I'm trying to lessen the amount of DC hardcovers I purchase, I'm just so proud of how long Birds of Prey has lasted that I'll have to pick this up.
* Batman: Under the Red Hood
This is a paperback, by Judd Winick, at an estimated 384 pages, with art by Doug Mahnke and others. I'm going to guess and say this is a combined collection of Winick's two "Under the Hood" volumes, and that it doesn't also contain Red Hood: Lost Days (though one collection of all three would be pretty cool). A nice way to reprint that story nonetheless.
* Justice League International Vol. 6
I'm astounded and pleased that the Justice League International books have made it all the way to six volumes, but it still rankles me that volume five, and now this volume, have gone from hardcover to paperback. As thick as the books are, and as nice as they look in the bookstore, it's too bad the entire set can't look the same. Possibly this includes the "Teasdale Imperative" crossover between Justice League America and Justice League Europe.
* DC Universe: Legacies
I'm not thrilled with how this series seems to be somewhat bypassing DC continuity instead of explaining it (see Comic Box Commentary on how the Silver Age Supergirl shows up in a recent background image) -- whether this series turns out to actually explain some things or not will influence whether I purchase the hardcover or wait a bit.
The Best of the Rest
* JSA All-Stars: Glory Days
The second collection of the Matt Sturges/Freddie Williams series.
* Deadman Vol. 1
There has already been a sizable Deadman hardcover collection with art by Neal Adams; I suspect this is a breakdown of the hardcover into a couple of paperbacks.
* First Wave HC
Collecting the Brian Azzarello/Rags Morales miniseries that launched DC's noir universe with Doc Savage, The Spirit, and more.
* Tales of the Batman - Gene Colan Vol. 1
I see Gene Colan drew Batman from 1982-1986 with horror-inspired art; I'd love for a Collected Editions reader to jump in and give us more details on any notable Batman stories that Colan drew.
New in Paperback
* Gotham Central Book 2: Jokers and Madmen
* Superman: New Krypton Vol. 4
Arriving in June, a good year after the "New Krypton" storyline ended.
* Batwoman: Elegy
* Arkham Asylum: Madness
* Superboy: The Boy of Steel
Oh yes, Legion Lost. Oh yes, Infinity Inc. Oh yes, the first inklings of the Blackest Night paperbacks -- plus more!
Eric Trautmann's work on Checkmate and The Shield has given him a reputation, to me at least, of being a writer whose stories contain political or global undertones. In JSA vs. Kobra, Trautmann examines the underpinnings of terrorism; as he writes through Mr. Terrific in the end, "Suicide bombings, terror weapons, assassinations -- it's all about kicking down the underpinnings of society." Far from costumed goons robbing a bank in Gotham City, Trautmann posits this new iteration of Kobra as the DC Universe's ultimate terrorist cell -- seemingly regular people who might suddenly cause destruction without warning. Worst of all is the Kobra members unwavering faith to their cause, unmatched by the generally agnostic DC heroes and specifically the traditionally atheist Mr. Terrific.
Trautmann wisely builds upon the issues of faith that Terrific faced in JSA: Lost and elsewhere, enhancing just how much this story feels like an original JSA tale. While Terrific and Power Girl take up most of the action, there's scenes for Sand, Jakeem Thunder, and Stargirl, among others. I'm hopeful for good things from Marc Guggenheim's forthcoming Justice Society run, but it seems Eric Trautmann could do a fair job on the title, too.
Mr. Terrific and Kobra Jason Burr are obviously pitted here as foils. Both are brilliant; both came to their current lives from the brink of death; and both are chess-players, planning their moves well in advance -- only Burr represents the faithful, and Mr. Terrific represents the faithless. Burr succeeds through most of the story due to his single-minded devotion to his cause, while Terrific flounders for some time because he can't trust his friends. Burr, as a matter of fact, spends much of the miniseries killing off those who followed his brother's Kobra cult; indeed it's Burr's luxury that the only person he has to have faith in is himself. While Trautmann has a tendency to over-narrate here, letting Burr or Terrific describe the action on almost every page, certainly he believably sets up the two as life-long DC Universe nemeses.
At one point in the story, Terrific prevents the hero Damage from severely beating a suspect, reaffirming "that's not how we do things." While no less true, this sentiment that "heroes don't torture" becomes somewhat old hat at this point, reaffirmed as it's been any number of places including Justice League: Cry for Justice. Whereas Cry ends on a somewhat uncertain note as to whether torture or murder might sometimes be justified, Trautmann here is nicely unequivocal, in that Terrific decides that trust in his friends, reason, and love will guide him against Kobra. If not the most complicated conclusion, it is well in-character for Mr. Terrific and the JSA.
JSA vs. Kobra feels almost pleasantly inevitable, like the intended last chapter of both JSA and Checkmate, in that for a long time Mr. Terrific served as a member of both organizations; some tension regarding this was bound to arise. Indeed, in that the arc of the Checkmate series was always Checkmate's growing acceptance by the superhero community (from Shadowpact to the Outsiders and Nightwing, and finally to DC's Big Three), this final equalizing -- Mr. Terrific learning which side to trust when -- seems perfectly natural. Further, JSA vs. Kobra hinges squarely on Final Crisis: Resist (from the Final Crisis Companion), making the story all the more relevant; for fans, this is really the next volume of the Checkmate series.
Inasmuch as I've sometimes decried DC Comics's miniseries-with-a-purpose, feeling they lead too much into something else without meaning something on their own, JSA vs. Kobra might be too far the other way. This is seemingly the concluding Checkmate story, and all I want is more -- some indication that the Checkmate characters will appear elsewhere, or that Kobra will continue to be a threat, that we'll learn more about Jason Burr -- something other than "this is it." If you have a chance at conventions, please do ask -- JSA vs. Kobra is a spy thriller of the type that seems rare these days at DC, and I'd be eager to see more of the same.
[Contains full covers]
Coming up ... Collected Editions's look at the new Batgirl!
Thursday, September 16, 2010
None of that is Bedard's fault necessarily, however, and indeed R.E.B.E.L.S is so good -- both for the nostalgia factor, and what it creates from scratch -- that the main problem is just waiting for the next volume.
Strange Companions, as it sounds, deals with more team-building for the R.E.B.E.L.S. -- or, if the previous volume, The Coming of Starro, built the team, then Strange Companions establishes R.E.B.E.L.S.'s larger society. There's a panel in the third chapter of the established cast that nearly crowds off the page -- not just the main team, but spouses, children, various dignitaries from alien species, even a guest hero and villain or two. It leaves no question that Bedard is universe-building here, creating a rich tapestry for R.E.B.E.L.S. that's just right for a space opera, much in the vein of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
The downside is that no one cast member really gets the spotlight this time, when -- given that this is a relatively new series and cast -- we might benefit from knowing a little more about everyone. Wildstar remains something of a cypher, and Bounder even more so -- we don't know at all how Bounder relates to Strata or why he stays with the team, for instance. The most prominent character is exiled Dominator Xylon; Bedard gives Xylon a warrior's grace despite his single-mindedness, not unlike the depth ultimately given (again) to Star Trek's Klingons, and Xylon's "kill millions to save billions" mentality is perfect (and perfectly dangerous) alongside Vril Dox. Bedard has demonstrated a natural voice in bringing to life the militaristic Dominators in his guest stint in the Legion trade Dominator War, and I'm glad to see that attention given to these long-time DC Univese aliens.
By far the real star of the book, however, is Starro himself. In one single annual, Bedard takes what's been so far a rather stereotypical dictator and his followers and makes them entirely dynamic on the page. Each story in the annual -- that of Storm-Daughter, Smite, and Starro himself -- is better than the one before. Starro is in a way like John Byrne's early Lex Luthor, teasing and tempting each character until they don't know good from evil, and both have lost so much that they have no choice but to follow Starro; it's gripping stuff.
And then Bedard presents the clincher, that even the starfish that rides on the Starro dictator is a slave to him, desperately wanting to be free. Starro carries a hostage right on his body; this underscores well just how evil this character is (letting alone the long-established DC villain that Starro knocks off here). It's another complication, another thread in the aforementioned tapestry, and that's the part of R.E.B.E.L.S. that has me hooked.
[Contains full covers, printed on glossy paper]
What I'd like next time, of course, it just more. R.E.B.E.L.S.: The Son and the Stars will be five issues, including a Blackest Night tie-in; that's no more than what's here, really (though at a higher price), but at least it's five current, real-time issues, and maybe that'll seem more substantial. Strange Companions demonstrates that R.E.B.E.L.S. has what it needs; now I'm just eager to see it take off.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Dinah makes a comment about Diana covering her "Rumpus McGoo" (so to speak) with the American flag; Diana retorts that it's typical nationalism to assume that just because it looks like the American flag, therefore it must be.
This is interesting especially in light of the Wonder Woman costume controversy that's not quite yet hit us collections readers yet. New writer J. Michael Straczynski notes to Comics Alliance that he wanted Wonder Woman in a costume less sexualized and more idealized, which is a fair enough goal except that he also said to DC's Source blog "What woman only wears one outfit for 70 years? ... How does she fight in that thing?"
The answer to Straczynski's question, as I inuit it from Simone's panel, is this: the costume is not for you. To say, "How does she fight in that thing?" is to translate Wonder Woman's costume like Batman's costume -- something the hero built themselves for the purpose of fighting crime. But, Wonder Woman isn't Batman, and her "outfit" isn't a costume at all, really, but actually an Amazonian cultural symbol of their representative to Man's World. To some extent it's like asking how the Pope has worn that outfit for all these years -- it's not an outfit, but rather the vestments of the office.
Except, of course, that it's not.
In as dear as I find the tapestry of the DC Universe, we must avoid the temptation to mistake mythology for fact. Simone's Diana scolds us for mistaking her costume's resemblance to the American flag -- but at the point of creation, Wonder Woman's costume was indeed meant to symbolize the American flag; Black Canary may be generalizing, but she's not wrong. While it may be empowering for Wonder Woman's costume to be retroactively designated as an Amazonian vestment and not a bathing suit, when it was designed a bathing suit was likely what was in mind.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The big headline is a book called Aquaman: Death of the Prince with art by Jim Aparo. Indeed, Aparo drew Adventure Comics #452 where Aquaman's son died, and given the attention that event received in Blackest Night, at least, it's probably overdue to be collected. This is listed as a paperback, but the price suggests we might see a hardcover.
It may be somewhat ghastly, but if DC's publishing this, I dare say another story deserving of collection is the issues around the death of Green Lantern Katma Tui ...
That's all for now, but my guess is that it's the start of plenty more to follow.
Monday, September 13, 2010
It was inevitable that Gail Simone team Wonder Woman and Black Canary, given Simone's notable work on Birds of Prey. For my tastes, however, the "Birds of Paradise" two-part story was too cutesy for the Wonder Woman title. I understand how Dinah's presence facilitates certain digressions about clothes and food, even as I'm bored with, every time Diana teams with another female superhero, the requisite discussion of how imposing Diana seems or the size of her bosom as compared to other heroes. The tone of "Birds: is so comic and so utterly different from what came before in Olympian that, had I been reading Wonder Woman in single issues, I might have considered putting the series aside.
Fortunately, the collection continues into the four-part "Warkiller," which deepens the conflict begun in Olympian without repeating any old ground. The threat of Olympian's Genocide still remains, but it's filtered now through the Amazon Alykone, Simone's fantastic addition to Wonder Woman's rogues gallery. Alykone is the best kind of enemy -- one who hates Diana and plots against her, but in this case one who also deeply loves Diana's mother Hippolyta; to this extent, Alykone can never been quite too evil nor quite too good, and if gives her a villainous depth that we did not even see in in Greg Rucka's mostly malevolent Veronica Cale.
Diana has not been exiled long from Themyscira before she learns her mother is in danger; much of the rest of the story takes place on the island, with various factions plotting for or against Alykone -- with a good helpfing of double-dealing -- toward the book's conclusion. It all feels modern, to be sure, but with a good helping of royal court politics (Diana refusing to escape from Alykone's jail cell) and considerable interruptions by the Greek gods. Maybe we see these Wonder Woman island adventures a tad too often, and I would have liked for this story to have some impact beyond just Themyscira -- but this is the kind of story one can't tell with Superman or Batman, only with Wonder Woman. What Simone presents, essentially, is a good, brass tacks, easy to understand Wonder Woman story, the kind I'd likely give to a new reader wanting to learn about the character.
I appreciated that Simone ties up a bunch of loose ends from Olympian, especially ones I might not have realized were loose ends. Donna Troy returns in Warkiller after flying off in a rage in Olympian; I had thought we understood well enough in Olympian that Genocide caused Donna's anger, and that the argument would be resolved off page, but Donna returns here in a satisfying conclusion to that thread. Additionally, I figured we'd seen all that we would see regarding Zeus and the other gods during Final Crisis, but there's a strong ending scene here that explains more; whereas many books have all but ignored Final Crisis, I've been impressed with how Simone's Wonder Woman is a very direct spin-off from that crossover.
Simone has thrown the reader a curve in that the initial parts of her run strongly suggested that Wonder Woman might enter a sexual relationship with Nemesis -- finally, I might add, ending the ridiculousness that Superman and Batman can have sex but Wonder Woman can't. That Simone brought men to Themyscira and teased the image of pregnant Amazons furthered the idea that "sex is coming." However, we find in Warkiller that Diana and Nemesis break up, and the virgin pregnancies are instead a scheme of the god Ares; in that Simone played fair, offering red herrings to mask the story's real direction, I have no objection, though at the same time I did think that if any writer might break the silly sexual stigma under which Wonder Woman exists, it would have been Simone. Oh, well.
[Contains full covers]
There is more most certainly to come in Contagion, Simone's final Wonder Woman volume after Warkiller. Among other things, I'm curious whether the Amazons have still lost their immortality, what will happen to the men brought to life by Zeus, and whether Diana will meet again the creature that gave off they clay that gave her life -- her proto-father. Again, Gail Simone's Wonder Woman has been a great look at the character, classic and intriguing, and I must say I'm quite a bit sorry to see it end next time.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
Given the extent to which this crossover event excited both regular and new comics readers; how the symbols and paraphernalia associated with Blackest Night have grown in the comics zeitgeist nearly to dwarf the miniseries itself; and the weight which DC themselves put behind the event's collections especially, releasing seven large hardcovers all in the same month, we felt it worth a detailed look at each of the books in the series.
Along the way, what we found is that we liked some, really liked others, found a couple to be mostly unrelated to the main event and skip-able, and found some others mostly unrelated but worth reading anyway.
What I'd like to do now is offer some loose final thoughts about the Blackest Night event as a whole, and then open the floor to any additional thoughts you had on Blackest Night that might not have fit with the reviews themselves. There are plenty of in-series Blackest Night crossovers still to be reviewed by Collected Editions, so we're not by any means done with the conversation.
Be sure also to vote in our poll of the best Blackest Night collected volume. Results to be released in a future post.
* We see in retrospect, marketing-wise, how the Blackest Night collection program builds from the Final Crisis collections program; we saw a number of Final Crisis collections within months of one another, and we can inuit that was successful enough that DC published all the Blackest Night hardcovers right in the same month. I can't imaging how DC could "go bigger" with their next event, Flashpoint, but I think we should expect a similar number of collections, and most certainly hardcovers -- with almost every major DC title being released first in hardcover these days (not to mention twice-monthly series Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost), I think the days of any part of a major event in paperback first are over.
* The major controversy of the Blackest Night collections has been DC's decision to split Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps into separate volumes. In general ... I think I approve of this. Yes, the Green Lantern book doesn't stand on its own without Blackest Night, and Green Lantern Corps falls apart a bit at the end -- but Blackest Night itself does stand alone fairly well.
We could have used a short scene here and there of Hal Jordan with the multi-color Corps, but Johns is deft in shifting the focus to Barry Allen when Hal isn't there. Blackest Night on its own is by no means perfect, but it's good enough that I think the benefit of having three books each with a uniform art team throughout outweighs the implicit confusion; having the separate books, perhaps, gives the illusion that each is a graphic novel, whereas combined volumes might've seemed like collections of issues. (I do see how this can be argued vice versa.)
Hopefully, what we find is that Johns and DC take Blackest Night as a lesson in more cohesive storytelling that benefits Flashpoint later on.
* I remain intrigued by Blackest Night's thesis, reinforced in Tales of the Corps, that we (you, me, the DC heroes) are invaders in our own world, having crowded out the "darkness" that existed before us. I'm reminded of Zero Hour, where despite her protestations the time anomaly Batgirl had to die because she wasn't from the "original" timeline -- in essence, no one on the DC Earth is now "original," but still they exert their right to live.
And indeed, one wonders why the darkness and light can't just get along (perhaps to be explored in Brightest Day), whether Nekron is the entirety of the darkness or whether the darkness has a sentience outside of him, and whether there will ultimately be some recognition of the irony of it all -- that we're the invaders, we're the quote-unquote bad guys, even as we're not the ones trying to kill the other side. (Even as I type that, I recognize the magnitude of issues for which that could be a metaphor.) In short, Geoff Johns has reduced "good versus bad" to its very basic elements, for the most part, and next I'd like to see him complicate it a little.
* One thing that surprised me about Blackest Night was just how many characters died. In a book about zombies rising from the dead, maybe that shouldn't be so startling, but whereas in Infinite Crisis, I accepted the death of dear Pantha as a necessary demonstration of Superboy-Prime's ironic excesses, and Superboy Kon-El's death as a call-to-arms for DC's big three, I couldn't quite find the same justifications in Blackest Night's deaths.
Hawkgirl Shiera Hall returns, but where was the mourning for Kendra Saunders, a near ten-year-old character gone in an instant? What was the significance of the gory death of Holly Granger, other than to clear the way for the return of Hank Hall? What should we take from the rather blithe death of fan-favorite Damage Grant Emerson, except another horrific notch in Jean Loring's belt? It all seems like so much deck-clearing (and maybe it is).
Ostensibly (though not quite stated in the series itself), Blackest Night was meant to be the end to both deaths-as-impermanent and deaths-just-for-shock-value in the DC Universe. If that's the case, I think Blackest Night is indeed the end of that trend and not the beginning of the solution, because Blackest Night is just as guilty of these things as the books that came before. This is perhaps intentional -- I noted that Geoff Johns seemed to lampoon the ideas of character deaths as meaningful or as meaningless in the Blackest Night Superboy-Prime story -- but strange nonetheless.
* That said, I'm curious to see how the DC Universe is affected by Blackest Night going forward. Infinite Crisis, to be sure, had a tonal quality that resonated through the DCU (kinder, gentler Batman, anyone?); so far, hearing about the carnage in Blackest Night and the recent death of a certain legacy character, it doesn't seem that Blackest Night heralded an era of less death nor less mayhem. For me, what we are meant to take from Blackest Night is less clear, and that's OK -- I don't need a story's lesson plastered on the last page -- but if Blackest Night changes the DCU in some way, I'm still looking to find it.
If you missed any of the Collected Editions Blackest Night reviews, here's a handy list:
- Blackest Night
- Blackest Night: Green Lantern
- Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
- Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps
We return Monday with a review of Wonder Woman: Warkiller. Thanks for reading!
Monday, September 06, 2010
Short Green Lantern Corps "tales," often as backups to other stories, have sometimes been dangerously repetitive -- a Lantern faces a situation, it doesn't go as planned, the Lantern learns something. Indeed, there's a couple of stories in Tales of the Corps that follow this pattern; Tomasi's Kilowog story, though it ties in to Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, is rather predictable, and Johns's Red Lantern story doesn't reveal anything about those Lanterns that we didn't already know.
In the majority of the Tales of the Corps stories, however, I appreciated how the writers complicate the Lanterns or otherwise plays them against type. In Tomasi's Agent Orange story, the alien Blume (before he's subsumed by the Orange Lantern) travels between planets stealing and eating their riches; in a painful scene, a civilization seemingly sacrifices their children to Blume -- but, since Blume is only interested in material wealth, he later gives the children back. This is a complicated idea of avarice, escaping some of the parody of Agent Orange Larfleeze, and it makes the Orange Lantern concept richer overall.
Similarly, in Johns's story about the Indigo Tribe, leader Indigo-1 suffocates to death an injured Green Lantern, and then sends a member of the Sinestro Corps away free. The Indigo Tribe represents compassion, though their motivations remain mysterious even after Blackest Night; here, too, we have a complicated interpretation of this "emotion," in that the most compassionate thing to do for the Green Lantern was to end his life, and the most compassionate thing to do for the Sinestro Corpsman was to let him go. Rather than something one-sided, these stories suggest both the good and bad that can come from otherwise simple emotions.
Honorable mention goes to the Blue Lantern and Star Sapphire chapters by Johns. In the former, future Blue Lantern Saint Walker faces the destruction of his home planet by taking his family on a quest to seek their Messiah; the results are tragic, perhaps predictably so, but benefits from Johns's take on both the benefits and drawbacks of faith and hope. The Star Sapphire story, remarkably, entirely involves a conversation between Carol Ferris and a Sapphire ring in the cockpit of Carol's airplane; the story features art by Gene Ha and is both a good look back at Carol's history as the Sapphire, and also a prime example of a cogent comics story that doesn't require punching and kicking.
The book closes with Adventure Comics #4-5, the return of Geoff Johns's controversial Superboy-Prime (Johns co-writes the two issues with Sterling Gates). After Legion of Three Worlds, Superboy-Prime lives on the reconstituted Earth-Prime (DC's version of "our" Earth), aware of the DC Universe through comic books; Superboy learns he might die in Blackest Night just as a Black Lantern Corps of heroes that he's killed arrive on Earth-Prime seeking revenge. Superboy proceeds to DC Comics, of all things, to save himself by changing the next issue or otherwise destroying the company.
For a series that has knocked off a number of characters with even more alacrity than DC is generally known for, there's a great self-parody in this final story. Superboy-Prime, reminiscent of Grant Morrison's Animal Man, decries being a plaything to the DC Comics writers who decide whether he lives or dies. In Blackest Night, Johns must realize, he's used the characters as playthings even more than usual, even as the lasting point of Blackest Night is that, potentially, death won't be used as such an easy stunt any more.
The story would seem to end with Superboy-Prime getting a measure of peace from the writers in the return of his dead girlfriend, but ultimately it's another Black Lantern trick. The message, perhaps, is that it's just comics, or else that Superboy-Prime is the Charlie Brown of the DC Universe, doomed always to fail no matter what he might try. It's a flip moment where Johns simultaneously takes responsibility for the carnage of Blackest Night and also downplays it, and that seems a worthy two sentiments to go out on.
Tales of the Corps also includes a fascinating two-page essay by artist Ethan Van Skiver discussing the creation of each of the various Lantern symbols, and villain Black Hand's creepy "Book of the Black" diary by Geoff Johns (creepy not just for the murders Hand describes, but also for the hint, again, that the Indigo Tribe may not be as benign as they seem ...)
[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook]
Coming up next, some closing thoughts to finish out Collected Editions' series of Blackest Night reviews.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Rise of the Black Lanterns collects seven of the eight cancelled titles that DC Comics "resurrected" for one issue in the midst of Blackest Night (plus an issue of Green Arrow and Adventure Comics). With this premise, I hoped for fairly accurate "final issues" -- books that could actually read as the new last issue of the series.
I grant this is my (perhaps unrealistic) expectation, and not something DC necessarily promised; to this criteria, however, neither Atom nor Phantom Stranger served as true "final issues"; Catwoman, Starman, and The Question all succeeded; and while Power of the Shazam had little to do with that original series, it did serve well as a bridge to future storylines (as, potentially, does Weird Western Tales)
Of these, I liked the Catwoman issue best of all. Writer Tony Bedard sets the story in the midst of Selina Kyle's current status quo in Gotham City Sirens, but the action is all about the old Catwoman series, and not just because of Selina's resurrected enemy Black Mask. Bedard focuses on one of the most emotional moments of Ed Brubaker's classic Catwoman run, when Black Mask tortured Selina's sister Maggie, and asks "What happened next?" The story is just as much about Maggie's anger and Selina's guilt as it is about Black Lantern zombies -- which, in my opinion, is how it should be -- and it makes for a fitting close to the Catwoman series in addition to functioning in Blackest Night.
The Starman and Question issues take a similar tack. I'm not as familiar with the old Question series, but I know one long-standing issue was Tot secretly being Vic Sage's father; writer Greg Rucka had Vic he acknowledge he knew this as Vic died in 52, and in this issue, faced with a Black Lantern Question, Tot admits it, too, while new Question Renee Montoya fights Vic's old enemy Lady Shiva. Starman Jack Knight, rightly but a bit disappointingly, doesn't appear in writer James Robinson's Starman issue, but the story is a pleasant enough Shade story. Both of these issues speak to events of their previous series, occupied but not too occupied with Blackest Night, and accomplished what I expected from the resurrected titles.
Surprisingly, Geoff Johns's Atom chapter is rather weak. This is a completely miss-able Atom story in which Ray Palmer basically gets knocked around by the Black Lantern version of his ex-wife Jean Loring, including being subjected to a gruesome recap of Identity Crisis and attacked by some former miniature allies. By stalling Jean, we're lead to believe, Ray saves the universe, but he's considerably more heroic in Blackest Night (and less of a punching bag) than he is here. Peter Tomasi's Phantom Stranger issue is more substantial but still struck me as filler; it's good to see Blue Devil here and I liked the idea of Blackest Night hits long-time DC Universe monastery Nanda Parbat, but given that this issue, like Atom, uses characters specifically involved in Blackest Night (here, Deadman), I expected more than this generally flat story that hardly affects the Stranger himself.
The Power of Shazam and Weird Western Tales issues lead in to forthcoming stories in Titans and Outsiders respectively. The former is the more obvious; Eric Wallace, whose work I increasingly enjoy, writes about Osiris, soon to appear in Titans -- while this had little to do with Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam series, I did like Wallace's take on how the Shazam magic interferes with the Black Lantern ring. DC Comics Publisher Dan DiDio writes Weird Western Tales, where both the art by Renato Arlem and an appearance by the Ray make this seem like a Freedom Fighters issue. The Ray, however, and Simon Stagg -- a long-time Metamorpho character -- both next appear in Outsiders, which DiDio writes, so consider this a lead-in to that. DiDio's issue is at its core a Jonah Hex story, and fans of the Justin Gray/ Jimmy Palmiotti series might want to glance at this part.
The final two chapters, each from a "regular series," are the closing issue of Green Arrow by J. T. Krul (before he relaunches that series) and an Adventure Comics (Superboy) issue by Tony Bedard. I liked Krul's Blackest Night: Titans, and his Green Arrow story -- if essentially just crossover filler -- has some moving moments in Arrow's struggle against the Black Lantern ring's influence; as controversial as Green Arrow's new direction is, most everything I've read by Krul has been satisfactory so far. Bedard's Superboy story is wonderfully trippy, applying some unique time-travel issues to Blackest Night, and also taking a fond look back at previous incarnations of the Superboy Kon-El. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but at the same time each story displayed more emotion that some of the more uneven tie-in miniseries collected in the Black Lantern Corps volumes.
[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook section]
Indeed, whereas the "resurrected issues" in Rise of the Black Lanterns are farther removed from Blackest Night than the specific three-issue tie-in miniseries collected in Black Lantern Corps, I enjoyed the former far more than the latter. Perhaps it's because Rise of the Black Lanterns, with its dual crossover and single-issue focus, is able to expand in character-focused ways more than the rather formulaic miniseries. If you were only reading one Blackest Night tie-in volume (and really, who's doing that?), I'd recommend this volume first.