Review: Superman: Earth One graphic novel (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's finally here. After half a week's worth of strong media push from DC Comics, and enough off-the-cuff chatter about Robert-Pattinson-as-Superman that one might've expected to find sparkly vampires inside, Superman: Earth One arrived in comics stores today. I've read it and I'll say: it's good. It's not great, but it's good, far stronger than said chatter would have you believe. Writer J. Michael Straczynski's smart choices balance out a fairly straightforward plot, but ultimately all the set-up here succeeds in making me eager for the next volume.

[Contains spoilers]

My concern going in to Superman: Earth One was that Straczynski's would be the rumored "emo" Superman -- young, overemotional, and initially self-aggrandizing; a Clark Kent who would have to be convinced to use his powers for good instead of for fame. This couldn't be less true. Clark tries out for professional football, but he also applies for a job researching renewable energy, and all of it for the purpose of making money to send back the widowed Ma Kent. When she tells Clark to find his own path, he's initially reluctant; he may not want to be a superhero, but neither is he only out for himself. Straczynski's Earth One Clark Kent may be moody, sure, but he still has the heart of "our" Clark Kent.

Among one of the key changes Straczynski makes to the general Superman mythos (different from John Byrne's Man of Steel, at least) is that Clark already has his costume when he arrives in Metropolis, it's his parents who're encouraging him to be a superhero, and it's Pa Kent, now deceased, who names him Superman. In the Byrne version, Clark is driven to save lives and so subsequently needs to create the Superman identity; on Smallville, Clark's heroism is thrust on him by Jor-El, whereas the Kents have tried to hide and shield Clark's powers.

In Earth One, the Kents encourage Clark to be Superman, even as Clark is reluctant because he knows it means sacrificing a normal life. He would not be Superman at all, except that to an extent he discovers that being Superman is where he fits in, that he has more commonality with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen standing up to alien conquerors than he does with working at a research laboratory funded by corporate greed. Clark doesn't want to be alone, but he'd be deeply unsatisfied with any life of good that he can do other than the good he can do as Superman; and, as a close second, he sees that dedication to good reflected in his colleagues at the Daily Planet.

I find this cogent and convincing. I also like that Straczynski weights Clark's relationship with his father -- growing up, becoming his own man -- over Clark's relationship with Lois; Lois has nearly no role here in making Clark Superman. I found this refreshing, more like Lois and Clark on Superman: The Animated Series than anywhere else -- co-workers, they are, and not lovers. All too often in Superman origins, the eventual marriage of Lois and Clark seems inevitable, lacking the necessary drama; here, I appreciated that Straczynski seems almost to ignore the relationship entirely, all the better to start a slow build two or three volumes hence.

Rounding out the cast, Straczynski offers no Lex Luthor -- the Superman/Lex relationship having perhaps been done to death in Smallville and Geoff Johns's Superman: Secret Origin -- nor any Kryptonite, for that matter (potentially government agent Sandra Lee will take the Lex role). Straczynski's Perry White is just as very nearly identical to that of the regular comics as his Jimmy Olsen is different, distressingly so. I don't mind Jimmy as a fearless daredevil photographer, but halfway through Earth One, I near expected Jimmy to bend steel himself. It's Jimmy who inspires Clark to put on the costume, Jimmy who initially saves the new Superman from danger, Jimmy who takes super-perfect pictures of Superman that near single-handedly save the ailing Daily Planet. Perhaps as a result of Straczynski pulling Lois back a bit, Jimmy comes too far forward, ridiculously; I don't much like "our" Jimmy, either, but I didn't find this Jimmy an improvement.

Ultimately, the story of Earth One is that in the face of Clark's reluctance to be a hero, the alien Tyrell comes to Earth hunting Clark and threatening to destroy Earth to get to him; seems Tyrell's people took a contract to destroy their enemy Kryptonians, and now have to finish off the lone survivor. Tyrell's invasion takes up three-fourths of the book -- almost the only crime this Superman stops -- and unfortunately Tyrell isn't more than a one-note villain, not unlike Nero in the recent new Star Trek film.

What's interesting is Tyrell's revelation that Krypton wasn't destroyed, but rather murdered; and the mysterious foe that contracted Tyrell to destroy the planet. This is true for much of Superman: Earth One -- the plot is swift and formulaic and moves almost immediately to Superman's fight with Tyrell, but what distinguishes and redeems Earth One are Straczynski's creative updates -- that Krypton was murdered, that Pa Kent named Superman -- as well as an overall smooth writing style, believable dialogue, and some fine humor along the way as well.

I hold out hope, by the way, that the mystery master villain of Earth One turns out to be someone from "our" DC Universe. The book makes no use of and gives no nod to the phrase "Earth One" such that DC could have easily called it "Rebirth" or "Steel" or "Generations." I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we find out later that Earth One is really "Earth-1" and that Tyrell's mysterious benefactor is Brainiac perhaps, or the Cyborg-Superman (in as much, I recognize, as this would repeat the aforementioned Star Trek).

If Earth One, taking place in the span of an afternoon, doesn't have the scope of Byrne's Man of Steel, it still equates enough of a Superman television movie that I would give it to a new comics reader without hesitation; again, there is nothing insulting or poor here, and the premise is interesting enough that I'm convinced to read more. In addition to the flaws I mentioned, Superman lets Tyrell die in the end when he might have saved him, and I can't quite condone that for Superman -- but it's no different than Batman with Ra's al Ghul at the end of Batman Begins, and I recognize that's the kind of aesthetic under which Straczynski is working -- Superman by way of a new twenty-first century superhero movie.

In that vein I think Superman: Earth One succeeds -- an accessible Superman graphic novel for the less comics-centered, graphic novel-buying audience. Not too excessive an amount of Superman angst here. And no vampires.

[Contains sketchbook pages by artist Shane Davis; four page Daily Planet spread. Printed on glossy paper.]

There is lots more to discuss regarding Superman: Earth One, which we'll address on this blog over time: other reviews of the book, how the reception to Earth One will shape future volumes, Earth One as a publishing strategy, and more.

Next week, however, tune in for the annual Collected Editions Guest Review Month, a fantastic look at a bunch of different books by some very talented guest writers; I love seeing what the guest reviewers come up with, and I hope you will too. I'll be around, too, and I look forward to your comments on Superman: Earth One. Thanks!

Live Superman: Earth One Discussion Event

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Join Collected Editions right here on Wednesday, October 27 at 8 pm EST for a live discussion and read-along of the new Superman: Earth One graphic novel. Please share (http://bit.ly/dnV2xY) -- don't miss it!

Review: Justice League: Team History hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 25, 2010

James Robinson's first foray on the regular Justice League title is an adequate attempt that shows promise for the future. The difficulty with Justice League of America: Team History, however, that it's so buffeted by the constraints of other stories -- Blackest Night, Cry for Justice, and "New Krypton," among others -- that it never quite stands on its own, at least character-wise. To quote The Wizard of Oz, "People come and go so strangely here"; barely a fraction of the characters in the beginning will make up Robinson's League at the end, making Team History feel more like a prologue than a beginning.

[Contains spoilers]

I would note that of all of James Robinson's Blackest Night crossovers (Starman, Superman, JSA), his Justice League issues are the most effective. Robinson sets up a great horror movie atmosphere with six heroes exploring the darkened Hall of Justice, including the eerily melting Plastic Man. The Black Lantern Dr. Light (Arthur Light), Vibe, and Commander Steel are perfect emotional foils for the already self-doubting Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi), Vixen, and Gypsy, and the extent to which the Black Lanterns taunt the heroes while they fight is especially brutal. As a matter of fact, the Black Lantern Dr. Light's ethnic and sexual slurs toward Kimiyo are so extreme that I was rather surprised they got past editorial censors; it's effective storytelling, but again, brutal.

Robinson also held my interest in the second half of the book, as his newly-gathered League including Kimiyo, Batman Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Starman Mikaal Tomas, and Congorilla fight evil doppelgangers of the recently-deceased New Gods; after the Gods departure in Final Crisis, just about anything that suggests their return gets at least an initial vote from me. And of course, at the end Robinson teases a plot that includes DC's Multiverse -- the Tangent Earth and the one where Quality Comics characters like the original Question and Blue Beetle Ted Kord still live -- so that puts the next volume squarely on my to-buy list already.

Unfortunately, almost none of the heroes involved in the Blackest Night aspect of Team History remain with the League through the end of the book, and those that join in the second half like Cyborg, Starfire, and the Guardian don't receive much characterization, functioning basically as background window dressing. Even Mon-El, whom Robison wrote so well in the pages of Superman, only speaks a few lines in three issues. Of about a dozen characters that Team History's cover teases will join the League in this book, only four remain in the end, making this book disappointing for anyone expecting the beginnings of the new League; rather, this book is just a placeholder, deceivingly advertised, before Robinson's real stories start next time.

Those four remaining heroes are Starman, Congorilla, Batman, and Donna Troy. The first two, essentially Robinson's property of late, translate well, and he also does a nice job with Dick's efforts to equal Bruce Wayne in the League. It's his Donna Troy about which I'm uncertain -- as in J. T. Krul's recent Blackest Night: Titans, Robinson's Donna here is weirdly angst-y, talking about giving up her superhero life as if any reader will actually believe the possibility. Donna evinces this "it's all too much" attitude with which I find writers unfortunately afflict female characters -- Black Canary, Oracle, and Wonder Girl, among others -- that doesn't hold my interest; I'd rather see Donna rise above adversity than succumb to it. I will be interested to see how Robinson continues to portray Donna (and if he might even give her a solid origin) going forward.

There's an indication of Robinson freeing himself from the crossover trappings and "coming alive" at the end of the book where, with just the four key Leaguers remaining, he begins seriously interspersing the characters' narratives (Superman/Batman-style, as they say). This is unusual and hard to read and, in essence, very, very James Robinson, and the story is better for it; this kind of thing gives Robinson's Justice League a distinctive voice that separates it from League stories previous -- just as his rampant flashbacks made his second Mon-El volume stand out -- and that's what I want in reading a book by Robinson.

Team History is not always perfect (and the book's multiple inkers often make artist Mark Bagley's usually-clear art annoyingly blurry), but it's an indication of something different, and I'm holding out hope that in the next volume this book will really take off.

[Contains full and variant covers]

Join Collected Editions on Wednesday at 8 pm EST, right here on the site, for a live discussion of the new Superman: Earth One graphic novel. Don't miss it!

Review: Hawkworld trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another book that caught my interest as I've been updating the DC Universe Trade Paperback Timeline is Timothy Truman's Hawkworld. Just the sheer mention of this book sends shivers down the spine of anyone who values DC Comics continuity -- as this Comics Alliance cartoon wonderfully demonstrates, Hawkworld catalyzed the sheet implosion of Hawkman's history to such an extent that it's still not fixed twenty years later. So my question -- was it worth it? Resoundingly, yes.

[Contains spoilers]

To explain further, Hawkworld represents an ad hoc reboot of DC Comics's Hawkman continuity. Earth-born Carter Hall and his wife Shiera fought as the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl; at the start of the Silver Age, DC reintroduced a more science-fiction based Thangarian Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Katar and Shayera Hol. That Hawkman made appearances through to a few years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC updated that Hawkman's origins Hawkworld. So popular was Hawkworld that DC decided to continue the story in the present continuity, requiring some heavy lifting to explain the Silver Age Hawkman's appearances between Crisis and Hawkworld. This has lead to a general confusion over which Hawkman is which that continues to this day.

If one ignores that confusion and just takes Hawkworld as a story on its own, it's a mighty fine story. Truman's art is beautiful, giving depth to both the dirty Thanagarian slums and also the excesses of the Thangarian towers; he draws dozens of alien races and perfectly expresses beauty, fear, anger, and sorrow on humanoid and alien faces alike.

Hawkworld might serve as a model for current storytellers in that it contains a number of scenes of startling violence, but none of it feels out of place or gratuitous. Even as Truman's main character is one of DC Comics's superheroic icons, Truman is unafraid to let Katar Hol sin in any number of ways -- we watch Katar worn down by the corruption around him until he starts taking drugs, and later commits a bloody murder in a misguided attempt to escape from prison. All the while, the reader understands Katar's nobility and how circumstances have brought him to these actions, and one can't help be moved throughout.

And this is letting alone that halfway through the story, Truman actually kills Shayera Thal, whom the reader expects would become the new Hawkwoman. Personally I thought it was a trick, and that the identity of the ending's mysterious figure was too obvious, but Truman concludes with a number of twists I never saw coming. Even if you had some experience with Katar Hol and Shayera Thal later on in the Hawkworld series, trust me when I saw you don't know everything until you've seen how they came together in the original Hawkworld miniseries.

Granted I imagine DC Comics pretty much wants to sweep this period of Hawman history under the rug, how ever entertaining it is, in favor of what I believe is a clearer Hawkman continuity post-Blackest Night. But among collections I'd like to see -- and maybe this is one for DC's digital comics intiative -- is a collection of the "Escape from Thanagar" storyline, Hawkworld #22-25, which tried to put a cap on Hawkworld's continuity problems by converting the original Silver Age Hawkman to a Thanagarian spy named Fel Andar. This is not, granted, the cleanest continuity patch ever, but it's a story that offers a re-explanation of some earlier stories and also guest-stars Amanda Waller and the Justice League International, so hey -- sounds like a party to me. But I'm not holding my breath ...

[Includes introduction by editor Mike Gold]

Thinking back on it, in what limited issues of Hawkworld that I've read outside the collected original miniseries -- couple of annuals, couple of crossovers -- I find Katar Hol and Shayera Thal much more interesting than Carter and Shiera Hall. The latter, I'm guessing, is what I'm stuck with, but if DC could bring the Thangarian Hawks back without destroying continuity again, I'd be all for it.

New reviews Monday, and on Wednesday at 8 pm, don't miss the Superman: Earth One live Collected Editions event. Did I mention it will be live?

Ask Collected Editions #3 - DC Timeline and Fallen Son

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For this latest edition of Ask Collected Editions, we're going to dip into the DC Comics Trade Paperback Timeline mailbag a little bit. As always, if you have a question for "Ask Collected Editions," send an email to the Yahoo account or post it on the Collected Editions Facebook wall, and your question could be used in a future segment.

First up, frequent commenter and contributor to our upcoming guest review month, Paul "Hix" Hicks:
Do you consider James Robinson's The Golden Age list-worthy? I'd encourage you to include it as it is referenced in the first Starman collection and it's a work that contributed to the existence of the JSA resurgence. I'd place it somewhere around the Death of Superman which is when it concluded.
Good question. Golden Age is technically an Elseworlds story, but Robinson employs a bit of slight-of-hand in his Starman books in establishing that some events of Golden Age actually happened. I haven't for the most part included Elseworlds stories in the timeline as they don't affect DC continuity directly; I did recently include Kingdom Come, however, because some of the characters later appear in Justice Society of America. Golden Age doesn't tie in quite so tightly as Kingdom Come, but I'd be inclined to include it with a caveat. What do others think?

Our next question comes from an anonymous commenter, who notes:
Placing Red Robin: The Grail after Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn doesn't make sense timeline-wise considering what happens to Damian in Batman & Robin #6.
Also an excellent question, and good noticing. The issue here is that indeed Red Robin: The Grail does not happen after Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn, but actually between the pages of it. Since there's no way to conflate our trade paperbacks (would that there were), we have to make a choice as to which to read first. I have always in the timeline tried to favor the main event over its subsidiaries unless there's a compelling reason otherwise -- that is, Final Crisis before the Final Crisis Companion or Batman before Nightwing; again, when there's no compelling reason otherwise, this seems to me the natural reading order.

Really, I'd have liked to put Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn right at the beginning of the "Batman Reborn" saga, seeing as how it follows almost directly from the "six months later" sequence at the end of Batman: RIP -- and also because the first Batman & Robin collection marks what I think of as the official "debut" of the new Batman and Robin. Ultimately I gave in and put Batman: Long Shadows before Batman & Robin because it deals with events leading up to Batman & Robin -- but that's why Red Robin comes afterward, because it fits between the pages of Batman & Robin, but I feel the latter is the more major of the two books.

Hope that clears it up. Keep an eye on the timeline -- new books to be added soon!

Here's one more Captain America question in the mailbag from Theon Laney; hopefully our eagle-eyed readers can help out:
The Marvel title Fallen Son has two different hardcovers for sell, and I can't tell what the difference is between them. On the covers one has several heroes gathered mournfully around a casket, and the other has a close up of Captain America's battered shield. Do you know what the difference is in these two collected editions and which one would you recommend?
Anyone? Bueller?

Thanks for checking in to this edition of "Ask Collected Editions." Don't miss our live Collected Editions event celebrating the release of Superman: Earth One, Wednesday, October 27 at 8 pm. See you then!

Announcement: Upcoming Live Event!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Next week, Collected Editions goes live -- yes, LIVE -- for the release of Superman: Earth One!

In November, the Collected Editions blog will hand over the microphone to a great group of writers for our mostly-annual Guest Review Month. But before that happens, we'll end the month with a bang with the first-ever Collected Editions live event!

To celebrate the release of DC Comics's new line of Earth One original graphic novels, Collected Editions will host a live Superman: Earth One reading event on October 27, 2010, the day the book arrives in stores. Drop by the site at 8:00 pm Eastern when I'll start reading Superman: Earth One and posting my thoughts as I read. It's all brought to you through a special live interface -- no reloading necessary.

And of course, comments will be welcome! Come read along with Collected Editions and add your thoughts as we go.

Then, the next day, visit the site again for the official Collected Editions Superman: Earth One review. It'll be our grand finale before we usher in a great group of guest reviewers for your reading pleasure.

The Collected Editions two-day Superman: Earth One event begins with the live Superman: Earth One reading on October 27 at 8:00 pm Eastern -- share, retweet, tell your friends, and don't miss it!

Review: Supergirl: Death and the Family trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 18, 2010

With Supergirl: Death and the Family, Sterling Gates continues the great upswing this title has been on (just, unfortunately, in time to hear that Gates is leaving the title). His initial Who is Superwoman had maybe a touch too must angst for my tastes, but Friends and Fugitives offered a nuanced spotlight on the differences between secular Supergirl and her religious friend Flamebird; Death and the Family offers some similarly complex performances, as well as a nice take on some classic Superman villains and allies.

[Contains spoilers]

There's not anyone who actually believe Gates was actually going to let Supergirl's friend and mentor Lana Lang die, and as such I had found the false drama of Lana's ongoing illness somewhat dull. As well, if you ask most seasoned comics fans what villain is likely behind an illness striking Lana Lang, they'd probably get it right on the first try. To that end, there's a lot stacked against Gates to make Death and the Family succeed -- but he does. What helps this book make it? Gangbuster, Silver Banshee, and betrayal.

At a very critical moment just before the last full chapter (Supergirl #50), when we already know Lana's not dead and we already know what villain's going to pop out of the mysterious slimy cocoon, Gates changes the scene completely. The story jumps forward in time, and we're presented with the hero Gangbuster (one of my favorites, late of Kurt Busiek's Trinity) bobbing and weaving to escape killer insects. It's just the right move by Gates, and re-casts Supergirl's ultimate battle with the villainous Insect Queen into a post-apocalyptic space that's just different enough from the battle over Metropolis that we might have been expecting.

Given Cat Grant's heavy hand in Gates's Supergirl series, teaming Supergirl up with Gangbuster has just the right undertones (go look up Gangbuster, I'll wait). Again, Gangbuster is a favorite of mine as a long-time post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman fan, and Gates further makes this feel like a Superman title through the use of that character. Now if he can get Supergirl to stop by the Ace of Clubs to see Bibbo, and maybe find some way to rehabilitate Emil Hamilton, we'll be all set.

It's in this same vein that Gates pits Supergirl against long-time Superman villain Silver Banshee in two of the book's chapters. Supergirl's fight with the Banshee doesn't have the most bearing on the story, but Gates's origin and motivations for the Banshee hew fairly close to the original Byrne version, if I recall correctly, and as such there's something about the two-parter that says "classic" to me. At one point, Gates even has Supergirl banshee-fied herself, a moment both unexpected and entertaining. That is, I think, the quietly growing power of this book -- with the trappings of "New Krypton" set aside for a moment, Gates tells a believable story of a Superman-type case handled by Supergirl, and it succeeded in ringing true.

The triumph of the story, however, is when the Insect Queen suggests that Lana only befriended Supergirl through the Queen's machinations, and that Lana and Supergirl's familial relationship is false -- a notion Supergirl can't quite disbelieve. Against the backdrop of "New Krypton" villain General Sam Lane betraying his own resurrected daughter Lucy, Gates avoids a sappy sitcom resolution between Lana and Supergirl -- Supergirl expresses her distrust, Lana makes a reasonable rebuttal as to why the Insect Queen who possessed her is of course evil and not to be believed ... and ultimately, Supergirl can't accept it and flies off.

The ending is not happy, but the reader is left understanding completely how important Lana-as-family is to Supergirl and what the hero has lost. This is angst, but good angst, believable angst, and it suggests to me that Gates has indeed hit his stride on this title. Again, unfortunately, it seems the number of issues he has left here are limited, but there's at least one more trade in the offing, and Supergirl: Death and the Family has convinced me to pick it up when I hadn't been so sure just a few books ago.

[Contains full and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

More reviews on the way. Thanks for reading!

Review: Superman: Mon-El: Man of Valor hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

As we move toward the conclusion of the "New Krypton" storyline, Superman: Mon-El -- Man of Valor didn't have quite the introspective pep of the first volume. It had introspection, to be sure, and writer James Robinson's storytelling methods are laudably more complex than what you find in your average funny book -- but, the goings on in a variety of other titles make this book very choppy. Man of Valor rushes in the end to fit Mon-El in with established DC Comics continuity, and it takes from that often-told story some of the majesty it deserves.

[Contains spoilers]

Here, as in the first Mon-El volume, the best part is James Robinson's title character. Robinson writes Mon-El as a quiet presence, neither speaking idly nor more than he has to, and it gives unique gravitas especially to one presented as such a young character. There's a notable scene in the end where Mon-El is asked to return to Phantom Zone imprisonment and in one panel refuses; then, over the course of three quick panels of dialogue, Mon-El has agreed to sacrifice his freedom to save the future. The character's change is remarkably subtle, written admirably by Robinson, and speaks to the deference to duty that helps the reader believe Mon-El is the future hero we're meant to believe he is.

Robinson moves forward and backward in time over the course of these issues, often referencing parts or all of past scenes in pop-up panels, and I appreciated this break from the norm even if I did have to re-read once in a while -- if anything, Robinson forces the reader to read slower and take their time with the material. (In essence, if you liked Grant Morrison doing some of the same in the issues following Batman RIP, you won't mind this, and the reverse is likely true, too.) This is most effective in referencing Mon-El's long torture at the hands of General Sam Lane's doctor; we see very little of this torture on camera, but it believably haunts Mon-El throughout the rest of the book through Robinson's eyeblink flashbacks.

Man of Valor moves swimmingly through Mon-El's capture by Sam Lane, escape, and return to Metropolis; then things begin to fall apart. There's a bit with Action Comics's Nightwing and Flamebird where Mon-El's called to Science Police headquarters and, one page later, there's been a massive explosion but the reader doesn't know how or why (likely because the main action has switched to the second Nightwing and Flamebird volume); this leads quickly to a chapter post-Last Stand of New Krypton, amazingly enough, where Mon-El must seed multiple worlds with the bottle cities from Brainiac's ship. There's a bit with General Lane having captured another Daxamite that also flies by pretty quick, and then Mon-El is shunted back to the Phantom Zone -- without even an appearance by Superman -- all in the span of one issue. Mon-El gets some good character moments, but it's all too hasty for what are supposed to be some of Mon-El most shining historical moments.

This is the second time we've seen Mon-El help populate worlds with alien races -- the legend being that these worlds ultimately become the homes of the Legion of Super-Heroes members. Here, as in the Valor series circa Zero Hour, Mon-El populates the worlds not out of heroism, but because he's directed to do so by members of the future Legion; Mon-El is his own self-fulfilling prophecy. This has always felt a bit hollow to me -- the Legion worships Mon-El as a legend, but in fact he's just their errand boy -- and in part it's because the story Mon-El's fulfilling is actually just a hastily drawn piece of retroactive continuity to explain why Mon-El, rather than the out-of-continuity Superboy, at one point, inspired the Legion's creation. I like Mon-El, but these little details and how quickly it all goes by robs this issue of what we're told by the Legion should be its majesty.

In a part-for-the-whole moment, Robinson has Mon-El convince Jemm, Son of Saturn, to let the Legion's Saturn Girl's forebears live on his planet, which coincides thematically with Jemm's otherwise random appearance in World of New Krypton, and I was glad for this tie. But the story ends with Mon-El emerging from the Phantom Zone in the thirty-first century to meet the Legion and Superboy, and the book makes no attempt to reconcile the ruling time paradox of all of this -- if Superboy freed Mon-El from the Phantom Zone in the future and knows Mon-El as Superman in the future, why is Superman concerned with Mon-El's well-being in the present or otherwise trying to free Mon-El from the present Phantom Zone? As a well-versed DC fans, I know the facts of this and I know it doesn't make sense, but I worry about the knots in which this would tie someone reading the book with less of that knowledge.

I will admit, however, that Robinson fooled me with all the Legionnaires scattered in the present. I thought it was Tellus only, but indeed it's much more, and each of those revelations caught me by surprise. Inasmuch as I think DC still has a bit of work to do explaining the Legion's history to their readers, the one thing that the appearance of all the Legion members in current-time DC stories has achieved is to make me eager to read the new Legion stories now being published. I like the Legion and especially the return of the classic line-up, and I'll be glad to see Mon-El over there -- one similar to Robinson's Mon-El, I do hope.

[Contains full and variant covers, explanations of Codename Patriot and Last Stand of New Krypton, sketchbook section. Printed on glossy paper.]

So, some disappointment with James Robinson's Superman: Mon-El -- Man of Valor, especially after such a good first outing, but I lay more of the blame on the constraints of the "New Krypton" crossover than Robinson's storytelling, which I think still shines here. As a conclusion, I hope Man of Valor isn't indicative of the end of "New Krypton," but rather there's more direct storytelling yet to come, less broken through the prism of multiple trades.

Review: Red Robin: Collision trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Elsewhere in the Bat-universe, Bryan Q. Miller chronicles the adventures of the new Batgirl in Batgirl Rising -- the word "rising" indicating the newest rebirth of the character. Red Robin: Collision goes about it a bit more subtly, but indeed by the end of the book this is essentially "Tim Drake: Rebirth." Chris Yost's second Red Robin volume is even stronger than the first, and it's been a long time since the Tim Drake was this compelling.

[Contains spoilers]

By the end of Collision, Red Robin has saved the life of almost every single member of the Bat-family, and also held his own in hand-to-hand combat with Ra's al Ghul. Maybe a tad far-fetched for Batman purists, but Yost's point comes through -- Tim Drake has arrived. There is an especially effective final sequence in which Tim reveals his understanding of Ra's master plan and also how Tim has been combatting that plan almost from Red Robin's first issue; Yost rightly remembers that Tim's greatest strength has always been as a sleuth, and Ra's naming Tim "Detective" -- formerly Ra's name for Batman -- is one of the best endorsements Tim could get.

Ra's subsequently kicks Tim through a skyscraper window, and Tim is rescued by Batman Dick Grayson, lest any of us forget the pecking order. But the story's second biggest "arrival" moment is a rooftop meeting between Dick and Tim where Tim acknowledges Dick as Batman, and Dick -- rather than demanding that Tim explain his scheme against Ra's -- trusts Red Robin's orders on faith. Dick's progression to the Batman role was natural, but Tim has had to essentially promote himself, and Dick's deference in essence makes that promotion official.

Another character getting her due comeuppance in this book is the aforementioned Batgirl. In a crossover penned mostly by Yost with an issue by Miller, Tim encounters new-Batgirl Stephanie Brown after the umpteenth time he's told her to quite the superhero game -- and finds himself impressed. In a great melainge of teen superhero tropes, Tim and Stephanie fight, team-up, and then have to attend a formal party together undercover. Anyone who smacked their forehead the last three times Tim self-righteously lectured Stephanie will enjoy the moments she renders Tim speechless with her upgraded martial arts prowess; hopefully the fact that both Dick and Tim now accept Stephanie will be enough for Bruce Wayne to do the same when he returns.

Yost leaves the relationship between Batgirl and Red Robin romantic but unresolved, which is about where this should be -- similar, in essence, to that between Batman Bruce Wayne and Catwoman. Trying to continue a relationship between two characters in separate titles would only end in disaster (this means you, Green Arrow and Black Canary), but similarly a platonic relationship between the former Robin and Spoiler would be a great disappointment to long-time fans. Yost puts his encyclopedic knowledge of Tim Drake to good use here, especially, as he references the first time Tim and Stephanie met and she hit him with a brick (and also in shout-outs to the first Robin miniseries and other bits of trivia).

Tim gets a slightly modified Red Robin costume at the end of the book, and it's the culmination of a gradual shift by artist Marcus To toward youthening Tim's look over the course of the book. Ramon Bachs did a nice job in Red Robin: The Grail, but his Red Robin was rather boxy and angular; To softens the lines especially around Red Robin's head to make the hero look thinner and younger. It's a look that's exponentially better, far more the kind of costume that would look right amidst the Teen Titans as well as the Bat-family. Writer Chris Yost leaves after this volume, but I'm glad to see Marcus To sticking around for a while.

[Contains full covers, printed on glossy paper]

The world hardly needs another Bat-book, but there's nothing better than a book that thrives on the vitality of its own specific character, rather than trudging along on the fumes of a legacy name. "Red Robin" is in my opinion a rather silly name for a character (see Twitter search for "Red Robin" to find more restaurant than superhero mentions), but if any DC character deserves to be headlining his own series -- whatever the title -- Tim Drake is it. Red Robin: Collision is one of those great second volumes of a new series that surpasses even the premiere; I have high hopes that writer Fabian Nicieza can keep it going such that we enjoy Tim Drake's adventures for a while to come.

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

Thursday, October 07, 2010

What had been a somewhat interesting direction begun by writer Peter Tomasi in Outsiders: The Deep comes to a screeching halt in Outsiders: The Hunt. In the title as without, the reason for this about-face seems to be the rather uncertain role the Outsiders (characters and title) play in the DC Universe. As such, this Outsiders volume essentially bows to the whims of both the Batman: Battle for the Cowl and Blackest Night crossovers, and one almost feels bad for the characters being tossed around so much.

[Contains spoilers]

The end of Outsiders: The Deep actually found the team in much the same position as Nightwing and his Outsiders were once, having publicly exploded an enemy base and in danger of having their covert group revealed. Instead, the previous story gets little mention; the Outsiders return to the Batcave to find themselves locked out and their covert charter revoked, shunted to clean up Arkham baddies escaped during Battle for the Cowl largely just to have something to do.

Indeed, that's what those three Cowl tie-in issues feel like -- giving the title something to do. I'm not a stickler for power equality from title to title, but it takes two or three Outsiders to capture each of three relatively minor Batman villains -- Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and Clayface; it seems a waste of the Outsiders' (let alone the reader's) time. Tomasi offers a particularly creepy Clayface story, and I liked the Man-Bat cameo in the Croc issue, but none of these are distinctive or memorable outings for the villains.

The final two issues cross over with Blackest Night, in that Geo-Force meets the Black Lantern Terra and Katana is attacked by her dead husband and sons. Katana's family has been an important enough part of her character that the sequence is more engaging than the exploits of the evil-and-still-evil Terra; I appreciated that Tomasi, one of Blackest Night's architects, goes even so far as to have Katana discover the Black Lanterns' mastermind through her struggles with the zombies. It's also a good turn that, as in JT Krul's Titans/Blackest Night crossover issues, enemies become friends in the face of the zombies; I liked the nuances of Croc teaming up with Creeper (giving a bit of flow from the Cowl issues) and Creeper himself ultimately betraying Croc.

I do think Tomasi missed an opportunity, though, when Geo-Force had to dispatch the Black Lantern Terra, finally acknowledging her evil. The conflict of DC Universe: Last Will and Testament was Geo-Force blaming Deathstroke for corrupting Terra, and Deathstroke wounding Geo-Force lead in part to the hero's tougher attitude in this series. Does Geo-Force "killing" the Black Lantern Terra equal some understanding of Terra's own role in Judas Contract? Unfortunately, that's not explored here in the way I might have hoped.

At the end of the book, all the Outsiders go home, and it's astounding given the previous volume's "you will be under deep cover forever" premise. That DC even has an Outsiders book, you'll recall, comes from Judd Winick's 2003 Outsiders that took the "twentysomething heroes" place of Titans; with Titans returned -- and its own concept in disarray -- Outsiders loses the "second generation" role, nor am I sure the "Batman's covert team" concept works either. There's sufficient Bat-family out there (maybe more than sufficient) plus the rumors of Batman's new world-wide recruiting endeavor.

With the team benched at the end of this book, and no greater purpose apparent from the book's solicitations, I'll likely pass on the next volume even with the promised New Krypton tie-in; I just don't "get" DC's current version of the Outsiders, or how it differentiates from your average generic superhero team.

I'll add one caveat to that. What Tomasi does do well (here and in his writing in general) is bring forth the individual personalities of the character; especially, he never loses sight of how long many of these characters have known and worked with one another. The slowly building conflict between Geo-Force's single-mindedness and Black Lightning's compassion is true to the characters, and I enjoyed the camaraderie between Halo and Katana; even, too, that Tomasi lets Katana admit she's tired on a long drive instead of positing her as an ever-powerful ninja automaton.

One thing I'll give the Outsiders is that they're truly believable as a family; I just wish The Hunt had the force of will and purpose that Outsiders seems to have lost some creative teams ago.

[Contains full (but not variant) covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

Up next we're rocking Red Robin (it did have to be said) and then some New Krypton and Justice League. Don't miss it!

Review: Teen Titans: Child's Play trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 04, 2010

It takes four writers to complete Teen Titans: Child's Play. Of their stories, by far the best is J. T. Krul's Blackest Night two-part crossover that includes no regular Titans, only Deathstroke and Ravager -- but it more serves to continue to entice me to want to read Eric Wallace's "Villains for Hire" Deathstroke story in Titans (and also to miss the late, lamented Deathstroke, the Terminator series) than to want to continue following Teen Titans.

[Contains spoilers]

I have said before that instances where I think the Blackest Night crossover works best is when the focus is not on the Black Lantern zombies, but on the emotions that the zombies make the heroes face. J. T. Krul's two-part story is a fantastic ripping open of Deathstroke Slade Wilson's family's emotional wounds; Wilson's daughter Ravager arrives to kill her father just as all of Slade's dead loved ones show up to take revenge, dredging up all the guilt Slade carries over all the bad things he's done in his life.

What follows are both a number of great mercenary-versus-zombie action sequences, but also an emotional story where, as Ravager and Deathstroke fight side-by-side, Krul makes clear how much Ravager's feelings of hate stem from actually wanting her father's love. I don't necessarily buy Geoff Johns's explanation, forwarded here by Krul, that Slade fights the Titans solely to cause the Titans to protect his children from the threats that surround Slade, but I did like Krul's more even-toned Slade. This is not the cackling madman Deathstroke that we saw in Judd Winick's Green Arrow and elsewhere, but one with a more classic "does what he has to" moral code. If that's the Slade in Eric Wallace's Titans, I'm in.

Bryan Q. Miller contributes a three-part story prior to Krul's where, rather unfortunately, a Titan dies. Now, there's actual some precedent the death of Titans functioning effectively in major stories, whether it's Terra in Judas Contract, Aquaqirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Golden Eagle, Jericho (for a time), and more in "Titans Hunt." But, given that writer Sean McKeever bumped off Titan Marvin Harris rather gruesomely a handful of issues ago, and this follows closely on the resurrected Jericho having his eyes gouged out by Vigilante in Teen Titans: Deathtrap, there's an extent to which Teen Titans deaths begin to seem like a gimmick -- especially when the victims are essentially (fictional) children.

I thought Miller's Batgirl Rising was both creative and funny, and indeed Miller's sequence of Blue Beetle's serial spit-takes is worth a laugh. But even as the now de-powered Red Devil had become the Teen Titans' third wheel (and indeed he had), blowing up the kid, even in a heroic bit of self-sacrifice, seems rather harsh. I don't fault guest-writer Miller for this -- his Titans story must necessarily be heavily editorially influences -- but I regret at times it seems that DC has lost the concept of limbo; that characters must necessarily die these days to leave a title, rather than, you know, just moving away or joining another team or something.

Miller, Sean McKeever, and Felicia Henderson's stories in this book all suffer from the same problem, in that above all these Teen Titans just don't seem to like one another, or be all that likable. Wonder Girl is shrill, mopey, and full of self-doubt, a far cry from Young Justice's de facto leader so many years ago. McKeever gives Bombshell a nice scene where -- at the end of Ravager's sword -- she admits her affection for the Titans, but Miller and Henderson's stories have Bombshell and Aquagirl bickering and teasing new member Beast Boy, and the effect is more annoying than entertaining. Marv Wolfman and Geoff Johns's Titans fought, but they all liked each other, especially Johns's; I'm eager to see a Titans where the conflict is exterior, and not necessarily between the teammates.

As well -- though to some extent I don't want to harp on the difficulties with Henderson's Titans, given how the negative fan reaction to Henderson's now-ended run has been well-covered elsewhere -- I must at least mention that I just didn't get what was going on. I like that Henderson pits Raven up against a villain who isn't Trigon, but in a quick panel Raven shows her soul self and the demon Wylde either steals it or runs away from it, I'm not certain, and then that's the end; I know it's "to be continued," but the storytelling felt rather flimsy.

Also, while Beast Boy/Raven 'shippers will like their interplay here, it's also unclear why Beast Boy joins the Teen Titans in the first place -- did Cyborg send him? Why is Cyborg telling Red Arrow as if Arrow is the Titans' leader? What does Cyborg think will come of this slight of hand with Beast Boy? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I wondered if this vagueness was an indication of Henderson still getting a grasp of the Titans characters.

Still, for us long-time Deathstroke, the Terminator fans, Teen Titans: Child's Play has a zombie Wintergreen -- yes, the only DC Universe butler cooler than Alfred, now a zombie, alongside zombie Ravagers Wade DeFarge and Grant Wilson, plus Adeline Kane, all a treat to see. It's a great Blackest Night crossover by J. T. Krul, but not such a great Teen Titans book in a string of such, and I regret that that's the case.

[Contains full and variant cover. Printed on glossy paper.]

We follow some Titans Blackest Night action now into Outsiders, coming up next. Don't miss it!