Saturday Talkback for 4-30-11

Saturday, April 30, 2011

We've never done one of these before ... let's see how it goes ...

Saturday Talkback -- the name says it all. Click the comment button, and you steer the conversation. What's on your mind? Just read a great trade? Terrible trade? Trade you want to see? Mad that just spoiled a story for you? Prefer hardcover/softcover/monthlies/digital? Think trades cost too much/not enough/should have glow-in-the-dark covers again? Anything you can think of -- it's Saturday Talkback! Have at it!
Collected Editions 2015 Comic Book Gift Guide

Review: Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, wrier Adam Beechen offers an interesting conglomeration of the Batman Beyond cartoon and Batman comics universes. The book takes a bit from column A and a bit from column B, and I liked that; it was not terribly hard (if I understood correctly) to understand where this book took place in regards to the Batman Beyond cartoon, where it's recently coming from and where it might be going next. As an introduction to Batman Beyond, fans of the cartoon might consider the conflicts between the characters worn ground, but Beechen also offers lots of possibilities for future story growth.

[Contains spoilers]

What I appreciated about Beechen's first Batman Beyond outing is how accessible the story is. Once the reader understands relationship between Bruce Wayne and the young new Batman Terry McGinnis, most of the rest of Beechen's story is filled with familiar faces and foes: Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Catwoman, Hush. Fans of the Batman Beyond cartoon, which I recall had its own set of original (not second generation) villains, might very well find this story set too much in the comics Batman universe -- the Jokerz don't appear, for instance, and we barely see Terry's friend Max or his girlfriend Dana -- but as a casual Batman Beyond fan I was nonplussed.

In the good "Hush" tradition, Hush Beyond is a mystery, though with what I felt was a sufficiently Batman Beyond sci-fi solution. This differentiates the story from a regular Batman tale, and I hope Beechen continues to use the more outlandish sci-fi elements in the future. As a reader, I'll have to train myself that Batman Beyond is not Batman -- my guesses to the new Hush's identity were much too far afield, encompassing elements of Jeph Loeb's Hush, when Beechen ultimately provides the reader all the hints they need right there in the story.

I was quite satisfied with the way Beechen blended the comics and cartoon Batman universes. Hush Beyond would seem to take place after the end of the Batman Beyond cartoon series and the Return of the Joker movie, as suggested by Tim Drake's presence in the book; but before the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue" (Hush Beyond foreshadows that episode). Unless Beechen will re-tell Return of the Joker for this comics universe (and I don't mind if he does), then we already know that Hush Beyond doesn't mesh with the exploits of "our" Tim Drake, and that Hush Beyond's cast are not "our" Bat-characters. Still, Batman: Cataclysm factors strongly into this book, not to mention considerable discussion of Batman's fights with the original Hush, Tommy Elliott (I also appreciated covers by Dustin Nguyen, adding a kinship to Paul Dini's "Hush" stories). One potential explanation for the timeline discrepancies? Esteban Pedreros is going to love this one -- Beechen hints at the end that Batman Beyond might tie in to Flashpoint ...

I was not an ardent Batman Beyond-watcher when it was on air but it did seem to me (I say, a little blithely) that just about every other episode had Bruce Wayne arguing with Terry and threatening to or actually taking away Terry's Bat-suit, before the two reconciled in the end. The conflict between Terry and Bruce is at the center of Batman Beyond -- Can Terry live up to Bruce's expectations? Will Bruce learn to let go and let Terry be his own (Bat)man? -- but there's an extent to which it lacks suspense; of course Terry will still be Batman by the end, else we don't really have a show.

Beechen deals with the same conflict here -- Terry's tired, Bruce thinks Terry's being too flip, Bruce "fires" Terry and replaces him with robotic Bat-Wraiths (reminiscent of Batman's Kingdom Come robots, another clever nod Beechen makes to DC Universe continuity). Beechen perhaps doesn't mean for it to be all that surprising that Bruce learns by the end to give Terry a little slack, and Terry renews his commitment to the cowl -- I just hope, as an introductory tale, Beechen's got it out of his system, and that future stories instead move the characters to uncharted ground, like the suggestion that Terry might finally join the future Justice League, and the mysteries involving the new Catwoman and Cadmus's imprisonment of Killer Croc.

As a lead-off to Beechen's new Batman Beyond series, however, I was sufficiently entertained throughout this book (enthused enough by the Batman Beyond character, in fact, to watch the free "Making of Batman Beyond" feature available online). Previously DC Comics released a similar "live action" take on the Space Ghost cartoon, and what put me off that book was that I didn't feel the author quite conveyed the Space Ghost character in the story, and that there wasn't enough play between the comic and the Space Ghost cartoon. Beechen avoids both of those problems -- if Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond covers some familiar ground, at least it feels familiar -- and I'll be in for another volume to see where Terry goes from here.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper]

Thanks again to Adam Beechen especially for participating in our focus week this week. New reviews coming next week -- see you then!

Interview: Adam Beechen talks Batgirl, Batman Beyond with Collected Editions

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adam Beechen has written Robin, Teen Titans, Batgirl, Countdown to Final Crisis, and more for DC Comics. He is the new writer of a "mainstream" Batman Beyond series; he is also an ardent Phoenix Suns fans. Recently we chatted by email about Batgirl, Batman Beyond, and of course, collected editions.

Collected Editions: After your Robin and Teen Titans stories were met with some controversy, it may have surprised some readers that you were tapped to write the Batgirl: Redemption miniseries. Why do you think DC Comics chose you as the writer of the series? What made you want to take on the project?

Adam Beechen: It surprised me that I was asked to write the Batgirl mini (which was originally called Redemption Road). I remember getting the call from Editor Mike Marts in which he offered me the gig, and asking him if he wantedto have himself burned in effigy outside the DC offices. But Mike laughed that off -- he knew the backstory of my work on the Robin and Teen Titans stories that involved Cassandra, and was extremely kind and generous enough to offer me the chance to write the story that tried to make sense of it all and bring her back on track.

Because the story hadn't ended the way I'd hoped it would however long before, I was taken with the idea of resolving it on my own terms, in a way that satisfied me, to finish it the way I wanted. And I think the Batgirl miniseries makes sense of what happened with Cassandra during that period. Maybe not to every fan's liking, but I think it's consistent with the rest of the story and it works on its own merits.

It initially came from a place of character that made sense to me. I'm proud of the work, and proud of the work artists Jim Calafiore, Mark McKenna and Jack Purcell put in on it. It's not a perfect story. But I've never disavowed it, and I never will. Still and all, to many fans, I'll always be "the guy who ruined Cassandra Cain," fairly or unfairly, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I suspect some of my work since has been dismissed because I'm still tarred with that brush. But you'd probably be surprised by the number of fans I meet at conventions that tell me they actually liked Cassandra's story.

CE: What pleases you most about the end of Batgirl: Redemption?

AB: That the story has a definitive ending. At the end of the miniseries, why she turned to the dark side is fully explained, she goes through a personal trial, and she's firmly back on the side of good. Some readers may still hate that she turned evil to begin with, and some readers may not like how her redemption was executed, but in my mind, the story is complete and it makes sense.

CE: If it were not for the Cassandra Cain controversy, how would you like to be known by fans as a writer?

AB: I can't focus on that. I mean, every writer wants to have his or her work appreciated, of course, but I've learned, since I started and took a lot of criticism on the web, that there's just stuff I can control and stuff I can't control. I'm never going to make everybody happy. Every writer is someone's favorite and someone's least favorite. Every reader has different tastes. I try to write stories I think I would enjoy as a reader, and hope there are others that feel the same, but not everyone will.

That's just the way it is. All I can control is trying to write the best story I can, every time out. I want to do right by the characters, I want to tell what I think is a strong, fun, story, I want to please my employers (the editors) by writing quality stories on deadline and be easy to work with when they have notes or changes, and I would love for the fans to enjoy the work I do. But the reality is, I can only control the first two, I can control some of the third, and I have very little control over the last. All I can do is the best I can do and let the chips fall where they may. And what I've really learned is that it's best for me to not search out stuff on the web too much and just write the stories, because the criticism, which can get very personal, can really bum you out and shake your confidence if you let it.

CE: Your Batgirl: Redemption miniseries drew from stories begun in a number of other titles, including Robin, Teen Titans, and Supergirl; your Robin and Teen Titans stories equally had basis in earlier stories (not to mention Countdown to Final Crisis!). How do you negotiate the role of continuity in your comics writing? Do you find that working in a shared story universe benefits or limits the kinds of stories you want to tell?

I think the best word to describe it is "challenging," because when it works, it can be brilliant. But in a crossover event in particular, you have to have a great story to start out with, and you have to have all your creative personnel across all your affected books on the same page, and you can't change horses in mid-stream and start telling a different story, or it can be a disaster. There are just so many points at which things can break down. Again, though, if you can pull it off, it's absolute magic. In terms of day-to-day comics, when there's not a massive crossover going on, it can still be tricky, because the communication isn't always there between editors, or between editors and creators, to the point that everyone would like, and so if I have Superman show up in the book I'm writing, but he's on Alpha Centauri at the same time in another book, then it becomes a matter of figuring which one came first and how does this fit into the timeline, and everyone gets a big headache.

That's all by way of saying, for me, writing Justice League Unlimited was so wonderful, because I was beholden only to the animated series' continuity (and even then, only slightly, as we hardly ever referenced it), and because I was the only one working with those characters and that continuity. I could tell the stories I wanted without having to check with a hundred different people first. Batman Beyond is similar, but a little more tricky. I'm mostly beholden to the animated series' continuity, and I'm the only one working in it, so I can kind of cherry-pick what elements of current print continuity to mention. But when I do, I find it's best to check with the Editorial Batcave at DC so they know what I'm up to and can make sure I'm not throwing off anything they have in their plans. Fortunately, the decades-long gap between current DCU continuity and the future in which Batman takes place is so long, there are plenty of opportunities to write off or explain little things that might seem inconsistent. Anything could have happened in that time, you know?

CE: In both Batgirl: Redemption and Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, Dick Grayson plays at times an antagonizing role. How do you see the relationship between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne (historically or in your own work)? How do you think your approach to Dick Grayson follows or differs from other writers of the character?

AB: A really interesting question I've never been asked before. My perspective on Dick is this -- he came to Bruce almost completely unformed, at a very young age. He came to worship Bruce as a father and a role model, but at the same time, he didn't get a lot of paternal love from Bruce because that's not how Bruce is wired. Bruce doesn't know how to express love very well -- so Dick, now that he's an adult, is more determined to let the next generation of "Bat-kids," like Tim, know they're loved.

Anyway, Dick grew up with this curious mix of awe and gratitude and resentment toward Bruce, wanting to be just like him, but be his own version of him, while knowing he was never going to be exactly what Bruce is as Batman -- for better or worse. He's always going to be thought of, first, by way of his connection to Batman/Bruce. That might make others want to rebel and go the other way, but Dick has such a strong sense of morality that he's super-loyal to Batman's mission -- and still, there's this undercurrent of anger below it.

In Batgirl, it made sense to me that Dick would be wary of Cassandra, given all the ups and downs she'd had prior to that storyline, even though she was theoretically "part of the family" and someone close to him. Having been through everything and seen everything, Batman wouldn't trust her -- therefore Nightwing shouldn't. And he hated that he found himself not trusting her. In Batman Beyond, Dick found out that, in the most extreme conditions of Batman's mission, even he, Dick, was expendable, or at least not of primary priority. On the one hand, having been raised by Bruce, Dick understands that. But on the other hand, as Bruce's adopted son, it's gotta be incredibly painful. It all makes Dick, I think, an incredibly complex and interesting character, always fighting conflicting impulses, never really finding peace.

CE: Despite a large fan following, Batman Beyond would seem to me a difficult title to write, in that it's removed from the ongoing DC Universe and to an extent crossovers and other methods of drawing in new readers are limited. How will you keep Batman Beyond relevant in a comics market often based around event tie-ins and such?

AB: The animated series has an incredibly devoted fan base that seems excited to see the character back in action in any form. And there's a certain percentage of fans that will pick up the book just because it's an extension of the Batman mythology. Our hope is that, by tying the series just enough to mainstream continuity through these little "drop-in" references, we'll attract more mainstream readers who might not otherwise give it a chance, and who will then regard it as sort of an island from the event tie-ins. A universe that crosses over with the mainstream universe just a little bit, like two circles in a Venn diagram.

CE: How does the fact that your stories will most likely be collected in trade shape how you put together story arcs? Do you find a certain benefit as a writer to the monthly versus the collected/long-form formats? In what formats do you enjoy comics as a reader? (Not to worry, I'm not biased just because it's "Collected Editions!")

AB: I thought about that a lot before we moved into the monthly series, and discussed it a good deal with Editor Chris Conroy. "Accessibility" became our watchword. We wanted to have the tension of ongoing stories, but not make them so long that new readers had to wait forever to jump in, if they wanted. We settled on three issue arcs (though we may go longer at some point, if the story dictates), with stand-alone issues in between them. That seemed to be the best of both worlds. If a new reader wanted to get in on the series and we were in the middle of an arc, they wouldn't have to go back too far to catch up, or wait too long for a story that served as a better jumping-in point. The stand-alones would spotlight important parts of the Batman Beyond universe and, to some degree, advance the larger story arcs, while the three-issue stories would be complete in their own right as well as lead into things down the road.

Speaking personally, that's the kind of storytelling in comics I enjoy. I like sitting down with a collected edition, but if it's enormous, or is part of a series of volumes all telling one story, I find myself getting impatient and having trouble keeping track of what came before. The essential meat of "The Great Darkness Saga," one of the great multi-part stories of our time, was told in five issues. Five! Nowadays, the temptation would be to have it run over an entire year and incorporate three or four other titles. I want Batman Beyond to be accessible to readers no matter where they start, and no matter how much of it they read. My goal is for every chunk of "Batman Beyond," whether it's a one-off or an ongoing storyline, or a mixed package of the two, to make sense on its own terms.

CE: Speaking of "The Great Darkness Saga," do you have other stories or runs that have inspired you as a comics writer over the years?

AB: Gosh ... if you were collecting the story arcs that have inspired me the most over the years, it'd be an awfully big collected edition! "The Great Darkness Saga" would be there, but so would there:

- Alan Moore's Marvelman
- Dave Sim's Cerebus
- Garth Ennis' Preacher
- Grant Morrison's Zenith
- Greg Rucka's and Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central
- Paul Grist's Kane
- Howard Chaykin's American Flagg
- Both runs of Frank Miller's Daredevil
- The "Who Remembers Scorpio?" arc by Dave Kraft and Keith Giffen in The Defenders, which deserves a color reprinting more than any storyline yet to be so collected.
- The "Panther's Rage" arc by Don McGregor in Jungle Action.
- The "Devils and Deaths" arc by Darko Macan and Edvin Biukovic in Grendel Tales.

The list could be a lot longer than that, but all of those would be absolutely indispensable arcs that affect me whenever I sit down to write comics.

CE: Finally, do you have a favorite Batman Beyond episode to share?

AB: "The Call, Parts 1 and 2," because they give us a glimpse of the world outside Gotham and how Terry's Batman might fit into it.

Thanks to Adam Beechen for taking the time to answer these questions. Don't miss our Batgirl: Redemption review from earlier this week, and be here tomorrow for the Collected Editions review of Adam Beechen's Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond. See you then!

Review: Batgirl: Redemption trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, April 25, 2011

In writer Adam Beechen's Batgirl: Redemption, artist J. Calafiore draws Cassandra Cain relatively straight and angular, a far cry from artist Damion Scott's first depiction of the character -- rounded, small, often almost disappearing into corners of the panels until she might spring into action. There's a tendency among many, myself included, to decide in this difference that Beechen and Calafiore's Cassandra Cain is not "our" version of the character; rather I came to understand this change in presentation later as an indication of how much Cassandra Cain has grown as a character since her first appearance.

[Contains spoilers starting right now]

In Redemption, Batgirl Cassandra Cain embarks on a Heart of Darkness-type journey to find her father David Cain, encountering him finally in just the wee final pages of this book.  It's only there at the end of the story that a way to rationalize the recent controversial changes to Cassandra Cain really crystalized for me. David Cain taunts his daughter that despite her protestations that she's not the assassin he raised her to be, it only took minimal drug inducement by the villain Deathstroke in the pages of Robin, Supergirl, and Teen Titans to get Cassandra to kill again. Fan outcry over Cassandra turning rogue in those pages was loud and ardent, but I think I finally get it: Cassandra Cain fell off the wagon.

That is, David Cain raised Cassandra to be an assassin, and we know she was one, too. We haven't seen overmuch of Cassandra's pre-Batgirl life, but we know she killed at least one businessman for Cain, and possibly others. If we grant that Cassandra was indeed raised as a "killing machine," that killing comes somewhat naturally for her and that forsaking murder was a late-life decision when Cassandra left Cain and joined Batman, then Cassandra's turn bad suddenly makes sense to me. Deathstroke set free what's essentially always underneath the surface for Cassandra; the "evil Cassandra" is as much in line with the character (or not, depending on your view of the following examples) as the Dark Supergirl or Smallville's Clark Kent under the influence of Red Kryptonite.

Granted, Beechen himself contradicts this when he has Cassandra argue that, at another time, what Cain took for her bloodlust was instead Cassandra's amazement at the toys and signs of happiness that a murdered family possessed. Cassandra envied not the murder, but the domestic bliss; Cain only thinks Cassandra has that darkness within her. Indeed the theory of Cassandra Cain as a "natural born killer" won't hold up with every fan either, and admittedly to an extent it's just excuses for the change in story direction from bad Cassandra to good. Beechen has to devote two dialogue-heavy pages at the beginning to explain away all of Cassandra's bad behavior, and doesn't even quite succeed; Beechen concludes one of Cassandra's new murders took place after she was supposedly cured (I'd have just flubbed the timeline, myself), an issue never quite resolved.

Redemption is essentially a good example of a phenomenon I'd venture is somewhat limited to serial comic books and political agendas: a mid-stream course correction. Had Cassandra Cain the villain been wildly popular, Redemption wouldn't exist. And it is a good and at times thought-provoking story that pays homage to many of the high notes of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl series -- her relationship with Oracle, her conflict with Deathstroke and Cain, her begrudging alliance with Deathstroke's daughter Ravager, and the loss of Cassandra's boyfriend Zero -- but especially in the first chapter, one can just about hear the tires squealing as Beechen forces Cassandra's trajectory 180 degrees away from where it had been headed in no less than three other DC Comics titles.

In the end Beechen does offer Cassandra the redemption of the title, but I think he tempers it in a wise way (or at least takes good advantage of external circumstances). First, Cassandra essentially lets Cain die, and it's only by virtue of some good luck that Batman saves him; Batman gives Cassandra a pass, but the reader understands that Batgirl is more Manhunter than Superman at this point. Second, Batman offers to adopt Cassandra, taking her in a hug and promising the family she never had, as long as he lives ... and Calafiore adds a rather unusual tombstone shadow coming off Batman with the letters RIP, most definitely a reference to Batman RIP minus some monthly issue text copy.

I take from this that what we need to understand about Cassandra Cain Batgirl is that she's a hard-luck hero; things are not ever going to be easy for her, up to and including that she's going to lose her Batman father-figure just as soon as Final Crisis brings Darkseid to town. If I had to project into the future, I wouldn't be surprised if Cassandra Cain gets in touch with her evil side a few more times (though DC Comics wouldn't be that crazy); the road to redemption will always be an uphill battle for her. We know that wasn't what DC was trying to say when they first turned Cassandra evil -- rather, I think, they just wanted a good villain -- but I think that's what Beechen is trying to say now. Again, that won't please everyone, but it makes enough sense to me that I think Batgirl: Redemption brings a satisfactory close to the matter.

[Contains full covers]

Adam Beechen Week continues on Collected Editions, including a Q&A with the writer and our review of Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, both later this week. Be there!

Announcing Adam Beechen Week

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Writer Adam Beechen made his mainstream DC Comics debut with a controversial Robin run with former Batgirl Cassandra Cain emerging as a villain. Beechen continued to write about Cain through Teen Titans and to her eventual rehabilitation.

Recently, Beechen wrote a well-received Batman Beyond mini-series set in the current (not animated) DC Universe.  DC is releasing his new Batman Beyond series "day-and-date" in both digital and print formats.

This week on Collected Editions, we will look at two notable collections of Beechen's work, Batgirl: Redemption and Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond. And on Wednesday, join us for a special Q & A with Adam Beechen, where we talk about Batgirl, Batman Beyond, and of course, collected editions.

It'll be an interesting week with a focus on a much-talked-about writer. Don't miss it!

Review: Batman: Time and the Batman hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Time is pliable," writer Grant Morrison reminds us again and again in the aptly-named Time and the Batman. To that end, what you thought was your life, even the people you make mad along the way, could all be one big revenge scheme set by someone in the future just to mess with you. It's an idea Geoff Johns floated by way of Barry Allen in Flash: Rebirth, and it's what Morrison suggested for Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne, and crystallizes here.

And yet, it's hard to put my finger on just why Time and the Batman was necessary at all. If not the second of a three-part trilogy (which it might be, between Return and Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die, though it certainly doesn't advertise itself as the middle volume of such), then Time and the Batman seems an effort in over-explaining. Maybe that's necessary; maybe the market's had so much complicated Morrison material of late that a little hand-holding is in order ("Understand that much," Morrison's Batman repeats at one point, and "You're learning ... You're all learning," at another).

Or maybe this is another exercise in time being pliable -- it's hard to know what the original connection was meant to be between Morrison's Final Crisis and Batman RIP, if at all, and Time and the Batman's bridging of these two books may be as much about explanation as it is patching "the hole in things," Time and the Batman's phrase for the secrets and coincidences in life that just don't, or weren't ever meant to, fit.

[Contains spoilers]

The middle part of Time and the Batman presents two "missing chapters" from Batman RIP that take Batman from the end of RIP to the beginning of Final Crisis. There was much fan uproar at the time of RIP's conclusion in that it seemed to present the death of Batman, but there again was the hero whole and hearty at the beginning of Final Crisis; a throwaway line in another story confirmed that Batman did make it home alive between the books. The missing chapters build on that; yes, Batman did get home after RIP, and even went so far as to give formal thanks to his partners for their help, but all the while he avoided putting on the cape and cowl, knowing instinctively that Black Glove Simon Hurt's curse -- that the next time Batman wore his cowl would be the last -- was true. Then, Final Crisis comes, Batman is called into service, he puts on the cowl, and next thing you know, he's Darkseid-chow.

Frankly, a lot of this I got from The Return of Bruce Wayne. We already know that Simon Hurt nee Bruce's ancestor Thomas Wayne is a minion of Darkseid, so the idea that Hurt's cowl prophecy in RIP played out in Final Crisis stands to reason -- if one re-reads RIP after Return, they pretty much get it. We know that Batman's past is prologue -- that Darkseid has corrupted Batman's ancestors in the past, before Batman and Darkseid ever meet, so as to destroy Batman in the future. And we know that Superman searches for Batman in time because Batman left a recording from the Stone Age -- this also we get from Return (though I very much enjoyed the tone Morrison creates for what's potentially Batman's last letter to Superman -- friendly, needling, awe-struck). The missing chapters take us through the steps, they build Batman's sense of dread between RIP and Final Crisis, but I'm not sure they reveal much that's new.

At least one explanation I can offer is that Time and the Batman speaks to what I consider to be Morrison's modus operandi when it comes to Batman stories. As in Batman RIP, and also as in some of Morrison's JLA stories, Time and the Batman shows us that Batman was never in as much danger as we thought he was; whereas we might have thought Darkseid had the jump on Batman in Final Crisis, it turns out Batman to an extent already knew Darkseid was coming for him, and even knew the bullet to use and that he might end up lost in time. This is not, as I've mentioned before, my favorite aspect of Morrison's Batman -- should Batman always be smarter than his enemies? Sure. Do we constantly need to be reminded of it? No. -- but it's one way Time and the Batman redefines Batman's last moments in Final Crisis, if unnecessarily.

What I did like about this whole sequence was that Morrison takes the reoccurring bullets/holes/Darkseid-is-the-"hole-in-things" theme just a little farther, and suggests that Darkseid wasn't just responsible for corrupting Simon Hurt and inspiring the Barbatos cult, but also for the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The radion bullet with which Darkseid shot his son Orion, Morrison has Batman explain, is the proto-bullet, the mythical bullet, essentially every bullet that's ever been shot and the template for all bullets to follow, the bullet responsible for any number of tragic murders throughout history, and also the one that killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. And if the radion bullet is that bullet, then Darkseid himself is the wound; through a series of jumbled images, Morrison suggests that when Darkseid falls through time at the end of Final Crisis, he makes a hole through existence, a hole of tragedy and loss, including the wounds in Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Darkseid, essentially, kills Batman's parents for the purpose of creating Batman so as to torture Batman. These kinds of metaphysical knots are what Morrison has become known for lately, and I like this particular knot a lot (though readers may understandably still find it easier just to chalk the whole thing up to Joe Chill).

The question remains, however, whether Batman RIP was originally meant to tie in to Final Crisis, or if this became an item of necessity late in DC's Final Crisis plans. If the latter, it explains in part the necessity of these so-called "missing chapters," giving some cohesiveness to the RIP and Final Crisis stories that could otherwise be read on their own. With the missing chapters now in publication, a part of me wishes DC might have withheld the "Last Rites" stories, #682-683, and maybe replaced them with the still uncollected #684 and Detective #851 )even as I would have been up in arms clamoring for those issues) so as to put them here with the missing chapters. In that way, RIP wouldn't contain a whiff of Final Crisis and would truly stand as its own story, and the twain only would meet in Time and the Batman, perhaps justifying the purpose of this trade a little farther.

The first chapter of Time and the Batman, the anniversary Batman #700 issue, sat better with me. It is also removed from most of the current goings-on in Batman & Robin and such, though it does tie in to Return, spotlighting the time travel scientist Carter Nichols (and pre-Crisis figure) that Bruce Wayne meets in the past. As befits an anniversary issue, and in line with similar sentiments in RIP, Return, the "missing chapters" and so on, this is an issue about Batman and heroism; "No matter when, no matter where" the issue intones at the end, at the Bat-signal cinematically lights in front of the reader, Batman (be it Bruce, Dick Grayson, Terry McGinnis, or another) will always be there.

In an unusual but nice turn, it's Batman's example that inspires Nichols to overcome his depression after a traumatic attack by the Joker (Q: "What can you beat but never defeat?" A: Time and [or, "but also"] the Batman; that is, a hero). We don't often hear about Batman inspiring the public to better themselves, as opposed to Superman, but Batman does it twice in this book, both with Nichols and with Ellie, the girl from Batman and Son whom he inspired to give up prostitution. That "Batman will never die" has been an uplifting theme of Morrison's long Batman run, and it's summed up nicely here on the precipice between the end of the "Batman Reborn" storyline and the beginning of the Batman Inc. phase.

The final story in Time and the Batman is a satisfactory tale of three Robins -- Dick, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne -- by Fabian Nicieza; it might in another volume have rated higher, except the ending is rather predictable and the story lacks the headiness of Morrison's outings. As well, Nicieza's story references (somewhat confusingly) events taking place in his Red Robin: Hit List book, the collection of which won't be in stores until the end of June. It all ties in to the ongoing "Batman Reborn" Vicki Vale plot; this is not Nicieza's fault, but I've had the toughest time following that story between collections (She's in Batman! No wait, Streets of Gotham! No wait, Red Robin!), and so tacking Nicieza's story at the end of this volume (padding what might otherwise have been a rather short book) is just a reminder of that confusion.

I haven't read Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die yet, but I have a good sense that of this strange trilogy, Time and the Batman may be the weakest part (if brilliantly imagined and beautifully drawn by Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel, and Frank Quitely notwithstanding). If bullets shot backward in time make your head spin, I'm not sure this volume will necessarily make things clearer, but I think that's what was intended. I wasn't dazzled, but there's heady stuff here, to be sure, and for that Grant Morrison has my appreciation.

[Contains full and variant covers, pin-up section and computer-rendered tour of the Batcave. Printed on glossy paper]

New reviews and a Collected Editions special event coming next week -- don't miss it!

Trade Perspectives: Long reviews of late ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A technical note:

Conventional wisdom holds that blog posts shouldn't be too long; at a certain length, attention wanders and the writer loses the reader.

I'm thrilled with the far-reaching conversation that the Collected Editions readers and I are having about favorite Superman stories, trade buying, and DC: Legacies, after the Superman: Secret Origins review, a long post. Maybe the conventional wisdom is wrong after all.

Lately there have been a couple of long(er) posts here (not so long, really) -- on Secret Origin, and also on Superman/Batman: Big Noise. For those who prefer, next week's posts are back to the regular-sized (but no less detailed) fare, plus a special mid-week surprise.

Tomorrow, however, one more long post: the Collected Editions review of Grant Morrison's Batman: Time and the Batman. This is a complicated book, the strange middle child between The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin: Batman Must Die, befitting I think a slightly longer look.

I hope you'll chime in and share your thoughts on that one tomorrow. Thanks as always for reading.

Review: The Invisibles Vol. 2: Apocalipstick trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Monday, April 18, 2011

[Continuing a series of guest reviews on Grant Morrison's The Invisibles by Zach King, who blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

After surprising myself with a somewhat lukewarm reaction to the first volume of Grant Morrison's seven-book epic The Invisibles (due mostly, you'll recall, to the emphasis of style over substance), I dove into the second volume, Apocalipstick, with a bit of trepidation tempered by the confidence that Morrison has never really let me down. Fortunately, Apocalipstick is one of the most successful in the seven-volume series, nailing both characterization and the enormous scope of the work as a whole.

"And so we return and begin again." Apocalipstick begins immediately where the last volume, Say You Want a Revolution, left off. Our heroes, the counter-cultural anarchist heroes The Invisibles, have retaken the windmill time machine from the faceless demon Orlando. Their troubles are only just beginning, however; the windmill is surrounded by the drone-like Myrmidons, and Dane announces he's quitting the team because it's getting entirely too weird for him (a complaint I imagine some readers voiced in the original letter columns, sadly not reprinted here). The main narrative pauses for a few issues to introduce three one-and-done minor character arcs; then the main story of the volume, "Sheman," gives us the origin story of Lord Fanny, revealed to be a transvestite shaman raised as a woman in Brazil.

If the chief complaint about Say You Want a Revolution was that it was generally flat on characterization, Apocalipstick atones for this sin of omission in spades. Though Boy and to some extent King Mob are still somewhat mysterious characters, we're finally given insight into Lord Fanny, who becomes one of the more compelling characters in the hands of Morrison, who's so clearly steeped in his trademark mystical research. Ragged Robin acquires a personality (sprightly and energetic), good compensation for the fact that her origins go unexplored until volume five. Even the story's principal antagonist Sir Miles Delacourt gets fleshed out here, such that he's no longer a cartoon villain but rather becomes a fully developed enemy evenly matched against The Invisibles.

The most remarkable thing about Apocalipstick, though, is not "Sheman," though it is wonderfully illustrated by Jill Thompson, who apes many famous artistic styles while keeping Fanny consistent (she's one of the only artists, it seems, who understands that Fanny is a man wearing women's clothing; Brian Bolland would later make the mistake of drawing Fanny as an actual woman). The three one-and-done issues in the middle of the volume are among the best in the entire series; in the hands of any other writer, these three could have been mere ugly filler (as Batman: Streets of Gotham always became when Paul Dini wasn't on hand), but Morrison uses these issues to introduce new and compelling characters, only one of whom appears in subsequent issues.

Voodoo baron Jim Crow stands out as a significant figure down the pike, but Bobby Murray is perhaps the crowning achievement in the series. In "Best Man Fall," Morrison gives life to "red shirt" henchman Bobby Murray, such that Murray's slaughter at the hands of King Mob way back in issue #1 is recolored as a human tragedy rather than King Mob's "nice and smooth" triumph. Steve Parkhouse's illustrations here are perfect, capturing all the small emotions in Bobby Murray's sad and short life. (Though Bobby, obviously, never appears again in the series, the introduction of Audrey Murray, who reappears at a crucial moment in the penultimate issue of volume seven, demonstrates unequivocally Morrison's mastery of the long-form story.)

While Apocalipstick delivers characterization and a sense of the world of The Invisibles, it also begins to introduce some of the major mythological components of the series, albeit in a typically Morrisonian fashion -- by which I mean it makes almost no sense until several re-readings. As Dane/Jack begins to remember the missing time in his memory from his initiation with Tom O'Bedlam, Paul Johnson's artwork (or perhaps Morrison's script) never quite makes it clear precisely what's happened; we get a crystal clear empathy with Dane/Jack's growing confusion about the world he's entering, but the mysteries are almost too heady. It's early in the series to be bemoaning a lack of answers (or maybe it's just that six years of Lost trained me to think that way), but it seems that only Morrison diehards will appreciate the deliberately obtuse nature of the ideas behind The Invisibles.

Morrison wisely seems to recognize the off-putting nature of his philosophical advances and chooses to match dense imagery with simultaneous plot twists. By the end of Apocalipstick, Dane/Jack has embraced his role as Tom O'Bedlam's successor in the Invisibles cell led by King Mob, just as his new leader is captured by a gleefully gloating Sir Miles. Forestalling the answers to the mysteries of Barbelith with completely lucid cliffhangers is a genius move on Morrison's part, even if the frustration surfaces in hindsight. First-time readers, though, will quickly lose patience with the sudden introduction and abandonment of John-a-Dreams, a compelling characters whose most significant discovery (and whose very existence) is revealed and quickly neglected for many chapters.

By giving fullness to both the heroes and the villains of The Invisibles, Apocalipstick achieves the goal of giving the overall series a sense of purpose and identity. Now that we know who the players are, what they're fighting for, and how they go about their side of the fight, it's much easier to get a feel for what exactly The Invisibles is supposed to be. It's also easier to identify whether or not The Invisibles is entirely successful based on the objective standard of what an Invisibles comic should be like. Answer? Apocalipstick.

[Contains full covers, a character page, and a "Story So Far" page. Printed on non-glossy paper.]

That's volume two taken care of, loyal readers. Next, it's Entropy in the U.K., in which King Mob's personalities -- all of them -- are explored and the definitive Invisibles artist finally joins the creative team. Stay tuned.

Read Zach's review of The Invisibles Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution. And coming up later in the week ... the Collected Editions review of Grant Morrison's Time and the Batman. Don't miss it!

Review: Superman: Secret Origin deluxe hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Geoff Johns's Superman: Secret Origin seems to take as its dual purposes to provide some basis for the 1950s Silver Age elements that have returned to Superman comics of late after the Infinite Crisis crossover, and to set up events currently taking place in the Superman titles. The origin Johns presents is tenable and the story is entertaining, with lush buoyant art by Gary Frank, though at times the book seems more concerned with hitting the origin touchstones than telling a cogent story.

Over twenty years ago, John Byrne wrote and drew a stripped-down version of Superman's origins for a new DC Comics era (of which I'm very fond), and the lack of Silver Age elements must have been somewhat surprising for comics fans at the time. Johns's origin might seem similarly unfamiliar to comics fans proper, but whereas Byrne recreated Superman whole cloth, Johns's story is a pastiche of Superman elements from television and movies that will be exceedingly recognizable to those audiences.

Johns's biggest change to the existing Superman mythos is to reintroduce Superman's time as Superboy in Smallville. After young Clark saves Lana Lang from a tornado (a la Smallville), his parents fashion him a costume in the style of the World War II Justice Society -- Clark, we find, likes saving people, but feels adolescent embarrassment at the underwear-on-the-outside costume. This is Johns's attempt at "modernizing" Superman, if that's necessary -- Superman was Superboy, perhaps the corniest of corny Silver Age concepts, but in a reluctant rather than whole-hearted way that makes it still "cool" for modern audiences.

If "legitimizing" Superman's Superboy years seems unnecessary (if you're going to introduce Superboy, might as well do so enthusiastically), I did like that Johns depicts Superboy getting over his initial embarrassment with the support of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The return of Superman's childhood friendship with the Legion is the best part of Johns's Silver Age revitalization, and it's clear here how the Legion's influence fits in with Clark Kent's overall development. The Legion's influence implicitly shapes Superman's later actions; just as the Legion befriends a down-and-out Clark, Superman does the same for Jimmy Olsen, and just as the Legion miraculously promises Clark a better tomorrow, Superman does the same for the previously-faithless Metropolis.

Yet, for an audience out of the comics mainstream reading Superman: Secret Origin on its own, that elements like the Legion only appear once in the story and then never reappear might seem strange -- Secret Origin is a strong and more traditional Superman story than J. Michael Straczynski's Superman Earth One, but Earth One is more self-contained and thematically complete. As with the Legion and Superboy, Johns returns Superman's dog Krypto to his Smallville origins, but only off-panel -- we see Krypto's rocketship land, but never see the dog itself nor does it appear again in the book. It's unclear whether Johns says all he thinks he needs to, or if this is a setup for a Secret Origins sequel or a Superman storyline, but it seems too casual for an origin story. Superman's Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara, and Clark's friend Lana Lang, all similarly disappear after the first half of the story, making the Smallville and Metropolis halves of this story feel in part like two separate books.

It's obvious both Johns and Frank let Richard Donner's Superman movie heavily influence this book; gone is Byrne's 1980s-era Superman saving Lois from a crashing space shuttle, replaced with his catching Lois and a helicopter as they fall off a building (Johns stops just short of having Lois actually say "You've got me -- who's got you?" but only barely). Whereas Byne's more modern Clark Kent disassociated itself from the mild-mannered reporter of the past, Johns's Clark Kent is Christopher Reeves's classic bumbling oaf, his secret identity hidden by Frank under too-big glasses and a goofy smile. This approach wouldn't be my first choice, but it's hard not to like it (Johns plays the clumsy Clark especially well in the first chapter of Superman: Brainiac); in addition, Johns offers one of the best beginnings of the Lois and Clark relationship I've seen in having Lois be the only one who can tell Clark's awkwardness is an act, even if she can't necessarily figure out why.

Indeed, at its core I'll say Superman: Secret Origin makes a lot of sense. Johns's Metropolis, in the beginning, is one where the citizens would just as soon trip over as help their fellow man, and the highest they would look up would be to see where Lex Luthor might grant them a windfall. Lois is a crusading journalist, but her exposes become repetitive in that she has no faith in the inherit goodness of anyone; Lois, like Lex Luthor and the people of Metropolis, doesn't believe in miracles, and Superman's appearance is exactly that -- a reason to believe in miracles, in honesty, and in things greater than oneself. I'd reject assertions that this is hokey -- if you can't be heartfelt in a Superman comic, then where can you? -- and certainly I like this better than in Superman Earth One, where Metropolis has to inspire Superman to heroism and not the other way around.

Uncollected Editions #6: Keith Giffen's Vext (DC Comics)

Monday, April 11, 2011

[Welcome to this month's installment of our "Uncollected Editions" series by Paul Hicks]

When you stop and think about it, there sure are a lot of gods in superhero comics. You have the gods of Norse myth, the gods of ancient Greece, the New Gods of Jack Kirby, just to name the most obvious. What if there were more gods than that, not just the big and powerful guys, but gods who were just a bit more ordinary. Who would be the one to tell us about these gods? What would that tale be called? Could we see what it was like for one of these gods to walk among us? Could it be the basis for a very funny comic? Could it be set in the DC Universe? Would it last for more than six issues? The answers are Keith Giffen, Vext, yes, yes, yes and no.

The Jejune realm is not the home to major gods. You won't find the god of love, the god of thunder or the god of war lounging in that dimension. Rather, you can expect to find gods like Vext (no surname, like Madonna) the "patron deity of mishap and misfortune." What's it mean to be the patron deity of mishap and misfortune? It means that bad luck constantly befalls you, and often those who associate with you.

The first bit of mishap to befall Vext is the fact that the dimensional overlords in charge of the higher planes have declared the Jejune realm to be spiritually irrelevant. The realm is being shut down and there is a mass migration underway of minor deities to the other realms or planes of their choosing. Except for Vext, who never received his correct paperwork and after twenty-three years of re-queuing and a narrow escape from execution (sound effect = ZOF ZOF ZOF ZOF), he's randomly consigned to the plane that contains the DC universe. With some local currency, appropriate clothing, but entirely without any proper preparation he arrives in the DC locale of Delta City (from Giffen's Heckler series, but never heard of since).

From there the series settles into the very funny fish-out-of-water adventures of Vext acclimating to life in an American city. After finding an apartment and meeting his neighbor Colleen, we see Vext's attempts to cope with a toilet that won't stop flushing, a foldaway bed that's trying to kill him and a landlord who mishears every sentence spoken to him.

Having the appropriate spiritual warning systems in place, the JLA are alerted to his presence and pay a visit in the first issue, in the form of Superman and the angel Zauriel. They warn Vext that they are watching him, plus Superman offers some advice on the toilet problem -- "You've got to jiggle it a bit." Vext is completely unaware of who Superman is and Colleen assumes they are cosplayers until she sees them flying away.

Subsequent issues of the series give you amazingly convoluted plots like Vext furnishing his apartment; Vext trying to get his driver's license from the DMV, and so on. The issues work extremely well as standalone stories and each was very, very funny. One issue involves the microscopic assault on a sleazy burger joint by a sentient virus known as "The Strepto-Commandos of Company Q." With these set ups, I will unreservedly state for the record that Vext is the funniest Keith Giffen comic since his classic Justice League International in the late 1980s.

The sense of chaos extends to the editorial handling of the book. Issue #4 amusingly featured letters for a Scooby Doo comic, while the editor tries to give responses relevant to Vext.

There is an unresolved subplot that winds through the issues, involving a narcissistic archaeologist named Aaron Caldwell who is best described visually as a cross between Doc Savage and Tintin. He has two beautiful but ruthless assistants, who seem to be the understudies for the Body Doubles from the Resurrection Man comics. Caldwell is assembling artifacts of minor deities in order to gain the immortality of those gods. His first success in this endeavor is when he gains the powers of the "god of ill-timed flatulence," R'ypta G'dun. It seemed inevitable that the now lethally smelly Caldwell would cross paths with the clueless Vext, but sadly that never was to be.

The series started in March 1999 and although pitched as an ongoing it only lasted for a mere six issues. The cancellation was treated by all the creative crew as an inevitable manifestation of Vext's bad luck, giving it a good-humored send off.

For each of the six issues of Vext, you're treated to superbly detailed and confident art by the team of penciller Mike McKone and inker Mark McKenna, both of whom later went on to bigger things with Exiles and Geoff Johns' relaunch of Teen Titans. Since the plots are straight-forward, these issues are all worth picking up singly or as a set; the entertainment comes from Vext's passive bewilderment to some incredibly silly situations.

Giffen really brings the wacky with this one. At his best, he is the Aaron Sorkin of funny dialogue and Vext is definitely Giffen at his best.

Later this week ... the Collected Editions review of Superman: Secret Origin. Don't miss it!

Review: Superman/Batman: Big Noise trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

One of the original tenets of the Collected Editions site, sometimes lost in the shuffle, was to review trade paperbacks like a bookstore customer, as if they were books and not the byproduct of previously-released monthly issues. The goal was to escape some of the monthly ups and downs of the titles -- if, for instance, delays struck the monthly issues of a book such that the issues came out two years apart, our focus would still be on "how does it read?" when finally collected. It was with a bit of this in mind that, rooting around for something light to read the other day, I picked up Superman/Batman: Big Noise.

DC Comics billed the monthly issues of this book, as you may know (and here I ruin the "book on its own" illusion already) as an "Our Worlds at War" tie-in, offering a sort of untold story of Superman and Batman during the aftermath of that 2001 crossover. The story, however, by one of the original "Our Worlds at War" writers Joe Casey, has little integral connection to the crossover. Fans were vocal in their upset over what appeared to be some gross marketing by DC -- suggesting Big Noise would tie in to "Our Worlds at War" and offering the barest of connection to make that true, but ultimately not delivering what the readers put down their money for.

What's interesting is that the collection of Big Noise -- along with being the first paperback-only collection of Superman/Batman -- doesn't mention "Our Worlds at War" anywhere in the trade dress. It suggests perhaps that DC learned their lesson with the monthly issues, and so decided first of all not to promise an "Our Worlds at War" tie if they couldn't deliver, and second to present the book at the paperback price in hopes that would bring in customers otherwise burned by the negative publicity.

It was lack of mention of "Our Worlds at War" that caught my interest. Here was this Superman/Batman story -- one that, as it turns out, is really just a non-continuity "general" Superman/Batman story -- that had been marketed as an "Our Worlds at War" aftermath and as such drew in readers with all sorts of expectations, now presented on its own just as a Superman/Batman story, no expectations needed. The question becomes, if you go into Big Noise blind, in the way that Collected Editions reviews are somewhat intended, is it a good story?

The answer is, it isn't terrible.

Big Noise is by no means of the caliber of Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite, writers Mike Johnson and Michael Green's masterpiece that's as good as the original Jeph Loeb Superman/Batman stories. But, it is on par with Finest Worlds, Night & Day, and Torment, other standalone Superman/Batman stories that a reader might just pick up "off the cuff" from the shelves.

Among Big Noise's overarching premises is that Superman must confront the fallout from Krypton's warlike past in the form of a time-lost alien warrior. This is emotionally difficult for the Man of Steel given his own general pacifism, and -- Casey has Superman admit -- that Superman has somewhat idealized the history of the Krypton that he never really knew. Big Noise is a considerably more Superman-centered than Batman-centered volume, but Casey does well in noting the irony that Superman mourns emotionally the dead civilization he never really knew, while Batman remains stoic in the shadow of the death of his own parents.

Despite that, in part Big Noise reads as well as your average Superman/Batman story precisely because Casey does not try to force the parallel narration or meta-examination of the characters that other writers do. Instead Big Noise just a solid story of DC's Big Two teaming up to solve a cosmic mystery, and I appreciated it for that. Ardian Syaf draws a sharp, realistic Superman and Batman in the first chapters, helping Casey's mystery get started, though the story peters out toward the end; a handful of fill-in artists pencil an elongated fight scene as Casey's dialogue begins to fail ("Bring it," a fiery villain emotes; "Oh, I am," Superman snaps back).

Chase by Dan Johnson and JH Williams comes to trade paperback

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

There's been a lot of post-con chatter lately about how DC Comics management may not listen to or appreciate fan concern, or fan appreciation for some characters.

I've got to say, however, this one is a mark in DC's favor.

Chase, the much-loved series by Dan Curtis Johnson and JH Williams III, comes to trade paperback.

Early solicitations have this book by Johnson and also Doug Moench, which suggests the book will not only collect aspects of the Chase series, but also Chase's first appearance in Batman #550 (with art by Kelley Jones).

The book lists at 352 pages, so my hope is that's enough to collect all ten issues, plus the DC One Million crossover issue, of this series starring DEO special agent Cameron Chase. The book has any number of things going for it -- strong female protagonist, federal-agency-tracks-metahumans X-Files-type vibe, and of course art by Batwoman's JH Williams III. Chase would go on to appear in Marc Andreyko's Manhunter series, among other places.

Not to mention, a couple issues of Chase were part of the inaugural round of DC's new DC Comics Presents books, what I've taken to calling "newsstand trades" -- 100-page books, square bound, about half the price of a trade and published like a monthly issue. If we can intuit that sales of DC Comics Presents: Chase were such to make a Chase trade worth DC's while, then my esteem for the DC Comics Presents books goes way up. I heartily approve of DC Comics Presents as a testing ground for potential trades (so long as we don't get teased by a DC Comics Presents attempt that never manifests in collection).

In other good news, REBELS: Starstruck is also coming down the pike; that's the fifth collection of the Tony Bedard series. The last volume, Sons of Brainiac, ended with issue #20, so there's a better-than-good chance that this book will collect issues #21-28, and finish out the end of the series with the book's final issues. Again, good news.

The Chase and REBELS news comes amidst a spate of releases about DC's end-of-2011 trade collections plans. Don't miss our previous posts on the Hawkman by Geoff Johns Omnibus, Batman, Inc., the Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus, the complete Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War volume, and much, much more.

Chase! In trade paperback! Hooray!

Review: REBELS: Sons of Brainiac trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, April 04, 2011

With REBELS: Sons of Brainiac, writer Tony Bedard presents two stories, one focused firmly on REBEL's driving force Vril "Don't call him Brainic 2" Dox, and the other purportedly on REBEL's supporting cast. The former is a pulse-pounding story that continues to forward the book's themes of family and emotion-among-the-emotionless; the latter, however, falls relatively flat, and as such reveals some of the flaws of this (unfortunately already cancelled) title.

[Contains spoilers]

The seemingly non-Dox "What Happens in Vega" story wastes an entire issue bringing former Titan Starfire from Earth to LEGION headquarters, and then another issue on the same fight between Starfire and her sister Blackfire that we're seen numerous times in New Titans and the Rann/Thanagar War books. In the third chapter, Dox returns to broker the peace, rendering all the other LEGIONnaires moot. Bedard would seem to be focusing here on characters other than Dox, but to give the already well-established Starfire, Captain Comet, and Adam Strange center stage, while newer characters like Ciji, Xyon, and Wildstar languish behind the scenes. The character Bounder gets one line in the entire book, I believe, and we still don't really know who he is or why he's with the team.

Clearly, Vril Dox leads the LEGION, but he also leads the book. I much prefer Wildstar and Bounder, the characters Bedard started with in REBELS: The Coming of Starro, to characters like Comet and Starfire whose stories have already been told -- but if Bounder or Xyon no longer have a place in the book, I wouldn't mind Bedard formally jettisoning them. Let REBELS (if the title were surviving) be Dox's book, maybe in charge of a robot LEGION again, and let Comet and Starfire and such be supporting cast members with whom Dox interacts -- all the better so as not to have to mark time with "supporting cast" stories like "Vega" that don't amount to much.

I say all this, mind you, as a fan of the REBELS title. The "Sons of Brainiac" story that follows is just the kind of emotionally-intense story that I've come to enjoy Bedard's REBELS for. The high concept is that Brainiac 3 tries to kidnap the original Brainiac from Dox and the Coluan people so as to steal Brainiac's knowledge, but Brainiac escapes and threatens all of Colu; in truth, however, this is a story about the strained relationship between Dox and his son, and how that's reflected in the equally strained relationship between Dox and Brainiac. Brainiac may be a super-villain, but Dox despises him most because Brainiac never treated Dox like he was good enough or smart enough -- basically, the reader understands, Dox wants the love from his father he never received, and Brainiac 3 wants the same.

Bedard adds some extra spice to the end of this by having Dox seemingly retreat -- only to return with former LEGIONnaire Lobo in tow. While I paused at the inclusion of another "big name" in this book, Bedard writes Lobo spectacularly. Almost immediately, Bedard demonstrates he understands that Lobo works best in a story like a Looney Tunes character -- Bedard blows Lobo up and has him reshape himself, and even has Lobo challenge Brainiac 3's sentient planet Pulsar Stargrave in a way that, Pulsar notes, defies the laws of physics. Indeed that's perfect -- that's Lobo -- and it ends the story on a high note.

To pick again a bit, however, I'd note that Pulsar Stargrave is a Legion of Super-Heroes-era villain with its own backstory, that the Legion's Brainiac 5 mentioned as recently as Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 (which leads into this story), so Stargrave's presence here -- and the fact that he looks exactly like Solaris from Grant Morrison's JLA: One Million -- doesn't quite make sense. I didn't mind that Bedard plays with Vril Dox's origin a bit, all the better to make him coincide with Geoff Johns's newest Brainiac iteration, but Bedard also revises Starfire's origins in a way I didn't like. Bedard minces details as to what brought Starfire to Earth in the first place, but moreover he completely glosses over the Sun-Eater destruction of Tamaran during Final Night, focusing on the less continuity-heavy destruction of an earlier Tamaranian planet by the Psions. This works in view of the LEGION's conflict with a Psion Green Lantern, but felt too simplistic for a reader "in the know."

Though I've flung my share of brickbats at REBELS: Sons of Brainiac, ultimately I feel this is a pretty viable series, when the focus is right. If Bedard was intent on making this a "cosmic all-stars" title, so be it -- there could be worse things than a space title starring Vril Dox, Starfire, Lobo, and the rest. Unfortunately, I wonder if this lack of real focus contributed to the title's demise -- REBELS faces cancellation just before the Flashpoint crossover, and it remains to be seen whether the final issues will get a collection. I hope the series ends, at least, with Vril Dox still out there, leading the LEGION, such that we can see him as a guest-star in titles if not leading his own.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

More reviews on the way!