Review: Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

In examining the emotional dilemmas of a young Justice League, Geoff Johns succeeds with Justice League: A Villain's Journey. Unfortunately, this rich characterization struggles to come to the forefront beside a mostly generic Justice League story, and it's for this reason that the book, like the first volume, may still be dismissed as action movie fluff. Neither does it help Justice League be taken seriously that the story mostly turns on the romantic meanderings of the team's sole female member, Wonder Woman.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among the interesting tweaks that Geoff Johns made to the creation of the Justice League in Justice League: Origins is to establish that the Leaguers are reluctant allies more so than friends, and that their partnership is mainly so that each will be treated with less suspicion individually. Five years later, Johns takes this to its inevitable conclusion -- the Leaguers don't all necessarily like or trust one another, but they have pretended to do so in order to protect their collective reputations.

Review: Smax by Alan Moore hardcover/paperback (Wildstorm/America's Best Comics)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman.]

I reviewed Top 10 a long time ago, so here’s a refresher. It’s a police procedural made of up an original series and a subsequent mini-series, set in a world where every sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book trope is quite real and everyone has superpowers. Like many of Alan Moore’s books, it’s filled with shout-outs to other works. Smax was the giant, blue, terse partner of Robyn “Toybox” Slinger, and is most famous for taking out one of the original series’s big bads; essentially, he’s the series’s Wolverine, and while he’s not my favorite character (that honor belongs to walking Japanese robot homage Joe Pi), I can understand why he received his own mini-series, the five-issue Smax.

We didn’t learn a lot about Jeff Smax in the original series, and it turns out that it’s by design. His real name Jaafs Macksun, and we meet him here shortly after the events of the original series (Robyn’s leg is still broken from the ending of Top 10), as he heads home for his Uncle Mack’s funeral. Smax is from a world of fantasy tropes, and he’s very ashamed of it, considering the residents of his homeworld to be the rednecks of a universe based in science (and comics). His father was an ogre who raped his Red Sonja-esque mother, and one of the strongest scenes in the book is the retelling of how he and his twin sister, Rexa, killed their father. It reminds me of the scene in the Odyssey of the blinding of Polyphemus; knowing Moore’s love of literature, I’m guessing this was intentional.

Review: Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's definitely good to have a new Swamp Thing title on the newsstands. Irrespective of whether one would prefer the Swamp Thing title under the auspices of DC Comics or Vertigo, it remains that Swamp Thing is back for a new audience in the New 52, with writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette. But Snyder's Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones is a devoutly New 52 series, focusing to a surprising extent on the man within the monster. This will certainly be a point of controversy -- depending on what version of Swamp Thing a reader subscribes to, Snyder's incarnation may amount to heresy.

[Review contains spoilers]

When Alan Moore took over the Saga of the Swamp Thing title in the 1980s, beginning the best-known run for the character, one of his first changes was to reveal that scientist Alec Holland was not the hulking Swamp Thing. Rather, Swamp Thing was a plant elemental created at the moment of Holland's fiery death, as other swamp things had been created before him, who mistakenly believed for a time that he was Holland. This freed the Swamp Thing character for more self-actualized stories; gone was the pathos of a man trapped in a monster's body, but at the same time Moore could now tell stories about Swamp Thing proper, not Alec-Holland-trapped-in-Swamp-Thing's-body.

Review: Blue Beetle Vol. 1: Metamorphosis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Before DC Comics's New 52 relaunch, Tony Bedard wrote a winning revival of DC's REBELS series, though his stints on Birds of Prey and Green Lantern Corps each met lackluster reviews. But Bedard's New 52 Green Lantern: New Guardians is a surprising bit of "pop" cosmic fun, and indeed there's a lot to like in his retelling of Jaime Reyes's origins in Blue Beetle: Metamorphosis; the New 52 relaunch has served Bedard well.

Beetle, though cancelled after the next volume like nearly all the original "Young Justice" line titles, preserves much of the spirit and even much of the cast and conflicts of the original post-Infinite Crisis series; fans of Jaime shouldn't have much to quibble with here.

[Review contains spoilers]

DC introduced Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes only six years ago, giving the character a relative infancy compared (Red) Robin or the Kon-El Superboy, introduced twenty-three and nineteen years ago each, and certainly as compared to septuagenarians Superman and Batman. But in this short time Reyes gained a following that lead to appearances in Batman: Brave and the Bold, Smallville, and Young Justice, each time with a slightly tweaked origin.

Review: Thor and the Warriors Four trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman.]

So what happens when you combine Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor and the all-ages, Gurihiru-drawn Power Pack? You get Thor and the Warriors Four. Published in 2010, it’s the last of the Pack mini-series so far, and perhaps the best as well. Marvel’s all-ages line was heavily impacted by the purchase of Marvel by Disney, leading to a reduction in titles. However, the success of A-Babies vs. X-Babies, the greatest single issue of 2012, put Gurihiru back on the map, and Julie Power was a popular cast member in Avengers Academy.

Alex Zalben quickly reestablishes the Power Pack’s origins and personalities before putting them in a troublesome situation: the reality of death. It's not some cosmic threat, however; rather the Pack has to come to terms with their grandmother, dying in a hosptial. Despite the so-called “maturity” of many comics from the Big Two, this is perhaps the most mature take on dying that I’ve seen in comics since Aunt May’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (and that was retconned away). The Powers have incredible abilities . . . but they can’t save their grandmother. When Julie Power finds a conveniently-placed book about the life-restoring Golden Apples of Idunn, however, they hatch a plan.

Review: Captain Atom Vol. 1: Evolution trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Depictions of Captain Atom, if few and far between, have tended to follow the repetitive pattern of a super-powered being staunchly on the side of the military, allied against the DC Comics heroes, who only very slowly comes to realize the error of his ways (see Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and also Justice League Unlimited).

To writer J. T. Krul's credit, his New 52 series Captain Atom: Evolution sets aside these tropes for a good science-fiction-y take on the character, less "Captain" and more "Atom." Unfortunately, Krul doesn't have much for the good Captain to do here; Atom flits from story to story, mostly cut-and-dried and mostly predictable. This is a good take on Captain Atom but there's little to raise this book above the level of average.

One unexpected bright spot in the book is Freddie Williams's art. Though a pioneer in the field of digital artistry, Williams's work has had a tendency toward distortion and repetition that gave books like Final Crisis: Run! and JSA All-Stars a dull sameness. But in Captain Atom, pleasantly, Williams's pages are much more controlled, and indeed he brings a unique ink-wash to the art, plus some selective coloring, that gives Captain Atom its own unique look. More's the pity that the book is not more dynamic, because the art alone deserves a wider audience (Captain Atom was cancelled in DC's Zero Month, after the next collection).

Review: Penguin: Pain and Prejudice trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

[Guest reviewer Scott Beattie writes about the Memphis Grizzlies for Straight Outta Vancouver]

Although the Penguin is arguably one of Batman's most memorable villains, this has more to do with the portrayals of Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito than anything that has appeared in comics. With the relaunch of the DC Universe through the New 52, there has been an opportunity for creators to breathe new life into characters in desperate need of a fresh start. Considering the fact that the Penguin is a property with an incredible potential for marketability, it was only natural that he was chosen as the subject of a miniseries.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice is a series in which the plot is secondary to a grim and brooding character portrait. Additionally, the trade also includes the Penguin one-shot "He Who Laughs Last ..." written by Jason Aaron as part of Batman: Joker's Asylum. Gregg Hurwitz takes many of the ideas suggested by Aaron and expands them into five issues. In doing so, he has created what might eventually be thought of as the definitive take on the character.

Review: Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 3 trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman.]

If you needed proof that Walt Simonson’s tenure on The Mighty Thor wasn’t written for the trade, Volume 3 of his Thor Visionaries trades provides it. This isn’t a slam on the content; Volume 3 contains two of the most memorable stories of the entire run. But these stories are so different in tone that at times, it feels like two different books. It also relies on events that happened over a dozen issues beforehand.

Picking up right where the previous volume ended, the Asgardians return home after being stranded in New York. They’ve been given gifts by the US military: crates of M-16s. I highlight this because not only will these guns be important later, but it’s also an insight into Asgardian culture. They may be an ancient warrior society, but they don’t mind using new armaments.

DC Trade Solicitations for April 2013 - I, Vampire and Impulse cancelled, Deluxe Solo, Stormwatch Vol. 2

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Before we get in to DC Comics's April 2013 trade collection solicitations (some of which we've already talked about), two cancellations to note.

First of all, Joshua Hale Fialkov's I, Vampire, the first trade of which I really enjoyed, was announced as cancelled yesterday. Not only did Fialkov write an intricate story, but artist Andrea Sorrentino bucked the trend of weirdly oversexualized New 52 art (I had just read New Guardians with art by Tyler Kirkham right before it), making the book a gem I enjoyed for a number of reasons.

Sorrentino will work on Green Arrow with Jeff Lemire, which is great (could be the best Green Arrow has been in years) and Fialkov hinted on Twitter that he might have more DC stuff coming up -- here's hoping! I'd also be glad to see I, Vampire's Andrew Bennett show up somewhere else in the DC Universe, as they've done with OMAC and others.

The other cancellation is that of Impulse: Runs in the Family, meant to be the start of a new series of collections of the Mark Waid series. This is another one solicited but cancelled before release due to low pre-orders. Speed Force said exactly what I was thinking, that it's not hard to see why this collection struggled when it collects just ten issues of Impulse (with no promise of a volume two necessarily) and alternatively almost 50 issues of Impulse are available with no waiting over on Comixology.

Irrespective of how digital and print compete month to month on single issues, I wouldn't be surprised if we see strong reaction to digital availability among collection releases -- between releasing a second collection of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad or Roy Thomas's Infinity Inc. in print or making them available digitally with much less risk, I imagine digital will win. I expect what we will start to see in collections is either new, immediate books like the New 52 titles, or else more spectacular collections like the Absolutes and omnibuses (and the April 2013 collections are no exception), with less of the middle ground.

(Also I think it's worth considering whether, if the Young Justice cartoon hadn't gone on a sudden hiatus at the end of the year, whether Impulse's prominence on that series might've helped any; it seems to me that's why DC floated this collection in the first place.)

(Also also, I should mention that Superman Family Adventures is cancelled too, unfortunately. Anj eulogizes it well at Comic Box Commentary.)

* Absolute Superman/Batman Vol. 1 HC
* Solo Deluxe Edition HC
* Watchmen Deluxe Edition HC

* Stormwatch Vol. 2 HC

Case in point, among DC's April listings is the Absolute Superman/Batman and two deluxe books, both Solo and Watchmen, as well as the start of a Golden Age Superman omnibus series.

Like many of you, I was holding out hope that this final, official solicitation for the second hardcover collection of Warren Ellis's Stormwatch series would finally include WildCATS/Aliens, but no dice. And that's even with a solicitation that says "When disaster strikes in the form of alien creatures, can the team survive?" Ah, well.

* Batman and Robin Vol. 2: Pearl HC
* Demon Knights Vol. 2: The Avalon Trap TP
* Grifter Vol. 2: Newfound Power TP
* Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 2: The Dominators TP
* Superboy Vol. 2: Extraction TP
* Superman Vol. 2: Secrets and Lies HC
* The Phantom Stranger Vol. 1: A Stranger Among Us TP
* The Ravagers Vol. 1: The Kids From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. TP

For those playing along at home, the Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, Grifter, Legion, Superboy, and Phantom Stranger collections all include their zero issue. Both Superman and Ravagers had one, but they're not included here.

Comings and goings: Demon Knights Vol. 2 doesn't finish out Paul Cornell's run (it collects through issue #12, Cornell remained to #15), but I wouldn't be surprised if DC upped the contents so as not to have the next trade only contain three of Cornell's issues. On the other hand, the Jurgens/Giffen Superman collection also includes Scott Lobdell's Superman Annual, so technically his run starts with this trade.

Superboy: Extraction's contents are a little weird -- issues #0, 8-12, and Teen Titans #10. Titans #10 is not a "Culling" crossover issue necessarily, and since Extraction lacks the other "Culling" issues anyway (so it'll need text pages or something to explain what's going on), it's strange that Titans #10 is included and not just explained away, until it has some specific tie to the Superboy issues that I don't realize. I'm bugged a bit how DC is repeating some issues in multiple collections, something I'll get into another time.

That's my take on DC's collected editions for April 2013 -- what're you buying?

Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 1: Redemption trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 14, 2013

DC Comics released Red Hood and the Outlaws: Redemption, the first collection of writer Scott Lobdell's controversial New 52 series, with issue #6 placed before issue #1. With this change, DC would seem to try to mitigate some of the sharpest criticisms about Lobdell's series, namely his treatment of former (pre-New 52) Teen Titan Starfire; whether it works largely depends on how much faith each reader is willing grant Lobdell and his long-term plan for the series.

Immature and irreverent, Red Hood will not be a book for everyone, but it is an apt descendent of DC books like Judd Winick's Outsiders, and presents especially well Winick's pseudo-creation, the modern Red Hood Jason Todd.

[Review contains spoilers]

Red Hood's great controversy comes from a sexualized presentation of Starfire in the first issue, including when Starfire arbitrarily offers herself up for sex to (also former pre-New 52 Teen Titan) Arsenal Roy Harper. Based on the first issue alone, the audience would conclude Starfire also had sex with Jason Todd, making her essentially the sexual plaything of the Outlaw team's male members. That Starfire's sexual persona ruins her animated Teen Titans depiction isn't a fair condemnation given that her original characterization, as created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, greatly involved her sexuality; still, issue #1 of Red Hood does come off somewhat dirty.

Review: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

[Guest reviewer Scott Beattie writes about the Memphis Grizzlies for Straight Outta Vancouver, including this post that compares the Memphis Grizzlies to the Justice League]

There was a great deal of fanfare when DC Comics announced that Helena Wayne-creator Paul Levitz would be introducing Huntress to the New 52 as part of a six-issue miniseries with artist Marcus To; however, the result is likely to receive mixed reactions from both new readers and longtime fans.

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads features a plot about human trafficking in Italy and feels as if it could have been lifted from the Liam Neeson film Taken, whose qualities, both good and bad, this series shares. Like the film, Huntress delivers constant, well-choreographed action scenes, but doesn't tell the reader much about the characters themselves. The plot is interesting enough that most readers will probably enjoy it, but anyone wanting to know more about Huntress will need to look elsewhere.

Review: Power Pack: The Kids Are All Right hardcover (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman.]

Sometimes, when the violence and complexity of modern comics gets a bit too much, it’s nice to relax with something ridiculously adorable. The Power Pack were created in the mid-1980s by a rare all-female creative team of Louise “Weezie” Simonson and June Brigman. Granted powers by a space pony (their words, not mine), the Power siblings fought aliens and interacted with mutants and Thor while exploring sibling dynamics, all with age-authentic dialogue.

A few years ago, Marvel launched a new set of Power Pack stories set outside of the main continuity and collected in digests, but keeping all of the charm. The Power Pack: The Kids Are All Right hardcover collects the first three digests.

Writer Mark Sumerak made an unusual choice with the first issue collected here: he summarized the origins of the Pack through Katie Power’s school report, rather than retelling the full story. I really like this; many books get so tied down in their origins that the book can’t progress to new stories. (The team did get an origin mini-series later on.)

Review: Supergirl Vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Having the star of the New 52 collection Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton be Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin from Krypton, seems a foregone conclusion, but it was less than ten years ago when Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner re-introduced this character in the pages of Superman/Batman. Prior to that, since the death of the original Supergirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Universe's Supergirl had been a variety of popular artificial lifeforms and other beings, but never the original article.

This is not to say Supergirl reemerged without some difficulty. Loeb and Turner offered a Supergirl with some edge, who refused the mentorship of both her cousin and Batman, accepting instead warrior's training from Wonder Woman and, momentarily, servitude to Darkseid. As other writers took over the new Supergirl title, she became a stand-in for the bad girl celebrities of the time, as often fighting crime as she was hanging out in clubs. It was not until Sterling Gates became the series writer roundabouts the "New Krypton" storyline that the Supergirl title evened out, offering a heroic and relatable Supergirl, though still with an impulsive teenager's temper.

Review: Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of the Black Hand hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The appeal of Geoff Johns's Green Lantern stories is that -- despite a number of misses, including War of the Green Lanterns and the New 52 debut volume, Sinestro -- when the series works, it really works. Green Lantern: Revenge of the Black Hand scores in a number of ways, from plotting to the pitch-perfect interplay between Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Sinestro, to a handful of excellent callbacks to the series' best moments. The second volume and twelfth issue of the New 52 Green Lantern is an awkward time for an anniversary, but this is how Revenge of the Black Hand reads, like an anniversary issue.

[Review contains spoilers]

Revenge encompasses two storylines, the four-part "Secret of the Indigo Tribe" and the three-part "Revenge of the Black Hand." Johns has been teasing the "secret origin" of the Indigo Tribe for over thirty issues and almost five years, so this story is much-anticipated and welcome. There's a good amount of the Indigo Tribe's origin that the reader could by this point surmise -- that the Indigos were previously criminals and that the indigo rings affect their minds, much like the red rings do on the other side of the spectrum, to imbue these criminals with compassion.

Review: Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 2 trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

[Kicking off the new year with a review by Doug Glassman.]

The Twilight Sword has been forged, the Casket of Ancient Winters has been opened, and the forces of Asgard are gathering as the second volume of Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson begins. Odin pulls out all the stops to build up his army, beyond the usual forces like the Warriors Three. For instance, he brings in Harokin, an early villain-turned-hero and Thor doppelganger, and the Enchantress and Skurge the Executioner volunteer. There’s even a cameo from Eilif the Last Viking, whose story was chronicled in the previous volume. Great effort is spent trying to recruit Loki, who finally aids his father and brother at the last minute.

Of course, Odin brings back his greatest resources: Beta Ray Bill and Sif, who have spent the last few issues off in space on an adventure that’s never really been chronicled. During the epic war against Surtur and his forces, Bill is surprisingly over-protective of Sif -- perhaps Simonson’s first indication that, while they make good friends, they may not be the best of romantic partners. Asgard’s queen, Frigga, and the younger children of its inhabitants are sent away for their own protection, and their antics provide some comic relief. On Earth, Thor, Bill and their allies team up with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, working with them to topple the demons’ invasion gate and repair the Casket of Ancient Winters. In a unique cross-promotion, all of the titles in the summer of 1986 featured unusually cold weather; Kitty comments on it in Kitty Pryde and Wolverine.