Review: Daphne Byrne hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The problem with playing with spirits is that sometimes spirits play back — at least, that seems to be one of the morals of the fourth release from DC’s Hill House Comics imprint, Laura Marks and Kelley Jones' Daphne Byrne. Indeed the wonderful irony of Byrne is the mission of its young protagonist is to try to expose the duplicitousness of a supposed psychic with nefarious intent even as Daphne herself is seeing ghosts. It makes for a story that’s charming, if not quite as complex as Hill House’s masterful Low, Low Woods. Six issues' worth of art by horror master Jones is still reason enough to check this out.

[Review contains spoilers]

Artist Piotr Jablonski’s covers for most of Daphne Byrne are the stuff of nightmare fuel, hands down the most unsettling Hill House covers so far, with realistic textures and demonic eyes that stare out at the reader. As opposed to Jenny Frisson’s variants on Low, Low Woods, Jablonski’s main Byrne covers are far better than its variants.

Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Peter Tomasi’s been shepherding the Bat-family for about 10 years now. Arguably he is as much, if not even more so, a steward of the modern Robin Damian Wayne as the character’s creator Grant Morrison is. Tomasi has seen Damian through a long (even death-defying) run on Batman and Robin, followed by a Superman run that was as much about the Kents as it was Superboy Jon Kent’s burgeoning friendship with Damian (not to mention Super Sons), and into Detective Comics, where Tomasi has narrated Bruce Wayne and Damian’s relationship hitting an increasingly rough patch.

So, with no new Bat-work on the horizon, Tomasi’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin is a notable book, the last in Tomasi’s decade-long Bat-adjacent work and his good-bye to Damian before another writer, Joshua Williamson, takes over Damian’s story in earnest. (Damian’s previous series by Tomasi’s frequent collaborator Patrick Gleason still felt very much within Tomasi’s jurisdiction.)

Review: The Low, Low Woods hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

And so we come to the halfway point of the Hill House Comics imprint (an artificial distinction, perhaps, but the third of five books in publication order). The previous books in their own ways have challenged the horror genre, but Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low Woods is something else. Monsters aplenty, though whether in the box office Woods would be deemed horror or instead fantasy/sci-fi is debatable.

It is not horrific (or horror-ific) in the sense of decapitated heads or lopped off hands. But indeed Woods is horrific, and disturbing, and to an extent the full horror of the book comes so late in the story that one cannot help be, if not horrified in the moment of realization, then horrified in the implications that come days afterward. Basketful of Heads and The Dollhouse Family have each in their own way a joyous kind of popcorn-flavored horror to them, a scary time to be remembered and revisited fondly. Woods also offers the joys of young adulthood and friendship, but in the end again it’s something else, an example of how the horror genre too can be an important reflection of the time in which we’re living.

Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I am going to miss Brian Michael Bendis on the Superman titles. I’m not saying Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent isn’t a little strange, and to be sure there’s a creative choice or two here I don’t agree with. But as with Superman Vol. 4: Mythological, Bendis' final volume on that title, I come away once again with the feeling of Bendis having great affection for this character, and moreover, for his extended family, something that’s been a question among some quarters during Bendis' run. Solely what this book sets its primary sights on, not one but two Superboys, ought tell you most of what you need to know about Bendis and what he sees as the heart of the Super-books.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’s called “The House of Kent” but this book might as well be “A Tale of Two Superboys.” Before Action Comics Vol. 5 gets down to the last hurrah of Metropolis' Invisible Mafia, it’s the story of Superman and guest-star Superboy Jon Kent trying to help other guest-star Superboy Conner Kent figure out why no one remembers him (short of, in a beautiful scene, Ma and Pa Kent, and also Krypto). And despite Red Cloud and the Uber Parasite and the FBI raiding the Daily Planet, a lot of what’s underlying the characters' actions is Conner trying to prove himself and the rest of the Super-family getting to know him, and Bendis makes sure to tuck him away safely before the end.

Review: The Dollhouse Family hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Despite key similarities, M. R. Carey and Peter Gross’s The Dollhouse Family for Hill House Comics is appropriately different from Hill House’s first offering, Basketful of Heads. Whereas Basketful took place in one night over seven chock-full, madcap issues, Dollhouse is a generational story, spanning both centuries and individual lifetimes. Where Basketful offers gritty realism, Dollhouse is supernatural in tone (and where Basketful is also supernatural, Dollhouse dips its toes in sci-fi). The urgency of Basketful puts it ahead if playing favorites, but Dollhouse is also good, especially in its role of companion to Basketful.

If anything, Dollhouse’s generational ghost story with a twist reminds more of classic Vertigo output than does the slasher flick Basketful. Joe Hill’s Basketful is the flashy young upstart that throws a gauntlet down for what DC Black Label horror can be; Dollhouse is a hazy (and devoutly British) blast from the past, akin to one of those Sandman spinoff miniseries Vertigo used to do with much less fanfare. That Vertigo stalwarts Mike “M. R.” Carey and Peter Gross are here has I’m sure no small part to do with it, too.

Review: Basketful of Heads hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Gripping and irreverent, at times both exploitative and progressive, a tribute to and send-up of classic slasher flick mores, Basketful of Heads is a bold statement about what’s to come from writer Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics imprint from DC Black Label. Whether the other four series in the initial run uphold the same, whether there even is a “what’s to come” for Hill House (only one series has been announced past the initial five) — really, all the existential questions about DC Comics' pop-up imprints — still remains to be seen. But Basketful of Heads (I can’t be the first one to say this) is a basketful of fun, and certainly compels me to check out Hill House’s next offerings.

[Review contains spoilers]

Basketful sees comely coed June Branch chased around an isolated island by increasingly desperate criminals, drawn successively, suggestively soaking wet by artist Leomacs, in the tradition of thrillers since time immemorable. But June also wields — expertly, absurdly — a magical Viking axe that separates heads from bodies but leaves the heads conscious, such that June moves dizzyingly at times between the roles of victim and killer, not to mention such questions as whether June is insane, if all the disembodied heads are just in her head (so to speak), and whether the real “monster” is the crazy axe-murdering girl.

Review: Batman: The World hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

I think the modern era of DC Comics anthologies kicked off with 2018’s Action Comics #10001, a jam session of Superman one-offs by notable creators, followed in quick succession by Detective Comics #1000, Detective Comics #1027, and a variety of anniversary publications. Now we’re into anthologies de rigueur, from the Future State regular-issues-as-anthologies and Batman: Urban Legends to most big titles having a backup or two now. And I would venture these improved as they went on; Detective #1027 sticks out to me as a particularly good one, better than what proceeded it, and Wonder Woman #750 as another.

So whereas an anthology of disconnected one-off stories might not have always been my thing, I was excited for Batman: The World, an original graphic novel collection of Batman stories from various countries, as another of these kinds of jam sessions. And indeed there’s much to like here and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World (it falls neatly in a category I’ve mentioned before of good reads — content-heavy, continuity-light — for a long plane ride).

Review: Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Way back when, Jeff Lemire’s Justice League United was an interesting concept among the League B-team set. In a long tradition of sub-Leagues, made up of second-stringers and usually more character-focused than the main title, Lemire’s United had the benefit at the outset of starring Green Arrow and Animal Man, two characters with which Lemire had wildly successful runs, plus fan-favorite characters (and/or otherwise following from the recently cancelled Justice League of America series) like Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, Hawkman, and also Supergirl.

Lemire’s first volume of the series sped along nicely, a cosmic-but-heartfelt space romp with most art by Mike McKone. And Lemire of course is a writer of some renown, with those great runs on Green Arrow and Animal Man plus the new-to-TV Sweet Tooth and so on. So one would be forgiven for expecting a lot from Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga, teaming Lemire’s League with no small contingent of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes. On its own, Lemire writing Legion sounds sublime.

DC Trade Solicitations for December 2021 — Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood, Milestone Compendium One, Crime Syndicate, Legion: Before the Darkness Vol. 2, Static Season One, Absolute Dark Nights: Metal and Doomsday Clock

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Well, it’s not like the DC Comics December 2021 trade paperback and hardcover solicitations are disappointing all told.

This month introduces a Barbara Gordon/Stephanie Brown/Cassandra Cain Batgirls series (written by Becky Cloonan), and something called One-Star Squadron with Red Tornado, Power Girl, and Gangbuster (!) in it (hopefully despite the book’s humorous take, writer Mark Russell gives Jose Delgado’s long history a fair shake), and Jeff Lemire and Doug Mahnke on Swamp Thing, and (I had forgotten) Tom Taylor’s Dark Knights of Steel is still going on, plus the Blue & Gold miniseries. As I’ve said recently, the big question was whether post-Dark Nights: Death Metal and the firing of Dan DiDio, we were headed for DC as licensed-properties only, very appeal-to-the-widest-consumer-base stuff, and instead we do seem to be getting a lot of deep cut, fan-love products; it’s hard to be too upset.

That comes with the acknowledgement, however, that there’s only two collections of first-run, main DC Universe material in these solicitations, and that continues to make for some scant months. I think it’ll pick up — or maybe it’s not so bad if it doesn’t — but indeed collections-wise we’re still on the slight side.

Those two main DCU collections, by the by, are Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood, kicking off Mariko Tamaki’s run, and Crime Syndicate, the post-Dark Nights: Death Metal miniseries. Not that those’re the only notable books of the month; we’ve also got Legion of Super-Heroes: Before the Darkness Vol. 2, and I’ll probably finally take my opportunity to read Catwoman When in Rome, too. Also notable are two Milestone titles, Milestone Compendium One (hopefully, finally), and Vita Ayala’s Static: Season One.

Let’s dive in …

Absolute Dark Nights: Metal

Collects Dark Nights: Metal #1-6, Batman: Lost #1, Dark Nights: Metal Director’s Cut #1, and Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1. Good for Greg Capullo, especially, getting an Absolute edition of this artwork. I will say I recently re-read Dark Nights: Metal and liked it a lot more than I did the first time.

Absolute Doomsday Clock

I mean, so many mixed feelings about Doomsday Clock in general, but if you didn't read it another way, this is a way to read it. I wonder if the "dozens" of included behind-the-scenes features would help illuminate what this series was supposed to be versus what it actually turned out to be.

Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War

Paperback collecting of Batman #95-100, following the hardcover.

Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood

Everything old is new again, as it often is, with a new Detective Comics Vol. 1, though individual issue numberings remain on track, of course. This is Detective #1034–1039 by Mariko Tamaki and Dan Mora, coming in hardcover in February.

Batman: The Long Halloween: Catwoman When in Rome: The Deluxe Edition

Another volume now newly branded with "Long Halloween." Collects Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's six-issue miniseries, which I never read; maybe I should take this opportunity with all the Long Halloween hoopla.

Batman: White Knight Presents: Harley Quinn

Paperback, following the hardcover, of the six-issue miniseries by Katana Collins plus the Harley Quinn Black + White + Red tie-in story.

Crime Syndicate

The six-issue miniseries by Andy Schmidt and Kieran McKeown, spinning out of Dark Nights: Death Metal and Infinite Frontier. I’m guessing the backup origin stories drawn by Bryan Hitch appeared in the original issues and aren’t exclusive to this collection.

DC Poster Portfolio: DC Pride

Covers from DC’s Pride Month, due out in May.

Green Arrow: Stranded

YA take on a 13-year-old Oliver Queen by Brendan Deneen and Bell Hosalla.

Harley Quinn & the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley

Paperback, of course, following the hardcover. I enjoyed this well enough, reminding of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s original Harley run.

The Joker War Saga

Paperback, following the hardcover, of Batman #95-100, the tie-ins from Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Nightwing, Detective Comics, and the Joker War Zone special.

Legion of Super-Heroes: Before the Darkness Vol. 2

Collects Legion of Super-Heroes #272-283, DC Special Series #21, and Best of DC: Blue Ribbon Digest #24 in hardcover, coming in January.

Milestone Compendium One

I have been very excited for this much delayed collection, which was supposed to include the first dozen or so issues each of Blood Syndicate, Hardware, Icon, Static, and Xombi, plus Shadow Cabinet #0 (the end of the "Shadow War" crossover between the titles). That this latest solicitation lists no contents is worrisome, but I'm still hopeful that the collection fulfills its original intent.

Represent!

In hardcover, collecting DC’s digital-first anthology series, with stories by Christian Cooper and others.

Static: Season One

In hardcover, collecting issues #1-6 of the new Static series by Vita Ayala. Collects Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 and Static: Season One #1-6.

Review: Secret Six Vol. 2: The Gauntlet trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Gail Simone’s Secret Six, in all its iterations, has been the story of mercenaries for hire, loyal — almost always to a fault — only to each other. Whether helping grieving relatives get justice for a murdered child or protecting a slave trader’s dark fortune, the morality of a Six job hardly matters — until it does.

Should a job get too personal, a Six-er or their family threatened, or even one member’s own interests too far piqued, Six jobs can (and usually do) go wrong. But no matter how many times the Six betray or otherwise try to murder one another, they always come back together in the end, these personalities — often nontraditional in gender or sexuality — knowing where they fit in most is with one another.

By these definitions, Simone’s second Secret Six, which comes to its conclusion in the DC You-era Secret Six Vol. 2: The Gauntlet, is no less valid than the first. Certainly insofar as Simone’s first Secret Six gained members like Black Alice and King Shark, to the point that it was hardly a “Six” by the time it finished anyway, new members like Porcelain and Strix are no less worthy of membership in the Six team than the original-originals.