Review: Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One hardcover (DC Comics)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Let’s be serious. This is hardly a review of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman any more than this was a series of reviews of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. I am hardly about to say “that Gaiman fellow sure missed an opportunity bumping off that Cornithian so early” [written about an hour before the news broke], as any criticisms I would have about the seminal series would definitely be reductive, not to mention near 30 years too late. But, reading Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One and subsequent editions I am, so discuss them I will, if not necessarily “review” them per se.

It is my great shame to admit I’ve never read Sandman all the way through. Blame the availability of trade paperbacks not being then what it is now, and also that the “Essential Vertigo” reprint series of Sandman issues never made it past #32. I have assuredly read “Preludes & Nocturnes” (generally issues #1–8) a number of times, and “The Doll’s House” (generally issues #9–16) slightly fewer — both collected together in this first deluxe edition — and from there it gets murky. Out of curiosity over “the Sandman meets the Sandman,” I also read the Sandman Midnight Theatre special at publication (a Gaiman/Matt Wagner crossover), included here, so overall this book was familiar to me, but indeed I assure you we’ll eventually get to where it’s not.

Review: Harleen hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

To the question of which is the better DC Black Label book, Kami Garcia’s Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity or Stjepan Šejić’s Harleen, the answer (contrary to my initial expectation) is Harleen. It is not, of course, a competition necessarily and no reason one can’t enjoy both, but given DC’s two different (and perhaps excessive) mature readers Harley Quinn books published at the same time, I was curious which was the stronger of the two.

They are, to be sure, two different books. Where Garcia’s imagines a rather different forensic psychologist Harley Quinn on the trail of mysterious serial killer the Joker, Šejić’s is a traditional Harley Quinn origin story with generous continuity liberties. That Šejić’s art is amazing here almost doesn’t bear mentioning, given what we already know Šejić is capable of. That his story itself is so nuanced and detailed, however, and the other Batman lore that Šejić plays well with, are great and happy surprises. Šejić does more than the other book does in about 100 fewer pages.

Review: Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Among what seems rather a glut of Harley Quinn books in DC’s Black Label line, it occurred to me to wonder how two near-concurrent Harley titles — Kami Garcia’s Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity and Stjepan Sejic’s Harleen might stack up against one another. At the outset, I’d have bet Criminal Sanity was the better one — forensic psychologist Dr. Harley Quinn hunting serial killer the Joker, and without the distraction of Sejic’s often cheesecake artwork.

I haven’t read Harleen yet, but I was disappointed to find Criminal Sanity not as strong as I’d hoped. The apparent primary mission — to tell a Harley Quinn story by way of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal — is definitely accomplished, and I wouldn’t mind a sequel in which Garcia returns to her newfound detective. At the same time, while I admire Garcia for not ending this story where one might suspect it would end, the anticlimax leaves a lot to be desired. Further, if I’m not mistaken, this is Garcia’s first mainstream comics work outside her YA DC Ink books, and it shows in some awkwardness as the story goes.

Review: Telos trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Given the dubious place Jeff King’s Telos was starting from anyway, that it should be even decent is an accomplishment. And it is decent, in the sense that no aspect of this ill-conceived spin-off of King’s Convergence is egregiously bad, though starting in medias res as it does, it also never finds its footing nor draws us to care about Telos and his conflict. King makes a wise choice in the early chapters to tie Telos to a similar cosmic DC Comics property – but the fact that this particular team of space rebels was already as forgotten as Telos was destined to be makes this seem a misguided choice. Notably some of the artists here went on to significant Rebirth work, but there aren’t many reasons to pick up Telos, and most readers probably won’t.

[Review contains spoilers]

Telos misspells the villain Mongul’s name as “Mongol” twice and then spells it right, which unfortunately gives a sense of the kind of care editorial was taking with this book. Those errors come in the last two issues of the book, where indeed Telos begins to go off the rails. Telos encounters the pre-Flashpoint 1990s Parallax Hal Jordan, which is notable but King achieves so well the obnoxious voice of that character that it’s hard to appreciate his return. There’s a strange moment where King’s Parallax blames Telos for imprisoning him in a cell when in fact, in the story in question by Tony Bedard, Jordan imprisoned himself, suggesting perhaps King’s unfamiliarity with Convergence’s tertiary material. Furthermore, in the hurried end to this book, Telos foils Parallax’s plans apparently just by thinking hard or through some power we’ve never seen Telos exercise before.

Review: Strange Adventures hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Tom King’s Strange Adventures is a strange Adam Strange story, and while I promise that’s the last time I’ll use that alliterative construction, it’s no less true.

I wonder at what point with these DC Black Label books we’ll end up with a Hawkworld situation, where what wasn’t intended to be or shouldn’t be continuity becomes such, possibly by accident. We saw, for instance, Scott Free’s son from King’s Mister Miracle show up in Tom Taylor’s DCeased: Dead Planet, though that’s explained away as one DC “Elseworld” reflecting another.

No one’s going to mistake Sean Murphy’s clear alt-world White Knight series for continuity, nor the many Black Label origins of Harley Quinn (Harleen, Criminal Sanity). But I think there is that danger with Strange Adventures, a wonderful and yet truly emotionally awful Adam Strange story that just gets more awful the longer it goes on. The DC Universe here is functionally the same as “our own” DC Universe, the characters functionally the same, and so I think it might be too easy for the careless writer of some next Hawkman or Green Lantern or even Justice Society story to make reference to Strange Adventures, thereby solidifying the terrible actions here as canon. That, I think, would take a long time for these characters to recover from.

Review: Teen Titans Vol. 4: When Titans Fall trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Teen Titans Vol. 4: When Titans Fall is not egregiously bad. This would otherwise be faint praise, except DC Comics's second Teen Titans series of the New 52 era (and into DC You) was marred by such problems -- including unfinished, if not outright nonsensical, storylines -- that if a collection is at least cogent (if rather boilerplate and dull), that's considered progress. It is astounding that what should be DC's flagship teen team has had such problems -- really for something like 10 years, since Geoff Johns's run ended -- and we could only hope that Ben Percy's Rebirth run would be a comeback.

In large part Titans Fall sees the team fight a handful of random villains without much rhyme, reason, or overarching plot direction. What may explain this, however, is what makes Titans Fall interesting – that in just the final issue, this book ties in a big way into events in a Rebirth title, which this title is not. This marks then perhaps one of the biggest forays of a non-Rebirth, but continuity-connected, title into the Rebirth era, and its interesting to see how this book shoehorns itself into those events. Rather than just cancel at the outset, then, it would seem the stories collected here basically serve as vehicles to buffer Teen Titans up to that tie-in point.

Review: Rorschach hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Chances are you arrived to Tom King through Heroes in Crisis or his 81-issue (nee 100) Batman run. And chances are between one or both of those, you have strong opinions about King’s work, for or against. But each of these are exceptions — Heroes with its clear editorial troubles, and Batman by the fact that it’s longer than 12 issues. Because 12 issues seems to be the sweet spot — Sheriff of Babylon, Omega Men, Mister Miracle, and so on (with no shade thrown on Superman: Up in the Sky, either). As I set aside what doesn’t fit the pattern and focus on what does, no question why the prospect of limited series endeavors from Tom King — Strange Adventures, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, Human Target — get my heart racing.

If you were sad that Damon Lindelof didn’t make a second season of TV’s Watchmen but couldn’t imagine what it might’ve been about, Tom King’s Rorschach is your answer. Wholly unrelated to Lindelof’s story, but clearly (and courteously) of the same universe and cut from the same cloth — nuanced, political, another story about how the trauma of the past visits itself on the present. It’s been a long road to sequels to Alan Moore’s Watchmen that are additive rather than sensationalizing of the original (unauthorized or not); that we have two finally (across different mediums) is a miracle. There’s a clear path to a third, though I don’t dare to think we’ll ever see it.

Review: Metal Men (2008) hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, December 26, 2021

In terms of three Metal Men series I’ve read recently — by Dan DiDio, by Len Wein, and now by Duncan Rouleau — Metal Men by Rouleau is unquestionably the best. I’d still like to read a Metal Men story that preserves the inherent zaniness of the characters while not seeming so cartoony (the titular heroes are still mostly personality-less comic relief), but Rouleau’s is at least the most complex if not necessarily mature. Unquestionably Rouleau’s art in his book is the best of the bunch.

I only knew of Rouleau as an artist before (mostly on Joe Kelly’s Action Comics), so this out-there, time-hopping, multi-threaded eight-issue story comes as a surprise. Readers should particularly heed the statement “Story based on ideas by Grant Morrison” at the front, because whether that thrills or chills you will factor greatly into your enjoyment of this book. Rouleau has a particular art style, and now apparently we learn a particular writing style. Metal Men is confusing at times, of that there’s no doubt, but each reader will have to decide whether that’s a feature or a bug.

Review: Man-Bat trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Dave Wielgosz and Sumit Kumar’s Man-Bat series collection arrives out of time through no fault of its own. Meant to be published in 2019, it was instead shunted to 2021 due to pandemic-related issues. As such, a book that would have originally coincided with the start of Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom appearing in the new Justice League Dark series instead comes just as that book is winding down.

I hadn’t paid much mind to this title originally, given creators I wasn’t familiar with, the long delay, and a mistaken sense that this wasn’t in continuity (perhaps confused with various Elseworlds and other non-continuity Man-Bat books previously). You dear readers set me straight that the Man-Bat here was the same as the one found in James Tynion and Ram V’s Justice League Dark, which is about all the selling point I needed — the monstrous lab-coated and be-spectacled Man-Bat of Dark was among its best parts, their weird science guru not unlike another hulking fellow. I’m happy to support that character within his own book.

DC Trade Solicitations for March 2022 — Batman: Fear State Saga, DC Pride 2021, Future State: Gotham V1, Talon and Nice House on the Lake by Tynion, Black Label Suicide Squad: Get Joker, Mister Miracle: Source of Freedom, Who's Who Omnibus Vol. 2

Sunday, December 19, 2021

After what’s seemed to be a couple light months, it feels like there’s more to enjoy in the DC Comics March 2022 hardcover and trade paperback solicitations (though the Summer 2022 catalog is very much missing right now). Among regular series titles we have an embarrassment of riches with three (three? three.) collections, Future State: Gotham Vol. 1, Shazam: To Hell and Back, and Mister Miracle: The Source of Freedom. Also, not new-new but significant, is the Batman: Fear State Saga, which collects Fear State: Alpha and Omega that were strangely omitted from the Batman Vol. 5: Fear State collection proper.

Other promising ones include a DC Black Label Suicide Squad collection, Suicide Squad: Get Joker!, the big Talon by James Tynion collection, Tynion’s Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1, and the classic Who’s Who Omnibus Vol. 2. Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Vol. 6 had been cancelled (supposed to be released last month), but is back on the schedule now, thankfully. The DC Pride collection contents have been cleared up satisfactorily; also in a wonderfully insane endeavor, DC will be reprinting the entirety of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in four volumes over eight weeks — trying to decide if I’m going to do something special for that.

So that’s your quick rundown — let’s take a look at the details.

Batman Black and White Box Set

Includes five Batman: Black and White trades.

Batman vs. Bigby! A Wolf in Gotham

The new six-issue miniseries by Bill Willingham, in paperback in April. Still not sure what to make of this. Is Fables back? Is it part of the DCU now?

Batman: Fear State Saga

The Batman Vol. 5: Fear State collection seems to collect just Batman #112-117, so this seems like a demonstrably better purchase given that this includes those issues plus Batman Secret Files: The Gardener #1, Batman Secret Files: Peacekeeper #1, Batman Secret Files: Miracle Molly #1, Batman: Fear State: Alpha #1, and Batman: Fear State: Omega #1. Those latter two, especially, one would think would be pretty important, making this the big seller. So far this volume does not include the I Am Batman, Harley Quinn, or Catwoman issues of "Fear State," which one assumes will appear in their own collections.

Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Vol. 6

This was supposed to be out in November but was cancelled, but thankfully now it's back on the schedule. Collects Detective Comics #622-633 from 1990-1991. Nothing particularly noteworthy I could discern about these issues (but that doesn't mean I wanted it cancelled!), though they include stories by John Ostrander and by Marv Wolfman and Peter Milligan with art by Jim Aparo. Issue #627 is a multi-story "anniversary" issue of Batman's 600th appearance in Detective.

In comparison, this volume lines up with about Batman #455-466, or the contents of Batman: The Caped Crusader Vol. 4; this past January's Batman: The Caped Crusader Vol. 5 collected Batman #466-473 and Detective #639-640, to give you a sense of where the two books are in relation to one another.

What's collected as "Prelude to Knightfall" beings with Batman #484 and Detective #654, so given about 10 issues a book, Caped Crusader probably has about one more volume to go (if indeed these volumes stop at Knightfall) and Dark Knight Detective has about two.

Dark Nights: Death Metal

Paperback collection of Dark Knights: Death Metal #1-7, in April.

DC League of Super-Pets: The Great Mxy-Up

Movie tie-in paperback graphic novel by Heath Corson (Bizarro).

DC One Million Omnibus (2022 Edition)

A new release of the DC One Million Omnibus. No new contents listed; by now we know it collects all the DC One Million things.

DC Pride 2021 Hardcover

I wondered if DC Pride would receive a collection and I'm glad that it is. This current solicitation mentions "six additional short stories," which differs from an earlier collection that mentioned it would include Mysteries of Love in Space, New Year's Evil, and Young Monsters in Love. My guess then is that these will be only the relevant stories from those books (Crush, Harley, etc.), with maybe some continuity of creator as well. Works for me; that seems more appropriate than, for instance, a whole issue of Halloween stories alongside DC Pride, though I do wish DC would collect the entirety of those other holiday specials together sometime elsewhere.

DCeased: Dead Planet

Paperback of issues #1-7 by new DC exclusive Tom Taylor, following the hardcover..

Death and Return of Superman Omnibus (2022 Edition)

Marks the 30th anniversary of Death of Superman. Near as I can tell, nothing different here than in the previous edition.

Future State: Gotham Vol. 1

The Future State anthology series launches with a Red Hood story by Joshua Williamson; said to collect Future State: Gotham #1–7 and Future State: Dark Detective #2–4 (presumably the Red Hood stories).

Galaxy: The Prettiest Star

YA graphic novel by Jadzia Axelrod and Jess Taylor, about an alien princess living in hiding as a boy on Earth and the girl from Metropolis who changes everything. Really, really interested in these YA books that set themselves against the backdrop of the DCU but introduce new characters.

Mister Miracle: The Source of Freedom

The six-issue miniseries by Brandon Easton and Fico Ossio, spinning out of Future State. In hardcover in April.

The Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1

Collects issues #1-6 by James Tynion and his Detective Comics artist Alvaro Martinez, ahead of the series return in March. Surprised this isn't in hardcover, but maybe that's for the combo edition.

Phantom Stranger Omnibus

This was previously announced in DC Comics Fall 2020 solicitations in March 2020, so not entirely surprising it never made it to print. Here it is again, due out in May 2022. No contents listed, but previously this was said to have The Phantom Stranger #1-6 (1952), The Phantom Stranger #1-41 (1969), stories from Saga of the Swamp Thing #1-13, Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #18, Brave and the Bold #89, #98, and #145, Showcase #80, Justice League of America #103, House of Secrets #150, DC Super-Stars #18, and DC Comics Presents #25 and #72.

The Sandman Book One

What seems particularly notable about these is that, at least in terms of Sandman issues proper, these collect more than the usual number of issues, even more than the deluxe. That is, this is issues #1-20, more than the regular Preludes and Nocturnes (issues #1-8) and more than the first deluxe edition (being Preludes and The Doll's House, issues #9-16). This book has both of those plus Dream Country, issues #17-20.

The Sandman Book Two

Issues #21-37, Sandman Special, and stories from Vertigo: Winter's Edge.

The Sandman Book Three

Issues #38-56 and a story from Vertigo Preview #1.

The Sandman Book Four

Issues #57-75 and stories from Vertigo Jam and Dust Covers.

Shazam!: To Hell and Back

In paperback in April, collecting the four-issue miniseries by Tim Sheridan, tying in to Teen Titans Academy.

Suicide Squad: Bad Blood

Paperback by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo, following the hardcover. I enjoyed Suicide Squad: Bad Blood quite a bit.

Suicide Squad: Get Joker!

In hardcover in April, collecting the three-issue miniseries by Brian Azzarello and Alex Maleev.

Tails of the Super Pets

You'd think we would have seen this before — a collection of Silver Age super-pets stories. Includes Action Comics #261, #266, #277, #292, and #293; Batman #125; Adventure Comics #210, #256, #293, #322, and #364; Superman #176; Wonder Woman #23; and Superboy #76.

Talon by James Tynion

In paperback, coming in April, this is issues #1-17 of James Tynion’s first DC series, plus Birds of Prey #21 (crossover with Talon #8-9). Though not a seminal work, it had a lot of ties to the DCU at the time, and I’m pleased for a chance to read the whole thing all together.

Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus (2022 Edition)

New printing of the Geoff Johns run. Previously this was Teen Titans #1/2-26, 29-46 and 50, Legends of the DC Universe #2, Titans Secret Files #2, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003, Beast Boy #1-4, Teen Titans/Legion Of Super Heroes Special #1, Outsiders #24-25, Robin #147 (maybe also #146?), Infinite Crisis #5-6, and Teen Titans Annual #1.

Who's Who Omnibus Vol. 2

Continuing the long-awaited collection series, this is Who’s Who in the DC Universe #1-16 (what I believe is the 1990s "loose-leaf" version), Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1-7, and Who’s Who Update 1993 #1-2.