Review: Batman and Son hardcover collection (DC Comics)

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Monday, December 31, 2007

From the moment you take off the dust jacket of Batman and Son (if you're into that kind of thing), it's obvious DC Comics means business with this collection. DC has embossed an Andy Kubert Batman image in black on the hardcover; obviously, with Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's names on the front, this is supposed to be a flagship DC Comics Batman volume.

It is, in a word, great, though not perhaps the volume I would give a first-time Batman reader (save that for Batman: Detective). Morrison is steeped here in Batman coolness, and there's much to savor--from the straight-up superhero action of the main storyline, the short Joker prose story, the more esoteric "Black Casebook" two-parter, and the final Elseworlds epilogue--but the variety of writing styles might jar a casual reader.

Letting alone, Morrison's writing is at times as super-heroic as it is metaphoric. There's an extended sequence with Batman, Commisioner Gordon, and the Joker in the first few pages which serve more thematically than anything else (where Gordon, in true Morrison style, speaks to the reader), and it's hard to miss the meta-interpretive background when Batman fights ninja Man-Bats in a museum full of pop art.

I was most taken in this volume not by the "Batman and Son" storyline, which has classic elements in its own right, but more by "The Clown at Midnight" and "The Black Casebook." "Casebook"--apparently part of Morrison's larger Batman arc--begins with a match between Batman and a Bane-like figure; Morrison's take on a Knightfall-haunted Bruce Wayne is remarkably compelling. Even moreso is Morrison's new Joker novella, with images by John Van Fleet, which is unquestionable supposed to put one in mind of Morrison's Arkham Asylum. The end to "Clown" comes a little quick, but there's more than enough scary bits along the way.

Morrison has famously referred to his take on Batman as the "hairy-chested Neal Adams love god"; think, perhaps, Bruce Wayne crossed with James Bond, a reference Morrison makes in the story (only, Wayne remarks, "much cooler"). Indeed, the Bruce Wayne here, in relationships both with Talia and new character Jezebel Jet, is lustful--if not loving--and also a bit naive--he can't quite believe Talia would risk the life of her own child.

More importantly, in our post-Infinite Crisis world, we see a Bruce Wayne concerned with things like whether Robin knows that Bruce is proud of him. Whereas previously we had the sense that Batman's partners were a means to an end in his war on crime, we now get the sense that his partners are his end--that is, his war on crime is for the purpose of keeping Alfred, Tim, Selina, and the rest safe. This is a Bruce Wayne, as in the Batman movies, who has a soft spot for people who do good and seems eager to find the good in everyone, and he's far more readable than Batmen past.

I want to comment a little more on Morrison and Paul Dini's Batman, in examining the implications of the "New Earth" Batman. Look for that column shortly.

[Contains full covers.]

Have a happy new year, everyone! Join us on Thursday as we kick off a special New Year's look at Mark Waid's latest Legion of Super-Heroes run, with Legion trivia and more.  Be there! 

Review: Batman: Detective trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paul Dini's Batman: Detective is a phenomenon in today's trade paperback market--a book of six done-in-one Batman issues--and it works perfectly. Dini, assisted by DC's post-Infinite Crisis return to basics, writes an iconic version of Batman, Robin, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon that any fan will easily recognize and enjoy; this is the perfect kind of comic you can hand to a fan of Batman Begins or a lapsed Batman reader. For longtime DC fans, Dini includes enough subtle references to current DC continuity (Face the Face, Hush) to ground the series in the present.

As the title suggests, Detective offers six true Batman whodunits, a refreshing change after the more superheroic Batman stories of the Infinite Crisis era. The mysteries here aren't, I'll admit, of Batman: Long Halloween caliber, more like your average episode of Law and Order, but there's a fun, Sherlock Holmesian feel every time Batman reveals the killer. I was impressed, as well, with Dini's balance of crime-solving and crime-fighting; there's no lack of Bat-action in this tale, as with J. H. William's highlighted punches in the first chapter.

The final chapter, however, featuring Robin and the Joker, really distinguishes Dini as a master Bat-writer (as if Batman: The Animated Series hadn't already done so). I read Detective in two parts, chapters one through three and then four and five, and after the first part I was only mildly impressed with the trade; chapter five blew me away. This is a startling, shocking, white-knuckle story, and I hesitate to give away too many details. If you enjoyed Robin and the Joker's conflict in the Robin II miniseries, this is a most fantastic followup.

I only had a few quibbles with Batman: Detective. For one, though Don Kramer does a great job as the main artist, there's little continuity between the others artists's styles; most notably, Tim Drake goes from a teenager to a child and back over the course of the trade. And speaking of continuity, while Dini does his best to reference Face the Face, some of those references are just wrong, especially Poison Ivy's recollection of her most recent crimes. Dini gets points for effort, but it doesn't quite come through.

I want to talk a little more about this iconic, New Earth Batman in another post, coming soon. In the fourth chapter of Detective, the banter between Bruce and Alfred is almost Silver Age, and it suggests some interesting choices by DC in their new and improved Batman. More on this coming soon.

[Contains full covers.]

We continue our Bat-reviews with Grant Morrison's Batman and Son, coming Monday!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Eight

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 3.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Eight: Lobo plot remains unclear; Head a Lantern, or a ship? Batwoman still rocks.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Eight? Post them here!

Review: Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina trade paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Monday, December 24, 2007

A idea is not considered, under the general definitions, to live. It doesn't eat or drink, nor walk autonomously from place to place. But in the case of Animal Man, as Grant Morrison posits in the third collected volume of the series, Deus Ex Machina, the character was both created before Morrison came to comics, and will live on after Morrison leaves--does that not suggest to Animal Man some kind of life?

This is akin, of course, to saying that something like democracy or a religion lives; it's not so much that the thing itself is alive, as that it's kept in the common consciousness by the people who support it--in Animal Man's case, comic book readers. Still, even if it's hard to shake the wishful fiction from Morrison's ideas, Animal Man nonetheless makes a compelling read.

The third Animal Man volume is definitely the most esoteric of the three. From the first issues, where Animal Man undergoes a drug trip in the desert, to the final issue where Grant Morrison himself makes an appearance, Deus Ex Machina marks Animal Man's true deviation from traditional super-hero comics. As with Sandman, this in some way requires that Animal Man become a bit player in his own comic, and the story takes on a picaresque feel as Animal Man travels from lunch with the Phantom Stranger to comic book limbo and beyond. The story becomes not as much about Animal Man as about the people and ideas he encounters--which, as Morrison notes in his own appearance, is often more an attribute of "real" life than comic book stories.

I found Animal Man's visit to limbo the most compelling part of this story, especially the idea that comic book characters live entire lives in limbo that they simply can't remember when they re-emerge. There's also an interesting history lesson in traveling through Morrison's depiction of limbo; it's hard ever to believe that a current standard like Mr. Freeze was ever condemned to limbo. Morrison's prescience through out this chapter is amazing; the Shadowpact's Detective Chimp and Nightmaster appear here, as does Max Mercury and more.

Animal Man's meeting with Grant Morrison in the end, and the favors Morrison grants him, live up to the story's deus ex machina promise. Indeed, very little is resolved in terms of the aliens who created Animal Man, why Crisis on Infinite Earths begins to reverse itself in these pages, and even why Animal Man, of all the characters, is able to understand so much more about his existence than the rest. Morrison himself opines that even as he's trying to make claims about a larger issue in Animal Man, he never quite reaches it; he worries that the book may have been more preachy than it needed to be. Even if there is no true ending to Animal Man, however, and no true end promised, the ambitiousness of the project is worth the price of admission.

[Contains full covers.]

Coming on Thursday, a review of Paul Dini's Batman: Detective, followed by Grant Morrison's Batman and Son. Happy holidays to all!

Review: Animal Man: Origin of the Species trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Whereas the first Animal Man volume seemed far more like set-up than a collected story, Origin of the Species tells the complete story of Buddy Baker's growing animal activism, leading up to a fateful decision about his future as a super-hero. The stories leading up to the finale of Origin of the Species are fantastic single issues in their own right — in one, he helps B'wana Beast choose his sucessor in the midst of South African oppression; in another, he fights with the Sea Devils against dolphin hunters — but it's in the final chapter that Grant Morrison really defines this series. Buddy is forced to confront the imponderables of super-heroing — whether super-heroes must always be role models, whether a hero's responsibility is to the law or to moral rights, how costumed heroes can possibly fight the true injustices of the world — and the prose shines on the page. Morrison, of course, can offer no better answers here than any others, but his portrayal of Buddy's struggle is iminently compelling.

Animal Man: Origin of the Species, offers two overriding plotlines, both that of Buddy's struggle for animal rights, and also a strange mystery that DC Comics' fans will recognize is tied to the aftermath of the 1980s' Crisis on Infinite Earths. The second is unresolved by the end of the trade, and it's only the pacing of the stories — Origin of the Species begins with the cosmic mystery, and then for the most part abandons it in favor of Buddy's moral crisis — that makes their juxtaposition somewhat jarring. As with the first Animal Man trade, I think some the awkwardness here comes from the modern reader's exposure to recent written-for-trade trade paperbacks, which wrap up far neater. Origin of the Species is definitively a collection of single issues, and not a graphic novel, but it's no less the richer for it.

It's interesting here, as with the first Animal Man trade, to see the dual DC Comics and Vertigo logos on the trade; possibly this is simply how Vertigo trades were marked in the beginning, but it continues to speak to the birth of Vertigo and the evolution of some titles from DC to Vertigo. The Vertigo elements here are more than just graphic violence — of which there's far more here against animals than against people — but also the social and political commentaries sprinkled throughout. Current DC fans will also enjoy an extended guest appearance by current Justice League member Vixen, as well as some Mirror Master continuity that fits exceptionally well into what Geoff Johns would establish about the character later.

[Contains full covers.]

Two Animal Men down, one to go. Stick around!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Seven

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 3.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Seven: Ralph scene brutal; worth it to see Waverider. Could Rip Hunter be Supernova?

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Seven? Post them here!

Review: Animal Man trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The first Animal Man volume serves more as an introduction to the character than as an actual forward-moving storyline; if you're looking for a complete story when you read the first trade, then essentially you've signed on for all three volumes. This kind of "collection of issues" storytelling caught me off guard, frankly, until I realized this used to be the norm, spoiled as I've been by our new era of books written for trade.

The first four chapters (which, author Grant Morrison notes in his introduction, he originally wrote as an Animal Man miniseries) pit Animal Man Buddy Baker against B'Wana Beast, with Animal Man reluctantly on the side of STAR Labs animal testing division. The fifth chapter is a self-contained story that introduces some of the ongoing existential themes of the series; the last four chapters take Buddy Baker in and out of DC's Invasion mini-series. In this way, we get an enjoyable introduction to Buddy and his family, spend time with them and learn some of their foibles, but the last two chapters contain quite a bit of foreshadowing that won't be resolved until future trades.

Morrison, as is appropriate, uses much of the story of Animal Man to turn around the lens and focus on the beastliness of man. In the first four issues, B'Wana Beast shares true love with his gorilla friend and a cat gives her life to protect her kittens, while scientists torture helpless monkeys and hunters threaten rape against Buddy's wife, Ellen. The parallel storytelling here is genuine though arguably heavy-handed, but Morrison makes up for it in the second half of the trade, where the suggested existence of a higher power puts to lie the idea that mankind is the dominant species. As Morrison's ideas become more complicated, the book benefits overall.

There's lots of blood in Animal Man, and while there's no real gore per se, reading this trade gives an interesting hint as to the evolution of the Vertigo comics line. Though Grant Morrison left Animal Man before it joined Vertigo, the end of the first storyline where an scientist gets his comeuppance is reminiscent of the kind of psychological horror later found in Sandman.

I read Animal Man in part trying to understand certain scenes in DC's 52, without much luck. Indeed, Animal Man starts well after Buddy has received and learned about his powers; this makes the trade no less enjoyable, but don't expect to come here and find lots of DC Universe continuity (short of a spot-on cameo by Martian Manhunter). Should more appear in later volumes, I'll let you know.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Grant Morrison.]

A review of the second Animal Man collection coming later this week!

DC Comics Announces 2008 Trade Paperbacks

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Running short on time (probably no Friday Night Fights this week, but bet on Bahlactus anyway), so just a quick note that Newsarama has posted DC Comics trade paperback solictations through June 2008 and for Summer 2008.

I love these releases because there's so much cool stuff here, too much to go into right now. I'm impressed at the very least that Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul is just one volume instead of two, and ditto for Death of the New Gods. Check the Legion Omnicom for more details on Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future trade. Plus we finally see Superman: Last Son.

Newsarama poster "ultraaman" does a good job breaking down price points for some of the trades here.

Anything new added to your buy list?

Review: 52, Volume 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

52 Volume 2I was very impressed with the ongoing storylines in 52, Volume 2. Each of the five principles returned--Renee Montoya, Booster Gold, Black Adam, Steel, and Ralph Dibny--and I felt each of their plots progressed in an unexpected way, from Booster’s death to Renee and the Question’s friendship with, rather than animosity toward, Black Adam and Isis. 52 continues to surprise and delight, and the third volume can’t come soon enough.

After Booster Gold dies saving Metropolis, Skeets recruits Booster’s ancestor to return to Rip Hunter’s lab; it turns out Skeets is actually working to break the timestream. Renee Montoya and the Question are framed by Intergang and imprisoned in Kahndaq; they escape in time to stop a bomber at Black Adam and Isis’s wedding, and help the Marvels rescue Isis’s brother. Ralph Dibny begins a spiritual journey with the Helmet of Fate while the team in space is aided by Lobo. Luthor’s Everyman team become Infinity, Inc., meeting the Titans; the new JLA fails in their first mission and Checkmate is reinstated. T. O. Morrow kidnaps Will Magnus and demands his help on an island of mad scientists.

My favorite plot within 52 remains Booster Gold’s, and it’s unfortunate his gets such a short shrift this time around. My second favorite, fortunately, is that of Renee and the Question, and as I mentioned above, I liked how this plot defied my expectations in this volume--it would be easy to make Black Adam the bad guy and Renee the good guy, but instead we find them working for common causes here. Though I had soured on the seemingly generic Steel/Luthor fight in the last volume, I thought the writers did a great job tying the Everyman project into the legacy of Infinity, Inc., giving this plot a larger connection to the DC Universe.

In the comments that follow each chapter of 52, Keith Giffen talks quite a bit about Grant Morrison writing the scenes with Lobo, who Giffen created. This was my least favorite plot this time around; while I appreciate the tour of the cosmic aspects of the DC Universe, the plot didn’t have much to do with the space-faring heroes themselves, more so than just moving them from point A to point B. Lobo has apparently found religion, though on some pages he still seemed to be his old bawdy self (as when he rips off Starfire’s shirt), and then on other pages professes to have changes. This is further confused by the appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Emerald Eye which somehow factors in; maybe this will all make more sense next volume when the heroes confront whomever Lobo stole the eye from.

The second 52 volume shows a larger swath of the DC Universe beginning to emerge after Infinite Crisis. Green Arrow pursues his mayoral candidacy while the JLA re-forms; this trade also offers cameos by one incarnation of the Teen Titans, the Shadowpact, and Checkmate. Though much of this is self-explanatory in the other titles, these bits are still welcome; we didn’t necessarily, for instance, learn anything new by seeing Green Lantern ask Mr. Terrific to join Checkmate, but it’s a moving scene nonetheless. I’m eager for more of this as 52 continues. Of course, the Phil Jimenez-penned Martian Manhunter sequence steals the show, as J’onn mourns the fallen members of the Justice League.

This edition of 52 felt slower than the first, without quite as many intriguing twists. The richness of the DCU and the strength of its heritage was more apparent, however, and this makes the second volume a welcome addition overall.

[Contains full covers, sketchbook, commentary from the writers.]

Another volume of 52 down! Join us next Wednesday as our 13 on 52 series continues, counting down to 52 Volume 3, and on Monday, we begin a look at Grant Morrison's Animal Man collections. 
Thanks for reading!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Six

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Six: Strange issue; hardly know Sivana family. Talk show balances previous Steel/Natasha fight.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Six? Post them here!

Top Ten Batman Trade Paperbacks

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's time for another top ten essential trade paperbacks list from Collected Editions! If you haven't read our list of Top Ten Superman trade paperbacks, click the link to see it. And now on to the Batman trades ...

* Batman: Knightfall
This Bat-saga created in the wake of The Death of Superman never gets the credit that it deserves. In total, the trilogy was probably a too-long telling of the fall and rise of Batman; in parts, however, Knightfall is a thrilling tale of Batman pushed by his enemies to the brink of exhaustion ... and beyond. Part one is great for fans of Batman's colorful villains, nearly all of whom appear here.

* Batman: Death and the Maidens
I literally stayed up all night to finish this gripping Batman/Ra's al Ghul story, written by Greg Rucka in the spirit of the original Dennis O'Neil Ra's tales. Rucka has an addictive, pulse-pounding story that weaves in and out of history and ultimately makes a major change to Batman continuity. This is a classic Batman story, and comes with one of my highest recommendations.

* Batman: Evolution
Then-new writer Greg Rucka's beginning Detective Comics after the mega-No Man's Land crossover. In an attempt to distinguish the title, the colorist worked with a limited pallet, creating comics that were often only shades of reds, blues, and greens. The result is a gorgeously moody Batman comic featuring yet another Ra's al Ghul tale by Rucka. I feel the art here is something every fan should experience.

* Batman: No Man's Land
No Man's Land is a gigantic six-trade collection of a year-long Batman crossover, unique in it's authorial structure such that the story read far more like a novel than most comics crossovers. The story drags, undoubtedly, at times, but the stories of Batman's return to the city in the beginning, and the bittersweet end, are both worth reading.

* Batman: Sword of Azrael
By the time Knightfall was over, no one really liked the Azrael character, but I always thought there was a lot of potential in this initial mini-series. The writing is by comics legend Dennis O'Neil, and art is by current Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. The story pits Batman against a Knights Templar-type organization, with one Jean-Paul Valley caught in the middle; Valley has no idea he's next in line to become the order's avenging Azrael.

* Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying
Not as well known as A Death in the Family, the story that killed off the second Robin, Lonely is the first appearance of the third and current Robin, Tim Drake. It's also, however, a Batman/New Titans crossover, which should thrill any 1980s comics fan, and is written by New Titans creator Marv Wolfman. For Batman, Robin, or Nightwing fans, this is a good one.

* Batman: Year Two
Also not as well known as Batman: Year One, Year Two is a great mystery with tragic romance that works so well with the Batman character. The story deals with the man who murdered Batman's parents and the reasons Batman doesn't carry a gun; art is by Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame.

* Batman: Broken City
Sandwiched between the vaunted Batman: Hush and the start of some new creative teams, Broken City didn't get much notice, but deserved it. This is moody, hard-boiled crime fiction with plenty of snapped arms and broken teeth--it's also an excellent Batman whodunit. If you like Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets, you should have this in your collection.

* Batman: Bruce Wayne — Fugitive Vol. 3
The Batman Murderer/Fugitive story wasn't a bad crossover, only perhaps went on a little too long. This final trade, though, is a gift from DC Comics -- after volumes one and two, they realized there were enough good follow-up stories out there to warrant a third trade. What you find here are smaller stories featuring Batman and his sidekicks; Rucka's the three-part about Batman's hunt for, and failed romance with, Checkmate's Sasha Bordeaux is worth the price of admission.

* Batman Adventures: The Lost Years
Lost Years is a trade collecting a mini-series that bridged the gap between two different Batman cartoon series and, essentially, it's the animated universe's take on the origin of Nightwing and the rise of the new Robin. If you're a Nightwing or Bat-verse fan, this is some fun revisionist history done in the animated style.

Agree? Hate my choices? Got something to add? Leave a comment!

Friday Night Fights: Monkey Pirates!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Reading some Legion trades right now, so I went looking for a Legion image ...

Came for the Legion image, stayed for the blue and purple monkey-looking pirate guy. Because if there was ever someone who had enough problems as is without getting hit by Ultra Boy, it's this guy.

(And for the guy who's fashion sense is always bar none, always bet on Bahlactus!)

Review: Justice League Elite, Volume 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Just a short take on the second Justice League Elite trade today. Constant readers know what a fan I was of the first volume of Justice League Elite. Well, I've just read issues five through twelve, and balancing the first trade with the second, the first would still remain my favorite. Justice League Elite Volume One packed a lot of political intrigue into a few short chapters; the Elite had to balance working undercover with a team of assassins against preventing loss of life and stopping foreign genocide. The entire story, from intriguing beginnings to startling ending, is both fresh and engaging. In the second half, however, elements of standard superhero fare begin to creep in; the infiltration of a drug ring leads to an alien crime boss who's neither interesting nor comprehensible, and almost as quickly, the crime boss is killed off by an even more obscure Fourth World menace. From there, the story quickly degrades to an internal Elite battle to save Vera Black from herself, the end relying on something of a cosmic restart button. At the same time, we get more of Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen drawing both the Elite and the JLA, and Joe Kelly does a fantasic job of showing the flawed-but-trying Elite, especially Coldcast, Major Disaster, and Manitou Raven and Dawn. Worth it, perhaps, to finish off the series, though not the finale I had hoped.

Anyone else read the second volume? How did you think it stacked up to the first?

Coming next week, the Collected Editions review of 52, Volume Two!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Five

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Five: Bloody Halloween tale. Revealing more DCU's missing year. Surprised Intergang's funding mad scientists.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Five? Post them here!

Review: Mystery in Space Volume 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mystery in Space Volume 1, which stars both Captain Comet and The Weird, is a mystery set in space. And it's weird. And lest you think at this point I'm just restating the obvious, let me say that in comparison to Tales of the Unexpected--another DC standby title re-released as a mini-series after Infinite Crisis much the same as Mystery in Space--Mystery is such a far superior comic (than Tales' Spectre feature, at least), and it's mystery and weirdness make for a wonderful, readable mix. Mystery is a prime example of the power of the mini-series, taking two forgotten DC characters and making them for a short time eminently follow-able.

Jim Starlin does a lot of re-casting of Captain Comet at the beginning of this series (in part because, according to this interview, he initially thought he'd be working with Adam Strange. Comet's powers are subtly different from what they were before, and Starlin introduces new supporting case (including, no kidding, a talking bulldog). The result is a story about your generic swashbuckling space hero, kind of like an Adam Strange with telepathic abilities. That's fine with me; I never had a connection to Captain Comet as a character, and Starlin's new Comet is brash and bold without being over-the-top; Comet's telepathic powers allow the character just the right amount of thinking man's introspection.

It's in the Weird back-up feature that Starlin's work really shines. The Weird is a Stranger in a Strange Land-type character that approaches every situation with an alien's bemused detachment; the Weird himself is neither stupid nor incapable, he's just ... weird. Starlin wastes little time before injecting the Weird section with trippy, psychedelic splash pages--the whole thing feels like a throwback to comics of the 1960s, but Starlin's choice to set the Weird sequences in synch with the Comet tale gives the back-up stories necessary relevance.

There's a lot of narration (what used to be thought balloons) in Mystery in Space, the kind of thing that helped to ruin Hawkgirl: The Maw (read our review here), but it works in Mystery. In part, this is because Comet and Weird are both observers in their own stories, and their thought processes add to the building of the characters. Second, Starlin avoids Bill Willingham's danger in Shadowpact: The Pentacle Plot of letting the narration echo what the characters are already doing. By having the characters carry on mental conversations in addition to their action, Starlin has created an action-epic with a surprisingly lot to read!

Finally, Starlin sets Mystery in Space at the Hardcore Station he created in a series by the same time, and includes characters from that series. I haven't read it, believing at the time it was just a "throw-away" mini-series guest-starring the JLA. Which it still is, really, but given that Hardcore Station has shown up a time or two since then, and how much I enjoyed Starlin's writing on this title, I think I'd be willing to buy a collection of the mini. (Hey, DC!)

[Contains full covers. Trade Paperback Slugfest: Mystery in Space is good ... but not good enough to beat Green Lantern. Hal Jordan remains ... Wanted!]

And we're back!

First, a bit of self-congratulation:

Fifty thousand words in a one month. Hooray!

Next, a gigantic collected thank you to the guest bloggers who filled in during National Novel Writing Month: Simon Finger, Bob Hodges, and Doug Glassman, who did five (!) reviews and even got mentioned in Augie De Blieck Jr.'s Pipeline column. Let's give them all a round of applause!  Couldn't have done it without all of you, so thanks! Come back anytime!

And now ... new reviews on the way! Check back here later today for Mystery in Space, Volume 1. We've got Justice League Elite, we've got Batman, we've got Animal Man, we've got a whole slew of Legion of Super-Heroes coming up, we've got the end of 52, we've got all the latest trade paperback news as it breaks! All through December and into the new year, keep watching Collected Editions.


PS Having a little comments trouble right now, so moderation is on. Please keep leaving your comments -- all the responses are great! -- and moderation should be off soon. All best!

Friday Night Fights: Womf!

Friday, November 30, 2007

We are not a --

That's a sucker-kick if I ever saw one. The kicker, by the way, is Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler. I started out looking for an image of Geo-Force punching someone and couldn't find one; some nights it's all about the randomness. And then I started thinking, can a person really be a "force"? I mean, that's awful full of oneself, even for a king. Anyway ...

(Image, by the way, from nadshot. And for a force to be reckoned with, don't forget to bet on Bahlactus!)

Review: Transformers - Beast Wars: The Gathering trade paperback (IDW)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]

Though I’ll always have a fondness for the original Transformers cartoon, I grew up watching what remains the best piece of animated Transformers fiction: Beast Wars. For the uninitiated, it’s the epic battle between the Maximals and the Predacons, the descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons. It takes place 300 years after Generation One… but 70,000 years in our past. If the time travel headache is kicking in, get the aspirin ready, because the subject of this review keeps the time travel going. See, aside from some convention-exclusive comic books, the Beast Wars had never made the jump to comics. Simon Furman and Don Figueroa intended to do a Beast Wars series for Dreamwave. With that company’s demise, the same team took the idea (and possibly the same story) to IDW, launching the Beast Wars’ full comic book debut.

Beast Wars: The Gathering follows the Beast Wars toys that didn’t make it onto the show. Because Beast Wars was computer-generated, it was quite expensive and could only animate few characters at a time. (And that was without shadows.) So the majority of toys released in the line never made it to the screen . . . in America. Japan’s Transformers fiction in the form of Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo had traditional cel animation, meaning many more characters could appear there affordably. Many of Japanese characters appear in The Gathering, along with many who have only been toys. Of the actual show characters, only two have substantial roles. I won’t spoil who they are, however.

To understand the main plot, I’ll have to recap an important element of Beast Wars. The way new characters were introduced (for the most part) was through stasis pods containing bare-bones protoforms that had no personalities. They were all Maximal initially, but some were turned evil through a computer program. Most of these pods were never used and were thought to be destroyed at the start of season 2. But The Gathering retcons this and introduces the Predacon general Magmatron, who harvests these stasis pods to create new henchmen. It’s a plan similar to John Varley’s story “Air Raid” (later known as Millennium), in which people that were never supposed to exist are recruited into a time travel scheme. Of course, Magmatron’s plan is faulty thanks to a traitor in his ranks, and the result is a second round of Beast Wars taking place at the same time at the first, but removed in the time stream.

(For those new to the franchise, Transformers and time travel are inseparable.)

Like Stormbringer, The Gathering is not for Transformers newbies. The story relies a lot on cameos, including one from Grimlock, and on its interactions with the original series. But there’s still lots of fun fighting, all of which is drawn by the George Perez of Transformers, Don Figueroa. The Gathering was probably a challenge for him, as he is better known for drawing vehicles, not animals. He does a pretty good job, especially since the anatomy for these animals does not have to be exact. For instance, a character that turns into a mosquito is larger than one that turns into a frog. (They did it with Waspinator, amongst others, on the show.) He does get a few scenes on Cybertron, including being able to draw a Lio Convoy that turns into Liger Zero.

Don’s faces are very expressive, even with the characters that don’t have normal mouths or face shapes. It’s all in the eyes, even in the beast modes. When a character is scared, you’ll know. A few great expressions to look for are Ramulus when he gets attacked, Optimus Minor at pretty much any scene he’s in and just about everyone the big final battle in which feathers and teeth go flying. There’s also some great detailing, such as the blotchy skin on Torca, including his Maximal insignias. As well, the storytelling is pretty solid, which was one of the complaints I had with Stormbringer.

The Gathering is more accessible than Stormbringer. Since the vast majority of characters have their debuts here, the only real back story one needs to research is the original Beast Wars television series. There’s some nifty time travel involved and some good action all around. A warning: this is one of the harder trades to find, as it was one of the very first Transformers trades released by IDW. I had to hit six book stores and three comic book stores before I found one. However, IDW is pretty good about getting their material out, and The Gathering will probably be reshipped or reissued soon, probably along with its currently ongoing sequel, The Ascending, or the Beast Wars Sourcebook.

[Contains introduction by Simon Furman, sketch pages, cover gallery. $17.99.]

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Four

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Four: Brutal issue; dark side of "Imagine." Ambush's humor versus J'onn's memories. Yazz lives!

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Four? Post them here!

Review: Transformers: Stormbringer trade paperback (IDW)

Monday, November 26, 2007

[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]

IDW’s current Transformers series is broken up into a series of six-issue mini-series, making for easy collection into trades. Between “Infiltration” and “Escalation” came a four-issue arc called “Stormbringer” that took the story away from Earth and back to the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron. Many fans were eagerly awaiting the story because of the promise of “No humans.” “Relatable human characters” are often inserted into Transformers stories. At times, they work, such as Sam Witwicky in the recent live action film. And sometimes, they don’t work, like the annoying kids in the Unicron Trilogy of shows (Armada, Energon and Cybertron). Humans were also prevalent in “Infiltration”, and some fans thought that they were incredibly intrusive. Can Transformers work without relatable human characters?


I’ll admit up front that part of the reason Stormbringer appealed to me was one of its starring characters: Jetfire. This character made it to the original show only in the altered form of Skyfire because he was based on the Valkyrie toy from Macross/Robotech. Something about his inhuman face, his neat alternate mode and his pursuit of science appealed to me, and they all transferred across to his new form in Stormbringer. Though he’s a bit clueless here, the Jetfire action did not disappoint this Jetfire fanboy.

For those that are completely new to the Transformers franchise, Stormbringer might not be the best book to start with. Its countless cameos and somewhat convoluted plot rely on some old franchise stand-bys such as Pretenders and the Wreckers. Because Simon Furman, the long-time Transformers comics author, wrote this arc, Bludgeon and Thunderwing are featured characters. (I’m personally amazed that Grimlock didn’t worm his way in, though he does make an appearance in Beast Wars: The Gathering). All of the IDW Transformers stories connect to each other to form a weaving story that emulates the original Generation One but introduces a number of new concepts. Surprisingly, you don’t have to read the preceding arc, “Infiltration,” to understand what is going on. I read Stormbringer first and understood it perfectly. The only real interaction with the previous arc is the explanation of where Optimus Prime is arriving from at the end of “Infiltration."

Speaking of which, Optimus is the main character of Stormbringer despite its early focus on Jetfire. This is a compromise of sorts: Prime is here while Megatron is on Earth during “Infiltration.” The two interact in Stormbringer only through flashbacks. One might be surprised by the amount of armament Optimus packs in this arc. Other famous Transformers appear throughout, such as Springer, the Technobots, Thrust and the Predacons, along with Thunderwing himself for the Marvel UK faithful, though he has little to say.

All of these characters are illustrated by Don Figueroa, who in my opinion is the best artist IDW has on hand. My nickname for him is the “George Perez of Transformers.” He can draw massive crowd scenes and make every character stand out. More importantly, he has a gift for designing transformation schemes and Cybertronian alternate modes. (For the Transformers newbie, they are “Cybertronian” in the sense that they are the alternate modes that the Transformers had before they reached Earth). This is actually the second time he has done a great number of Cybertronian modes; he had to redesign some of his War Within creations to avoid trademark issues. His designs are “toyetic”—they can easily be turned into action figures, and some of them already have. In fact, his design for Jetfire made its way to retailer shelves as the Jetfire toy in the Classics line, and all of the figures in the sadly cancelled Titanium line were designed by Don.

Sometimes it takes clean artwork to see some of the design genius. Stormbringer, like a majority of the IDW trades, has a sketch section in the back showing off Figueroa’s handiwork. There are also the covers, which feature the majority of G1 characters, many of whom never show up in the book. He even explains the hard-to-see final transformation of Thunderwing. Yes, all this great design work comes at a price: Figueroa sometimes has difficulty conveying the action. But that’s mostly because of the awkward panel layout later on in the book. You can work it out after a few reads.

Is Stormbringer for the brand-new fan coming off of the film? No. It’s a fun “fight the monster” story made entertaining by the high number of obscure Transformers cameos. A newbie would be better off starting with the “Spotlight” issues, which take closer looks at individual facets of the IDW continuity. Or you could start with the weaker “Infiltration,” which, while a decent introduction, suffers a bit from the humans involved. Still, Stormbringer is at least worth flipping through for the design work alone.

[Contains sketch pages, cover gallery, sketch pages. $17.99.]

Friday Night Fights: Any Room Left?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey, stuffing, and ...


(Need I even mention, there's always room for Bahlactus!)

Review: JSA: The Liberty Files trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

[The following review comes from Collected Editions reader Simon Finger:]

The volumes in DC's Elseworlds line relocate familiar superheroes into a dizzying variety of genres, but they still tend to fall into two categories: those that show how the changed circumstances would result in changed characters, and those that show how the heroes would end up basically the same, no matter what the time or place.

JSA: The Liberty Files assuredly belongs to the later set. Perhaps that is not surprising, as writers Dan Jolley and Tony Harris, place their team, consisting of "The Bat" (Batman), "The Clock" (Hourman), and "The Owl" (Dr. Mid-Nite), into the context of World War II. At first blush, this may not seem like much of a departure, given the WW II origins of the Justice Society. But this is a world of spies and smugglers more reminiscent of Casablanca, The Third Man or even Indiana Jones, than of the four-color world of the original JSA.

The volume collects two separate, but related storylines, the eponymous "Liberty Files" and the post-war sequel "The Unholy Three." The first story follows a team of hard-boiled secret operatives across Europe and North Africa as they search out the truth about a rumored Nazi "Super-Man." In the process, they attempt to capture and interrogate an albino smuggler known as "Jack the Grin," a chilling Joker-analogue, and then to fight their way from Egypt to the heart of the Nazi war machine, and back again in time to prevent an Allied disaster.

"The Unholy Three" moves the action from the Second World War to the Cold War, with the embittered survivors of the first story reuniting to battle their Soviet adversaries for a nuclear macguffin called "The Trigger." Replacing the WWII atmosphere with a sensibility suggestive of early James Bond (especially "From Russia With Love"), the story follows the team, joined by a new recruit named Clark Kent, as they try to unravel a string of murders targeting American agents. The climax brings together still more DC icons, including excitingly re-imagined incarnations of Huntress, Red Tornado, Hawkman, Flash, and Sandman, as well as a familiar visitor from Krypton. These and others come together for a thrilling throwdown in the Siberian wastes.

In both stories, Tony Harris (Ex Machina, Starman) provides beautiful and expressive linework, conveying the subtle emotional beats of the story as effectively as he does the action sequences, which are frequent, exciting and sometimes surprisingly bloody. Though Harris ably handles the art in both storylines, the three years separating the publication of the two miniseries is evident in the coloring, which is significantly richer and more nuanced in "The Unholy Three."

The whole production never loses its forward momentum, breathlessly barreling from one set-piece to another. Jolley and Harris capably integrate the character development into the action, vividly establishing a "Bat" whose paranoia is not so far removed from the distrustful Batman of JLA: Tower of Babel and Infinite Crisis. Bruce Wayne is clearly the star of the show, though all the players get moments of nobility and heroism amidst the cynical world of espionage.

Still, while the story provides accessible narrative thrills even for the non-comics reader, it will probably prove a more rewarding read for those deeply versed in DCU lore, able to pick up on the subtle references and revisions that fill both stories. The torture of a young secret agent in an abandoned theater is all the more powerful when you realize that the spy is Sandy the Golden Boy, who faced a similar ordeal as Sand in the pages of Geoff Johns' JSA. Other cameos may likewise slip by anyone with a less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of the Justice Society, but they make fun little Easter eggs for anyone inclined to hunt for them.

As a package, JSA: The Liberty Files, provides a cracking suspense story, terrific art and rewards for both the casual and the dedicated reader. I recommend it without qualification.

Late 2008 DC Comics Trade Paperbacks - Deluxe JLA! Green Arrow/Black Canary

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Here's a little appetizer before our American friends dive into their turkey tomorrow ... DC is going to announce a series of deluxe JLA hardcovers, collecting the full Grant Morrison run!

Between JLA, Starman, and Ex Machina, I think "deluxe" is a word we're going to start hearing a lot more from DC ...

Some other tidbits:

* Green Arrow/Black Canary - the first collection of the new series will be hardcover
* Dr. Fate - by Steve Gerber, in paperback
* Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists - paperback
* Supergirl - by Kelly Puckett, in paperback
* Robin: Year One - a new edition, on the heels of Chuck Dixon's new Robin run
* Metal Men - the Duncan Rouleau series, in hardcover
* Death of the New Gods - by Jim Starlin, in hardcover

The Collected Editions guest-blogging team has been doing a great job while I've been away doing NaNoWriMo (must. keep. writing.) and we've still got one more guest review coming tomorrow. Then tune in here again on Monday with new reviews from yours truly.

If you want to share this post, don't miss the permanent link just below. Enjoy (if applicable) your holiday!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Three

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Three: I like Osiris as Adam's Junior, but Marvels are creepy; all seem unstable.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Three? Post them here!

DC Comics Solicitations for February 2008 - Booster Gold, Superman

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not too much that we didn't already know in the solicitations today ... the Legends of the DC Universe issue in the Superman: 3-2-1 Action trade paperback is a Jimmy Olsen/Cadmus Project tribute story; Showcase Presents Booster Gold does indeed collect the entire twenty-five issue series, plus an Action Comics crossover issue (though I'm amazed these ComicBloc posters didn't know the book was coming ...).

What's on your pick list for this month?

Review: Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or For Worse trade paperback (DC Comics)

[This review comes from Bob Hodges of the To the Black Rose blog:]

Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or For Worse collects Justice League of America #75, backups from Action Comics #428 & 434, Joker #4, Green Lantern/Green Arrow #94-95, backup from Detective Comics #549-550, & excerpts from Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters #1, Green Arrow vol. 2 #75 & 101, & Green Arrow vol. 3 #4-5, 12, & 21. It does not contain full covers (though several of the stories being backup features wouldn't have covers anyway), but does have an introduction by Denny O'Neil who penned JL of A #75 and GL/GA #94-95.

The intro is standard paint by numbers fare, but does feature O'Neil confessing that he does not remember why he brought Dinah Drake Lance (later retconned to be Dinah Drake Lance's daughter Dinah Laurel Lance) to Earth 1 in JL of A #75 and involved her with Oliver Queen. O'Neil also claims to have written Black Canary in Hard Travelin' Heroes as his ideal woman.

A tremendous amount of talent is on display in this collection as it features most of the important Green Arrow scribes (O'Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, Alan Moore, Mike Grell, Chuck Dixon, Kevin Smith, and Brad Meltzer) and many fine artists (Dick Dillin, Dick Giordano, J. L. Garcia-Lopez, Grell and Lurine Haines, Rick Hoberg, Rodolfo Damaggio, and Phil Hester and Ande Parks).

But despite all of these pluses, the collection remains mediocre at best.

First, though billed as a Green Arrow/Black Canary collection, in reality it is a Green Arrow collection. The stories may have both Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, but they all are Green Arrow features excepting JL of A #75 and Joker #4, and in the latter Dinah Lance only appears as a street clothed hostage. Black Canary to date has starred in a 4-issue miniseries, a 12-issue on-going series, and around 100 issues of Birds of Prey. Were none of these relevant enough to include in the trade even as more excerpts?

Second, the trade ostensibly documents the build-up to the wedding of Queen and Lance, hence the title and release in the same week as The Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special. Nonetheless it does a poor job of laying the foundation for this marriage. The appeal of Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship is that it is an egalitarian relationship. Both dress up in costume and are excellent fighters, both are headstrong and stubborn individuals, both have had romantic interests other than the besides, and neither is dependent on the other to function as an interesting character. Yet apart from some of the latter excerpts, the trade presents no sense of equity in their partnership.

Almost all of the early stories (again excepting JL of A #75) feature Black Canary as a hostage or in some sort of danger with Green Arrow bolting in to either save Canary or avenge the harm done to her. Elliot S! Maggin has counterfeiters trying to blow up Canary's motorcycle in Action Comics #428 and a smitten Joker taking Dinah Lance hostage in Joker #4. O'Neil depicts Green Arrow not letting Canary accompany him on a dangerous mission in GL/GA #94 and Canary, upon following him anyway, is captured and used as a hostage to force GA to make an attempt on the president's life. Even Alan Moore has Canary shot by a random villian so a furious, avenging Arrow can chase the punk down to extract vengeance.

Not that all of these are bad stories, Joker #4 is entertaining and Alan Moore's "Night Olympics" plays with some interesting concepts in the dialogues between Arrow and Canary, and Arrow and the villain. Both stories have excellent Garcia-Lopez and Janson art as well. But none of these earlier stories (including the cutesy Action Comics #434 where Zatanna kisses Arrow in front of Canary) deal with the important quality of the Arrow/Canary relationship, unless you view Black Canary playing Maid Marion the hostage as the defining characteristic.

The later excerpts from Longbow Hunters and the various ongoing Green Arrow series are very good, but they undermine the need for the wedding as J. Caleb Mozzocco mentioned over at Every Day Is Like Wednesday. Highlights include Dinah explaining to Ollie why she doesn't want to marry him or have his kids after he proposes to her, Dinah breaking up with Ollie after she sees him kissing another woman (not Zatanna this time), Dinah's lingering bitterness about Ollie's philandering even when Connor Hawke brings the news of his death, and the finale of the trade where Ollie stops his second proposal plan when Dinah hints at what a bad idea it would be.

Finally, the trade feels mediocre, because its contents are such a cluster^@$%! (to imitate Judd Winick). The DC solicitation erroneously includes Birds of Prey #88 and does not mention that all of the later stories are appearing as excerpts. This is not such a big deal for Longbow Hunters #1 and the issues from Green Arrow vol. 3 since they are already collected in trades and only portions of these issues are relevant to this collection. But I was excited by the prospect of having full issues from Grell's and Dixon's runs on vol. 2, which have hardly been collected. The later stories are not the only ones duplicated from previous collections as JL of A #75 appeared in The JLA Hereby Elects... and "Night Olympics" appears in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

I was excited by the prospect of this trade, since I really like both Ollie's and Dinah's characters and had hoped DC would see fit to trade more of their past material. But instead of this collection couldn't DC have put out both Green Arrow and Black Canary Greatest Stories Ever Told volumes to celebrate their wedding? Or if they really wanted to showcase more of Maggin and O'Neil's work on the characters DC could have put out a Green Arrow/Black Canary in the Seventies trade or continued Green Arrow's Showcase Presents line. Or DC could continue to trade important series for the characters like Grell's Green Arrow vol. 2 and Dixon's Birds of Prey.

The initial concept had me excited; the execution of the same dampens my enthusiasm so that . . .

Rating: 2 out of 5 boxing glove arrows or pairs of fishnet stockings.

Wizard World Texas - Starman: The Complete Saga news

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Precious little coming out of the DC panel at Wizard World Texas, but we have heard that the first volume of Starman: The Complete Saga will include issues #0-16, which bridges the Sins of the Father and Night and Day trade paperbacks, stopping just before Wicked Inclination. This would also include the "Times Past" stories in issues #6 and #11.

Collecting the stories at this rate almost guarantees a four-volume set, and that's not taking into account all the extras--I'm none to keen on buying five or six Starman hardcovers, but I'll do it if I have to!

More news as it breaks ...

Wizard Magazine on DC Comics Violence

Just a quick post (I'm NaNoWriMoing, I swear!), but does anyone else find this list of DC Comics' 25 Grisliest Moments somewhat in poor taste? I mean, whether DC was right or wrong on some of these is debatable, but for Wizard to compile a list of them? Was this a Halloween thing, or does someone at Wizard just have a taste for the macabe?

Wizard's had plenty of controversy lately, and I can't imagine this really helps anything.

OK, back to novel-writing. Apparently there's going to be an announcement at Wizard World Texas today about the upcoming Starman: The Complete Saga; if anything notable comes out, look for commentary here.


Friday Night Fights - Punch and a Snack!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nothing says sucker-punch ...

... like distracting the bad guy with a Twinkie before you hit 'em.

(And for the guy who always has more taste and less filling, the word is Bahlactus.)

Comic Book Holiday Gift Guide 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Collected Editions here, dropping in with a different kind of essential trade paperback and graphic novel top ten list: a list of gifts your favorite comics fan may not have but would want, and also some comics that might appeal to a non-comics fan. 'Tis the season for gift giving, and the following ten titles should start you on your way:

* Absolute DC: The New Frontier
This is a beautiful, over-sized volume, and really a nice addition to every fan's collection. More than your usual super-hero slugfest, this is a re-creation of the origin of the Justice League set against actual events of the 1960s, adding a thinking-person's historic bent to the series. Not to mention, every aspect of the book is done up in art deco style by writer and artist Darwyn Cooke. This is a slightly pricier book, but also a surefire winner.

* Crisis On Multiple Earths, Vol. 1
If you're buying gifts for a DC Comics fan, especially one who may have just started reading comics or who really likes DC's crossovers, this is the first volume of a series that reprints DC's Justice League crossovers from the 1950s and '60s. For a fan who wants to learn about older comics, but doesn't like some of the style differences between the modern and Silver Age, this can be a good starting point.

* New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 1
Whereas most volumes of the deluxe hardcover DC Comics Archives series feature comics from the 1940s and '50s, this volume collects the well-regarded 1980s beginnings of the New Teen Titans, written by Marv Wolfman with art by George Perez. This series was one of the foundations of the DC Universe in the 1980s, and might appeal also to fans of older X-Men comics, as the two series had similar stylings.

* Vertigo: First Taste
This is a collection, along with Vertigo: First Offenses, of the first issues of a couple of different Vertigo series, the mature imprint from DC Comics. If you're not sure what to get the comics fan in your life, or if you're trying to interest a friend or relative in reading comics, these reasonably priced samplers might help you out.

* Super Friends!: Your Favorite Television Super-Team is Back!
A little nostalgia for you: this is a collection of 1970s comics based on the old Super Friends Saturday morning television cartoon. A great small gift for a lapsed comic book fan or your favorite child-at-heart.

* Kingdom Come
This is a paperback collection of the dynamic, fully-painted mini-series about the DC Comics heroes in an apocalyptic future. This series is hailed for its complexity, full of comic book and biblical symbolism, and has been published in a number of more ornate versions, but if you're looking for something to interest the non-comics fan in your life, a simple version of Kingdom Come is often a good choice.

* Batman: Black & White
This collection is something every Batman fan may not have, but should. Some of the industry's top writers and artists have collaborated on Batman short comics drawn completely in black and white, highlighting the shapes and shadows of the character. A nice unexpected gift.

* Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
This hardcover Wonder Woman tale, with appearances by Batman, launched a lauded Wonder Woman series run by novelist Greg Rucka. Here, too, is a nicely-written, well-drawn graphic novel that isn't bogged down by continuity, and may appeal to the non-comics fan in your life.

* Death: The High Cost of Living
An instant classic, this Vertigo miniseries written by novelist Neil Gaiman tells the story of the one day a year that Death (who turns out to be a pale girl with an umbrella) walks the world as a mortal. Well-written and deeply moving, if you know a Vertigo fan who hasn't read this yet, or a non-comics fan you're trying to interest in Vertigo, this is a must-have.

* The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale
Another must-read, and something that might interest non-comics fan, is Maus, a black and white graphic novel memoir written and drawn by Art Spiegelman. The two volumes of Maus (collected here together) tell both the story of Spiegelman's parents ordeal through the Holocaust, and also about Spiegelman's present relationship with his ailing father. A classic, and one of the books that's considered to have brought the graphic novel into the mainstream.

And one to grow on:
* Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way
This is not a comic, but instead a collection of essays looking at DC and Marvel comics and how they relate to the major philosophers. Detailed and yet readable, look for mentions of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, Batman: The Killing Joke, JSA, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and more. A great stocking stuffer or something to go along with all the other comics on your list.

You'll be a hit this holiday season!

(Lots of bloggers, by the way, have Amazon links like the ones above, and when you buy anything after clicking on these links, that blogger gets a few cents. This holiday season, if you're buying gifts through Amazon, consider clicking on someone's link before you buy; I know I will. There are lots of hard-working bloggers out there, and this is a great, easy way to support them.)

Any other great gift suggestions? Post 'em here!

13 on 52: Week Twenty-Two

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-Two: Luthor metagene-immune? Kryptonite based? Strange deadly Manitou introduction. Magnus has a brother?

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-Two? Post them here!

Review: Dr. Strange: The Oath trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Monday, November 12, 2007

[The following review comes from Collected Editions reader Simon Finger:]

The magical world and the material world usually run in parallel, professes Doctor Strange, "but every so often, the two intersect." Such a declaration could just about serve as the character's statement of purpose: exploring those bizarre intersections of the mundane and the otherworldly. Indeed, one of the great hooks for the concept has always been the eye-meltingly weird psychedelic realms that are the source of the Sorceror Supreme's power, as well as the home of his deadliest foes.

How strange indeed, then, that Doctor Strange: The Oath is a story largely unconcerned with supernatural threats and other-dimensional oddities. Writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways) and artist Marcos Martin (Captain America) are interested in bodies. From start to finish, The Oath is about flesh, bone, and blood. But the dangers are no less fearsome for being earthbound. The opening scene plays out in a clinic operated by the long-neglected Marvel property Night Nurse (as a caregiver to injured superheores, and who now has a recurring role in New Avengers ), only to flash back to a setup involving Strange searching, in avenues both magical and mundane, for a cure for the brain tumors afflicting his servant, Wong. When the mystical potion he finds turns out to be more potent than he ever imagined, it sets in motion a battle for control of the panacea, and a long-simmering revenge plot from Strange's past.

The art, by Marcos Martin, conveys an appropriate sense of physicality to the story. Avoiding the vivid psychedelia that Steve Ditko made into the trademark style of the character, he emphasizes instead Stephen Strange's essential frailty, and by extension, the mortality that everyone must eventually face. While Night Nurse ventures forth still in the abstracted bloom of youth, the hero's wizened visage and the disgraced surgeon's crippled hands are rendered in loving, expressive detail. Even the villain of the piece is depicted with sympathy in this regard, because he, like Strange, is ultimately mortal. It is no surprise that their climactic battle must ultimately be resolved by fists rather than wizardry.

Vaughan brings his usual wit and clever plotting to the story, using each issue to explain how Strange moves between the eldritch and the everyday. While elements of the central mystery occassionally come off as contrived, the author keeps most everything under control and moving forward at a steady clip. He is more successful integrating his sly humor into the piece, from the Ditko-homage potion "Otkid's Elixir," to an amusingly awkward encounter between Arana and Iron Fist in Night Nurse's waiting room, to a fist-pumping turnabout in the final battle, in which Doctor Strange reveals his lesser-known talents.

The trade collects the five issues of the limited series, as well as a short "teaser" story, some promotional material, and few character design sketches. All of it makes for a nice package of bonuses, but probably not enough to make it a worthy purchase if you already have the issues. The main attraction here is the story, and if you have any interest in Doctor Strange, it's pretty hard not to recommend it.

Friday Night Fights - He is King!

Friday, November 09, 2007

He is B'Wana Beast!

He is King!

(And for all your two thousand parts, always bet on Bahlactus!)

(PS - Do you know your Dark Stars?)

Starman: The Complete Saga speculations

Thursday, November 08, 2007

There's been a lot of discussion on the DC Comics message boards and elsewhere as to what we might expect to find in the new Starman hardcover volume, Starman: The Complete Saga Vol. 1. Here's Collected Editions' list of the Do's and Don'ts of collecting Starman:

Don't: Print the collection on thin paper like the Kirby omnibuses.

Do: Collect the entire series in publication order--no skipping around the Times Past stories.

Don't: Put the Shade's journal all in one section--intersperse it with the comics (but do include it!).

Do: Include the Batman/Starman/Hellboy miniseries, the Shade miniseries, the Girlfrenzy Mist special, the Starman annuals (and James Robinson's Batman annual), the 1,000,000 issue, the Secret Files stories, the 80-page giant, and the Archie Goodwin tributes.

Don't: Include crossovers with Stars and STRIPE, JSA, and Sandman Mystery Theatre; that's just too much shoe-horning in of material (but do include the relevant Power of Shazam cross-over issues!).

Do: Include extras like sketch pages, full covers, and an introduction by James Robinson.

Don't: Make the whole thing so big you can't sit comfortably on the couch and read it.

Do: Include news of new Starman work by James Robinson and Tony Harris!

Given all the potential contents above, I've no doubt this is going to be a four-volume series (or two very, very large books).

So, what are your Do's and Don't for Starman: The Complete Saga?

Review: Scurvy Dogs: Rags to Riches trade paperback (AIT/PlanetLar)

[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]

Tales from the Bully Pulpit is one of the two funniest comics I’ve ever read. This next trade collects the other. After reading Andrew Boyd and Ryan Yount’s Scurvy Dogs: Rags to Riches from AIT/PlanetLar, you’ll probably never view Pirates of the Caribbean in the same way ever again.

Essentialy, Scurvy Dogs is about a small group of pirates who do what pirates do: pillage, drink, fight monkeys, fight hobos and get roped into show business. The pirates are led by Blackbeard -- yes, the actual Blackbeard, whose death is recounted by the crayon drawings of elementary school student Shirley Johansen. Under his command are the deranged Pappy (who has many different stories on how he lost his hand), Jefe (who has a vulture on his shoulder), McDougal (the boxer) and Shanghai Pete (the mute). McDougal and Pete get the short stack, though McDougal has one of the best sight gags early on in the book. It involves lightboxing and retracing a panel, and I’m not spoiling it here.

It’s absurdist and simply drawn, but sometimes, humor only needs simple artwork. It’s all in black-and-white; color really wouldn’t add anything. Yount likes to exaggerate his figures and use shadows to his advantage. The art and writing work in tandem, as Boyd often uses silent panels to allow the reader to figure jokes out.

One might notice that the trade is a little thick for a five-issue series. That’s because Boyd and Yount include a ton of extras. There are design sketches, guest sketches, a back-up story from Vampirella and an interview with the authors. But most important is a huge section of commentary. In tiny text, Boyd and Yount go through the stories and recount the inspiration for the characters and situations. They also point out inside jokes and make fun of their work. This is something I would love to see in other books, but then I’m a big sucker for commentary tracks on DVDs.

All of the above only costs $12.95, making this book a steal. Everyone who loves pirates should give this book a shot. And who doesn’t love pirates? (Well, maybe ninjas.) Obviously, this is a required book for Pastafarians, who could perhaps use it as a recruiting tool a la Chick tracts.


[Contains full covers, commentary sections, introduction from Adam Beechen, sketches, back-up story, fake interview. $12.95]

13 on 52: Week Twenty-One

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

(Inspired by 52 on 52, 52 Pickup, and others, Collected Editions offers a weekly thirteen words on each of the thirteen issues collected in 52 Vol. 2.)

Thirteen words for Week Twenty-One: Much better issue. Infinity, Inc. makes Steel plot more interesting. Great Titans cameo.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Twenty-One? Post them here!

Review: Incredible Change-Bots graphic novel (Top Shelf Comics)

Monday, November 05, 2007

[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]

More than DC, Star Wars and even Power Rangers, my favorite franchise of all time, bar none, is the Transformers. Part of it is the mythos that these robots in disguise have developed, which spread out far beyond the animated series and into comics from three separate companies. Part of it is the adaptability of the franchise. They've been able to go through multiple incarnations without losing most of their appeal. (Though I will admit that the Armada/Energon years were a bit trying) Most of all though, the concept of gigantic robots is thrilling--the Tripods of The War of the Worlds are some of sci-fi's most memorable villains. Add to that the idea of transforming and blending into humanity and you've got one of the most marketable concepts of all time. Capping that, you have memorable characters such as the superheroic Optimus Prime and the opportunistic Starscream. The sheer box office numbers of the recent film (including the highest selling DVD of the year) bear this out.

But I'm not actually reviewing a Transformers book in this review. I'll save that for later when I review Stormbringer, amongst other books. No, this is a review for Incredible Change-Bots, an OGN by Jeffrey Brown published through Top Shelf Comics. Brown is mostly known for his autobiographical comics, so this is a bit of a departure for him, albeit a welcome one. Simply drawn and hilariously worded, Incredible Change-Bots is the first truly great Transformers parody. It takes all the story beats of a Transformers series and mocks all of them wonderfully. Battle at a dam? Done. Epic duel between leaders? Done. Useless human help? Done. Even the transforming sound effect is spoofed as the Incredible Changing sound effect. Only a true Transformers fan would be able to do a parody like this, and Brown shines at hitting all the right notes.

Essentially, Incredible Change-Bots is the story of Big Rig and his Awesomebots, as well as their enemies, Shootertron and the Fantasticons. If you can't follow the characters--and a lot of them blend into each other--don't worry: there's a handy character guide at the front. They fight over the fate of Electronocybercircuitron, with an initial debate stemming from (of all things) evolution vs. intelligent design. It's more of a running gag than a true political argument; honestly, it's the most absurd thing for a bunch of giant robots to fight over. But it gets them to Earth, where Shootertron seeks out human allies in order to get more energy. The ending is reminiscent of the recent Transformers film, and I'm not entirely sure if it's a coincidence or if he added it because of the movie.

At the surface, it's funny on its own. Cliches such as the inability for evil troops to hit their targets are spoofed. (I won't ruin the capper of this gag, though.) But the most fun comes from identifying all of the Transformers jokes within. Shootertron is Megatron taken to a level of sinister that the animated character never reached. Big Rig, his counterpart, is wonderfully inept and makes mistakes that Prime would never make. Microwave as the Soundwave parody (complete with his minions Soupy and Popper) is classic. Wheeeee, the Starscream stand-in, is a great suck-up; his "Shootertron has fallen!" bit is hysterical, especially if you've seen a few episodes of the old series and know how often Starscream tried the same thing. Monkeywrench and Jimmy Jr. point out all of the ridiculous situations Spike and Sparkplug were put in. And, of course, Incredible Change-Bots brings up the question first thought up when Elita-One was introduced: robot sex.

. . . Let's move on, shall we?

The artwork is rather unique. It's certainly not the shiny, well-proportioned artwork you'd find in an IDW trade. Instead, the artwork of Incredible Change-Bots is clearly hand-drawn and hand-colored. That's not to say it's poorly done or amateurish; everything is professional, but simple in nature. The transfor--sorry, Incredible Change sequences for the characters create oddly shaped robot modes that are very distinct from anything in Transformers. Heads and arms pop out in odd places, such as the centers of windshields. The super-detailed pin-up of Big Rig in the back points out how ridiculous some of the bots look.

It's a bit hard to recommend Incredible Change-Bots to a non-Transformers fan. If you've seen the film, you probably have enough knowledge of the franchise to get most of the jokes. However, try to catch a few animated series episodes in order to really get it. In any case, Incredible Change-Bots is hilarious to a fan like me. Pick up a copy and support a sequel . . . after all, one is promised at the end.

[OGN. Contains pin-up drawings, catalogue of Jeffrey Brown's work, membership offer to the Official Incredible Change-Bots Fan Club. $15.00]