Review: Batman: Face the Face trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

As compared to the Superman One Year Later trade released about the same time, Batman: Face the Face feels like more of a continuation than a starting over. Batman here, returning to Gotham City after a year-long absence, is still making up for his past sins, and it adds a sense of continuity to the character, instead of forcing readers to accept an unnecessary reboot. The slate for Batman hasn't been wiped clean, and the most interesting thing may be watching Batman work toward redemption.

In Face the Face, Batman and Robin return to Gotham in time to foil an attack by Poison Ivy. Batman's old enemy Magpie is killed, along with the KGBeast and the Ventriloquest, with all evidence pointing to the recently recovered Harvey Dent, formerly Two-Face. With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Jason Bard, Batman finds the mastermind behind the plot to frame Dent, but not before Dent scars himself again and returns to his life as Two-Face.

While the easy route might have been to let this trade start a "kinder, gentler" era for Batman, writer James Robinson instead portrays Batman's new outlook as a work in progress. Even though Batman appears perhaps over-nice to Robin and to Commissioner Jim Gordon, he still snubs a rookie police officer in the chapter issue. I took this as an indication that the new Batman was a softie, but no pushover; however, later Batman apologizes and explains himself to the officer. In another scene, Batman agrees to give formerly crooked cop Harvey Bullock a second chance. Both of these apologies show a Batman with faults, still liable to make emotional mistakes, but now willing to make up for them.

Of course, this new "make-nice" Batman may take some getting used to. Robinson offers a reminder in nearly every chapter as to what a strong team Batman and Robin have become after their year away, as if concerned when this story came out in monthly comics that the casual reader might have missed the beginning. What we end up with is a virtual Batman and Robin praise-fest, similar to the Clark Kent praise-fest in the Superman: Up, Up, and Away One Year Later trade. Though a bit overwhelming, it is nice to see the two characters getting along. They share a nice moment in the end that won't be surprising to readers who followed the Robin title before Infinite Crisis, but is an appropriate turning point in the characters' lives nonetheless.

Batman: Face the Face does a great job reintroducing Batman's villains, far better than Superman: Up, Up, and Away. For one thing, each of the villains used is integral to the plot. Robinson deftly gives each an interesting backstory, and seamlessly blends both classic and new Batman villains; the one-note villain Orca, for instance, has never been more fascinating. If there is one false spot, it's in Robinson's choice of the story's mastermind, a character more obscure than obscure. I'm not too keen on another Gotham ganglord a la Black Mask, though it also remains to be seen whether the Batman writers following Robinson even use the character again.

Perhaps because the Dark Knight hasn't just had a big-screen adventure where he "returns" from a long absense, the One Year Later trade Batman: Face the Face feels less cinematic than did the first Superman One Year Later trade; instead, it reads like a solid Batman comic book. Face the Face portends well for Batman in the new One Year Later era, offering a fresh take on the Dark Knight while classic elements remain intact.

13 on 52: Week Two

Wednesday, June 27, 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. 1.)

Thirteen words for Week Two: Heroes in pairs: Question/Montoya, Booster/Skeets. Magnus/Morrow the new Xavier/Magneto?

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Two? Leave a comment!

Review: Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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

So why does a flaming libertarian and leftist read Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire, when said flaming radical has never read a Captain America story and always dismissed Cap as a jingoistic propaganda tool of fascistic American governments? Well four reasons really:

1) Said trade paperback was on a clearance rack for half off (only $10!).
2) Frank Miller's and David Mazzucchelli's amazing Daredevil: Born Again storyline made me reconsider the Star-Spangled Avenger. Especially when in issue #233 Cap explains to the Reaganite general who praises his loyalty that he is "loyal to nothing, General-- except the Dream."
3) Secret Empire features two black co-stars on its black cover: the Falcon and the Black Panther.
4) The first full sentence on the back cover is the brilliant "the Secret Empire was rarely more secretive or empirical than in this classic arc . . ."

So how does Secret Empire measure up to such a brilliant advertising line? Passably, so that the scorn that Captain America and Professor X heap on "Madison Avenue" ad agents who have manipulated the people against the good captain becomes quite ironic. The trade collects eight issues (Captain America and the Falcon 169-176 with full covers) plotted by Steve Englehart, occasionally scripted by Mike Friedrich, and drawn by Sal Buscema. These comics date back to the heady days of 1974, and feature tons of expository dialogue, asterisks and captions referring you to previous Marvel comics, and two-fisted action against D-grade and up villains in every chapter rendered competently by Buscema.

The creepy Committee to Regain America's Principles starts off the story by running an ad campaign slandering the Sentinel of Liberty as a dangerous extralegal vigilante picking on private citizens, then framing Cap for the murder of the already lame Tumbler, using their new hero Moonstone to capture Cap, and having thinly disguised Watergate plumbers, the Sanitation Squad, break Cap out of jail to further incriminate him. What exactly America's Principles are, when they were lost, and how a stupid-looking hero who gained his powers from a moonrock better embodies America are left mysteries.

Nevertheless, the identity of the Secret Empire trying to ruin Cap's reputation does not remain a mystery for long as Cap and his partner, the Falcon (with new glider wings built by the Black Panther) hit the road as fugitives. They travel from New York to Nashville, Dallas, some anonymous desert, and later Washington D.C. to foil the Secret Empire and meet up with a bevy of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and almost every extant Marvel mutant along the way.

Much in Secret Empire does not make sense. The clue that leads Cap and Falc to Nashville is ridiculous, Falc's new wings requiring him to jump off a lamp post to glide is hilarious, the romance melodrama between Cap and the sisters Peggy and Sharon Carter are downright creepy, the Secret Empire is unsecret enough to recruit Cap and Falc posing as hobos, and Englehart's compulsive references to the Secret Empire's history actually make the plot harder to understand.

But for all Secret Empire's flaws, it is a fun and compulsively readable comic which I finished far faster than intended. Nostalgia for seventies comics would heighten appreciation, but is not necessary to enjoy it as long as one is prepared for seventies comic book style. The identity of the villain at the end is a hilarious for our time and a daring move for the comic's time (even though they never show him unmasked on panel and we get just a profile shot of him on the cover). It is almost impossible to imagine a mainstream comic company today pulling a comparable stunt.

Secret Empire is a true time capsule for the seventies, both in its style and its functions as a metaphor for Watergate and help in gagging the cultural attitudes of the times. I recommend it to any comic book fan or social historian of the period, but with the proviso that the full cover price of twenty dollars is too much to pay for it.

[Rating: 3.5 out of 5 star-spangled shields]

If you would like to review a trade for Collected Editions, let us know at the address at right what title you'd like to write about. Your review could be here!

Review: Superman - Up, Up, and Away trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Superman: Up, Up, and Away, like the newly de-powered Man of Steel featured in this story, does not soar, though it does leap a few tall buildings in a rather impressive manner. Up, Up, and Away is a soft Super-relaunch, tasked with reinvigorating the Superman comics line in the wake of DC Comic's mega-crossover Infinite Crisis, without actually restarting Superman's continuity. The trade, written by DC superstars Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, hits all the right notes and revitalizes all the right characters--Jimmy Olsen is loyal; Perry White's the gruff. cigar-chomping boss; Lex Luthor's the villain--and atones for plenty of Super-sins of the past, but at times the writers' apologizing gets in the way of the story itself.

One year after Infinite Crisis, Clark Kent is still without powers, though he's made great strides in regaining his previously lost Daily Planet job. Clark is investigating Lex Luthor and the Intergang criminal organization, making him a target for both, and a stream of his enemies, including the Prankster and Bloodsport, come after him. Clark is able to overcome his mental block to bring his old powers back (and some new oens), in time for Lex to take revenge on Metropolis with an ancient Kryptonian warship. Superman defeats Lex, receiving the crystal necessary to build his Antarctic Fortress of Solitude.

Up, Up, and Away has all the trappings of both an origin story and a classic Superman tale. The protagonist, our Clark Kent, starts out de-powered and unsure of himself, and finished confident and Super. The villain, of course, is Lex Luthor, as it should be, and the story's mystery is tied to Superman's Kryptonian origins. There are salutes here to both Superman Returns and the Smallville series, and aspects of the plot strongly mirror the movie. Moreover than the somewhat disappointing Superman Returns: The Prequels comic book released around the same time as the movie, Up, Up, and Away is a comic I'd be comfortable giving to a fan of the Superman movies and knowing they'd enjoy it.

One of the main tenets of Infinite Crisis was to rebuild the camradery between the superheroes, and Up, Up, and Away demonstrates this almost immediately. Supergirl swoops in to save Clark Kent without any of the previous awkwardness in Superman and his cousin's relationship. Green Lantern and Hawkgirl fill in for Superman at one point, and at another, a whole army of heroes tries to come to his aid. This is comforting, on one hand, as the great mistrust between the superheroes had become grating, but at the same time, I found myself skeptical that so many heroes would be allowed to know Superman's secret identity. Before now, Superman barely seemed to know Hawkgirl, but here she joins him on a secret mission. I was surprised that we did not see a reunion with Batman here, though that might have taken away from Superman's "return," and I imagine the authors were holding that for the beginning of the new Justice League of America series.

Unfortunately, Up, Up, and Away, an eight-part story, is about two parts too long, and I can tell you which parts, too: the fourth and the fifth. Back in 2002, Geoff Johns helped write a Superman crossover called "Ending Battle," where just about every existing Superman villain, and some newly revitalized old ones, attacked the Man of Steel. This is trademark Geoff Johns, who made his name on The Flash and JSA with his "villain renewal" program, but unfortunately, many of his new villains weren't used in the Superman series or its associated spin-offs again. Johns and Busiek take the opportunity in Up, Up, and Away to bring three or four of these villains back, but surprisingly without any of the characterization that Johns usually brings to his villains. Instead, the villains are hurled en masse at Superman in an ultimately unresolved subplot dealing with the Intergang criminal organization, and Superman's two issue fight with these one-note villains takes away from his more interesting conflict with established villains Lex Luthor, Toyman, Metallo, and the new Kryptonite Man.

Part of the criticism leveled at the Superman titles in the past has been their portrayal of Clark Kent as a wimp, and Lois Lane as a shrew. Johns and Busiek are obviously aware and concerned about this, and I appreciate the respect with which they treat both the characters, but one could get a toothache from all the saccharine leveled at Clark Kent in this story. Lois praises Clark; Jimmy praises Clark; Perry praises Clark; Lex Luthor singles out Clark to drag him into an alley, such a good and effective reporter he is; and at one point, the entire Daily Planet newsroom applauds one of Clark's scoops. The alternative, certainly, could get worse, but it borders on ridiculous and adds to slowing the story.

The writers portray Lois as initially content with Clark's new human state, and then make her supportive (almost incongruously so) when Clark's powers return. Obviously Johns and Busiek are trying to repudiate the "Lois-as-neglected-wife" syndrome even as they try to grant that Lois might prefer her husband at home than risking his life. This playing both sides of the fence doesn't quite work for me; ideally, I would think, Lois should be even more in favor of Clark being a superhero than even Clark is. The awkwardness shows in a strange soliloquy that Lois gives for Clark's super-hearing, where she explains that even thought she said she was happy when he didn't have powers, she's still happy now that he does have powers. As long as the writers stick to that second part, however, I'll accept a little awkwardness getting there.

In the course of regaining his powers, Superman is now gifted with "super-intelligence," which he possessed in some of his earlier incarnations. My concern is that the Superman writers will misuse this, turning Superman into a know-it-all or using this as an aspect of competition between Superman and Batman. In a Newsarama interview, Busiek described this as Superman's brain working "faster and more precisely ... His memory's sharper, more encompassing." I'm hard-pressed to imagine this as more than a one-note plot device, where Superman sees something in the beginning of a story, and then super-remembers it later. Given these writers' treatment of these characters, I have faith that they'll use Superman's new powers wisely, but I'll be curious to see whether this was a necessary addition.

[Contains full covers]

A guest review coming soon, and more One Year Later!

Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men question

Meant to have a review of Superman: Up, Up, and Away this weekend, but it looks like some wires got crossed. Hope to have that soon.

Meanwhile, we received a very thoughtful email from one of Collected Editions' readers regarding our review of Absolute DC: New Frontier, which we'll respond to in a post in the next few weeks. But the email also asked this question about Marvel Masterworks:
I was wondering who the best authority on them would be or who to contact about upcoming releases. I've noticed on the Collected Comics Library blog site, that there are 5 editions of Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men going roughly from Claremont's run of #94 to #140. I believe he was on it up to #389, so I am wondering since it appears that the last volume came out a year ago, if they'll be finishing his run? I realize a lot of them are also reprinted in the Essentials but frankly I like to read comics originally published in color, in color. Same goes for those originally in b&w. To me it's sort of the whole thing about seeing it as it originally was. Any help is most appreciated.
Anyone know answers on this one? In addition to Collected Comics Library, I believe the Graphic Novel Archive and Black and White Wonder are both good resources for Masterworks. Can anyone suggest other sites? Anyone know what's coming up on the Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks? Collected Editions appreciates the help, too!

And remember, if you're interested in writing a review for Collected Editions, send an email to the address at the right with the name of the trade paperback you want to review. Thanks!

Friday Night Fights - The Ol' One-Two Punch!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fight's on!

Knockin' you out and stealin' your lunch money! 'Cause that's what happens when you mess with Plas's friend Woozy!

(You've never been in a fight until you've fought with Bahlactus!)

Review: Infinite Crisis novelization by Greg Cox (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

[UPDATE: Apparently Amazon has the Infinite Crisis novel at the discount price of $4.99 right now. Get 'em while they're hot.]

I've been raving for a little while now about Greg Cox's Infinite Crisis novelization. In short, it's far better than I expected, and frankly stands up as a pretty good book in its own right.

Part of my hesitation, I'm sure, stems from Marv Wolfman's Crisis on Infinite Earths novel. Certainly of anyone, Marv Wolfman has the right to mess around with the events of Crisis, but a lot of that novel just didn't make sense to me. Cox, on the other hand, hews very close to Infinite Crisis's actual storyline, pretty solid in and of itself. He does a masterful job introducing a hero in one sentence, and then explaining the hero's powers in just a few words in the next sense (Rampage, for instance, is simply "an orange-skinned woman of giant proportions"), and at the same time, he seems unafraid of letting the book's multiple dangling plotlines dangle, from the disappearance of Blue Beetle to the Spectre's unexplained plight.

It's Cox's additions to Infinite Crisis, however, that really sold me here. Cox fleshed out a bunch of the alternate Earths shown in Infinite Crisis, including a scene set on the Tangent Earth that's a lot of fun. He takes nearly a whole chapter on the destruction of Atlantis, giving Aquaman a well-deserved scene. Cox crafts a book that's designed, like the Infinite Crisis series, for both new and long-time DC Comics fans--characters like the Blood Pack get an (ill-fated) shot in the spotlight, giving the novel a true crossover feel.

Cox's novel succeeds in part because of the emotional impact he adds to Infinite Crisis's crucial scenes. Batman's breakdown early in Infinite Crisis is an touching moment here, and Donna Troy's role makes much more sense spelled out in prose. Cox goes into great detail showing the destruction wrought on Metropolis in the end, making the battle between the heroes and the villains that much grander. This was a novel I was hesitant to buy, but I'm all the more eager now for Cox's upcoming take on 52.

13 on 52: Week One

Wednesday, June 20, 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. 1.)

Thirteen words for Week One: Mix of heroes rising, falling, and in between. Hints of mastermind from beginning?

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

13 on 52: Introduction

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What is a trade paperback lover to do? On one hand, I was determined to wait for four pretty 52 trade paperbacks to put on my shelves; on the other hand, I hated missing out on the weekly reading community that 52 generated in the blogosphere.

There are some great 52 blogs out there, and I encourage you to visit, among others, Mark Fossen's 52 on 52 and Douglas Wolk's 52 Pickup.

But for your wait-for-traders who'd like to read the 52 trade paperbacks along with Collected Editions, we're celebrating the four-volume, thirteen issue release of 52 with our own weekly series (with thanks to Focused Totality), 13 on 52!

Every Wednesday starting tomorrow, Collected Editions will offer thirteen words on "this week's" edition of 52 (no easy task!). We encourage you to play along and submit your own thirteen-word reviews. (Prizes involved for great entries? We'll see.) At the end of each thirteen-week period, Collected Editions will post a review of each 52 trade as a whole.

Thirteen on 52 ... just because you waited for the trade doesn't mean you can't join in on the fun! See you tomorrow!

Mystery in Space's advance-advance solicitiation

Quick note on DC's solicitations for September: I thought it was interesting that on the Mystery in Space Vol. 1 trade paperback solicitation, DC was sure to mention that "This volume collects MYSTERY IN SPACE #1-5. Volume 2, due in 2008, will collect issues #6-8 plus the original THE WEIRD miniseries." Unless I'm forgetting, I don't recall a trade solicited of the Weird back-up feature for Mystery in Space, so the inclusion of the original Weird mini-series by Starlin seems wei--odd. It's not real clear here, but perhaps the back-up feature is included in this trade.

But I do tend to wonder if DC's trying to offset some of the volume 1/volume 2 frustration (a la Justice League Elite)by mentioning Mystery in Space Volume 2 now.

Trade Perspectives: The Hidden Cost of DC Comics Hardcovers

Sunday, June 17, 2007

When you hear talk of rising prices at your local comics shop, it may not be gasoline they're talking about. If you want to read DC Comic's upcoming collections of some of their most high profile titles, you're going to have to pay a little more--because they're all coming out in hardcover.

In their recent October, November, and December solicitations, DC has announced collections of stories from their main Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman lines, all in hardcover. Added to that, the first collections of their new Justice League and Justice Society series will be released in hardcover, along with the first collection of the new Brave and the Bold and the Superman and Batman Confidential series.

Even more strikingly, DC has announced that their Amazon Attacks mini-series will be released in hardcover. Amazon Attacks is largely considered to be a lead-up to DC's 2008 summer crossover, similar to The OMAC Project and others that lead to DC's Infinite Crisis. When one considers that there were no less than four "countdown" miniseries before Infinite Crisis, the prospect of all the new lead-up miniseries appearing in hardcover is a chilling thought.

This influx of hardcovers is largely unprecedented. 2004's Superman: Godfall was the first hardcover collection of a mainstream Superman story (that is, a collection from the regular titles) since the 1986 Superman relaunch, if not earlier. The recent Superman: For Tomorrow was collected in hardcover, though the vaunted "Death of Superman" storyline has not. The Batman: Year One series that appeared within the Batman titles also in the early 1980s has been collected in hardcover, and then not again until the recent Batman: Hush and Batman: Broken City. Wonder Woman has had no mainstream hardcover releases since the 1980s, and now has three (including the cancelled and soon-to-be re-solicited Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman?) before the end of the year.

Previously, DC fans who didn't want to purchase a hardcover could be relatively certain that a paperback was around the corner. DC released the first Green Arrow collection written by Kevin Smith in hardcover, following it later with a paperback, and released the second and third volumes by Brad Meltzer in hardcover and paperback. When writer Judd Winick took over, DC switched the trades to paperback only. However, it later took more than a year before DC released the noted Identity Crisis in paperback after the hardcover edition, making the inevitable paperback begin to seem not-so-inevitable.

Particularly frustrating to fans has been DC's hardcover releases of the new Green Lantern series, banking on the popularity of writer Geoff Johns. Green Lantern: Rebirth, the miniseries that began the new Green Lantern series, was released in hardcover, and followed six months later by a paperback. DC followed this fairly rapidly with three collections of the Green Lantern series--No Fear, Revenge of the Green Lanterns, and Hal Jordan: Wanted--and of these, none have been released in softcover, with only a rumor of an upcoming paperback edition of the second trade. Whereas buyers used to have a choice, they now find themselves forced to buy the hardcover to enjoy Green Lantern in trades.

One benefit of trade paperbacks have long been their considerable price savings over the single issues of a comic (balanced by the time one has to wait before a series is collected), but that savings lessens with the influx of hardcovers. The six issues of Green Lantern: Rebirth originally sold for $2.95 each, or $17.70 for the series. The $24.99 hardcover costs more than buying the individual issues, but if we posit a 40% pre-order discount, the hardcover comes to $14.99, or $2.50 per issue. The Rebirth paperback, however, also costs $14.99 before a discount; if we posit a 35% discount on the paperback, it comes to $1.62 per issue. A customer saves nearly eight dollars buying the paperback, but only about three dollars purchasing the Rebirth hardcover over the single issues. Spread over a number of hardcovers, this difference adds up.

A couple of factors may be influencing the rise in hardcovers:

  • For one, it's conceivable that DC makes twice the profit by releasing a book in hardcover, and then delaying the paperback release: there are the customers who buy the hardcover right away and the ones who break down during the wait and buy the hardcover, and then the ones who wait long enough and buy the paperback.

  • Second, in this era where DC is advertising books like Identity Crisis and Justice League to mainstream book buyers, hardcover may add to the perceived "legitimacy" of collected comics.

  • Third, it's obviously working: series like Superman/Batman have supported hardcover releases of four books (with one on the way) so far, suggesting that customers are buying the hardcovers, whether happily or not.

    At times like these, I'm amazed at how the trade paperback industry has changed in just the two years since Collected Editions began. Back then, you just couldn't be sure whether any particular Superman or Batman storyline might be collected in trades--now, it's a sure thing, as it is for Teen Titans, Justice Society, and nearly every (if not all) titles currently being published by DC.

    And now we see those series released in hardcover. The good news is, it probably means good things for the continued collection of your favorite stories into trades. If only, perhaps, it weren't so expensive.
  • Review: Y - The Last Man: Paper Dolls trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Y: The Last Man has been called a road trip story, but one danger of a road trip in serial fiction is the audience beginning to feel like they're just not getting anywhere. Such is the problem with Paper Dolls, volume seven of Brian K. Vaughn's tale of Yorick Brown. Though some notable events do take place -- include the Y series' first instance of male frontal nudity -- I couldn't help but feel like this trade was for the most part treading water.

    In the main story of the trade, "Paper Dolls," an unexpected stopover in Australia on the way to Toyko to rescue Ampersand from kidnappers affords Yorick an eight-hour window to search for his missing fiance Beth, last seen in Australia. Yorick -- his gender hidden to protect his safety -- is quickly discovered by a tabloid journalist who takes a picture of Yorick and tries to return with it to the States.

    Much of these three issues involve Yorick and his protector, Agent 355, chasing the reporter through generic-looking Australia, and when they catch her, ultimately Yorick resolves to let her go, thinking no one will believe what they read in a tabloid. There's some discussion of tabloids and rumor mills here, as well as a conversation as to whether women continue to read trashy magazines when there aren't any men around (the question itself is slightly ridiculous), but for the most part the issue of journalists in this new apocalyptic world goes unexamined. I felt there was great potential here for an exchange of ideas that Vaughn replaced with a couple of action sequences instead.

    What was surprising, however, was the full page image of the photograph that the tabloid reporter takes, of Yorick completely naked and shown as such on the page. Arguably, it may be even more surprising that it's taken forty issues for male nudity to be shown in a story that focuses primarily on the last man alive on Earth. There's irony, to be sure, that a book that has as one of its themes an examination of women in society and how they're treated and portrayed, has shown breasts "on camera" for most of its run, but never a penis.

    Until it happend, I actually thought that the creators weren't allowed to show Yorick naked, and the fact that they can makes me wonder why they waited so long. Certainly, this is an instance where Yorick is exposed, both in a literal and journalistic sense, and the nudity here makes that point greater. In a later chapter, however, a female assassin's breasts are shown while she's exercising, in a scene where she could just have easily have been clothed, making it seem like the creators have a conservative streak for one gender but an exploitative streak for the other.

    None of this is helped by comments from Yorick which, even given the comedic undertone of the series, seem fairly unbelievable. Even as Yorick has been the last man for over two years and seems to have matured, and even as the reporter's photograph threatens his safety, Yorick still complains that he wasn't erect for the photograph. It's too easy a joke on Vaughn's part, and one that makes his character seem silly rather than interesting.

    The final three chapters of Paper Dolls each contain a revelation about the series, though the lassitude of the trade's first half seeps in here, too. We learn that a woman that Yorick had sex with is pregnant, but another protracted action sequence leads only to learning that the child is a girl. There's a flashback to Agent 355's past, though it doesn't reveal more about her secret agency than we already knew. We learn that Ampersand may be a genetically-altered monkey, with much of the weight of this impeded by confusing dialogue.

    It's certainly established that Y: The Last Man is destined to be a classic, but even as the series approaches all the right notes, Paper Dolls. The next, Kimono Dragons, suggests that Yorick and his friends will finally make their way to Tokyo, and hopefully more will happen once this road trip finds its destination.

    [Contains full covers]

    Review: Absolute DC: New Frontier deluxe hardcover (DC Comics)

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    There are interesting comparisons to be made, reading Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier in conjunction with the classic Watchmen. Deceptively, both begin with similar premises: as an older generation of superheroes retire (in part, in both cases, to McCarthy-era politics), a new generation steps in to take its place. Yet, whereas in Watchmen (filtered through 1980s cynicism), we see the new heroes nearly implode under the weight of their own neuroses, the heroes of New Frontier (filtered throught twenty-first century optimism) put aside their ideological differences in the interest of heroism above all.

    As I mentioned before, in the introduction to Greg Cox's Infinite Crisis novel, Mark Waid cites specifically misunderstandings of Watchmen that inspired the "grim and gritty" era tha necessitated Infinite Crisis and the new One Year Later era of DC Comics. Though Cooke claims in his afterword to the Absolute DC: New Frontier hardcover that he wants to avoid parallels between New Frontier and the state of the comics industry, he does mention specifically that his ideal Justice League does not succumb to "envy, greed, or jealousy." We can take this further to interpret that Cooke's Hal Jordan is fairly unlikely to kill all the Corps and become a time-bending despot.

    Which is to say, DC: The New Frontier, though reportedly concieved before Infinite Crisis, has at its core a distinctly Geoff Johnsian outlook. And let's not ignore Cooke's all-too-familiar splash-page of Superman punching Batman a la The Dark Knight Returns, which Cooke turns on its head later when we learn that the two heroes, best of friends, staged the fight as a ruse. Cooke comments on the 1940s, '50s, and 60s here, but the 1980s gets its commentary, too.

    All of which, somewhat counter-intuitively, is actually making me re-think some of my earlier uneasiness about Infinite Crisis. Once again, I'm one of those who never followed Hal Jordan's post-Crisis adventures, but bought just about every issue when Kyle took over. But I'm coming around to thinking that, to say "making Hal nuts was a good idea because it brought in Kyle" is to miss quite a bit of what brought us there -- was it really a good idea to portray Hal as a gray-haired drunk in the first place? Maybe not, and probably if it hadn't happened, we might not have needed "Emerald Twilight" to bolster Green Lantern's lagging sales to begin with.

    I've been surprisingly affected by Brad Meltzer's text pieces that go along with the solicitations for the upcoming Justice League of America action figures. In his piece on Superman, Meltzer writes of how introspective Superman has had to be before Infinite Crisis -- and that "today, that time is over." A piece of me, inside, cheers. With all the Infinite Crisis Superman crossover trades showing a Superman increasingly unsure of himself, I'm ready for a Superman who's, well, super, and if Johns and company's Superman is anything like the Superman who takes charge at the end of Cooke's New Frontier, sign me up. There was a time where I might have thought that superheroes with the sole focus of being superheroic might be too simplistic -- I don't think I feel that way any more.

    (I would mention that at least part of this feeling probably has to do with the current state of the world. Gas prices up, soldiers dying overseas, a government increasingly at war with itself ... Johnsian comics are indeed filtered through a twenty-first century optimism, a reflection of real world pessimism -- as, perhaps, the 1980s "grim and gritty era" of comic books may have been a reflection of Regan-era optimism. It's hard to say. But I'd be remiss to mention all this without acknowledging that September 11th and its effects on the public consciousness sent a gigantic shudder through the comic book industry from which I still don't think we've entirely recovered -- and when talking about New Earth and Johnsian comics, I think we're in a way still too close to the initiating factors to really have a good sense of our "current era," whereas it's much easier to look back at the "grim and gritty" place from whence we've come.)

    And all of this, oddly enough, is a review of DC: The New Frontier, which I highly recommend. The Absolute edition, with it's thirteen pages of new material, gives new meaning to the term "labor of love" -- Cooke gushes for pages in the end about all the small details he included from comics that thrilled him as a child, and it's a delight to behold.

    The art and colors are amazing, with innumerable scenes only done justice in a "widescreen" format -- among my favorites are Hal Jordan's Top Gun-style kiss with Carol Ferris, and the crowd of heroes walking like the Magnificent Seven out onto the airfield. Cooke gets points, too, for putting J'onn J'onzz in a suit-and-tie. And in a beautiful piece of comics synchronicity, did anyone catch the Martian Manhunter-as-cartoon-character bit in the animated Batman's "The Joining," a scene straight from New Frontier, which Cooke himself notes that he lifted from Gerard Jones' Martian Manhunter: American Secrets miniseries? New Frontier is a feel-good tale of DC Comics heroes -- to say nothing of it's thought-provoking exploration of issues of war, government, racism, and other themes -- and if this is a taste of DC Comics yet to come, bring it on.

    [Contains full covers, sketchbook, annotations, action figure featurette, thirteen extra pages, afterword by the author, foreword by Paul Levitz, it slices, it dices ...]

    I tell you, Watchmen and New Frontier were just what I needed to whet my pallette before diving back into DC trades. However, I'm still going to read one more Vertigo book before I go back ... Y: The Last Man on the way.

    Review: Absolute Watchmen deluxe hardcover (DC Comics)

    Sunday, June 10, 2007

    Writing a review of Watchmen, I have to say, is somewhat akin to trying to write a review of the complete works of Shakespeare -- I know it's good, you know it's good, and trying to argue anything else will make the reviewer come off sounding like a pretentious dick.

    But on the occasion of reading the Absolute edition of Watchmen, I think there is some value in examining Watchmen from a modern perspective -- though the story is only twenty-two years old, I think many would argue that Watchmen was the beginning of a certain trend in comics from which we are only now emerging, such that while "modern" may be something of a relative term, it's valid to say that one can have a perspective on Watchmen now looking down on it from the top of the hill, that one couldn't have while we were still climbing.

    Mark Waid makes the argument in his introduction to Greg Cox's Infinite Crisis novelization that writers trying to emulate the "grim and gritty" tone of Watchmen, together with Dark Knight Returns, effectively sent comics on a very dark path for the following twenty years. If Watchmen were to come out today, however, there's every reason to believe we might see it as not so gritty. Certainly, every page is flooded with the threat of nuclear holocaust, and Rorschach metes out unwaivering vigilante justice, but what the book reveals about heroes -- that they have personal lives, that they have arguments, that they have sexuality, that some of them are heroes for all the right reasons and some of them for all the wrong ones -- are lessons I think we've already learned. In part the reason that Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis was so effective, of course, was that it took place in the mainstream DCU -- we've seen tales of Elseworlds dystopia before, and I'm not sure it works any more.

    Watchmen posits a universe where the first heroes were masked men -- normal people in costumes, eventually replaced by the "superman," Doc Manhattan. Interestingly, this both is and isn't the story of the mainstream DC Universe -- originally, the 1938 Superman was the first superhero, and everyone who came after was either equally or less powerful, but Superman was the standard; in the post-Crisis DCU, the Justice Society were the first superheroes -- for the most part, normal masked men -- and then Superman arrived in the modern era. For the most part, however, the mainstream DCU didn't have the adverse, almost apocalyptic reaction to Superman that Watchmen's universe did to Doc Manhattan -- but it's almost hard to believe that they did not. If anything, Watchmen demonstrates how ridiculously peaceful the current history of the DCU is, and makes a much better argument toward one of the various reasons that Lex Luthor hates Superman -- that Superman robs the common man of his potential -- than the recent Lex Luthor miniseries did.

    I'm hard-pressed to read Watchmen without seeing the various Charlton characters in their original roles. Certainly, in this era of Maxwell-Lord-shot Blue Beetles, chapter seven of Watchmen is one of the defining Blue Beetle stories, even if it reduces the arc of every other Blue Beetle story to follow to Ted Kord, fat and retired, reclaiming the Blue Beetle mantle. Doc Manhattan's storyline suggests great storytelling potential for Captain Atom, potential that DC has only tapped on occasion -- it's interesting to consider how human Captain Atom often is in comparison to Doc Manhattan, and how whereas Doc Manhattan uses his atomic knowledge as a wedge to drive him further from humanity, Captain Atom has been at times almost too concerned with humanity's affairs, as we see in his various incarnations as and around Monarch. And the Silk Spectre's similarity to Black Canary over Nightshade makes the Comedian seem more and more like a take-off on Green Arrow rather than Peacemaker -- a troubling comparison, to say the least, but an interesting one.

    But in my mind, one of the most lasting and groundbreaking aspects of Watchmen is in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's ability to create an entire universe's mythology from scratch -- and moreover, to make that universe feel real in the span of only twelve issues. Moore states himself in the additional material in Absolute Watchmen (reprinted, I believe, from earlier sources) that the main story of Watchmen is really standard superhero fare, in which just about any superheroes could have been utilized. What I believe is more compelling is the human story in Watchmen -- the newspaper vendor, the psychologist, the taxi driver, and all the others, snuffed out in the final chapters, not to mention the media outlets, the sugar cubes, and on. This is an element of creating truly compelling stories -- superhero or otherwise -- largely unmatched, I think, until recently, with both Grant Morrison's Seven Soliders of Victory and DC's 52, and it's here where Watchmen shines. The full page spreads at the beginning of chapter twelve, showing the destruction of New York, are all the more moving with the Absolute edition's oversized pages.

    These thoughts come in part of a larger curiosity I have now, having finished Infinite Crisis and it's related trades, and shortly to move on to the One Year Later trades, about where the overall DC Universe has been and where it's going. And this has everything to do with some of the insinuations Infinite Crisis made about the Death of Superman, Knightfall, Emerald Twilight, Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord (and Superman killing General Zod), and the like -- that is, where DC Comics was in the mid-1990s; how, looking back from Infinite Crisis, DC Comics reinterprets itself as having been in the mid-1990s; and where we find ourselves today. We'll pick up these threads at another time.

    [Slipcase, hardcover volume contains character profiles, thumbnail and promotional sketches, scripts, thoughts from Moore and Gibbons, and etc.]

    More on all of this coming up, with a review of Absolute DC: The New Frontier and some of the ways it relates back to Watchmen and forward to DC's new direction.

    Update: Just heard on the Collected Comics Library podcast that the Absolute edition of Watchmen is now sold out at DC Comics. (Said podcast also includes a mention of your friendly neighborhood Collected Editions blog. Thanks Chris!)

    Review: Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

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    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    Thankfully, the seventh Fables trade, Arabian Nights (and Days), returns to the modern-day Fabletown with a big helping of political intrigue. I wasn't too thrilled with the sixth volume of Bill Willingham's Fables series, Homelands from DC Comics' Vertigo line, mainly because it seemed to abandon the premise of storybook characters living in New York, in favor of following one of these mystical characters on a somewhat one-note romp through the Fables' fairytale kingdom. With the seventh trade, Fables is back on track.

    Following Blue Boy's spying mission into the Homelands, Fabletown mayor Prince Charming has the Jungle Book's Mowgli invite the fables of Arabian myth to come to Fabletown for summit on how to overthrow the Adversary that's invaded their kingdom. Language and cultural barriers separate the Fabletown and Arabian fables, however, as well as suspicion over the powerful D'jinn that the Arabian fables have brought with them. When a rogue Fable releases the D'jinn, Charming and his associates must use a double-cross to bring it under control and create peace with their Arabian counterparts.

    When the Arabian fables arrive in New York from their home in Baghdad, and they're carrying with them a WMD (weapon of magical destruction), there's no question that Willingham is saying something, though ultimately it seems that Willingham offers more political parallels than political commentary. The author focuses mainly on issues of cultural relativism: the Arabian fables are initially insulted when they feel the American Fables don't pay them the proper respect, whereas the American Fables are aghast at the Arabian Fables owning slaves.

    Because of this distrust, the American Fables put all the Arabian Fables in jail when the weapon, a D'jinn or genie, is released, until they learn that the only villain is one Arabian servant acting alone. The moral again speaks to cultural issues: in the Arabian homelands the servant wouldn't have acted without his master's permission, but in the American Fabletown that custom fell away.

    Interestingly, the character that Willingham positions as most understanding of the Arabians is Old King Cole, the former ousted mayor of Fabletown. Willingham perhaps suggests that older, calmer heads may prevail in sticky international situations over younger, rasher action, but the author writes such that none of this comes through heavy-handed.

    I also enjoyed the great amount of subplots that Willingham introduces in this volume, many of which he leaves open for further stories. Beauty and the Beast enter a romantic triangle with Prince Charming; Blue Boy must take false blame for his secret, authorized mission; and Red Riding Hood adjusts to her new life in Fabletown, turning her attention from Blue to his best friend Flycatcher, the former frog prince.

    In a final, two-chapter separate story, Willingham offers a chilling tale told from the perspective of the enchanted wooden forces of the emperor of the Fables' former home. This last story is one of sweet romance with an ominous ending, and it's just the welcome digression that truly displays Willingham's mastery with this series. Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) is a success, and makes me eager once again for the next volume.

    [Contains full covers, biography and summary pages]

    On now to a couple of Absolute trades, Watchmen and DC: New Frontier, on our way to Y: The Last Man, before we join the DCU "One Year Later." See you!

    Infinite Crisis crossover trade reviews wrap-up

    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Deep breath and a sigh ... so concludes Collected Editions' reading of DC's Infinite Crisis crossover trade paperbacks.

    As with our reading of the Identity Crisis crossover trades, we have tried to read these for the most part in order, and presented them as such here and at our DC TPB Timeline. In case you missed any, please find below a list of Collected Editions' Infinite Crisis crossover trade reviews, in order, beginning with the Countdown to Infinite Crisis crossover trades:

    Adam Strange: Planet Heist
    Green Lantern: Rebirth

    Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders

    Countdown to Infinite Crisis
    OMAC Project

    Batman: Under the Hood

    Day of Vengeance
    JSA: Black Vengeance

    Robin: To Kill a Bird

    Villains United

    Flash: Rogue War

    Robin: Days of Fire and Madness
    Nightwing: Mobbed Up
    Birds of Prey: The Battle Within
    Batman: War Crimes

    Green Lantern: No Fear
    Hawkman: Rise of the Golden Eagle
    Rann-Thanagar War
    Green Lantern Corps: Recharge

    Supergirl: Power
    Power Girl
    Superman/Batman: Vengeance

    Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy

    JLA: Crisis of Conscience

    Infinite Crisis
    Infinite Crisis Companion
    Infinite Crisis #1
    Infinite Crisis #2
    Infinite Crisis #3
    Infinite Crisis #4
    Infinite Crisis #5
    Infinite Crisis #6
    Infinite Crisis #7

    JLA: World Without a Justice League

    Green Arrow: Heading into the Light

    JSA: Mixed Signals

    Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter

    Wonder Woman: Mission's End

    Superman: The Journey
    Superman: Ruin Revealed
    Superman: Strange Attractors
    Superman: Sacrifice

    Superman: Infinite Crisis

    Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2

    Nightwing: Renegade

    Outsiders: Crisis Intervention

    Teen Titans: Life and Death

    Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 1
    Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 2
    Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 3
    Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 4

    Lest you think Collected Editions is about to rest on its haunches, get ready! In the next little while we'll have a bunch of non-mainstream DC reviews, including some Vertigo trades, and then we jump right back into the DC Universe with the "One Year Later" trades. No rest for the weary! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

    QUICK POLL: What was your favorite Infinite Crisis crossover trade?

    Review: Seven Soldiers of Victory trade paperback retrospective (DC Comics)

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Hope you've enjoyed Collected Edition's Seven Soldiers trade reviews as much as I enjoyed writing and reading them. What follows is something of a retrospective of final thoughts on the series, but moreover some links to sites that do an especially good job, far better than I could, of annotating and investigating this story.

    To wit, certainly one of the main things I missed in reading Seven Soldiers was the story of Aurakles, which apparently has ties as far back as the Silver Age Seven Soldiers stories. Without understanding the Aurakles plot, Mister Miracle's triumph becomes fairly hollow, and the Bulleteer's final scenes are stripped of their meaning. I'd mention that subsequent research reveals that this Aurakles is also tied to an ancient DCU alien race that gave the original Outsiders' Halo her powers ... it's all very confusing. I am wondering if a reading of Justice League (original series) #100 before Seven Soldiers might not have helped immensely.

    Second, as I learn from the fantastic Barbelith Seven Soldiers annotations, there's effectively one top hat in the story that's passed back and forth, with no two characters each wearing a top hat in the same panel. Not only is this the kind of thing you can only notice if you're really watching, but it also apparently has great resonance in the story of Ali Ka-Zoom and his fight with the Time Tailor (not to mention, the fact that they both wore top hats likely lead to my constantly confusing them).

    Third, we're left with a still somewhat unsolved mystery of Chop Suzi's twin children, and whether Captain 7 or Baby Brains is the father. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, that's fine; one of the equally strongest and most infuriating aspects of Seven Soldiers, I think, are the strong backstories of the characters, which though offering a great amount of sound and fury, may ultimately signify nothing. The question of Suzi's children is posed in the crossword puzzle of Seven Soldiers #1--but how does it affect things? What does it have to do with the plot? Even as I wonder about it, I also wonder if Morrison didn't make the story too complicated, finally, for its own good.

    Jog - The Blog offers an excellent review of the end of Seven Soldiers and a retrospective of the series, thoughtfully done and worth reading. Of note is the examination of the tailor's coat as a metaphor for the DCU as a whole, and the damage that's been done to it. Ultimately, as Jog says, Seven Soldiers is "rife with little failures ... [but] I liked the experience," and I have to agree. For a story with a lot of little nuances, Seven Soldiers definitely works best when not sweating the small stuff. Like a cross-country train ride, there's so much to look at here that while you're watching one thing, you can't help but miss another. I'm not heading to re-read it anytime soon, I don't think, but maybe one day, and maybe on that day the experience will be entirely different.

    The Double Articulation blog offers a long list of Seven Soldiers link, more than enough for you to meta-textualize yourself for years.

    Essentially, this concludes my reading of Infinite Crisis and the Infinite Crisis crossover trades. I'm going to read some non-mainstream DC trades for a bit now, and then we'll rejoing the DCU with One Year Later. Thank you for reading along!

    Review: Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 4 trade paperback (DC Comics)

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    Well, I'm sorry to say, as perhaps had to be the case, the end of Seven Soldiers of Victory did not live up to my expectations. Certainly I was riveted throughout the four trades, and that it wasn't until the end that the story felt to me like it couldn't own up to its ambitions actually says something very good about Seven Soldiers, in something of a roundabout way.

    Frankenstein defeats Dark Memnoth on the planet Mars, foiling Memnoth's plan to stop the Sheeda; later, the Bride of Frankenstein recruits him to work for the covert superhero force SHADE, and in the future, Frankenstein infiltrates the floating Sheeda Castle Revolving. Amidst the Infinite Crisis, the Guardian fights the Sheeda invasion in the streets while the Shining Knight fights Gloriana Tenebrae in the Sheeda castle; Misty, Zatanna's apprentice, is revealed as a Sheeda princess, but Klarion ultimately steals the Fatherbox die from her and becomes King of the Sheeda.

    I enjoyed the miniseries issues that made up most of Seven Soldiers volume four, though I couldn't help but feel at times that some seemed more like filler, to get to the end of the trade, rather than stories themselves. I loved the weird horror of Frankenstein, perhaps best of all seven miniseries, but his battle with a proto-Chemo hardly had anything to do with the Sheeda. The Bulleteer's story, while also interesting, dealt more with her personal life and the story of Sally Sonic than with the Sheeda; and Mister Miracle's entire four issues turn out to be a dream! The four trades in this series have run the gamut from remarkably connected (ah, volume two) to completely disconnected, but here it's as if it hardly matters what happens in between as long as the characters get from point A to point B--the Bulleteer at the superhero convention, for instance, is not so important as her fight with Sally Sonic, which is not even so important as simply getting the character into a wildly careening car.

    What disappointed me most about the final chapter of Seven Soldiers was what a great part so many of the soldiers didn't get to play. Frankenstein, my ultimate favorite, gets the biggest shaft, ushered off into the ether under Klarion's control. Zatanna orders the Soldiers to strike, and they proceed ... not to strike, really. The Guardian is mostly in the background (though at least he gets a happy ending), and the ambiguous Spyder is the one who actually takes Gloriana out ... but as ambiguous as the Spyder was, it made it terriby hard to cheer his appearance. The Bulleteer's epilogue was meaningful but short; of them all, the Shining Knight fares best, and I'd still be happy to see her appear again, alongside the Titans or another super-team.

    And Mister Miracle ... I was very, very excited to see the New Gods appear in Seven Soldiers, in line with their rumored appearance in DC's upcoming Countdown. But I found Mister Miracle so unreadable--the plot constantly confusing, the character somewhat wooden, the whole thing turning out to be a dream--that the long-teased death in Seven Soldiers turns out to be Miracle, who we'd already been lead to believe died once, contained about as much impact as the appearance of the Spyder--very little. Coming at the end as it did, and with the various art team problems that I've heard it had, what I believe was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the Seven Soldiers saga didn't quite fire. And faithful Seven Soldiers readers know what happens when all seven soldiers aren't up and running ...

    [Contains full covers, final issue annotations]

    Well, in four reviews I've really gone back and forth about a series that, overall, I very much liked and admired. I'm going to go and do some research on Seven Soldiers and find out everything I missed, and then report back here. So one more Seven Soldiers review still to come ... tune in tomorrow.

    Review: Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    I approached this third volume of Seven Soldiers of Victory with some trepidation; it's the first volume since the first itself to feature new characters, which means getting to know (and understand) new heroes only just when we're getting the hang of the old ones. Unfortunately, many of my fears played out; especially given how cohesive Seven Soldiers became at the end of the second trade, the third is something of a jarring departure.

    In volume three, Klarion drives Dark Memnoth from his home of Limbo Town, and then decides to return to the world above; we learn that his god Croatoan is a computer system in the form of two dice, now in possession of Klarion and Zatanna's apprentice, Misty. Frankenstein, who has fought Memnoth and the Sheeda throughout time, is resurrected to stop the coming invasion. The new Bulleteer, meant to be the seventh of Vigilante's Seven Soldiers, learns that the Nebula Man that fought the original Seven Soldiers is the same as that working with the Sheeda now. And Shilo Norman, the second Mister Miracle, begins having visions of the New Gods, drawing the attention of Darkseid.

    I was confused, frankly, through a lot of this trade. Klarion's transformation to a Horgil wasn't well explained, but understandable; that the Submissionary Judah is a robot left me lost, as did the fairly trippy conclusion to Zatanna. I enjoyed Bulleteer, which was the most traditional super-hero story of the bunch, with a healthy dose of sexual social commentary thrown in; I also liked the equally offbeat Frankenstein (with art from one of my favorites, Doug Mahnke). But Mister Miracle, with great potential as one of the most DC-mythology-centric stories of the bunch, left me both confused and cold; I blame a lot of it on the swiftly shifting art, but it was hard to tell from one page to the next what was going on--is Shilo being chased by a car? Is a wrecking ball coming? Are there a lot of people around, or none? This one bears special attention because of all of the hype surrounding the New Gods these days, but it was hard for me to really get a fix on the character.

    In terms of the overall (or underlying) plot, volume three offers a couple of key answers, though still less than volume two. We know now how both Klarion and Misty can each have the magic dice. The seven weapons, I believe, are the two dice, Gwydion the magician, Justin's sword, and the cauldron, leaving two more yet to be found. There's some relationship between the Sheeda and robots--when Vigilante's soldiers are killed, someone mentions that the giant spiders are robots, and Memnoth suggests the same thing in Limbo Town. Then there's also Agent Helligan's strange statement in Bulleteer #2 (and I did enjoy this bit of continuity from Shining Knight) talking about how the Sheeda are from the future, perhaps suggesting there's still more to all of this than any of the characters have guessed.

    Though parts of the story still leave me bewildered, Grant Morrison has created a compelling tale, and I'm both shocked and saddened to find myself already approaching part four. Morrison said he's created these characters for other writers to pick up, and so far there doesn't seem to be much of that--I'm hopeful that perhaps Morrison will return to them himself, so that the story of the Seven Soldiers might go on.

    [Contains full covers, "what came before" page.]

    Be here for volume four ... tomorrow!

    Friday Night Fights - Seven Soldiers!

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    In keeping with the Seven Soldiers theme here at Collected Editions this week ...

    Seven soldiers make for fourteen fists -- that's a lot of punching!

    (All this hitting and kicking courtesy Bahlactus!)

    Review: Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

    In the second volume of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory, the various connections between the soldiers become startlingly more obvious. Though I was pleased to see this, and increasingly intrigued by the characters' rich backgrounds and detailed common history, parts of the story still disappoint me as a whole--to wit, the evil Sheeda, who seem both one-note in their villainy, and--even though Morrison takes great pains to discuss the Sheeda as extra-dimensional beings--somewhat generic in terms of standard alien invaders. I have found myself checking online to see which, if any, of the Soldiers appear in other DCU titles--while I like these characters and am enjoying their adventures, I think I'm too much of a universe-addict to become too invested in these characters if they'll never appear again.

    Picking up from the last volume, Klarion escapes the Horigal monster with help from the Guardian's subway pirates' train, freeing a group of enslaved children and finding the dice cube left behind by the subway pirates. Meanwhile, the Shining Knight surrenders to the police, only to be attacked and captured by the leader of the Sheeda, Gloriana Tenebrae. Klarion is taken in by Tenebrae's estranged husband Melmoth, and escapes to return home to warn his people of Melmoth's threat. Justin is made to fight the resurrected Galahad, while mob leader Don Vincezno and Justin's horse Vanguard try to stop the Sheeda Hunstman from retrieving the Sheeda's powerful cauldron; the ghostly Ali Ka-Zoom brings Zatanna and her apprentice to Vincezno's mansion, where they rescue Vanguard. The Guardian tries to quit after a difficult mission, but learns that his boss was once a member of a Newsboy Army that included Ali Ka-Zoom and Vincezno, and that he's purposefully been brought together with six other soldiers, without meeting one another, in order to fulfill a prophecy to defeat the Sheeda.

    The last three chapters of Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 2 read almost like one story--which, depending on whether you see these are independent miniseries that connect or a connected series able to be read separately, suggests that at least one goal of Seven Soldiers was met. Certainly, after finishing Volume 2, I can see why DC chose to reprint these titles chronologically rather than series by series--Zatanna #3 follows immediately on the heels of Shining Knight #4, such that reading them separately would steal some of this project's epic fun. (At the same time, one might be tempted to call foul in regards to the whole "the Soldiers never meet one another" thing, considering that Zatanna flies away on the Shining Knight's horse, but I digress.)

    And though the last issue of The Manhattan Guardian doesn't deal directly with the events going on in Los Angeles (and kudos to Morrison for setting his heroes not only in different mini-series, but even on different coastlines), the revelations in Guardian #4 certainly explain some of the relationships between the supporting characters. While I like the idea that Stargard, Larry, Don Vincezno and others know each other from the Newsboy Army, it feels at the same time like a bit of a cop-out--there's no way for these brand new heroes to know each other, so their supporting casts (interesting, but not as interesting as the heroes themselves) are the real movers and shakers of the story.

    I've decided that I fall in the camp of enjoying connected stories over one-off tales, given how the Shining Knight/Zatanna crossover piqued my interest--can you imagine if Grant Morrison orchestrated a DC Universe crossover this way? Because indeed, what is Seven Soldiers but the countdown to Infinite Crisis on a smaller scale, and with mini-series instead of regular titles? We saw some of this in the Superman/Wonder Woman/OMAC Project crossover, "Sacrifice," but I'd be eager to see it happen again with this greater level of detail.

    [Contains full covers, "what came before" page.]

    Continuing on now to volumes three and four, and then to our Seven Soldiers wrap-up.