Dr. Fate, Countdown to Mystery, and More Pain Comics?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interestingly, if you click over to Amazon you'll see they have the title of Dr. Fate: Countdown to Mystery listed as "Dr. Fate: More Pain Comics."

Anyone know what that's about?

UPDATE: Seems that's the name of the first issue of the series. Still, seems an inopportune Amazon listing ...

Review: Fallen Angel Volume 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

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

Peter David's and David Lopez's Fallen Angel is one of the best superhero comics not set in the DC or Marvel universe (though given its connections to David's run on Supergirl, that assertion is unproven) to come down the pike in a long time. The main character, Lee, is a strong female character, sexual without being overly sexualized and posses a wonderful dry sense of humor along with a strong dose of moral ambiguity. Lee conforms in some ways to the Bogart/Mitchum archetype of laconic with a heart of gold, except for she's female, barefoot, and super-powered. Her other major divergence from the Bogartian norm is that she often winds up harming the people who seek her help, if she deems them deserving of their bad situation.

The other characters are well drawn and memorable, though David does show an unfortunate tendency for almost Dickensian-style naming. Lee's main adversary and the urbane and scheming magistrate of the city of Bete Noire is named Doctor Juris, but despite his name shares an intriguing relationship with Lee. The city's chief examiner (i.e. police detective) is the North African Slate, who appears very much inspired by Peter Lorre and Claude Rains. Then there is the sleazy heroin-dealer, Asia Minor, who resides in a mausoleum and lusts for Lee. Of the supporting cast, these three are the most interesting because if their shifting relationships with Lee, they may be lovers/allies in one issue, attempting to kill each other the next as circumstances alter.

Peter David grafts into the story an excellent sense of mystery, even while throwing some pretty obvious clues in as to the nature of his heroine and Dolf the bartender. Fallen Angel collects the first six issues of the series, the first two stories being one-shots, while the last four tell of Lee's battle against a city-destroying monster powered by sex and death.

Lopez' art is beautiful and he admirably draws not just the fight scenes, but the homes of each character where David has him throw in little easter eggs of insight, like the Wings of Desire poster in Lee's room. Lopez's sketchbook at the end, though only two pages, is cool with early versions of Lee looking at bit like Robin's ex-girlfriend Spoiler. I think this is Lopez's first major artistic job, and I will be checking out his run on Catwoman with Will Pfeifer.

Famous science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison provides the introduction which, although self-indulgent, does provide great insight into the story (something missing from most trade paperback introductions). Ellison points out where David has incorporated Judaic elements into his heroine and lists several little mysteries in the story. For instance why is Lee is always barefoot?

David's writing expertly blends superhero action, noirish and ambiguous characters, Vertigo-style mythology, and supernatural horror. Because of this series I will probably read some of his other work on Spider-Man and Sachs and Violens (who apparently appear later in Fallen Angel).

There are a few problems besides the annoying names. The covers are in the back of the book with the sketchbook instead of incorporated with the story (though it is easy to tell where an issue begins and ends). The avoidance of the word "fuck" can sometimes be annoying in the book. It is a mature readers title, there's no need for a squeamishness that draws more attention to itself than the actual word would. I also can't figure out why Fallen Angel is not a Vertigo title; the book probably could have found an audience capable of sustaining itself at that imprint.

Finally, the city of Bete Noire is supposed to be one of the major draws of the series. It is designed as a fictional town along the lines of DC's Gotham, Opal, or St. Roch with supernatural overtones. And I was underwhelmed. I see nothing cool, new or different about the actual appearance or cityscape. I see no evidence of why it needs to be situated close to New Orleans. The major questions about the city that are interesting is why is it so different after dark, where is the police force, is Doctor Juris the only form of government for it, does the city actually affect world events, and at night is it some sort of land of the dead and/or damned. These are very plot-specific questions, and unlike Opal or Gotham I don't feel like the city breathes on its own apart from the necessities of plot. But, there are several trades to go, and I should reserve judgment until I see how David plays out the mysteries of the city.

Rating: 4 out of 5 t'fillins (Jewish prayer vestments for males worn by Lee)

13 on 52: Week Fifty

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(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 Fifty: So-so issue, but nice hero gathering. Infinity cowardice unexpected. Yay Booster's back!

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

Review: Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 26, 2008

I knew, of course, that Gail Simone's run on Birds of Prey was coming to an end, but somehow I missed that it was this particular trade, Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter, was her last. As such, I reached the final pages and their swan song tone with not a little bit of regret.

It's rare, I think, that a second writer does as good, if not better, of a job on a title that the initial writer created--witness the always-lagging Nightwing after Chuck Dixon left, versus Birds of Prey--and that alone is testament to the strength of Simone's writing. That Birds of Prey has been funny, suspenseful, and complex throughout Simone's run has just been icing on the cake.

The wrap-up of Dead of Winter offers a nice coda to Simone's Birds of Prey run, if only a little rushed. One of my favorite scenes from Simone's Birds of Prey is when Huntress confronts Oracle about recruiting Huntress to the Birds in order to "fix" her; in the end, Oracle acknowledges that despite the pitfalls, the Birds of Prey are about helping struggling people, both super-heroic and otherwise.

Oracle also distinguishes herself from both Batman and Spy Smasher, noting her goal as Oracle has never been about control nor TK, though she's often been tempted by both. In this way, the Spy Smasher storyline offers a thematic tie to the end of the series, though one can tell Simone never got a chance to use Spy Smasher to the extent that she wanted; creating this giant rival for Oracle and having Spy Smasher take over the Birds only to be defeated after one mission feels unavoidably anti-climactic. And while I decried the Mary Sue feel of the young Misfit in my review of Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits, indeed the final scene with Oracle and Misfit worked quite well.

This is all without mentioning how Simone uses her last storyline to resurrect former Justice Leaguer Ice, dead since before Zero Hour hit the stands (no word on how this strikes fans who believe Dan Didio is out to get members of Justice League International). I, for one, am glad to see Ice returned--with reservations, of course.

While Ice's resurrection feels just plain old good-hearted, one wonders where that character--so much a part of the comedy of the Justice League of the 1980s--will fit in nowadays. Will she bring an unnecessary moral voice to Fire's actions in Checkmate? Will she invariably be hurt by an otherwise-reformed Guy Gardner in Green Lantern Corps? As always, I reserve final judgement until I read the stories, but my concern is that lesser writers might use Ice to drag good characters backward, rather than moving everyone forward.

Simone's Secret Six characters appear here as well, and the Six's situational morality (that is, changes based on the situation) fits very well with the Birds' think-on-your-feet mentality; as it is, the two groups team-up by the end. I wondered in my review of Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation at Simone's choice to jettison sixth member Mad Hatter from the group; here, she replaces Hatter with Harley Quinn, an ingenious if inexplicable choice--and the funniest moment is the sense you get that Six member Ragdoll will dispose of Quinn in not too long, too. Though Simone's departure from Birds of Prey makes another appearance by the Six unlikely, hopefully Simone may bring the Birds back in her new Secret Six series; Huntress and Catman's mutual attraction definitely bears further attention.

Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter brings an era to a close, and all-in-all Gail Simone closes it well, including the final scene with a bevy of Birds of Prey guest starts (can anyone identify the guy in the cross mask and the woman in white?). Hopefully the next writer can do this series the same justice.

[Contains full covers.]

What to read, what to read? We might step outside the DCU normal for a bit with Fallen Angel (or maybe Helmet of Fate), but check back nonetheless for another review soon!

Review: Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Secret Six joins a new breed of DC Comics post-Infinite Crisis that we've discussed here before, including Checkmate, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and the one that started things off, Outsiders. It's interesting that while Infinite Crisis in the main lightened the tone of the DC Universe, reuniting the disjointed Big Three, it's spin-offs have indicated a darker trend in mainstream comics, featuring morally-gray heroes who kill when necessary. Many of these comics show more as their center the Authority than the Justice League.

Whether books like Secret Six and the Outsiders are good for comics -- even though I enjoy them -- is hard to say. In reviewing the Authority I suggested that the Wildstorm team was never really meant to be an ongoing series; what Warren Ellis created was groundbreaking, but the Mark Millar run that followed seemed to parody itself. In its wake we have books like Secret Six and Outsiders, where the teammates are somewhat sexually promiscuous, the violence is more explicitly bloody, and often the teams are heroes-for-hire.

Both of these books are intelligent and extremely well-written, but we have to acknowledge a sea-change in the way we look at comics when books like Secret Six, Outsiders, and Checkmate aren't set apart like Authority, but rather utilize familiar characters like Nightwing, Green Lantern, and the Mad Hatter. I'm curious to see what the new batch of DC comics will be after Final Crisis, whether the response to these series has been good enough to warrant more of the same, or if we'll see a shift in the tone of comics once again.

To be sure, Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation is a fun book, with Gail Simone's trademark humor and more sex and violence than she would otherwise get to use on Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman. Among the highlights here are Simone's use of the team's new temporary sixth member, the Mad Hatter. Though Simone plays fast and loose with Hatter's powers, he becomes a better villain for it, and the final battle between the diminutive Hatter and Dr. Psycho is creepy, bloody, and hilarious. I didn't expect Simone to jettison Hatter from the group in the end, though perhaps the sixth spot will remain open for a rotating guest villain -- based on Villains United, this offers plenty of possibilities.

A group of oddball villains, of course, deserve a group of oddball heroes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the Doom Patrol appearing about halfway through this story. There's not much to their cameo, which could easily have been accomplished by the Power Company or Shadowpact, but I do find the new Doom Patrol -- with Mento, Beast Boy, Bumblebee, and Vox -- quite compelling. It doesn't look like a reappearance in Teen Titans is on the horizon for them, so let me be the first to suggest Simone keep them around in the new Secret Six series, perhaps as a reoccurring enemy for the team; I'd certainly like to see it.

This particular Secret Six story is almost a direct sequel to Villains United, as the Six face down a couple of foes with grudges. With that settled, it'll be interesting to see where Simone takes the group starting fresh in their forthcoming ongoing series. Six member Deadshot compares the group to the Suicide Squad, and the comparison is not that far off; it strikes me that Secret Six still needs to differentiate itself in some way -- is this a villains book, or a book about these particular characters (and if so, can they support a book on their own)? On one hand, I'd like to see a point to the Secret Six's missions beyond just profit, but on the other, the insular stories -- rescuing Scandal from her father, for instance -- make the book seem too "friendly"; I'm not sure I like the Six so chummy. All of these will be things to watch in the next collection.

[Contains full covers.]

Following this track, I'm on now to read Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter, with appearances by -- you guessed it -- the Secret Six. Join us here next time, won't you?

13 on 52: Week Forty-Nine

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(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 Forty-Nine: Much mayhem ensues (hope Tzu lives!). War despite JSA averting crisis.

Got your own thirteen words on 52: Week Forty-Nine? Post them here!

Review: Flash: Blood Will Run trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 19, 2008

We've already discussed Geoff Johns' Flash run in some detail here on Collected Editions, but one book we never got a chance to look at was Johns and Ethan Van Sciver's pre-Green Lantern: Rebirth team-up, the Flash: Iron Heights graphic novel. In the spirit of completion, however, DC Comics recently released a reprint of the Flash: Blood Will Run trade paperback, now complete with Iron Heights, and I had a chance to read it the other day on the heels of Flash: Wonderland.

Iron Heights is a surprisingly dark story. Certainly Johns' Flash run dealt with some emotional territory, but with colorful artists Scott Kolins and Howard Porter, there was more a sense of superheroics than danger. In this tale of a tongue-severing serial killer loose in the Iron Heights prison, Johns channels straight horror, and it's not surprising that DC chose to set this on its own instead of keeping it in the main title.

At the same time, including Iron Heights in the Blood Will Run trade nicely fills in some wanting gaps. I always thought, reading the trades, that the reveal of Blacksmith lacked some suspense; with Iron Heights, we get a tease of the villainous mastermind before the big reveal. There's also a bit more focus on the villains Meltdown, Girder, and Double Down, smoothing their appearances later. Given how well we've come to know Johns creates believable villains, Iron Heights is a strange creature; it seems almost intended to throw out a bunch of villains all at once, where later we find Johns much more adept at working villains naturally into his stories.

In fact, it's startling how good Blood Will Run is, as compared to Flash: Wonderland before it. From the first cinematic page where Wally West runs onto the screen, to Scott Kolins amazing two-page spreads, to the blockbuster cross-town fight between Flash and the Weather Wizard, Blood Will Run takes the reader's breath away. How much of the difference is due to Kolins' art, or Johns receiving the Flash title as his own in this volume, is hard to say, but Blood Will Run certainly sets the trajectory for Johns' career to follow far better than Wonderland does.

This volume also reminded me of Johns' emphasis on the Rogues in his initial volumes of Flash, something that fell away, even with the Rogue War, in favor of Identity Crisis storylines and others toward the end of the run. To that end (and having seen Scott Kolins eye-popping art again), I'm doubly excited for the inevitable collection of Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge, re-teaming the writer and artist -- now that's a book worth buying in hardcover!

[Contains full covers.]

Really got to take a look at the bookshelf ... even I'm not sure what's next! See you again soon.

Review: Flash: Wonderland trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

I've been waiting for the collection of Geoff Johns' first Flash story, Wonderland, for quite a while now. Reading it, of course, it's easy to see why DC Comics chose to start the Johns Flash collections with Blood Will Run. Wonderland is a more stand-alone story than the others in Johns' run, and with art by Angel Unzueta, it's also a bit rougher than what we've come to expect from Johns. In that way, Flash: Wonderland stands as not just a Flash story, but as something of an interesting historical record of those early days of the modern DC era, when it wouldn't be uncommon to hear someone say, "Geoff who?"

Wonderland finds Flash Wally West waking up in a topsy-turvey universe where lightning never struck any of the Flashes; I don't spoil much by mentioning that Mirror Master turns out to be involved, and also Captain Cold. As a precursor to the rest of Geoff Johns' Flash run, a number of the thematic elements are present here, including the ways in which Wally's relationship with the Rogues differs from Barry Allen's, and how Wally and Captain Cold are in ways more alike than different. Wally's concern at finding himself a school teacher rather than a super-hero is also pointed, in light of his later regaining of his secret identity. In this way, and in light of the fantastic Flash run that follows, Wonderland is worth Flash fans checking out.

At the same time, Wonderland reads unquestionably like the fill-in issues it was meant to be, making no real changes to the Flash character or continuity. The beats of the story are somewhat heavy-handed -- the final villain's beef with Wally regards Wally's choice to follow Barry Allen's legacy, and Wally must protest, for the umpteenth time, that he's his own man. Johns is following here very carefully in the footprints left by Mark Waid, without his trademark take on his heroes' cities and supporting casts, and his Flash story won't really begin to take flight until the next trade. Unzueta's artwork, as well, is functional but not ground-breaking, and one wonders (only briefly) just how much a role the next Flash artist, Scott Kollins, had in bringing to Johns' writing the attention it deserved.

It's notable also that while Flash: Wonderland appears rooted in Flash history -- the villain here is supposedly someone Barry and Wally fought as Flash and Kid Flash -- the history instead comes just from Johns' imagination. This is a change from the deeply continuity-wrought JSA and Infinite Crisis that Johns will write later, and again suggests Johns' position at that time as a writer finding his feet. Flash: Wonderland isn't a perfect story, but it is one worthy of being collected, and I'm glad regardless to finally have the volume in my hands.

[Contains full covers.]

A little more Flash on the way, and we'll see what we tackle from there. Any suggestions?

13 on 52: Week Forty-Eight

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(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 Forty-Eight: Admirable nine-panel grid, but wished it had Renee-as-Question. Story ending.

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

Collections of Recent DC Material - What's Missing?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

[Collected Editions reader Mark Lafrenais was nice enough to send us this excellent run-down of what DC Comics are missing from recent collections. Take a look!]

With the recent announcement of DC's provisional collection schedule to December, I thought it would be timely to take a look back over the last few years and see what seems unlikely to be collected. In recent years a higher percentage of DC comics are being collected and since One Year Later the collection plans have been fairly comprehensive, but not entirely so.

The aim of this list is not to criticize DC for not collecting everything, but rather so that people who (like myself) generally prefer to read in collections know what is not included and can source the original comics if they think they are missing out. I am also not addressing the whole "hardcover and paperback" issue -- Paul Levitz has recently touched on this in his Newsarama column, intimating that DC are looking to move to shorter gaps between HC and TP editions, as is standard practice in the book trade. So this list refers to comics which do not seem to be in a collection of any nature.

I've used December 2005 as the starting point, as this is when One Year Later started. I've restricted myself to DC Universe books only -- Vertigo, Wildstorm, Johnny DC etc may be an interesting exercise for another day. I've left off all recent books which look that they will be collected in due course. And I have split the list into five categories, as follows:

1. Miniseries
  • Omega Men 1-6 (Gabrych and Flint)

  • OMAC 1-8 (Jones & Guedes)

  • The Next 1-5 (Williams & Smith)

  • Rush City 1-6 (Dixon & Green)

  • Man-Bat 1-5 (Jones & Huddleston)

  • Batman: Journey Into Knight 1-12 (Helfer & Huat)

  • Batman/Lobo: Deadly Serious 1-2 (Keith)

  • JLA/Hitman 1-2 (Ennis/McCrea)

I was surprised to find so many uncollected miniseries, as these days 5 or 6 issue miniseries are more or less designed for collection. The latter two may well end up in later Lobo or Hitman collections, and the Batman story may see collection in due course if Batman material for collection hits a quiet spot.

2. Odds and Ends

  • JLA: New Frontier Special - A difficult one, as Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier has been through the publishing schedule, with paperbacks and an Absolute edition available. If another edition is then soon issued including this and no other new material, cries of "rip off!" would heard with some justification. Perhaps there is more New Frontier material due down the line? (There is also a King Faraday story by Cooke and set in the same continuity in Solo 5)

  • 52 Back-Ups - The back ups are the only parts of 52 not yet collected, and a collection would have been expected but there is no immediate sign of it on the horizon.

  • Countdown to Mystery (Eclipso back-ups)

  • Countdown to Adventure (Forerunner back-ups) - Previous back up series such as Dr 13 and the Weird have been collected or included in collections, but these back-ups have not been scheduled with the lead material.

  • DC Infinite Holiday Special (CE note - we see some of these in Supergirl, Flash, and elsewhere)

  • DC Infinite Halloween Special (CE note - we see one of these in Batman: Private Casebook)

  • Secret Files and Origins - There is no expectation that any of these would be collected together in their entirety, although individual stories from all of these have been included in various collections as appropriate.

3. Cancelled Series

  • Firestorm 28-34 - There was one post-OYL collection, but no sign of a collection for the rest (including a McDuffie three parter).

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis 46-57 - Despite Busiek taking over scripting at OYL, this series never really took of and only attracted one collection. Perhaps the common link between Firestorm and Aquaman was an unfamiliar lead character?

  • Blood of the Demon 13-17 - This book was already destined for cancellation at OYL, despite John Byrne being in charge.

  • JLA Classified 32-36, 42-49 - Only parts of this would ever be collected. 37-41 was Milligan's "Kid Amazo," and 50-54 was Stern & Byrne on "Now and Then."

  • JSA Classified 10-20, 23, 24, 26-31, 34-39 - As with JLA Classified. Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns collects 21 and 22, and the other stories not on the list will be included in the upcoming JSA Presents: Green Lantern collection.
4. General Ongoing Series

  • Atom 19 - This was a fill-in issue written by Keith Champagne. A previous fill in -- issue 16 by Roger Stern -- was included in The Hunt for Ray Palmer collection.

  • Birds of Prey 110-112 - The Dead of Winter collection cuts off at 108, and the next collection Metropolis or Bust starts from 113. Issue 109 is included in the Green Arrow/Black Canary - Road to the Altar collection, and the missing issues 110 to 112 are written by Tony Bedard. He is back on the book with 118, and it is therefore possible these issues may be included in the next collection.

  • Catwoman 79-82 - Catwoman has now been announced as cancelled with issue 82, but the forthcoming Crime Pays collection cuts of at 78. Now the book is cancelled, it is possible this collection may be extended to cover all 9 issues to the end of the series.

  • Teen Titans 48, 49 - This was a two-part Amazons Attack crossover, and this may be these issues do not seem to be collected despite being written by (short-term) regular writer Adam Beechen.

5. "The Big Three"

To start with a general comment - you would have thought that to maximize sales for periodicals and collections for their "jewels in the crown" DC would be looking to hire experienced and reliable creative teams to produce consistent and sequential storylines to a regular schedule (Superman in the late '80s and '90s is a shining example). Guests from other media or with a history of late delivery could then be hired for miniseries and specials, rather than providing sporadic and inconsistent work for the mainline titles as has recently been the case, which surely will have an impact on revenue. Hopefully recent changes may have gone some way to turning things around.

a. Batman 659-662; Detective 835-837; Legends of Dark Knight 201-214
In fairness, there has been less of an issue with Batman than the other two. Batman 659-662 is the "Grotesk" storyline by Ostrander and Mandrake, and may possibly be collected in some form once the Morrison run is over. The Dini collection Death and the City cuts off at 834; 838-39 are Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossovers, and the next Dini collection Private Casebook runs from 840. Of the three missing issues, 835 and 836 are a two parter by Rozum, whilst regular writer Dini pens 837. Batman Confidential is already scheduled be collected to 12, and later solicitations are also for multipart stories which could be independently collected. We are unlikely to see collections of the later Legends of Dark Knight stories.

b. Wonder Woman 5, 11-13

Back on track now with Gail Simone writing, but fitting in around their star guest writers meant fill-ins for issue 5 (Pfeifer) and 11-13 (J.Torres, crossing over with Amazons Attack -- a possible collection with Teen Titans 48 & 49?) (CE note - One of my fears is that Amazons Attack did so poorly that DC might not reprint the companion issues. This would be a shame.)

c. Superman 660, 661, 676; Action 850 & Annual 10; Superman Confidential 6-10, 12-14

Superman 660, 661 were fill ins in the middle of the much delayed "Camelot Falls" storyline, by regular scripter Kurt Busiek. Superman 676 is a standalone story prior to James Robinson coming on board as writer -- it was to be by Keith Champagne and about the chap in the corner of the front of Action 1 with his head in his hands (CE note - really?!), but is now a story by Vito Delasante originally scheduled for Superman Confidential 9 -- perhaps because the Siegel family now have the rights to Action 1 following the recent legal judgement? Parts of Action 850 are collected in the forthcoming Supergirl - Beyond Good and Evil, which seems odd as it a one single story, unlike Action Annual 10, which is styled as an old fashioned annual with five stories, all by Geoff Johns.
Superman Confidential is cancelled at 14, with the delayed "Kryptonite" collection compiling 1 to 5 and 11. Issues 6 and 7 are a two parter by Palmiotti and Gray, 8-10 by Abnett and Lanning, and 12-14 by Clay Moore and Phil Hester.

d. Superman/Batman 26, 34-36, 43, Annual 1 and 2

Issue 26 was the special issue by Jeph Loeb's late son Sam, and 27 was included in the Supergirl: Candor collection. 34-36 was a three parter by Mark Verheiden, Marc Guggenheim and Pat Lee, and 43 is an Abnett/Lanning fill-in. Both annuals are standalone stories by Joe Kelly -- it should be noted that Annual 1 is collected in Superman/Batman - The Greatest Stories vol 1, which otherwise contains older material. Add 34-36 to 43, the annuals and the previously uncollected issue 7, and that would make a nice book.

I hope that this is of interest to some people, and I would be interested to receive any comments or corrections. I'll be looking to update this list on a regular (possibly every 6 months?) basis. (CE note - Please do!)

Review: Superman: Redemption trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 12, 2008

There's nothing inherently special about Superman: Redemption. In fact, the stories by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza collected here are essentially fill-ins that I imagine wouldn't have been collected at all were it not for the publishing delays from the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Action Comics team. But nevertheless, I'm very pleased that DC published this collection of semi-related, thematically linked Superman stories. For those of us still struggling with the disconnect between waiting for trade paperbacks while wanting to stay current and complete with our favorite monthly titles, it seems to me this is how fill-ins should be done.

Superman: Redemption contains four issues, most written by regular Superman writer Busiek. The first uses, at least as a framing narrative, the events of Superman: Camelot Falls volume 1, placing the trade nicely in Superman continuity; the story is not essential to Camelot Falls, but serves as kind of a "behind the scenes" moment. The second two-part story is less routed in continuity, but retains characters from the first.

Each of these two stories deals with a question of religion--whether Superman's super-heroic actions are worthy of religious acclaim, and second whether Superman has a right to stand in the way of divinely-motivated heroes. Busiek and Nicieza, rightly, don't venture too far into these lofty questions in such a small space, and the endings of each tale tends to avoid the larger issues--letting alone that Superman never encounters any of the actually-divine characters of the DC Universe, like Zauriel. What I did like in Nicieza's tale was the glimpse of how young Clark broke away from the religion of the Kents in the childhood; Nicieza creates powerful metaphors here for the multi-faceted relationship many people have with religion, and I thought it was well-handled.

The final story, dubiously celebrating Superman's 666 issue, is written by Busiek with art by comics legend Walt Simonson. The story is a near-Elseworlds tale of Superman fighting a Kryptonian demon, and it's hard to say if the tale has any real relevance to current Superman doings, or if it was a horror tale created just for Simonson's art.

There are vague, if heavy-handed, tied to Superman: Last Son here, with a dream-Lois craving "pickles and ice cream" and the demon berating Superman for having murdered, when Superman can't remember such. This opens a large can of worms, suggesting there are still characters who remember (and can therefore blame) Superman for his execution of General Zod, even as Last Son overwrites that story; had Busiek offered more of a tie to Countdown's multiple realities, I might find this suggestion fascinating instead of confusing. Still, though Simonson's art is a little "old-fashioned" for a monthly title, I enjoyed the guest appearance here.

Casual readers will probably want to save their pennies and skip Superman: Redemption (at $12.99, it's about $3.25 per comic if you don't get the trade at a discount), but I'm glad to see this kind of collection. The framing narrative and efforts to ground this trade in continuity make it feel like more than just fill-in to me, and at base that's all I need to enjoy a Superman tale.

[Contains full covers.]

On now to Flash: Wonderland, and then I'll be taking a good look at the spinner rack to see what's next.

Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone By trade paperback (Image Comics)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

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

I heard nothing but good things about Robert Kirkman's and Tony Moore's zombie series The Walking Dead from several sources whose taste I trust very much including Ed Brubaker and my local comic shop owner. But even paying just six dollars for the first trade, I felt I wasted my money. My dissatisfaction with the series is nearly total and as far as I know, unique to myself. So I'd very much like to hear from people who think my analysis is flawed, believe the series improves in future volumes or who have had a similar bad experience.

To start with the teaser on the back of the book is both pretentious and wrongheaded. In effect it says that "The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility ... In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living." What does "frivolous necessity" even mean? And why is responsibility not possible in a commercial world? The implication that you are only truly living if you are struggling for survival is ridiculous. Human life ought to aim for virtue and flourishing in an Aristotelian sense, not some macho primitivist ideal of a man who has to fight to meet even his basic needs. So no Virginia, there is nothing inherently wrong with government (broadly defined as administrative unit), grocery stores, postal service, or television.

An author should not need to write an introduction to his own work, especially when that work is new. But Kirkman made good points in his introduction. He claims he does not want Walking Dead to be about gory horror (though some is unavoidable with zombies), but social commentary in the grand George Romero tradition. Also Kirkman says he plans to use the open-endedness of a comic series to document the struggles and growth of a band of survivors over a long period of time (instead of the sometimes arbitrary ending points in your two-hour zombie films). Walking Dead is not off to a good start in regards to either one of these goals.

Little social commentary in Walking Dead is not the clichéd "other humans can be more dangerous than the zombies" that the Romero's films, 28 Days Later and several other flicks have covered far more effectively. True, the danger other survivors pose and the fragility of human society may be the staple themes of the genre, but it can accommodate others. The original Dawn of the Dead dramatizes racism and consumerism with zombies and 28 Days criticizes extreme militaristic, scientific, and survivalist mindsets.

The only other commentary Walking Dead offers is that traditional gender roles will be strongly reinforced by the zombie apocalypse. This relates to the Kirkman's second failure in relation to his stated goals, portraying change in characters over time. These characters may change in future volumes, but there so banal at the outset how does it matter how much they change? Rick Grimes, the protagonist, is a blander than vanilla, square-jawed Dudley Do-Right of a cop. His wife Lori is a sapless housewife whose main purpose in life is the biological imperative to spawn off hateful, little brats like their son Carl (who to be fair is an efficient killing machine). The main antagonist in this volume is Rick's best friend and former partner Shane who is in love with Lori because she switched to him as a protector figure during Rick's gunshot induced coma. The reader should forgive her for this infidelity to her original protector/master (I mean husband), since she probably never noticed the change. Other than their different plans for survival, nothing differentiates Rick and Shane.

Lori and all the other female characters in the band of survivors all have their own protector/lover/husband. The attractive young sisters Amy and Andrea have the old RV owner Dale. Carol and her daughter Sophia are in mourning over the loss of their husband/father and young Glenn looks promising as a new one. Donna has her husband Allen. Donna is actually the only woman to question the brave old world where the women are assigned laundry duty while the men go hunting wondering "if we'll still be allowed to vote" after things return to normal. She is duly ridiculed by Lori for such independent thought and then almost immediately portrayed as helpless while a zombie attacks her. And of course she is shown to be hypocritical and puritanical to completely undermine any credibility the character might have. Lori has her own brush with independent thought when she objects to Rick arming their seven-year old son. She is of course duly and publicly overruled and then proven wrong. And despite Andrea's skill with a handgun, at no point in the story do any of the female characters kill a zombie. Whatever for when they have the men around?

The only nice and/or original touches in Walking Dead were Rick's realization that the zombies differentiate between themselves and the living through smell, the gory result of that discovery, and the fate that Jim, a mechanic who watched his family torn apart in Atlanta, chooses.

Another problem with Walking Dead is the ridiculously inaccurate picture it gives of Atlanta and its surroundings. Loren over at Suspension of Disbelief gives a few examples. These problems include that it rarely ever snows in Georgia despite the harsh winters shown in the comic, the area around Atlanta is if anything overdeveloped and woods in easy walking distance of the city would be rare, and Atlanta's overdevelopment includes suburbs in almost every direction from the city, but the comics shows a city that abruptly ends in countryside like Opal City in Starman. Georgia has large black and Hispanic minority groups, but the band of survivors is uniformly white bread (except for Glenn who looks Asian) and off course all straight. This lack of diversity in the characters is not just in terms of race and sexual orientation, but extends to their personalities and occupation reinforcing my earlier point about their blandness. Rick and Shane were cops, all of the adult women except for the younger sisters Amy and Andrea were housewives and Dale and Allen were both salesmen as was Carol's dead husband.

Genre stories involving zombies (especially Romero's films) are not normally noted for compelling characters, but generally work with the momentum of the plot and the work of the actors. As a comic book Walking Dead depends on the writer's dialogue and the artist's drawing of the characters to give them life without benefits of actors. Tony Moore's black and white art is serviceable, but I don't think the dialogue Kirkman gives the characters is enough to make them stand out for what is purportedly a character study.

The format of the trade itself is annoying, lacking page numbers, clear issue breaks, and the original covers.

Walking Dead espouses a dangerous philosophy of life and an oppressive system of gender roles as natural, portrays bland white people in an inaccurate representation of Georgia, and adds very little to the movies from which it is derived. I don't recommend reading it and wonder why it has received such good press.

13 on 52: Week Forty-Seven

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

(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 Forty-Seven: Liked Diana's resolution better than Rucka did. Want happiness for Buddy in end.

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

Countdown to Final Crisis trade paperback reading order

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

OK, this is by no means complete, but here's a beginning, tentative attempt at creating a Countdown to Final Crisis trade paperback reading order. I would appreciate anyone who's been reading these books, with as few spoilers as possible, chiming in if you think you see something that needs to be reordered.

The overarching logic here is that, since one reads a full story in a trade, we place full stories side-by-side to be read in a way that hopefully spoils neither one. To that end, for example, Death of the New Gods ends about the same time Countdown to Final Crisis does, so maybe it needs to be placed after Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 4, or maybe not. It's that kind of thing I'm still working on, and could use help with.

Updates will be made as we go along. As such:

Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 1

- Teen Titans: Titans East

The Lightning Saga:
- Flash: The Fastest Man Alive: Full Throttle
- Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga (Countdown 50)
- Superman: Camelot Falls Vol. 2

- Superman: 3-2-1 Action (between Countdown 42 and 41)

Amazons Attack:
- Wonder Woman: Love and Murder
- Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack
- Catwoman: Catwoman Dies
- Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout
- Outsiders: Five of a Kind

Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding:
- Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar
- Green Arrow/Black Canary: The Wedding Album
- Justice League of America: The Injustice League

- Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Vol. 1

- Metal Men

Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 2

- 52 Aftermath: Black Adam (Countdown #49)

- Countdown to Adventure

- 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen

- Suicide Squad: From the Ashes

Teen Titans/Blue Beetle/Eclipso:
- Teen Titans: Titans of Tomorrow
- Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars
- Countdown to Mystery

- Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Brave New World

- Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer

Death of the New Gods:
- Death of the New Gods
- Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust
- Teen Titans Presents: Wonder Girl
- Titans: Old Friends
- Superman/Batman: Torment

Sinestro War (Finale):
- Green Lantern: Tales of the Sinestro Corps War
- Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War Vol. 2
- Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
- Blue Beetle: Endgame (between GL Corps 17 and Superman-Prime)

- Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists

- The Question: Five Books of Blood

Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 3

Salvation Run:
- Justice League of America: Sanctuary
- JLA: Salvation Run
- Gotham Underground

- Countdown Presents: Arena

- Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer (updated)
- All-New Atom: The Hunt for Ray Palmer (updated)

Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 4
- Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (updated)

I'd love any help or suggestions anyone could send, and if you want to reprint this, I'd appreciate your linking back. Of course, eventually we'll move this over to the DC Comics Trade Paperback Timeline when it's done. Thanks!

Review: Jack Kirby's Fourth World Ominbus Volume Two collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, May 05, 2008

I remembered what Orion's dark secret was in all of this ... but I'd forgotten about Scott Free.

Much as I enjoyed the second volume of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, I get the sense the third volume is where the action's really at. What I was looking for from the Volume One Omnibus was more interaction between the various series, and while we got that here (Lightray in the initial chapters of Jimmy Olsen, and Superman's mention of his meeting with the Forever People later on), I still remain eager for the full, whole-hog crossover.

Of course, the more I read the Fourth World Omnibuses, the more I see just how much Grant Morrison was riffing on Jack Kirby in his recent Seven Soldiers miniseries. Indeed, part of the fun is how close, but not quite, all the characters come to meeting, and how the various stories interlock, almost more than the reader realizes. Case in point is that little secret Orion and Mister Miracle share, binding the two disparate series together.

Also of great use here is Walt Simonson's introduction to the volume, where he positions New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People, and Jimmy Olsen as four perspectives on the same battle: that of the warriors, the contentious objector, the young adventurer, and the citizen bystanders. This perspective really illuminates the way the stories are related, even without the characters meeting. I admit I haven't been a fan of Simonson's Fourth World material, finding it too overwrought and heady, but this exposure to the original Kirby material makes me eager to give Simonson another try.

In his introduction, Simonson praises Kirby's New Gods story "The Glory Boat," and it's a fine story indeed. For every cookie-cutter story in the omnibus -- no matter how wondrous, most of the stories deal with the hero of the moment fighting a random Apokolips creation -- there's ones like "Glory Boat" and the initial Forever People arc, where Kirby's walk-on supporting characters are just as strong and rich as his heroes, that shows the power of Kirby's creations.

Frankly, I think the Fourth World has become distilled -- witness the generic grumpiness of Orion in Grant Morrison's JLA series, versus Kirby's initial three-dimensional hero -- and the Omnibuses are a nice reminder of the power these characters once had. I was especially struck by the scene in this volume, for the first time ever, of Metron flying to the Source Wall and gloating over those trapped there. We seen this sequence so many times (at least thrice, I'm sure, in Superman/Batman) that it's become tired, but just something about seeing Kirby do it for the first time makes me say "Oh, now I get it."

Jack Kirby brought a sheer, unmitigated wildness to his stories, and more than that, you can tell reading these stories that they contain not just Kirby's writing, but his personality. I've enjoyed the first and second Fourth World Omnibus far more than I thought I would -- I don't have the third and fourth yet, but no question they've gone on my wish list.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Walt Simonson, afterward by Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby sketch pages.]

On now to a Superman trade, and then the sky's the limit!

I haven't read DC Universe #0 yet, but ...

Friday, May 02, 2008

I haven't read DC Universe #0, and I don't intend to for a while. Trying not to spoil it for myself is interesting ... Newsarama did a pretty good job leaving the spoilers until after the jump on Wednesday, though now they've got a somewhat telling teaser image on their front page to go along with their Dan Didio interview. And don't get me started on the DC Comics site itself, which blasts "Spoiler Warning" while simultaneously mentioning which comic factors into the spoiler, basically revealing the whole thing right there.

So, I don't know what happens in DC Universe #0 ... but let me say this: it's always kind of troubling when Batman, Nightwing, and Wally (the Flash) West stand side-by-side. Batman and Nightwing are OK -- it's the Bat-Family. Batman and the Flash are OK -- it's the JLA. But when Batman, Nightwing, and the Flash stand side-by-side, you're reminded that Nightwing and the Flash grew up in the Titans together, and that the Flash and Batman aren't contemporaries. And that just makes Batman seem really old.

Like I said, haven't read DC Universe #0 yet. But if what happens is what I think happens (and didn't that already happen, in last year's crossover?), that's my argument against it. Because when Batman, Nightwing, Wally West, and you-know-who all stand side-by-side, then it makes Batman and you-know-who seem really, really old. And that's never good.  That's all.

(Postscript: And then, even as I'm writing this [Thursday], I just read a New York Times article about Free Comic Book Day, and spoiled the whole thing for myself right there. So there you go, spoilers happening live. Only took two days. Rats!)

Review: Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume One collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Even though I'd never read a Jack Kirby story before, I went through the first volume of the Jack Kirby Fourth World Omnibus with a bit of nostalgia. Here was the Guardian, protector of the Project, along with the Newsboy Legion, Dubbilex, the Four-Armed Terror, the Kryptonite Man, all of it serving to take me back to ... the late 1980s?

Imagine how surprised I was to start reading Kirby's Fourth World stories for the first time, only to find them very, very familiar. Without any frame of reference (and nary a blogosphere to explain it), I had no idea that back around 1988, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway and others recreated post-Crisis almost all the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen stories found in this first Kirby volume. Sure, I knew these guys didn't create the Guardian or Apokolips, but the way in which these stories riff on Kirby, almost panel-by-panel (they've got Simian and Mokari, for gosh sake!) is just amazing.

And lest I be misunderstood, I'm not accusing the modern Super-team of plagiarism or anything; indeed what they were doing was recreating Kirby's stories for the new DC Universe, and sometimes even filling in continuity gaps (doesn't the Habitat scene in Death of Superman reference Forever People? Or the Roger Stern Toyman story that takes place at the abandoned Happyland?). But amazingly I can't find a lick of information about this Kirby revival on the 'Net--whereas, if this kind of thing were happening now, we'd have a Newsarama interview, press releases from DC, and the inevitable collected edition.

Kirby's stories, of course, are much looser than the post-Crisis Superman stories that I read first, reflecting the simpler comics sensibilities of the time. For this reason, I expected not to like the Kirby stories as much as I did, perhaps because of my unexpected familiarity. I think I was also expecting more of a Bob Haney Teen Titans "Zowie! Groovy!" feel, though the jargon here was at a minimum--or, in the case of the Forever People, their hippie-talk was so perfectly aligned to their characters as not to be distracting.

The first volume of the Kirby omnibus ended up reminding me very much of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory (though the comparison, most likely, should be reversed). We have issues here of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, all of which read as separate stories from one another, but all of which also interrelate and combine to tell one larger tale. Reading Mister Miracle on its own, one might wait two or three issues to understand that Scott Free's an orphan from Apokolips, but not if one has already gleaned the purpose of a Mother Box from one of the other titles. I found myself eager while reading this story to see the various characters meet, and hopefully such a crossover takes place in the next volume.

I was surprised to find these Fourth World stories published at the beginning of the 1970s, with their overwhelming 1960s "peace and love" vibe; Kirby's protege Mark Evanier writes in his afterward that Kirby was responding in some ways to Nixon and American's general mistrust of government at that time. I'm definitely the wrong one to comment on Kirby's historicity; instead, I took great pleasure in Evanier's note that Kirby actually wrote the Fourth World saga with an eye toward it being read in collected editions much like the omnibuses, believing that bookstore customers were more likely to pick it up that way. As if we really needed proof of Kirby's foresight, there you have it right there.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Grant Morrision, afterward by Mark Evanier, initial Fourth World sketches]

I'm starting on the second Fourth World volume now, and I'll be back soon with more comments. Thanks for reading!