Review: Superman: The Third Kryptonian trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

[Review contains spoilers, including for Superman: Brainiac.]

Kurt Busiek's Superman: The Third Kryptonian finally hit the mark for me. I enjoyed the first part of Busiek's Superman: Camelot Falls, but found the second volume too esoteric and "talky" for its own good. With Third Kryptonian, however, Busiek offers the super-intelligent Superman that I hope will become his legacy on the Superman titles, in a self-contained story that showcases well the Superman family post-Infinite Crisis.

I felt skeptical when Kurt Busiek (with Action Comics writer Geoff Johns) reintroduced Superman's super-intelligence, fearing it would become a way that Super-writers would make Superman super-snotty or super-unrelatable. Instead, Busiek has consistently used Superman's new powers in a way that make the hero a twenty-first century science-fiction intellectual, as when the book Clark Kent is reading is really a hundred books printed super-small.

In Third Kryptonian, we see Superman use his intelligence alongside Batman's detective skills. Busiek thankfully avoids the temptation to make one character "outsmart" the other; instead, Superman and Batman work side-by-side, with Batman providing the design for a power-reducing red-sun watch for Chris Kent and Superman providing the miniaturization. Later, we see Batman utilize a number of Superman's technological advances when defending himself from space pirates. Rather than make Superman inaccessible, Busiek writes the super-intelligence so as to make Superman cool--cooler than cool, or super-cool, perhaps. I didn't think I'd like this change in Superman as much as I do, and it shapes Busiek's entire take on Superman in a very positive way.

Busiek's story here takes place in the weird space left by the long delays in Geoff John's Superman: Last Son; that is, even though Last Son is mostly a self-contained story, Third Kryptonian takes place somewhere in the middle, while Chris Kent lives with Lois and Clark. Busiek gets the opportunity, perhaps even moreso than Johns, to flesh Chris out. Though at times I felt Busiek went too "cutesy" with Chris's dialogue (and similarly, Supergirl too stereotypically "teen"), he uses the theme of family well in Third Kryptonian to put Superman in a number of fatherly roles. The end of Last Son has much more poignancy now that I've seen Superman and Chris interact to a greater extent here.

I will admit that the various minutia of Kryptonian history (often, as it is, shifting and changing) has never held much interest for me; to that end, I found the third Kryptonian herself, Karsta Wor-Ul, potentially the least gripping part of the story, though overall Busiek created an interesting character, and I liked his nods to the Silver Age Superwoman. What I struggled more with here was negotiating what we already know about Superman's history with the new New Earth retcons--Busiek (and Johns) presumably, take great pains to preserve what we know about the established interdimensional Kandor while also giving hints of a new Kryptonian Kandor; at the same time, I was confused by references to a new Kryptonian Doomsday and Eradicator Squad, which Superman understood but that I'm not sure the reader knows anything about.

Indeed, even as I had the sense that Busiek found his Superman stride in Third Kryptonian, I was surprised at just how much of this story seemed to be in service of Geoff Johns' upcoming Superman storylines (while Busiek moves over to Trinity). The numerous mentions of Kandor in the story feed right into Johns' "Brainiac" epic; we also see "New Krypton" foreshadowed heavily--even referenced by name--in the two single stories that round out these collections. On one hand I appreciate the cohesiveness of the new Superman universe, making all the stories relevant to a larger picture; on the other hand, I'm left with the feeling that Third Kryptonian short-changes Busiek just a bit, making this story less important than the Johns tale that comes next (though there are worse things).

To that end, while I enjoyed the two one-shot stories in the end (one involving the Super-family, one with just Superman and Pa Kent), the foreshadowing of Pa Kent's potential doom here borders on over the top. Not once but twice, Superman and Pa Kent talk about how proud they are of one another and how much they love one another--touching, yes, but Busiek and Johns' point is to show us what a great character Pa Kent is, then why not keep keep the character alive rather than kill him off? I'm not, as you can tell, a big fan of this decision, though I reserve final judgment until I actually read the story in question.

[Contains full covers.]

All in all I liked Third Kryptonian a lot, mainly for Kurt Busiek's portrayal of Superman, and my guess is that it'll turn out to be my favorite of Busiek's run. Overall I'm pleased with the Super-universe that Busiek, Johns, and new writer James Robinson are building, and I think it portends good things for the Superman titles.

Next up: Batman: The Black Glove. Join us!

Final Crisis Companion, DC Comics Fall 2009 Paperback Editions Solicited

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fall 2009 DC Comics trade paperback (and hardcover) solicitations just keep coming! There's a bunch of different ones this time, so I've split them up into Final Crisis, Series Collections, Special Reprints. and Paperback Reprints.

Final Crisis
- Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge HC - As expected.

- Final Crisis Companion - Perhaps the biggest headline here; this could collect some of the Final Crisis one-shot material, like the Infinite Crisis Companion, or earlier adventures of Final Crisis characters like the 52 Companion.

Series Editions
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest HC - The next current Jim Shooter collection

- Superman/Batman: Superbat HC - The next Michael Green collection

- Justice League of America: The Second Coming HC - This is most likely Justice League #22-26, if not more.

Special Reprints
- Sandman by Kirby and Simon - I've heard rumor there's a bunch of Kirby/Simon reprint material coming from DC and Titan Books.

- Flash: The Human Race - This follows Flash: Emergency Stop as the next Grant Morrison/Mark Millar collection

- Hitman Vol. 1 SC - Looks like a new round of Hitman collections coming back into print

- JLA Deluxe Vol. 2

- Superman: Tales from the Phantom Zone - Phantom Zone tales across the eras

- Robin: The Teen Wonder - Maybe a collection of Earth-2 Dick Grayson stories?

- Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories HC - Collects stories by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and others

- Static: Rebirth of the Cool - Another Static reprint heralding the character's return.

- Justice League International Vol. 2 SC - I like that DC is releasing these in softcover, too, instead of just in hardcover.

Paperback Reprints
- Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes SC

- Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack SC

- Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War Vol. 2 SC

- Green Lantern: Tales of the Sinestro Corps SC

- The Question: The Five Books of Blood SC

- Superman: Last Son SC

- Wonder Woman: Love and Murder SC

- Justice League of America: The Injustice League SC

- Superman: Escape from Bizarro World SC

- Booster Gold: 52-Pick-Up SC

- Batman: Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul SC

See Final Crisis and other Collected Editions solicitations, and as always, chime in and let us know what's on your to-buy list. And don't miss a bunch of great comics recommendations at the Collected Editions Trade Paperback Store!

Review: Superman/Batman: Torment collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, October 27, 2008

[Contains spoilers for Superman/Batman: Torment]

It's hard to say whether Superman/Batman: Torment presents the right direction for the Superman/Batman title. That is, Torment tells a good (not great) Superman/Batman story, but flies in the face of continuity to do it. This is something we also saw in the previous volume, Superman/Batman: Enemies Among Us, though Torment is even more loosely connected, and I'm not sure this trend will necessarily work for the title.

Consider Torment versus the first, and possibly best, Superman/Batman story, Public Enemies. Public Enemies took place distinctly shortly after Batman: Hush, and dealt with Superman and Batman's overthrow of President Luthor -- a monumental event in DC Comics history that began the universe's move toward Infinite Crisis. Now consider Torment, which takes place in a tricky period after Luthor's fall but before Infinite Crisis*, and whose relevance is quite essentially nil. There's a very minor Final Crisis tie at the end, but overall this book affects nothing, and is even set in the past where it can't affect anything. Both stories are like summer blockbusters, and in that way perhaps worthy of the Superman/Batman title; but whereas Superman/Batman (mainly under Jeph Loeb) used to be built on summer blockbuster events, Torment is all the fanfare without the relevance.

Which is not to say that Torment is a bad story. Most of the appeal of the tale came for me in Burnett's mixing of DC's two main fear-based bad guys, the Scarecrow and Desaad; in that way, Torment covers some new ground. Torment also offers some techno-punk-eseque scenes of Batman amongst the New Gods, and it's always exciting to see the "normal" Batman in these "paranormal" situations (though unfortunately, Torment, for a Superman/Batman tale, becomes largely Batman's story when Superman is lost to mind-control early on). This was also my first introduction to the New God Bekka, married apparently to Orion, and I found her difficult relationship with Batman quite interesting; there's a great moment when the two must stand in an awkward embrace, hidden from the Parademons that surround them on all sides.

I did struggle to understand what Burnett was trying to say about Superman and Batman here -- not that every comic has to have a "message," but oftentimes Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman stories explored in some underlying way either the heroes themselves, or questions of justice or heroism. The "torment" in the title seems to apply most directly to the way in which Superman is plagued by Scarecrow-induced fears at the beginning of the story (though Scarecrow, strangely, also falls away about halfway through the tale). "Torment" can also apply, a bit more metaphorically, to the way Batman suffers for his desire for Bekka, and indeed his consideration of the way he's denied himself love throughout his life.

Though nicely moving, I didn't think these insights into Batman were especially new, and indeed many of them are no longer true of the more emotional post-Infinite Crisis Batman. There's a good moment in the end where Superman, newly rescued, celebrates being alive while in contrast Batman, cut off from Bekka, rues the day -- but this served in a way only to reinforce the separate directions in which Burnett seemed to be pulling the story.

Superman/Batman: Torment isn't a bad story, and artist Dustin Nguyen creates a visual feast the whole way through. But Superman/Batman used to be a super-relevant must-read -- and if the trend shown here continues, I'll soon be questioning whether to even pick it up right away. I hope that's not the case.

[Contains full covers, Dustin Nguyen sketchbook section]

Up next: More Superman with Superman: The Third Kryptonian!

* For you continuity wonks out there, the problem is the appearance of Lex Luthor in this trade. Pete Ross is president here, placing the story after Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, where Lex Luthor went missing before Infinite Crisis -- except Lex appears here, seemingly still in charge of Lexcorp (called Lex-Com in the story). One might suggest that Lex was simply operating under the heroes' radar during this time, except that Batman actually questions Lex in the story! We might perhaps resolve that maybe Batman knew where Lex was during this time, but Superman didn't, but there's any number of stories to contradict this. In all likelihood, Burnett and his editor just didn't concern themselves with where this story fit into continuity. I think the continuity lapse takes away from the story, but others might disagree.

Review: It's a Bird graphic novel (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

[Contains spoilers for It's a Bird]

The list of my favorite graphic novels is admittedly a short list. I like trade paperbacks because, in the course of reading a series, I tend to get two or three readings out of them; a graphic novel, like a regular novel, I'm likely to read only once, and the short time it takes me to read a graphic novel often makes it not worth the price.

One graphic novel I recommend, however, is Steven Seagle's semi-autobiographical It's a Bird. In it, "Steve" gets offered the chance to write Superman (shortly before Seagle himself began writing the title), but considers turning it down because he can't relate to the character. At the same time, Steve's father goes missing, and Steve suspects it has to do with the family's open secret: that Steve's grandmother died of Huntington's disease, and Steve and his parents might also carry the diease.

There's an arc, and an interconnectedness, to the various elements of It's a Bird that I admire every time I read it. Steve begins with disparate problems -- whether to accept the Superman job on one hand, and what happened to his father on the other -- but Seagle ties these together in that Steve's earliest memory of Superman is reading the comic book when his grandmother died.

Steve's indecision about the Superman project slowly gets infected by his depression over how Huntington might affect him (and his decision to marry and have children with girlfriend Lisa). Page by page, Steve shuts down creatively, and then emotionally, until a sequence of pages where Seagle (and artist Teddy Kristiansen) show Steve in bed, unmoving. It's only when Steve untangles his bad memories of the situation in which he read the Superman comic from his enjoyment of the Superman character itself that Steve's able to see the value in writing Superman.

Granted, It's a Bird is hardly the love song to Superman that, say, All-Star Superman is. Though It's a Bird ends with Steve feeling positive toward Superman, the book offers far more reasons why someone would not want to write, or possibly read, Superman than why someone would. Seagle harps especially on Superman's foreignness, his superiority -- even, at one point, questioning why Superman dares to sport yellow on his costume.

One comes to recognize, in Seagle's view, that Superman's biography really makes very little sense, certainly far less than many other superheroes. What Steve decides is that it's not the facts that matter, but rather the symbol -- that Superman symbolizes trying again, or having faith in the unknown. Neither of these seem to me Superman-specific to me, and Steve's decision to start writing Superman at the end of the novel struck me as too easy -- Seagle's done too good a job of convincing us why Superman doesn't make sense for Steve to accept Superman rather than turning to Captain Marvel or another title.

That Seagle's own run on Superman never quite got off the ground is an odd coda to the book. The reader is left wishing the best for Steve, even as we're not sure he's on the right track quite yet (a sense that I think Seagle reinforces through Lisa in the end).

It's a Bird is a real-world, Vertigo study of how we, or at least one man, relates to Superman. Chris at Collected Comics Library talked about books that every comics collection needs, and this is one I recommend.

[Original graphic novel, available in hardcover and softcover.]

You guessed it ... more reviews coming soon!

DC Comics Fall 2009 Trade Paperback Solicitations

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I've got a whole bunch more DC Comics trade paperback solicitations for fall 2009 now, among them Superman: Ending Battle, The Flash: Mercury Falling, Batman: The Black Casebook, and Static: Trial by Fire. Here's the full rundown:

- Terror Titans - collecting the Scott McKeever miniseries

- Birds of Prey: Platinum Flats - the next Tony Bedard collection

- Brave and the Bold Volume Four - by Marv Wolfman, and including the David Hine Green Lantern/Phantom Stranger story. The coming of the Archie heroes may be in the next volume

- Superman and Batman vs. Vampries and Werewolves

- Green Lantern Corps: Sins of the Star Sapphire - the next Green Lantern Corps collection

- Batgirl: Redemption Road - the new Adam Beechen miniseries

- Batman: The Black Casebook - I believe this indeed collects the Golden and Silver Age stories on which Batman: RIP is based.

- Superman: Ending Battle - I'm pleasantly shocked to see a collection of this 2002 Superman crossover, which pitted Superman against almost every villain he had, plus Manchester Black of the Elite. It doesn't hurt that this story was co-written by Geoff Johns.

- Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow Year One - collecting stories, I believe, that came out around the time of the two new Batman movies.

- Green Arrow/Black Canary Volume Three: A League of Their Own

- Rann/Thanagr Holy War Volume One - two volumes for this? Really?

- The Flash (featuring Impulse): Mercury Falling - I'm pretty surprised, but happy, to see DC collecting this Impulse-centric story by Todd DeZago, which included the villain Intertia and saw, well, the fall of Max Mercury. This is one of those books I'm going to pre-order, to encourage DC to publish more volumes.

- Static: Trial by Fire - A new printing, I believe, of the miniseries/collection released about the time of the Static Shock cartoon, but retitled Static rather than Static Shock.

- Booster Gold: A Slice of Time - contains Chuck Dixon and Dan Jurgens stories. This may be switching to paperback.

This is in addition to the already-announced Final Crisis hardcover, Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns, and others.

What's on your to-buy list?

For more trade paperback recommendations, visit the Collected Editions Trade Paperback Store!

Review: JSA Presents: Stars and STRIPE Volume One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seeing Stargirl (nee the Star-Spangled Kid) and S.T.R.I.P.E. jumping out of the bold yellow title page of JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., I was struck by how long this book has been in coming. Consider that when the first issue of this comic first hit the stands, Geoff Johns was a virtual comics unknown, Dan DiDio hadn't yet joined DC Editorial, and Hal Jordan was dead.

In his introduction to this volume, Johns waxes on the creation of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. much like Paul Levitz does with Huntress: Darknight Detective: with a bit of cringing, but also with great affection. Indeed while Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. has its fits and starts, there's also much to like here, and overall it offers a revealing cross-section of it's era's DC Universe.

With trademark Johnsian deftness, Geoff Johns sets up the Star-Spangled Kid's origins, her powers, and her motivations all in just the first few pages of this book. Courtney Whitmore is a regular teenager given powers by the belt of the original Star-Spangled Kid (it's an origin, considering it, that's remarkably similar to another great teen hero, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle) who superheroes mainly to aggravate her stepfather, the original Stripsey. The kid's origins aside, Johns moves right in to her conflicts with any number of ever-present super-villains.

Decompressed, therefore, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is not. Fans of stories done in one or two issues will find much to like here. And it's also clear that Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. was not written with a collection in mind; the chapters weave in and out -- and reference -- Courtney's adventures with the Justice Society and in the Johns-written Day of Vengeance crossover in ways that will likely confuse fans not familiar with this period in DC Universe history (I'm mildly surprised DC didn't include any explanatory text pages).

The stories vary in quality. Johns shines, of course, in the interaction between Courtney and her stepfather Pat Dugan, and ultimately it's their relationship that sells the series. Courtney's battles with some villains, like her opposite number Shiv or the original Star-Spangled Kid's foes Solomon Grundy and the Nebula Man, were riveting in their danger or their use of DC history. Others, like Courtney's fight with her color-power-driven art teacher, smacked of the kind of high school soap opera silliness that, I think, made me stop buying this book the first time around.

I was also surprised to find that the Young Justice appearance here were some of the worst chapters of the bunch, especially considering how powerfully Johns would write many of these characters years later in Teen Titans. For my tastes, Johns wrote the Young Justicers just too stereotypically -- Superboy lusting after everyone, Arrowette hating to get dirty -- for me to enjoy. It's also interesting to see Johns write the Marvel Family, and Captain Marvel, given Billy Batson's later relationship with Courtney in JSA.

Some of the detailed, Seven Soldiers history that Courtney becomes involved with happens in the next volume of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., so I'll definitely be picking that up. I applaud DC for collecting this series, which is a good read overall -- now I'd like to see similar volumes for Chase, Damage ... what else?

[Contains full covers, introduction by Geoff Johns.]

More reviews, coming soon!

Review: Huntress: Darknight Daughter trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Constant readers know that Silver Age or pre-Modern Era stories are hit or miss for me, and as such I was pleasantly surprised by Huntress: Darknight Daughter, a collection of DC President Paul Levitz's early Huntress stories. This Huntress is not the Birds of Prey's Helena Bertinelli, of course, but rather Helena Wayne, daughter of Batman and Catwoman -- though I found myself enjoying this book much in the same vein as a Huntress or Birds of Prey story.

Though Darknight Daughter collects a selection of backup tales, they read effectively like a monthly comic or graphic novel in a way that surprised me. Levitz introduces a supporting cast for Helena in the law firm at which she works, and they have subplots often independent of Helena, making this slice of Gotham feel more realized (the secretary Carole being blackmailed was especially effective). Levitz also worked to tie most of the stories back to Helena and her origins, whether stopping a prison-break lead by Catwoman's old henchman or bringing Helena back to Wayne manor to foil the Joker, in a way that gave every story special relevance.

Much of Darknight Daughter also deals with Helena's romance with District Attorney Harry Sims, who early on learns Huntress's secret identity. Levitz draws out the story as Sims worries both about how Helena's secret compromises his legal career and also whether he can be in a relationship where he's not the "hero" -- though embroiling a female lead in a love affair is slightly stereotypical, Levitz makes Helena and Harry believable enough that I felt for them nonetheless. Not to mention, the relationship between Helena and Harry put me in mind of another relationship -- that is, Helena Kyle and Jesse Reese on the Birds of Prey television show.

The art throughout the book is by Joe Staton, who also drew All-Star Comics. Bob Layton provides initial inks, and these first stories offer perhaps the definitive depiction of Huntress. Steve Mitchell takes over inks in the middle, and I found his art sketchier and less defined than Layton's. If, however, you really want to see the power an inker has over a book, catch Jerry Ordway coming in on inks in the end -- Joe Staton's art suddenly looks overwhelmingly Ordway-ian, even though Ordway's only inking. Throughout, I was surprised by just how many shots there were of Helena in stages of tasteful undress -- I believe I mistakenly thought these stories were from a more innocent time, but in both art and story Darknight Daughter displayed remarkably modern sensibilities.

[Introduction by Paul Levitz, but no cover artwork to be found!]

Some subplots from Huntress: Darknight Daughter are left unfinished, and my hope is that DC will release a second volume of these stories; I know I'd be willing to read more. On now to the first volume of JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E -- I hope you'll join us.

Final Crisis Crossover Rage of the Red Lanterns, Neil Gaiman Batman solicited

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More DC Comics solicitations are now up on Amazon! The Final Crisis-crossover Rage of the Red Lanterns will be collected as Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns in hardcover.

Also solicited is the Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert Batman: RIP followup, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, even before the monthly issues have been solicited. DC Comics will also release a hardcover (the first ever?) of Alan Moore's Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? in connection.

More solicitations as they break!

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Review: Shadowpact: Darkness and Light trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sure, continuity errors also come from the serial nature of comic book storytelling, but one of the great joys of the medium is to see one writer pick up the threads of an earlier writer's story and run with it, answering questions and deepening the story in an interesting and cooperative way. Such is the case with Shadowpact: Darkness and Light, where thirteen years after Mark Waid's Underworld Unleashed, Bill Willingham (with Matt Sturges) re-examines the events that lead Blue Devil to sell his soul to the demon Neron in exchange for fame and fortune. Darkness and Light is hardly a perfect story, but Willingham continues to make the characters remarkably interesting.

Blue Devil's penance for selling his soul to Neron, and causing the death of his friend Marla, has been long in coming, and I've been thrilled to see this addressed in Teen Titans and now in Shadowpact. The press conference Blue Devil held was something I frankly thought I'd never see; Blue Devil's new quest now to free himself of his demonic possession even more so.

Blue Devil, at base, is similar to Booster Gold in his heroing-for-money, but we've long since seen him come around to being a genuine superhero, and when Nightmaster calls him "the heart" of the Shadowpact, Willingham pegs Blue Devil exactly. One of the best things about Shadowpact has been having Blue Devil back from limbo, and I'm hoping he ends up somewhere else after the pending cancellation of the series.

Indeed, all the Shadowpact characters again shine in this trade. Detective Chimp didn't have much to do last time around, but here he calms a schoolbus full of endangered children in a charming scene. I've never felt Willingham adequately fleshed out Enchantress nor Nightshade, but Nightshade gets some impressive moments with her powers (nearly saving all of Chicago), and Enchantress's new mentoring of Warlock's Daughter is quite interesting. I very much liked the scene where Nightmaster recruited the angel Zauriel to the team in Blue Devil's absence, and how Blue Devil's teammates protested Blue Devil's departure.

The only Shadowpact character that's seemed to have fallen away is Ragman. Originally one of my favorites, Rory spent most of the last trade on the sidelines, and here he spends most of his time moping about not being effective enough in battle. I hope that while Rory and Nightmaster are trapped in Nighshade's dimension, Rory will find himself with more to do. He's a character, like Blue Devil, that I wouldn't mind seeing join another team once Shadowpact ends.

Darkness and Light contains two stories, "The Redemption Contract" and the titular "Darkness and Light." Each of these are fairly decompressed, centered around the Shadowpact fighting their nemesis Dr. Gotham in stories that might've filled just one or two issues, not three each. Both Willingham and Sturges pad the stories with a bunch of subplots (Blue Devil's story, mostly), such that the readers still gets plenty of story pages for their money, but you might look back in the end and be surprised that more didn't happen.

Willingham also still has the tendency to switch madcap between scenes (often a page at a time) that's absolutely dizzying. There's also plenty of extraneous dialogue; "Let me extend you to this bus," Nightshade tells Detective Chimp as she does just the same in the panel. There's also a page with the Justice League and the Shadowpact at the end of the third chapter where the heroes blithely summarize the adventure, in a page that might've best been used for something else.

There's a nice similarity between Willingham and Sturges's writing styles that makes Darkness and Light an even read despite the two writers. At the same time, there's some variety in the artists here; Tom Derenick handles most of the art, and Phil Winslade's style in the end is very similar. In the middle, however, we get an issue by Doug Braithwaite that looks almost painted, and it's a great spooky style for Shadowpact. I don't see any more of Braithwaite's art coming up in this series, but I would've been happy to see it.

[Contains full covers.]

Shadowpact ends after the next trade, and I'm sorry to see it happen. After I review the next one, I'll talk a bit more about how I think DC could keep Shadowpact going, despite its untimely end.

More reviews coming soon!

Comic Books - Not Just for Grownups Anymore?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Laura Hudson considers "breaking up" with mainstream superhero comics this week at Comics Foundry, citing the growing juvenility of superhero comics versus the independent comics she reads.

I can, I believe, relate. The remarkably silly (and pitifully sexually gratuitous) take on marriage we saw in Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar is only one in a string of examples I could list of places where I feel embarrassed for superhero comics (which I overall love, and read, comics-wise, almost exclusively).

Sometimes, reading Blue Beetle or Checkmate, for instance, I'm amazed at a writer's characterization and insight; reading Hawkgirl or the offending chapter of Green Arrow/Black Canary, I can't help but wonder: Are the writer and I on the same planet? When the writer came up with this, did they expect it to be taken seriously? I don't think I'd "break up" with superhero comics as Laura posits, but sometimes I feel more connected than others.

This feeling of juvenility is--bringing this back to trade paperbacks--one of the reasons I became a wait-for-trader. When I read a magazine, I don't mind advertisements for cars or food or the like, but wouldn't it be strange to open the latest Jhumpa Lahiri novel and find a magazine advertisement every fourth page?

As I read comics, I became increasingly tired of increasingly more childish video game and candy advertisements interrupting my comics reading--my book-reading, that is. In a way, monthly comics are a strange hybrid form of book/magazine--you read them like a story (like a book), but they have advertisements and letters (once upon a time) like a magazine. But more and more, monthly comics felt like a magazine not meant for me--and so I switched to trades.

That's only one of a couple reasons, but I thought Laura expressed her frustration very well.

What might cause you to "break up" with superhero comics?

Trinity Volume One trade paperback solicited

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Solicitations for the rest of 2009 continue to trickle out. We now know that Trinity Volume 1, collecting the first issues of the weekly Kurt Busiek/Mark Bagley series, is initially scheduled for June 2009, which may or may not be the actual drop date.

In addition, it looks like Uncle Sam, the Steve Darnell Alex Ross project, is getting Deluxe treatment.

This follows the previously announced Final Crisis hardcover.

Calling All Guest Bloggers - Review for Collected Editions!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Calling all guest bloggers!

This is Collected Editions's semi-annual reminder that we need guest reviewers! Your reviews give a different perspective on the trade paperbacks we all love so much, and also help Collected Editions balance the pace of providing new reviews each week. If you want to support Collected Editions, write a review!

We are currently accepting reviews on a wide variety of trade paperbacks and graphic novels -- DC Comics trade paperbacks are fine, but we also love getting guest reviews on Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, or independent comics.

If you're thinking of a comic you'd like to review for us, just ask! Email the title of the book to our Collected Editions Yahoo account (address at right), and we'll reply right away if you should go ahead and send us your review.

Your review could be here! Don't wait, write today!

Review: The Trials of Shazam Volume 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 06, 2008

[Contains spoilers for the second volume of Trials of Shazam]

As before, The Trials of Shazam is not the previous generation's Captain Marvel. Matter of fact, in the second volume, Cap's Billy Batson identity never even appears. I enjoyed the story, and it's obvious why DC Comics made the decision to make such a radical departure from the Captain Marvel mythos, though I can't help but think it ultimately robs Captain Marvel of some of what makes him special.

By the end of this volume, Freddy Freeman is now the hero known as Shazam, while Captain Marvel takes the previous Shazam's place on the Rock of Eternity. In this way, should the new Shazam become a breakout character, DC can give him a titular series without the copyright issues that Captain Marvel brings. And I would be willing to read more about Freddy; writer Judd Winick offers a plucky, hip, determined Freddy who's a little overwhelmed but otherwise good-hearted, and with enough everyman in him to make the magic aspects of the series accessible.

The issue, of course, is that when Freddy says the name "Shazam," he goes from being college-age Freddy Freeman to college-age Shazam. There's no more here of young Billy Batson becoming adult Captain Marvel, with all the challenges and power-fantasies that entails. Freddy's just another super-powered kid; though his adventures tend to be more supernatural, essentially there's not a lot of difference between Freddy Freeman and Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, that makes me think it's only a matter of time before DC returns the Marvel mythos to status quo (Shazam: Rebirth, anyone?), and I hate to think of the retcons necessary to fix all this.

The upside of Trials of Shazam is that Winick writes his head off here. Between Winick's crass spy-thriller Outsiders and his bow-slinging Green Arrow, who knew Winick could write swords and sorcery? Most of the magic creatures and secret weapons in this tale are complete nonsense without any ties to established DC Comics stories (the Books of Magic have been rewritten, as the characters remind us ad nauseum); as such, Winick makes up concept after concept, and the sheer creativity of it is thrilling. I enjoyed watching Freddy throw spells at the latest slimy monster without having to worry that I didn't know the "rules" of the magic he used.

Winick also did a nice job making me care about the various characters. Winick offers a new take on the mythological Atlas here in a chapter that's just riveting; the god Apollo's reluctance to take Atlas's place is equally compelling. Winick also provides more details about the magician Sabina, Freddy's equivalent of Black Adam; I'm still not quite clear on why Sabina is the natural inheritor of the Marvel power, but her origin made her a complelling foe for Freddy. And don't miss the Tawky Tawny cameo in this volume, either; even as it seems like DC's setting aside all the "silly" Marvel characters, Tawny returns in a great sequence with Sabina.

[Contains full covers, "What Came Before."]

I read an interview with James Robinson about his upcoming Justice League series that suggests he might undo most of what Winick established in Trials of Shazam (putting Freddy back in his old costume, for instance); personally, I hope not. The changes DC has wrought with Freddy can't last forever, I'm sure, but it'd be a shame to see Trials of Shazam overturned so quickly.

New reviews coming soon!

Review: Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I re-read the first two Blue Beetle trade paperbacks in preparation for reading Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars. Of the three, Reach for the Stars turned out to be my least favorite, though it still keeps overall the high quality we've seen from the Blue Beetle title. Back in the 1990s, Chuck Dixon's Robin defined what it meant to write a teen-centered comic; since then, I don't think teen comics have been as good (Geoff Johns's Teen Titans notwithstanding) until Blue Beetle.

What I didn't like about this trade was writer John Rogers's introduction of the Reach, the aliens responsible for the beetle scarab stuck to Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes's spine. The aliens are predictably evil and poorly defined, with a vague plan to take over Earth while tricking most of the world's governments into believing they come in peace (not unlike, say, the White Martians, or any number of others). Only Jaime and his supporting cast know the Reach's plan; this leads to a number of one-off issues where Jaime fights a generic villain (Ultra-Humanite, Lobo, Typhoon) to stop them from doing a generic bad Reach thing (build a base, blow up a rocket, etc.) with litle overall consequence. While this works to tie the chapters of Reach for the Stars together thematically, it makes those same chapters feel formulaic one right after the next.

As with the previous Blue Beetle collections, however, what saves Reach for the Stars is that Rogers's Jaime Reyes and his supporting cast are just so darn likable. In the fourth chapter, when the sorceress (and new love interest) Traci 13 appears before Jaime, he barely blinks before he follows her to rescue endangered friends; later, when Jaime fails to save townspeople from the villain Typhoon, he breaks down and cries with his father. Jaime's heroism is so earnest and so believable--and so, I'd say, true to the ideals of a teenager blessed with super-powers--that you can't help but root for him. Rogers similarly writes Jaime's friends Paco and Brenda as young and real without the slang or silliness we see when others write teenagers; I also love the sense and charm with which Jaime's parents handle their son's superheroics (see Jaime's mom putting Guy Gardner in his place at a family barbeque. Blue Beetle is good, good quality writing, something with which you can forgive any number of other errors, and it's a model for how new series can be done right.

Rogers begins to introduce a number of other DC Comics characters into Jaime's world with this trade. J. Torres writes a fill-in issue featuring Superman that, with its simplicity, was the worst of the bunch, but Rogers balances this with a number of delightfully subtle cameo appearances by Batman, who also seems to see a bit of young Robin in the new hero. I love the idea of Jaime joining the Teen Titans, and it's great how Rogers uses Jaime's newness as a hero to offer the reader an "everyman" perspective if they're not familiar with the Titans (Jaime's scarab tells him Miss Martian is a white Martian, "Didn't know I was supposed to get all racial about it," is Jaime's hilarious reply). I also enjoyed the Jetsons Meet the Flinstones-feel of Jaime's supporting cast intermixing with the Titans. I wasn't thrilled with Rogers's antiquated portrayal of Guy Gardner (more Justice League International than Green Lantern Corps), but I'm excited for more of Blue Beetle Ted Kord's contemporaries to appear in the next volume.

Much of the art here comes from Rafael Albuquerque; while I still feel Cully Hamner draws the definitive Jaime Reyes, Albuquerque's portrayal grows on me. There's a number of different artists here who draw Jaime with varying degrees of success; note Jaime's goatee, which at times looks fuzzy like Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame, and other times like a full-grown beard. Overall, while the art in Blue Beetle is not cartoony, there's an exaggerated look to it that fits well the young characters and adventurous situations. Is it too much to hope for more of just the same in the future?

[Contains full covers, "What Came Before" page.]

Well, that was a most satisfying comic book read. I'm turning now to the second part of Trials of Shazam; I liked the first part (and the second has the Justice League in it), so I have high hopes. Thanks for reading!