Trade Poll: Which to read first, Batman: RIP or Final Crisis?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nobody added a great comment to our discussion about the Batman: Black Casebook trade paperback, regarding the apparent crossover bewteen Batman: RIP and Final Crisis -- and it reminded me that I've been wondering lately, which book should I read first?

I'm reaching out to those who've read Batman: RIP and Final Crisis ... which one should I read first? Which one leads into the other? No spoilers in the comments, please, but I'd love if you'd use the handy poll below to let your opinion be heard!

Which book should be read first, continuity-wise, Final Crisis or Batman: RIP?
Final Crisis
Batman: RIP free polls

I'll post the results soon. And thanks!

UPDATE: Overwhelmingly, the Collected Editions blog readers chose Batman: RIP to read before Final Crisis -- but Collected Editions respectfully disagrees. As I've noted on our DC Universe Trade Paperback Timeline, some events in Batman RIP may take place before Final Crisis and some during Final Crisis, but the end of Batman RIP can't be understood (even if it's mildly anti-climactic) without first knowing the details of Final Crisis. (The Mister Miracle issues from the third Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus help, too). Read our full post on the issue.

Review: Green Lantern: Secret Origin collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, January 26, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Green Lantern: Secret Origin]

Geoff Johns makes it seem like he's been writing Green Lantern: Secret Origin all throughout his Green Lantern run, whether he actually has or not. Secret Origin, in a way not unlike a good mystery novel, dips and climbs through a number of episodes we've already seen in flashback earlier in Green Lantern, revealing more going on than we were originally lead to believe. All of this is in service of the forthcoming "Blackest Night" storyline which, admittedly, begins to feel over-hyped to me, but there's a bunch of great characterization in Secret Origin focusing on Green Lantern's earthbound supporting cast that I enjoyed very much.

Johns' Green Lantern title takes a deserved breather after the Sinestro Corps War. I had thought that Secret Origin moved between the present and Green Lantern's beginnings, but indeed this story is set in the past only; Secret Origin forwards the current action by implication only, not in fact. There's some value in this, especially if the next Green Lantern remains as cosmic as the one previous; I miss the stories of Hal Jordan, superhero, rather than Hal Jordan, space warrior, and Secret Origin at the least brings Green Lantern planetside for this seven-issue tale.

Being therefore an origin story, Secret Origins reduces Green Lantern to its principle players: Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku. Whereas in Superman Geoff Johns has brought Clark Kent back to basics with his Lois-Perry-Jimmy supporting cast, in Green Lantern he's largely absented Hal from his regulars in favor of Jillian "Cowgirl" Perlman, General "Herc" Stone and others. Me, I'm a traditionalist, and there's something gigantically comforting about an adventure where Hal Jordan flirts with Carol and confides in Tom, just like the old days.

It's Carol, and the not-yet-renegade Lantern Sinestro, who really shine in this story. Johns parallels perfectly Hal's loneliness at the loss of his father and Carol's loneliness at the disintegration of hers; when Hal finally remembers that Carol cried harder when Hal's father died than even he did, it's clear to the reader why these two characters care about one another.

And Johns makes even more clear the grudging friendship between Hal Jordan and Sinestro; in Hal, Sinestro sees a kindred spirit, an ally, even a younger version of himself, someone just perhaps even more willing to question the Guardians than Sinestro is, while Hal can't resist the first Green Lantern he meets that doesn't play by the rules. This Sinestro seems far more rational, even, than the Sinestro we know today, and Johns suggests today's Sinestro may very well be infected by the fear that ultimately killed Abin Sur. If so, it's intriguing to think today's Sinestro might very well be redeemed, or at least that Hal Jordan might once again have a chance to speak with his old friend, if only he can reach Sinestro's sanity.

Green Lantern: Secret Origin is probably not a story we necessarily needed, but it's a interesting oasis among all the big Green Lantern events. I'm still holding my breath for "Blackest Night," however -- I'm eager, and hopeful, to see whether this story can deliver on so many stories worth of build-up.

[Contains full covers]

We'll follow the threads of the Sinestro Corps War a little longer now, with Blue Beetle: Endgame up next.

Review: Green Lantern Corps: Ring Quest trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot on the heels of the Sinestro Corps War (which, let me amend, I absolutely adored reading the second time around), new Green Lantern Corps writer Peter Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason deliver a weird and wild story in Ring Quest--one where, I'd venture, Gleason draws career-defining work. After the momentous events of the Sinestro Corps War, Green Lantern Corps: Ring Quest does offer the characters some downtime, but it's also suspenseful, revealing -- and bloody.

Following the Sinestro Corps War, no one would blame either of the Green Lantern titles for taking a more character-driven breather. Indeed, Ring Quest does start rather slowly, with two issues that consist of a lot of Lanterns Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner contemplating their navels, enough so that I began to worry the entire collection might be this soft. Instead, Ring Quest is a roller coaster right that moves slowly up the hill and then rockets toward the finish, in a way that makes the slow start that much more valuable.

Tomasi presents both Guy and Kyle at a crossroads -- Kyle with no ties left on Earth, and Guy spurned once again by his once-lost love Ice. I'm not a bit fan of the transition to Oa for either of these characters. It pained me to see Guy seemingly reverting to the old immature Guy around Ice, and I'm not sure I agree that these characters wouldn't get along especially as much as Guy has matured. Kyle, on the other hand, has always been an earthbound character, with a fully-realized home and career during the Ron Marz days; it's hard to picture him, too, moving to Oa. Still, Guy and Kyle as neighbors on Oa has an almost sitcom-like appeal; I like their friendship, and that drives me to continue with this title.

But the calm in Ring Quest, to be sure, swiftly gives way to a raucous alien bloodbath. Our ten (count 'em, ten) main characters travel to what turns out to be the homeworld of the infamous Black Mercy plant, orbited by decaying carcases from a hundred different worlds, at which point said planet tries to eat them alive. Gleason's artwork is violent to say the least, building on some of the far-out deaths he drew in the Sinestro Corps War, similar in many ways to the cartoony violence of artist Doug Mahnke. This sci-fi violence, if you like that sort of thing, goes a long way toward modernizing Green Lantern Corps, bringing this vestiage of the 1980s firmly into the twenty-first century. Hardly can I myself believe that Green Lantern Corps is one of my favorite titles; fans of Dead Space and other sci-fi/horror hybrids would find much to like here, too.

Gleason's art, of course, works hand-in-hand with Tomasi's first independent Green Lantern arc, and I was especially impressed with how Tomasi defines and differentiates the ten different Lanterns in this story. Over twenty-five issues, we've learned a lot about Vath, Kol, Natu, and the others, and Tomasi continues to make us care about each of them. The ability for Lanterns to kill now with their rings adds an interesting wrinkle, and I was riveted when the Lanterns debated whether to kill the "Mother Mercy" plant; we've learned so much about these characters that the reader knows where each is coming from and why they believe what they do about the controversy.

If I had one concern in all this, it's the continued use of the Sinestro Corps and the fabled emotional spectrum, even after the end of the Sinestro Corps War series. This story could undoubtably have been told even without the villain Mongul finding a Sinestro Corps ring in the beginning; does Mongul -- like the Cyborg Superman, Amon Sur, and others -- really need to be a Sinestro corpsman? It begins to feel like the Green Lanterns face the same threat in every story, and I wonder if this will get old; I'm doubly concerned where the Green Lantern titles will go, and whether Geoff Johns will stick around, after the vaunted Blackest Night story ends. The Green Lantern titles have more than a right to their own hype after the Sinestro Corps War, but I fear sometimes whether they can live up to it.

[Contains full covers.]

We continue our Green Lantern jaunt with Green Lantern: Secret Origin, coming up next. Stay tuned!

Review: Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Face and The Brute trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Before Y: The Last Man or Fables, but naturally after Sandman, one Vertigo series that really caught my attention was Sandman Mystery Theatre. I have to use the phrase "really caught my attention" loosely because, in truth, for a long time I'd only read Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula and the Sandman/Mystery Theatre crossover Sandman Midnight Theatre. The wonder of trade paperbacks, however, has recently brought us a number of new Sandman Mystery Theatre collections, and so I've picked up the series again with The Face and The Brute.

Unfortunately, I'll say right off that I didn't like The Face and The Brute near as much as The Tarantula. The difficulty is quite specifically in the art; whereas in Tarantula Guy Davis's drew clean, distict, moody lines that perfectly set the 1930s tone of the series, in Face and the Brute, artists John Watkiss and R. G. Taylor each bring more abstract, shadowy scenes to the work. While these styles work for the scare-factor, they render the minor characters nearly indistinguishable from one another. Sandman Mystery Theatre is a blast as a whodunit, but this joy is lost when one can neither tell one member of the Tong Society from the other in the first story, nor Arthur Reisling from his henchmen in the second.

Still, in and of itself, Sandman Mystery Theatre remains something of a wonder among mature superhero comics. It is indeed a superhero comic -- a man in a costume patrols the city and saves lives -- and is even perhaps more a superhero comic than what you'd traditionally find from Vertigo. It's additionally a mystery superhero comic, and I'm hard-pressed to think of another DC Comics that's so specifically ground in both mystery and superheroics, outside the occasional Batman comic. It's a revisionist comic of the type we see more and more now (Identity Crisis, Batman RIP) where old DC Comics stories are reintegrated into continuity, something seen far less when the original Sandman Mystery Theatre isssues first came out. And we can't underestimate the place Sandman Mystery Theatre had in connection to Starman, JSA, and indeed the modern Justice Society and Golden Age revival.

I was struck at the end of Face and The Brute by how little we still know about the protagonist, the Sandman Wesley Dodds. Perhaps because the tropes here are so familiar (mysterious billionare becomes superhero by night), writer Matt Wagner wastes little time delving into the hows and wherefores of Wesley's transformation to the Sandman; indeed the Sandman is nearly a specter in these stories, appearing from the shadows simply to knock the story in this or that direction, his plans intuited mainly by reading between the lines of Wesley's dialogue.

Wesley Dodds himself also remains mostly vague, likely by Wagner's intention. The dim sense we get of Wesley's predilections -- for hand-to-hand combat, for example -- hold only small grains of truth in favor of Wesley's quest to stop the villain du jour. Wesley vertiably (it must be said) sleeps through much of this collection, despite that he appears as the Sandman, only coming to life when he realizes that his slowness to action nearly had dire consequences for his burgeoning love interest/partner Dian Belmont (it is Dian's eyes, in truth, through whom we really see most of the story). It's only at this point that Wesley reveals his feelings for Dian and steps more fully into the story; I imagine it's in the next trade where Wesley Dodds finally more fully comes in to the light.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Face and The Brute is in my estimation not the high point of the series; it is, however, a relatively enjoyable next chapter of Sandman Mystery Theatre, enough to make it fairly likely I'll pick up the next volume before too long.

[Contains full covers.]

On now to finish out the all-new Atom, and we'll see where we go from there.

Review: All-New Atom: Small Wonder trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

[Contains spoilers for All-New Atom: Small Wonder]

It's a shame that the third and fourth volumes of All-New Atom were such an improvement over the second volume, only to have this be the last volume of the series. Outgoing writer Gail Simone gives a fitting send-off to the newest Atom Ryan Choi in Small Wonder; incoming writer Rick Remender makes some seemingly unnecessary changes to Ryan Choi's backstory (changes that might make more sense, perhaps, had the series not been cancelled) but ultimately offers a tenable enough Atom story to make it a shame that the party had to end.

Gail Simone finishes out Ryan Choi's story with three issues (don't let the copyright page fool you, kids -- issue #20 is in here, too) that are perhaps some of the best of the series so far. Ryan finally accepts a date with fellow professor Dr. Zuel, also the villain Giganta, and then must defend her both from Wonder Woman and an alien invader. These issues are classic All-New Atom (and perhaps, classic Simone): hilarious (note the trademark Atom goes go entirely to Romeo and Juliet during the date), full of Ryan Choi's endearing wistfulness, and brimming with weird size-changing science fiction. Simone also plays the unlikely pair of the Atom and Wonder Woman off each other perfectly, foreshadowing some of the warrior ethos she's brought to the current Wonder Woman series.

In Rick Remender's five-issue story, he subsequently challenges some of the main aspects of the Atom that Simone set down. The biggest revelation here is that, contrary to what the audience has believed for twenty issues, Ray Palmer never did correspond with Ryan Choi; it was the villain Chronos (or his paramour, Lady Chronos) instead. At the same time, even as Simone clears Ray Palmer of causing the strange doings in Ivy Town with his size-changing belt, placing the blame on Chronos, Remender reverses this and makes it Ray's fault once again. The result is a darker and less hopeful Atom where good is bad and bad is good; this works, of sorts, for Remender's story, but the changes unavoidably cast a pall on Simone's good ending.

Remender's story is in-and-of-itself, however, fairly riveting. Remender's story, like Simone's, has a healthy dose of size-changing weirdness; in addition, it involves a time travel mystery that kept my attention glued to the page. Unfortunately, for lack of space or editorial fiat, I didn't necessarily feel that Remender really answered all the questions he raised, as far as which villain worked for whom or the nature of their ultimate plan. Remender's Atom story, as I mentioned, is considerably darker than most of Simone's (as artist Pat Olliffe art has more of a horror-movie tone than Mike Norton's), but at the same time, Simone ends the story with Ryan Choi leaving the Atom identity behind for teaching while Remender indicates Ryan might keep the Atom mantle. Though I liked Simone's stories more, I can't help but be happier with Remender's conclusion.

[Contains full covers]

And thus, All-New Atom ends, following Checkmate and Shadowpact as post-Infinite Crisis series finales. From what I've heard, Ray Palmer is supposed to show up in James Robinson's new Justice League series, but here's hoping we see Ryan Choi again in the DCU somewhere soon -- he's a character I've really enjoyed reading.

Review: All-New Atom: The Hunt for Ray Palmer trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The third volume of the All-New Atom series, The Hunt for Ray Palmer, improves on the second volume with a more traditional helping of Mighty Mite action. Granted, this trade is something of a picaresque pastiche, a collection of somewhat loosely connected Atom one-shot adventures in service to Countdown to Final Crisis, but writer Gail Simone offers so much imaginative action here that it's well worth the ride, even if the story doesn't go much of anywhere.

As with Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer, this Atom story is distinctly about the looking and not the finding. New Atom Ryan Choi searches such unlikely locations as the former Atom Ray Palmer's jungle home, the miniscule base of the alien race The Waiting, and a mock alien heaven to find his predecessor; not surprisingly, Ryan doesn't find him. Instead, Simone treats us to a double-dose of Ryan's winning personality, and this makes the trade. Whether brokering peace between two warring Ray Palmer cults, or defending an alien soldier from Jason Todd, Ryan Choi brings humor, a good heart, and a fresh perspective to the role of the Atom, trait's that have similarly made the new Blue Beetle and Aquaman so enjoyable.

Whereas I felt Atom: Future/Past dwelt too much on a de-powered Ryan Choi, Simone has Ryan growing and shrinking with the best of them this time. The name of the game seems to be madcap fun -- witness the excellent reveal of a long-time Atom foe, Ryan Choi donning a makeshift version Ray Palmer's "Sword of the Atom" costume, and need I say more: "Stupid Jetpack Hitler." Even the Godzilla monster fight in the end, though a bit cliched, runs on pure bizarre adrenaline. Some times you don't need much more from your comics than the sense that the writer is having fun, and Hunt for Ray Palmer has that in spades.

It's perhaps a credit to Gail Simone that her writing in All-New Atom seems tonally different (most of the time) from that of her writing in Birds of Prey. I mention Birds because it surprised me to find a false ghost of Blue Beetle Ted Kord in this book. After Simone wrote a lovely tribute to Ted Kord at the beginning of Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits, I'm surprised she'd have such an off-the-cuff appearance by something proporting to be Blue Beetle's spirit, especially in a chapter that didn't amount to much more than a satire of crossovers. It's in this way that Hunt for Ray Palmer is somewhat scattered -- the hero going from adventure to adventure to the next crazy adventure. There's some appeal to this, but it doesn't necessarily hold up under heavy scruitiny.

I wasn't much sold in the last trade on the art of Eddy Barrows, which overall I find a little dark for my tastes, and I was glad to see Mike Norton return for the entirety of this volume. Norton's art is wide and clean, leaving room for plenty of color, and it fit quite well with all the (micro)cosmic action that Simone has prepared.

[Contains full covers, brieft character bios]

So a fair review of All-New Atom: The Hunt for Ray Palmer -- I like this series, and I enjoy it every time I read it, and I'll be sorry to see it end after the next trade, even as it was never quite at the top of my To-Read list. Join us next time for All-New Atom: Small Wonder, and then more reviews follow from there.

Heroes of the DC Universe Puzzle - Part Four

Thursday, January 08, 2009

At long last, all done! Can't tell you how many of those little puzzle pieces nearly got lost on the floor.

Observations from the Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle:
I've been thinking about it, and I believe we can imagine this "group shot," if you will, was taken just before the Genesis crossover. Consider Roy Harper in his pre-Red Arrow Arsenal suit; Lobo, the Spectre, and Hitman, who all had series at that time; and Artemis in her post-Wonder Woman #100 Requiem costume.

Whither the Alpha Lanterns?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

We've been talking in the comments about two issues of Green Lantern Corps, #21 and #22, that aren't being collected in the Green Lantern Corps trades. These issues deal with the Alpha Lanterns, who also appear in the forthcoming Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns.

Right now, those two Green Lantern Corps issues don't appear in Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns, but I wanted to post this note just to reiterate Green Lantern fans' hope to see these issues collected ... probably I'll have to find these in the back issue bins, but you can always hope.

Review: Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares collected hardcover (Marvel Comics)

Monday, January 05, 2009

[This review comes from Collected Editions guest-blogger Doug Glassman:]

It’s sometimes tricky for a comic book company to coordinate its comics with its movies so that the latter can drive business for the former. Marvel found this out after viewers of the first X-Men film found that the X-Men comics of the time were rather impossible to crack into for newcomers (though this eventually led to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men). Spider-Man was given organic web shooters in a pretty terrible story in order to sync up with the films. As a big Iron Man fan, I personally wondered what Marvel would do to cash in on the film, which presents a rather accurate picture of Iron Man . . . at least, as he was until Civil War. Would readers really get into Iron Man, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Marvel found a rather brilliant solution in their second Iron Man title, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s The Invincible Iron Man, the first seven issues of which have been collected into The Five Nightmares. On one level, it appears to be a deliberate movie tie-in. The villain bears the last name of Stane, Pepper Potts looks quite a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow, arc reactor technology comes into play and the banter between Iron Man and War Machine wouldn’t sound odd coming from Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard. On the other hand, this is clearly set in the current Marvel universe; Tony is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and we see Rhodey only as War Machine. Because the movie was so good and incredibly true to the character, the comic book and film elements mesh nicely.

The Stane in question is Ezekiel Stane, son of Obadiah, a homicidal sociopath who can barely be considered human after all the changes he’s made to his body. His plans hinge around suicide bombs based off of Stark technology. If this sounds a little bit like the classic “Armor Wars” story, you wouldn’t be far off—Tony brings up that adventure and a hologram of the various people he believes to be using his technology includes Stingray, Firepower, the Raiders, Mach IV (who was the Beetle back then) and the Mandroids. Matt Fraction adds a more complex riff onto the old “Armor Wars” concept, with Tony fearing that he is becoming outdated and that his technology is once again becoming more common. Considering that Tony lost much of his human touch with the addition of his Extremis armor, this is a good way to go back to some of the old Iron Man drama.

An epilogue issue featuring Spider-Man compounds this feeling of “bridging the gaps” between movie, pre-Civil War and post-Civil War Iron Man. Spidey helps Shellhead take down a black market technology network. Iron Man continually tries to get Spider-Man to leave, citing the SHRA, but as Spider-Man points out, he’ll just keep showing up anyway. Tony’s rather weak protestations and Spidey’s remembrances of the days when heroes could just team up remind me of better times in the Marvel universe. Appearances from old-school foes such as Big Wheel and the Terrible Tinkerer compound this. An earlier cameo by Thor compounds Tony’s problems with his fellow heroes. I have no problem with new villains and developments—Ezekiel Stane especially is a wonderfully-done character—but I’ve found myself disagreeing with most of the changes wrought by Civil War. Invincible Iron Man seems to strike at all of my problems and ease me back into the Marvel characters.

Salvador Larocca's art is wonderful, drawing on elements of Adi Granov and Bob Layton simultaneously while keeping its own flavor. His Iron Man has intriguing eye holes with a small vertical slit that make him look like he is crying in close-ups. As mentioned before, his Pepper looks like the movie version, but his Tony is closer to Granov and Layton with just a bit of Downey Jr. mixed in. Stane looks maddeningly familiar, but I can't tell if he's been based on an actor. His characters are "on-model," his faces are expressive and his action scenes are clearly laid out. It's very solid artwork for a very solid story. I especially like the new Evangelion-inspired Raiders. Unfortunately, the hardcover has almost nothing in the way of extras—just a gallery of variant covers. I would have liked some design notes or at least an introduction.

Whether you’re an old Iron Fan disenchanted by recent events, or a new fan brought in by the best comic book movie that isn’t The Dark Knight, I would highly suggest giving The Five Nightmares a read. The Tony who stars in this book is simultaneously the one from the “Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars” glory days and the one portrayed so well by Robert Downey Jr. in the film. You may want to wait for the trade paperback edition, but check it out all the same.

[Contains covers and variant cover gallery. $24.99.]

Heroes of the DC Universe Puzzle - Part Three

Thursday, January 01, 2009

More from our Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle ...

Observations from the Heroes of the DC Universe puzzle:
1) Putting together Aquaman's hairy chest? As creepy as it sounds.
2) Batman? Never heard of 'em.
3) Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, and Wally West. Three surprisingly complex guys.

Updates to come ...