Review: Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 30, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 3]

There's a point, about five issues in to Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 3, where this book gets pretty good. It's a shame, to be sure, that it took almost thirty issues to get there, but in this volume, finally, Countdown to Final Crisis shows a little heft.

This volume of Countdown starts off with some of the same problems as previous. The story begins with a gratuitous Firestorm cameo that's completely out of the blue and hardly explained, making it hard to care about the character; Mary Marvel continues to flit angrily from location to location in a storyline grown far beyond repetitive. There's also almost an entire issue dedicated to Superman-Prime torturing Mxyzptlk, with absolutely no bearing on the rest of the story. The lack of real character connection and motion to the plots plagued Countdown through much of the first two volumes, and in the beginning I feared the same would be true here.

At the same time, it's clear that the writing and art team has a much stronger presence in this book right from the beginning. The issues seem more targeted, following one character through a greater extent of the chapter; Keith Giffen's drafting also comes through stronger, more like 52, with sometimes six- or eight-panels per page. And the lineup of artists involved in this volume is nothing short of astounding: Jamal Igle, Jesus Saiz, Pete Woods, Scott Kolins, Ron Lim -- even JLA's Howard Porter provides art for an issue. There's a different tone here, such to suggest that Countdown has changed.

Maybe it's the three pages of the Pied Piper, bereft of the Trickster, contemplating his own impeding death -- and the way in which his situation gets increasingly dire as he heads out into the desert. Maybe it's the surprisingly moving meeting between the Earth-51 Batman and Jason Todd (the meeting that one imagines Bruce and Jason might've had the first time around, had the latter not been trying to kill the former), which leads into a couple issues where Jason is, maybe for the first time, an actually likable character. Maybe it's the epic, expansive multi-front war between the Monitors, Monarch, Superman-Prime, and the Challengers of the Beyond that ends this volume. Whatever it is, Countdown takes a sudden giant turn in character and content, and the book just keeps rising from there.

One difficulty with Countdown is that there's so much inherit mystery, whether necessary or unnecessary, that it's hard to care when you don't really know what's going on. We've seen hints before that Athena is really Granny Goodness, but when it's revealed -- and Holly and Harley Quinn meet the real Amazonian queen Hippolyta -- the story takes a great leap forward. I look forward to the final volume, where perhaps the revelation of more mysteries might reveal the book further.

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

We'll follow the threads of Countdown now to Countdown: Arena. Come along!

Review: Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can humanity achieve peace by making war? In the eight issues collected in Jack Kirby's O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps, Kirby examines a world where soldiers are obsolete, and governments use intelligent machines to fight secret battles against their enemies. Kirby's story seems a classic superhero tale of good versus evil, but on closer inspection we find the good perhaps isn't so good.

The O.M.A.C. series subsists on one resounding contradiction: the futuristic Global Peace Agency, with such strict laws of nonviolence that each member vows never to hurt another human being, creates a super-weapon in the form of a man to fight their battles. Believing, they say, that waging war with a large army would cause them to face large armies in return, they instead employ the O.M.A.C. to fight their battles while looking on from their home base.

The members of the GPA are faceless, purportedly so as to represent all nations without discrimination; at the same time their dispassionate approach to combat brings to mind a cold assassin, and one can't help but view the hoods they wear as akin to those of executioners.

O.M.A.C. himself looks like the war god Ares, but hides within the sniveling, milquetoast (and aptly-named) Buddy Blank. Kirby never quite makes clear why the GPA chooses Blank to become O.M.A.C., but they again show their eerie dispassion in plucking him from his life to "atomically" reorganize him into their weapon.

In a strange parallel, Blank becomes O.M.A.C. to rescue his attractive co-worker, only to learn that she herself is a faux human created as a bomb; Blank indeed becomes much the same. There's an odd scene a few issues in where the GPA introduces the O.M.A.C. to its new volunteer parents, whose purpose is never quite explained (Blank, we presume, had parents of his own). There's a sense that the GPA recognizes they've stolen Blank's identity from him, even if they're not moved enough to release him, and so tries to offer a substitute for love without understanding the inherit impossibility of doing so.

Indeed there's much that was once genuine in "the world to come" -- as Kirby's calls the future in which O.M.A.C. takes place -- that's now been commodified. Blank's original employer Pseudo-People sold faux people for companionship, and later for assassination. The villain Mr. Big, in another story, rents an entire city for a private party, forcing the city residents to remain off the streets all night -- and then he, too, turns the city into a trap for O.M.A.C.

Kibry's future is a world that money can buy anything, and anything that can be bought can be repurposed to kill -- often in the pursuit of more money. Concepts like emotions have become commodities, and even as the story's hero fights his equivalent villains, it seems that neither the Peace Agency nor the villains are immune to the corruptive nature of this society, with O.M.A.C. caught in the middle.

Jack Kirby never finished his O.M.A.C. saga, ending the series rather abruptly, and his former assistant Mark Evanier in his introduction puzzles over, but never offers answers to, the story's meaning. Surely there's something just a little sinister intended in the Global Peace Agency, and an allegory hidden in the GPA having transformed Buddy Blank into the ultimate weapon and then inexplicably promoting him to an extent that no GPA member can give him orders, effectively ceding control of said weapon.

Also telling is the final story in which an increasingly sympathetic villain fights the GPA's Brother Eye satellite in a battle of man versus machine that leaves the reader unsure whom to root for.

Kirby's O.M.A.C. is deceptive -- seemingly the story of a covert intelligence group that fights for peace, it's instead a treatise on the futility of that fight. Kirby presents O.M.A.C. as simultaneously a warrior and a victim, and in doing so reveals the shortfalls of the cause to which O.M.A.C. is drafted.

Constant readers know I'm not much for pre-Crisis storytelling, and indeed there's not much of a constant, driving plot in this O.M.A.C. collection, but the sheer volume of what Jack Kirby's trying to say here makes it worth the read (if not for the sheer number of Countdown to Final Crisis in-jokes I understand better now). Certainly this volume deserves a place on your bookshelf next to your other Jack Kirby omnibuses.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Mark Evanier, sketch pages. See more reviews of O.M.A.C. from Timothy Callahan, Val Jensen, and Paul Smith]

We rejoin the fight now with Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 3, coming up next.

Review: Green Arrow/Black Canary: Family Business trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 23, 2009

I very much like the concept of what writer Judd Winick's trying to do on Green Arrow/Black Canary, shown in the first volume and reiterated in the second, Family Business. In practice, however, I wish what I found to be an interesting idea developed in a story that had a bit more content to it.

Judd Winick positions the Green Arrow/Black Canary team firmly in the midst of the DC Universe, in a way that's only logical for two married heroes whose friends and family are all superheroes. In the first volume, Green Arrow shouts to Superman for help (he shouts "Clark," for that matter), escapes from captivity in a boat tricked out by Batman, and encounters nearly the entire Justice League at the hospital bed of his injured son Connor. In Family Business, Batman and Green Lantern appear as a matter of course; Green Arrow and Black Canary barely blink when a surprise DCU guest star emerges from a cryogenic capsule half-way through.

In this way, Winick illustrates how Arrow and Canary are true citizens of the DC Universe. This is a concept I like quite a bit, one that I think is more meaningful in the new post-Infinite Crisis kinder, gentler era where all the superheroes get along and regularly work together without much fuss. That Green Arrow and Green Lantern are friends is long-established, and so it makes sense that Green Arrow would call Green Lantern when he encounters a group of renegade aliens; ditto that they'd consult Batman for a case involving Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins. It gives the book variety, color (benefitted by Cliff Chiang and Mike Norton's art), and joy that makes the book a fun read.

Unfortunately, Winick doesn't move this volume of Green Arrow/Black Canary past the benchmark of a "fun read." The story starts out intriguingly enough, with the comatose body of former Green Arrow Connor Hawke stolen by forces unknown, but the intrigue very quickly peters out. Arrow and Canary engage in some minor espionage, but the story quickly becomes about them fighting-then-teaming-up-with a generic upstart teenage hero, and then against a generic team of super-villains purporting to be the League of Assassins. There's a lot of just plain fighting here, on big colorful pages with wide open panels and brief dialogue -- in short, a bunch to look at, but not a lot to read. That the whole thing, in the end, turns out to be a misunderstanding doesn't help matters; I'd rather skip the misunderstanding and jump to the plot.

To his credit, Winick appears to try to explore the conceit of Green Arrow/Black Canary as a story of married superheroes. On paper, this essentially involves Green Arrow yelling at people and Black Canary trying to teach him to control his temper, but at least Winick is going there. I'd like to see more of this in this title, making it greater than just a Green Arrow title with Black Canary joining in; this might involve giving Canary a bigger role, ultimately, than just being the one who reins Green Arrow in when he gets too belligerent.

Special credit goes out to DC Comics Collected Editions editor Bob Joy (we at the Collected Editions blog don't recognize these people often enough, who work DC's collections). I don't know for sure if this was Bob's decision or not, but the previous Green Arrow/Black Canary volume, The Wedding Album, ends it seems in the middle of an issue -- you can't tell from reading it, but the happy ending at the end of The Wedding Album actually becomes a cliffhanger a few pages later, and those few pages are instead reprinted in Family Business. This makes The Wedding Album and Family Business both feel like complete stories, whereas letting the issues run as is would have interrupted the flow. Whether this was Bob Joy's decision or someone else, it's that kind of foresight that makes the trade paperback-reading process so much fun.

[Contains full covers.]

More reviews coming up soon! If you want to support Collected Editions, hey, mention us in your message board signatures. And thanks!

ComicsPRO says Absolute Green Lantern Rebirth in 2010

Friday, March 20, 2009

The title says it all. According to Matt Price blogging from the ComicsPro meeting going on right now in Memphis, TN, Bob Wayne says there's an Absolute Green Lantern Rebirth coming up in 2010.

I've mixed emotions about this. On one hand, I'd really like to own it; I think it's just going to look cool. But is it necessary? Does it oversaturate the market? Does it now set a precedent for Flash: Rebirth to have an Absolute edition, too? Final Crisis? Does it make the Absolute format less special?

I knew, for instance, that Justice would come out in an Absolute edition, so I didn't buy the original hardcovers or paperbacks. Doing the same thing with All-Star Superman, because I know an Absolute edition is on its way. Both of those are, in their own ways, big self-contained events, worthy of an Absolute edition. So is Batman: Hush and Superman for Tomorrow, I think, even though they're in continuity.

But Green Lantern: Rebirth, now in Absolute edition, six years later? I don't know ... it doesn't quite sit right with me.

After watching the Watchmen ...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I went to see Watchmen the other day in all its grisly goriness. There's much to be debated about this movie, but singularly I wonder if Zack Snyder doesn't do the story a disservice by making it as explicit as it is. I appreciate wholeheartedly that one of the themes of Watchmen is violence and how we downplay the the violence that would otherwise be inherit if the superhero stories we read were real, but it seems to me that if the Comedian shooting the Vietnamese and [you know who] destroying [you know where] was a little more gross and Rorschach pouring oil on the guy's head a little less so, maybe that theme might have come through more specifically.

But I digress. This is not, as a matter of fact, a Watchmen movie review. You can read those here, here, here, here, and here. However, one item that's always interested me about Watchmen--indeed, about the Charlton characters--that I thought I'd open for discussion.

Nite-Owl and Rorschach (or Blue Beetle and the Question, if you will) are whom I believe to be the "main" or lead characters in this universe, and yet they don't conform to the archetypes of the lead characters that we generally posit for a comics universe. Consider, in the DC Universe, Superman is the bright alien hero with super-powers who fights mostly with his brawn while Batman is the dark culmination of man's potential who fights mostly with his brain; we see this duplicated, purposefully, in Apollo and Midnighter in the Wildstorm Universe.

[Read the Collected Editions Beginner's Guide to Watchmen]

But neither Nite-Owl nor Rorschach are a good analogue for Superman nor Batman. Nite-Owl a billionaire with a cave of costumes in his basement, but he's neither the Bruce Wayne playboy nor the Batman detective. Rorschach's the detective, but not nearly a dark knight. Together, they equal just about a Batman, and Nite-Owl only slightly a be-speckled Clark Kent--if you want powers, you have to throw Dr. Manhattan into the mix, too. The archetypes just don't add up.

Someone today writing a Blue Beetle/Question book a la Superman/Batman would have to invent a whole new dictionary of character traits with which to play the characters off one another. Beetle is social whereas Question is subterranean. Beetle is trusting whereas Question is paranoid. Question is violent whereas Beetle is squeamish. Beetle, as one story might go, trusts his technology, whereas the only thing Question will rely on is his/her (depending on your favorite Question) fists.

And whereas most Superman/Batman stories come down to whether one hero "trusts" the other or not, for Question and Beetle the issue is in the end whether they remain, as Rorschach says, "good friends."

[Read the Collected Editions review of Absolute Watchmen]

I'm not, as you all know, as up on my Marvel Comics history as I am on my DC Universe, but I wonder if there's better parallels for the Nite-Owl/Rorschach or Blue Beetle/Question team with Marvel than with DC. Blue Beetle as Iron Man and Captain America as the Question doesn't quite work ... Blue Beetle as Cyclops and Rorschach as Wolverine? Someone who knows more about Marvel, chime in to suggest if there's any analogues there.

It's rare these days, I think, to find superheroes that don't conform to the Superman/Batman paradigm, and I think there's untapped potential in the Blue Beetle/Question team. Warner Bros seems so eager to find some way to produce Watchmen spin-offs; I shudder at the thought, but some sort of Nite-Owl/Rorschach story set before the events of Watchmen might just be the ticket.

So, the Watchmen movie -- love it or hate it? More importantly, is it good for graphic novels, or likely to turn readers away?

Review: Tangent: Superman's Reign Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten years later (but only moments for me through the wonders of trade paperbacks), Dan Jurgens returns to the Tangent universe in the first volume of Tangent: Superman's Reign. For a burgeoning Tangent fan like myself, there's a lot to like here -- but strangely, as the Tangent aspects work, there's a lot about the DC Universe parts that miss the mark, interrupting what might otherwise have been some real potential.

Jurgens plays the "ten years later" aspect of this story like a symphony. Much of the joy of the book is in the surprise return of old favorites; I spent most of the book saying, "Oh look, it's [enter Tangent character.]" It was interesting to see how some characters, like the Joker, have undergone radical changes since the original Tangent event; others, strangely -- like the Flash -- haven't changed a bit (though I suspect this might be a trick). The "History Lesson" section in the beginning speaks to the complexity and interrelatedness of the characters, and that still remains my favorite aspect of Tangent.

Thought this story is not as political as Tangent volumes past, it's obvious that Jurgens tries to give weight to the moral questions of the Tangent Superman having taken over this universe in the missing ten years. The Tangent Superman debates a number of times the benefits of forced peace over free will; Jurgens doesn't have me seeing Superman's side, but it's a nice try. Jurgens also has Batman debate the ethics of our superheroes meddling in the government of another world; we all know Batman's going to do the right thing in the end, but again I give Jurgens credit for going there.

Unfortunately, a number of interesting characters and a couple philosophical debates don't a perfect story make. Jurgens's story feels terribly stretched to make twelve issues; two characters wander the sewers nearly the entire book, while the others engage in a repetitive morass of getting ambushed by the bad guys, running away, getting ambushed again, and running away again. There's not much content here, nor is Jurgens really able to characterize the Tangent universe as different from the DC universe short of our Flash calling it a "dystopian" world (which is what I thought the Wildstorm universe was supposed to be ... hey, now there's an idea for a crossover!).

In addition, I was terribly surprised and disappointed by Jurgens's writing of the Justice Leage (and remember, Jurgens wrote one of my favorite Justice Leagues). It's as if Jurgens took his pointers from Justice League Unlimited rather than Justice League of America -- Batman seems quite obviously in charge while Black Canary remains mostly in the background, and an impatient Flash lets loose a "dude" and thinks about how hungry he is in the midst of a crisis. Jurgens also had Green Lantern John Stewart saying "nuthin'" instead of "nothing" in two almost duplicate conversations -- all in all, the portrayals just didn't sit right with me.

I would say, however, that I'm so glad artist Jamal Igle is already on Supergirl; his Tangent art here is fantastic. I dug his work on Nightwing, but it seems to me his art style -- fluid, just on the cartoony side of realistic -- would be best served by something ultra-superhero-y like Supergirl. I'm looking forward to it, and despite my qualms, I'm looking forward to the concluding volume of Tangent: Superman's Reign, too.

[Contains full covers, Justice League of America #16, back up stories.]

We'll dip into a little Green Arrow/Black Canary next, and see where we go from there. Don't miss it!

Trade Perspectives: DC Comics Co-Features and Trade Paperbacks

Friday, March 13, 2009

I found quite a bit interesting in DC Comics's announcement (via Newsarama) that they'd be running Ravager and Blue Beetle co-features in Teen Titans and Booster Gold respectively, along with the previously announced Metal Men in Doom Patrol.

This is, in my opinion, a brilliant idea. Take a well-selling (or even mid-selling) title, get a good creative team, and put another fan favorite character at the end of the book. Blue Beetle and Ravager are great examples. So would be a Manhunter co-feature at the end of Detective or Wonder Woman. Or a Shadowpact co-feature. Or Checkmate. Or Chase. Or Damage. Or Aztek. Or H-E-R-O. (I could do this all day.)

There's so many beloved characters out there that can't support a regular title; this is a perfect solution that doesn't clutter up the Diamond list with more mini-series. As creators get wind of this, I hope this draws significant talent to characters they've always wanted to work with; the risk here is minimal, because if a co-feature doesn't work, DC can simply drop it from the book or replace it with a different feature.

Some of the commenters over at Newsarama have expressed dismay that DC will raise the prices accordingly of the comics with co-features; not to be flip, but as a wait-for-trader, that doesn't necessarily bother me. What I expect instead is that DC is going to collect these co-features into trade paperbacks separate from the main series, and as such there's the potential for new collections of series already cancelled; fantastic news especially if DC keeps the same trade dresses.

In short, there might one day be a sixth Blue Beetle collection to stand next to the existing five. Great, great, great.

I turn the microphone over to you now, dear readers. What other characters would you like to see featured in co-features, and what series would you want that character co-featured with?

Review: Tangent Comics Vol. 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Finishing Tangent Comics Volume Three, it's hard to believe DC Comics and Dan Jurgens hadn't planned all this from the start.

In much the same way that the 2005 Majestic series encompassed the plot of the later Countdown to Final Crisis, the Tangent comics series (published in 1998) ends on a perfect cliffhanger for Final Crisis and the new sequel miniseries Tangent: Superman's Reign more than ten years later. Reading it in 1998, the finale must have been maddeningly frustrating; reading it in 2009, it's amazing how well the saga fits together.

Tangent Volume Three offers an "everyday man" perspective on the Tangent Universe. The superheroics and political intrigue of the first volume are still here, as are the supernatural elements from the second volume, but there seemed a greater emphasis on how the events--namely a world-wide power outage caused by Tangent's Ultra-Humanite--affected the world's population.

The first story introduces this world's Superman, a regular police officer until an accident triggers limitless powers; we see the people's fear of superheroes in both The Joker's Wild and Powergirl; and the fan-favorite Tangent Green Lantern offers three potential explanations of how a normal person came to hold the lantern.

This "street level" view of the Tangent universe coincides well with the introduction of DC Comic's heaviest hitters to Tangent--in name, at least. The last chapter of volume two introduced the Batman, and volume three brings Superman and Wonder Woman together with Green Lantern to form--you guessed it--the Justice League. As with volume two's Secret Six, there's great joy in seeing the Tangent heroes come together; one of the most enjoyable things about Tangent is how all the stories are interconnected, and there's a nice payoff when the characters finally meet.

It's the end of this Tangent volume that takes some figuring. As with the final chapter of Tangent 1997 (found second-to-last in volume two), events here are unresolved--the Ultra-Humanite, without much explanation, runs rampant over the Earth and the Secret Six seem unable to stop him, while the Nightwing organization hunts the rest of the world's heroes. Any conclusion is essentially found in the details--in a lawless world, the Tangent Justice League rises; and, in the prior Powergirl chapter, the conflict between President Schwartz and Nightwing begun in volume one's Metal Men comes to a head. Were there not the new Tangent: Superman's Reign, this is what we'd be left with; fortunately, the conclusion's not just left to our imaginations.

[Contains full covers, minor sketchbook and interview section.]

We'll finish our current romp through the Tangent universe next with Tangent: Superman's Reign volume one.

Review: Tangent Comics Volume Two trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Seven Soldiers of Victory fans, I keep saying, go read Tangent Comics. Tangent Comics Volume Two admittedly, doesn't quite stand up to Seven Soldiers, but if you're a fan of slowly unfolding, multi-title, conspiracy-ridden comics universes, you'll soon discover why I've enjoyed Tangent Comics so much more than I thought I would.

The Tangent universe takes its cue, as writer Dan Jurgens explains in the first volume, from Julius Schwartz reinventing the DC Comics superheroes in what became known as the Silver Age of comics; the Tangent heroes share the names and some similarities with the DC Universe heroes, but also have great differences. In the Tangent universe, the Cuban Missile Crisis left Florida destroyed, replaced by the futuristic city New Atlantis; the third generation hero Atom (this universe's Superman equivalent) discovers that his grandfather may have been the cause.

Tangent Comics bear much resemblance not only Seven Soldiers, but also to the Amalgam Age of Comics that stemmed from DC/Marvel Comics crossovers. I felt often frustrated with Amalgam, as a character would have a relevant name (like Black Orchid in this books Nightwing story), but I wouldn't know enough about the character to get the joke or want to know more. In Tangent, there's no joke to get; the names are similar, but the characters tie back not to DC lore, but to the intricate conspiracy of the covert Nightwing group and its leaders' relationship to the Atom. In this way, Tangent keeps me interested even despite the number of new characters I'm meeting.

Indeed what I liked about the first Tangent volume was the strong undercurrent of political espionage; this was a book as much about superheroes as about conspiracy theories. The second Tangent volume, alternatively, introduces a bunch of supernatural elements to Tangent, unexpectedly. At first I felt disappointed that there wasn't more politics in volume two, but at the same time, the (minor) change in tone helps to differentiate the two volumes in a way that I felt gave Tangent more depth overall.

I don't know that Karl Kesel's Joker was necessarily my favorite in this volume, but the surprise ending of the story continues to resonate with me; the villain in Chuck Dixon's Secret Six was a little silly, but I'm a sucker for seeing some of the Tangent mainstays come together (especially with art by Tom Grummett). I found Doom Patrol a somewhat unsatisfactory end to the Tangent 1997 stories (the Batman story included here is actually part of the Tangent sequel, Tangent 1998) in that it didn't quite bring to a head the Nightwing, Atom, or Meridian storylines, though if you squint and tilt your head a little bit, the time travel included therein does sort of bring things full circle.

By the end of Tangent Comics Volume Two, you'll come to see that everything you've just read takes place essentially over the course of one day. The inciting incident is the first volume's appearance of a new Atom, and most of the events -- the Doom Patrol's arrival from the future, the Joker's romp through New Atlantis -- stem from or reference that event. What I liked especially is how we see in volume two the fruition of events mentioned in volume one (for instance, Plastic Man tracking and capturing the Spectre) -- these issues were originally published concurrently, but there's some delight in two volumes where the second answers questions from the first that you didn't even know you had.

[Contains full covers]

Inasmuch a fan of the DC Universe proper as I am, not often jaunting to Wildstorm or elsewhere, Tangent Comics have continued to delight. I'm on now directly to the third Tangent Comics volume, and then to the first volume of Tangent Comics: Superman's Reign. Come join!

Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion, DC Library Death in the Family, and More DC Fall 2009 Collections

Friday, March 06, 2009

Apparently it's that time again, because more solicitations for DC Comics Fall 2009 collected editions, hardcovers, and trade paperbacks keep spooling out every day. Here's the highlights:

* Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion
Constant readers know I love these companion collections, which contain either older relevant issues or tie-in miniseries. My guess is that this is Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon, Battle for the Cowl: Man-Bat. Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum, and Battle for the Cowl: The Underground, and maybe also the Gotham Gazette issues.

* DC Classics Library: Batman: A Death in the Family
The infamous Jim Starlin/Jim Aparo story that did away with Jason Todd now gets hardcover treatment at a whopping $40 (yes, I said forty dollars). The page count is near double the paperback version of this story, suggesting this might have interviews and other material (maybe even a full-color version of the alternate ending?).

* Gotham Central Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen HC
The recent first Gotham Central hardcover collected the first two Gotham Central trade paperbacks, In the Line of Duty and Half a Life, reprinting issues #1-10 between them. This second hardcover suggests it'll contain, at least, the Joker story from the third Gotham Central paperback, Unresolved Targets; the big question is whether it'll also have some of the previously-uncollected Gotham Central issues, like #11. If so, I'm selling my Gotham Central paperbacks and getting these.

* Outsiders: The Deep
The first post-Batman RIP Outsiders trade. The Batman RIP aftermath issues might appear here, or in the Battle for the Cowl Companion

* Flash Chronicles Vol. 1
These "Chronicles" books don't have much appeal to me since they're reprinting from way, way back, at times when Superman and Batman weren't even entirely recognizable as the characters they are today. (If someone's really digging these, chime in and let me know what you like.) Now the Flash series gets the same treatment, though I'm not sure if this'll start with Jay Garrick or Barry Allen.

* Flash vs. The Rogues
With Flash: Rebirth coming up, my guess is this collects classic battles between the Flashes and their various Rogues (hence the name).

* Supergirl: Who is Superwoman?
This is the first Supergirl paperback by Sterling Gates, and picks up threads of Superman: New Krypton. Art is by Jamal Igle, whose work I've been digging on Tangent: Superman's Reign.

* Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian
The next Gail Simone hardcover, collecting the storyline meant to be on par with Batman RIP and Superman: New Krypton

* Blackhawk: Blood and Water
A three-part 1988 miniseries by Howard Chaykin.

* Superman: Adventures of Flamebird & Nightwing
Includes Superman Family stories, I think, by Paul Kupperberg.

Coming up in paperback:
* Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising SC
I'm just slightly surprised to see DC Comics coming out with a paperback of this, given that they themselves disassociated themselves from it after it came out in hardcover. Seems a little disingenuous, no?

* Batman: Private Casebook SC
Not to be confused with Batman: The Black Casebook, this is the next Detective Comics/Paul Dini collection. It was already released in hardcover, but I for one wasn't going to start collecting Dini's Detective in hardcover after the series started in paperback.

* Booster Gold: Blue and Gold SC

* Tangent: Superman's Reign Vol. 2

* Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Part II SC

* Superman/Batman: Search for Kryptonite SC

* Superman: Kryptonite SC

* Wonder Woman: The Circle SC

What do you think of DC's high-priced Death in the Family? Interested in the Battle for the Cowl Companion? What hasn't DC collected that you'd still like to see?

Review: Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Brave New World trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

There's something weirdly irreverent about Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Brave New World. It's on one hand a traditional superhero book, with great attention spent to rejuvenating a number of old Quality Comics characters related to the Freedom Fighters. On the other hand, it's an odd story about the complete implosion of a super-team, a group of people who's lives get wrecked -- rather swiftly -- by being heroes. The book doesn't seem to deconstruct superheroics like Identity Crisis or Watchmen, but instead simply shows the heroes falling apart; not an origin story, but rather a finale.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters wears it's ending right from the beginning, when the group splits between those willing to enter the public spotlight on behalf of the US government and those who won't. They further fractures over Phantom Lady's addiction-fueled murder of a super-villain and attempted suicide, and Red Bee's metamorphosis into an alien-insect hybrid. By the end, the team has disbanded, but the volume hints strongly at a greater role for the team in Final Crisis just as the first volume did.

What's strange is how secondary the actual storyline of Brave New World is in favor of the breakdown of the team itself. Sure, the heroes fight bad guys, but the threats seem almost an afterthought; there's a government conspiracy that too closely mimics the plot of the first book, which gives way to an alien invasion story which itself is awkwardly epilogued by an incident involving a miniature city. There's some vague discussion in the end amongst the characters as to how the stories might tie together (the aliens influencing Phantom Lady's decline, for instance), but such ties seem secondary to the overall story the writers are trying to tell.

I liked the first volume of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters for much the same reason I like Legion of Super-Heroes -- it was a collection of heroes, each with different, interesting super-powers and many with recognizable names; that's about what I need from a super-team book. Brave New World, in contrast, focuses more explicitly on the people behind the costumes. There's nothing wrong with that, but whereas a book like Outsiders at times showed you the person behind the costume as a perspective on the person's later actions within their costume, Brave New World shows the person behind the costume -- and then retires the costume completely.

With the initial Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (with Grant Morrison) did more than just resurrect old superhero handles; they brought the Freedom Fighters, with their modern personalities (Phantom Lady, the war-weary Doll Man) firmly into the twenty-first century. It's as if, with Brave New World, the writers created such a volatile collection of characters that the group can't help but disband; the center of the group, as it were, couldn't hold. If this turns out to be just the second of many Freedom Fighter collections, perhaps we'll see the team triumph over their personal adversities and come together again. If not, what the writers offer here is a bittersweet ending to this latest era of Freedom Fighters, who could've stayed together if their lives hadn't gotten in the way, a somewhat queasy finale to sit beside a library of other books of heroes looking toward their next adventure.

[Contains full covers, short biographies.]

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DC increases Final Crisis hardcover price

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

DC Comics has officially increased the price of the Final Crisis hardcover from $24.99 to $29.99. now shows $29.99 as the price, and presumably they'll be contacting customers about the change; no word yet on how comic book retailers will handle the switch.

According to DC, the hardcover will have a new cover image by J.G. Jones showing "the penultimate scene of the series" (which sounds like a spoiler to me, but what do I know?).

Here's the official press release, via Comic Book Resources:
Official Press Release

DC Comics has expanded the contents of the FINAL CRISIS HC, collecting the explosive event written by Grant Morrison.

Now running 352 pages, this title will include FINAL CRISIS #1-7, FINAL CRISIS: SUBMIT #1 and FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND #1-2, all written by Morrison, along with a new cover by J.G. Jones depicting the penultimate scene of the series.

The FINAL CRISIS HC (FEB090203) is advance-solicited in the February Previews and is scheduled to arrive in stores on June 10 with a price of $29.99 U.S. Because of these changes, this title will be made returnable at a later date.
What do you think of the Final Crisis price increase?

Absolute Justice, Batman: Battle for the Cowl, and more DC Comics Fall 2009 collections

DC Comics collected editions for Fall 2009 are beginning to trickle out. Among the first releases:

* Absolute Justice - As I've been predicting for a while, here's the Alex Ross mini-series in Absolute format. Look for Absolute All-Star Superman coming not too long from now.

* Superman: Red Son Deluxe - The lauded early 2000s mini-series, apparently in DC's larger-size deluxe format.

* Batman: Battle for the Cowl hardcover - Already solicited as the first issues hit the stands. Yay!

* Green Lantern: Agent Orange hardcover - Sloooowly on our way to Blackest Night.

* Batman: Cacophony - Has this come and gone already? Is it late? Looks like it's getting hardcover treatment.

What's on your to-buy list?

Review: Shadowpact: The Burning Age trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 02, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Shadowpact: The Burning Age]

A few years ago I would have thought it as unlikely that I'd be enjoying space-centered DC Comics titles as I would enjoying a magic-centered title, an accomplishment I attribute to DC's careful roll-out of Rann-Thanagar War and Day of Vengeance around Infinite Crisis. Day of Vengeance, of course, grew into the ultra-accessible Shadowpact, which ends on the highest of notes with Shadowpact: The Burning Age.

Bill Willingham portrayed the disparate teammates of the Shadowpact as such fun characters that I enjoyed every issue, even when his writing didn't quite mesh for me. In Burning Age, however, writer Matt Sturges both preseves Willigham's tone, betters the pacing, and adds a healthy dose of humor that raises the story to near-perfection; I'd have gladly read another Shadowpact collection from Sturges.

My favorite Shadowpact character all along has been Blue Devil (sorry, Detective Chimp!), and Sturges seems to understand Shadowpact-leader Nightmaster's previous claim that Blue Devil is the heart of the team. In The Burning Age's grand finale, as Shadowpacts from three eras come together to fight the armageddon-level threat of the Sun King, Sturges parallels this with the simple fight between Blue Devil and his brother for the soul of his family, offering a touch of humanity (and 1980s Blue Devil nostalgia) amid all the chaos.

Sturges' story is filled with little touches like these. He resurrects, for instance, the nascent romance between Ragman and Nightshade that we saw just briefly in Day of Vengeance before it disappeared. Similarly, even as Sturges didn't present much to really define the characters of the past and future Shadowpacts, he offered a quick scene that hinted at the Warlock's Daughter's role in a future Shadowpact that made the time-lost characters come alive. I also appreciated Sturges' use of Phantom Stranger, who's hidden in the background of this title since the beginning and whose speech at the end really tied together all the issues of the series. And while I might have enjoyed seeing the complete Shadowpact, including the absent Nightmaster in the final pages, I thought Nightmaster's resignation from the Shadowpact in the first half of the book gave the final chapters a greater sense of the Shadowpact coming into its own.

I'm surprised at how sorry I am to see Shadowpact go, though I'm happy that some of the characters will appear in Keith Giffen's forthcoming Reign in Hell. As with Jim Starlin's cosmic tales, it may be that DC has more success with the magic heroes in a series of connected specials, rather than an ongoing series. In terms of trade reading, there isn't much difference between a miniseries and an ongoing title (there may even be some benefit), and if more Shadowpact is what comes out of it, I'm all for it.

[Includes full covers]

You voted, and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Brave New World was the review you wanted to see next. Coming up; stay tuned!