Review: Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand / Wolverine: Get Mystique trade paperbacks (Marvel Comics)

Monday, September 28, 2009

[This review comes from Adam J. Noble, a public librarian living in Eastern Canada.]

If you go shopping on Amazon for trade collections of Uncanny X-Men, you’ll find that those unpredictable mad scientists who toil in Amazon’s warehouses have decided to begin numbering the Uncanny X-Men volumes with Matt Fraction’s first crack at writing the Mopey Mutants (eg. Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1: Manifest Destiny; Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2: Lovelorn), which is fair enough. Fraction is doing the nigh-impossible and giving us a fresh, exciting take on the X-Men without venturing too far left of field into hard sci-fi (i.e. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men) or going off in the other direction, into soap opera territory (Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men). Fraction’s been delivering an allegorically charged, witty and fun take on the X-Men that feels like it’s just getting started.

However! Amazon’s unofficial “numbering system” ignores the collection Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand, which falls in between Fraction’s run and the Uncanny X-Men/X-Men/X-Force/New X-Men crossover Messiah CompleX. I came up in the 1990s, my brothers and sisters -- I am not going to read an X-Men crossover ever again, if I can help it. (Once Onslaught-en, twice shy.) So I feel completely justified in telling people to skip Messiah CompleX and begin with Divided We Stand -- which features a recap page, if you need it.

But the volume doesn’t feel like the epilogue to a line-wide crossover. It instead feels like a prologue, and a more than serviceable one at that. Any explicit references to prior events feel more like the in media res way that Grant Morrison often begins his books (“Jimmy’s been cursed by a gypsy fortune-teller? Sure, why not…”).

Although Fraction isn’t credited with the writing of this volume, his Immortal Iron Fist collaborator Ed Brubaker is surprisingly on top of his game here, so much so that one suspects that Fraction was involved to a large extent in the plotting. I’ve criticized Brubaker on this site before: he’s capable of crafting great crime comics but writes in such a grim, “realistic” idiom that he shouldn’t be allowed within ten feet (3.048 metres) of a superhero comic writing credit. Yet, here’s a Brubaker-penned story about Cyclops and Emma Frost vacationing in the Savage Land, Angel and Warpath getting hypnotized into thinking that they’re hippies (along with most of San Francisco), and Nightcrawler wearing an Angelina Jolie hologram so that Colossus gets photographed by paparazzi.

Yeah, not so much with the grim.

I suspected briefly that Fraction might even have ghost-written this volume, except it features lots of Brubaker hallmarks like having everybody give long speeches about exactly how they feel (like people do all the time in real life right? *COUGH*) and Emma Frost not sounding the least bit English or, for that matter, bitchy.

But in all, this is the most fun superhero book that Brubaker has attached his name to, and it does a great job of setting the stage for a pretty terrific Fraction run. If you’re looking to get on board with Uncanny X-Men after hearing all the buzz surrounding the current crossover with Dark Avengers, this is a great place to start -- consider it Volume Zero and dig in. Uncanny X-Men: the San-Francisco treat.

Bonus review: Wolverine: Get Mystique, written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Ron Garney (the creative team behind the excellent ongoing series Wolverine: Weapon X), serves a similar function to Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand, in that it acts as a bridge from Messiah CompleX into the new status quo. Mystique -- whom casual X-Fans will remember as being played by naked Rebecca Romijn in the movies -- has betrayed the X-Men’s sympathies once again, and Wolverine has been tasked by Cyclops to bring her down ... permanentlyOOOHSNAP.

Wolverine’s hunt for Mystique across continents and war zones turns out to be a framing device built to showcase a flashback to the pair’s first meeting, in the days of flappers, speakeasies and the Charleston. Wolverine and Mystique’s relationship escalates until it reaches a climax in a boxcar that neither of them could have foreseen. Funny, violent, genuinely disturbing and most of all sad, Wolverine: Get Mystique is not just the best solo Wolverine story ever: it’s also one of the best collected editions Marvel has ever released. And for a $10.99 US cover price, it’s also a bargain.

Get this, then get the collection entitled X-Men: Manifest Destiny, which mostly consists of the Aaron-penned story of what Wolverine gets up to once he moves back to San Francisco with the other X-Men (it involves kung-fu warlords and is perfect). Then, start picking up Wolverine: Weapon X.

Ol’ Sniktbub has never been better at doing what he does. He’s the San Francisco treat. (I already used that joke? Never mind. Just pretend I made a Grateful Dead reference.)

Review: Superman/Batman: Finest Worlds hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Superman/Batman: Finest Worlds, Michael Green and Mike Johnson's second volume of the series, hearkens strongly back to the classic World's Finest series. In the spirit of the kinds of adventures where Superman and Batman competed for the heart of an alien princess or Bruce Wayne joined Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, Finest Worlds offers three tales, almost Elseworld tales, that mix and mingle the elements of Superman and Batman. But while the wackiness found within well distinguishes this volume, it does unfortunately hurt the overall relevance of the stories.

The main story, "Superbat," finds Superman's powers accidentally, and magically, tranferred to Batman. What follows is by and large exactly what you'd expect: Clark Kent tries to adapt to a normal life while Batman uses his new powers first to clean up Gotham, and later to try in a fit of stark raving madness to eradicate all crime everywhere, until Superman and the JLA must step in to stop him. The writers get no points for bringing any new insights to the characters of Superman and Batman, but yet the story is filled with lots of little moments: Superman teaching Batman to use heat vision, Supergirl's surprisingly moving grief when Superman is injured, Super-Batman fighting both Bane and the Justice League. The story benefits overwhelmingly from art by Identity Crisis's Rags Morales, giving it the semblance of a weight it otherwise wouldn't deserve.

The difficulty with "Superbat" -- and also the funny, charming "Lil' Leaguers" story that sees Superman and Batman teamed with cartoon dopplegangers -- is that they're magic-based stories where all the toys go back in the toybox at the conclusion. Possibly this was editorially-mandated (and possibly, I've heard, the reigns will be looser on Superman/Batman post-Blackest Night), but the writers' previous volume, The Search for Kryptonite, had no such problems. Kryptonite was surprising and interesting and deeply rooted in the current events of the DC Universe; Finest Worlds is a satisfactory volume of Superman/Batman, but it lacks the "oompf" of the previous book.

That said, I must praise the writers for "The Fathers" (which marked the fiftieth issue of Superman/Batman). Surely Green and Johnson aren't the first to posit a meeting between Thomas Wayne and Jor-El, but I loved the mid-issue tease that it all might be a dream -- and finally the revelation that the meeting in fact took place. I hold no illusions that any other writer will ever reference the event ever again, but I credit the writers for "going for it" and not taking the easy out found in the book's other two stories.

The truth is, despite that Finest Worlds is another step away from the direction Superman/Batman needs to go if this title is going to last (read: relevancy), the book is plain, old-fashioned fun. The outlandish campiness of the parallel Superman/Batman narrations (begun by Jepf Loeb and continued here) virtually ensure these stories can't be taken seriously, so there's no choice but to sit back and let them wash over you. Ultimately I decided to view these stories like episodes of the Superman or Batman cartoons, and only then did I feel I really "got" their intended tone.

[Contains full and alternate covers]

Superman/Batman: Finest Worlds is a fair collection for completists, but those waiting for Superman/Batman to really "find its feet" might want to wait for the next team to take over this book (more details recently announced.)

Review: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The important question about Neil Gaiman's Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is, does it indeed function as the "last" Batman story? Yes, it does. Gaiman offers in two issues a deconstruction of the elements of a Batman story, what it means for the Batman to die, and how perhaps so many different interpretations of the Batman can coexist. It is a story that will quickly become dated, much as Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? has, but that will likely help define Batman for future writers to come.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? might alternately been called "Batman: This is Your Life." We find Batman present here at his own wake, as allies and enemies recount the story of the death of Batman. Except, each character has a different story of Batman's death, and here the Killing Joke's Joker coexists with the Batman: The Animated Series Joker and a seemingly Golden Age Catwoman.

We find this is not the story of "our" Batman's death -- that is, his apparent Batman RIP/Final Crisis death -- but perhaps the story of "the story of Batman's death," or maybe a story about stories about Batman. Final Crisis plays no overt role here, but there's definite thematic agreement between Caped Crusader and the meta-interpretation of stories in Final Crisis.

Boiled down, the conclusion that Gaiman reaches is that, no matter how Batman dies, he dies fighting. It's true -- I can think of many instances of Batman dying (his un-death in Dark Knight Returns immediately springs to mind), but never a time that Batman gives up. And though it's something one could also say for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and what have you, I think Batman's mortal status gives this a slight edge -- everyone might go down fighting, but Batman goes down fighting and he's "just a man."

Similarly, Gainman whittles down what it takes to make a Batman story such. He tells one imaginary tale where all of Batman's foes are simply actor friends hired by Alfred to humor the mourning Bruce Wayne -- but even this story must by rights include the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the presence of Alfred, the Bat-signal, and such. Gaiman closes the story with a terrifically offbeat take on Goodnight Moon where he checks off the requirements for a Batman story -- the Batcave, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon -- and also what might change with time -- "the Boy Wonder" (but not necessarily Dick or Tim); "the Joker and all of you" (the various rogues who come and go). It's a fantastic examination of how to write Batman, and the riff on Goodnight Moon is sweetly bizarre given Batman's status, lets not forget, as the arm-breaking scourge of villainy.

What I found most interesting was the last scene of the book, as the Bat-signal morphs into a pair of hands drawing baby Bruce Wayne from the womb to the world. As Gaiman's Death notes (here in the form of Martha Wayne), Batman's is a backward story -- rather than working hard and receiving his reward at the end of his life, Batman receives his reward first (his time with his parents), and then faces his hard work of being Batman. Only in his death and resurrection does Batman achieve what he otherwise cannot -- the return of his parents -- before he must fight for them once more. It's in this way that Batman's story is different than Superman's, moreso than their powers or secret identities, and bears, I think, additional consideration.

DC Comics pads what would otherwise be a slim volume with a couple of Batman-and-his-foes stories that Gaiman wrote over the years, including a Batman: Black & White story where Batman and the Joker are actors hired to work on the comic book panel. The included origins of Poison Ivy and the Riddler have been many times retconned since their printing; while I understand some readers found these stories to be needless filler, I liked again how they worked with the main story to talk about "stories" -- Batman stories that don't quite fit and don't quite make sense, but which are Batman stories nonetheless.

In twenty years, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? will hardly still be the "last" Batman story. I thrilled to a Jean Paul Valley Azrael cameo in one panel (Andy Kubert does a magnificent job of emulating all sorts of Batman artists), but the presence of Batman's newfound son Damian in seemingly every other crowd scene puts this story firmly in the Grant Morrison Batman era, just as Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? relates to the Silver Age Superman and not the current. But we currently exit a time when Batman was "grim and gritty" and after that a jerk, and Gaiman offers something else: the Batman who never gave up. If that sticks and defines the Batman to come, nothing wrong with that at all.

[Contains full covers, foreword by Neil Gaiman.]

Deluxe format for Johns/Frank's Superman: Secret Origins

Thursday, September 17, 2009

From the "Why should Batman have all the fun?" department comes news that Geoff Johns and Gary's Frank's Superman: Secret Origin will be collected in DC Comics' deluxe oversized format.

Previous deluxe books include Batman RIP, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, and the JLA hardcover collections.

As a weigh-station between Absolute format and a regular hardcover or trade paperback, I like the deluxe editions a lot. I've always envisioned comics collections as needing to be more than just a bunch of issues bound together, but rather something that builds on the original comic -- this large-format collection showcases the story and art that appeared in monthly form. I don't mind paying more for a hardcover if it's "special" in this way.

More deluxe Superman volumes on the way?

Also newly solicited from DC: Batwoman: Elegy in hardcover (hopefully more than just the first few issues of the Greg Rucka/J H Williams Detective run) and Sam Keith's Arkham Asylum (newly mentioned on DC's The Source blog; that this shares the name of a popular video game doesn't hurt).

More to come!

Review: Alice in Sunderland hardcover (Dark Horse Comics)

[This review comes from Loki Carbis, an Australian pop culture junkie, who cannot resist a good graphic novel. He lives at The Centre Cannot Hold on the web, and in his own imagination, among others.]

Somewhere right about the middle of Alice in Sunderland, Bryan Talbot shows himself beginning to lose faith in the project. It's large and complex and may not have an audience.

But then Scott McCloud appears to him in a vision, and reminds him that comics can be about anything. Reassured, Talbot continues to work on this comic which is not so much about anything, as about everything.

It's a fascinating work, one of the most ambitious things attempted in comics format since From Hell by a writer, and no less ambitious on the art side. Talbot blends photographs, woodcuts, and a range of other artworks along with his own drawing. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but Talbot pulls it off remarkably well, creating something that is part Kirby-collage, part J.H.Williams on Promethea, part something else entirely, and wholly Talbot's own. On one level, the book is a tribute to the possibilities opened to the comic form by Photoshop and other such digital manipulation. But if that's the only reason you're reading it, you've missed the point.

Quite simply, Alice in Sunderland is a tour de force. A sort of documentary in comic form, it investigates the life of Arthur Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll); the creation, plot and symbolism of Alice in Wonderland; Dodgon's relations with the real Alice's family; and in more general terms, the history of Sunderland and its place as a centre of art in the United Kingdom. Along the way, it shoots down more than one aspect of the legend of Lewis Carroll, leaving a more balanced portrait of the man and his art.

The book is largely told in first person by Talbot, who – in a variety of guises – leads the reader through all of these things in a wildly discursive monologue (or ocasionally a dialogue, when another living person appears), without ever losing sight of his intentions for the narrative. In the end, you're left with the impression that there's neither a word nor an image out of place. The book is both a serious work of history and an elaborate conjuror's trick, and very frequently both at once.

Alice in Sunderland is only available as a coffee table sized hardcover, its pages made from thick, high quality paper and printed in a kaleidoscopic range of colours. It's a little more expensive than most other graphic novels, but it's worth every cent.

Review: Birds of Prey: Platinum Flats trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 14, 2009

It goes without saying that Birds of Prey: Platinum Flats is not the kind of ending Birds of Prey deserved. For a book that not only spawned a short-lived television series, but also had the unique providence of a second writer, Gail Simone, taking over from series creator Chuck Dixon and making the book's second half even better than its first, this melodramatic, flat end leaves much to be desired. Writer Tony Bedard tries hard, and the previous volume Club Kids had some interesting moments, but it's clear now that DC ought have ended this series when Simone went to Wonder Woman.

Bedard's difficulty here, in my opinion, is trying to create drama where there's just none to be found. In Simone's last story especially we also saw Oracle leave Batman's shadow and learn to trust her operatives as friends; good for Oracle, but bad for conflict in the story. Thus we see in Platinum Flats Oracle regressing -- she's spying on former partner Black Canary, she's bringing new operatives to the team while keeping established operatives in the dark, and she's secretly teaming with backstabbing villains. It's incongruous and repetitive, and ends the story on a sour note -- for most of the book Oracle isn't someone the reader especially likes, rather than the hero we've come to respect.

The second problem (and I'm surprised I can't find more about this online) is Bedard's face-off between Oracle and the Joker, who previously shot and paralyzed her. Dixon's Oracle/Joker meeting danced around the issue of how they knew each other; here, Bedard directly addresses their conflict, and the result is appropriately frightening. However, at the end of the series, even as Oracle vows to the Joker, "You took nothing from me," the Joker ultimately beats Oracle quite severely, and then escapes. If there were a clear lesson Bedard meant us to take from this as part of an ongoing arc, this might strike me differently, but on the page Oracle comes off as the loser of the episode at the tail end of the book's other troubles.

I did appreciate that Bedard uses continuity to good effect. He did well tying up a loose end from his excellent Black Canary miniseries in a conversation between Oracle and Black Canary, and I very much enjoyed the use of a mystery villain here from Judd Winick's Outsiders run. I found myself wishing Bedard might've stopped there; the humdrum villains he creates to populate Platinum Flats -- and indeed the city itself, which lacks the texture of Gotham or Coast City -- are far less interesting than the villain Bedard brings back from the dead.

The final two issues of Birds of Prey aren't collected here. The book ends on an uncertain note as Oracle and Black Canary, together again, set off to do battle; if that's really it, it's at least a mildly upwards note, if unfinished. My hope is that we'll see Birds of Prey #125-127 at the beginning of the Oracle: The Cure so at least we see the storyline completed, but my guess is I'll feel the same as now -- no offense to Bedard, but DC ought have quit while they were ahead.

[Contains full covers]

A guest review of Alice in Sunderland next, and then more Batman-related goodness with Whatever Happened to the Dark Knight?.

Review: Terror Titans trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

While not terribly moved by Sean McKeever's work on Teen Titans, I found his collected Terror Titans actually quite enjoyable. In Teen Titans: On the Clock, McKeever portrayed the villains as more "hip" and interesting than the stuffy good guys; here, McKeever has nothing but villains, and his blood-soaked story (well aided by artist Joe Bennett) has a life missing from his Teen Titans and Birds of Prey work. The finer details of the story languish in a bit too much confusion, but it worked enough that I'm eager to read McKeever's further take on these characters in his new Teen Titans Ravager co-feature.

Terror Titans is a villains' tale similar to Salvation Run, in that it's pages upon pages of backstabbings and bloody murders (if you like that kind of thing). The titular Titans emerge here as little more than collateral damage in the struggle between former Teen Titan Ravager and the villain Clock King; McKeever builds the carnage as two different characters see their own fathers murdered, and a third discovers he likely never had a conscience to begin with. McKeever's story gets darker the farther it goes, until the character Dreadbolt admits he's even becoming numb to the death around him. Like a good horror movie, there's an increasing sensation in Terror Titans that no one might get out alive, and it makes for a suspenseful story to the end.

Granted, Ravager doesn't do much more in McKeever's story than trade insults and occasional fisticuffs with the other Terror Titans -- it remains rather unclear why the Clock King lets her hang around in the first place. However, McKeever picks up in the best parts of the Ravager character, that she fights like her father Deathstroke but can also see into the future, making her something of a psychic detective with a chip on her shoulder. The Rose Wilson Ravager has been around since the early 1990s (first introduced in "Titans Hunt," if you can believe it), and while her current characterization is a far cry from then, I'm pleased to see DC finally doing something with the character.

McKeever's most interesting -- and mysterious -- character in Terror Titans is the lead villain, Clock King. Terror Titans takes place in a vague time during or after Final Crisis, and much of my interest came from a suspicion that Clock King was secretly Darkseid himself. We know nearly nothing about the character, whose near limitless powers include prescience four seconds into the future, access to a realm where time stands still, and wealth limitless enough to run a previously Darkseid-driven teen superhero fight club.

Throughout the book, Clock King refers to a secret plot for which he needs to mind-control the teen heroes; this plot turns out to be simply sheer mayhem, only for the purpose of the Clock King's own amusement. The revelation is a mild disappointment, but at the same time reinforces Clock King's mystery -- what we thought would be an answer turns out to be a red herring. Whether the story ends up a success depends largely on whether McKeever picks up the Clock King again in the Ravager co-feature. If he can make it all make sense, Terror Titans will be a successful prologue; if not, it becomes something of a head-scratcher.

In a way similar to Peter Milligan's two Infinity Inc. volumes, much of Terror Titans' appeal comes from waiting to see just what disturbing thing might possibly happen next. Because Terror Titans is in the end really just a minor spin-off miniseries, I can't necessarily recommend it as a "must read," but the uptick in quality does portend good things for McKeever's forthcoming DC Comics work.

[Contains full covers.]

Seven Soldiers of Victory hardcover solicited for 2010

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Just received word that DC Comics will release Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory in hardcover format in 2010.

This should in truth come as no surprise given the current popularity of (A) hardcover collections and (B) Grant Morrison.

Bigger yet is the news that this will likely not be a four volume set like the Seven Soldiers of Victory paperbacks, but rather two oversized volumes collecting the thirty-part miniseries.

My question to you is: there was much controversy about the way DC originally collected Seven Soldiers (linearly, rather than by character story). So, this time around, would you like to see the collection ordered by character, or presented the same way as the paperbacks?

Review: Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 1 trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Monday, September 07, 2009

[This review comes from Bob Schoonover, who's annotating NBC's Chuck on his blog.]

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out, Vol. 1 is the beginning of Ed Brubaker's run on Daredevil, and, given the first six pages, ought to have been confusing and required weeks of digging through previous trades to understand what was going on. To be sure, the status quo in Marvel books is changing regularly, and this can be a headache for someone wanting to begin following Marvel characters. Realizing that the first trade in Mr. Brubaker's run begins with Matt Murdock, Daredevil, in prison, can be even more off-putting.

To his credit, Mr. Brubaker deftly pulls off the explanation of Matt Murdock's imprisonment without lengthy flashbacks or relying on the reader to be familiar with Brian Michael Bendis's previous run. In the end, he presents a compelling story of the prisons in Matt Murdock's life - the one Murdock is incarcerated in, the one created by his secret identity, and the one created around him by his family and friends.

The story begins with a Daredevil fighting crime in Hell's Kitchen, while Matt Murdock sits in prison, charged with obstruction of justice (essentially, for being Daredevil). Of course, Murdock is in the same prison as many of his enemies, including The Owl, The Kingpin, and Hammerhead. These two story strands interweave as the Daredevil on the outside interacts with Foggy Nelson and the rest of Murdock's law team, while Matt Murdock takes control of his prison life. By the end of this arc, the second Daredevil is revealed (this would be the Daredevil that was in Civil War), and Matt Murdock begins his quest to find out who set him up to go to prison (a fact that will be made plain in the next review).

My experience with Daredevil had been mostly limited to Frank Miller's run from the '80s and a random trade here or there. However, I enjoyed Brubaker's run on Batmanand Detective Comics, and decided to follow him to the most "Batman-like" character in the Marvel universe. Brubaker comes out swinging for the fences, including Bullseye, The Kingpin, a second Daredevil, and The Punisher in his opening arc. It was clear that from the various conversations and narrations that I had missed a lot in Matt Murdock's life, but Brubaker deftly covered the important parts, allowing the story to flow without the need for editor's boxes, or for me to hit Wikipedia. This was all done while keeping the story moving at a brisk pace, something I always appreciate.

As good as the story is, and it is good, the art by Michael Lark really makes the book stand out. Lark's style works spectacularly in the "realistic" setting of Hell's Kitchen and prison. My first exposure to Lark was in Gotham Central, and I think he really upped his game since then. The last four pages of the TPB contain an interview from Marvel Spotlight with Brubaker and Lark concerning the opening sequence of this trade, and Lark explains some of his techniques and choices - I'm not an art student by any stretch, but after reading the interview and re-reading the trade again, it's clear that Lark had a very specific idea of the world he was working in, and he executed it perfectly.

For those that are curious about continuity, this volume takes place approximately during Civil War. I think Brubaker managed to have the only comic series/property at Marvel that wasn't involved in the battle between heroes, and I'm glad for it. Daredevil's strength, as both a character and a series, comes from him being out on his own or with other street-level heroes. Daredevil may be the best Marvel analog to DC's Batman, but unlike Batman, who has been elevated from a street-level hero to the Bat-God (see Morrison's run on JLA, or even Mark Waid's) so that he can interact with other superheroes and be involved in cosmic events, Daredevil has chosen not to be in the New Avengers, and has largely avoided the bigger events (it does not appear that he was involved in any Secret Invasion crossovers, either, and I haven't seen a Dark Reign tie-in yet).

By avoiding some of these high-octane stories, the writers can keep Daredevil on the street, and don't have to continuously create more ridiculous situations/villains to spur the hero on or make the universe consistent [it's always seemed odd to me that Nightwing has faced Trigon (The New Teen Titans), Batman has faced off against New Gods (JLA: The Rock of Ages) and Martians ( JLA: New World Order), and Robin faces off against Anarky].

For anyone that liked Brubaker's Batman run (or Greg Rucka's run in Detective, for that matter), Frank Miller's Daredevil run, or Batman: Year One, I think Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out, Vol. 1 will suit your needs. Brubaker and Lark have crafted a great prison story where everyone - the prisoners, the guards, the people on the outside - has depth, human needs and human emotions, and Daredevil is, as it always seems, put through the wringer.

[Read a review of Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 2 from Collected Editions contributor Jeffrey Hardy Quah.]

Review: Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I wonder if Geoff Johns would hesitate if someone asked him which characters he preferred to write, the Flash or the Rogues?

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge]

In Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge, writer Geoff Johns reunites with artist Scott Kolins and proves sometimes you can get the band back together again. Johns' five-year run on The Flash remains one of my favorites (see my retrospective of Johns' Flash run), and in Rogues' Revenge he not only returns most of the series' main supporting characters for a final bow, he also builds on a couple of the characters in the process. Add to that Rogues' Revenge's perfect position as a bridge between the disparate Countdown to Final Crisis and the miniseries itself, and it combined for a story I literally didn't want to end.

Even more clearly than in Flash, Johns demonstrates here the dichotomy of the Flash's Rogues. These are quite remarkably deadly foes, as Johns proves in the brutal second chapter when the Rogues torture and decimate a group of replacements. At the same time, they are to a one wracked with guilt over having killed the Flash Bart Allen, believing in a warped sense of fair play where they don't kill anyone who wouldn't kill them in turn. But we can't forget that each Rogue emerged from a terrifyingly damaged family situation, so much so that Captain Cold hardly blinks before ordering the death of his own father.

What we find is a group of bad guys near unquantifiable among the other villains of the DC Universe. While every other villain (including, Johns points out, Superman's Lex Luthor) joins Libra in Darkseid's cult of evil, Captain Cold quips that he doesn't believe in evil, only "different shades of grey." All of this is Johns' invention -- the Rogues weren't nearly so complex in previous eras -- but indeed it helps to define them as something different that the patients of Arkham and the Sinestro Corps. The Rogues are on one hand rational villains who commit crimes only for gain, not maliciousness; but they're all also on the bleeding edge of plum crazy, and Johns doesn't let us forget it.

At first I thought it something of a waste that DC included the already-collected Captain Cold profile at the end of this book, but Johns offers so much detail about Cold here that I found myself reading that story again. Johns' posited Cold in his Flash stories as leader of the Rogues and the antithesis of the Flash Wally West -- from a broken home like Wally, Cold is essentially what Wally could have become if not for the guidance of Barry and Iris Allen. Though Cold's arc essentially ended in Flash, Johns unexpectedly brings Cold's abusive father into the scene, and pages of violence are followed by quiet interaction between Cold and his father -- which itself gives way to more violence. The sequence is, if you'll forgive the pun, chilling, and cements Cold as an oft-overlooked villain worth watching.

I also appreciated that Johns took a few pages to fill in a gap in the history of the Weather Wizard. Whether by design or the fallout of retroactive continuity, the Weather Wizard's origin has historically been a little murky; he's at different times been believed to control the weather either on his own or through a staff invented by his brother, who either died of a heart attack or whom the Wizard himself murdered. In Rogues' Revenge, the Rogues end up in the selfsame observatory where Wizard's brother died, and Johns finally reveals the truth -- no big surprise, and indeed the entire scene in the observatory was hardly necessary, but I appreciate that Johns took the time to tie up this loose end.

Like DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, Rogues' Revenge serves as a mediator between Countdown to Final Crisis and Final Crisis, neither one of which itself quite fit into DC Comics continuity. The Rogues murdering Bart Allen was one of the lynchpins of Countdown, and this series addresses that in terms of Final Crisis, as Libra takes special interest in the Rogues for having killed a speedster. This volume acknowledges not only the death of the first Trickster from Countdown, but also the Pied Piper's semi-comprehensible ties to Darkseid's Anti-Life Equation in the same series.

(As a side note, one has to acknowledge that DC Comics has had a pretty rough time of it in the run-up to Final Crisis. Fans generally panned Countdown to Final Crisis, and for the success of Sinestro Corps War there was also the failure of Amazons Attack; more than a handful of the One Year Later titles were cancelled. With Batman RIP and New Krypon, DC seems back on track, but I remember the outcry over the death of Bart Allen, and in that way the Rogues represent a trying time for DC. When Captain Cold delivers a lethal blow to the comics-arbiter of Bart's demise, Interia, in thanks for "one $%@#$@-up year," I have to think the Rogues are getting their revenge on a couple of levels.)

[Contains full covers, Captain Cold and Zoom reprint stories]

Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge is hardly a necessary story. It doesn't add much to Final Crisis on one hand, and likely isn't essential before you read Flash: Rebirth on the other. But this is a good story, a good crime story, a good DC Universe villain story, and hands down one of my top recent favorites.