Review: Justice League of America: Worlds Collide hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 30, 2009

There's a general consensus that once writer Dwayne McDuffie had Final Crisis out of the way, the quality of his Justice League of America picked up considerably. Never in McDuffie's run were his stories bad or embarrassing to the characters; in fact, his characterization was always strong even if the story plots -- due to McDuffie himself or the aforementioned pre-Final Crisis editorial fiat -- sometimes lacked real verve.

Whether with Final Crisis behind him or the new inclusion of his former Milestone characters, McDuffie's previous Justice League volume Second Coming showed marked improvement over the two before, and Worlds Collide is his best Justice League yet. We mourn, then, that it also collects McDuffie's final issues of the title.

Indeed, the great strength of McDuffie's Justice League run all along has been the characters. Throughout, I for one have enjoyed the "doomed from the beginning" romance between Hawkgirl and Red Arrow; McDuffie also well spotlighted Vixen and Red Tornado in the last volume. Here, at the end, McDuffie finds character gold in the unlikely pairing of the female Dr. Light and the young Firestorm; Light is over-angry and Firestorm overly-flippant, but they quickly bond as Justice League outsiders. As well, time hasn't lessened McDuffie's touch with the Milestone characters; his Icon remains as noble as his Hardware does enjoyably overconfident.

Left with a handful of Justice League second-stringers in the wake of Final Crisis, McDuffie creates a plucky sub-League that's surprisingly fun to watch. McDuffie pits the team against Starbreaker, a classic and powerful Justice League foe, and convincingly demonstrates how this team -- Zatanna, Green Lantern John Stewart, Firestorm, and Dr. Light -- could reasonably take down Starbreaker on their own. McDuffie gets points for characterization again -- his League comes together solely for the purpose of upholding League values, and the way the four quickly learn to care for one another makes them all the more endearing; there's a "soul" in this story that wasn't there before, and the reader suddenly cares because, it seems, the writer does, too.

Unfortunately, by choice or again by editorial fiat, how McDuffie gets to this clear space isn't entirely pretty. The real victim in this volume is Black Canary, the chairwoman to whom little of the League has shown respect throughout McDuffie's run (part of a storyline, he says, to ultimately build Canary back up). In Worlds Collide, much of Canary's team either resigns or joins a rival League (including Canary's own husband, Green Arrow) such that Canary herself quits.

For those who thrilled to see Canary take charge, branching off of Gail Simone's take on Black Canary in Birds of Prey, to see Canary's League end in flames is a disappointment. After years of writers casting Canary as the victim, chairing the League represented not only a victory for Canary, but for the portrayal of women in comics. But one difficulty with a character gaining their strength is that sometimes writers don't know where else to go, and therefore must break the character down again -- we see this not only with Canary, but even with Oracle in Birds of Prey after Simone's departure. Again, I'm not sure any of this is actually McDuffie's choice -- in one chapter, Canary and Oracle actually discuss whether it's "sexism" that's been the problem with Canary's leadership in the Justice League, and one wonders if this isn't another instance of McDuffie making his own statement on his troubled Justice League run through his characters.

Indeed, it's hard not to hear McDuffie in a a rather startling exchange between Canary and Green Lantern Hal Jordan halfway through the book. As Hal announces his intent to form his own League (in James Robinson's Cry for Justice), he ticks off on his fingers what very little Black Canary's Justice League has accomplished. Indeed it is very little, mostly helping fellow Leaguers rather than saving the world -- as compared to Grant Morrison's JLA, this League's accomplishments are paltry. McDuffie could very well be speaking about how his own writerly hands have been tied; most of what this League has done has been in service to either crossovers or forthcoming miniseries, and the reader imagines they feel McDuffie's frustration in Canary's own.

What came next, of course, was McDuffie's firing from Justice League reportedly for airing his frustrations about the direction of the series. Those frustrations, it seems, mainly involved the interruption of crossovers in the series -- yes, McDuffie dealt with a bunch of Final Crisis, but I recall Grant Morrison has as many crossovers with JLA and seemed to take them more in stride -- Superman showing up in his blue costume, and Wonder Woman's mother joining the League, as two examples. No comic, I'm sure, is easy to write, but I wonder if Justice League is as hard as it seems, or if it just takes a certain kind of writer to write it. James Robinson takes the League next, with a membership that seems geared more toward working with the current changes in the DC Universe rather than being derailed by it -- I'll be curious if Robinson's run, finally, becomes a "lasting" League run, rather than the fits and starts we've seen so far.

[Contains full covers]

One good thing to come out of all of this is the announcement of Milestone Forever, a new miniseries by McDuffie. The return of the Milestone characters in Worlds Collide (and how McDuffie ties it to past Milestone history and to Final Crisis) is one of the best parts of this volume, and I'm eager for more Milestone on the way.

Thanks for reading!

Review: Justice League of America: Second Coming hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It seems the best of times and the worst of times for the Justice League of America title. In Second Coming, writer Dwayne McDuffie presents a Justice League tale that is interesting and well-steeped in League history, though suffers from a general sense of unimportance. This is fine Justice League, but I dare say Justice League needs to be better than "fine" in order to make a mark.

For the most part, Second Coming serves to rejuvenate two fan-favorite Justice League characters, Red Tornado and Vixen. These are necessary steps, and under different auspices both stories might succeed far better. Focusing on Red Tornado and Vixen, especially the latter, makes this feel less like a Justice League story than a character piece with plenty of guest stars (though McDuffie gives nice moments to both Black Canary and Zatanna, and also Animal Man). Neither Tornado nor Vixen change here, nor do any other Leaguers, such that this story could have taken place just as well in JLA Classified as in the main title.

McDuffie recognizes that Red Tornado, to be sure, has been in this position before -- his body destroyed, the League trying to rebuild him -- and turns the story on Tornado's sense of trying to change his life. The change, Tornado's proposal to his girlfriend, is a good one (I thought they were already married), though it doesn't help the reader escape the same ennui that Tornado feels. McDuffie takes up a good chunk of Tornado's story in this book with the Justice League fighting Amazo -- that is, again. There's nothing notable about this incarnation of Amazo, no gimmick or special circumstances; it's just a hero/villain slugfest with an equally simple, the heroes acknowledge, solution. McDuffie gets the voices of all these characters, especially Tornado and Zatanna, but ultimately this part has little to distinguish itself.

Much like Gail Simone's long Black Canary storyline in Birds of Prey, McDuffie has stripped Vixen of her powers, her League status, everything -- only to restore her in this volume essentially the same as before. Arguably, Vixen gains a healthy dose of respect from the League (as, one imagines, she is meant to gain from the reader), but frankly, I liked Vixen just as much as I did before. McDuffie writes a good Vixen story, don't get me wrong, and a fine one-off tale of an alternate Justice League, but I felt more relief to see Vixen's powers back to normal than I did cheer at her recovery. It's hard to say at this point what original writer Brad Meltzer might have intended for Vixen's haywire powers in the first place, but I hope from here on to see less drama surrounding the character and more of Vixen as a valued member of the League.

At the end of Second Coming, the reader learns that Anansi, source of Vixen and apparently Animal Man's troubles for a white, was essentially "just kidding." The trickster character claims he's been testing Vixen for the purpose of strengthening her for a fight ahead -- that is, Anansi isn't a villain, and all his villainous acts can just be swept under the rug. It's an unfortunate amount of noise to ultimately signify nothing; Anansi makes interesting claims about fabricating the aliens that gave Animal Man his powers, and also about having ties to problems with the Multiverse in Final Crisis, but that he "takes it all back" in the end contributes to the story falling flat.

Of course, one always has to watch when a writer introduces a "storyteller" character into a story, as McDuffie does with the Anansi. It's perhaps too easy to read McDuffie's well-publicized frustrations with writing Justice League in what Anansi says -- for instance, Vixen admonishing Anansi to "put everything back" in its place, and Anansi refusing because it's what "they" want him to do. McDuffie decrying "excessive continuity" through Anansi is worthwhile for a laugh, though the details of his plan to use Vixen to "reassert ... control" (over the direction of the Justice League title, presumably) smacks a bit of desperation.

There's a lot I liked about Justice League of America: Second Coming. McDuffie references an earlier meeting between Animal Man and Vixen, technically out of continuity -- good. McDuffie offers some "guy talk" where Superman is sensitive and Green Lantern is brash in giving Red Arrow advice -- good. And there's a beautifully illustrated scene of Black Lightning having a heart-to-heart with Hawkgirl (not sure if this is Ed Benes or one of the guest writers), marred only by a mix-up of Hawkgirl and Black Canary's backstories. It's a good book, not a waste of time or money (though it contains remarkably few issues for a hardcover), but McDuffie fails to do anything new with the Justice League here. After their long years of history, I'm not sure just teaming up these heroes cuts it any more.

[Contains full covers]

(Blog@Newsarama contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco has an interesting take on Second Coming on his blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday.)

Review: Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 23, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds.]

As should come as no surprise, Geoff Johns and George Perez's Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds is a big book of caped and costumed superhero fun. Johns not only takes the opportunity to bend the classic Legion of Super-Heroes mission alongside twenty-first century social issues, but also amends what many readers will see as poor choices made by DC Comics in the time leading up to Final Crisis. Be warned, however -- even as I'd venture there's something here for everyone, to really understand every detail of this story requires a knowledge of DC Comics' Legion lore that this reader, to be sure, didn't have.

Johns succeeds with the Legion here much in the same way he did with Green Lantern: Rebirth, reviving the classic interpretation while preserving the modern versions. All three Legions get a place -- the newest Legion as stories from Earth-Prime, the Zero Hour Legion shunted to a parallel Earth though remembered through the remaining speedster XS, and the classic Legion as the new continuity. In this, and in some slight of hand involving the Final Night crossover and the modern Superboy and Supergirl's meetings with the Legion, Johns establishes that all the Legion stories you love still did happen, won't be forgotten, and are integral to the current Legion. Most everything included (sorry, John Byrne Superman years) and very little left out.

In the past, Legion has always paralleled themes of racial and global harmony, as teenagers from different "worlds" join to live and work together. Johns' new Legion status quo has xenophobia run rampant on Earth (similar, we could say, to issues facing the United States) while the rest of the universe looks to disassociate itself from Earth because of their xenophobia (much the same, again, to the tarnished reputation of the United States world-wide). Into this comes Johns' Legion, young adults from different backgrounds working together against the push and pull of their own planets; it's a small tweak, but one that revitalizes the relevancy of the Legion much the same as the Green Lantern series has been an allegory for the plight of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina.

The big news however, at least for me, is that Johns uses Legion of Three Worlds to resurrect Superboy and Kid Flash, both controversially killed since Infinite Crisis. I already knew about the resurrections, but I was quite surprised that Superboy's return related to Starman's actions in Justice Society. Much the same, I knew Kid Flash Bart Allen would be back via Brainiac 5's lightning rods, but not that the original, "forgotten" team up of the three Legions involved rescuing baby Bart and his cousin Jenni from the Reverse Flash. Johns ties together plots from this past year's Superman and Justice Society with nary a thread left hanging -- rare in these days -- and the execution is very, very impressive.

Legion of Three Worlds follows the classic Legion recruiting some Multiversal help to defeat the rampaging Superboy-Prime of Infinite Crisis fame. Prime recruits his own Legion of Super-Villains, allowing Johns to delve into extreme Legion apocrypha and spotlight even more esoteric Legion characters. It's here unfortunately where Legion of Three Worlds shows the difficulties inherit especially in the classic Legion series: there's just so many characters and relationships. That Wildfire has an unrequited love for Dawnstar I get, and also that Lightning Lord is Lightning Lad's brother, but when we get into the White Witch/Black Witch/Mordru situation, I for one was hopelessly confused. One hopes that in Adventure Comics or wherever the Legion may appear next, Johns and subsequent writer Paul Levitz have the space to take things more slowly and let new readers get to know the characters better.

In truth I've kept up better with the post-Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis Legions, who largely take a back seat in this tale. Indeed there are some nice moments, both "cute" -- the inclusion of the every grouchy Gates, that the second Ferro Lad is just called "Ferro" and that we once called Phantom Girl "Apparition" -- and also that Johns cleans up some trailing Legion plotines, like the second Lightning Lad stuck in Element Lad's body. But the two alternate Brainiacs, who get the most screen-time, spend much of it bickering at one another in a rather rudimentary way -- the second Brainiac sits in awe of the adult Legionnaires, while the third Brainiac has only snide comments for anyone over the age of eighteen. It's a very rough distillation of the temperament of the two Legions -- likely all Johns had space for -- but the result feels somewhat simplistic.

Regardless, Legion of Three Worlds deserves a special place alongside George Perez's JLA/Avengers and likely also JLA/Titans, Kingdom Come, and Green Lantern: Rebirth. All of these are books that deftly celebrate DC Comics minutia through echoed words and phrases, recreated postures and poses, and more in-jokes packed into the background than you'll find anywhere other than an issue of Ambush Bug. The book begins in the thirty-first century Superman Museum, and the artifacts here -- Dubbilex, the Tangent Superman, Superboy's original jacket -- are just a taste of what's to come. There's material here for DC readers from the Legion's beginning to just a few years ago; something in this book is sure to delight.

The book is tagged as a Final Crisis crossover, but the cross occurs in one direction only. Final Crisis references Legion of Three Worlds (turns on it, even), but Legion in no way references Final Crisis, and in fact largely contradicts some of the comics that follow in Final Crisis's stead. This should worry the reader not at all. Final Crisis and Legion do eventually match up a couple months down the road, and the offending scene in Legion is easily dismissable. Chalk it up to all the time paradoxes that go on in Legion of Three Worlds; the incongruity is a blunder, but it doesn't overshadow what's otherwise a well-written, well-drawn story that celebrates the DC Comics history it's built on.

[Includes full, variant, and unused covers]

Comic Book Holiday Gift Guide 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Collected Editions blog is back again with our picks for this year's top ten ideas for trade paperback presents for the comic book lover, fan, or collector in your life.

Last year we offered eleven suggestions of books could you get for under $25 -- and, with a little Collected Editions magic, free shipping, too! This year our focus is on ten complete volumes -- standalone books or sets that you can get your favorite comics fan, where they won't have to run out and buy twelve more books in order to understand it. Not all are under $25, but most are -- and we're back with more tips how you can get free shipping!

* Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1

A deluxe hardcover makes a lovely, impressive gift under your Christmas tree, and you can't go wrong with the newly-released first volume of the Eisner award-winning Fables series, which pairs fairytale characters with modern, real-world settings. This book features the first and second Fables storylines previously only available in paperback, in this director's cut oversized edition. And, Fables writer Bill Willingham just released a Fables prose novel; pair this book with Peter & Max: A Fables Novel to make a lovely set with free shipping.

* Asterios Polyp

Every comics fan knows David Mazzucchelli's name as the artist on Batman: Year One, but he's also drawn novel adaptions and cartoons for New Yorker magazine. His first graphic novel, Asterios Polyp, would be a cerebral change-of-pace for your favorite comic book fan, the richly illustrated story of a New York architect whose misanthropy culminates with a self-imposed exile to the American midwest. Pair this book with one of two great graphic novels, Will Eisner's The Dreamer or Amanda Vanhamaki's The Bun Field, and you've got two trade paperbacks for just about $25.

* Absolute Death

Be forewarned, this is a pricey book, but it's sure to leave your loved one happy. Ask any comics fan, and you'll find that among their top ten gateways into comics was something to do with writer Neil Gaiman's character Death -- either her appearances in Sandman or her much acclaimed miniseries. Don't let Death's goth girl appearance fool you -- these are stories full of philosophy and magic, and a necessary addition to any comics fan's shelf. Free shipping on this and any book you might pair with it.

* Astonishing X-Men Omnibus

Keeping with our focus on done-in-one volumes this time around, this gigantic X-Men hardcover collects all twenty-four issues of Astonishing X-Men written by Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday. Whedon's run also won Eisner awards -- whether your favorite X-Men fan loved X-Men Origins: Wolverine or hated it, this collection will give them something to enjoy. Shipping on this book is free!

* Trinity Vol. 1

Among the Final Crises and Blackest Nights of the past year, DC Comics's weekly Trinity event starring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman slipped quietly under the radar. Just in time for the holidays, all three volumes of this sweeping, fifty-two part superhero saga are now available in paperback; tied up in a ribbon, this too would make a nice complete set under the tree. Pair one volume with our illustrated Beowulf stocking stuffer, or pick up all three -- either way, free shipping!

* Bone: One Volume Edition

Talk about hefty -- this graphic novel clocks in at over 1,000 pages for just over $25. Independently published and called one of the top greatest graphic novels by Time magazine , the art style of Jeff Smith's Bone looks at first like something from the Sunday funnies, but is really a sweeping fantasy saga in the spirit of Lord of the Rings. Another done-in-one volume -- this is every Bone issue in one place, and sure to keep the recipient reading for a long time.

* Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Two-Disc Special Edition)

One of my favorite trade paperbacks is the first volume of Superman/Batman, Public Enemies, so I was more than a little excited when DC announced they'd bring Jepf Loeb and Ed McGuinness's story to the small screen. Admittedly, the DVD's been met with mixed reviews, and doesn't quite do the original story justice -- at the same time, there's something about McGuinness's manga-inspired, big muscled art, especially combined with voices from the original Superman and Batman animated series, that's very compelling. Together, the book and movie are good for free shipping -- another great package, and your comics fan can decide for themselves which is better.

* Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Scott McCloud launched a series of books about comics with this, the illustrated Understanding Comics. Using the medium's own vernacular, McCloud examines the language of comics and how they use pictures to make meaning. This should be on any comics reader's shelf -- I read it a while back, and it completely changed how I read my comics and the details I noticed from panel to panel. Pair with the The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks for a bit of irreverent fun (and free shipping), or just about any of the other full trade paperbacks on the list.

* Star Trek: Countdown

I loved, loved, loved the newest Star Trek movie, and not just because they were willing to take risks like the relationship between you know who or blowing up you know where. I also loved it because of the continuity, that's right, that J. J. Abrams still managed to make the new movie fit with all the old ones (obviously, I'm something of a continuity wonk). For the Star Trek fan on your list, Countdown further bridges the gap between the old and new Star Trek continuity -- it's a fun book that adds a little more to the movie. Add to Understanding Comics for free shipping, or your favorite sci-fi fan might like the Flashforward novel, Dilbert's Scott Adams' essays Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!, plus Will Eisner's The Dreamer to boot -- once again, four books just about $25 and free shipping!

* The Bun Field

This abstract story by Italian artist Amanda Vahamaki redefines the graphic novel genre -- a moody piece where reality is fluid and the rules of perception are made to be broken. I've read Bun Field, the abstract story of a day in the life of a inquisitive child, a couple times since it came out, and I find a different meaning in it each time. I like the idea of pairing Bun Field with The Dreamer, looking at where comics started and where they're going; include Star Trek: Countdown alongside and you've got free shipping.

And for more help qualifying your order for free shipping ...

* The Dreamer

At this very moment, the graphic novel The Dreamer by legendary comics creator Will Eisner is only $5. Eisner literally invented the graphic novel format, and The Dreamer is Eisner's own autobiographical tale of the early days of the comics industry. If you want to add some more weighty trade paperback reading to your gift-giving this year, you can't go wrong with this one; pair The Dreamer with Asterios Polyp and the lighter Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! for free shipping.

* The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks

From the big screen to the Blackest Night, I don't have to tell you zombies are all the rage this year (and what says the holidays like zombies?). Max Brooks takes on zombies throughout history in this illustrated "guidebook," just one in a series by Brooks. Better yet, this will round out your free shipping with Understanding Comics, Asterios Polyp, and just about everything else you'll find on this list.

* Flashforward

While not a graphic novel, I was fascinated to find in the bookstore that the new ABC series getting so much attention is based on this novel by the same writer, with reportedly more of a focus on the government action. I've got a copy on order from the library, but in the meantime I've been thinking of picking this up as a stocking stuffer myself. Pair with Star Trek: Countdown and just about anything below for free shipping.

* Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Explains Cloning, Blouse Monsters, Voting Machines, Romance, Monkey Gods, How to Avoid Being Mistaken for a Rodent, and More

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame offers this book of essays on religion, technology, and just about anything else that comes to mind. Though a little outside the realm of graphic novels, if you've got a Dilbert fan at home, this 400-page book is less than $3 and should help you on your way to free shipping.

* Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes

John Howe of the Lord of the Rings movie fame illustrated this slim volume which retells the legend of Beowulf. While not perhaps the shining jewel of your gift list, this will make a nice stocking stuffer for a fan of fantasy artwork, or a younger reader you'd like to introduce to the epic poem. At just over $5, pair this with Asterios Polyp and The Dreamer and get free shipping, or drop it in with Bone: One Volume Edition for a shipping-free stocking stuffer.

Happy holidays to all, and to all good reading!

(Lots of bloggers, by the way, have Amazon links like the ones above, and when you buy anything after clicking on these links, that blogger gets a few cents. This holiday season, if you're buying gifts through Amazon, consider clicking on someone's link before you buy; I know I will. There are lots of hard-working bloggers out there (see blogroll), and this is a great, easy way to support them.)

Full Blackest Night collection contents revealed

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We now have details on the contents of all seven (yes, seven) Blackest Night collections to be released by DC Comics next summer. The news that Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will be collected outside the main Blackest Night collection will make some fans very unhappy. As follows:

- Blackest Night - the main eight-issue miniseries

- Blackest Night: Green Lantern - the Green Lantern tie-in issues

- Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps - the GLC tie -in issues

- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1 - the Blackest Night Batman, Superman, and Titans miniseries

- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2 - the Blackest Night JSA, Flash, and Wonder Woman miniseries

- Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns - the eight "resurrected" titles

- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps Vol. 1 - the three-issue miniseries (listed as volume one of multiple, but this might be an error)

The issue here, as we've discussed previously, is there's a consensus that you need to read Green Lantern between the pages of Blackest Night to understand the story, but the books will be collected separately.

This hearkens back to the Final Crisis problem, where the original plan for collecting Final Crisis was to collect the main miniseries on its own -- but having read it, it's clear that book would have made no sense without the additional Superman Beyond issues later added in.

I know emotions are high about this one. Are you eager for the Blackest Night collections? Can't believe you have to wait until next summer? Steamed about the separate volumes? Chime in!

Review: Tangent: Superman's Reign Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 16, 2009

I like Dan Jurgens' writing, don't get me wrong. Not only did he pen stories from one of my favorite eras of Superman (and that's before Death of Superman, but also I've dug his Tangent concept and comics through three individual volumes and the first part of Tangent: Superman's Reign.

But the structure of Superman's Reign appears to be such that, while the first six issues (with art by Jamal Igle) took place firmly in the Tangent Universe, the last six issues (with a lesser rotating art team) take place mainly in our DC Universe proper. With this comes much less of a focus on the Tangent characters, and really not much to differentiate the story from your run-of-the-mill Justice League adventure.

Whereas the first volume offered a sort of Tangent "One Year Later," catching up with the Tangent characters since we left them in Tangent Comics Volume 3, this new volume mainly features the DC heroes fighting the world-conquoring Tangent Superman. Our heroes are quite clearly in the right and the Tangent Superman is quite clearly wrong, so there's no depth to this battle. Indeed, the Tangent Superman could have as easily come from another planet or from a parallel universe about which the reader had no knowledge, and it wouldn't greatly affect the outcome of the fight that ensues.

I hold up Devin Grayson's JLA/Titans as an example of a team crossover done right, where the reader gets a chance to compare the characterization of parallel characters and learn something in the bargain. The Tangent Flash runs alongside the New Earth Flash, but they never get to know each other, or consider how the Tangent Flash Lia is much like a young Wally West. There might've been room for plenty other inspired team-ups, like the Tangent Spectre/Plastic Man duo meeting, for instance, the like-minded Teen Titans Blue Beetle and Red Devil, but it's not to be. The Tangent Atom and Hex barely even make the stage.

Similarly, our heroes learn nothing from the Tangent characters. Quite a number of the Tangent characters reflect in awe at how "competent" and in charge our Batman is, as he essentially barks and orders his way through the story (seemingly decidedly like his pre-Infinite Crisis incarnation). Comparatively, our heroes see no benefit in the dystopian Tangent Universe, and as such there's no room for comparison, just easy concepts of "good" and "bad."

Jurgens' one standout character here is Lori Lemaris, formerly the Joker and now carrying the mantle of Manhunter. The Tangent Joker was something of a Harley Quinn figure, and the Tangent Manhunter similar to ours -- Lemaris's change is a better indication of the darkening of the Tangent Universe under Superman's reign than the scenes of oil magnates quivering at his feet. In the end I didn't quite feel the reader understood what Jurgens tried to say by Lemaris's transformation -- I might perhaps have liked to see some reflection of how our own world has changed since Tangent Comics began in 1997 -- but surely Lemaris's struggle is the strongest part of this series.

As well, I give Superman's Reign credit for feeling like a big story. The cast includes the entire Justice League plus three Green Lanterns and a handful of Tangent characters, and seeing them all on the page together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and what have you. Unfortunately I didn't feel the art lived up to the epic challenge; Jamal Igle exits, and while Wes Craig does a passable job in the first two chapters (with interesting uncolored pencils around the borders), I couldn't much get in to the bland faces and indistinct figures of Carlos Magno in the end.

As much as anyone, I feel bad about the end of Tangent: Superman's Reign because of how much I've enjoyed these characters over the previous volumes. If DC published more adventures of the Tangent characters, I'd be happy to read them. But maybe what we've found here is that Tangent and the DC Universe just don't mix -- if Jurgens' creations are going to be overshadowed by the DC characters in his own miniseries, I'd just as soon the Tangent heroes stay at home.

[Contains full covers, "History of the Tangent Universe" section]

Trade Perspectives: Crossover Comparison - Final Crisis vs. Blackest Night collection

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Now that we're beginning to see some of the shape of how Blackest Night will be collected in trade, I thought it would be interesting to compare the collections with those of the most recent previous crossover, Final Crisis.

It bears comparing the way DC has collected recent crossovers because I dare say it's a work in progress. Consider that of the last four crossovers (defined as a major line-wide event where the main story took place in a minseries) before Identity Crisis -- Final Night, Genesis, DC One Million, and Day of Judgment -- only two of them have been collected at all, and certainly not to the extent that Infinite Crisis and many of its crossover issues were.

So let's look at Final Crisis and Blackest Night in the categories of lead-ins, the event, crossovers, and aftermath. I'll choose "winners" for each category, loosely based on which approach I favor or gives the most bang for the buck.


Final Crisis had a whole year's worth of lead-in stories, Countdown to Final Crisis. Of course, if you consider that all the nearly fifty-plus issues of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern run have been leading in to Blackest Night, that's pretty hefty, too. It looks like ten Green Lantern trades versus four volumes of Countdown -- but then, for completists, there's Countdown to FInal Crisis: Lord Havok and the Extremists, The Search for Ray Palmer, Arena, and Countdown to Adventure, plus Salvation Run (and even Amazons Attack was involved), and none of the Countdown books have really been considered breakaway successes. Winner: Blackest Night

The Event:

Previously we examined all the issues going in to Blackest Night -- not only the eight issue miniseries, but also seven three-issue miniseries (another eighteen issues) plus seven "resurrected" titles -- thirty-six issues that are specifically titled Blackest Night. Final Crisis, in contrast, had seven issues, plus the Requiem, Resist, Submit, and Rage of the Red Lanterns specials, the Final Crisis Secret Files, the two-issue Superman Beyond, the three issue Rogues' Revenge, and the five-issue Revelations and Legion of Three Worlds -- twenty-seven issues total, and some of them extra-sized. We had thought Blackest Night was a behemoth as compared to Final Crisis, but it actually looks a little more even.

In terms of collections, Final Crisis had the main hardcover (which included some of the specials), the Final Crisis Companion, Revelations, Rogues' Revenge, and Legion of Three Worlds -- just four hardcovers and a paperback if you'd like to say you read the whole thing. At this writing, however, Blackest NIght has the main hardcover plus Rise of the Black Lanterns, Black Lantern Corps volumes one and two, and Blackest Night: Tales of Corps volume one and two. That's five hardcovers (so far) to Final Crisis's four. Winner: Final Crisis


Final Crisis distinguished itself by a general lack of crossovers, though there were some: Justice League of America #21 and #31 dealt specifically with the fallout of Final Crisis, as did Titans #16; we also can't forget the "Last Rites" story that appeared in Batman after Batman RIP. Mostly, however, we can agree that Final Crisis kept to itself. Not so Blackest Night. I count at least sixteen issues of regular DC Comics series with ties to Blackest Night (and I probably missed some), plus at least eight issues each of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. Some of these will likely be collected in the hardcovers above, but if you're going for the complete Blackest Night picture, you'll probably be updating your collection with a good wide swath of the DC Comics Universe. Winner: Final Crisis


Of course, it's hard to judge the aftermath of Blackest Night given that we don't know what will be released yet (though more hardcover Green Lantern volumes are sure to come). Final Crisis saw in its wake four six-issue miniseries, Run!, Dance, Escape, and Ink, all of which will be collected in softcover. As contrast, Infinite Crisis only had two follow-ups specifically labeled as "aftermaths": Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Bludhaven (really a very early Final Crisis prelude) and Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre. We'd be surprised if the upward trend didn't continue with at least four miniseries coming out of Blackest Night. Winner: To be determined


It surprises me that Final Crisis "wins" above, because I prefer how much more Blackest Night is tied into the DC Universe. One thing that sticks out to me, however, is the question of crossovers into monthly titles.

As I mentioned, Final Crisis has a lot of "fallout" -- that is, not monthly titles that cross over into the main event as with Infinite Crisis and Blackest Night -- but rather its effects are felt later in Teen Titans, Robin, Nightwing, and the like, and you get a complete story even if you only read the Final Crisis miniseries.

This reminds me of Identity Crisis, "the crossover that wasn't" -- as I understand it, Identity Crisis didn't start out as a crossover, but as it gained attention, writers began incorporating it into their stories and eventually it became a cornerstone of Infinite Crisis. I think this is how I'd like crossovers to be -- there's some thrill to seeing issues co-branded with Blackest Night, but something more organic like Identity Crisis and Final Crisis (or even how Blue Beetle and Teen Titans eventually crossed over with Sinestro Corps War) seems a better hedge against event fatigue.

Love when a crossover involves your favorite monthly? Wish those pesky events would stay in their place? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Ocean trade paperback (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Monday, November 09, 2009

[This review comes from Collected Editions reader David Tobin]

Ocean is a 2004 series from writer Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse released under the Wildstorm banner. Set one hundred years in the future, Ocean follows U.N. Weapons Inspector Nathan Kane as he undertakes a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. A U.N. exploratory station called Cold Harbour has been investigating the oceans on Europa and has discovered the remnants of an ancient civilization, which include countless coffins and weapons capable of planetary-scale destruction. Kane is sent in to assess the situation and keep the weapons and technology out of the wrong hands.

The cast of the book is very well written and Ellis really gives each character their own voice. Each character has an anecdotal moment tied to the main narrative which helps define their personality. Kane, for example, is completely averse to guns of all kinds after his parents were shot and killed, spurring him to become a U.N. weapons inspector.

The dialogue really shines strongly throughout the entire collection, in particular the quieter scenes between Kane and Fadia, any scene engineer Siobhan is in, and the confrontations with the schizophrenic Doors Station Manager who attempts to undermine the U.N. research. The only misgiving I would have with the characters is that I feel Kane can sometimes feel as if he is a watered-down version of Planetary’s Elijah Snow, especially in the action scenes that could have been lifted wholesale from that book.

Ellis portrays technology and science in a very interesting and tangible way by making every advancement tied to a reasonable current-day practice or theory. This one-step-removed way of looking at an advanced civilization is humorously played upon by the character of Kane at the book’s beginning and ending. The technology gives the entire narrative a Hollywood blockbuster feel with giant flying saucers, advanced weapons and ballistics, as well as the book's antagonists, the Doors company.

Doors is the only real mis-step in the book. The ideas of the imprinted human workers and the hive-like structure to the company is interesting and well handled, but the pointed jokes portraying Doors as Microsoft really take you out of the story. Painfully obvious puns like “I mean, could you ever get Doors 98 to work?” are so heavy-handed and out of place. The idea here is interesting but Ellis doesn’t really ever do the concept justice.

Chris Sprouse does an amazing job as always. His clean lines and great sense of design bring Ellis’ ideas to life and have a good coherence between technologies and the clutter of the world. His storytelling is strong and there is never a wasted line. I’ve always been a huge fan of Sprouse, his Tom Strong run with Alan Moore in particular, and I’m amazed that he is still not getting the mainstream recognition he so rightly deserves.

Overall, Ocean is an excellent read. Art and script are excellent despite the niggling issues I pointed out. Anyone who’s read any of Ellis’ Planetary or Authority will love the popcorn movie spectacle and fully fleshed out world.

Review: Superman: New Krypton Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Don't get me wrong -- Superman: New Krypton is good comics. Whether this second volume is good Superman is debatable, as is the question of whether this seemingly quite decompressed storyline couldn't have been collected in two hardcovers instead of three. That aside, I recently listed the "New Krypton" series at Speed Force as among my top three comics I couldn't do without; here's why.

What I continue to love about New Krypton is its scope. It's easy to have a hero fighting a villain and a couple of subplots -- New Krypton has a gigantic cast of characters, each with their own motivation and reasons for action in the series. Thinking about this, I was struck specifically by the modern incarnation of Reactron -- alongside Metallo, he's one of many classic Superman villains pitted by General Sam Lane against the Kryptonians, but at the same time Reactron's working toward his own ends to gain a new body, and exacting his specific vendetta against Supergirl. There's nary a character taking part here, from the Daily Planet staff to the Kryptonians to the US government, who doesn't have some double loyalty (as, of course, does Superman) and it gives every scene special resonance.

This volume's trio of writers -- Geoff Johns, James Robinson, and Sterling Gates -- also work hard to keep the surprises coming. There's no less than two startling deaths in this volume, one surprising betrayal, and the volume's widescreen conclusion; surely this volume is as much a page-turner as the comics must have been weekly "first reads." At least three of the characters have mysterious secret identities (about which the writers liberally tease us), and that's not to mention a number of hanging, unexplored threads like Robinson's Atlas character or what an errant Legion flight ring might have to do with all of this. New Krypton is packed, just packed, with so much stuff that the reader can't help but thrill to the ride.

Superman's villains get the spotlight in this second volume; short of Mr. Mxyzptlk, just about every classic Superman villain appears here. Most of them don't have a role yet -- having been rounded up by the Kryptonians and shunted to the Phantom Zone -- but it's obvious from how the writers rejuvenate Metallo and Reactron that good things portend for Superman's bad guys. There's a great nod especially to the Lex Luthor/Brainiac team-ups of yore, though I didn't much like Luthor getting his comeuppance from Sam Lane; master villain Luthor ought be the one pulling the strings, and hopefully we'll see that before too long.

Volume two technically wraps up the "New Krypton" saga -- even though volume three is also labeled "New Krypton," it actually contains the subsequent New Krypton miniseries whereas these issues close the initial ten-part "New Krypton" crossover. Maybe, one could argue, that's why this hardcover contains just six issues, but still it feels awfully short. I'd have preferred perhaps another issue or two tucked into the first volume and a couple more into the third; while certainly "events transpire" in volume two, it sometimes feels like a collection of cliffhangers sandwiched between repetitive conversations (mostly Superman and Supergirl's mother Alura), when perhaps some of it could possibly have been truncated to save the reader buying three hardcovers.

As well, I remain disappointed by Superman's own role in New Krypton. This time around, as I mentioned, he spends nearly all his time making moralistic demands on Alura. Superman's right, of course, but he comes across stodgy and unbending as he demands over and over the names of Kryptonians wanted for murdering Metropolis policemen -- instead of, say, putting those reporting skills to good use and trying to souse out the killers himself.

I still struggle, however, to see New Krypton as a real Superman story. Something like Last Son, where Superman fights Zod over Metropolis and gets pulled to some exotic locations in the process, is to me a Superman story, but Superman considering living on New Krypton -- away from the Daily Planet, away from his role inspiring humanity and his fellow heroes -- I'm not sure I see how that helps define Superman himself (though I still have faith in the writers to get us there). I can think of exceptions, of course -- two of my favorite Superman stories, Panic in the Sky and Exile, both have Superman off-planet, though in a different way than this. My hope remains that when the New Krypton dust clears, these same writers have some more traditional Superman stories up their sleeves, too.

Irrespective, New Krypton is so well structured and well characterized that it continually keeps me coming back for more. I'm hooked, and if you're not already reading this, do yourself a favor and get hooked, too.

[Contains full and variant covers]

More Blackest Night collections, Cry for Justice, Adventures of Superboy

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Eagle-eyed Collected Editions blog reader Chris Hilker just pointed out a bunch more Blackest Night hardcover trade collections now solicited. To wit:

- Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns, by Geoff Johns, etc.
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1, by James Robinson, etc.
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps Vol. 1

Granted, the authors listed for these books may just be placeholders, but here's my speculation, branching off our earlier conversation as to how you would collect Blackest Night:

- James Robinson, as you know, writes both Blackest Night: Superman and Blackest Night: JSA. My bet is that between the two volumes, Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps collect the six main spin-off miniseries (that is, also Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, and Titans). Pure speculation, based on Robinson's name being there.

- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps is, at least, the three-part Tales story that came out in July. That's not enough for a hardcover, though, and the solicitation says volume one (of an expected two volumes). Could this be, perhaps, where we'll see the relevant Green Lantern Corps issues collected?

- Rise of the Black Lanterns, by Geoff Johns, almost sounds like a lead-in volume, not unlike the volume of collected stories that relate to Johns' current run, Green Lantern: In Brightest Day. "Rise" could also refer to the various "cancelled issues" coming out in January, collected here in one volume (or it could be, strangely enough, a collection of the issues where the various Black Lanterns *died*).

Very interesting ...

Some other notables:

* Adventures of Superboy Book One

This book collects very early Superboy stories by Don Cameron, Joe Shuster, and Stan Kaye. Part of DC's recent Superboy lawsuit has to do with Superboy stories that Don Cameron wrote for DC while Joe Shuster served in the army; obviously things are rosier if DC now sees fit to release this collection.

* Justice League: Cry for Justice

Love it or hate it, James Robinson's Justice League miniseries certainly has people talking. I'll likely pick up this hardcover and hope I don't regret it.

* World's Finest

Just as the first issue hits the stand, here's word of the collection of the Sterling Gates/Phil Noto Super-Family/Bat-Family crossover.

* Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives

The next collection of Sterling Gates' Supergirl run. Who is Superwoman? ends with issue #42; this will either pick up with #43, or if #43-46 are in the Codename: Patriot collection, maybe #47.

Let the Blackest Night speculation continue!

Wednesday Comics, Superboy, Final Crisis and Batman RIP paperbacks solicited

Monday, November 02, 2009

The DC Comics trade paperback solicitations for 2010 keep rolling out, with these new graphic novels for the upcoming summer. Some interesting first release hardcovers and paperbacks, but also some significant second run paperbacks as well.

* Wednesday Comics HC

DC Comics announced the Wednesday Comics collection earlier this month, and it's now available for pre-order. At $50, cheaper than many Absolute editions, this 11 x 17 volume collects all 12 issues of the weekly series, reorganized to read by character.

* Superboy: The Redemption

Perhaps my favorite item on this list, DC collects Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's first six issues on Adventure Comics in hardcover format. I've heard nothing but good things about this story ... and it's Superboy (!) ... and it's written by Geoff Johns. I'm counting the days.

* Gotham Central Book 3: On the Freak Beat

The next Gotham Central hardcover collection. The first hardcover collected the first two Gotham Central trade paperbacks, In the Line of Duty and Half a Life, and the second included the trade paperback Unresolved Targets plus some previously uncollected issues. That second volume had twelve issues; this third volume could include the trade paperback The Quick and the Dead plus the previously uncollected issues #26 and 27 at eight issues total, with one more Gotham Central hardcover to follow.

* JSA vs. Kobra
* The Shield Vol. 1: Kicking Down the Door

After Checkmate, Eric Trautmann became one of my new favorite writers (Sterling Gates is in that circle, too). I'm super-excited for this upcoming paperback, which I see as essentially a spin-off of some of my favorite Checkmate storylines. Also solicited is the first volume of Trautmann's Shield series, including the introductory Red Circle special by J. Michael Straczynski.

* Batgirl Vol. 1: Batgirl Rising

I have high hopes that this Batgirl will become the DC Universe's next, lasting Batgirl. The first two storylines, about six issues long, could comprise this first trade.

* Superman: New Krypton Vol. 4

Listed as a paperback, but price-wise, and given that the first three of these were hardcover, I expect this is hardcover as well. Probably collects most, if not all, of the final issues of the Superman: World of Krypton miniseries.

* Wonder Woman: Warkiller

DC previously solicited Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian as a hardcover and paperback to be released on the same day, but now it appears only the hardcover will be available. With Warkiller, the series switches to paperback only; not a great sign for a series that DC's trying to set as a foundation of the DC Universe.

* Atomic Knights

John Broome and Murphy Anderson created the Atomic Knights in 1960; this hardcover collects their early stories. Interesting that DC is collecting these without any sort of header (DC Classics Library, etc.); it remains to be seen if this is the start of a new set of classic collections.

* Titans Vol. 3: Fractured

This trade collects the one-shot "Day in the Life" stories that followed the Deathtrap crossover, including a Blackest Night prelude and a Starfire issue in the aftermath of Final Crisis. Likely includes issues #14-22.

* Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed

Even as I'm gearing up to buy a deluxe edition of Bill Willingham's Fables, I have severe reservations about his ongoing run on Justice Society; we'll see. The series is now being released in paperback only. Collects at least issues #29-33, leading up to the JSA All-Stars spin-off series.

* Doom Patrol Vol. 1: We Who Are About to Die

* Red Tornado: Family Reunion

Paperbacks - if you've really been waiting for the trade, your wait is over; Final Crisis and Batman RIP are on their way in paperback, along with a couple ancilliary volumes:

* Final Crisis

* Batman R.I.P.

* Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

* Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

* Superman: New Krypton Vol. 1: Birth

* Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns

Make your preferences known -- what's on your to-buy list?

Review: Booster Gold: Reality Lost trade paperback (DC Comics)

Booster Gold: Reality Lost with art by Dan Jurgens and writing by Dan Jurgens and Chuck Dixon, goes firmly in the "more fun comics" pile; not very much happens here right up until the very end, but having Dan Jurgens write and very solidly draw again the character he created -- especially in a rollicking tale of time paradoxes -- is worth the price of admission all on its own.

[Contains spoilers for Booster Gold: Reality Lost]

Jurgens and Dixon enlist a healthy dose of time-travel conceits in Reality Lost, and each serves to remind us why time travel stories are so much fun. To prevent a time anomaly, Booster must prevent the past Batman, Robin, and Batgirl from foiling a robbery by Killer Moth; the resulting chaos results in a scene where time-separated versions of Booster play almost every different character's role in the same scene, like something out of the Three Stooges.

Subsequently, Booster finds himself in such far-flung locations as ancient Egypt and World War I; he even intersects with his own previous adventures and teams up with himself. This isn't the first time Jurgens has drawn time-travel (see one of my favorites, Superman: Time and Time Again), and this story is highly reminiscent of that one. The cameo by Enemy Ace, for instance, is largely gratuitous, but there's a certain thrill in seeing modern heroes cast into war-torn Europe that you can only find in stories such as these.

One central idea examined in Reality Lost is how Booster and his compatriots are routinely manipulated -- by Time Master Rip Hunter, by the duties they've undertaken, even by time itself. The story takes a while to come around to this (not in the least because Jurgens picks up and alters the story Dixon starts), but we see it most strongly in Booster's being flung through time by a trio of chronally-charged knives, and in Booster's sister Goldstar's near-breakdown at realizing she's been resurrected from the dead.

I'm not familiar with Goldstar from Booster's original series, so I haven't been quite sure what to make of her bubbly, almost air-headed portrayal in Booster Gold: Blue and Gold and then her falling apart this time around. The quick change from happy to sad suggests an air of mania which, if this is Jurgens goal, he achieves aptly. Only, I hope Goldstar's disappearance at the end of this story doesn't signal the character's departure from the series (which would make her re-entrance last time something of a waste), but rather an indication that Jurgens has further tricks up his sleeve.

I also enjoyed the look at how Booster has matured, illustrated by the interaction Booster has with his own past self. While there's perhaps a bit too much shoulder-patting in this volume (if I have to hear Booster decry how he's the greatest hero the world will never know one more time, I'll scream), as we reach the twelfth issue (the end of the first full year), it's interesting to see how much more driven and darkened Booster is than when the series began.

Granted, there's only one volume between the beginning and this story, but obviously losing Blue Beetle -- a second time -- has taken its toll. It's in this way that I can appreciate Reality Lost as a sort of "checking in" on the Booster Gold series; nothing really happens other than Goldstar's departure, but in essence Jurgen takes stock of where the characters are after two volumes of the book and deals with the more subtle implications of Blue and Gold. As the new (returning) writer of Booster Gold after Geoff Johns, I can spot Jurgens one book of treading water before the title finds a direction again (and solicitations suggest it has indeed).

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, in the days of title delays and rotating artists and inkers, that it's a sheer joy to read a collection of seven issues all drawn by Dan Jurgens with inks by Norm Rapmund. As someone who remembers fondly the days of Jurgens and inker Brett Breeding (and less fondly Jurgens with inks by Joe Rubinstein), I'd say Jurgens is at his best in this Booster Gold volume. I'm struck by how his art has grown more "widescreen" since the days of panels that didn't bleed off the page, and at the same time preserves Jurgens' trademark full and muscular figures . Having consistent art -- and good art, to boot -- in a collection makes a difference, and it's another reason why I rate this volume so highly.

Booster Gold: Reality Lost isn't a staggering, moving collection, but it's a quality comics tale, and hopefully we'll find it makes a nice bridge between the great previous volume and good things to come.

[Contains full covers, "Origins & Omens" tale]