Review: Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Despite the series under which DC Comics released this book, Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives is actually both a Supergirl and Nightwing and Flamebird story (collecting both Supergirl and Action Comics). This combination serves both titles very well; whereas I have previously found the Supergirl character somewhat juvenile, and Nightwing and Flamebird more one-dimensional than Metropolis's other current protector, Mon-El, there's some great conflict between the three characters that shines in the hands of writers Sterling Gates and Greg Rucka.

[Contains spoilers]

DC has collected the Supergirl "New Krypton" stories mildly out of order between individual and "New Krypton" collections; as such, the relationship between Supergirl and her childhood friend Thara, now Flamebird, hasn't always been entirely clear. Friends and Fugitives clarifies it -- we knew they were essentially raised by the same parents, but I didn't know about their religious divide -- Supergirl firmly secular, Thara firmly spiritual.

Their conflict is firmly the most interesting part of "The Hunt for Reactron" storyline. Supergirl, mostly in mourning the death of her father Zor-El, blames Thara and her strange religious practices for not preventing Zor-El's murder; Thara tries hard, but the influence of the Flamebird entity keeps her from acting normally. This leads to a number of great scenes, and the ones where Supergirl and Thara argue quietly in Lana Lang's apartment are even for effective than when the two pummeling each other under the Eiffel Tower. This aspect of "New Krypton" has come down to one friend angry that the religious beliefs of the other friend impede their friendship, and it's a grounded conflict that makes all the characters much more interesting.

Indeed, every supporting character seems to get a boost in this collection. Nightwing Chris Kent is mostly window dressing behind Supergirl and Thara, but his kiss with Thara at the end will certainly have implications in the next Nightwing and Flamebird collection. Lana Lang and Lois Lane each get to fight and run from bad guys rather than sitting at home pining, which is always good, and it's also nice to see Lois and Lana as friends again. As someone who remembers Lois and Lana comforting one another after the death of Superman, their recent petty jealousies have bothered me; it cheapens Superman for his supporting characters to be that petty, and I'm glad the current writers are patching that up (and that Lois seems to have forgiven Supergirl for the last volume's trouble, too).

Also in the spotlight this volume is Supergirl's mother, Alura. I found Alura's initial reaction to arriving on Earth and the death of her husband slightly obvious -- it seems every alien civilization finds a reason to make war on humanity. But, Friends and Fugitives at least allows Alura to give some voice to her grief -- well-written by Gates -- and also shows Zor-El courting Alura; we see how her seeming emotionlessness has precedent throughout her life. The final scene where she appears to have learned from her husband's example, but ultimately is still on a dark path, was particularly powerful. Similarly, there's a nice one-off issue here where Supergirl argues with her mother about her coming-of-age ceremony (Kryptonian bat mitzvah, anyone?) in which I thought Gates gave a good slice of New Krypton's "normal life" amidst all the conflict.

After Who is Superwoman, I was on the fence about continuing to regularly pick up the Supergirl trades, but this volume and the preview Sterling Gates of his Supergirl plans over at The Source have convinced me to stick around. Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives is a fair follow up to Codename: Patriot, and gives some crucial depth to the supporting "New Krypton" characters at exactly the right moment.

[Contains full covers]

Thanks for reading!

No Spoilers: Essential Batman Reborn?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm about to place my pre-order at my local comics shop, and I'm eyeing Tony Daniel's Batman: Life After Death. I've read Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin volume one, but I haven't yet cracked my copy of Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows.

Without spoilers, can you tell me whether the Winick-Daniel run is essential for reading the next volume of Batman and Robin, Blackest Night, and into Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman #700, or if I can set Long Shadows and Life After Death aside for now?

I know there's the mystery of the new Black Mask (which I'm trying very hard not to spoil for myself!) but I had a sense that the Morrison books are where the real action is, and the Winick-Daniel books are just window dressing. But, if there's something in the Winick-Daniel books that factors into the "main" Batman plot, then I'll start paying more attention.

No spoilers, please, but I appreciate the advice. New reviews coming this week!

Review: Flash: Rebirth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Friday, June 25, 2010

One thing about a Rebirth is that when you finish it, invariably you're left with a handful of easily encapsulatable nuggets that help to sum up the newly reborn character.

One of these after Flash: Rebirth is this: the Silver Age Flash Barry Allen is one of the few fellow heroes that Batman genuinely likes. The significance of this, of course, is that if we understood nothing else after Green Lantern: Rebirth, it was that Batman didn't like Hal Jordan. But Batman likes Barry and Barry likes Hal, and all of the sudden fans know exactly where Barry fits in the DC Comics pantheon -- even if you were thirteen when Barry died and never really experienced him inside the DC Universe.

Someone who was thirteen when Barry Allen died, by the way, is Rebirth writer and newly minted DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Sure, I recognize there's back issues, and Johns is undoubtedly familiar with the entirety of Barry Allen's history by now, but I can't disregard that there was never a time for Johns when Barry was "the" current Flash. Whereas I overall enjoyed reafing Flash: Rebirth, the story distinctly like a modern-era recreation of Barry Allen by someone approaching him second-hand, and not a rejuvenation of the original character.

[Contains spoilers]

Johns likely had first-hand experience with Hal Jordan prior to resurrecting him in Green Lantern: Rebirth, and that story served to present all the cool things about Hal Jordan that had already been there but we never fully realized. Flash: Rebirth makes up a couple of things about Barry Allen that are indeed pretty cool and make one want to follow the character, but they're made up nonetheless and not true to the original source.

For instance, if the most a modern fan knows about Barry Allen is that he had a penchant for bow ties, is considered DC Comics' enduring patron saint (by virtue of his long-standing sacrifice and death in Crisis on Infinite Earths), and otherwise seemed like something of a stiff, Johns turns all of these on their ear. Barry himself confronts his reputation as a saint, repudiating it with a host of "angsty" bad deeds including killing the Reverse Flash and abandoning his friends to live in the future. As for the bow tie, Johns retroactively reveals, Barry didn't even wear one until it was slipped on him last minute and his wife Iris liked them. So, Johns seems to say, not so much a stiff as you might have thought.

All of this is clever, especially Barry's sainthood being within the DC Universe as well as without. But, it's a far cry from Johns re-explaining Green Lantern's yellow weakness in light of new evidence; rather it's more like Identity Crisis re-imagining earlier adventures of the Justice League. What we learn in Flash: Rebirth is that Barry Allen truly is so much of a stiff that Johns needs a villain to alter the time-stream in order to make Barry cooler; that it's not enough for Barry just to be a police scientist and a good Flash, but that he needs some kind of "edge" to appeal to audiences, something I thought comics outgrew in the late 1990s.

Even as Flash: Rebirth heralds the return of Barry Allen, it also apologizes for Barry's lack of coolness, when really no one expected Barry to be all that cool to begin with. In this way, we find in Rebirth that Barry Allen isn't returned so much as the DC Universe now has a new Barry Allen-Prime, so to speak -- but I like this Barry Allen-Prime. Rebirth is heavy in Speed Force double-take, but Johns suggests that the forthcoming Flash series will be more of a police procedural, something that's often suceeded in the DC Universe. Barry will solve cold cases against the backdrop of a corrupt police force -- this has worked for most every CBS police drama (complete with an equally "angsty" murder that Barry witnessed in his childhood) so likely it'll work for Flash, too, and I'm excited.

Not to mention that, even as Johns wrote a dynamic Flash Wally West for a number of years, here Johns surprisingly serves to suck most of the remaining fun out of Wally, leaving Barry as the only viable Flash choice. The best part about writer Mark Waid's recent brief return to Flash was how charmingly cute he made Wally's children; Johns presents them here as absolute brats. Even as Barry is the mentor and Wally the sidekick, Barry ends the series seeming the more youthful of the two. Wally gains a new costume reminiscent of his metallic, white-eyed costume again of the 1990s; whereas this does speak to the era from which Wally is best-known, it makes him look dated and Barry the more "modern" Flash.

Yet, there is plenty for Flash fans to like in this story, though as with Johns' Superboy: The Boy of Steel, some might venture it suffers from too much nostalgia. At the end of Rebirth, the Flash-family status quo is essentially the same as around issue #100 of Mark Waid's Flash run, with Jesse Quick back in the Flash fold and Max Mercury resurrected. This latter item is one of the few great surprises of the book, and as happy as I am to see Max, it feels like something of a regression for the Kid Flash character to have his teacher looking over his shoulder again.

The book's other great cameos are of Wally's villains Savitar and Lady Flash; again, I like these characters and I'm glad to see them, but they've each been out of comics for fifteen years, such that Rebirth's intended audience does seem to be fans who've followed the Flash that long, and not necessarily ones who might've joined the DC Universe more recently. In fact, a good 99% of the knowledge you need for Flash: Rebirth comes from the one story where Savitar appeared, Dead Heat -- now, that's a great Flash story, but it makes Flash: Rebirth feel more insular whereas Green Lantern: Rebirth was more expansive.

Early in Flash: Rebirth, the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick explains how Barry Allen actually inspired him to become a hero again after Jay's initial retirement. Johns is being cute here, too; this is a not-so-subtle reference to the Barry Allen character heralding the Silver Age of comic books in 1950s, which itself helped return the Golden Age heroes to popularity. As such, Johns posits Barry Allen as the DC Universe's preeminent Flash (Barry created the Speed Force, we learn, and gifted every speedster past or present with their super-speed [though completely by accident]) and perhaps even the DC Universe's preeminent superhero (I, for one, like that accolade to go to Superman, but what can you do?).

The irony of the story, ultimately, is that even as Johns takes great pains to suggest that Barry isn't as perfect and unrelatable as we all thought he was, Johns also offers a dozen reasons why Barry is the greatest superhero who ever lived, not to mention having created a multi-dimensional cosmic force that apparently contains the answer to every question ever asked in the entire universe ever. It's a lot to live up to, and I'd venture Flash: Rebirth might've done well to have reigned itself in just a bit. If one detriment of Barry Allen the first time around was too much perfection verging on sainthood, Geoff Johns toes a dangerous line this second time. I'll be watching to see what happens to Barry Allen next in the DC Universe, but if the skies turn red again, he might just want to watch out.

[Contains full and variant covers, introduction, original proposal by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Skiever sketchbook]

I hope you've enjoyed our Flash week at Collected Editions. Don't miss this week's other Flash reviews, Flash: The Return of Barry Allen, Flash: Emergency Stop, Flash: The Human Race, Flash: The Wild Wests. Tip of the Flash hat, of course, to Kelson Vibber of the Flash-centered Speed Force blog for his guest reviews this week, and also to everyone who posted and re-tweeted about the Collected Editions Flash Week -- thank you!

Review: Flash: The Wild Wests hardcover (DC Comics)

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Continuing Flash Week at Collected Editions!

Undoubtedly one of the prices of a successful run for a comics writer is that your fan base expects you do to the same every time. Such must certainly be the case for Mark Waid; his Flash: Wild Wests is nothing like The Return of Barry Allen, nor should it be, even though I might have been hoping so. Wild Wests is a fair entry into the genre of superhero family stories, if there is such a thing; but unfortunately, it doesn't really distinguish itself as a Flash story nor rise much above standard superheroics.

Without a doubt, the very best thing about Waid's new foray into Flash is Wally West's children Jai and Iris. Waid ages the twins, but wisely not too old, such that they're rare adorable preteens in a DC Universe mostly populated with smarmy Damian Waynes. That Iris notes she's special because her parents say so, or Jai delights in his mother wearing a funny hat, is just plain cute, and Waid does well mining a "cute" vein that DC doesn't much else see outside Tiny Titans. Even the kids' powers are cute -- Jai bulks up to a tiny muscleman, but has to take a nap after he does so; Iris teases her brother by vibrating through him to steal his breakfast.

Under the cuteness, however, Waid addresses a problem to which many parents can likely, unfortunately, relate: how to let a sick, possibly terminal kid still have a childhood? Wally and Linda (Park) West are exactly the parents that long-time Flash readers would expect -- cool, funny, understanding, and up-for-anything, but with a significant undercurrent of constant worry about their children, who could rapidly age, even to the point of death, at any moment.

Waid does well to let Wally receive some criticism from the Justice League for putting his children in harm's way (not unlike the parents of recently-stranded sixteen-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland). Wally decides in full, after a heart-rending talk with Jai, to let his children face danger if that's what they want; it's a decision that seems obvious on the pages of a comic book, but has proved more controversial in real life, and I appreciated Waid approaching the issue.

The character moments, however, don't make up for a rather lackluster plot involving a very standard alien invasion. The aliens are bad guys all along and end the story as bad guys; as such, there's no nuance to the story, short of the children, beyond the Flash running around and punching things. To make the unfair comparison, Waid's previous Flash stories were so full of Speed Force mythology and cool speed tricks; here, Wally's speed is mostly a weakness in that the aliens make him dehydrated (of all things) faster, and not much of a boon.

Daniel Acuna's art in the first chapters has a fluidity that shows off both the West kids' powers and the aliens well, but later Freddie Williams' pages suffer from lack of detail (no one has eyes, for instance) and awkward poses that keep the story's climax from popping.

In addition, I have to pick at a production level difficulty, too. When these Flash issues came out, they had a backup story about various Flashes visiting the planet Savoth; DC collects those backup stories all together at the end of the book. Only thing is, something that happens in that story is vitally important to understanding the main story's resolution, but reading this book in order, the main story's resolution is unintelligible (out of nowhere, they're on a friendly alien planet) and lacks much of its intended weight.

(Not to mention -- if I can be really picky -- I remain entirely confused about what's meant to have happened to Wally West after Infinite Crisis. Distinctly we saw Wally go into the Speed Force with Bart Allen, Max Mercury, and Barry Allen; Bart himself recalls living on a duplicate Earth with Wally and Barry where they imprisoned Superboy-Prime; but Wild Wests would tell us Wally was never there and on Savoth instead. My hope is that Flash: Rebirth will explain all this, but I'd bet it's just an overlooked story point that'll ultimately just be ignored.)

Little of that is Mark Waid's fault, but ultimately this story doesn't have the gusto of a Flash comeback; I really wonder if the run collected in Flash: The Wild Wests was ever meant to be ongoing, or if it was instead a miniseries-posing-as-series (as, if you believe DC, Flash: Fastest Man Alive was supposed to be). I would read a West family miniseries by Waid, no doubt, but for the content of the main Flash title, this isn't quite it.

[Contains full and variant covers, brief bio page, backup story]

Coming tomorrow, the main event ... the Collected Editions review of Flash: Rebirth. Be here!

Trade Perspectives: DC Comics/Comixology Digital Comics Announcement

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm interrupting the Collected Editions Flash Week, of course, because today is a momentous day in DC Comics history. I wonder if one day we'll look back on June 23, 2010 (or late evening June 22, 2010, to be technical) as a date like June 1938 when Superman first appeared -- a day after which comics were never the same again.

And, as primarily a DC Comics reader, I'm fiercely proud of any number of aspects of DC's new digital initiative, from the ability to read comics on multiple platforms to their stated intent of using some of the revenue toward local comic book stores, to how close DC played all this to the vest before the announcement. At a time when it seems there's no surprises left in comics, this was a shocker.

That said, for the time being, this new initiative changes my comics reading habits not at all.

Neither Faster Nor More Powerful
I in no way mean to take away from the wonder of DC's announcement. If you're a monthly comics fan with an iPad, and you live far away from or otherwise don't have access to a comic book store, and you don't mind your comics in digital format, this seems like the thing for you. You get your comics on time (Justice League: Generation Lost at least) and at no greater price; I read the Superman #700 preview on the Comixology website (no iPad here, unfortunately) and it's a quite fine, readable interface.

But as a wait-for-trader, today's issue of Justice League: Generation Lost online holds no more value for me than the issue in the stores; I haven't read Blackest Night yet, so I'm not about to pick up Generation Lost. And, even once I've read Blackest Night, there would be no more draw for me to read Generation Lost online than to get it at my local comic book store -- the release date is exactly the same as the physical issue, and the price (on the release date, at least) is exactly the same.

Good for DC, that is, in giving readers more choice in terms of how they want to read their comics -- but without sweetening the deal in relation to the existing sales model, I have no reason to make a switch.

Whose Comics Now?
In addition, whereas I like the Comixology interface, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone online talking about the digital rights issue yet. Near as I can tell (and feel free to educate me further), you don't receive copies of the comics files yourself, but rather you log in to Comixology to view your comics library. The same questions that apply to digital books apply here: What happens if Comixology (no offense to them) goes out of business? What happens if they lose your account? What happens if you want to replace your iPhone with a Droid -- will you feel locked into the iPhone so as to retain mobile access to your comics collection?

Certainly there's good answers to these questions, and the fact that Comixology and DC already offer iPad, iPhone, and web access is more than other mobile reading paradigms offer. But, the fact that something that's "yours" isn't yours -- especially when considering often-massive comics collections -- gives me initial pause.

Directions for Digital to Go
Again, however, we're just at the beginning of this. I don't see anything necessarily bad about DC's initial digital announcement -- and as a matter of fact, they're doing many things better than other companies -- I just don't see its breakthrough application for me yet. Here's what I'd like to see next from DC's digital comics:
  1. 1. Drop the price point. I know creators have to get paid and I know there's some labor involved in digitizing these comics, but selling digital comics at the same price as the physical issues in the absence of shipping and printing costs doesn't make sense. If I have to pay the same amount, I might as well just get the physical copy.

  2. 2. Expand the backlist. Obviously this is coming, but I'll be far more enthusiastic about all of this when the Batman offerings aren't the first issue of Batman: Year One, already reprinted everywhere, but rather all of Batman: Year Three (or Flash: Hell to Pay, as we were discussing here recently).

  3. 3. Offer a subscription service. I don't necessarily want the digital rights to a full Comixology-held copy of Blackest Night for life, but I wouldn't mind reading the whole series now in advance of the hardcovers, and then enjoying my hardcovers in perpetuity. If DC/Comixology offered a subscriber service where for a flat fee or monthly rate I could read all comics published in the last twelve months, but when they're gone, they're gone; or I could "check out" so many titles at one time but then had to "return" one before I could read another, that would be attractive to me. To some extent, this might be the Netflix approach to DC's digital comics.

  4. 4. Sell series at a discount. We begin to get into the realm of trade paperback collections here -- even if the individual issues of Batman: Hush are discounted at $1.99, I expect a certain reward if I sign on to buy all the issues at once -- even one issue free might be a possibility.

  5. 5. Give new life to old series. Invincible Super-Blog's Chris Sims wondered aloud what would happen if cancelled series Manhunter or Blue Beetle did well in the digital comics format -- might that spell a return for those titles?

  6. 6. Start with the digital. Matter of fact, I think DC should go farther and offer new content starring these fan-favorites -- co-feature-sized Manhunter or Blue Beetle stories, priced at $0.99 (or get all twelve stories for $11) that start at DC Digital and then are collected in trade paperback later on; this is, I believe, essentially the Zuda model. That is, let's not just see DC Digital as a repository for what's also coming out every week, but let's also see DC Digital as a launch pad for series that might not otherwise survive in the monthly market.
(Things are moving fast today! As I'm writing this, I noted that on Comics Alliance, Laura Hudson interviews Jim Lee and addresses some similar items with him. Two salient excerpts:
CA: In terms of pricing, will there be any digital versions of trades – bundled collections of digital comics that sell for less than their price as singles?

JL: Right now we're focusing on the periodical side of things, but obviously we have had many detailed discussions about graphic novels and how those are best served going forward in the digital space and we'll have announcements shortly as we get to them, but our initial release is focused on periodicals, and there's a reason for that. That's as much as I can say about it . . .

CA: Have you given any thought to the possibility of releasing digital-only content, perhaps for critically-acclaimed titles with small but loyal followings like "Manhunter" or "Blue Beetle"?

JL: Not in the short term. Part of our mantra with all this is to make sure it's as additive as possible, so the idea of doing something where you're limiting it to a certain channel doesn't really speak to that strategy. But I would say, never say never. There could be some sort of compelling reason to have it be digital only – some level of interaction only digital could provide that wouldn't be well served by print. But initially, there is no plan to do that. It's really about making it an additive experience and making sure our traditional brick and mortal storefronts are well-served by us promoting and selling more comic books to more people. Ultimately we are building the audience, and that will build an entire marketplace not just for the digital channel but the brick and mortar channel.)
In essence, I'm really excited about DC's digital announcement today -- but I'm more excited about what DC's digital announcements will be tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Dare I say it?

... Just imagine.

Review: Flash: The Human Race trade paperback (DC Comics)

This week, we're featuring all things Flash at Collected Editions! Here's another guest review from Kelson Vibber of the Flash-centered Speed Force blog and Those Who Ride the Lightning Flash reference site.

Flash: The Human Race covers the second half of the year-long Grant Morrison/Mark Millar run on The Flash from the late 1990s, plus one more short story. This volume rushes even deeper into "mad ideas" territory than the first, with the Flash racing across time and space first against his childhood imaginary friend, and then against death itself.

The Human Race
The Flash is forced to compete in a cosmic footrace, or else the Earth will be destroyed. The concept is simple, but the details are crazy: The racetrack loops across space and time. One obstacle is a collapsing star. Another is running through the last moments of the exploding planet Krypton. And the Flash's opponent -- Krakkl of the radio-based people of Kwyzz -- is Wally West's childhood imaginary friend (who turns out to have been not so imaginary after all).

This book absolutely revels in the kind of crazy stories you can tell when you don't need to worry about a special effects budget.

Despite that, it manages to feel very familiar. Several of the Bronze-Age races between Flash and Superman had them running across space and time. One race was controlled by cosmic gamblers. Krakkl looks vaguely like Sonic the Hedgehog if he were made out of energy (with Kirby Dots, of course). Even the twist is similar to something Morrison himself does just two years later near the end of his JLA run. (Come to think of it, that same twist fits in well with certain elements of Flash: Rebirth.)

The Black Flash
I'm surprised that this wasn't used as the title of the collection, considering that the concept of death for speedsters has had so much more impact. The Black Flash has shown up in Full Throttle, was referenced in Final Crisis, and showed up again in Flash: Rebirth. Radioland? Not so much.

The basic premise: Max Mercury learns that Wally West is about to die, and tries to save him. But death doesn't leave empty-handed, and takes Linda Park instead. Wally is devastated . . . and death isn't satisfied. It begins stalking him in the form of the skeletal Black Flash.

Two things change with The Black Flash: Grant Morrison drops out, leaving Mark Millar flying solo as writer, and Pop Mhan and Chris Ivy take over the art. The writing comes off a bit awkward in some places, while in others it's absolutely dead on. For instance, at one point, Captain Cold is holding the city for ransom in a way that makes absolutely no sense for Captain Cold; Impulse's characterization, however, is absolutely perfect.

The story bounces back and forth between the utterly ridiculous and the devastatingly real. It's at its best in the character beats in the middle chapter. Sure, several Rogues show up, and the third chapter is one long stuck-in-time battle with the Black Flash . . . but Impulse saying, "Wrote you a letter when you blinked," or Wally West trying to explain to Jesse Quick why he can't handle super-heroics anymore in the absence of Linda, or the absolute bleakness of the funeral . . . those are the moments that that stick in my head.

The ending, unfortunately, relies on not one but two of those cool-when-you-read-it ideas that make absolutely no sense if you think about them for more than a half-second.

I remember severely disliking Pop Mhan's art when this first came out, and I still feel it's not a good match for the Flash. People's features are very exaggerated, and everyone seems to be about 9 feet tall. At the same time I have to admit: he does the best rendition of the Black Flash that I've ever seen.

Flash of Two Worlds
The last story in the collection is a short from 1990 in which Grant Morrison tries to adapt the classic "Flash of Two Worlds" into modern continuity. The original story had Barry Allen crossing from one universe to another and meeting Jay Garrick, but Crisis on Infinite Earths had changed things so that Central City and Keystone City were in the same universe, on opposite sides of a river.

The solution: The Thinker, Fiddler and Shade (who had simply gone on a crime spree in the original story) have cut off Keystone City from the rest of the world, and Barry manages to cross through that barrier.

It's told as a mix of standard comic book panels, childish sketches, and narration by an eight-year-old who witnessed part of the event and heard the rest from the Flashes themselves, giving the whole thing a fragmented feel, as if we're not really getting the whole story.

In a way, that's almost better, because like "The Black Flash," the story works better if you don't think about it too much. Sure, the Rip Van Winkle angle works great as a substitute for crossing dimensions, but it opens up questions that DC has never really been sure how to answer. How long was Keystone City kept separate from the world? Months? Years? Decades? Did people age? If they didn't, that's got to make for some awkward families. If they did, imagine all the young children who woke up as adults without actually growing up.

This is a much more uneven collection than Emergency Stop on creative team alone. Paul Ryan drops out part-way through "The Human Race," to be replaced with Ron Wagner, but their styles are similar enough that it's not too jarring (John Nyberg inking both of them has to help); whereas Pop Mhan's exaggerated style is a huge change, even coming at the beginning of a new story. "Flash of Two Worlds" feels even more out of place, but given how critical it is for the modern Central City/Keystone City dynamic, it's good that the story is available somewhere that today's audience can find it.

On the plus side, the stories of Flash: The Human Race are far from the fill-in tales they could have been. Just as Emergency Stop introduced the Speed Force costume and set up Jakeem Thunder and the modern incarnation of the Thinker, this volume introduced the Black Flash and set up Wally and Linda's engagement . . . a major development which would factor into the next two years of stories when Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn returned to the book.

Tomorrow at Collected Editions, we'll look at the last trade paperback of Wally West's adventures, before the Collected Editions review of Flash: Rebirth on Friday. Don't miss it!

Review: Flash: Emergency Stop trade paperback (DC Comics)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Collected Editions Flash Week continues! Today, we're thrilled to have a review from Kelson Vibber of Speed Force, your one-stop blog for all things Flash! Also don't miss Kelson's Flash reference site, Those Who Ride the Lightning.

Flash: Emergency Stop is the first of two volumes collecting the Grant Morrison/Mark Millar run of The Flash from 1997-1998 (the second volume is The Human Race). They stepped in for a year while the regular writing team of Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn took a year off to work on such projects as The Life Story of the Flash and JLA: Year One.

The first half of the book is the actual "Emergency Stop" storyline, while the second half is made up of three one-shot stories.

"Emergency Stop" is about a suit, or more specifically, it's about two suits. One: the ultimate super-villain suit come to life. The other: Wally West's Speed Force-based Flash costume.

The story also introduces an idea that shapes most of this volume and the next, a line that Wally West attributes to Barry Allen: "With powers like ours, you have to learn to fight the way a science fiction writer writes." The Flash is confronted with his own dead body and given an hour to solve his own murder. A sentient costume runs around possessing minor super-villains, draining their life energy and using their powers. Wally West breaks both his legs.

Wait, what? Yes, early in the story, the Flash is taken out of commission. What follows is a lightning-brigade story, with Wally having to act as strategist and send Jay Garrick, Max Mercury and Impulse out to do the actual fighting. As you might expect, he doesn't take well to being out of the action, and tries to find a way to fight through his injury.

There are a whole bunch of new villains who appear in this story, but most of them are incredibly generic. Only a few are even named, and I can't think of a single one who appears again. But then, they aren't really there to be individuals, or even a team; they're there to be a mob.

Next up is a tale of the Mirror Master in full-up "mad ideas" mode. A mirror dimension where time goes backwards? Check. Sending the Flash through a prism at light speed, splitting him into a whole spectrum of Flashes? Check. Mirror duplicates? Check. A second Earth about to crash into Keystone? Check!

The next two stories settle down a bit.

"Still Life in the Fast Lane" is a solo story focusing on Jay Garrick, and is one of my favorite single-issue stories from the series. It's a day-in-the- life story, but because Jay is the Flash, it's a very full day!

The main plot involves the Thinker, who is dying of inoperable brain cancer. Jay has been visiting his one-time arch-enemy in the hospital, and they've become friends. Not one to let go, Jay sets on the idea of tracking down the Thinker's old Thinking Cap to boost his intelligence and find a cure.

So in and around visiting most of the original Justice Society members, he also finds time to do nanotech research, fight three supervillains (including a single-panel fight with the "Golden Age Reverse Flash"), have lunch with Wally West and Nightwing, give a TV interview, give a talk at a school, and have dinner with Joan!

It's a fascinating look at the sheer potential of super-speed for living, not just for fighting.

The final story isn't really a stand-alone story, but the third part of a crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, "Three of a Kind." It mostly works on its own, since it's structured as a courtroom drama with flashbacks to the incident set up in the first two parts, but it still feels like something's missing. It's an odd choice, and one which makes it clear that DC's real interest in these volumes was in the name recognition of the two writers. Still, there are nice touches, like Green Arrow Connor Hawke applying martial arts philosophy to a legal case, Linda complaining that Kyle Rayner's power-ring- created coffee mugs make everything taste like vinegar, and an explanation of how super-heroes testify in court while preserving their secret identities.

Over the course of Emergency Stop, it's interesting to see just how many elements introduced in these six issues have ended up sticking around. Jay losing Johnny Thunder's pen was deliberate setup for Jakeem Thunder. The speed-force suit that Wally uses to support his shattered legs is still the way he changes into costume, and was used to justify redesigning everyone's costume in Flash: Rebirth. The quest for the thinking cap became the setup for the new, completely computerized Thinker.

Looking back at Flash: Emergency Stop, from a time when DC is being accused of "bringing back the Silver Age," I can't help but think that Morrison and Millar did it a decade ago . . . and did it the right way. They didn't bring back just the trappings of the Silver (or Bronze) age -- the characters, settings and situations; instead they brought back the energy and creativity of a period in comics in which everything was new.

Join us tomorrow as we continue the Collected Editions Flash Week, leading up to the Collected Editions review of Flash: Rebirth!

Review: Flash: Return of Barry Allen trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, June 21, 2010

It's Flash Week on Collected Editions! Check back every day this week (yes, now five reviews this week!) for special Flash reviews.

One of my favorite collected stories is writer Mark Waid's Flash: The Return of Barry Allen. It was my gateway and first introduction to all things Flash in the form of Wally West, as I imagine is true for many modern readers; as I'm on the precipice of reading Flash: Rebirth, which replaces Wally West with Barry Allen as the titular Flash of the DC Universe, I re-read The Return of Barry Allen with some uncertainty. The book builds the case for Wally West as the Flash so well that it's difficult to imagine an equally strong argument in the other direction.

[Contains spoilers]

I recall from the text pieces of 52 that Mark Waid has some affinity for "locked room" mysteries; similarly, Return of Barry Allen distinguishes itself perhaps first of all because it's such a cogent whodunit. Waid gives air to all the readers' natural suspicions, through Wally, in the first chapter, and seemingly brings that mystery to a close; for much of the book, the reader's question becomes "What's wrong with Barry Allen," not "Who is Barry Allen," effectively distracting from the mystery's solution. Waid can't possibly let slip the book's mystery villain's name else the surprise be spoiled immediately; instead the book offers clues in supposedly innocuous mentions of the death of Wally's Aunt Iris -- without saying so outright, Waid gives the readers all the clues they need to solve the mystery.

(It's interesting to note, reading The Return of Barry Allen trade paperback, that the trade dress veritably shouts the book's conclusion in as much as possible. Look at the image of Barry on the back cover. Now look at Barry on the very first title page. Note Barry uncolored on the last page of the introduction. I wonder if this was intentional or not; reading the book with this in mind, I found a number of instances in artist Greg LaRocque's artwork -- mirror images, uncolored flashbacks, statues -- all of which hint at the same thing.)

Waid's later Wally West stories like the also-great Terminal Velocity and Dead Heat would give character arcs to a veritable Flash-family around Wally, but Return remains for the most part Wally's story. The three speedsters who fight alongside Wally serve primarily to represent a kind of "ghosts of Christmas" -- Johnny Quick, for instance, tries to teach Wally about speed through science, much like Barry Allen did in Wally's past, and Wally finds little he doesn't already know. Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, represents Wally's present; neither he nor Wally really think about their speed so much as they just let it come naturally. And though Wally is skeptical of the "zen" teachings of Max Mercury, Max ultimately represents Wally's future in both offering the solution to defeating the faux Barry Allen and also later introducing Wally to the concept of the Speed Force.

Wally realizes through Max that his memory of Barry Allen has been holding him back; I was never a Barry fan myself, but I imagine this to be Waid's specific message to the Barry fans of the time -- that their love for the past hindered their enjoyment of the present. To drive that home, Wally ultimately finds an even more slavish Barry fan than himself in his mysterious enemy, someone who's so even in love with Barry as to want to replace him; in that way, Wally sees the healthy way toward honoring Barry when faced with the decidedly un-healthy way. Long before Superboy-Prime, the faux Barry Allen is the reader here, and as such we must accept Wally when shown the evil of our ways.

As someone who was new to the Flash, what I believe made me accept Wally as "one to watch" at the conclusion of this story is the leadership he demonstrates. In the presence of much older, experienced heroes, Waid has Wally concoct a truly ingenious plan to not only reveal the mystery villain but also to send him on his way, and Wally fulfills the plan with much aplomb. Of course, I also credit Waid for any number of just-cool moments in Return of Barry Allen, from echoing for Wally a deadly scene from Barry's own life to one of the first (and still the coolest) cameos of Barry Allen's ghostly spirit, and from four heroes just sitting around talking about speed for a while to a shout out to Stan Lee and John Romita's "Spider-Man No More," there's little in this story that doesn't work extremely well.

(Though, one picky item I noticed, foremost because it changes sharply in every Waid-era Flash story afterward, is the complete absence of a meaningful female protagonist here. This is perhaps accentuated by LaRocque's artwork, which offers standard superheroics until a woman comes onscreen, and then every one is posed like a magazine model, especially Wally's girlfriend Linda Park, such that women seem even moreso like objects than people than is usual for comics. Waid's Terminal Velocity, Dead Heat, and others will have strong roles for Linda, Jesse Quick, and Iris Allen, but I was surprised in re-reading Return how centered on male relationships -- Jay's friendship with Max, Wally's admiration for Barry -- the book seems to be.)

It's been a couple years since Green Lantern: Rebirth, and while I recall some trepidation at the time about accepting Hal Jordan as Green Lantern when he'd bored me before, it's nowhere near what I feel about Barry now replacing Wally. Wally's personality has come and gone in recent years, hindered tremendously by his more jokester portrayal in Justice League Unlimited, but in a story like Waid's Terminal Velocity or Dead Heat, the reader has a sense that Wally was the guy, a leader, someone who was going to pull off a magnificent feat. Geoff Johns' later Flash run only cemented Wally as a deep, mature, edgy-but-still sunny hero. In this first story, Waid introduced me to Wally West as the Flash and put to rest for me immediately what hero deserved to be inside that red suit; right now I feel like Barry Allen will have to have a heck of a rebirth to replace what Flash: The Return of Barry Allen set in motion.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Mark Waid]

The Collected Editions Flash Week continues ... tomorrow! Don't miss it!

Announcing the Collected Editions Flash week!

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Starting Monday ... it's Flash week on Collected Editions!

Join us for not one, not two, but four five Flash-centered reviews in a row this coming week on Collected Editions -- including a review two reviews by Kelson Vibber from the fantastic Flash blog Speed Force -- all culminating with the Collected Editions review of Flash: Rebirth!

Lightning strikes four five times on Collected Editions this week -- don't miss it!

UPDATE: In case you missed it ...

Ask Collected Editions #2 - Young Justice Cartoon and Trade Paperbacks

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's time for another edition of our semi-regular series, Ask Collected Editions!

Before I begin what's going to be a very long answer to a short question, let me say that if you'd like to participate in Ask Collected Editions, send your questions to our Yahoo account (see address in footer) and I'll try to answer them in the next segment. (Questions may be edited, not all questions may be used, etc., etc.) Thanks!

Today's question comes from our friend Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library. (Chris has recently posted a rumination on comics violence that's worth listening to.) Chris asks:
With the announcement of the Young Justice League animated cartoon, do you think we will see any Young Justice trades? Or Absolute?
Short answer: Outcome doesn't look good. (Read more after the jump.)

DC 2011 Solicitations Hint at Morrison's Batman, Cornell's Superman

I think one sign of positive growth of trade paperbacks is that we're at the point now where graphic novel solicitations are nearly outpacing the monthly comic solicitations -- that is, we're getting word certainly before monthly storylines finish, and maybe even a bit before they start.

To wit, if you've been watching the time-travelling doings in the Batman titles, note Batman: Era of the Batman, coming in March from Grant Morrison and a host of artists; no doubt this continues the story that begins in Batman #700. (For more era-spanning Batman, see Adam Beechen's Batman Beyond: Future Evil.)

UPDATE: The title of Era of the Batman has now apparently been changed to Batman: Time and the Batman.

If Metropolis is more your speed, and you caught the preview of Paul Cornell's Action Comics over at The Source yesterday, then you may not be surprised to hear that storyline will be called Superman: The Black Ring, with art by Pete Woods.

Paul Dini and Stephanie Roux's new series makes its first magical appearance with Zatanna: The Mistress of Magic. More controversally is Eric Wallace's Titans: Villains for Hire (though I liked Final Crisis: Ink; whereas Superman and Batman are in hardcover, this is paperback.

Equally controversial is James Robinson's next Justice League collection,
Justice League of America: The Dark Times (this may be the new JLA/JSA crossover). I've got Cry for Justice sitting here and I'm just about to read it, and then I'll be very interested to talk it over.

Speaking of James Robinson, from what I understand volume six will be the last Starman Omnibus. Can the rumored Starman graphic novel be far behind?

As for me, with all this future-looking, I'm wondering how long until we see a trade solicitation for Flashpoint ...

Check back later today, when we'll have a new installment of our series "Ask Collected Editions." Don't miss it!

(Tip of the hat to Chris Hilker for his assistance!)

Review: Superboy: The Boy of Steel hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 14, 2010

I've been a fan of Superboy -- Conner Kent, Kon-El, or for those who were there in the beginning, "the Kid" -- for a long time. By a long time, I mean I've got every issue of the Superboy series, every issue of Young Justice -- heck, I've got every issue of Superboy and the Ravers! And indeed, I'd venture Superboy's death in Infinite Crisis is about the first time a comics character's passing really got me (and that I truly believed he was dead). Having followed the character from the start and enjoyed his various Karl Kesel, Peter David, and Geoff Johns incarnations, I felt after Infinite Crisis that I really would miss this character.

To that end, I'd have been glad for just about any story that has Geoff Johns writing a newly-resurrected Superboy, even Superboy sitting around reading the phone book. As a matter of fact, the Superboy: The Boy of Steel collection isn't quite far off that -- the real comic book-type action of this story is relegated to a few brief pages at the end, while the rest mainly shows Superboy reconnecting with his friends and being glad to be alive. This won't, I imagine, be the most riveting stuff to every reader -- depending on your perspective, this book could very well reflect a host of problems with DC Comics -- but for this Superboy fan, it's a welcome, welcome volume.

[Contains spoilers]

The clone Superboy, in his early incarnation, largely symbolized 1990s comic book excesses; while Superboy wasn't as muscle-ripped nor his adventures as bloody as some, his sarcasm and leather jacket oozed "kewl." Similarly, Johns' Superboy reborn reflects the new twenty-first century comic book sensibilities; this Superboy, like the also-resurrected Hal Jordan and Barry Allen alongside him, is basically good and clean-cut, and iconic -- he lives in Smallville, hangs out with Krypto, is good friends with Robin (now Red Robin), and so on. It's a Superboy as easily recognizable as Superboy can be without actually being a young Clark Kent, perfect for Underoos and heralding roller coaster rides, and one that someone who comes to Superboy after experiencing DC Comics in movies or on TV can easily recognize.

I know and agree with the reasons this trend is potentially bad for DC Comics, but it works for me because I'm the target audience -- someone who has some affinity for this Superboy even more so than for Hal Jordan or Barry Allen. At one point Superboy and Wonder Girl joke around a picnic table about their old Young Justice hair styles, and it's not so much a plot point as it is Johns reaching out and shaking hands with those who get the joke -- a "welcome to the mothership" moment, if you will. Indeed, the real draw of Boy of Steel is mainlined nostalgia, if that's your kind of thing; if the story isn't reminiscing about Young Justice and enjoying the Johns-era Teen Titans gathered around a campfire, it's offering older touchtones like Superboy and Krypto or Lex Luthor in a prison jumpsuit or even the Normal Rockwell-esque Kansas sunsets provided by artist Francis Manapul.

Indeed Boy of Steel is reductive from start to finish, but I give it at least some credit for being intentionally so. The brunt of Boy of Steel is Superboy's chapters with Wonder Girl and Red Robin; each want to tell him about their brief affair, and each time Superboy's answer is that he doesn't care about "last year." Forget evolving past the 1990s -- Superboy wants to suggest a sea change at DC Comics that overcomes the rather tepid year-long lead-in to Final Crisis, including a mishandled Teen Titans and the gratuitous death of Kid Flash Bart Allen among other events. (Johns included a similar note in his Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge story, which some see as a rare moment of rebellion from a writer/executive who usually toes DC's party line.) Of course, with one hand DC suggests a renewal in Superboy while with the other hand the gratuitous deaths just keep coming in Justice League and elsewhere, but there's an undertone to this story, at least, that everything will be better now.

Frankly, it's even a little startling just how sedate this book is. Whereas the old Superboy moved to Hawaii lest boredom set in, he's now content to live in Smallville on the farm with Ma Kent. Whereas the previous Superboy series had Roxy Leech in a bikini on a good number of pages, here Superboy goes on chaste picnics with Wonder Girl. There's an amazing establishment tone to this book, when before the Superboy character was all about being anti-establishment, that again speaks to the book's nostalgia ethos -- writer Johns would've been about 19 when Superboy emerged, ready for the counter-culture himself, and is now 37; the calm Superboy and the hip un-hipness of Barry Allen, likely also indicates the growth (or rapid aging, depening on your perspective) of the audience for whom this Superboy story was written, for better or worse.

You'd get from Boy of Steel's back cover copy and such that Superboy's central concern is negotating his dual heritage as a clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor. The story starts with Superboy hunting Luthor, but even that dotters off a bit; ultimately Superboy's chatting up a new friend when Luthor finds him. What follows are some Luthor scenes that hearken more to the John Byrne businessman version than the Johns "crazed supercriminal" version, which I like; but end of the book puts unexpected closure on Superboy's conflict with him confidently denouncing his Luthor heritage. No doubt Superboy will end up facing Luthor again, but I was surprised to see such a tidy resolution to what I thought would be Superboy's ongoing conflict; perhaps this offers more of a clean slate for when writer Jeff Lemire takes up a new Superboy series not too long from now.

We're far beyond the era where comic book deaths have meaning (probably something we'll talk more about when the Blackest Night collections come around) but I actually believed Superboy was gone and wouldn't be back, even as he's resurrected not much more than a couple years later. Silly me for falling for the oldest trick in the (comics) book when I should've known better? Maybe. Has what began after Infinite Crisis with a kinder, gentler twenty-first century DC Comics now made our heroes a little toothless? Also maybe. But gosh -- the clone Superboy is back in the DC Universe. Undoubtedly there will be time to worry about the implications of DC endlessly chewing over its own history later, but for right now, I don't care. Superboy's back, and I'm going to bask in the cotton candy nostalgia of it all a little while longer.

[Contains full and variant covers, Secret Files and recap pages.]

Thanks for reading!

Trade Poll: How will you read Brightest Day?

Friday, June 11, 2010

I was amazed at the range of responses when we broke the news about the Brighest Day hardcover on Tuesday; I'm not very happy about it, but some fans out there are really not happy about it. And I heard from more readers than I expected that you're planning to wait for the paperback of Brightest Day, rather than buy the hardcover.

So -- I thought I'd put it to a poll. I'm curious about your final Brightest Day purchase -- if you're going to buy the series in single issues and then in hardcover, please choose "hardcover" below, and ditto for paperback; only choose "single issues" if that's the only way you'll be reading the story.

How will you read Brightest Day?
Single issues (only -- not collected)
Paperback free polls

I'm curious to see how this turns out. And if you'd like to explain your choice, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Review: Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

[Guest review by Tom Speelman]

Jonah Hex has only come into my life recently, years after I first met the likes of Batman and Spider-Man, but he’s now the main reason I head to the comic shop each week. I picked up issue #50 of the current Jonah Hex series penned by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey simply because Darwin Cooke drew it, but I fell in love with the character and the rich tapestry of story of the supporting cast. I haven’t missed an issue since.

I was really excited when I found out that DC had released a volume of their Showcase Presents line of trade paperbacks (their answer to Marvel’s Essentials) dedicated to ol’ Jonah. Luckily enough, a store in my area offered 30% off on trades during Free Comic Book Day, and Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1 caught my eye almost immediately. I snatched it up and I don’t regret it. At $16.99 full cover price, it’s as affordable like any Western DVD you might find in a Cracker Barrel, and it’s just as rewarding.

One of the great things about this collection is that, like the current series, almost every issue stands alone. It’s easy to imagine a little kid buying Spider-Man and Batman at the newsstand in the 1970s and then, because he has an extra quarter, snapping up Weird Western Tales because the cover shows two cowboys duking it out.

Speaking of Weird Western Tales, that’s where the bulk of these stories are taken from. Jonah debuted in the pages of All-Star Western, but the book’s title was changed to Weird a few issues later, because, let’s be honest, a scarred, hateful man isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to your mind when somebody says “The Old West.” But from his first appearance in All-Star, it’s clear that Jonah isn’t one to mess with, like any good western hero. The opening splash page of the story, “Welcome to Paradise”, shows him riding into town dragging the corpses of two dead outlaws behind him, with people surprised and shocked at his appearance. The caption even states he is a “Cold-Blooded Killer, Vicious, Unmerciful Hellion without Feeling ... A Man Consumed by Hate” and other wonderful melodramatic phrases.

It’s not all hyperbole, however. A recurring theme of this book is just how fierce of a reputation Jonah has as a bounty hunter. Many of the criminals he hunts recognize him instantly and either flee in fear or bravely try to shoot him, which never works out well. Whenever he delivers those he’s captured, dead or alive, to his employers, people talk of him excitedly and in whispers, and from the way they say his name (“That’s Jonah Hex!”) tells us how much weight it carries. All this rep-building sweeps up the reader and is part of the book’s hook.

The first third of the stories here play out roughly the same way: Hex is hired to fight a bad guy, he finds him, bad guy gets away due to convenience, Jonah catches him again and shoots him dead. Formulaic, but still quite satisfying. A shift occurs, however, with the story “Blood Brothers,” which interestingly enough is written by Arnold Drake, creator of the Doom Patrol! (Wonder why DC didn’t put that on the back cover blurb?) Drake's change is a visual one; whereas the earlier stories open with a splash page and then consist of 6-7 panels per page, Drake’s story has bigger and fewer panels per page, giving Tony DeZuninga (the artist for the majority of this collection) a chance to fully show some action, like a drunk getting kicked out of a saloon, or a battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian raiders. It may not be much of a change, but it stood out enough from the other stories that it made me stop and look at the page again.

Beginning with “Showdown at Hard Times,” a mysterious man with an eagle-topped cane appears along with his servant Solomon, talking plans to kill Jonah. There’s also several instances where characters talk about how Jonah is a traitor to the Confederacy and caused some sort of massacre. Eventually, these two threads meet, and we learn that Jonah inadvertently led his army unit to their deaths due to the machinations of a Union general, who Hex surrenders to earlier because he’s tired of fighting to preserve something he thinks is wrong (slavery), and that one of the dead is Jeb Turnbull, the son of the man with the eagle-topped cane (we even see Jonah and Jeb give it to him as a Christmas present). This makes me wonder if the man’s full name is Quentin Turnbull, the villain in both the Six-Gun War trade and the upcoming Hex film, but it’s never stated.

Regardless, it’s still mind-boggling, especially for someone born in the 1990s whose first comic subscription was to Ultimate Spider-Man, that a story arc like this is dragged out slowly, long before decompressed storytelling became the norm, but still manages to deliver a complete individual story with each part of the arc. Even more astounding is that, when you look at the table of contents, which lists the publication date for each issue, you can see that it’s a bimonthly comic. Outstanding, and it works. I mean, I love Tony Daniel’s current stuff on Batman, but he’s writing for the trade. Back then, John Albano and Michael Fleisher weren’t; they were simply telling Western stories. That’s all there was to it.

There’s also another example of the simpler sort of Western stories in this book, in the form of seven tales from earlier issues of All-Star Western: four about Outlaw, a Texas ranger’s son who is framed for robbery and must clear his name, and thee about, surprisingly enough, Billy the Kid, which explore the modern-day theory that Billy was really a woman, here called Billie Joe. These two arcs, written by Robert Kanigher, are again your basic Western story, yet both are satisfying in their execution with the Outlaw eventually clearing his name and Billy escaping death respectively. Two of these stories are actually drawn by Gil Kane and they are as good as you would expect, especially some of the facial expressions Kane draws.

Overall, Showcase Presents Jonah Hex is a good collection. It’s simple Western storytelling with comic book action and flair intact. Stagecoach robberies, gunfights, it’s all here. Really, the lack of color isn’t even that big of an issue, although if you want to see them that way, several of these stories were just reprinted by DC in the Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise trade. Judging by online news, it seems DC will reprint some more of this era of Jonah Hex to tie in to the upcoming film. So try this book out first; maybe you’ll feel compelled to check out some more. I know I am.

Return of Bruce Wayne deluxe hardcover, Brightest Day continue DC 2011 trades

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

For those who felt the other day's list of DC Comics' early 2011 trade paperbacks lacked a certain "oomph," here's two doses of "oomph" for you.

* Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne deluxe hardcover

Details and such on this will surely change, but right now it's listed as 224 pages. The biggest surprise here, though it shouldn't be, is the deluxe size -- since Batman RIP and Batman & Robin were both deluxe, it stands to reason that Return of Bruce Wayne should be deluxe, too. Perhaps the better question should be, when will the Batman titles stop being deluxe?

* Brightest Day Vol.1 hardcover

Rats. At twenty-six issues, I guess I was silly to think Brightest Day wouldn't be two volumes, but I really hoped it would follow 52, Countdown to Final Crisis, and Trinity in coming out in paperback. Of course, I'm disappointed because Brightest Day is the kind of series I want to read first-run, no waiting. Anyone already sure they're waiting for the paperback on this?

Looking out over the landscape of 2011 graphic novels already announced, I see a lot of hardcovers -- Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Brightest Day ... might we be headed for a situation where all, or at least the majority, of DC's collections come out in hardcover first? What do you think of that? Are Marvel or other companies headed the same direction? I know at some point I'll have to "push back" -- with the major events in hardcover, that'll mean I might have to skip some of the marginal titles in paperback for a while.

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape takes an approach to this particular story that's apropos but at the same time remarkably byzantine, and its ties to Final Crisis are at points the most thematically solid and other times the most entirely loose. The bottom line is that down the road I'll be interested in what writer Ivan Brandon is selling with Escape -- it has ties to many of DC Comics' recent run of spy/intrigue series that I've enjoyed, like Checkmate, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and Manhunter -- but the route it takes to get to its end is entirely bizarre.

[It's near impossible to talk about Escape without spoiling it. I mean it. You've been warned.]

Escape is a mystery, and as such Brandon puts the reader in the role of the protagonist, solving the puzzle. The thing about a puzzle, though, is that it only works if you're significantly intrigued by the journey to solve the puzzle, or if the solution to the puzzle is satisfying enough to justify the work involved in making the journey. In the end, I like what Escape promises for the hero Nemesis and the DC Universe going forward, but the story itself is a tease -- it all turns out to be a big test -- and the main player isn't so mysterious if you have a good handle on DC Comics history. I might've enjoyed Escape more if the story here were condensed to two issues and the rest started Nemesis in his new role; instead what we have is a six-chapter advertisement for Brandon's upcoming Nemesis book that follows.

Basically, if you liked Final Crisis #7, Escape is the book for you. It's told, as Final Crisis #7 was, non-sequentially; the crossover event offered "experimental" storytelling, and Escape picks up on that storytelling, though in mimicking Final Crisis, Escape feels a bit less "experimental." Similarly, Final Crisis discussed the idea of characters in limbo, and Escape discusses characters in limbo -- Nemesis' faceless opponents, and Nemesis' struggle to overcome his own facelessness and become a force in his own destiny (read, "get his own series"). Final Crisis played with classic Jack Kirby stories in the modern era; Escape offers Kirby "shout-outs" throughout. But in each case, Escape feels slightly "less than," perhaps because it comes to no great conclusion in the end; if Escape had built upon these ideas (as Brandon's Nemesis series might), instead of just carrying them forward, I might think differently.

As well, the story elements of Escape seem inspired by Final Crisis, but don't build in a way that's well-tied to Final Crisis. For instance, Countdown to Final Crisis created a new OMAC and Buddy Blank on an alternate Earth; Escape deals with OMAC, but never makes clear if this is the most recent OMAC or Kirby's classic (and the latter, as inexplicable as that may be, seems the more likely). Also, Escape follows the new Global Peace Agency, but doesn't jibe with Final Crisis -- Amanda Waller, for instance, is part of the GPA in Final Crisis but is refused membership in Escape. These are little details, but they add up; Escape is "about" this Final Crisis concept, but not really connected to it.

Good for DC Comics, seriously, for publishing a book that no one without a fair knowledge of the DC Universe is going to be able to understand. I recognize the value of jump-on titles, but I also value continuity and I don't mind being rewarded with a story that uses Jack Kirby esoterica or includes Peacemaker and Spy Smasher without copious explanation. At the same time, I cannot imagine someone without that knowledge coming back, especially in the single issues, after reading issue one. Escape is pure publishing risk on DC's part, mitigated maybe a little bit by the words "Final Crisis" in the title, and I appreciate the risk even as I'm slightly astounded that they took it.

Commenter Jeff whet my interest the other day with his mention of the interrelated Suicide Squad, Manhunter, and other titles from the late 1980s; I think it shows the good number of spy stories DC's been publishing for a while now. If the stories of Nemesis and the Global Police Agency continue, I'm probably in -- I just wish Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape had a bit more meat on its bones for this story's first outing.

[Contains full covers]

Coming up ... a guest review on horseback. Don't miss it! (And, out of curiosity, what was your favorite Final Crisis Aftermath book?)

DC Early 2011 TPB Solicitations - Hush Deluxe, Justice League International, Suicide Squad (again!)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

It may feel like summer in many places, but here at the Collected Editions blog we're already starting to think about our reading orders for New Year's! Information's starting to come out for trade paperbacks and graphic novel hardcovers for 2011, and here's what we know and what we think, including DC Comics' latest stab at the deluxe format and the third Suicide Squad solicitation -- maybe this time will be the charm!

Omnibus and deluxe:
* Batman: Hush - Deluxe

From the "Milking It For All Its Worth" department comes another Hush hardcover, this time in DC Comics' oversized deluxe format. Now, I'm not denying new DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee's artwork won't look great in the deluxe format, but DC's movements as they try to decide on a saleable format (see Suicide Squad) -- Absolute, Showcase Presents, deluxe, hardcover, paperback -- are starting to make me seasick. I guess if you didn't get Absolute Hush (Out of print? Really?) but still want a complete Hush in hardcover, here's your chance.

* Justice League International Vol 5

I am on one hand glad to see another Justice League International volume, as I'd hear rumors that volume four was the last; on the other hand, this initial solicitation, at least, lists the book as paperback, whereas the ones before have been hardcover first, and I've been saving my pennies to get the full set of these books at holiday time. With this next volume, following Justice League America into the 30-numbered issues, I wonder if this series will collect all the way through the end of Keith Giffen's run with the "Breakdowns" storyline.

* Gotham Central Book 4: Corrigan (Hardcover)

* Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty (Paperback)

The hardcover volume closes out the series with Gotham Central #32-41, which is about what you find in the Gotham Central: Dead Robin paperback collection, only sandwiched between two lovely hardcovers. At the same time, it looks like DC is going to release these complete Gotham Central volumes in paperback, too, starting again from the beginning.

* Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol 2

Following the new hardcover that combines the first two Seven Soldiers trade paperbacks, this'll finish out the series.

Monthly titles:
* Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven

"The Hunt for Raven," Felicia Henderson's first major Teen Titans storyline, doesn't start in earnest until about issue #84, whereas the last trade ended with #78. If this trade could go nine issues, #79-87, it's possible that might be almost all of Henderson's run before J. T. Krul takes over.

* Flash Vol 1: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues!

As mentioned in our discussion in early May about the timing of DC's collection announcements.

* Justice League: Rise and Fall

At about the same time we had Sinestro Corps War in the run-up to Final Crisis, we also had Amazons Attack. That is, in the wake of Blackest Night, I'm hearing the same kind of unhappy buzz about this Justice League/Arsenal/Green Arrow event, which also has ties to Titans and Brightest Day. I'm following Justice League, so I'm in for at least some of this, but hopefully there's a Sinestro Corps-type success around the corner to balance out some of the unhappiness.

* The Question: Pipeline

Collecting (hooray!) the Greg Rucka/Cully Hamner co-feature. I had thought there was a part of the co-feature that crossed over with the Detective Comics Batwoman story, but I don't see it now, so maybe this will be one volume with everything (like the Blue Beetle, Manhunter and Ravager co-feature collections). Remains to be seen whether the Blackest Night: Question #37 will be recollected here after already appearing in the Blackest Night material.

* Doom Patrol: Brotherhood

The first volume of the new Keith Giffen/Matthew Clark series collected issues #1-6, so we're likely in for #7-12 or so here.

* Batman vs. The Undead

Following the Superman and Batman Vs. Vampires and Werewolves miniseries, this collects Batman Confidential starting with issue #44 by Kevin VanHook and Tom Mandrake. I'm mildly surprised, with Superman's appearance in the story, that DC didn't label this a Batman and Superman story.

* Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle

Collected Editions blog contributor and Secret Six fan Derek Roper ought be happy about this one, which picks up with Secret Six #19.

* Azrael: The Killer of Saints

Collects the first storyline by new series writer David Hine. I must say, I was a big fan of the old Dennis O'Neil/Barry Kitson series, but without seemingly true strong ties to the other Bat-books, I'm surprised this series is holding an audience; I keep expecting to see a cancellation notice despite this trade solicitation. Anyone enjoying it and want to pitch its strong points?

Reprint collections:
* Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire

After DC canceled John Ostrander's Showcase Presents: Suicide Squad not once but twice, it looks like they're really going to publish it this time (we hope!) in a color paperback. The Showcase Presents volume was to be Suicide Squad #1-18, Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1, Secret Origins #14, and Justice League International #13, but I think it's unlikely all of that will appear in the first color paperback.

* Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5

Despite being solicited as "Showcase: JLA Vol 5," which might suggest a new deluxe JLA omnibus volume, I think price point and such make it more likely this is the next classic Justice League volume, picking up with issue #84.

* Superman: The Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2

* Superman: War of the Supermen

* Superman: Mon-El Vol 1

* Superman: Nightwing & Flamebird Vol. 1

I mentioned in my review of Codename: Patriot that I'm a bit weary of the five-issue, twenty-five dollar Superman collections, so I'm not thrilled to see confirmation that Last Stand of New Krypton (a three-issue miniseries, with crossovers) is indeed split into two volumes. I'm a long-time Super-fan, but this is enough to make me rethink hardcovers of J. Michael Straczynski's upcoming run. For paperback readers, here's the Superman and Action Comics "New Krypton" collections after the series branch off.

* Superman/Batman: Torment

I also know a number of the Collected Editions paperback readers will be glad to see this paperback edition of Superman/Batman: Torment, which had been obviously missing from the schedule for a while. I'd say this was an entertaining but not terribly crucial New Gods story with only minor ties to Death of the New Gods; admittedly, if I hadn't read it yet, I'd be waiting eagerly, too, but ultimately I think you'll find you haven't missed much.

So ...
What'll be on your to-buy list for early 2011? What do you have to have in hardcover, and for which titles will you be waiting for the paperback? Has anyone out there still not read Batman: Hush? What are you still waiting to be collected?

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink trade paperback (DC Comics)

Whereas I didn't much care for the flipness and, ultimately, lack of consequence in Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!, I found I liked writer Eric Wallace's Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink despite a somewhat similar premise. Both Run! and Ink spin-off from characters with very specific roles in Final Crisis -- Human Flame being a zero-grade villain who becomes a heavy hitter, and Tattooed Man being a former villain who becomes a Justice League hero. I was impressed with the thematic weight of Ink, however, and it's enough to make me want to follow Wallace and the Tattooed Man one book more, despite the controversy that's sprung up.

[Contains spoilers]

Wallace deviates Tattooed Man Mark Richards well from the established anti-hero tropes. For one, Richards is not a reluctant hero; rather, in his conversion from villain to hero since Final Crisis, he appears to have embraced with some amount of pride his role as a Justice Leaguer. Second, unlike Starman Jack Knight, for instance, where everyone around Jack roots for him to take the hero role while he pushes it away himself, I found it fascinating how Richards struggles to be a hero even as he's constantly hampered and mistrusted.

It's not just Richards' difficulties with the racist Liberty Hill police force, but even his neighbors turn against him when he saves drug addicts and prostitutes alongside the innocent. This last bit is a nice touch; Wallace's police in the story are dutifully corrupt and the gangs expectedly bloodthirsty, but Wallace ultimately allows that no one in the story is entirely unsullied (tied to Richards' own troubled heroism) in the prejudices of the Liberty Hill community itself.

Indeed Richards learns that being a hero, as the saying goes, isn't all it's cracked up to be. I wouldn't say Richards exhibits Booster Gold-level pridefulness, but he enters the story with expectations to a certain extent as to the respect heroism will bring him, and ends the story not only having had to give up his family and community, but also taking on some aspects of his former villainy in the pursuit of heroism. Wallace allows for any number of reasons for Richards' dual gain and loss in becoming a hero, from his former bad guy status, to Richards' approach more akin to vigilante Batman than superhero Superman, to the color of Richards' skin (I'm reminded of the question Wonder Woman asked in Phil Jimenez' Paradise Found, "Do you think Kal could act as Superman if he didn't ... appear as he does? If he looked like ... Steel?").

All of these make for a complicated story that demonstrates the complicated way in which Richards' successes and failures are intertwined, leaving open the question of whether Richards is a victim of fate -- with a different life, he could have been a different hero -- or of the circumstances he created. Through much of the story, Wallace suggest to the reader that someone else controls Richards' tattoos and uses them to murder, but we learn in the end that the fault has always been Richards' own. Both Richards and the villain Synck gained their powers through painful experiences, but whereas Synck's power is all external (he controls others who battle for him), Richards' is internal -- the tattoos are a manifestation of his own inner strength. This is good and bad; Richards defines his own path to heroism, but has to deal with the consequences that come with that path.

This multi-facetedness is more than enough to make me want to follow both writer and character (and artist Fabrizio Fiorentino's sketchy, appropriately moody art) to Wallace's new run on Titans. Now, I know already about "thing one" that happens and also "thing two" -- as relates to Richards, I'd be more disturbed if it wasn't Wallace writing, but Ink is enough for me to trust Wallace and any changes he might make to Richards, so I'm more content to wait and see than if I felt a new writer had some in and made unnecessary changes. As for that other thing, I'll hold off commenting on that now, too; the operative thing, however, is that whereas I might not have picked up Titans right away before, I enjoyed Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink enough, more than I thought, to give Wallace's next book a try.

[Contains full covers, including page showing connected covers together]

Now that I finally got a copy of Ink with all its pages intact, just one more Final Crisis Aftermath left for me, and that's Escape. One review, coming up!