DC Comics Solicits Spring 2011 Trade Paperbacks

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A couple weeks ago, DC Comics's Source blog made their official upcoming Spring 2011 Collected Editions announcement. A number of these hardcover and paperback early 2011 trade paperback solicitations we've already discussed (and you can also follow the comics solicitations channel), but I want to look again at some highlights now that we have a list of the contents.

Hardcovers to paperback
One of the most controversial items that I saw on the list was DC changing the format of the new Justice League International collections from hardcover to paperback; after four hardcover releases, the fifth volume seems to be paperback only.

This is not necessarily unheard of -- Gail Simone's Wonder Woman collections started in hardcover and then went to paperback, as did the Booster Gold series after Geoff Johns left. Green Lantern Corps jumped from paperback to hardcover before Blackest Night, much to my chagrin.

What's causing the most consternation, I think, is that the thick Justice League International books better resembled high-end omnibus volumes like the Starman volumes than "regular" series collections. Maybe DC would argue that the sales weren't there for a fifth Justice League International hardcover, but I do believe the readers who began collecting JLI had a reasonable expectation that they were buying a hardcover "set," how ever many volumes, and now that seems not the case.

The other possibility is that since this is a Justice League Europe-centered collection, maybe JLE will be collected in paperback (not as JLI Vol. 5, then) and JLI will continue to be collected in hardcover.

Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Artists: Bill Willingham, Joe Rubinstein, Bart Sears, Pablo Marcos, Mike McKone, Tim Gula and others
$19.99 US, 240 pages

Meanwhile, after nine hardcover collections, Superman/Batman is about to switch to first-run paperback with Worship. Again, this is slightly more understandable for monthly series, though I'd rather DC stayed consistent. Worship completely skips the much maligned Joe Casey issues that were supposed to, but didn't really, tie in to Our Worlds at War, and picks up with the Paul Levitz stories.

Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: Renato Guedes, José Wilson Magalhães and Jerry Ordway
$17.99 US, 160 pages

Whether all of this suggests a DC Comics hardcover implosion (the Brightest Day solicitation below notwithstanding) is something to consider.

Bi-monthly? Semi-monthly? Expensive!
The other bit of controversy on the list is not just that the twenty-six issue Brightest Day will be released in hardcover (see the results of our Brightest Day poll), but that the hardcover will only collect eight issues. Now, no doubt some of these issues are extra-sized, but it does suggest we're looking at three volumes for collecting Brightest Day, when DC's collected its weekly fifty-two-issue series in four paperback volumes; I think many expected Brightest Day to be collected in just two books.

Writers: Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark and Joe Prado
Collects: BRIGHTEST DAY #0-7
$29.99 US, 256 pages

In addition, Justice League: Generation Lost will also be first-run hardcover, but that initial volume collects twelve issues, suggesting Generation Lost will only be two volumes. This makes it seem all the more lopsided -- dare I say, a little financially motivated -- for DC to put Brightest Day in three volumes.

Writers: Keith Giffen and Judd Winick
Artists: Fernando Dagnino, Aaron Lopresti and Joe Bennett
$39.99 US, 320 pages

Stop me if you've heard this one before ...
Possibly the single weirdest item on the new list is the deluxe Batman: Hush Unwrapped. We at Collected Editions theorized this was another printing of Hush this time deluxe-sized; what we didn't get was that it's going to be pencils only. Now, Jim Lee draws a very pretty picture, but this seems a remarkably esoteric product, the kind of thing mainly meant for aspiring artists. Jeph Loeb is listed as the writer, of course, but will this have word balloons, I wonder, or just the pencils?

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Jim Lee
Collects: BATMAN #608-619 in pencil form
$39.99 US, 320 pages

Another item that'll seem familiar to solicitation-watchers is the Suicide Squad collection, which has gone through a number of Showcase Presents and other iterations before finally (hopefully), we see a collection of the first eight issues. This volume stops just before the Suicide Squad/Doom Patrol crossover, which maybe we'll see in another volume.

Writer: John Ostrander
Artists: Luke McDonnell, Dave Hunt, Bob Lewis and Karl Kesel
$19.99 US, 232 pages

Various and assorted
As excited as I am for the collected volume of Greg Rucka's new Question stories, I note this collection stops a couple issues from the end of Rucka's Question run. Maybe we'll see those final stories and the final Batwoman tale, "Cutter," all collected together?

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Cully Hamner
Collects: Stories from DETECTIVE COMICS #854-863
$14.99 US, 128 pages

Here's the last Gotham Central omnibus release, including the uncollected issue #32. Related in some way to the Justice League International controversy, we also see the start of DC releasing the Gotham Central omnibuses in paperback; whereas I might not have thought these books were viable in paper, DC seems to think otherwise, and I wonder if Starman and others are coming behind.

Writers: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Leiber, Kano and Stefano Gaudiano
Collects: GOTHAM CENTRAL #32-40
$29.99 US, 224 pages

Writers: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark
Collects: GOTHAM CENTRAL #1-10
$19.99 US, 240 pages

The next Grant Morrison Batman collection after The Return of Bruce Wayne had been called Era of the Batman and Time and the Batman (which I enjoyed for its unusual phrasing); it's now apparently settled at Batman: Time of the Batman.

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: David Finch, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert and Frank Quitely
Collects: BATMAN #700-703
$19.99 US, 128 pages

Apparently DC has run dry of the rich tapestry of Starman tie-in material out there; this one goes straight from Grand Guignol to Sons of the Father with no interruptions -- except, you'll notice, it seems DC will indeed include the final Blackest Night issue, too.

Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Peter Snejbjerg, Russ Heath, Paul Smith, Fernando Dagnino and Bill Sienkiewicz
Collects: STARMAN #61-81
$49.99 US, 544 pages

The fifth Showcase Presents: Green Lantern volume collects the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow "Hard-Traveling Heroes" storyline, and I'm surprised DC doesn't have that right in the title.

There's also an upcoming Green Lantern Omnibus that collects the very early 1960s Green Lantern issues. I wonder if that's for fans of the new movie, though I imagine the older stories won't be quite to casual comics fans' tastes; this is the first time we've seen an omnibus of such older material that's not an Archives collection, and I wonder if DC is testing the waters with this format toward more of the same.

Writers: Dennis O’Neil and Elliot S. Maggin
Artists: Neal Adams, Frank Giacioa, Dan Adkins, Dick Giordano, Mike Peppe, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Grell, Bob Smith, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta and Alex Saviuk
Collects: GREEN LANTERN #76-100
$19.99 US, 544 pages

So, what were your favorites from DC's list? What do you have to have, and what will you leave on the shelf? Sound off and jump in!

Review: Chew: International Flavor trade paperback (Image Comics)

Monday, July 26, 2010

[Guest review by Tom Speelman]

In my review of Chew: Taster’s Choice, I said the series was an intoxicating blend of old-school Marvel and modern-day cop show, with Taster’s Choice favoring the latter -- moving briskly and swiftly and never feeling dull. I suppose it’s hard for a series that has a pitch along the lines of “A cop who sees the thoughts of whatever he eats which occasionally includes corpses and it’s all in a dystopian world where chicken has been banned” to ever feel dull, but I digress ...

The second volume, Chew: International Flavor still follows that original equation, but grabs its inner Classic Marvel and jacks it up to 11. We’ve got cyborgs, we’ve got vampires, we’ve got a fruit that looks like the love child of a pineapple and an octopus and tastes like chicken. That’s just for starters.

[Contains spoilers]

There is a lot of plot advancement here and a lot of questions get answered. The dynamic of the series has also shifted a bit with the treacherous Mason Savoy replaced by John Colby, Tony’s old Philly PD partner. Colby has joined the FDA after having cybernetic implants put in to replace the part of his face that was hacked off last volume. He’s requested not to work with Tony (surprise surprise) but their boss, Applebee -- who’s even more of a hilarious jerk here -- has paired them together anyway.

Tony is upset at first, but we quickly learn that the two do in fact care about one another in a hilarious bit about driving (“You want me to get in a car with an Asian driver behind the wheel? I’d rather take another hatchet to the face, thank you very much.”) and a bit where John prevents Tony from having to eat crap (literally). This brings out a very buddy-cop vibe and I keep thinking of Starsky & Hutch whenever I read these scenes.

The aforementioned scene with the poo leads Tony to discover the gallsaberry, the also aforementioned pineapple-octopus spawn. The thing about it is that when you cook it, it tastes like chicken. This leads Tony to the micro-nation of Yamapulu, where the plant is grown. He’s accompanied by his brother Chow, who’s taken up a job as a resort chef, seeing as how the island is famous for looking the other way when it comes to consuming chicken, which is forbidden in the Chew-verse. Of course that’s all changed now that the gallsaberry has shown up.

By the way, that strange little man in a riverboat hat who showed up with a box asking for Amelia Mintz? His name’s Nomi Haupai and he runs this island. He’s got a big plan and it involves Ameila, the world’s best chefs, and the gallsaberry. He takes the villain role this volume and his efforts are the focus of the book. Mason is hardly mentioned at all here, except for a wanted poster in the background and a phone call another character tries to make to him. It's sort of a letdown that I didn’t get to read his wonderful dialogue again, but hey -- we get to witness a civil war break out on the island over a champion cockfighting rooster, so I guess that evens things out.

Another interesting revelation this time around is that the FDA isn't the only government branch with police powers. The USDA has them too, and they’ve had Agent Lin Sae Woo (and her cyborg rat!) working undercover for months following a string of grisly murders. Lin thinks Tony has been sent to horn in on her case so she corners him in an elevator and beats the crap out of him! Just when you’d thought we’d hit a love triangle ...

Also, this time around we meet “The Vampire,” the guy referenced by the Russian woman last volume, and boy, is he nuts. Seriously, some of the stuff he pulls is downright shocking. Personally, I think he might be the third cibopath mentioned by Mason in Taster’s Choice but with a series like this you can’t be sure -- Mason proved that himself in the last book.

But by far, the biggest surprise in here is just where the gallsaberry really originated, and we get to find out in another one of those brilliant grid drawings that Rob Guillory does so well. Guillory's art is great here, and it's easy to see why he landed a Harvey Award nomination for Best New Talent.

With International Flavor, Chew proves once again it can tell a serious story with a lot of humor thrown in. The only other series I can think of that can pull that off is the belated Cable & Deadpool, which I just started reading, and given that the House of Ideas is ripe with Deadpool-mania these days, I’m surprised they haven’t approached John Layman and the folks at Image about a crossover. Time will tell, I suppose ...

Top Ten DC Trade Paperbacks with Female Protagonists

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Presenting my top ten list of DC Comics graphic novels that star or distinctly feature women as the leads.

I recognize completely that the gender of a book's main character ought not entirely be its selling point as opposed to quality of writing or the book's importance, but that at the same time it doesn't hurt to recognize where women shine or are otherwise treated with equanimity in (DC) comics. This is simply a list topic suggested to me by a Collected Editions reader that I thought might be of some interest; your results may vary, and I'm eager to hear what you might put on this list instead.

[Might be some spoilers here and there]

* Supergirl

Sterling Gates has of late ushered in a new era for Kara Zor-El in the Supergirl following a bunch of false starts for the character since her resurrection in Superman/Batman. If I had to pick a favorite Supergirl trade paperback, however, it remains hands down the collection of Peter David's initial run on the previous Supergirl series. Everyone knows PAD is a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and this collection has a definite Buffy vibe -- teenager Linda Danvers recovers from near-death with help of the protoplasmic Supergirl matrix and discovers weird doings in her town, including some related to her demon boyfriend. With art by Gary Frank, I consider this a must read.

* Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead

Likely you've already heard me rave about Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman. Picking just one of these books that I like the best is near impossible, but among numerous notable events in this series is when Wonder Woman lost her sight, which is addressed to a great extent in Land of the Dead. I enjoyed Diana's give and take with Athena at the end of this collection, and also how the collection brings to focus what I think was one of the subtle, driving forces of Rucka's run, how this was a Diana in depression over the death of her mother and sister, though the clues to this are much more in Diana's actions than in what she says.

Picking Land of the Dead, however, is in no way to take away from a number of other great Wonder Woman collections out there, including Phil Jimenez's Paradise Found and Gail Simone's Rise of the Olympian.

* The Question: Five Books of Blood

I'm going to stay with the works of Greg Rucka for a moment and include his first Question miniseries. I was soft on Rucka's work with Renee Montoya in Gotham Central -- Half a Life is good and ground-breaking, to be sure, but I much prefer Gotham Central when the cops have to navigate Batman to catch the bad guys than I do a character piece where Two-Face targets one specific officer -- but I think he achieved the right balance with Question. Renee hunts the Religion of Crime, and in doing so becomes caught up in it herself; Rucka displays great subtlety also in Renee's increasing corruption in each chapter, and this is a book I've read over and over without tiring of it.

* Birds of Prey

This might be sacrilege to some, but I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Chuck Dixon's original Birds of Prey specials. Way back, the formula was that Black Canary received missions, usually in exotic locations, from the mysterious Oracle she'd never met, and this caused trouble and friction between the two. Now, I like Black Canary and Oracle's current friendship, and if Dixon set the tone then I think Simone's is the more definitive run, but there's something about a down-on-her-luck Black Canary struggling to prevent a flood from washing away innocent villagers that's stuck with me as Birds of Prey's golden era.

* Manhunter: Street Justice

Marc Andreyko's creation Manhunter is immediately gripping in its violence and twisted morality -- an incredibly dark story perhaps most notable for for the underlying heart and love between the characters that grows throughout the series. The first volume, Street Justice, best typifies all the great things about Manhunter Kate Spencer -- her humor, her thirst for vengeance against the DC Universe's villains, and both her love for her son and her truly terrible parenting; one of the most dramatic moments of the entire series is here, when her son is caught in an accidential explosion caused by Kate's weapons.

* Batwoman: Elegy

I finished reading the deluxe edition of Elegy not too long ago, and aside from J. H. Williams's art, which is amazing, and Greg Rucka's story, which is equally twisty and turny, Rucka's origin of Batwoman is nothing short of spectacular. Rucka offers perhaps the first convincing superhero origin of the twenty-first century -- Batwoman Kate Kane neither decides arbitrarily to put on a costume, nor is she trying to keep her family safe or hide spider-powers from a prying public; rather she first tries to make a difference through the army, and only joins the Bat-family when she's denied the ability to serve. Rucka deconstructs secret identities and crimefighting so well in this -- Batwoman's origin should be a model for any new DC Comics characters still to come.

* Checkmate: Fall of the Wall

I have a lot of trouble picking my favorite volume of Greg Rucka's Checkmate, too, but Fall of the Wall inches just slightly to the top. There's no lack of powerful women in Checkmate, and this volume especially not only spotlights fan-favorites Fire and Ice, has a great closing tale by Eric Trautmann about DC war hero Mademoiselle Marie, and includes of course the irrepressible Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux in a face-off with Oracle. (As an aside, my favorite Sasha Bordeaux story isn't in Checkmate, but rather Rucka's story collected in Bruce Wayne: Fugitive Vol. 3 where Bruce has to deal with letting Sasha rot in jail while he solved the murder of Vesper Fairchild, a story which has all the romance and suspicion of a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie.) Rich characters, dangerous foreign politics, and cameos by an amazing assortment of DC Comics characters, Checkmate is one of my favorite recent series, and I'm just disappointed it didn't continue longer than it did.

More's the pity that Sasha Bordeaux is in a coma now folliowing Final Crisis, but wouldn't she be a great fit for Gail Simone's new Birds of Prey run?

* Catwoman: Relentless

Relentless is one of my favorite and least favorite Catwoman collections. Writer Ed Brubaker single-handedly redeemed Catwoman from an era of somewhat silly, often gratuitously-drawn stories, instead placing the character firmly in the crime fiction genre where it seems she always belonged. Dark End of the Street and Crooked Little Town are great adventures of anti-hero Selina Kyle, but Brubaker ramps up the violence and person consequences for Selina in Relentless. Even thinking about some scenes in Relentless turns my stomach, but I also know it's where Brubaker wrote with the most power. I'd still like to see many uncollected issues of this series collected, including Selina's important encounters with Black Mask and Zatanna.

* Batgirl: Silent Running

The collections of Kelley Puckett first few Batgirl storylines, following the adventures of Cassandra Cain after No Man's Land, are I think an example of master comics storytelling. Silent stories are rare, and Puckett takes a near-mute protagonist and tells done-in-one story after story with barely any dialogue. It wouldn't last, and in later trades Batgirl gains much of her voice back, but the silence of these early stories is what made the character stand out and what I think endeared her to most readers -- through numerous changes, there's still readers who consider Cain "their" Batgirl.

* Huntress: Darknight Daughter

There's some debate as to whether this collection is called "Darknight Daughter" or "Dark Knight Daughter." Either way, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths collections aren't usually my cup of tea, but after appearances by the Earth-2 Huntress in Superman/Batman and other stories, I had enough of an interest in the character to follow up with her 1970s appearances by Paul Levitz -- glad I did. Though there's a treacly romance element to these stories that dates the stories as more "then" than "now," male lead Harry Sims's concern about whether he can still "be a man" and date a super-heroine interestingly demonstrate some of the uncertainties of the time. The story of Huntress Helena Wayne making her way as a hero in the shadow of two famous parents is captivating enough, but Levitz gives Huntress a well-realized supporting cast, too, especially for what are mostly back-up stories.

Also good is Greg Rucka's (noticing a trend?) Huntress: Cry for Blood, including an early look at Rucka writing Question Vic Sage; and -- if it were collected -- the Robin III miniseries where Huntress demonstrates to Tim Drake that she's cooler to hang out with than Batman.

And two more for the road ...

* Power Girl

If I recall correctly, the last time we saw Power Girl before Geoff Johns wisely reintroduced her in JSA was in a lamented Justice League of America storyline that revealed Power Girl's secret origin to be, totally and completely, existence only to give virgin birth to a child of the Lords of Order. She has no head, indeed. If your only exposure to Power Girl was this or the constantly-angry iteration in Justice League Europe, Geoff Johns's Power Girl miniseries ought be something of an eye-opener. I liked that Johns, with artist Amanda Connor, played with the various potential Power Girl origins we've seen over the years before Infinite Crisis returned the character to her original Earth-2 glory. Even more revealing are the 1970s Power Girl stories by Paul Kupperberg, in the same era as the Huntress stories above, which firmly place the character into Justice Society continuity.

* JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Vol. 2

I'll finish off the list with Geoff Johns's other JSA character find, Stargirl (formerly the Star-Spangled Kid). The two JSA Presents volumes collect Star's short-lived series when both the character and Johns were new names at DC Comics. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. skews a little younger in terms of tone, but I like the second volume because it includes a heavy does of Seven Soldiers of Victory history; also, even as Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is synonymous with the artwork of Lee Moder, we also see some Scott Kolins here ahead of his work on Flash. Add to all this some JSA cameos, and you've got a book worth a second look.

That's my list -- what would you put on yours? Who's your favorite femme fatale (or the heroic equivalent) in the DC Universe?

Review: Batwoman: Elegy deluxe hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Much as I like having Batwoman Kate Kane in the DC Universe, it might've been interesting to see writer Greg Rucka write Batwoman: Elegy in an Elseworlds setting. That is, Rucka's Batwoman is such a perfect representation of what a Batman-type character would be like if it was introduced in the early twenty-first century and not the mid-twentieth that it would have been fascinating to see Rucka write Batwoman as the Bat(person) and not just as a member of the Bat-family.

But what we have from Rucka and artist J. H. Williams is more than good enough. You've no doubt already been told to go and read this book -- don't wait another minute.

[Contains spoilers]

In "Go," the second story collected in Elegy, Rucka finally tells the origin of Batwoman. Williams channels his inner David Mazzucchelli in these chapters with a touch of Michael Lark, such that one could easily mistake it all for Batman: Year One (and, as Kate gets closer to donning the cowl, is it Neal Adams that Williams riffs on next?).

There's the requisite family death, though this time involving terrorism and not a mugger in an alley -- but the greater change is that rather than Kate exercising her childhood away like Bruce did for the vague moment when she can become a vigilante, Kate does what any sensible person might do and turns her impulse to save lives into a career in the army. With amazing ease, Rucka sidesteps the 1940s holdover of Bruce Wayne as a child one moment and a superhero the next, and instead gives the newest Bat-character a good reason, for once, for donning cape and cowl over some other public service -- that she has to resign from the army rather than lie about her sexuality.

The rest of Rucka's updates are icing on the cake -- that Batwoman has her own Bat-cave, but above ground, with a tree growing inside it; that her Batombile of choice is a motorcyle; and that her Alfred is her tough-as-nails father; her Commisioner Gordon is Captain Maggie Sawyer, complete with a burgeoning love triangle between Sawyer and Kate's two identities; and her Joker might just be her long-lost sister. All of this turns the established Bat-mythos on its head in a way that makes the elements feel fresh again, and all of it, in just a few issues, suggests stories for Kate Kane for years to come.

The "Elegy" story that begins this book returns two of my favorite Rucka creations, both the Religion of Crime and the werewolf Abbott. I first became aware of Greg Rucka, after No Man's Land, in his work on Batman: Evolution with Shawn Martinbrough -- not only does this volume feature brilliant art and coloring, but it's a great Ra's al Ghul story and includes Abbott. Batwoman, therefore, brings my Greg Rucka reading experience full circle just as Rucka prepares to leave DC Comics. I won't even start on how much I enjoyed Rucka's Checkmate; you can be sure I'm eagerly awaiting when he comes around again.

As a continuity wonk, one aspect of "Elegy" I especially enjoyed was Rucka's inclusion of Bette Kane, whom we all know as Flamebird and who's apparently Kate's step-cousin. I hear there's more on Flamebird in the next Batwoman story "Cutter" (not yet solicited for collection, unfortunately) but with Grant Morrison having mentioned the original Batwoman Kathy Kane in Batman: RIP, I'm very curious to know now about all the family connections and what's still considered canon regarding the original Batwoman and what's not.

Frankly, during the tempest-in-a-teapot "controversy" about Batwoman's sexuality when the character first appeared, I was surprised there was less attention given to the irony that the original Batwoman first served the purpose of allaying fears that the public would think Batman and Robin were gay. With credit to Rucka, DC Comics does well in coming full circle from a Batwoman created out of fear of homophobia to a Batwoman whose sexuality is part of her origin, and in that way undeniable in any incarnation of the character.

There's little I can say about J. H. Williams's art in Elegy that hasn't already been said. It's beautiful. It sets a standard for what comics can look like. My favorite part, aside from when Williams vamps into Batman artist styles across the eras, is when he mixes what looks like line drawings and paintings. The scene where Kate meets Batman is exceedingly fantastic not just because of the power of the scene, but because Williams makes Batman glow, painted as something almost otherworldly in comparison with Kate and the scenery. I'm reading the deluxe edition, and some pages seem like something out of an illustrated storybook, and not just because of the Alice in Wonderland quotes spouted by the villain -- it's altogether just gorgeous.

Greg Rucka writes a brilliant reconstruction of the Batman concept of a whole in Batwoman: Elegy, and then J. H. Williams does him one better by drawing the hell out of it. I've already said it, and I'll say it again -- this one's got my highest recommendation. Go read it.

[Contains full and variant covers, introduction by Rachel Maddow, two script pages by Rucka with Williams's pencils, Williams's sketchbook]

That's it for today. More coming soon -- you know where to be!

Review: Superman: New Krypton Vol. 4 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maybe I've just got James Robinson's writing on the brain (see Justice League: Cry for Justice), but there seems a clear demarkation in Superman: New Krypton Vol. 4 between those issues written by Robinson and those written by Greg Rucka. Granted both aspects are enjoyable; unfortunately, I felt this volume wastes much of its built-up capital with a lackluster ending only in service of getting the reader to buy the next book after.

[Contains spoilers]

New Krypton Vol. 4 is two things: a collection of team-ups in the classic tradition between Superman and some of DC Comics' space heroes, and also the continuing story of political strife on New Krypton. While the two writers might say they plotted the stories together, the former seems much more Robinson's speed and the latter much more Rucka's.

I find the politics more interesting, but it's definitely the book's "B" plot. Much more time is spent on Superman and the Kryptonians interacting with Jemm, Son of Saturn, and a group of random Thanagarians. To some extent, this goes toward Superman teaching his fellow Kryptonians about diplomacy rather than warfare. Given, however, that Jemm nor the Thanagarians nor even guest star Adam Strange have anything to do with this book's conclusion, I felt a sense that this book spun its wheels waiting for the next big event in the Superman titles overall rather than contained much of substance.

It's unfortunate, because aside from their feeling like filler, I liked these team-ups quite a lot. In the kinder, gentler post-Infinite Crisis DC Universe, where much of the Justice League's history is restored, Superman and Adam Strange pal around like old friends, with Strange even calling Superman "Clark" -- there's a Silver Age charm to this. And I'm generally unfamiliar with Jemm, so it was interesting to see Superman calming the alien and referring to their shared history.

The thematic turn of New Krypton Vol. 4, versus the previous volume, is that Superman becomes general of the Kryptonian military in this volume, leading rather than serving under General Zod. This causes not quite as many moral dilemmas as we saw in the last book, but there's still some good tension in Superman trying to convince the ruling council of his loyalty to Krypton.

In particular, this volume brings to a head the ongoing story of Superman trying to get equal rights for Krypton's "untouchable" Labor Guild. Robinson and Rucka had cleverly set up young laborer Tyr-Van as Superman's Jimmy Olsen on New Krypton (going so far as to have Superman call Tyr "pal"), but in a moving scene, Superman realizes Tyr betrayed him for Zod, and breaks ties with his friend. Superman reconciles with Tyr in part later on, but the writers' sentiment was clear that even though New Krypton might sometimes look and sound like home to Superman, even with its own Jimmy Olsen, it's still a foreign planet.

And then the book ends, far too uncertainly. New Krypton's conflict has always been between Superman and Zod; we get a sense that Zod is behind some of the planet's troubles, but the truth remains unclear. Superman feels he hasn't done enough for Krypton and Zod disagrees, but then there's not that additional beat to tell us what Superman has learned or what the story means thematically. Rather, there's the deus ex machina of an un-foreshadowed alien attack, and the story is continued in another book. The end.

Now, New Krypton Vol. 3 ended on a cliffhanger, too, that continued into Codename Patriot -- but volume 3 wasn't the end of the twelve-issue World of New Krypton miniseries, volume 4 is. Yes, it's all an ongoing story, but (maybe expressing some of my frustration with Cry for Justice) there's something about a miniseries that I feel, if it's a finite series, there ought be a finite ending. Let a book end like a book, and let the next series do the work of hearkening back. Nothing worse than getting to the end, and then not finding an end to get to.

[Contains full and various covers, "Codename: Patriot" text page, Pete Woods sketchbook]

The fourth and final volume of New Krypton (if not the last part of the "New Krypton" storyline) has plenty of bright spots, especially if you like DC Comics' alien tapestry, but it's not the strongest of the volumes. This has been a long series, and we're in to the payoff now -- fingers crossed and here's hoping.

One more DC Universe Sandman appearance - JSA

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In light of the DC Comics announcement that Neil Gaiman's Sandman character Death would appear in Action Comics during Paul Cornell's upcoming run, there's been a bunch of great articles about other Death and Sandman-character appearances in the DC Universe - including Once Upon a Geek, and Chris's Invincible Super-Blog, to name a few.

The first one that came to my mind, however, are the Sandman-character appearances in Geoff Johns' first JSA run. Comics Alliance also has a nice run-down, but mentions JSA only briefly and not in as much detail as the appearances by the Sandman Daniel in JLA -- but I found at least twice that Daniel physically appears in JSA.

Remember that in Infinity Inc. #49-51 (when, oh when, will this series be collected?), Hector Hall (Silver Scarab, son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkwoman, and later the JSA's Doctor Fate) returned from the dead supposedly as the new Sandman. Gaiman's Sandman revealed Hall's position to be false, but yet the son of Hall and his wife Lyta, named Daniel, was destined to become the Sandman after Gaiman's Morpheus.

Hall dies, but is later resurrected in JSA: Justice Be Done; he's reunited with Lyta in JSA: Black Reign.

The Sandman backstory is ever-present (in continuity, even) throughout Hector and Lyta's appearances in JSA, but Johns also throws in a specific cameo or two.

Review: Justice League: Cry for Justice hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Going in to James Robinson's Justice League: Cry for Justice, I knew the most controversial points -- I knew about "the joke" and I knew about this, that, and the other thing in the ending, too. Given the outcry over this book, and then Robinson's Eisner Award nomination for it, I've been looking forward to reading Cry for Justice -- the contrarian in me wonders if it can really be as troubled as many people say, or if there must be some greater point Robinson's trying to make somewhere here. Ultimately, I think I see both sides; Cry for Justice has its difficulties, but I'm still left with some enthusiasm for Robinson's work.

[Contains spoilers (also for Identity Crisis)]

I am hesitant to blame a book's problems on editorial fiat -- a story should rise and fall on its own merits, not on what I imagine went on behind the scenes -- but in Cry for Justice it seems to be the case. Robinson's introduction -- which itself is astounding as a pre-story apology -- suggests Cry for Justice has been in the works since early Countdown to Final Crisis and went through a number of editorially-mandated changes, not the least of which was adding the maiming of Red Arrow Roy Harper, the death of his young daughter Lian, and Green Arrow killing the villain responsible, Prometheus.

I recall that for a couple of years when interviewers asked then-DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio about "characters to watch," he often said it would be Green Arrow's year, even though nothing overly remarkable happened to Arrow. I'm guessing Green Arrow's new direction as a fugitive has long been in the works, and Cry for Justice ended up the place that direction launched -- it could have been Final Crisis or Blackest Night, but it ended up being here. Robinson seems to confirm this in his introduction when he notes that DC editorial wanted Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy to die in this story, too -- that Editorial mandated the Green Arrow family changes -- but Robinson resisted.

This is to say that while it's still James Robinson's name on the book and he's the writer, I tend to give him a pass around chapter five of this story. The greater problem with Lian's death (than it being overly sensationalist) is that it feels tacked on -- editorially-mandated, and not natural to the story; it's the least emotional part of the book. Robinson never actually has Lian appear in the story, only mentions her, and the final chapter sees Mauro Cascioli's lush, detailed painting replaced with stiff, sketchy art from a substitute; the reader has no sense of Star City's destruction (see Speedy falling down into blank white space) that would create any suspense about Lian's fate.

Compare, for example, Lian's death with the death of Robin's father Jack Drake in Identity Crisis. Writer Brad Meltzer offers scenes both touching and harrowing in the build-up to Drake's murder; Lian's death flops on the page, perhaps because of a last-minute decision to include it. Superboy's death in Infinite Crisis, as well, came an issue before the end and gave the characters and reader a chance to "feel" it. I wouldn't say DC Comics "shouldn't" kill Lian, per se -- in the right writers hands, anything can work for a story -- but a certain hurriedness at the end of this book causes the ending to lack the weight it needed to sell it.

I think Cry for Justice tries to be a kind of spiritual sequel to Identity Crisis. The guilt Atom Ray Palmer feels over the murders his ex-wife committed in Identity Crisis drives his part of the hunt for Prometheus, and throughout the book the reader senses an implicit danger to the families of the heroes and villains, also like Identity Crisis. In a way, Cry for Justice is the modern era Identity Crisis -- whereas the latter focused on the events during the Justice League's Silver Age and ultimately, it wasn't a villain responsible for the murders, the former branches from the recent events of Final Crisis and is the case of an actual villain targeting the heroes' actual cities. Cry for Justice is the fruition of the threat that the heroes feared in Identity Crisis, a threat against their private lives, and to some extent Cry succeeds in this reflection.

Robinson obviously wants to talk about torture with this story, the issue having been in the public consciousness when Robinson wrote Cry for Justice, if less so now. The question is how far the DC Comics heroes can be pushed before they'll resort to torture, given the murders now of both Batman and the Martian Manhunter. Green Lantern's rag-tag Justice League do torture the minor villains, but when it comes down to a 24-esque ticking clock situation -- Prometheus's device is destroying cities and the only way to learn how to stop it might be to torture him -- Green Arrow and the other heroes agree to bargain with the villain, even after Lian's death.

Green Arrow, in fact, never tortures anyone in the story, but later kills Prometheus. Robinson clearly defines the boundaries of a DC Comics superhero here, but then takes it a step further -- Arrow defines what makes a hero in the book, and then chooses to set that aside. That Robinson isn't 100 percent successful goes to the general difficulties of the book -- that Prometheus's murder comes at the end and ultimately leads into a separate Green Arrow story, such that there's no real wrap-up or conclusion, actual or thematic, of the type we saw in Identity Crisis or Infinite Crisis, for instance.

And yet, I can see some reason as to why the Cry for Justice team might be nominated for an Eisner Award. It is beautifully painted for the most part by Mauro Cascioli, and the word balloons lack their usual black outlines perhaps because of the painting -- the book looks visually different than your average comic book. Robinson's dialogue has an unusual stilted timbre (see in Mon-El, too) that might take a while to get used to, but that I found rather beautiful overall, akin to an Aaron Sorkin teleplay. Subject matter aside, Cry is a deceptively tough book just to read; it says "Justice League" on it, but there are complications in the art and words that I think a first-time reader taking a Justice League book off the shelf might not expect, and that are a credit to the book despite its other issues.

I remain fascinated by James Robinson's second career at DC Comics. Whereas the first time around he mostly wrote Starman, this time he's working in the wider DC Universe, with such off-the-wall results -- his Mon-El stories have been a "stranger in a strange land"-type view of the DC Universe, while Cry for Justice has the oddball Congorilla/Starman friendship and shout-outs to everything from Identity Crisis to Hard Traveling Heroes. Robinson's new work has been rough, at times, and controversial, to be sure, but he offers such a unique take on the DC Universe -- in every story, the reader sees things with their head cocked just slightly to the side. Absolutely, Cry for Justice has its problems, but I remain eager to see what Robinson does next.

[Contains full covers, introduction by James Robinson, Faces of Evil: Prometheus special by Sterling Gates, illustrated Who's Who pages by Len Wein and Mark Waid]

I know there were strong feelings about Cry for Justice all around, and I'm curious to hear what others thought -- please chime in at the comments section below. Thanks!

Blackest Night trade reading order

Presenting the definitive chronology guide for what order to read all the issues of Blackest Night via hardcover and trade paperback, including crossover TPBs, as suggested by Collected Editions reader Paul Hicks (that's "Hix" in the comments section):

Titans #15 BN: Prelude(not collected)
Green Lantern #43 PrologueBlackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night #0Blackest Night
Blackest Night #1Blackest Night
Green Lantern Corps #39Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Green Lantern #44Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night #2Blackest Night
Starman #81Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
The Power of Shazam #48Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Blackest Night: Batman #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Blackest Night: Superman #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Blackest Night: Titans #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Green Lantern #45Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps #40Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night: Batman #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
The Question #37Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Blackest Night #3Blackest Night
Adventure Comics #4Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps
Adventure Comics #5Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps
Justice League of America #38Justice League of America: Team History
Blackest Night: Superman #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Suicide Squad #67Secret Six: Danse Macabre
Blackest Night: Titans #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Green Lantern #46Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night: Batman #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
The Phantom Stranger #42Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Solomon Grundy #7Solomon Grundy
Superman/Batman #66Superman/Batman: Night and Day
Superman/Batman #67Superman/Batman: Night and Day
Catwoman #83Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Green Lantern Corps #41Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night: Superman #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Blackest Night: Titans #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
Outsiders #23Outsiders: The Hunt
Outsiders #24Outsiders: The Hunt
Outsiders #25Outsiders: The Hunt
Justice League of America #39Justice League of America: Team History
Justice League of America #40Justice League of America: Team History
Teen Titans #77Teen Titans: Child's Play
Teen Titans #78Teen Titans: Child's Play
Weird Western Tales #71Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Green Lantern #47Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night #4Blackest Night
Blackest Night: Flash #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Secret Six #17Secret Six: Danse Macabre
Secret Six #18Secret Six: Danse Macabre
Doom Patrol #4Doom Patrol: We Who Are About to Die
Doom Patrol #5Doom Patrol: We Who Are About to Die
Booster Gold #26Booster Gold: The Tomorrow Memory
Booster Gold #27Booster Gold: The Tomorrow Memory
R.E.B.E.L.S. #10REBELS: The Son and The Stars
R.E.B.E.L.S. #11REBELS: The Son and The Stars
Blackest Night: JSA #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Blackest Night: JSA #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Green Lantern Corps #42Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Green Lantern #48Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night #5Blackest Night
Green Lantern Corps #43Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Green Lantern #49Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Blackest Night #6Blackest Night
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Blackest Night: Flash #2Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Green Lantern Corps #44Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night: Flash #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Green Lantern #50Blackest Night: Green Lantern
The Atom and Hawkman #46Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Adventure Comics #7Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Green Lantern #51Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps #45Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
R.E.B.E.L.S. #12REBELS: The Son and The Stars
Blackest Night #7Blackest Night
Green Arrow #30Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
Blackest Night: JSA #3Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2
Green Lantern #52Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps #46Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Blackest Night #8Blackest Night
Green Lantern Corps #47Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Now, that said, this is not how I'll be reading Blackest Night. I've always tried to emulate the experience of a reader picking these books off the shelf at a bookstore -- someone might buy Blackest Night and not Green Lantern Corps, for instance, and I'm curious to know how the books read as individual entities. But, maybe the second time around, I'll follow Paul's list.

For more DC Comics trade paperback reading orders, visit the Collected Editions DC Trade Paperback Timeline.

Coming later today ... dare we say it? It's a review of Justice League: Cry for Justice. Don't miss it!

Blackest Night collected hardcovers released

Thursday, July 08, 2010

After months and months of waiting, DC Comics' Blackest Night hardcovers are finally here!

In Stores Now
Starting today, DC Comics will release a couple Blackest Night hardcovers every week for the next three weeks. Here's the tentative schedule:

July 8, 2010
- Blackest Night
- Blackest Night: Green Lantern
- Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

July 14, 2010
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1
- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2

July 21, 2010
- Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns
- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps Vol. 1

The Journey to Blackest Night
It's been a long nine months since we broke the news of the Blackest Night hardcovers here on Collected Editions. Here's a look back at how we waited it out:

- Trade Perspectives: How Would You Collect Blackest Night?
Before we knew all the details, Collected Editions readers discussed how they'd best like to see Blackest Night collected, including some discussion of whether the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps issues would appear in the main volume. We learned how that would turn out a little later ...

- Full Blackest Night Contents Revealed
In November, we finally learned the names of all the Blackest Night collections, with a general idea of what they'd collect (and that Lantern and Corps would be in separate volumes. This past February, we found out some of the Blackest Night crossover issues would be included, too.

- Crossover Comparison: Final Crisis vs. Blackest Night collection
Finally, our ongoing Trade Perspectives series looked at DC's collection policies for Final Crisis and Blackest Night, noting the insular nature of Final Crisis and Blackest Night's expansiveness.

Free Stuff
If you're one of those people who doesn't get their comics until Friday in Hawaii, DC Comics' new digital Comixology application has Blackest Night #0 available free for your reading pleasure. This is a great use of digital comics, promoting an in-store release; read our take on DC's digital initiative.

Review: Green Lantern: In Brightest Day trade paperback (DC Comics)

DC Comics may promote Green Lantern: In Brightest Day (not to be confused with the limited series by the same name) as a kind of "greatest hits" volume as chosen by Geoff Johns in advance of Blackest Night, but here's what it really is: origin stories, if you like that kind of thing. You'll find here the first appearances of Guy Gardner, Sinestro, Krona, Laira, and Mogo, and also significant origin-type stories for John Stewart and Stel. Much like Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, if one thing you're digging about the current Green Lantern series is all the history, here's a whole lot of history for you.

[Contains spoilers]

Geoff Johns introduces each issue or section in this book with a text page similar to those in the 52 collections, and Johns' choices are as revealing about the ongoing Green Lantern story as they are about the writer himself. I tend to be less worried about the final fates of Alan Scott, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner after Blackest Night when Johns includes a story about each of them; one aspect of Johns' Green Lantern run that I've always liked is the deference he pays to Kyle Rayner, discussed here, as the character who preserved Green Lantern's popularity in Hal Jordan's absence.

The reader also learns that Johns' first Green Lantern issue was #188, a notable issue for John Stewart and the first appearance of Mogo; we can intuit how this sets the tone for Johns' Green Lantern run as something collaborative rather than singular -- not just about Hal Jordan, but about the wide mythology of the Green Lanterns, any of whom might be able to lead their own books.

More interesting, however, are the less relevant stories that Johns chooses. Johns name-checks a couple less-well-known Green Lantern contributors, including writer Todd Klein and longtime DC editor Joey Cavalieri. Klein's "Apprentice" and Cavalieri's "Progress" follow a similar short story pattern of build-up and twist, and are good examples not only of how the Green Lantern mythos can be applied to any of a number of different canvasses, but also of the comic book short story genre in general -- Cavalieri's story, in particular, uses strong familiar images to tell a story that's otherwise mostly silent.

I also enjoyed Johns' explanation of Elliot S. Maggin's "Must There Be a Superman?" as an example of a shift in writers' thinking about Superman. Johns cites the story as some of his own inspiration for the character of Lex Luthor, positing Superman not as a benefactor but as a threat to the otherwise normal development of humanity on their own.

The real meat of In Brightest Day, however, is the origins. Guy Gardner's first appearance is fascinating, inasmuch because of how different that Guy is from the later Justice League International incarnation, especially, and also for the revelation that if Guy had become Green Lantern before Hal, Guy would have died and given his ring to Hal anyway. Sinestro's first appearance is equally revealing, in that his relationship with Hal Jordan is far less intimate than how it would be changed later (for the better, I think). And while it's not Katma Tui's origin here, I delighted to her good-natured rivalry with Hal since I hadn't previously experienced the character "live."

As a continuity note, it's worth reading this book in conjunction with the first volume of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps. In Brightest Day's Alan Scott/Hal Jordan team-up story leads right in to the first part of Tales; the aftermath of a character's death in Tales is revealed In Brightest Day. Also, Arisia makes a cute cameo in In Brightest Day after Tales; it's a brief scene, but gives more insight into this character's early days.

I love DC Comics history (as evinced by the DC Trade Paperback Timeline) and especially when old stories are directly relevant to the events of the day. The hand-picked stories here (like 52: The Companion and Justice League Hereby Elects) have that great blend of old and new; especially if you're wary of delving into the Golden or Silver Age because of the difference in story structure or quality, In Brightest Day is a good starting book.

[Contains introduction pages]

Thanks for reading!

Review: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 05, 2010

If ever one was lead to believe that comic books are just ten minutes of escapist entertainment, the first volume of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps argues firmly in the other direction.

It's not just because the stories collected here are each in their own way thoughtful deconstructions of the Green Lantern concept -- though they are. Rather, it's because there are concepts introduced in this book that are still in use thirty years later -- letting alone writers and artists involved with these original stories who still influence the Green Lantern titles today. Comics may not yet have fully achieved mainstream status, but in this story that's continued for more than half a century, I see evidence of an unrecognized American mythology.

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps volume one collects Mike Barr's three-issue Green Lantern Corps miniseries from 1981, and the Corps back-up stories from 1981 to 1983. I missed these books the first time and only came to Green Lantern shortly before Emerald Twilight, but it's amazing how recognizable the characters are in this book -- Arisia (making her first appearance), Stel, and Green Man are here (as are later deceased Lanterns Katma Tui, Tomar-Re, and Ch'p), as well as the villain Krona and the Spider Guild. It's hard to believe that thirty years later, these characters still fight beside Green Lantern Hal Jordan; it's a benefit of the comics medium that for the most part we can't see in television or in movies.

The issues collected here build themselves directly on stories written previously, just as these events and characters would be used by writers later -- Arisia, for instance, continues into a number of Green Lantern Corps and Justice League books, Beau Smith's Guy Gardner: Warrior, and ultimately Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons' Green Lantern and Corps. Some would argue that this constant reusing of characters limits creativity and story growth, but I love the breadth of the tapestry, that one can read the latest crossover or stories thirty years old and still find something familiar; the monthly relay race of continuing stories, as demonstrated by Tales of the Green Lantern Corps through to the current Green Lantern title, deserves more credit even than what it's already beginning to receive.

In terms of readability, while dated, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps holds up fairly well. The three-issue miniseries is somewhat simplistic and spends much of the first and second chapters recounting the origins of the Green Lantern Corps, which will be familiar to modern readers but might not have been at that time; one bright point is that the story focuses on Hal Jordan's classic heroism in the end, as well again as all the familiar Lantern characters.

The Corps back-up stories might at one point have annoyed me given their loose connection to any main plot, but in this collection -- with the purpose of spotlighting the variety of the Lanterns -- they shine. Especially intriguing is the way each story bends the familiar Lantern concept; one story offers a Green Lantern forbidden by her culture to use violence, while two others follow Lanterns placed in forced retirement by the Guardians, something we rarely hear about today. A couple of Lanterns actually die before the end of their stories, and indeed I checked my copy of Tales of the Sinestro Corps -- all of them are there in the Green Lantern memorial spread.

A few of these stories are actually pencilled by Gibbons, who thirty years later took a hand in introducing the Green Lantern Corps to a new audience (including me). Brian Bolland drew covers for the Green Lantern Corps miniseries back then, and returns to cover the new collection now. There's also stories by long-time DC editor Paul Kupperberg, and renown artist Carmine Infantino.

I do wish DC Comics had included Green Lantern #163, which is the first part of a "Green Magic" series, since they include the second and third parts. The stories are not inextricably tied -- the second part explains, somewhat vaguely, what happened in the first -- but they still feel unfinished, and the third part's cliffhanger is entirely unclear. At base it's the story of a young Green Lantern from an island of persecuted magic users, and the uncommon combination of Green Lanterns and swords and sorcery makes for an intriguing combination, unfortunately left incomplete in this volume.

A shared universe has its pitfalls, no doubt, but among its benefits are a sense of heritage and tradition -- Johns inherits, for instance, what Barr set up before him -- and also continuity, not in the "does Jimmy have a consistent broken arm this month?" sense, but in that a character that you read yesterday is still around today and could still be around tomorrow. If you're in to that kind of thing, I think the first volume of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps is worth taking a look.

[Contains full covers]

Coming up next -- as we start the countdown to the Blackest Night collections, a little more Green Lantern ...

Review: Chew: Taster's Choice trade paperback (Image Comics)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

[Guest review by Tom Speelman]

I’ve always said that the best Marvel stories were written in the ‘60s and ‘70s, during the age of Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee. Why? Because those stories are the definition of sequential art and comic storytelling: they’re loud, in your face, pulsing with action, and bursting with over-the-top plots and characters. It’s fun to read and easy to get swept up in.

Chew: Taster's Choice is a perfect example of that. But if the House of Ideas is its parent, then the modern-day police comedy-drama (Law & Order, CSI, Monk) is its sibling. With both of those spheres to draw from, the series winds up a strange mix, but a very pleasant one.

It’s prepared for us by writer John Layman, who, funnily enough, has some writing credits for Marvel, and artist Rob Guillory, who, as far as I can find, has no other major comic credits [I think he has children's book illustration credits -- ed.]. That simply astounds me because Guillory knows what he’s doing, drawing dynamic action & laugh-out-loud gags with ease. His tight pencils and mastery of digital coloring pretty much make this an easy sell.

[Contains spoilers]

The series’ concept is breathtakingly original. Years ago, a massive global pandemic of bird flu occurred, resulting in the U.S. government banning chicken. Naturally, it’s not something that’s been accepted well, and the idea of anti-government sentiment is a pretty strong underlying theme in this book (and also a very timely one). There are a whole lot of crimes committed involving chicken (chicken speakeasies, black market “chickyn,” etc.), and in the course of dealing with these crimes, the FDA has gained police powers and has become a new extension of the law.

The plot revolves around Tony Chu, a detective who is cibopathic, meaning he gets psychic impressions off of whatever he eats (except beets for some reason). In the first chapter, Tony and his partner John attempt to bust a serial killer working in a chicken speakeasy they’ve been staking out, and it doesn’t go well, ending with his partner near death and Tony having to bite the dead killer’s face off in order to find information about his victims. This little act almost gets Tony fired, but instead brings him to the attention of the FDA, who hire him to work alongside another cibopath named Mason Savoy.

Pretty quickly, Mason and Tony develop the classic mentor-mentee relationship, and they balance each other great, mostly in their dialogue. Tony tends to speak in short sentences, every bit the classic cop; Mason, on the other hand, bursts into monologues about as often as Macbeth. I think it’s that quality that makes him, far and away, my favorite character. Some of his lines are just fantastic, and reading them always makes me think of the late voice actor Tony Jay (Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame).

The two spend most of the book investigating the murder of a New York health inspector, which makes this a simple (yet well-done) whodunit for the most part. I say “most” because it’s suddenly interrupted by a chapter involving vampire-worshippers, perverted scientists, and aliens.

And that’s where the old-school Marvel vibe kicks in, because it’s an effortless transition. Layman takes us from gritty detective drama to far-out supernatural thriller and it doesn’t feel any different at all. It’s the sort of shtick writers like Dan Jurgens and Roger Stern used in their Superman work in the ‘90s, and Layman follows that path well.

More than that, it’s obvious that he has the whole grand scheme of the series worked out already. In addition to the vampire worshippers and aliens, there is Tony’s brother Chow, a disgraced TV chef (who reminds me of Ken Jeong of The Hangover fame); Amelia Mintz, a food critic who writes so vividly people can taste it; a pro-chicken terrorist group called E.G.G.; and a man hidden in the shadows in an office full of frogs.

Will any of these people show up again? Well, having already read Volume 2 of Chew, I can confidently say yes. Will I say what they do? No, you’re gonna have to wait 'til my next review for that!

(Contains full covers, sketchbook, and creator bios.)