Review: The Invisibles Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

[Presenting a new series of guest reviews on Grant Morrison's The Invisibles by Zach King, who blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

It's all going to end next year, which makes now as good a time as any to reevaluate Grant Morrison's 59-issue magnum opus (collected over seven fairly weighty trade paperback editions) The Invisibles. As for what's going to be ending, it's not the series; no, that wrapped in 2000 after six years of publication. What's going to end, The Invisibles suggests, is quite simply everything as we know it -- the world, our own consciousness, and our conception of space-time are all going to come to some sort of end on December 22, 2012.

[Invisibles purists will know that the series was published in 59 issues dispersed throughout three volumes - 25 in volume one, 22 in volume two, and 12 in volume three. For the ease of the reader, when I use volume designations in the following reviews, I'm referring to the seven collected editions, not to the three volume divisions for the original issues' publication.]

"And so we return and begin again." For those keeping score, that's Issue One, Page One, Panel One, and already we're told what the central theme of the work is. In a way, this thematic declaration hints at the episode structure which divides this first volume, Say You Want a Revolution (quoting John Lennon, whose spirit is contacted for guidance in the first issue, "Dead Beatles"), neatly in two: the introductory tale "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell" and the team's first mission in "Arcadia." This first volume accomplishes much that a first volume should: it introduces a familiar concept and character-types in ways that feel fresh. But Say You Want a Revolution is not the best Invisibles volume, flawed in ways that suggest the series had not found its feet at that time.

Meet juvenile delinquent Dane McGowan, content to be a thorn in the side of his schoolteachers by lobbing Molotov cocktails into the school library. After being sentenced to a juvenile rehabilitation clinic, Dane finds himself torn between two forces fighting over him. On one side, the apparently soulless Miss Dwyer and Mister Gelt, bespectacled advocates of conformity at all costs; on the other, the ragtag Invisibles, a countercultural answer of sorts to the JLA. The Invisibles -- led by Morrison stand-in King Mob, with homeless shaman Tom O'Bedlam, transvestite mystic Lord Fanny, Raggedy Ann doppelganger Ragged Robin, and martial arts master Boy (actually an African-American policewoman turned revolutionary) -- insist Dane is actually Jack Frost, their newest and strongest member, contender for the crucial role of "the next Buddha." After Dane/Jack's initiation, the Invisibles time-travel to recruit one more member, the Marquis de Sade, while being stalked by the faceless demon Orlando.

It's evident fairly early in this volume that Grant Morrison knows what he's doing, though much of that isn't immediately apparent until finishing the series; Ragged Robin's introduction of herself by way of an afterthought ("I'm Ragged Robin, by the way. I'm nuts."), for example, actually tells us more about her backstory than Morrison initially seems to be letting on. Recently Morrison's found a good deal of critical approval for his dexterity with long-form storytelling on his Batman titles, but it's in The Invisibles that this skill really comes to life, more so than in his previous works (also under the Vertigo banner) Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Here Morrison plants seeds that will grow over the course of the seven volumes of The Invisibles. It's clear he knows where this is all going.

It's a shame, though, that the series itself doesn't seem to know how to get where it's going. It's a bit like preparing for a long trip out of state, planning every stage of the journey but forgetting to factor in transportation. It's here where Say You Want a Revolution fails to live up to the latter volumes in the work, suffering a bit from problems with identity, both of the characters in the series and (on a meta-level) of the series itself. While "Down and Out" is quite good, appearing less derivative when you recognize that it was published in 1994, a full five years before The Matrix did practically the same story, "Arcadia" is less fulfilling because its combination of historical fiction and literary analogy ultimately paints it more like a story arc from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman than anything else (the scenes with Orlando, however, are brilliantly disturbing and grossly original, in every sense of the word "gross").

Moreover, the greatest flaw in Say You Want a Revolution is the absolute dearth of characterization present. Aside from Dane/Jack, who is given (and given quickly) one of the richest voices in comicdom, none of the characters is really given a purpose or a personality. Indeed, they seem to be grounded primarily in compelling visuals; King Mob's catchphrase "Nice and smooth" seems to describe the way readers are meant to embrace him because of the sheer cool factor his aura reverberates, while Lady Fanny's transvestism seems gimmicky and Boy appears not to have much purpose at all beyond an apparent diversity requirement. There are hints of Lord Fanny and Ragged Robin as characters with fuller purposes and abilities, but for the most part the book relies heavily on Dane and, to a lesser extent, King Mob.

On the visual side, Steve Yeowell (on "Down and Out") and Jill Thompson (on "Arcadia") are two of the better collaborators Morrison had on a series that, near the end, was plagued with artistic misfires and imperfect interpretations of Morrison's script. Yeowell, Morrison's partner on Sebastian O and Skrull Kill Krew, introduces us to the world of the Invisibles with cartoonish but clear lines and King Mob at his coolest. Thompson, meanwhile, fresh off her stint on Sandman (collected as Brief Lives), draws what I believe are the definitive versions of Lord Fanny and Ragged Robin (not surprising, considering Robin was initially modeled after Thompson) until Phil Jimenez joins the series somewhere around the third collected edition; her lines, somewhat more realistic than Yeowell's, give historical authenticity to "Arcadia" while perfectly capturing the off-kilter nature of characters like Orlando and the blind chessman.

All told, the first eight issues (particularly the first, which functions as a distilled microcosm of the entire series) are not perfect or the best that The Invisibles has to offer. But Say You Want a Revolution represents something perhaps better (after all, it's a bit early for a series to peak) -- and that's potential. This first volume displays great promise and prefigures great things to come from the series. Say You Want a Revolution is filled with fantastic moments -- the discovery of the head of John the Baptist, the raid on Harmony House, and the subway encounter with Tom O'Bedlam -- that suggest The Invisibles is a series bubbling over with ideas. At times during the series, especially in this volume, the philosophy overpowers the narrative, but it's never as extreme as Alan Moore's Promethea, in which the plot was quite literally put on hold for many issues for the comic book equivalent of a philosophy lecture. But the dominating presence of the philosophy behind The Invisibles does overshadow its characters, a flaw from which the series fortunately rebounds in subsequent volumes.

[Contains full covers and an introduction by Peter Milligan. Printed on non-glossy paper.]

That's the first of seven reviews, loyal readers. Stay tuned for my reviews of the rest of Morrison's The Invisibles -- up next, it's Apocalipstick, in which Lord Fanny and several minor characters are given origin stories and Dane/Jack finally chooses a side.

Trade Perspectives: Have a Geoff Johns Omnibus, why don't you?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It would be very easy for this to become a post along the lines of "Who does this Geoff Johns think he is getting three Omnibus editions of his work when X number of writers still languish in collected limbo," etc. Let me say at the outset then that I like Geoff Johns's DC Comics work quite a lot; moreover, the way in which this one person has very really rejuvenated comics almost entirely through enthusiasm and good work is quite remarkable, and Johns deserves the many accolades he's received.

Rather, the bottom line of this post will be more along the lines of that I entirely understand why DC Comics is now soliciting hardcover Omnibus editions of Johns's Flash, Hawkman, and Teen Titans work, but that I think these will ultimately be somewhat funny and awkward collections. Much admiration, much understanding -- but these are going to be somewhat funny and awkward collections.

Let's begin.

It is very clear to me why DC Comics will publish a Flash by Geoff Johns Omnibus series. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. aside, Flash and JSA are the two series where Johns first gained public notice. Half of his Flash run (about the third Flash Wally West) featured art by Scott Kolins, who continues to contribute art to Johns's new Flash series about the second Flash Barry Allen. Johns's Flash stories were a big deal at the time, including the anniversary issue Flash #200; Johns's Flash stories carried over into a number of specials and such that were not originally collected in paperback; and Johns wrote a complete Flash story from beginning to end, with a distinct and pointed ending -- the series even went on an extended hiatus when Johns left.

The same cannot be said for Johns's Teen Titans and Hawkman runs.

Don't misunderstand -- these are both really great comic book runs. Johns breathed new life into the Teen Titans franchise once considered dead for good, and the initial trade paperback, Teen Titans: A Kid's Game, remains one of my all-time favorite trade paperbacks. Johns's Hawkman, as well, was a remarkably accessible take on a character also considered unworkable, and Johns's Thanagar story that brought in the mid-1990s Hawkwoman is also a personal favorite.

But ...

Johns's Teen Titans fares very well through about issue #26 -- that includes crossovers with Outsiders and Legion of Super-Heroes, and popular artists including Mike McKone and Tom Grummett. The two fill-in issues by Gail Simone probably won't be collected; then issues #30-33 deal with Infinite Crisis. Still good-ish issues, but a lot of artists roll in and out -- Tony Daniel, Todd Nauck, and others.

Post-Infinite Crisis, Johns's Titans "One Year Later" stories are also quite good, from about #34-40. Tony Daniel became the series' regular artist, but bows out after this, and a spate of guest artists finishes Johns's final "Titans East" storyline through #46. That last issue, co-written by Adam Beechen as Johns himself leaves the title, ends on something of a cliffhanger (or at least a downer) -- it's a far cry from the strong, distinct end of Johns's Flash story.

Ditto Johns's Hawkman. This book starts strong with co-writer James Robinson and artist Rags Morales with Ethan Van Skiver and Don Kramer. The book goes strong through issue #19 and even into the great "Headhunter" three-parter #20-22. Issue #22, however, ends on an uncertain and emotional cliffhanger for Hawkman and Hawkgirl, just before the JSA: Black Reign crossover. The cliffhanger (Hawkman taking on a more violent persona) is not resolved in those issues, and Johns leaves the book right after; the single issue and collected reader never quite got any closure, and neither too would the Omnibus reader.

I should mention here that I'm one hundred percent certain there's a JSA by Geoff Johns Omnibus coming right down the pike behind these books. I'm sure as the day is long, DC wouldn't be collecting Johns's Flash, Hawkman, and Teen Titans without the intention to collect his JSA issues too (including, one hopes, the first five issues by David Goyer and James Robinson without Johns). Johns's JSA is pretty great throughout, but Johns leaves just in the middle of JSA's run up to Infinite Crisis, then Keith Champagne takes over for a bit, and then Johns pops in for one more issue before Paul Levitz takes over.

JSA is a bit more straightforward than Teen Titans and Hawkman, but all three beg the question: Does anyone really want to read only Geoff Johns's issues of a book, if reading just Johns's issues and not the ones right after or ones by fill-in writers leaves you with just half the story? Maybe one would want to see a collection of unrelated stories by one artist to examine that one artist's work, but to read three-fourths of a story just because the story is by Johns seems, again, rather awkward.

And I imagine the reader who has never read these stories before, who buys two or three hardcovers at $50-$75 each, and then comes to the end of these books only to find them ending on a sour or somewhat uneven note. These books seem like a good idea, and will probably look good on the shelf, but I fear they'll end up disappointing in the end.

If I were DC Comics (I say, self-righteously), I might not be marketing these as "by Geoff Johns" omnibuses. Sure, Johns's name could be on them as loud and large as Brad Meltzer's on Identity Crisis or Grant Morrison's on Final Crisis, and Johns might indeed be the selling point for these collections, but it would seem to me the company gets more freedom calling these just the Hawkman Omnibus and the Teen Titans Omnibus. Bill them as Modern Marvels the Modern Library Collection or some such. That way, at least, the reader can get the one or two extra stories that round these collections out.

I'll be interested to see DC's official solicitation for these books, how the final volumes from each series shape up, and what omnibus editions DC publishes next outside of the "Geoff Johns series." Which of these are on your definite "to buy" list?

Review: Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Given the recent controversy over Apple's apparent embargo of the digital edition of Mike Grell's Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, I thought this would be a good time for a review of that classic miniseries.

For those following along at home, Longbow Hunters is to Green Arrow what Man of Steel was to Superman and Year One was to Batman -- the first major post-Crisis on Infinite Earths appearance of Green Arrow, re-establishing his post-Crisis origin. Unlike those stories, Longbow Hunters takes place in the present, just before the Millennium crossover, but Green Arrow's origin figures prominently in the first issue.

[Contains spoilers]

And what an origin it is. It's been a while since I first read Longbow Hunters, and in that time I've read and liked a lot of other Green Arrow stories. Grell's Longbow Hunters is an Eisner Award-winning classic, don't get me wrong, and if you haven't read it, you absolutely should -- but I didn't much like Grell's origin of Green Arrow Oliver Queen. Grell would argue that Oliver wasn't much in danger when he was marooned on an island, and he did not so much defeat an entire gang of drug dealers as legend (and past continuity) had it, so much as two minor criminals tripped over themselves and Queen took the credit, dubbed accidentally "Green Arrow."

I entirely understand that this goes to Grell's dual purposes of minimizing Oliver's superhero past and also giving the impression that Oliver's real serious life starts here -- Oliver the superhero dilettante versus the Yakuza assassin Shado trained to kill from birth -- but I rather like some triumph over adversity in my superhero origins, and Grell would argue that Oliver's has none.

This is the start, however, of Grell's rather ingenious take on Green Arrow, one that I sincerely wonder if current audiences would accept. Oliver Queen is old here, just past his prime, and recognizing that his best days might have passed him by and he missed them. He very often misses the arrow-shots that he takes, and scolds himself for being slow -- there's probably not a character in the DC Universe more suited than its archer for the metaphor of being impotent.

Oliver wants to settle down and have kids -- to domesticate -- and his girlfriend Black Canary Dinah Lance does not. In one particularly effective scene, Oliver stands naked in the window wondering where Dinah is, and then goes to bed alone. Grell plays with stereotypical gender roles here, especially in a superhero comic book, in a way that I imagine many writers wouldn't be comfortable. Oliver is still masculine, and his name is still on the masthead of the comic, but his actions and desires are those that you might otherwise see from the love interest in a story, and not from the protagonist.

I don't have any additional issues of Grell's Green Arrow series that followed (wish I did -- where's that collection, DC?), but editor Mike Gold suggests in his introduction to Longbow Hunters that the story continued to explore these and similar themes. Yet, Longbow Hunters, as the name implies, is in addition about breaking down some of these peaceful and superficially superheroic impulses in Oliver Queen, and replacing them with a hunter and predator. Oliver is continually unable to make his shots, but the one he lands, of course, instantly kills the man who's been torturing Dinah. Thus having loosed the chains of straight-and-narrow superheroism, Oliver ends up as the recipient of a fortune in drug money after Shado kills the dealers. A corrupt CIA agent sizes Oliver up, wondering if the vigilante's "occupation" can still be listed as hero -- the answer is, we know, not so much as when the story started.

I've only read Justice League: Cry for Justice, and haven't yet decided if I want to pick up the widely-panned Justice League: Rise and Fall that follows the first book's events -- but I hope somewhere this latter book acknowledges the fact that Green Arrow killing the villain Prometheus is not so shocking as the rest of the Justice League (and the writers thereof) would have us believe. Oliver kills a bunch of non-super-powered street criminals in this book and -- let's face it -- he's a guy that shoots arrows. There's nothing wrong with the pacifist Green Arrow Connor Hawke approach, nor with a non-lethal boxing glove arrow once in a while, but inasmuch as I disfavor Grell's origin of Oliver Queen, I appreciate his more realistic approach to how a person with sharp objects would fight crime.

And if I might offer one more push for a Green Arrow by Mike Grell Omnibus from DC Comics, Grell's artwork is absolutely stunning here. A page will have a number of standard full color panels, and then one large shadowy black and white image that serves, especially, to drive home the emotional moments between Oliver and Dinah. There's also one page where Oliver and Shado stare each other down, and Grell's image of Oliver's deep-set, masked eyes is just phenomenal.

If not that, then I applaud DC for the big step of making Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters available as a digital download the other week, and I hope maybe more Grell Green Arrow issues are set to follow in digital form -- hopefully without Apple interference this time.

[Contains full wrap-around covers, introduction by Mike Gold. Printed on rough (not glossy) paper.]

New reviews on the way!

Gotham Central: Corrigan tops New York Times Bestseller List

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Congratulations to Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, whose Gotham Central: Corrigan hardcover tops this week's New York Times graphic novel bestseller list.

Gotham Central: Corrigan collects Gotham Central #32-40, mostly the Gotham Central: Dead Robin paperback, with one additional previously-uncollected issue.

Constant readers know I'm a big fan of Gotham Central, even offering my own take on the themes of the series in my review of Dead Robin. I'm especially pleased that the New York Times ArtsBeat blog by George Gene Gustines quoted from my review in a post on Gotham Central: Corrigan:

The new book on our hardcover list this week, “Gotham Central: Corrigan,” at No. 1, is the fourth and final volume of the series. “Gotham Central,” written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, is an inside look at the police detectives in the major crime unit who must solve cases in a city populated by Batman, his allies and his gruesome collection of archfoes.

Their work is never easy. A review of the series at [the Collected Editions blog] put it rather succinctly: “Through the five trade paperback collections of ‘Gotham Central,’ Rucka and Brubaker give the Gotham police good reason to resent the Batman. Over about half-a-dozen major cases, Batman surpasses the Gotham police in stopping Mr. Freeze and Two-Face, and solves both the Joker’s bomb plot and the Dead Robin case.” Plus, “When Batman is unsuccessful or uninvolved, the cases usually end tragically. In ‘Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead,’ Officer Peak has to kill his partner, the mutated Officer Kelly, when Batman can’t subdue him; in ‘Gotham Central: Dead Robin,’ Batman never appears in the ‘Corrigan 2’ storyline where Detective Crispus Allen is murdered.”

Kudos to the writers and the whole Gotham Central team; this is much-deserved.

[Greg Rucka fans might also be interested in my retrospective of Rucka's Wonder Woman run.]

Review: Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

2 comments | Tags:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Wikipedia entry for Gotham Central notes that Greg Rucka at one point considered a post-Central series called Streets of Gotham. What eventually became the stories collected in Paul Dini's Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money is not that original series, but Wikipedia does describe it as a cross between Gotham Central and the series Batman: Gotham Knights.

I enjoyed Hush Money, though I didn't find it overly moving. In part, it's somewhat difficult to know what this book is supposed to be about. Hush Money collects a Batman and Detective Comics issue post-Batman RIP, and then the first four issues of the series, which focus on Batman Dick Grayson and Robin Damian Wayne fighting Firefly, one issue on Hush disguised as Bruce Wayne, and one issue on Paul Dini's new creation, villain-real-estate maven the Broker. Is this another Batman and Robin series? A book starring Hush? A villain profile series, and if so, how to differentiate this from Dini's other villain profile series, Gotham City Sirens, except that one's about the girl-villains and this one's about the boy-villains? It's hard to know.

I hate to nit-pick on Hush Money, which will fill in a bunch of important background gaps for readers of Red Robin, especially, but this is a book that requires some patience. Dini introduces a heroic behemoth named Abuse who apparently knows the Batman Bruce Wayne, but gives the reader few clues besides Abuse's brief appearance; Dini has Black Mask beg Firefly for his life in a way that seems entirely off character from the Black Mask that Tony Daniel writes in Batman: Life After Death. For a book called Hush Money, this volume is a poor sequel to Batman: Heart of Hush, with few of the literary allusions or real character nuance that came from that earlier Bruce Wayne/Tommy Elliot battle.

I would venture at least part of the problem (though a good problem to have) is that DC includes the two-part "Faces of Evil" story post-Batman RIP at the beginning of this book, allowing only four issues of Streets of Gotham. While I'm glad to see the "Faces of Evil" story collected, and the Hush/Catwoman tale certainly leads in to Hush Money, it allows for only four issues of Streets of Gotham, and the book seems to end before it starts. Glancing ahead, I see the next two issues were a fill in by Red Robin's Christopher Yost, but maybe this book would have benefited from skipping around a bit and including a couple more Paul Dini/Hush issues to come.

The Batman universe is kind of a fractured place right now. Grant Morrison runs the main story, of course, but then there was also Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows, which stood all on its own, and Tony Daniel's Life After Death that tied in to Battle for the Cowl but not Morrison's work. Add to this that Paul Dini has set up his own small corner of the Bat-verse here, trading characters and plots between Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens; as I mentioned before, aspects of this story also feed right in to the end of Red Robin: Collision. I like Hush Money for that reason; coming to it as I have a little late, this story is a linchpin that makes events in a number of other places in the "Batman Reborn" story make sense, but I was neither compelled by the slight police drama nor by the villain profiles to recommend this book in any kind of greater way.

One item of note that I would mention is the relationship Paul Dini creates here between Hush and Damian Wayne. Dini has Damian playing chess with an imprisoned Hush between the glass of Hush's Wayne Tower cell, as meek and alluring as a kind of Hannibal Lechter -- and with a good bit of insight, Dini notes that Damian is drawn to Hush because Hush wears the face of the father Damian hardly knew. I wish Dini had been able to play up this relationship more -- Hush escapes soon after -- and hopefully it'll come into play with Hush's later appearances. I also liked how Hush is able to escape by playing on his childhood relationship with Alfred; indeed, Dini has done a nice job making Hush a different kind of Batman villain, one with an ability to manipulate the Bat-family far differently that any of Gotham's regular rogues.

[Contains full covers and a pin-up. Printed on glossy paper]

It's little moments like these that make me likely to pick up the next volume of Paul Dini's Hush stories. I don't doubt Dini's abilities as a writer -- which he's demonstrated time and again in his Bat-stories -- and when he gets going in a Hush story, the work is likely bar none. So far, however, both Streets of Gotham: Hush Money and Dini's first outing on Gotham City Sirens both feel slight, like little stories around the periphery of the Batman universe instead of where the action is. Artist Dustin Nguyen draws attractive, angular work here, but doesn't quite achieve the close-up, gritty work of Michael Lark on Gotham Central for instance; I never quite found myself emotionally invested in the book.

[Talk, talk! You've read the review, now join the after-party! Get the latest Collected Editions conversations by following the Collected Editions comment feed in your Google Reader or other RSS applications.]

Hawkman Omnibus, Batman Inc. Deluxe, Flex Mentallo in DC's winter 2011 trade paperback solicitations

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Can you say "omnibus?"

DC Comics sure can. Looking toward their 2011 winter trade paperbacks and collections already, the name of DC's game seems to be omnibuses.

* The Hawkman Omnibus Vol. 1

* DC/Marvel Crossover Omnibus Vol. 1

* League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus

* Kamandi Omnibus Vol. 1 The Last Boy on Earth

This is in addition to the recently announced Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus series, the New Teen Titans Omnibus series, and the earlier Flash by Geoff Johns Omnibus series.

What is an omnibus? In DC parlance, it seems to be a hardcover volume (initially) that collects the amount of material you'd usually find in at least two trades. The first Flash omnibus contains the Wonderland and Blood Will Run trades; the first New Teen Titans omnibus contains issues #1-16 from the first two New Teen Titans Archives.

Where did this Omnibus format come from? By my estimation, it started with the Starman Omnibus editions and with the Jack Kirby Fourth World Omnibus editions. There have been other books of similar ilk not specifically called omnibuses, like the JLA Deluxe books and the Gotham Central and Seven Soldiers hardcovers that collected two or more of the previous trade paperbacks. These were it in terms of omnibuses for a little while; in a short amount of time, however, we've seen an increasing number of omnibuses, including the classic Green Lantern omnibuses, and now these.

Why Omnibuses? They are not cheap, to be sure; the Hawkman volume is $50 before discounts, but the New Titans and Flash books are both $75. They do however in large part collect out-of-print material, consolidating DC's expansive collections line into fewer volumes.

Also -- furthering my theory that trade paperbacks are the new single issues -- I believe there's a growing sense when we see two volumes of Superman: The Black Ring or Superman: Grounded that a trade paperback is no longer the "whole story" like it once was, and the omnibuses offer additional completion for someone willing to forgo the immediate trades for the later omnibuses (or, I imagine DC hopes, someone willing to buy both).

New in the DC Universe
* Batman Incorporated Vol. 1 Deluxe

The next biggest news here, though not perhaps much of a surprise, is that Batman Inc. will be collected first in the deluxe oversized format. As Grant Morrison's recent other Batman books -- Batman RIP and the Batman and Robin volumes -- were also deluxe, this only stands to reason, though I wish all the books might've had a common trade dress.

* Superman: Reign of Doomsday

It's also not a great surprise that the ongoing Reign of the Doomsday crossover is getting a collection, but it will be interesting to see how this fits in trade-continuity-wise, given that it includes issues from Superboy, Supergirl, Outsiders, and Justice League.

* Flash Vol. 2: The Road to Flashpoint

Flashpoint, did you say? The crossover that will inevitably overwhelm DC's trade program not too long from now gets the titular role in the next (and last, if DC's hype machine is to be believed) Flash collection.

* Green Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns

Also, just in time for movie-time, a book with the word "Green Lantern" in the title not once, but twice.

* Doom Patrol: Fire Away

If you turn your head and squint just a little bit, it's possible this could collect issues #14-22 of Keith Giffen's Doom Patrol, bringing the entirety of this cancelled series to trade. Dare we hope?

* New Teen Titans: Games

The long-awaited and much delayed New Teen Titans graphic novel -- which I believe Marv Wolfman recently said would be back on the schedule soon -- is now re-solicited for September 2011.

* Booster Gold: The Life and Times of Michael Jon Carter

I believe this is just the next Keith Giffen Booster Gold volume, tying in to Justice League: Generation Lost, and not yet the Booster Gold/Flashpoint tie in -- but I mention it just because I like the title a lot.

Collected Reprints (sans Omnibus)
* Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Deluxe

Sure to be a hit, the legally-tenuous, long-rumored Flex Mentallo collection from Grant Morrison finally gets a solicitation.

* Batman: A Death in the Family

An interesting item here at 272 pages; I wonder if this is a paperback of the recent DC Comics Library hardcover, which collected both Robin Jason Todd's demise in A Death in the Family and Tim Drake's arrival in A Lonely Place of Dying. That "DC Comics Library" imprint seems to have died a quick death, however, and I think we'll know for sure if the paperback doesn't carry that label.

* Batman No Man's Land Vol. 1

The six-book No Man's Land is a favorite among Batman fans, and some of the volumes out of print. At $30 and 544 pages, my guess is that this paperback contains one or two of the No Man's Land books -- what'd be even better is if this series collects some of the No Man's Land stories that never saw collections (like stories that introduced the DC Universe Harley Quinn). I'd have preferred this in hardcover (Omnibus much?) but something is better than nothing.

* Suicide Squad Vol. 2 The Nightshade Odyssey

Pleased to see another volume reprinting the 1980s Suicide Squad series, bringing us one step closer to a trade of the first appearance of Barbara Gordon as Oracle.

* Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers

Another artist-focused Batman collection, like similar books featuring the artwork of Gene Colan and Tim Sale. Curious that this one is called Legends of the Dark Knight and not Tales of the Batman like those are.

* The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse - Deluxe Edition

The new deluxe Great Darkness Saga was such a good-looking volume when it appeared on store shelves and then sold out during the holidays, that I finally picked one up for myself just a few weeks ago. I was quite excited to see DC solicit a sequel some time ago, and I re-mention it here only to note that this is indeed a collection of the early Paul Levitz stories that came after Great Darkness (as confirmed by recent DC solicitations) and not a part of the new series (though there's that, too -- see below). I hope DC continues to produce these -- deluxe oversized "omnibus-length" editions of DC's relevant classic material is OK with me!

* Night Force

Speaking of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, here's a collection of their 1982 supernatural series. DC just published a DC Comics Presents edition of issues #1-4; I'd hope at $40, this hardcover collects the entire series.

The Best of the Rest (also not Omnibus)
* Batman: Noel

Here's Lee Bermejo's new original graphic novel, becoming a DC Comics holiday tradition after Joker and Luthor. The next Superman Earth One isn't solicited yet, nor J. Michael Straczynski's Samaritan X, but DC publisher Dan DiDio has suggested the end of the year is when we'll see a spate of DC graphic novels.

* Batman: The Black Mirror

Collecting the Scott Snyder/Jock storyline that's getting considerable acclaim right now. Here's hoping this is just one volume, not two (per Superman's Black Ring and Grounded).

* Brightest Day Vol. 3

* Brightest Day Vol. 1 (paperback)

Brightest Day concludes in 2011, and even starts again in paperback the same year -- you can all check my math, but I think this is a "getting better" release schedule on DC's part. It does seem like we won't see Flashpoint collections until 2012, however.

* Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 2

* Superman Grounded Vol. 2

At about twelve issues each, and especially with all of Grounded's bad publicity, I really would've liked to see DC publish both of these as respective individual volumes, instead of unnecessarily stretching them out into two short hardcovers. We know DC can do twelve-issue hardcovers, i.e. Brightest Day -- not doing so just seems like profiteering to me.

* Supergirl: Good Looking Corpse

Even if this is the title of the new Nick Spencer/James Peaty storyline, it has weird "dead women" connotations of the kind I thought DC was trying to make a concerted effort to avoid these days. Will anyone ever want to say "my favorite Supergirl trade is Good Looking Corpse"? I think this one needs a re-do.

* Batman: Arkham City

* Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Death of Oracle

* Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer

* Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 2

* Justice League of America: Omega

* Justice Society of America: Supertown

* Superboy Vol. 1: Smallville Attacks

* Teen Titans: Team Building

No surprises here necessarily, either, but the next releases of your favorite ongoing series. Both the Superboy and Justice League trades ought be roundabout the Reign of Doomsday crossover.


* All Star Superman

With the Absolute edition and such, this didn't especially jump out at me, but it would seem a bunch of readers have been waiting to read All Star Superman in single-volume paperback form (and indeed I approve DC bringing these issues together in one volume, not two). I'd have thought this would be better released when the movie came out, but maybe DC was trying to push the Absolute at that time.

* Batgirl: The Lesson

Also can't believe I left off the next Bryan Miller Batgirl collection. I really liked the first volume and I'm looking forward to the second, and I'm thrilled at all the acclaim Miller has received for the most unlikely of books, one starring the erstwhile Spoiler Stephanie Brown.

There is more to say, especially on certain Omnibus editions, and look for that coming in a few days. I'll pause here, though, and ask: Omnibuses, love 'em or hate em? What else is on your to-buy list?

Review: War of the Supermen hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 21, 2011

As the conclusion to the sweeping, eighty-plus part, over two-years long Superman: New Krypton saga, War of the Supermen does a passable job -- not satisfactory, by any means, but better than other readers had lead me to expect. Over the course of at least four different series and a number of different writers, New Krypton transformed from the story as which it started out into a different one; writers Sterling Gates and James Robinson offer a good ending, but not the one I was looking for.

[Contains spoilers]

The New Krypton series as a whole had a number of good stories and well-established characters, and Gates and Robinson treat them all well here. They didn't forget Greg Rucka's Nightwing and Flamebird, thankfully, and the characters' exits, if brief, are at least built on threads of the New Krypton story, as when Flamebird defeats the Kryptonian god Rao one more time. Superman gets another moment with his adopted son Chris before the latter disappears into the Phantom Zone; Robinson's Mon-El, perhaps the best part of all of New Krypton, makes a cameo; and the writers tease future stories with those characters and with the new Guardian and Billi Harper. New Krypton was an ensemble story, and the real disappointment would have been if the ensemble hadn't been able to take their bows; in that, Gates and Robinson deliver hands down.

I also thought the writers presented the book's tragedy well. That New Krypton would be destroyed has been a given since the beginning, but I didn't expect the twist in that the bomb would be Reactron, and the trigger would be Supergirl's mother Alura's overzealous torture of her enemy. The destruction of the planet, as depicted by Jamal Igle (I think) is visually astounding (if lacking sufficient similarity to depictions of Krypton's original destruction). The pages of Superman and Supergirl's grief, especially the silent pages, were very affecting, their tears bubbling in the zero gravity. I hadn't expected Lex Luthor's role in the destruction of New Krypton, and that surprised me as did how this book leads in to Paul Cornell's forthcoming Lex Luthor story Superman: The Black Ring.

Unfortunately, I think War of the Supermen missed the mark in a number of different ways.

First of all, I think to posit as War of the Supermen does that the New Krypton story is about Superman trying to broker peace between Earth and the Kryptonians is to miss the point of Geoff Johns's fantastic set up for this story. New Krypton is about Clark Kent in mourning over the death of his human father, and how this makes him too-readily accept the New Kryptonians who are not the surrogate family he presumed they would be. New Krypton is full of reflective instances of fathers and sons -- Lois and General Lane, Nightwing and how he sacrifices himself for Superman -- and at the end of the book we even learn Mon-El is going to be a father. The writers even go so far as to have Lois think to herself about something Pa Kent told her, but there's never that scene with Superman that ties the story back to where it started, with Pa Kent's death. I liked the modern age incarnation of Superman where he parents were alive, I think it worked well in a number of stories, and that Johns killed off Pa Kent as the launchpad for New Krypton, only to have that death mean nothing in the end, is a disappointment to me.

Second, I felt the central conflict of War of the Supermen -- Superman versus General Zod and a horde of Kryptonians attacking Earth -- much too closely mirrored that of Superman: Last Son, and it's hard to top a work by Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert. Robinson and Greg Rucka's work in the third volume of Superman: New Krypton went a long way toward establishing Zod not as a one-note villain, but as a war hero dedicated to helping his people at all costs; War of the Supermen would have us believe that all of Zod and Superman's growing relationship was a sham, and that Zod really is just revenge-obsessed and "evil." More's the shame. Not to mention that I must have missed in the eighty-plus issues where the Phantom Zone destroyed projector regenerated itself; Superboy's retrieving it was a terrible deus ex machina, and a rather dull conclusion to the story -- Zod always gets re-imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, and sure enough, here he was again.

Third, and maybe this dovetails with the lack of acknowledgment for Pa Kent in the book, I disagree with focusing War of the Supermen's epilogue on Lois and Clark's relationship. Yes, the two had to separate for Superman to live on New Krypton, but it was always with the understanding that Superman was keeping an eye on Zod, and any number of times we saw Clark come back to Earth to visit Lois. The writers even have Lois ask Clark never to leave her again, and then follow it, essentially, with "just kidding." As far as I'm concerned, Lois Lane -- the DC Universe's most capable civilian -- ought be the first person who understands the responsibilities of her spouse and the last person to ask him to shy away from what he has to do. The Death of Superman -- shortly after Lois and Clark's engagement, with Clark in mortal danger -- was a story about Lois and Clark's relationship, and that story's romance-laden end was especially fitting; here, ending New Krypton with "I can't stop kissing you" and "I love you Lois," rather than, say, "Let's get Swamp Thing to build a memorial to the innocent Kryptonians that Reactron killed" is to miss the point of this story.  It seems again a conclusion to a different New Krypton saga than the one I started out reading.

What to say then about Superman: New Krypton? Like "Batman Reborn," it was an ambitious story with a telegraphed ending, and the suspense was in how the writers would get there -- "Batman Reborn" is about how the world reacts to Batman's death, knowing as we did that Batman would be back; similarly we knew the planet of New Krypton couldn't last, but the question was how it might be destroyed. The Batman story, interestingly, is a comedy (a story with a happy ending), and the Superman story the tragedy. New Krypton was most certainly written by talented writers who like the same Superman eras as I do -- it had Bibbo, Natasha Irons, the Guardian, Dubblex, and even Agent Liberty in it, for gosh sakes; it fell flat, in the end, but there were so many highs getting to this point that I certainly can't discount the story entirely.

I liked New Krypton's ambitiousness, I liked the ways in which it reminded me of the "Triangle Era" of Superman comics. Part of me wants to say, "Try again! For Rao's sake, try again!" Superman deserves storytelling of the kind this could have been -- maybe a second attempt could be the charm.

[Contains full and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

Thanks for reading!

Is Apple the new digital Comics Code Authority?

Friday, March 18, 2011

It was an interesting week in the world of digital comics.

For the first time, I believe, since DC Comics began selling their comics digitally through Comixology's digial comics website and application, there were no new releases on Wednesday.

On Thursday, DC launched a $0.99 sale on Comixology for over 200 "green"-themed comics, tied to St. Patrick's Day. It's possible that DC purposely held their Wednesday digital new releases until Thursday for the sale, but I think this is unlikely -- a basic rule of business is that if you can get customers hooked on expected a product at a certain time and on a certain day, i.e. new comics releases on Wednesday, that's not something you should monkey with, at least without giving the customers notice.

Despite that DC advertised a number of new releases to be included in that $0.99 St. Patrick's Day sale, those new releases -- which included Mike Grell's 1987 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters miniseries, Judd Winick's Green Arrow, some Brightest Day tie-in Green Lantern and Corps, and Dennis O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow -- remained unavailable until late Thursday night.

By way of explanation, Comixology mentioned a couple times on their Twitter feed Wednesday and Thursday that DC's comics were delayed by Apple approval, and that the specific comic caught in the approval process was the Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters miniseries.

Let the unsubstantiated speculation begin.

Grell's Longbow Hunters, of course, launched a new Green Arrow title that would end up with one of DC's "Mature Readers" labels, prior to the creation of their Vertigo imprint and well before, just recently, DC's bucking of the Comics Code Authority entirely toward their own rating system. With that "Mature Readers" label, the Green Arrow title included perhaps more blood than you might've otherwise seen in a comic at the time (though not much greater than today's standards), and a greater amount of implied frontal nudity.

Longbow Hunters itself is rather bloody, with arrows through hands and chests, though again I think by today's standards Longbow matches Magog or Justice League: Cry for Justice in terms of gore (not in terms of story -- Longbow is a classic, and if you haven't read it, you should). In addition to some gore, Longbow also includes a depiction of Black Canary having been tortured, with some suggestion of sexual violence.

I wonder if some part of the above factored into the longer-than-normal Apple approval process.

We know Apple has had trouble in the past with overzealous censorship, including banning the Eucalyptus e-reader because it could access the Kama Sutra on Project Gutenberg. Was an almost two-day delay in the release of new digital comics the result of Apple's uncertainty about the content of a Green Arrow comic book? Do DC and Comixology now have to worry that if they want to make a "mature" comic available, they'll receive time-based penalization from Apple?

Given that the DC/Comixology digital store already contains a number of mature reader Vertigo titles, as well as DC Universe titles with strong content like Identity Crisis, I hope that if any of this is true, it's just a one-time blip. The concerns I express, however, go to recurrent issues facing the comic book industry and fans -- a general public misunderstanding that comics aren't just "kid stuff" and might contain strong content, and a new digital landscape for comics that involves bringing in third parties like Apple that may not understand comics culture, the important of Wednesday delivery, and so on.

I think that the reason more hasn't been made of all of this these past two days is because the only vendor DC's digital delay affected was Comixology, and because the digital comics in question are just reprints. Imagine, however, if this had applied to physical comics, and no comic book stores had received their DC titles until essentially Friday -- that'd be a big deal. I'll be curious to see if this happens again, and if more attention mounts as digital comics become more pervasive.

[You might also like Collected Editions' List of Digital Comics Unavailable in Trade Paperback]

Review: Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

5 comments | Tags:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If you didn't like Final Crisis, then Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne might not be for you either.

What we have here is some of the best aspects (or the most irritating, depending on your point of view) of Grant Morrison's latest mainstream DC Comics work. Return of Bruce Wayne is a story both modular and overlapping, like Seven Soldiers of Victory, and important events don't so much happen as take place quietly in the background. And, like Final Crisis. Return starts out straightforward and mundane, and ends in the extreme and the fantastical, fully comprehensible possibly only to Morrison himself.

[Contains spoilers]

About three issues in to Return of Bruce Wayne, I was ready to dismiss this miniseries as an unnecessary experiment in Elseworld-ing -- what if Batman were a caveman, what if Batman was a witch-hunter, what if Batman were a pirate. But by this book's final pages, with panels that fracture and crack much like they did in Final Crisis's end of time, it's clear that Return of Bruce Wayne fits firmly into the Grant Morrison canon. This book offers shout-outs at least to 52, Final Crisis, and Batman RIP -- if you haven't been following along so far, I'm not sure Return of Bruce Wayne is the place to start.

One of my other concerns going in to Return of Bruce Wayne is that this book would serve as another step in Morrison's over-the-top deification of Bruce Wayne. I accept that Batman can single-handedly defeat the White Martians and that he's so prepared for any threat that he creates himself a backup personality in case his first was corrupted; I wasn't sure I needed to see Batman fight his way through time so everyone could praise him for that, too. Thankfully, even as there's some of that here (as when Batman builds for Booster Gold and friends the most intricate time machine ever created), Morrison tempers this with one small, startling revelation from Bruce Wayne -- from the moment Alfred tended to his first crime-fighting wounds, Batman has never been a solitary endeavor; Batman has never fought totally alone.

This admission, that Batman gets by with a little help from his friends, does wonders to humanize what's otherwise a wildly fantastical story. Yes, Batman managed to make his way through time and figure out the mystery behind it all in the process, but in each era he had help -- from the Caveman Robin known as "Boy" to Annie, pagan acolyte of the New Gods, and later from Jonah Hex and from the Justice League themselves. Batman states outright that he returns from the lonely end of time to the present, accompanied by a minion of Darkseid that's been stalking him, specifically so that the "Hyper-Adapter" will have to face the age of collected heroes; Return of Bruce Wayne (and the Batman, Inc. team book that follows it) is a renunciation of the idea of Batman as the grim loner, and an embracing of Batman as the team player that Morrison posits he's always been.

As Booster Gold and his team travel back to the present in the ultimate time machine, Rip Hunter remarks on how the end of time loops back through time's beginning, like a knot. Indeed, the reader ought prepare themselves for some mental knots as well. In Return, we learn that Darkseid charged Batman's cowl with Omega energy and sent him back in time, such that the "Hyper-Adapter" can latch on and follow Bruce back to the future, destroying everything. Bruce leaves the cowl behind, essentially evading the trap, except that the meddling Red Robin and the Justice League find it and bring it in to play; Bruce then has to defeat the Hyper-Adapter, turning it in to the giant bat that helps jolt Bruce's memory in the first issue. That is, Darkseid sets a trap at the end of Final Crisis, and Batman uses that trap at the end of Return as the springboard to his own success at the beginning of that same book. The end here is the beginning is the end -- as I said, if you didn't like it in Final Crisis, you might not like it here, either.

Morrison's logic is not completely circular, however; Return is remarkably modular, much like Seven Soldiers was (the similarities don't end in the sameness of Frazier Irving's Klarion the Witch Boy and Return stories both by Morrison). Return can be read on its own, or part of a larger whole that includes Batman and Robin volumes two and three, and Batman: Time and the Batman; it can also be read to some extent both forward and backward (trust me, I tried it). As with Final Crisis, I interpret Return as another Morrison tribute to comics and storytelling, especially in the writer tackling the cowboy and pirate adventure genres; "Whatever they touch turns to myth," Batman narrates at one point, and he could just as easily be talking about the New Gods as Morrison could be about other writers, comics and continuity, as Return is built itself on Peter Milligan's Dark Knight, Dark City. Batman reminds himself of his own existence time and again in this story through the watchword "Gotcha"; it defines not only Batman but also the essence of serial storytelling, the cliffhanger, just as Morrison etched on Superman's tombstone "To be continued" in Final Crisis.

I liked Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne -- more than I did at the beginning once I began looking farther past the surface, and even more than that when I read it the second time backward -- but Grant Morrison still doesn't quite have me convinced about this Bruce Wayne guy. Before Batman RIP, I didn't like the idea of an "imposter Batman," but Dick Grayson has grown into the role in such a short time, that I'm not enthusiastic about the return of the angsty, uber-capable Bruce Wayne. Return, as it turns out, is not so much about the re-emergence of the Batman Bruce Wayne as it is about Bruce Wayne's trip back. That's engaging, to be sure, but I'm curious to read about Batman's actual return on one of the other half-dozen modules of this story, to see how Morrison re-establishes Bruce Wayne after his being gone so long.

[Deluxe size; printed on glossy paper. Contains full and variant covers, sketchbook section.]

Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus, paperback Jack Kirby's Fourth World solicited

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Consider me a little speechless right now.

Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus.

When DC Comics announced the Flash by Geoff Johns Omnibus, it made immediate sense to me. Johns's Flash series was critically acclaimed, massively long, and almost completely out of print, not to mention that Johns was about to start an entirely new Flash run built on the foundation of his first. We predicted the Flash omnibus series, begged for it, and lauded its arrival.

But this ... is unexpected.

I'll say the first reason the Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus surprises me, perhaps unfairly, is because of the way the series ended. Johns's Teen Titans started strong, really strong; Teen Titans: Kid's Game is one of my top favorite trade paperbacks -- well-written, well crafted and executed, and as I see now, out of print. But as well as Johns's Teen Titans started, the book lost considerable momentum around Infinite Crisis, and ends rather unevenly with a co-writer and varying art teams. Johns's Teen Titans is in general worthy of an omnibus edition, I think, but the unevenness of the series as a whole makes me surprised that DC would collect it in whole this way.

Second is that, considering again all the reasons a Flash omnibus seemed inevitable, I wonder now what the Teen Titans omnibus means for DC's publishing line going forward. One semi-modern series collected in omnibus format is a surprise; two semi-modern series collected in omnibus format starts to look like a pattern. We've speculated on a Green Lantern by Geoff Johns Omnibus before; is that next? A Justice Society by Geoff Johns Omnibus? A Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus? Like hardcovers and paperbacks, are omnibuses something we should start to expect, too?

Not to mention, the other big news of the day is a paperback edition of DC's Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1. We've seen this with Gotham Central, JLA, and others -- omnibuses aren't even exclusive hardcover volumes any more, but also more affordable paperback releases. Is this a trend toward larger volumes overall -- hardcover, paperback, whatever, are bigger volumes and more issues the new normal?

Now, possibly DC produced the Flash omnibuses in connection with Johns's new Barry Allen Flash series, and maybe the Teen Titans omnibuses are meant to reflect Young Justice -- though I can't imagine the Young Justice audience is quite extensive enough to support a series of potentially $75.00 omnibuses. A Young Justice tie sounds to me like a big risk; I'd sooner hope DC is publishing the Teen Titans omnibus series, for better or worse, out of love for Johns's Teen Titans stories.

... OK, so maybe not speechless after all, but certainly surprised. Are you surprised, too? Is this a must-buy, or a plan-to-pass? I'm still thinking this through, and I'm eager to hear everyone's thoughts.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sterling Gates's afterword to Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 goes a long way toward, if not justifying the distinct lack of Superman himself in this story, explaining the lack in a satisfying manner. "Last Stand of New Krypton," Gates notes, was originally to be called "Brainiac and the Legion of Super-Heroes." Indeed, if we can forget that this story marks the near-end of almost two years worth of Superman stories, and instead just accept it as a Legion of Super-Heroes story set in the present, there's actually a bit to like here.

[Contains spoilers]

It's about at the point where Legionnaire Brainiac 5, arrived from the future, looks at our young Supergirl Kara Zor-El and remembers when, in her future, Supergirl will die, that this volume of Last Stand of New Krypton becomes something different. At that moment, I'm not sure what playbook Gates (who shares writing duties with James Robinson) is working from, but we now have tacit acknowledgement that this back-in-continuity Legion remembers the aspect of Crisis on Infinite Earths where the Golden/Silver Age Supergirl perished; even as today's heroes know Barry Allen died during Crisis, the original Supergirl was supposedly out of continuity entirely, a figment of the old Earth-1 that no longer exists.

I get why these kinds of continuity puzzles are annoying to some readers; Gates ultimately provides no explanation in this book as to who remembers what, and ultimately the whole puzzle may cause more confusion than it does add to the story. I hold out hope, perhaps, that indeed Gates is writing from a playbook -- that we as the reader will at some point learn more about what Brainiac 5 knows versus what Superman and Supergirl do -- though I may ultimately be disappointed. From this moment, however, Last Stand of New Krypton becomes Brainiac 5's story, and his mourning over the still-alive Supergirl, his drive to save Superman, and his fear in confronting his ancestor Brainiac all make for compelling reading.

The thing is, I like the Legion of Super-Heroes, and have grown more to like them lately between Mark Waid's re-imagining of the team, the cartoon, and the return of the post-Crisis classic team. Where I've often felt that the Legion goes wrong is in not having any connection to the goings-on of the modern DC Universe; the Legion exists in a bubble and is therefore not "essential" to DC Universe reading otherwise. Last Stand of New Krypton is a great example of how the Legion can be integrated into the ongoing DC Universe -- it's an entire book where Brainiac 5, Chameleon, Sensor Girl, Tellus, and others fight "our" Brainiac over the skies of New Krypton. This is exactly the kind of Legion book I want to read, Superman's name on the masthead notwithstanding.

I considered in my review of Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 1 that one (of a few) plotlines I'd like to see wrapped up by the end of the New Krypton books is that of the Kryptonian guild system, which segregates the Kryptonians and which Superman has tried to combat. Also in Gates's afterword, the writer explains that the Kryptonians are now united despite guild -- all against Earth under the rulership of General Zod. This is a fair turn, an alternative to the neat bow under which the plotline could have been tied up, and I like that; at the same time, the moment in the story is so very subtle that it took Gates's afterword to explain it, which might mean it's too subtle.

It is, however, an indication at least that Last Stand's writer and its audience are on something of the same page in terms of what they want from this story, even if not quite everything that I'm personally  looking for gets delivered.

Last Stand of New Krypton not only ends with Gates's afterword, but also with a couple of pages excerpted from the next and final New Krypton book, War of the Supermen. As in the first Doom Patrol trade, which ended with the trailer for the next book in the series, I love that DC includes this extra material acknowledging that a trade reader might want the next trade in a series, and encouraging them to pick it up. Between Gates's afterword and this extra material, Last Stand re-establishes the early sense of excitement the New Krypton storyline had about itself, and it made me feel good at the close this book, even if that excitement comes late, just one volume before the end of the storyline.

None of this excuses, of course, the fact that Superman doesn't play much of a role here. The hero is far from absent; indeed there's a fantastic multi-page widescreen sequence in which Superman tried to hold back Brainiac's crashing ship that's truly cinematic. But much of the book's plot surrounds the Legion trying to save Superman and preserve his legacy; this is a book about Superman more than one starring him. In that way, if the reader can't find enjoyment in the Legion story, they may feel that Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 simply seems to be biding its time between the first volume and the concluding War of the Supermen.

It seems the New Krypton storyline will come down to this final book, War of the Supermen, to make or break how the story ultimately fares.

[Contains full and variant covers, afterword by Sterling Gates, preview pages of War of the Supermen. Printed on glossy paper.]

Later this week ... the Collected Editions review of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. Don't miss it!

Review: Flash: Dastardly Death of the Rogues hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

8 comments | Tags:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beautifully drawn and full of fantastic superheroic saves, Geoff Johns writing a Flash title again with Francis Manapul and former collaborator Scott Kolins feels like coming home. If I had wondered if Johns had exhausted his arsenal of fantastic Flash saves, there's more; if I had wondered if Johns had revealed all he could about the Flash's Rogues, there's more. And to an extent, I appreciate Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, a story about a man who can accomplish things very fast, the most because of how it wastes time -- with scene setting, with conversation, with silly bits of humor. All of it suggests that Johns's intention here is to give the reader a firm introduction to the character of Flash Barry Allen and his supporting cast, even if this story might proceed more slowly than Johns's audience is used to.

[Contains spoilers]

It is not just because of Francis Manapul's art that Johns's first book of the Flash ongoing series reminds me of his Superboy: Boy of Steel. As with Superboy, this Flash volume is a slow, methodical book, from the initial splash page not of our hero, but of Central City, to seven pages of the Flash restoring a decimated apartment building that has no real tie to the ongoing story. This includes a page and a half dedicated to the Flash fixing a little girl's doll; Spawn this is not. That sequence is followed by two pages of Barry chatting with his wife Iris, and then again Barry and Iris sit down for coffee for four pages an issue later.

I'm not complaining, mind you. Johns writes Barry's saves with the right mix of fun and exhilaration, as when Barry leaps into midair to save the pilots of a crashing helicopter (and I appreciated that Johns knows Barry's limits; the Flash saves the people, but the helicopter crashes in flames). Barry's relationship with Iris and their meetings over coffee form the backbone of this book; they are exactly the right mix of confidantes and professional rivals, and Johns makes the writing of the relationship seem so effortless that its a wonder scores of Superman writers haven't been able to accomplish the same over the years. Johns's circuitous route in the story -- Barry fixing the girl's doll, for instance -- seems to me to stem from the same place as Johns's Justice Society riding in a fire truck with cutesy dalmatians, but this feels much more natural, maybe because Manapul's art lends itself better to the pastoral than Dale Eaglesham's did on Justice Society.

Time travel plays a large role in this story (one that will likely increase with the coming Flashpoint crossover), but I liked that Johns didn't cover ground already well-tread in Booster Gold. Flash's time travel issues are less "is it OK to go back in time and kill Hitler," and more determinism -- if the future exists somewhere, do I have any say over my own actions? Am I destined to make my mistakes or can I change them? Johns cleverly has Barry interpret time travel not as physically changing the past, but rather as overturning the wrongful conviction of a young man. The future Reverse Flash Task Force arrest Barry because they're trying to prevent all crime in their time; Barry works to do the same, but by uncovering the truth rather than shaping the truth to his own ends.

I chuckled at Johns's assertion on Flash: Rebirth that Barry Allen is the wellspring from which all other heroes emerged. Johns is accurate in that we credit the Barry Allen Flash for launching the Silver Age of comics, including Green Lantern Hal Jordan and the Atom Ray Palmer, though for Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick to give Barry that credit in-story seemed too much Barry worship (let alone that I dislike DC Comics's move of late to give Hal and Barry greater roles than Superman). Barry is perhaps a bit too perfect in this story, too, always dutifully worried about others, whereas even Hal Jordan gets overconfident or runs his mouth off once in a while. Johns reinforces Barry's "wellspring-ness" in a scene toward the end of the book where he single-handedly convinces the Central City police to re-open all of their hastily finished cases for the past six months; the scene is true to Barry as Johns presents him, though I worry if Johns presentation of Barry as never tripping or sneezing might at some point get old.

Johns certainly differentiates the adventures of Flash Barry Allen from "previous" Flash Wally West at least in Barry's approach to superheroics, which is always dutifully steeped in the language of police investigations. As a fan of Johns's last Flash series, however, I was glad artist Scott Kolins played a role here, and in a "Rogue Profile" issue no less (Kolins' art even blurs a bit to look more like Manapul's). I'm not sure we learned much more about Captain Boomerang Digger Harkness than we knew before, though the villain is a favorite of mine and I was happy to have him in the spotlight nonetheless. Boomerang's face-off with the Reverse-Flash was interesting, since I believe Reverse-Flash's daughter was the mother of Boomerang's child -- this was not addressed in the issue, but I hope Johns gets to it at some point.

The hardcover of Dastardly Death of the Rogues, at least, contains a couple of Johns's one-page "Flash Facts" backups, and a teaser for Flashpoint. As an advocate for collections readers getting as many of the little extras as the monthly readers, I was glad to see these here. Johns emphasizes both in one of the "Flash Facts" and in the story that the first Mirror Master Sam Scudder had control over forces in his mirrors that the reader never knew; if I thought Johns had said all he had to say about the Rogues in his first Flash run, it's interesting how he's now even exploring the history of dead Rogues. My guess is that the "alternate reality" that Barry sees here in Scudder's mirror is in fact the way events were "supposed" to unravel, with Barry's mother alive to old age; I wonder if one aspect of Flashpoint will be Barry having to decide between the life of his mother or preserving DC Comics reality as we currently know it.

Flash: Dastardly Death of the Rogues will be intriguing for fans of Geoff Johns's Flash new and previous, and certainly if you intend to pick up the Flashpoint crossover, that all starts here. It's clear Johns is playing the long-game with Flash, however, and this book's story delays and digressions will delight some but potentially alienate others. Johns's Green Lantern, to be sure, doesn't move this slow, and I wonder how well the Flash title will support a major crossover in just a few short months, with all the world watching.

[Contains full and variant covers, "Flash Facts" and Flashpoint teaser. Printed on glossy paper]

More reviews on the way!

Brightest Day trade paperback reading order

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The following is a guide to the trade paperback reading order for the Brightest Day miniseries and its related crossover titles.

This list was completed 4/3/12. It was initially based on DC Comics's checklist for reading Brightest Day in individual issues, translated to trade reading (link no longer valid after DC's 2012 website update).

After about Brightest Day #10, however, DC ceased to release an issue-by-issue reading order for Brightest Day, in part we speculate because Brightest Day does become more self-contained toward the end of its run, and also because the advent of the DC New 52 made some pieces of Brightest Day irrelevant.

This first list suggests how to read Brightest Day in order, completely in trade format. Bold items are essential reading. Italic items are very relevant tie-ins (I would not go so far as to say any Brightest Day tie-in is "essential"); plain type items are bannered as Brightest Day tie-ins or otherwise related, but not considered relevant. This list is similar to that on the DC Trade Paperback Timeline, but modified slightly in the absence of the greater DCU. The original issue-by-issue list follows after.

The original issue-by-issue list for reading the first "act" of Brightest Day:
Brightest Day #0Brightest Day Vol. 1
Green Lantern #53Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #47Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
Flash #1Flash: The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues
Justice League of America #44Justice League of America: The Dark Things

Brightest Day #1Brightest Day Vol. 1
Brightest Day #2Brightest Day Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #1Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #2Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Green Lantern #54Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #48Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
Flash #2Flash: The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues
Justice League of America #45Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Titans: Villains for Hire Special #1Titans: Villains for Hire
Birds of Prey #1Birds of Prey: Endrun

Brightest Day #3Brightest Day Vol. 1
Brightest Day #4Brightest Day Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #3Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #4Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Green Lantern #55Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #49Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
Flash #3Flash: The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues
Justice League of America #46Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Titans #24Titans: Villains for Hire
Birds of Prey #2Birds of Prey: Endrun
Green Arrow #1Green Arrow: Into the Woods

Brightest Day #5Brightest Day Vol. 1
Brightest Day #6Brightest Day Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #5Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #6Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Green Lantern #56Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #50Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
Flash #4Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues
Justice Society of America #41Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Justice League of America #47Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Titans #25Titans: Villains for Hire
Birds of Prey #3Birds of Prey: Endrun
Green Arrow #2Green Arrow: Into the Woods
Brightest Day: The Atom Special #1

Brightest Day #7Brightest Day Vol. 1
Brightest Day #8Brightest Day Vol. 2
Justice League: Generation Lost #7Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #8Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Green Lantern #57Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #51Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors
Flash #5Flash: The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues
Justice Society of America #42Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Justice League of America #48Justice League of America: The Dark Things
Titans #26Titans: Villains for Hire
Birds of Prey #4Birds of Prey: Endrun
Green Arrow #3Green Arrow: Into the Woods

Brightest Day #9Brightest Day Vol. 2
Brightest Day #10Brightest Day Vol. 2
Justice League: Generation Lost #9Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Justice League: Generation Lost #10Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1
Green Lantern #58Green Lantern: Brightest Day
Green Lantern Corps #52Green Lantern Corps: Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns
Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #2Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors
Flash #6Flash: The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues
Justice Society of America #43
Titans #27Titans: Villains for Hire
Birds of Prey #5Birds of Prey: Endrun
Green Arrow #4Green Arrow: Into the Woods

If you are not the kind who likes flipping back and forth between trades, we recommend starting with Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, and then picking up the related trades in the order listed. Unlike Blackest Night, the Brightest Day crossover issues don't necessarily follow one right after another, so you can allow yourself some leeway in how you proceed.