Uncollected Editions #7: Deathstroke: Nuclear Winter #13-20 (DC Comics)

Monday, May 30, 2011

[Our latest installment of our "Uncollected Editions" series by Paul Hicks]

There’s nothing cohesive about Deathstroke #13–20, but it certainly has its moments. These issues came out in 1992 and reflect the movement of the day, when there was nothing cooler than making an established villain an anti-hero. If it was good enough for the Punisher and Venom, then it was certainly good enough for Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator.

Deathstroke had been a shades-of-grey villain introduced to great acclaim in New Teen Titans #2 back in 1982 at the start of the ground-breaking Wolfman/Perez series. Ten years later Marv Wolfman was again writing the character on a regular basis in his own series. The series had a single trade paperback, Full Circle, collecting issues #1–5, but for my money, the best of this run came in the second year and it was typically neglected by the DC collections department. The art ranges from adequate to great and is mostly by Steve Erwin and Will Blyberg. The great covers are by Mike Zeck.

At the start of “Terminator Hunt,” Deathstroke has been set up, his healing factor is on the fritz, he’s been on the run, and he’s had the misfortune of being involved in a Metropolis shoot-out that leaves “flight stewardess” (their words, not mine) Lucy Lane shot (as seen in Superman #68). Superman drops off Slade with the authorities, where he promptly escapes. The “Hunt” comes in because the mysterious skull-ring-wearing Agent Smith has some nefarious plan for Slade, and it’s obviously much easier to send wave after wave of assassins to capture him, and also frame him and involve the superhero community in his apprehension, than it is to, say, just hire him.

The word is out that Slade’s on the lam, and he’s now hunted by everyone from the odd Justice Leaguer to lame early Image wannabes: Hemp, Bear, Ninjato, Shuriken and Kitty Kat, to name a few. Deathstroke takes out the nobodies and in a very cool sequence outwits Hal Jordan and a very tough pre-hook Aquaman. A quick sidebar here -- Wolfman actually shows a lot of respect for Aquaman, making me wonder if he ever had a pitch in mind for the King of the Seas, particularly given that this was around two years before the Peter David series began. In a much less cool sequence, Slade also trips Wally West and makes his escape into issue #14.

Could things get any crazier? Why yes, they could, because part two of “Terminator Hunt” is also part one of the New Teen Titans/Team Titans crossover “Total Chaos.” Never was a crossover more aptly named. Issues #14 and #15 are mostly padding set amongst the events of the crossover; for some reason Wolfman decides to introduce a bewildering number of new teams: the mob from issue #13, sewer dudes, and finally a teen bag snatching crew. Slade is caught and escapes about three times in those issues. In the midst of it all, Slade tells his manservent Wintergreen about a mission in Cambodia that led him to meet a madam called Sweet Lili. This is aptly timely as he seeks shelter with her in her new base in New York. Notable in the long-term here is that this issue introduces Lili’s mysterious white-haired daughter Rose, who’ll one day become Ravager of the current Teen Titans. It’s done in a very “blink or you’ll miss it” fashion: Rose has no dialogue and she and Slade don’t even meet.

Issue #16 seems to get back on track, with “Total Chaos” hardly intruding in any obvious way. Slade’s escapes custody once again, steals a chopper and crashes on Titan’s Island. Wave after wave of armoured soldiers attack him and in a desperate burst of strength and a war cry of “I’m a goddamn killing machine!!!!” he guns down all his foes and succumbs to a heart attack. This is observed from a nearby submarine by a familiar face from the Titans rogues’ gallery, Mammoth of the Fearsome Five. So concludes “Terminator Hunt.”

Issues #17-20 tell the four-part story “The Nuclear Winter,” seemingly a homage to the late 1960s and ‘70s James Bond films. Slade’s body is delivered to an all-female submarine by the evil Agent Smith. We can tell how evil he is not only by his indiscriminate murder of military personnel, but by his sexist comments to female submariners. The submarine enters a massive hidden base in the Antarctic. What could be more James Bond than a hidden base? How about killing underlings for failing their mission! Agent Smith is immediately and brutally dispatched by Mammoth. Fellow Fearsome Fiver Shimmer shows up. Slade, we learn, isn’t really dead, but in a deep coma ready to be electrically revived by the organization’s leader, Cheshire!

Slade is soon up and running again, sporting a new costume, the way less fun blue and grey number sans the full face mask. After his brush with death, he’s come back better than ever and Cheshire intends to have him as a general in her organisation. No time for talk though, the base is under attack by mysterious white-clad soldiers. They appear to have the upper hand, when one of their own, carrying a crossbow, turns on them. And so Speedy aka Roy Harper joins the story. Cheshire has been allied with The Brain and Monsieur Mallah in forming a new Brotherhood of Evil, but having decided to keep her own franchise, she’s now their number one target. Good thing Roy still has an arrow in his quiver for her, and was happy to infiltrate the invading faction. The Brain has a plan to make his brotherhood a nuclear superpower, but Cheshire has plans of her own. [Fearsome Five? Cheshire? Deathstroke? This is a weird pastiche of New Titans supporting characters, sans the Titans; I bet Wolfman had fun writing it. -- ed]

The Cheshirehood of Evil are soon raiding Russian Nuclear silos and fighting Checkmate. Former Speedy (and not-yet-Arsenal) Roy Harper reveals himself as an agent of Checkmate, but he can’t stop Cheshire getting away with a few nukes. Cheshire plans to blackmail the world with the threat of the nuclear devices, and proves her intentions with the act that makes this hodge-podge of a story so memorable. The DC atlas loses its long-time Middle Eastern stand-in country Qurac, heavily featured in Suicide Squad, Checkmate and earlier issues of Deathstroke, It’s no understatement to say that this act has become a cornerstone for all characterizations of Cheshire since that point. [Further, I’d venture we haven’t seen such a dramatic change to the DC Comics physical landscape before or since, at least until the Cyborg Superman blew Coast City off the map. -- ed]

The story has dated pretty badly, but it still has a rigor to it that appeals to me. The hardest parts to cope with are the intruding crossover and a plot that gets more and more ridiculous when examined across several issues, but both of those traits are very much a symptom of 1990s storytelling that was all the rage. There’s a goofy emulation of early Image books (perhaps editorially mandated) in some of the one-off mercinaries, but when that gives way to the James Bondian hijinks the book becomes more comfortable in its own skin.

The milestones that this story delivered are the debut of Rose Wilson and the elevation of Cheshire from assassin to genocidal nutcase. Another minor point is you can see Roy Harper as a hero in transition from Speedy to becoming Arsenal, emphasized by his willingness to kill his enemies [as would Green Arrow on occasion, all conveniently forgotten now. -- ed]. Slade’s new costume introduced here lasted for a few years too, even featuring in other titles like the mega obscure Chain Gang War (a possible “Uncollected Edition” of the future). I can see why “Nuclear Winter” resists collection, because it has few logical points to break the story up neatly. Even this ending I’ve chosen has the dangling plot point of Wintergreen’s incarceration.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

New reviews later this week. See you then!

Review: Power Girl: A New Beginning trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

There's no doubt Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner's Power Girl: A New Beginning is a beautifully rendered and fun comic book. If that's all you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. But aside from being a rather ingenious send-up of the comic book cheesecake genre, Power Girl is a lot of flash and not a whole lot of substance. Plotlines abound that might give the next volume more weight, but all the parts of this one didn't coalesce for me.

As I mentioned in my review of the Power Girl lead-in Terra, a lot of the joy of Power Girl is in the background. The writers, with a lot of credit to artist Conner, pepper the background with details, whether the hilarious face of Power Girl Kara Zor-El's cat getting an unwitting bath, or the prevalence of bystanders with cell phone cameras building up Power Girl's New York as its own character. It's in her interactions outside the fisticuffs that this book shines -- when Kara shops with Terra, for instance, or when she shares credit for saving the city with the police and firefighters.

Conner's art overemphasizes Power Girl's already-overemphasized bust line, and the book spares no other opportunity for modest nudity, as when Terra fights crime in her underwear or half-naked aliens emerge from a hot tub. The brilliance of Power Girl is that the book acknowledges Kara's bust from the first pages; whereas other heroines have impossible figures as a matter of course, Power Girl's figure is an in-story fact -- the creative team isn't asking the reader to suspend disbelief. Power Girl seems entirely comfortable with her body, and as such what could be portrayed as awkward or sexualized emerges merely as cute, as when a well-meaning firefighter ends up eye-level with her breasts while trying to support her.

Over-sexualized images in comics, especially when presented as a matter of course and without relation to the specific story, only continue to obstruct the comics medium's quest to reach out to new audiences. What Power Girl does is take some of that over-sexualization and just rolls its eyes at it, makes it not that big of a deal. Part of what I think perpetuates silly sexual poses, inordinate graphic violence, and such in comics is the shock value of it all; what I like about Power Girl is how it addresses that shock value head on, deflates it, and then gets on with telling its story.

Unfortunately, I never felt that the story itself was all that strong, nor that Power Girl really fit into the story being told. The first three issues alone mostly involve Power Girl fighting with the Ultra-Humanite, with more pages given to the Humanite's origin than Power Girl's. The fourth issue is mostly scene-setting, with Power Girl and Terra fighting a minor one-off villain; the final two issues, too, involve a misunderstanding between aliens, with no real threat. There's a large part of this book where nothing feels at stake for Power Girl; maybe that goes to the lighter tone of the book, but I found it hard to feel invested in the book beyond enjoying the scenery.

Palmiotti and Gray seem to want to do for Power Girl what Greg Rucka did for Wonder Woman -- to give her a job, a supporting cast, and a meaning beyond just her superheroics. But while Wonder Woman's work as a diplomat directly affected her costumed life and vice versa, Power Girl's Starr Laboratories bears not at all on the problems nor the solutions in this volume (though the story suggests there might be more of that next time). Despite writer James Robinson's great scene in Justice League: Dark Things where Dr. Mid-Nite draws on Kara's scientific knowledge, the writers here state a number of times that Kara has no understanding of what her scientists are doing. It would seem as though Kara has no place in a lab that really doesn't need her to run; Kara is the "hole in things" in this story, a piece that doesn't fit and emerges basically interchangeable from any other superhero that could be substituted into this story instead.

There's a tone to Power Girl: A New Beginning that I like a lot, not in the least the "new beginning" that Power Girl gives to two of the book's "villains," offering redemption instead of jail; this is a book that does things differently. Yet Power Girl's choices never quite add up to an intention or some kind of mission statement -- nor does the writers' frequent mention of September 11 come together as more than a reinforcement that New York Cityappreciates heroes, factual if not original -- so beyond the attractive trappings, the Power Girl series emerges unremarkable. As it seems more of the challenges Power Girl faces become personal in the second volume, rather than just external, I'm hoping I enjoy the next book a little more.

[Contains original and variant covers]

A new "Uncollected Editions" column, and our review of Power Girl: Aliens and Apes, coming up next.

Review: Terra trade paperback (DC Comics)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

There's an inescapable charm to just about anything that has the names Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner attached to it. The Terra miniseries collected here is not too dramatic and doesn't require much from the reader, but the characters are snappy, the continuity notes aplenty, and the art downright adorable. Terra is basically just a prequel to the ongoing Power Girl series, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

[Contains spoilers]

One of the promises made by the Terra miniseries is that it would reveal how this new Terra, Atlee, relates to the DC Universe's previous two Terras, including the infamous New Teen Titans traitor. The answer to "how she relates" is "as well as can be expected" or "almost not at all," depending on your point of view. This new Terra comes from race of aliens who seek to preserve their underground home by sending a champion above-ground to Earth (not, I guess, much unlike Wonder Woman or Aquaman). Apparently the second Terra was also of Atlee's species, made to look like the first Terra and having forgotten her true origins due to the machinations of the Time Trapper in Zero Hour, among other factors.

I'm absolutely delighted that Palmiotti and Gray choose to base Atlee on the second Terra rather than on the obvious choice, the first. I've always had a soft spot for that second Terra, who tried to atone for the sins of the first Terra that she didn't commit. That second Terra's intended origins are confusing and contradictory enough as is (at times a clone, or a number of different time travel anomalies), and it's a credit to the ambitiousness of the writers that they chose to add another element to the mix. As Atlee appears in Power Girl, I hope we'll learn more about the secret life of that second Terra before she came to the surface world.

The scene in which Atlee and the Justice Society's Dr. Mid-Nite discuss Atlee's origins, by the way, is just one example of the joy of Amanda Conner's artwork. Conner, here and in elsewhere, seems to insist on drawing Dr. Mid-Nite not in full costume, but in this this more medical stripped-down costume (though with large shoulder pads); why Mid-Nite differs under Conner's pen I'm not sure, but this and other little touches give the effect of a "Conner-verse" that presents a stylized, attractive take on the DC Universe. Conner begins the scene from the perspective of a caged mouse in Mid-Nite's laboratory, as Mid-Nite's owl looms naughtily closer; this is just one of a number of visual gags Conner and the writers pepper throughout the book, giving the art extra life even besides the story.

As well, Power Girl's face is priceless, presenting both the reader's confusion over clones and Time Trappers, and at the same time embarrassed as Atlee travels over two pages naked, her modesty preserved only by well-placed limbs and lab equipment. This is hardly lasciviousness; rather the coincidentally-placed objects evoke an Austin Powers-type humor. There's a good amount of implied nudity in Terra, not the least when the villain's girlfriend strips and showers, but ultimately I think even this isn't gratuitous; the girlfriend's beauty early on heightens the tragedy later when the woman is reduced to blank, faceless stone.

Ultimately Terra only approaches the origins of the Terras, without delving deeply into the details; most of the enemies Terra faces are one-off caricatures, and even the book's main villain is pretty well vanquished by the end. Power Girl returns in a number of pages at the end where we learn more about her personality and her wish for more non-superheroic elements in her life. Basically, the end of this book is a prologue to the creative team's new Power Girl series, not an epilogue to Terra's story. I didn't mind this so much -- I knew Atlee would be a supporting character in Power Girl, so this was in service to that -- but the reader might want to be forewarned that to an extent, this book is just an advertisement for another series elsewhere.

Given that, however, Terra is a lot of fun, and it suggests to me the Power Girl series will be a lot of fun, too. For as much as this book doesn't accomplish, it tries to do a lot, and makes its attempts with glee, which I think should account for something.

[Contains full covers]

In our general overall following right now of Brightest Day and its related series, we continue later this week with Power Girl: A New Beginning, catching up with the beginnings of the Power Girl series (as above) before that title crosses-over with Brightest Day/Justice League: Generation Lost. See you next time!

Trade Perspectives: DC August 2011 Solicitations: JLA and other concerns

Monday, May 23, 2011

A couple of collected comics items from DC Comics's August 2011 solicitations have garnered discussion in the Collected Editions comments sections and elsewhere, such that I wanted to take a specific post to address them. First up is the paperback release of JLA Volume 1.

The solicitation for this book, which for all intents and purposes should match that of the JLA: Deluxe Edition Volume 1 hardcover published previously, does not mention specific issues, but does mention the JLA's "Hyperclan" adventure found in the JLA: New World Order trade paperback. That's true for the original solicitation for the hardcover as well, and based on page count, we can take for granted that the paperback contains at least New World Order and JLA: American Dreams, much the same as the deluxe hardcover did.

What's at issue is the final line of the paperback solicitation, which reads:
This new trade paperback includes several issues written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Ultimate Fantastic Four) that were not collected in the hardcover JLA DELUXE EDITION series.
One tenet of the JLA Deluxe series has been that it only collects the Grant Morrison-written issues of JLA, and not the rather well-regarded fill-in issues by Mark Waid and others. The hardcover JLA Deluxe actually does contain an issue (co-)written by Mark Millar, the "Star Seed" story from the JLA Secret Files and Origins #1. It does not include Millar's other stories from Secret Files, about Superman and Martian Manhunter, despite that the original solicitation for JLA Deluxe credits the artist of those stories, Don Hillsman. Hillsman's stories do not appear in JLA Deluxe.

Therefore, when talking about "several issues by Mark Millar" to be included in the JLA Volume 1 paperback, it's my speculation that this refers to the Superman and Martian Manhunter stories from Secret Files. Perhaps the "was not/was" in regards to Hillsman's credit indicates these stories were considered for the original hardcover edition; interestingly, DC has both volumes listed with the exact same page count.

Of concern here is that fans spent $30 for the JLA Deluxe hardcover under the reasonable assumption that this was DC Comics's new, definitive edition of the largely out-of-print original JLA trade paperbacks, only to now find that DC is releasing a $20 paperback with additional issues -- a less expensive edition with more content, only three years later. There is an unspoken contract among readers and publishers, I believe, that a primary hardcover release of a book is the "definitive" edition, and the following paperback will contain the same or less material, and this violates that contract.

The difference between including or excluding two short Mark Millar stories is, I grant, not all that great. This precedent of returning stories excluded from the JLA Deluxe volumes to the JLA paperbacks will become much more significant one book hence, however, as JLA Deluxe Volume 2 excluded JLA #18-21 by Mark Waid, and the paperback JLA Volume 2 could now bring those back. This would make the difference between the second hardcover and paperback JLA volumes much more significant, and increase the possibility that someone who collected the JLA Deluxe hardcovers is going to feel cheated.

Other August 2011 Anomalies
There are certainly books of interest in DC's August 2011 solicitations, including Birds of Prey: The Death of Oracle and Flash: The Road to Flashpoint, and I'm still riding high on DC for continuing their Suicide Squad reprints, and for collections like Infinity Inc. and Legion Lost.

But at the same time, their complete Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War paperback emerges as something of a disappointment, since the solicitation suggests the Tales of the Sinestro Corps material won't be included. Having read Tales separate from Sinestro Corps War, I can tell you it does fill in some necessary, otherwise-confusing holes in the main stories. This seems to me a missed opportunity for DC to release a single, comprehensive edition of Sinestro Corps War, and it's a pity.

Another head-scratcher is DC's Showcase Presents: All-Star Comics Volume 1, a black and white reprint of the two color Justice Society trade paperbacks from a few years ago. I understand DC releasing Showcase Presents: Booster Gold, for instance, when Booster's series isn't otherwise available in trade, but this seems needless duplication of already-released material. Worse, this is "Volume 1"; will volume 2 collect further adventures of the Justice Society at this time, like All-Star Squadron, in black and white format instead of continuing the color trade paperbacks? Another disappointment, in my opinion, for readers of those early trades.

Right now there's not anything else on the horizon I can think of that's directly related to a collection already released -- that is, I don't see anything else coming up that I think bears the risk of disappointing the way the above do. However, I think DC has muddied a bit of reader/publisher trust with these volumes, and with some shifts going on in DC's collections department, that's not a great foot to be starting on.

[Felt this was important enough to interrupt our regular review schedule; new reviews coming here tomorrow and later in the week.]

Review: Superman: The Black Ring hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Paul Cornell's Superman: The Black Ring is disarmingly complex. Artist Pete Woods's curvy, almost cartoonish lines suggest less serious superheroics, but Cornell's Lex Luthor story here is deeply, deeply psychological. Whereas Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Lex Luthor: Man of Steel focused on the Superman/Lex Luthor conflict, Cornell's story is far more internal, explicating the fears, hang-ups, delusions and self-aggrandizement -- often knotted and contradictory -- that make up the villain Lex Luthor. Every offhand comment and pointed glance exudes meaning here; this is a book to be read twice, and it's only even volume one.

[Contains spoilers]

At the beginning of The Black Ring, a disgruntled Lexcorp employee attacks Lex, and Lex has him killed. We've seen Lex do this kind of thing before, but never has he had a robotic Lois Lane lookalike, essentially the voice of the reader, to ask him exactly what he's doing. Lex is a sharp businessman with an intellect that can stand up to Superman, and yet his actions are completely outrageous -- firing an employee because he disagreed, and then killing him for the attacking. "Stop for a second," Robo-Lois cautions. "Think about what you just did ... Sure he attacked you because you fired him. But why did you fire him?" Lex is unable to give her an answer.

Cornell demonstrates a contradiction in Lex Luthor's character here that I don't think's been presented quite this way before. Lex is eminently powerful, so much that he hardly needs worry what the common man thinks of him, and yet he's so obsessed with a minor employee -- not that the man hit him, but that he disagreed with him -- that he has to have the man killed. Common perception would have it that Lex is a focused schemer, but Cornell underlines that Lex's actions, time and again and under numerous writers, suggest the opposite. Rather there's an element of Lex Luthor that's almost childlike or animalistic, slave to his instincts and with no filter or sense of large versus small injury. He cannot tolerate the slightest impediment to his own focused intentions, else he erupts in tantrums that often cost lives; to an extent, Cornell suggests Lex Luthor is just as unpredictable as the Joker, only in a more expensive suit.

And that much you can get just from the first five pages of this wholly intriguing book.

The story puts an even finer point on it when Lex ventures into the wilderness against Gorilla Grodd. Lex's plan to steal potential Black Ring power from Grodd involves Lex and his assistant Spalding disguising themselves as apes, sacrificing robot doubles of themselves in the process. It's clear here that Lex's animal nature must win out against the trappings of his money or intellect. Robo-Lois watches Spalding discard the robots with silent concern; Cornell establishes that Lois knows she's a robot, but feels a longing for the humanity that Lex represents. If we venture that everything Lex does is a metaphor for Superman, then perhaps the emotions Lois envies in Lex are like the powers Lex envies in Superman -- something each can only watch from a distance and strive for, but never achieve.

Earlier, Mr. Mind traps Lex within his own head, subjecting him to fantasies that reveal Lex's different facets. We see Lex as Prometheus, the only man brave enough to steal fire from the gods; then he's Dr. Frankenstein, and the modern-day Promethean monster that he creates is himself. In a western scenario, Lex battles the alien stranger who's come to town, Superman; last, Lex becomes Superman himself to save Metropolis from a giant Mr. Mind. There are equal parts determination and self-loathing here -- Lex believes in himself but is also horrified by himself; he wants to save Metropolis from their superheroic invader but really he wants to be that hero himself.

Lex emerges from the fantasies having to face still more contradictions -- he only trusts himself, he knows, but can't escape his overarching need for public support and acclaim. Lex Luthor can't ever, ever be happy; even faced with the promise of never-ending heaven, of bliss, from Death of Sandman fame, Lex admits he'd always be looking for a catch. "Send me where you're going to send me," he tells Death. " I'll find something to do. I'll find something to win. Even when I'm dead."

All of this examination of Lex Luthor, ultimately, is in service of a mystery. Death, Mr. Mind and his secret employer, even Vandal Savage all seek to understand Lex's weaknesses, for some reason we don't yet know. There's a wonderful sense of displacement that pervades this book, like a good Hitchcock movie; it starts sometime after Blackest Night, and we never see Lex's impetus for building the Lois robot -- or if he even built the Lois robot at all. There's any number of jumping off points for the entire story to be a dream or some trick on Lex, from when he's hit in the head to when he connects himself to his Isopod super-computer, through all of Mr. Mind's fantasies and Lex's near-Death experience. Robo-Lois, the book tells us from the beginning, is built from Brainiac's technology, and this fact alone imbues the story with rich paranoia -- anyone, whether Robo-Lois or Spalding or even Lex's power suit, could be Brainiac; the reader trusts no one and can never quite believe everything they read.

I previously expressed some dismay that DC Comics breaks The Black Ring up into two volumes. This is no fault of Cornell's, but it flattens the end of an otherwise interesting story. DC no doubt ends Black Ring after the sixth chapter precisely because the next issue begins the crossover with Gail Simone's Secret Six, but the end of the story comes very suddenly. I dare say it even seems like Cornell marks time a bit in the final chapter before the crossover; the issue focuses on Vandal Savage and his eons-long wait for Lex Luthor to fulfill a rumored prophecy. This is entertaining -- including the two pages where Cornell re-writes Savage/Luthor team-ups to fit this story -- but overall it would probably read better with the second volume alongside; here it seems Lex disappears from the forward action of the book a bunch of pages before the end.

The Black Ring is not the picaresque tour of DC Universe villainy that it pretends to be; it's more. I was struck however that this volume, which features a DC Comics villain and which has a murder in its first issue, works so well when the Titans: Villains for Hire I read recently includes much the same thing and goes awry. I'd like to think the difference is a little deeper than just that Cornell's Lex kills an anonymous employee and Eric Wallace's Deathstroke kills the Atom Ryan Choi; moreover, I think the Black Ring reader is helped considerably by the first page where Lex teases the villains who've kidnapped him. Lex is a charmer, and Cornell makes him charming, and I believe the reader will follow charm even when the protagonist does bad things; Deathstroke's murder of the Atom is forthright, unpitying, and bloody, and I don't think it gives the reader any opportunity to like Deathstroke before it happens. Second, I think we can't overestimate the importance of Robo-Lois in this book, calling Lex to task on his villainy. The other Titans express discomfort with the murder of the Atom, but Wallace's Tattooed Man, for instance, is not as forthright as Cornell's Lois is in just a single pag. I wondered after reading Titans -- still with me, obviously -- whether the current era of the villain comics began and ended with Secret Six; Cornell shows that that's not the case, and it's the way the story's built that's perhaps the mitigating factor.

I never got into Doctor Who (my dark geek secret; no idea where to start, really), and I never read any of Paul Cornell's Marvel work, so he's arrived to my attention a bit out of nowhere -- and then proceeded to take the reigns of one of DC's highest profile book, wrote a Secret Six crossover, and got permission to use Neil Gaiman's Death, for gosh sake; would his writing, I wondered, live up to the hype? The answer is that it does. Reading Superman: The Black Ring is like going down the rabbit hole, with every page curiouser and curiouser; I have high hopes that the answers provided in volume two match the superlative build-up they're given here.

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

More reviews next week. See you then!

Ask Collected Editions #4: Which Batman: Under the Red Hood edition to choose?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's time for another in our "Ask Collected Editions" series! This question comes from Collected Editions reader Tom, who's wondering about the multiple editions of a popular Batman story.

As always, if you have a question for "Ask Collected Editions," send an email to the Yahoo account or post it on the Collected Editions Facebook wall, and your question could be used in a future segment.

Tom writes:
Three months back, DC re-solicited Batman: Under the Hood, Vol. 1 for $9.99, which I guess has been out of print. Then in this most recent Previews DC solicited Batman: Under the Red Hood, which collects volume 1 and 2 together, for $29.99. I pre-ordered Vol. 1 three months ago, but now I am contemplating canceling my order and ordering the larger Under the Red Hood instead. You see, Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 2 is really hard to find, and used copies are expensive. If I knew with certainty that DC was going to re-solicit Vol. 2 sometime in the near future, I would not cancel my order because it would be cheaper and form factor does not matter to me too much. But, there is no guarantee that they will re-solicit Vol. 2 any time soon. The safe play would be to cancel the order and buy the combined trade, but it would be more expensive (assuming that Vol. 2 would still sell for $9.99 when re-solicited).

So, I guess my question is: what do you think the chances are that DC will re-solicit Vol. 2? In your opinion, should I play the odds, or go for the sure thing? And, lastly, why would they solicit Vol. 1 three months before they solicit a trade that combines the two volumes? That's just maddening!

Anyway, thank you for your time. I love your blog!
Great question, Tom, and thank you. As pleased as I am that DC is releasing a combined edition of Under the Red Hood, the multiple volumes can be confusing -- not to mention that some of the solicitations for these books list differing contents, though rest assured Vols. 1 and 2 equal the combined edition.

To your first question: I can't say definitively that DC won't release another printing of Batman: Under the Red Hood Vol. 2, but I haven't seen it in the DC Comics collected editions solicitations through the end of 2011. They might possibly rush-solicit a volume, but there's a better likelihood that if we're going to see this, it won't be until 2012. So for one thing, you probably have to consider how long you have to wait until you want to read Vol. 2.

In my opinion, I think you should go for the new edition. You could keep searching for Vol. 2, certainly, and I imagine the astute Collected Editions readers can even find a low-cost copy for you. I very, very much like reading a whole story in one volume, however; I don't want to read the beginning of a story in one book and the end in another. It's a convenience factor, and also a matter of not being taken out of the story by changing books -- I wish DC would re-release more of their two-volume sets in one book, really -- Superman: The Black Ring, Superman: Grounded, and Wonder Woman: Odyssey, to name a couple recent examples.

Why did DC re-solicit Vol. 1 just three months before the new collection, and at an exceptionally lower price? I'm sure that had to do with ye old Batman: Under the Red Hood direct-to-DVD movie that came out not too long ago. DC might've just solicited the new collected volume on it's own, but since it's got the steeper price tag, I imagine a cheap re-release of Under the Hood Vol. 1 functions as a better impulse buy than the larger book.

(Read the Collected Editions reviews of Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 1 and Batman: Under the Red Hood Vol. 2.)

Hope that helps! Remember, if you have a question, don't hesitate to drop me a line, and your question could be featured next time in "Ask Collected Editions." Thanks!

Review: The Invisibles Vol. 3: Entropy in the UK trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Monday, May 16, 2011

[The third in our series of guest reviews on Grant Morrison's The Invisibles by Zach King, who blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

After a shaky period of getting its legs, The Invisibles enters its third volume with all cylinders firing. Entropy in the U.K. functions as one of the most successful of the seven volumes that make up Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, a worthy successor to Apocalipstick, and satisfyingly setting up many of the major conflicts to come.

"And so we return and begin again." When Entropy in the U.K. begins, King Mob is being tortured by Sir Miles and the minions of Miss Dwyer and the Outer Church. Only problem is, "King Mob" claims that he's just a horror writer named Kirk Morrison, who created King Mob as a character in a book; his memories propose that he's Gideon Stargrave, an anarchist superspy from a parallel reality, while physical evidence suggests he's truly King Mob. With King Mob and Lord Fanny in captivity, the rest of the Invisibles -- Ragged Robin, Boy, Jack Frost (now that Dane has accepted his destiny), Jim Crow, and supercop Mister Six from Division X -- lead an assault on the Outer Church's torture chamber in an attempt to liberate their comrades. Meanwhile, Boy gets a backstory, and we meet the psychedelic cops of Division X and the series' new and perhaps greatest antagonist Mister Quimper.

If there's one word to characterize Entropy in the U.K., it's "frenetic." To take a few words from King Mob, it's "nice and smooth." The pace never lets up in this volume; Morrison obviously gets a majority of the credit (as when he plants the seeds of the arc's climax in the inconspicuous "World's Greatest Dad" mug), but new artist Phil Jimenez and returning illustrator Steve Yeowell do bang-up work on the main issues in this collection.

It's my contention that Jimenez is the definitive Invisibles artist, drawing clean and detailed treatments of Morrison's script while demonstrating a flair for facial expression and avant-garde paneling. I appreciated the return of Yeowell, though, since his choppier style provides an excellent visual contrast to Jimenez's more restrained artwork on the psychological chapters, with the effect being a sense of chaos loosed upon the narrative. As much as I love Jimenez, I can't imagine, for example, his crisp linework aptly rendering the anarchic intrusion of the King-of-All-Tears in battle against Jack Frost. Fortunately the artists are allowed to play to their strengths, such that the shift might not be immediately noticeable when the art changes in step with the mood.

After a few volumes of hesitant marriage between characterization and plot, Entropy in the U.K. finally gives us both without sacrificing one for the other. When Ragged Robin reveals that she was born in 1988 (which should make her no older than seven), it's a brilliant moment of character development that sacrifices none of the narrative momentum, something I can't quite say for "Sheman," as delightful a romp through Lord Fanny's history as it was.

Additionally, we finally learn what makes Boy tick; my one reservation about "How I Became Invisible" is its placement in the series, right in the middle of the most exciting storyline to date. It seems that Boy deserves to be more than an aside in this volume (a complaint which one could easily log for Boy's appearance anywhere in the series, especially her conspicuous absence from volume seven), but the positioning of the story in the middle of another arc gives it a bit more suspense than might normally be afforded it.

Another word I'd use to describe Entropy in the U.K. is, interestingly enough, "progress." As a series that has occasionally spun its wheels, this volume has with it a sense of positive forward momentum. Many plotlines are resolved -- Dane's identity as Jack Frost -- with our characters fully in their own skin, yet many more new directions are opened. Phil Jimenez's presence gives the series an exciting new visual direction, King Mob's personality shift throughout the rest of the series begins here, our understanding of Sir Miles (in classic Invisibles form) shifts from "villain" to "human," and the introduction of Quimper and Division X completely reshapes the way the rest of the series behaves and -- more importantly -- thinks.

Entropy in the U.K. is the Invisibles comic The Invisibles should have been all along. The best, as they say, is yet to be.

[Contains full covers and recap & character pages. Printed on non-glossy paper.]

That's volume three, loyal readers. Stay tuned; up next, the slimmest of seven volumes, Bloody Hell in America, which further opens up new directions for our heroes and for the series as a whole.

Read Zach's full Invisibles review series. Coming up later this week, the Collected Editions review of Superman: The Black Ring by Paul Cornell.

Review: Justice League: Dark Things hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

James Robinson's comics-writing style is evident from the very beginning of Justice League of America: Dark Things, the latest Justice League/Justice Society crossover -- emphasis on the minutia of the characters' lives, to start, and a running meta-commentary on the story through the characters simultaneous narration. It distinguishes the book as distinctly Robinson's, different in presentation from even the most recent JLA/JSA crossover that preceded it -- Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer's Justice League: The Lightning Saga.

Even doing it "his way," however, Robinson succeeds in accomplishing the kind of epic frenzied four-color tone necessary for this kind of crossover -- more so than I've seen before or expected from Robinson. It rather makes me curious to see if Robinson could go even bigger, to a Blackest Night or Flashpoint level event in the future.

[Contains spoilers]

To be sure, there's too much character narration in Dark Things. The characters often finish each others' thoughts -- not through any telepathy, but because they're thinking the same thing or "kind of" the same thing. This is meant to show some similarity and difference between the characters, and worked in Robinson showing the burgeoning formation of this Justice League last time in Team History. Here, however, it's often distracting, both in trying to determine which narration box color goes with which character (especially with so many characters present), and also in the reader trying to mentally "hear" a sentence composed of four or five different characters' voices.

It works especially well, however, on some very key occasions, and it's why I think what Robinson accomplishes here is ultimately art and not artifice. Though Robinson loses points for resurrecting the old, silly Jade/Donna Troy feud, he humanizes Jade well in showing that in the middle of a battle, Jade is thinking about trivial matters like her old boyfriend's ex, and then scolds herself for thinking so. At another point, Donna gives a possessed Jade some trite words of appeasement, and then chides herself for the triteness.

Another writer would let their superhero speak platitudes as a matter of course, but Robinson both understands the genre and how to subvert it. He's no longer trying to make his characters smarter than they actually are (like Copperhead collecting transistor radios in Starman); rather they speak and act just the same as under another writer, but Robinson lets us hear the thoughts that other writers might keep silent.

It's another credit to Robinson that he writes a considerably interesting story on what's a very tired foundation. For me, seeing the Justice League and Justice Society work together never gets old, but at base this is another "Obsidian goes bad story" like JSA: Darkness Falls and Princes of Darkness before it, not to mention similar stories in Infinity Inc. and iterations of Justice League. I don't much fault Justice Society writer Bill Willingham for walking out on the premise. Combined with the Jade/Donna Troy rivalry, there's an extent to which Robinson's references seem stuck in the Starman-or-older era; this is good, as when Robinson remembers Jade once lead the Blood Pack, but also lessens the overall drama of the book.

Robinson's real success in Dark Things is in the characters themselves. This is a fun Justice League that Robinson has put together (helped immeasurably by the youth and vibrancy of artist Mark Bagley's style). Batman Dick Grayson is friendly, kind, and wonderfully angst-free, a team leader that (for once) the other heroes follow without question. Though I found Robinson's Donna Troy and Jade too angry and uncertain respectively, I like the two individually and I'm glad to see them in a spotlight. Robinson's Starman and Congorilla are likable, wry, and powerful, stealing every scene they're in; I thrilled when Congorilla holds back a dam and becomes a "national hero." And Robinson doesn't ignore the "visiting" Justice Society characters either, writing husband and wife Hourman and Jessie Quick believably concerned for each other in battle without seeming obsessive; he also forwards the Thunder/Mr. America romance begun during Bill Willingham's Justice Society run.

In truth, this is as much a Justice League/Justice Society crossover as it is a a team-up between former Titans and members of Infinity Inc. Dick Grayson has lead nearly half his team before in Titans and Outsiders, and as such this Justice League feels new but also familiar -- in a good way, this time. In contrast to the riotous events in Justice League: Rise and Fall and Identity Crisis, where the "old" League fights as much as they get along, this "new" League virtually grew up together and like one another, and there's a camaraderie here that's been missing in recent iterations of the Titans, the Outsiders, and so on.

(It's also worth noting that Robinson's seven-member Justice League offers a four-three majority of female members. While I'm not going to go look up the definite statistics, this seems to me a better representation of women in the Justice League than normal, especially compared to the Big Seven with one (Wonder) woman only.)

The previous volume, Justice League: Team History, served as a mostly event-driven transition volume from Dwayne McDuffie's Justice League to Robinson's; in this book, Robinson gathers his team together. This "gathering" story, involving the entire Justice Society, is far and away more ambitious than Brad Meltzer's at this title's beginning; even if this isn't quite the traditional Justice League some fans might want, the scope of the story in Justice League: Dark Things is the kind of scope I expect from the Justice League title. It doesn't seem to me Robinson has had the chance to tell his own story yet, still setting up and juggling other writer's plot threads, but this book is good -- better than the volume that preceded it -- and it makes me optimistic for the stories that follow.

[Contains original and variant cover. Printed on glossy paper.]

Review: Justice Society: Axis of Evil trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 09, 2011

I didn't like the story choice to split up the Justice Society into two titles, nor was I enthusiastic about either creative team set to take over the books. Justice Society of America: Axis of Evil, however, is fantastic, far exceeding my expectations. It's a Mr. Terrific story, mainly, with less emphasis on the entire team, but this is eminently forgivable since it turns out to be writer Bill Willingham's both first and only solo outing on the book. Whether read as a Mr. Terrific miniseries or a Justice Society special, Axis of Evil is exciting and moving, a sleeper hit -- the best kind.

[Contains spoilers]

The rather run-of-the-mill Nazi-themed villains the Fourth Reich attack the Justice Society, the Justice Society beats them back -- and suddenly, Willingham sends us twenty years into the future, where superheroes live in concentration camps and Mr. Terrific spies for the resistance. The difference between the two eras is striking -- Willingham's villain team in the present are laughable caricatures (like "Doctor Murder"), whereas Willingham and artist Jesus Marino achieve a real atmosphere of horror in placing DC Comics's heroes essentially against the background of the Holocaust.

Willingham's success in this book is all in the details. The five issues of the "Fatherland" storyline give Willingham a lot of space to flesh out Terrific, his Nazi guard Karla Lander, the other captured heroes (many from outside the Justice Society), and this new Reich-controlled world. In a terrible situation, the de-powered heroes are even more heroic -- Batman, and then Blue Beetle both sacrifice their lives without hesitation for the benefit of small gains; in a twisted splash page, true to the characters, Willingham has Batman and the Joker die side-by-side.

The Nazi brutality is shocking -- as when fuhrer "Kid" Karnevil swiftly shoots Karla -- and the compassion Willingham has the characters show all the more touching -- as when afterward Terrific and Obsidian discuss living with the terrible memories of that future, or when Terrific goes to visit young Karla in the present.

Aside from Obsidian's role in the end, "Fatherland" is mostly Mr. Terrific's story. The fantastic cameo-filled escape sequence name-checks scores of DC heroes, but those who get the most screen time include Superman and Batman -- Dr. Mid-Nite, Terrific's best friend, barely even gets a nod in the future. I didn't mind this so much, perhaps because this is the end of Willingham's Justice Society stint -- no danger that the other heroes will always be behind the scenes, just a spotlight on Terrific this time, taking his place in the DC Universe pantheon.

And I like Terrific as a character, liked him in Checkmate (wish we might've seen some Checkmate characters), liked his nobility here with Karla and with Obsidian and in the beating he has to appear to take from Blue Beetle. Though I've balked at Green Lantern and Flash stealing the spotlight from Superman in DC's crossover events, I loved watching Mr. Terrific, essentially, save the entire universe and every other DC hero -- it's not all that often that Terrific gets the spotlight, and I found all of this entirely appropriate for the Justice Society title.

Axis of Evil leads off with a two-part tale of the Justice Society against Legion of Super-Heroes villain Mordru. That story is rather dull, emphasizing the likable new Dr. Fate but not offering much intrigue or suspense. It was, with apologies to Willingham (whose Fables I adore), about what I expected -- even with Shadowpact, Willingham sometimes has a tendency to over-narrate, pit the heroes against repetitive parallel dangers, and drown out the story with too much supernatural verbiage. I found the bland gang of villains in Willingham's previous Justice Society: The Bad Seed too much like his bland gang of villains in Robin: Days of Fire and Madness, and I thought that's where we were headed at the beginning of "Fatherland." Be patient, however, because Willingham's expansive story of the dystopian Fourth Reich future is worth the wait.

Justice Society: Axis of Evil's tale of alternate realities, time travel, and DC heroes coming back from the brink contains shades of JSA: Stealing Thunder and JLA: Rock of Ages, two of my favorite volumes from those two series. I would have, without question, read another Justice Society book by Bill Willingham, and I'm unexpectedly sorry to see him go so soon. This makes Axis of Evil all the more notable of a volume; this is a book I can see myself picking up again for a great go-to, self-contained Justice Society story.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

We'll follow the Justice Society now over into their Justice League crossover with Dark Things, coming up next.

Review: Titans: Villains for Hire trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Arsenal Roy Harper appears next in Eric Wallace's Titans: Villains for Hire after Justice League: Rise and Fall; in short, if you didn't like the earlier volume, you're not going to like this one either. But moreover, I actually thought Rise and Fall had some redeeming moments, and I still didn't much care for this Titans relaunch. I think I know what DC Comics attempted here, but it didn't succeed.

[Contains spoilers]

There's nothing new about teams of antiheroes; just after Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had success with John Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and more recently there's Marvel's Thunderbolts and Gail Simone's villain-focused Secret Six. I'd even venture that Judd Winick's Outsiders, though heroes, were the groundwork of a team just a little bit over what the law allows (not to mention that the book itself offered some overly edgy material), that lead the way for the ongoing Secret Six series.

I can't quite see Titans as more than DC trying another series to capitalize on the popularity of Secret Six. It's another villain team; there's a mild undercurrent of morality among them; they do lots of bad things, but yet we're supposed to be sympathetic to them. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder than that to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

For me, Villains for Hire went wrong immediately with the villains' murder of Atom Ryan Choi. Letting alone the poor political implications (I'm not in favor of DC killing nor creating a character based on ethnicity alone, but they had to know this wasn't going to play well with the fans), this early murder of an essentially defenseless hero makes the new Titans seem mean-spirited, and this never goes away. Early on the Secret Six proves their "toughness" fighting a bunch of other villains; the Titans swoop in and murder a hero. This worked for Max Lord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis because we were supposed to dislike Max; here, we're supposed to want to follow Deathstroke, but I never found myself wanting to.

Second, the conflicts the Titans face in this book are wholly unremarkable. We believe they're trying to assassinate Lex Luthor (too similar, again, to the first Winick Outsiders trade), but really they're trying to protect him; their enemy is a generic shapeshifter named Facade. Later, they battle an equally generic drug kingpin Elijah and his super-team The Dominators, made up of villains with names like Spike, Brute, and DJ Molecule (no kidding). These are throwaway characters, there just for the purpose of the Titans' conflict, but pages upon pages of the Titans fighting someone the reader doesn't care about, by my estimation, ends up with the reader just not caring at all.

I believe what's actually supposed to draw the reader further into the book is not the characters themselves, but the puzzle of Deathstroke's mysterious final goal. I don't discount this -- it may be, ultimately, what gets me to flip through the next trade -- but neither do I think the mystery serves as quite enough. Deathstroke collects various artifacts, but his purpose is too vague, and the book fails to offer even a mildly satisfying conclusion; it just ends. We get, for instance, a cut scene where a child the Titans just rescued is ignored by his father -- and that's it; no tie to the greater story. Is this something that will factor in later? Is Wallace simply making a statement on parents and children? Possibly the book needed to be a few issues longer; here again, it's just not clear to the reader what's important, or for whom we're supposed to feel emotion, and so it just leaves Titans seeming flat.

All of this is even more a shame because I can see where Titans might otherwise have potential. I should mention again that I enjoyed Eric Wallace's Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink, specifically how it examined race through the lens of superheroics and villainy; unfortunately Titans lacks any such nuance so far. The characters included in Titans are both more recognizable than those in Secret Six, and delightfully weird -- Cheshire teamed with Tattooed Man teamed with Osiris? -- and the book has the potential to go in a hundred different directions (spy thriller, urban mystery, supernatural -- it even ties in to Brightest Day) but remains in the end just a shoot 'em up. More's the pity; "just a shoot 'em up" is the last thing DC Comics needs right now.

It's easy for us to look back and comment on the excesses of 1990s superhero comics from today's vantage -- there was an overemphasis on rebellion, perhaps, and on legacy heroes like Green Arrow Connor Hawke and Manhunter Chase Lawler that were "cool" without much substance. What, I wonder, will we say about the 2000s? There's a return to purity and traditionalism, of course, as in the resurrections of Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and Flash Barry Allen, but then in contrast an almost cartoonish amount of violence. Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, in my opinion, put excessive violence to good use, but to me Titans: Villains for Hire seems to follow the trend without getting the point. Bloody murder of a superhero? Check. Villains acting as antiheroes? Check. Leader has a secret plan that the writer keeps from the reader? Check.

All of these elements have worked to great effect in various recent titles -- but that doesn't mean they'll always work, and that doesn't mean you can just drop these elements into a book and expect success. Ultimately, that's how I see Villains for Hire; it attempts to take its place in the DC Universe next to Secret Six and others, but wanting such unfortunately doesn't make it so.

[Contains full and variant covers]

I honestly feel bad when a book lands with such a thud; I could find some aspects to like in the controversial Justice League: Rise and Fall, but not really here. Coming up, however, we follow some of these Brightest Day threads in to Justice League of America -- I hope that fares better.

Review: Justice League: Rise and Fall hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Comics Alliance's Chris Sims rated the third issue of J. T. Krul's Rise of Arsenal as one of their "Worst of the Worst" issues; Savage Critic Brian Hibbs labeled it "the worst comic I have ever read." Though I might not say "absolute worst," I don't disagree with their assessment that some aspects, including the infamous "dead cat incident," are over the top, not to mention some laughably poor drug "lingo."

And yet, if I might be charitable, I didn't feel let down at the end of Justice League: Rise and Fall -- which collects not only the Arsenal miniseries, but also the closing issues of the previous Green Arrow series and a Justice League special -- as much as I did when reading Magog: Lethal Force, for instance, or Superman/Batman: Big Noise. There were parts of this book as a whole, even after two readings, that I found I rather liked

As there are any number of reviews out there that will tell you why you should avoid this book, I'll provide a little contrast by illuminating what I liked -- not, by any stretch, ignoring what's still rough around the edges here -- and then you can make the decision for yourself.

[Contains spoilers]

Mark Waid's JLA: Year One and Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis are two books that most would agree are far away from one another in tone, yet similar in this way: they emphasize the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Flash Barry Allen, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, and Black Canary Dinah Lance relationship. Both books are about, as Meltzer presented it, the second level of the Justice League, those who do the clean-up after DC Comics's Big Three walk off the stage. Both Year One and Identity Crisis are set in the past (or Hal appears as the Spectre, etc.), however, and the recent Blackest Night crossover focused on Hal and Barry, but not Ollie.

The "Fall of Green Arrow" aspects of this book are a modern-day "second League" story, possibly the first since Green Lantern, Flash, and Green Arrow's respective resurrections. It is far from perfect -- Krul makes Flash Barry Allen terribly unlikeable, a caricature of Geoff Johns's nuanced police scientist -- but the broad strokes are there. I have complained in the past that it was unnecessary for DC to resurrect these old heroes, supplanting their newer counterparts, but the bottom line is you can't tell the same stories with Flash Wally West, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and Green Arrow Connor Hawke that you can with Barry, Hal, and Ollie. Among them, they created the Justice League together; among them, they were the "hard traveling heroes." The emotions are just plain deeper, and they added a sizzle to Hal and Barry's discovery that Ollie had killed the villain Prometheus, and their attempt to bring him in, that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Further, if Krul's Barry was off, and his Connor Hawke completely mischaracterized (which made ardent Connor fans crazy, no doubt), I thought Krul absolutely nailed Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen's friendship. It's obvious throughout the story that Hal's of two minds about Ollie's guilt; this is the same Green Lantern who himself not only killed his enemy Sinestro in a crazed rage, but was later ready to flip the switch when a (resurrected) Sinestro was sent to death row. When a judge clears Ollie of all charges but exiles him from his home of Star City, Hal is waiting outside to lend his support and wish Ollie well. It's a beautiful couple of pages, and it's why I say if you're a fan of Arsenal Roy Harper, maybe you'll have trouble with this book, but if you're a fan of Green Arrow, this is actually a somewhat promising Green Arrow story.

Second, I thought some of the moral issues in this book were handled well. One thing I liked about the Sacrifice storyline where Wonder Woman killed Max Lord is that Wonder Woman remains unapologetic about the act; maybe she was wrong, but she (and the writers) are sticking to their actions. I don't mind that Superman executed villains in Exile and later renounced the action, but carrying on, I think the "murdering and feeling remorse" storyline is less complicated, asks less from the reader, and has more danger of straying into cliche than a storyline where heroes kill, feel justified, but then have to balance that justification with censure from their colleagues (see, for instance, Bartlet and assassinating a terrorist in West Wing's third season).

Krul's Green Arrow deals with a little bit of both. In the beginning, Ollie does feel he's done the right thing, even as he knows neither Hal nor Barry, nor his wife Dinah, will approve; it's only after he sees how his actions feed his sidekick Speedy Mia Dearden's bloodlust that he rethinks his actions. Later, a jury clears Ollie due to that same bloodlust, and Ollie fails to stop Arsenal from killing a villain on his own. It's not just that Ollie feels bad; there are real consequences to Prometheus's murder in terms of the actions of those who look up to Ollie, and it's ironic since Ollie gets flak for not being a stalwart mentor (even as we see the pervasiveness of his influence). Krul doesn't treat these matters lightly, and moreover I think he gives them some nuance (especially when Ollie can't stop Roy from killing in front of him).

Not any of this, I'll grant, excuses the excesses of this book, especially in the Arsenal miniseries chapters. Krul shows good attention to detail at times, like remembering Deathstroke's daughter Ravager's relationship with Roy's daughter Lian, killed by Prometheus; but then in comparison, the drug-addled Arsenal manifests a new costume without the writer spending any time on how or why, or on Arsenal's new moniker. As well, a good number of splash pages bear artist Geraldo Borges signature, quite overtly; I'm not used to seeing this, and moreover these pages, with obscenely misshapen facial expressions, aren't near as impressive as the signatures seem to suggest. Often these splash pages are considerably violent, and it suggests a disconnect between artist and reader -- the book is a tragedy, not a Lobo-esque violent comedy, and this blithe glorification-by-signing took me squarely out of the story.

Possibly, Krul is trying to do something here that either doesn't work in serial comics, or doesn't work with today's serial comics audience. Obviously, somewhere down the road, Arsenal will be redeemed, either by Krul in Green Arrow or by new Titans writer Eric Wallace in that book. The "Arsenal" section, though called "Rise of Arsenal," is really about Roy Harper's downfall (just as Green Arrow's "fall" is in many ways his "rise"). But, whereas a two-hour movie might demonstrate Roy's fall and rise all before you leave the theater, Arsenal is about Roy's fall only; it's all about how low can Roy Harper go. Krul, as Chris Sims notes, fails to make Roy sympathetic even when it seems Krul is trying to -- the scene where Roy attacks Mia especially embitters Roy to the reader -- but also, I think, making Roy sympathetic is not what this book is about. That comes later.

And that's where I'm just not sure this approach works; I'm not sure a reader wants to spend money for four months on a book where you pity the protagonist to begin with, hate him in the end, and only read his redemption later on in a different title; with all the other problems these chapters have, I think that's asking too much.

Justice League: Rise and Fall is far from perfect, but it has some nice touches (I continue to like that DC is including previews of new titles at the end of their collections; here, a preview of Krul's new Green Arrow series). I enjoy interplay of the characters this book features, and so far I've liked more stories I've read by J. T. Krul than I have disliked. This will not be a book for everyone, but I had not as much difficulty with it as I'd expected.

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

We continue the week with a look at another contentious DC Comics title, Titans: Villains for Hire. See you then!