Review: Spectre: Crimes and Punishments trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 31, 2011

It should be enough simply to say that The Spectre: Crimes and Punishments, a collection of just the first four issues of writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake's 1990s Spectre series, has a glow-in-the-dark cover. I have owned a copy for almost twenty years, and the front cover still reveals a spooky second image when you turn out the lights. To my knowledge, this is the only DC Comics collection with a glow-in-the-dark cover; that alone would seem to me to make it worth picking up this book if you can find it for a good price.

... Need more than that to go on? OK, fine.

Spectre: Crimes and Punishments is the lead-off of a brilliant and, dare I say, definitive depiction of this character by Ostrander and Mandrake. In the annals of comics, among instances where the writing adds as much to the art as the art does to the writing, Ostrander and Mandrake's Spectre is a foremost example.

[Contains spoilers]

Let's look at the first couple pages of the trade, page by page:

Grant Morrison's Invisibles trade review series wrap-up (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

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

"And so we return and begin again." For those of you just joining us, we've been looking at the seven-trade collection of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles since March. Now that I've reached the end of my seven reviews on a trade-by-trade basis, I'm left with the question -- what do I do with all of this?

Is The Invisibles a must read? It's a difficult question, but for the most part the answer is "No." It pains me to admit it (for reasons which will be made clear below), but The Invisibles isn't a groundbreaking landmark series that changed comics forever. If I were to draw up a list of the ten most important trades, I don't think The Invisibles would even crack the top 25. Morrison has said on several occasions that the entirety of The Invisibles was intended as a hypersigil to "create more Invisibles" and push the culture in a new direction post-2000, but he's admitted almost as frequently that the spell didn't produce the desired results.

Cancelled Trade Cavalcade: Suicide Squad: Nightshade Odyssey and Supergirl: Good Looking Corpse

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cancelled Trade Cavalcade -- where the Collected Editions blog looks back at some trades that never quite made print. You were going to see a different Cancelled Trade Cavalcade today, but in light of the fact that Suicide Squad Vol. 2: The Nightshade Odyssey suddenly disappeared from DC Comics's release list, we interrupt your regularly scheduled cavalcade.

The 1980s Suicide Squad series has had a long, strange collection history of late. In 2009 or earlier, DC solicited a black-and-white Showcase Presents Suicide Squad that would have collected the series' first eighteen issues plus some crossovers; they cancelled this (twice, I believe) and ultimately released the color Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire, collecting the series' first six issues.

DC Comics Retroactive Collections Coming 2012

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

While we're talking continuity, I'll close out the day mentioning how pleased I am to see DC soliciting collections of the Superman Retroactive and Wonder Woman Retroactive specials, with Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League, and Flash collections certainly on the way.

Given that each main story in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s specials was only 26 pages, we can guess that these books will include more than just the three specials themselves, but also the backup stories. That would put each trade at about 168 pages, or about the size of an ordinary paperback trade. If we could get some of the digital-only back-up stories as well, interviews with the creators from those eras, or sketchbook or other bonus material, that'd just be icing on the cake.

I had only grabbed the ones of these whose eras I enjoyed the most and hoped I could find the rest in a back-issue bin some time, figuring the disparate specials of this type probably wouldn't see trade. I'm quite pleased to have been incorrect in this instance, and even better -- if these volumes do contain the backup reprints, it's going to be a blast getting them situated on the DC Universe Trade Paperback Timeline.

Will you be grabbing all the volumes, or picking and choosing? What was your favorite Retroactive?

UPDATE: You can still see where these were solicited online, but it does not look at this point like DC will be releasing them. Oh, well -- would've been fun!

Trade Perspectives: New Explanation for My Continuity Obsession

I care about continuity.

... Seems like almost a shameful admission, doesn't it?

I read an "Ask Chris" column by Chris Sims on Comics Alliance the other day (not realizing the column was from January!) and it stuck with me. A reader asks, "Are there any great Superman Stories that are actually part of current DC continuity?" Chris goes on to discuss, in an entirely fair way, that while he's a fan of continuity himself, the fact that a story isn't in continuity shouldn't be a reason to avoid it. Chris rightly says that continuity is "a tool, just like anything else. The problem is when it stops being a tool and starts being a shackle. Not for the creators, but for the reader."

Absolutely right.

Given that I agree with this, however -- and I've enjoyed DC: New Frontier and All-Star Superman and Fables and Y: The Last Man and Ultimate Spider-Man and other sub-continuity or non-continuity comics -- I still find myself feeling a tad ashamed sometimes to say I'll probably pick up all of DC's New 52 collections except All-Star Western because it's not as "tied in" as other titles, or that I picked up the Magog trade even though I didn't have high hopes for it mainly because I thought it was connected to Flashpoint. As if having as continuity one of your primary interests in comics-reading makes you a less pure fan or a "zombie" picking up whatever a publisher produces.

Except I think I finally worked out a paradigm that explains it better.

Review: Justice League: Omega hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grant Morrison's JLA was what it claimed -- one couldn't read that title without thinking, "This is the Justice League of America." I felt more tentative about Joe Kelly's JLA run that followed, but somewhere in the middle of The Obsidian Age's time-traveling craziness, I again thought to myself, "This is the Justice League."

Writer James Robinson sets out to accomplish the same in Justice League of America: Omega, and it works. Omega is a superheroic romp of the best kind, a frenetic, messy story stuffed with years of obscurity and continuity and esoteric guest-stars, that sizzles in its conclusion when the heroes snatch victory from defeat. Robinson embodies the characters in a manner different from any of DC Comics's other team book writers at present, and creates a model for what team books can be in more ways than one.

Review: Aquaman: Death of a Prince trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

[This guest review comes from dedicated Aquaman fan Wayne Brooks; Wayne's local comics shop is AfterTime Comics in Alexandria, Virginia.]

Aquaman: Death of a Prince has three things going for it. One, it’s a really great introduction to the Aquaman universe (it even has his origin in it). Two, it reprints for the first time the greatest, darkest, and important era of Aquaman’s history. Three, and most important, it totally entertains.

The death of Arthur Jr. was, and still is, one of the most profound moments in Aquaman’s life. At the time the original stories were published (circa 1974-1977) no DC hero had experienced this kind of heartache. In Death of a Prince you will see Aquaman the hero and Aquaman the king, but at the story’s heart we find Aquaman the father, who experiences a parent’s worst nightmare.

Cancelled Trade Cavalcade: Robin: The Final Fight

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cancelled Trade Cavalcade -- where the Collected Editions blog looks back at some trades that never quite made print. First up, from the annals of DC Comics's solicitations, Robin: The Final Fight:
All of Robin''s training and crime-fighting by Batman's side comes to a head in this spectacular volume as Batman goes missing and the Boy Wonder becomes the new Dark Knight.

Tying into the events of "Batman R.I.P." continues here as Robin and the Bat family search for their leader while engaging in all-out battle with Gotham City''s underworld. And with his once-dead girlfriend Spoiler now back among the living, Robin also has his hands full with a not-so-happy family reunion between his lady love and her father, Cluemaster!
The trade was supposedly written by Chuck Dixon, and appears to fit just after Dixon's Robin: Violent Tendencies trade paperback.

Dixon, however, left the Robin title after Tendencies in a much-publicized but still very hush-hush spat with DC Comics (see "My Unsolicited Take on the Chuck Dixon/DC Comics Split") and Fabian Nicieza saw the title to its conclusion with Robin: Search for a Hero.

DC Trade Solicits for January 2012: Batman Deluxe, DC Presents: New 52, and more

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

After a day of teasing out all of their January 2012 solicitations group by group on their blog (which I find a lot more fun than having to wait till 5 for everything), DC Comics has released their first 2012 offerings -- plus their collected editions. Here's what caught my eye:

* Batman vs. The Black Glove

You heard about this one first on Collected Editions, and now we know this joint collection of Batman and Son and Black Glove will be in stores March 28. All of you who speculated that this would be a deluxe edition, you were right -- my guess is DC will just skip over Batman: Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, and we'll simply have a deluxe Batman and Son/Black Glove to put on our shelves next to Batman RIP (which will look thin, unfortunately, in comparison). Pity DC seems to have dropped the "and Son" from this boo's title -- I thought it paid good homage to both books inside.

* Batman Versus Bane

Unfortunately, this book doesn't collect everything I'd hoped. Looks like we just have the stories surrounding Batman: Legacy -- the Bane of the Demon miniseries preceding that crossover, and the Batman/Bane special following it -- and not the two great Vengeance of Bane specials nor any of Bane's other appearances in Batman.

* Batman: Gates of Gotham

Gates of Gotham has been Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgens's show, so it's surprising but certainly welcome that DC also includes the two part story from Batman Annual #28 and Detective Comics Annual #12 by David Hine. The solicitation here states outright what many of us already understood, that the barrier between pre- and post-Flashpoint Batman stories is largely permiable: "This miniseries spins out of recent events in the Batman titles and sets the stage for several exciting storylines in 2011," indeed.

* DC Comics Presents: The New 52 #1

Down among the trade collections is this solicitation for a DC Comics Presents issue that could've been called "New 52: The Dark, given that it includes Animal Man #1, Justice League Dark #1, I, Vampire #1 and Swamp Thing #1. So here we are in January, five issues into all of these series, and DC is releasing a mini-collection of issues four months old? I guess this would be a useful tool for new readers, but by January I imagine you're already hooked or you're not, and you can always get these digital -- I'd as soon see the first hardcovers of these titles arrive sooner than DC Comics Presents issues throughout the New 52 genres (see my Tumblr rant on DC Comics Presents issues).

* Hawk and Dove: Ghosts and Demons

I guess the original collection of the Karl Kesel/Rob Liefeld Hawk and Dove miniseries is well out of print, so that justifies simply re-issuing it, but I wish DC had gone bigger with this and included some material from the series itself, too, even if it no longer had Liefeld pencilling it.

* Justice Society of America: Monument Point
* Power Girl: Old Friends
* Titans: Broken Promises
* Xombi

All of these, thankfully, collect the final issues of their respective series before the DC Relaunch. Given we lost both the final Doom Patrol and JSA All-Stars collections (and the final Booster Gold collection is nowhere to be found), it's good to see these lower-tier titles with collections promised. Now, this doesn't ensure DC won't cancel them down the road, like the others I mentioned ... (The Titans solicitation, by the way, names issue #39, when the series ended with #38).

Meanwhile, John Rozum may have left the Static Shock title, but news of a collection of his most recent Xombi series should assuage some rumors of difficulties between he and DC. I'd be surprised to find DC was collecting this without plans to bring Xombi back in some form coming up.

* Flash Omnibus by Geoff Johns Vol. 2

As covered over at Speed Force, the second volume of the Flash by Geoff Johns omnibus will collect the Rogues, Crossfire, and Blitz trades (closing out artist Scott Kolins) plus a DC First special. This is one trade more than the first volume collected and more than we originally speculated when you heard about this series first on Collected Editions. DC's been doing a lot of this lately, pumping up the contents of books like the New Teen Titans Omnibus while leaving the price intact -- in this case, the second Flash volume has almost 200 pages more than the first, for the same price. More for your money is always better, of course, and I'm thrilled with a trend toward DC releasing collections with greater amounts of material.

That's my take -- what's on your pull list?

Review: Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tony Bedard's Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer is an improvement over his previous volume, in large part because of this story's more interesting villain. Weaponer is shockingly similar to Revolt of the Alpha-Lanterns in terms of overall plot, however, and suffers from some of that book's same difficulties regarding characterization and decompressed storytelling.

[Contains spoilers]

"A villain kidnaps a member of the Corps, and the other Green Lanterns must foment a revolution on an alien planet to free their comrade." This is the plot of both Revolt of the Alpha-Lanterns and Weaponer. Kidnapper? The Cyborg-Superman on one side, the Weaponer on the other. Kidnapped? John Stewart and Soranik Natu (one for the purpose of luring Ganthet, the other for luring Sinestro). In the former, the Green Lanterns inspire the robots of Grenda to rise up against the Cyborg; in the latter, the Lanterns lead the Qwardian Thunderers against Sinestro. Both stories are five issues long, with a similar structure -- the kidnap, the rescue, a third party intervenes, and then the denouement.

Review: Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writer Paul Cornell gives Lex Luthor everything he's ever wanted, and in this way demonstrates the tragedy inherit in the character. That much of the second volume of Superman: The Black Ring is good, and this is a successful examination of the Lex Luthor character, though it all does get somewhat marred by too much cosmic hoo-ha. As well -- as is the fate of many such long comic book story arcs -- the inevitable interruption of crossovers and threads from other stories creates some confusion here, preventing The Black Ring from ending quite as strongly as it began.

[Contains spoilers]

Lex Luthor merges with a Phantom Zone creature at the end of this book, and in that way attains the god-like power he's always craved. Lex can only keep the power, however, if he uses it for good, and Lex is only able to achieve that magnanimity for a moment before he devolves to base selfishness. All superhero comic books must ultimately be a tragedy for the villain, but Lex's fall is especially poignant because in failing to keep the power, he also fails to truly comprehend any of the lessons he's learned about himself over his two-volume "quest for self-realization," as one character calls it.

Review: Secret Six: The Reptile Brain trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm skeptical of one claim bandied about in the run-up to the DC Comics relaunch, that the relaunch would clear the decks of years of continuity choking off writers creativity. Letting alone that I believe continuity to be essentially inescapable, Gail Simone's Secret Six: The Reptile Brain is a perfect example of how the long history of a shared universe can be strikingly, immensely powerful. Some of what Simone uses (or re-uses) here is her own, something I found distracting in Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle, but works considerably well here; others of what she uses borrows from the edges of the DC Universe's wide tapestry in very effective ways.

[Contains spoilers. Not much more I can say without spoiling elements of this book]

The first few pages of Reptile Brain, despite that they star the "replacement" Secret Six and not our favorite anti-heroes, are one of those perfect comics sequences, self-contained, that appear to be going one direction and then twist in another for a perfect punchline. Such is the case when the Six's "routine" shakedown on a yacht is suddenly interrupted by none other than Simone's Spy Smasher Katarina Armstrong, late of Birds of Prey.

Quick Hits: DC on Kindle Fire, Titans by Johns cancelled, DiDio Crisis controversy

Friday, October 07, 2011

DC Comics graphic novels on Kindle Fire!
DC Comics's deal to distribute graphic novels and collections on the Amazon Kindle Fire is a step in the right direction. This will become more attractive if DC goes day-and-date on their trades, too -- there might be collections I'd buy digital for cheaper, but not if I can buy the physical book sooner. Also I'd like to see the publishers adopt a universal digital format that's not beholden to one app or device, but I know that's a long ways off.

Dan DiDio to DC's Crisis: Not in my 52!
Tempest in a teapot the other day when Dan DiDio announced DC's various Crisis events were no longer in continuity. I'm not sure I thought they were still in continuity anyway. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Silver Age "Crisis on Earth-One" wasn't still in continuity, and even Crisis's status was fuzzy in the modern age until Infinite Crisis brought it back. Not too big a deal, I think, but I'd as soon see DC break new ground from here than use this as an excuse to produce a new updated version of Crisis.

Beware who the Huntress's related to!
What suckers we are, how excited I was to learn that Paul Levitz's new Huntress miniseries will have ties to the new Justice Society title. The problem is, DC needs to forge ahead, and re-using character aspects like Huntress's connection to the Justice Society is backward-looking (not to mention, if the Huntress of "our" Earth is connected to the Justice Society of the new Earth-2, that's more evidence that DC might unfortunately be planning to re-tell Crisis on Infinite Earth, yet more backward-looking material). And yet, my interest in the Huntress miniseries grew exponentially when I learned about this ...

Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus no more!
Our friends at ComicList broke the news that DC cancelled orders for the Teen Titans Omnibus by Geoff Johns hardcover volume (see one of my own favorite posts, "Have a Geoff Johns Omnibus, why don't you?"), stating, "This material will be resolicited at a later date in a different format." My initial guess was that we'd see this in a more sedate paperback format, perhaps because DC realized a $75 collection of a series of already-collected books now completely out of continuity might not be a bestseller.

However, word just a few hours ago from Dan DiDio that this will be "rescheduled and beefed up. Want to make the omnibus feel like an omnibus." Originally the volume was to contain twelve to fifteen Teen Titans issues, plus the four issue Beast Boy miniseries and a couple of backup stories. If the new book will be more "beefed up" than twenty-or-so issues, that'll be a sight to behold, indeed.

Review: Doom Patrol: Brotherhood trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

News broke as I began writing this that Keith Giffen would be taking over the new DC Comics Relaunch Superman title with issue #7.While  I have concerns about the implications of the change, the fact that Giffen will write one of DC's flagship titles leaves me overall enthused. Though Giffen has worked for DC since the 1970s, his writing remains modern and fresh (unlike some of his contemporaries). This is apparent as recently as the latest collection of his Doom Patrol series, Brotherhood, lamentably also the final collection. Brotherhood is nothing short of brilliant, a perfect sequel to Doom Patrol: We Who are About to Die, and it makes it all the worse that DC cancelled the third collection, Doom Patrol: Fire Away, due to low pre-orders numbers.

[Contains spoilers]

Doom Patrol: We Who are About to Die overlaid the classic team with a death wish; when a new member died in the first chapter, Robotman Cliff Steele, Elasti-Woman Rita Farr, and Negative Man Larry Trainor each regretted it wasn't them. Giffen's Doom Patrol "chief" Niles Caulder, via Giffen's creative re-translation, now employs the Patrol precisely for their self-loathing; if they don't care about themselves, he reasons, they're more likely to face danger unabashed. The end of the book took the members to their lowest points -- Cliff came face-to-face with the Black Lantern-reanimated corpse of his original body, confronted with the fact he's no longer the man he was; Rita unwillingly had her mind controlled again by ex-husband Steve "Mento" Dayton; and the reader learned that Negative Man was no longer the human Larry, but solely the Negative Man entity itself.

Review: Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 03, 2011

I've decided at this point I'd read Peter Tomasi's comic book adaptation of the phone book, if he wrote it. Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors is another winner from Tomasi after a string of such on Green Lantern Corps. With the years-long run-up to Blackest Night behind him, Tomasi is able to focus more on the characters in Warriors, teaming up a number of fan-favorites. Emerald Warriors itself is a strange series, almost not a series -- the whats and whys, however, matter far less given the strength of Tomasi's story.

[Contains spoilers]

Emerald Warriors collects the first seven issues of the self-same series; three more issues will appear in the War of the Green Lanterns collection, and then the final three in the Aftermath collection. That makes this volume the first and only singular collection of the Emerald Warriors series, with Peter Tomasi returning to Green Lantern Corps after the DC Comics relaunch. As such, it makes it hard to call Emerald Warriors a series at all, but more like a miniseries that DC Comics didn't want to call a mini so as not to tip off the forthcoming relaunch (not unlike, to an extent, the also-thirteen-issue Flash, the Fastest Man Alive).