Review: Men of War Vol. 1: Uneasy Company trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

War comics are a genre that has fallen out of favor, replaced if anything by political or espionage comics. DC Comics's first New 52 war series, therefore -- collected in Men of War: Uneasy Company -- is something of a risk, but a calculated one. Men of War would appear to be war comics for people who don't like war comics, a war comic with a dash of superheroics thrown in.

In this way, Men of War -- which was cancelled with the second wave of DC New 52 titles -- is successful. For fans of DC's Checkmate, for instance, Men of War has enough fiction mixed with its realism to keep readers interested through Ivan Brandon's first six-issue arc.

The final issues and back-up stories, however, are a mixed bag of wonderful and weird, banal and reductive, that underline perhaps the problems that war comics have always faced. Especially in today's political climate, the line between a cogent piece of war fiction and one that's trite or potentially insensitive is a fine one -- Men of War has a little bit of both.

Review: The Wretch: Devil's Lullaby and From Crade to Grave trade paperbacks (Slave Labor Graphics)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

My look into Phil Hester’s obscure but brilliant The Wretch continues as we go back in time to the collected second and third volumes. Essentially, the title’s issues were put out in reverse, as Slave Labor Graphics/Amaze Ink, the last publishers of the title, wanted to get their issues out in trade first. The second volume, Devil’s Lullaby, contains some of the strongest issues of the title. The final and much smaller volume, From Cradle to Grave, contains the earliest, very short stories, along with the final story so far, which first saw print in this book.

None of these variances in publishing order are really apparent in the books aside from some art changes. There is almost no continuity in The Wretch, with only one example in each volume. In the second volume’s “Happy Birthday,” a man sells his soul to Satan to rid his daughter of Down Syndrome. The Wretch uses the little girl’s glove to end the pain of the titular character of the book’s final story, “The Wailing Woman.” The third volume’s “Exorcism 101,” the very first Wretch story, has as a side character Gilby Gott, the protagonist of the first story in Everyday Doomsday. Gott seems to be a stand-in for Hester himself, and it’s a nice Easter egg linking one volume to another.

Trade Perspectives: You have to love the characters ...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I admit I've been keeping an eye on Rob Liefeld's Twitter feed since the creator publicly walked off his DC Comics titles last week. In part, like everyone, I'm simply fascinated by the mayhem. But even in a situation that's clearly bad for reader enjoyment of comics overall, there's a part of me reading Liefeld's tweets like I do solicitations, hungry and excited for clues to upcoming storylines -- Liefeld's tangent about proposed but cancelled intersections between Grifter, Stormwatch, and Superman, for instance.

Liefeld's departure overshadowed a much quieter but far more tragic exit from DC Comics, as I've mentioned here before, that of writer Judd Winick. Winick is also a controversial figure, I know (though at least for his work and not for his after-hour comments) but I have thoroughly enjoyed his Outsiders and Green Arrow and most recently his Catwoman and Batwing, and indeed I feel DC has lost something special here akin to when Greg Rucka left shortly before the DC New 52 relaunch.

These departures -- and George Perez's negative comments, also as we've discussed -- are depressing for a DC Comics fan. More troubling for me, however, have been the "false starts," if you will -- series whose creative teams and directions changed after the first collection. Paul Cornell left Stormwatch, though I think Paul Jenkins continues in the same general direction; however, Savage Hawkman and Deathstroke both get a second collection reboot, as to an extent has Superman, Green Arrow, and others.

This sometimes makes me wonder why I should even spend my money on these collections knowing, for instance, the first collection of Savage Hawkman may not have much impact on the second -- and then, with Liefeld leaving Hawkman essentially after the second collection, the second collection and third may have differences, too. All these departures -- some would say, disorganization -- makes it hard to read some titles at all.

I've been trying to think, before comics had a twenty-four hour news cycle, how did we deal with creative changes on books? I remember when David Micheline replaced Roger Stern on Action Comics, I thought the stories got a little more violent, but otherwise the Triangle Titles kept rolling on as usual. Definitely the tone was different when Jon Lewis replaced Chuck Dixon on Robin, but the characters and setting stayed the same for the most part. Gail Simone replacing Dixon on Birds of Prey turned out for the best; so did Geoff Johns replacing Mark Waid on Flash.

Review: Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's the trade-waiter's dilemma that this glowing review of Judd Winick's second DC Comics New 52 series, Batwing: The Lost Kingdom, comes just after the news that Winick has quietly announced his departure from Batwing and from DC Comics in general. This, after Winick also left Catwoman and apparently turned down a stint on Green Arrow. More's the pity, in a week where DC's reputation for creator relations is already taking a hit in the form of Rob Liefeld's much more public walk-off from his DC titles.

Winick's first Batwing collection is cogent superhero comics with an international flair of the kind also found in Winick's later Outsiders work. His Batwing also has charmingly much in common with the adventures of former Bat-proteges such as Azrael Jean Paul Valley and Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown; Winick does well imagining the new junior member of the Bat-squad.

Minds are made up quickly, but Winick's work on Batwing ought give anyone who dismissed his work on Catwoman as cheap or trashy a second thought. Batwing is a well-crafted book, and it's impossible to appreciate the thought given to Batwing without acknowledging that same thought must have gone into the Catwoman book as well.

Review: JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

I've spent the last few reviews in this series pulling apart DC's "Greatest Stories" trades, which centered around a single character (or a legacy character), but now it's time to see these folks in action -- especially with Marvel's "other team" recently debuting in their own movie. Let's join JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told!

I'm not expecting to see Antarctica or Detroit in these pages, nor am I expecting much diversity in the cast. The greatest JLA stories, after all, have almost always included the Big Seven. Ultimately this volume needs to contain stories in which every JLA member plays an important role, in which the team aspect of the group is emphasized. It's especially interesting that this is the only "Greatest Stories" collections which directly invokes continuity by linking the contained stories to "mega-popular hits like Identity Crisis!"

The sum of the parts being more than the whole in this series, let's take a look at what's inside this volume.

Review: The Wretch Vol. 1: Everyday Doomsday trade paperback (Slave Labor Graphics)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

My favorite indie comic is The Wretch. You probably haven’t heard of it.

Hipster humor aside, back in the summer of 2003, I was still in high school and still very new to comics. To this day, I consider this summer to be the most important in my life; it began with an abortive move to Baltimore, lasted over the six-week program that made me fall in love with Penn State, and ended in my father’s death. During that summer, I also bought the two trades that would eventually turn me into a comic book collector. It began with the first trade of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and while collecting the issues of the second volume, I found an ad for Slave Labor Graphics and Amaze Ink in the bag. Flipping through, I saw various horror themed comics that didn’t seem particularly interesting to me. And then, right at the end ... there was the first volume of The Wretch.

Reading the DC New 52: Month Two

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If possibly to ease trade readers into the DC New 52, the first month of New 52 collections had a comforting familiarity. Batman and Green Lantern were essentially continuations of previous titles, and even books like Justice League, Justice League International, and Stormwatch still essentially functioned like team books of old.

It is in the second month of the DC New 52 collections that readers really start to see a shake-up. Mr. Terrific and Static Shock are the first two New 52 books also cancelled, so they're done-in-one collections -- they're also the first entries that present racial diversity as a tenet of the New 52. Red Lanterns and Frankenstein are relatively new, and relatively weird, entries into the DC Universe, a departure from the same old thing. And then rounding this out are somewhat familiar, but in ways no less distinctive, entries from Detective Comics, Batwoman, and Legion of Super-Heroes.

Batwoman is the one to watch here. It is not the least bit of news to say J. H. Williams returns stellar work, but now he's got a monthly title, which means his Batwoman work can't be dismissed as being just for a "one off" or a special. Having seen work like Williams's on Batwoman and Francis Manapul on Flash, I firmly believe the way to success for the DC New 52 is to up their artistic standards.

Review: Frank Miller's Holy Terror graphic novel (Legendary Comics)

Monday, August 20, 2012

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

It's been said that Frank Miller has lost his touch. To be sure, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is nowhere near the one-two punch of The Dark Knight Returns or Year One (although I contend that All-Star Batman and Robin is more readable than its detractors give it credit). While his early work has been all but canonized, Miller's post-9/11 work has been criticized, often in tandem with his polarizing political perspective.

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: Hostile World Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paul Levitz's final pre-DC New 52 Legion volume, When Evil Calls, was an expansive, weighty collection with the Legion in a climactic battle with their opposite number, the Legion of Super-Villains. Following this, Levitz's first New 52 entry, Legion of Super-Heroes: Hostile World, is unfortunately lacking.

Levitz's good cast is here and he embarks them on an interesting adventure, but he packs much less into the story here than he had in the previous volumes. The art gets a big boost with new series artist Francis Portela, but the book is more art than story, more flash than substance. This is perhaps what the DC New 52 needs -- a bright and brash new Legion story with less emphasis on the characters' complicated back-stories; unfortunately, it leaves Hostile World seeming lesser than what came before.

Review: X-Men: SWORD: No Time to Breathe trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

We return once more to the Dark Reign era and another story which proves that great ideas can come from bad scenarios. S.W.O.R.D. was introduced as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s space-based counterpart back in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. Led by Abigail Brand, a half-alien, green-haired badass, she quickly became the love interest of Beast. She and her organization played a key role in Secret Invasion ... mainly by failing to prevent the Skrulls’ infiltration. With Norman Osborn in charge and anti-alien sentiment on the rise, S.W.O.R.D. is at a rough point when X-Men: S.W.O.R.D.: No Time To Breathe begins.

The trade’s title is apt, as the story takes place over no more than two days and features numerous excursions through outer space. Beast and Brand really shine as a bickering but ultimately loving couple. I really appreciate Kieron Gillen for giving Beast, one of my favorite characters, a chance to star in a book. He’s the near-perfect combination of brains, brawn and humor, and he easily fits into both the Avengers and X-Men sides of the Marvel Universe. Even though S.W.O.R.D. lamentably lasted only five issues, it gave him enough of a presence to become a headliner in Wolverine and the X-Men. Brand works as his rough, uncouth counterpart who puts the greater good of the universe before everything else.

DC Trade Solicitations for November 2012 - Nothing in December?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Do I have this wrong, or is DC Comics releasing no new trade collections in all of December 2012?

Here's DC's New 52 Volume 2 releases from their November 2012 solicitations, all scheduled to come out in January:

* Batwoman Vol. 2: To Drown the World
* Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of the Black Hand
* Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
* Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Guts

And DC's September and October 2012 solicitations had for October, among others, All-Star Western, Justice League Dark, I, Vampire, Nightwing, Savage Hawkman, and Supergirl, and for November Blackhawks, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, DC Comics Presents, Flash, Red Hood, and Superman.

Usually DC's solicitations list trades that don't come out until a month or two after the solicitation month itself, so it was not unusual to see October books listed in September and November books listed in October. But for November's solicitations, as far as new books are concerned, they're all coming out in January.

This doesn't leave December 2012 bare, per se, but the books coming out are those like Batman Chronicles, Justice League: Omega, and Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales -- reprints of classic DC material or paperbacks of books already released in hardcover, nothing "new in print."

Off the top of my head, maybe DC purposefully didn't list any trades for December on the off chance a New 52 collection ran late, so December would be a catch-up month before the Volume 2s started to roll out. Maybe we'll find some November collections do roll over to December. Maybe all of December is being reserved for the release of the DC New 52 Zero Omnibus, though that's not really convincing for me.

If things remain the way they are, however, I'll be giving my local comics shop a strange break in December, it seems.

One more on the list ...

* Teen Titans By Geoff Johns Omnibus Hc

DC has finally solicited the often-delayed Teen Titans Omnibus (also, mind you, coming out in January). The contents are:
Teen Titans #1/2-26, 29-46 and 50, Legends of the DC Universe #2, Titans Secret Files #2, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003, Beast Boy #1-4, Teen Titans/Legion of Super Heroes Special #1, Outsiders #24-25, Robin #147-147, Infinite Crisis #5-6 and Teen Titans Annual #1
For those playing along at home, these are the collections A Kid's Game, Family Lost, Beast Boys and Girls (plus Johns's various "Beast Boy" short stories over the years), The Future is Now, Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders, Life and Death (including the Robin and Infinite Crisis issues), Titans Around the World, and then most of Titans East.

Excluded, understandably, is Teen Titans #47, which was a Countdown to Final Crisis crossover found in Titans East. The material from issue #50 is probably just the Johns/Mike McKone story, a couple of pages, that takes place toward the beginning of the series.

Ultimately the Teen Titans Omnibus collects a full story, which is good; there was some concern this book would drop off in the middle of Titans East when Adam Beechen took over from Johns. Titans East ends on a somber note, but the finale includes an appearance by the original Titans, so the book should feel "complete" even if the end is sudden and a little down.

Well ... I know my picks for next January, but December is strangely still up in the air. What are you thinking of buying?

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: When Evil Calls trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 13, 2012

If you picked up Legion of Super-Heroes: When Evil Calls, Paul Levitz's third collection of his recent Legion revival (post-Infinite Crisis, pre-the DC New 52), chances are you're a Legion fan or at least willing to be faced with the years of Legion continuity that Levitz unapologetically packs into this story.

None of the three books have shied away from references to Legion stories past, but When Evil Calls takes the extra step of picking up on Legion Academy plot threads that are twenty years old if not older, treating them as if they just happened last issue. This will no doubt be some fun for devout Legion fans, but it indicates strongly that Levitz has given up any semblance of working for a broader audience, instead catering mostly to those "in the know."

If none of that scares you off, When Evil Calls is a fair conclusion to Levitz's pre-New 52 Legion trilogy (Levitz continues as Legion writer into the New 52, as well). Levitz ties up most loose ends and gives good closing character arcs to the prominent characters of his run so far, even addressing a bit of what previous writer Geoff Johns left behind. If anything, how neatly Levitz wraps up the story is the strongest indication of the pre-New 52 rush to close before Legion is relaunched with yet another new issue #1; those who've stuck with the book thus far, however, aren't likely to be disappointed.

Review: Flash: The Greatest Stories Ever Told trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

After a less than positive experience with Green Lantern, let's charge into Flash: The Greatest Stories Ever Told and see how the Scarlet Speedster fares.

On a quick thumb-through of the book, it looks like my complaints about the preceding trade were rectified; I see Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West, which gives me hope for a fair shake for all (no Bart Allen, which is worth debating, although this volume was published before Bart's tenure as The Flash). More enthusiastic already, I'm eager to see if this volume makes the case for Barry Allen's return that Geoff Johns never really did; I'm also expecting fewer Johnsian echoes, since Flash: Rebirth and its subsequent run was less about solving canonical problems than introducing new ones.

Review: Infinity Gauntlet hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

Continuing directly from Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos, Jim Starlin and Ron Lim’s Infinity Gauntlet is the last of what I call the “Marvel Epics.” From 1980 to 1993, a string of Marvel stories defined the characters for years to come. Starting with the Dark Phoenix Saga and going through Captain America: The Captain, Armor Wars and Avengers Under Siege (among others), Infinity Gauntlet finishes the chain with the greatest single battle in Marvel history. I say this having read the major Marvel crossovers, and my opinion still stands. The scope of the war in this volume is absolutely astonishing.

Authors have different strategies to convey the threat of a villain. Some use staggering amounts of violence, like Superboy-Prime’s slaughter of the Teen Titans in Infinite Crisis or the Stamford explosion in Civil War. Some use world-shattering disasters, such as Krona’s war on reality in JLA/Avengers or the Sun extinguishing in The Final Night. Some keep ratcheting up the scope of the participants, such as the numerous Supermen in Final Crisis or the Skyfathers in Secret Invasion. Starlin decides to go with all three of these tactics with Thanos -- appropriate, as Thanos is the most powerful being in the universe.

Review: Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 06, 2012

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

In brightest day, in blackest night, what Green Lantern stories are greatest in the editors' sight?

For better or for worse, the spectre (pun intended) of Geoff Johns looms large over Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told. Maybe it's because he gets the last word with "Flight," maybe it's because many of the stories in here have been retconned or reappropriated by him, or maybe it's just because this volume might as well have been called Hal Jordan: The Greatest Stories Ever Told. Indeed, while all the other major Earth-based Lanterns appear, Hal is the undisputed star (hey, it's his mug -- courtesy of Alex Ross -- that adorns the cover). Already on this cursory preview, we have a major flaw in the volume, but let's hold our opinions until we've bent the spine.

Review: Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE Vol. 1: War of the Monsters trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Jeff Lemire's Animal Man: The Hunt has so far been the breakout star of DC Comics's New 52 initiative, the best of the new series and the one that makes what disappointments there may be in the New 52 worth it. Prior to the New 52, however, Lemire's Superboy: Smallville Attacks was a slow tale of talking heads (albeit Eisner-nominated) and his Flashpoint tie-in "Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos" lacked the monstrous mayhem of Grant Morrison's earlier Seven Soldiers Frankenstein series.

Fortunately, the premiere of Lemire's DC New 52 Frankenstein series, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE: War of the Monsters, is up there in quality with his Animal Man. Lemire more-than accomplishes the big monster horror of Morrison's book, with an extra helping of mad science thrown in. Frankenstein is really out there, achieving exactly the tone that the DC New 52 needs; to some extent, Lemire's Frankenstein is what Paul Cornell's Stormwatch should have been.

Review: Silver Surfer: The Rebirth of Thanos trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman. Spoilers ahead for The Avengers movie.]

Shortly after Avengers came out, I sought a copy of Infinity Gauntlet, the likely source material for the film’s sequel. Upon reading it, however, I felt that something was missing. It opened as if it were the third act of an epic, with characters returning having been killed off-screen. As it turns out, there was a huge chunk of story missing … and thankfully, Marvel has collected this in Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos. Though the title has been out in hardcover for some time, it was recently put out in paperback just in time for readers to get ready for Thanos’s entry onto the big screen.

Collected here are two major stories: “Rebirth of Thanos,” which was told in the Silver Surfer series, and “The Thanos Quest,” a two-issue miniseries. The Silver Surfer isn’t one of my favorite characters. My favorite moments featuring him are smaller cameos, such as his epic fight with Cable in Cable and Deadpool or his turn as a gladiator in Planet Hulk. Perhaps the Surfer’s greatest issue is that he suffers from Superman Syndrome: the difficulty of coming up with a threat great enough to be serious for such a powerful hero. Jim Starlin sidesteps this problem in two ways.