Reading the DC New 52: Month Three

Friday, September 28, 2012

We've skipped around a bit this month in reading the DC New 52, jumping forward to review Aquaman: The Trench in the week it came out, and also you'll notice we've moved on to next month already without reviewing Suicide Squad: Kicked in the Teeth.

I want to read Suicide Squad, I know it ties into Resurrection Man, Detective Comics: Faces of Death and later to the Batman "Death of the Family" crossover, but at the same time I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like it, since I didn't like Adam Glass's alternate-reality lead-in, Flashpoint: Legion of Doom.

You commenters have expressed mixed opinions about negative reviews -- if I'm pretty sure I won't like something, but I read it, is it fair to review it to talk about what I didn't like? Or should I only review things I approach "blind" -- if I think I already have an opinion about something, should that disqualify it from review?

Anyway, I've got Suicide Squad right here, but I'm going to hold off until it's really integral to something else I'm reading before I crack it open. Your results may vary, but I think there's something healthy, if you will, about letting a book sit when you recognize you're not in the headspace to enjoy it, even if the book is relevant right there and now.

Otherwise, this month of the DC New 52 felt "gray" to me going in -- three different Bat-family titles, plus Demon Knights, Grifter, and Men of War -- none of these ground-breaking or super-relevant like a new Justice League or Green Lantern title might be. Some books I had been looking forward to, like Demon Knights, but in all not the most exciting month.

Review: Hawk and Dove Vol. 1: First Strikes trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The DC Comics New 52 debut Hawk and Dove: First Strikes had the elements for success. Sterling Gates had written character-heavy stories in Green Lantern Corps and especially Supergirl, such to suggest he could explore well Hawk and Dove's often-complicated private lives. Rob Liefeld, love him or hate him, was there at this Hawk and Dove's "old" DC Universe conception, and brought a sense of legacy and continuity to the title.

These elements never quite come together, however, before the title is cancelled at the end of this volume. Gates's story has potential but doesn't distinguish itself before Liefeld takes writing chores. Liefeld's art starts relatively strongly but loses detail as the book continues, and his writing equally lacks the verve needed for modern audiences. By the end, First Strikes is just not all that interesting, and its cancellation seems right and justified.

Review: X-Men: Phoenix Rising hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

While Uncanny X-Men: From The Ashes addressed the short-term effects of the Dark Phoenix Saga, this unusual trade introduces what may be the most important retcon in comic book history. Jean Grey returning to life changed comics forever. For those who call death in comics a “revolving door,” this book is the push that keeps the door going despite all attempts to stop it. It’s a revision so intricate that it required two unrelated books to pull it off and a new title to keep it going. X-Men: Phoenix Rising was the brainchild of Kurt Busiek, and it helped put him on the map as one of the best -- and most underrated -- comic book writers.

Yet apart from the idea, and a misspelled “thank you” credit, Busiek had nothing to do with X-Men: Phoenix Rising. He had merely pitched the idea of Jean Grey’s resurrection to Roger Stern, and it spread like wildfire, reaching John Byrne and eventually Jim Shooter, the EIC. Shooter had one caveat: if Jean were to return, she had to be innocent of the slaughter of the D’Bari in Dark Phoenix Saga. Busiek did this by retroactively making the Phoenix a being separate from Jean Grey. As shown in the middle of this trade, Fantastic Four #286, the Phoenix took on Jean’s physical form and basic structure, but its own hunger eventually won out over Jean’s humanity.

Will customers confuse Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with Dark Knight Rises?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does DC Entertainment have a marketing dilemma on their hands?

DC's newest animated movie is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, the first of a duo of direct-to-DVD releases based on Frank Miller's 1986 DC Comics miniseries, and later best-selling graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns.

The original miniseries predates by far Christopher Nolan's recent Dark Knight live-action movie trilogy. The similarity of Nolan's titles to Miller's is not coincidental, however, and Dark Knight Returns can't help but have been an influence on aspects of Nolan's Dark Knight Rises.

But the similarity of the titles may result in some confusion, for better or worse.

Here's one review of the new animated movie (whether the review is meant seriously is debatable):
I have not seen this movie, nor will I. Consumers should be aware. This is NOT "DARK KNIGHT RISES" with Christian Bale. It is a play on titles.
This is reminiscent of the controversy over the Green Lantern movie featuring Hal Jordan and not John Stewart -- the expectations of the comics-buying public are one thing and the expectations of the non-comics-buying public are another, and these can sometimes clash unexpectedly.

Among other "reviews" for Dark Knight Returns are a couple clearly reviewing Rises instead. And then, of course, there's the just plain bizarre:
After my scrapbooking workshop at the community center, there is a local flea market at an abandoned grocery store that I like to visit on Tuesdays. It's about a two and half hour ride on the bus so it breaks it up a bit for me. Inside the flea market there is a dealer who sells Hot Wheels, car stereos and new movies. Many of which have not come out on video or the theaters yet. Being a Batman fan, I was looking forward to the animated version of the classic story by Frank Miller. As my luck would have it, the dealer had the movie on DVD for sale at his table. Suffice it to say, I was all too excited. ...

To be honest, I wanted to like this movie, heck, I wanted to love it. ... Most of the time, I could not hear what was being said, and the rest of the time the video quality was about as good as when I would try to watch scrambled Cinemax late at night on my grandma's tv. They must of realized this and gave up because the movie just ends. A lot of people say this, but I remember the book being longer in content and substance that what this offered.
Obviously there's just no pleasing some people.

Some of this confusion may of course be intended by DC for purposes of selling Returns to Rises fans. The initial box art for Dark Knight Returns, at least, does not emphasize Bruce Wayne's age nor the story's future setting, as if to make it seem more, not less, similar to Dark Knight Rises.

Review: OMAC Vol. 1: Omactivate trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 24, 2012

With issues of the rights and credit due to the late Jack Kirby back in the news surrounding the Avengers movie, Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen's OMAC: Omactivate can be seen as a tribute or, more cynically, a land-grab. Certainly each issue of OMAC credits Kirby as the character's creator; however, considerably more of Kirby's creations appear in these pages than just OMAC.

Despite that one other of Kirby's characters has already appeared quite prominently in the DC Comics New 52 universe, it's a surprise to see many of these others so early and, distressingly, to see them in a title that's subsequently cancelled. Whether their use is to stake claim to these characters in the New 52 from the outset or to feed other storylines still to come, it is nice to see Kirby's world perseveres, but OMAC fails to innovate with the characters in any significant way.

DC Trade Solicitations for December 2012 - Nothing for December, new round for January

Friday, September 21, 2012

DC Comics's November 2012 solicitations strongly suggested that DC would not publish any New 52 collections in all of December -- and the December 2012 solicitations confirm this. DC will release collections in December, but they are largely either collections of Gold or Silver Age material (Batman Chronicles, Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales), or paperbacks or new editions of already collected material (Justice League of America: Omega, Batman: No Man's Land).

(And it's amazing that no one else is talking about this except Collected Editions.)

This must make for what will be a quiet December around the ol' comics shops, at least as far as my pull list is concerned. I'm not all that bummed, though -- a quiet month after the welcome-but-relentless emergence of the first DC New 52 volumes will give me a little time to whittle down my reading pile.

That's not to say I don't see a method to DC's madness here.

DC's original volume releases for last May, the first month of DC New 52 collections, were Animal Man, Batman, Catwoman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League, Stormwatch, and Wonder Woman.

Their releases for January 2013 are:

* Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs. Man TP
* Batwoman Vol. 2: To Drown the World
* Blue Beetle Vol. 2: Blue Diamond TP
* The Culling: Rise of the Ravagers TP
* Green Arrow Vol. 2: Triple Threat TP
* Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of the Black Hand
* Justice League International Vol. 2: Breakdown TP
* Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
* Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Guts

So, of these, Animal Man, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League, and Wonder Woman are all back at the beginning of the rotation, nine months later. DC seems to have tried with the New 52 monthly titles to have each title appear in the same week each month, and something similar appears to be happening with the collections. Predictability in this case is good; this is a positive thing.

In addition, the New 52 paperback releases for January are:

* Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology TP
* Green Lantern Vol. 1: Sinestro TP
* Justice League Vol. 1: Origin TP
* Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood TP

That means that every Volume 1 hardcover that has a Volume 2 in January, the paperback of the Volume 1 hardcover is also released in January. So those of you wait-for-paper traders out there don't have to wait longer than when the rest of us get our Volume 2 before you get your Volume 1 (DC's hope must be that you'll then be inclined to jump to hardcover, I'm sure). All of this is also good.

Then February has, to start, the Batman: Night of the Owls crossover hardcover, and also the Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends hardcover (such a strange name; curious to see if that book echoes at all the original "Knightfall" saga).

Also solicited, Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 7 trade paperback, which is almost entirely composed of Superman's tie-ins to the Millennium crossover, but go buy it anyway because I want DC to release omnibus editions of the immediate post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman era.

Well, DC's got some other reprints and releases for January and February, but that's what stuck out to me. What's on your "buy list?"

Review: Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Born to Kill hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The powerhouse Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason team that made Green Lantern Corps a can't-miss series was sure to succeed in the DC Comics New 52 relaunch of Batman and Robin. Indeed, Batman and Robin: Born to Kill is eminently readable, action-packed and emotional, exactly what a new reader would expect from the Batman and Robin title.

Vested Batman fans, however, may find elements of the story repetitious -- Tomasi perfectly imagines how the father and son Batman and Robin team of Bruce and Damian Wayne would interact, but it is exactly the way Bruce and Damian have interacted so far. Conversely, when Bruce and Damian begin to grow -- when they get along instead of spar -- it is somewhat unbelievable; the emotion Tomasi writes is moving, but not necessarily earned in the whole of Bruce and Damian's interactions outside this book.

In essence, the New 52 relaunch "jump" is significantly noticeable here. Tomasi uses it to place Bruce and Damian on the different emotional ground that forms the basis of this story, but for established readers this may feel a bit of a cheat.

Review: X-Men: From the Ashes trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

Thirty issues of Uncanny X-Men later, the young mutants are still reeling from the loss of their friend, but they also have their own issues. I was initially unsure about picking up X-Men: From the Ashes, an old, out of print trade, but then I saw that the first issue has one of the best X-Men first pages of all time: “Professor Xavier Is A Jerk!” Spoken by Kitty Pryde, this apt description of the team’s morally ambiguous founder comes about because she’s been demoted to the New Mutants, and rather unfairly so.

Much as in Dark Phoenix Saga, Professor X is still not used to his ever-changing team. Kitty’s issues pale compared to her friend, Illyana, who was Colossus’ kid sister until she grew up into a teenager in a hell dimension. Other changes since the previously-reviewed volume include Lilandra Nerimani being banished to Earth, Professor X gaining a new, cloned body, and the reveal of Cyclops and Havok’s father being alive as the leader of the Starjammers.

Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against the Dark trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 17, 2012

The debut paperback collection of Paul Cornell's Demon Knights practically cries out to have been a hardcover instead, with all the covers shunted to the back such to give the illusion of a graphic novel. Whereas collections like Grifter and Batgirl include a couple of the heroes' disparate adventures, Demon Knights: Seven Against the Dark is a single, tightly-coiled story about seven anti-heroes caught in the siege of a marauding army, immediate and unrelenting and meant to be read in full.

Demon Knights is wholly enjoyable, a book that creates and simultaneously proves the validity of a medieval fantasy title in DC Comics's New 52.

[Review contains spoilers]

In true Dungeons and Dragons fashion, Paul Cornell brings together the seven members of the Demon Knights in a tavern; they do not incite the battle with the Questing Queen's conquering horde, but they're soon embroiled in it. Over the book's seven issues, many of the Knights make personal sacrifices to try to save the town of Little Spring; by the end, however, with Little Spring mostly destroyed, their victory is dubious. The townspeople suggest surrendering to the Questing Queen a number of times, but the Knights keep fighting irrespective, and it is mostly the townspeople -- including a young girl, a young boy, and a priest -- who pay the price.

Review: Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The strength of Geoff Johns's DC Comics New 52 Aquaman debut is not, as many have suggested, Johns's positioning of Aquaman as a "joke" in the DC Universe as he often is in the real world, acknowledging and moving on from this -- though to be sure this is a clever aspect of the book. Rather what stands out in Aquaman: The Trench is Johns's humanizing of the character, emphasizing for the first time in a long time the Sea King's human, land-locked origins.

The book's initial story is somewhat thin, and there's some tricky moral questions Johns doesn't quite address, but Johns and artist Ivan Reis are a powerhouse team, offering an engaging, attractive comic that more than overcomes its shortfalls.

Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman.]

Almost every major comic book decision can be traced back to X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga.

It brought Wolverine to the forefront of the X-Men while introducing Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde, two of the X-Franchise’s most prominent women (plus the Dazzler). While she wasn’t the first superhero to die, the circumstances behind Jean Grey’s death elevated it into the epitome of the superhero death story. Her revival (which I’ll cover soon as well) helped open the floodgates of constant rebirths in comics. The effects don’t end at the Marvel Universe, either. The title’s popularity led to the revival of DC’s own young heroes as The New Teen Titans, which in turn gave Marv Wolfman and George Perez the cache to create Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Review: Grifter Vol. 1: Most Wanted trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Grifter: Most Wanted is a prime example of how much influence an artist can have on a series. What starts out as a surprisingly enjoyable action-thriller under the pen of CAFU becomes becomes awkward and stilted once artist Scott Clark takes over. No little of the credit or blame can be given to writer Nathan Edmonson, but if one guesses the script remains static throughout, then it seems two different artists' interpretations lead to two different results.

[Review contains spoilers]

In his bright red, devilish mask, Grifter is perhaps the most recognizable of the Wildstorm properties outside of The Authority -- his mere appearance suggesting a sort of in-your-face edginess. For those readers concerned that the integration of Wildstorm into the DC Comics New 52 would usher in an era too grim and too gritty, Grifter's ongoing title would be the prime site of that concern.

Review: Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Perhaps the most controversial single aspect of the DC Comics New 52 relaunch was Barbara Gordon's return to the mantle of Batgirl, mitigated only by the fact that Gail Simone, the long-time writer of Barbara's "old" DC Universe alter-ego Oracle in Birds of Prey, would be heading the series. Simone's first outing on the title has now arrived in the form of Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, and it is a rousing success.

Simone embraces all the controversy that surrounds taking Barbara out of her wheelchair and undoing her paralysis, distilling it into a mystery that examines issues of right and wrong and fair and unfair, survivor's guilt, and the existence of miracles. Amidst a background of creepy horror, Simone also reintroduces a Barbara Gordon who's surprisingly bright and chipper, at once both the iconic original Batgirl and also reminiscent of the Batgirls who once followed her.

Trade Perspectives: What Makes a Marvel Epic?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

[Guest post by Doug Glassman]

With my Infinity Gauntlet review marking the last of my personal Marvel Epics and my review of The Dark Phoenix Saga coming up, I thought it might be a good idea to go back and identify the stories which define the spine of the Marvel Universe to me. My criteria are that the story redefines a character, team or universe; that it is limited to one story, even in a long run; that it is critically successful; and that it was published between 1979 and 1993. The following list is in roughly chronological order.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga. This story introduced Shadowcat, set up the still-continuing plot thread of humans as the most powerful threat in the universe, and is arguably the most important story in comic book history.

Thor: "Thor vs. Beta Ray Bill" (collected in Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 1). This was one of Thor’s most powerful defeats and one of the first times that the “if he be worthy” clause of Mjolnir was used.

Full Marvel Universe: Secret Wars. This was Marvel’s first mega-crossover, and it led to major changes in team rosters and characters. It also brought the disparate “superhero” and “mutant” sides of the Marvel Universe together.

Captain America: The Captain. This story features Cap resigning and a new, crazy replacement taking over. It explores Cap’s role in the Marvel Universe and a hero’s responsibilities.

Daredevil: Born Again. This story tears down its hero even further than The Captain and barely restores him to glory. It marks Daredevil’s final slide into being one of Marvel’s darkest heroes.

Avengers: Under Siege. This story features the villains uniting and achieving the Masters of Evil’s greatest victory. It also directly led to the Thunderbolts, perhaps the last of the great Marvel teams.

Iron Man: Armor Wars. This has Tony Stark’s greatest fear—mass misuse of his technology—come true. He wages a war against both friend and foe, cementing his paranoia for decades to come.

Spider-Man: Birth of Venom. This is the story of Spider-Man’s dark shadow coming back as perhaps his greatest villain. Venom would later become one of the key anti-heroes of the '90s.

Cosmic Marvel: Infinity Gauntlet. This story sees the forces of the Marvel Universe gather in a complex strategy against an omnipotent foe. Few stories can match the escalation seen here.

The only major characters to not have such an epic are the Fantastic Four. While John Byrne’s run is the closest, there is no overall story, and the Four have had few major sticking changes since the 1960s. Of course, there are some other choices. Kraven’s Last Hunt might be considered an alternate for Spider-Man, while Daredevil also has the Death of Elektra. Feel free to discuss your own Marvel Epic choices in the comments.

So that’s my Marvel Epic Theory. Many have been reviewed for this site, both by me and by Chris Marshall. Along with The Dark Phoenix Saga, I also plan on reviewing Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 1 in the near future. The rest are definitely options for the future for me or another reviewer. All of these stories deserve examination, as they are the core of Marvel’s publishing history.

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

Monday, September 03, 2012

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

Speak his name and we can become the strongest and mightiest in the world -- Shazam! Is one magic word all it takes to be the greatest "Greatest Stories" trade? Read on, loyal reader!

I was first introduced to Captain Marvel in the Mark Waid/Alex Ross Kingdom Come, which colored my reading of the character from then on, so I entered this volume eager to see what the character was "supposed" to be. Since KC, I've come to appreciate the treatment of Captain Marvel as a child in a man's body, but I see from Jeff Smith's introduction to Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told that such was not always the case. I'm hoping the volume covers a wide range of interpretations, although I'm dismayed to see that there's nothing from Smith's amazing Shazam! and the Monster Society of Evil. I'm impressed, however, at the size of the volume -- thirteen stories and 222 content pages, the longest in the series.

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