Review: Inferior Five trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Inferior Five is a pretty niche story — a semi-sequel to a lesser-known 1980s DC Comics crossover — to the point I’m surprised they even decided to publish it. Few new readers, I imagine, are going back to read Invasion! as opposed to something like Batman: Knightfall or The Death of Superman. Perhaps the draw is the presence of the big name on the book, writer/artist indie sensation Jeff Lemire, though really this book is writer/artist and 1980s DC stalwart Keith Giffen’s. It branches off of Invasion!, in which Giffen and his DC storylines of the time played a big role, it features Giffen’s distinct art style, it plays with characters who were obscure in Giffen’s 1980s heyday and are virtually unknown now. Like I said, it’s pretty niche.1

To that end, there’s probably not a lot of reason for most readers to pick Inferior Five up, including that it was unceremoniously cancelled six issues through a 12-issue miniseries, with issues #5 and #6 only published online and the latter not even drawn by Giffen. But though Giffen is only credited with plot on the final issue, it is the most Giffen-esque of this whole Giffen-esque book, as wise and ridiculous as one would expect from the final issue of a Giffen book cancelled halfway through. If Giffen was ever your go-to DC guy, if you’ve got issues of Invasion! fondly mildewing in your garage, you might go find the last issue of this series, at least.

Review: Plunge hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

And so we reach the end of the first wave of Hill House Comics. Joe Hill’s Plunge is the most intentionally referential (among plenty of references) of the Hill House books, given its frigid location and aliens diving down a person’s throat. At the same time, despite a familiarity that works against it, Plunge might be the most gory of the Hill House books (thanks to artist Stuart Immonen), if not also the most disturbing. Certain of Hill House’s books have toyed with this before — the horror of being out of control of your own body, the horror of the knowledge of the horror that could happen to you — but none in quite so many terrifying forms as Plunge does.

[Review contains spoilers]

What stands out most at the beginning of Plunge is just how much talking there is. I’m not one who minds my comics loquacious, especially when favoring dialogue over superhero fights, but there’s about nine pages in the first issue that are about as word-balloon heavy as I’ve ever seen (and may letterer Deron Bennett get a break after that). Surely all of this contributes such to make one particular death close to the end especially wrenching for the audience — to build in us the emotion that I’d otherwise imagine would be a challenge with only six issues — but no doubt Hill takes a risk here asking for that much audience attention before the worm-filled zombies arrive. (Not to mention how little of the intricate detail of who owns what in international waters is really all that necessary in the end.)

Review: Flash Vol. 15: Finish Line trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

I can’t deny Joshua Williamson’s Flash Vol. 15: Finish Line offers a lot of what readers want from the conclusion of a modern-day Flash epic. And I maintain that 101 issues is a whole lot, a lot more than most writers are willing or able to stay on a title, so cheers to Williamson for that (and for the almost speedster-like swiftness with which many of Williamson’s concepts have then appeared on the Flash television show). Clearly Williamson’s star continues to be on the rise, given his presence on DC’s family of Infinite Frontier titles and also DC’s undisputed flagship, Batman.

But while Williamson hits many of the right notes, often he’s playing the notes of other people’s songs. There’s some pleasing deep dives into Flash history here, but I’m not sure how much credit we give to the Flash writer simply cameoing other writers’ Flash creations. Especially since, in the fine details of the story itself, Williamson often struggles. Not to mention the piece de resistance of Williamson’s story, the revelation that is what we’ve all long since thought it was going to be, which is ironic in ways I don’t think Williamson intended.

DC Trade Solicitations for January 2022 — Infinite Frontier, Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising, Batman: Imposter and Detective, Nice House on the Lake Vol. 1, Black Adam Box Set, Catwoman of East End Omnibus, Beast Boy Loves Raven HC

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Another small month for collections in the DC Comics January 2022 hardcover and trade paperback solicitations. Two — two! — new regular series collections this month — Infinite Frontier and Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s first full Action Comics collection, a new Action Comics (collection) volume one.

Granted, those two are big ones — basically, once again the starting gun for (once again) the new DC Universe. But, y’know, two. And I wish Infinite Frontier was coming out a lot sooner. James Tynion’s Joker hardcover, which spins directly out of Infinite Frontier #0, is due out at the beginning of November, while the Infinite Frontier collection isn’t out for four more months, in February (and the new Superman collection, the new post-Dark Nights: Death Metal Wonder Woman collection, Crime Syndicate, etc., etc.).

Another book I’m interested in is Batman: The Detective, since Tom Taylor really has yet to disappoint. A couple weeks ago I was wishing James Tynion’s Nice House on the Lake had a collection, though now I might pass until there’s a collection of all 12 issues, not just six. Batman: The Imposter and Batman: The Penguin are obviously both movie tie-ins, maybe the first of more? Not for me, though I certainly see the need.

Uh, yeah? Have some poster portfolios? Let’s go ahead and dig in …

Batman: The Detective

In hardcover, collecting the six-issue miniseries by Tom Taylor and Andy Kubert. That’s a powerhouse team — Kubert draws a great Batman, and Taylor’s star is on the rise. I might not usually stop for the Batman miniseries of the week, but I’m eager to see what these two do together. Coming in February.

Batman: The Imposter

Elseworlds-type Batman story by writer of the upcoming movie Mattson Tomlin, with art by the inimitable Andrea Sorrentino. In hardcover in February.

Batman: The Penguin

Timed, of course, for Colin Farrell's turn as Penguin in the new Batman movie, this is said to be Batman #155, Batman #374, Batman #548, Batman #549, Detective Comics #58 (omitted from previous solicitations), Detective Comics #610, Detective Comics #611, Detective Comics #824, Joker's Asylum: Penguin #1, and Penguin Triumphant #1. Essentially this is Batman Arkham: Penguin reprinted under another name.

Batwing: Luke Fox

The oft-solicited (and cancelled) Batwing Omnibus finds new life as a Batwing: Luke Fox collection. Don’t get me wrong, I love Camrus Johnson on Batwoman and especially his turn in the season finale, but these stories by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (previous solicitations had it as Batwing #19–34 and the Futures End issue) were not the best of the series. That distinction goes to the first dozen or so issues by Judd Winick, starring Congolese police office David Zavimbe as Batwing; I rather wish those were sharing in the spotlight.

Black Adam Box Set

It feels a little bit like the late 1990s/early 2000s again (or 2011 — check out the New 52-style spines on these books), but among the many good things about the forthcoming Black Adam movie is a bevy of Black Adam collections materials. This box set — a Black Adam box set, can you even imagine? — collects what’s now called Black Adam/JSA: Black Reign (formerly JSA Vol. 8: Black Reign, being JSA #56–58 and Hawkman #23–25, with the JSA losing the top billing in their own book), Shazam! Vol. 1 (the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank backup from the New 52 Justice League), and Black Adam: Rise and Fall of an Empire, a cut down of relevant pages from the 52 weekly series. That's going to encompass a few different origins for Black Adam? From a few different continuities? I wonder how well these three will read together.

Catwoman of East End Omnibus

Rather surprised this has never been an omnibus before. Collects the Detective Comics #759-762 backup stories, issues #759–762, plus Ed Brubaker's 37-issue run, plus the Selina's Big Score graphic novel and Catwoman Secret Files.

DC Comics: Generations

In paperback, following the hardcover. Collects Generations Shattered, Generations Forged, and a story from Detective Comics #1027.

DC Poster Portfolio: J.H. Williams III

Williams' covers, including art from Sandman: Overture, Batwoman, Hellblazer: Rise and Fall, and Promethea.

DC Poster Portfolio: Jenny Frison

Gosh do I like Jenny Frison’s art. Surely the Wonder Woman covers will be in there, but I hope they get Low, Low Woods too.

DCeased: Hope at World's End

In paperback, following the hardcover. I am eager, one day, for DCeased vs. DC vs. Vampires (and the sequel, Vs. Injustice).

The Fourth World by Jack Kirby Box Set

Individual collections of New Gods, Mister Miracle, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and Forever People. Not the ideal way to read the saga, but dig the day-glo spine colors.

Infinite Frontier

The next phase of the DC Universe, by Joshua Williamson, in hardcover. Sure with this was out sooner than February, given for instance we'll have the new Joker hardcover out in a couple weeks. Previously this was said to collect Infinite Frontier #0–6 and Infinite Frontier Secret Files #1, though no contents are listed now.

The Nice House on the Lake Vol. One

It also feels like a long wait for the first collection of James Tynion's Nice House to hit. I'm often disinclined to get a trade of issues #1-6 of a 12-issue miniseries; inevitably there will be a full collection of all the issues. With Detective Comics artist Alvaro Martinez.

Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising

Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s first full Action Comics collection, coming in February in paperback. Previously said to collect Action Comics #1030–1035.

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 4

Said to collect Superman #16-22, Adventures of Superman #439-444, Action Comics #598-600, the Superman Annual #2, and Doom Patrol #10. The solicitation calls this the “final volume,” so unfortunately it doesn’t look good for a continuing series of the post-Crisis Superman series.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven

In hardcover by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo.

Teen Titans: Raven, Beast Boy, and Beast Boy Loves Raven Box Set

Box set of hardcovers, apparently, of the three YA graphic novels by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo. Given lost memories and etc., I wonder how this will turn out — if indeed Beast Boy and Raven are the Titans we know-ish, just having lost their memories, or if there's a strange "experiments" aspect a la Jeff Lemire's Teen Titans: Earth One.

Y: The Last Man Compendium Two

Issues #32-60 by Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra, being the original paperback vols. 6-10 (Girl on Girl, Paper Dolls, Kimono Dragons, Motherland and Whys and Wherefores). Admittedly I have not started watching the TV adaptation yet, so I'm part of the problem, but I was sad to hear it wouldn't be ongoing.

Review: Daphne Byrne hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The problem with playing with spirits is that sometimes spirits play back — at least, that seems to be one of the morals of the fourth release from DC’s Hill House Comics imprint, Laura Marks and Kelley Jones' Daphne Byrne. Indeed the wonderful irony of Byrne is the mission of its young protagonist is to try to expose the duplicitousness of a supposed psychic with nefarious intent even as Daphne herself is seeing ghosts. It makes for a story that’s charming, if not quite as complex as Hill House’s masterful Low, Low Woods. Six issues' worth of art by horror master Jones is still reason enough to check this out.

[Review contains spoilers]

Artist Piotr Jablonski’s covers for most of Daphne Byrne are the stuff of nightmare fuel, hands down the most unsettling Hill House covers so far, with realistic textures and demonic eyes that stare out at the reader. As opposed to Jenny Frisson’s variants on Low, Low Woods, Jablonski’s main Byrne covers are far better than its variants.

Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Peter Tomasi’s been shepherding the Bat-family for about 10 years now. Arguably he is as much, if not even more so, a steward of the modern Robin Damian Wayne as the character’s creator Grant Morrison is. Tomasi has seen Damian through a long (even death-defying) run on Batman and Robin, followed by a Superman run that was as much about the Kents as it was Superboy Jon Kent’s burgeoning friendship with Damian (not to mention Super Sons), and into Detective Comics, where Tomasi has narrated Bruce Wayne and Damian’s relationship hitting an increasingly rough patch.

So, with no new Bat-work on the horizon, Tomasi’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: The Road to Ruin is a notable book, the last in Tomasi’s decade-long Bat-adjacent work and his good-bye to Damian before another writer, Joshua Williamson, takes over Damian’s story in earnest. (Damian’s previous series by Tomasi’s frequent collaborator Patrick Gleason still felt very much within Tomasi’s jurisdiction.)

Review: The Low, Low Woods hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

And so we come to the halfway point of the Hill House Comics imprint (an artificial distinction, perhaps, but the third of five books in publication order). The previous books in their own ways have challenged the horror genre, but Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low Woods is something else. Monsters aplenty, though whether in the box office Woods would be deemed horror or instead fantasy/sci-fi is debatable.

It is not horrific (or horror-ific) in the sense of decapitated heads or lopped off hands. But indeed Woods is horrific, and disturbing, and to an extent the full horror of the book comes so late in the story that one cannot help be, if not horrified in the moment of realization, then horrified in the implications that come days afterward. Basketful of Heads and The Dollhouse Family have each in their own way a joyous kind of popcorn-flavored horror to them, a scary time to be remembered and revisited fondly. Woods also offers the joys of young adulthood and friendship, but in the end again it’s something else, an example of how the horror genre too can be an important reflection of the time in which we’re living.

Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I am going to miss Brian Michael Bendis on the Superman titles. I’m not saying Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent isn’t a little strange, and to be sure there’s a creative choice or two here I don’t agree with. But as with Superman Vol. 4: Mythological, Bendis' final volume on that title, I come away once again with the feeling of Bendis having great affection for this character, and moreover, for his extended family, something that’s been a question among some quarters during Bendis' run. Solely what this book sets its primary sights on, not one but two Superboys, ought tell you most of what you need to know about Bendis and what he sees as the heart of the Super-books.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’s called “The House of Kent” but this book might as well be “A Tale of Two Superboys.” Before Action Comics Vol. 5 gets down to the last hurrah of Metropolis' Invisible Mafia, it’s the story of Superman and guest-star Superboy Jon Kent trying to help other guest-star Superboy Conner Kent figure out why no one remembers him (short of, in a beautiful scene, Ma and Pa Kent, and also Krypto). And despite Red Cloud and the Uber Parasite and the FBI raiding the Daily Planet, a lot of what’s underlying the characters' actions is Conner trying to prove himself and the rest of the Super-family getting to know him, and Bendis makes sure to tuck him away safely before the end.

Review: The Dollhouse Family hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Despite key similarities, M. R. Carey and Peter Gross’s The Dollhouse Family for Hill House Comics is appropriately different from Hill House’s first offering, Basketful of Heads. Whereas Basketful took place in one night over seven chock-full, madcap issues, Dollhouse is a generational story, spanning both centuries and individual lifetimes. Where Basketful offers gritty realism, Dollhouse is supernatural in tone (and where Basketful is also supernatural, Dollhouse dips its toes in sci-fi). The urgency of Basketful puts it ahead if playing favorites, but Dollhouse is also good, especially in its role of companion to Basketful.

If anything, Dollhouse’s generational ghost story with a twist reminds more of classic Vertigo output than does the slasher flick Basketful. Joe Hill’s Basketful is the flashy young upstart that throws a gauntlet down for what DC Black Label horror can be; Dollhouse is a hazy (and devoutly British) blast from the past, akin to one of those Sandman spinoff miniseries Vertigo used to do with much less fanfare. That Vertigo stalwarts Mike “M. R.” Carey and Peter Gross are here has I’m sure no small part to do with it, too.