Reviews and Twitter

I think I’m going to start using Twitter to do my weekly comic reviews. Generally, anything I’m reacting to as I read books is quickly forgotten afterwards. It may be a little stream-of-conscious and unedited, but I think it will prove more fruitful. Don’t despair! Reviews are not going away, they’ll just be reserved for special occasions and old favorites I think deserve a little more appreciation. Remember, you can follow my tweets on @ComicPlanetInd! I’ll start each set of tweets with a hashtag #ReadingComics and each tweet related will have a hashtag for the book and I’ll try to include the issue number whenever I can (for instance, “#GreenLantern 60”).

My Picks, Week of 12/15

Long weekend, didn’t have time to post (holidays and all). Avengers was delayed this week, but Emerald Knights is a carry-over, so there’s that. With no Avengers, this looks like an all-DC week!

Green Lantern #60
I’ll admit, this book hasn’t really been setting things on fire the last couple of issues, but Johns knows how to hook people with a mystery. I’ll keep reading to find out what the deal with the Indigo Tribe is, as well as who the mysterious being collecting them is (my guess is Appa Ali Apsa, The Mad Guardian, knowing Johns’ propensity for re-using old characters).
Batman and Robin #18
Paul Cornell wowed me with his first issue in this arc, to the point where I found myself saying “wait, this is a fill-in story??” I wasn’t planning on picking up this book regularly once Morrison left, but they’ve got me hooked for this arc, at least.
Birds of Prey #7
Birds of Prey and I have a complicated relationship. I always find it to be well-written, but I rarely find it to be particularly interesting. It tends to focus on the friendship between all the various Birds, which is great but the action/adventure has a tendency to suffer because of that sometimes. I love Gail Simone’s work, I think Secret Six is absolutely fantastic, I just don’t think this is my usual cup of tea.
However, this new storyline starting has been getting a lot of good buzz, and I’ve got about 12 friends on Twitter who may murder me if I say anything against this book, so I’m keeping an open mind and giving it another try. Plus, a bad-ass Batman cover.
Supergirl #59
Boy, I’ll miss Sterling Gates on this book. Before he came along, the new Kara Zor-El was a mess of psychoses, indecision and a hefty dark side. Sterling took over and made me excited for Supergirl for the first since Linda Danvers was erased from continuity (I’m still pissed about that one). This is Sterling’s last issue, and I’ll be sad to see him go.
Time Masters: Vanishing Point #5
I know, I know, this barely has anything to do with Return of Bruce Wayne as advertised, but if you look at it, it’s basically the continuation of the previous creative team’s Booster Gold run. Maybe it’s nostalgia that I can’t give up on Dan Jurgens, but I’m still checking this one out. I like his take on Booster (not surprising, given that he created him), and the time travel story with Rip Hunter is pretty nifty, in this writer’s humble opinion.

REVIEW: Superboy #2: Smallville Attacks! Part Two

Superboy #2 by Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo

“Two words… PARASITE FROGS!”

That may need some explanation.

This month’s Superboy picks up where the last one left off: Poison Ivy is in Smallville and she needs Superboy’s help. Superboy initially distrusts her, but she claims she’s not the one causing all of the vegetation to go nuts. There’s some alien power affecting the whole Green and all the plant elementals are feeling it. They track it down to some kind of alien device. Ivy is able to… “disable” it and immediately turns on Superboy, trying to use her pheromones to force him to steal the device for her own use. It’s then that Simon is able to use some of Parasite’s cells to genetically modify his frogs and use them to take Ivy down. It’s all wrapped up nicely when Superboy and Simon find an ancient artifact with some very familiar markings (to the reader, that is).

Jeff Lemire proves that he has a very good handle on what DC wants from the Superboy premise: a simple story of Superboy in Smallville with a villain-of-the-week and his pals helping him figure out the problem. In other words, a cross-breed of the original Superboy stories with the early Smallville TV series. As unoriginal as the premise is, it’s executed well. Lemire has a good hold on Superboy’s character (even if Pier Gallo went a bit overboard with his hair). Simon Valentine is more than just a young Lex Luthor (so far), he is his own character and an interesting one at that.

All that said, the issue really feels like half a wrap-up of the previous issue and half the opening part of the next issue. Stuff happens, but it’s all just hints at future storylines. That’s not unprecedented for the second issue of a series. Things are just getting started and a lot of pipe has to be laid to pay off in the future. All in all, you can probably pass up this issue safely, but you won’t feel gypped if you do buy it.

REVIEW: Action Comics Annual #13: Father Box; A Father’s Box

Lex. Darkseid. Paul Cornell. 'NUFF SAID

Well, he’s done it again. Paul Cornell has taken his fantastic take on Lex Luthor in the pages of the monthly Action Comics series and condensed it into 2 self-contained stories, making this probably the best annual I’ve ever read. This slimly overtakes my previous favorite annual, which was, oddly enough, Action Comics Annual #2. What makes this annual better than that one is that this is entirely standalone, and probably the best DC comic you’ll read all year.

Both stories are flashbacks to Lex’s past. The first, Father Box, is the stronger of the two. A young Lex comes to Metropolis for the first time. He has no job and only enough money to pay for the first night in his hotel. When the desk clerk informs him of this, he replies “Then I’d like my key, please. I have to get to work to find some way to pay for the second night.” Hitting a bar, Lex runs into a man who he quickly deduces is Perry White of the Daily Planet undercover. Turns out, the bar is a front for Intergang. Lex worms his way in to Bruno Mannheim’s confidence, just enough to be brought to the attention of his boss: Darkseid.

Lex learns from Darkseid. Note the layouts and gorgeous colors!

Marco Rudy and colorist Val Staples paint a moody picture of Lex’s adventure, from the griminess of the bar to Mannheim’s organization to Apokolips itself. The whole thing is done in a pop-art style and Rudy plays with the layouts in a near-hypnotic pattern. I won’t spoil the end of Lex’s story on Apokolips. Needless to say, his work for Darkseid builds to a very Luthorian-climax and Lex learns a valuable lesson. I also liked how Cornell brought back (in a fashion) the post-crisis relationship between Perry White and Lex Luthor. Though Lex is now much younger than Perry, it brings back the possibilities of Alice White sleeping with Lex while Perry is reporting on a war. I don’t think it will go so far as to have Jerry White actually be Luthor’s son since they seem to want to make Superboy Lex’s only offspring (or at least, son… not sure if Lena Luthor existed in this reality), but it’s a nice touch.

The second story, “A Father’s Box” doesn’t meet the high standard of art the first one set. Lex, slightly older than he was in the last story, is apprenticing under Ra’s al Ghul. He learns of Ra’s take on the world and how to save it, he must kill most of it. Luthor decides that a better solution is to lead the world instead, and he and Ra’s have a falling out over this. Luthor fails a test of Ra’s and Ra’s actually goes so far as to murder Lex and toss him in a Lazarus Pit.

The story kind of feels forced to me. Not everything in the DC Universe has to have a “secret history” with everything else. Luthor and Darkseid make a certain amount of sense since Intergang was a big force in Metropolis as Lex was gaining power, so it follows that their paths would have crossed. But Luthor and Ra’s al Ghul is unnecessary. And the Lazarus Pit has become an overused plot device ever since Black Canary was throw into one and regained her sonic scream. The logic starts unraveling when these pits, previously only used by Ra’s to keep himself immortal, are used by everyone and everything. Also, since then Lex would have been killed and brought back, why wasn’t he one of the Black Lanterns Nekron controlled during Blackest Night? That, my friends, is the sound of losely developed plots smashing into each other.

Lex in the pit

However, the story is beautifully drawn by Ed Benes and told entirely in narration, much like an old story book (fitting Ra’s motif nicely). It is the weaker of the stories, but still a nice stand-alone tale and look into Lex’s past (of which we haven’t seen much past Smallville in this post-Infinite Crisis reality). The annual as a whole is very much worth picking up, even if you don’t regularly read Action Comics. And maybe that should be “especially if you don’t regularly read Action Comics.” If you don’t care to pick up a comic in the middle of a storyline, this annual is the perfect way to get a taste of the magic Paul Cornell is working with Lex.

The Greatest Comic Series of All Time?

Four Legionnaires face the immensely powerful Time Trapper at the End of Time

I’m going to go ahead and make a declaration: the Legion of Super-Heroes (in all it’s various incarnations, with all it’s various spin-offs) is the greatest comic of all time. Some who read this may know that I’m in the middle of reading all the Legion books, from their first appearance in Adventure Comics 247 in the late 50s on. It’s been on and off, and slow at times, but I’m now approaching the end of Paul Levitz’s second run, the end of the 1984 Baxter series. I was just floored by Keith Giffen’s return as co-plotter and penciller in issue 50, the gigantic battle against the Time Trapper. WHAT AN EPIC BOOK! I can’t believe this isn’t on lists for epic battles/storylines.

The plot is great: after Superboy’s death at the machinations of the Time Trapper (a long story for another time), four Legionnaires secretly swear an oath that they will find a way to get to the end of time and kill the Time Trapper in revenge, despite the moral and legal implications. The conspiracy slowly unfolds over several issues until, finally, it’s revealed. The Legion as a whole agree to go and take on the Trapper, a being of immense power, in his domain. It appears to be suicide. At the last minute, Brainiac 5 takes the rest of his conspirators into the future, leaving the Legion behind.

The battle seems hopeless, the Legion is bounced around by the Trapper, there are casualties and revelations, and when all looks lost, Brainiac 5 reveals his secret weapon: he’s taken the brain-dead body of Jaxon Rugarth (a man who was once sent through the timestream on an infinite loop, becoming the powerful and tortured Infinite Man) and recreated the experiment, forcing Rugarth to again become the only being capable of taking out the Trapper. The Trapper, the embodiment of Entropy and the destruction of all things at the end of time, finds himself dragged from the end of time into the beginning of time by the Infinite Man, seemingly killing them both.

That alone is worthy of applause. I was stunned by the scope of the story and the scale of Giffen’s art. I kept reading to the next issue, 51, expecting a nice epilogue. Issue 51 revolves around the Legion’s trial of Brainiac 5, not for conspiracy or even for the murder of the Time Trapper, but for the apparent murder of Rugarth. Polar Boy prosecutes, Saturn Girl defends and Cosmic Boy presides as judge (if you’ve followed the series to this point, these are perfect roles representing their personalities in the Legion). It was argument back and forth, written well enough, but nothing spectacular… until Brainiac 5 decides to forego a defense and make a speech:

Brainiac 5's statement... powerful dialogue

If you’re not a Legion fan, I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again how great it is from Legion fans, but I’m also sure you’ve heard all about the roadblocks for reading it (complicated continuity, cheesy code names creating a perception it’s corny and hacky, gigantic cast of characters, too much soap opera, etc.). I hope this post serves as an example (relatively small in comparison to all the others I could give about how awesome the Legion is) as to how good the Legion can be. One thing I’ve also always found is that the people who do take the time to get into it always end up absolutely loving it. And if you used to read it and gave up on it, well, the old adage applies: once a Legionnaire, always a Legionnaire! There’s no better time than now (with Paul Levitz back on the book and the original Legion back in continuity) to pick up the new issues, or at least do yourself the service of reading one of the trades.

You’ll hear more from me from time to time on the Legion, that’s for sure.

REVIEW: Action Comics #895 – The Black Ring, Part 6/Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week, Day Three

Action Comics #895, Cover Art by Pete Woods

If you’re not reading this book, you are missing out. Paul Cornell has taken one of the most complex characters in comics (and also one of the easiest to screw up) and is handling him masterfully. In case you’re unaware, while JMS is putting people to sleep with Superman’s walkabout, Cornell has made Action Comics Lex Luthor’s domain. Following his taste of the Orange Lantern’s power in Blackest Night, Lex has become obsessed with regaining actual power to go along with his political, social and financial power.

Lex’s quest for power has taken the form of Black Lantern energy left over after Nekron’s attack. The energy has collected into a series of spheres around the Earth. The past issues have taken Lex from Metropolis to Antarctica, Uganda, Australia, deep within his own psyche and even (temporarily) into the afterlife. He’s fought Mr. Mind, Deathstroke and Gorilla Grodd and even met Death herself (the Lois Lane robot Luthor travels with remarks “–That’s gotta be a hallucination. Your ‘Death’ didn’t even have skis!”). Note this makes Luthor only the third mainstream DC character to meet Death, after Element Girl and Captain Atom.

Death, fresh from her tanning bed, helps Captain Atom through purgatory

Luthor’s encounter with Death leads him convinced that, because major powers are watching him, major power will soon be his. His plan is very quantum mechanics: by scanning the black energy spheres, he’s changing their nature. As soon as he scans all of them, he’ll unleash their power. While Lex plans to scan two spheres relatively close to each other, we see in flashbacks that Vandal Savage has had a premonition about Luthor’s quest and has been planning to get in on the action for hundreds of years. We even get a nice use of previous comics where Luthor and Savage happened to be near each other as Savage tries to subtly convince Luthor they should team up: Flash 124 (1997), Salvation Run and a scene where Vandal teaches his daughter Scandal about the premonition just before he goes on to try and kill Aquaman (obviously this is “behind the scenes” as Scandal is a newer character, but if anyone knows the issue with Savage and Aquaman, drop a comment!).

I won’t give away the ending, but, needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue. Cornell has clearly made this the best, currently published DC Universe book, trumping (in my mind, at least) Morrison’s Batman books, Simone’s Secret Six and even Sterling Gates’ Supergirl. Pete Woods continues to operate at the top of the art game, with a clean, almost-cartoon approach that still looks very realistic.

But wait, there’s more! The backup reveals DC’s best kept secret: Jimmy Olsen comics are fun!

The Jimmy Olsen backup has been a throwback to classic Jimmy “Mr. Action” stories but set in the modern continuity and with Chloe Sullivan (of Smallville fame) in the Lucy role. The plot is simple yet fertile: Jimmy’s girlfriend Chloe is stolen by a young Lexcorp executive, Sebastien Mallory, and while Jimmy is trying to think of a way to get her back, aliens invade. Pretty hacky, huh? Except the aliens aren’t invading, they’re here to party (apparently the oxygen acts as alcohol for the aliens). So Jimmy is trying to get the scoop while he’s reigning in an alien starlet (think Paris Hilton with Na’vi ears) and her five-hundred pound brother.

This time around, Jimmy’s plan is to show the aliens that Metropolis is a really dull, quiet, Smallville-esque place, and they should settle somewhere else. Some good scenes with Supergirl, Perry White and Martha Kent occur. It’s quite funny and the art from RB Silva and Dym fits the mood perfectly. The slightly alien lettering Rob Leigh uses for their dialogue adds a nice touch to lines like “Later, dorkballs!”

Another one of the modern Kara Zor-El's dark secrets is revealed...

One of the nicest things about the Jimmy backups is that they’re fairly episodic. Some backups are so serialized that by the time the next month’s rolls around, you’ve forgotten what happened the previous month. The Atom backup in Adventure comes to mind (as much as I like Jeff Lemire’s writing). Or, even worse, they take a page (1/10th of that month’s story) to recap, so even less happens issue to issue. Nick Spencer does a great job of making self-contained stories that also work well as an over-arching plot. I’ll be sad to see to see this “Second Feature” end.

The only downside to both these stories is the lack of Superman. Lex and Jimmy have proven to be more than interesting enough on their own to carry these books, but you definitely do notice a Superman-shaped hole in Metropolis. For years, I’ve been lamenting the lack of use of the Metropolis cast as there’s been a Superman/Lois focus since about 2003. Now we’re getting a lot more of the supporting cast (though still no Pete Ross, Professor Hamilton or Bibbo, I sadly note) but it’s only because Superman’s tied up boring us to death by walking around the country. I certainly hope that when Grounded ends, we don’t see the needle flip all the way back to the Superman side.

This book: straight 10/10 for me.

REVIEW: Batwoman #0 – “Beyond A Shadow”

Batwoman 0, cover by Amy Reeder

So obviously, this site is still pretty new and we’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. As far as comic reviews, we’ll be posting reviews of our pull list and then any other comics that catch our eyes. These will be both new and old comics, but we’ll do our best to put reviews of new books up on Wednesdays in case anyone wants to use the review to help them decide what to pick up or not. We’ll also be using a 1-10 scale for review. Some of that may change, and we welcome constructive feedback, so comment away!

Our inaugural review is DC’s Batwoman #0, from the creative team of J.H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, Amy Reeder and Richard Friend. As you may recall, DC announced a few months ago that they were proceeding with a Batwoman on-going but without the guiding hand of Kate Kane’s original writer, Greg Rucka. The announced replacement writer? None other than the artist who created the beautiful look of Batwoman’s run in Detective Comics, J.H. Williams. If you missed that run on Detective, go get it! It’s collected in trades and, while a little overly goth-looking, is completely gorgeous and a great story.

But enough about how great an artist Williams is, how does he stand up as a writer? Well, it’s worth pointing out that Williams (who is still the artist for “half” of the book… more on that in a minute) is co-writer with Haden Blackman, a noted Star Wars writer for Dark Horse. The credits don’t break down Plotter vs. Scripter, so it seems to be a joint effort from both of them.

The difference in style between Williams' Batwoman panels and Reeder's Kate panels

The book’s layout is remarkable, with most pages being half-Batwoman, half-Kate in her personal life. Williams continues his trend of artistically dividing the panels, such as jagged diagonal lines dividing the top half from the bottom. It’s these divisions that also alternate between Kate and Batwoman, providing contrast both in the art style and the story content (action vs. character).

The story itself is much what you’d expect from a zero issue. A recently returned Bruce Wayne is investigating Batwoman, trying to verify that Batwoman is in fact Kate Kane. As Batwoman battles the Religion of Crime at night, Bruce goes undercover to follow Kate about her civillian life. Be warned, the story itself is only 16 pages, with preview artwork of the upcoming issues and a Detective preview taking up the remaining pages. Still, the cover price is down to $2.99, so it’s on par with most DC/Marvel these days.

Williams and Blackman write a convincing story with good dialogue (the majority of it is Batman voice-over as he investigates). Batman’s on-character and Batwoman’s history is retold in a smooth way that never feels like exposition. Williams’ artwork is as good as ever, highly stylized and interestingly laid out. Reeder and Friend’s artwork is also stylized though in a more traditional comic book style, but is similar enough to Williams’ style to provide contrast without looking like completely different characters (for instance, she draws a pale, fairly goth-looking Kate but still makes her work in a world of more traditional-looking characters).

On the topic of Kate in general (if you’ll indulge me in some grousing), I’m still a little disappointed that they decided to make Kate such a “gothic doll” back in Detective. When she first appeared in 52, she was a long-haired, tan, super-model-type. Yes, this depiction of Kate makes more sense for her character and Rucka did write in a scene explaining why she looks so different now, but it still kind of irks me that it’s such a jarring change. I’ll balance that fairly minor gripe with this praise: I can’t think of a more identifiable and realistic lesbian character in comics. I think the thing that makes her work so well is that her being a lesbian is almost never brought up and not the sole focus of her stories, unlike so many LGBT characters. Remember when Judd Winnick brought in that gay assistant for Kyle when he was writing Green Lantern? The kid had no reason to be there except for Winnick to get up on his high horse and beat us over the head with his heavy-handed pro-gay message. I have no problem with comics teaching socially-conscious messages, but they should do it with more skill than a below-average after-school special. And I think the way they handle Kate is superb: she’s gay, but that’s the least of her notable traits.

As far as this issue goes, I give this an 8/10: a great catch-up with gorgeous art, but definitely a preview of things to come rather than a good story on it’s own. With DC’s lax editors and catering to artist’s demands, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams’ combining art and writing chores delay this series from time to time. Hopefully Blackman handling half the writing will allow them to make deadlines. Even if not, the occasional delay is probably okay with me if the quality of the art remains up to the high standards Williams has already set.

For further reading:

  • Batwoman: Elegy: The collected edition of the run in Detective Comics I mentioned above. The first time we really get into the meat of Batwoman’s character.
  • DC 52 vols 1-4: The first appearance of Kate as Batwoman and the introduction of the Religion of Crime. There’s a lot going on in this 52-issue mini-series, and while all of it is good, Batwoman’s story comes in and out.
  • Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood 1-5: Doesn’t appear to be collected in trade, but this 52 Aftermath mini-series was written by Rucka and gives further detail on the Religion of Crime and involves The Question (Renee Montoya) and Batwoman
  • Final Crisis: Revelations: While Darkseid conquers Earth with the Anti-Life Equation, the Religion of Crime finds an exemplar in the form of Vandal Savage. A great story featuring The Question, The Spectre and Batwoman

    Also of note is the Chase series from the 90s. Most people will point you to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers as a great example of Williams’ artwork, but I think his work on Chase deserves a second look. I believe there’s a trade coming out of the first few issues, or maybe a DC Comics Presents reprint. Check it out if you can’t track down the original issues.

  • %d bloggers like this: