Justice League of America, Volume I: The Tornado’s Path – A Graphic Novel Review

Let’s just get this straight: I love the Justice League of America. I always have, and I always will. I loved the Detroit stories, I loved the “Bwah-ha-ha” era, I loved when Jurgens tried to get it more serious, and I loved it when Nuklon and Obsidian joined the team. When Morrison came along, I thought the comic book gods had smiled upon us, and when Waid took over from Morrison, I thought all was still right in the world. When Joe Kelly came along I was thoroughly impressed, and then, after he left, well, things got a little rough for a while. However, who comes in to save the day but the otherworldly Geoff Johns. And then, well, it got rough again.

However, when I heard Brad Meltzer had been tapped to reboot the title, I was more than ecstatic. Meltzer earned my undying loyalty with Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest, and Identity Crisis was very strong as well. I realized from those two works that Meltzer’s strengths are definitely characterization and the interpersonal relationships between characters.

So, when I gave in once again to my weak will and read the message boards as to what people thought of his work (because I’m a wait for the trade kinda guy) on JLofA, I was disappointed that they were largely saying negative things (I know, the message boards being negative, big surprise). This concerned me, because I couldn’t believe Meltzer was doing a poor job.

Fact is, he didn’t do a poor job at all.

The Tornado’s Path works in almost all aspects. Meltzer is harkening back to my favorite era of the league, before the Detroit era, and that’s when they were one big happy family hanging out and acting like the greatest super hero team in the world. But, he puts his own twist on it. Instead of the team coming together and then breaking off into splinter groups to deal with problems, like in the old days, the series begins with them teaming up into small groups and then coming together to form a larger whole.

There were some complaints that this slowed the action down, but this baby had plenty of action from the get-go. Sure, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman spend half the book simply talking with each other, but the rest of the team is out there in splinter groups getting things done. This allows Meltzer to establish the rest of the team and help the reader get a feel for them. It’s not like anyone doesn’t already know what the Big Three are about, right?

I also heard a bit of rumbling because Meltzer has all of his JLofA members calling each other by first name. This didn’t bother me at all. I mean, these people are friends, that’s what’s Meltzer is trying to establish. If you were friends with a police officer, would you always call him Officer Smith? Probably not. The code-names are there to protect their identities, but if the team already knows their identities, why would they continue to use code-names when in private?

The Tornado’s Path is basically a storyline to reestablish the Justice League of America and to bring Red Tornado back into the forefront of the DCU. I’ve always thought Reddy was cool, but after Zero Hour, things got a little weird for him for a long time. Thank God Johns finally brought back the very-human Reddy, and Meltzer took that even one step further. Are there some plot holes in The Tornado’s Path? You bet, but nothing that impedes the sheer exuberance of seeing the JLofA done right. We’ve got lots of heroes, we’ve got lots of villains, we’ve got lots of characterization, we’ve got some mystery and humor to go along with the action–this one’s got it all.

And finally, I’d like to talk about two things: One–I am one hundred percent in favor of Meltzer’s lineup. The Big Three is an obvious choice that I’m glad they made. Hal Jordan makes a lot of sense as he’s becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the DCU. Black Canary is also a logical choice because of her status in the DCU among characters, and it’s high time she became editorially more important. Hawkgirl makes sense because she fills in for Hawkman as Red Arrow fills in for Green Arrow, thus keeping the Hawk vs. Arrow classic feud in an all-new and interesting way. Red Tornado HAS to be on the JLofA and I’m glad somebody finally realized that fact. Vixen is a cool character with a lot of room for growth, so she’s a good choice for giving the writer some breathing room. Black Lightning has long been one of my favorite characters, and it’s time he FINALLY is getting some respect. I prefer his red and blue costume, but I can deal with the shaved head and bodysuit. And finally, Meltzer is the only one who’s ever made me care about Roy Harper in the least. I’m excited to see where this character, who has been around since 1941, goes in the JLofA.

Two–In my opinion, you have to read the collected editions of Meltzer’s work for it to truly shine. He is a novelist, remember, so his pacing is geared towards intro, climax, and conclusion with lots of characterization in between. I loved The Archer’s Quest, which I first read in collected edition, but Identity Crisis wasn’t as good for me, and I read that in the single monthly installments. Trust me, those who said The Tornado’s Path was too slow may have a leg to stand on if they were reading the monthly issues, but if you read the collected edition, you will be amazed at what a page-turner it really is.

The Justice League of America is in very good hands, indeed.

Y: The Last Man: Motherland – A Graphic Novel Review

In case you’re not familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, the premise is that a catastrophic plague has wiped every man on the planet but one, Yorick Brown. For an inexplicable reason, Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand, were spared. Now Yorick desperately wants to traverse a planet in chaos as women work to establish order once more so that he can reunite with his girlfriend. He travels with Agent 355, who has been charged with protecting Yorick, and the scientist Allison Mann, who tirelessly works to determine what made Yorick and Ampersand different from anything else with the Y chromosome.

Motherland is the ninth volume in this graphic novel series. When Y first started, it was unlike anything else I’d ever read in comic books. Action-packed with a real sense of plot and purpose, Vaughan broke barriers with every installment. However, on this volume, I feel things are starting to drag out a bit. Still an enjoyable read, but it’s definitely treading water compared to earlier volumes.

But, be that as it may, I have every faith in the world that Vaughan will regain steam as he comes to the conclusion of this series. It was understood from the get go that this was a finite title, and I really think it will be a joy to read from start to finish once it’s concluded.

For those of you unfamiliar with Brian K. Vaughan, he is a master storyteller in the world of comic books, but he’s also the guy they brought in to get the television show LOST back on track when it waned a bit last season. Did you notice a discernable improvement in LOST towards the end of last season? You can thank BKV for that.

Please realize that Y is not your mainstream comic book such as Superman or Batman. It is a comic book, yes, but it is more like the HBO of the comic book world. There is adult language at times and adult themes. However, if you’ve ever been interested in seeing sequential art at its best, give Y a try.

Preacher, Volume I: Gone To Texas – A Graphic Novel Review

This is the first volume in a nine volume series collecting the acclaimed Vertigo series. For those of you who don’t know, Vertigo is a division of DC Comics, those folks who bring you Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, Vertigo is certainly not for kids, typically dealing with very mature subject matter and adult language. Think of it as the HBO of the comic book world.

That said, I’ve been trying to catch up on those Vertigo titles that have won numerous awards. Preacher was a title I’d never read but kept hearing good things about, so I figured I should give it a try. It’s written by Garth Ennis and primarily drawn by Steve Dillon.

You know how you’ll be eating out with a friend and they’ll tell you their food tastes horrible, then ask you to taste it, and you actually do because you have a morbid curiosity as to how bad it actually tastes? That’s Preacher.

As far as I can gather from the first volume, Preacher focuses on a man of the cloth who is empowered with a force from Heaven. Unfortunately, this preacher was losing his faith and when he finds out that God has deserted his post, he means to confront the Big Man on the matter using the same power that escaped Heaven and made its home within the wayward preacher. Helping him with his quest are his ex-girlfriend, Tulip, and an Irish vampire named Cassidy. How does an Irish vampire fit into all this? No idea.

I’m a little mixed-up with this series, because while I found it offensive on almost every conceivable level, I couldn’t put it down. I’m a big proponent of free speech, but literally almost every other word in this volume was profanity. It got kind of old. Also, the violence was rampant, and after several pages in a row of people having body parts blown off, I got feeling a little wearied. However, like a car wreck, I couldn’t look away.

So did I like it or not? I kind of liked it, but I’m ashamed to admit that. I don’t plan on reading it anymore, though, because I want to save my money and pick up other Vertigo titles that have a little more artistic integrity. I will grant Ennis this–he created some very memorable characters.

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out, Volume 2 – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m a tremendous fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil, so when the news arrived that he was leaving the title, I found myself distraught. Before Bendis’ run, I’d never really cared much for the character. And though many criticized the level of deconstruction he brought to the line, I always found his work riveting and more than entertaining.

That being said, Bendis left Daredevil in enough of a predicament that I wanted to see how this fella–Ed Brubaker–tied up Bendis’ loose ends. Brubaker’s The Devil, Inside and Out Vol 1 impressed me, but Vol. 2 left me in awe.

Brubaker has somehow, somehow, tied up the many dangling plots left behind by Bendis (I believe they agreed upon this, by the way; Bendis wasn’t leaving a mess for someone else to clean up) in a way that was both satisfying and quite cleansing. New plot possibilities have organically arisen from the old, and while everything isn’t exactly back to normal for Matt Murdock (is it ever?), I do feel as though Brubaker has set the stage to move on with his own agenda for the character and has successfully exorcised the benign ghost of Bendis.

So, in summation, I would like to recommend the entire current run of Daredevil. Kevin Smith got us off on the right foot, Bendis brought consistent quality and depth to a character I had never before respected, and Brubaker seems to keep all of the best aspects of what Bendis did, but has now brought his own brand of action and noir, further enriching an already rich hero.

52: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll admit it, I read every spoiler of this series on a weekly basis. I know how it ends, but even that did not diminish the sheer pleasure I derived in reading 52: Volume I. Reading the collected edition of this series cannot possibly mimic the experience of reading it on a weekly basis, but let me just say that the work most definitely holds up as a collected volume. It progresses smoothly with little to no breaks in consistency, and considering that the men writing it were working as a team and cranking this monster out for an entire year, AND never missed a deadline, well, that just makes me appreciate the work even more.

Make no mistake: Volume I is mostly setting up things to come. Even so, I am fascinated with the characters they’re focusing on. They’ve chosen to spotlight characters that are not in the upper echelon of the DC pantheon because, after all, 52 is supposed to take place during a year without Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. I love them using lesser-known characters because the reader realizes anything goes, which obviously lifts the level of suspense. But even by the end of Volume I, these lower-tier characters had already won me over.

I also need to tell you that while the writing is rock solid, the art changes from issue to issue (as you can surely understand). I found the art more than adequate, but for some people it may be distracting.

I truly believe you have to put yourself in the shoes of the creators with this work and keep an open mind on some of the production issues that they had no control over. They pulled off an amazing feat, and best of all, the quality is superb!

All-Star Superman: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve never had much interest in Superman. I’ve gone on record in several instances claiming that while he has the potential to be a wonderfully well-rounded character, too many of his handlers in the past have opted to make him nothing more than a super-man battling giant monkeys and avoiding fragments of rock.

Morrison does not make this mistake. Morrison addresses all those psychological aspects that make Superman super, none of which have anything to do with the ability to leap a tall building in a single bound.

However, Morrison also brings us those undeniably fun qualities of Superman that existed in the Silver Age and mixes them with a 2007 mentality, giving us a hybrid of quirkiness and depth that only a mad scientist like Morrison could achieve. His Lex Luthor, for example, is a combination of everything in the past that has worked well for the character, but he still manages to give us something fresh.

In other words, he’s giving us the best of two worlds (pun totally intended) with the Superman mythos. Furthermore, I love this collection because each issue basically can stand alone, yet they also blend together to form a unified whole as well.

Let’s talk about the art! Quitely is simply an artist in the truest sense of the word. Every single panel is a joy to behold. I love the way he took Superman’s costume and really made it otherworldly with the slightest of adjustments. By shortening the cape and elongated the trunks just a bit, I no longer see a big man wearing his underwear on the outside. It looks like some sort of space-man outfit, which, remember, is exactly what Superman is–a space man. Oh, and by the way, I don’t mean to sound weird or whatever, but Quitely draws the cutest Lois Lane I’ve ever seen. He manages to convey her strength and self-reliance while still making her attractive. For some reason in the past, artists have had trouble blending the two.

If you’re a die-hard Superman fan, you’ll love this collection. If you’re like me and you were more engrossed with the creative team than the character, you’ll still love it. And if you don’t even like comic books, you’ll still love this one. This is truly the super work of some all stars.

The Flash: Lightning In a Bottle – A Graphic Novel Review

Yeah … so … um, I swear I’ve been meaning to write a review of this collection for about a month now, and just when I sat down yesterday to write it, well, we got some news about Bart Allen and The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive Issue #13. I promise you, the recent news did not alter my thoughts on this work whatsoever.

When this new series began, I honestly didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why they ended one of my all-time favorite runs with Geoff Johns’ Wally West as the Flash. What initially put Wally on the path to greatness, after a bit of a rocky start, was Mark Waid’s fun and fanciful writing, and Johns just kept that sprint moving.
So, even though I didn’t understand why they were relieving Wally of his duties, I also didn’t get very upset about it. After all, Wally was once Kid Flash, and he had to step into Barry Allen’s boots, and, though it took many years, he eventually became a top-tier character in terms of roundedness and dynamic. I didn’t see the point in tossing Wally aside, but I also had faith that Bart would come into his own one day. I love the character of the Flash, no matter who’s in the mask, so I was going to stick with it.

Oh, but the fanboys cried havoc! I kept hearing the news series was terrible; Bilson and Demeo, the new writers, didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Blah, blah, blah. As is my habit, I waited for the trade.

Guess what folks? It’s not bad.

Granted, it’s not up to the level of Geoff Johns’ or Mark Waid’s run, but those guys are seasoned all-stars. I thought it was a nice intro to a new series with some interesting plot points, art ranging from the very good to the serviceable, and while Bart wasn’t as fun as he use to be as Impulse, or, to a lesser degree, Kid Flash, he also seemed to bring an interesting perspective to the character that I felt would be interesting to follow.

Did I like Bart as much as Wally? No, but once upon a time I didn’t like Wally as much as Barry, and that changed in the early nineties when I was in high school. Bart had been around for a long time, I felt fairly confident he would come into his own and the writers would get into a groove with who they wanted him to be and where they wanted to take him.

Well, if you’ve heard the news, it’s all a moot point. I don’t want to give anything away, but the second volume of this series will be the last. I’m looking forward to reading it, and, with the news of Mark Waid returning to a Flash book picking up where the other series left off, I’m fairly stoked to read those, too.

But, don’t let the disgruntled readers fool you. Lightning In a Bottle is not bad and, if you’re a Flash fan, despite who’s wearing the uniform, I think you’ll enjoy it.