Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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The Wild Storm: Volume I by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt – A Book Review

The Wild Storm is a title that appears to be taking classic WildStorm characters, especially those from WildC.A.Ts, and rebooting them in a modern day, sophisticated world.

WildStorm was under the umbrella of Image Comics back in the 1990s when Jim Lee and other industry luminaries decided to start their own publishing house.  Jim Lee’s characters were cool, but rather shallow and derivatives of DC and Marvel’s icons.  Clearly, though, they had great potential as famed writers like Alan Moore and James Robinson took a crack at them.

In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, one of the absolute BEST science fiction writers alive today, takes the most charismatic elements of characters like Void, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathblow, Zealot, and Engineer and strips away all of the excess.  All of these characters now exist within one book, one story line, and are under the control of one vision, who happens to be visionary.

I’m all in on this book.  It is remarkably familiar yet utterly fresh.  I know the characters, I know the names, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Ellis is always completely unpredictable and it’s obvious he’s building a comprehensive world in this title, not a super team.

Jon Davis-Hunt creates cinematic, dynamic panels in this book.  Most of the characters are wearing regular clothes in normal environments, but he makes all of it look GREAT.  He adds all of these little touches that strike the reader subconsciously but may not be obvious at first glance.  Things like shells flying though the air, glass shattering, hair blowing in the wind, or debris falling — these minor things connote movement and lead the reader sequentially from one panel to the next.  The art is so smooth and fluid.  Perfect.

The Wild Storm is full of intrigue, action, violence, heroism, originality, and just enough nostalgia to charm.  It’s obvious there is a sprawling, epic tale unfolding, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

I haven’t been this excited about a title in quite some time.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Batman: The War Of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin – A Book Review

I’m not totally on board with Tom King’s Batman. Tom King is a good writer, don’t misunderstand, but his take on Batman just isn’t really doing much for me.

In this volume, Bruce Wayne is in bed with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. He is baring his soul regarding a horrific moment during his first year as Batman, a moment that occurred during The War of Jokes and Riddles.

First of all, that’s a really awkward name for a war. Maybe a little too literal as well. Don’t you think?

Anyway, Bruce is recounting his tale to Selina and we experience what is essentially a flashback. The Joker and the Riddler have declared war against each other, and all of the other villains in Gotham have chosen sides. There’s some perfunctory attempt at explaining why a band of murderous sociopaths would join forces, but it all fell a little flat with me. Eventually the story begins to focus on Kite Man. Yes. You read that right. That’s where it really lost its way with me.

I will admit that I appreciate King’s take on The Joker. Unfortunately, his Riddler seemed totally out of character in my mind. The whole story felt a little too contrived, a little too forced for my taste. It struck me as though they had a really cool idea to have Riddler and Joker wage war, but then couldn’t come up with anything any deeper than that concept.

Mikel Janin’s art, though, absolutely makes this volume worth reading. I believe his Joker is iconic, and his Batman is both regal and terrifying. I first discovered Janin on Justice League Dark, and his talent has only grown.

King’s moody, almost whiny Batman is not for me, but I appreciate the risks he’s taking and the new stories he’s trying to tell. His work is solid and well-executed, I just don’t care for his iteration of the character.

(His Mister Miracle, on the flip side, may be the best series that I’ve ever read.)

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert – A Book Review

Redemption.

That’s the word I would use to describe Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race.

I mean this both literally and thematically.

From a literal standpoint, Master Race undoes the travesty of Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Of course, these are both sequels to the seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Master Race is the first Batman book I’ve read in quite a while that kept me turning the pages.  When I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait to pick it back up.

Some say that The Dark Knight Returns helped to usher in the Dark Age of comics.  It played a role in taking Batman back to his dark roots, establishing a general psychosis to the character, and promoting the idea that Batman and Superman would be anything but super friends.  It’s impact can be felt even to this day.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again was just a hot mess.  I haven’t read it in a long time, but I remember feeling that it had nothing in common with its predecessor and seemed intent on being as crazy as possible even at the sacrifice of plot, character, good taste, and logic.

Master Race takes the best aspects of both books, blends them together, and churns out an incredibly satisfying read.  Carrie Kelley, the young girl who took on Robin’s mantle back in The Dark Knight Returns, is front and center in this book.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again brought Superman’s daughter Lara into the fold, as well as Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkboy and Hawkgirl, Atom–all of whom reappear in Master Race.  This time, though, they are treated with depth and care.  In fact, some would say they are all actually redeemed.

There’s that word again.

Master Race redeems every single character in its pages.  They each go through a personal journey, and they each come out better for it.  I don’t want to get into the particulars due to revealing too much plot, but this book made me look at these characters as heroes again.  Redemption strikes me as a theme of the book.

Which is probably the most ironic thing ever.

Master Race also, in my eyes, redeems Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is a gifted writer and artist–he proved that on books like The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Batman: Year One, and the first Wolverine miniseries.  Unfortunately, his work on The Dark Knight Strikes Again made me question both his talent and character.  That book seemed like a total cash grab.  It almost acted like it wanted to make a point to the reader–that the comic fan will buy anything if there’s enough hype surrounding it.  It definitely turned me off from Miller for a while.

So why did I return for Master Race?  Brian Azzarello.  I’ll read anything that man writes.  I knew that if he played a hand in Master Race, it would be worth my time to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.  I have no idea as to the politics of Azzarello teaming up with Miller, but if DC made it happen to ease fan apprehension, it worked like a charm on me.

It’s so ironic that two men who are known for grim and gritty, hard-boiled writing provided one of the most inspiring Batman stories that I’ve ever read.  As much as The Dark Knight Returns created a Dark Age, I could see Master Race igniting a Heroic Age.  It truly counteracted all of the negativity surrounding our society at the moment.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you won’t, but I definitely recommend you read Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race and see for yourself.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Doomsday Clock #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

This series by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank came out of nowhere for me.  I literally heard about it maybe a month or two before its release.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Doomsday Clock reportedly merges the world of Watchmen with the DC Universe proper.

Brief history lesson: Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, originally wanted to use DC’s newly acquired Charlton characters in his story.  Characters like Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, Captain Atom, the Question, and Peacemaker.  DC wanted to integrate those characters into their mainstream universe, though, so Moore instead used them as templates for characters like Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, the Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymandias.

As you know, DC published Watchmen, but the two worlds were apparently always separate … until now.  With the Rebirth movement that softly rebooted the DC Universe a few years ago, it was heavily hinted that Dr. Manhattan had a “hand” in its reformation.  Doomsday Clock will presumably address this possibility.

So, let’s talk about the actual first issue itself.  It reads very much like issue #13 of Watchmen.  Rorschach is the main character throughout the entire book.  But wait … didn’t Rorschach die in Watchmen?  Yes, and his death is definitively discussed.  I will not spoil it for you, but this is Rorschach, and if the man beneath his mask is whom I think it is, Rorschach makes perfect sense.

Geoff Johns is DC’s Golden Boy.  He has been for years.  He has captured the tone and style of Watchmen, and for better or for worse, is doing a nice imitation of Alan Moore.  Gary Frank, an amazing artist, has also captured the essence of Dave Gibbons’ art.  These are still Gary Frank drawings, make no mistake, but the panel usage, the angles, the clothes … it’s all very reminiscent of Dave Gibbons.

It takes a while to realize that Doomsday Clock #1 spends all of its time picking up after issue #12 of Watchmen.  It is a direct sequel, of sorts, and it’s a very satisfying one.  It doesn’t feel cannibalistic to me or like a cheap knock-off.  It felt very organic as a follow-up.  I just didn’t expect such a blatant follow-up.

In fact, it isn’t until the final few pages that we see a DC proper character at all — Superman.  But here’s the thing, there’s something involving his parents in those final pages that has me scratching my head.  I haven’t kept up with Superman very well over the years, but there’s a scene involving his parents that seems out of canon.  What could this mean?  Is this Dr. Manhattan’s influence?  Is this a different Superman?  Is reality bending and changing even as the book progresses?  Or, maybe, DC simply changed a part of Superman’s history for which I was unaware …

If you enjoyed Watchmen and still enjoy DC Comics, I totally recommend Doomsday Clock #1.  Geoff Johns is one of the best super hero writers in the business, and it’s fascinating to see him try his hand at a style very different from his own.  And Gary Frank … he’s just a joy.  His art has always been clean, cool, and compelling.

When you go to the comic book shop to get your copy, you’ll have lots of covers from which to choose.  Of course, I chose the ridiculously priced $5.99 cover.  It’s lenticular and features Rorschach’s face.  His inkblot mask changes from splotches at one angle to the Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman symbols at another angle.  That’s something I never once even considered seeing during the past thirty years.  I had to have it.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Shade, the Changing Girl: Vol. 1 by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone – A Book Review

If you’re looking for weird, Shade, the Changing Girl is for you.  As part of DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint, author Cecil Castellucci is unafraid to make this book as strange a trip as possible.  However, as odd as it is, at the core, it’s still a story of self-discovery and independent choice.

Fan of previous Shade iterations will recognize several familiar aspects.  For example, Meta is still alive and well, Rac Shade’s persona is very much a part of the book, and the madness coat remains integral.

Things are different this time around, though, in that an alien, birdlike creature named Loma steals the madness coat in an effort to enliven her own existence.  She ends up possessing a brain-damaged young woman on Earth and living this girl’s life.  Unfortunately, she quickly discovers that the original owner of the body  led a dark existence, one Loma doesn’t necessarily want to continue.

The artist, Marley Zarcone, lives up to Castellucci’s bonkers script with equally bonkers art.  Though cartoonish in style, Zarcone delivers surrealistic panels that absolutely maintain an unstable tone.  I think it’s also important to mention Zarcone’s attention to detail.  One panel features an utterly mundane moment – two kids walking along a sidewalk through a residential neighborhood.  Something caught my attention, though.  Zarcone included grass growing between the cracks of the sidewalk.  Though not substantial to the overall story, that sort of nuance really won me over.

Finally, Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors are the perfect compliment to Castellucci and Zarcone.  Though almost primary in terms of hue, Fitzpatrick makes sure to include interesting patterns in most of her panels.  I don’t know enough about the medium to get specific about the kinds of patterns, but you will rarely see a solid background color in this book.  That small touch adds depth to an already carefully constructed book.

Shade, the Changing Girl is not the stuff of super heroes.  It’s also not full of action or violence, though there is always an atmosphere of potential danger.  However, it bursts with story, mystery, and evolving characters.  If you like that sort of thing with a heavy coating of weird, this book is for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Mister Miracle #1 (2017) by Tom King and Mitch Gerads – A (Comic) Book Review

I fell in love with Mister Miracle (Scott Free), his wife Big Barda, and his partner Oberon in 1987 when they first appeared in Justice League and then also when Steve Rude drew his one-shot special.  He appealed to all of my sensibilities as a ten-year-old.  I mean, he was a super hero, so that was most important.  But he was also a super escape artist!  Awesome!  Married?  That’s cool!  From another planet?  What!?  Traded as part of a peace treaty to Apokolips and raised in torture even though he’s the son of the Highfather, which is pretty much the equivalent to a supreme god?  The stuff was amazing.  Of course, back then, I didn’t realize this was all the brainchild of Jack Kirby.  Had I known that, my astonishment would not have been so unexpected.

Tom King has been on fire lately with Batman, which has not gone unnoticed by me.  I’ve read those available collected editions, and while they are very good, I didn’t really understand why people were so ecstatic about his writing.  Furthermore, if we’re being totally honest, I’ve never head of Mitch Gerads, the artist.

However, I’ll buy anything with Scott Free in it, especially when he’s starring in his own title.  That, plus the positive word of mouth, compounded by Gerads’ delightful Twitter persona, convinced me to run to the comic book store and pick up this first issue.  (I had to wait until after an emergency root canal, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Plainly stated — this may very well be the best first issue I’ve ever read (keep in mind I’ve been reading comics for thirty-seven years).

Mitch Gerads won me over utterly and completely with the very first page.  This first page simply shows Scott Free’s face, but his expression is so real, so, well, expressive, that it haunted me.  I also noticed right away the dot matrix coloring, something totally unnecessary but absolutely charming.  When you consider that Gerads drew, inked, and colored the art in this book … that’s quite a feat, especially because he did all three exquisitely.

Almost all of the pages in this issue are nine-panel grids.  That is a rarity in today’s comic book, yet it’s so brilliantly effective.  It keeps the eyes moving, it keeps the pace going, it conveys both more story and action, and it’s just more fun.  I love that the creative team took a chance on doing something considered passe and making it fresh.

By the way, that expression on the first page?  That’s nothing compared to what Gerads does later in the book.  This is the most real Scott Free has ever felt.  At times I could swear I saw a soul behind his eyes.

Let’s talk about Tom King.  By the second page, King displays his fearlessness by depicting Scott Free in need of a greater miracle than ever before.  King presents a very serious conflict from the onset, one that he treats both respectfully and effectively.  However, as you might expect, things are not necessarily what they seem.  King offers just enough clues to lay the foundation of quite a mystery, one that makes both Scott Free and the reader question everything unfolding throughout the book.

I love the constraint King displays in this first issue.  By utilizing the nine-panel grid, he is able to convey a lot of story without hardly any words at all.  As a result, he can keep the dialogue to a minimum.  These characters actually talk like real people in short bursts.  King does not fall into the trap of making his characters double as narrators explaining the events surrounding them.  They subscribe to the philosophy that, if given enough space to work, Gerads can draw everything we need to know.

I rarely buy single issues because, frankly, they don’t feel worth the cover price.  Often times they strike me as far too brief, disjointed, and obviously part of a much larger whole.   Mister Miracle #1 is obviously part of a larger story, yet due to the sheer amount of artwork, events, and story within, it proved totally satisfying.  Like I said, I consider it the best first issue I’ve read in a quite a while, maybe ever!  Well done to all involved!

On a final note, and this is perhaps the greatest compliment I can offer, I will definitely be in my local comic shop for issue #2.  If such quality continues, I plan to buy all twelve issues of this series.  As someone who has primarily bought only collected editions during the past fifteen years, I can bestow no greater honor.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)