Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Wonder Woman is nothing if not a contradiction.  She is warrior of peace, after all.  She absolutely believes in truth and justice, yet she will fight to the death in pursuit of those things.  This complexity of character, an attribute that has always accompanied Wonder Woman, came especially to the forefront during Brian Azzarello’s masterful time on the title.  Within the last six years, it came to light that she was not only the child of the Amazon queen but also of Zeus himself!  To further add depth to the icon, she eventually became the God of War!

Greg Rucka embraces all of these contradictions and uses them to create a gripping first installment to what appears to be a captivating story line.  In Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman remembers two distinct pasts, two separate lives, and she wants nothing more than the truth concerning these contradictory recollections.  She uses a unique approach to achieve this desired truth which sets her on a new path, and this new journey will seemingly put her in direct conflict with the entity Wally West is warning of in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I love that already Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman know something is amiss, that they are being manipulated and watched, and it’s only a matter of time before they do something about it …

Two artists are featured within this issue.  Matthew Clark handled the Wonder Woman for whom we are familiar, and then, half way through the book, Liam Sharp takes over when Wonder Woman ditches her New 52 costume and adopts more traditional armor befitting an Amazon warrior.  Consequently, this new armor is very similar to what she wore in her big screen debut last March.

Rucka, like Azzarello, delivers a complicated, multifaceted Wonder Woman with a clear mission in mind.  He is treating her with dignity, respect, and as the capable hero she is.  Like The Flash: Rebirth #1, this issue seems integral to the overall story unfolding within the DC Universe.

I left Wonder Woman after Azzarello’s departure because I didn’t care for the way the new creators handled her, but Rucka has definitely brought me back.  I can’t wait to join Wonder Woman as she discovers her truth.

 

 

 

 

 

Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

This Suicide Squad Has Life!

I’m the first to admit that I never really cared for the Suicide Squad.  I’ve got the first issue seen below from it’s original publication in 1987, and I can tell you, as a ten-year-old at the time, it wasn’t really my thing.

I’ve been amused by their various incarnations throughout the decades, especially their appearance on the television show Arrow, but when I heard DC and Warner Brothers were committing to a feature film starring the squad, my jaw hit the ground.  With so many wonderful properties under the DC tent, they were not on my radar as a possibility.  Needless to say, my expectations were not high.

But then I started hearing rumors of actors interested in the film.  Will Smith, Tom Hardy, and Jared Leto are the real deals.  These are not actors who have to work in an ensemble film.  These are actors who can carry films just fine on their own.  And when the casting became official (read about it here), my jaw hit the ground again.  There must be something to this film.  If these guys want to be a part of it, the pitch must be excellent.

I’ll watch a Batman movie no matter what.  I’ll watch a Superman movie regardless.  You can always count on me for Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and the Justice League.  But the Suicide Squad?  Until a few days ago, I would have said no thanks.  But, with these actors playing Deadshot, Rick Flag, and Joker?

I’m in.

Forever Evil by Geoff Johns and David Finch – A Book Review

This book is the culmination of years’ worth of storytelling.  Truly, it is the result of multiple plots nurtured since The New 52’s dawn.  Did it satisfy?  Yes.

Without spoiling too much, the events of Trinity War led to Forever Evil, which means that the Justice Leagues are incapacitated.  Save Batman and Catwoman, they are completely out of the picture.  So when the Crime Syndicate invades the planet and promptly gains control, there is no one left to challenge them.  Or is there?  Lex Luthor releases his own personal Superman, recruits Captain Cold, Deathstroke, Black Adam, Sinestro, and Black Manta, and even convinces Batman to join his efforts, and this unlikely band takes on the Crime Syndicate and their Secret Society of Super Villains.

I enjoyed this book.  I like Johns take on Lex Luthor, and I believe Luthor’s motivation to appear the hero.  Johns brought about a renaissance with the Rogues back in the early 2000’s, and his new take on Captain Cold is equally engrossing.  Always entertaining, Johns introduced some old favorites to The New 52, and even set about a new direction for several popular characters.

I will say this, though.  While I always have a great time with Johns, the book felt a little too much like Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers.  Super hero comics are largely derivative, and everything old tends to be new again, but I found it hard to consider anything I read as breaking serous new ground.  Of course, I guess one could argue that Luthor was president before Osborn’s ascension to power.  At any rate, I’m a DC guy, have been since 1980, and it was a blast seeing new takes on old favorites—especially the Crime Syndicate with the additions of Atomica and Deathstorm.

Let’s move on to the art.  David Finch is an amazing artist, no doubt.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, his work never seems serviced by color.  In other words, his pencils are truly astounding, but, after they are colored, his art always looks a little busy to me.  However, comic books are a sequential medium, and Finch does well moving the action and story from one panel to the next.  I would love to see this book in black and white sometime.

Overall, at 240 pages, this book is well worth the money.  It resolves several plots and also sets up several more for the future.  It gives most of DC’s preeminent villains a moment to shine, and positions Lex Luthor to be more than just Superman’s antagonist.  If handled correctly, like with Norman Osborn, this multifaceted bad guy could become one of DC’s most fascinating characters.

Batwoman: To Drown the World by J.H. Williams III – A Book Review

After giving Batwoman: Hydrology a rave review, I’m saddened to report that To Drown the World is the exact opposite of its predecessor.  Hydrology had astonishing art, extraordinary characterization, and an interesting plot.  To Drown the World has none of that, which is odd, considering it’s a continuation of Hydrology.  I think a major component contributing to my dissatisfaction is that Williams III is only on writing duties with this volume.  His artwork has always been amongst the defining attributes making Batwoman distinct.  Without it, any weaknesses in writing are enhanced.

To Drown the World has many failings in the writing, by the way.  Kate Kane’s lesbianism has always been handled maturely in the past, making her a unique and dynamic character in a sea of clichéd super heroes.  Not so in this volume.  It’s a grave undertaking to present sexuality of any sort in a comic book, and if one does not tackle it with focus, it can go off the tracks.  I felt that was the case in this volume.

Furthermore, the plot involving the Crime Bible has been going on for years and years and years.  Frankly, I’m tired of it.  It never seems to go anywhere, and if the villains are not well-rounded enough in a relatively grounded book such as Batwoman, they can drag the title down into farce.  Again, though the polar opposite of Hydrology, I felt this was the case.

Hydrology made me believe I’d be a Batwoman reader for the long haul.  To Drown the World has given me second thoughts on that matter.

Kate Kane is more than just a comic book character.  I’m sure she represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, and while that’s a tremendous responsibility for a writer, it’s there nonetheless.  With Batwoman, nothing short of an A+ effort will do.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!

What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity.  Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch.  (Or is he?  More on that later.)

The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty.  Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300.  The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.

However, Miller is also proving a point.  We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity.  However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick.  That is, until now.  Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster.  Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.

And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee.  Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.  His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away.  His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire.  He is absolutely astonishing.

So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.

Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns?  As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work. 

However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence.  For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built?  Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6.  The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman.  I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again

But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.  

And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals.  We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.”  Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said.  ‘We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'”

In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.

Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.

Justice Society of America, Vol. 1: The Next Age – A Graphic Novel Review

Geoff Johns gets it. He just does.

There’s really nothing else to say, but since this would be a weak review without more exposition, I’ll keep going.

In my mind, there’s no truer paradigm of the mainstream superhero than Johns’. If you want proof, read his entire run of The Flash; or, read his work on JSA; OR, simply read his JSA reboot, Justice Society of America: The Next Age.

The Next Age picks up right where JSA left off. Most of the fan favorites are still around, as well as some inspired choices for new teammates. Furthermore, Johns has found a new mission statement for the Justice Society of America, one that is trying to teach the new generation of heroes how to be just that.

Johns understands the superhero team dynamic. He understands the archetypes necessary for such a team to be charismatic. Johns realizes how to make us care about his characters, how to present edgy–but not gratuitous–stories, and, best of all, Johns comprehends how to manipulate pace, deliver great dialogue, and present captivating foreshadowing.

In The Next Age, the Justice Society of America round up some young heroes who may need some positive role models and training, deal with a mysterious entity killing off the bloodlines of other heroes, and are introduced to an element that forces Wildcat to get out of the ring and into the human race. Since monthly comic books are by nature serialized, it also sets up oodles of possibilities for the months to come.

Consequently, let’s not forget about artist Dale Eaglesham. I love comic books equally not just for their stories, but also for their art. It’s a visual medium, and Eaglesham renders heroic looking, but not hyperbolic, figures. He chooses gripping angles within his panels, and, like Johns, he seems to have an innate sense of what makes a superhero comic both tense and fun. The hardcover edition of The Next Age even offers some breathtaking pencil sketches from Eaglesham during the design process.

We can debate all day as to whether or not Johns is the best writer in the comic book industry, but as far as pure super heroics and team dynamic go, there is no one better, and Justice Society of America: The Next Age is proof positive of that.

Justice, Vol. 3 – A Graphic Novel Review

Let me first accentuate the positive by saying that all three volumes of Justice have absolutely brilliant art and are plain and simply fun to read. Seeing all of our favorite heroes and villains together in mostly their “Silver Age” glory with a modern twist is a fun trip for an old guy like me.

That being said, all three volumes of Justice have some glaring weaknesses as well. First of all, the overall plot is poorly conveyed and, at times, muddled beyond clear comprehension. I’m not going to say the plot was poorly conceived because I don’t know the exact intended storyline, so I say “conveyed” because I’m basing it upon what I read. Secondly, the narration sometimes tends to shift from character to character without an apparent signal. This shift fails in come cases because the “voice” of the narrator alone is not strong enough to help the reader figure out which character’s perspective we’re getting. I noticed this to be particularly the case in Volume III when the colors of the narration boxes were not enough to convey the viewpoint.

Finally, Volume III in particular got a bit heavy-handed with the heroes donning armor in order to face their foes. This felt a bit like a promotional toy move than anything, and furthermore it was difficult to figure out who was who beneath the armor in some cases.

All in all, I think Volume II was the strongest in terms of story, narration, and dialogue, but all three volumes had astronomical art with very cool interpretations of character’s designs. If you’re a fan of Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Braithwaite, the Silver Age, or the old Super Friends cartoon, you’ll probably enjoy this work. Just be ready for a convoluted storyline and (at times) confusing narration.

Ex Machina, Vol. 6: Power Down – A Graphic Novel Review

Ex Machina is one of those titles that should never work in the comic book medium. Former and short-lived superhero abandons his super-persona to become mayor of New York. And that happens before the start of the series. Let’s be honest, if anyone but writer Vaughan and Harris were involved, this series simply wouldn’t have worked.

Ex Machina: Power Down is a return to greatness for the creative duo. The storyline deals with Mayor Hundred struggling against a city-wide power outage just as a mysterious visitor takes his mother hostage in order to deliver Hundred an important message. That message has fascinated me and worked expertly as a bit of foreshadowing. In addition, as always, we are given flashbacks to Hundred’s involvement with 9/11 as well as some back-story during his training days.

The Ex Machina series started with a bang, utterly captivating me with every panel. However, the last storyline in particular focused a little too much on Hundred’s mayoral duties and not quite enough on the more fantastic elements of the series. Power Down is back to what makes Ex Machina work best–an equal blend of the realistic world of politics and the surreal world of super heroics.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the art! Harris’ artwork is extraordinary and this series simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is without him. He gets better with every issue he draws, and he was excellent to begin with! Moreover, Mettler, the often-ignored colorist, is truly responsible for giving this book in particular much of its flavor. The colors demand your attention in such an unassuming yet powerful manner; it’s astounding.

Finally, Power Down also offers a “special features” section in the back of the book with some background information given by both Vaughan and Harris. Very fun stuff if you’re into the production aspect of the book.

Ex Machina is a must-read series for all lovers of literature.