The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 is one of my favorite comics so far in the Rebirth initiative because it’s very well written and very well drawn.

I’ll admit, though almost 40 years old, I have very limited knowledge when it comes to John Constantine.  I think my first encounter with him was the 2005 movie.  I then got to know him a little in Justice League Dark.  And though it wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed his NBC show.  I’ve always meant to go back and read the classic stories, particularly the ones by Ennis and Azzarello.  Ah, so much to read, so little time …

This issue worked really well because it cut to the core of Constantine’s character, displayed unusual, interesting art, and also proved to be very well constructed.

Constantine is not really a decent man.  He is a master of the dark arts, he’s not particularly nice, he’s rather selfish, he has lots of bad habits pertaining to all kinds of things, and he couldn’t care less about much of anything.  I won’t spoil it, but this issue brings all of that to the forefront in an organic way that progresses the story without bopping you atop the head.

Also, Moritat’s art is so beautifully weird.  I caught myself studying every panel in this comic book for all the little details peppered throughout, and those pages with throngs of people in the background mesmerized me.  I can’t remember the last time I saw an artist depict so many diverse people in a single panel.  The art is a little cartoonish, a little creepy, yet magnificently rendered with cool angles, layouts, and, best of all, facial expressions.  Maritat is the master of facial expressions.

I think what I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, is the way Oliver constructed it.  It’s not a linear story, but, by story’s end, it all makes sense.  It hints at things past and things to come, yet it concludes satisfactorily.  It is packed with different scenes, characters, and conflicts, but it all feels cohesive and unfolds smoothly.  I groaned a little when I flipped through it and saw a few colorful cameos, but Oliver managed to make their appearances interesting and used them to further his characterization of Constantine and even lay down some potential plot threads.

I bought The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did.

 

New Super-Man #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I won’t even pretend to be objective during this review.  I am a Gene Luen Yang fan.  I first discovered him when I started teaching American Born Chinese, and he just keeps winning me over.  After all, the guy is the official National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature!

So, it’s probably obvious I’m going to sing New Super-Man praises.

Yang is no stranger to Superman, having written the character before, but New Super-Man is a world away from everyone’s beloved Clark Kent.  New Super-Man is Kong Kenan, a young man in China who is not particularly nice, humble, altruistic, or, well, heroic.  He’s a bit of a bully, doesn’t get along with his dad all that well, and has attitude to spare.

So how does he become New Super-Man?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but, as one would expect, Yang lays the groundwork for a very rich, complex character that I’m sure will become even more layered as time progresses.  After all, Yang excels at depicting relatable characters overcoming internal turmoil.  There are some fun bits of action, moments of quirky Yang humor, and the last page will force a double-take.

I love the entire premise of what Yang is doing with New Super-Man — I’m frankly surprised DC went for this idea.  It’s funny, but even though this book literally uses the name of the most famous super hero in the world, it is by far the most original comic I’ve read in ages.  Sure, Yang borrows from Superman mythology, but he does so with a wink and a nudge.  Anyone who believes this book is a ripoff is not paying close enough attention.

Packed full of characterization, action, humor, and heart, Yang’s New Super-Man is off to an exhilarating start.

… That last page.  This is going to be interesting.

 

 

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.