Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrison – A Book Review

Grant Morrison is a luminary in the comic book industry.  He has earned every bit of adulation he has acquired over the years.  He is incredibly imaginative and fearless.  Frankly, though, I’ve always found him to be better at big ideas than actual execution.  In past books I’ve read, the concept is always amazing, yet the dialogue and pacing tend to fizzle out near the midway point and lose focus for the remainder of the story.

Wonder Woman: Earth One struck me as odd, consequently, because it suffered from the exact opposite issue.

Before we begin, though, it may be helpful to note that Earth One is a dimension within the DC Multiverse that essentially takes place in the wold as we know it.  Thus far, only Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans have appeared on Earth One.  It is generally a place where the plots are a little more gritty and the heroes a little more flawed.

So I assumed Morrison would go bonkers with all of Greek mythology at his disposal.  I figured he’d take an entirely new angle and regale us with a Wonder Woman never before seen.  He would blow our minds with Greek power cosmic and postmodernist Amazonian idealism.

In fact, none of that happened.  He shook up the status quo a bit by making Steve Trevor black.  This ultimately had no real bearing on the character.  He also unequivocally identified the Amazons as lesbians, which, if you think about it long enough, would seem to make total sense.  He assigned a new father to Wonder Woman as a driving force of the plot, but, frankly, it wasn’t quite as notable as what Brian Azzarello already did with Wonder Woman’s regular DC title.  In other words, it’s fairly bland by Morrison’s standards.  Structurally, it stands up well.  The beginning, middle, and end all work well together with no instances of rambling or wandering.

With all that being said, it’s not a bad story.  It’s just not as original, thought-provoking, or creative as I expected from Grant Morrison.

The bright spot of the book is certainly Yanick Paquette’s beautiful drawings.  His art is streamlined and graceful.  He delivers an Amazon society that is both classical and technologically innovative.  His Amazonian women are powerful and elegant.  Like Cliff Chang, Paquette’s Wonder Woman is a regal warrior brimming with intelligence, confidence, and compassion.  It’s all right there, on her face.

But the star, the single person who makes Wonder Woman: Earth One a true work of art, is Nathan Fairbairn.  I’ve often said that a bad colorist can ruin a well drawn book, and a good colorist can make a poorly rendered book look amazing.  Fairbairn takes a wonderfully drawn book and amplifies it by tenfold.  His colors are bold without being distracting.  They make the drawings pop off the page.  They are an absolute pleasure to perceive.  I won’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of coloring, but I know great colors when I see them.  Fairbairn executed his craft masterfully in this book.

If you’re a Wonder Woman fan, I think you’ll find things to appreciate in this book — certainly the art and colors are worth the price tag alone.  It’s not the most bombastic of Morrison’s work, but it is one of his most direct and concisely delivered.

 

Advertisements

Supergods by Grant Morrison – A Book Review

I have to be honest – I’ve always found Grant Morrison to be fantastic at creating concepts, but his actual writing in comic books always left a bit to be desired.  I fully acknowledge that this may have been more to a lack of available space or a miscommunication with artists than actual ability, yet his work tended to feel rushed near the endings and often discombobulated.

However, it goes without saying that he is a master of the medium, wildly appreciated, and a student of the art, and so when I discovered he had written a nonfiction book exploring the industry, revealing his back story, and philosophizing about the nature of two-dimensional characters and their eternal lives, well, I couldn’t buy the book quickly enough.  I knew I wanted to know the man’s thoughts on a first person basis.

Furthermore, I found myself excited by the notion that finally I would experience Grant Morrison unbound, unfiltered, and unfettered by a page count or panel limit.

If you’re in a hurry and you’d like to stop reading now, I’ll leave you with this – if you love intelligent (and sometimes trippy) conversation about comic books or super heroes, you will not be disappointed in this book.

Still reading?  Good.  Let’s dig deeper.

I enjoyed every aspect of this book.  Morrison started by explaining his own love of comic books and where that love began and why it persisted.  He then moved into a brief history lesson of the industry that I found riveting.  I’d heard most of it before, but he put it in his own words so entertainingly that it felt fresh (though I did learn a few new things such as Jack Kirby punching out neo-Nazis).  He then focused on pinnacle characters and important eras.  Finally, he delved deeply into his own storyline and how it intermingles with the stories he writes.

Morrison is clearly a smart man – and after reading Supergods I do wonder if he is a genius on some level.  Interestingly enough, I never would have thought this without reading Supergods.  You see, in Supergods, Morrison pontificates about chaos magic, fiction suits (I love this idea), and the possibility of these characters existing on a plane of reality all their own.  He discusses at great length his own mindset and philosophies behind different eras of his professional life.  Suddenly, past work that I had dismissed as overreaching and poorly executed had to be perceived in a new light.

For example, I distinctly remember feeling that Final Crisis became a jumbled mess near the end with no sense of plot.  Lo and behold, Morrison stated in Supergods that he meant for Final Crisis to lose any semblance of story, for he intended to convey that evil had won so greatly in that work that even a story could not be allowed to continue unmolested.

But that may be the problem with Supergods.  If it takes a large volume of nonfiction work to explain past storylines and elucidate upon them, then perhaps the storylines don’t stand on their own.  Maybe Supergods illustrates a weakness rather than enforces strengths.

On the other hand, however, having read Supergods has now made me approach Morrison differently with new readings.  For example, I just read Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne which is an offshoot of Final Crisis for fans in the know.  In the past, I would have balked at the notion of Batman traveling through time first as a caveman, then as a pilgrim, then a pirate, and so forth.  But, now having an inclination towards Morrison’s leanings and themes, I completely accepted it simply as a work of Morrison.  In fact, with the dark, serious nature of Christopher Nolan’s Batman earning global appeal, I am actually glad someone like Grant Morrison has been willing to play up the sci-fi element of a character who regularly rubs shoulders with human lightning bolts and cops wielding magic rings.  I’ve been reluctant to read Morrison’s Batman over the last five years because of his psychedelic tendencies, but now I really want to check out the opus of a man clearly dedicated to the beauty and wonder of the super hero, and this is specifically a result of having read Supergods.

Is this a good thing?  I don’t know, but it is my reality when it comes to the work of Grant Morrison.

Supergods was at times trippy and, quite honestly, when it comes to his personal life, a little crazy, but overall it was overall extremely enlightening and a joy to read.  I recommend all lovers of super heroes and comic books give it a try.  You’ll look at the industry, its characters, and the Grant Morrison himself with a new appreciation.

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.

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.

JLA: World Without a Justice League – A Graphic Novel Review

I remember reading a few of the single issues of this storyline and was not impressed in the least. In fact, I gave up on them. However, after reading the collected edition, I must admit that it was not as terrible as I remembered. Make no mistake, this arc is set amidst the editorial transitions of Infinite Crisis and is also the last of the JLA run initiated by Grant Morrison, so at times World Without a Justice League strikes the reader as disjointed and irrelevant, but, again, it’s not awful. I only recommend it if you’re compelled to complete the collection.