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.

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.

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.

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days – A Graphic Novel Review

Pronounced mah-kin-ah, this little ditty I picked up only because I saw it had recently earned an Eisner Award, which in the world of comic books, is a very big deal. The story is about a former hero turned politician. Not the stuff of captivating reads, in my opinion. On top of that, the writer, Brian K. Vaughan, was someone I was previously unfamiliar with. But, the buzz was big, the accolades were huge, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The result was quite shocking.

I loved it. If you’d told me I would enjoy a book whose main character was the mayor of New York City, I’d have told you that you were nutso. It’s simply the writing and the artistry. I honestly think Vaughan and his artist, Tony Harris, could put out a comic book about an agoraphobic farmer and it would still win awards.

Mitchell Hundred is a civil servant of NYC who happens across a strange device at the base of a bridge’s, er, base. It explodes literally in his face, thus granting him the singular ability to converse with machinery of almost any magnitude, the utterly simplistic to the drastically complex. For instance, he can command a gun to jam, preventing its detonation. Eventually, he dreams of a rocket pack allowing him to fly. His older friend and role model, Kremlin, helps him build it. He becomes a hero, calling himself The Great Machine. However, after only a year, he gives up the hero business, deciding that he’s causing more harm than good. Instead, he runs for mayor. And he wins.

The arc of The First Hundred Days deals with a portrait of Lincoln with the n-word written across it debuted in a museum funded by the tax payers, someone killing off snow plow drivers, as well as many flashbacks to Hundred’s days as The Great Machine.

As stated, this doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but it is! I believe it is Vaughan’s pacing and script that forces us to keep going, as well as Harris’s perfectly executed sequential art. The dynamic characters, the mystery of who is murdering city workers and why, plus the conflict of the portrait’s controversy creates an entrancing plot. On top of it all, Vaughan seems to know just enough about the workings of city government to make us believe that Hundred really is the mayor of NYC.

Oh, and there’s a really, really interesting sub-plot (although I can’t help but think it will develop into a major plot) dealing with 9/11. Yes, 9/11.

If you pick this book up looking for the stuff of Superman and Batman, you’ll be disappointed. If you pick it up looking for a political drama with a touch of super hero flair, you’ll be quite pleased.

I highly recommend you pick up Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days.