Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1 – J. Lee, S. Snyder; DC Comics; 2013

Because we are nearing the end of the year and I have not done a comic book review in awhile, I figured it was time. Not to mention the INSANE backlog of comics stacked around the premises.  I would show you pictures, but I think it would terrify.  Anyway, I happily dove into the first issue of DC’s Superman Unchained title.  This issue starts a new series and was highly anticipated by readers.  Anything involving Superman generally makes news, however the excitement over this title comes from the creator team of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee.  I think DC jumped onto these facts and slapped a $4.99 on the cover just to see if they could do it – i.e. how much value does Snyder/Lee have in terms of buyers?

The cover is nice.  You can tell immediately that it is Jim Lee’s work.  It features the New 52-style Superman (younger and updated costume) ripping through some sort of technological debris. Superman has a gritty look as opposed to the happy, accomplished look he tends to wear.  I really wonder, though, what DC was thinking with the “Unchained” part.  Is this some cool, youthful lingo?  You know, the dialect in which we would say “this is off the chain” or “no limits.”  But the thing is, the whole concept of Superman is that he is never chained.  He’s unchained, y’all…………

frame, Superman Unchained #1, J. Lee, S. Snyder, DC Comics; 2013

I really like the artwork in this issue.  It has frames from all points-of-view and angles.  I like the coloring – very colorful and sharply defined.  I always think of Jim Lee’s work as being high-definition and highly-sharpened.  Included in this issue (and perhaps to soften the price point) is a tagged-in four-fold “poster” that actually is part of the issue.  This fold-out section is part of the storyline – just the art needed an embiggened format to be shown.  Now, did it? Sure, I guess, maybe.  I am not real fond of gimmicks like this.  I found it a bit cumbersome to unseal, unfold, read, and then re-fold.  Overall, the Superman here is drawn with shadows, while frowning in concentration, with youth and almost a slightly dark feel.

The storyline is okay.  I think that Snyder has proven himself a very capable and interesting writer with his laudable work on the Batman title.  In this issue, there are included several pages of “interview” material with Snyder and Lee and he makes some comments regarding the differences and similarities between the characters Batman and Superman.  I do think Snyder will be writing us a Supes who is a bit heavier and grittier than those 1980s Superman characterizations. Anyway, the storyline is kind of vague.  Satellites are falling to Earth – Superman is reacting to this. Clark Kent and Superman (or do we speak of them as the same?) are “investigating” the situation.  A supposed-terrorist/crime group called Ascension is hinted at – the whole time all the characters tell us “it cannot be Ascension who did this.”  Of course, Superman’s go-to is Lex Luthor (who has a few frames which perfectly depict his arrogance.  There are some threads with Lois’ father and historical events (WWII).  Overall, Snyder is setting up a big storyline for us, so it’s too early to decipher much other than there are a few interesting elements here.

I am going to give this 4 out of 5 stars – for the art, for the seemingly bold direction Snyder is driving toward, and because this feels stronger than the Action Comics and Superman titles’ starts with the New 52.  I own issues #2 – 4, so I will have to see where this goes.  Still, at $4.99 I am not entirely sure all readers will feel they got their value.

4 stars

Blue Beetle #1 (1986)

Blue Beetle #1 (1986) – DC Comics;

Blue Beetle is a character that has hung around comics history for a long time.  He has an early history in the late 1930s and 1940s with Fox Comics and Charlton Comics.  In 1983, along with most of Charlton Comics properties, the character rights were sold to DC Comics.  The character has had a pretty interesting history that practically parallels the history of American comics. But this is not a history blog. I finally got my hands on a nice copy of DC Comics’ 1986 #1 issue of Blue Beetle.  I got it for .50¢ and am totally thrilled with the purchase.

This iteration of Blue Beetle is the scientist Ted Kord.  In this issue, we are introduced to the character as he leaves retirement to once again enter public service.  Fires are being set in buildings all over downtown Chicago – and the Blue Beetle appears to deal with this problem. The writer for this issue is Len Wein; Paris Cullins and Bruce D. Patterson are the artists.

I love the way this issue begins.  In fact, lately, I have been loving all pre-1990s comics.  They have this depth in the writing that I feel is a little missing in current-day comics. I am not talking about the level of writing, really. I feel like these older (vintage?) comics have this wordsmithing knack to them.  Sometimes it seems a little hokey, but sometimes, it’s almost poetic.  That’s one of the main things that is really drawing my interest into these pre-1990s issues again and again.

Blue Beetle #1 (1986) – frame one, page one; DC Comics

Last night, as the household was lulling into sleep, I carefully pulled the issue from its plastic sleeve.  I opened to the first page and fell in love with the first frame.  How about that?  I harp on the importance of the first issue, first book, etc. of all the things I read.  Because I am a big believer of the first impression concept with these things.  Authors/artists have to hook the reader.  They have to make the reader care, be engaged, and show us competence.  Lots of work for first issues.  So look at the copy in the first frame – its poetic, I tell you.

Okay, maybe not great poetry, but nowadays the copy would read:  “Lots of big fires are burning in Chicago.”  I particularly like the “fugitive sparks” part. Awesome. Thank you, Len Wein.

The story is actually really good.  Kord is a scientist entrepreneur who moonlights as Blue Beetle.  He discovers that the arsonist isn’t just a criminal with a dim view of city planning, but an armored villain named Firefist. (Okay, maybe not the least goofy of names…)  Anyway, in their first fight, Firefist gets away, but Blue Beetle makes plans to take Firefist on.

We get a little history of the previous Blue Beetle series, which is good. We meet a villain that seems really intense.  We learn about Ted Kord’s double-life.  And the banter between characters is witty and cute.  Finally, you have to read the next issue – you want to and need to. This is an excellent comic. It really makes me love the character a lot.  If you really want to dig into comics beyond the usual adoration for Batman and Superman, I think Blue Beetle might be for you.

5 stars

The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward

The Flash vol. 1: Move Forward – DC Comics; Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

I have been working my way through a number of the first volumes of DC’s New 52 comics series – the ones that I do not have on my pull list.  So far, I read Animal Man, which I thought was a bust, and Demon Knights, which was really good, but as of issue 23 or 24, it’s been canceled.   The next volume I read through was The Flash.  This volume is really good and I do wish I had gotten on board and put it on my pull list with issue #1.   The first volume, entitled Move Forward, collects the first 8 issues of the series.  This is a neat thing because frequently these hardback/tradeback volumes only collect five or six issues.

This series, so far, has had creators Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and I think they have done a fantastic job.  Everything works well in these first eight issues.  The DC New 52 was supposed to be able to introduce and draw in new readership who have not been involved in comics or who are unfamiliar with DC’s universe.  Not all of the New 52 series have accomplished this goal with a seamless and non-confusing presentation.  The Flash, however, definitely succeeds – and probably the best of all that I have read.  Excellent work on that point.  Secondly, I love all of the art.  I love the covers – and the variant covers.  I love the interior art.  I also am really impressed by each individual issue’s splash page – the title pages are actually “artistic.”  Go figure! Real design in a comic book!

The Flash #3 variant cover – Jim Lee; DC Comics

The storyline is decent.  The first five issues (in terms of the story) were not absolutely awesome and amazing (or whatever words are used today to describe really cool things), but the story was solid and readable.  Not every story is a rock ‘em shock ‘em big deal and a huge universe-spanning event.  The storylines here are good and solid and accessible – so precisely what one should demand from a comic series. Therefore, I have no complaints.

The characterizations are also good.  It struck me while reading through this volume that of all the superheroes that DC has, I think working on The Flash has to be the most fun.  I cannot imagine the creators not having fun with this.  He’s fun to draw, fun to write.  And I think that fun shows through in this volume.  It is not goofy or silly (sometimes Spider-man is intolerably goofy), but Flash is fun.  And if comics do not, at the end of the day, contain any fun – what’s the whole point?  The supporting characters are also developed nicely; Patty Spivot and Iris West are interesting and do not seem to be there just as filler characters.  In this series, Barry Allen has a lot of good qualities and can definitely sustain a long-term ongoing comic.  And that, too, is precisely what readers should be looking for.

I think this title got over-looked and treated poorly by readers who got all caught up in Scott Snyder’s Batman title and with the Grant Morrison working on Action Comics thing.  However, while Batman has been excellent, the Action Comics title has suffered a lot.  Meanwhile, The Flash has been solid – at least through the first eight issues – and I think readers ought to give it a chance – or even a second chance, if that is the case.  I really enjoyed the art and design and the character is fun and good.  This is a five-star volume.

5 stars

Demon Knights Vol. 1

Demon Knights, Vol. 1 – DC Comics

After returning N. Gaiman’s The Sandman Vol. 1 to the library, I picked up Demon Knights Vol. 1.   Demon Knights is a title DC introduced as part of their New 52 reorganization/reboot in 2011.   I confess that I was not/am not fully versed in DC’s magic realm. I know of The Phantom Stranger and I know of The Spectre, but that’s about it.  The demon Etrigan and his connection to Merlin and Vandal Savage has a vague and fuzzy image in my brain.   However, I saw this tradeback sitting on the shelf and could not resist.

This volume collects issues #1-7 of the title.  I had no idea what to expect and after reading it, I am a happy reader. The title has survived the various “waves” of roster moves that DC made since the New 52, which is good.  (Some titles, like Blue Beetle, didn’t last.)  Overall, the story is interesting and the art is suitable.  It’s not perfect, the flaws are there, but I think as a whole this title adds a diversification to the DC lineup that allows readers to read something different than a Bat-title (how many are there? 6? 8?)

So, when I say that I had no idea what to expect, I mean it. I just enjoyed the cover for a few minutes and then started turning pages.  The story starts off at the fall of Camelot.  Arthur is dead and three women are in a boat taking his body to Avalon.  Excalibur is tossed into the waters – but Xanadu, one of the women in the boat, dives after the sword.  We are then taken to the castle wherein we are given something of a point of departure for the demon Etrigan.  Merlin has summoned and captured the demon.  Jason of Norwich, a young boy, enters to tell Merlin the castle has fallen and they must flee. Merlin then “fixes” the demon to Jason.  Moving forward in time, we meet Mordru and the Questing Queen.  They are marching their horde army through the land to Alba Sarum.

That’s basically the first issue.  And while it is a bit in media res, the careful reader can follow the storyline well enough.  Part of the impetus of the New 52 was to re-introduce readers to the DC universe – without the readership having to be familiar with the entirety of DC’s history.  I think this is done in this issue/volume, but it does take some patience.  In some places in this volume, it seems like a simple battle book.  I think that the “demon knights” are made distinct enough by the writer (Paul Cornell), but I also think that the storyline moved really fast.  We are given some background story on some characters, perhaps enough to keep readers curious, but maybe not enough to keep us invested in the scenarios.

I like Conan and Kull and so this title works for me.  I like the dark ages feel to it, with the debates of battle-strategy, magical elements, and questions of personal honor and destiny.  The pacing was a bit too quick for me and the Questing Queen seems too distant/unknown to me.  Also, I’m kind of guessing at how the magic powering works… people seem to “power down” and “power up,” but I am not entirely sure how that works exactly. Madame Xanadu is definitely a good character and has a lot of fun frames by the artist.  Also, the covers done by Michael Choi are really pretty.

I definitely want to read the next volume – and I hope DC keeps this title running.  Overall, I’m going to give this volume 4 stars.

4 stars

Batman and Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9; DC Comics

I have not done a review of a comic book in half-of-forever.  I know that there are some “snobby geeks” out there who disdain comic books (or are more selective and merely disdain superhero comic books) arguing that they are not literature.  Well, the thing that I want to insist upon is that no, not all comic books are literature, however, what DC Comics has done in the Bat-titles in “The New 52″ has definitely been literature.  Since the #1 issues in Detective Comics and Batman, DC Comics writers (Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Peter J. Tomasi, and Tony Daniel) have created an epic-story that really deserves all the praise that people have been heaping upon it.  (And, the obnoxious writer of the DC stable, Grant Morrison, has rather stalled out in his titles…)

This review is about Batman and Robin #9.  It’s somewhat of a standalone issue focusing entirely on Robin (the Damian Wayne incarnation).  This issue is, however, entirely connected to the Night of the Owls storyline that has been running through the Bat-titles since their first issues.  This epic Court of Owls/Night of the Owls storyline is huge and has been done expertly.  The writers have, as a whole, really outdone themselves and, I think, given readers a solid example of how and why comics can, indeed, be literature.  Yeah, the whole thing spans (I approximate here) 25 issues or so for the full-impact of the story.  A reader could conceivably narrow it all down to just the Batman and Detective Comics titles, but I think that would weaken the scope of what the writers have done.  In any case, I am not going to get into a lengthy exposition on the Owls epic.  I do encourage readers to consider this stuff, though – it’s really worth it (though it may be a pain in the rear to collect all of the issues.)

Anyway, Batman and Robin #9 is a really awesome issue.  I have actually been surprised at how much I have liked this particular title since The New 52 began.  I loved the first arc (the ramifications will definitely continue throughout future issues) because it explored the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son – in both a father/son perspective as well as a Batman/Robin perspective.

Issue #9 ties into the Night of the Owls storyarc.  Let us simply say that Robin is dispatched, by Alfred, to protect a target from a villain.  The Court of Owls have sent assassins out to kill nearly 40 Gotham leaders and Alfred sends Robin to protect Major General Benjamin Burrows of the 52nd – who commands nearly 15,000 troops.

I love more or less everything about this issue.  The title of the issue is Robin Hears a Hoo – which is fun because it plays on the Owls storyline and Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss and Batman? Always a win.  And look at this cover because it was done by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz.  It is beautiful.  The perspective is perfect – Robin is a little kid, you know.  The coloring is perfect. The whole composition shows action, depth, no clutter or unnecessary busyness, and an ominous villain.  Perfect.

Inside, the issue contains non-confusing artwork, clean framing, and excellent coloring.  I like how it really feels like we are on a nighttime training exercise in a misty forest. I like how Robin solves the difficulties he runs into.  I also love the scenes where the writer shows us that Robin is not just a stupid punk kid – but is also highly-trained and intelligent. I like how the soldiers react and function.  I also like how this issue gives deeper insight into the total backstory and connection to the Court of Owls.  There is not much to dislike about this issue. It is precisely the kind of issue that comic book fans can collect, enjoy, and happily spend $2.99 on.  And $2.99 is a bargain for the quality this issue delivers.

Batman isn’t in this issue.  And he really does not have to be:  Robin carries this issue all by himself.  And the issue is good.

5 stars

Batman #8

Batman 8

Batman #8; DC Comics

Issue #8 of Batman was really good. I debated giving it the full five stars, but I am stingy lately and am only going to give it four.  This issue was written and drawn by the continuing team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  Capullo’s artwork has not been wow-ing me, but it’s been good. The writing, though, is probably the element that is getting this volume of Batman all of the praise and credit.  Some issues have been great, some have been just good. I think Snyder has some good ideas and is trying to make the main character a little different than the “regular” Batman.  Snyder is trying to “extend” the boundaries of what’s been done with the character – which is no easy thing since Batman has been written by so many writers through the years.

The cover is good for a few reasons, I think.  The main reason is that it actually is relevant to the inside story.  I really don’t like issues that have covers that look pretty but are completely unrelated to the issue’s story.  It’s deceptive and misleading when issues have covers that do that.  But this cover comes directly out of the storyline.  Another reason that it is good is that it maintains that creepy castle-like tone that is running through the “Owl” storyarc that Snyder has been writing.  Just the words “night” and “bat” and “owl” demand the artwork is creepy and eerie.  And this definitely is; however I look at the background and it looks like poorly blended digital artwork or a badly made oil painting.  What are these color marks especially on the left side of the cover? I dislike it.  It looks half-done or lazy. Is it Capullo or the colorist?

The title of this issue is “Attack on Wayne Manor” and that’s basically what this story is about. If you have not read this issue – this review will contain spoilers.  Anyway, the issue begins with Bruce Wayne brooding in his manor at night.  I’ll be honest, I have always known Bruce Wayne to be a brooding individual – it’s part of his charm, let’s say. However I did feel that in this issue Snyder moved a little too close to the line of whining as opposed to brooding.  On the third page, I absolutely hate the frame wherein Alfred lights the model city up and Bruce Wayne looks like a teenager who is getting picked on.  I know that recently he underwent a lot of physical trauma, but somehow that image/reaction of Wayne annoyed me.  Is it Capullo’s art again?  Or does it just make Wayne seem skittish and melodramatic? I hate that frame.

This issue is basically a home-invasion issue. The assassins, Talons, invade Wayne Manor – and only Alfred and Bruce are there to do anything about it.  They scurry in opposite directions – although, at the end of the issue, I have to say I don’t know why Bruce bothered to go to the roof. Anyway, they meet up in the Bat Cave in the Armor Room.  Something like a castle panic room.

So, why did Bruce run to the roof in the first place?  And also, how did this many assassins invade Wayne Manor so easily. I guess it’s hard to move completely into the “New DC 52″ where this is a new Bruce and a new Wayne Manor.  I am used to Wayne Manor being an impenetrable fortress, really.  Sure, the talons are good at what they do, but come on – it’s that easy to invade BATMAN’s home? Tough pill to swallow as a reader, I suppose.

When Bruce leaves the armor room in big badass armor and says: “Get the hell out of my house!” …. it kind of makes up for the opening of the issue where Bruce was “lost in his own head.”  Also, the plan that Batman and Alfred came up with – dropping the temperature – seems like a good idea and I am excited to see what happens in the next part of the story.  Throughout, this is a fairly intense issue, lots of action and creepiness to turn the pages quickly. I liked the issue a lot, but I cannot ignore the questions/problems that I mentioned above.  I have high hopes for this storyarc, though, and think that Snyder is working hard on these issues.

4 stars

Earth 2 #1

Earth 2 #1

Earth 2 #1; DC Comics

Now that we are more than 9 issues into the DC New 52, much of the novelty has worn off of the initiative.  Some titles got canceled (Mister Terrific and OMAC being two of the most significant to me).  DC introduced a “Second Wave” which released a small group of new titles – whether this was planned from the start or was a backup for if/when titles were canceled, I have no idea.  I have to believe that there was going to be an Earth 2 in the overall scheme from the start.  So, when DC released this first issue of the new title Earth 2, I was not surprised, but I was interested.

Part of the driving thrust of the New 52 was to engage new readers and diversify the titles.  Earth 2 is not a new creation – it has a long (and sometimes difficult) history in DC Comics. Earth 2 first appeared in the 1960s in the Flash and All Star Squadron titles. Since then, this alternate/parallel universe has been used for a number of purposes throughout the DC line.  From the 1970s onward, however, most of the purpose of Earth 2 was to showcase the Justice Society – or Justice Society of America.  As usual, everything in DC Comics usually stems from Flash, oddly enough, and not Superman or Batman.  So, Earth 2 was really designed to explain concepts and history surrounding Flash (in all his personas).  I wondered:  how does DC “introduce” the difficult concept/history of Earth 2 to new readers?

True to form, all Crises in the DC universe (and they are always in a crisis) center upon Flash.  However, readers actually liked the happenings and characters in the Earth 2 universe.  Therefore, the Justice Society became a style of the Justice League of Earth 1.  The Justice Society has had a variety of incarnations, members, writers/artists, and titles. It was only a matter of time, it seemed, when DC would re-introduce Earth 2 as part of the New 52.

Now, I became enamored with Earth 2 in the 2000s when I read the Justice Society of America title.  I consequently went back and learned more about the make-up and history of the Justice Society.  However, since the New 52 is really supposed to be a hard reboot, I wanted to approach this new title as if none of the past mattered. I wanted to read this new title as if there had never been an Earth 2 or a Justice Society.  The creative team for this title is starting with writer James Robinson with Nicola Scott drawing.  Robinson said a number of things related to this reboot in an interview with Newsarama.com in March 2012.  He made these points:

  • This is a complete reboot of the Earth 2 concept.
  • Earth 2 has a “five-year jumping on point like the main DCU Earth” for its superhero story.
  • Jay Garrick is the “everyman” through which readers are introduced to the world of Earth 2. The name Jay Garrick may be familiar to seasoned readers as the elderly Golden Age Flash, in Earth 2, he’s younger, as seen in our exclusive art for the cover of Earth 2 #2.
  • Alan Scott and Al Pratt are also key characters in the story of Earth 2.
  • It isn’t the Justice Society. It’s Earth 2. So it’s going to be a whole world of different characters.

All of these new reboot ideas seem fantastic – and perfect for a new reader.  Also, I think Robinson is a solid choice for a writer – he is well-versed in Justice Society work – since he has already written dozens of issues in that line.  However, I do worry a bit because I do not want Robinson to fall back on what he used to know and do with those old Justice Society titles. I want new, better, exciting, and different.  He’s a proven writer and I think he is familiar enough with the Earth 2 concept that this could be a really great title.  He is paired with Nicola Scott – of whom I am a big fan.  She is a “newer” penciller – we first met her work in 2004.

The cover for issue #1 was done by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado – it’s busy as all get out, which I do not like.  However, I do think it is an explosive way to start the title.  I just wish it was a little less cluttered.  And I am reminded of the lovely delicious covers that Alex Ross did for the Justice Society of America – I need to remember, this ain’t daddy’s JSA.  This is new and improved and exciting Earth 2!  The taglines on the cover help with that:   A Different World!  A Different Destiny!

Anyway, the story starts with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman battling aliens of some sort – and losing!  Batman seemingly sacrifices himself for the world in order to implant a computer virus into the enemy.  And he has a daughter, but most importantly, he’s emoting all over the place! I believe the majority of the issue is actually couched in a narrative done by Alan Scott, who is GBC’s Owner and CEO.  He has made a documentary of the great battle that has scarred the earth.  We meet Jay Garrick, too, who has a surprising encounter with who appears to be the god Mercury!

Overall, I feel the writing is very good.  The art looks nice too, although there are some frames that are really busy.  The frame wherein Wonder Woman is attacked by the enemy called Steppenwolf is of note – though I am not sure if I like it or not. I like the framing and the background and Steppenwolf.  But Wonder Woman’s face bugs me for some reason?  This is a minor complaint, though. The writing for her is good, she is given a real warrior/badass personality and it’s nice.

Yes, this world does seem different. And exciting.  I am very interested in what happens next and the creative team seems to be doing well. I have some reservations about the artwork, but nothing major and nothing that would prevent me from recommending this issue.  I cannot wait until the next issue is released and I have high hopes for the title.

4 stars

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