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

Superman #7

Superman 7

Superman #7; DC 2012

One of the biggest complaints about comics in the last decade has been about the Superman titles.  They have been awful.  And I think it’s something that has gnawed at DC Comics for a long time and for whatever reason, nothing they do for the title/character seems to work.  Particularly for the last five years, readers have been exceedingly disappointed with Superman and have expressed their concerns by simply not buying or reading these titles.  This is a really sad thing because Superman is so kosmically recognizable that there is just something unsettling about no one being interested, let alone excited, about his comics.

I think that within the deep recesses of the hearts of comic fans there was a, quite natural, hope that with DC’s New 52, Superman would be saved.  Not rehabilitated, but heroically saved.  The complaints of the last decade that Superman titles were boring, scattered, uninteresting, pointless, and stupid were valid and probably hit DC pretty hard.  So, everyone probably expected that the New 52 would solve these issues and send Superman titles to the top of the charts – where he belongs (even if fanboys do not dare admit they believe this).

On Action Comics, DC put the famous, but difficult, writer Grant Morrison.  I’ve gone over that situation in my reviews for Action Comics.  For the Superman title, DC gave the reins to writer George Perez.  Perez is one of those industry-standard writers who has written Wonder Woman and Silver Surfer among other titles. I was pleased that he was selected as I felt that he was a solid choice for a proven, but not extreme writing style.  Now, Superman also appears in DC’s “flagship” – Justice League, which is being written by star writer Geoff Johns.  Surely, with the New 52 and these three writers writing the character, there is no way Superman could fail.

Action Comics may or may not be good. It’s certainly not a “basic” comic read.  Morrison has some different perspectives and ideas as to how stories should be told.  Geoff Johns’ Superman is good – but since he’s a member of a supergroup, he does not get much face time or development.  Superman’s entrance, though, is still one of the highlights of the start of the New 52.  The Superman title penned by Perez looked so pretty. It contained a lot of action, fighting, flying, battling, etc.  However, it felt scattered and disconnected. Some readers felt it was confusing and disoriented.  Ultimately, it was a disappointment. While the character is freshened, the problems with the title still seemed to be present.  We all wanted to love the title. Most of us ended up dropping the title from subscription lists with a dejected, puzzled feeling.

However, it seems DC was willing to do something proactive about the situation.  Starting in issue #6, they added writers Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen.  Both of these writers/artists are also solid creators who are no strangers to the industry.  Issue #6 was nothing great, but I do feel it was better than the previous five.  Finally, in issue #7, I can say that this is a real Superman comic.  This is a storyline that I can follow without frustration or annoyance.  This is art that looks fantastic and the character does not seem like a haphazard mess of confusion.

Superman’s thoughts are presented in a reasonable manner – he does seem younger and bolder.  The opening fight is easy to follow and interesting enough that it does not seem like just frames of action shots.  I like that there is a linear storyline – a problem, a setting, villains, and friends.  The art perfectly matches the story and the story seems, finally, like it is going somewhere.  The first five issues seemed really in media res and random.  This seems like there is a real story going on, which is a nice change. In other words, this issue is a well-organized, linear, solid story.  The artwork is above average and it is not messy.

I am interested in the villain, Helspont.  I know he has history in DC, but I want to see if the New 52 has changed anything – or will change anything. I want him to be a worthy villain that Superman can battle with both physically and intellectually. He’s also drawn to look mighty cool.

I kind of feel bad for those readers who dropped Superman before issue #7.  They probably won’t believe this is any good.  And, well, even though this issue is a solid 4 stars, all readers are probably dubious about believing that anything good will come to pass with this title, anyway.  After all, it’s hard to forget a decade of mediocrity and boring. It is my real hope, though, that Jurgens and Giffen CAN AND WILL make this a worthwhile, interesting title. But, one issue isn’t enough……….

4 stars

Justice League #7

JL 7

Justice League #7; DC Comics

One of the better titles (but maybe not best) to come out of the “New 52″ initiative of DC Comics is Justice League. It’s difficult to believe that the title is already at issue #7.  For this issue, the “regular” artist Jim Lee took a break and we had a guest artist, Gene Ha.  I believe that Jim Lee still was the artist who drew the cover for this issue, however.  Geoff Johns remains the writer.

Overall, I think this series has been average.  It pains me to say this, because I truly want to love this title and give it high marks all around.  However, when I am not being a comic-sentimental-sap, I admit that it’s only average fare.  And this is even more glaring when I compare it to the stellar job that has been done with the Batman and Red Lantern titles.  Frankly, Justice League (with its star characters and mega-cool creators) should be much better than this.  Now, I do not say it is a bad title – it is worth the cover price.

I was not sure what to make of Jim Lee’s art when this title started. After a few issues, I felt that it definitely grew on me and I looked forward to seeing it.  However, compared to Gene Ha’s art, I can see I was settling.  Many readers/reviewers disdained this batch of Ha’s art and griped about not getting more Jim Lee work.  Frankly, Lee is very good, but there was something about the artwork in this issue that really appealed to me and I enjoyed it a lot.  In the middle of the comic, there are three pages that depict a “video” conference between Steve Trevor and the Justice League Watchtower.  All of these frames are excellent – and the layout is phenomenal.  In fact, these three pages are really, really well done and all of the stars that I am giving this issue are because of these pages.

Wonder Woman “answers” the video conference call and we see her via Trevor’s monitor.  In the first frame, Ha captures the beauty, sexiness, and charm of Wonder Woman.  In the next series of frames, Ha draws her with expert mastery.  The body language, facial expressions, and so forth in these frames is really good.  I know it may seem to be a “minor” thing to be able to draw a couple of frames of a superhero – after all, shouldn’t all DC/Marvel/Dark Horse/Image artists be able to do that?  But it’s not the drawing of a superhero that is good here, rather the very natural, human, and alive-ness that Ha brings out in the drawing.  I feel like he must have studied a lot of…. people… and must be rather intuitive and perceptive in order to render the drawings so well.

This same skill is seen earlier in the comic with Batman, although I feel Wonder Woman is a more obvious example.  In the Batman frames, the reader can almost feel the frustration/aggravation Batman is feeling.  Can comic book art really evoke a response in the viewer like traditional fine art? These frames in this issue prove that they can.  The stigma against comic book art fails here.

The writing is okay.  Johns gives us some witty moments and some good dialogue.  He also writes a straight-forward story with each character having their own voice and personality. He manages to give each member of the Justice League seemingly equal “facetime” (although, perhaps a little less with Superman) and they all seem balanced in the storyline.  The little asides characters have with each other is amusing.

However, I feel the storylines are so…. decompressed (it’s the word all the comic reviewers are using these days)… that it verges on boring.  There is nothing wrong with it – and I really understand the goal Johns is working toward and how there is a lot of responsibility to make this title, of all titles, accessible and workable.  However, I feel it needs more life in the writing. Not just quips, but a more powerful story. Again, this is not bad, but it is average.  Of course, I am going to keep pulling this and reading along. And wow, I need to find more Gene Ha in the world.

3 stars

Action Comics #7

Action Comics 7

Action Comics #7; DC

Grant Morrison.

I read Action Comics #7 twice and decided to give the issue 4 stars – in spite of it having been written by Grant Morrison. Or, maybe, because of being written by Grant Morrison. I just cannot tell.

Okay, so first of all, it’s difficult to believe we are already on the seventh issue of The New 52!  The Batman title has, more or less, been seen as the greatest success for DC, with most readers finding it to be the best of the whole lot. Sure, some people like what has been going on with Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman – but those titles will never have the powerhouse appeal that Batman does.  Now, where does Action Comics fit in with all of these?  It has always been the flagship Superman title.  DC handed this title over to Grant Morrison, who is probably one of the most talked about creators in comics.  It seems that readers either love or hate Morrison – and usually flip their opinion with every issue they read.  Most of the time, it seems Morrison is, at least, frustrating.

I’ve commented on Morrison several times in this blog. He is known for cryptic details, non-linear storytelling, and daring unorthodox character developments. So, is Morrison really a good writer or does he just know how to get talked about? Is he a good writer or do people just enjoy the “difference”? I kind of wish Derrida were around to comment on Morrison.  And since I’m imagining a little forum of writers, I’d like to add China Miéville to the mix. This would be a good round-table group.

I read Action Comics #5 and shrugged. So did Zarathustra. I read Action Comics #6 and hated it. In fact, I purposely left it off of my comic subscription list at my local comic book store. I was ready to be done with Morrison. I had high-hopes at issue #2, but I hated #6 so much that I could not stand the idea of reading any more Morrison nonsense. I was prepared to write an “enough-is-enough” rant about the madness and drivel that Morrison gets away with publishing.

And then I read #7 and, though it had it’s frustrating-Morrison-moments, I really liked it. After #6, I brought a lot of negative with me to #7, so for me to say that I liked #7 rather pains me. Okay, it contained things that I like about Superman comics, viz. the Bottle City of Kandor and Brainiac.  Maybe I just have too much love for Lilliput or something.  I love the concept of a bottle city.  And then there is Brainiac.  Of course I love Brainiac. I love Brainiac the villain and “Brainiac” 5 of the Legion of Super-heroes. So…. there’s just a lot here that I love on principle.

This issue does have the typical Morrison-style in media res stuff.  However, it’s not as “bad” as in other issues. Somehow, I was able to follow along fairly-well and be drawn into the story. (Who knows if Morrison will continue this storyline anytime soon?) There’s Superman being confident and Lois being abrasive and Lex being two-steps ahead of everyone else.  There’s armor from Krypton and Superman is wearing an airtank when he gets to space (the eternal:  how does he breathe in space aporia).  But Brainiac is updated a bit:  collector of worlds, internet, computo, et al. This is good stuff:  perfect for The New 52.  This is what should be going on in the DC titles.  The artwork is solid (I cannot imagine what drawing for/with Grant Morrison would be like).

….Grant Morrison….. What to do with this guy? I guess I’m all in for a few more issues of Action Comics.

4 stars

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