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From the Archives: Batman/The Spirit #1

batman_the_spirit_0001Crime Convention

Storytellers: Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Comicraft
Assoc. Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Mark Chiarello
The Batman created by: Bob Kane
The Spirit created by: Will Eisner
Special thanks to: Denis Kitchen
Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I don’t know where this story takes place in continuity exactly (or even whether or not it IS in-continuity). But thankfully, that doesn’t really seem to matter.

Essentially, we get a story opened by the meeting between Gordon and Dolan, and their discussion leads into us (as the readers) discovering the story of “How the Spirit met Batman…” The story itself doesn’t seem particularly deep, and actually evokes a classic Silver-age feel, when events were just taken at face-value, simplistic, silly, and new as they might be.

A bunch of Batman’s rogues and a bunch of the Spirit’s rogues get together; and it’s up to Batman and the Spirit to foil the baddies’ plans. While things are going on, the vigilantes’ confidantes are each ‘seduced,’ and play their own role in the story’s ending.

I know next to nothing about The Spirit as a character. I know that he was created by Will Eisner, and something about the creator adding the mask to please someone with a say over the character being published or not (someone correct me if I’m wrong). The character’s identity, supporting cast, rogues, adventures, and in-continuity history are a mystery to me. Batman, on the other hand, I do know.

One might expect that to detract from the story, but it doesn’t. I got the feeling that a lot of characters were almost analogues of one another, in the way that one could compare Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Aquaman and Namor, and so on. Given that, you need only really know one side or the other to “get” the most basic concept of characters, and have at least some idea of what they’re all about.
The art seems at points almost overly-simplistic at first glance, but that (like the story itself) lends beautifully to a “classic” feel. Additionally, upon slightly deeper examination, it reminds me of the “Animated DCU” visually, which lends further enjoyment and timelessness to this story.

Overall, the issue reads rather like an extra-length episode of Batman: The Animated Series…and for me, at least, that is far from a bad thing. Possibly the worst thing about this issue is the price. I looked past the price due to the novelty of these two characters being thrust together and wonder at how (or even if) this will have any play in the new The Spirit ongoing. Was it worth it? Yeah…I’d say so.

This is a fun read, not so completely hokey as to make one check the date in the indicia, but by no means as serious-toned as a lot of other recent stuff coming out of DC. I can’t speak to longtime/familiar fans of the Spirit, but just for knowing the Batman-side of things, this seems like quite the enjoyable, faithful sort of mushing together of two characters who’ve never (to my knowledge) met prior.

From the Archives: Batman – Streets of Gotham #1

batman_streets_of_gotham_0001Ignition!

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Steve Wands
Assoc. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This may be only the first issue of a new series…but it feels like something I’ve been reading for ages–and I mean that in a good way!
We open with Gotham’s police responding to an alarm to find Harley Quinn in civilian guise on the scene. Batman steps in, and we see Dick’s interaction with her (as well as an amusing bit from the new Robin, displaying his personality quite well). As the issue moves on, we’re introduced to Firefly and his latest scheme, as well as the interaction Batman has at present with Gordon and his police.

In some ways, this is a typical Batman comic. Then again, typical as it might be, there’s a whole lotta "new" under the top layer, as we have a new Batman, a new Robin, and with them whole new dynamics with existing characters (particularly Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police).

The writing is great stuff–Dini certainly knows his characters. I’ve enjoyed his issues of Detective Comics that I’ve read; and brought the expectation of that sort of enjoyment to this book. Thankfully, he delivers. Though not a focal point for the issue as a whole, the scene with Harley made the issue for me–I heard the character’s voice from the animated series in every word she spoke here, and it was a blast to read. She’s one of very few characters created for a tv show that I think works perfectly integrated into a comics universe afterward.

Nguyen on art is also a blast from the past–and still quite enjoyable. Some of the linework and shadows seem just a bit strange and over the top–but on the whole, a specific gritty, darker-but-not-too-dark tone is established that works really well for the book. The visuals are a bit stylized, and won’t appeal to everyone, though.

This series seems set to focus more on Gotham City and the things going on in the city and her people moreso than on Batman and Robin. That the two are the primary protectors of the city necessitate their appearance, but it seems we’ll get more of the GCPD in here, with Batman and Robin serving more of a well-noticed supporting role. While it’s no Gotham Central, this issue ges off to a good start, and has me interested in seeing more of the character interactions–almost more than finding out what happens after the cliffhanger.

Manhunter

Story Title: Strange Bedfellows
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Penciller: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Karl Story
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Colors: Nick Filardi
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts

Manhunter/Kate Spencer moves to Gotham to take a new job. While we see her interacting with her new surroundings, we get flashbacks showing us what brought her to this point, giving context to the new status quo for the character.
Overall, I’m unfamiliar with the character, but for whatI’ve seen of her, this segment does not seem out of place. I’m not sure if the story here sums up what happened in the end of the ongoing singular-titled series or not, or if this story is simply the bridge from that series to the new status quo we’ll get as the co-feature in this title. Either way, the story’s simple, to-the-point, and not bad.

The art’s good, too. It’s not spectacular, but it is solid stuff and gets the story across with no trouble.

Whether the character was moved to Gotham because of the move to a co-feature in a title such as this I don’t know–but it works for me. All the more because we’ll get to see even MORE of Gotham through this character and her corner of things. The primary drawback is that with just under half a standard issue’s page-count, there’s less room to really get into the story–just as it gets moving, the segement concludes.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see the writer play with pacing given the page-count and whether or not–or how–it affects the story.

Like Blue Beetle in Booster Gold, this is another co-feature that actually feels worthwhile to me–I’ll probably never be thrilled paying $3.99 for a comic, but for the main story and the co-feature…this is a combo I can definitely handle for now.

From the Archives: Batgirl (2008) #1

batgirl(2009)0001Batgirl Rising part one: Point of New Origin

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Lee Garbett
Inker: Trevor Scott
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: John J. Hill
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover: Phil Noto
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This issue opens on an action sequence. Cars take off for a race no one can win, in a scam that has drawn Batgirl to the scene. While she deals with the criminal element, we see that Batman and Robin are keeping an eye on things. Batgirl removes her mask, and we find out who she is. As she goes about her everyday life, we get a flashback sequence that shows how she came by the costume and what led to the previous Batgirl vacating it. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon spends some time with her dad as they adjust to living near one another again (a plot point begun this past spring in the Oracle mini-series during Battle for the Cowl). As Batgirl is once again drawn into action, we see that she has a long way to go to measure up to her own ideals. The issue closes with her meeting someone who’ll be either mentor or foe.
The issue’s art doesn’t blow me away–it’s good, solid stuff, but that’s something I really expect from any comic I read. I like that all the characters I know are recognizable visually and not just contextually. While I’m sure there are subtleties I’m not picking up on, for a new reader such as myself, the style works just fine and does what a comic’s art should do.

My only real complaint with the art is the structure of the cover. We’re shown the title character from the waist to nose, with an emphasis on her…feminine curves (where the outline of a bat–her personal logo–is situated). I assume the intent is simply to emphasize the character’s chest-emblem since we’re not supposed to know who is actually in the costume. Unfortunately, the outline of a bat around the word "Batgirl" denoting the comic’s title takes away from that…and makes it seem there’s a bit of emphasis on Batgirl’s chest.

The story itself isn’t bad, though it doesn’t have me all that excited about what’s to come. I’m mainly interested in seeing what’s to come with Barbara Gordon and how she handles the new Batgirl than I am Batgirl herself. I expect I’ll give this at least a couple more issues to really draw me in. If I were to decide from this first issue alone, I do think I’d give the series a pass for now and see if anything develops, then play catch-up if interested in the developments.

All in all, a solid first issue as first issues go…and it’s very much to the writer’s–or DC’s–or WHOEVER’s–credit that the "mystery" over "Who IS Batgirl?" has been more for the solicitations on the series than some point within the series itself. That we have the identity of this Batgirl on page 6 of the first issue (the title page of the issue) allows me the interest I’m sure I would NOT have had if the identity was kept secret from the readers.

If you’re interested in Barbara Gordon, or the Gotham characters in general, or just this side of the "bat-family," this issue is worth picking up–at the least it gives you the debut of a new Batgirl, context for her and potentially where she’s going, and you get to see Babs’ story continue and where that may lead in the near future.

From the Archives: The Atom and Hawkman #46

atom_and_hawkman_0046Bye Bye Birdie!

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ryan Sook & Fernando Pasarin
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Color: Hi Fi
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza
Cover: Ryan Sook
The Atom/Ray Palmer and Hawkman created by: Gardner Fox
Published by: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I’ve never been a huge fan specifically of these two characters, though I’m familiar with them and have read a number of comics they’ve appeared in. They’ve just tended to be on the outer edges of the books I read, showing up for the occasional guest-starring role or cameo, or as part of a team in a team book. I’d read the Return of Hawkman arc in JSA a few years back, and a few issues of his own series heading into Infinite Crisis. The Atom I feel I’m most familiar with from Identity Crisis, and material I’ve read online about both Ray and the new Atom and their adventures post-Infinite Crisis.

That said…this issue was quite enjoyable, rather accessible, and yet seems to have plenty for fans with ties to the characters going much deeper and much further back than mine.

In the "tradition" of many of the Blackest Night tie-ins, we open with a recap sequence of sorts, focusing on the character’s life, leading up to their death. This time, though, it’s a recap of the character’s compassion, and why Ray Palmer–The Atom–was chosen by the Indigo ring for recruitment into the Indigo Tribe. The Black Lantern Hawks (as Hawkman and Hawkgirl were killed and raised into the Black Lantern Corps way back in Blackest Night #1) then attack, and there’s the usual discourse between Black Lantern and Hero, as Hawkman tries to get Atom riled up and his heart ripe for the taking. As the fight wraps up for the present, Indigo-1 tasks Atom with protecting her–keeping her alive–while she contacts other Indigos across the universe who can reach the other Lantern Corps (so they know to get to Earth, where all the Black Lanterns are headed). While protecting Indigo-1, Atom is forced to recall the events that lead off Identity Crisis, as he again faces the horror of what Jean did to attempt to win him back. As the issue closes out, Ray makes an important request–one that seems quite obvious, and is something I would love to see accomplished.

This is definitely one of the better Blackest Night tie-ins. It seems that this issue’s events are more important and meaningful to the overall story than most of the tie-ins. While we do get some Atom/Hawkman interaction, it hardly seems like enough to satisfy expectation. It is, however, appropriate enough to an issue of a two-character book, as it’s natural that one or the other character may take more of a leading role, depending on the given story. As what is essentially a one-shot, though, it’s a bit misleading.

The issue having an important tie to the overall story is something that I suspect comes from this being written by Johns, essentially the orchestrator of Blackest Night in the grand scheme of things. The story touches on a number of elements–Ray’s role with the Indigos, a demonstration of what he can do with the Indigo ring, a confrontation with the Hawks, some resolution to things with Ray and setting a new course for the character–which makes for a very strong read. The recap at the beginning did more to clue me in on the past of the Atom than anything else I’d yet read (and I’m pretty sure answered my unasked question as to the premise of Sword of the Atom).

Sook‘s art is high quality as well, and does a great job of getting across the visual aspect of the story. It just fits the story, and worked very well for me.
All in all, a very strong one-shot issue within the Blackest Night arc. Though it remains to be seen how much–or what part(s) of this issue get recapped in the main mini…this seems to be a tie-in very much worth getting if you’re following Blackest Night, even if you’re not generally snagging the tie-ins.

Definitely recommended.

From the Archives: Adventures of Superman #648

adventures_of_superman_0648Look…Up In The Sky

Summary: Lois Lane reports on the destruction of Bludhaven and the response of the super-heroes.
By: Lois Lane
Photos by: Jimmy Olsen, Karl Kerschl and Renato Guedes
Additional Reporting by: Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilipis, Christina Weir and Jami Bernard
Graphic Design by: Richard & Tanya Horie
Copy Design: Rob Leigh
Editors: Eddie Berganza and Jeanine Schaefer
Editor in Chief: Perry White
Cover Art: Karl Kerschl, colors by Dave McCaig
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This issue is another logoed Infinite Crisis crossover issue. This is where we get the immediate response/fallout to the destruction wrought by Chemo in Infinite Crisis # 4. Rather than dialogue and seeing "inside" the heroes’ reactions to that event, we get it from the perspective of some citizen of the DCU reading reporter Lois Lane’s article covering the heroes’ response as she observed it.

This makes for an interesting perspective, if not entirely original. The "narration" is simply Lois’ story, which provides the only words found in the otherwise "silent" issue. One moment that stands out to me offhand is a full-page panel of Green Lantern amidst the wreckage, obviously deeply pained over the event. I believe this would be apparent even without Lois’ observation.

My initial reaction to this being where the plot thread gets immediately dealt with was surprise–given that many characters have "signature cities" that are often as much a character as any humanoid supporting cast member. Shouldn’t this be dealt with in another book? Except of course, Superman being Superman is obviously going to help. And given that Superman’s so powerful (here, the specific focus is on his invulnerability), it’s not like the character’s going to stand by and let others die just to maintain some "image" or such.

The style of this issue remind me of the Superman issue (# 79, I believe) that was told in this same way, except it was Ron Troupe’s story scattered in the otherwise silent issue which showed the Cyborg Superman stopping an attempt in the White House on the president’s life, and that president’s endorsement of the Cyborg as the "real" Superman. Given the destruction the characters rally to face, I’m also reminded of the "Black Cover Spider-Man Issue" (Amazing Spider-Man v.2 # 36, I believe).
Getting the story simultaneously after-the-fact (Lois’ words) and as it unfolds (the visuals) works pretty well–and for the most part might be the only way to truly cram so much into one issue. If there was dialogue with us seeing/hearing the characters talking to each other and coordinating and whatnot, this issue would have be be double, triple, or even quadruple-sized.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that there are four people listed for the writing–three beyond regular writer Greg Rucka. I can give the benefit of the doubt on it to the writing style and giving voice to Lois’ writing, as journalistic writing is not quite the same entity as character-writing and may be more collaborative.
Visually, there’s a fair amount of blank-space on these pages, as the images are pretty much contained to panels, and those panels’ layout tends to somewhat resemble photos placed on a fixed-size page. Though the art is not by a single person, it works for me here.

I found myself reading the text, using the visuals almost as an abstract, seeing them but not diving in deeply. Letting the visuals enhance what I was reading.
No real complaints with the art–it’s not perfect by any means, and this issue continues a trend of having "extras" credited, assumably to get an issue out exactly on-time (given what it covers, this issue pretty much had to be out right after Infinite Crisis # 4. Same week, and someone reading this issue spoils a major part of that issue; two weeks after, and it’s old news compared to books that also touch on the ramifications.

Other than describing how some of the mess is specifically cleaned up quickly (which might be mentioned in other books–I don’t know), this issue doesn’t strike me as essential reading. It will enhance one’s reading of the overall Infinite Crisis event, though. The issue doesn’t even have to be a Superman one–this could almost have been labeled "The Daily Planet – The Day After Infinite Crisis # 4" and been a "special" or "supplement" issue.

My initial reaction to the issue was that it wasn’t all that good, but it is actually quite well done, and serves its purpose as a followup to one of the more catastrophic events in the DCU.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 [Review]

Quick Rating: Fantastic
Story Title: Book Five

The Legions come together as their foes are dealt with and the story winds down.

finalcrisislegionof3worlds005Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: George Perez
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Nick Napolitano
Assoc. Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Art: George Perez & Nei Ruffino
Publisher: DC Comics

In some ways, I hardly remember the last issue. It hasn’t been as long as it could have been…but long enough as we’re something like a half-year out from the ending of Final Crisis itself. Despite that…the wait seems to be worth it: this was a fantastic issue. I imagine I must’ve used phrasing like that before, but it fits here. There’s so much action and the pages are just filled with visual details on top of what we’re given overtly in words from the story.

The previous issue saw the return of OUR Superboy–Connor Kent. This series has also seen the return of Bart Allen (Kid Flash). Together with Superman and three different versions of the Legion, the characters work together to (would there be expectation otherwise?) overcome their foes.

We see a bit of personality from each version of the Legions (if not on an individual level in all cases). We have a satisfying conclusion to the story that makes sense. And we get set-up for a new ongoing series featuring these characters.

Johns’ writing is on a high level here, making use of story elements from the past few years–and going back through the history of these characters–and crafting what for now is THE Legion of Super-Heroes story to me. The story draws from elements seeded across numerous other books, and though this is a Legion-centric story, it borrows elements from throughout the DC universe as a whole.

Perez‘ art is top-notch as well with a level of detail that continues to impress me. His rendition of most of these characters comes off as iconic–and in many ways, this is the best I’ve seen many of the characters look.

I got a real kick out of seeing Superboy-Prime’s ultimate fate as the character comes full circle (though one should be careful what one wishes for), and there’s some interesting subtext to be taken from it as the character speaks right to the reader–or at least the comic-reading audience as a whole. Whether this is to drive home a purpose for the character and his unique position for executing this dynamic or is a way of Johns speaking to the audience…or both…it makes for a very satisfying conclusion.

I don’t feel like this story really justified its having the Final Crisis tag, as any tie it may have had to that story seemed to be covered in the actual Final Crisis series. This story ends without sending characters into Final Crisis (late or otherwise) but rather sends them toward adventure taking place after that event.

Despite severe lateness and showing no real justification for the Final Crisis tag, this concluding issue is not to be missed if you’ve at all enjoyed the story so far. If you’ve not read it at all…whether you’re a long-time Legion of Super-Heroes fan or have never touched an issue of any version of the Legion, I’d recommend considering the collected volume.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Fantastic
Story Title: Book Four

Members of the Legions of Super-Heroes battle Superboy Prime and the Legion of Supervillains, while Brainiac 5’s plans bear further fruit, and the Time Trapper stands revealed.

finalcrisislegionof3worlds004Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: George Perez
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Nick Napolitano
Assoc. Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Art: (Reg) George Perez & Tom Smith, (Sliver) George Perez & Hi-Fi
Publisher: DC Comics

I’m no fan of variant covers, and any kind of marketing ploy to con people into buying the same content multiple times. Thankfully (despite dual covers), this issue is not that. But this issue cements this Legion story for me as one that I absolutely want to get in hardcover. And given the trend with DC’s books…I will be shocked if this series does NOT get the hard-cover treatment out of the gate.

The battle between the Legions rages on, as they combat their enemies in the Legion of Villains. As the brawls unfold, we see the Time Trapper step into things in-person, no longer simply manipulating…and while he has planned things, we see Brainiac 5 pull stuff together as seeds he’s planted through time come to fruition at long last–including a major element that has taken 1,000 years to come to this very moment…though things look like they might not quite work out as he planned. Superboy Prime faces off with the just-returned/resurrected Kid Flash (Bart Allen), and sees that his ‘nightmare’ is just beginning. Issue’s end sets up stuff for next issue’s conclusion, and goes a long way toward making me interested in Superboy Prime and the Time Trapper.

The story in this issue feels like it flies along. Where earlier issues in the series felt really long, this one actually felt short…and yet, there’s still quite a lot unfolding, as we se so many characters doing so much in these pages. The foundation Johns put down in the earlier issues and pulling from prior continuity bear major fruit here, and the payoff more than offsets the long wait between issues (and at this point, I think of this story simply as Legion of 3 Worlds, and forget the Final Crisis tag as best I’m able). Johns certainly has a grasp on these characters–or at least, for a reader such as myself, he sure seems to have that grasp on ’em…without someone more steeped in Legion history pointing out individual flaws to me, I have no problem with the way characters are depicted here.

The art for the issue is fantastic as well…aside from the overt visual style, there’s something to the overall imagery (the art, the inking, the colors) that subtley remind me of past comics. The depiction of the Time Trapper really puts me in mind of his depiction in Zero Hour (the last I recall seeing much of the character), which to me marks an incredible consistency that just adds to the appeal of this issue. Yeah, it’s been forever between issues–and I normally would have let a series go by now in protest of the delay–but this is one series that really is too good to give up on.

I don’t know how things will play out for the final issue–nor how characters pulled into this story will work afterwards in terms of interaction throughout the DCU…but just the fact of their presence here makes me one happy camper, and gives me new appreciation for and interest in the Legion as a whole.

Obviously, the 4th issue of 5 isn’t a great jump-on point…but if you’ve considered skipping this and the final issue for delays, I’d encourage you to forego that and just pick it up if you enjoyed the earlier issues. And if you’ve not picked any of these up and have the chance to snag the whole story so far, it’s well worth it.

Highly recommended!

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

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