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This Week’s Superman Haul

Though I’d consider Superman my favorite comics character–and one with whom I have the most “history” (other close rivals being Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), it’s been a long time since I bought any new Superman comics.

But this week, I picked up Superman Unchained #1, got the free All-Star Superman #1 reprint, and from the 25-cent bin, snagged a copy of the 2nd print of 1992’s Superman #75–the Death of Superman.

supermanweek06132013

Not a bad haul for the price and page count!

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All-Star Superman #8 [Review]

Quick Rating: Average
Story Title: Us Do Opposite

Superman and Zibarro on the Bizarro World as said world sinks into the Underverse.

allstarsuperman008Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored by: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics

Perhaps it’s the timing, or zeitgeist, patience wearing thin or just plain change-of-tastes…this issue is the first that I’ve really felt outright let-down by.

The issue continues from the previous one (which was itself a "To Be Continued…"), picking up with Superman on the Bizarro world with some guy called Zibarro, an imperfect imperfect (read: "perfect") duplicate of Supes. (At least, that’s the impression I got contextually–whether this issue is on-time (bimonthly) or not, it feels like it’s been awhile since the previous issue, and I didn’t recall much detail from that.) The Bizarro world is sinking into the "underverse," and while Superman has gotten the Bizarros off Earth, he himself is trapped on their world, and rapidly losing his powers (the further into the Underverse they get, the more the sunlight is changed to red sunlight, which of course means no more yellow/power for Supes). This forces Superman and Zibarro to get creative for a solution to their problem. Meanwhile, on Earth, Lois and others compare notes on the situation as a whole, leading Lois to a particular revelation that’s been a long-time coming.

Yes, I was let-down by this issue. For one thing, I had wrongly assumed it would conclude the Bizarro story from the previous issue. I’d figured a 2-parter wouldn’t be bad, but I rather like the one-off nature of earlier issues, where you could pick up a single issue and enjoy it start to finish, without needing context of the previous issue(s). That this is also a "To Be Continued…" issue is a disappointment. The "Bizarro-speak" gets extremely frustrating very quickly…I found myself trying to sort it out/logically comprehend it, but quickly gave up, and relied more on tone and visuals to figure out what was going on, as well as context from Supes and Zibarro speaking normally.

I’m also not a fan of the Bizarro concept as a whole…and while I’m sure this story has some nice homage to silver age stories (much as this series as a whole seems to be a modern-age sensibilities / homage to the silver age), it lacks the charm of earlier stories presented in this series, and simply fails to engage me.

The art is good, as usual, for the story…Quitely provides a that distinct, almost simplistic visual style that has defined this series visually so far, taking apparent cues from Superman: For All Seasons without outright mimicking it. The art fits the story, shows what is going on, and in general works quite well; I really have no complaints with it.

With no real recapping, this issue doesn’t seem like the best point for a new reader to jump on-board. While you do get a story of Superman on the Bizarro world, it’s missing much of the context and the "why" presented by the previous issue. If you’ve read the previous issue, you’ll probably want to read this for the obvious story continuation. And if you’re a general Bizarro fan or fan of silver-age type stories in and of themselves, you may just enjoy this, context-be-darned.

Ratings:

Story: 2.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3/5

All-Star Superman #6 [Review]

Quick Rating: Very Good
Story Title: Funeral in Smallville

Superman deals with the appearance of doppelgangers, and a certain loss…

allstarsuperman006Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editorial Assists: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics

This particular issue doesn’t seem to have the ongoing continuity thread of the earlier issues (as far as Supes being sun-poisoned and dying). It certainly holds up on the "presents a self-contained/issue story" end, though.

Superman/Clark hangs out with his parents, and while it’d be second nature to him to deal with the harvest using his powers, Pa insists on hiring help to get it done the old-fashioned way. This "help" proves to be more than they let on, leading to a rather cliched super-battle that somehow doesn’t come off in THAT bad a way.

Morrison‘s writing here is good, and while the cover pretty much gives away what happens, it’s easy to be occupied with the action, until what happens does. In that way, we see a Superman that is seemingly much younger than the "main continuity" version, as well as almost more realistic. The story itself is nothing new, but it’s the specific presentation that makes it worthwhile: in THIS continuity, for THIS Superman; and in a way it seems to draw from several versions of the character, providing a sort of "merged" handling of the elder Kent. Morrison seems to enjoy dipping toes into a number of swimming pools, giving us glimpses of different ideas or ways to take certain characters: before I’d even read the identity of one future character, I recognized the symbol from that story from 1998 (seems that was a million years ago, doesn’t it?).

Quitely‘s art is good, and just works well with the writing; the style (at least for the moment, coming down off a cold) reminds me of Tim Sale‘s style, particularly from Superman: For All Seasons. (To some degree, the story itself almost seems like it could be fit with that, though it’s been years since I last read it).

As infrequent as this book is, it’s not a favorite exactly, but it’s certainly enjoyable, and well-done. This is the Superman to introduce people to who aren’t terribly familiar with the character and uninterested in a monthly commitment; it gets at some core elements popularly known with the character, without relying heavily on or being expected to use heavy continuity. If you pick up no other Superman book, this would be the one that’s worth getting.

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

All-Star Superman #5 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: The Gospel According to Lex Luthor

Clark Kent interviews an imprisoned Lex Luthor…

allstarsuperman005Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics

Superman doesn’t show up in this issue. Instead, this is a more character-centric piece looking in on the "All-Star Universe" Lex Luthor, as interviewed by–and interacting with–Clark Kent (who, of course, is actually Superman, but Luthor doesn’t know this.)

Visually, this issue seems–without my having the prior 4 open before me–on-par with those issues. Quitely‘s art seems to capture at once a simplicity often lost to comics, while managing to convey a subtle complexity. That’s not to say this is the most detailed art, nor is it the most simplistic–it’s an interesting blend of both, and for a standalone-continuity incarnation of Superman and the supporting cast, I think it works very nicely.

The story here–Clark Kent interviewing Lex Luthor, encountering The Parasite, and Luthor apparently keeping Kent alive (under his "protection") within the prison)–is, as in previous issues, reminiscent of a silver-age sensibility. However, there’s a complexity going on in Morrison‘s writing that shows those silver-age things in contemporary light. In short, the story can look and feel a bit silver-age, but that’s like a side-effect from a story that is still well-written.

As with the previous issue, this issue includes something between a cameo and a full-blown appearance of an established (in the regular DC Universe) villain, but in a way that isn’t quite the same-old, same-old. The appearance makes good sense given the setting, and provides a bit of impetus in moving the story forward–and perhaps (possibly) setting some stuff up for down the road (especially if we’re to believe Luthor to be quite the smart cookie).

If Superman interests you but you don’t want to get bogged down in years of continuity; or you’re just a fan of Quitely or Morrison, this issue should be a pleaser. The story focus is on the characters, and Superman doesn’t appear in-costume. While disappointing to some, I’m sure…it works for me, given the story.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

All-Star Superman #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: The Superman/Olsen War!

On this particular day in the life of Jimmy Olsen, the kid’s got his hands full with an evil Superman and a plan to save the world…question is, what will it cost him?

allstarsuperman004Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored by: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
Publisher: DC Comics

I hardly even remember the previous issue, offhand. Thankfully, due to the nature of this series, one doesn’t really have to remember that issue to "get" and enjoy THIS one.

Jimmy Olsen here is working on a series of "For a Day" columns, in which he takes on certain jobs for a day, following them with a column about his experiences. The focal role he takes on in this issue is as Director of "P.R.O.J.E.C.T."

Of course, Jimmy being Jimmy, trouble ensues, resulting in the summoning of Superman to the scene, to bail everyone outta said trouble…though this, predictably, only leads to more trouble–and ultimately, a certain ‘friction’ between Superman and Jimmy.

The conflict becomes physical, and as the issue’s story-title suggests, we get to see Superman and Jimmy really go at it–while providing a semi-unique interpretation of yet another character, working it into the "All-Star" version of things in such a way that doesn’t interrupt status quo, and is left open to return later.

This issue is yet another example of how both Morrison and Quitely present a Superman comic that greatly differs from the current/ongoing main titles…and yet "gets" a certain essential aspect of the characters, telling stories that are possibly more fun and entertaining than those main titles. This may not be THE Superman that everyone seeks…but this version of Superman should be recognizable by anyone.

The art is clear and distinct–conveying exactly what needs to be conveyed. The visuals may not be "photorealistic," but they don’t need to be–they have a style all their own, that works very well for this issue–and the series as a whole.

While I am personally a fan of "continuity," this issue is argument in itself showing what can be done outside the bounds of "continuity."

Long-time Superman fan or newer reader, this issue–and the earlier issues of the series, as well–are very much worth picking up. If you don’t care for the main Superman books, this series is far enough removed that you needn’t worry about some infinite crossover or anything. Being approximately bi-monthly, the series puts less strain on the wallet, and each issue having a self-contained story, while carrying certain threads from one to another makes for a rewarding, satisfying reading experience.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

All-Star Superman #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good!
Title: …Faster…

Superman saves a group of scientists, Luthor puts his plan to kill Superman in motion, and of course, some Daily Planet drama…

allstarsuperman001Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Inks: Jamie Grant
Colors: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics

I was prepared to be rubbed the wrong way by this title. I’d heard mixed things about it, and Morrison‘s been a bit of hit-or-miss with me. I also wasn’t sure what I’d think of a story going back to basics on the character, especially when it would seem that meant going back to more of a "silver age" sensibility and such, particularly in the Superman/Lois relationship.

But I sat down to read this issue, and my # 1 complaint is that it’s like being allowed to watch just the first 15 minutes of a movie. You get the introduction of the characters, a bit of conflict, the set-up for the main plot, and a bit of a cliff-hanger when you have to turn it off and do something else, and wait another month for another dose.

The story certainly delivers on the back-to-basics, as we have a Superman unencumbered by marriage or other official romantic ties; a bumbling Clark Kent racing in at the last second to everyone’s wonderment at his whereabouts. Lex Luthor is an evil scientist under government watch (apparently he’s been allowed out of prison to use his genius to better mankind (or the government) so long as he doesn’t keep trying to kill Superman).

And in four panels on the first page, the character’s origin is summed up, which is cool as a refresher, and pretty much necessary only to remind readers (such as those who haven’t touched a Superman comic ever, or in the last 20 years or such) of the origin, since it’s arguable that just about everyone knows the basics of the origin: Doomed planet Krypton, parents launch a rocket into space, where the baby is found by a couple and raised on earth.

I don’t know that this is Morrison‘s most novel approach to a character, but something about it definite works. We get a status quo more reminiscent of the pre-Crisis Superman stuff, but the tone is definitely modern, including an interesting take on the nature of Superman’s powers.

This issue has a lot of little details and little moments, and I’d love to talk about them all, but that’s impossible for a review such as this. Suffice to say that if you’ve never really cared for Superman–either he was too powerful, too god-like and un-relatable or to the other extreme, was too human, not powerful enough…this take falls somewhere in the middle.

Quitely‘s art is also very good, conveying a sort of not-quite arrogance about Superman, but a playful, carefree attitude as he goes about doing his business of saving others. The facial expressions of the characters carry a lot of story, and the artist’s style in general works well here.

Other than the opening page, nothing’s said of the origins of the character-we’re plunged right into the midst of the story, everyone knows who Superman is, Clark’s already a reporter for the Planet, and so on–which is rather refreshing. It’s like being a kid again, being given a random Superman comic that just happens to start a multi-part story. (And this one has nothing to do with crises or multiple earths, united villains, countdowns to anything, etc.)

Well-worth checking out!

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

All-Star Superman #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Great
Title: Sweet Dreams, Superwoman…

Having been given Superman’s powers for a day, Lois makes the most of it–inserting herself firmly into a lifestyle she’s been stuck watching from the outside for far too long…

allstarsuperman003Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored by: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
Publisher: DC Comics

Several days ago, I watched the first new episode of House in three weeks. It’s a show that I enjoy, and so waiting several times the usual time between installments wasn’t my choice, but watching the episode made me realize that sure, had a couple weeks without the show–but that just made it that much better when the new episode came out. And that’s what this title feels like. It’s that show that you enjoy, but there’s quite awhile between issues…but when you get each issue it’s well worth the time in-between…and you can look back and be a bit surprised at how fast that time’s passed. This is already issue 3, and it feels like the series just started a couple months ago.

You don’t really need to know much coming into this issue. Morrison gives you what you need contextually as you go along. Having read the first couple issues, one will pick up a few subtle bits that enhance the story.

The story here–Superman giving Lois a serum that will grant her all of his super-powers for a day (a gift for her birthday, no less)–is at once silly and farfetched. But darned if it doesn’t actually work. This reminds me quite a bit of the type of story found in some of the old silver age Superman books, and yet it’s got a lot more depth and well…story to it.

We’re introduced to Samson and Atlas here–a couple of "rivals" to Superman–and get the feeling that this is by no means the first time they’ve crossed paths. This is only the third issue of this series, of this "take" on the character…and yet this sense of history adds to a feeling this version of Superman very certainly differs from the regular DCU character but has just as rich a background and all that.

Quitely‘s art is impressive, to be sure–there’s just a "feeling" he conveys throughout the issue. The imagery is on the surface a bit simplistic–certainly nothing hyper-detailed. And yet there’s enough detail to see the annoyance in Superman’s face or the excitement or playfulness in Lois’. The style lends itself to the story very well, having a sort of simplicity of older stories in appearance, but an attitude rooted in the present.

Putting the story and art together, we have yet another very strong issue of this new title.

You don’t need to have read #s 1 or 2 to "get" and enjoy this issue. Though elements are beginning to build a bit, you get an entire story here in this one issue. You get a timeless episode in the life of a Superman that isn’t silver age, isn’t modern-day mainstream DCU, but that takes the best of both and shows him in this title.

If you’ve never cared for the character or didn’t "get" the character, or just felt put off by the continuity and other such…this is the title for you. Superman doesn’t get much better than this.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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