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From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
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. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

superman0650_blogtrailer

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.

Showing Off the Shelves: The Flash (November 2016)

My Flash stuff is the most recent "subcollection" to take off for me, having "started" with The Secret of Barry Allen and not really counting the Flashpoint volumes to pulling those in, and adding a number of other volumes in 2016…including having pre-ordered the Flash by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato Omnibus prior to being laid off.

flash_shelf_late_november_2016

As Flashpoint was an "event," I’d had those books grouped with my other "event books," but decided that as the only "event series" that I have like this (and keeping what I do have of Blackest Night with the Green Lantern stuff, made sense to me to move Flashpoint over to fit in right after the Road to Flashpoint volume, leading directly to the Omnibus (which has the first 25 or so issues of the New 52 run).

I would hope that there’ll be another omnibus collecting the back half of the series, but for now, I’m more interested in/looking forward to The Flash by Geoff Johns vol. 3 and The Flash by Mark Waid vol. 1!

Zero Hour Revisited – Booster Gold #0

90srevisited_zerohour

booster_gold_0000Blue & Gold Chapter 1: The Secret Origin of Booster Gold

Written by: Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz
Pencil Art by: Dan Jurgens
Finished Art by: Norm Rapmund
Colors by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Randy Gentile
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover by: Jurgens & Rapmund
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I probably should have actually tucked this in with the "week 3" issues, as this 1. does not end on white pages and 2. takes place prior to events seen in "week 4." C’est la vie…I put this issue almost at the end of stuff because of it being a "retroactive tie-in" published a decade and a half AFTER the actual series.

This issue sees Booster Gold and the Blue Beetles travel through time, and cross paths in the timestream with Parallax (Hal Jordan) and Extant (Hank Hall) circa Zero Hour, 1994. Parallax damages their time-bubble and they’re forced into the 25th Century (with no need to chase down the time-trouble-makers, as they’ve already been dealt with IN Zero Hour–oops, we’ll see that shortly). Turns out the exact day the group emerges in is the day that Booster "threw" a football game and was caught doing so. While striving to ensure that this timestream is not disrupted, they use resources available to continue their own mission and we learn a bit more about Booster’s background as well as the Blue Beetle (several of ’em!) before things have to be dealt with–like putting Dan and Jaime back in their own times without any memory of this issue or the previous having happened…and Ted’s poised to be another "Hero You’ve Never Heard Of" alongside Booster… it’s Blue & Gold, reunited! Though the two quickly realize there’s a bit of a Brother Eye problem that may end things before they’ve truly begun.

This issue was actually published in 2008, some 13 1/2 years after Zero Hour. We were post-Infinite Crisis, post-52, mostly through Countdown, heading toward Final Crisis. And in the early issues of the Geoff Johns run on Booster Gold, with art by Dan Jurgens–the character’s creator and Norm Rapmund‘s excellent inks. And I recall this being one of the more fun series at the time, certainly one of my favorites.

In fact, I had covered the issue at the time, for comiXtreme (and republished in this blog years later), and rated it quite highly. That particular review was based on the issue in that context rather than as a random issue added to this mix, hence any discrepancies between then and now.

Ultimately (given the 14-year-gap in publication) this issue does nothing for the understanding of Zero Hour itself, moving the 1994 series along, etc. But this makes a fun tie-in and providing a more grounded "time" to touch base with–a nod to older/longer-time readers–while serving its own story.

This issue actually kicks off the second arc in the Booster Gold title, and leaves me quite interested in re-reading it…unfortunately, I don’t believe I have any of the early collected volumes, nor ready access (consolidated) to my singles at the moment.

I don’t recommend this in context of Zero Hour itself, really, but it was a great throwback issue, touching in continuity and playing off the #0 issues concept (this was the seventh issue of the series). But as a Booster Gold story, I very definitely recommend the Blue and Gold arc that this kicks off, as well as the first one, 52 Pickup.

More New Flash–But With Damage

Sadly, I’m not referencing the ’90s character Damage.

Amazon Prime continues to astound me at their lack of use of shipping materials in mailing stuff–particularly paperback graphic novels–that are already oversized and much more subject to easy damage and dingings and such than say, a tight-wrapped “brick” of a mass-market paperback edition.

new_flash_books_damage

This damage is to the bottom of the back…on the shelf it won’t even be noticeable! But to me, it’s the principle of the thing. I pay for Amazon Prime for the shipping; both books were hardly discounted (like 20%)…and they were just stuck into a basic padded mailer, no cardboard, no plastic wrap, no anything really to help protect them in shipping.

The envelope was oversized–and almost big enough the two books could have been inside, side-by-side. And the envelope looked like it had tire treads on it–hardly the first time I’ve received packages that way–so…I am not a particularly enthused camper right now.

new_flash_books

But look! New (to me) Flash books! With these, and last week’s The Flash: Rebirth, and my already having the Flashpoint complete event in collected volumes…I’m definitely building my “Flash collection.”

Once I get the replacement copies for these–once I get satisfactory replacement copies*–I’ll be set for a bit. And at this point I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be adding the New 52 stuff…I already pre-ordered some sort of omnibus with the first 25 issues, and I guess I’ll see what’s what from there.

(* Numerous times over the past few years, I’ve wound up with 3, even 4 or 5 copies of something in-hand due to requesting replacements when Amazon refuses to use packing materials and stuff does not arrive in pristine condition. Shrink-wrap the books to a piece of cardboard in a box? Cool. Shrinkwrap the books and toss a couple bubbles in to minimize stuff moving around? Ok. Put cardboard in and ship in a stiff mailer? Great. Show some effort. Show me that the books were NOT just chucked in something and thrown down a conveyer belt.)

Superman (2011) #32 [Review]

Superman #32

Men of Tomorrow – Chapter One: Ulysses

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: John Romita Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Laura Martin
Lettering: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Romita Jr., Janson, Martin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I wasn’t going to buy this issue. I’d been annoyed by the ads the last couple months, and wasn’t a fan of the art from previews…to say nothing of being annoyed AT the previews themselves (having never been a particular fan of the 5-page or so previews masquerading as chosen content in any given issue).

But at the shop, the coloring of the cover caught my attention: It’s not an image I recognized from the ads (the ads’ image I’d thought for SURE was the COVER IMAGE for this given its use all over the place!). While I’m not a fan of the linework, the image caught me–the red of the cape, the blue of the main suit, and maybe all the more, the orange and yellow background. It’s reminiscent of two VERY familiar covers in my mind: the Kryptonite Nevermore issue, and Adventures of Superman #497 from 1992.

Where usually the cover and art are not the primary influencing factor in my buying a comic, in this case, it definitely “sold” me on at least this issue alone.
I also quite like the fact that the visual style fits the interior; it sometimes feels like the covers can be a distinctly different thing, giving one impression while the interior is a completely different visual style.
I recall liking Romita‘s art some 12/13 years ago on Amazing Spider-Man, JMS‘ run, but as I’d noticed from the previews and now having been through the actual issue, I’m not terribly thrilled with the style with Superman. It’s certainly not bad–and loads better than anything I could ever dream of being able to draw myself–just that for this first issue it doesn’t fit with my preferred visual take on Superman (a la Dan Jurgens, Jim Lee, Ed Benes, to name a few). The art certainly does its job…I’m never really left wondering what’s going on, and there’s nothing that jars me out of the story scratching my head at anatomy or some other quirks that different artists’ styles sometimes have done to me. If you’re a fan of Romita‘s style, this would seem to be a solid example of that, except it’s with DC characters instead of Marvel.

While Janson‘s name sticks out quite a bit to me, I’m honestly not one that particularly consciously notices inking–linework tends to go together as one thing, with the penciller getting much of the credit. In this case, given just how recognizeable the art is to me as Romita’s style, I’d say the inking maintains the style, complimenting it quite well…it certainly doesn’t detract in any way I notice.

If I’m correctly recalling, the last time Johns came onto a Superman book was in Action Comics, beginning the Last Son arc with Donner, and I was none too thrilled with elements reintroduced to the Superman story during that run. I was also not all that thrilled with the Secret Origin arc and what THAT reintroduced.
However, this is an entirely different DC universe, an entirely different Superman, and as such, I’m along for the ride and whatever elements are brought in. I’ve not been particularly invested in the New 52 Superman, at this point having read barely 1/3 of the run.
Johns introduces us to Ulysses, a boy sent from his dying world by his parents to another place in the hopes that he would live…an origin quite parallel to that of Kal-El. Years later, Superman takes down Titano, a giant (mechanical) ape troubling Metropolis. Not long after, we spend some time at the Planet with Perry, Jimmy, and a visiting Clark. Perry offers to bring Kent back in, and offers a bit of a ‘speech’ that will surely impact the young reporter/blogger/super-hero. A new threat hits the city, and though Superman intervenes, it takes the intervention of a new  figure to temporarily resolve the issue, as the man believing himself to be the Last Son of Earth discovers he’s not nearly as alone as he’d thought.
Frankly, I don’t want to be interested. I don’t want another $3.99 book on my slate each month, especially with the title being what seems to me arbitrarily bumped to the higher price, when Superman started as a $2.99 book and Action Comics was the $3.99 book.
But Johns has done it–I’m interested in spite of myself. I may not be enthused with the art, but the story more than makes up for it. I haven’t a clue how LONG Johns will be on the book, and this strikes me as likely “graphic novel” fodder (without getting much into the issue of stories “written for the trade”) so it remains to be seen if I pick up the next issue.
I’m not ready to add this to my pull list by any means…but I’m not disappointed in having spent the $3.99 that I did, I’m interested in what comes next within the story, and it’s highly likely that if I don’t pick up the rest of this arc in single-issue format I’ll definitely look at picking up the inevitable hardback.

adventuresofsuperman497      superman233

superman0032

Shazam! (New 52) Vol. 1 [Review]

shazamvol001Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Dezi Sienty
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $24.99

I’ve never really been a fan of the Shazam/Captain Marvel property. I haven’t exactly disliked it, but I’ve never really had any active interest in it. Actually, my primary interest has probably come much more in retrospect in the last 10-15 years, looking back to where I came across the character(s) in the 10 or so years prior, and seeing how the concept’s been worked into the general DC Universe, and given the history as tough competition to the Superman publications.

In more recent years, I neglected to follow the Trials of Shazam series, though seeing the changes wrought by Infinite Crisis and its lead-up seemed to hold a lot of potential. I just never really got around to going back and checking up on the saga.

Then the New 52.

I didn’t care for Justice League, so wasn’t about to buy a title “just” for some “backup feature” or “co-feature” or whatever. It seemed to me that there was some miscommunication as to when the Shazam stuff would even start, and ultimately that came down to “out of sight, out of mind” for me, if not simply “don’t care.”

Skip then to Villains Month and the heavy house-ad presence for the Shazam! vol. 1 hardcover, combined with a conversation I had with a friend whose only real exception to “no super-heroes” IS Captain Marvel/Shazam. Beginning with simply being “cute” and sending an SMS photo of the ad (“hey, here’s something NEW you can buy!”) followed by realizing I’d been enjoying the stuff with Black Adam in 52 and then the JSA story near the end of Johns‘ run there, and opting to get the Black Adam Villains Month issue…and I fell into my own “trap.”

I was curious, and interested.

Which, finally, brings me to the book itself: Shazam! Volume 1. This book collects the Shazam! feature from Justice League (2011) #s 7-11, 0, 14-16, 18-21…or 13 chapters. Being–as I understand–functionally “backup” or “co” features, these were each significantly shorter than a standard issue, so these 13 or so chapters work out to approximate six issues…making this a standard-size volume overall.

That I was able to get the hardback for $15 shipped made it like getting a paperback, but the added “plus” of actually being a hardback…though that’s probably moreso the immediacy, as my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I was more interested in checking out the New 52 iteration of the property than caring about having a hardback vs. paperback.

The cover’s depiction of the character is a bit “off” to me, looking questionably sinister, power-mad, or at the least, slightly creepy. Based on the interior, it looks to me like that image was from a variant cover of an issue of Justice League, and seems modeled after the 2012 #0 issues of the New 52. Fitting, as this is the introduction of this version of the character…not so fitting as it’s the only image of the character that stuck out to me in that way.

Gary Frank‘s art is a definite draw for me, and made the book quite easy on the eyes. Everything taken solely in context of this single volume, I haven’t much to say about the art other than I enjoyed it quite a bit–in general as well as the character designs themselves. Adding my knowledge of more Shazam stuff than just this volume, Mary seemed a bit too “old” and not so “innocent” as I’m used to seeing the character (excepting Final Crisis and such), and I’m not familiar with Pedro, Eugene, or Darla offhand. Additionally, the hooded full cape isn’t an aspect of the costume I’m used to, though Frank makes it look good.

Story-wise, it was a bit stranger to me seeing a more rebellious, cynical Billy Batson, one quite lacking in the wide-eyed worldly wonder and “Holey moley!” of even the ’90s take on the character. While that’s long been a relatively defining aspect of the character, its absence in this was actually quite welcome to me. This Billy seems much more grounded and realistic, and it’s a lot easier to identify with the character himself. That there are echoes of the typical “with great power comes great responsibility” refrain thematically doesn’t hurt things, either. I also found that I don’t at all mind the missing “Captain Marvel” name, as I’ve grown up with Shazam as the cover designation involving the character(s). It remains to be seen the long-term designation of the siblings’ names, but as I’ve (as of this writing) yet to even read Ordway‘s Power of Shazam series, I have no particular vested interest in the old naming convention.

Throughout this volume, we get to see some honest growth of the character as he first takes advantage of his power, then attempts to learn to channel it, and finally shares it and steps closer to being the hero he’s gotta be. We also have the introduction and a bit of development of the villain–Dr. Sivana–whose quest for Black Adam and access to magic dovetails into the overall arc of Billy getting HIS powers and stepping into action. Sivana’s motivation also rings true, as he’s seeking to save his family with the magic and not “just” some mad scientist-type scheming against the magical hero.

There were a number of splash pages, enough that I couldn’t always tell where a chapter definitively had ended. In this single-volume format, that’s definitely a good thing…yet it underscores how much I would have hated this in its original serialized format. The story taken as a whole–this entire volume–works very well, but pull out any one chapter by itself and there’d be a lot left wanting for that chapter–either focus on Billy and his building relationship with his new “siblings,” or continued development of things on Sivana’s end with Black Adam.

As touched on earlier–I very nearly bought this for full cover price just for the immediate gratification…but currently holding an Amazon Prime account with free 2-day shipping, I forced myself to hold off in order to save $10 (40%). At the $15 I ended up paying, this was more than worthwhile as a purchase. The full $25 might be a bit of a stretch…but as a hardcover, it’s not a horrible value, and as something I was actively interested in acquiring TO read, this seems one of the better volumes I could have chosen. 

All in all…I’m quite satisfied with this book, and the amount of time it took me to read the thing cover to cover for its price compared to the same price for say, four of last month’s Villains books. I don’t know that I’d jump into buying single issues with a continued backup series featuring Shazam or the Shazam family, but I would certainly check out an ongoing title or occasional special.

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