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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.

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The ’00s Revisited: Adventures of Superman #586

adventtures_of_superman_0586Soul of the City!

Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Penciller: Mike Miller
Inkers: Armando Durruthy & Walden Wong
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Wildstorm FX
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2001
Cover Price: $2.25

Maybe it’s something about the paper quality, but this issue just feels thicker and sturdier than a modern comic book..!

We open on Superman overlooking the city, still flabbergasted that Luthor–Lex Luthor!–is President-Elect of the United States. He pulls himself together, puts on his public face, and flies in to greet the man, and congratulates him on his election. Elsewhere, we find several "minor" antagonists (Rose/Thorn, Kitty Faulkner/Rampage, Cary RIchards/Adversary, and Prankster) gathered before Lord Satanus, who proposes they assist him in claiming the actual soul of the city itself. Lois is spending time with her very pregnant sister Lucy, who goes into labor unexpectedly, prompting a rush to the hospital…though ultimately she’s sent home as it’ll be awhile yet. And Superman finds himself face to face with a gloating Satanus, claiming victory is already his–though Superman has several up-front allies and one seemingly missing in action, as we’re left with a to be continued.

Moving out from the election night issue (Superman #164) and the previous week’s Superman: Lex 2000 special, that story moves from primary focal point to subplot, as we seem to begin a new threat–the "return" of Lord Satanus and his latest bid for souls and such, going against what Superman himself stands for, etc. Re-reading this issue for the first time in nearly 15 years brought with it a bit of deja-vu, as my conscious mind recognizes the story as I read it, and yet my conscious primary guess at this issue–based on that cover–would have been that this was the issue where Superman discussed with someone that he’d be at the inauguration–hadn’t missed any yet–just that he’d do so without being seen, refusing to give a photo-op/endorsement that way.

Yet, seeing Superman–at least for the public face–graciously allow himself to be seen with Lex, to shake his hand, to say the words–seems an appropriate, totally classy thing…though it’s easy to relate to his inner conflict of having to appear cordial with a man who has been one of his life’s greatest antagonists and who he knows is beyond loads of crooked, corrupt stuff and yet it can’t be proven in such a way as to bring him down.

But rather than that being a long, drawn-out, done-to-death issue-long scene, life (and the story) continue to unfold, and we move into a new plot in which Lord Satanus is back on the scene. However, given I’d forgotten he even appeared here (mostly I remember the character from the Blaze/Satanus War in 1992 just before the Death of Superman, knew he’d had a couple "flare-ups" over the years, before apparently being destroyed during the Spectre’s rampage in the run-up to Infinite Crisis), it seems a foregone conclusion how this’ll turn out, and ultimately makes for a less-than-truly-threatening plot.

I also would not have been able to tell you that DeMatteis had done this issue or Miller provided the art…the the imagery is quite familiar.

Miller‘s art isn’t entirely to my liking…there’s something slightly "off" to the art, giving almost a "generic" Superman than one that seems as "familiar" as I prefer. However, I DO like the art, and this is not a bad version of Superman. And maybe it’s that I’ve had the cover looking at me for several days, but I really dig the cover!

All in all, this is a good issue, it deals with the emerging presidency of Luthor while bringing in a lesser-used antagonist in Satanus and even lesser-used allies, while addressing other ongoing facets of characters’ lives such that this really works as (in a good way) "just another chapter" in the ongoing Superman saga. Even having the issue in one of my few sorted longboxes where I know exactly where it is, I would be hard-pressed to NOT spend the 25 cents to snag an extra copy if I found it, if only to do something with the cover as an art piece. Given that, I certainly recommend this if you find it for a quarter; though the higher the price, the less enthusiastically I’ll recommend. To someone interested in this era of the Superman titles or picking up a small combined run of the titles for a true run of the "triangle numbers" (S-shields), this is certainly worthwhile.

I was gonna wrap up this collection of successive reviews, and may not actually write up the following issue…but this leaves me interested in at least reading the next chapter!

The ’00s Revisited: Superman: Lex 2000 #1

superman_lex_2000Triumph Over Tragedy; One or the Other; Where Were You?; He KNows; Lana’s Story

Written by: Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka
Pencils by: Tony Harris, Dwayne Turner, Doug Mahnke, Ed McGuinness, Todd Nauck
Inks by: Ray Snyder, Danny Miki, Dwayne Turner, Walden Wong, Cam Smith, Klaus Janson
Colors by: Tanya Horie, Richard Horie, Rob Schwager
Lettering by: Comicraft
Cover by: Glen Orbik with assists by Laurel Blechman
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Executive Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2001
Cover Price: $3.50

This issue is split into several smaller stories, as a sort of "bridge" issue from one status quo into the next, and as something NOT just another issue of any of the then-current four ongoing Superman titles. We have a short piece as the WGBS special recounting Luthor’s life for the public, and get Luthor’s feedback on it. We get a scene between Luthor and Batman as Batman demands "the ring" or the Presidency, setting up some future conflict. Another story has Jimmy talking to Lois and Clark about where they were when they heard Luthor was running for president…and then, as the race is called, we get another short story seeing Superman venting his rage at the news. The issue closes with a short piece between Superman and Lana, acknowledging continuity back to Superman #2, reminding us of the long history between characters and some important dynamics between the characters. Sprinkled throughout, we have some in-universe ads.

When I read Superman #164, I intended that to be an isolated thing. And reading just that, just one single issue, it was what it was. Reading this rekindles something for me, as I’m exposed to multiple creative teams within the then-current overall Super-team of creators. I’m reminded of just how much the supporting cast played into the comics, with actual Lois, Clark, AND Jimmy getting page-time, along with Luthor, Cat Grant, Perry White, and so on. It’s also easy to forget both No Man’s Land as well as the fact that in the early 2000s, Luthor and Batman had quite a thing going, with Luthor starting to seem almost as much a Batman foe as Superman (to say nothing of the DC Universe as a whole, all the more becoming THE US President of the DC Universe continuity!).

This is functionally an "anthology" issue, in terms of having multiple shorter stories and multiple creative teams, and though the stories all play together, all form part of the continuity of the issue, and all advance the overall story, each giving us some progression, it’s still different from a standard single-story issue. But for what it is, I definitely like that! The writing all works together, and while not all the art is 100% to my liking (at least now in 2016), it all works well enough. The only jarring part to me is the initial piece with Superman punching an asteroid when we shift into flat-out, unapologetic Ed McGuinness art…a style that doesn’t work as well for me now, being used to contemporary stuff, but does an excellent job of bringing that feeling back of reading these comics and others of this time period as they came out.

I honestly did not remember what this issue held, what to expect of it: I’ve had the cover to go on for awhile, but until I actually sat down to read this, I couldn’t remember if this was in the style of the Newstime: The Death of Superman issue or not…I was quite glad to find this was not like that one, outside of the magazine-style opening page, and some of the "ads" throughout.

This was an extra-sized issue, and extra-priced, too…carrying a whopping $3.50 cover price (to the then-usual $2.25!). I am not sure if I have any duplicates of this issue…this being one of those in-continuity "specials" that kinda took the place of or rendered the Superman: The Man of Tomorrow title moot, I don’t feel like I see these in bargain bins as often as standard issues. Reading this after having just read the issue preceding it, I feel like one would certainly appreciate this a lot more with context of surrounding issue. Yet, ultimately, this does stand alone pretty well in that the stories are not continuing off some previous cliffhanger, nor do they end on a "to be continued" or such. They pick up on existing plot threads, and play with those, and move stuff forward.

I would have little problem recommending this issue up to a dollar bin purchase (beyond your standard 25 or 50 cent bin), though I’d recommend making sure you’re interested in READING it if you do.

The ’00s Revisited: Superman #164

superman_0164Tales From the Bizarro World

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness, Carlo Barberi
Inks: Cam Smith, Juan Vlasco
Jimmy Olsen’s Pal: Joe Casey
Letters: Richard Starkings
Color: Tanya + Richard Horie
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2001
Cover Price: $2.25

This issue opens with Jimmy Olsen getting into some trouble, requiring rescue by…well, Superman would be great, but he’s saved by Bizarro #1 instead! While Jimmy deals with the wackiness that his life quickly becomes with Bizarro’s presence, we see Superman and Lois met by Batman, who confirms that there’s no way for them to prove Luthor’s not who and what he claims to be…they can’t throw any last-second interruptions into Luthor’s bid for the presidency. Later, we find Superman watching numerous news reports of the unfolding election night, and J’onn offers a moment of levity against Superman’s rising stress. Meanwhile, Jimmy again finds himself in need of rescuing…this time, an unfamiliar Supergirl shows up. Though the two share a bit of a connection, that’s quickly interrupted by Bizarro. A slugfest ensues, ultimately stopped by Superman…whose presence is a bit unsettling to Jimmy. Finally, we end with the question: is Lex Luthor about to be the President-Elect?

I certainly never appreciated this issue when it came out, back in November of 2000. And I actually recall feeling like I missed an issue somewhere, between this and the one that came the following week. Now, of course, it feels quite appropriate, and I dug it out for a re-read specifically for the timing here…November 2016.

The art is solid enough, though a bit cartooney…as is McGuinness‘ style. I didn’t care for it much back then, and don’t find it entirely appropriate here…but it works, and the art has certainly grown on me…if only for the nostalgia-effect. This issue came out sixteen years ago, and I remember this issue and this period of Superman comics when I was getting the issues brand-new each week.

The story works quite well for me here, and I rather appreciate the glimpse into Jimmy’s side of things. It also gives the reader an entry-point that made this work pretty well as an isolated read, recalling solely that Luthor was running for president, and that this takes place within a couple issues of the Emperor Joker stuff. Which of course explains the new-ness of Bizarro to Jimmy; and this also seems to take place around a major change in the then-current Supergirl title…a lot of changes coming together in one issue.

It’s eerie how appropriate the story is at present, given the nature of the 2016 US Presidential Election. And I think it’s safe to guess that pretty much everyone sees "a Luthor" in the race.

Given all he knows about Luthor, Superman still trusts "the people" and "the system" to see that Luthor can’t possibly actually be elected President. And despite the obvious in terms of relating to someone of his position and powers and all that (to say nothing simply of being a fictional character!)…I find it quite relatable seeing Superman’s reactions in this issue. Then there’s knowing how it all goes, and even ultimately turns out in issues succeeding this one.

This worked far better than I would have expected as an isolated one-off. It’s by no means a jumping-on point in an ongoing sense…but I would say is one of the better issues to just sit and read. You have Superman himself as well as primary supporting characters, and this draws on subplots that’ve built up and also sets things for issues to come. Common as the comparison’s become…it’s like watching an episode of an old tv series one remembers, and enjoying the episode as itself, recalling enough to get by but not necessarily being fully immersed in the ongoing story anymore.

If you’d find this in a bargain bin, it’s well worth getting, particularly 25 to 50 cents. Above $1 I’d avoid it for casual readers…fans of Superman in general, McGuinness‘ visuals or this period of the character might be more interested.

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