Books Of Justice Trade Post: Team History & Dark Things

justice league of america team historyJustice League Of America: Team History (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Justice League Of America #38-43

Months ago I was looking through the two longboxes of unread trades in my closet and realized I had a lot of post-Infinite Crisis Justice League collections. I’d read many of the issues as they came out, but not since then. It seemed like enough time had passed that I could give them a re-read. I started with Brad Meltzer’s two volumes, then moved on to Dwayne McDiffie’s four books and am now up to the first two James Robinson offerings called Team History and Dark Things.

Guys, this trade is an absolute mess and it has nothing to do with the stories. When I wrote about McDuffie’s last book, I noted that there was zero context offered for what the heck is going on in the larger DCU. If these trades were only sold in comic shops to fans, that would be fine, because they would essentially be written for existing fans. But because trade paperbacks are out in the world, I feel like there should be some way to catch new readers up on what went on before it. I also fully support adding a few pieces of text between issues if something huge happened in a different book. Basically, these TPBs need to be as timeless as possible and they’re not.

Team History deals with all kinds of huge events that aren’t centrally located in Justice League Of America, so it’s super confusing. You’ve got an already depleted League that has to deal with Blackest Night and the Cry For Justice storyline, none of which are explained outside of quick dialog recaps in the books themselves.  I read those other comics when they came out, but that was a while ago, so even I was confused when I got to Team History. And then, BANG, you’ve got the Cry For Justice team along with fill-ins for the Big Three. To be fair, Robinson does a great job of recapping past events in #41, but that’s already four issues deep in this trade.

All that being said, Robinson did a good job with what he was given. Can you imagine taking over the most iconic superhero team of all team and it consists of Plastic Man, Vixen, Dr. Light and Red Tornado? Sure Zatanna and Gypsy show up to help fight Despero, but that’s still about as far from a headlining team as you can get. But, they do make for an interesting group to deal with evil returned loved ones in the Blackest Night event. Like the other BN tie-ins that I talked about before, though, the problem with these stories as a whole is that, even though many of them figured out smart ways to deal with the Black Lanterns, none of it was used in the larger story so what’s the point?

Finally, towards the end of the book, Robinson finally got to do his own thing and it was…interesting. The League finds itself dealing with a group of New God wannabes and some devices found throughout the history of the DCU which offers some fun looks at the Metal Men, the Challenges of the Unknown and other heroes and groups. At the end of the day, though, it felt like a bit of a confusing ending that has to take time to explain why several heroes left the team and then move right into the next book, a crossover with Justice Society Of America.

justice league of america dark things Justice League Of America: Dark Things (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Collects Justice League Of America #44-48 & Justice Society Of America #41, 42

Unlike the previous JLoA/JSoA crossover handled by Meltzer and Geoff Johns, this one was written and drawn completely by Robinson and Bagley. The team in this book is a much smaller version of the one seen on the cover of the previous volume. You’ve got Batman (Dick Grayson), Donna Troy, Congorilla and Starman with Supergirl and Jade showing up as the story progresses. Basically, this story finds the JSoA teaming up with the tiny JLoA because Jade has returned to Earth and brought the Starheart with her. Its presence winds up driving her dad Alan Scott crazy and the rest of the book has the teams joining forces to first take care of some of the magic- and weather-related backlash and then stop Adam’s rampage.

There’s nothing wrong with this story, but it also didn’t blow my mind. This story has loose ties to Brightest Day, the Blackest Night follow-up that focused on some of the returned-from-the-dead characters like Jade, but it didn’t feel like there was too much information left out. At the end of the day, I think I’ve just read enough of these kinds of stories to be a little bit bored with them. I really enjoyed how this book incorporated the effects of the Starheart on the rest of the DCU with all kinds of cameos, but at the end of the day, this is another team-up based around, basically, the same heroes doing a lot of the same things they’ve done before. That’s less a complaint about the quality of the story and more about my general feelings about Corporate Comics these days.

And yet, I was still disappointed by both of these books for a few reasons. First off, I’m not quite sure why this team exists other than to sell Justice League comics. I don’t necessarily need to be inundated with “team business” type stories, but there seemed to be very little of that. Heck, there’s hardly a team throughout both of these trades. Additionally, I was disappointed by both creators. Robinson penned one of the greatest superhero epics of all time in Starman and this doesn’t even come close to that. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I just can’t separate my love of that book from my expectations for this one. It’s not fair at all, but that’s how it is. Meanwhile, Bagley’s art didn’t wow me nearly as much as I thought it would. I was as excited as anyone when I heard he was moving over to a Justice League comic as the regular artist. But the results just seem a bit too slight and sketchy. These are supposed to be big, bold heroes and that doesn’t always come across.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what to think about these books. They’re important pieces of the post-Infinite Crisis, pre-New 52 Justice League series of books, but are they shelf or collection worthy? I’m going to hold on to them for now and see if I can get my hands on the last few to see how they work as a whole, but I’m not so sure these are worth holding on to.

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: Creepy Archives Vol. 1

creepy volume 1 Back when I was still at ToyFare, I got a pretty epic box of books including the first two volumes of Dark Horse’s Creepy Archives reprints. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that they’ve been sitting in my closet pretty much ever since. I might have pulled volume one out a few times, but never really dove in properly until this year. Not only was I excited to get into these stories as part of the Ambitious Halloween Reading List, but I was also able to make some money off of it by working on a fun list over at Topless Robot called The 10 Best Stores from the Early Days of Creepy.

I talked about some of the history over there, but basically, back in the mid 60s Warren Publishing figuratively picked up the mantle of EC Comics and rekindled quality horror anthology comics with books like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Many of the old school EC guys came over and did art while most of the stories in this volume were written by editor Archie Goodwin. After reading a few EC collections, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Creepy, but I’m glad to say I had a wonderful time reading these stories.

The big problem I had with the Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science books I’ve read is that, while the art is often amazing, the stories are hokey, boring or built in such a way that the twist ending is just so obvious it’s not even entertaining. I was worried that the Creepy tales would be along those lines and was delighted to find that that wasn’t the case.

ambitious halloween reading list 2013In fact, this book had some incredibly unique stories that I’ve never seen anywhere else which is really saying something. In that regard, these stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone because there was such a variety of stories being told, which is all the more impressive when you think that one guy was writing most of them.

But, the real eye-opening aspect of this book was introducing me to some classic comic book artists that I’m not very familiar with. Classic guys like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Joe Orlando came in ready to rock as did Frank Frazetta whose gnarly style fits perfectly with those vets (not that he was any rookie by this point, but you get my meaning). The one artist that really blew me away, though, was Gray Morrow. His work has such depth and quality to it that you almost wonder if these were more modern stories slid into these others from the mid 60s. I’m so intrigued by him that I want to check out books like Orion and Space: 1999, which both happen to be on my Amazon Wish List if anyone wants to get me a little something.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty darn far away from reviewing these supposedly Halloween-themed books in a timely fashion, but I’m enjoying this mix of books still and will continue on until I find myself distracted by something else. I’m partway through the Wally Wood book and about a third of the way through The Fall right now, so maybe I’ll actually finish this one out before the end of the year (but probably not).

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Police Academy

It’s pretty crazy when you think about how many aspects of pop culture the Police Academy franchise touched in the ten years between the first and last movie. Most people remember the seven movies featuring a group of goof-up cops trying to make it through police school and later protecting various people, but there was also a live action TV show, an animated series and even a toy line.

I was the perfect age to think that the Police Academy movies were pure gold when they were coming out. I even have vague memories of the two different shows and the toy line, specifically that Zed one that not only skateboards, but also drops his pants.

According to Toy Archive, the line was only active for one year, but it produced two waves of action figures, some deluxe toys, vehicles, role play items and even a playset that reminds me of the Ghostbusters Fire House playset.

If you’re wondering why I thought to look for Police Academy toy commercials this week, it’s because I’m fairly certain Andy Samberg has one of the Mahoney figures on his desk in Fox’s excellent Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I can’t seem to find the clip online, but if anyone remembers what episode it was from, drop me a comment.

Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

The Shining movie PosterHave you ever had a movie in your life that has built up such legendary status that you almost don’t want to watch it? Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was like that for me, but not always. Back in high school I tried watching it a few times, but kept hitting roadblocks. One time, a bunch of us were watching it in a friend’s basement where we were sleeping over. I think we got to the bathtub scene when a friend started freaking out and demanded we turn it off. I begrudgingly obliged and it wound up being the kind of movie that got swept away.

As I mentioned when reviewing Stephen King’s book, I picked up a DVD copy of the movie last year, but still hadn’t gotten around to watching it until today and you know what? I kind of didn’t like it. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

Batman Trade Post: Year One & All-Star Batman And Robin

batman year one Batman: Year One (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Dave Mazzucchelli
Collects Batman #404-407

It’s amazing when you think about not only how many different approaches Batman can handle, but also how many seminal stories are attached to the character. Whenever you get or got into comics, these stories are tent poles that changed the game. You either read them as they happen or feel their influence later on down the line.

When I came to Batman around the time of Knightfall, I was experiencing the latter. That would have been around 1992, six years after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and five after the “Year One” story was published in Batman. To say those were wildly influential stories for the character would still be an understatement. I’m far from an expert, but it seems like Frank Miller was continuing many of the elements developed in the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era, but I can’t say that for certain because of my limited experience. Anyway, this was a more serious take on Batman.

But like I said, that take on the character was very much the norm when I started reading those comics and, even though it was held up on the same level as Dark Knight Returns, I must admit that I’d only read it once before last week when I thought it would be a good idea to read Miller’s Batbooks in chronological order (as far as the character goes, not real time). I was going to start with Year One, then check out All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder and then end with DKR and maybe Dark Knight Strikes Again if I could easily get my hands on it. There was a big hitch in that plan, but I’ll get to that later. The point is that I hadn’t read Year One in a long time, but really enjoyed the experience this time around.

If you’re reading this blog you probably already know the basic story of Year One, it’s a look at Batman’s first year in Gotham playing hero. While he’s trying to figure out the best way to run around in disguise, fight criminals without killing them and striking fear in the hearts of men, Selina Kyle is giving up her career as a whore to become a thief and Jim Gordon’s doing his best to clean up Gotham and its police force.

In fact — and I’m sure this has been said before — this book is far more Jim Gordon’s Year One (In Gotham) than it is a Batman story. Sure, Miller puts you inside Batman’s cowl as he figures out this crime fighting thing, but the far more interesting story being told here is of the morally imperfect man trying to do the right thing in his day job as a cop. He takes his lumps, gives as good as he gets and worries about raising his unborn child in such a terrible city. At the same time, he’s stepping out on his wife with Detective Sarah Essen. It’s uncomfortable reading that no matter what, but even more so if you were reading when I was and know that Gordon eventually gets with Essen.

The emotional weight of the books comes across from Miller’s subtle writing, but also from Dave Mazzucchelli’s pencils. He’s an artist that I don’t have much experience with, but I was struck by how the art felt equally loose and detailed. I’m not quite sure if that makes any sense, but I think it has something to do with the thick lines used and the warm yet muted color pallet used throughout the book.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee
Collects All-Star Batman And Robin #1-9

I had a great time getting back to this seminal work and will add my name to the nearly infinitely long list of people who think it should be required reading for comic fans. It’s just such a great piece of comic book creation that it made my look at All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder come off as skewed.

My intention was to see how Miller’s version of Batman grew from Year One to All-Star and into Dark Knight, but I found that comparing the two books did no favors for All-Star. While Year One is very subtle and nuanced, there’s no room for any of that in this other book jam packed with loudmouthed extras and sociopathic heroes. When my buddy Sean Collins reviewed the book in 2009, I had just re-read it and liked it. But this time around I flipped back to the negative side. I get that it’s parody and over the top, but I think there are too many elements of the basic Batman character left out of the proceedings that it’s not actually a Batman comic anymore. This time it felt kind of like one of those Mark Millar comics where he takes a basic superhero concept, “turns it on its ear,” adds profanity and sells a million copies. I’m not a fan of those books. Jim Lee’s artwork sure is pretty though.

I’m probably completely wrong on this because I’m also not a DKR scholar by any means, but the complete shift in tone from Year One to All-Star threw me for a loop. I think I could probably still enjoy this book on its own, separate from any other Batman, but right now, I’m going to put it aside and move on to something else.

Halloween Scene: Day Of The Dead (1985)

day of the dead scream factory I don’t think I’ve ever really given George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead a fair shot. I’m not quite sure why. Back in my VHS-renting days at my local Family Video, I remember watching both versions of Night, Dawn and Day. Eventually I got one of the cheapo copies of the original movie on DVD and became a huge fan of Dawn to the point where I got that four disc DVD set several years back. But what about Day? Why had I only ever watched that movie once?

One reason might go back to a snafu at a video store in college. I went to school at Ohio Wesleyan in the small town of Delaware. There’s a nice main street that has (had?) a guitar store, a record store, several restaurants and a lot of other little places to check out. While walking around my freshman year, I saw a privately owned video store that was going out of business and therefore selling off its stock. I walked through and picked up a quartet of movies: Mom, Leprechaun In Space, Hot Potato and Day Of The Dead. The first three were just curiosities, but I was excited to own this Romero film. When I got back to my dorm, though, I slid the tape out of the cover and realized it was actually Dawn. I wound up falling even harder in love with that movie, to the point where I would have it on while studying or working on a paper and even fell asleep to it several times.

It’s funny to think of how my favorite horror movie list might look these days had I had easier access to Day. And, thanks to my buddy Rob passing me the recently released Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Day Of The Dead, now I do. Romero’s third zombie film was originally going to be a giant, big-budget, explosion-filled action film, but instead he decided to split up his deal to also make Knightriders and Creepshow. In the excellent documentary included on the disc, Romero says he loves the finished version because he distilled the original script into a smaller, more claustrophobic script that focused on a group of scientists and soldiers in an underground research facility trying to figure out what’s going on with the risen dead.

One of the things I love so much about Dawn is that includes a little bit of everything, but not to the detriment of anything. Day, however, is a much more focused, angry film that focuses on the tensions rising not only from these people living in a world where one of the basic realities of life has been abolished, but also the ones that come from their shared task which includes wrangling zombies for research purposes. It’s not like these survivors are holed up and focused mainly on living like they were in Dawn, they’re constantly staring death in the face, which means they can’t ignore it no matter how many RVs you set up with tropical decorations. There’s a lot of emotion in the works here and it’s amazingly well conveyed by the assembled cast.

day of the dead VHS

And, man, Tom Savini and his crew absolutely murdered the effects in this film. The gore gags are fantastic — made all the more realistic thanks to the use of actual pigs’ blood and entrails — and the zombie make-up and appliances are just insanely good looking. As much as I love Dawn, I like how the zombies in Day look less neon-y. And, of course, the best of the bunch is Bub, the zombie we see learning (or remembering) how to use some common household items. This is a theme Romero wanted to include more of in this film that gets picked up on in Land Of The Dead and probably the next to films Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead, which I haven’t seen yet. It such a cool theme that I never really thought about before, but why wouldn’t zombies begin to evolve after a fashion the longer they’re around, especially as they become the dominant life form.

If you’re a fan of Day Of The Dead or haven’t ever seen it, I highly recommend checking out the Scream Factory offering. The movie looks fantastic and I had a good time going through a few of the special features. The documentary has just about everyone involved with the film talking about what it was like to make the movie. Since I came to horror so long after this movie came out, I didn’t realize how reviled it was when it debuted in theaters. I’m glad to hear that it’s gone on an upswing in fan popularity over the years because it really is a complex film that says a lot about society without being ham-fisted and still including some of the all time best special effects of all time. What are you waiting for? Go watch it already!

Trade Post: Finding Gossamyr Volume 1

finding gossamyr vol 1 Finding Gossamyr Volume 1 (Th3rd World Studios)
Written by David A. Rodriguez, drawn by Sarah Ellerton

I find myself getting more and more into the idea of all-ages comics these days. In addition to covering some of those book for my regular gig over at Comic Book Resources, I also feel like there’s something really important about giving kids of a certain age the kinds of stories that feel a bit dangerous and teach lessons about perseverance without being too on-the-nose about it. When I was a kid, we had a ton of movies along those lines from The Goonies and E.T. to Monster Squad and plenty of other examples in between. It seems like, aside from a few examples, entertainment aimed at kids is a bit too clean and tidy. But, it also seems like those kinds of stories are being told in comics by people my age who were all influenced by those movies. As far as I’m concerned, the more of that the better.

So, when Th3rd World Studios sent me an email and asked if I’de be interested in reading a book called Finding Gossamyr about a couple of kids transported to a realm where magic and math are essentially the same thing, I was instantly interested. To get a bit more into the story details, the book stars orphaned brother and sister Jenna and Denny. Jenna’s trying to get Denny into an exclusive school where he can focus his strange ability to solve any problem placed in front of him, which is exactly what he does during the test. The problem? Solving the presented equation unlocks a door to another world called Gossamyr that’s being attacked by extradimensional jerkwads known as Desecrators. Both siblings use their abilities — Denny’s math-magic and Jenna’s veterinary skills — to make friends and stay alive in this wild new world.

There are a few key story elements that I really enjoyed in this work. For one thing, all of this starts because Jenna wants to get rid of her brother. Now, that sounds cold, but it’s also realistic. They don’t say it outright in the book, but I’m fairly certain Denny’s supposed to be autistic. I don’t have any experience with autism myself, but his character seemed in line with that of Max on Parenthood. She’s basically had to devote her entire life to her brother which has left her nearly no room to have one of her own. It was a selfish decision that sent their lives into crazy new places, but it’s handled realistically and with emotion. I love how complicated this becomes throughout the story, which adds to the overall feel of the book which comes off as very honest.

The fantasy elements are also pretty neat. There’s obviously a big, well developed world here that we’re only getting a small glance at, but the details we do get (math-magic, cool animals, boats that sail up mountains) are cool and easy to digest. A huge reason for all of this is thanks to Sarah Ellerton’s artwork which looks sort of figures you’d see in a CGI animated feature. I’ll always love traditional comic art styles, but it’s great seeing new and different approaches brought in to this field. She nails the human characters — which are well fleshed out by Rodriguez — but also the creatures whose facial expressions make them more than just obstacles to get over.

I’m not a big fantasy fan, though this book helped me figure out where the line is for me. If we’re dealing with a story like this one or The Wizard Of Oz or Labyrinth or The Return Of King Doug, where a person from the real world goes to the fantastical one (or vice versa), I’m interested. If it kicks off already set in that world, I’m less interested. This is odd because I don’t feel the same way about stories set on earth, other dimension or even other planets, but that’s where I’m at. I guess I appreciate having that character I can relate to who helps cut down on the barrier of entry. Maybe it’s because I don’t like having to figure out ALL the ways this new world is different on my own and prefer to learn them through the main character.

My only complaint about this book is that the coloring or printing seems a little dark at times. If the characters are wearing white, they’re always pretty easy to make out, but when you’re dealing with a dark monster attacking a dark-clad character at night it can be tough figuring out what’s happening. Luckily that’s not a common problem. There’s usually another background color running throughout the scene that helps separate the various figures and make everything pop.

I definitely enjoyed this book and look forward to further Gossamyr efforts from Rodriguez and Ellerton. But, the real question is whether I’d hand this book to my kid or another in my sphere. The answer is a firm yes. In fact, my 2-and-a-half-year old flipped through this book with me for a few minutes, but her attention span is crazy short. She seemed to like the art, but still hasn’t sat through a whole comic, let alone a trade. When she’s older, though, this will definitely be one of the books I show her.