Green Arrow Triple Feature: Year One, The Wonder Year & Longbow Hunters

Green Arrow Year One Green Arrow: Year One (DC)
Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Jock
Collects Green Arrow: Year One 1-6

Earlier this month, after watching that week’s episode of Arrow, I finally got off my butt and decided to give Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One trade a re-read. The fact that tonight marks the second season finale made today the perfect day to write about three different Green Arrow comics I read and enjoyed lately.

I got on the GA train back when Kevin Smith restarted the book in 2001. I was onboard throughout Brad Meltzer’s run and Judd Winick’s, but after the latter left, I thought it lost most of what made the book special. I even gave the first volume of the New 52 incarnation a read, but was pretty disappointed.

In 2007, DC tried to make Year One a thing by doing minis starring Green Arrow, Metamorpho, the Teen Titans and Black Lightning. For the most part, they weren’t particularly interesting, but Green Arrow had the one that not only sticks out as being pretty rad, but also works as a bit of source material for The CW show. The series really gets into what turned Oliver Queen from careless billionaire playboy into avenging arrow-slinger.

In Diggle’s re-telling of the origin, Queen essentially forces his way onto the boat that inadvertently puts him on the island. This time, though, it’s betrayal that directly leads to his life changing ordeal. A bow and arrow enthusiast thanks to knowing Howard Hill the stuntman who did the trick shots in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (an element found in all three of these books), Ollie creates a make shift arsenal that he uses to hunt and keep himself alive long enough to discover that the island he’s on is also the major source of poppies for heroin dealers lead by China White.

The great thing about this mini is that it not only shows how Ollie  grew into the physical character who could run around a city shooting arrows at bad guys, but also the mental transformation he had to go through because the former doesn’t necessarily correlate with the latter. Ollie sees that human kindness can exist even in a hellhole where natives are enslaved and tortured which goes a long way to turn him from a self obsessed rich kid into an empathetic hero whose eyes are now open to the horrors of the world he previously didn’t see or ignored. Jock’s able to convey all of this as well as the more action packed scenes with his very specific style in a setting that allows him to draw scenes in broad daylight which really show off his skills.

Green_Arrow_the_Wonder_Year_Vol_1_1 Green Arrow: The Wonder Year (DC)
Written by Mike Grell, drawn by Gray Morrow
Green Arrow: The Wonder Year #1-4

After reading Year One, I started going through some of the longboxes I’ve got sitting in our closet in an effort to make space, read some books that have been sitting around for a long time and generally clean up. While doing that, I came across the huge number of pre-Kevin Smith Green Arrow comics I started collecting back in college. At that point, I started just buying up back issue lots on ebay so I’ve got a lot of random stuff including this Mike Grell-written, Gray Morrow-drawn miniseries called The Wonder Year. In fact it was Morrow’s name that made me want to read this right away because I just discovered his amazing art in the pages of the first Creepy collection and was blown away.

Chronologically speaking, this 1993 mini takes place right after Ollie got back from the island. It’s funny, in this version, Grell made the island a place for pot farmers, a note that Diggle obviously took, morphed and ran with in Year One. Anyway, we get to see Ollie stopping bad guys while wearing a Robin Hood costume, hating the name Green Arrow as bestowed upon him by the press and scoring that first, real GA costume.

But the real thrust of the story here is a more personal one for Ollie as he comes to discover that an old college girlfriend of his has popped back into his life with some mysterious political affiliations that turn out to be a lot more nefarious than expected. In these issues, Grell paints young Ollie as a more politically oriented and complicated character than he was in something like Year One, going so far as to get into level-headed economic discussions with his hippy pals.

When I first read these issues, I wasn’t super impressed, but after thinking about them for a while, I actually like the book a lot more. For one thing, it’s great reading a Green Arrow book without many of the aspects that became common place later on like his extended hero family (Connor, Roy, Mia, etc.) or even Black Canary. Also, for longtime Green Arrow and Ollie fans, it’s interesting to see this older romantic relationship for our hero, especially how it ended the first time and more dramatically at the very end. It’s not necessarily the kind of book that will be referenced much, but it does reveal one of the many bricks in Ollie’s wall that got put up between himself and womankind for so long.

As far as Morrow’s art goes, it’s very hit or miss in these issues. You do get to see some of that amazing shading, page composition and collage skills on display in the pages of Creepy. But, other times, the figures look very weak or half-baked and occasionally, it’s not easy to figure out what’s going on. Still, I give all that a pass because we’re talking about 30 years between Creepy and Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.

Green Arrow: The Longbow HuntersGreen Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Grell
Collects Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1-3

Before Mike Grell launched what is still the longest running Green Arrow book of all time, he laid down the basics of his take in a three issue prestige format miniseries called The Longbow Hunters. This 1987 story took a character previously associated with big time superheroes in the Justice League and put him squarely in the real world city of Seattle, a corner of the DCU that ignored the big guns like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern in favor of focusing on more street level, human dramas. Ollie wasn’t alone in this descent into more seemingly mundane madness, though, he did have Dinah “Black Canary” Lance along for the ride as the two moved in together above Sherwood Florist, the best possible name for a flower shop in the history of clever flower shop names.

But, this isn’t the story of two people settling down to a simple life of vigilantism. Instead, Ollie tries to track down someone who’s using his archery MO to kill people while Dinah investigates a drug ring. The two wind up connected and Oliver must team up with the murderer known as Shado to save Dinah and also bring the bad guys to justice while dealing with some incredibly tough moral questions about the superhero code.

I feel like I should note that, up until this time, Green Arrow not only never had his own ongoing, but wasn’t much of a character. Denny O’Neil laid a lot of the Ollie groundwork in “Hard Traveling Heroes,” comics I’ve never been able to get through because not only are they well-mined by those who came after, but also pretty heavy handed. Grell took those ideas and ran with them, adding plenty of new layers as he went. If you want to get an idea of those early days, check out Showcase Presents: Green Arrow, Vol. 1 or The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Green Arrow to see what I mean.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of this story which, along with enjoying the then-current run on the book, lead me to start collecting the issues from this volume which eventually lead to Ollie’s death and his son Connor taking over. You hear a lot about the 80s being too dark, grim and gritty in the wake of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but I think there were a lot of quality comics being put out at that time that might have dealt with more real world issues and been darker in tone, but didn’t wallow in it. In this case, Green Arrow still shines as the hero even as terrible things are going on around him.

I absolutely love Grell’s art in this book. It’s beautiful, like paintings composed in pencil, sometimes on paper that looks rough, almost like brown grocery bags. He really took advantage of not only the nicer paper quality of these prestige format books, but also the freedom to break away from the traditional grid system to do something unique. My only complaint about the composition is that, occasionally, they can be difficult to read when he goes into double page layouts where you’re supposed to read the panels straight across the spread. After reading comics for a while, I’ve realized the best way to do this is to make sure that a panel from the right hand page starts on the left hand page, so the eye naturally carries over. In many cases in this book, the second page of the spread starts in the gutter or on the second page, so your eyes go down instead of over which can be problematic. Because of all that, I don’t know if I’d recommend this book to a new comic reader or someone who wants to check out some GA comics because they like Arrow. I mean, I’ve been reading comics for 22 years and I was confused.

Even so, it’s not a terrible thing to work a little to properly enjoy a great story like this one. If you’re at all interested in the history of Green Arrow as a character this is a pretty important piece to absorb at some point, but maybe give the collection Grell’s first six issues on the book (aka Green Arrow Vol. 1: Hunters Moon that came out in 1988 to see if it’s something you’d dig. For me, it’s all thumbs up and aces. Now I want to finish up my GA collection, but also want to get my hands on the trades I’m missing from the next volume.

PS – I’m trying something a little new lately by throwing in links to Amazon pages for the books and movies I review. If you’re interested in getting your own copies of these trades, just click on the main title next to the image and that’ll take you to Amazon. If you do buy it, I get a little cut and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

Comics, Comics, Comics, Comics: Gen 13 By John Arcudi & Gary Frank

Gen 13 26 On several different occasions (including this one) I’ve talked about how much I dug Gen 13 in the 90s. Every ten years or so there’s a teen superhero comic that kids of that era really gravitate to. For me it was Gen 13. I started reading the book somewhere in the teens and made it my mission to track down all of the accompanying issues, crossovers, spinoffs, one-shots and first appearances. I actually did a pretty good job and have close to a complete set from their first appearance up to Claremont’ run.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read OG Gen 13 comics though. When it comes to youthful favorites I often wonder if my adult self will enjoy the material as much as my younger self did. In this case I’m not so sure how things will hold up, but there was one run I decided to try again when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas: Gen 13 #25-41 written by John Arcudi and drawn by Gary Frank, two of my favorite creators these days.

The Arcudi/Frank stuff really starts in a back-up story in #25 so that’s where I began re-reading. The gang — superstrong Caitlin Fairchild, weather manipulator Sarah Rainmaker, firestarter Bobby “Burnout” Lane, gravity controller Roxy and  molecular bonder Grunge — are supposed to be lying low in NYC especially after their leader Mr. Lynch has been framed as a terrorist by the media and I/O leader Ivana. While I’m not 100% on what all went on in the 24 issues leading up to #25, it had something to do with part of the team going to space and Caitlin meeting a deranged version of their mentor and team leader John Lynch. Coming back, she can’t completely trust him because the crazy version didn’t seem all that different than the man she knows. After running into a fellow Gen Active who has a history with Lynch and fighting a mad scientist power-sucker named Tindalos, they head to the Florida Keys to lie even lower for a while.

Gen 13 33In the Keys their adventures seem a bit more mundane but still include local conspiracy theorists, the return of Caitlin’s dad Alex, half the team running into another mad scientist who turned into a giant baby (see: right) and a quick trip back to New York by Roxy and Sarah so the former could meet with her step mom and the latter can try and find a woman she briefly met and became smitten with. All of this leads to a pretty bonkers confrontation with Tindalos and an attack that not everyone survives.

I vaguely remember this arc when it was happening and thinking it was kind of weird and slow. That’s an opinion that was shared by some of my fellow readers who wrote letters to that effect. But, like many of them, I found this arc to be incredibly engaging this time around. Sure, it lacks the on-the-run, constantly-in-danger antics of the previous 25 or so issues, but there is just so much going on here on a character level. Caitlin has to deal with her feelings about Lynch, Lynch needs some time away, Alex comes in and starts leading the team, Roxy discovers that her step mom is actually her birth mother AND that Alex is her dad. To a lesser extent, Sarah tries to combat her loneliness and find a lost potential-love. Grunge and Bobby don’t go through as much, but that’s alright. If everyone was having some kind of crisis, it would be exhausting.

Plus, Arcudi really made this whole thing feel like an arc. Characters learn things about themselves and each other, they deal with those revelations and by the end, most of them are different, especially Caitlin. And, while the wrap-up seemed to come a bit faster than originally intended (those last three issues cut back and forth a lot to the point where I’m still not exactly sure what happened), I still think as a whole these issues tell a complete larger story that feels satisfying at the end of it.

Did I mention how much I love Gary Frank’s art? Because I loooooooove Gary Frank’s art. I first saw his work on Midnight Nation and then a few other books that have all been a visual treat including his awesome run on Action Comics with Geoff Johns. He has such a clear, crisp style that mixes the big time superhero stuff we all know and love with the facial expressions of a Kevin Maguire or Steve Dillon. Heck, Cassidy from Preacher even shows up in a panel at one point!

gen 13 41

After reading this run again, I’m actually pretty excited to go back and read the rest of the books in my Gen 13 collection. I remember some really fun arcs, runs and one-shots in there that should be a treat to go back to. While I don’t think all of them will be as good or solid as this run, I think there will definitely be some fun nostalgia moments.

I also realized that this run will be a good candidate for binding. At 17 issues, it’s pretty much the perfect size. But, the real question becomes whether I want to bind my entire collection. If that is the case, I might have to take a closer look and figure out the best way to do so. Before this arc you’ve got 24 issues, plus the various first appearances and the original Gen 13 miniseries, so I’m just not sure how it will all shake out until I get my collection back together in one place. Maybe I’ll pick a mini or a few one-shots from this era to round things out.

Knightfall Trade Post: Volumes 2 & 3

batman knightfall volume 2 knightquestBatman Knightfall Volume 2: KnightQuest (DC)
Written by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench & Jo Duffy, drawn by Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Mike Manley, Barry Kitson, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins & Tom Grummett
Collects Detective Comics #667-675, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #19-20, Batman #501-508, Catwoman #6-7 & Robin #7

Jeepers, I can’t believe I read and reviewed the first Knightfall trade all the way back in 2012. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but then again, my memories of that reading experience aren’t quite as strong as I would like (but that can be said regarding most of my faculties these days). Anyway, after Bane broke Bruce Wayne and Jean-Paul Valley took over in the previous volume, the second is all AzBats, all the time, specifically him meeting Batman’s allies as well as a mix of old and new villains. In the process, it becomes clear to everyone that JPV is out of his mind thanks to all of the programming his dad inputted into his brain in preparation for him to become the Azrael (assassin) of the Order of St. Dumas.

This humongous collection which clocks in at 655 pages includes a healthy dose of issues I hadn’t read before, specifically that crossover with Catwoman where the Cat-Bat dynamic gets flipped around and a Shadow Of The Bat arc that finds AzBats going up against a pair of deranged Clayfaces who happen to have found love in each others’ weird, muddy arms.

Much like the first volume, this was a great walk down memory line for me. I specifically remembered the Joker story that’s packed with movie references including two characters who are clearly Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. There’s also the Abattoir story which weaved in and out of the books more than I remembered. This is a serial killer who targets his own family members. He and AzBats tangled, but the villain got away only to come back into the spotlight further along into JPV’s descent into madness. The important aspect of this story is that JPV lets Abattoir fall to his death which is bad in and of itself, but also leads to the death of one of his family members who was hooked up to an elaborate death trap. At the end of this book, Robin can finally talk to Bruce — who is back in Gotham — and a plan begins to take shape that will get Bruce back in the cape and cowl.

batman knightfall volume 3 knightsend Batman Knightfall Volume 3: KnightsEnd (DC)
Written by Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy & Denny O’Neil, drawn by Mike Manley, Bret Blevins, Graham Nolan, Ron Wagner, Tom Grummett, Jim Balent, Joe Rubinstein, Barry Kitson, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Romeo Tanghal, Lee Weeks, Phil Jimenez, MD Bright & John Cleary
Collects Batman #509-510, 512-514, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #29-30, Detective Comics #676-677, 679-681, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #62-63, Robin #8-9, 11-13 & Catwoman #12-13

This one’s all about Bruce Wayne taking over the mantle of the Bat. Well, mostly. Before actually going up against AzBats, Bruce trains with Lady Shiva, the deadliest woman on the planet who kills without thought (as long as she’s not fighting a major character in the DCU). Once he succeeds in that endeavor, Bruce almost immediately leaves and hands the costume over to Dick. This leads to some great moments between Dick and Tim as the former and current Robins as well as a nice story that deals with Dick’s past with Two-Face which has haunted him ever since his earliest adventures as a sidekick.

I loved on the “KnightsEnd” story pretty hard. It’s not the most artfully told tale in the world, but seeing Bruce’s climb back to the top — which includes an encounter where he seemingly kills an opponent — followed by the equally epic battle with AzBats is a lot of fun. I didn’t actually realize that the “Prodigal” story featuring Dick as Batman was in this collection, so that was kind of a nice surprise. The problem with a portion of that story is that Two-Face apparently hacks Gotham’s computer system without any actual knowledge of how computers work aside from the basic idea of binary. I’m pretty far from tech savvy by today’s standards, but I furrowed my brow in confusion at parts of this story.

There is one large problem with this collection, even at 647 pages, it’s not really a full story. Bruce Wayne just comes back with very little explanation. That story was told as “The Quest” in various titles like Shadow Of The Bat, Legends Of The Dark Knight and even two issues of Justice League Task Force that have never been collected, but would make a nice little companion book. We also get no real explanation for why Bruce decides to take yet another break from being Batman or even where he goes during the “Prodigal” story. I understand that you can’t collect everything that pertains to this epic story, but some of the things left out make this feel overly devoid of context and reason. Now that I think of it, it probably would have made more sense to include “The Quest” issues in this book than the “Prodigal” one. Maybe I’ll make my own bound collection of “The Quest” issues and the missing Bane appearances before the “KinghtFall” story proper.

I’m far from the most impartial judge of these issues. I clearly had a few problems and even a few more that I didn’t mention but seem minor in retrospect. Still, having three huge volumes that collect so many of my first Batman comics, plus ones I never got around to thanks to the limitations of allowance, is a delight. Whenever I get more shelf space, these will be proudly displayed, possibly with a few action figures. I think I’ve got the one of Bruce in his Bat-themed ninja training gear somewhere in my collection.

Binding Trade Post: Guy Gardner Warrior

guy gardner warrior 17 Guy Gardner: Warrior Volume 1 (DC)
Written by Beau Smith & Chuck Dixon, drawn by Mitch Byrd & others
Binding Order: Guy Gardner: Warrior #17-24, 0, 25-28, Green Lantern #60, GGW #29, Action Comics #709, GGW #30-31, Guy Gardner: Warrior Annual #1, Detention Comics #1 & Showcase ’96 #1

This one’s a little bit of a cheat because it’s not an actual trade that you can go out and buy, but a pair of hardcovers I had made through Houchen Bindery. I had gotten some extra cash for Christmas and my birthday that I put aside for a binding project and got to work amassing whichever books I was missing, having my parents bring out stacks from home and getting everything together. I soon focused in on two areas: the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern comics and Guy Gardner: Warrior, both books that had a huge impact on me in my formative comic-reading years that I continue to enjoy this day. I spent a good deal of time designing three different covers for the GL books, but decided to go with the more traditional, solid-colored covers for the Warrior books partially because I was tired of staring at computer screens and Photoshopping like crazy (something that proved very difficult with most of the GGW covers) and because I got a kick out of the idea of seeing my Guy Gardner comics covered in a way that makes them look like classy library books.

For a book that I love so much, I don’t actually remember why I picked up my first issue of Guy Gardner. I think I had read an adventure or two of his in random issues of Justice League I’d acquired along the way (this was before my massive post-Crisis JL collection idea), but wasn’t overly familiar with the character. Anyway, some time in 1994 I picked up Guy Gardner: Warrior #17, 18 or 19 and was instantly hooked. This was towards the end of Chuck Dixon’s run on the character where Guy — who was sporting Sinestro’s old yellow ring at the time and no longer a member of the Green Lantern Corps — was going through all kinds of costume changes from the leather-loving dude in the cover above to a ringless armor-wearer to the eventual morph meister he would soon become. These are all concepts that probably seem silly now, but were like crack to an 11 year old.

So, I’ve been a fan of the character going back nearly 20 years at this point and, aside from some of the Geoff Johns-era Green Lantern Corps, most people don’t seem to get the character. Many have the impression of Guy that he’s just a jerk with powers, but if you’ve read Dixon and Beau Smith’s run on the book, you know that it’s a lot deeper than all that. Sure, he’s kind of a jerk, but these writers also got to the underlying bedrock of the character, examining why he was a jerk and also showing all the ways that he’s so much more than that by getting into his relationship with his mom, dad, brother and on-and-off-again girlfriend Tora (better known as the superheroine and fellow Justice Leaguer Ice).

guy gardner binding

Smith has talked about how his run on the book came about in a two part post over on Westfield Comics’ blog, how it began life as a DCU-hopping adventure featuring Buck Wargo and the Monster Hunters and soon turned into that but with a sci-fi/fantasy element incorporating morphing abilities like the ones seen in the then-popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series. The books that I put in this volume feature Guy dealing with those new powers, questioning his origins in regards to the newly discovered Vuldarian DNA doing its thing inside him and also setting up his new life which includes funding from Wargo (a scientist-adventurer-millionaire) and a bar called Warriors that’s equal parts hero hangout and headquarters which happens to be the most long-lasting element of this run.

I decided to include a few crossovers like Green Lantern #60 and Action Comics #709, but also the first annual which was part of the Year One line that year. It’s an interesting take with some not so great art that shows how Vuldarians used to do their intergalactic policing back in the day. I also threw in the Detention Comics one-shot which features Guy substitute teaching as well as two other stories featuring Robin (Tim Drake) and Superboy and Showcase ’96 #1 which includes the first part of a two-parter featuring Guy teaming up with Steel where we learn that they used to play football at the same time. Fun stuff. The second half of that story kicks off the next book.

Guy Gardner Warrior 34 Guy Gardner: Warrior Volume 2 (DC)
Written by Beau Smith, drawn by Mitch Byrd, Marc Campos & others
Binding Order: Showcase ’96 #2, GGW #32, Justice League America #101, Hawkman #22, GGW #33, JLA #103, Hawkman #23, GGW #34-36, Darkstars #37, GGW #37-44, GGW Annual #2, & Mr. Miracle #7

Towards the end of the previous book Guy realizes his Vuldarian powers are going out of control because his peoples’ natural enemies the Tormocks have returned to the cosmos. In an effort to save himself and his planet from the impending invasion, Guy goes to the Justice League (who he’s pissed at for their shoddy treatment of him when Ice died fighting the Overmaster) and asks them for help. They agree to help him which launches into a seven part crossover called The Way Of The Warrior that also included Justice League America and Hawkman.

Unfortunately, this story is a bit of a slog because it felt like three different, yet concurring stories being told at the same time featuring some of the same characters, but not necessarily mattering so much to one another. The JLA are dealing with all their internal bickering while also facing off against some space bad guys while Hawkman returns to Thanagar for the first time in a long while. It’s all stuff that makes sense within the contexts of those books, but doesn’t really have much to do with Guy’s mission which eventually gets wrapped up so he can return home, but only after a few more issues where he appears in Darkstars and one where his clone attacks his pals at Warriors. Basically, it felt like it took way more time than it should have to return Guy to the setting and supporting cast that I find so enjoyable. Still, it’s cool seeing Guy fighting alongside fellow badasses like Lobo, Probert, Hawkman and Wonder Woman, even if the latter two appear in guises that might not look familiar to modern readers.

The rest of the run focuses on those elements by doing the traditional superhero stuff and other fun stories like a superhero-filled Christmas party and the end of the book which accumulates most of the bad guys Guy’s faced during his time as Warrior and throws them at him all at once. He also deals with his mother moving in, a possible romance with Ice’s best friend Fire and Buck’s decision to turn Guy into both a cartoon and an action figure. While there were some plot lines that were left dangling as the series came to an end with #44, I still really enjoy what Smith did with his whole run and how he set Guy up to be a bit of a different kind of hero in the DCU. Of course, that didn’t really happen, but he tried.

My book ends with a Legends Of The Dead Earth annual that features tales of post-Guy Vuldarians throughout the galaxy long after the Earth has ceased to be. This one actually makes a really good bookend to the Guy Gardner: Warrior story that I hadn’t read before putting this book together because I never really understood what the point of LOTDE was. Finally, I included Mister Miracle #7 because I saw online that Guy appeared and he does, but it’s not really important to anything. Had this one costed more than a buck or two, I probably would have skipped it, but I was doing okay within my budget and had enough space, so there it is.

Back when I had the first 20-or-so issues of Peter David’s Aquaman bound I actually read through all the issues before sending them out which I actually regretted upon getting the books back from the bindery. I wanted to make sure I still liked the comic, but when I got the actual books in the mail — something that’s always super exciting — I knew I wasn’t going to dive right back in because I just read them a month or so ago. I’d actually read through this run back in college so I knew I still liked it and didn’t go through it again before mailing them off. This time I was able to carry the excitement of getting the package in the mail over to actually reading the books, which I probably did in about a week (subtracting the week we were in Disney and I didn’t have much time to read).

Matt Wagner DC Trade Post: Trinity & The Demon

trinity wagner Trinity (DC)
Written & drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Trinity #1-3

I’ll get into it in more detail when I review the two Mage books, but I will say that Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered had a huge impact on me after scoring most of the issues while interning at Wizard. I recently came into a pair of different Wagner-created books that both happened to be from DC Comics and figured they’d made for a good Trade Post.

In the pages of Trinity, Wagner takes an early look at Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. In this incarnation of the DCU, Bats and Supes have been on the scene for a little while, but we see Diana meeting them both for the first time. Instead of going the tired old route of teaming Lex Luthor up with the Joker as you might expect from something like this, the story instead revolves around Ra’s al Ghul hatching a plot to nuke the world into a more natural state of existence. To do this, he’s enlisted the help of Bizarro and Artemis — a teen Amazon from a desert tribe with a general mad-on for the world.

What I like about this book so much is that it not only tells a pretty epic story, but also really seems to get what makes all three icons tick. A lot of times a writer will understand one or two, but not all three and you can tell, but Wagner’s in the headspace of all three, literally, as we see plenty of dialog boxes explaining their thoughts. The nice thing about these mental boxes is that, unlike some writers, Wagner doesn’t use them to just reiterate what’s going on or give pointless information, he’s instead giving you the important thoughts going through their heads, adding nice layers to the story instead of just more words.

Artistically speaking, it’s fun seeing Wagner draw these characters. He’s known for his creator-owned characters like Mage and Grendel, dipping into the DC pool a few times here and there — gotta get my hands on his Batman books — so it’s cool seeing him draw these big, bold, colorful characters with an almost animated style. He does a lot with a few lines and I’m a big fan of that economy of style. He also works well with shadow, darkness and negative space that’s reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work, but can also be seen in Mage.

I feel like Wagner’s Trinity would be a great book to hand someone who’s interested in getting into superhero comics, either with no experience or coming from an indie POV. It’s got three of the most recognizable characters around going on a cool adventure against formidable foes that they might be less familiar with, but still offer the heroes plenty of opportunities to show what they can do and who they are.

Demon 1 Wagner The Demon #1-4
Written & drawn by Matt Wagner

Obviously, this one’s not technically a trade, but I can’t resist a good theme post. By 1987 Wagner had finished up the first round of Mage stories and started work on Grendel. He had apparently made enough of a name for himself to get the attention of DC where he wound up writing a four issue miniseries based on Jack Kirby’s Demon character also known as Etrigan. I did a little looking around online and discovered that aside from a few appearances here and there, including arcs in Detective Comics and Swamp Thing, the character wasn’t used much after Kirby’s initial series ended. 

I’m glad I read the Jack Kirby Demon Omnibus before  this because it both picks up a lot of those threads and also takes a completely different look at the character as presented by The King. Kirby’s Demon is a kind of bright, bold, almost fun look at demonic possession with some melodrama thrown in, but Wagner’s is a much darker, harder take on the idea of a regular guy unwillingly attached to a demonic entity. In fact, that’s what the whole story is about: Jason Blood and his lady Glenda trying to figure out a way to separate the two entities. Along the way, we wind up learning more about Etrigan, Jason Blood and the demon Belial. 

Wagner’s art style is also super different from Kirby’s. You most likely have a pretty good idea of what the King’s art looks like, well Wagner’s is the exact opposite. Instead of hulking creatures, this mini features more sinewy and creepy bad guys. There’s a more lithe, acrobatic quality to the figures and action than a street fighter one. The pencils, while still minimal-in-a-good-way, look a lot more like his work on Mage: The Hero Discovered than the ones on display almost two decades later on Trinity.  

There is one thing about this book that kind of got on my nerves, though. There’s a narrative device used throughout where someone or something is telling the story while snickering AND torturing an old man whose identity isn’t very surprising if you’ve read any Demon comics. Anyway, this narration got a little old pretty quickly. I think that might have been more a product of reading all four issues fairly quickly instead of monthly as they were originally intended, but there you have it. 

I’d love to see this story get a proper reprint with new coloring and whatnot, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be keeping my issues and maybe getting them bound along with the Garth Ennis run of Demon I’m trying to put together. 

Indie Trade Post: BOP! More Box Office Poison, Comic Diorama, Good-Bye Chunky Rice & Mephisto & The Empty Box

bop! more box office poison BOP! [More Box Office Poison] (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Alex Robinson

One of the first larger indie works I ever read was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I remember reading about it in Wizard way back, so when I got to the company and saw a big huge book collecting most of the material, I jumped at the chance to give it a read.  It’s been a long time and I owe it to the work and myself to get my hands on a copy of that collection. Anyway, the series follows a group of NYC-dwelling 20 somethings as they navigate life, oftentimes balancing a desire to create art and pay their bills. It’s the kind of subject matter that wound up being the focus of most of the indie books I read around that time like Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage.

Anyway, somewhere along the way I happened across a copy of BOP! which collects all the Box Office Poison material not collected in that big ol’ book. I’ll admit, my memory’s kind of dumpy and I probably should have held off on reading this book until after I got my hands on the main collection, but it was actually kind of fun going back to these characters, being thrown right in and enjoying these smaller vignettes.

This collection includes a few shorter stories from some of the more peripherally characters as well as some of the one-page strips where several characters would answer questions. I wouldn’t recommend this book to BOP newbies, though it might give you a taste of Robinson’s style. After digging BOP I would go on to check out Too Cool To Be Forgotten which I really dug as well as Tricked which is also sitting in my to-read pile.

comic diorama Comic Diorama (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Grant Reynolds

I’ve said this before, but I’m not super plugged into the world of indie comics. I like them, but they’re not the kind of comics I read growing up which is kind of funny considering how much I got into weird movies in high school. Anyway, I keep an eye on companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, specifically for their store sales. I picked up Grant Reynolds’ Comic Diorama during one of those Top Shelf sales, not because I had heard anything about it, but because I was already buying some stuff, it was only a buck or so and it had a creepy-cool cover.

The book itself is a pretty crazy collection of graphic storytelling. In just 48 pages, Reynolds goes from drawn journal entries and a one-armed, no-headed humanoid creature to a pair of water based stories that really show off the artists ability to use that element to tell a story.

I’m not going to posture and act like I completely understood the contents of this mini-comic. It’s super weird, but I didn’t get the vibe that it was doing it just for the sake of weirdness. I get the impression that there’s a heart and a purpose behind these stories that maybe I don’t fully understand at this point, but am happy to keep in my collection to return to later on down the road. I’ll also admit that I’m not familiar with Reynolds’ other work, what else of his should I check out?

good-bye chunky rice Good-Bye, Chunky Rice (Pantheon)
Written & drawn by Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson’s one of those guys who I’ve heard a lot of good things about but haven’t gotten around to actually reading until recently. I have a copy of Blankets in the to-read pile that I got for about a dollar at a closing Borders a few years back, but haven’t felt prepared to jump in just yet. I recently got a copy of Chunky Rice, though, via Sequential Swap and decided to sit down and read it while I was going through all these other smaller indie books.

Chunky Rice is a turtle who leaves his mouse girlfriend to go on a boat to an undisclosed location to start a new life. Most of the story takes place on the boat with the sneaky captain, his loud wife and Siamese twin women. The captain’s brother happens to be an incredibly sad man who was also Chunky Rice’s roommate back home.

That’s what the book is about, but it’s not what it’s ABOUT, you know? Honestly, though, I don’t really know what it’s ABOUT. Chunky wants the mouse to go with him, but she won’t because she says she belongs in the town. Why? No idea. Is the book about forcing change on yourself to experience the larger world? If so, it’s mostly countermanded by the fact that everyone Chunky meets is kind of a jerk and this journey sucks. Is that supposed to be a metaphor for life? If so, it’s not one I’m super interested. Then again, had I read this at 20 instead of 30, it might have been the kind of thing I really associated with.

Another aspect of the book that got a little under my skin was a perceived intent by the author to subvert expectations by telling this story with cartoony animals and humans as a way to make the reader think they’re looking at a comic strip type story, but instead it’s this heavy thing where young kids have to drown puppies. It felt like my emotions were being purposefully toyed with which is not a feeling I like. I have done absolutely no research about this book so all of this is just what I was left with after reading and might be completely off base. People who love this book, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.

mephisto and the empty box Pistolwhip Presents: Mephisto And The Empty Box (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Justin Hall & Matt Kindt

After reading and really enjoying Matt Kindt’s Super Spy, I put his name on my “check out more of this guy’s work” list which is why I was so excited to see him do Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.. It’s also why I snatched up three Pistolwhip books when I saw them on the cheap during another Top Shelf sale. I’ve been holding off on reading them, but after going through the above three books, I figured it’d be a good time to dive into the pool.

This is a 24 page, magazine-sized issue featuring a magician named Mephisto who we learn became a performer after his wife was called up on stage to play another magician’s assistant and never returned from a magic box. He’s been trying his damndest to get her back all these years, but to no avail.

I really had no idea what this book was about when I bought it so everything was a surprise. I especially liked the completeness of the story which, now that I think about it a little more, reminds me a lot of a really good Twilight Zone episode. I was really taken with the Mephisto’s sadness and how much he clearly still loved his wife. Unlike Chunky which was focused on finding oneself as a younger person, Mephisto is more about trying to get back what you had, something I can relate to a lot more at this point in my life. Of all four books I read on my quick indie spree, this is the one I liked the best because it’s a clear story, it had the most emotional impact and worked so well as a showcase of the creators’ talent.

Books Of Justice: Justice League America By Dan Jurgens

Justice League America JurgensJustice League America By Dan Jurgens
Written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with Dan Mishkin, Dave Cockrum, Sal Velluto,
Collects Justice League Spectacular #1, Justice League America #61-77 & Annual #6 (personally collected and bound)

The Justice League was a different animal when I started reading comics. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, the team tended to consist of one major league character and then a lot of others that the writer was able to really grow and change. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were the guys who really took this idea and ran with it post-Legends. And, while that run on the book is beloved by many (including me) the rest of Justice League America does not seem to be fondly remembered by many people up until the time that Grant Morrison relaunched the concept with the Big Seven in JLA.

However, I am not one of those people. I’m sure it’s at least in part because my very first JLA line-up included Superman, Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Maxima and Bloodwynd. Plus, between his run on this very formative run for me and his hand in the Superman books of the day, Dan Jurgens became a very important creator for me.

At some point in my collecting career, I decided that I wanted to get every issue of every Justice League series from the time frame between Crisis and JLA. I’ve set my mind to collect many series’ like this, but the Justice League books are the only ones I’ve ever completed. While reading through some stuff in the past year or two, I came to the Jurgens issues and was really happy to find that I still enjoyed these stories. So, with all that in mind and a few extra bucks in my pocket I decided to get Jurgens’ run on Justice League America bound.

To give a little context, Jurgens picked up the book after a huge storyline called Breakdowns that essentially toppled both Justice League America and Europe, things were never really the same after that, partially because Giffen and DeMatteis departed at that time. With Batman and Martian Manhunter both leaving the team for various reasons, Superman reluctantly decided to lead the team. At this point, Superman was still in his late 80s/early 90s mode of “very powerful hero” but not the nearly unbeatable god he eventually became.

These issues find the League facing off against the Weapons Master, Starbreaker, Eclipso (in the annual), Doomsday, alternate reality versions of the Satellite Era League and of course each other. I don’t know if I’d call any of those stories — aside from the Doomsday stuff — classics, but I did still find them enjoyable. I like how Jurgens doesn’t always have them winning one particular way. In one adventure, Beetle uses his smarts to get them all out of a jam, in another case it’s all brute strength. As much as I love Morrison’s run, it feels like so many of those stories ended with “And Batman beat them because he’s super effing smart” (or maybe that’s just how my memory remembers it).

In the wake of Superman’s death, the team got several new members, many of whom are considered Z-Listers, but I thought Jurgens did a good job of making them interesting, something he did with each and every member. We’re talking about Agent Liberty, the then-new Black Condor and the kid version of The Ray. Oh and Wonder Woman became the de facto leader.

At this point in Jurgens’ run, he did a really cool alternate reality story called Destiny’s Hand, a four-parter that envisioned a world where the JLA started taking on more and more power and became more like fascists. Part three of this story was actually probably the first JL book I ever read and re-reading it brought back crazy memories. I remember facial expressions, story beats and panel layouts from this issue, I must have looked through it a million times after getting it in a random multipack. Anyway, I was super confused by this comic back in the day and had no idea what was happening, but it reads a lot better all together.

Before leaving the book, Jurgens also told the origins of Bloodwynd, a character I still probably don’t understand 100%. Actually, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on him now, finally, but I liked that he finished that story thread before leaving the book.

I guess there’s no real question about whether I liked this book or not. Hell, I made the thing myself, didn’t I? But, in addition to the huge nostalgic factor for me, I like these comics. Jurgens did a good job continuing on the sense of humor that characters like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold featured in the Giffen/DeMatteis run. He also did some really fun superhero stories with villains that, to this day (as far as I know), aren’t overly used. Sure, these aren’t the kinds of threats you’d see in a JLA comic these days, but you’ve got to remember that, if one of those kinds of threats popped up in the mid 90s, you’d have yourself a crossover, not an arc.

So, yeah, I like these comics. Heck, I might be in love with a few of the issues, having known them longer than almost everyone in my life. But I also think they’re good comics, the kind that you might be able to pass to someone, though you’d probably have to answer a lot of questions.