Trade Post: Just A Pilgrim, Criminal & Martian Manhunter

just-a-pilgrim-vol-1I’ve been doing some cleaning in the garage and want to whittle down my To Read boxes so I dove in and came out with this batch. Here’s what I thought!

Back when I worked at Wizard, I found a batch of Black Bull trades that were up for grabs. If you’re unfamiliar, that was the short-lived comic company created by the higher ups at Wizard. I haven’t read anything but the two Just A Pilgrim books, so I can’t speak to the overall quality of the line, but I liked these Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra stories! Continue reading Trade Post: Just A Pilgrim, Criminal & Martian Manhunter

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DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

I found myself with another pile of trades from the library recently and figured I’d write about all four of them. Two of the experiences were great, the others? Not so much. Let’s start with the good!

sensation comics vol 1I’m a big proponent of anthologies in comics. At their best, they’re a great way to both test new talent and also give those with a lot more experience the chance to write or draw a character they don’t otherwise get to spend much time with. Sensation Comics Volume 1 does both and to great effect. This is one of DC’s digital-first books that allows creators to just go wild telling whatever kind of Wonder Woman story they want to from any of her many eras. It was nice to see the pre-New 52 costume so many times for this fan of that bygone era! Continue reading DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

Grant Morrison Trade Post: JLA One Million & JLA Earth 2

jla one millionI’ve been slowly making my way through Grant Morrison’s mainstream DC Comics work starting with Animal Man and working up through The Flash and JLA. I’ve reabsorbed the first two JLA Deluxe volumes, but already reviewed those here and here, so it seemed like a good time to jump over and do JLA: One Million and JLA Earth 2.

DC One Million was an event that took place in November of 1998. The idea was that these characters from the far future — the 853rd century to be exact — would be around when the one millionth issue of Action Comics was published in “real time.” The heroes from the future came to the past to tell the originators that they were celebrating Superman Prime coming out of the sun after a long time. So, many of the JLA members went to the future where they were accused of being imposters while a plague ran through the present day. It was all pretty crazy and a tip off of the kind of event Morrison would create when he did Final Crisis a decade or so later.

I was a huge fan of this crossover drawn by Val Semeiks when it happened and have collected even more of the tie-ins in the ensuing years, though there is an omnibus that looks pretty rad. Anyway, I read the late 90s/early 00s trade that’s part of the JLA line and it’s a pretty weird reading experience thanks to the lack of covers between issues, slap dash creative credits and bouncing around between the main series and the tie-ins. The story itself is basically perfect for an event because much of the future stuff takes place in the tie-ins while the main series deals with the future heroes trying to save the present. The downside of that is that it feels like you’re reading about half a story when going through this particular trade.

As far as signature Morrison moments and ideas go, this book is jam-packed with them. You’ve got the idea that the superheroes we know and love essentially turn into gods who can not be forgotten, no matter how hard some try. That legacy idea is huge throughout his DC work. There’s also a quick appearance by General Eiling and his Ultra Marines who appear in JLA Deluxe Volume 3, but more than that Morrison takes equal time to shine the spotlight on the big guns as well as a ragtag group that includes Steel, Huntress, Plastic Man, Barda and Zauriel who are trying to save humanity. But more than anything — and the moment that stuck with me for decades after the fact — is the idea that he gives Superman a happy ending in regards to Lois. As a die-hard and longtime Superman fan, this meant — and continues to mean — a lot to me.

JLA_Earth_2I was less enthusiastic about JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison and Frank Quitely, the team that worked on New X-Men and All-Star Superman together later on down the line. This 2000 graphic novel came out towards the end of Morrison’s run on JLA which ended that same year and reintroduced the idea of the Crime Syndicate — evil versions of the Justice Leaguers — to the post-Crisis continuity.

See, back in the day when there were multiple Earths, the Crime Syndicate came from Earth 3 where good and evil were backwards. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being heroes, Ultraman, Owl Man and Superwoman were big time baddies. In Morrison’s version, instead of coming from Earth 3, this gang was part of the Anti-Matter Universe. They referred to the regular DCU as Earth 2, hence the title.

The story itself follows Anti-Matter Lex Luthor (a hero) as he travels to the regular DCU reality to recruit the JLA into going back home with him to help out. They do so, but in an act of cosmic balance, the Crime Syndicate — which also includes Johnny Quick and Power Ring — gets transported to the regular DCU where they cause havoc. However, both soon realize that good and evil naturally triumph in each reality and return home.

Of all of the Morrison DC comics I’ve read so far, this one feels the most straightforward and “normal.” There aren’t any huge twists or mind-bending elements aside from the fact that certain universes only allow for certain elements to win out. It’s well-told and brisk, but not exactly what you’d expect from the man who had Superman fight an angel to a standstill. It also looks perfectly Quitely. It’s big and bold and mean at times (he draws the best sneers in the game). His is a style I wasn’t big on at first, but once I started seeing the incredible detail included, I completely switched around to uber-fandom.

I think part of the reason I didn’t really latch onto this story is that I just can’t get into stories where characters are just super, duper, completely and totally evil. And that’s exactly what the CSA members are. They murder and oppress citizens with impunity for no other reason than they can. In other words, they’re as far from a sympathetic villain as you can get. I’m guessing this was done as a way to shine a light on how good and amazing our heroes are, but I just wasn’t feeling it at the time. Still, it’s a fun, quick and oh-so-pretty adventure.

Books Of Justice: New 52 Volume 1 & 2

justice league origins Justice League Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee with Carlos D’Anda
Collects Justice League #1-6

After years of the Justice League not exactly taking center stage in the grand scheme of things in the DC Universe, the company put them right in the forefront when they launched the reality-altering New 52. Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee not only boasted one of the biggest creative teams around, but also marked the new continuity’s birth as the very first New 52 comic.

Set five years in the past, Origin puts the team together as they all face the incoming threat of Darkseid and his Parademons. It’s basically a “putting the band” together story that doesn’t feel contrived or boring, like some of the ones in the old continuity. In other words, there are no meeting scenes where the big three look at photos or ones where a bunch of scrub characters talk about how they’re going to carry on the team’s legacy. We start with Batman meeting Green Lantern. They then meet and fight Superman which leads to GL calling his pal Flash in. Later Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up. Oh and Cyborg goes from football star to, well, Cyborg as the story progresses.

After all the introductions and set-ups, our heroes finally face off against Darkseid in a battle that is clearly another set-up, but also feels satisfying because they earn their victory. Clearly, the dark New God will return, but that’s a story for another time.

What I liked most about this book is the tone and interactions between the members. It sets up their characters pretty well — even if those personalities might not reflect across the line — and gives an interesting dynamic between them that could be fun to read about. I will say that I’m not a fan of the overall dark and mean tone of this new DCU, but I guess that’s just part of the deal these days.  I haven’t heard great things about the huge crossovers that spun out of Justice League, but enjoying this book definitely piqued my interest in the second volume which I quickly requested from the library. I also got a big kick of of Flash’s line at the end where he calls their group The Super Seven.

Plus, can we just talk about how fun it is to look at a Jim Lee Justice League book? Even if it includes these weird, overly piped and paneled costumes, he’s just so good at drawing those big, iconic characters doing all kinds of crazy things. I’m down for at least looking at anything he does.

I actually picked this book up on a Comixology sale not long ago, but after my Kindle broke, I figured I’d check the library and see if I could get a hard copy. I will say that, while I like the convenience of digital comics, I still prefer actually holding the book.

justice league vol 2 the villain's journeyJustice League Vol 2: The Villain’s Journey (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee, Carlos D’Anda, Gene Ha, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & David Finch
Collects Justice League #7-12

It took me longer than expected to get my hands on this second volume called The Villain’s Journey. I guess someone else in the library system was equally excited about giving it a read. This second book is set in the current time frame of the DCU where the Justice Leagues have become a pretty big sensation that seems to defeat anything the universe can throw at it. But, there’s still some mistrust from the government and a mysterious villain first seen in the previous book who proves to be a bigger threat than anyone could have imagined.

And yet, there was something that just felt off about these issues. A LOT of time is spent on Steve Trevor and how sad he is because he loves Wonder Woman and she doesn’t love him back. That’s exactly what you want from your Big Seven Superhero comic, right? I only complain about that because it felt like the team itself doesn’t get nearly as much time as they should. As much as I love seeing the League fight against impossible odds, I also like to see a little bit more of them hanging out together and interacting.

I still like the interactions between Batman and Green Lantern and how GL and Flash are pals, but those relationships get leaned on a bit too heavily. Sure we find out that Superman hasn’t revealed his identity to his teammate in those five years, but what the heck does Cyborg do all day? As the one character in this comic without his own solo book, it seemed natural to focus more on him, but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of characters who get a lot of page-time, but aren’t on the team, Green Arrow gets a lot of time too as the US government tries to get him on the team. Arrow trying to get on the team is something of a Justice League tradition, but in an odd turn, he doesn’t make the squad. Instead, this is all a set-up for Justice League Of America, a book I haven’t read yet.

Back to the villain for a paragraph, I just didn’t care and I’m not sure why. SPOILERS follow. This guy Graves and his family were saved by the League in their first mission back in the first trade. Something about the incident wound up killing his wife and kids, but also turned him into a weird monster that looked an awful lot like a White Martian. None of this is very well explained and all felt like a really long way to get around to Graves being locked up in Belle Reve where Amanda Waller asks him to write down how to destroy the League. I don’t think I would mind all of this if it was a one or two parter instead of spread out over all these issues.

This book also features Green Lantern’s exit from the group, a big fight between the members, a big kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman and a lot of teases about what’s coming up after this volume. All in all, I would say that this book didn’t do much for me. I really enjoyed how the first one just got right into it, but this one felt more plodding. I felt like I could see the plot points more clearly, like there was a checklist being checked off in a slightly disjointed manner. Part of the disjointed feeling came from the various artist drawing these issues. I’me a big fan of all these artists, but their styles are so vastly different that you’re constantly made aware that you’re on to the next part instead of being absorbed by the story.

It also felt like something of a misstep to focus on a brand new villain while also mentioning all of these established League villains who don’t do much of anything this time around. I’m sure this all leads to the next big thing in the DCU, but as a one-off volume meant to be read in and of itself, it’s not very satisfying.

Batman Beyond Trade Post: Hush Beyond & Industrial Revolution

batman beyond hush beyond Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Ryan Benjamin
Collects Batman Beyond #1-6

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Toy Commercial Tuesday, I liked the idea and execution of Batman Beyond, but wound up not watching too much of it at the time. Still, when I heard that Adam Beechen was going to write a comic set in that universe — which also happens to be the same universe as seen in Justice League, JLU, Static Shock, Batman: The Animated Series AND Superman: The Animated Series — I was stoked. Not only did Beechen write a bunch of the comic book tie-ins for the DC Animated U back in the day, but he also penned one of the strongest Robin runs in my opinion.

The story kicks off with Terry McGinnis still rocking the futuristic Batman suit with in-ear help from his mentor Bruce Wayne. As the story progresses, a mysterious character escapes from one of Amanda Waller’s secret labs and wants to take out Batman’s Rogues Gallery past and present because he thinks that there will be no need for the hero if all the villains are gone. Everyone assumes it’s Tommy Elliot, also known as Hush, committing these crimes, but finding out if that’s true or not is all part of the fun. I won’t get into the whos and whys, but I thought this was a pretty clever way of showing off the BBU and also expanding on existing themes at the same time.

Another big part of the fun of Batman Beyond is seeing how so many familiar characters ended up and this story, by its very nature, has plenty of them. When you’re dealing with the regular DCU or any shared universe, there’s a lot of different avenues the characters might go down, but with something like this, you actually get to follow them and see what happens in a more definitive reality. Sure, it’s just one potential future and I might not agree with how everyone wound up, but it’s nice to see what Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and the others are up to and how being involved with Batman changed them.

batman beyond industrial revolution Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Ryan Benjamin with Eduardo Pansica & Chris Batista
Collects Batman Beyond #1-8

While Hush Beyond was a very focused whodunit, Industrial Revolution collects stories that feel a lot more like old school comics where there’s a main ongoing story while also working with a few potboilers and even a pair of one-off character spotlight issues. These are the kinds of comics I love and Beechen does a great job moving from piece to piece.

This one book features a new villain accidentally endangering Terry’s family to the point where he agrees to let the Justice League help him, someone trying to out Dick Grayson as an associate of Batman’s, Max getting courted by a super hacker group known as Undercloud, a strike at Wayne Powers, troubles between Dana and Terry, the return of Dana’s never-mentioned brother Doug and the return of one of Terry’s most dangerous villains. It’s a lot, but it all felt very balanced.

Above I mentioned how I like finding out what happened to certain characters, but I also like seeing what bits and pieces of the existing Batman mythos Beechen and company decided to cherrypick from. Dick Grayson explains that he worked for Batman Inc., which obviously didn’t exist when the cartoon first debuted, but has been worked in since. There’s also an appearance by Batman’s crazy motorcycle from The Dark Knight which was fun.

For the most part, these issues do a great job of walking that tightrope of servicing longtime fans and being accessible to newer ones (or ones with not-so-great memories like myself). Personally, I was a bit confused when the Justice League showed up, but that’s just because I didn’t know a few continuity things like whether that’s the Barda I know or someone else. The only other time that happened was in the last issue of the second collection which is an Inque solo story. Now, that’s a solid, sad story about what drives a person to become a villain, but the problem is that the character hadn’t shown up in the series before that. After that issue the book switched production and became a digital-first book, so it also comes off as a bit of an odd way of stopping a collection, but I guess that’s just the way things work out sometime.

At the end of the day, I had a really great time with both of these books. When you’re dealing with a tie-in comic like this, I think the creators are doing a great job when you’re psyched to read the next issue or trade, but also equally excited about getting back to the source material. That’s how it was with me and Batman Beyond. I’ve got the other two Beechen books requested from the library as well as Superman Beyond (they don’t happen to have the Justice League book in the system) and also started re-watching the series on Netflix, which has been a ton of fun.

Books Of Justice: Justice League International Volume One

justice league international vol 1 Justice League International Volume One (DC)
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Kevin Maguire
Collects Justice League #1-6, Justice League International #7

I’m sure I’ve talked about this plenty on the blog here before, but I have an extensive collection of post-Crisis, pre-JLA Justice League comics. I still don’t quite remember why I started digging through longboxes for back issues of everything from Justice League International to Quarterly and even Task Force, but I’m pretty close to a full set. For the most part, I would grab whatever books I could find, read them and then put them in a box. I was planning on going back and re-reading everything from the beginning once I completed my obsession, but that plan fell away a few years back when my collecting side waned to almost nothing. And yet, I still wanted to get back into those books, so I was happy when I saw DC start collecting the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire era of the League in the Justice League International collections. I’ve got five or six of these books sitting in my to-read box and recently found myself in a place where I wanted to pay them a visit.

I realized not long after cracking this book open that, even though I consider myself a big fan of this era of Justice League comics, I’d never actually read these first seven issues in order. It was fun going back and reading them in their proper order with a much deeper understanding of the DCU of the day.

This particular League consists of Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Batman, Black Canary, Doctor Fate, Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle. The book starts off with this group trying to stop a terrorist group from blowing up the United Nations. They also face off against a trio of Avengers analogs known as Bluejay (Ant-Man), Silver Sorceress (Scarlet Witch) and Wandjina (Thor) who want to rid our world of nukes as well as a mystical threat known as The Gray Man.

From there, a mysterious businessman named Maxwell Lord steps in and tells the League he’s proposing to the United Nations that the team become a sanctioned peacekeeping organization with embassies all over the globe. The group’s like, “Who is this guy?” but thanks to some recent international incidents, they go along with it. The team gets Captain Atom and a member of Russia’s armored Rocket Red squad foisted upon them and look forward to new adventures on a global scale. Dr. Light was in there too for a few issues too, but didn’t stick around. Dr. Fate took off as well.

What blew me away the most about this first book of Justice League comics is that it really jumps right in and spends zero time telling you how the group came together. In fact, there’s so little mentioned that I wound up getting the Legends event miniseries that spawned this team off of ebay because I was curious. I’ll talk more about that in a separate post because it’s pretty bonkers. There is a page devoted to Martian Manhunter mourning his fallen teammates who were part of the Detroit-based League that preceded this one. This style of having a team set before the book launched and dealing with personnel changes as they came is basically the antithesis of the Brad Meltzer League that launched several years back and even the New 52 version more recently. Those eras spent SO much time bringing everyone together and explaining how this character met that one or what he thinks of her that they failed to launch with much gusto. I’m a firm believer that team politics and dynamics should flow organically from the events of the book and not be frontloaded in the early issues. It was refreshing seeing such a different take on what seems like a standard kind of superhero story these days.

The other major departure for this era of the League, the one that it’s most known for, is the humor. Between Giffen’s plots, DeMatteis’ dialogue and Maguire’s art (specifically those wonderful facial expressions) the laughs come from all over the place. What surprised me about these early issues, though, is that they’re not as yuck-filled as the later ones. Sure, they’re in there, but they’re peppered throughout the action which is still taken seriously. That balance of levity and drama is what really makes this run so well-remembered, not just the fact that it’s a funny funny book with superheroes.

Finally, I love that they didn’t immediately throw this new League up against a well known foe. It would have been easy to bring in Kanjar Ro or Starro again, but instead the creative team created new threats, made the book more political and presented complex characters like Max Lord and Bluejay, Silver Sorceress and Wandjina who are actually trying to save this world from the weapons that destroyed their home world. These aren’t simple bad guys to just beat up, they’re more complicated and therefore more interesting to my mind. Instead of making their comic grim and gritty like a lot of the other books of the time, which in and of itself is a way of making comics more realistic, this one brings in larger questions and villains that can’t simply be knocked out, which infuses a book filled with Lords of Chaos and Order, aliens and New Gods, with a different angle of reality. I’m psyched to keep reading and see how International plays out and the eventual inclusion of Justice League Europe in the trades. Plus, here’s something to look forward to when/if the books ever get to the Breakdowns crossover. I did an interview with Keith Giffen about that run that I’ll dig up and post for some fun content.

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.