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.

Fantastic Voyage: FF By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1 & 2

ff vol 1 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #1-5

Right off that bat, I’ve got to throw out a minor complaint about FF. I know it stands for Future Foundation and is an obvious visual and phonic connection to the the Fantastic Four name, but it kind of drives me crazy. This book replaced Fantastic Four for a bit and then both were going at the same time — and I believe still are — but not being able to shorten the title Fantastic Four to FF without causing confusion with this newer title is kind of annoying.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what’s actually in this comic instead of what’s on the cover. If you didn’t read Jonathan Hickman’s fourth volume of Fantastic Four and don’t want anything spoiled, you might want to stop reading here. If you did read it, or just know about comics in general, you’ll remember that Johnny Storm seemingly died protecting his family in order to close the portal to the Negative Zone from the other side, thus stopping a huge invading horde. The idea behind the rebranding of this book is that they’re going by the Future Foundation to not only go along with the ideas Reed has been preaching to the world, but also as a way to deal with the passing of a friend, brother and hero.

As the story unfolds it becomes very clear that, even though this book has a different name than its predecessor, it’s very much a continuation of Hickman’s Fantastic Four story. All kinds of previous threads are picked up and spun together in ways I didn’t see coming. For instance, back in the fourth volume of Fantastic Four, Val went through the portal that lead to the place where some of  the interdimesnional Reeds still survived. What we didn’t see at that point was that four of them made their way to the main Marvel Universe and have since been using aspects of the four cities that have played such important parts in the series to this point as a way to supposedly get back to their interdimensional hangout. As a way to figure out the best way to stop these Reeds, our Reed and Val have agreed to bring in a bunch of villains including Dr. Doom, The Mad Thinker, Diablo, The Wizard and The Hight Evolutionary to figure out the best way to deal with their mutual enemies. This doesn’t sit well with Sue and Ben as you might expect.

Unlike the previous Hickman-penned trades I’ve read to this point, this one definitely felt like more of one story told over several issues. That’s not a dig by any means, just something I noticed. Previous volumes felt like they could be given to someone without much FF knowledge and they’d be fine and that might be the case with this one, but Hickman’s kicking his story into high gear and surging towards whatever the conclusion will be. The only real thing that separates the issues aside from the obvious breaks and interstitial pages is the shift from Steve Epting to Barry Kitson on art. Epting definitely retains the dark, gritty style that made a lot of sense in the previous volume and still makes sense here. Then, Kitson takes over and it’s a little alarming just because it’s so big and old and bright. Again, this isn’t a complaint about Kitson’s art, I think it’s fantastic (puns!), just a bit of a jarring transition.

ff vol 2 FF By Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Greg Tocchini, Steve Epting & Barry Kitson
Collects FF #6-11

You might expect from the  paragraph I wrote above that this second volume of Hickman’s FF picks up directly where the last one left off and it does after a fashion, but also spends two issues explaining what’s been up with Black Bolt, the Inhumans and a few other characters who got their start in Fantastic Four, but played big parts in the cosmic books since Annihilation (like Ronan and Crystal and a few others). Specifically, they pick up where War of Kings left off and establish a reason for the Inhumans to return to Earth which makes sense and made for enjoyable stories even though I didn’t read most of WOK. My only complaint about those two issues is that Tocchini’s art is super loose and not very appealing. He gets better by the second issue, but that first one was pretty rough. Oh, one more quick complaint, we’re not all Inhumans experts, so it would have been nice to see a few floating boxes introducing them, just saying. It worked when Geoff Johns wrote the Legion Of Super Heroes in Action Comics, I think it would have worked here too.

After all that, we’re back with the alterna-Reeds, a Future Foundation packed with villains and an impending war between, well, everyone. In this case, the Inhumans arrive just in time to square off against the remaining three bad Reeds who are attacking the Atlanteans while using the High Evolutionary’s machine. As you might expect, many of the villains find their way out of the Future Foundation in this battle thanks to betrayal, capture or both. Reed reunites with Black Bolt for a brief time, he doesn’t learn a whole lot about their plans, but while he, Spider-Man and Nathan Richards are inside, the Inhumans capture two of the bad Reeds and the third makes off with an intellectually castrated Dr. Doom. Essentially, this is but one battle in a much larger war.

And that’s what I love about this whole series. It’s not just a point A to point B and then C story. It takes place in a universe of characters who all have varying levels of history together and each have their own trajectories. Events aren’t simple, they are complicated and even when they seem to end, they don’t. The last arc ensconced in this trade is post-battle, but still does all kinds of heavy lifting for the much larger story at work here. Ronan sneaks into the Inhumans’ stronghold, kidnaps their two Reeds and uses them to rebirth the Supreme Intelligence (I love how the Reeds are considered such intergalactic hot commodities). Meanwhile, Nathan finds himself with the last alterna-Reed and his pet Dr. Doom for unknown reasons. Back at the Baxter Building, Val and the crew are working on what she says will be a giant escape plan for all the people living there. If that’s not a gun waiting to be fired (and better explained) I don’t know what is. And lastly, Spider-Man returned to the house with not only The Thing — who was absent for a few issues — but also a whole crew of Avengers who are offering their services in taking care of this Inhumans problem.

My friends who are more active in the industry and read comics on a far more regular basis make fun of me because I’m so behind in books, but I’m cool with it. I get to mainline whole arcs of quality comics like this while knowing that there are still four more volumes out there for me to devour (two more FFs and two more Fantastic Fours all of which I need to get my hands on). That’s perfect for me. I’ve avoided all talk of what happens in this book and am completely on board for the ride. Knowing that there’s an end to that ride actually makes it better for me because I’m looking forward to seeing how Hickman brings everything to a close. Now I just need those last few comics to find their way to Sequential Swap or become significantly discounted on Amazon because, yes, I am very cheap.

Trade Post: JSA Strange Adventuers, Wildstorm After The Fall & Hardware The Man In The Machine

JSA STRANGE ADVENTURES (DC)
Written by Kevin J. Anderson, drawn by Barry Kitson
Collects JSA Strange Adventures #1-6
I’ve been a big fan of the JSA concept for years. I love the idea of legacy characters still kicking around in modern times offering a sense of connection to the past that can only be done in fiction when dealing with magical beings who have various elements keeping them alive for decades after they should be dead (especially when you consider how often they put themselves in danger). While I’ve read every regular issue of JSA since Geoff Johns launched the book back in 1999, but I skipped or missed a lot of the JSA minis that have come out since then. I was pretty excited about Strange Adventures because it presents a JSA story from back when they were first a team as opposed to them being the old soldiers they are today. I was looking forward to seeing the tale told from a different perspective and, while the book does offer another perspective through the eyes of Johnny Thunder, I didn’t really like this book.

My main problem is that the book didn’t feel very original. The overarching plot involves a super powered genius coming to the world and telling them he’ll fix all these problems if Green Lantern and Starman give up their power sources. When the heroes don’t, the guy turns bad and starts wreaking havoc, but only after regular people get upset with GL and Starman. There’s nothing very original there, that’s the plot of several pieces of science fiction from Twilight Zone episodes to movies. It’s boring and it was so obvious, I thought that Anderson might be messing with the constraints of that kind of story, but that didn’t happen. The only part of the story that I found really interesting was Johnny Thunder’s interactions with a pulp writer and his desire to become a writer himself. I can obviously relate to that and I love fiction that involves writing and creating in one way or another, but even that part of the story didn’t feel entirely original as Johnny Thunder has been portrayed as the newbie who wishes he could really do something before. All in all, Strange Adventures wasn’t a bad comic to read, it just wasn’t a particularly original one. Kitson’s art sure was pretty though.

WILDSTORM: AFTER THE FALL (WildStorm)
Written by Christos Gage and Russell Uttley, drawn by Trevor Hairsine, Brandon Badeaux, Ivan Reis, Mike McKone, Pete Woods, Phil Noto, Ben Oliver, Chris Sprouse, Wes Craig, Shawn Moll and John Paul Leon
Collects several WildStorm back-up stories
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the WildStorm universe. I think it was pretty ballsy when they decided to basically destroy their Earth with the Number of the Beast miniseries and continue on with a post apocalyptic setting that has lead to a huge battle with some alien badasses, the combination of nearly ever super powered being still kicking around into one big team and then, more recently, splitting that group up into a space-faring one and one still left on Earth (Authority and WildCats respectively). Right after the big WorldStorm event that relaunched several books to varying degrees of success. In addition to kicking off new books, WildStorm also included back-up stories involving the company’s rich history of characters. All of those short stories have been collected in this After The Fall trade.

I’ve kept up on WildStorm comics for a while now, but when this happened, I wasn’t reading the back-up stories because I didn’t think I could keep up with all of them, so I’m glad they collected them all in one place. The overarching story here involves John Lynch getting the members of Team 7 back together to kill Sleeper and WildCat villain TAO. The whole thing’s very inside baseball and probably not very accessible to new readers, but I had a great time reading about characters like Deathblow, Christie Blaze and Cybernary. My only problem withe the book is that the whole thing builds up to something that doesn’t happen in this book. The TAO fight takes place eventually in, I believe, WildCats, but that means After The Fall kind of feels like the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie in that, it’s fun in and of itself, but it’s basically a stepping stone for something else. The amazing stable of artists certainly helps the book and it’s awesome to see guys like Noto and Leon work on these characters I love.

HARDWARE: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE (Milestone/DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Denys Cowan and JJ Birch
Collects Hardware #1-8
Back in 1993 I was 10 and Milestone launched, a comic company that seemed focused on bringing more comics starring non-white heroes to the racks. I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of extra books, but I was really intrigued by books like Hardware, Static and Icon and, by the time the inevitable World’s Collide crossover between the Milestone Universe and the DCU came the next year, I bought as many of the issues as I could. There was always something about the look of the books that I found very intriguing. At the time I didn’t really follow artists or even really realize they used different styles, but the kind of muted presentation of the books, especially hardware which looked painted to me, drew my interest. Jump ahead 17 years later and here I sit with a collection of the first 8 issues of Hardware. The collection really captures the art the way I remember it and the stories kept me entertained throughout the whole thing.

For those of you who might not know, the idea behind Hardware is that this super smart kid named Curtis got a benefactor in the form of a rich dude who put him through college, gave him unlimited resources in his lab, but considered the kid, now an adult, to be little more than property with a clause in his contract saying that if he quit, he couldn’t work for anyone else. After doing some digging Curtis discovers that his benefactor is actually a pretty bad dude, so he builds a high tech suit with plenty of add-on weapons (kind of like Centurions) that he uses to quash the bad guy’s criminal enterprises. It’s a fairly basic superhero concept, but I was surprised to find that Hardware actually kills some of the bad guy’s peons, something that he actually comes to question towards the end of the trade.

Overall, I really liked this book. Cowan’s art is fantastic especially when he gets to draw some of the crazier weapons and whatnot. McDuffie’s writing was pretty fun, but there were definitely some moments where I was completely confused, like in #3 when the book opens with Hardware killing the bad guy, then appearing in his girl’s place. I had no idea what that was about. For the most part, I liked the whole presentation and how they started to slowly build a big superhero universe. I hope DC continues to put out these Milestone books (I’ve got the Static one in my to-read party), especially the World’s Collide story. There’s a lot of goodness here.