Trade Post: Superman Vs. Shazam, Fables Volume 2 & Legion Lost

superman vs shazam Superman Vs. Shazam (DC)
Written by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane & Joey Cavalieri; drawn by Rich Buckler & Gil Kane
Collects All-New Collector’s Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #33, 34, 49 & DC Comics Presents Annual #3

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m always a little leery going into these Silver Age, pre-Crisis DC collections. These are the kinds of comics I mostly snickered at as a kid. I came up in the 90s when comics were dangerous and intense, what do I need with silly stories that were probably written for children a few decades ago? I’ve since learned that that’s a pretty poor way to approach art, but, let’s be honest, comics from this era can be very hit-or-miss, especially when you consider the fact that they’re leaning pretty heavily on the hero-fighting-hero gimmick.

So, with all that in mind, I went into Superman Vs. Shazam cautiously. I love Superman, but this isn’t my Supes, so this was more of a curious read. And, honestly, it didn’t do a lot for me. The first story is a whopping 72 pages featuring a villain using other villains (Black Adam and Sand Superman from the incredibly good Kryptonite No More) to pit Superman and Captain Marvel against each other in an effort to destroy both worlds (Earths 1 and S). All of that spreads out over dozens of pages and certainly drags at times. The most interesting part of this book for me is that, while the two guys are smashing the crap out of each other across two Earths, their female counterparts — Supergirl and Mary Marvel — figure out what’s really going on. The guys wind up officially saving the day and we end with double smooches, but I still thought that was a cool way to go.

The other issues have a lot of the same, following the villain-tricking-heroes-into-fighting formula that doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. If I was a kid or new to comics, though, and this was the first time I saw these things, it’d probably be pretty mind blowing. However, I don’t think this would be a great book to hand to someone blind. Since these stories are set in a pre-Crisis world, there’s a lot going on that might be confusing. All the Earth-1/Earth-S stuff gets fairly well explained, but then you’ve got the DCP #49 in which Billy Batson and Captain Marvel appear side by side. I think it’s because we’re seeing Earth-1 Billy Batson, maybe, but wasn’t sure and by that point I’d lost a lot of interest. This book would have greatly benefited with an introduction of some sort to give less-informed readers like myself a little context for the adventures. It’s another unfortunate example of comics not always being accessible to the non-fan market.

fables vol 2 animal farmFables Vol. 2: Animal Farm (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Mark Buckingham
Collects Fables #6-10

As I said when I reviwed the first volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, the book didn’t strike much of a chord with me for two reasons: one, I called the mystery reveal too early and lost a lot of intrest in the proceedings and, two, I couldn’t help but compare it to Once Upon A Time. Since one of those complaints is more my fault than anything, I decided to continue on and give the second volume a shot. The fact that I got the first three volumes in a Swap also came into play, of course.

This second volume finds Snow White taking her not-dead sister Rose Read up to The Farm, a place where non-human Fables (talking animals, giants, dragons, etc.) live away from the prying eyes of the world located in upstate New York. But, once the sisters get there it becomes pretty clear that something fishy’s going on. A faction has done away with the one human left in charge while also moving forward with plans to take their homeland back from The Adversary.

From there you get a story that finds Goldilocks playing revolutionary with the non-human Fables, Snow on the run from Shere Khan, Rose siding with ‘Locks, weapons that animals can fire and a few more fantastical character appearances. While I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the first, it still didn’t grab me. Once again, I figured the thing out with Rose pretty early on, so that was a lot less of a mystery. But, since that’s not the main thrust of the book, it doesn’t take as much away. Meanwhile, I thought it was an interesting bit of worldbuilding when we learn at the end of the arc that a Fable’s strength is directly related to how many people in the real world know about them. I’ve seen this done with gods in fiction before, but not storybook characters. It’s an interesting tie that I’m sure comes into play later on down the line. While I’m not fully sold on this book that a lot of people seem to love, I’m interested enough to hold onto these collections for now and see what’s up in the third.

legion lostLegion Lost (DC)
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Olivier Coipel & Pascal Alixe
Collects Legion Lost #1-12

Back in 2000 and 2001 when Legion Lost was coming out, I remember there being a lot of buzz surrounding the book. When I say that, I mean that Wizard was covering the book pretty heavily and seemed to really dig it. That idea never really left my head, so when the hardcover collection came out, I was pretty excited to finally give it a read. I even got my hands on the 100-Page Spectacular that sort-of leads into this story and enjoyed that experience quite a bit.

I started reading Lost right after that, which would have put my first attempt at a little over a year ago. What stopped me? Well, this is definitely a big collection, an entire year’s worth of stories. Plus, Abnett and Lanning, writers I very much enjoy, put a lot of content into each issue. While the “Legion of the Damned” story featured in the Spectacular was mostly dialog and action, this one actually gives each character the first-person thought-box treatment in every issue which results in a lot of expressed thoughts. I’m not saying that’s bad because these guys have an excellent grasp on who these characters are, what makes them tick and how that differs from their outward actions, but it can make for a slower reading experience than I was expecting.

This time, I knew that going in and was more prepared for the experience which finds a team of Legionnaires — Live Wire, Saturn Girl, Monstress, Ultra Boy, Kid Quantum, Chameleon, Brainiac 5, Monstress, Umbra and a few others — lost in space. Now, the two issues that ended Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires (the ones that take place between the 100 Pages Spectacular issues and this book) are not included so you have no idea what this rift thing they were fighting was (or if it was even shown on-page). But, they seem to be at an end of the cosmos that even Brainiac 5 can’t find on a map and are trying to find their way home.

Along the way they make a few friends but even more enemies only discover what’s really going on at the very end of the story when it turns out that one of their own has caused all this heartache. That’s an important part of the tale, of course, but what really struck me was how well Abnett and Lanning captured the growing feeling of helplessness as the story continues. Certain characters have decided to put on shows for what they assume is the benefit of their teammates which wind up backfiring. Meanwhile, others who started off positive eventually start losing their cool as the twelve issues progress. Mistakes are made and we see what those actions do to that person as well as their teammates.

We also get to learn a lot about these characters which is great. I’ve said it before, but the Legion and X-Men are the two most confusing franchises in comics as far as I’m concerned, but I didn’t feel that going into this book. Sure, I could have used some of those boxes reminding me of what each character’s powers are (like Geoff Johns and company did when they reintroduced the team in Action Comics), but other than that I was right on board and that’s mostly because DnA included a new character who offers folks like me a window into this wild world.

If you’re curious about Legion Lost, I’d say give it a shot, but go in knowing a few things. One, it’s a fairly wordy book. Those are good, well thought out words, but there’s still a lot of them. Two, you won’t need to know anything about the Legion going in, what you need to know is on the page eventually. Three, you get to see some awesome Olivier Coipel and Pascal Alixe art that captures the dark mood of the story.

Vertigo Trade Post: iZombie Volume 3, American Vampire Volume 2 & Fables Volume 1

izombie volume 3 six feet under and rising iZombie Volume 3: Six Feed Under And Rising (Vertigo)
Written by Chris Roberson, drawn by Mike Allred with Jay Stephens
Collects iZombie #13-18

As I mentioned in my list of favorite reading experiences of 2012, iZombie has quickly become one of my favorite comic read experiences around (check out my reviews of volume 1 and 2 if you’re so inclined). I wrote in that post, “This series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen.” That feeling continued into this third volume as all kinds of craziness goes down and we’re even introduced to a whole new team of characters called the Dead Presents who seem pretty important to the overall narrative. I think it’s a great sign when a book like this heading into its final arc doesn’t shy away from introducing new characters, especially ones that I’m so intrigued by.

One of the keys to this book, in addition to the mythology and characters is that Roberson does a great job of giving everyone a secret, one that you don’t necessarily learn the truth about for issue after issue. I mean, I’m introduced to Gwen in a broad way in the first volume and she explains what her deal is, so I’m on board. I like the character and I’m along for her adventures. But most of the give information at that point has very little to do with her pre-undead life. The realizations and reveals that come from that aspect of her were great and almost unexpected because I was so invested in this character that I forgot that I know almost nothing about her.

This volume is all about answers and reveals while still leaving plenty of large question son the table like what will happen between Gwen and Horatio now that he knows the truth about her? How will they stop the zombie outbreak? What’s the deal with the Dead Presidents?  What’s up with Gramps? Ahhh, there’s so many questions. Even though I read this book a while ago, I’m still excited about it and getting my hands on the last volume to see how everything wraps up.

American Vampire Vol 2 American Vampire Volume 2 (Vertigo)
Written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque with Santolouco
Collects American Vampire #6-11

Another favorite discovery of last year was Scott Snyder’s American Vampire (check out my review of the first volume here). This volume focuses on Las Vegas lawman Cashel McCogan in 1936. He’s a good man doing his best in a place overrun by bad folks. In addition to the run of the mill monsters you might expect, he’s also got a nasty vampire problem on his hands that will reveal dark secrets about Vegas and lead to dark personal realizations for McCogan himself. I don’t want to get too deep into the details for fear of spoilers, but the payoff to the second page in this collection that finally reveals whats in his backup is pretty amazing and disturbing.

The story also circles back around and shines the spotlight on volume one star Pearl and her man Henry who discover along with the audience that there’s an organization out in the world dedicated to destroying vampires. They actually want to test Pearl in exchange for supposedly never bothering her again, but Pearl is understandably wary. And, of course, we get more Skinner Sweet, the OG American Vampire.

Much like iZombie, this book is so great because the characters feel real and robust, the setting is intriguing, the action is intense, the art is rad and the horror fits with the subject matter. I want to dive into this world and soak up every drop of story. I’m excited to get my hands on the remaining books.

fables volume 1 legends in exile Fables Volume 1: Legends In Exile (Vertigo)
Written by Bill Wilingham, drawn by Lan Medina
Collects Fables #1-5

Fables is one of those Vertigo books that I’ve been hearing great things about for years. One of the guys I used to work with at Wizard would devour the new issues every time they came out and I was at a party once where a woman read through the first volume in a corner while everyone else stood around, drank and talked. I thought that was pretty weird, but I figured it indicated something interesting about the book. Even though I hadn’t read it, I knew the basics: all the storybook characters you’ve read about are real and in our world for some reason. Why did I finally decide to check the book out? Well, it’s mainly because of Once Upon A Time, a show I really enjoy that has very similar themes.

In fact, I think watching OUAT has gotten in the way of my reading of this book because I compared every character in the comic to their counterpart in the show. I wasn’t doing it in a “This was ripped off” kind of way but more of just a constant comparison which got kind of tiring.

I also wasn’t super interested in the story of the first arc which revolves around Fabletown’s resident PI Bigby Wolf trying ro figure out who killed Rose Red (Snow White’s sister). The whodunit is kind of a perfect way to introduce the reader to a group of characters who will go on to be major players in the comic (I assume), but I had two problems with this set-up. First, I didn’t know Rose Red at this point and therefore wasn’t really invested in finding out who killed her. Sure, her sister was upset and wanted to find out what happened, but something just didn’t land with me and get me super involved. The other problem I had was that I figured out the big twist pretty early on, so a lot of the procedural stuff wasn’t super interesting. To be fair, I’m not sure if I actually parsed out what was going on or had the answer rattling around in my head.

So, at the end of the day, I wasn’t super absorbed by this first Fables outing. I’ve got the second and third volumes thanks to a Swap, but I’m probably going to knock out a few smaller books as well as the next Y: The Last Man Deluxe hardcover before getting back to them. Maybe I’ll wait til Once Upon A Time‘s season ends to avoid some of the comparisons.

Justice Society Trade Post: JSoA The Bad Seed & JSA All-Stars Constellations

Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed (DC)
Written by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges, drawn by Jesus Merino
Collects Justice Society of America #29-33

I’ve talked about my love of the Justice Society a few times here and there, but the gist is that I’m a fan of legacy characters and the idea of older heroes trying to train and usher in the next generation, which was the point of the team post One Year Later when Geof Johns returned to the team he helped bring back into the comic fan consciousness after taking over for James Robinson and David Goyer. Before jumping off of Justice Society of America, Johns not only added a ton of characters to this book, but also took them on an extended adventure that some people lost interest in. I remember reading all the Gog stuff in a sitting or two and thinking it worked a lot better in trade, but that’s not really here nor there.

At some point, Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges took the book over. I’m not exactly sure when or how long they’d been on the book by the time Bad Seed kicked off, but it was the kind of story I’d seen before and didn’t exactly fall in love with, even though it did lead to an interesting movement for the team.

If you follow the second link above you’ll find my review for the JSA vs. Kobra miniseries which had an enemy coming out of nowhere to hassle the JSA, take out Mr. Terrific and get really close to taking the whole team out for good. That’s the basic plot here too, but with a little bit more of a mystery factor because we’re not supposed to know whether the culprit is the cocky and crude King Chimera or the gung-ho but crazy All-American Kid. It’s not much of a mystery because we see the Kid do it and just have to wait around for the team to figure it out. Another aspect of this story to feel like well trod territory is having Obsidian be in danger and possibly part of the problem. I have a crappy memory, so I can’t remember exactly when this stuff happened previously, but it felt like I’d seen many of these story aspects before. Oh there’s also a ridiculously huge army of supervillains, which seemed to be the thing to do for most DC books around this time.

At the end of the day, this book isn’t super interesting. I like Jesus Merino’s artwork, it’s big and bold and he can do a lot of characters in one page. I also like the writers, but this particular story doesn’t really utilize everyone’s strengths in my opinion. At the end of the book, something big has happened: a rift between members in the teams leading to a split into two different teams and comics. Most of the older heroes stuck with Justice Society of America while the younger, more proactive members moved over to JSA All-Stars.

JSA All-Stars: Constellations (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Freddie Williams II
Collects JSA All-Stars #1-6

While I might not have been the biggest fan of how we got to two ongoing JSA books, I actually really enjoyed JSA All-Stars (or what I’ve read of it so far). See, in the previous story, Magog got in the faces of some of the older guys for not being active enough in training and screening new recruits. As such, the one-time military man, takes it upon himself to train this younger squad in the ways of hand to hand combat and military tactics.
This is a perspective in comics that seems to get overlooked a lot and one that I really liked seeing explored.

The story also continues some of the elements from Bad Seed. In that story, the villains were told by their unnamed employer not to touch Star Girl. We find out in this collection that SPOILER the man behind all of that was Johnny Sorrow, the villain behind an early JSA adventure. The book also features the Injustice Society line-up scene in those same early issues. I know I complained about the army of supervillains in the review above, but these guys are more of a team instead of a ton of bad guys all thrown together.

Even though Sturges used characters I was familiar with especially in the context of this team, I thought he did a great job of using them in different ways and giving the bad guys different motivations. Mostly, though, I adore Freddie Williams II’s artwork. He’s kind of like a cartoonier JLA-era Howard Porter, but really with his own unique look. This dude nails every group shot he does and also is equally comfortable with larger fight scenes and quieter moments. I could not take my eyes off of his panels and pages. I believe he’s all digital and actually takes the time to design the rooms and locales and can then shift them around as they make sense for any given panel or angle. That is fantastic.

I think JSA All-Stars was actually a really good idea, even if the market probably wasn’t crying out for a second JSA book at the time of its launch. Fans of the older crew could stick with JSoA and see their adventures while people who might be scared off by octogenarian superheroes could see what the whole legacy hero thing was about in a book with a slightly different perspective on the whole superhero thing. For more JSA related reviews, check back later this week for when I get to JSA All-Stars Glory Days and Justice Society of America Supertown!