Even though this week’s Trade Pile isn’t quite as robust as others, I still wanted to get a few thoughts down on three books that I read this week that I thought were pretty darn spiffy. One set an established character out on his own in a way that really worked for me while the other two featured brand new characters, one set in an equally new world an one rooted in a far more familiar one!
Welcome to the ninth meeting of the Midnight Comic Club! In the third and final look at Frankenstein-related comic books we plunge into the waters of Dick Briefer, EC Comics, Warren, Image, Dark Horse and a variety of other companies. In this episode we see writers and artists experiment with all kinds of variations on the theme ranging from setting and sex to superheroics!
As always, I mention a lot of titles in the episode. I’ll link to them here and also show off some images below to help create a fuller experience. Frankenstein: The Mad Science Of Dick Briefer, The Monster Of Frankenstein By Dick Briefer, the Jack Davis-drawn “Mirror, Mirror On the Wall ” can be found in glorious black and white in Fantagraphics’ ‘Taint The Meat…It’s The Humanity, Creepy Archives Volumes 1 and 2, Eerie Archives Volume 1, Top Cow Monster War, Doc Frankenstein, Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Prodigal Son Volume 1, Madame Frankenstein and Frankenstein Underground!
As I mentioned when I reviewed the first Knightfall omnibus volume followed by the last two, that was a seminal comic crossover that brought me into the world of Batman full force. But, much like when I started reading Superman comics, there were all kinds of elements in play that I was learning about as I went.
When I started reading comics, I loved the fact that these stories had been going on for years before I came onboard. That meant I got to play detective while reading along, picking up clues and figuring things out as best I could. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I was right and sometimes retcons rendered my investigation moot, but it was fun trying to piece the puzzle together. At the time I figured there was a Platonic version of continuity out there that I could eventually understand. Oh, how naive I once was.
One of the many elements at play in KnightFall — the story that saw Bane breaking Batman and Jean-Paul Valley taking over — was a steroid type drug called Venom that Bane injected into himself. At some point, it was either hinted at or outright stated that Batman had a history with the stuff itself. That story was recently collected in a trade simply titled Batman: Venom that acts as a companion piece to the KnightFall books.
The story kicks off with Batman failing to save a girl trapped in a room with rising water. He’s not strong enough to save her and she dies. He then goes to her dad’s house where he’s working on Venom and doesn’t seem concerned about his kid whatsoever. After a series of failures and further injuries, Batman winds up taking the drug and gets hooked. After going a little crazy, getting strung along by the scientist and introduced to an evil general with his own schemes, Batman finally kicks Venom and goes after the bad guys who are building supersoldiers on the island of Santa Prisca (which O’Neill created in The Question and also designated as Bane’s home).
I think this is a really interesting story because, at the heart of it, it’s about Batman wanting to be the best he is at what he does and failing. He’s so torn up by this girl’s death that he does something you’d never expect him to: turn to drugs. It’s a dark time in his life, but being the kind of person he is, he stops taking them and has Alfred lock him in the Batcave for a month (the coolest idea in the whole book). He then goes on to stop the bad guys who have an army of nearly unbeatable soldiers at their beck and call.
But, the actual story doesn’t feel very dramatic and I think that’s because you know how it’s going to end. Even if you had no familiarity with the Bane story or were reading it when these issues came out, you know that Batman isn’t going to stay addicted to Venom. It doesn’t take too long for Batman to kick the habit and it’s sad to see him do the things he does while under the influence, but there’s still this surrounding idea that he’s obviously going to get better. Obviously, this is something that all Corporate Comics have to deal with. The key is to dress the story up with enough elements and characters that distract you from the fact that nothing is REALLY going to change, especially with a character as huge as Batman. Unfortunately, aside from Batman and Alfred, this book doesn’t have much of that distracting window dress. The scientist is emotionless from doing his own drugs. The general is the same basic evil military guy you’ve seen in everything. There’s an attempt to bring more emotion into it with the scientist’s son who gets tragically transformed into one of these mindless soldiers, but even that felt pretty been-there-done-that.
Still, this book has a nice little adventure that includes Batman fighting a shark on the cover that also fills in a big part of the KnightFall/Bane mythology that you might have missed. Plus, the artwork by Trevor Von Eeden and Russell Braun is very classic Batman, so it’s got that going on.
Batman Versus Bane is another trade that ties in to the KnightFall trades which in turn were most likely produced to grab some interest based on the villain’s appearance in The Dark Knight Rises. This one reprints Bane’s origin as seen in the Vengeance Of Bane one-shot as well as the post-KnightFall miniseries Bane Of The Demon.
I mentioned the one-shot in my review of the first KnightFall book, which it is also collected in. It would have been nice if they threw in the three or four issues that Bane and his crew appeared in between the one-shot and the KQ story proper, but oh well.
This time around I noticed that Bane’s origin is gilded with some really silly elements. When he’s a kid, living in the prison, he sees a vision of himself warning against a kind of bat demon. Later he decides he wants to go to Gotham because it connects to his dream. If you’ve already got a survivor who built up his body and mind while trapped in prison, do you really need to add on this silly element of the dream? Just make him a competitive guy who wants to test himself against another high quality physical specimen and skip all that other nonsense.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Bane Of The Demon miniseries which I’d never read before. I didn’t realize it going in, but this leads directly into a moment that blew my mind in Detective Comics #700 when it’s revealed that Bane is Ra’s al Ghul’s new Ubu. I’m glad I didn’t read this series at the time because that moment would not have had as much impact, but going back and checking it out now is a nice look at what was going on behind the scenes.
The gist here is that Bane wants to know about his past so he returns to the island of Santa Prsica. There he discovers that one of four men could have been his father. His search for one of the candidates not only involves the Order Of St. Dumas, but also Ra’s and Talia al Ghul who he winds up palling around with for a while, but never completely letting his guard down around.
This story not only leads into the Legacy crossover that plagued the Bat-books (that’s a semi-clever pun if you’re familiar with the story), but also leads into a later Gotham Knights arc that posits that Bane and Bruce Wayne might be half brothers! That’s not explored or mentioned in this book at all, but there is a nice little set up for it.
I’ll be keeping both of these books in my collection, not necessarily because they’re mind-blowingly awesome comic book stories, but because they’re important pieces of a story that I love going back to my early days as a comic reader.
Batman 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 (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.
Outsiders: Five Of A Kind (DC)
Written by Ninzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, Tony Bedard, Mike W. Barr, G. Willow Wilson & Marc Andreyko, drawn by Freddie Williams II, Kevin Sharpe, Koi Turnbull, Josh Middleton, Cliff Richards, Matthew Clark & Ron Rondall
Collects Nightwing & Captain Boomerang #1, Katana & Shazam #1, Thunder & Martian Manhunter #1, Metamorpho & Aquaman #1, Grace & Wonder Woman #1 & Outsiders #50
As I mentioned in my year-end review of my favorite trade-reading experiences of 2012, I really enjoyed my re-read of Judd Winick’s Outsiders. He seemed to have a real vision for that book that kept things moving for nearly 50 full issues.
And then things changed. In Winick’s run we learned that the team was actually having its strings pulled by Deathstroke dressed as Batman instead of the hero himself. Batman eventually steps back in to take control of the team he originally started, utilizing the One Year Later-established idea that they’re actually a group of international terrorists as a way to do good in the darkness.
That basic idea lead into the Five Of A Kind trade which collects several one-shots that are supposed to team current Outsiders up with other heroes Batman trusts in an effort to see who should actually join the team. But, that’s not really what happens, not that that’s a terrible thing. The Nightwing/Boomerang issues follows the concept pretty well, but the one with Katana, by Batman & The Outsiders writer Mike W. Barr is basically a story starring her with Shazam popping in in a supporting role. The real running theme between the issues is that Batman’s kind of a jerk, which winds up losing more team members than his actual cuts (or was that all part of his plan?!).
While the comics in this collection don’t necessarily do what they set out to, it is interesting as an artifact of continuity old and then-new. Nightwing and Boomer deal with Chemo after he was used to destroy Bludhaven, Katana dives deep into story elements going back to her early days, Martian Manhunter and Thunder face off against Kyle Rayner villain Grayven and Grace and Wonder Woman operate in a post-Amazons Attack DCU. Heck, there’s also a lead into Salvation Run as well as nods to Countdown. So, there’s a strange mix of older stories being referenced and newer ones, making this a unique collection that probably won’t have much appeal outside of completists.
The events of Five Of A Kind lead directly into a new series called Batman And The Outsiders written by Chuck Dixon. The series would go through a large number of creative and personnel changes as well as a switch back to the simpler Outsiders title before getting the axe. When these issues came out, I was still at Wizard and had a direct pipeline into what was going on behind the scenes, so we knew why Catwoman and Martian Manhunter were really leaving the team. It reeked of editorial interference, but Dixon’s a pro and kept things moving right along.
This time around, I tried pushing a lot of those memories out of mind and it helped me dig this story even more. By the way, the team consists of Grace, Metamorpho, Katana, Martian Manhunter and Catwoman (who both left by the end of the second issue). Thunder’s hanging out trying to prove herself worthy while Batman brings in Geo-Force, Batgirl and Green Arrow to help out on the various missions. Oh, there’s also a reprogrammed OMAC called REMAC who goes on to become more interesting in the second volume.
I think Dixon handled himself pretty well on this book, which also goes on to bring back some villains he created for Guy Gardner (pre-Warrior) and Detective Comics. There’s a big corporation experimenting with OMACs and rockets and space or something. It didn’t feel like the hows and whys were as important as the whos with this one, which isn’t a drawback for me. I dug the personal interactions between these characters, many of whom were on the original team. We also got to see them use their powers for infiltration purposes which works out really well.
Dixon was on for another arc/trade which I want to get my hands on. After that, the concept shifts a bit. At that point, Batman’s gone post-Final Crisis and R.I.P. and it’s revealed that the team he put together is actually there to replace him should anything happen. Yeah, it’s egotistical to think that you’d need a group of people to replace just you, but we’re talking about Batman here, so it makes sense. I don’t remember how well it was executed, but I’ll probably get my hands on those trades eventually and let you know how it goes.
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).
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 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).
Batman Knightfall Volume 1 (DC)
Collects Batman #491-500, Detective #659-666, Showcase 93 #7-8, Shadow of the Bat #16-18 & Vengeance of Bane
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant, drawn by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson & Mike Manley
You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw that DC was re-collecting the Batman Knightfall story. If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s Batman comics, a weakened Batman went up against a new bad guy on the street named Bane who released all the villains in Arkham. After trying to stop and recapture all the bad guys, Batman finally goes up against Bane and — as you can see on the cover to the left here — Bane breaks Batman’s back. After this, a guy who has been hanging around for a little bit named Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, gets named the new Batman. JPV’s a little nutty to be nice about things and Robin realizes this is a problem, but Bruce is worried about finding Tim’s kidnapped dad and their shared doctor who Bruce wants to tell he’s Bats. There’s a lot going on, but what else can you expect from a 630 page book?
The reason I was so excited about this book — and the two that come after it — is because these were really my first Batman comics. I’d read one or two before and knew the character from the Adam West TV show, but these were the first ones I collected. The death of Superman got me into that book and the breaking of Batman got me into this one, I guess I was a little morbid as a kid. Anyway, while I have most of the issues collected therein, this is the very first time I’ve read them in order. I got many of the issues piecemeal, read them and then promptly placed them in bags and boards.
I was surprised by a lot of things reading through this book. First off, I was shocked that Kelly Jones didn’t do any interiors, only covers. This surprised me because what I remember about these stories is mainly his covers (as well as the gatefold foil Joe Quesada one for #500). I was also surprised at how quickly they got to breaking Bats. I assumed it would be towards the end of the book, but it actually takes place around the half way point.
My other surprises were more story based, so they deserve their own paragraph(s). I should note that, even if this book was a complete artistic embarrassment, I would love it because it’s so near and dear to me. While I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, I was surprised at how flimsy Bane’s reasoning is presented in the book. We see his origins in the Bane one-shot, but his reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Why does he care about Gotham or Batman? Because some guy told him how great it was? I assume the intent is for Bane to compare himself to the highest physical specimen and win, but that falls apart when you release an army of madmen to bend him so you can come in and break him. Along similar lines, I have no idea why Bane hangs out with the trio of goofballs he does, Bird, Trogg and Zombie as they don’t do a whole lot for him.
Another problem I had which might have come from seeing how well this source material was handled in The Dark Knight Rises was that I didn’t get the impending sense of worry and doom with this story that I got in the film. Bane not only releases every crazy into Gotham and breaks Batman’s back IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, but also starts taking over all of the crime in the city, but the normal people we see don’t seem super upset or worried about it. The story lacks a sense of larger urgency that the film absolutely nailed. This is not helped by the inclusion of the Shadow of the Bat issues included in this collection which come right after JPV went out as Batman for the first time and give you three issues of Scarecrow trying to become a fear god, JPV being crazy Batman and Anarky trying to kill both of them. These don’t really help the series along and slow things WAY down, but I’m glad they’re in there. Maybe it would have been better to put them later in the book? But then they’d come after JPV made the AzBat armor…hmm
Okay, that was a good deal of complaining and critiquing, but I still really enjoyed reading this book and not just because of the wonderful trip down memory lane. Watching Batman getting so worn down facing also-rans like Firefly was actually pretty amazing. And, man, that scene where he fights Bane and gets broken? Still gives me chills. So intense. I also liked how JPV goes over the edge bit by bit. I mean, he’s clearly a terrible choice for Batman, but Bruce is not in his right mind, his brain’s as broken as his body, so it kind of makes sense. Plus, JPV was apparently hanging around before all this and was being trained by Batman and Robin. I’m pretty excited to break into the next book and see how his books hold up.
Ah, I’ve got one more complaint or more positively, a suggestion. It would be nice if there was a trade collecting some of the stuff that leads into this book. Bane appeared in a few other comics that are referenced several times that I’d like to read, but it’d also be cool to get a little bit more of JPV’s back story. Sure, I’ve got the Sword of Azreal trade on my shelf (and plan to read it again soon), but that’s a pretty old and, I assume, out of print book that I’m sure other people would like to read. Similarly, I noticed from looking at the second Knightfall volume I have and the information out there for the third, there’s a lot of stuff that’s still not collected like the Justice League Task Force stuff and a few other tales of Bruce Wayne running around trying to save Tim’s dad and their doctor. It’s entirely possible that these trades will get made in the future, especially if the planned Knightfall ones do really well, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe I’ll just make my own!
In a somewhat shocking revelation, I actually liked all three of the random comics I grabbed out of The Box for this week’s post. It helped that two of them were comics I purchased at a convention in the last few years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading, but it’s still nice to know that randomness can be a good thing.
First up, I checked out 1993’s Detective Comics #662 written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan. This issues happens to be the eight installment in the Knightfall storyline that would eventually see Batman with his back shattered. I’ve said before on this blog that Superman’s death is what got me hooked on comics, but once I was in, the breaking of Batman helped keep me there and broadened my reading habits. I don’t exactly remember where I came in on this story, but it was after this issue because I didn’t already have it. It got me thinking of how shocking the end of this story must have been to people reading the event as it happened. Sure, Batman had been in some tough spots before, but he always made it out okay, that would happen again this time, right?
Nope. Anyway, this particular issue finds an exhausted Batman fighting Firefly at the zoo while Robin stops one of Riddler’s plots. This particular issue doesn’t do a great job of explaining what all is happening though, that Bane released all these criminals and has set them loose on Gotham with Batman trying to bring them all back in. You get the gist here and there and at the end, but if this was a Valiant or Crossgen crossover I wasn’t familiar with, I’d have been lost. Reading this issue made me want to get those new Knightfall paperbacks that came out recently as I realized I’ve never read the whole story from beginning to end as I just jumped in whenever I started reading.
Up next I pulled out another DC Comics, this one Suicide Squad #35 from 1989 by the creative team of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. This was interesting time as I’d just finished reading the first arc of the series in trade paperback form a few weeks prior. As I mentioned in that post, I’d read a number of the issues when my pal Ben lent them to me, but can’t really remember how far I got. I’m not sure if I got up to this issue, but the adventure did seem a little familiar, so maybe I did.
Anyway, this one finds the Squad — a group of criminals who go on crazy missions to help alleviate their prison sentences — stranded on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips fighting the Female Furies and doing a much better job than they probably should have been able to do if you ask me.
The issue feels like the middle of a three parter as it’s pretty much one huge fight scene, but there’s still enough explained that I didn’t feel lost. Lashina had been abandoned on Earth in an earlier issue and basically joined the Squad, but still wanted her revenge for being left behind. The issue ended on a cliffhanger that made me wish even more that this whole series was collected in trade. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting issues like this one and read them all together down the line.
Lastly, I pulled out another issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, this one 1993’s #21 by John Ostrander and John Bock. Huh, just realized that I pulled out two Ostrander comics back to back. After reading Magnus #25 last week, I wasn’t super excited about reading this comic, but I went through with it and it was alright. Much like last time, I still don’t really know why Magnus fights robots, but the issues does have a dream sequence that recaps a lot of Magnus’ recent adventures (and contains lots of robot fighting).
There’s some presumably big reveals to people who had been reading the series for 2o issues before this one. For them, they might have been like “Holy crap!!!!” but I was like “Oh, okay.” That’s just how these things work. You’re not going to surprise a newbie with a revelation in the 21st issue, but you can do your best to set it up for them so they at least understand what’s being revealed and why it’s important. Ostrander did that here and that’s all I can really ask for.
Oh, also, Bock’s art is still awesome in this issue.
I gotta say, I was surprised by this issue of C.O.P.S. (#7 from 1988, written by Doug Moench, drawn by Pat Broderick). If you’re familiar with the comic, cartoon or toy line, you’ll know that it’s about a group of specialty policemen and women brought together to help defend the crime ridden Empire City. My personal memories of the cartoon were filled with awesome cops like Longarm going on amazing adventures, but when I saw a few episodes on DVD back in my days at Wizard, I discovered it was actually pretty cheesy.
This comic is actually a pretty good amalgam of the cool aspects I remember and the cheesy aspects I more recently experienced. As you can see, the bad guy in this issue is actually a cop who flipped his lid and now eschews the law in favor of his own brand of justice…that he metes out via giant robotic elephant with a vacuum trunk. So, it’s probably not hard to see the dual natures at work in this book, which feels like it could have really been fun and cool if not aimed at kids.
The issue even goes into some detail about the cop’s origins and how they actually tie into those of the team itself (I read the first issue at some point in the last year or so) making it all pretty cohesive. C.O.P.S. is one of those properties that I would love to see make a comeback now that cartoons and animation can be a little more serious and realistic than they used to be. Just imagine a C.O.P.S. series done by the Young Justice team. It would be fantastic.
Every time I pull out a Valiant comic from The Box I hope that it will be as enjoyable as the good Turok or X-O Manowar issues I’ve read and not as incomprehensible as Archer & Armstrong or, well, that other issue of X-O. I’d put Magnus Robot Fighter #25 (1993) by John Ostrander and James Brock closer to the good ones and further from the bad, but it was a bit much to take in. I don’t blame this one on the creative team, actually. It’s a seemingly revelatory issue with lots of reveals for entrenched readers that also gives a ton of information to a new one like me but I was left with one all important question I’ve always had about Magnus: why does he fight robots?
I find out that there are certain robots he does fight and others he doesn’t and he even seems to be friends with robots, but the simple question doesn’t really get answered. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that today would be covered in one of those small, one-sentence origin boxes lots of comics use these days like, “Rocketed to Earth as a baby, Superman uses his enhanced strength and other powers to fight for truth, justice and the American way.” I mean, you’re halfway to explaining what Magnus is all about just from the extended title of the comic, I just need a little bit more information. In fact, not knowing what the deal was kept popping me out of the story a bit.
One more quick thing I want to talk about is the art in this book by Brock. It’s actually really rad. His characters are strong and bold and he’s got some extra line work in there that reminds me of Andy Clarke and guys like that. It’s also got some of that interesting Valiant coloring, but it’s a bit bolder than some of the other more pastel offerings I’ve seen so far.
This copy of Showcase ’94 #6 was one I actually picked up at a con along the line at some point. I am a gigantic fan of the mid-90s Showcase series’ for being repositories for great short stories oftentimes starring characters who might not warrant their own series or mini. This one has three one a team-up with Huntress and Robin, another with The Atom and a third with New Blood Sparx. The Robin/Huntress story was written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by the rad Phil Jimenez and is actually the third part in a three part story. I think I’ve read the other two or at least one of them. It’s about a killer priest who wears a gold mask and shoots people. This issue has the dramatic reveal but since I don’t really remember the other two issues, it’s not too thrilling. What is thrilling, however, is seeing Jimenez do Robin and Huntress from the era that I was really getting into the Batman books.
The Sparx story by Karl Keel and Scott Lee and, honestly, I remember next to nothing about it. Sparx is part of a family of superheroes and wants to learn about someone in her family and then Captain Boomerang attacks and things go sour so she leaves. That’s about all I got.
Lastly, you’ve got The Atom by Len Kaminski and Fred Reyes in a story where Ray Palmer has to use his abilities to stop a bomb from blowing up a city. I like this one because it’s one of those stories where the writer really gets into the character’s powers and figures out how they could really work. Kaminski does that in a pretty concise and clear way that I dug. So, I dug this issue and will actually be keeping it in my collection.
FLASH: THE HUMAN RACE (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, Pop Mhan, Joshua Hood & Mike Probeck
Collects Flash Vol. 2 #136-141, Secret Origins #50
Even though I have great respect for what Geoff Johns did with the character, my favorite version of Wally West was the crazy horn dog from Justice League Europe. He was very fun, to me he was what I always heard Spider-Man to be, cracking jokes and loving the whole superhero thing, but looking to get down whenever possible. Books like this one and Johns’ trades are swaying me more towards the dating Linda Park version of the character. Mind you, I always liked LInda and Wally when he was with her, but it always seemed like when your crazy friend starts dating someone and starts to calm down. You still like him, you just kind of miss the old version of him. Anyway, this is the second trade collecting Morrison and Millar’s run on the book, but you don’t really need to have read the previous book to understand this one. The trade collects two basic storylines, the first being Wally running across dimensions against his supposed imaginary friend from childhood for the fate of the world and the second being Wally dealing with Linda’s apparent death and the Black Flash. Both stories are great, as you might expect from the pairing of writers (though I’m no fan of Millar).
The book does a great job of showing why Wally is cool without telling you, which is something that Johns hasn’t been doing a great job of with Barry since his return in my opinion. First off, he saves the whole universe by running. It sounds simple, but it’s across time and space, so not only does it look cool, but really gets into his head in some smart ways that I really liked. Then, you see Wally at one of the lowest points of his life. He basically quits on the hero gig because he lost his speed and is devastated by Linda’s death. He does come back, though and that’s what makes him a hero. The inclusion of the Morrison-written Flash Secret Origin story is a nice extra that I appreciate for completist sake. The art in the book is kind of all over the place, but the Pop Mahn stuff really stands out for me.
HUMAN TARGET (Vertigo)
Written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Edvin Biukovic
Collects Human Target #1-4
After checking out an episode of Human Target on Fox, I wanted to read the comic to see how similar the two are. And the answer seems to be very little. I know this Vertigo take on the character probably doesn’t exclusively follow the history set up in his previous adventures, though it does seem like it would fit in, but the whole concept of the Human Target in comics is that Christopher Chance takes on the potential victim’s identity to draw out assassins and take care of them. From what I could tell of the one episode I saw (and I haven’t seen any more after that) he’s just a bodyguard, so I’m not sure why they bothered shelling out the licensing fees for just the names. Anyway, this book is okay, but not necessary for anyone to read. The plot is a bit overcomplicated with Chance’s former assistant actually taking on Chance’s identity and then that of a pastor. His problem is that he wants to be anyone but himself, which laves his wife in the lurch. Milligan handles all the twists and turns of the story well, but I felt like the story should have been more about Chance himself and not him dealing with his old protege. It reminded me of 100 Bullets, but didn’t hit me anywhere as much as that book did on a nearly monthly basis. Also, Biukovic’s art looks a lot like Eduardo Risso’s but it’s a little more rounded. So, while this book didn’t really do anything for me, I would like to check out some other Human Target comics because I like the concept. It’s such a strong concept, in fact, that they should make a TV show out of it.
BOOSTER GOLD: REALITY LOST (DC)
Written & drawn by Dan Jurgens with some Chuck Dixon issues
Collects Booster Gold Vol. II #11, 12, 15-19
This is the third trade collecting what I think has been a great run on a book starring a character I’ve had a fondness for since I first picked up Extreme Justice and some other Justice League books backin my formative years. Since his 52-era reboot, Booster’s been running around keeping time safe for humanity learning lessons about what you can go back and save and what you can’t. You might think this isn’t the best place to start, but issues #11 and 12 were written by Dixon who took over from Geoff Johns and my buddy Jeff Katz and then Jurgens takes over as writer with issues #15. I’ve gotta say that it bugs me anytime a trade like this doesn’t just collect everything in one volume. Would it really have been such a difficult task to include the two issues written by Rick Remender and drawn by Pat Oliffe? I’m not a big fan of those guys thanks to how the ruined All Star Atom at the very end, but I’d rather be able to skip some issues in a book than have to read things all out of order.
Anyway, the story starts off with what should have been a simple stopping of a crime and ends up involving several trips back to the same Killer Moth job. Dixon wrote these and while they might seem like throwaways, Jurgens uses them later on in his story which involves all kinds of time travel, past stories and two Boosters teaming up to fight a former colleague of Rip Hunter’s. The story did get a little confusing because it goes in and out of previous issues and I always wonder what happened in the issues that aren’t collected. But, it will go back on the shelf with the first two trades so I can read them all in one sitting later. Also, Jurgens has been killing it art-wise on this book as far as I’m concerned which is great because after Battle For Bludhaven, I really thought he had lost it.