Another week has gone by and I’ve knocked out another pile of comics, most of which came from my local library system. As you can see, we’ve got a mix of amazing indie artists, classic comic visionaries, crossovers and newer books. Hit the jump to see what I had to say on this batch! Continue reading Trade Post: Frank, Midnighter, Constantine, Spirit & Batman/TMNT
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.
I fully intended to write this post towards the end of last weekend, but lost track of time. In the end, I guess it doens’t really matter. Anyway, like I said in that post (or maybe didn’t, it was so long ago, who can remember?), I read these four JSA trades back to back to back to back in the order they’re presented in these posts. As you’ll remember, JSA All-Stars was a spinoff book that featured the more proactive (and younger) members of the fairly unwieldy group. When I say proactive, I don’t necessarily mean the usual “we’re gonna go after the bad guys instead of wait for them to attack” idea, but a team that is well trained in order to be more active and effective when they fight the bad guys.
The second trade features three stories, the first dealing with SPOILER Atom Smasher’s death during Blackest Night, the JSA fighting a gang of gods running amok and a two-parter answering the question: why are there so many Cyclones running around?
While the actual death of Atom Smasher might have been told in a one-off mini that held almost no baring on the larger Blackest Night story (I’ll get around to reviewing that book eventually), but the issue here was actually pretty heartfelt as it followed Judomaster exploring her feelings towards AS in depth.
I wasn’t as interested in the details of the gods story, but I will say that any script that offers Freddie Williams II the chance to draw monkeys riding tigers in the jungle, some iconic super heroes and building-big gods, I’m happy. There were some revelations and characters moments that were pretty important to the larger story as well, which I also appreciated. The multiple Cyclone story was also pretty cool, kind of along the lines of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode over two issues, with an ending that actually had me going, “Whaaaaat?” I’d really like to see how this book wrapped up. I believe there was one more trade’s worth of issues, but don’t know if DC has any intention of collecting them right now. Anyone know?
Supertown is a little but of an outsider when it comes to this particular quartet of JSA books. The first JSoA volume I read lead right into the two JSA All-Stars books, but the original book has a collection called Axis of Evil that I don’t have and a crossover with JLoA that I’m holding off on until I go through all the post-Infinite Crisis JLA books. So, I don’t have as great of a sense of this team and its motives in the wake of the split, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a more difficult comic to read, I just like having all the pieces of the puzzle, you know?
Anyway, this arc revolves around the battle with a super powered terrorist named Scythe. The JSA takes him on in the first issue and tells young member Lightning to, essentially, go supernova and blast the crap of him, destroying a huge area of the town. Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott gets mortally wounded in the battle and we soon discover that he and Golden Age Flash ran into this thing as a child experiment in WWII.
With the fallout, Flash focuses his efforts on rebuilding the whole city, a job that takes a lot longer than it usually does in comics, taking a more real world approach to that trope. More terrorists show up to give our heroes a hard time, but we also get a brand new design for Alan Scott’s costume, which is pretty clunky, but actually serves a purpose.
I’ve talked before about how I get bored with comics that feel too familiar with other comics I’ve read, especially when said older comics are from the same character or team’s history. This one included a few elements that have been very popular in the last few years for the JSA: a major member gets nearly killed (actually two in this collection) and a villain that comes out of nowhere with seemingly all the answers. However, I thought Guggenheim did a pretty great job of building this story around different character beats and moments. I’m still not sure about the GL costume, but I’d definitely be interested to see how JSA ended just prior to New 52.
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.
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!