Books Of Justice Trade Post: Team History & Dark Things

justice league of america team historyJustice League Of America: Team History (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Justice League Of America #38-43

Months ago I was looking through the two longboxes of unread trades in my closet and realized I had a lot of post-Infinite Crisis Justice League collections. I’d read many of the issues as they came out, but not since then. It seemed like enough time had passed that I could give them a re-read. I started with Brad Meltzer’s two volumes, then moved on to Dwayne McDiffie’s four books and am now up to the first two James Robinson offerings called Team History and Dark Things.

Guys, this trade is an absolute mess and it has nothing to do with the stories. When I wrote about McDuffie’s last book, I noted that there was zero context offered for what the heck is going on in the larger DCU. If these trades were only sold in comic shops to fans, that would be fine, because they would essentially be written for existing fans. But because trade paperbacks are out in the world, I feel like there should be some way to catch new readers up on what went on before it. I also fully support adding a few pieces of text between issues if something huge happened in a different book. Basically, these TPBs need to be as timeless as possible and they’re not.

Team History deals with all kinds of huge events that aren’t centrally located in Justice League Of America, so it’s super confusing. You’ve got an already depleted League that has to deal with Blackest Night and the Cry For Justice storyline, none of which are explained outside of quick dialog recaps in the books themselves.  I read those other comics when they came out, but that was a while ago, so even I was confused when I got to Team History. And then, BANG, you’ve got the Cry For Justice team along with fill-ins for the Big Three. To be fair, Robinson does a great job of recapping past events in #41, but that’s already four issues deep in this trade.

All that being said, Robinson did a good job with what he was given. Can you imagine taking over the most iconic superhero team of all team and it consists of Plastic Man, Vixen, Dr. Light and Red Tornado? Sure Zatanna and Gypsy show up to help fight Despero, but that’s still about as far from a headlining team as you can get. But, they do make for an interesting group to deal with evil returned loved ones in the Blackest Night event. Like the other BN tie-ins that I talked about before, though, the problem with these stories as a whole is that, even though many of them figured out smart ways to deal with the Black Lanterns, none of it was used in the larger story so what’s the point?

Finally, towards the end of the book, Robinson finally got to do his own thing and it was…interesting. The League finds itself dealing with a group of New God wannabes and some devices found throughout the history of the DCU which offers some fun looks at the Metal Men, the Challenges of the Unknown and other heroes and groups. At the end of the day, though, it felt like a bit of a confusing ending that has to take time to explain why several heroes left the team and then move right into the next book, a crossover with Justice Society Of America.

justice league of america dark things Justice League Of America: Dark Things (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Collects Justice League Of America #44-48 & Justice Society Of America #41, 42

Unlike the previous JLoA/JSoA crossover handled by Meltzer and Geoff Johns, this one was written and drawn completely by Robinson and Bagley. The team in this book is a much smaller version of the one seen on the cover of the previous volume. You’ve got Batman (Dick Grayson), Donna Troy, Congorilla and Starman with Supergirl and Jade showing up as the story progresses. Basically, this story finds the JSoA teaming up with the tiny JLoA because Jade has returned to Earth and brought the Starheart with her. Its presence winds up driving her dad Alan Scott crazy and the rest of the book has the teams joining forces to first take care of some of the magic- and weather-related backlash and then stop Adam’s rampage.

There’s nothing wrong with this story, but it also didn’t blow my mind. This story has loose ties to Brightest Day, the Blackest Night follow-up that focused on some of the returned-from-the-dead characters like Jade, but it didn’t feel like there was too much information left out. At the end of the day, I think I’ve just read enough of these kinds of stories to be a little bit bored with them. I really enjoyed how this book incorporated the effects of the Starheart on the rest of the DCU with all kinds of cameos, but at the end of the day, this is another team-up based around, basically, the same heroes doing a lot of the same things they’ve done before. That’s less a complaint about the quality of the story and more about my general feelings about Corporate Comics these days.

And yet, I was still disappointed by both of these books for a few reasons. First off, I’m not quite sure why this team exists other than to sell Justice League comics. I don’t necessarily need to be inundated with “team business” type stories, but there seemed to be very little of that. Heck, there’s hardly a team throughout both of these trades. Additionally, I was disappointed by both creators. Robinson penned one of the greatest superhero epics of all time in Starman and this doesn’t even come close to that. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I just can’t separate my love of that book from my expectations for this one. It’s not fair at all, but that’s how it is. Meanwhile, Bagley’s art didn’t wow me nearly as much as I thought it would. I was as excited as anyone when I heard he was moving over to a Justice League comic as the regular artist. But the results just seem a bit too slight and sketchy. These are supposed to be big, bold heroes and that doesn’t always come across.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what to think about these books. They’re important pieces of the post-Infinite Crisis, pre-New 52 Justice League series of books, but are they shelf or collection worthy? I’m going to hold on to them for now and see if I can get my hands on the last few to see how they work as a whole, but I’m not so sure these are worth holding on to.

Trade Post: A Few Thoughts On New Krypton

new krypton

Superman New Krypton Vol. 1-4, Supergirl: Who Is Superwoman?, Superman: Mon-El Vol. 1 & 2, Superman: Nightwing & Flamebird Vol. 1 & 2, Superman: Codename Patriot, Superman Last Stand Of New Krypton Vol. 1 & 2 and Superman War Of The Supermen.
Written by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Sterling Gates & Eric Trautmann, drawn by a cast of hundreds.

After reading through Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics (check out the posts here and here if you’re interested) it only made sense to move right into the epic that it spawned called New Krypton. As you can see from the above image, this is a pretty hefty undertaking. I’ve got 13 of the 15 books that encompass the entire thing, I didn’t realize there were two Supergirl volumes I was missing, but I was already three or four books deep by that point and just decided to move forward. I’m not going to go through and write about each individual book because that would take forever and there’s a lot I’ve forgotten. Still, I really enjoyed this story and wanted to talk about it a bit.

Johns’ run ended with the first real look at Brainiac whose ship has a bunch of bottle cities inside, including a Kryptonian one (Kandor mashed up with Argo City). They got that city out and re-enlarged it in the Arctic which of course caused a fair share of trouble because not all Kryptonians are as good as Superman. Eventually, after several run-ins with Earthers, Krypton becomes its own planet in an opposite orbit of Earth. To be with his people, Superman actually leaves Earth but asks Mon-El to stay behind and keep Metropolis safe. At the same time Earth outlaws Kryptonians but that doesn’t stop Nightwing (Chris Kent from Johns’ Last Son arc) and Flamebird from running around trying to find some Kryptonian sleeper agents who are hiding out on Earth.

In addition to all that Supergirl’s dealing with her mother who seems a little crazy, but the real drama running through the entire thing is between General Sam Lane who supposedly died way back during Our Worlds At War and General Zod, neither of whom trust their alien counterparts and have taken measures to keep the other in check and destroy them if need be. As much as the story is about showing how truly GOOD Superman is by comparing him to all of these other far more flawed characters around him, it’s also an intergalactic chess match between Lane and Zod as their machinations play out in subtle and overt ways. I really enjoy how both of those elements play out over this gigantic storyline.

And it is gigantic, you guys, but that’s what I love about it. Just think about how weird of a story this is. Superman leaves Earth and finds himself surrounded by other Kryptonians making him far less special (theoretically) in an all new title called Superman New Krypton. Meanwhile, Mon-El, Nightwing and Flamebird took over Superman and Action Comics respectively. At the same time, the usual cast of characters — Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Lana Land, Perry White, Ma Kent — get to do some new things now that Superman is gone. Jimmy runs around trying to figure out a mystery, Lois actually does the same, but she’s doing it without her Superman safety net. And, hey, SPOILER WARNING, the entire thing ends with nearly an entire planet getting murdered by Lex Luthor and Gen. Lane. I remember sitting at the lunch table at Wizard reading these comics and trying to figure out how this story was going to end with my pals. The general consensus was that they would just send the planet off into space or the Phantom Zone or something. There was a little talk about what actually happened, but none of us thought they’d actually do that because it would be too intense. Nope. Boom. Gone. I was pretty surprised by the ending and how often can you say that about a Big Two epic like this.

I did a little research before diving into this reading experience and came up with a fairly good reading order, but it needed some tweaking, so I’ll lay it down here for others to check out and so I can have a reference point next time I give it a read through. The first seven volumes are pretty solid and can be read thusly.

New Krypton Vol. 1
New Krypron Vol. 2
Supergirl: Who Is Superwoman?
New Krypron Vol. 3
Mon-El Vol. 1
Nightwing & Flamebird Vol. 1
Codename: Patriot

Here’s where it gets a little tricky though because the books intertwine a bit.

Nightwing & Flamebird Vol. 2
Mon-El Vol. 2 (stop at the last issue)
New Krypton Vol. 4
Last Stand Of New Krypton Vol. 1
Last Stand Of New Krypton Vol. 2
War Of The Supermen
Go back and read the rest of Mon-El Vol. 2

I actually read Mon-El Vol. 2 before Nightwing & Flamebird Vol. 2, but I think this way makes more sense, leads to less skipping around and Mon-El flows into the end of the series better than Nightwing & Flamebird. Anyway, I will say that, while I’m glad these books were collected they way they were, there’s a part of my brain that actually likes the idea of this story better as a series of weekly comics coming out. At the time I was just voraciously reading each issue and trying to figure out what was going to happen next in all the different stories. I’m sure I could go back, figure out the release dates and jump from book to book, but that sounds like a TON of work. I want to say there’s some material that’s uncollected, I seem to remember some back-ups that aren’t in these volumes, but might be in the Supergirl ones. Something about Captain Atom in General Lane’s weird alternate dimension. Seems crazy that something like that wouldn’t get included considering how much attention they put into these books, most of which came out in hardcover and feature intros and extra features.

As a longtime Superman fan, I love what this story says about Superman as well as the people he surrounds himself with. At the same time, it’s a sprawling, engrossing story that encompasses pretty much every genre with some huge, over-arcing elements which go through all the books. With all that going on, I felt like the characterizations were pretty consistent across the board and resulted in a story I not only enjoyed the second time around but felt equally invested in.

My 12 Favorite Trade Reading Experiences Of 2012

I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
outsiders looking for trouble  I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. starman-omnibus-vol-3I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. legend of grimjack volume 1I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 War of the MonstersI’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. secret avengers vol 1 mission to marsEven though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. the return of king dougReturn of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. bprd hell on earth 2 new world gods And MmonstersI’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. hulk red hulkI don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. izombie vol 2 uVAmpireI read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, 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. So, so, so good. american vampire volume 1I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.batman knightfall volume 1Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. lost_dogs_cover_sm_lgI don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.

I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.

Books Of Oa: Blackest Night Black Lantern Corps Volume One

Blackest Night Black Lantern Corps Volume One (DC)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, James Robinson & J.T.Krul, drawn by Ardian Syaf, Eddy Barrows, Allan Goldman & Ed Benes
Collects Blackest Night: Batman #1-3, Blackest Night: Superman #1-3 & Blackest Night: Titans #1-3

After putting quite a distance between re-reading the three main Blackest Night collections, I finally went back to check out the Blackest Night miniseries’ collected in the pages of this trade. The reason I skipped it back then was because, first off, I had just read a TON of Green Lantern comics and wanted a break, but I also didn’t really have fond memories of these tie-ins from when they originally came out.

I was less critical this time around, but I think a big part of that is that I got this trade in a Swap. I think there’s a big factor that comes in to play when you pay for something and how you wind up feeling about it. I’m more forgiving when I get something for free or super cheap.

Anyway, this book collects three BN minis that basically zero in on specific groups of characters as they experience the Black Lanterns using their dead loved ones against them basically instead of doing in-series tie-ins. This makes sense when you remember that Grant Morrison was doing his Batman thing, the whole New Krypton thing was happening in the many, many Superman books and, well, I have no recollection of what was going on with Titans, that book got BAD.

I don’t want to get too far into the details of the stories. Basically, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake’s parents come back in the Batman one, Superman and Supergirl’s dads return in the Superman one and pretty much every dead Titan pops up in the last one. The basic idea is the same: how do these heroes deal with the idea that their loved ones are back and wicked mean. Here’s the problem with the series’ though: they are completely unimportant to the larger story and wind up all being, essentially, the same story. Hero’s doing their thing, encounters a Black Lantern, wants to save deceased loved on, realizes they can’t and eventually comes up with some last ditch way of getting rid of them. It would have been fantastic if the methods used in these books wound up being important in the main series but as far as I remember that wasn’t the case.

I understand that you can’t ignore what Superman or Batman were doing during a gigantic event like this, but the real question I have — and it’s a bad one to be left with after reading a trades — is, what’s the point? For some, it’s enough to just see how those characters responded given the situation and from a very specific period of time for each of them. But, from a larger story point of view, there really is no need for any of these three miniseries’ to exist, unless you just want to see Donna Troy feel bad. Speaking of which, I know Krul came under fire for knocking off Red Arrow’s daughter, but the way he throws Donna Troy’s dead husband and baby at her is also pretty cruel. No thanks.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: Starman Omnibus Volume 2

starman omnibus 2STARMAN OMNIBUS VOLUME 2 (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Tony Harris, Craig Hamilton, John Warkiss, Steve Yeowell, Matt Smith, JH Williams, Bret Blevins, Guy Davis, Wade von Grawbadger, Chris Sprouse and Gary Erksine
Collects Starman #17-29, Showcase ’95 #12, Showcase ’96 #4-5 & Starman Annual #1
For the secret history of how I got to read Starman for the first time, check out today’s Ad It Up which features an ad for the Starman Secret Files & Origins. After having my mind blown so many years ago by the adventures of hip new hero Jack Knight and his journey from 90s hipster to legitimate superhero, it’s actually been since then that I’ve read Starman because of the terrible way the comics were collected (yearly issues pulled out to make their own themed trades, etc.). I was really jazzed a few years ago when DC announced they were going to give this beloved series the same treatment as Jack Kirby comics and reprint everything (and I mean everything) chronologically.

starman 17I thought about saving my reread for the day I had all the Omnibi in my hands, but couldn’t resist. I tackled the first one a while back and didn’t write about it on the blog and then much later I finally got around to reading the second volume. The task is a bit daunting and a little scary because what if I don’t like it as much this time around as I did back then? I had the same fear when I reread Preacher, but I wound up liking it even more. Would that be the same case for Starman?

Mostly yes with a little bit of no. Yes because it’s still a book of amazing quality and no because it doesn’t feel quite as special because this style of storytelling has gone on to become the norm at least at DC (you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a legacy character these days) though not always done this well. While reading through this volume it hit me why the book has resonated with me so much: it’s a book that deals with all these crazy elements like supervillains and demons and magical posters, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of the characters who, after a time, don’t consider these things to be all that crazy. I don’t mean for that to sound like they see these things as blasse necessarily, just that it’s a part of everyday life for these characters, which is something that many superhero comics seem to forget. There’s a difference between boredly talking about a supervillain threat and having a normal conversation with your dad about all the villains you’re trying to keep track of.

starman 22Also, the fact remains that Starman is not really a superhero story. It’s a story about a son (Jack Knight) trying to find a relationship with his father (Ted Knight, the original Starman) and see where that relationship goes once they start having some things in common. Yes, those things happen to be fighting villains and keeping Opal City safe, but Robinson never lets that detract from the emotions and story taking place. It’s also about rehabilitation, if not redemption, especially considering the evolution of The Shade and this volume’s introduction of Bob Benetti, a villain for hire who just got out of jail and is thinking about going back to a life of crime.

The volume is jam packed with goodness, including our heroes facing a demon whose domain resides inside a poster, the first meeting between Golden Age Doctor Fate and the Shade, a pirate-themed Talking With David, Jack Knight teaming up with Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman) in modern times, the Legends Of The Dead Earth annual which was actually pretty fun, Jack doing a solid for the original Mist, a Christmas issue, the trippy origins of the blue skinned Starman Mikaal and the introduction of a lot of time-displaced citizens to Opal. There’s a lot going on, but you get the feeling that Robinson had a game plan from the get go. The poster story is introduced fairly early on in the book, but not really focused on and solved until a while later. Yes there are arcs and more finite storylines, but it’s not like a comic today where it feels like every six issues something new happens because it’s supposed to. This flows like a rive and takes all kinds of twists and turns that are a delight to follow. There’s also lots and lots of references to upcoming storylines.

starman 28And it’s not like just Jack Knight gets the best moments. The last two issues  of this collection are some of my favorites and involved Mikaal in the 70s and Bobo Benetti dealing with a moral quandary that ends in a pretty great and unexpected way. This book contains one of the few occasions in which I didn’t want to erase the Royal Flush Gang from existence.

I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without talking about Tony Harris’ art. I mistakenly thought that he did all of the issues until he eventually left the book, but there are plenty of other artists jumping in here and there to do sequences, short stories, fill-ins or random other stories like the Showcase bits. Of course, seeing earlier Guy Davis and JH Williams III is a lot of fun. There are very few art missteps in this whole volume, which is impressive considering how much ground the book covers.

In addition to the reprinted comics which I love, the book also has a great deal of extras. There’s a forward by Harris (whose style has completely changed since the 90s) about his first meeting with Robinson while on a kind of press tour that’s really interesting and a nice look into the world of comic book collaboration. The back of the book has a series of journal entries by the Shade that I didn’t read through, a look at many of DC Direct’s Starman-related products (I want to get my hands on that Tim Bruckner statue) and then Robinson’s ongoing Time’s Past series of afterwards which include a story by story rundown of where he was coming from, what inspired him and/or what he was trying to accomplish with that story. I would anxiously flip to the back after finishing a story to get some inside scoop on the creative process and then jump back to read the next story.

zero month posterIt’s almost a little sad reading this book for a few reasons. First off, Robinson doesn’t seem to have been able to get back up to this high level of writing since, though I do appreciate him using Mikaal in Justice League, but that book’s got a mountain of problems well before Robinson came along. It’s also kind of sad to think that this comic probably wouldn’t get made today. At least not by DC or Marvel, though it is kind of funny that even Starman rolled out of a big event (in this case Zero Hour). Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but a book that’s so densely packed and featuring a cast that includes a hipster, an old man, a gay blue alien, a few Golden Age villains-turned good guys and a family of Irish cops doesn’t sound like the kind of thing the Big Two would sign off on now. You might say “Well, it could be an Image book,” which is true, but what makes Starman so special is that Robinson was able to carve out this little world for himself inside the greater DCU. He pulled from what else was going on around him, using new and established elements and wove them all together into this great thing that’s hard to really describe. Sure, it would have been cool as a book set in it’s own universe, but we wouldn’t have the Shade or the Scalphunter ties or the occasional visits with other heroes and, at least to this longtime comic book fan, that makes the book all the better.