Books Of Justice: New 52 Volume 1 & 2

justice league origins Justice League Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee with Carlos D’Anda
Collects Justice League #1-6

After years of the Justice League not exactly taking center stage in the grand scheme of things in the DC Universe, the company put them right in the forefront when they launched the reality-altering New 52. Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee not only boasted one of the biggest creative teams around, but also marked the new continuity’s birth as the very first New 52 comic.

Set five years in the past, Origin puts the team together as they all face the incoming threat of Darkseid and his Parademons. It’s basically a “putting the band” together story that doesn’t feel contrived or boring, like some of the ones in the old continuity. In other words, there are no meeting scenes where the big three look at photos or ones where a bunch of scrub characters talk about how they’re going to carry on the team’s legacy. We start with Batman meeting Green Lantern. They then meet and fight Superman which leads to GL calling his pal Flash in. Later Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up. Oh and Cyborg goes from football star to, well, Cyborg as the story progresses.

After all the introductions and set-ups, our heroes finally face off against Darkseid in a battle that is clearly another set-up, but also feels satisfying because they earn their victory. Clearly, the dark New God will return, but that’s a story for another time.

What I liked most about this book is the tone and interactions between the members. It sets up their characters pretty well — even if those personalities might not reflect across the line — and gives an interesting dynamic between them that could be fun to read about. I will say that I’m not a fan of the overall dark and mean tone of this new DCU, but I guess that’s just part of the deal these days.  I haven’t heard great things about the huge crossovers that spun out of Justice League, but enjoying this book definitely piqued my interest in the second volume which I quickly requested from the library. I also got a big kick of of Flash’s line at the end where he calls their group The Super Seven.

Plus, can we just talk about how fun it is to look at a Jim Lee Justice League book? Even if it includes these weird, overly piped and paneled costumes, he’s just so good at drawing those big, iconic characters doing all kinds of crazy things. I’m down for at least looking at anything he does.

I actually picked this book up on a Comixology sale not long ago, but after my Kindle broke, I figured I’d check the library and see if I could get a hard copy. I will say that, while I like the convenience of digital comics, I still prefer actually holding the book.

justice league vol 2 the villain's journeyJustice League Vol 2: The Villain’s Journey (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee, Carlos D’Anda, Gene Ha, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & David Finch
Collects Justice League #7-12

It took me longer than expected to get my hands on this second volume called The Villain’s Journey. I guess someone else in the library system was equally excited about giving it a read. This second book is set in the current time frame of the DCU where the Justice Leagues have become a pretty big sensation that seems to defeat anything the universe can throw at it. But, there’s still some mistrust from the government and a mysterious villain first seen in the previous book who proves to be a bigger threat than anyone could have imagined.

And yet, there was something that just felt off about these issues. A LOT of time is spent on Steve Trevor and how sad he is because he loves Wonder Woman and she doesn’t love him back. That’s exactly what you want from your Big Seven Superhero comic, right? I only complain about that because it felt like the team itself doesn’t get nearly as much time as they should. As much as I love seeing the League fight against impossible odds, I also like to see a little bit more of them hanging out together and interacting.

I still like the interactions between Batman and Green Lantern and how GL and Flash are pals, but those relationships get leaned on a bit too heavily. Sure we find out that Superman hasn’t revealed his identity to his teammate in those five years, but what the heck does Cyborg do all day? As the one character in this comic without his own solo book, it seemed natural to focus more on him, but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of characters who get a lot of page-time, but aren’t on the team, Green Arrow gets a lot of time too as the US government tries to get him on the team. Arrow trying to get on the team is something of a Justice League tradition, but in an odd turn, he doesn’t make the squad. Instead, this is all a set-up for Justice League Of America, a book I haven’t read yet.

Back to the villain for a paragraph, I just didn’t care and I’m not sure why. SPOILERS follow. This guy Graves and his family were saved by the League in their first mission back in the first trade. Something about the incident wound up killing his wife and kids, but also turned him into a weird monster that looked an awful lot like a White Martian. None of this is very well explained and all felt like a really long way to get around to Graves being locked up in Belle Reve where Amanda Waller asks him to write down how to destroy the League. I don’t think I would mind all of this if it was a one or two parter instead of spread out over all these issues.

This book also features Green Lantern’s exit from the group, a big fight between the members, a big kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman and a lot of teases about what’s coming up after this volume. All in all, I would say that this book didn’t do much for me. I really enjoyed how the first one just got right into it, but this one felt more plodding. I felt like I could see the plot points more clearly, like there was a checklist being checked off in a slightly disjointed manner. Part of the disjointed feeling came from the various artist drawing these issues. I’me a big fan of all these artists, but their styles are so vastly different that you’re constantly made aware that you’re on to the next part instead of being absorbed by the story.

It also felt like something of a misstep to focus on a brand new villain while also mentioning all of these established League villains who don’t do much of anything this time around. I’m sure this all leads to the next big thing in the DCU, but as a one-off volume meant to be read in and of itself, it’s not very satisfying.

Batman Trade Post: Year One & All-Star Batman And Robin

batman year one Batman: Year One (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Dave Mazzucchelli
Collects Batman #404-407

It’s amazing when you think about not only how many different approaches Batman can handle, but also how many seminal stories are attached to the character. Whenever you get or got into comics, these stories are tent poles that changed the game. You either read them as they happen or feel their influence later on down the line.

When I came to Batman around the time of Knightfall, I was experiencing the latter. That would have been around 1992, six years after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and five after the “Year One” story was published in Batman. To say those were wildly influential stories for the character would still be an understatement. I’m far from an expert, but it seems like Frank Miller was continuing many of the elements developed in the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era, but I can’t say that for certain because of my limited experience. Anyway, this was a more serious take on Batman.

But like I said, that take on the character was very much the norm when I started reading those comics and, even though it was held up on the same level as Dark Knight Returns, I must admit that I’d only read it once before last week when I thought it would be a good idea to read Miller’s Batbooks in chronological order (as far as the character goes, not real time). I was going to start with Year One, then check out All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder and then end with DKR and maybe Dark Knight Strikes Again if I could easily get my hands on it. There was a big hitch in that plan, but I’ll get to that later. The point is that I hadn’t read Year One in a long time, but really enjoyed the experience this time around.

If you’re reading this blog you probably already know the basic story of Year One, it’s a look at Batman’s first year in Gotham playing hero. While he’s trying to figure out the best way to run around in disguise, fight criminals without killing them and striking fear in the hearts of men, Selina Kyle is giving up her career as a whore to become a thief and Jim Gordon’s doing his best to clean up Gotham and its police force.

In fact — and I’m sure this has been said before — this book is far more Jim Gordon’s Year One (In Gotham) than it is a Batman story. Sure, Miller puts you inside Batman’s cowl as he figures out this crime fighting thing, but the far more interesting story being told here is of the morally imperfect man trying to do the right thing in his day job as a cop. He takes his lumps, gives as good as he gets and worries about raising his unborn child in such a terrible city. At the same time, he’s stepping out on his wife with Detective Sarah Essen. It’s uncomfortable reading that no matter what, but even more so if you were reading when I was and know that Gordon eventually gets with Essen.

The emotional weight of the books comes across from Miller’s subtle writing, but also from Dave Mazzucchelli’s pencils. He’s an artist that I don’t have much experience with, but I was struck by how the art felt equally loose and detailed. I’m not quite sure if that makes any sense, but I think it has something to do with the thick lines used and the warm yet muted color pallet used throughout the book.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee
Collects All-Star Batman And Robin #1-9

I had a great time getting back to this seminal work and will add my name to the nearly infinitely long list of people who think it should be required reading for comic fans. It’s just such a great piece of comic book creation that it made my look at All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder come off as skewed.

My intention was to see how Miller’s version of Batman grew from Year One to All-Star and into Dark Knight, but I found that comparing the two books did no favors for All-Star. While Year One is very subtle and nuanced, there’s no room for any of that in this other book jam packed with loudmouthed extras and sociopathic heroes. When my buddy Sean Collins reviewed the book in 2009, I had just re-read it and liked it. But this time around I flipped back to the negative side. I get that it’s parody and over the top, but I think there are too many elements of the basic Batman character left out of the proceedings that it’s not actually a Batman comic anymore. This time it felt kind of like one of those Mark Millar comics where he takes a basic superhero concept, “turns it on its ear,” adds profanity and sells a million copies. I’m not a fan of those books. Jim Lee’s artwork sure is pretty though.

I’m probably completely wrong on this because I’m also not a DKR scholar by any means, but the complete shift in tone from Year One to All-Star threw me for a loop. I think I could probably still enjoy this book on its own, separate from any other Batman, but right now, I’m going to put it aside and move on to something else.

What I’m Thankful For: The Wildstorm Universe

2008-11-11
10:13:41 pm

As far as comic book universes go, I think the Wildstorm one might be my non-DC and Marvel favorite. Gen 13 was my gateway into Wildstorm back in the day. #14 was my first issue (with Roxy going to school on the cover) and I was hooked immediately. I didn’t really branch out into other Wildstorm books for a long time, but I was really impressed with how historic this new comic book universe felt even back then. Gen 13 were the kids of guys in a group called Team 7, whose members were on all kinds of other teams or hanging out in their own solo books (Grifter, Backlash, Lynch, Deathblow, etc.). I didn’t really know what all was going on, but I was super intrigued. So intrigued that I bought a few other books like a Team 7 mini that came out and whatnot, but not a ton of books.

I completely dodged the initial Image onslaught of comics when the boom hit, which I’m still thankful for, but I did wind up with some random issues here and there thanks to various grab bags I picked up over the years. I also watched the Wildcats cartoon when it was on, because, at the time, I’d watch ANYTHING comic book related. So, with all that I had a basic idea of what was going on in their universe and it all seemed really cool. A big part of that has to do with the artists working on these books. Man, they looked slick and definitely appealed to me as a kid, but I was also into the “super powered kids on the run from adults” story that came along with Gen 13 as it was my first exposure to such a concept. Oh yeah, I also remember Sarah from the Real World Miami being a Wildstorm editor. On the very first episode they showed her getting kicked out of her place after a big party. If memory serves (which it probably doesn’t) her roommates were J. Scott Campbell and another notable who I can’t remember. Her desk in the RW house was also surrounded by comic book pictures, which totally geeked me out back when no one on TV ever talked about comic books.

Skip ahead a bunch of years, I’ve dropped Gen 13 from my list because of Claremont’s relaunch (yeesh) and not really interested in Wildstorm anymore, but I’m hearing a lot about this book called The Authority. I eventually score an internship at Wizard where Rickey recommends I read Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch which leads directly into The Authority. I did and dug it and then read Authority and got less and less impressed as it went on. So recently, I re-read all five Stormwatch trades and they’re really good. Ellis does a surprisingly good job playing in a super hero universe that doesn’t have as many rules as DC or Marvel. I’m looking forward to reading his Authority again soon in the next few weeks too. Ellis’ Planetary is also a lot of fun, but I want the last trade dag nabbit!

Once I started working for Wizard full time I jumped back into the Wildstorm pool and was surprised to see some names that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with the company like James Robinson and Alan Moore who both did stints on Wildcats. I can’t remember how far I got, but I started with Wildcats #1 and read through Moore’s stuff (which includes Robinson’s run). Both Robinson and Moore’s arcs are pretty fantastic (especially Moore’s, no big surprise there). Like with Ellis, it was great to see Moore coming in and picking up elements from previous Wildcats stories and running with them. Moore did a bunch of other stories here and there that have been collected in one big trade that’s definitely out there, but still a lot of fun.

I also read Ed Brubaker’s Point Blank which lead into his Sleeper series with Sean Phillips. Man, this story blew me away. It could have very easily been it’s own stand alone story of espionage and intrigue, but Brubaker set it squarely in the WU, with references to Alan Moore’s Wildcats and plenty of other goings on. It’s a great series and one I recommend to anyone who loves dark and dirty comics.

From there I jumped into more modern Wildstorm as they shook up their universe with the Wold Storm event. Even now I’m not really sure what the deal was. Things were predicated by the Will Pfeifer-written Captain Atom: Armageddon mini which placed Cap in the Wildstorm U. He blew up and so did the WU, but it reformed in similar and different ways after that. I got to talk to most of the creators for the big relaunch (this is when Grant Morrison was announced to be writing both Wildcats and Authority) which was a lot of fun, but as a fan of the existing Wildstorm U, I was left mostly confused. Unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths there wasn’t a “we’re completely starting over” vibe as some teams seemed to be unchanged (Stormwatch PHD which was a great book seemed to be exactly in line with previous Stormwatch stuff) while others were way different (my beloved Gen 13). There were a few stumbling blocks as Wildcats and Authority have only put out one and two issues respectively, but overall Stormwatch PHD, Deathblow and Midnighter were all pretty solid books and Gail Simone added a whole new element with her Welcome to Tranquility series.

But the changes weren’t over as Wildstorm geared up for another big shake up with their trilogy of stories: Wildstorm: Armageddon, Wildstorm: Revelations and Number of the Beast which I liked for the most part though I wish Number of the Beast would have picked up more elements from Revelations. Anyway, now you’ve got the Wildstorm U in a kind of post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like world where everything’s turned on it’s ear and all these familiar heroes are fighting just to keep humanity going.

It’s not an easy universe to break into with over a decade’s worth of stories, but I’ve had a great time exploring the good and the bad of the Wildstorm U, which is a lot more intricate and detailed than you might think at first. If you’re looking to get in, I’d recommend Sleeper, Moore’s Wildcats, the upcoming James Robinson Wildcats trade, Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and Authority and Stormwatch PHD. I’m really curious to see where they go with this new path and I can’t wait to see what they do and what new creators and characters will pop up in the future.