For this week’s episode of show, I went to my comic trade To Read pile in the garage and grabbed five different books from five different companies to put in my eyeballs. How’d that go? You’ll have to listen to the show!
Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis (DC)
Written by John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern & Jerry Ordway, drawn by Art Adams, Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Bob McLeod & Ordway
Collects Action Comics Annual #1, Action Comics #653-654, Adventures of Superman #466-467 & Superman #44
While Hal Jordan might not have been my early bread and butter as a comic reader, Superman and Batman definitely were. I love both heroes, so seeing them team-up in this interesting period (1990) where they didn’t really trust each other and definitely weren’t friends was a trip, especially because I came around later and saw them team up in JLA.
The first comic in this series is a classic that brings both heroes together. It’s written by John Byrne with art by the crazy-awesome Art Adams, but I’ve read it a handful of times and the surprise is a bit gone so I skipped it (well, I flipped through it cause, daaaaaag, it’s pretty). The rest of the book builds off of the title three part story, but kicks off two issues before that to add context. Part of that context involves seeing the origin of Hank Hall, the man who would become Cyborg Superman, one of the most important characters of my childhood!
The actual “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” story had been built up to for a while in the Superman comics because a woman who worked for Lex Luthor stole his Kryponite ring and also figured out who Superman truly was (but Lex didn’t believe her and ruined her life). She gets murdered, the ring gets stolen and winds up in Gotham where Batman gets clued into it. The work the case in and out of costume and eventually, Superman entrusts Batman with the Kryptonite ring (another iconic moment that I always heard about when I started reading a few years later, but didn’t actually read until this point).
This book is steeped pretty heavily in the world of Superman books of this era, much of which is covered in the Man Of Steel trades (which I, of course, adore). I don’t know how easy it would be for a new reader to just jump right in and read these issues, BUT I’m guessing that the dynamic between Batman and Superman in this comic is a lot closer to what’s going on in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice than the Super Friends we later came to know and love.
Of the three books in this post, Darkseid vs Galactus: The Hunger is actually the one I read as a kid. The mid 90s were actually a really great time to see characters from Marvel and DC crossover, first with the DC Vs Marvel series and then the All Access books and one-offs like this one. At the time, I knew the basics of Galactus and the Fantastic Four and probably knew a bit about Darkseid, Apokolips and the New Gods, but zero clue that these were all Jack Kirby creations coming together.
Though over-written in the grand tradition of both Kirby and Byrne, this super-fun book finds the World Devourer trying to turn Apokolips into his latest snack thanks to Silver Surfer discovering the world of awfulness and sorrow.
There’s a twist at the end of this book that blew me away as a kid and stuck with me ever since. In fact, it was the ONLY thing I remembered about this book that I first read 21 years ago. Again, it’s both reflective of Kirby’s work as well as Byrne’s writing of the mid 90s, so I’m not sure how accessible it is, but if you have even the remotest interest in Kirby’s worlds and always wondered what would happen if they collided, track this book down!
After enjoying Man of Steel so much, I figured it made sense to read a few Superman comics. As it turned out, I had an interesting sampling in my to-read box including the first volume of Grant Morrison’s New 52 Action Comics as well as the latest collection of post-Crisis Superman comics, Man of Steel Vol. 7.
I actually tried reading the first volume of the New 52 version of Superman and could not get through the book. I actually counted the number of panels that Superman appeared in in the first issue compared to ones he didn’t and the ratio was ridiculous. It’s supposed to introduce the character to the world in a whole new universe and you barely use him? Seemed silly to me. From there things went downhill and I didn’t bother finishing. Still, I had high hopes for Grant Morrison’s Action Comics because I consider him to be a really smart writer who loves this character and, even though he’s written Supes in JLA, All-Star Superman and Final Crisis, he still seems to have a lot to say about one of the world’s most famous fictional characters.
The volume finds a T-shirt and cape wearing Superman who hasn’t been around too long doing his best to mess with the kinds of people who tend to get away with all kinds of crimes thanks to their piles of cash and influence. Meanwhile, Clark Kent works for The Daily Star doing similar work but with his words instead of his fists. Since he’s still pretty new on the scene, the government doesn’t trust Superman and has General Lane working with Lex Luthor to try and figure out a way to stop him. While all this is going on new versions of Brainiac and Metallo get involved. Superman learns about himself, his home planet and even gets the suit he wears in the modern day New 52 U. There’s also a pretty fun story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes and current Superman traveling to the Action Comics time period to fight the Anti-Superman Army.
Like I said, I like Morrison’s work and have come to expect a kind of slow-burn when it comes to his stories. There’s another 10 issues of this run, so I’m definitely curious to see how he wrapped the story up. But, there were a few things about this volume that got under my skin. First of all, Rags Morales’ art is not so great in the earlier issues. His pencils look too loose and many of his figures look generally un-dynamic, but the weakest part is his eyes. They look googley half the time with one pupil pointing one direction and the other elsewhere. It’s incredibly distracting and really draws you out of the story. Oh, plus, there’s no possible way that Clark Kent and Superman could be the same person the way they’re drawn in this book which is unfortunate.
The other aspect of the book — actually the first story, specifically — is the fact that it feels like many of the plot points feel more akin to another character: the Hulk. You not only have the dynamic of Lois’ dad trying to get rid of our hero (no, they’re not together, but it’s Lois and Superman, we know the potential is there), but also her rebuked lover becoming a villain in his own right. I know these are fairly general plot points, but they came off as a little tired to me. Luckily the story doesn’t dwell on those elements too much, so that’s more of a minor complaint.
As a longtime Superman fan, it was interesting to see how Morrison reshaped concepts and characters like Steel, Brainiac and Metallo. I hate Jimmy Olsen’s haircut, but the portrayal of him and Lois seemed right on. I like seeing a younger, more brash Superman and the same qualities in Clark. Overall, this seemed like a solid Superman comic. I almost wrote that it’s probably not the best comic to give someone who wants to learn about Superman, but then again, this book shares a lot of themes with Zack Snyder’s movie, so maybe it would be a good idea. Someone test the theory!
DC’s Jack Kirby and Man Of Steel books are probably my favorite collection projects around. The former introduced me to The King’s wild DC projects while the latter brings together all of the post-Crisis Superman comics into one place. That’s important to me because these books are filling in all kinds of gaps I had in my Superman reading which started in 1992. My hope is they get up to the Death of Superman story and then I’ve got it from there with the books from my collection.
This particular volume of Man Of Steel is an interesting one. I flipped through it and was surprised to see several issues tied into the mega crossover Millennium. While I don’t remember the details of that story too well aside from the basics — the Manhunters have replaced key people in the lives of superheroes — but I don’t remember Superman playing a huge role which fits with these issues in which Supes deals with the fact that a small army of Smallvillians were actually Manhunters, including Lana Lang. There’s an explanation for everything that works within the story, but it’s a pretty crazy revelation when you think about it. While they were explaining how they kept an eye on the Kryptonian infant, the Manhunters also revealed that they created the huge blizzard that allowed the Kents to tell the townspeople that Martha gave birth to Clark but wasn’t able to get to the hospital. This seemed like a strange piece of information to tack on to an origin story — storms can just happen, they don’t need a reason to happen — but at the time John Byrne was steering the Superman ship and that’s that. By the way co-wrote and drew every issue in this collection!
The weirdest part of this whole thing, though, is a lie that Pa and Ma Kent decide to tell Lois: that they raised Superman alongside Clark. Not only did this lie seem completely unnecessary — sure, Lois asks Superman point blank if he’s really Superman after all the craziness that went down in Smallville, but he’s Superman, he could have come up with a better answer — but I also don’t remember hearing this repeated in any other comic down the line. He doesn’t reveal that he’s Superman to Lois until Action Comics #662, so did she believe Clark and Supes grew up like brothers that whole time? Does she forget? Do they tell her another lie? I’m very curious about this because the whole thing understandably makes Lois furious. She’s mad that they lied to her, but more so, she feels like she was fed stories and pitied by the two of them anytime she got a story. It’ll be interesting to see how that storyline plays out.
The book ends with a pair of standalone issues. The first gives a little bit more background about Maggie Sawyer and introduces us to her daughter who has fallen under the spell of Skyhook, a bat-like creature who can somehow turn others into winged beings like himself. Byrne really gets to have fun in this issue stretching into some horror elements that weren’t overly common in these books at the time. The final issues introduces us to a circus mentalist who calls himself Brainiac and seems to have L.E.G.I.O.N. creator Vril Dox banging around in his head. I think this might be the first mention of Dox in post-Crisis continuity, but he seems different than the one seen in Invasion and then L.E.G.I.O.N. This is a more villainous incarnation along the lines of his pre-Crisis counterpart. For what it’s worth, the character’s Wiki page makes no mention of this appearance, noting that Dox’s first appearance is in Invasion #1. Interesting stuff.
While this collection series if firmly aimed at Superman fans of my ilk, I’m very thankful that they exist. This is the Superman that lead into the version of the character I’m most familiar with. Yes he’s powerful and inspiring, but he’s neither all-powerful nor perfect. Sure, I get a kick out of him moving planets and whatnot, but this is the version of the character I’m most familiar with and have the most affection for. Please keep these books coming DC!
SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL VOLUME 6 (DC)
Written by John Byrne, Ron Frenz, Jim Starlin & Dan Jurgens
Drawn by Art Adams, Ron Frenz, Dan Jurgens & John Byrne
Collects Action Comics Annual #1, Adventures Of Superman Annual #1, Superman Annual #1, Action Comics #594-595, Booster Gold #23 & Superman #12.
I’ve only blogged about the fourth Man of Steel volume before, but this is a series of collections that I adore, even if I’m not in love with all the of stories therein. I find myself looking back to the 80s and 90s moreso than looking forward to books coming out in the future from Marvel and DC. Part of that is because I’m out of the loop and only really hearing about things after they’re either well liked or panned. Not having all the comic book access I used to is a bummer, partially because I love reading comics, but more prominently because I don’t have the opportunity (or don’t give myself the opportunity) to make up my own opinions unless I find myself lucky enough to get a trade.
Anyway, I appreciate what creators were doing at DC back then. After Crisis everyone was just trying to figure out what was going on and making some really interesting comics that fit in all different corners–some of which we hadn’t seen before–in the DCU. This collection of Superman comics–mostly annuals–does some of that itself. The underutilized but ridiculously amazing Art Adams draws one of the annuals which features Superman, Batman, Robin AND vampires. I had read the issue before, but it was fun reading it again. Then, there’s one of those stories where a monster runs amok, but he’s not really a bad guy. It might have been new then, but I’ve read it enough to know all the beats. Jim Starlin–who I just interviewed actually for CBR–does some really interesting stuff in an annual that thankfully wasn’t paint by numbers and really had be guessing, trying to figure out what was going on. The Booster Gold crossover was fun, followed by the origin of Lori Lemaris which I already knew, so it was kinda boring and finally a Silver Banshee story (possibly her first–at least post-Crisis–appearance?) that does the ol’ “Superman/Martian Manhunter” switcheroo.
In the end, I think the level of enjoyment you get out of these issues will depend heavily on what comics you have already read, how much you already know about Superman and how much you like Superman. I’ve read a ton of comics and know a lot about Superman, but I also love the character and have a great interest in this era because it’s what directly influenced the comics I wound up reading in the early 90s. I’m definitely having holes filled in my mental map of Superman’s history and hope that the Man Of Steel trade series continues on. Has anyone heard anything about that? I don’t think anything past this sixth volume has been announced, right?
SUPERMAN ERADICATION (THE ORIGIN OF THE ERADICATOR) (DC)
Written by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway & Roger Stern
Drawn by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, George Perez & Kerry Gammill
Collects Action Comics #651-652, Adventures Of Superman #460, 464, 465 & Superman #41, 42
I have a series of 90s era Superman trades I’ve had sitting around for a while. I’ve been holding off on reading them because I was hoping the Man Of Steel volumes would catch up. I still want that to happen because, frankly, some of these books are kind of a mess. The trade paperback market was pretty infantile at the time, which might explain why this book that supposedly tells the origin of The Eradicator (who would play a big role in The Return Of Superman storyline, hence the trade) doesn’t really achieve that goal. From what I can tell, it would be a difficult task because there was a significant amount of time between Superman being given the Eradicator (that thing that looks like his spaceship floating about his hand in the trade) and the story you read in the pages.
Another problem is that this story doesn’t actually feature the character we came to know as Eradicator, but instead a tale of Superman/Clark Kent becoming very distant and more Kryptonian (ie cold and scientific). The problem is that, if you’ve probably seen this story before if you’ve been reading Superman comics before. I’d rather read all the comics that lead up to this, the ones that showed Clark becoming Editor in Chief of Newstime magazine or the troubles that Jimmy Olsen finds himself in or the Draaga story. Instead, we get peeks at those threads but the “Hey Clark and Superman are acting wonky, aren’t they?” takes center stage.
A few fun bits do include the building of the Fortress of Solitude, a fight with Lobo and Maxima explaining her intentions for Superman (she wants to make him her man and take him back to her planet Almerac). These are elements that I am familiar and was happy to learn more about. As it happened those same elements played into some of the other older Superman trades I happened to read and will write about shortly. I was kind of disappointed in the collection as a whole because it wasn’t very interesting or original, but it did offer more pieces to the puzzle that is “my” Superman (basically from the Man Of Steel miniseries til the end of Infinite Crisis). Hopefully, the Man of Steel collection series will continue on so I can have a better idea of everything that was going on around this time.
I’m a big fan of the Superman: Man of Steel trades which aim to collect all of the post-Crisis Superman stories in somewhat chronological order. The books have been pretty interesting, especially considering that they were trying to lessen Superman’s powers, bring him more down to Earth and really make him the only Kryptonian in the universe. We also start off from square one between Clark Kent and Lois Lane as well as all the other background and supporting characters. As I mentioned in my post about Superman: The World of Krypton, I like this part of Superman’s history because it’s the time I got into and overall it feels more creative. It’s fun reading these adventures and seeing him interact for “the first time” with characters like The Joker, Mr. Mxy, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda. I liked the trade, but this post is about a really weird and gross couple of segments from the collection written and drawn by John Byrne which were originally published in Action Comics #592 and 593 from 1987.
Basically, Big Barda is knocked unconscious by fellow New God (a former denizen of Apokolips appropriately named Sleez), dressed like a trollop, filmed doing presumably naughty sexual things and almost filming a pornographic movie with Superman. After a pretty funny scene where Barda encounters a pimp and prostitute in Metropolis’ Suicide Slum, someone swipes her purse and runs into the sewers where Sleez lives. Sleez takes the thief out, finds Barda’s Mega Rod in her purse and with the assistance of some pink monster things, knocks Barda unconscious. Next time we see of them, Sleez–who controls minds–has dressed Barda up in a strange orange fringe…thing and has her dancing around his sewer hideout barefoot and seemingly topless. Yes, this is surely strange, but it gets worse. Superman eventually shows up to help and Barda gets free. While trying to attack Sleez with her Mega Rod, Barda says “Now, Sleez, it is time for you to pay! Pay for the indignities which you heaped upon me in the past two days!” At this point we’re not sure if she’s just referring to the barefoot dancing or something else. It’s something else. Sleez winds up knocking both Barda and Superman out. End of part one. The next issues starts with Mr. Miracle coming back home only to find Darkseid hanging out drinking wine on the purple easy chair in his living room. This page doesn’t really do much to explain the story, it’s just one of my favorite splash pages of all time. It’s very “Oh hello, I didn’t see you come in.”Like any good guest, Darkseid shows up with a VHS tape of the host’s wife doing…things. His explanation of how he got it is kind of funny, but I can’t help but feel grossed out by how cavalier this whole thing is handled. Meet Mr. Grossman, the man distributing the Barda tape for Sleez. Sleez shows up with a mind-controlled Superman and implies that they can make a tape of him and Barda together after Grossman wonders what kind of woman could stand up to Superman’s…embrace. So Grossman gets a set and tries to get something going between the mind-controlled Barda and Superman, but they’re resisting Sleez’s control. Then Mr. Miracle finally shows up and the two heroes break free of Sleez’s control. Grossman gets caught, but Sleez makes a break for it. The end.
I find it mind-boggling that an editor signed off on this story. Sure Byrne doesn’t come right out and say that Sleez had sex with Barda on camera (in fact, we have no idea what the content of the video is, but Barda feels violated, so the context is there). Maybe they thought the kids wouldn’t catch on and this kind of thing would titillate the adults? Ugh, it’s gross. And the main question is “Why would you involve one of the most recognizable characters in the world in a weird sex story that implies, at worst, rape and at best, filming a naked woman not under her own control?”
So, yeah, this happened. And it got reprinted. I’m torn on that one because, as regular readers know, I’m 100% for all-inclusive collections, but I’m not so sure if these two gross issues needed reprinting.
BATMAN: GOTHIC (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Klaus Janson
Collects Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10.
Legends of the Dark Knight was one of the two Batman books I didn’t read regularly (the other being Shadow of the Bat) unless it was giant Bat-crossover time, but there are some really interesting stories from the lengthy LOTDK run that are slowly being mined for trade consumption, like this Grant Morrison/Klaus Janson jam called “Gothic.”
I’m a pretty big fan of Morrison and dig a good chunk of his work, though definitely not everything (Invisbles befuddles me every time I try to read it), but this book doesn’t really read like what you might expect from the guy who was doing Animal Man and Doom Patrol at the same time in the late 80s/early 90s. Sure, there’s some weirdness with Batman facing off against a seeming immortal who feeds on misery, soul-catching buildings and ghost nuns, but it still feels like a solid Batman book.
I can’t completely speak to that time in comics because I hadn’t gotten into them yet, but I would imagine Batman dealing with these kinds of supernatural elements wasn’t a regular thing, so it might have seemed unique at the time, especially with some flashbacks to Bruce Wayne’s childhood, but to a reader now, the book feels a little been-there done-that. For those who like to trace the Morrison-verse that he’s been creating for years, I didn’t notice any connections here to any of his more current work, but I could be completely wrong on that.
In the end, it’s a nice little story that’s pretty interesting and was probably a big deal at the time, but we’ve seen this kind of a thing a lot since then, both on the “Batman vs. monsters” and “background revealed” ideas. It’s fun to see a younger Morrison playing with the character he would go on to spend years playing with, but I’m not a big fan of Janson’s art, so that’s not a huge draw for me at least.
SUPERMAN: THE WORLD OF KRYPTON (DC)
Written by John Byrne and a bunch of others, drawn by Mike Mignola and more!
Collects Superman: The World of Krypton #1-4, Man of Steel #1 and Superman #233, 236, 238, 240, 248, 257, 266, 367, 375 and Superman Family #182.
With the whole “World of New Krypton” story going on through the different Superman books for a year and the temporary return of thousands of Kryptonians, DC released this collection of books looking at the planet through the eyes of several creators over the years, but focusing on John Byrne and Mike Mignola’s post-Man of Steel miniseries along with a series of back-ups from the silver age about Krypton. Makes sense right? Well, kind of.
As anyone reading “WONK” will know, the writers used a hodge podge of all the versions of Krypton instead of focusing on one particular past version. And, hey, that’s not so bad. I liked seeing how the different guilds represented the various takes on the people. This trade sets up the version of Krypton I became familiar with while reading Superman comics in the post-Man of Steel era, but it doesn’t really matter anymore as far as continuity goes. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad story by any means. In fact, it’s an engaging, century-spanning sci-fi story about how Krypton went from a people whose lives were prolonged by using clone parts to one where exoskeletons did the same thing to the final Krypton-shattering conclusion. I was surprised at how deep the story went and how they explained the destruction of the planet.
I’m going to take a moment here to go off on a bit of a tangent. I’ve been reading Superman comics since 1992. Over those nearly 20 years a lot has changed and even when new stories would come out to contradict the history I knew, I’d be able to easily reconcile or ignore it, but lately I’ve been having a harder time doing that, especially post-Infinite Crisis which now says that Superman got his powers as a boy and went off to hang out with the Legion of Super-Heroes. The change didn’t really seem to mean anything for a while, but now we find ourselves knee deep in Legion comics many of which feature Superman. It was starting to bother me. I like the MOS mindset that says that Superman is the only Kryptonian so any other Super-folks have to have another explanation as to why they’re wearing the S shield. Sure, the Matrix Supergirl might have been confusing, but I liked that there was a certain level of creativity that went into those characters. Anyway, I do like most of Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics even though the first arc really bugged me when it first kicked off. I’ve kind of come to a mental place where I’m comfortable with it all now because I’ve told myself that MY Superman is over. I’m not quite sure when it ended, maybe Infinite Crisis, but that realization has really helped me enjoy some of the more recent Superman comics, though I still don’t care about Superboy hanging out with the Legion in Adventure Comics. I know it’s the epitome of geekiness, but by not worrying about how “WONK” fits in with MOS, I’m having a much better time with comics.
That’s the mentality I went into World of Krypton with, which really helped me enjoy it, though it helps that this story does explain MY Krypton better. That same outlook might help you too if you’re a fan of another Superman era as it’s a good story (as are the older Superman back-ups reprinted which also don’t hold much sway on current continuity) and how can you go wrong seeing Mike Mignola break downs on a superhero comics?
Hey Gang, seeing as how I’ve got a lot of time on my hands now, I’ve been tearing through some movies and trades. I haven’t done posts yet, but you can be on the lookout for more of those down the road. These trades are actually from last week and the week before. As usual, I’ll run down the pile top to bottom.
CAPTAIN AMERICA BATTLES BARON BLOOD (Marvel Illustrated Books) Written & drawn by Roger Stern and John Byrne
This little number was quite the oddity. I thought it was going to be one of those novels-based-on-comics things. I read a ton of the ones that came out in the 90s back then. I guess I should have noticed the “Illustrated” portion of the title. So, what you’ve got here is a strange book that collects (according to this site) collects Captain America 250, 253 and 254 which covers those issues where Captain America fights Baron Blood and meets the new Union Jack (as well as the newer Baron Blood) along with the issue where Cap says “no” to running for president. The interesting thing, which you can see in the below pic, is that they cut these comics into panels (black and white ones) and pieced them together on pages the size of the average Pocket Book. Weird right? The stories were good, though kind of slow and I would much rather read them in color. Roger Stern is the man, by the way, he’s definitely one of the most unsung writers in the history of comics.
DC UNIVERSE SPECIAL: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 (DC) Written by Len Wein, Gerry Conway & Jack Miller, drawn by Dick Dillin & Joe Certa
Though technically not a trade, there were two reasons I included this issue in this post. One, it collects Justice League of America #111 (“Balance of Power!”), 166-168 (“The League That Defeated Itself”) and Detective Comics #274 (“The Human Flame”). These are all stories that hold some relevance to Final Crisis and Infinite Crisis, though they’re not really hyping the IC connection. You get Human Flame and Libra’s first appearances, which make sense, and then the story in which the bad guys get inside the heroes’ heads and find out all about them, this leads to Zatana doing mind wipes and on and on. So, these are pretty integral issues that a lot of later stories hinge on. That being said, I found them to be boring and mostly skimmed through them. The second reason is that these reprints should have been reprinted again in the Final Crisis Companion, which I will get to shortly. That just makes sense, though, right? Might as well make that companion as much of a companion as possible and the first appearances of the two biggest new characters in the story should have their stories told. But, hey, it’s a rad cover, isn’t it? That Ryan Sook dude knows how to DRAW!
MOME VOL. 14 SPRING 2009 (Fantagraphics) Written and drawn by a ton of talented folks
One of the many perks of working at Wizard for a dyed in the wool superhero fan like myself was getting exposed to some of the more alternative sides of comics. Between going through the library and borrowing books from friends who are way more knowledgeable about these things than I am, I feel like I’ve just barely started to uncover the tip of the indie iceberg. So, as you might imagine, I’ve heard a lot about Mome, the indie comics anthology that Fanta puts out (those guys are amazing), but I’ve never read one until Vol. 14 and I definitely liked it. I will be completely honest, I don’t think I understood a lot of these stories, but I kind of like that. It’s like watching an experimental film, but with cool art. By far my favorite strip was called Kool-Aid Comic by Jon Vermilyea. I like the simplicity of it, the subject and the art. It all comes together in a fun little comic, of which you can peep a page or two of below. Fun stuff and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for future Momes.
SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL. 7: THE MIST & THE PHANTOM OF THE FAIR (Vertigo) Written by Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Guy Davis
I’ve talked about my love of SMT before, but since then I’ve read the volumes I was missing and have come to like this series even more. For those of you not willing to click the link, SMT follows the Golden Age Sandman as he romps through pre-WWII NYC, fighting bad guys, evading the cops, being a genius, sometimes interacting with other Golden Age heroes (or soon-to-be ones) and sharing his life–both in and out of the gas mask–with his girlfriend Dian Belmont. What I love most about this book, aside from the NYC setting and my love of Golden Age DC characters, is the relationship between Dian and Wesley (Sandman’s real name). I think they’re my favorite couple in all of comics, mostly because they did away with the “keeping the secret identity from the girlfriend” thing. You also get to watch Dian evolve from a spoiled socialite to someone really trying to help the world. But, aside from all that, this volume gives us glimpses of a young, pre-Starman Ted Night and “The Phantom Of The Fair” which is the story that I remember reading about as being one helluva one back in the day from Wizard (they were right). I think you’d be okay if you jumped in here to read this much beloved story, but I highly recommend going back to the beginning. Here’s hoping that Vertigo continues their plans to collect this whole series.
FINAL CRISIS COMPANION (DC) Written by Grant Morrison, Len Wein, Peter Tomasi, Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann, drawn by JG Jones, Tony Shasteen, Doug Mahnke, Ryan Sook & Marco Rudy
So, this is kind of a weird book. The actual Final Crisis collection is amazing. It’s got everything written by Grant Morrison in one place, while this one has the rest of the stuff that isn’t a regular series tie-in and the FC Director’s Cut which is the first issue without color or word balloons followed by the script. Then you’ve got Final Crisis Secret Files, Requiem and Resist. All these issues are cool on there own, but I do wish this volume was a big more robust. In addition to the reprints I mentioned above, I’d also like to see some of the JLoA and Teen Titan tie-ins included, just to have everything in one place. Ah well, it’ll still get a place on my bookshelf.
NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP (DC) Written by Peter Tomasi, drawn by Don Kramer, Rags Morales, Doug Mahnke, Shawn Moll &
I dug Tomasi’s previous Nightwing volume, so I’m not surprised that I dug this second volume. The only problem with it is that it got awkwardly swept up in the Batman: RIP story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved Morrison’s Batman run, but the tie-ins lost me for the most part, including Nightwing. So, I hadn’t actually read most of these issues when they came out, but I did like the whole story, most of which involves Nightwing’s weird relationship with Two-Face, which is being carried over into todays Batman stories written by Winick. Interesting for sure.
TRINITY 1 (DC) Written by Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick & MIke Norton
Trinity got a lot of flack, but I think it’s because it wasn’t what people were thinking it should be. 52 was an amazing look at some smaller characters, giving them new life and making them important again in the DCU, Countdown tried way too hard to be the backbone of the DCU and Trinity turned into this crazy, out-there story featuring all kinds of heroes the casual fan has never heard of. This is just the first series, collecting #1-17 and I will warn you, it’s definitely for big time DC fans and not the feint of heart.
SECRET INVASION: INCREDIBLE HERCULES (Marvel) Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, drawn by Rafa Sandoval
Incredible Herc was one of those books that everyone loves but I missed out on in single issues. By the time I read the first trade, the issues were already into the third or fourth arc, but this, the second (collecting 116-120) collects the Secret Invasion issues. I wasn’t a big fan of SI, especially the ending, but I really liked how Pak and Van Lente flipped the script and looked at the Skrull invasion from a different angle. This time we see it from a religious viewpoint, with Herc and some other gods from regular and Marvel mythologies trying their best to kill the god of the skrulls. It’s a cool story, one filled with plenty of sci-fi goodness, but also some fun nods to mythology of all kinds that make this a really fun and well rounded book.
COUNTDOWN ARENA Written by Keith Champagne, drawn by Scott McDaniel
I’ve loved McDaniel’s art since his Nightwing days. There’s a short arc where NW fights Scarecrow early on that is just amazing and I highly recommend it. So, when I heard the news that DC was going to be putting out a book called Arena, drawn by McDaniel that would pit various versions of heroes against each other to see who would win, I was sold. Turns out this story didn’t have a lot of bearing on the actual Countdown story (as I noted here to some extent), but it remains one of the better looks at the multiverse that’s just been sitting around. I know that there’s been word that they’re waiting for Morrison to get in there and really dig deep on the multiverse at some point, but I’m getting tired of waiting. What’s the point of having it if you’re not going to do anything with it? Also, one quick thing that bothered me about many of the Earths they revealed was that they just took Elseworld books and extrapolated that into an entire universe. There’s an entire universe out there based on the idea that Batman was a vampire. And, hey, I like that original story as much as the next guy, but that doens’t mean it should necesarily get it’s own universe. Does that mean those Elseworlds annuals they put out each have their own universe? The one where Steel was around in the Civil War, Batman was actually Two Face or Superman was straight out the jungle book? It’s just a bummer because it feels like they just copied the original multiverse and added this other ones with haste, which wouldn’t have been a huge deal if they hadn’t limited themselves to just 52. Ah well. This book is definitely only for die-hards. Or maybe just me.
THE NEW TEEN TITANS ARCHIVES VOL. 1 Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by George Perez
This might be comic book heresy, but I couldn’t even get through this book, which collects DC COmics Presents #26 and New Teen titans 1-8. I think what ruined the book for me is the fact that every Teen Titans writer since has mined this territory so, SO much. The only aspect of this story that was surprising for me was the mystical way in which the team first came together. Beyond that? I’ve seen the Deathstroke stuff and the Trigon stuff before. Several times. Geoff Johns did it and it seems like it’s been done a thousand times since then. And that’s coming from someone who loves Geoff’s Titans. Like, a lot. It’s an amazing book. I just think it’s about time for the Titans to move beyond their 80s roots and maybe make some new villains and get some new characters into the mix. Maybe I’ll put this one back in my “to read” pile and give it another shot somewhere down the line, but I’m not sure yet. For me, it’s just too “been there done that” for me. But man, Perez sure knows how to draw and I stand by my claim that he’s one of the few artists who’s actually gotten better with age. I’ll read any new stuff that guy puts out.
It’s been almost a month since I ran down what trades I’ve read recently and I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit for more of my “insight” (ie blathering). To catch up on a few things. I finished Tor and Barry Ween from last time. Barry was awesome from beginning to end, while Tor felt a little long, though it might be solely worth checking out for the art.
MAJOR BUMMER #1-15 (DC) written by John Arcudi, drawn by Doug Mahnke
Okay, obviously this one isn’t a trade, but that’s because it hasn’t been collected yet (not my fault). I remember reading about this book in Wizard all the time back in 1997-1998. It’s about this guy named Lou who gets super powers thanks to a couple of aliens working on a college project, but he wants nothing to do with being a super hero. But that doesn’t stop other similarly afflicted people from trying to get Lou into the super hero game. I love this creative team. Arcudi’s doing rad things with B.P.R.D. and Mahnke’s the sickest artist out there right now. No offense to JG Jones, but I really wish they would have gotten Mahnke to draw all of Final Crisis. And pretty much any other comic ever. Oh, also, one quick thought about this book: I wonder if it would still be going on (or at least gone on for longer) if it had been a creator-owned book from Image, Dark Horse or one of the smaller companies (this book has no connections to the DCU). Ah well, I think it works very well in its 15 issues.
DAREDEVIL: HELL TO PAY 1 & 2, CRUEL AND UNUSUAL (Marvel) written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka for CAU, drawn by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lee Weeks, Marko Djurdjevic, John Romita Sr., Al Milgrom, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Lee Bermejo & Paul Azaceta
Altogether these three trades cover Daredevil #94-110 which is everything post Brian Michael Bendis’ run minus Bru’s first two trades. I started reading DD with Kevin Smith’s first issue and enjoyed the book (for the most part) up through Bru’s first arc called Devil Inside and Out which had Matt Murdock in jail. I really liked the secret agent-like quality of Murdock at the time and after he broke out of jail, but dropped off somewhere in the second arc when everything revolved around smell. The problem with basing a written story around the idea of smell is that, well, I can’t smell it. So, I lost track of the book, but I still am a huge Ed Brubaker fan and heard his re-team with Rucka was good so I gave these books a shot and I liked them but I won’t be adding them to my shelf. I think I’m all set when it comes to reading about a mentally unstable Daredevil. It was one of the aspects of Bendis’ run that didn’t really work (though, to be fair, I was reading monthly comics about once every five months, so I was cramming a lot in on college breaks). I did like how Bru got rid of Murdock’s wife Milla without killing her and the #100 issue had a lot of cool art sequences, though watching yet another “drugged hero relives his mistakes” comic wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. All in all, they were solid comics, just not the kind of thing that I was looking for. I’d like to see a drastically new direction for DD. Maybe not something bright and sparkly, but maybe a little less crazy?
SUPERMAN MAN OF STEEL VOL. 4 (DC) written by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman & Paul Levitz, drawn by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Greg LaRocque, Erik Larsen
So, the deal with the MOS trades is that they’re (in theory) reprinting every post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman in order from John Byrne’s reboot Man of Steel miniseries on. Being a huge Superman fan, these books were on the top of my “must get” list and as of this last Christmas, I acquired all the ones available as of then (and now I think). The thing about these comics (Superman 7-8, Action 590-591, Adventures 460-431, Legion 37-38) is that some of them are kind of hard to slog through. Partly because they still fall into that “I’m describing what I’m doing” writing style and partly because, by the time I started reading Superman in the early 90s I had heard about a lot of these stories already. But, this book does include the first appearance of Rampage, an encounter with the Metal Men, a convoluted origin for Chemo that includes multiple earths and Crisis, an adventure drawn by Erik Larsen and, most interestingly, a crossover between Superman and Legion that explained why Superboy was still appearing in the future even though, post-Crisis, he wasn’t supposed to exist. It’s kind of convoluted, but it also seems like Geoff Johns was very familiar with the story when he wrote the end of Legion of 3 Worlds (a series I REALLY liked). Another interesting thing about these books is that, after Crisis, they were still trying to figure out how Crisis effected everything and they were really focused on nailing down Superman’s abilities. For instance, he’s not as strong or fast as he was pre-Crisis and even has trouble fighting a goon like Mammoth from the Fearsome Five (sporting two new members in the form of Charger and Deuce, characters that I’ve never heard of). And, finally, I know this is just a coincidence, but doesn’t this look kind like one of the new Corps symbols:
My only complaint about these books is that I wish they reprinted the covers between the issues. Kudos for including all relevant issues though and not skipping over tie-ins!
MILLENNIUM (DC) written by Steve Englehard, drawn by Joe Staton & Ian Gibson
I’ve read a lot of crossovers in my days. Some can be easily contained within the miniseries/crossover they were originally sold as (Sinestro Corps War), while some rely heavily on tie-in issues in addition to the main book to tell the full story (Civil War, Secret Invasion). I’m not sure if I prefer one way of telling a story to another, but I definitely prefer a trade that has all of the pieces of the puzzle in one place, which, unfortunately, Millennium doesn’t. Huge story elements take place in the tie-in issues. See, the whole idea (which wasn’t explained very well in the main series) is that the Manhunters from Green Lantern have infiltrated the lives of every hero (or at least every hero with an ongoing book at the time). One of the big ones at the time was Wally West’s dad. I’m not sure if that still holds up, or if his dad was always a Manhunter or was just replaced at some point like a Skrull (for an incredibly in depth comparison of Millennium and Secret Invasion check out J. Caleb Mozzocco’s Every Day Is LIke Wednesday “The Other Secret Invasion” posts). It would have been nice to read a fuller version of the story that might include more (or all) of the tie-ins. I love a good omnibus as long as it’s not too heavy (I’m a contrarian). So, as a solo story, the Millennium trade doesn’t really work, but it is a fun little time capsule that focuses heavily on the Green Lantern Corps (it was a weird time for them) and tries to launch a brand new team that I’ve seen in ads as The Wanderers, but I’ve never read an actual issue.
[Note: I haven’t actually read Justice Society Vol. 1 yet, it must have snuck it’s way into my pile on accident, or thanks to me cleaning up for the in-laws’ visit.]
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 2 LOVE STORIES FOR DEAD PEOPLE (Vertigo) written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi (plus guests!)
I am loving this book and with the cancellation of Exterminators, 100 Bullets ending and my inability to keep up with Scalped unless I’m reading trades, I’m still struggling to keep up with my current favorite Vertigo title. I think the “problem” is that there’s so much going on that I can’t really keep track of it from month to month. Anyway, this trade collects issues 6-10 of the Sandman spin-off, which really digs deep into why these people are stuck in the House of Mystery (I love that these old DC houses are still being used, the Secret Six were using the House of Secrets at one time as an HQ). We also get some more history of our heroine Fig. I’ve heard from friends that HOM comes off as kind of hitting all the right notes, but not being exceptional as far as Vertigo titles are concerned. I think this doesn’t bother me because I haven’t read all that many Vertigo titles in this vein. Plus, having just read Sandman in the past couple of years, it’s nice to see some kind of continuation. I’m also, of course, a big fan of the side stories told in every issue drawn by guys like Kyle Baker and Bernie Wrightson. I think these stories are what really put me over the edge into the love column. Hopefully I can get caught up or at the very least, stay caught up on the trades. Oh, plus, Luca Rossi does a pretty great job in my opinion of capturing everything from regular folks to huge monsters and all kinds of fantastical elements in between. Plus, I can’t think of anyone who has turned a house into such a character as him. Well done and hope this book has a long a fruitful life.
EASTMAN & LAIRD’S TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES COLLECTED SERIES VOLUME 1 (Tundra) written by Ryan Brown & Dean Clarrain, drawn by Ken Mitchroney and Jim Lawson
You guys, this was a weird one. I think this is a pre-Archie mini series (three issues, if I’m reading everything right) and boy is it crazy. Not only do you get a non-canon origin of the Turtles and Splinter as told by Splinter to April in the very beginning, but you also get highly complicated origins for Man Ray, Leatherhead and a surprise appearance from one of my favorite secondary characters (at least in toy form) Ace Duck. Voodoo curses, alternate dimensions, Krang in his robot suit, the Turtles in luchador-like costumes and a floating cow head who can traverse time and space. That’s what you get in this volume. I’m not really sure how to explain it any other way than weird. If anyone knows how all this stuff fits in with the rest of the animated TMNT comics, please let me know. Here’s a page scan to give you a taste of the weirdness:
Today we’ve got a pair of Marvel trade reviews for your reading pleasure:
THOR VOL. 1 (Marvel)
Written J. Michael Straczynski & drawn by Oliver Coipel
On paper, I didn’t think I’d like JMS’s Thor. I’ve never been a big fan of the character and JMS disappointed me with Rising Stars after which I kind of stopped reading his stuff (also because I’m not a big FF or Spidey fan, though his Midnight Nation is rad). Also, I remember reading in Wizard a bunch of years back (I think right before I got my job) that Mark Millar and Steve McNiven were going to work on a Thor book where all these different Asgardian weapons started falling to Earth and new people were picking them up and becoming Don Blake/Thor-like pairings. That sounded pretty rad, but it never happened. Then that Thor clone thing happened in Civil War, so I was pretty much done with the idea of Thor.
Even with all that, I still started reading Thor when it came out and I was shocked to realize that I really liked it. I can’t even really describe why I like it so much. I think it’s the basic simplicity of a character that’s been around for decades. Even though Thor’s trying to find his fellow Asgardians in human form, it doesn’t feel too bogged down in continuity. I also really like how he just decided to set up shop in Oklahoma as a floating castle-city. It’s a really cool visual which is made all the cooler by Coipel’s slick art. I can’t remember if I’ve read any books he’s drawn before, but I’d definitely make a point from here on out.
Unfortunately, I missed one issue in the first six and got off the story, which is a bummer because now I’ll either have to find all the issues in the Wizard library (a veritable wasteland) or just read the trades as they come out which will take a while. Oh well, I’m still down with the book and from what I hear it’s still doing well, so hopefully it’ll be around for a while.
X-MEN: THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA (Marvel)
Written by Chris Claremont, co-plotted and drawn by John Byrne
I’ve talked a lot of X-Men trash over the years. Partly it’s because I’m a dyed in the wool DC fan. Part of it is that I’m not a big Chris Claremont fan because of his run on Gen 13 (I was a HUGE fan of that book back in the day). And partly because I’m kind of sick of people saying how great it is.
But, all that being said, I figured I should at least give it a shot and see how it is so I can make an educated argument as to why I don’t like the book (if in fact I don’t). Well, I was surprised that I didn’t hate the book. I don’t think it’s anywhere near the level of Dark Knight or Watchmen, books that I’ve heard it compared to before, but it’s pretty good for a comic from 1979-1980.
Part of the problem is that I knew exactly what was going to happen and there were very few if any surprises. I guess I can thank my beloved X-Men animated series and reading various reviews and write-ups in Wizard for that. Anyway, sometimes you know how something’s going to end, but the ride is still fun. Unfortunately, I kept getting let down by moments that I’ve heard were supposed to be awesome. The one that really sticks out in my mind is the couple of issues in which Wolverine gets knocked through the floor of the Hellfire Club and then comes back and kicks ass to save his teammates. Sure there are a couple of cool moments, but most of the issue is spent watching a Revolutionary War era Cyclops fighting in mind space or something. The final fight with the Imperial Guard is kind of boring as well. Plus John Byrne’s very pretty art is often covered with dialogue that explains exactly what you’re seeing the characters do on the page.
Like I said the story’s not bad, especially if you haven’t had nearly every beat of the story ruined for you and also if you have a predilection for Silver Age-type stories, but it doesn’t really make me want to read the rest of this era of X-Men, though X-fanatic and Wizard World guru Brett White suggested I read From the Ashes which is on my list. We shall see I guess.