I’ve mentioned my general plans for this year’s Halloween Scene and even discussed my history with Vertigo, so now it’s time to jump into the actual reviews! The first three books I tackled are the entire run of House Of Mystery, the fourth volume of Animal Man and the modern day vampire tale Blood + Water!
In the inaugural installment of The Great Teen Titans/Outsiders Deep Dive, I got into Graduation Day and the short story “A Day After” from Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files & Origins 2003. Briefly, the former Titans and Young Justice teams called it quits after a time-traveling blue robot popped into the present and woke up a Superman Robot that killed Donna Troy. Of course, these being superheroes, they tend to flock to one another and two new books soon followed: Teen Titans and Outsiders. Today we’ll get into the first volumes of each series, which debuted in 2003! Continue reading The Great Teen Titans/Outsiders Deep Dive Part 2 – A Kid’s Game & Looking For Trouble
When Teen Titans by Geoff Johns and The Outsiders by Judd Winick launched in 2003, I’d been reading comics for about a decade. I still loved them, but my reading habits had changed, mostly because I was in college and diving into my to-read pile Scrooge McDuck-style when I’d come home on breaks. I still read Wizard when I could, but my actual exposure to comics was very different than it had been.
And then at some point in my junior or senior year, I discovered that a nearby hobby shop sold comics. I can’t remember if I found this out myself or if this one girl I knew mentioned it, but I started buying a few books here and there. I stuck to ones that I knew I wasn’t getting in my pull box. I think the two I started reading were Runaways and Outsiders. Not bad choices, if I do say so myself. Continue reading The Great Teen Titans/Outsiders Deep Dive Part 1 – Graduation Day & Secret Files 2003
Sometimes I grab a series of trades the purposefully have a connection while other times I just grab whatever looks interesting out of my boxes. In the case of this week’s post, I did the latter, but realized that I had a nice connection in that both the second Exiles book and Matt Kindt’s Revolver feature characters dealing with the differences in the realities they experience! Want to know more? Hit the jump! Continue reading Alternate Universe Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Vol 2 & Revolver
Sometimes a book comes along and just fits so perfectly in your wheelhouse that you wonder why you haven’t already mainlined the whole thing already. Exiles is that book for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the X-Men, but didn’t feel up to the challenge of diving into that incredibly dense continuity. I also love alternate world stories, so when Judd Winick — a writer I love — came along and combined the two in Exiles, I was on board. Well, not really because I didn’t read the book as it started coming out because I was graduating high school and heading into college at that point, but I was intrigued and kept it on my trade-watch radar. At this year’s New York Comic Con I scored the first, second, third and fifth volumes of the Exiles Ultimate Collection books for $5 each which was huge for me. I’m pretty excited about getting my hands on the two I’m missing, though maybe not the very last one which is all Chris Claremont. Still, I’ll have fun with the volumes I have (I hope) and see if I want to keep reading the rest.
The idea here is that a group of X-Men have been plucked from their alternate dimensions to work for an entity called the Time Broker who sends them on missions in other dimensions to help get the time stream back on track. If they fail, their own realities will suffer great changes that threaten their own lives. The great thing about this book is that it’s so completely in and of itself while also playing off of many of the themes and ideas presented in the main X-books as well as the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since Winick is working with a team of characters who “don’t matter” in the grand scheme of things at Marvel, he can do a lot more with them than you might expect. These first 19 issues are packed with character deaths, pregnancies, jokes, budding relationships, ridiculously difficult decisions, honest conversations and heaping helpings of ass kickery and explosions.
While building his own team, Winick also does a great job of building an interesting world within a world that explores all kinds of other worlds. There’s clearly a system at play with the Time Broker, but as the series progresses, we learn that the Exiles aren’t the only team of displaced heroes popping around dimensions. It’s one of the intriguing overarching elements that makes me want to keep reading all six volumes of the Ultimate Collection except for maybe that Claremont stuff.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Winick didn’t work in the typical six issue arc format. If a story needed one issue, he gave it one issue. If it needed three, it got three. This not only keeps the book moving at a good clip — something that’s much appreciated when reading nearly 20 issues of a comic in one collection — but also gives artists Mike McKone and Jim Calafiore the opportunity to do their own things with their own stories before trading off with one another. While McKone’s style is a lot smoother than Calafiore’s more angular one, they both excel at balancing the action scenes with the comedy gags Winick throws in via Morph, so they still feel like they’re working on the same coherent series.
This kind of book does something that not many Corporate Comics can: play with all the pieces of an existing universe and really have fun with it. By going the alternate universe route Winick was able to build his own team, while also creating a myriad of worlds worth their own miniseries’ in many cases. Since those worlds and these characters weren’t connected the main Marvel U, the stakes were much higher. Is Morph going to die in this issue? Are they going to actually save the world from Galactus? These are questions that not only get raised, but worried about because Winick didn’t have to play it safe. You feel pretty safe assuming those bad things won’t happen in a regular universe book, but pretty much anything can happen here.
One of the more confusing aspects of DC’s New 52 initiative is that some books seem to carry over completely from the old continuity while others have gone in radically different directions. This only confuses older continuity geeks like myself who aren’t quite sure how all these Robins can fit in the same world now that Batman’s been around for a lot less time. You’re also dealing with a Teen Titans-less world in the way that most people know them, so where does that leave Batman and his relationship with Nightwing? It’s a slippery slope indeed, but not on the creative side. They’re setting everything up how they want to, it’s the continuity guys and gals who have to do their best to not slide into the infinite game of “what if” and instead just read these new stories as if they’re being told to us for the first time without any existing information. That’s how I tried to go into all three of these book and I had varying degrees of success with that.
I actually had the most trouble with Batman & Robin and not necessarily because I was comparing it to the books I’m familiar with, but because I didn’t really know what was going on for big chunks of the story. I mean that in both a confused-story kind of way and in a “That’s not how I think Batman should act” way. The story confusion came from the book’s main adversary, Nobody. I had no idea who this guy was and wasn’t sure if he had been around in the previous continuity or not. Now, this might seem contrary to my earlier statement that I was trying to put such things out of my mind, but the reason I kept wondering is because it took so long to explain who he was and where he came from. I didn’t want to know if he existed previously because I wanted to compare him to the original, I wanted to know if I was already supposed to know about this guy or not, information that wasn’t presented to me as a reader until pretty far into the tale.
While that confusion was at play, I also keep looking at this guy claiming to be Batman and feeling like he wasn’t jibing with the idea of the character I’ve had in my mind after over 20 years of comic reading. He spends most of the book telling his son — and current Robin — Damian not to follow him out on patrol because it’s too dangerous. He expects Damian to just listen to him and do what he says which anyone could tell you would not happen. For one of the smartest guys in the DCU, this recurring element — which he was doing to protect his son — just felt stupid and feeling smarter than Batman is not a reaction I like having while reading one of his comics in particular.
Artistically speaking I’m a pretty big fan of Patrick Gleason. He’s definitely got his own style and it works well on a book like Batman & Robin. The fact that I thought it also worked well in the Green Lantern Universe shows how diverse he can be. My one complaint in this department would be that some of the more zoomed-out panels seemed to lose definition. I’m not sure if that’s on his end or the coloring/inking department, but it was something I noticed, as if getting further away in some panels made everything lose focus.
Meanwhile, I had a great time reading Batwing, though it’s definitely an intense comic. If you’re already familiar with some of Winick’s DC work, it should come as no surprise that this book about, essentially, Africa’s Batman is packed with equal parts superhero craziness and social and political elements. In this case, the star of the book, David Zavimbe, is not an orphan who fights for justice, but a former child soldier trying to make up for some of the atrocities he committed in his younger days. As much as I love the classic Batman origin, I’ve got to say, Batwing’s actually rings a little truer to me than Bruce’s.
The story in this first volume revolves around the murder of several former African superheroes who collectively referred to themselves as The Kingdom. Though he’s fairly new to the superhero game, David does his best to figure out why these people are getting offed, which puts him into direct conflict with a real bruiser named Massacre. What I liked about the pacing of this story is that you continue to learn more and more about what’s going on, but there’s always more questions in the works. As we learn about David’s past, you can’t help but wonder why he decided to start wearing a costume or how long he can really do this with such rage and anger inside of him. Plus, there’s the more obvious mystery of who’s killing The Kingdom and more importantly why? These are the kinds of things that keep you coming back for a serialized story like this. I was satisfied enough with the given answers that I want to come back and give the second volume a shot to see how things pay off.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the art in this book, but found that it really fit with the story being told. I’m really bad at explaining these things, but Oliver has a style that almost makes his figures look like they’re three-dimensional objects superimposed on painted backgrounds. Does that make sense? Sometimes that kind of style — where the two elements look so disparate — takes me right out of the story, but in this case it brought a more grounded realism that really fit the tone of the book.
Finally we have the one comic that most people tend to agree on as being one of the best monthly comics from DC these days: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. After hearing a lot of the hype, already being a fan of Snyder’s non-superhero work and listening to him talk about the character on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man On Batman Podcast, I decided to finally jump in and see what all the fuss was about. And man, I agree with every good thing everyone’s saying about this book. It’s just fantastic.
The basic approach to this story is actually somewhat similar to what Grant Morrison did with Batman: R.I.P. and the Black Glove in that Bats discovers a long-standing group of bad guys who come out of nowhere only to come after the Dark Knight. Putting the comparison aside, though, this one is really a lot of fun and offerse a ton of Batman goodness to sink your teeth into.
I don’t want to get too deep into the details because I really don’t want to spoil anything (even though I’m probably the last person on earth to read this book), but one of the aspects I liked about this comic is that it’s really Batman’s story. Sure he interacts with Robin, Nightwing and Jim Gordon, but this is about him trying to figure out Gotham’s connection to the Court of Owls and how his own family ties into all that. Like I said above, I like continuity and Snyder’s doing a heckuva job building an all new one that more fully connects Batman and Bruce Wayne to Gotham City in ways that are both inventive and fun (from a reader’s perspective, I’m sure Bats doesn’t think all this is fun).
Speaking of fun, the visuals in this book are a delight to look at. I don’t have much experience with Greg Capullo’s Spawn work, but he certainly has the chops to nail Gotham in all its weirdness. The skyline looks interesting, but so do new additions like Talon and the Court of Owls masks. I liked staring at these pages as much as I did reading them. His style’s kind of cartoony in places, but I think that does a lot to break some of the tension and darkness of a story that’s not exactly smilesville.
At the end of the day I’m left feeling lukewarm, pretty interested and overly psyched about these books in that order. Batman & Robin didn’t do a lot for me and is already set up for a Sequential Swap. Meanwhile, I like the Batwing book mostly because of the creator and think it would have worked equally well as a creator owned Image book or something along those lines. Lastly, Snyder’s Batman does an amazing job of taking an existing character that I know and love and doing something that really adds to the mythos while also setting all of that in a new universe I’m growing to understand. I not only can’t wait to get the second volume, but also want to get his other Batman stuff like The Black Mirror and Gates Of Gotham which he co-wrote or plotted or somesuch. This guy is legit, you guys. Super legit.
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.
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. I 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. I 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. I’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. Even 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. Return 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. I’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. I 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. I 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. I’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 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. I 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.