Trade Post Quick Hits: Flex Mentallo, Severed, Justice Society Returns & Grayson

trade pile 8-26-15As you can see from the photo above, I’ve read a lot of random trades lately. Here are a few of them and my thoughts! Continue reading Trade Post Quick Hits: Flex Mentallo, Severed, Justice Society Returns & Grayson

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.

Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

justice league of america the tornado's path Justice League Of America: The Tornado’s Path (DC)
Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes
Collects Justice League Of America #1-7

The last time I was really excited about mainstream comics was the lead-up to Infinite Crisis and everything that went on up until about Countdown. It seemed like DC had done a great job of keeping their universe well organized, using several quality creators to not only tell stories that were unique and fun in and of themselves, but also lead up to something much larger. Sometime during the Infinite Crisis event, I actually started working at Wizard, so I had more of an inside track on what was going on. To be honest, as cool as that can be, it’s not always a great thing and can taint how you feel about different books. It’s the age old bit about seeing how the sausage is made. Sometimes it’s interesting and enlightening, other times it’s pretty gross.

Hit the jump to keep reading!  Continue reading Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

Justice Society Trade Post: JSA All-Stars Glory Days & JSoA Supertown

JSA All Stars: Glory Days (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Freddie Williams II & Howard Porter
Collects JSA All-Stars #7-13

I fully intended to write this post towards the end of last weekend, but lost track of time. In the end, I guess it doens’t really matter. Anyway, like I said in that post (or maybe didn’t, it was so long ago, who can remember?), I read these four JSA trades back to back to back to back in the order they’re presented in these posts. As you’ll remember, JSA All-Stars was a spinoff book that featured the more proactive (and younger) members of the fairly unwieldy group. When I say proactive, I don’t necessarily mean the usual “we’re gonna go after the bad guys instead of wait for them to attack” idea, but a team that is well trained in order to be more active and effective when they fight the bad guys.

The second trade features three stories, the first dealing with SPOILER Atom Smasher’s death during Blackest Night, the JSA fighting a gang of gods running amok and a two-parter answering the question: why are there so many Cyclones running around?

While the actual death of Atom Smasher might have been told in a one-off mini that held almost no baring on the larger Blackest Night story (I’ll get around to reviewing that book eventually), but the issue here was actually pretty heartfelt as it followed Judomaster exploring her feelings towards AS in depth.

I wasn’t as interested in the details of the gods story, but I will say that any script that offers Freddie Williams II the chance to draw monkeys riding tigers in the jungle, some iconic super heroes and building-big gods, I’m happy. There were some revelations and characters moments that were pretty important to the larger story as well, which I also appreciated. The multiple Cyclone story was also pretty cool, kind of along the lines of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode over two issues, with an ending that actually had me going, “Whaaaaat?” I’d really like to see how this book wrapped up. I believe there was one more trade’s worth of issues, but don’t know if DC has any intention of collecting them right now. Anyone know?

Justice Society of America: Supertown (DC)
Written by Marc Guggenheim, drawn by Scott Kolins & Mike Norton
Collects Justice Society of America #44-49

Supertown is a little but of an outsider when it comes to this particular quartet of JSA books. The first JSoA volume I read lead right into the two JSA All-Stars books, but the original book has a collection called Axis of Evil that I don’t have and a crossover with JLoA that I’m holding off on until I go through all the post-Infinite Crisis JLA books. So, I don’t have as great of a sense of this team and its motives in the wake of the split, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a more difficult comic to read, I just like having all the pieces of the puzzle, you know?

Anyway, this arc revolves around the battle with a super powered terrorist named Scythe. The JSA takes him on in the first issue and tells young member Lightning to, essentially, go supernova and blast the crap of him, destroying a huge area of the town. Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott gets mortally wounded in the battle and we soon discover that he and Golden Age Flash ran into this thing as a child experiment in WWII.

With the fallout, Flash focuses his efforts on rebuilding the whole city, a job that takes a lot longer than it usually does in comics, taking a more real world approach to that trope. More terrorists show up to give our heroes a hard time, but we also get a brand new design for Alan Scott’s costume, which is pretty clunky, but actually serves a purpose.

I’ve talked before about how I get bored with comics that feel too familiar with other comics I’ve read, especially when said older comics are from the same character or team’s history. This one included a few elements that have been very popular in the last few years for the JSA: a major member gets nearly killed (actually two in this collection) and a villain that comes out of nowhere with seemingly all the answers. However, I thought Guggenheim did a pretty great job of building this story around different character beats and moments. I’m still not sure about the GL costume, but I’d definitely be interested to see how JSA ended just prior to New 52.

Justice Society Trade Post: JSoA The Bad Seed & JSA All-Stars Constellations

Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed (DC)
Written by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges, drawn by Jesus Merino
Collects Justice Society of America #29-33

I’ve talked about my love of the Justice Society a few times here and there, but the gist is that I’m a fan of legacy characters and the idea of older heroes trying to train and usher in the next generation, which was the point of the team post One Year Later when Geof Johns returned to the team he helped bring back into the comic fan consciousness after taking over for James Robinson and David Goyer. Before jumping off of Justice Society of America, Johns not only added a ton of characters to this book, but also took them on an extended adventure that some people lost interest in. I remember reading all the Gog stuff in a sitting or two and thinking it worked a lot better in trade, but that’s not really here nor there.

At some point, Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges took the book over. I’m not exactly sure when or how long they’d been on the book by the time Bad Seed kicked off, but it was the kind of story I’d seen before and didn’t exactly fall in love with, even though it did lead to an interesting movement for the team.

If you follow the second link above you’ll find my review for the JSA vs. Kobra miniseries which had an enemy coming out of nowhere to hassle the JSA, take out Mr. Terrific and get really close to taking the whole team out for good. That’s the basic plot here too, but with a little bit more of a mystery factor because we’re not supposed to know whether the culprit is the cocky and crude King Chimera or the gung-ho but crazy All-American Kid. It’s not much of a mystery because we see the Kid do it and just have to wait around for the team to figure it out. Another aspect of this story to feel like well trod territory is having Obsidian be in danger and possibly part of the problem. I have a crappy memory, so I can’t remember exactly when this stuff happened previously, but it felt like I’d seen many of these story aspects before. Oh there’s also a ridiculously huge army of supervillains, which seemed to be the thing to do for most DC books around this time.

At the end of the day, this book isn’t super interesting. I like Jesus Merino’s artwork, it’s big and bold and he can do a lot of characters in one page. I also like the writers, but this particular story doesn’t really utilize everyone’s strengths in my opinion. At the end of the book, something big has happened: a rift between members in the teams leading to a split into two different teams and comics. Most of the older heroes stuck with Justice Society of America while the younger, more proactive members moved over to JSA All-Stars.

JSA All-Stars: Constellations (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Freddie Williams II
Collects JSA All-Stars #1-6

While I might not have been the biggest fan of how we got to two ongoing JSA books, I actually really enjoyed JSA All-Stars (or what I’ve read of it so far). See, in the previous story, Magog got in the faces of some of the older guys for not being active enough in training and screening new recruits. As such, the one-time military man, takes it upon himself to train this younger squad in the ways of hand to hand combat and military tactics.
This is a perspective in comics that seems to get overlooked a lot and one that I really liked seeing explored.

The story also continues some of the elements from Bad Seed. In that story, the villains were told by their unnamed employer not to touch Star Girl. We find out in this collection that SPOILER the man behind all of that was Johnny Sorrow, the villain behind an early JSA adventure. The book also features the Injustice Society line-up scene in those same early issues. I know I complained about the army of supervillains in the review above, but these guys are more of a team instead of a ton of bad guys all thrown together.

Even though Sturges used characters I was familiar with especially in the context of this team, I thought he did a great job of using them in different ways and giving the bad guys different motivations. Mostly, though, I adore Freddie Williams II’s artwork. He’s kind of like a cartoonier JLA-era Howard Porter, but really with his own unique look. This dude nails every group shot he does and also is equally comfortable with larger fight scenes and quieter moments. I could not take my eyes off of his panels and pages. I believe he’s all digital and actually takes the time to design the rooms and locales and can then shift them around as they make sense for any given panel or angle. That is fantastic.

I think JSA All-Stars was actually a really good idea, even if the market probably wasn’t crying out for a second JSA book at the time of its launch. Fans of the older crew could stick with JSoA and see their adventures while people who might be scared off by octogenarian superheroes could see what the whole legacy hero thing was about in a book with a slightly different perspective on the whole superhero thing. For more JSA related reviews, check back later this week for when I get to JSA All-Stars Glory Days and Justice Society of America Supertown!

Kobra Trade Post: Kobra Resurrection & JSA Vs. Kobra

Kobra: Resurrected (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann, Jack Kirby, Steve Sherman, Martin Pasko & Ivan Brandon, drawn by Joe Bennett, Jack Kirby, Mike Nasser & Julian Lopez
Collects Checkmate #23-25, Kobra #1, DC Special Series #1, Faces of Evil: Kobra #1, JLA-Z #2 & Who’s Who #12 & 13,

Back before DC decided to do a complete reboot, it looked like Kobra and the villainous cult he ran was going to become a pretty big deal in the DCU. I have no idea if this actually happened or not, but he did get a rebirth in the pages of Faces of Evil: Kobra #1 a few years back that lead into the series I’ll be reviewing next. But even before that, Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman were doing some really interesting things with Kobra in the pages of the highly underrated Checkmate. I had a whole thing written about how I would be keeping this one trade pretty much just for the Jack Kirby issue, but then I did a little looking around and discovered that this book actually collects the as-yet-uncollected issues of Rucka’s run on the series. I assumed incorrectly they were in Fall of the Wall, but that’s not the case. So, this book now has even more value for me.

For most of my reading of this collection I was thinking it was kind of a bad collection. Tricky. The kind of thing thrown together to get you to buy another book if you liked JSA Vs. Kobra or to get the crazy completists to buy another book for a pertinent issue or two, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore (or at least not to the same degree). See, the Faces of Evil one shot directly leads into JSAVK, so it would make a lot of sense for it to be in that book, but then again the Checkmate stuff leads into both. You throw in the Kirby issue and a Batman story that gets referenced later on and these to actually work as pretty solid companion pieces. Could they all have been put in one book? Sure, but that would have been a pretty thick collection for a miniseries that may or may not have lead to anything or sold well, so I guess I get it.

Content-wise, I like the stuff that leads into JSAVK and love looking at anything Kirby drew, even if the story itself is somewhat plodding and not super interesting. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the history of Kobra, the big reveal of the book is right there on the cover for everyone to see which undercuts what could have been a pretty surprising moment. The Batman/Kobra story wasn’t very interesting, so I mostly skipped it, but overall, I thought this was a pretty good character compilation book that fills in a lot of holes for some people.

JSA Vs. Kobra (DC)
Written by Eric Trautmann, drawn by Don Kramer & Neil Edwards
Collects JSA Vs. Kobra #1-6

Much of my interest in the previous book comes from how much I liked JSA Vs. Kobra both when it first came out and upon a second reading. The idea behind this series is that a new Kobra has taken over the organization and has completely changed up their MO, which puts the Justice Society off their game. At it’s heart, story is a battle of wits between the heroic genius Mister Terrific and the new Kobra. It’s actually one of the few times where alternating thought box writing moving from the one main character to the other works. Jeph Loeb did this with Superman/Batman and it came off super corny in my opinion, but here it works really well and adds another layer to the drama and tension.

I’d say that the book works very well on its own as a taut thriller, the kind of thing you could probably give to non comic readers who are fans of procedurals, thrillers or mysteries and they’d enjoy it. Sure it’s got super heroes and super villains with longstanding relationships, but that’s not much different than jumping in on a long-running detective type series. There is a good amount of history that fans can dig into though–much of which is reprinted in the above trade.

Most of all, though, it’s just a good story that you’re not quite sure how the good guys will get out of. The downside of it being a comic book, especially a miniseries of an ongoing franchise, is that veteran comic fans know that nothing bad is going to happen to the heroes. That would be reserved for a big event or the main series, but not something like this generally speaking. It cuts out some of the tension–much like Kirby’s Kobra cover–but at the end of the day, I think it’s worth a read, even if you’re one of the many people not interested in reading superhero comics about old people.

Trade Post: JSA Strange Adventuers, Wildstorm After The Fall & Hardware The Man In The Machine

JSA STRANGE ADVENTURES (DC)
Written by Kevin J. Anderson, drawn by Barry Kitson
Collects JSA Strange Adventures #1-6
I’ve been a big fan of the JSA concept for years. I love the idea of legacy characters still kicking around in modern times offering a sense of connection to the past that can only be done in fiction when dealing with magical beings who have various elements keeping them alive for decades after they should be dead (especially when you consider how often they put themselves in danger). While I’ve read every regular issue of JSA since Geoff Johns launched the book back in 1999, but I skipped or missed a lot of the JSA minis that have come out since then. I was pretty excited about Strange Adventures because it presents a JSA story from back when they were first a team as opposed to them being the old soldiers they are today. I was looking forward to seeing the tale told from a different perspective and, while the book does offer another perspective through the eyes of Johnny Thunder, I didn’t really like this book.

My main problem is that the book didn’t feel very original. The overarching plot involves a super powered genius coming to the world and telling them he’ll fix all these problems if Green Lantern and Starman give up their power sources. When the heroes don’t, the guy turns bad and starts wreaking havoc, but only after regular people get upset with GL and Starman. There’s nothing very original there, that’s the plot of several pieces of science fiction from Twilight Zone episodes to movies. It’s boring and it was so obvious, I thought that Anderson might be messing with the constraints of that kind of story, but that didn’t happen. The only part of the story that I found really interesting was Johnny Thunder’s interactions with a pulp writer and his desire to become a writer himself. I can obviously relate to that and I love fiction that involves writing and creating in one way or another, but even that part of the story didn’t feel entirely original as Johnny Thunder has been portrayed as the newbie who wishes he could really do something before. All in all, Strange Adventures wasn’t a bad comic to read, it just wasn’t a particularly original one. Kitson’s art sure was pretty though.

WILDSTORM: AFTER THE FALL (WildStorm)
Written by Christos Gage and Russell Uttley, drawn by Trevor Hairsine, Brandon Badeaux, Ivan Reis, Mike McKone, Pete Woods, Phil Noto, Ben Oliver, Chris Sprouse, Wes Craig, Shawn Moll and John Paul Leon
Collects several WildStorm back-up stories
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the WildStorm universe. I think it was pretty ballsy when they decided to basically destroy their Earth with the Number of the Beast miniseries and continue on with a post apocalyptic setting that has lead to a huge battle with some alien badasses, the combination of nearly ever super powered being still kicking around into one big team and then, more recently, splitting that group up into a space-faring one and one still left on Earth (Authority and WildCats respectively). Right after the big WorldStorm event that relaunched several books to varying degrees of success. In addition to kicking off new books, WildStorm also included back-up stories involving the company’s rich history of characters. All of those short stories have been collected in this After The Fall trade.

I’ve kept up on WildStorm comics for a while now, but when this happened, I wasn’t reading the back-up stories because I didn’t think I could keep up with all of them, so I’m glad they collected them all in one place. The overarching story here involves John Lynch getting the members of Team 7 back together to kill Sleeper and WildCat villain TAO. The whole thing’s very inside baseball and probably not very accessible to new readers, but I had a great time reading about characters like Deathblow, Christie Blaze and Cybernary. My only problem withe the book is that the whole thing builds up to something that doesn’t happen in this book. The TAO fight takes place eventually in, I believe, WildCats, but that means After The Fall kind of feels like the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie in that, it’s fun in and of itself, but it’s basically a stepping stone for something else. The amazing stable of artists certainly helps the book and it’s awesome to see guys like Noto and Leon work on these characters I love.

HARDWARE: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE (Milestone/DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Denys Cowan and JJ Birch
Collects Hardware #1-8
Back in 1993 I was 10 and Milestone launched, a comic company that seemed focused on bringing more comics starring non-white heroes to the racks. I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of extra books, but I was really intrigued by books like Hardware, Static and Icon and, by the time the inevitable World’s Collide crossover between the Milestone Universe and the DCU came the next year, I bought as many of the issues as I could. There was always something about the look of the books that I found very intriguing. At the time I didn’t really follow artists or even really realize they used different styles, but the kind of muted presentation of the books, especially hardware which looked painted to me, drew my interest. Jump ahead 17 years later and here I sit with a collection of the first 8 issues of Hardware. The collection really captures the art the way I remember it and the stories kept me entertained throughout the whole thing.

For those of you who might not know, the idea behind Hardware is that this super smart kid named Curtis got a benefactor in the form of a rich dude who put him through college, gave him unlimited resources in his lab, but considered the kid, now an adult, to be little more than property with a clause in his contract saying that if he quit, he couldn’t work for anyone else. After doing some digging Curtis discovers that his benefactor is actually a pretty bad dude, so he builds a high tech suit with plenty of add-on weapons (kind of like Centurions) that he uses to quash the bad guy’s criminal enterprises. It’s a fairly basic superhero concept, but I was surprised to find that Hardware actually kills some of the bad guy’s peons, something that he actually comes to question towards the end of the trade.

Overall, I really liked this book. Cowan’s art is fantastic especially when he gets to draw some of the crazier weapons and whatnot. McDuffie’s writing was pretty fun, but there were definitely some moments where I was completely confused, like in #3 when the book opens with Hardware killing the bad guy, then appearing in his girl’s place. I had no idea what that was about. For the most part, I liked the whole presentation and how they started to slowly build a big superhero universe. I hope DC continues to put out these Milestone books (I’ve got the Static one in my to-read party), especially the World’s Collide story. There’s a lot of goodness here.