Killer Comics Trade Post: Suicide Squad Trial By Fire & Uncanny X-Force The Apocalypse Solution

Suicide Squad Volume 1: Trial By Fire (DC)
Written by John Ostrander, drawn by Luke McDonnell with Bob Lewis, Karl Kesel & Dave Hunt
Collects Secret Origins #14, Suicide Squad #1-8

Sometimes I plan these Trade Post columns out really well and sometimes it just so happens that two books I’ve read within a given time have a similar theme. The latter happens to be the case with this particular one. I’ve been sitting on this first (and possibly only) volume reprinting John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s excellent Suicide Squad run. I had a little experience with this comic while coming up in comics and an iteration of the idea became very prominent in DC comics around Infinite Crisis and the surrounding events, but it was my pal Ben Morse who turned me on to this book specifically. He’s a big fan and has all the issues. A few years back, when we were still at Wizard he let me borrow a big stack of issues and I tore through them. Luckily, my memory is pretty crummy, so I didn’t remember everything when I sat down to read this book recently. As a nice bonus, this trade not only brings the first eight issues of the series together, but also the team’s origins that were printed in Secret Origins. I love when companies put a little extra time in to do something like that.

The idea behind this book is essentially The Dirty Dozen with superheroes and villains known from throughout the DC Universe. Amanda Waller rejuvenated an old idea with the son of a former leader in Flag who wants to prove himself and also die a little bit. These early issues feature characters like the original Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Enchantress and the Penguin, some of whom are part of the regular team while others pop in to help out in certain cases. Their early adventures are actually pretty real world-based, even if they do still involve people with super powers. You’ve got them taking on a foreign terrorist group, the Female Furies, a white power group and vigilante and Russians.

I really like how grounded the stories felt even given the more super elements. It reminded me a lot of the Mike Grell run on Green Arrow or Dennis O’Neal’s run on The Question. This series would go on to have a healthy 66 issue run. I hope that DC decides to collect them all, including The Janus Directive a crossover that involved books like Checkmate, Captain Atom and, I believe, Firestorm. It looks like they solicited a second volume, but it has yet to come out, so it’s probably not looking good.

Uncanny X-Force Volume 1: The Apocalypse Solution (Marvel)
Written by Rick Remender, drawn by Jerome Opena with Leonardo Manco
Collects Uncanny X-Force #1-4, Wolverine: Road To Hell

Much like Suicide Squad, I was encouraged to check out Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force by Ben Morse. I recently read his first arc on Venom which, while well done, just wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for but had also really liked what he did with Punisher and the wild FrankenCastle story. From what I’ve read, Remender’s excellent at coming up with capital A awesome ideas that sometimes might not get to be as cool as you want them to be because he’s working within the Marvel Universe, which can have it’s fair share of constraints, as do all of the shared, multi-book, multiple creator ones. That’s just how those work.

So, I was curious about his X-Force and when I saw it on sale for a reasonable price from an Amazon seller I was buying a few other things from, I bit. I knew that this first story was about a new X-Force team consisting of Angel, Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool and Fantomex deciding whether or not to kill a resurrected Apocalypse who came back as a child. I think I wrote something about it for Marvel.com, otherwise, I probably would not know all that. And that’s basically what this book is about. I don’t know how the previous X-Force team ended and it doesn’t really matter because this is an all new direction, so none of that really matters. All you need to know is that X-Force is a team of mutants who send themselves on the dirty jobs that Cyclops and the X-Men don’t want to deal with personally, as it has been since the wonderful Messiah Complex.

And the story is as straightforward as I mentioned. Sure there’s inter-character things like Psylocke helping Angel keep his Archangel persona in check and Deadpool being, well, Deadpool, but the main thrust of the story is first finding this new Apocalypse, fighting his new Four Horsemen (or Final Horsemen as they’re called this time around) and then deciding whether or not to ice the kid. The four issues did a weird thing where they at times felt rushed and at other times stretched out, but I think the end result is a well balanced story. I have questions about some of the technical stuff, but I’m guess that’s because I don’t know much about the X-Men and even less about Apocalypse.

Overall I did like this comic, it was a fun, interesting read that got me interested in Fantomex, a character who is so weird, he clearly came form the brain of Grant Morrison. An external neural system that can also turn into a spaceship connected to a guy genetically created to murder but instead pulls of elaborate capers and based his life on a French novel character? Yeah, that’s Morrison. I will also say that SPOILER I was really surprised with how they ended this arc. Seeing as how Apocalypse was a kid, I really did not expect them to kill him. As they were discussing the possibility of taking him with them and training him to be good, I was excited to see where that would go and then, literally, bam. It’s over. And that’s essentially where this trade ends too. I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to purchase the next volume, but I will definitely keep my eyes peeled on Swap to see if anyone’s got an extra.

A Very British Trade Post: Jenny Sparks & Hellblazer: The Roots Of Coincidence

JENNY SPARKS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AUTHORITY (Wildstorm)
Written by Mark Millar, drawn by John McCrea
Collects the miniseries of the same name #1-5
I’ve gone on record saying that I’m a big Authority fan, having reviewed a good number of the books on the blog, so this Jenny Sparks mini was right up my alley. I got it off a Sequential Swap and then saw two words on the cover that tend to turn me off from comics: Mark Millar. I’m just not a fan of the dude’s writing in general. I feel like he tries too hard to shock readers and I haven’t been truly shocked by a comic since Preacher and I’m fairly certain it won’t happen again. I will give the guy credit for creating great big popcorn books (the equivalent of a summer blockbuster), but for whatever reason, I don’t tend to enjoy those comics as much.

Anyway, my desire to learn more about Jenny Sparks and to check out some John McCrea art (I’ve been slowly collecting and reading all of the old Hitman trades and really dig his art), so I soldiered on. And, overall, it’s a pretty interesting little book. We do get more bits of Jenny’s history, but also how she met each member of the original Authority team and convinced them to join. For that alone, it will stay in my Wildstorm trade collection, but I’m not sure how many times I will go back to it.

For one thing, Millar decided to make Hitler a large part of one of the issues, stating that Jenny and he were friends back when he was a lowly artist and she suggested he go into politics. Later, she’s working as a spy during WWII and gets caught by the Nazis, but Hitler lets her go. Now, I’m torn on this because it feels like a very “look how crazy I’m being” Millar moment, but at the same time it makes sense that Jenny, being the spirit of the 20th century, would have influenced the good along with the bad. I’ll give it a pass for now. What I can’t give a pass is the non McCrea-ness of the art. Don’t get me wrong, the art is good, but it doesn’t look like the McCrea I know and love and have in my head when I think of him, which was disappointing. Add him to the list of artists who have changed their style for the worse from the 90s.

I can’t really see anyone aside from Authority fans really digging this book. It’s not Millar-y enough to appeal to his hardcore fans (though they probably already have read it) and it’s not like Jenny Sparks is a belovedly missed character (though I would definitely like to hear more about her getting sent into a crazy depression). Bonus points for getting a pretty good intro by Authority creator Warren Ellis in the book too!

HELLBLAZER: THE ROOTS OF COINCIDENCE (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #243-244, 247-249
Even though this collection of Hellblazer breaks my number one rule for trades (collect EVERY ISSUE consecutively), it was still an interesting read. But, in cases like this I’m always left asking “Would it have killed them to include those two other issues?” I don’t tend to read Hellblazer books in any kind of order, just reading whatever trades I get my hands on, but it’s still frustrating to have that question mark hanging over my reading experience.

Anyway, the book is broken up into two related stories, the first about a room in the Vatican that doesn’t allow God to see what’s going on inside. The idea is that priests can go in there and do whatever their black hearts desire to whoever they can find and it won’t be considered breaking their vows. Considering all the bad energy in the place, it should come as no surprise that a demon gets loosed inside. I was raised Catholic, don’t practice now, but also took a lot of classics and lit classes in college that focused on Church teachings and its history, so the story was really interesting to me and had me wondering if that room really exists in the real Vatican. Constantine gets called in to get rid of the demon, but also has motives of his own. Without giving it away, I give Diggle a lot of credit for adding a few extra layers to the story than what someone else might have done.

The second story involves a businessman who’s done a lot of wrong trying to set up his own private heaven and then killing himself. He gets a demon to help him, but Constantine gets involved and winds up serving his own brand of justice. After that, though, we get an issue that probably plays better with people who have been reading Hellblazer comics for longer than me as Constantine comes face to face with the force that has been plaguing him for years. I’ll be honest, I didn’t completely understand it, but I think I liked it.

There are two elements that I really liked in this book. First off, the artists are amazing. Camuncoli and Manco should always be drawing Hellblazer or Hellboy comics as far as I’m concerned. They’re perfectly suited for this kind of work. The other aspect that I liked was Diggle’s ability to really set Constantine up as a man with a strong grasp of his own morality, punishing privileged, wicked men who has a devilish way of putting people in their place. He’s a great character that I really enjoy reading about and would have liked to have gotten those extra two issues in this book!

Trade Post: Hellblazer: Empathy Is The Enemy, House Of Mystery Vol. 3, & Lucifer Vol. 1

HELLBLAZER: EMPATHY IS THE ENEMY (Vertigo)
Written by Denise Mina, drawn by Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #216-222
John Constantine is one of those characters that I have a lot of love for, but don’t know if I really get the character from my limited experience (a few trades here and there, Azzarello’s run on the book and random issues while working at Wizard). It’s the same way I like the Creeper. Anyway, I’ve got a list of all the Hellblazer trades and I’m slowly checking them off the list. I got Empathy here from Swap and enjoyed myself. One thing you need to know about reading a Hellblazer comic is that, it’s completely normal to have no idea what’s happening. Constantine always runs into someone who he knew from the old days, does some vague magic and deals with some big demon or some such. That’s been my experience at least.

This time around, Constantine’s got to deal with a man who is reading empathy. After helping him, John has the sickness now which is leading him towards a Scottish cult on an island. There’s a lot of info thrown at you that will probably make a lot more sense on a second reading, something I hope to do if I ever get the whole series. Even with everything going on, the slow burn of the story allows you to think about things without ever slowing to a crawl. Mina has this great way of making everything seem important and has a knack for writing interesting side characters. And Manco might be the perfect Constantine artist. He’s got a kinetic style that makes the panels seem to almost hum with magic.

If you’ve never read a Hellblazer comic, this is as good a place as any to start. The only continuity thing I didn’t really know about was why Constantine has sworn off magic. I’m guessing it’s after a particularly harrowing encounter with a demon in a previous arc, but it’s never really explained. It’s also not really that important because, SPOILER he does in fact use some magic.

HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 3: THE SPACE BETWEEN (Vertigo)
Written by Matthew Sturges with Bill Willingham and Chris Roberson, drawn by Luca Rossi, Jim Fern, Grazia Lobaccaro, Ralph Reese, Sergio Argones, Eric Powell, Neal Adams, Gilbert Hernandez and David Hahn
Collects House Of Mystery #11-15
Boy, I hope you guys are reading House Of Mystery. I’ve been a big fan since it launched and even reviewed the second trade here. The idea is that the House of Mystery is a place outside of time that travels from different dimensions come to while traveling. Most of them can leave, but a few people are stuck there. In exchange for getting hooch and food, the patrons have to tell a story which is sometimes written by someone other than Sturges and drawn by a different artist. With the third volume, though, the ongoing story takes on a life of its own with star Fig dealing with her dad now being stuck in the House and the truth about some of the big players in the book. To make up for the lack of side stories, the 13th issue actually consists of all side stories by the likes of Neal Adams, Eric Powell and Gilbert Hernandez.

This is definitely not a good place to start reading, obviously, but I can’t recommend a comic book more than House Of Mystery. It’s good for longtime Sandman fans–yeah, it’s that House Of Mystery–, non comic book readers and people trying to check out something new aside from superhero books.

HOM is one of those books that I wait for the trade on because there’s so much going on, but that means that I’m behind. So, I’m still waiting to find out what’s going on with the huge cliffhanger at the end of this trade.

LUCIFER VOL. 1: DEVIL IN THE GATEWAY (Vertigo)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Scott Hampton, Chris Weston, James Hodgkins, Warren Pleece and Dean Ormston
Collects The Sandman Presents #1-3, Lucifer #1-4
I really wanted to like Lucifer. I love Sandman and am a big fan of Mike Carey’s writing, but I found the second half of this collection (the first four issues of the ongoing series) to be nearly impenetrable. Gaiman had this amazing knack for weaving these epic stories that also included regular human beings. Sometimes you’d be reading through the issue trying to figure out why the hell you were supposed to care about some blond girl and then, bam, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, in this story, Carey doesn’t have that knack.

I liked the first story enough, which showed Lucifer doing a favor for heaven to get rid of some ancient shadow gods. Like the later story, it involves a regular person getting sucked into something much bigger and it pays off. The second one though just seems to keep winding around the main story without really making it clear soon enough why I should care about this kid aside from the fact that he’s persecuted. Meanwhile, Lucifer’s dealing with a fellow fallen angel and his tarot cards of death. It just didn’t suck me in enough to keep reading so I actually quit two or so issues in. As a side note, it’s hard to tell exactly where the issues began and ended because they didn’t reprint the friggin’ covers between issues (I hate that).

Any Lucifer fans out there? Is it worth continuing on?