Trade Post: Harrow County, First Wave & Black Widow

Every few weeks I find myself requesting any number of trades from the local library system. They come in in spurts and I get to them as I can. I can’t think of much in the way of connections between Harrow County Volume 1, First Wave and Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread, but I enjoyed them all, so there’s that, I guess!

harrow county vol 1Harrow County is a witchy horror comic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook from Dark Horse. This first book — officially titled Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints — compiles the first four issues of the series which follows Emmy, a young woman who comes to realize that her fellow country denizens might want to murder her for being the reincarnation of a witch they killed about 18 years ago.

Packed with characters I want to learn more about, a slowly unfolding mythology and some amazingly creepy art by Crook (whose style reminds me a bit of Jeff Lemire’s, but with a more comic strip shape if that makes sense) I’m definitely hooked and want to find out what else happens to Emmy, her dad and the unusual creatures she’s come into contact with. In a way, it reminds me of a smaller-in-scope Hellboy with a young woman protagonist which adds a new, interesting angle that I’m sold on. Time to see if the second volume is available at the library!

first waveBack in my Wizard days, DC seemed to be snatching up random characters or rebooting old imprints and trying to incorporate them into the DCU with little success. They brought back Milestone and Tangent and also tried to bring the THUNDER Agents into the fold. I actually preferred what they did with First Wave, which mixed classic pulp-inspired characters like Doc Savage, The Spirit and Justice Inc. with non-powered DC folks like Batman and the Blackhawks into a new universe. Things kicked off with the Batman/Doc Savage Special by Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto and then moved into the six issue series called First Wave by Azzarello and Rags Morales.

I wasn’t very familiar with Doc or Spirit the first time I read these issues, but have read a few things since then. I think Azz does a great job of bringing in all these different characters and not only keeping them clear, but also giving them business that works for them. I had a little trouble keeping track of all the balls in the air towards the end, but I still enjoyed the pulp-y quality to the tale which was enhanced by Rags’ art which always excels at capturing facial expressions while also drafting solid action scenes. Reading this made me want to dig up the issues of the Doc Savage and Spirit series’ that launched out of this as well as the Batman/Spirit one-shot by Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone which I remember being a lot of fun.

black widow vol 1 the finely woven threadFinally, let’s wrap things up with Black Widow Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto. THis is the rare comic that I picked up just to check out the artwork. I like Edmondson and have interviewed him a number of times for Marvel.com and also dig Black Widow as a character, but you just don’t get enough Noto-drawn comics! I mostly see his stuff online and on covers, so getting to really dive into a book that plays to his strong suits — beautiful but dangerous women, great action — was a lot of fun and a treat for the eyes. I especially like how he outlines various elements in a spidery red that draws the eye from object to object.

Story-wise this book focuses on Black Widow’s desire to make amends for the bad things she did in her past by taking on various jobs around the world and using that money to support her victims’ families as well as a web of support around the world. The one-and-dones are a nice change of pace, but I admit to having trouble reconciling an international killer who is also a member in good standing with the Avengers. Then again, that’s probably just be getting too much in my own shared universe-loving head!

Superman Trade Post: Action Comics Volume 1 (New 52) & Man Of Steel Volume 7

action comics new 52 volume 1 Action Comics Volume 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Rags Morales, Andy Kubert, Gene Ha, Brent Anderson & Brad Walker
Collects Action Comics (New 52) #1-8

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!

superman man of steel vol 7 Superman The Man Of Steel Volume 7 (DC)
Written by John Byrne and Jerry Ordway, drawn by Byrne & Ordway
Collects Action Comics #596-597, Adventures Of Superman #436-438 and Superman #13-15

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!

Trade Post: The Pile


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 &
Joe Bennett
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.