Trade Post: Superman Vs. Shazam, Fables Volume 2 & Legion Lost

superman vs shazam Superman Vs. Shazam (DC)
Written by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane & Joey Cavalieri; drawn by Rich Buckler & Gil Kane
Collects All-New Collector’s Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #33, 34, 49 & DC Comics Presents Annual #3

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m always a little leery going into these Silver Age, pre-Crisis DC collections. These are the kinds of comics I mostly snickered at as a kid. I came up in the 90s when comics were dangerous and intense, what do I need with silly stories that were probably written for children a few decades ago? I’ve since learned that that’s a pretty poor way to approach art, but, let’s be honest, comics from this era can be very hit-or-miss, especially when you consider the fact that they’re leaning pretty heavily on the hero-fighting-hero gimmick.

So, with all that in mind, I went into Superman Vs. Shazam cautiously. I love Superman, but this isn’t my Supes, so this was more of a curious read. And, honestly, it didn’t do a lot for me. The first story is a whopping 72 pages featuring a villain using other villains (Black Adam and Sand Superman from the incredibly good Kryptonite No More) to pit Superman and Captain Marvel against each other in an effort to destroy both worlds (Earths 1 and S). All of that spreads out over dozens of pages and certainly drags at times. The most interesting part of this book for me is that, while the two guys are smashing the crap out of each other across two Earths, their female counterparts — Supergirl and Mary Marvel — figure out what’s really going on. The guys wind up officially saving the day and we end with double smooches, but I still thought that was a cool way to go.

The other issues have a lot of the same, following the villain-tricking-heroes-into-fighting formula that doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. If I was a kid or new to comics, though, and this was the first time I saw these things, it’d probably be pretty mind blowing. However, I don’t think this would be a great book to hand to someone blind. Since these stories are set in a pre-Crisis world, there’s a lot going on that might be confusing. All the Earth-1/Earth-S stuff gets fairly well explained, but then you’ve got the DCP #49 in which Billy Batson and Captain Marvel appear side by side. I think it’s because we’re seeing Earth-1 Billy Batson, maybe, but wasn’t sure and by that point I’d lost a lot of interest. This book would have greatly benefited with an introduction of some sort to give less-informed readers like myself a little context for the adventures. It’s another unfortunate example of comics not always being accessible to the non-fan market.

fables vol 2 animal farmFables Vol. 2: Animal Farm (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Mark Buckingham
Collects Fables #6-10

As I said when I reviwed the first volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, the book didn’t strike much of a chord with me for two reasons: one, I called the mystery reveal too early and lost a lot of intrest in the proceedings and, two, I couldn’t help but compare it to Once Upon A Time. Since one of those complaints is more my fault than anything, I decided to continue on and give the second volume a shot. The fact that I got the first three volumes in a Swap also came into play, of course.

This second volume finds Snow White taking her not-dead sister Rose Read up to The Farm, a place where non-human Fables (talking animals, giants, dragons, etc.) live away from the prying eyes of the world located in upstate New York. But, once the sisters get there it becomes pretty clear that something fishy’s going on. A faction has done away with the one human left in charge while also moving forward with plans to take their homeland back from The Adversary.

From there you get a story that finds Goldilocks playing revolutionary with the non-human Fables, Snow on the run from Shere Khan, Rose siding with ‘Locks, weapons that animals can fire and a few more fantastical character appearances. While I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the first, it still didn’t grab me. Once again, I figured the thing out with Rose pretty early on, so that was a lot less of a mystery. But, since that’s not the main thrust of the book, it doesn’t take as much away. Meanwhile, I thought it was an interesting bit of worldbuilding when we learn at the end of the arc that a Fable’s strength is directly related to how many people in the real world know about them. I’ve seen this done with gods in fiction before, but not storybook characters. It’s an interesting tie that I’m sure comes into play later on down the line. While I’m not fully sold on this book that a lot of people seem to love, I’m interested enough to hold onto these collections for now and see what’s up in the third.

legion lostLegion Lost (DC)
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Olivier Coipel & Pascal Alixe
Collects Legion Lost #1-12

Back in 2000 and 2001 when Legion Lost was coming out, I remember there being a lot of buzz surrounding the book. When I say that, I mean that Wizard was covering the book pretty heavily and seemed to really dig it. That idea never really left my head, so when the hardcover collection came out, I was pretty excited to finally give it a read. I even got my hands on the 100-Page Spectacular that sort-of leads into this story and enjoyed that experience quite a bit.

I started reading Lost right after that, which would have put my first attempt at a little over a year ago. What stopped me? Well, this is definitely a big collection, an entire year’s worth of stories. Plus, Abnett and Lanning, writers I very much enjoy, put a lot of content into each issue. While the “Legion of the Damned” story featured in the Spectacular was mostly dialog and action, this one actually gives each character the first-person thought-box treatment in every issue which results in a lot of expressed thoughts. I’m not saying that’s bad because these guys have an excellent grasp on who these characters are, what makes them tick and how that differs from their outward actions, but it can make for a slower reading experience than I was expecting.

This time, I knew that going in and was more prepared for the experience which finds a team of Legionnaires — Live Wire, Saturn Girl, Monstress, Ultra Boy, Kid Quantum, Chameleon, Brainiac 5, Monstress, Umbra and a few others — lost in space. Now, the two issues that ended Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires (the ones that take place between the 100 Pages Spectacular issues and this book) are not included so you have no idea what this rift thing they were fighting was (or if it was even shown on-page). But, they seem to be at an end of the cosmos that even Brainiac 5 can’t find on a map and are trying to find their way home.

Along the way they make a few friends but even more enemies only discover what’s really going on at the very end of the story when it turns out that one of their own has caused all this heartache. That’s an important part of the tale, of course, but what really struck me was how well Abnett and Lanning captured the growing feeling of helplessness as the story continues. Certain characters have decided to put on shows for what they assume is the benefit of their teammates which wind up backfiring. Meanwhile, others who started off positive eventually start losing their cool as the twelve issues progress. Mistakes are made and we see what those actions do to that person as well as their teammates.

We also get to learn a lot about these characters which is great. I’ve said it before, but the Legion and X-Men are the two most confusing franchises in comics as far as I’m concerned, but I didn’t feel that going into this book. Sure, I could have used some of those boxes reminding me of what each character’s powers are (like Geoff Johns and company did when they reintroduced the team in Action Comics), but other than that I was right on board and that’s mostly because DnA included a new character who offers folks like me a window into this wild world.

If you’re curious about Legion Lost, I’d say give it a shot, but go in knowing a few things. One, it’s a fairly wordy book. Those are good, well thought out words, but there’s still a lot of them. Two, you won’t need to know anything about the Legion going in, what you need to know is on the page eventually. Three, you get to see some awesome Olivier Coipel and Pascal Alixe art that captures the dark mood of the story.

Trade Post: Question Epitaph For A Hero, Trials Of Shazam & Buffy Omnibus Vol. 4

THE QUESTION VOL. 3: EPITAPH FOR A HERO (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Denys Cowan
Collects Question #13-18
The Question’s one of those characters I never had much of an opinion about good, bad or indifferent. In the early 90s when I was coming up in comics, he wasn’t really around, which is surprising. You’d think he would have made some appearances in Batman or something, but I don’t really remember seeing him until years later. My first real exposure to him was in 52, which was fantastic and, of course, lead to his death. He was also really great in the JLU cartoon. The two of those were enough to get me interested in reading his series from the 80s. Luckily, DC started reprinting them a couple years back and now we’re up to six volumes at last count. I’ve read the first three and liked them all.

There’s an interesting subsection of DC comics from the 80s that were basically set in the real world or at least ignored the super hero aspects of the greater DCU. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow book was a lot like that and so was The Question. This volume includes the first meeting between those two versions of the characters. The stories are mostly one-offs with a political bent following the Question as he rights wrongs. What I like about the book is that it continually throws curve balls. The racist cop throws himself in front of a bullet. Green Arrow and Question don’t become buddy buddy right away. They’re not huge twists, but enough to keep the story flowing and interesting. Cowan’s art might be considered sloppy, but I think it’s got a strange energy that actually lends itself to the types of stories O’Neil tells. Personally, I’d rather see him using the style he did on Hardware, but, like I said, it works. I recommend giving the first installment of this series a look if you’re interested in more grounded mystery adventure comics with something to say without drowning you in it.

THE TRIALS OF SHAZAM VOL. 1 & 2 (DC)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Howard Porter and Mauro Cascioli
Collects Brave New World 1, The Trials Of Shazam #1-6 and 7-12
Captain Marvel’s another character I’ve known about, but never really felt one way or the other. He was used incredibly well in Kingdom Come, I liked him in JLI and JSA, plus a few appearances here and there. The character has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years. Infinite Crisis rewrote the laws of magic in the DCU, the Wizard died, Mary Marvel went absolutely crazy and Billy had to take over as the Wizard. That meant that someone had to take over and the mantle fell to former Captain Marvel Jr. (or CM3 as he was called for a while) Freddy Freeman, which is where this maxi-series picks up. See, Freddy has to meet up with a series of gods–the ones who make up the name SHAZAM–go through trials and get those abilities.

Winick puts on a good story with Freeman starting off nervous about the whole thing and turning into a dog gone hero by the end. The problem is that the story’s a little long. It could have been cut down to 7 or 8 issues and been a lot tighter. Another negative thing about the book isn’t really its fault but DC’s and that’s that the character of Captain Marvel hasn’t really been used since the end of this book. I know he’s shown up a few times, but his supposed inclusion in Cry For Justice turned out to be a ruse. So, you finish reading this pretty great story, which is basically an origin story. And what’s the first thing you want to do after reading a character get set up like this? Read more of his adventures. Too bad there’s no where to turn. I’d like to see Freddy as Captain Marvel leading some kind of magic oriented team like the Shadowpact or some other concoction.

Art-wise, it’s an interesting affair. Howard Porter, whose style I loved in JLA, changed things up and it looks…I don’t really know how to describe it. Less crisp? JLA had the sharpness to it that I really liked, but this is a little sketchier. It’s not bad by any means, just not what you might be expecting from a Porter comic. He was replaced by Mauro Cascioli whose art I like, but goes from looking really awesome to really wooden sometimes from panel to panel. Overall, I liked the story and the art, but I won’t be keeping these books on my shelf.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER OMNIBUS VOL. 4 (Dark Horse)
Written and drawn by a bunch of folks
Collects Buffy #9-11, 13-15, 17-20, 50, Annual 99, Angel #1-3, Wizard 1/2, Lover’s Walk & Dark Horse Presents #141
Buffy fans who weren’t reading the Dark Horse comics back in the day while the show was on have no idea how good they’ve got it. Now, the comics flow directly from the show with Joss Whedon heading things up (at least that’s what they say) and, for the most part, are damn good. Back in the day, though, the comics weren’t so good. They weren’t bad, but they were saddled with keeping their stories set in earlier seasons so as not to interfere with or contradict the show. I bought those comics for two years and actually quit reading because of the main story in this Omnibus. It took a long time to tell, I couldn’t remember all the details and I was sick of reading about Buffy in high school when she was going off to college and having completely different adventures. I actually sold those books on eBay in past year or so.

The thing about these Omnibi is that they collect the stories in chronological order by season. It’s actually really interesting editor Scott Allie’s forwards in these books as he explains the thinking behind that and how the stories inside came to be. All that being said, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reading this volume and got through all 368 pages in one night. The main story is called Bad Blood and features am image-obsessed vamp from an earlier comic appearance coming back and forcing a doctor to use science and magic to create a new kind of blood that made super-vampires. Reading it all together was a much more satisfying experience, but I also found a nostalgia going back and reading adventures set in Buffy’s high school, as those have turned out to be my favorite seasons.

The rest of the book has short stories here and there. I probably shouldn’t have tried to read the whole thing in one setting because the stories have a definite rhythm that gets really repetitive when you read them in a row. If you’re a Buffy fan, these are good books to pick up, but I would imagine you already have. If you’re not a Buffy fan, well, I don’t think this book will make you one.