New 52 Team Trade Post: Stormwatch & Suicide Squad Volume 1

Stormwatch Volume 1: The Dark Side (DC)
Written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Miguel Sepulveda & Al Barrionuevo
Collects Stormwatch #1-6

I read through about half of DC’s New 52 #1 issues a while back, but it’s hard to judge an entire series based on just one issue, so I was pretty jazzed when I got my hands on some of the trades. One of the books I was most curious about was Paul Cornell’s Stormwatch, which I had read none of. On one hand, I’ve liked Cornell’s work in the past and on the other, I’m a big Wildstorm fan and was curious to see how some of those characters and concepts were integrated into this new DCU. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The tricky thing about doing anything with the Stormwatch and Authority characters is that Warren Ellis put such a stamp on them. He added a seriousness and a weirdness to the proceedings of these characters (and created half of them) that you really can’t separate them from him. Heck, most writers who tackled the team after Ellis left did their best, but it was difficult to pull off. I think Cornell did a pretty great job of playing in that same kind of sandbox, but making it more of a solid superhero story that, as far as I know, works well within the framework of a bigger superhero universe.

The basic idea with this team is that they deal with the dirtier and darker problems that the JLA can’t or won’t deal with. The series picks up with the team — which very smartly includes Martian Manhunter — trying to recruit Apollo and Midnighter and deal with a world-threatening bad guy. It’s a cool, fun and weird superhero story that throws out some rad ideas (I like how Jack Hawksmoor talks to the personifications of cities) and includes some rad action that sets up a larger story, something that works very well for an episodic adventure like this. I also dug Miguel Sepulveda’s artwork which suits the darkness and the superheroics both quite well.

I’m curious about the rest of this series, but right after this collection, the writer changes twice. Paul Jenkins, a writer I’m not wild about, comes on and is soon followed up by Peter Milligan. Did anyone read those issues? Does it flow well? Does it continue to pay off the promise of the sixth issue? Let me know in the comments.

Suicide Squad Volume 1: Kicked In The Teeth (DC)
Written by Adam Glass, drawn by Federico Dallocchio & Clayton Henry
Collects Suicide Squad #1-7

Suicide Squad is a concept I dig in general, criminals being used on missions instead of rotting or dying in prison. I liked it the first time I saw it in The Dirty Dozen (such a great movie) and every time I encountered them in comics. So, this was another book I was primed to like. I think this one caught some flack, didn’t it? I can’t remember, but it’s definitely a darker and dirtier book, something I dug because you don’t need every comic to be on the same wavelength. In fact, I give DC a lot of credit for casting as wide a net as possible when it came to tone and themes with the New 52 books.

Anyway, the New 52 version of the Suicide Squad includes Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Black Spider. They’re sent by Amanda Waller to take care of the smaller, dirtier missions that even Stormwatch isn’t paying attention to. The thing I liked most about this book is how fast it moves. They literally go from one mission to another as quickly as possible. Writer Adam Glass also doesn’t drag things out to six issues when he can do shorter ones, which I really appreciate.

This book covers all kinds of bases, from zombies to heroes-on-the-run and lots in between, plus the fun of seeing some of the weirder, smaller characters pop up (Mad Dog!). Because it’s a new team and a new universe, you really don’t know who’s going to make it out alive from issue to issue or who’s going to try and turn on the others, so it makes for an exciting ride. My one gripe with this series is the inconsistency of the artwork. It changes by page sometimes which is a real bummer, especially because some of the guys don’t hold up as well as others. Worse yet, some art styles look cartoony while others look darker, so it kind of throws you out of the story a bit.

One more thing I want to say about these trades in general is that I like how consistent the trade dress is. I know that might sound goofy, but it’s something I pay attention to, especially as I look at my trades on the shelf. I like consistency. So far, all the trades I’ve seen have that bar across the bottom front cover displaying the creative team, but then the spines all have the same font and are separated by color bands at the top that I believe denote which sub-section of the new DCU they belong to. Kudos on that.

The Box: Detective Comics #662, Suicide Squad #35 & Magnus Robot Fighter #21

In a somewhat shocking revelation, I actually liked all three of the random comics I grabbed out of The Box for this week’s post. It helped that two of them were comics I purchased at a convention in the last few years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading, but it’s still nice to know that randomness can be a good thing.

First up, I checked out 1993’s Detective Comics #662 written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan. This issues happens to be the eight installment in the Knightfall storyline that would eventually see Batman with his back shattered. I’ve said before on this blog that Superman’s death is what got me hooked on comics, but once I was in, the breaking of Batman helped keep me there and broadened my reading habits. I don’t exactly remember where I came in on this story, but it was after this issue because I didn’t already have it. It got me thinking of how shocking the end of this story must have been to people reading the event as it happened. Sure, Batman had been in some tough spots before, but he always made it out okay, that would happen again this time, right?

Nope. Anyway, this particular issue finds an exhausted Batman fighting Firefly at the zoo while Robin stops one of Riddler’s plots. This particular issue doesn’t do a great job of explaining what all is happening though, that Bane released all these criminals and has set them loose on Gotham with Batman trying to bring them all back in. You get the gist here and there and at the end, but if this was a Valiant or Crossgen crossover I wasn’t familiar with, I’d have been lost. Reading this issue made me want to get those new Knightfall paperbacks that came out recently as I realized I’ve never read the whole story from beginning to end as I just jumped in whenever I started reading.

Up next I pulled out another DC Comics, this one Suicide Squad #35 from 1989 by the creative team of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. This was interesting time as I’d just finished reading the first arc of the series in trade paperback form a few weeks prior. As I mentioned in that post, I’d read a number of the issues when my pal Ben lent them to me, but can’t really remember how far I got. I’m not sure if I got up to this issue, but the adventure did seem a little familiar, so maybe I did.

Anyway, this one finds the Squad — a group of criminals who go on crazy missions to help alleviate their prison sentences — stranded on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips fighting the Female Furies and doing a much better job than they probably should have been able to do if you ask me.

The issue feels like the middle of a three parter as it’s pretty much one huge fight scene, but there’s still enough explained that I didn’t feel lost. Lashina had been abandoned on Earth in an earlier issue and basically joined the Squad, but still wanted her revenge for being left behind. The issue ended on a cliffhanger that made me wish even more that this whole series was collected in trade. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting issues like this one and read them all together down the line.

Lastly, I pulled out another issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, this one 1993’s #21 by John Ostrander and John Bock. Huh, just realized that I pulled out two Ostrander comics back to back. After reading Magnus #25 last week, I wasn’t super excited about reading this comic, but I went through with it and it was alright. Much like last time, I still don’t really know why Magnus fights robots, but the issues does have a dream sequence that recaps a lot of Magnus’ recent adventures (and contains lots of robot fighting).

There’s some presumably big reveals to people who had been reading the series for 2o issues before this one. For them, they might have been like “Holy crap!!!!” but I was like “Oh, okay.” That’s just how these things work. You’re not going to surprise a newbie with a revelation in the 21st issue, but you can do your best to set it up for them so they at least understand what’s being revealed and why it’s important. Ostrander did that here and that’s all I can really ask for.

Oh, also, Bock’s art is still awesome in this issue.

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.

Gail Simone Trade Post: Wonder Woman Contagion & Secret Six Danse Macabre

WONDER WOMAN: CONTAGION (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Nicola Scott, Aaron Lopresti, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagnino & Travis Moore
Collects Wonder Woman #40-44
Post Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman was one of the books that made me leery. I didn’t really care about Wonder Woman taking on the Diana Prince persona and becoming a government agent. Generally, I find the drive by some creators to go back the Silver Age, incomprehensible. The lateness of the book didn’t help either. But, I later went back and read those early Alan Heinberg issues in trade format and wound up really digging them. I would go on to enjoy Gail Simone’s run on the book as well though I’ve only posted about Rise Of The Olympians for some reason. Well, once news hit that JMS was taking over Wonder Woman, I was bummed because I thought DC had a good thing and might have been getting rid of Simone’s longterm plans for a story and costume that were immediately panned. I read the first few issues of that run and actually enjoyed them, but I got the feeling after reading Contagion, Simone’s last volume of WW (for now at least), that she was cut off a bit early.

This book feels a little all over the place. You’ve got elements from the previous volume, which I believe I’ve read, but didn’t blog about it and if I kept the trade it’s buried in a longbox in the closet because my shelf is full. So, I’m a bit lost as to what happened, why Etta Candy is in the hospital and what happened between Rise and this volume that they still haven’t found Genocide’s body (there’s a pretty big issue gap there). Those are just bits and pieces of the story though. The first two issues feature a giant snake god and bunch of little kids who have the ability to drive people crazy, including Power Girl who winds up throwing down with Diana. After that’s all figured out, a race of woman taken from various planets called The Citizenry has come to Earth to absorb its resources and take the 100 best and brightest women. Wonder Woman gets to show her stuff and, with the help of her allies, holds them back just in time for a nice group shot panel to end the book. In the end, the last issue felt like the end of an arc, not a run. Adding to that, the kind of Galactus and Storm Vs. Callisto for control of the Morlocks elements mean this one doesn’t feel like a swan song. Making matters worse, some of the artwork in the last few issues looks really bad. I’m not sure whose it is because there’s two or more artists working on the pages, but it seems like the pencils were rushed through to color without being inked. The result is some really unfinished pages that hold up like a kindergartner’s artwork compared to pros like Scott and Lopresti.

As a fan of the book, it’s a bittersweet collection because it completes my collection of this volume of Wonder Woman, but it’s not one that really wowed me or felt like a good conclusion. It’s not in Ex Machina territory where I’m still wondering whether I want to keep the entire series or not. Instead of feeling like a creator failing at the end, this one feels like the creator was not given the proper chance to close out a book she had been working on for quite a while.

SECRET SIX: DANSE MACABRE (DC)
Written by Gail Simone & John Ostrander, drawn by Jim Calafiore & Peter Nguyen
Collects Secret Six #15-18, Suicide Squad #67
After reading Simone’s last volume of Wonder Woman, I remembered I had a Secret Six trade in the to-read pile and figured they’d make a good pair for today’s Trade Post. Danse Macabre is an interesting collection because the first story was written by Ostrander and features Deadshot dealing with the death of Batman. It’s a great call-back issue to the writer’s run on Suicide Squad, which heavily featured Deadshot, but still fits pretty seamlessly into the world of Secret Six. From there the book has more of an 80s feel in that, while there is a definite arc collected, the elements flow into one another in a way that reminds me of Iron Man and Secret Six comics from back in the day. Black Alice, a magic-based character Simone created in her first run on Birds Of Prey, makes it known that she wants to join the team. Then we’re right into Blackest Night territory.

As regular readers will remember, I just finished reading the three main Blackest Night volumes, so the story is all pretty fresh in my mind. Partway through that series, DC announced an interesting idea: bringing some canceled series’ back from the dead. One of those was Suicide Squad and that issue is collected here because it’s less a one-shot for Suicide Squad fans or people super-into Blackest Night and more of a part of the regular Secret Six story. Seriously, Black Lanterns only appear in the beginning and very end of the issue. I can’t imagine how frustrated people must have been who were concerned about staying caught up on BN and got something that doesn’t really add to anything in that vein. It DOES add to the Secret Six story and is thus necessary to include in this volume.

Okay, back to the story. I think Simone did a pretty good job of including Blackest Night elements in her story. It really makes sense for this group to interact with dead heroes and villains because they’ve put more in the ground than anyone else. It’s also nice to see the Suicide Squad connection that’s running through the book as Amanda Waller sends them on a mission to distract the Six so she can attack Scandal back at the base. The story would be interesting on it’s own, but then you’ve got the looming threat of the Black Lanterns which adds another level of conflict and winds up throwing the Six and the Squad together at least for a bit. I even liked how Waller had an ace in the hole that wound up getting rid of the immediate threat of the Black Lanterns. Most of the tie-in books had something similar, but they usually relied on existing characters with light powers that wound up having no bearing on the larger story. Instead, Waller uses hers like a weapon, points it and blasts them to hell.

One problem I had with this book, and it has nothing to do with the story itself, is that I am completely confused about the Suicide Squad’s recent history. I dug Ostrander’s mini from a few years back and Waller’s appearances in Checkmate, but ever since Salvation Run, It’s been fuzzy in my mind (mostly because I didn’t read that book). I know Bane was on the team for a while as was Deadshot, but then they left or got thrown into that prison planet? It makes me want to go back and read Secret Six again going back to Villains United. Maybe it’ll be a project read down the road.