The High Five Podcast Episode 32 – Spooky Brave & The Bold Team-Ups

On this week’s episode, I went through years’ worth of Bronze Age Brave And The Bold Batman team-ups to come up with a list of fun, Halloween-themed issues. If you’re looking to follow along, you can check them all out on the DC Universe app or the first two volumes of Batman In The Brave And The Bold The Bronze Age.

As always, you can email me at high5tj at gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

I found myself with another pile of trades from the library recently and figured I’d write about all four of them. Two of the experiences were great, the others? Not so much. Let’s start with the good!

sensation comics vol 1I’m a big proponent of anthologies in comics. At their best, they’re a great way to both test new talent and also give those with a lot more experience the chance to write or draw a character they don’t otherwise get to spend much time with. Sensation Comics Volume 1 does both and to great effect. This is one of DC’s digital-first books that allows creators to just go wild telling whatever kind of Wonder Woman story they want to from any of her many eras. It was nice to see the pre-New 52 costume so many times for this fan of that bygone era! Continue reading DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

Trade Post: Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against The Dark

demon knights vol 1 seven against the dark Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against The Dark (DC)
Written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Diogenes Neves, Michael Choi & Robson Rocha
Collects Demon Knights #1-7

I tried unsuccessfully to start this review with an extended metaphor comparing DC’s New 52 initiative to dealing a deck of cards. It didn’t work out so well, but there is one aspect that I will stick with: Demon Knights is a nice shuffling of characters from different eras dealt together in a new context that play well together. In a lot of ways, this Paul Cornell book is what I was hoping for from more of these New 52 books, fresh takes on old characters that remain true to the characters while not relying on old continuity to tell tales.

And that’s basically what you get with Demon Knights, a book that finds known characters like Vandal Savage, Madame Xanadu, Jason Blood/Etrigan The Demon and Shining Knight along with newbies The Horsewoman, Al Jabr and Exoristos all hanging out in a town under attack from The Questing Queen (who I assumed was Morgaine La Fey) and Mordru in the middle ages. For various reasons, all seven stick around and decide to fight against the overwhelming odds set against them.

Cornell did some wonderful things with this book. Not only does it meet the rubric I mentioned above, but it also does such a good job of introducing all of these characters, balancing their various stories and also telling a tale in seven issues that feels complete while also leading into something else. So many of the New 52 books I read feel like stepping stones or incomplete stories which isn’t bad in and of itself when you’re dealing with monthly comics, but you can’t ignore the fact that so many of these books had creative shake-ups and what not. It’s nice to feel satisfied with a story that also works as a larger chapter.

On a similar level, the book works kind of like something along the lines of JLU or one of the other animated adaptations of these larger comic book universes in that it takes elements I’m familiar with and does different things with them that work because they’re in a completely different setting. I’ve read Jack Kirby’s Demon and then Matt Wagner’s mini, a number of various Savage appearances, Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers and also knew enough to figure out who Exoristos was pretty easily. That familiarity didn’t hinder my reading of this, but also wasn’t necessary to enjoy the comic.

Also, while the Seven Samurai-ish set-up of this story isn’t the most unique thing in the world, this comic does something that a movie like 13 Assassins doesn’t in that you learn about the characters as the threat looms, not ahead of time. When you’re watching a “let’s hire assassins” movie in that case or “let’s band together to fight dragons” comics, you kind of want to get right into the action. Cornell does that while also taking a few tangents to get more into characters like Shining Knight and Horsewoman before swerving back around to the big time action.

Artists Neves and Choi also came together to tell a really dramatic, big cool story packed with swords, fire, demons, dragons, robot dragons and priests getting their faces burned off. So much goes on and their kinetic, but clear styles really work well with the material.

All in all, I’m happy to keep this book in my collection. I’d like to get the other books before the series got cancelled and will at some point, but unlike so many other trades I read, I’m not worried about whether the rest of the series will “ruin” how I feel about this one because it stands so well on its own.

Matt Wagner DC Trade Post: Trinity & The Demon

trinity wagner Trinity (DC)
Written & drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Trinity #1-3

I’ll get into it in more detail when I review the two Mage books, but I will say that Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered had a huge impact on me after scoring most of the issues while interning at Wizard. I recently came into a pair of different Wagner-created books that both happened to be from DC Comics and figured they’d made for a good Trade Post.

In the pages of Trinity, Wagner takes an early look at Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. In this incarnation of the DCU, Bats and Supes have been on the scene for a little while, but we see Diana meeting them both for the first time. Instead of going the tired old route of teaming Lex Luthor up with the Joker as you might expect from something like this, the story instead revolves around Ra’s al Ghul hatching a plot to nuke the world into a more natural state of existence. To do this, he’s enlisted the help of Bizarro and Artemis — a teen Amazon from a desert tribe with a general mad-on for the world.

What I like about this book so much is that it not only tells a pretty epic story, but also really seems to get what makes all three icons tick. A lot of times a writer will understand one or two, but not all three and you can tell, but Wagner’s in the headspace of all three, literally, as we see plenty of dialog boxes explaining their thoughts. The nice thing about these mental boxes is that, unlike some writers, Wagner doesn’t use them to just reiterate what’s going on or give pointless information, he’s instead giving you the important thoughts going through their heads, adding nice layers to the story instead of just more words.

Artistically speaking, it’s fun seeing Wagner draw these characters. He’s known for his creator-owned characters like Mage and Grendel, dipping into the DC pool a few times here and there — gotta get my hands on his Batman books — so it’s cool seeing him draw these big, bold, colorful characters with an almost animated style. He does a lot with a few lines and I’m a big fan of that economy of style. He also works well with shadow, darkness and negative space that’s reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work, but can also be seen in Mage.

I feel like Wagner’s Trinity would be a great book to hand someone who’s interested in getting into superhero comics, either with no experience or coming from an indie POV. It’s got three of the most recognizable characters around going on a cool adventure against formidable foes that they might be less familiar with, but still offer the heroes plenty of opportunities to show what they can do and who they are.

Demon 1 Wagner The Demon #1-4
Written & drawn by Matt Wagner

Obviously, this one’s not technically a trade, but I can’t resist a good theme post. By 1987 Wagner had finished up the first round of Mage stories and started work on Grendel. He had apparently made enough of a name for himself to get the attention of DC where he wound up writing a four issue miniseries based on Jack Kirby’s Demon character also known as Etrigan. I did a little looking around online and discovered that aside from a few appearances here and there, including arcs in Detective Comics and Swamp Thing, the character wasn’t used much after Kirby’s initial series ended. 

I’m glad I read the Jack Kirby Demon Omnibus before  this because it both picks up a lot of those threads and also takes a completely different look at the character as presented by The King. Kirby’s Demon is a kind of bright, bold, almost fun look at demonic possession with some melodrama thrown in, but Wagner’s is a much darker, harder take on the idea of a regular guy unwillingly attached to a demonic entity. In fact, that’s what the whole story is about: Jason Blood and his lady Glenda trying to figure out a way to separate the two entities. Along the way, we wind up learning more about Etrigan, Jason Blood and the demon Belial. 

Wagner’s art style is also super different from Kirby’s. You most likely have a pretty good idea of what the King’s art looks like, well Wagner’s is the exact opposite. Instead of hulking creatures, this mini features more sinewy and creepy bad guys. There’s a more lithe, acrobatic quality to the figures and action than a street fighter one. The pencils, while still minimal-in-a-good-way, look a lot more like his work on Mage: The Hero Discovered than the ones on display almost two decades later on Trinity.  

There is one thing about this book that kind of got on my nerves, though. There’s a narrative device used throughout where someone or something is telling the story while snickering AND torturing an old man whose identity isn’t very surprising if you’ve read any Demon comics. Anyway, this narration got a little old pretty quickly. I think that might have been more a product of reading all four issues fairly quickly instead of monthly as they were originally intended, but there you have it. 

I’d love to see this story get a proper reprint with new coloring and whatnot, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be keeping my issues and maybe getting them bound along with the Garth Ennis run of Demon I’m trying to put together. 

Jack Kirby Trade Post: Silver Star & The Demon

silver star jack kirbySilver Star (Pacific Comics/Image Comics)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects Silver Star #1-6

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me tweet about a stack of books I want to finally finish in this new year. Some I started in the waning months of 2012 while others, like the two reviewed in this post, have been in the works for longer. I actually got my first copy of Image’s reprinting of Jack Kirby’s Pacific Comics miniseries Silver Star while working at Wizard. I had yet to really discover Kirby’s genius at that point and wound up swapping it or passing it along to someone else. After reading the Fourth World stuff, though, I was converted. In a strange bit of timing, I actually finalized a swap for the volume on January 19th, 2011 and finished reading it on that same day in 2013. Weird, right?

Speaking of weird, that word perfectly describes Silver Star. Man, this is one wacky book. The basic plot, as much as there is one directly expressed in the story, is that a doctor introduced his “genetic package” to some pregnant women (this is not a euphemism, by the way) who eventually had babies referred to as Homo-Geneticus, essentially super humans. Silver Star, the lead, discovered his abilities while fighting in Vietnam (called Viet Nam throughout the story). He can basically control atoms and also traverse various dimensions or something. Some of the H-Gs have the same powers while others utilize them to be super strong, grow to immense sizes or become indestructible. Darius Drumm, the bad guy, has the same basic abilities as Star, but, well he’s bad, the product of a crazy abusive father who was a quasi-religious leader.

The reason it took me two years and several attempts to read this book from front to back, though, is because it’s kind of a mess. Not on the art side of things, of course, Kirby still kills it drawing everything from rocks that turn into dragons and scenes from Viet Nam to gigantic carousels and a group of new costumes. (I will say that I prefer the issues inked and lettered by Mike Royer over the latter ones by D. Bruce Berry who just doesn’t match the thick lines or deep blacks I associate with Kirby’s artwork.) The problem is how much the story jumps around. Star and his fellow H-Gs can teleport, which seems like as much of a power as a way to rush the story along. It’s not uncommon to see the focus characters and setting switch from one panel in the middle of the page to the next. At its base, the story is just plain old hard to follow.

At the end of the day, Silver Star just doesn’t feel like a complete story and I’m guessing that’s because it was originally a screenplay. The full treatment and additional materials are actually reprinted in the back of this collection, though I haven’t made time to read more than the intro just yet. Reading Silver Star is kind of like talking to someone whose been having the conversation with you in their head for about 30 longer than its been going on in real life. They’re going on and on like you’ve got some basic knowledge that you don’t while you’re just trying to keep up with everything being thrown at you. I’m all for taking off at a sprint and letting the reader eventually catch up, but there has to be a time at some point in the story for that to actually happen. I didn’t see that with Silver Star.  Still, I’m going to keep this one in my collection this time if for no other reason than to stare at Kirby completely unleashed in all his creative glory.

jack kirby demon omnibusJack Kirby’s The Demon (DC)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects The Demon #1-16

The Demon doesn’t suffer from that same stream of conscious type storytelling that Silver Star does, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easier read. I’ve been starting and stopping this one for most of 2012 if not longer. I hate to say it, but I found the first half of this book to be pretty boring. Much of that feeling comes from my existing biases and experiences, things that I would not have had if I was reading this book when it came out. For instance, I hate the character of Morgan La Fey thanks to John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman. I don’t really remember why, but every time that character shows up in a DC comic, I let out an audible “Ugh.” I also wasn’t super interested in watching Etrigan face off against random witches and monsters. I think this was partially because they weren’t super interesting (aside from visually) but also because I wasn’t really sure what the Demon could do and not do. I know this was a book created in a more fly by the seat of your pants days, but I could not understand why this supposedly super powerful demon was having trouble fighting a witch.

And then, at around the halfway point, Kirby essnetially decided to just make the book “The Demon versus Universal Monsters.” The Demon faces off against a wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera (in a THREE PARTER), Frankenstein’s monster and the like. At first I was bored by these stories too, especially because I just watched a lot of these movies this year, but then I thought about it and posed the following question to myself: Would you like to read a Kirby adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera? When the answer was a clear “yes” I accepted what I was given and enjoyed it all the more.

What also helped me start liking this book is that it’s not really like any other Demon comic or guest appearance I’ve read. Instead of running around the DCU and popping up wherever something weird is going on, Jason Blood actually lives in Gotham and has a pretty swank apartment filled with all kinds of awesome things for Kirby to draw (I stared at a desk in one panel as much as I did a double page spread of Blood’s armory). But he’s also got a supporting cast in the mystic Randu, regular guy Harry who loves a good one-liner as much as he loves a party and Blood’s love interest Glenda. I actually found myself enjoying the non-Demon moments of this book more than the others because I’ve seen a lot of what goes on on the page in various forms before.

The problem I seem to have every time I open a Jack Kirby book is that reading some of these comics is like watching a beautiful film by Akira Kurosawa, but with the cast of your average Disney live action show doing voiceovers. It looks amazing, but the dialog leaves much to be desired. I think these are the kinds of things that could have been easier overlooked in a monthly format, but reading through issue after issue just makes Kirby’s lack of grace with the written word all the more clear.

And that’s really what it is, a lack of grace. Kirby’s not a terrible dialog writer — there are some great conversations and jokes in these pages — but he lacks subtlety and it often reads like he didn’t give the words as much thought as the beautiful artwork. And, again, like above and every other thing I’ve seen from The King from the 70s and on, Jack can draw. He can draw expressions as well as witches with horrid faces. His style is just so damn cool and intricate that I can’t help by stare deep into some of these pages. And that’s where some of the frustration comes, it looks so good you want the words to match that level of quality.

TJ’s Toy Chest: Action League Demon & Knight Batman

I don’t buy a lot of toys anymore, mostly DC Universe Classics figures and little odds and ends here and there. But I’m always looking down the toy aisles at places like Target and Walmart, hit up Toys R Us whenever I’m near one and always check out places like Marshalls and TJ Maxx because they get some interesting discount stuff every now and then. Right before Christmas, I spied this 2-pack of Batman: Brave And The Bold Action League with Jack Kirby’s Demon and a knight version of Batman for a measly five bucks. Super score!

Well, since it was before Christmas, the missus wound up slipping the 2-pack into my stocking, so I had to wait until Christmas to actually get my hands on them, but I think it was worth the wait. I love the Demon figure. These little, 2-inch-or-so figures have five points of articulation at the shoulders, thighs and neck are already pretty posed, so you can’t do a lot with them there, but I think they look pretty fantastic on my shelf with other little toys. To be completely clear, I didn’t care much about the Batman figure, but even he’s pretty cool. The design is fun and the color scheme is outside the box when it comes to Batman. I’m not sure if these characters appeared on the cartoon–which I love but haven’t seen every episode of–but I’m always interested in seeing how Jack Kirby’s characters get interpreted (remember that cute lil’ Demon episode of JLU?).

Anyway, these little figures are a lot of fun and seem like a good gateway to get little kids enjoying the Batman and DC universes, much like Hasbro/Marvel’s Super Hero Squad toys. I’m all for that. The early they know about these characters and start getting interested in them, the better for the characters in all their forms.