This Week’s Winners

Blackest Night is the best DC event since, well, ever. Infinite Crisis was too convoluted to be enjoyable but Geoff Johns excels at the kind of straight forward storytelling approach that is an unfortunate rarity in comics today. Even the few mini-series tying in to Blackest Night, such as those involving Superman and Batman are enjoyable. It is with the former that James Robinson is doing some great work. Far greater than his Cry For Justice mini-series, Blackest Night: Superman #2 (of 3) is by Robinson and artist Eddy Barrows. It begins with a few pleasant scenes in Smallville, and you just know that’s not going to last long. Soon, Superman and Superboy team up to fight another risen from the dead character – the Superman of Earth 2, Kal-L. The black power rings that reanimate and corrupt dead heroes, villains and supporting characters from DC’s storied past is a great way to get around the whole “revolving door deaths” of superhero stories, and it works well here, with a menace that has been seen in every Blackest Night tie-in. Psycho Pirate inflicts his emotions on Smallville’s helpless citizens, while the three “Supers” battle above. Then a teary Supergirl shows up and is hopeful yet horrified to see her recently killed father standing before her as a grinning skeleton. It ends with the also risen Lois Lane of Earth 2 hunting Martha Kent through a cornfield and ends on a page that is funnier than it’s supposed to be, with the elderly Martha doing her best action hero portrayal.

Robinson and Barrows work well together. Barrows in particular makes the most of the darkness in the tale and makes everyone look frightening. Well, everyone except Martha Kent. He also shows superb control of page design in the many fighting/chasing scenes, adding to the desperation for survival.

The New Avengers #57 is another pitch perfect Brian Michael Bendis tale. He’s essentially Marvel’s version of Geoff Johns – a popular writer who respects the past but is creating the future. With The New Avengers he doesn’t let himself get too talky, but gets straight to the nuts and bolts of superhero shenanigans. The handy intro page in each issue is a worthy addition, as the cast of characters grows every month, but Bendis makes it work. He gives each character their own voice (Spidey’s wit, Luke Cage’s toughness, Norman Osborn’s arrogance). There’s more spandex wearers fighting each other in the streets than Civil War but with Stuart Immonen’s grand and fluid pencils on display it all looks so elegant and dramatic. The New Avengers are powerless, as are their enemies Osborn’s Dark Avengers, all thanks to some renegade baddies with a high-tech gizmo that takes powers away. Everyone is desperate for victory and Osborn makes a deal to ensure he gets his, as does Luke Cage. Every time I read this series, I wish JLA could be this good.

Secret Origin #1 CvrSuperman: Secret Origin #1 is the premiere ish of a new 6 part series re-telling Superman’s origin. What, again, I hear you ask. Yes, that’s what I thought to. I mean, Mark Waid’s Birthright did the same thing not that long ago, and John Byrne’s Man of Steel did it before that. However, a lot has changed in the DCU since Byrne’s bold 1986 series that reintroduced Superman after Crisis on Infinite Earths that changed everything in its wake. Geoff Johns proves me wrong in the first few pages. Where the 12 issue Birthright got it wrong was that it took too long to get to the juicy parts. Johns knows that we are all very familiar with Superman’s origin after 80 years, so he hits the ground running. This debut ish begins with young Clark Kent discovering that he’s different when he accidentally breaks his friend Pete Ross’ arm, and expels heat from his pupils after his first kiss with Lana Lang. Then his parents give him the talk and show him the rocket he arrived in. Clark’s upset when he sees it and activates a holographic message by his Kryptonian parents. Johns continues to wear his love affair with the Silver Age on his sleeve, and keeps most of what readers of Superman comics from the 1950s and 60s would be aware of, but also puts a contemporary spin on it. There’s nods to Braniac and Doomsday, and even Smallville, with Clark meeting Lex as a child, and his rescue of Lana from a tornado. Jor-El and Lara look like their versions from Johns’ recent Last Son storyline and artist Gary Frank is proving himslef to be the premiere Superman artist these days. The last page in which Clark puts on the Superboy costume for the first time truly reveals Frank’s grasp of pre-teen awkwardness and was a pleasant surprise. It appears as though Johns is going to rocket through this origin tale in only 6 issues and I’m glad.

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This Week’s Winners

Sweet Tooth #1 CoverJeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth#1. Worth much more than the $1 cover price, this debut ish from Vertigo is equal amounts enchanting and intriguing. Writer/artist Lemire mentions in the On The Ledge column that a friend of his described it as “Bambi meets Mad Max.” That’s not a bad way of putting it, though it’s still too early to see those references yet. Lemire is one of the new wave of indie creators making a splash and getting noticed. His Essex County trilogy from Top Shelf chronicled various inhabitants of a small town with great realism and warmth. He brings that same edge to Sweet Tooth, but with more fantasy than his usual work. We are introduced to Gus, a boy with antlers living with his dying father. Gus has never left his home and the area around it and knows no-one but his ailing Dad. Gus is one of the last few human/animal hybrids who came into existence after a mysterious pandemic 10 years ago. This is an ongoing series and Lemire has plenty of time to build upon this premise. It hooked me more than I thought it would. Lemire’s art seems slightly more refined here. The thick, black sketchy style of his previous work is still obvious, but there are rare places where faces appear odd. Jose Villarrubia’s colours sit slightly uneasily, but maybe that’s because I’m not used to seeing Lemire’s work in colour. There’s also a 7 page preview of October’s Peter and Max Fables novel from Bill Willingham. Sweet Tooth, like The Unwritten before it is yet another bold move from Vertigo, and Lemire is conducting a unique promo for the series.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #3. There’s still a few issues with this series, namely writer James Robinson’s occasional missteps with out of character dialogue, particulary with Hal Jordan, but with the build up towards the team’s formation, and the big reveal of the baddie, ie, Prometheus, it ticks a few boxes. Prometheus was always one of the great JLA baddies when Grant Morrison reinvigorated the JLA over a decade ago. Mauro Cascioli’s art is splendid and his ferocious depictions of action, such as Starman’s and Congorilla’s aerial assault are the highlights. Robinson’s extra pages on the origin of Prometheus and why he chose the “anti-Batman” give fanboys great insights too.

Star Wars: Invasion #3 CoverStar Wars: Invasion #3. The thing that’s immediately apparent from this new SW mini-series is Colin Wilson’s art. It’s the kind that you don’t really see in mainstream American comics, and it fits with the high drama and action of Star Wars beautifully. Tom Taylor keeps things fresh, knowing that it’s probably a mix of fans of the New Jedi Order series of novels and people who want to see Luke Skywalker do his thing again that are reading this title. Anyone who has read the books in which the alien species known as Yuuzhan Vong come to conquer will be relieved that they translate so well to sequential art. Taylor gives enough info about the Vong for curious readers, and starts to make serious strides in showcasing the menace of the creepy race. Plus, in the few pages that reveal Skywalker’s relationship with the apprentice Finn Galfridian, Taylor lays hints that he’s going slightly beyond the typical SW mentor/protege arc that we’ve seen many times before. Hopefully the characters shown here will continue in some form with Dark Horse after Invasion wraps.

SW: Invasion #3

Cry For Batman’s Justice

I haven’t been this excited about the Justice League for literally, years. I have virtually every issue of JLA since Grant Morrison and Howard Porter breathed new life in to the characters back in 1996. Morrison got the JLA. He brought brash, epic storytelling that matched the heroic icons represented by the League. After he left, it was OK, with a few high notes thanks to Mark Waid, Joe Kelly and Brad Meltzer, but the last 2 or 3 years I’ve really only been buying the title because the completist inside me feels compelled to do so.

Cry For Justice #1

However, James Robinson is now writing the League and it’s time to get excited once more. This is the best League since Morrison. Cry For Justice is a 7 issue mini-series that effectively stars a new JLA. Headlined by a disenchanted Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and a mish-mash of DC superheroes, this is no longer the JLA-lite we’ve had in the last year or two. This is the JLA with espresso in their veins. What’s most intriguing is the line-up. When it was first revealed it was somewhat perplexing. Hal and Green Arrow make sense, as does Ray Palmer (The Atom), but Batwoman, Congorilla and Mikaal Tomas (Starman)? They’re odd choices, but as Robinson describes in the 5 page regular feature, that’s what he wanted. The mix of new and old, or old made new, heroes, such as Freddy Freeman as the new Captain Marvel means that the interplay will be as exciting as the villain bashing. Robinson also uses the extra pages to give brief backgrounds for the roster and his buddy Len Wein writes a 2 page Congorilla origin (a hunter who had his mind transferred to a golden gorilla-that’s either cool or laughable).

Being a first issue, it’s all set up, with the opening pages dedicated to a fed up Hal confronting his JLA team-mates in the orbital Watchtower, while his pal Ollie also tags along for the justice serving adventures. The rest of the story shows glimpses of the rest of the new team as they cope with recent losses and find a burning desire for proactive justice. Robinson’s comfort with these characters is superb. Hal and Ollie’s dialogue is just like two old friends, and having written Starman for years, he knows the blue-hued alien Mikaal Tomas well too.

Batman and Robin #2Mauro Cascioli wowed many with his painted art on the Trials of Shazam mini that moved Freddy Freeman to drop the Junior from his Captain Marvel moniker. These pages are lush and realistic, not in an Alex Ross way, but with texture and tone and superb backgrounds. These characters look foreboding and heroic and scary. Thank you Robinson and Cascioli for giving the JLA CPR. It is for DC fans, but Robinson also knows that some of these heroes are more familiar than others and doesn’t act on assumed knowledge. This is going to be an exciting series and thankfully, once it’s over Robinson will be taking his skills, and possibly his new crew, on to the ongoing JLA series.

Batman and Robin #2 is just as good as the first issue. Some may find the circus talk frustrating, but Morrison shows Alfred’s concern for Dick, Dick’s frustration with Damian as his new Robin, and his weariness about being the new Batman very well. He also wisely brings up the idea of the Gotham cops, including Commissioner Gordon, knowing that this Dynamic Duo is not the old Dynamic Duo. Frank Quitely draws action scenes of such fluid motion you’ll feel like you’re watching a John Woo film. Little touches like Dick hating the cape as it makes him “way off balance,” and Alfred encouraging Dick to treat his new cowled role as exactly that, like a part in a play remind us that Morrison knows how to handle realism just as well as freaky villains and life and death scenarios.

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Superman #686 Review

superman_686I picked this up on a whim last week and have only now forced myself to read it. I’m glad I did. I followed Superman for years after his Death in 1992-93, which brought me firmly into comics. Then I gave up on his books, only following his latest adventures in JLA or Superman/Batman. Then Geoff Johns did wonders with the character, specifically with his re-introduction of Braniac. Now Superman is leaving earth, and his own title. Or titles. As of this issue, Superman will not be appearing in his titular series, or in Action Comics. He’ll be replaced in the latter by the new crimefighting team of Flamebird and Nightwing, and in this issue we learn who’ll become the new “Superman.” Or Supermen. As was the case in the awesome World Without A Superman storyline that lasted almost a year after his death, DC proved just how strong his supporting cast is, and do so again here. As Supes makes a new home on New Krypton, he’s filled in by Mon-El, his similarly powered hero, and returning heroes The Guardian and Steel, who both played  a big part after Supes’ death. Supes appears in flashback cameos as he says his farewells and goes on his recruitment drive. Mon-El gets a secret identity, in Jonathan Kent, taking the name of Clark’s recently deceased father, and beats up on female baddie Rampage, while realising he’s got a lot to learn about superheroics. It’s awesome to see Steel and Guardian back, if purely for sentimental reasons. John Henry Irons is a great character and held his own series for years, but hasn’t been much of a player in the DCU lately.

Writer James Robinson knows these characters, though unfortunately Superman’s goodbyes to his long-time friends seem rushed. There is a lot to set up here however in this bold new direction. Renato Guedes’ art is as gorgeous as I’ve come to expect. The Mon-El/Rampage battling free-fall double page spread is rendered exquisitely and David Curiel’s washed out colours compliment the bright skies and cityscapes perfectly. 

I had my doubts that Superman’s absence could continue the strength of this title, but so far things are looking up. For newbies, this is the place to start. It’s a great new beginning for a trio of heroes, as well as readers who haven’t visited Metropolis in a while.

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