Return of the True Believer: Comic Reviews April

This week I’m officially announcing my reinstatement as a True Believer.  DC has forsaken its fanbase so that they can gain sales and write to new readers—something admirable in essence, but also something disappointing to longtime readers.  The further into their new 52, the worse I see their super hero comics getting.  With the exception of Green Lantern (which has been slow going, but finally returned to form), and the Batman books, only the horror books like Animal Man have really struck a strong chord of quality writing and illustration.  The others are seemingly struggling between exposition-heavy character reintroductions or action-heavy beat-em-ups that give little to no character development.

With that said, Marvel has outdone themselves lately.  The quality of storytelling and illustration coming from their Architects has truly grown their line in a way that I would not have thought possible just 5 years ago.  I’m reading Spider-Man again and loving it.  One More Day?  I don’t think so.  X-Men books?  You betcha!  And even the freakin’ Avengers have my nod.  To that I give you my top five picks of this week and why I think they deserve to be noticed amongst all the other dribble out there.

SPOILER ALERT!!

Number 5:
The Amazing Spider-Man # 684



Dan Slott gets it.  I’ve been saying that a lot lately.  Single-handedly he has been undoing and fixing the issues that really destroyed Peter Parker for me as a longtime fan.  In this third chapter we get not only more great characterization from Peter’s labmates at Horizon labs, but also more on the fact that Peter Parker is a scientific genius to be reckoned with.  Yeah, he and the Avengers got their asses handed to them by the Sinister Six, but he gets away and he gets the last laugh as Sandman becomes the first of Doc Ock’s pawns to go down.  This issue is everything you want—Spidey doing his science thing, hot ladies holding their own, giant evil plots, action-packed fun, and all the great Spidey one-liners you know you love, but hate to admit.  Toss in some high energy pencils by veteran and hyperstylized artist Humberto Ramos and you’ve got yourself a blockbuster event with your friendly neighborhood buddy leading the way.  Slott gets it.  And if you ever in your life ever loved Spider-Man for any amount of time, then I promise you that now is your time.  This is YOUR Spider-Man.  And the best part is that in every book he appears in, all the writers are onboard with the same approach to the character.  This Spidey is here to stay and so am I.

Number 4:

X-Factor  #234

Peter David has earned the title of the most reliable writer in the history of comic books for this book alone.  I have yet to pick up this book and be disappointed.  He can trade out artists and do crazy story arcs on werewolves or space aliens or just plain old street thugs and every issue is solid gold.  Let’s do a headcount of the misfists: The  joking Strong Guy; the angry and sexy M; Gay couple Rictor and his warrior boyfriend Shatterstar; cocky ladies’ man, Longshot; Sultry and emotionally unstable Siren; religiously tormented Wolfsbane; and the oddest couple of Layla Miller who knows stuff and the ever flawed Multiple Man, Jamie Madrox.  Madrox comes back from reality hopping while M tries to kill Layla for possibly bringing him back to life at the cost of his own soul.  There are hints dropped about an abysmal future while in the background a demon and a new villain have teamed up with murder on their minds.  This book reads like all your favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.  Quippy dialogue and great jokes coupled with really emotional character struggles bring this book to the forefront of my reading list.  It’s strong and adventurous in all the ways that I often wish modern comics would at least attempt.  I find myself actually caring about these characters like their my own friends and as unhealthy as that sounds—it’s actually a really solid plus in David’s corner as a great writer.  Keep it up, but seriously don’t kill off my friends.

Number 3:

New Mutants #41

 

I go back and forth with this issue in my comics, but I find that I’m drawn to team books with large casts rather than single character books.  The only problem with that notion is that team books are hard to write well and it gets harder to juggle multiple characters.  New Mutants on the other hand has proven to me that every now and then a good team book comes out swinging and never goes down.  This book has yet to disappoint me and I find that, like X-Factor, I really dig these characters as individuals and as members of a larger team.  This issue focuses on a one-and-done recovery after a near death experience with the evil Animator that killed Doug Ramsey once before.  Conqering their foe and making it back home has left the team weary, but the party hungry free-spirit that is Blink won’t have it.  It’s time to party!  The only action is a bar fight between a drunken Sunspot as he attempts to learn the “language of love” from Doug’s power of understanding all language.  The rest is humorous partying and really nice snipets of our team members as they show their true colors when they are not on the battlefield or being hated as mutants every day of their lives.  And that’s what makes this book so loveable!  We have our back and forth romances and our crazy moments filled with action and horror, but the core of this book is the fact that each of these characters could have stories written about them for hundreds of years while their best features really seem to glow in a team setting.  Even better is the absurdities that the team faces; be it a monstrous living parasite that has taken over an entire island or just the team’s paranoia as their teammate Magma goes on a date with the devil himself. The real heart of this book is the individual search for self in all of the cast members.  The sense of individuality and self worth constantly weighs on their shoulders at varying degrees in such a way that in all their humorous endeavors and violent battles there is always something deeper that lets the reader feel exactly as they are.  All of their quirky powers and traits blend so well together that I can’t stop smiling with each turn of the page—eager to see what happens next.  That’s how it’s done.  The combo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with artist David Lopez has brought me many great issues and I know that I’ll keep this one on my list as long as they keep delivering the goods.  Oh and they brought fan favorite Blink back.  ‘Nuff said!

Number 2:

Batman #8

I’m saying this a lot lately—Scott Snyder is the new Geoff Johns.  His mega story arc, Night of the Owls, is the proof as he has now rallied all the Batman writers to his cause and created one of the most horrifying and exciting stories for the Dark Knight in all of the character’s history.  This issue begins the fray right at home as the Court of Owls attacks Bruce and Alfred at home in a swarming frenzy while a defenseless Alfred must put out the call to all of the Bat family.  Like a brilliant kung-fu flick, Bruce takes on members of the Court one by one and all at once—touting to his fans just how badass the Batman really is.  What’s more interesting is that the incredible script writing is almost overshadowed by stellar performances by artists Greg Capullo and, one of my favorites, Raphael Albuquerque.  These two masters of darkness and shadows really create the ambiance that is necessary to make this epic feel visceral and scary in all the right ways.  It plays like a movie and the whole time you’re on the edge of your seat. This book sells itself.   I can’t tell you enough how good this series is and if you miss it then you really are missing out on a piece of history.  What these creators are doing with Batman will be talked about for decades to come.  Don’t miss out and when you do get to it, make sure you read it a few times—Snyder is a clever one and likes to hide things right under your nose.  Go get ‘em, detective…

Number 1

Wolverine and the X-Men #9

I have been waiting on this book for a long time.  The X-Men are back to their heart and really hitting all the right notes in this amazingly well-written and astoundingly well drawn series by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo.  This book is stylish, edgy, funny, epic, scary, heartfelt, smart, and downright fun on every level.  From the get-go, this book has won me over with the establishment of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.  We’ve already been attacked by the new Hellfire Club run by the devilish child, Kade Killgore.  The island the school rests on is alive.  Sabretooth tried to kill Beast and failed.  Did I mention that Angel thinks he’s a real angel, the reincarnated Apocalypse is attending the school as a student, a brood child is attending as well with an I.Q. higher than pretty much everyone else, Shadowcat got filled with Broodlings that made her think she was pregnant, and Quentin Quire—probably the most powerful telepath on the planet—is a complete and utter authority-hating tool bent on destroying both the school and building a reputation for himself as the greatest person ever.  This book is perfect and this particular issue captures the real threat of the Phoenix force on its way to Earth to take the teenage body of Hope Summers—the supposed mutant messiah.  Where the other X-books feel like a war story ready to culminate with harsh realities and violence, this book shows a genuine return to what made the X-Men so appealing in the 90’s.  There’s a particular scene after Captain America has confirmed with Beast over the Phoenix’s trajectory toward Earth where Shadowcat levels with Wolverine by asking him to tell her the truth.  The look on her face and the dialogue of “O My God.  It IS the Phoenix, isn’t it?” really sold the horror of the situation to me in a way that hasn’t really been captured in the other Avengers/X-Men books.  For those of us who remember the many times the Phoenix has entered the X-books, we know the destruction and death it brings—and so do the core members of the X-Men who were there each time.  Even Wolverine and Beast have a moment of last minute joking in order to avoid the possibility of sorrow concerning their very likely demise.  This book is impressive on all fronts and never ceases to amaze me on every level.  If you were ever a fan of X-Men and really wanted to get back to the fun and crazy times where the X-Men could have fun and still kick ass, then this is your book.

Why Comics Matter

People ask me all the time why I read comics.  Why I illustrate comics.  Why comics are important to such a strange and passionate subculture.  My answer is simple and can be applied to any artistic creation.  Every comic is a testament of life.  The lives of every person involved in its publication.  The writers.  The artists.  The editors.  The companies.  The time periods in which they were published.  The ethics and the values of those creators as they poured their passions and talents into a collaborative story.  Every comic from every age is packed full of legacy.  Lives that have gone praised and lives that are overlooked.  Inkers forgotten and writers immortalized.  It’s a medium that combines the best of two art forms into a versatile masterpiece for all avenues of viewers and readership.

In short, Comics are the product of the lives that created it from their very being—all for you, the reader, to enjoy and be affected by.

Comics are life.  So pay your respects to those who are gone and honor the ones who give their lives to their work today.  Because you are witnessing a historical documentation of their lives and the world around them.

Top 10 Marvel Books This DC Fan Loves


I’m often called out as a DC Elitist and to counter that I’ve put together a list of the top 10 Marvel books I read on a monthly basis.  Add to that the fact the number one book listed here is my favorite from the big two and hopefully the naysayers will see me differently.

10) Daredevil
I’ve always been a fan of the blind lawyer who moonlights as a devil against crime, but sometimes the devil just doesn’t get his due.  Over the past few years Daredevil has shifted into a moodier more brooding version of the character that almost rivals Batman in characterization.  Brian Michael Bendis took a different approach to DD by dousing him in hyper-realism and showcasing his talents in the courtroom over his skills as a vigilante.  Partnered with Alex Maleev, the two created a stellar run that crafted Matt Murdock into a noir styled ninja lawyer that could really take a beating.  After a brief stint possessed by a demon, the devil is back to his roots and showing the world what the man without fear is really like.  Mark Waid has taken the reigns of this iconic hero and has really brought a bright spark of life back into the book.  Daredevil is witty, fun, and fast-paced action that will keep you wanting more.  If you like crime drama or even just a good ol’ fashioned throw-down between ninjas, then this book is right up your alley.

 

9)Deadpool MAX

Oh Deadpool.  The poster child for Marvel is hard to miss these days.  He’s even gotten to be worse than Wolverine appearing in every book at once.  It’s hard for me to really enjoy the character these days when I remember Joe Kelly’s run where he wasn’t completely bat$%@! Insane, but merely questionably insane.  And yeah he talked a lot, but he never broke the fourth wall.  For some reason Marvel decided that Deadpool would do much better as DC’s Ambush Bug—a witty, hyperactive fourth wall breaker.  With that said, I thoroughly enjoy Deadpool MAX because it is devoid of that crap and focuses instead on Deadpool as a strange force of nature that is trying to be directed by an unlucky Hydra agent named Bob.  Together, Deadpool and Hydra Bob make a gritty duo that could rival any and their dynamic blasts off of every page (especially when they blow someone up).  This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you love humor and a book that doesn’t pull its punches then this is for you.  Full throttle, ridiculous, over-the-top action you can’t help but salivate over.

 

8 ) Amazing Spider-Man

It’s been said that nobody loves Spider-Man more than Dan Slott, writer of Amazing, and I can’t really argue with that.  In just a short time on Spidey, Slott has brought the webhead back to what made him cool and relatable before Joe Quesada destroyed it all in One More Day.  And though we get mostly Peter’s real life and his webslinging solo action, we are not without a tether to all the other groups he’s involved with.  Unifying his roles in New York, the Future Foundation, and the Avengers Slott has crafted a Spider-Man that makes sense without having to sacrifice any of the characterization that makes Peter just plain awesome to read about.  We see old villains, new villains, old villains updated, and everything from sci-fi to mysticism on a regular basis while still getting our healthy dose of Peter Parker’s normal guy issues.  I’m a big Spider-Man fan and I’ve always loved Peter as a character, but after One More Day there wasn’t much of Peter really left.  Now, Dan Slott has changed that.  My Spider-Man is back and if you ever left him for a second, then I promise you that now is the time to come back.

 

7) Punisher

Greg Rucka.  That’s all I’ve got to say about this book.  How genius is it to put the man who wrote the most compelling and gritty Batman detective stories onto a book about a killer vigilante going after criminals and mob bosses?  It’s brilliant!  Rucka’s Punisher doesn’t even talk.  He’s so menacing like a shadow that he doesn’t need to.  By the time Frank Castle is upon you, you’re already dead.  The coolest part of this narrative is that Punisher is more of an outside figure while a few police characters conduct investigations and find out information.  With one of the cops being on Frank’s side, we see some amazing synergy between crime fiction and pure and simple Punisher kills the badguys before the cops even get a chance to whip out the handcuffs.  Does he fight supervillains?  Of course.  But the best parts of this book are the grit and grime of the detective scene leading up to a date with death himself.  And his name is Frank Castle.

 

 

6) X-23

I was not happy when they said that X-23 was a Wolverine clone.  I wasn’t even stoked about the idea of another clawed hero—or even villain.  But I’ll be damned if I don’t really dig the character in her solo title.  X-23 has always been a stoic and often reluctant heroine who never truly fit in and her book does a great job of capturing those feelings.  When she wasn’t killing things at Cyclops’ command in X-Force, she was finding out exactly what happened during her creation.  Veteran X-man Gambit becomes her mentor?  I didn’t see that coming considering his relationship with Wolvie.  Jubilee becoming her best friend?  Another unforeseen twist!  And to top it all off, she just wants to die instead of being a weapon of death.  Now that’s something to chew on.  Instead of being a Wolverine clone, X-23 has become a living rendition of what it would have been like had Wolverine become the weapon he was meant to be.  Talk about dynamism.  This title is very gender friendly and often explores the idea of acting and becoming a functional woman, while maintaining the grit of a more masculine approach to both violence and human relationships.  Personally, I can’t get enough of her and I’m always wondering what she’s going to go through next.

 

5) Uncanny X-Force

Probably the most popular book Marvel has right now, Uncanny X-Force is a dark and violent book.  Touting characters like Fantomex, Psylocke, Wolverine, Deadpool, and Archangel, X-Force focuses on the idea of a hit squad to protect mutankind before an attack can be made on them first.  This preemptive strike-force is covered in unapologetic bloodletting and dark humor—and I love it.  If it’s not French assassin Fantomex snarking it up with Wolverine, then it’s Deadpool making severely inappropriate banter while shooting away at their enemies.  Tie this all together with really interestingly well-written plot structures and you have yourself a cunning and cinematic approach to a book that could have easily become just a pile of violence and gore.  Top-notch art and top-notch writing—that’s how you make a comic book stand out.  Though it can often get sullied in repetitive climaxes, X-Force packs a punch that most action movies can’t replicate.  You want a solid read that provides substantial text and gratuitous illustration, then this is your book.  Oh and there’s violence for those of us who enjoy that too.

 

4) New Avengers

The golden boy Brian Michael Bendis strikes again and with this title going on for a few years now we are finally getting to see him stretch his arms a bit.  Bendis has always been known as a dialogue writer who could put several characters in a room and have them chat for an entire issue while the readers laugh like they were there too.  The problem was that Bendis wasn’t very action based and often left the readers feeling like nothing ever happened.  Now, he’s figured it out.  It seems it took a while, but Bendis has balanced his penchant for dialogue with great action sequences that are built up from strong plot structures and substantial future planning.  So now we get Spider-Man making his Spidey jokes and Wolverine doing his cynical Wolvie one-liners, but we also get to see these heroes in action.  Toss in spectacular artist Mike Deodato Jr. and by Odin’s beard we have a hit.  Deodato nails every issue and his knack for shadows gives a level of realism to these characters that just pours off the page every time they speak a word of Bendis’ lines.  This is a book you can get lost in where you really feel like these people are real and that you’re there with them.  If you like ANY of the characters on the New Avengers roster, then this book will sell you in a heartbeat.

 

3) Daken: Dark Wolverine

I will reiterate that I didn’t think the Marvel Universe needed more clawed characters.  Especially so explicitly tied to Wolverine.  But what started in the Dark Avengers saga and led into his own title has literally become one of my must-reads.  Daken was a character I didn’t care about at first, but grew to like as he slowly revealed that he is the opposite of what I’ve said X-23 is.  Instead of becoming the weapon or a well-adjusted X-Man like his father, Daken has embraced the animal inside him.  With clever manipulation of everyone around him and the claws on his hands he tears down anyone in his way.  This book is smart.  Very smart.  The level of writing is above normal comic book standards as it weaves in existentialism, poetics, and humanism into every action-packed brawl that Daken gets sucked into (or starts himself).  If it’s beating up a local set of thugs or taking down an entire syndicate, Daken does it all with finesse and evil charm that his father could never pull off.  And though Daken acts as a force of well aimed nature, he struggles with the idea that he is incapable of creating anything of his own.  A failure in comparison to his father, but a fighter who will never back down just the same.  If you like anti-heroes who aren’t just vigilantes or hitmen, then Daken is your man.  He’s sleek, witty, clever, bi-sexual, and quite possibly the most capable character in the Marvel Universe.  That makes him both beautifully interesting and horrifying all at the same time.

 

2)  X-Factor

If you like the TV shows Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer then I present you with your new love affair.  X-Factor is what I consider writer Peter David’s greatest achievement.  This book takes B and C-list heroes and puts them together as a mutant private investigation firm that deals with everything from supernatural voodoo to crazed demigods bent on destroying the Earth.  Toss in great dialogue and character interactions that rival Joss Whedon on his best day and you’ve got X-Factor.  You fall in love with the members of this team and find yourself drawn to each of their problems.  Anything from Strong Guy and M sharing a kiss to the gay couple Ricter and Shatterstar having issues over how Ricter got his powers back and now Star doesn’t feel needed like he once was.  All of that placed within the context of whatever crazy thing is trying to kill them per issue and you’ve got yourself an outlandish supernatural adventure featuring many characters that just feel real.  When Madrox’s clones are acting out or Layala Miller is being creepy because she “knows stuff” all the time, this team is out showing the others that a dysfunctional family is better than none at all.  Comedy—check.  Sci-fi—check.  Romance—check.  Action—check.    This book has it all in spades.

 

1)  Wolverine and the X-Men

It may seem like I have a thing for Wolverine, but I really don’t.  It turns out, the best writing and art combination has been coming from books related to him and I won’t deny it.  The best and my most favorite book in the last few months is a book that dropped one issue and blew everything else I was reading out of the water.  That’s right; this DC fan cannot deny that Wolverine and the X-Men is the best book on the shelves from the big two.  This book is perfect.  The perfect balance of humor and action.  The perfect balance between dialogue and exposition.  The perfect art.  Oh the perfect art.  I’ve always been a fan of Chris Bachalo and even I admit that often his style can clutter a page to the point of confusion.  But he nailed it in this book and his return could not come with any higher praise.  Everything from character presentation to panel layouts to his ridiculous ability to detail anything he ever touches with a pencil—Bachalo is a superstar and I feel privileged to buy this book.  Writer Jason Aaron has hit this one out of the park and I can’t wait for the next issue to come out.  I hope that all of the other writers and artists out there take note on how this was done.  This is how you launch a title and land a perfect execution.  You don’t need to be a long time reader and you don’t need to worry if you are, because this book is perfect for everyone.  This book is so much fun that I’ll put my DC books down just to read this one first.  And that’s sayin’ something.

 

I may be a DC fan, but I’m a writer and an artist myself first and foremost.  I apply the same set of rules to all comic books in which I breakdown what can be done in the medium by both writing and art together.  Where DC may be more consistent and their stories don’t reflect the need to take my money, Marvel excels at creating stories that don’t hold back.  I’m not saying DC doesn’t want my money, I’m just saying that it doesn’t show in their books and I don’t feel any regret after a purchase.  I may not appreciate Marvel’s shotgun approach to sales and yes it does show in their books that they just want my money (often after I’ve read a crappy book of theirs and I want my money back), but every now and then they put out a gem.

 

The books listed are the books I read monthly and enjoy without any complaints.  Marvel’s Universe is vast and full of outstanding characters and story potential that with just a bit of clean up and some Universe unification here and there could really make them a better producer of quality storytelling.  In short, I’m a TRUE BELIEVER as much as I am a DC Fan.  Now get out there and read some comic books!

The New Justice League International Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alright DC, this is the book I’m going to be the hardest on you about.

As a fan of the Justice League International from the earliest days of its conception and an avid Booster Gold/ Blue Beetle fan it was a daunting task for me to give up what I considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments in comic book history.  For once, superheroes like Batman and Martian Manhunter acted like normal humans and took part in the occasional joke once in a while.  Topped off with absurdities and stories about everyday life in the Justice League, the JLI was the comic book for anyone to read who wanted a light-hearted fun story about characters they grew to love.

In DC’s new 52 relaunch Booster Gold, no longer sporting his own solo book, is asked to join and lead the first ever U.N. sanctioned team of superheroes.  Familiars to JLI fans like Fire, Ice, Guy Gardner, Rocket Red, and Batman himself make for a pleasant homage to the glory days while adding in fresh newcomers like August General In Iron, Godiva, and Vixen is still a welcomed change.  On the very first page, Dan Jurgens delivers an array of characters both JLI regulars and new to strike my fan chord hard and loud without overdoing it.  At some point in the new DC history, the members of the JLI had banded together for whatever reason and acted as a group without U.N. sanctioning.  Now a new character, Andre Briggs, is putting them together for what could be good or evil intentions.  Either way, Batman intends to find out first hand.

Immediately this feels like the JLI and for new readers it is a team book that assembles quickly and in a good way.  There’s a synergy here in Jurgens’ plotting and Lopresti’s pencils that guides this book very easily through a fun and action filled story that could have easily fallen victim to a prolonged set-up.  But I think that’s Jurgens’ strength and his lengthy experience in the industry has developed his writing into what I would consider some of the most compelling and interesting stories since the mid 80’s.  After all, we’re talking about the writer who wrote and drew the Death of Superman–He’s not just some ordinary writer.  And with his excellent pacing comes an organic flow of characterization.  Not too much, not too little; Jurgens’ gives each character a moment that either broadly or in subtlety defines them enough to carry the readers’ interest.  Particularly a scene between Batman and Guy Gardner over the nature of the team forming and the U.N.’s true intentions carried a lot of weight while also reestablishing the idea that Batman, of all people, supports Booster Gold as a hero and leader of the team.  This was crafted and maintained in Booster’s previous title and is refreshing to see that it was kept in the new continuity for it’s importance.

My love of Booster aside, the budding star of this book is carried over from Generation Lost and will most certainly entertain if he is kept similar.  I’m talking about Rocket Red of course and his rapport with August General In Iron is sure to be a treat for readers who enjoy witty humor.  The character Godiva, recently revamped in Flashpoint,  gets her shots in with both humor and sex appeal abound.  It’s also worth mentioning how great it is to read a book with as many female characters as there are males without making the book gender-biased in any way.  On the ground level we get a glimpse of the public opinion and how the real world would react to such a team forming.  The emphasis on reality based superheroes is carried well enough that I don’t feel that it changes much of the superheroics.

Lopresti has grown a lot since finishing Generation Lost and his familiarity with these characters has helped.  New designs and costumes stand out the way they should without being too loud.  Even his handling of Guy Gardner who maintained his old look has a modern feel to it.  His style is very clean and classic in terms of comic book rendering.  This lends to a more animated feel for the characters which is also aided by his knack for dynamism in character posing and the bright, wonderful colors handled by HiFi.  This book is very alive and each character leaps off the page with a very cinematic feel to it.  For fans of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon I believe a semblance is maintained here that will likely surprise.

At the end of this issue I felt relieved that the JLI I knew and loved was still in some way maintained and to be received by the public in a very similar fashion.  As always, I’m impressed by books that can carry a lighter tone and still fulfill their superhero satisfaction to all readers.  The final page ending with an epic adventure and battle to come, Justice League International is off to a great start and I can’t wait for the next issue!

Here’s a 5 page preview so you can see what I mean!

The New Detective Comics #1: A Much Darker Knight

It’s a new Gotham and a new Batman, but the core themes stay the same.

It’s no surprise that in the shadows of Gotham City lurk any number of killers of unknown calibers for the world’s greatest detective to go head to head against.  It’s no surprise that the police don’t like Batman or that the only good cop is a now younger Jim Gordon.  It’s also no surprise that the greatest nemesis Batman has ever faced is the elusive and maniacal Joker.

What will surprise you is how dark and shocking this book has become and I mean that in a good way.  Right out of the gate, writer/artist Tony Daniel has adapted and changed his approach to the book he had been writing previously with Dick Grayson wearing the cowl of the Caped Crusader in Batman.  With Bruce Wayne at his disposal, Daniel takes advantage of a new Gotham and its terrifying inhabitants by updating not only his own illustrative style, but also the level of grit used in the narrative.

We come in on an experienced, yet slightly less seasoned Batman; juggling his social life and whose report with the cops is terrible.  He must make use of every gadget and piece of information in order to catch what he defines as the most dangerous kind of killer—one with no true pattern.  Immediately we see his greatest foe murdering another killer as if to re-familiarize the readers with the insanity of the Joker.  But the tone and the twists in this book dive deep into a darkness untapped by Tony Daniel before as the curtain draws on a truly grotesque and bloody moment for the Clown Prince of Crime—one that will surely affect readers old and new alike.  The mystery of this  The Dollmaker is sure to keep us cringing the entire ride.

The art on this book is astounding and you’ll notice a difference in style from Tony Daniel’s previous run on Batman.  The line-work is more contained and less edgy with a heavier emphasis on form rather than shadow.  As usual his architecture frames the city nicely while his Batman soars above it.  The true star of this book though is the colorist Tomeu Morey, who somehow found a way to bring a subtle hint of breathing color to a dark and brooding city that almost makes it seem more alive.  Rosey cheeks and noses add a level of realism to each character and really provide a fluid cinematic feel to them—all enhancing the shocking final page even more.

 

The grit and gore of this book balance on a line between unwatchable and must-see to the point of brilliance only achieved by stellar murder mysteries of the same tone like “Seven” or “Kiss The Girls”.   For fans of Batman this book has it all:  Gadgets, high-flying action, Batman versus Joker, Jim Gordon, The Batcave, Alfred, murder mystery, and dark twists around every corner.  For new readers I suspect this will be a hauntingly memorable experience that no doubt will have them crawling back to their local comic book shop for more.

You really can’t miss it.

The New DC Universe: Flashpoint and Justice League Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article contains both reviews and breakdowns for Flashpoint #5 and Justice League by DC Comics.  Spoilers are forewarned.

 

All good things come to an end, but for some an end isn’t necessarily final.  In fact for the DC Universe, the end is merely a leap to a new beginning.  And just before that leap, comes a dash from the fastest legacy hero in comic book history–Barry Allen/ The Flash.  I’ll begin with Flashpoint #5 as it leads into the all new Justice League.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Flashpoint #5

The Story:

With the conclusion of Flashpoint by superstars Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert, The Flash faces his toughest decision for the fate of an altered timeline created by his deadliest enemy, The Reverse Flash.  This tale is full of time travel paradoxes and surprise comebacks that will keep you shouting out loud as you read.  The conflict comes to a head immediately as Reverse Flash reveals that the entire Flashpoint change was not his fault, but actually caused by Barry going back in time and stopping Reverse Flash from killing Barry’s mother.  At that moment, “like and amateur”, Barry altered the events of the DC Universe’s history and accidentally crafted a world where Superman is an emaciated test subject, Batman is Thomas Wayne instead of his now deceased son, and a war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman threatens the entire planet.

As Reverse Flash explains, he never killed Barry, because he needed him to become the Flash in order for him to become Reverse Flash in the future.  As Barry stops the past version of Reverse Flash from killing his mother, present Reverse Flash was running through the time stream as Barry changed it; thus making him immune to the changes and freeing him from the bonds of Barry’s legacy.  In short, he became a paradox and could kill Barry in his mother’s womb or any time after if he wanted and it would never affect him.  Too bad he didn’t account for Thomas Wayne–a Batman without fear of murdering his villains.

The planet is at its limit and the war of Atlantis and Themyscira explodes with Thomas Wayne spurring Barry on with his last words and a message to be delivered to Bruce.  Barry then does what he does best–he runs.  An emotional sprint through time sends him to a final moment with his mother before he has to make the ultimate sacrifice once more and let his mother die again the way it was intended.  He catches up to his past self just before he stopped Reverse Flash and instead stops himself– tearful and hoping that he’s doing the right thing.  With that act, the DCU is put back together now including their other publishing lines Vertigo and Wildstorm.  When the smoke clears, Barry is in the bat cave wearing his new attire.  He explains everything to Bruce and delivers the letter from his father–leading to one of the most emotional scenes in comic book history.  The scene ends and the new DC Universe begins with a fresh start.

The Review:

In totality the epic narrative is supported by the prowess of its creators.  Geoff Johns plays up Andy Kubert’s strengths of action and stellar pacing in his paneling.  This final issue makes use of several close-ups  to progress the characters’ reactions while still maintaining the emotional transitions of each scene.  Kubert’s action sequences are energetic and well suited to the crimson speedster.  There’s a particular scene where an emaciated Superman literally flies in and lands on Enchantress–stomping her into pieces that had me shouting with excitement.  The dialogue is character driven in a way that befits the surrounding story believably and seamlessly.  The emotion expressed as Bruce reads the letter from his father, stumbles, and then sits down in disbelief was masterful in a way befitting the final moment of the DC proper and the beginning of the New DC Universe.

Together, all five issues of this series make an incredible read full of imagination and creative new looks at the definitions of existing characters–reiterating why each individual behind the mask matters.  At the end of this journey, we’ve celebrated the characters, their histories, and paid our respect to a legendary Flash that has done so much since his debut.  And like Barry’s swift feet, we can run forward to the next topic of Geoff Johns’ and legendary artist Jim Lee’s groundbreaking new series:  Justice League #1.

Justice League Review: 

 

It’s high-flying, fast paced, action driven heroics starring Batman and Green Lantern (plus a Cyborg cameo) right out of the gate.  The build-up tosses out a hint toward the greatest JLA villain ever, Darkseid, while still hitting some great dialogue between a know-it-all Batman and a super cocky Hal Jordan.  The real kicker?  Batman versus Superman starting on the final page and continuing into issue two.  RIGHT. AWAY.  Johns’ and Lee hold nothing back and aim to draw in the fans immediately for an adventure that is sure to be talked about for years.

 

Jim Lee’s pencils, you ask?  Well, what do you think?  It’s like he never left.  While his work is not as detailed and tight as his work on Batman: Hush or Superman: Man of Tomorrow due to time constraints, it still retains the edgier energy that made him famous to begin with.  Johns gives him plenty of action and cityscapes to pour his gorgeously rendered heroes into.  It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s adventurous, and when you put it down you will immediately want more.  These are the icons you know and love at their best and if this is the way the entire DC Universe is going to be, then I predict a very successful run for the 77 year old Company.

What You Need To Know:

The new DC Universe has set out to reestablish the heroic ideal by bringing back the icons that support it.  This is a refreshing turn for the company as they move toward a more unified world and storytelling that is both interesting and uplifting.  By splitting their books into categories, DC has generated several genres of stories for various audiences with the hope of providing a little something for everyone.

These are available in print copy form as well as a digital download for any media device at their site: https://read.dccomics.com/comixology/#/dc_universe.

 

Their “Justice League” line will feature all the prominent members of the team: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Aquaman.  Also featured will be classic additions such as:  Hawkman, Captain Atom, Mister Terrific, Green Arrow, DC Universe Presents featuring Deadman, Firestorm, and the Justice League International.

Characters like Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern have their own spinoff series including their supporting cast members in several other titles such as:

Batman:  Detective Comics, Nightwing, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Batwing, and Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Superman:  Action Comics, Superboy, and Supergirl.

Green Lantern:  Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns.

 

For a darker side of the universe they provide several titles that are more supernatural and horrific in tone DC gives you “The Dark“:  Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Frankenstein, Resurrection Man, Demon Knights, and a re-incarnated version of legendary writer J.M. DeMatteis’ 1981 series, I, Vampire.

If you like gritty stories full of realistic stories and antiheroes, but maybe not so steeped in supernatural elements, then DC’s “The Edge” has stories for you:  Previous Wildstorm stories like Voodoo, Grifter, and Stormwatch lead the way.  Others include Sgt. Rock reappearing in Men of War, Blackhawks, The Suicide Squad, All Star Western featuring Jonah Hex, Deathstroke, and Jack Kirby’s legendary creation O.M.A.C., written by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and renown writer/artist Keith Giffen.

And finally, if you are interested in more energy and a youthful approach to crime-fighting, then look no further than the “Young Justice” line featuring: Teen Titans, Static Shock, Hawk and Dove, Blue Beetle, Legion Lost, and The Legion of Superheroes, which is being fronted by longtime writing legend and former President of DC, Paul Levitz.

With plenty to choose from, DC Comics promises to provide interesting stories with iconic heroes at the most affordable prices.  Every comic is guaranteed to be 2.99 with the exception of the first issue at 3.99.  DC will also be providing a column in the back of their books titled DC All Access to replace the previous DC Nation, which will now be moving to Cartoon Network as a block name providing shows that feature their beloved characters.  Stay tuned, because this is the beginning of something truly amazing in the world of storytelling and you don’t want to miss it!

Flashpoint Batman: Azarello Writes Best Batman Story EVER

It seems I’ve been impressed with the world’s greatest detective lately more than anyone else.  To follow up my review of Detective Comics, I feel it’s best to highlight what many are considering the best Batman story every written.

WARNING:  SPOILERS AHEAD

In the event known as Flashpoint, the DC Universe has been changed and not for the better.  The Flash’s main villain, the Reverse Flash, has altered time where the Justice League no longer exists and Barry Allen never gained the ability of speed.  Atlantis and Themyscira are at war with each other and threaten the safety of every living human on the planet.  With that said, this is not a world without heroes.  Gotham City is still under the shadow of an intimidating urban legend that makes Bruce Wayne’s moniker look pathetic.  The first issue of Flashpoint revealed that when Barry Allen went in search of Batman it was not Bruce Wayne, but rather his father Thomas who had survived that fatal night in Crime Alley.  Darker, tougher, and dipped in the blood of his enemies, Dr. Wayne now controls crime through Wayne Casinos and snuffs them out with his Batman persona.

Gotham is just as dark as she ever was and other things stay the same as well.  Jim Gordon is still a good man and a great cop who befriends Batman-even knowing his secret identity.  Subtle changes in the world like Selina Kyle being Oracle instead of Barbara Gordon make this universe strange, yet familiar.  These eerie alterations are keynotes for the narrative as legendary writer Brian Azarello takes the reader down a path of truly dark repercussions.  With the first issue used as a set up for the world, the second dropped a bomb like never before with the revelation that the iconic Batman villain the Joker was actually Martha Wayne who had also survived that terrible night.  In an awful fit of insanity she lures Gordon and Batman to the decaying Wayne manor—tricking Gordon into shooting Harvey Dent’s kidnapped daughter who was disguised as the Joker and then slitting his throat while he grieved over his mistake.  As he struggles to reach his gun, Gordon bleeds out as the Dent’s young boy stares on in horror.

It rocked the comic book world that such a twist could be executed over something so simplistic that we all should have seen it coming.  Azarello took advantage of information given in Flashpoint and played it to the max.  We were told by Barry Allen that Thomas Wayne survived that night, but never told that anyone else died or survived.  The readers automatically assumed that two people had to have been shot to mimic the origin, but this was not the case.  In the third and final issue, we flashback to the night Bruce is shot and killed in the arms of his father.  Martha is devastated and becomes catatonic as her mental state deteriorates.  Thomas begs and pleads until he finally comes to a decision—if he could just find and kill Joe Chill who killed his son then everything would be alright.  In a horrifying moment he tells Martha he will make it right and just wants to see her smile again.  But after killing the lowlife who took his son from him, the nightmare only gets worse.  Hauntingly Martha Wayne slits her mouth open to form a permanent smile so her husband can see it once more.  Her future lies in Arkham and a life of serial killing while the grief-stricken Thomas Wayne forges ahead to become the most feared and respected superhero in the world.

The conclusion ends with the two confronting each other after the events of the second issue.  A tragic tale in which Thomas tells Martha he has a chance to change things.  To make the world right.  A world where they die and their son lives on.  In a brief moment of clarity, Martha pulls close to her once husband and asks what their son will become.  He will follow in his father’s footsteps.  She asks if he means a doctor, but Thomas says no to indicate that he will become an avatar of true justice.  The insanity returns and Thomas Wayne loses the last person close to him.  Martha throws herself into a deep cavern and dies on the floor as Thomas looks down into the shadows.

This narrative has become something more than a “what if” story and more than an alternate universe.  It hit readers hard and embedded itself deep in their core.  This was a sad tale of Greek tragedy proportions that showed us what losing a child means and how much Bruce Wayne matters to the DC Universe.  I suspect that in years down the line, Azarello will be praised for this continuously.  He and artist Eduardo Risso knocked this one out of the park and into a realm of immortality.  If you have ever loved Batman or been interested in Bruce Wayne—this is your story.  This is his call of fate.  And when you put it down you will honestly feel the pain of these characters and the invigoration that comes with knowing that you just involved yourself in a stunning work of modern literary art.