Thursday, January 31, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Batman and Robin Annual #1/Green Lantern #16

After the horror that was Teen Titans #16, I needed some kind of book that could receive a positive review. To my delight, I have two for you.

Batman and Robin Annual #1

IGN fittingly gave this book its highest review of the week's releases, and deservedly so. This is a contender for best book this month and the first annual that feels more than deserving of the $4.99 shelf price.

The storyline is perfect for anyone, as it doesn't go into any real continuity. If you know about Bruce Wayne and the fact that his son is Robin, you can pick this up and enjoy it as much as anyone.

Pretty much the entire story is that Damian sends Bruce on a scavenger hunt across Europe to find previously unknown mementos from his parents' lives. While that's happening, Damian is sneaking around in a junior-sized Bat-suit patrolling as a kid Batman in Gotham.

This thing has all kinds of great action and energy like you'd want in a Batman comic, but it also has detective work. REAL DETECTIVE WORK!!! It is so great to see the World's Greatest Detective moniker used here to its full potential, and both Bruce and Damian show the skill amazingly well.

Humor is also balanced in this book brilliantly. There are some nice one-liners and a joke that bookends the book's main crimes. Alfred in particular is in rare form, showing more personality than he has to this point in the New 52. I'm not sure whether we can take this as a sign Alfred survives DOTF without any issues, but that really has no bearing here.

Where Peter Tomasi's writing hits hardest, though, is the emotion. There are legitimate moments where you really get "all the feels" as the Twitter-verse so desperately tries to coin the phrase, and seeing someone like Bruce Wayne fighting back tears is an image not lost on the reader.

Speaking of images, Adrian Syaf does a bang-up job as an artist. The only weak point in the book - the ONLY weak point in it - is that his lone two-page spread is kind of hard to put together, but that may have been by design or I may just not have understood it.

Luckily, I think I'll be going through this book a couple of times. This has real re-read potential and it is a book that really will not lose its luster with time. It's just one of those nice little stories that remind you why you like these characters to begin with.

I will say, as a point of balance, that this book is so good, it makes B&R #16 look even worse by comparison. As well as Damian is portrayed here, mastering various detective and technology tidbits, I really can not comprehend how on Earth he could be so stupid as to not know for the duration of a fight that he was facing a FAKE Batman.

But really, if your biggest complaint about a book is that it makes previous books look horrid by comparison, you're owning at life.

Buy this. Own this. You WILL want to keep this. Heck, I'm tempted to buy a second one so I don't wear out the copy. It is really THAT. DAMN. GOOD.

Green Lantern #16

This book was originally going to lead the blog and get most of the praise, but that annual really just came out of nowhere to make a killing.

Plus, this is a week old. But make no mistake, this was a great conclusion to Simon Baz's first arc as a Green Lantern.

Simon meets B'dg, the Green Lantern who looks like a talking chipmunk, and he helps to make sense of the GL Corps and how to charge the power ring.

Thankfully, the Third Army stuff is saved for other books because it was not needed here. The driving point of this story (once Simon finally heard Hal Jordan and Sinestro's messages to him) was Simon meeting his sister at the hospital where her boyfriend is in a coma.

Baz tries to will him out of the coma with the GL ring, which is well known to be one of the rings' few limitations. What follows is a seriously painful and emotional scene where it's hard not to tear up at the physical and emotional pain Simon is putting himself through, as well as how much it hurts those near him to see him in such a state.

I won't say much about what follows for Baz because it either A) Spoils major plot points, B) Will need more time to develop before I can make a real judgment, or C) Got followed up on in the Green Lantern Corps title, which isn't being reviewed.

I will say that much of this first arc has been kind of cliche-ridden, but really, if a cliche is written well, does that matter? Heck, that's why they're cliched - it's been done well and people have proven to like it.

A couple of pages are devoted to Hal and Sinestro, who meet former GL members in the world of the dead, and, really, it's only important if you plan on staying for the next crossover, which I'm not.

I really do love Simon Baz, but seeing as he'll be more present in the next crossover now, plus the fact that he'll be in Justice League of America #1 next month, I really see no reason to keep the book on.

Besides, I plan on adding the JLA title as well as Scott Snyder's Superman title in June and maybe even the main Justice League book, so I need to cut the fat on titles.

That said, I'm really glad I picked up this first arc in the Simon Baz saga. He really seems like the most enjoyable GL to read, and I hope they keep him in a solo title even after Hal Jordan inevitably returns.

I don't think you can really read this title without at least getting #15, but if you can afford it, getting issues #13-16 wouldn't be a bad investment (though they'll be in the Third Army crossover trade, so maybe saving for that would be better. It all depends on if you care about the overall event and want to read Red Lanterns for some reason.).

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Death of the Family Part 15: Teen Titans #16

This week marks the end of the "Death of the Family" tie-in issues and the entire event will come to a close in Batman #17 next month. If that doesn't sell you to buy this issue of the Teen Titans title, well...

Teen Titans #16

The book really comes off as a way to sell every freaking storyline it can think of, and it really irked me how much we moved around here.

As you know from earlier crossover reviews, Teen Titans crossed over with Red Hood and the Outlaws for this DOTF event, placing Jason Todd and Tim Drake together in their time with Joker. I understand it's because Scott Lobdell writes both books and wanted them to fight together once before leaving RHATO, so I don't begrudge him there.

My issue is that Red Hood should have had one of the most emotional showdowns with Joker - because, you know, Joker KILLED him. And because the New 52 continuity shows Joker orchestrated Jason becoming Robin. The showdown itself, however, was underwhelming and buried under an insane amount of storylines.

In RHATO #15, Jason only briefly gets the revelations handed to him while crawling through a vent, really doesn't face Joker head-on, and is knocked out before anything can happen.

Last issue of RHATO, Jason and Tim were knocked out the whole time, so all we got was a Titans-Outlaws crossover fight, Hugo Strange for some reason, and Deathstroke being called on to take out Jason, Kori and Arsenal.

This issue, there is a focus on the showdown, but it's pretty much all from Tim's perspective. Joker's big emotional trump card for the two is jarring

The big reveal, by the way, I'll give a SPOILER here, so only look below if you want some context for the rest of this review. Otherwise, scroll past the big gap in the text and continue from there.

Joker supposedlyhas Jason and Tim's dads ited up with the intent that they'll turn on each other to save their own.

A plus is that Tim comes to a realization during the struggle that what Joker has isn't real, which could imply Joker doesn't really know all their identities.

But the downside in all of this is that Jason really gains NOTHING in this. The trump card was designed to make Jason and Tim turn on each other, and Jason does, but I don't get why. Nothing in the Jason origin I saw implies that he'd want to go to such lengths, and no internal thoughts from Jason give me no context, so I got nothing out of this besides utter confusion as to why Jason got such a shockingly small part in all of this.

See this guy? More of his story
was needed.
Heck, he could have had a couple pages from his perspective, but we had to go back to the Titans/Outlaws, who never do find Joker's hideout (which makes me wonder what the hell their point was in this whole thing). Oh, and there is a guy working for Amanda Waller who gets in a struggle that does nothing but provide context for an out-of-place internal monologue from Solstice.

Additionally, we randomly are taken to whatever dimension Trigon occupies, as we see Raven for the first time since she was introduced and immediately cast aside in Phantom Stranger #1. Her new costume is crap, I really don't think I like the direction her character is taking (though I can see how it could work) and I'm incredibly annoyed that all of this is taking place in a DOTF crossover when a whole bunch of storylines needed more space.

If I sound like I'm rambling, I'm sorry, but this was a rambling comic. There was a good narrative here, and Tim's storyline turned out OK, but Jason's felt underdeveloped and the Outlaw-Titan crossover will need something in the next issue(s) to make it worthwhile. Ultimately, the book itself suffers from too many side stories bogging down the main narrative.

There's a good story in here, but it doesn't get nearly enough pages. I get you want people to be interested in staying with the book, but the key is making the main narrative strong and complete, then sprinkling in some nice teasers in dialogue and maybe a few worked in pages. These teasers felt like they detracted from the main story, and don't help me feel more confident that the stories teased will get the full attention to detail they deserve.

I can't recommend this to anyone who isn't collecting the whole DOTF event. I can't recommend it as a book that teases other stories because $2.99 is too much for that kind of book. Overall, it just doesn't live up to the expectations a person should want in this kind of tie-in.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Death of the Family Part 14: Nightwing #16 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #16

I had just an amazing set of reads this week! Granted, one is a total red herring, but at least I was interested in what was happening.

Nightwing #16

First off, this book was an absolutely fast read, but not because it was dull; it was just one I didn't want to sit around on. This thing is just packed with action and thanks to Kyle Higgins' writing, Nightwing's DOTF crossover actually has some big stakes in it.

Nightwing is off to try and rescue Haly's Circus on Amusement Mile from being destroyed, only to find out that Joker has just gone off his nut with how elaborately he's changed things.

Not going to lie here: This book gets dark. Really. Really. Dark. If you thought Higgins was going to leave this world largely out of his Joker-Nightwing story, allowing for some horrible ranting of Joker and Nightwing bondage to drive the plot, holy crap were you wrong.

Dick loses A LOT in this issue and takes a real emotional and physical beating in Joker's attempt to break him. The Joker dialogue here feels significantly more natural and it actually makes some of the crossovers feel even worse in retrospect.

Probably the most interesting discussion point will be why Joker mentioned that Nightwing shouldn't have even continued on in Gotham. Could this be a teaser for the return of Bludhaven? Will Dick try to pick the pieces of his Gotham life back up after all this ends? There has been a lot here to consider starting next month.

Of all the stories, more than any of the others this is the Bat-family member who I want to hear more about after DOTF concludes with the release of Batman #17. Kudos to Higgins for making any new purchasers interested in his title. And I really hope new purchasers of Nightwing's book are compelled to stick around after these last couple of issues.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #16

By contrast, I think Scott Lobdell is trying to convince his RHATO audience to switch to Teen Titans. To quote a reviewer at, this is "the best issue of Teen Titans I've... read."

Seriously, after tanking that title for so long, I don't think I've been more interested in the Teen Titans than I was here. Maybe it was because Roy Harper's dialogues with each member were just a lot of fun to read, but these characters came across much better than they do in their own book.

Also, Roy's flashback with Killer Croc may be a sign of things to come when James Tynion IV takes over writing, as he wants to focus on Roy, but I was just really interested here.

I know there are Arsenal purists who don't like New 52 Roy, but I think he's one of the biggest beneficiaries of the reboot. I was bored by the character for so long, I can't believe how much I enjoy seeing his work with these Titans and with Starfire.

The only complaint I really have is: What does any of this have to do with DOTF?

I mean, yeah, the Titans and Outlaws are teaming up to try and save homeless people affected by Joker's now-mind controlling gas. And while it's not very dramatic (especially since Joker left them all the stuff they'd need to stop it in a grand distraction so they can't stop what he's really doing), it's certainly a fun read.

But Jason Todd (and Tim Drake) are only present on one page in which they're both unconscious, Joker is only seen in one page to set up what he's doing next week (in TT #16), and there are two pointless pages with Hugo Strange and Deathstroke, who aren't even going to be in the comic for a few more months by the sound of it.

I would have much rather seen the progress on Isabel than Strange, and Deathstroke's cameo, while interesting, also could have been saved for later. I think Lobdell struggles with crossovers for some reason.

Overall, it's a fun read, but if you're expecting DOTF action, there is nothing here to see. I'd mostly advise this book's purchase as positive feedback for Lobdell to write Teen Titans like THIS in the future. Or to even make Roy the leader. That would be some great stuff.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Death of the Family Part 13: Batman #16

This is the setup everyone needed to know about. Clearly, all the Bat-family's crossovers are coming back to one page in particular and teasing Batman #17, but before that issue comes out, Issue #16 has to set the stage.

And that's what this story does, and oh man, does it do it well.

Batman's story here starts in Arkham Asylum where he's working to find the Joker in this realm of madness, only to find all the inmates being forced to dance in Joker and Batman garb at the risk of an electrical current running through the water covering the floor.

Every single scene here works brilliantly as Batman searches for the Joker. Batman is portrayed properly - understanding the seriousness of the situation and going no-nonsense the whole time - and Joker is just teasing him with terrifying twist after terrifying twist.

I especially love the callback to the Dollmaker, showing once again that Scott Snyder knows how to utilize Tony Daniel's ideas better than Tony Daniel. It took me a few looks to fully grasp what I was seeing, but when I did I was genuinely horrified, which is the Joker's game plan here it seems.

I'm Batman. And I punch horses to
control them.
Actually, outside of the scene where Batman punches the horse (it makes sense in context) and the horse that's on fire, nothing seems like it was shoehorned in to be forced cruelty or badassery. And even the horse things aren't that bad, especially when weighed against the Dollmaker tribute.

The whole thing is a real chess match. Batman knows what to do when Joker's challenges come up and defeats them even easier than Joker would hope, but Joker stays a step ahead and Batman stays in reactionary mode.

Multiple rogues are brought back, such as Mr. Freeze (who should have gotten dialogue if he was being used at all) and Clayface (who probably shouldn't have been used at all) to varying success, but the whole thing really has the feel I think Joker has been eliciting this whole time, so I'm able to live with it.

Batman reaches his showdown with Joker, who is surrounded by Penguin, Riddler and Two-Face as kind of a royal court, as Joker proceeds to torment people dressed in... well, dressed in a way that just adds that little extra piece of emotional torment to Batman's psyche.

Besides the brilliance of that scene, then we get to a weird moment. I'm not sure why Batman would sit in the chair when he can clearly see why it would be a bad idea to sit there. Not even a token Batarang throw, really?

Also, I get the fact that Joker's face is decomposing, but I wanted to vomit a couple of times looking at this thing. After this arc ends, I don't know how but they need to re-add his skin. Much more of this and I won't be able to stomach Joker stories anymore.

The backup is really good as well, showing Joker sees Riddler as the biggest threat to his plans, as he can outthink him. This is a good way to set up the impending threat in the next arc.

Sadly, what is gained for Riddler is lost for Two-Face, who is treated like a glorified errand boy and a joke in this part of the story. It's actually really sad to see how badly Two-Face has been treated in the New 52. TDK calls him "One-Face" and puts him in stupid nonsense; Detective puts him in a just awful backup piece about getting his job back (more stupid nonsense); and here he's the idiot in a group of four major rogues.

But while it sucks to be Dent, it does not suck to be the reader, as the final pages tease what is to come in the finale. I have no idea what it will be, but I will enjoy speculating. It kind of sucks for Batman, and it really will if Alfred or a Bat-family member gets ostracized or killed here, but Snyder has a plan clearly here and I'm looking forward to the conclusion here, its aftermath (specifically the return of Harper Row) and the Riddler storyline in a few months.

But hey, one thing at a time.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Death of the Family Part 12: Batman and Robin #16 and Batgirl #16

Holy crap were these two issues disappointing!

I feel like a jerk for saying it, especially with Batgirl because a lot was accomplished, but I was underwhelmed by these. B&R had a HUGE mischaracterization and Batgirl left the plot I was interested in completely in the dust here without a resolution when I expected a payoff.

Before I get into the reviews, I'd note it's very clear that all the crossover books are ending on the same teaser page. The Bat-family members are being set up for something in their Batman #17 and I guess all the books need to launch to that.

Sadly, this only serves to make me more angry about Catwoman and Suicide Squad's crossovers because now I have to reason as to why the hell those two entries were important at all.

Now to the reviews!

Batgirl #16

I'm opening with Batgirl because her book was stronger and SHOULD have been the culmination of a lot of events, but instead accomplished very little besides setting up Batman #17 and leaving its own plot in the dust.

It opens with Barbara shortly after being paralyzed being angry about Joker and wanting revenge. We end with a lack of a payoff thanks to James Gordon Jr.

Jim Jr. is both a great thing for this book and a huge detractor for it at the same time. His helping of Batgirl and what he says about freeing their mother serves as a way for her to cut loose and for us to finally get that payoff we were hoping for.

His twist at the end not only costs us the chance to see what Barbara would do if she knew Joker's death was imminent, but it also screwed up the plotline and made me wonder why the hell Jim Jr. was even used in the crossover to begin with.

Admittedly, his having multiple grenades and using them as a bargaining chip to continue the Odyssey of Barbara Gordon Squared is kind of awesome villainy, but why did we need to cut away to the girl he's seeing? What is her purpose in this? Why did in need to be seen now and not after the crossover?

I feel like this Joker clash would have worked better if Gail Simone had brought it up herself and not as a tie-in to Scott Snyder's event. It wasn't bad – actually, it was quite good by the tie-ins' standards, – but it should have been allowed to have a more natural conclusion.

Luckily, Simone has proven she can make all this work with enough time, so I am glad she's sticking around at least long enough to solve these points of confusion. I'd have probably dropped this series if this was the setup to a new writer because I know it would be botched HARD.

But Simone is good at planning stuff out, so I'll give her the time needed to develop this story. Buy this book because it's key for later stories in both this book and DOTF. It's not the best, but it's made itself VERY important, which in many ways is more important in purchasing decisions.

Batman and Robin #16

Ok, I have to just ask this: How stupid did Peter Tomasi have to make Damian in his mind to make this plot work?

Seriously, the man trained by Batman and Talia al' Ghul couldn't figure out for the length of this book what we already knew: that he was NOT fighting Batman?

I don't even think it counts as a spoiler to say that. It's so painfully obvious, especially when you consider that this is a tie-in, that this can't be Batman he's fighting, and that should have been clear after probably 30 seconds of fighting.


This charade kept through the entire book, with Damian trying to convince him to break the Joker's hold. I know the Joker gas was supposed to be messing with his mind, but you are really making me have to suspend disbelief to think that Damian couldn't ID his own father through the length of a fight.

The art from Patrick Gleason continues its gruesome glory while simultaneously looking less and less plausible and simply more grotesque for the sake of shock value.

Tomasi and Gleason are far better than they appear in this issue. The "Born to Kill" arc may have been the best arc in the entire Bat-family line in the first year of the New 52 (at least on par with "The Court of Owls/Night of the Owls" in Snyder's book) and yet I can't help but feel they went away from what made sense to insert what looked cool.

It's a story that only works if you assume Damian has lost some-thousand brain cells since leading a unit of the army away from a Talon in Issue #9. Buy if you're collecting, but if not, wait until this team can work independently of tie-ins next month.

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Why I... Think Manti Te'o is hiding something

To answer the question in my headline: common sense?

Ok, so for those who haven't yet heard, Manti Te'o was Notre Dame's star linebacker this year and a Heisman Trophy candidate. Honestly, I figured he would be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft, even considering how badly he (and his team) played against Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.

As it turns out, there may have been a reason the team played as miserably as they did.

Some will remember how Te'o lost his grandmother just before the Michigan State game, and also lost his girlfriend to leukemia that same day.

That happened in September, and according to a story posted yesterday (and the story listing the media's many, many contradictions posted today), on Te'o told his team on Dec. 26 that the whole part of the story with his girlfriend had never happened.

That's right, Te'o came to the realization that his girlfriend was about as real as the guy in this chair.

To make a very, very long and convoluted story short(er), Te'o supposedly had been in contact with this girl online for years and communicated through phone and Twitter. They never met in person (despite eyewitness accounts that they did and despite the fact that she went to Stanford, who Notre Dame has traveled to at least once during the relationship) and somehow the entire media didn't notice her lack of obituary, funeral notice, family, educational record, etc. except for Deadspin.

Her Twitter photo was taken from a girl's Facebook account who is NOT dead and is deeply upset that she's associated as such. The account itself was run by Ronaiah Tuiasasopo, a football prospect related to multiple other football stars of the same surname.

There are many angles that can be taken from this. How did the entire mainstream media whiff on this when there are SO MANY contradictions in the story? Why did it take Notre Dame three weeks after learning about this to issue any statement, and only after the story came out.

And most importantly: Why? Just... Why?

No story seems to make any sense as to why this even took place. Te'o claims he was the victim of a hoax, but that raises an idiotic amount of questions. Specifically, how did you never meet this person and never question if she was real.

I understand he's a person on faith. I know as a Catholic how mentally tough you have to be to make a deep personal conviction to believe in something that can't be proven externally and live based on that the ethical/moral code that comes with that belief, which is why I can buy him having no sexual intimacy in the relationship.

That said, there is a HUGE difference between religious belief and blindly following a human who you only know through the Internet, a plane where 90 percent of the world's bulls--- is kept.

No person smart enough to have Notre Dame, USC and BYU fighting over him should be this dense. And if he is, I feel genuinely concerned as to his competence in the NFL.

Heck, I think that might have collectively taken Notre Dame out of the title game, as everyone had to be thinking, 'We've been taking orders from THIS guy?'

Likewise, though, it being a grand hoax with his involvement makes no sense. What was his motivation? What could he have possibly gained from creating a fake girlfriend years in advance with a backstory and multiple flirtations with other guys, 'dating' said fake girlfriend for more than a year, putting her through a car accident (which was also not reported in any newspaper or police blotter), and then killing her off the same day as his grandmothers actual death?

If there is a plan in that, it's not only kind of sinister, but it's the worst plan EVER.

And in either case, who was the woman he was seen with/talking on the phone with? Was she a stand-in/hooker? This whole thing is coming across like a bad real-life adaptation of a rejected script for Suite Life of Zack and Cody or Kenan and Kel.

As such, I am going to offer some alternative theories that hasn't been talked about yet. Please play the video below as you read it, as I feel the music is fitting: Manti Te'o could have been in a secret homosexual relationship with Tuiasasopo.

Think about it: Tui ran the account and flirted with Te'o and other dudes for years. He WAS in a car accident that was reported around the time of the 'girlfriend.' They communicated through their real accounts a lot the summer before this whole thing started.

The eyewitness accounts could be embellished to be talking about a girl, not a guy. And the 'killing off' may have been when their relationship ended or became known to the family and quickly dismissed.

The relationship could have been a front for them the whole time and it was kept a secret because their conservative Mormon families would not approve of their love, so it had to be hidden away.

Admittedly, this theory probably doesn't have a great deal of traction, but at this point it's the one of the only ones that makes a lick of sense and provides a motive.

As time goes on, I'm sure a real theory will come to light, but as of this moment, the evidence provided is probably as valid a theory as any.

I also kind of root for it because it makes Te'o look less like an idiotic jackass than the other theories, and I kind of would prefer it if one of ND's most recent talents was not an offense to the intelligence standards of this fine institution.

More than likely, though, the theory I think that will be true is that Te'o couldn't get a girlfriend due to his training time, and to look less awkward in front of his teammates, made up the girlfriend. It started to get out of hand, and when it looked like it was going awry (or when he found an actual girlfriend), he abruptly killed off the relationship.

That, to me, seems like the most likely of options, and I think as more evidence comes to light we'll see that. It makes sense to me. I live a work-heavy life and have very sporadic times to meet new people. As such, a girlfriend is much harder to come by, and I can see the appeal of wanting a way to get the monkey off one's back.

I don't because I know that would only cause issues when I finally do get a girlfriend, but I see what he could have been going for.

I don't think Te'o is a bad guy, just an awkward college student who has the planning ability of a 9-year-old.

My ultimate complaint lies with the media, who somehow missed this when it was clearly staring them in the face. I think those mainstream companies need to take a long, hard look at themselves, and instead of demonizing this situation, simply get to the bottom of it and then move on to the next story.

Only this time, see a problem and keep tabs on it so that this madness never happens again.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Splintered review: A return to Wonderland done right

Few books have received the level of utter love across every realm of media the way Lewis Carroll's two most famous works, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, have managed to.

Granted, more often than not these two works are run together, specifically people's erroneous idea that the Tweedles and the Jabberwocky poem came from the AIW when they in fact were in TTLG. But despite the card motif of AIW and the chess motif of TTLG getting mixed up/together, plenty of movies and TV series have been built around this world.

Actually, my first exposure to the characters came in Adventures in Wonderland, a 1990s Disney show for kids that starred Elizabeth Harnois, who is now known as Morgan Brody from CSI, as Alice. I highly recommend this show for kids.

But I'm here today to talk about the sequels and elseworld stories that are built from these two books. Quite frankly, many are quite terrible. The Tim Burton nightmare gave a glimpse into a Wonderland that was actually quite terrifying and served as a warning for what happens when Johnny Depp is given Edward Scissorhands makeup that isn't black.

The one good thing it did, though, is show that a dark Wonderland can work if someone actually takes the time to do some universe building while addressing how a children's story looks so messed up. And boy, did we get that in A.G. Howard's debut novel, Splintered.

Awesome program. Find it on YouTube.
The book is an admirably quick read, finishing up in hardcover form in slightly fewer than 400 pages (about the length of a Hunger Games book, which will be reviewed as a trilogy at a later date). The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm not referring to the girl.

It has a Garden of Eden feel and the girl, supposedly the main character, is given a look of innocence, symbolic of the innocence the source material loses when clubbed by the plot of this story.

But just because it's a darker take does not mean it's a bad story. Heck, in many ways its plot actually has a real flow to it that can't be done in the source material.

The book focuses on Alyssa, a high school junior who is six generations the successor of her ancestor, Alice Liddell, on whom Carroll based his main character. It is revealed that ever since Alice apparently went insane, every succeeding member of the bloodline has gone insane, believing they hear insects talking and having a tea party-based fetish.

(I could go with a politically satirical picture here, but I'd rather not get that comment war going.)

So yeah, Alyssa gets the same sensations as soon as she hits adolescence, leading her to fear that she may end up in an asylum like her mother, who actually doesn't come off as very insane outside of the occasional display of violence (which actually makes sense as you go along).

When she realizes that this insanity may have something to do with Wonderland, she seeks out the location of the original rabbit hole in England and goes down. Unfortunately, her, uh, boy who has friend-zoned her, ends up down there with her.

What proceeds is a hero's journey from the two to undo Alice's wrongs and restore sanity to the bloodline, and there are so many Wonderlandian twists along the way that you'll not be sure where you're going even though you're confident you know how it will end. (And you kind of will be right, but not in the way you were expecting.)

The characters in this book are portrayed with a great amount of depth and intelligently. Alyssa tells the story in the first person, so you get a real feel for her growing emotional conflict as she finds out more about her past.

She's portrayed as a clean, American girl with a rebellious streak that doesn't get nearly enough time to work itself out, and Wonderland does a great job of letting her unleash it.

Wonderland itself is a terrifying world that most likely scared the crap out of Alice when she went through it. The whole thing has a gothic kind of feel and many of the iconic characters from the book come off as unsettling.

The thing is, it works. Unlike Burton's version, which just looks weird, Howard does a tremendous job with universe-building. An explanation given is that Alice was too young to process what she saw, so Lewis Carroll wrote the most coherent account he could based on the story she was telling. The book reveals a more likely (and equally sensible) reason why the worlds are so different, so I have to give Howard respect for giving the reader a frame of mind for her world.

Characters from both AIW and TTLG are brought up, the most important being the Catterpillar, who is now a butterfly named, ugh, Morpheus.

Not that Morpheus! Evidently this one looks like The Crow with wings.

I know it has a mythological connotation, but could universe-bending stories stop using Morpheus as major character names? It's becoming a tired trope and I'd prefer stories just come up with their own unique names. Thank you.

Alison, Alyssa's mom, is a really fun character for the little time she gets. I actually wouldn't mind a book chronicling her messed up life. Sounds like there's a horror story somewhere in there.

Jeb, Alyssa's crush/friend/guy, is a good character, though at times his inability to shut up and let Alyssa get information from characters is REALLY irksome. Dude needs to chill.

The romance between the two comes off as fairly natural, but of course there has to be a love triangle to appeal to teens. This one uses Morpheus and it's framed not only as a romantic decision, but one determining which moral code Alyssa will take down the road.

That's actually a good idea. While Twilight popularized it (somehow) through just being a triangle, this one had a purpose and actually created a rooting interest without turning it into teen angst crap.

My biggest complaints (all two of them) come in the final act of the book right near the climax. The whole time it's clear that a real sacrifice is going to have to be made, and kudos to Howard for still managing to surprise me when Alyssa has to make her sacrifice.

BUT as her sacrifice plays out, it runs by really quickly and the payoff mostly affects a character who had only been mentioned in the book. I think giving said character some time to talk and be notable would have made the scene far more emotional.

The other complaint, which is slightly larger, is that the after we finally have the climax that's been building for more than 100 pages, a second one is then jammed in immediately after. It is set up, so it doesn't hurt the book heavily, but the reader is just recovering from the moment they'd been waiting for and this was not necessary. It also didn't help that in the TRUE final struggle, it took me a couple of reads to properly understand what was happening in the scene.

Overall, though, while some scenes didn't hit their hardest and one really didn't work besides to set up a sequel (PLEASE do a trilogy with Alison/the Liddells as a prequel and a single sequel addressing that plot twist!), this was a great read.

I was hooked from the first chapter all the way to the end and would highly recommend this for anyone who is a fan or AIW/TTLG or is interested in learning about the universe. It really makes you want to go read the source material and try to figure out all the references and what the gothic were like in the originals.

This is by far the most worthy successor to the Carroll universe in book form I've seen, and here's hoping A.G. Howard continues her writing career (and makes that trilogy and some film adaptations).

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Scott Lobdell removes the Hood; leaves RHATO to James Tynion

Imagine my surprise this morning when I went onto Facebook when Scott Lobdell posted via ComicVine that he would be leaving the Red Hood and the Outlaws title after Issue #18.

Newsarama immediately got an interview with replacement writer James Tynion IV posted regarding the direction the series will be taking starting in April.

Let me just take a moment to thank Scott Lobdell in advance for all the work he's put into this title. The book has certainly had its fair share of haters. (Heck, I'm pretty sure Linkara still wants the premiere issue on his 'Atop the Fourth Wall' program.)

And I have no problem saying it took him some time to get all three's stories balanced in the book or to bring Starfire's competent, badass warrior character in the story. But for all the hate on it, Lobdell created a nice story that was pure escapist fun.

I'm still rooting for Isabel to survive because of her awesomeness in the space arc. Red Hood feels like a true anti-hero and emotionally compelling for the first time since 'Under the Hood.' Roy Harper, who never interested me in the slightest in any variation, is fun for me for the first time ever.

And Starfire... well, he's at least portrayed her well enough. And the dynamic with Blackfire is actually interesting in that it's not taking the usual path. Much respect for the re-imagining there.

What bugs me is that he said his schedule forced him to drop a book. Why not Teen Titans? I mean, yeah, it's a higher book in terms of status, but it's also his worst book critically.

Between the Culling and DOTF crossovers, I have to actively avoid a major team book altogether. Kudos to those fans, though, I guess.

Tynion IV sounds like he has some interesting ideas in store, but much like when I heard Gail Simone was leaving Batgirl, I'll have to see a work sample before I decide if I want to continue it in my review rotation.

Until then, best of luck with Superman, Lobdell. And thanks for setting up this book nicely in the New 52.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Death of the Family Part 11: Detective Comics #16 (and Superior Spider-Man #1)

It's kind of hard to believe, but I really can't wait for Death of the Family to finish up.

Not because of Scott Snyder's work on the main Batman title; that's been excellent work that should make for an excellent trade paperback. I'm more aggravated by the abundance of tie-ins that have put half a dozen stories on hold.

Joker's plans for the rest of the Bat-family have been completely irrelevant to the plot and I seriously wonder what I'm supposed to take from them other than the fact that Joker has WAY too much time on his hands, as he has managed to kidnap every Bat-family member while he also stages a wedding, a roller-skating date, a coronation, and a freaking zombie/cannibal apocalypse.

Batgirl and Nightwing have been the only two books that have allowed the Joker to actually affect the universe and give the tie-ins some stakes. Robin's tie-in with Batman and Robin is the only one that's executed the cookie-cutter "Joker ties up X, monologues half the book then has a twist ending" format in an interesting manner. And while Red Hood and the Outlaws SHOULD have stakes, but it tied itself into the garbage that is Teen Titans and created an incomprehensible mess.

Oh, and the quicker I can remove Catwoman and Suicide Squad's tie-ins from my memories entirely, the better.

So bearing all of this mess of a crossover in mind, I have one thing to say about Detective Comics #16 (and #15 last month): THANK YOU JOHN LAYMAN!!!

I have never been happier that a writer chose to not include the Joker in his book physically. The angle taken here is that Detective will explore Gotham's more insane reactions to Joker's presence.  That means hoards of copycat gangs that Batman has to shut down.

Incredibly, this calls back to the gang of Joker sympathizers who protested in Detective #5. I honestly thought Tony Daniel's run was going to be thrown out, but I love how Snyder and Layman are both taking elements from the earlier stories to build their narratives.

There are some weaker dialogue moments, such as when he tells a gang of copycats to disperse. He sounds very little like Batman here, but then again, he said these are a gang of goofballs who announce their crimes via tweet, so maybe he figures authoritative warnings are enough to scare them straight.

The main gang Batman is trying to find is called the League of Smiles, who are led by an interesting new villain who is revealed in the final page of the main story. One of the new members of the gang provides a unique look at how someone inspired to madness by Joker can be the way that they are.

Honestly, though, what made this book buy-worthy for everyone, I'd say, is the backup story, which features Ignatius Ogilvy, now known as the Emperor Penguin, seizing control of Cobblepots gang of criminal allies (who were also part of a bizarre Tony Daniel story).

This piece gives a read into how he came into power and showed that he is very different from Cobblepot in how he handles situations. Emperor Penguin has a level of self-preservation and sees no reason not to destroy someone expendable without warning or hesitation.

I really can't wait for this storyline to move back into the forefront because if Layman can advance a plot and make it this compelling through a surrounding narrative (I love how the backup actually ties into the main story event though their plots through details that really didn't get much focus in Snyder's story, by the way), then I'm truly excited to see where he can take this thing.

Just PLEASE don't make it a crossover event.

Superior Spider-Man #1

I felt like I was obligated to skim through this in the comic store after following Spidey's last arc in Amazing Spider-Man #698-700.

For those uninitiated, the final arc of "Amazing" involved Peter Parker's body being taken over by Doc Ock while Ock's body died. So naturally, "Superior" begins with Ock-in-Peter mourning his old discarded corpse and the soul he supplanted.

One problem that immediately jumps out here is that Ock's mentality has shifted heavily from last issue. While it makes sense that he'd be upset all his future accomplishments will be done in Peter Parker's name and not his own, he shows none of the effects Peter's soul supposedly had on him.

Over the course of a few fights, Spidey runs from a fight when it's clear he'll have to take some lumps to win and nearly uses lethal force more than once.

The question is how much 'wrong'
you'll take to undo 'One More Day.'
The only humor in it are the scenes where Ock tries and fails to make Peter-esque jokes (though his quick about D-list villains calling themselves Sinister Six was an actual great line), and where Ock acts like a weird perv in front of Mary Jane.

My only hope for this storyline is that this somehow breaks the deal with Mephisto and the writers at Marvel actually make an attempt to write a 20-something Spider-Man who doesn't whine and complain like he's still a high-schooler.

Much of the character growth I think we're supposed to see with Ock has been thrown out with this new writer and it's not for the better. Oh, and the last few panels pretty much confirm something we already knew would be the case, so thanks Marvel for already establishing from Issue #1 that you have no intention of taking this storyline seriously.

At least with the VERY flawed clone saga, you actually had a new status quo that theoretically could have stuck. Here, you've pretty much given your story a shelf life from the beginning and made it clear that I should keep no emotional investment in your current title character, because he's leaving, most likely only serving to alienate Parker's body from his allies and setting the character (again) back to square one.

Thank you, Marvel, for making my purchasing decisions VERY easy for the foreseeable future.

If you want some Marvel recommendations: Indestructible Hulk, All-New X-Men, and Avengers in that order. If you want one to avoid purchasing, I think I just found you one!

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Death of the Family Part 10: Teen Titans #15 and quick Throne of Atlantis thoughts

As I read the Teen Titans part of the Death of the Family crossover, all I could ask is, 'What the H'el am I reading?'

I really do respect Scott Lobdell for actually being able to tell a good story with Jason Todd as Red Hood, but I've not been at all thrilled with his Teen Titans stuff. Tim Drake's bizarre origin story, sadly, has been the highlight of this book.

That deeply upsets me as someone who has read the Wolfman-Perez era Titans and know how good storied can be with this team.

This bit of madness is not only a crossover for DOTF, it's a crossover within a crossover, combining Red Hood and the Outlaws' story with this one.

But if you thought you'd need to read RHATO to understand this book, I can promise you it won't make the slightest bit of difference. The two books share the exact same final page, and everything else is an independent story.

This book is narrated through Tim Drake's somehow omnipotent mind, as he seems to know exactly what is happening in the outside world with his team but can't seem to figure out what is happening with him.

The Titans (who should NOT be in a Joker crossover event) request help finding Tim from Batgirl, who comes off as someone with a superiority complex, looking down on all of them before leaving to  take on more important Joker-related things.

As an aside, if those things are what's happening in her book, I have no earthly idea how she's found time to meet with these guys. If not, the fact that Tim is so low on her totem pole of priorities really makes her seem like a b**ch.

Anyway, the Titans in this book in no way compel me the way the Donna Troy Wonder Girl, Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Starfire did, and much of that can be placed on Lobdell not realizing that new readers would be picking this up and thinking to add give some BACKGROUND on the people he forced into the story.

Seriously, I don't think these characters should even be in a DOTF event, but if you insist, let me know who they are! I know nothing about the naked storm girl or the annoying European guy (supposedly they're Solstice and Danny the Street). The current versions of Wonder Girl and Kid Flash are less competent and funny, respectively, than Donna Troy and Wally West.

Oh, if that's Solstice, WTF happened to her body that she looks like the embodiment of outer space? Background, Lobdell! We need background!

The rest of the book follows a basic formula. Tim is trapped by Joker, who monologues endlessly, then he goes after the Titans, who are trying to find Tim.

I'm sure you're thinking the same thing: Why is Joker going after the Titans? I don't know, because this guy's supposed to be planning to destroy BATMAN'S mind, NOT Red Robin. There is a moment where you become unsettled at what Joker may know, but it's lost in oh so much crap.

I think Lobdell is a better character writer than a plot writer. Part of RHATO's charm is it has a feel like "The Expendables" where the story is basically a conduit for awesome character moments. That is not working here, mostly because if it tries to enter a grander narrative, it feels out of place.

This book needs a new creative team, really. Lobdell made his characters enjoyable to read, but he's taken them as far as he can, and someone has to give them a story to develop before they stagnate any further.

Briefly, I'm going to give you my thoughts on the early issues in the Justice League/Aquaman crossover, Throne of Atlantis. Read it. Buy it. Love it.

This may well go down as one of Aquaman's three best stories ever. I love how although there is a clear good and bad guy, the bad guy isn't a simple evil being. It's a political story where both sides have a philosophy on how to handle land/sea relations.

Aquaman and Orm clearly have respect for each other and neither wants to fight the other. They can respect each other's differences, which will make it all the more tragic if Orm becomes motivated to become a pure villain. This has very much a Professor X/Magneto vibe from X-Men: First Class, but with more awesome heroes.

The books should still be available somewhere, and definitely can be bought digitally, so take a look!

I'll be back Wednesday with Detective Comics' final DOTF crossover piece.

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