Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Justice League of America #1

In a true throwback to the ultra-complex 1990s comics universe, DC Comics has decided to run a second Justice League faction (not including JL Dark, of course), and it was honored with a #1 issue packaged in FIFTY-THREE cover variants.

Photo by seanjaramillo10
Yeah, they're doing a cover with the American flag, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all 50 states.

If this isn't a money grab, I don't know what is. I personally will not try to collect all them, and only bought the American Flag version to read, and a Nevada flag as a collectible. (Like Nevada's flag is going on many other books in the future.)

But anyway, how is the actual title? It's actually pretty good, although I can't get a good read on it yet since this was just introducing the characters.

Basically, everyone in the U.S. goverment is scared out of their minds by the fact that the Justice League could go rogue thanks to the whole Aquaman "Throne of Atlantis" event.

As such, Amanda Waller (who reads better here than in that awful Suicide Squad book) and Steve Trevor begin discussions on the new Justice League of America, a group brought together not because they work well as a team, but because each member is a foil for a JL counterpart.

The first hero introduced is Hawkman, who is portrayed in a FAR more sane manner in this book than in his own. This is by far the best Hawkman appearance in the New 52, and it looks like they consider him a foil for Aquaman.

Katana (formerly of the Birds of Prey) is introduced as Wonder Woman's counterpart and appears to be the most badass person on this team.

Vibe, who for some reason is now getting his own title, will be Flash's counterpart and he comes across as a young, fresh-faced hero who has a Peter Parker-esque moral code.

Stargirl (Cyborg's counterpart) makes her New 52 debut here as a Hollywood girl who came into some awesome powers. She's got a good nature and I look forward to reading about her, although it looks from this book that she'll be upset with the minimal role Waller's group wants to give her.

Obviously, most everyone knows Martian Manhunter (Superman's counter) and his history, and he is written reasonably well (if not a little stand-offish). He could be better, but then again, I've never been blown away by his uses in comics.

The Simon Baz Green Lantern is going to be Hal Jordan's counter, and I've already said in other reviews how great Baz is, so I look forward to reading more about him. Green Arrow was to be Batman's counter, but he had another plot in this book that I really hope makes more sense in context that will come later.

Lastly, Steve Trevor decides a better counter for Batman is needed, so he calls... Catwoman? I will say this: The rationale they give for her agreeing makes sense, and I'm thrilled the character is being written by someone competent. But this is surreal and I can't say I want to see Catwoman in the JLA.

On the whole, it's a by-the-numbers introduction of characters and I look forward to seeing where this book goes next. I'd buy it, and I'd find my home state's cover to boot. It's just awesome to see.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Batgirl #17 and Batman & Robin #17

Unlike earlier in the month where I completely spaced on writing the Detective Comics #17 review, this one has taken some time because I wanted to put it in alongside some of the other "Death of the Family" post-mortem.

Honestly, if you've read my Nightwing and RHATO reviews already, then you've probably gotten the feeling that I am enjoying the post-DOTF stuff. Well, that's because I haven't expressed my disappointment with these titles yet.

Batgirl #17

So while last week's reviewers may have given Batgirl's guest writer a positive opinion, no such charity will be given here. Wow, talk about a drop in quality.

First off, I'm not sure who narrated the beginning of the book because those narration boxes were the same color and font as Jim Gordon Jr.'s thought boxes. If they were one and the same, then the whole rooting for Barbara thing really came off as bipolar. Am I supposed to assume that's what's happening? This book was just annoying to try to follow.

Secondly, why ARE we doing this story from Jim Jr.'s perspective? We just got out of DOTF. Barbara had a huge emotional hell thrust upon her, and we're taking the narration out of her mind? Oi!

Thirdly, where is Barbara's roommate? You know, the one who was JUST WITH JIM JR. the day Joker struck? You can't just leave that out of the story one issue out if you're intent on making the possible kidnapping madman the narrator!

Fourth(ly?), WTF is with Barbara and this petty thief from two arcs ago? Besides the fact that she nearly exposes her true identity to him on accident, they've clearly established an age difference exists, so what the hell is going on here? This is NOT a romance I want to see!

And finally, the art sucks. Seriously, I hated the odd shapes people seemed to take in this book. Barbara almost looks like she came out of the mind of someone practicing cubism in some panels.

My only positive is that for the first time, Barbara's computer skills are put to use. I like the idea of showing off more of those Oracle-based skills. That said, given how emotional she just recently was, she comes off as overly calm during her phone conversations with Jim Jr.

Man, oh, man, if the Jim Jr. stuff gets paid off before Gail Simone goes back on the book I'm going to be PISSED. If you were lucky enough to avoid this book last week, good for you! Do it next month too, and I'll see you when the good writing comes back in April.

Batman and Robin #17

Ok, this book isn't bad, but it's not the best and it certainly is not what I was hoping for right after DOTF.

The storyline isn't really a storyline and is rather a compilation of dreams Bruce, Damian and Alfred have after a night of fighting crime.

This is not a bad idea in itself. It gives the chance to show off artistically and limits the need to be totally logical (which is good, because you're going to be confused at times).

My problem is that the dreams of Bruce and Damian feel far too normal given what has just occurred with them. I expected far more out of them, and they felt too much like these two hadn't had an interesting opponent to fight is weeks.

Only Alfred's dream works to perfection, as I always love Alfred being portrayed as a badass, and it was great to see him go all "Batman: Earth One" on Joker.

Overall, it's not a bad book but it's not required reading. It's just a stereotypical 'funny book' that you can flip through while in line to buy your other, better books.

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Comic Book Reviews: Nightwing #17 and Red Hood & The Outlaws #17

Following a "Death of the Family" event in which only two titles actually succeeded in storytelling, the biggest success (Nightwing) and the biggest disappointment (Red Hood and the Outlaws) have their follow-ups.

I'm glad to say that both turned out really nicely.

Nightwing #17

This crossover may have been one of the best things for the Nightwing title, as it really sets the Dick Grayson character back into a position where he has nothing.

You find out the actual body count from the previous two issues (in which all of Haly's Circus was taken to Hell and back) and start to get the feeling that it may have been more merciful to Dick if there hadn't been survivors. Dick looks like a man who has truly been left with nothing after this, and it's really true.

The whole story is organized as a collection of scenes in the week following the Joker's attacks, each of which hits Dick even harder than the last. The scenes with Alfred and Lucius Fox are done well and I really liked the hint of jealousy Barbara had about Sonia Branch at a funeral.

The scene that everything built to, though, was the conversation with Damian Wayne, who gets his first chance in the Nightwing book to show how important his first Batman has been to him. The support given to Dick by so many in the Bat-family was just nice to see and it's clear here why Nightwing is considered the lynch-pin of the entire DCU.

The only really weak point this issue is the art, which felt a tad over-muscular and made even Alfred look like some type of amateur bodybuilder. This is probably the first comic in years where the women were portrayed more tastefully and realistically than the men.

Still, can't fault Kyle Higgins' writing, and that's really what will sell you today. Definitely worth a buy, as these next couple of issues will set up Nightwing's new world in the issues to come.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17

At this point, isn't the whole "A Death in the Family" cover where Batman holds Jason Todd's corpse a bit overdone? It's a great cover, and I loved the call-back to Jason's first death reflected in a pool of blood, but geez, I think this is going to become a storytelling trope.

The first few pages aren't much better, either, which isn't surprising because Scott Lobdell now had to tie his ridiculous tie-in back into Red Hood's ACTUAL story.

Thankfully, the rest of this book hit hard and hit long. Alfred's conversation with Jason was incredibly uplifting and the exchange between Jason and Damian was just fun. But not as fun as Damian's conversation with Arsenal, who finally gets ribbed about his goofy-as-all-hell trucker hat.

For me, my favorite portion of this book was the brief exchange between Jason and Starfire, followed by Jason's conversation with Nightwing. A conversation between Dick and Kori has been one of THE things I've waited for since the reboot, and although they didn't share that moment here, Lobdell played off that such a moment is of huge emotional importance for both, and I loved how both couldn't stand to meet after such an emotional few days. It makes me really excited for when that moment actually comes.

One moment that actually does happen is Bruce and Jason's conversation, which was short, to the point, and exactly what it should have been.

Oh, and if you've been waiting for a real payoff to Joker's "creation" of the second Robin, I think it finally comes to light in a big way here. Without spoiling it, I feel fairly certain that Lobdell's final issue on RHATO next month will be one for the books.

I still have a few comics from last week to post today, and expect some JLA stuff as well. Hope everyone enjoys!

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Weekly Facebook postings

NOTE: This blog post will be published on all three branches of my blog network.

In an effort to get more conversations going about topics and increase the urgency to like my Facebook page/follow my Twitter,  I am going to start giving my brief thoughts on topics I don't think can fill a traditional "Reflections of..."/"Why I..." piece on Facebook and Twitter.

The point of this will be so that you as an audience are able to comment on my pieces and talk about certain topics with (at the very least) me as well as other readers. I have three rules:
1. If you curse, I will censor it.
2. If your comment insults another commenter and I can't salvage a real argument out of it, it gets deleted.  
3. If you spam with anything besides articles relevant to your point/the topic at hand, I block your account.

For those who don't want to participate but would still like to see what I say, I'll do a post at the end of the week where I take these posts and put them together in (most likely) a Storify compilation. For those reading the wrestling blog, I want to start reviewing programs like Raw and Impact Wrestling, and I think this is how I'll do it.

If any comments are particularly compelling, I'll add them to the list as well. Each weekly list will be tailored to the branch of the blog it is on. Here is an example of how I will probably do it using General Blog thoughts on comics:

These thoughts aren't really long enough for a blog, but I'd like to get my thoughts out (feel free to discuss in comments): I LOVE that Katana got her own book. I'm thrilled that a female superheroine of Asian descent merited her own solo comic series and I want it to succeed. I also respect Ann Nocenti for being one of the few women writing in the comic industry today. Fact is, though, she's an editor. Her writing is awful and I don't want her on Katana. It makes the book unreadable and I can't in good conscience buy it. I'm sad to say it, but this book's inevitable cancellation was probably set before publishing. It was sealed the second they named the creative team.

Also, given the clues, I think I know a good route the "Amazing Spider-Man" trilogy can take. Electro and Rhino gain powers and Electro masterminds a plan with Rhino as an enforcer. Spidey needs more strength so he gets the black suit. He loses control and forces it off himself. Eddie Brock becomes Venom to end the movie, but Venom will have Carnage's psychotic side in this incarnation. Final movie combines Maximum Carnage (with Venom in the role) with "The Night Gwen Stacy Died/The Night Green Goblin Died."

Obviously, this is without Storify, but you can gauge what I'll be doing. Hope everyone enjoys the new blog dimension!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Death of the Family Finale: Batman #17 (and the arc as a whole)

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I'm going to try to review this without spoilers and then do a spoiler-laden one beneath it because there is a lot to say here.

This arc has been building up to this finale for five months and (somehow) 23 issues of books. I'm just going to say right now: If the history books decide that this isn't a classic, it is because of the ocean of utter insanity that was the tie-in stories.

If this had been limited to Nightwing and Batgirl, this could have been more streamlined and less... bad.

But between the Batman & Robin tie-in that made Damian look incompetent, the Detective Comics tie-in that had no actual connection to the story but had the label slapped on anyway, the Red Hood & The Outlaws-Teen Titans crossover/tie-in that made no sense and kept losing focus, the Suicide Squad tie-in that was good for all of maybe six pages, and the pile of steaming garbage that was the Catwoman tie-in, I honestly have gained nothing besides the fact that Joker has somehow obtained the time-travel device Hermoine Granger had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and is now using it to appear in multiple places in the span of a few hours.

The only other explanation would be that Joker has decoy versions of himself running around. When this thing is consolidated into a graphic novel, it needs to just be the main title because these tie-ins drag this thing down tremendously.

As to the finale itself: It's good. It's really good. If you take the main title for itself, it could well be a all-time story. BUT it will not take a position as one of the greatest Batman stories of ever.

Just all kinds of creepy here.
The art might. Heck, Greg Capullo's work on this issue alone is absolutely immaculate. It was both enjoyable and sickening to see the progressively rotting slab of flesh that Joker has attached to his head in all its disturbing glory.

The panels hearken back to the era of 1980s Batman, and the flow of the first and last few pages will give you a Killing Joke/Dark Knight Returns kind of feeling.

And the story itself, taken strictly from the Joker vs. Batman dynamic is on par with those legendary tales. The biggest problem with this story is that it leaves too much unanswered and the events that lead between the epic start and epic conclusion had some holes in them.

Overall, while I would say the core title of this event deserves a place in the pantheon of must-read Batman titles, it's just a hair below The Killing Joke, which remains, for me, as the gold standard of Batman stories.

What are these issues? Look below for my spoiler-filled thoughts, both positive and negative.

Here we go.
I'm really not sure why it is that Joker goes through all this trouble to find the Bat-family members when he didn't do anything to them. He's making a grand point about his face and why he cut it off, but then why do a big reveal that you cut their faces off, only to have them be fake faces?

I will give credit to the foresight that both the heroes and the fake faces wore masks, implying to an unsuspecting reader that the faces are fake, but the question remains, why?

Also, I'm not sure why Joker went through the dramatic face routine only to have the Family kill itself using his mind-controlling Joker gas. I mean, I get that he couldn't unleash it on them when he and Batman were there, but why did he tell Batman about it? Did he want Batman to leave the fight and get them, to choose strong or weak? Because that defeats the purpose of what he said he wanted to prove.

That said, I like the twist, I love how they beat it together, and I love that Batman finally grew to trust them all to solve their problems without getting involved and being their savior. I just don't see the logical connection between all three given the point Joker was making throughout the story.

I do love that Batman had a reason for knowing that the Joker wasn't targeting everyone's identities. And it really is one of the few times where it's shown that Joker really doesn't want to know Batman's identity. It's also great how Joker freaks when Batman threatens that he knows who Joker was.

Kudos to Capullo again on his flashback Joker, where he was still scarred on his face like the Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger variations of the character. There were nice callbacks everywhere, from the 80s paneling, to the scars, to the old-school joy buzzer and acid-spitting flower.

I also like that the Family has trouble facing Bruce and aren't coming around him immediately after the fight ends.

Lastly, kind of a nitpick, but does anyone know why Joker wore a mechanic's uniform for so many issues? It's probably not supposed to be a huge detail, but the tie-ins used it to death as well so I would have liked some explanation of that.

Overall, there is a lot to like here and the overall story is great, but there are just enough chinks in the armor to prevent it from hitting its ultimate potential. I still see "The Court of Owls" as Scott Snyder's best Batman arc, and the "Night of the Owls" crossover as generally stronger than DOTF thanks to none of the tie-ins really sucking. But the core story here is great, and Snyder's part may place him somewhere in the #3-#5 range of best Joker stories. Definitely something you'll want to own.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Comic Book Reviews: Detective Comics #17

Well this is a few days late.

For those curious where the review of this book has been the last six days, I can explain very easily: I forgot about it.

Yeah, I thought I had written it, but it turns out I just spaced on it and didn't realize I hadn't posted something until I started to prepare my review of Batman #17, which will be out tomorrow.

Oddly, I got distracted by the big "Arrow" episode last week, so yeah, check that out because it blew everything out of my mind.

Needless to say, that is the book every Batman fan has been waiting for, and if the preliminary reviews are any indicator, it will somehow live up to the gargantuan level of hype surrounding it and possibly vault the arc into a new pantheon up there with The Killing Joke, Year One and The Dark Knight Returns.

But that's tomorrow, and while I am chomping at the bit to see what Scott Snyder has put together, John Layman did write a story in Detective that is worth picking up tomorrow while you stand in the inevitably long line for Snyder's magnum opus of Batman.

I will admit, actually buying this book is a tossup. For some it's must-buy, for others it will just be a read in the store kind of thing. But it is a story you definitely want to test out.

Those who read issue #16 already know that the Joker's rampage through the Bat-verse has caused a legion of Joker-philes to come out of the woodwork, the worst of which is a group known as the League of Smiles.

Since the character of the "Merry Maker" was going to conclude his run in this issue, the reveal of who he is will not be all that shocking to readers. It might surprise you for a moment, but given a minute of continuous thought on the matter, and it really won't be that dramatic of a shock.

That said, the actual story moves at a nice pace and being predictable doesn't necessarily mean bad. It's executed well; it just won't send you on any twists and turns that make the story stand out.

The big selling points are the nod to Emperor Penguin, as it becomes clear that he will be taking over as the main villain next month, and the back-up, which shows the Merry Maker talking to a psychiatrist. It's really the best part of the story and has the twist you may crave.

Honestly, this book feels like it could have been an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and that's a good thing. I love that tone and the quality is always solid at worst, epic at best. That's what this series has been since Layman took over.

If you want to be guaranteed a solid read each month, this is a title to flag down. I've thought something similar when Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith: I still don't agree that Tony S. Daniel warranted replacing on this book, but the improvement in quality can't be denied.

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