Friday, 20 February 2015

Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52) Review


Batman Volume 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52)
Mask includes bat-eyebrows.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #21-24 and Batman Zero Year Directors Cut 1

Background Information:

Since the mid-80s, the definitive Batman origin story was Batman: Year One. It was referenced pretty heavily in Batman Begins, found its way into the DC animated universe, and became Batman’s “official” origin story, even though it was never really part of the DCU.

With that in mind, it’s impressive that a book like this even exists. A book that dares to try and compete with a story so iconic, so readily canonised in the minds of so many fans that to look on it even with indifference is an act of heresy, was likely going to be dismissed at best, burned in effigy at worst. Good thing the book was written by Scott Snyder, a man who, looking at his previous Batman work, can do no wrong.

Review:

Writing Batman’s new origin is no simple task. You’ve got to answer to multiple masters, all of whom claim to be showing the “real” Batman- the animated series, the Nolan trilogy, almost anything written by Frank Millar; it’s a difficult job, but Snyder has handled it brilliantly, paying homage to pretty much each version of Batman’s origin.

When he's not Batman, he's not always great at this.
So Gotham’s middle-to-upper class are being manipulated into joining a gang led by a man called the Red Hood. Red Hood’s been having some problems though; a vigilante, a man with a deathwish, it would seem, has been foiling a large part of Red Hood’s plans. No prizes for guessing, but that man is Bruce Wayne. Bruce has been successful thus far, but needs to be something greater.

It doesn’t sound like much of a Batman origin story, I know; there’s no death of parents, being the major difference. But by not letting the readers see Bruce’s mother and father get shot, Snyder does a couple of things that allow for Secret City to be truly great. Firstly, we’re not retreading already familiar ground. Secondly, by not doing so, we can inject our own story of their death. You like the Nolan one? Great! That’s what it was- totally. You like the Burton story? Sure, that’s how it went down! Certain that the death happened after a night time screening of The Mask of Zorro? Of course it did! It’s a level of freedom for the reader that I really wasn’t used to, and I loved it.

That said, there are some scenes that you just don’t leave out. Snyder was wise enough to keep the classic Bruce Wayne line; “Yes father, I shall become the bat,” and keep the gravitas of the moment. That said, he’s injected a new life into the story, grounding it in the tech-fiction that has characterised Snyder’s run so that the whole thing feels fresh. Aside from this Year One excerpt, Snyder also inserts references to The Killing Joke- which I won’t spoil for you. It’s nice references like this that make Secret City near-perfect for new readers- a smorgasbord of samples from the character’s history given a new context, and it works wonderfully.

Sure, there are nitpicks; the fact that this collection is shorter than most is a bummer, as is the fact that this is another Joker story. Death of the Family was great, don’t get me wrong. But that, along with this, along with the current Endgame story arc happening in the floppies, and I’m concerned that we’re going to “Jokered-out” by volume 7 of this series. But they’re small concerns and really don’t hinder your appreciation of the book.

Oh, and side note; Red Hood’s helmet is not a hood, and looks like a giant tablet.

Hey, look, homage!
The art here by Capullo continues to look great, but he does something here that distinguishes Secret City from the other volumes in this series; he uses colour, and a lot of it. The fact that the first scene in the book features Batman in the day should be sufficiently telling of just how different this book is.

Alternatively, maybe Capullo’s just running out of black, grey and brown paint, but the affect is nice, nonetheless.

Secret City is fantastic, there’s no other word for it. It gets a four and a half out of five giant tablets.

**** ½

+ Pays homage to so much.

+ Actual colour in the art

+ Origin somehow avoids retreading.

- Didn’t we just get a Joker story?

Alternate Option: Batman: Zero Year

Something for the gruff old traditionalists.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Thougts of Recentness


Yep, another brain.
 
Okay, so thoughts of the week isn’t realistic. Here’s a collection of thoughts of recentness, instead.
And let’s face it; there are only two pieces of news here:

The words “The New 52” are ending… and that’s about all.

He won't destroy the DCU, but he WILL get rid of three words in the top corner of
your comics, and THAT'S the victory that matters!
 
Okay, haters. You win. The New 52 is ending.

HA! SUCKED IN!

No, it really isn’t. We’re just not calling it the New 52 anymore.

I gotta admit, there’s a lot here that I’m excited for. Cyborg, Dr Fate, Batman Beyond and Black Canary are all books that sound great, but for me, the most exciting thing is We Are Robin.
The most fresh and exciting thing on DC's new
menu.
The idea of what will hopefully be a teenage team emerging as people inspired by Robin is really interesting, and I just can’t go past that cover art.

That said, what isn’t there gets me concerned. It looks like we’re not getting a return of Nightwing, which was what I wanted out of DC more than anything. And is Kyle Higgins really not on any of the post-convergence titles? That’s sad, it really is- I’ve been loving Higgins’ characterisation in each of his titles that I’ve read and it’s a shame to see him leave DC.

Marvel can include Spider-Man in movies now

Spider-Man's now-permanent position in Marvel continuity.
Honestly, I know everyone’s excited about this, but personally, I’m not. I know that Spidey becomes the emotional centre of Civil War, which should equal a (somewhat) more faithful adaptation, but I never saw Spider-Man’s comics as being subservient to The Avengers. I don’t want a Spider-Man movie that’s nothing more than a two-hour ad for Infinity Gauntlet- I just don’t. I’d honestly rather have another Amazing Spider-Man 2 than see a movie purely designed to get Spidey into the Avengers (that should give you an idea of how unexcited I am about this). He’s not a bit-player, and to see him play second fiddle to Iron Man would just be insulting.

Yep, I’m anticipating hate comments, but I really don’t see how sharing Spider-Man with Marvel is going to result in a better Spider-Man franchise (Sony still has creative control, after all).

Superior Spider-Man Volume 4: Necessary Evil (Marvel NOW!) review


The Superior Spider-Man Vol. 4: Necessary Evil

Spider-Man takes hide-and-seek pretty
seriously.
Writer: Dan Slott

Artists: Ryan Stegman and Guiseppe Camuncoli

Collects: The Superior Spider-Man #17-21

Background Information:

Doctor Octopus is now Spider-Man (until he isn’t). Get over it.

Gee, that was quick.

Review:

The first three volumes of Superior were highly entertaining and well-paced. They took time to really showcase how a super-villain fights crime; killing criminals, unleashing drones to watch the city and even hiring minions complete with tanks to battle gangs. With that in mind, it’s sad that Necessary Evil sees a severe drop in momentum. The worst Superior Spider-Man volume is still better than the best Deadpool volume, but it’s still disappointing.
Yeah, shut up!

Over in the year 2099, Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of the future is noticing strange things afoot- Time is going crazy and it’s all because of something happening in 2013 and because it will somehow result in his ancestors dying, he needs to go back in time to save them. Meanwhile in the present, Otto’s workplace, horizon labs, is in a lot of trouble and will likely go under. It’s up to Otto to try and save his inventions from the company, and save the company if he has the time.

The first thing you’re going to notice about this book is the language Dan Slott uses for Spider-Man 2099. His dialogue is full of slang that, back in the 90s, writers were sure we’d be using in the 21st century. Word and phrases like “shock” and “son of a glitch” pepper the 2099 Spidey’s quips and threats. It’s true to the character, a 90s creation first written by Peter David, but that doesn’t mean that these kind of quips have aged well.

That said, Miguel is a pretty well-written character. He’s the only one with the gall to call Otto Octavius “low tech”. To a certain point, his “edgy” anger falls flat when you consider that we have two angry versions of Spider-Man (the same happened when Superior Spider-Man Team-Up crossed over with Scarlet Spider), but thankfully, 2099’s Spidey acts as an effective “voice of reason” to Otto’s self-interest.

I’m making it sound like this is a terrible book, but it isn’t. Like I said, it’s still better than the best Deadpool. Slott does a great job of really taking apart Otto’s self-perception as Peter Parker’s “superior”, as he fails to save the day, and the possibilities to come out of this volume are worth the price of the book- Otto’s new start-up company, Miguel stuck in the present, it’s all stuff that I really want to see play out.

The weakest part of this book, though is the second story arc, featuring Otto’s old flame, the Stunner. It’s largely uninteresting, and for new readers, it may as well not exist. There is a great moment where Otto is accused of plagiarising himself, but I don’t know if it justifies the existence of the arc.

Spider-Man remembers everything in the dated-art medium.
Art here continues to be solid. I miss Ramos’ art, but it’s hard for me to hate Stegman’s pencils; it’s what I cut my Marvel teeth on, and it’s great to see his style still in play- the guy just gets spider-characters.

Necessary Evil is the official low point of Superior Spider-Man, but that’s a long shot from saying that it’s a poor book. There’s some great art here and the story progresses nicely, it’s just not amazing on the way. It gets a two-and-a-half out of five best Deadpool volumes.

** ½

+ Miguel well-characterised.

+ Art still good.

- Second arc not good.

- Some “shockingly” bad dialogue.

Alternate Option: Superior Spider-Man: No Escape

A great volume to if you find yourself needing a reminder on why you read this series.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Thoughts of the week: Marvel Universe ends and Fantastic Four trailer.


Because it's a brain... geddit?
Okay, a new regular article I plan on writing, I look at the big news this week and make some comments. I can’t say that you’ll agree, but let’s see what you think.

The more unnecessarily busy, the better! 
Marvel Universe ending but it’s totally not a reboot. Stop calling it a reboot. Why does everyone think it’s a reboot?

Okay, even though some Marvel fans are denying it left, right and centre are denying that Marvel is rebooting the universe, I’m not sure that there’s another name for it. Sure, maybe it won’t be a full-on, nothing-matters-anymore-style reboot, but the evidence is pointing towards a reboot of some kind. The big question seems to be what kind of reboot we’re talking about.

Although it would make me lose faith in Marvel for the rest of my life, I’m anticipating that Marvel will likely place the X-men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four in a universe separate to 616. That way, Marvel can still make money off the considerable X-Men and Spider-Man fanbases without having to admit that they exist to the franchises in the MCU. It sounds pessimistic, but look at the facts; the Fantastic Four has been cancelled partially due to bad sales, partially because Marvel doesn’t care for Fox Studios. The X-Men are slowly being phased out by the Inhumans, and Spider-Man’s place in 616 isn’t as significant as it once was. We need to face facts; Marvel is by-and-large a movie studio now and comics are quickly being repurposed as commercials, no matter what Tom Brevoot says.

Oh, the reviews of movies that
nobody's seen yet...
That Fantastic Four Trailer

We spent a good long time riffing on Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot, haven’t we? But now that trailer has launched and…

Well, I’m not going to say we’re shutting up, but we’re a bit less sure about how awful it’s going to be now, aren’t we?

It’s time we just admitted that, as fans, we don’t know as much as we think we do. We thought Affleck couldn’t be an imposing Batman until the pictures dropped. We were ready to dismiss Days of Future Past and it ended up being one of the greatest X-Men films to date, and need I mention Guardians of the Galaxy, which was supposed to be Marvel’s Achilles’ heel? We’ll never learn, will we?

Personally, I get the feeling it’s going to be average- The Amazing Spider-Man-standard work. But I may find myself being blown away by it anyway. Currently, I’m intrigued about the interpretation, but don’t see myself getting blown away.

And currently, that’s all. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War (The New 52) Review


Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War
Hmmm... where would we find two shiny
people in a dark room...

Writer: Peter J Tomasi

Artists: Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna

Collects: Green Lantern Corps #0, 8-14

Background Information:

In the last volume, Guy Gardner and John Stewart took on an alien race called the Keepers- the ones formerly tasked with storing the green light of willpower. During that time, John was imprisoned and interrogated with other Lanterns over codes that would allow the keepers to enter Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the Universe. In order to stop one lantern from giving the codes away, John killed him. He then went on to take that lantern’s body to his home planet where his parents and younger brother gave him a farewell. Of course, at that point, nobody knew that the lantern died at John’s hands.

Yep, that’s totally not going to blow up in his face.

Totally won’t.

Review:

Quick, shoot the green guys... oh... wait...
The first volume of Green Lantern Corps could have been much better, even if it wasn’t bad. I seriously doubt people would be desperate for a second volume based on the previous one, were it not for the fact that the series crosses right over with the other GL titles. Good thing that Alpha War seriously ups the game in Tomasi’s New 52 run; producing a story that rewards you for slogging through the first volume and ramps up interest in the third.

This volume concerns the fallout of John Stewart’s lantern killing. The Alpha Corps (the Green Lanterns charged with policing the Green Lanterns), have footage of the dastardly deed and have come with an arrest warrant for Stewart. Naturally, Guy Gardner opposes the arrest and you can bet people are going to smash each other with green objects.

The story is deeply rooted in how bad the Guardians are, and it almost goes without saying that to people familiar with the years of GL history. There’s nothing new here in that regard, but there’s a sense here that it’s finally going to boil over and that makes the volume interesting.

Tomasi also does a fine job at digging into GL history as references to the Manhunters, Mogo and the Psions. They’re all wrapped into the story and it’s entertaining in many ways. The battles between the Alpha Lanterns and the Corps is also well-done in the way it takes advantage of that history. Let’s face it; the Alphas are able to switch off the Lantern rings, so Guy needs to pull out something pretty clever. I’m more than happy to read that, but there’s one issue that bother me.

This book is supposed to be about Guy and John- two equally awesome lanterns that work together to save the universe. Why, then, does this title seem to be almost exclusively Guy’s book? Between this and last volume, John’s position has been relegated to “person in need of rescuing”. That has to be insulting to Stewart fans, and it smacks in the face of all the work DC did at the beginning of the New 52 to diversify their line.

The cliffhanger at the end of this book, however, is worth the price of the book and definitely validates buying the next volume. I won’t spoil it, but there’s some suggestion here that Guy won’t hijack the whole title for much longer.
It never occurred to me that Guy had an even stupider
haircut at some stage.

Somehow, though Pasarin’s art was distorted and not pretty at all in the first volume, the art in this volume looks a lot better. The constipated faces aren’t there anymore, nor do they look botoxed. There is still a lot of green here, and you’re gonna’ get sick of that colour by the end of this volume, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Alpha War has successfully validated Green Lantern Corps. It gets a four out of five people in need of saving.

+ Rewards you for reading volume 1.

+ Draws on GL history.

+ Art looks better.

- Guy steals too much spotlight

Alternate Option: Green Lantern: The Return of Black Hand

If you start this series, you need to read all the GL line.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Avengers Vol.2: The Last White Event (Marvel NOW!) Review

Avengers Vol. 2: The Last White Event (Marvel NOW!)

Even The Adams Family gets a gritty
reboot.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artists: Dustin Weaver and Mike Deodato

Collects: Avengers #7-11 (mmm… slurpies…)

Background:

In the last volume, the Avengers ran into Ex Nihilo, a naked guy with horns and a god-complex. He was busy sending machines called “origin bombs”- devices which change areas and their inhabitants into something more “advanced”. The team came back with Nihilo’s “Adam”, a man who calls himself Nightshade. Nightshade is convinced that something called “the system” is broken and that “the last white event” is coming to earth.

Yep, that’s a LOT of quotation marks.

Review:

While he was in the shower, the Avengers
stole his clothes.
The way I understand it, Hickman is known for telling long stories. The kind that take up multiple volumes and cross over more than one massive event. Heading all three major Avengers books, he’s kinda’ had total control of the Marvel universe since the beginning of Marvel NOW!. As such, The Last White Event reads very much like a cog in the machine- essentially useless on its own, but not something you’d want to read Avengers or the massive Infinity event without.

So the last white event hits earth and has granted someone the Starbrand- a tattoo that allows its bearer to destroy entire planets.

That someone is Kevin Conner- a relative nobody at his college thrust into the new planetary crisis. When that thrust comes from him accidently destroying said college and everyone in it.

It sounds like a simple story; but that’s something I have to admire about Hickman; he can take a plot that some writers would finish in five issue and add so much depth and detail to it that even though his version of the same story might be fifteen issues longer, it certainly doesn’t feel dragged out.

Hickman also does an admirable job at handling such a massive cast of characters. The previous volume, Avengers World gave us a roster of 17 characters as opposed to the traditional 5-8 heroes. This should be a daunting task- it would be easy to make this book all about the movie roster and delegate the other 12 characters to the B-team. Somehow, though, Hickman avoids this; giving us a trade paperback that uses all characters to the point where none of them feel like they’re just there.

Therein, though, lies the problem with this trade; by being equally about everyone, it somehow ends up being about no one. Thanks to that, we have a story that’s event-driven rather than character-driven. You have to wonder, therefore, if this story couldn’t have been served equally well by the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four or even the X-Men (kidding, of course, Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to the last two). In fact, does Captain America need to be involved at all?

"My abs and I are here to dust your clock!"
A word of warning, also, to new readers; this isn’t a trade that you can read on its own. Not only do you need to read the first volume, but there won’t be a satisfactory end to the series unless you buy the Infinity collection (and that costs around $50 in paperback). So if you just want a taste of the Avengers, best not go to Hickman’s books.

Art here is great, though. Kevin Conner is drawn in a way that perfectly portrays the power contained in a body that looks so feeble otherwise. Weaver and Deodato also do a great job of portraying the strange events spiralling out of the origin bombs, which continue to become more and more interesting.

The Last White Event should not be read on its own, but taken with the whole, it’s an entertaining chapter in a larger saga. It gets a three and a half out of five quotation marks.

*** ½

+ Hickman shares the spotlight amongst characters.

+ Doesn’t feel dragged out.

- Hardly a character-driven story.

- Not recommended unless you want to commit to Avengers.

Alternate Option: Avengers: Avengers World

Start with this.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Superman Action Comics Vol. 3: At the End of Days (The New 52) Review


Superman Action Comics Vol. 3: At the End of Days (The New 52)
Man, what do we do with all these cut-up
Superman pictures... hey, I got an idea!

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artists: Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Travel Foreman, Chris Sprouse, Andre Hennesy, Mark Propst, Karl Story and Cam Smith

Collects: Superman Action Comics #13-18

Background information:

So far, Gran Morrison’s run on Action Comics has followed a younger Superman- one who is slowly finding out what he can do and learning how powerful he really is. This Superman currently has no idea that he can breathe in space or even fly. It’s one more akin to the first appearance of the character in Action Comics #1. Clark Kent rents an apartment from the earth-form of Mr Mxyzptlk’s wife, which becomes a major part of this book’s plot. In each major story arc, a small, demon-like man has appeared, making deals with each villain Clark has faced. It’s all been leading to this, and Morrison has spent two volumes leading up to a story that tears at the fabric of reality in a way only Morrison knows how.

Review:

The last two volumes of Action Comics were fun, but hardly what you would call real Morrison books. Morrison, to me, always means stories that jump back and forth in time, a Morrison story usually requires a second reading to fully appreciate, and has a real flair for Meta-storytelling.
PUPPY!!!

At the End of Days is, in every way, a real Morrison story.

After the last couple of volumes, Vyndktvx, the little imp man that we’ve seen so often is finally coming for Superman, attacking him at all stages of his life. That’s about as simple as I can go with the story without writing something akin to a novel. That said, this is a volume that brings together Morrison’s various story arcs together quite nicely. Almost every character from the last two volumes makes their appearance. Surprisingly, this happens without feeling forced- something that you think would happen in a book that has covered so much ground. And on top of that; Krypto!!!

Like I said, this is very much a Morrison book. It jumps around in time, deals with an extra-dimensional threat and resolves it with much meta-storytelling. I was worried that it would bother me (it did in Batman Inc. and Batman and Son), but found myself totally engrossed in it.

That said, a word of warning: this is the kind of book that requires a second reading to really “get” it. The whole story pays off, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t call this a light read in the same way that, say, Nightwing is. There’s a good story here, but you need to be dedicated to really work it out.

My one gripe with this book story-wise, though, has to do with that dedication. I’ve read this volume about three times and I’m still trying to figure out what actually happened and what didn’t. See, like I said, this book jumps around in time. And that, supposedly, means that some things happen in the story, some didn’t. It’s hard to make a decision on that, and that does make my brain hurt a little.

I believe Superman is thinking: "Fancy that! This feels most
unpleasant"... probably not in those words, though.
Artwise- FINALLY, this book has gotten its house in order! There are still lots of artists on here, but there seems to be at least a little consistency that I must admit, was missing in previous volumes. The colours, though, are what really stand out to me. The pages look rich and vibrant and conveys action very well. I will admit, that sometimes the art style does change as the narration moves between dimensions, but that actually enhances the experience rather than diminishing it. After, all if you’re going to draw little imps- best they don’t look grim and gritty.

Overall, At the End of Days is a pretty satisfying conclusion to a Morrison one, if not a little confusing (naturally). It gets four out of five grim and gritty imps.

****

+ Art finally consistent.

+ KRYPTO!!!

+ Wraps up the Morrison’s run excellently.

+ Very much a Morrison book…

- … Which can get confusing.

Alternate Option: Superman Action Comics: Superman and the Men of Steel

Art issues aside, it’s still my favourite of the lot.