Monday, 30 December 2013

Static Shock Vol 1: Supercharged (The New 52)

Static Shock Volume 1: Supercharged (The New 52)
Unfortunately, "holding jellyfish" is
not a superpower.

Writers: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum

Artist: Andy Owens

Read as trade paperback.

Background Information:

Static is probably best known for the cartoon featuring the character from the late 90s to early 2000s. The character is basically a high-school aged guy in the future who somehow has electric powers.  The cartoon was made when Warner Bros. was going through a “future-obsession”. Shows like Batman Beyond and The Zeta Project were already gaining popularity amongst kids, so Static Shock seemed like a logical choice. Only Batman Beyond was a smash hit, but Static Shock was entertaining enough to be watchable.

So now he comes into the New 52. That’s all I can tell you about this trade before the review.


Supercharged is a disappointment, not because Static is an awful character, but because his potential is tragically underutilised. Upon reading this book, it becomes pretty obvious that this book was cancelled for a reason. It’s an absolute mess that lacks energy honestly, isn’t that does not energise, or even shock the reader at all. It’s a pity, because Static himself is a truly endearing character and his supporting cast is very likable.

So how did it go so wrong? Well, it’s mostly to do with the politics behind DC at the early stage of the New 52. Lots of arguments and head-butting behind the scenes lead to regular changes in the creative talent (the loss of JH Williams III in Batwoman). Static is probably the best example of how this can make things go wrong. I won’t go into details about the backstage stuff here (this guy is much better at that sorta’ thing), but it’s important to know that this book is so bad because of these behind-the-scenes tensions.

 Before we go too much into the gloom and doom of the series, let’s talk about the book’s strong point: its characterisation. Static (or more, his civilian identity, Virgil Hawkins) is incredibly likable. He’s a little full of himself, but his feet are firmly on the ground. He’s also one of the few family men in the DC new universe. No, he’s no father (the dude’s sixteen, after all), but he cares deeply for members of his family.

Which leads us to the next excellent character, or maybe characters; Virgil’s twin sisters, both named Sharon. All we know for certain is that she’s been cloned, but which Sharon is the clone is never actually revealed. It leads to a nice “who’s the clone and who’s real” subplot that actually plays out much better than the actual plot itself. I actually found myself caring for these sisters and their potentially damaged psyches.

Unfortunately, the subplot is better here than the real plot. I’m not really sure there is one- it’s really just multiple fight scenes barely strung together. Badly-conceived villains form badly conceived plots, and it seems to be for no other reason than to fight Static. It’s disappointing, especially when you consider what a great character Virgil is. The book’s, main villains, Pirahna, Virule and the Slaters are all fairly shallow and it frequently seems as though their powers are to ignore plot holes. The one other interesting character on the side of the demons is a Joker-looking knockoff called Pale Man (but whatever you do, don’t say he looks like the Joker; he hates that), and he fades into obscurity fairly quickly.

The art in this issue is fun. Whoever designed the characters in this trade did a fine job of it as blandly as the characters are written, they are nice to look at; freakish designs clash with streamlined, Jetsons-styled ones, and creates a nice contrast. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for the poor writing- no art can distract readers from that.

Considering the problems going on behind the scenes of this book, it should shock nobody that this book isn’t enjoyable at all. The book is hardly a shining light to the New 52, and reading it drains the reader more than anything. I hope we see Static again, and I even think we will. We won’t, though, see him in his own title for years to come, as the series was cancelled after this trade. Maybe he’ll show up in the Teen Titans (which would be awesome), but only time will tell.

Supercharded is hardly electrifying. The storytelling lacks power and that becomes draining to all the great parts of this book and makes them meaningless. It gets two out of five electricity puns.


+ Characterisation is good.

+ Art is interesting.

- Story is ill conceived, and it diminishes the good elements in the book.

- Static’s potential is tragically underutilised.

- Seriously, that story is awful.

Alternate Option: Pretty much anything

Supercharged so that unlikable, that almost anything is better.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Vol 1

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Volume 1

RUN! Run away from the giant Captain
Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Read as trade paperback

Background Information:

By the time the 21st century rolled around, Marvel was in trouble. The 90s had not been kind the publishing house and the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. It sounds ridiculous now to think that the comic company that produced The Avengers would ever have been in such dire straits, but that was the reality of things. Marvel needed something big to bring in new readers.

That something big turned out to be Marvel’s Ultimate universe; a reboot of select Marvel titles specifically geared at reaching a new audience. It was a successful venture; Ultimate Spiderman was by far the star of the new universe and Ultimate X-Men started strong (even if it did tail out after the death of Magneto). When it came time to give readers an Ultimate Avengers, Marvel decided to shorten the title and call the entire team The Ultimates.

Fast forward into 2012, and it came time to retcon the Ultimate universe. It became Ultimate comics and featured, among other things, a black Hispanic Spiderman. Hence why I’m now reviewing a comic with the confusing title of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates.


The first volume of The Ultimates opens with a group known as the Children of Tomorrow collectively deciding to venture out of the mechanical dome in which they have lived for generations. Here, this means taking over large sections of Europe. In doing so, the group discover Thor, who has joined the likes of Captain Britain on an attack on their city, and there things start to get complicated.

Those looking for the full Avengers cast as seen in the 2012 film are going to be disappointed. It’s really only Iron Man and Thor make a real appearance in this volume. Captain America makes a brief enough appearance to say he’s not joining the party, Black widow says some words, and Hawkeye lets some arrows loose once in a while. As such, The Ultimates really feels like it should have been titled Thor and Iron Man are the Best of Friends.

But Hickman does a really good job of that. Early on in the book, Yggdrasil, the life tree from which Thor draws his powers is destroyed, leaving him without his godly powers. Tony, being the good friend that he is, provides Thor with a suit that gives him a sort of synthetic version of his powers, which allows him to continue the fight. This is a nice moment; Thor shouldn’t try to take on the Children of Tomorrow  in his state, and Tony seems to know it, but he gives Thor the suit anyway. Considering how the Hollywood Avengers made Iron Man little more than a one-liner spitting mongrel, it was nice to see Tony Stark be the kind of guy who could actually be a friend.

But really, the star of this volume is Thor. Thor witnesses a lot that tears his world apart. Asgard is ransacked. The other gods are killed. Thor’s own son is destroyed inside the Yggdrasil tree. This pushes Thor over the edge. The god wants revenge and he doesn’t care if he dies in the process.

My biggest issue with the story is the way that Hickman writes the villains. I’m not really convinced that the Children of Tomorrow are the bad guys. They are the ones who are initially “attacked” by Captain Britain. Everything else they do seems more reactionary. They don’t seem to be seeking to destroy anyone, excluding the gods who they seem more to be counter-attacking than actually plotting to destroy. Their expansion into Europe doesn’t seem to cost the lives of anyone who isn’t already trying to fight them. Hickman writes them as sinister, yet I don’t really see it in the group’s actions. It’s a problem that’s only compounded by the non-existence of an ending to this volume. I personally buy collected editions to avoid cliffhanger non-endings that I would otherwise get in single issues, and that made this all the more disappointing.

Esad Ribic’s artwork is phenomenal. I’m picking up vibes of Alex Ross in much of the paints on each page. Though Ribic’s art is significantly more simple, he still manages to instil that visual awe that Ross was able in titles such as DC’s Justice. Tony Stark looks a little too slim for my liking and Hawkeye looks like a reject from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy but otherwise Ribic draws each character fairly well.  

By far the best thing about this book, at least is visual terms, is the cover art by Kaare Andrews. Andrew’s does these beautiful pieces that highlight characters more than events in the book. They are packed full of detail and a joy to look at.

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Vol 1 is great to look at, but the story is (hopefully) not Hickman’s best work. I’m interested to see what he does with The Avengers in Marvel Now, but I hope his storytelling is a step up from what I saw here. The Ultimates gets a three out of five best friends.


+ Beautiful Art

+ Iron Man and Thor play off well together.

- The Villains don’t strike you as particularly evil.

- That awful cliffhanger non-ending.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Avengers, Vol.3

The Avengers Vol.3
Captain America called all of their
mothers fat.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Daniel Acuna, Renato Guedes, Brandon Peterson

Collects issues 18-24 and 24.1

Read as trade paperback

Background Information:

In the wake of an event known as Secret Invasion, Green Goblin Norman Osborn took over the Avengers. In an era known as the Dark Reign, Osborn utilised the Avengers to commit awful crimes against humanity. His reign ended when he tried to attack Asgard, and the Avengers once again formed under Iron Man and Captain America.

What you probably also need to know is that the Avengers have always had a rotating door; allowing multiple superheroes to enter the team. As such, don’t expect to see Thor or the original Hulk in this group.


The Dark Reign cemented Norman Osborn as one of the most interesting villains in the Marvel Universe; he’s manipulative, maniacal and very, very rich. The third volume of The Avengers takes full advantage of this character and does a far greater job of introducing new readers than the first volume of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates.

Vol. 3 is essentially a new beginning for the Avengers. Captain America assembles a new team of avengers that includes Storm and a newly –rebuilt Vision (think a robotic superman and you’re pretty close). In the meantime, Osborn’s organisation H.A.M.M.E.R, the Nazi spin-off group HYDRA, and the terrorists A.I.M have joined forces to create super-soldiers based on the DNA of various Avengers. It’s a plot fit for the Avengers movie, and is actually a better plot all-round. Bendis’ storytelling packs Vol. 3 full of big cinematic moments- the kind that show giant soldiers attacking jets, Hulk-Spiderman hybrids chasing characters through tunnels and Wasp-powered soldiers making short work of Red Hulk. Admittedly, most of the story doesn’t have much in the way of depth- character development is sacrificed in favour of action scenes and witty dialogue. What I can say for the film is that it’s no less shallow than Joss Whedon’s Avengers film, which actually makes it pretty accessible to new readers.

When depth makes an appearance in Vol. 3 is in issue 24.1, which sees Vision trying to adapt to a world in which he has been dead for many years. He mends his relationship with She-Hulk, who apparently ripped him in two many years ago, he confronts Magneto, his father-in-law and mourns the loss of his one-time wife Scarlet Witch. When reading this issue, your heart has to break for Vision; he’s lost so much that Bendis makes us wonder if being repaired by Tony Stark was really the best thing for the robot. It’s a pity we didn’t see more of this scattered through the issue.

I’m a little disappointed that Storm was so under-utilised in this volume. She gets set up rather nicely in Vol. 3, as a suggest recruit by her husband Black Panther, and she is supposed to be the friendly face of Captain America’s new group of Avengers. For some reason, however, Bendis chooses to keep her only to try and zap things with lightning. It’s a shame, as Storm is one of the most interesting of the X-Men, and including her in the Avengers looked like an opportunity to bring her more into the spotlight. For some reason, though, Bendis doesn’t see it that way, and Storm’s inclusion seems only to be a way to fill numbers in the squad. Instead of the bold, dynamic character that the Queen of Wakanda is, she gets written as more of an afterthought.

I get a little worried when I see the names of three different artists on one book. It usually means that the quality of art is going to vary significantly and that destroys the feeling of unity that a book should portray. Thankfully, in the combined efforts of Acuna, Guedes and Peterson, I really didn’t notice any disconnect in the art. That’s a hard thing to do when there’s only two artists, yet these guys pull it off perfectly. The action is drawn really well and the panelling has some moments that really stick out; case point, in a scene where a jet is crashing, thin, diagonal panels cover the page, creating a “speed lines” effect that fits the moment just right.

Overall, The Avengers Vol. 3 is a great starting point for any new reader- the book offers a fantastic story, and the consistent arts helps that along. It’s just a pity that some characters feel underutilised. It gets a 3 and a half out of five speed lines.

*** ½

+ Plot idea is great.

+ So is the art.

- The story itself is fairly shallow.

- Storm is drastically underutilised.

Alternate Option: Ultimates Comics- Ultimates Vol. 1

Okay, it’s nowhere near as good a title, but if you really want a good starting point for an Avengers story, you could do much worse.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Bstgirl Vol.2: Knightfall Descends (The New 52)

Batgirl Vol 2: Knightfall Descends (The New 52)

Is it just me, or does someone at DC have
a thing for redheads?
Writer: Gail Simone

Artist: Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes and Vicente Cifuentes

Read as hardcover collection

Background Information:

One of the best things about Batman comics is how much DC have extended the Dark Knight’s group of allies. Names like Nightwing, Catwoman, Batwing, Red Hood, Talon and Batwoman have found their ways into their own, self-titled series. And that’s just the New 52; before, Robin and Red Robin have both had their own titles in days long past. Batgirl is one of these. First-time readers probably have heard Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s name before in the animated series from the last couple of decades, where Batgirl played a fairly minor role, often in the shadow of Batman and Robin. She’s the son of Commissioner Gordon (cop with the moustache in the movies), and is smart, quick-talking and a joy of a character.

Before the New 52, there was a Batman story known as The Killing Joke that saw Barbara get paralysed from the waist down.  After that a different Batgirl took the name while Barbara took to administrative duties as Oracle; giving Batman vital information for his missions. The New 52 decided to bring Barbara back, removing her from the wheelchair that bound her (and apparently doing it in a completely believable way, though I don’t know what that is), prompting this heartbreaker of a cartoon from The Gutters. She is Batgirl once again, and taking on a new series of adventures.


If there’s one thing that I can praise the New 52 second volumes for, it’s for their inclusion of the zero issues. They’re not always perfect, but including them in the second volumes allows for readers to quickly adapt to the characters. Knightfall Descends is a perfect example of how to make this work. You don’t need to have read the previous volume to get what’s going on here, because the book is very accessible.

As I’ve hinted, that’s partially because the zero issue is included right at the start. While the issue isn’t a fantastic story, it gives new readers just what they need; an introduction to the first female caped crusader. As a result, reading this one feels very much like reading a first volume, which means anyone can pick this up and love it.

Batgirl’s biggest triumph is the way that writer Gail Simone handles a female lead. I know how sexist this is going to sound initially, but hear me out; doing female action characters is hard, especially when you’re trying to do so in a way that is empowering to women. Unless you over sexualise a character like Catwoman, there are often two over-done ways of creating an action hero that is a woman. You can either remove the femininity of the character and make her a man with a different anatomy, or you can make her adamant about the fact that she’s a woman fighter and have her spurt out lines like “you got a problem with that?”

Thankfully, Batgirl does neither. She’s a tough character because she’s feminine, not in spite of it. She feels emotions, and suffers for her traumas, but the real satisfaction comes in the way she overcomes it. Indeed, I became convinced that what was happening in Barbara’s head took more courage than what was happening with the book’s multiple villains. This is made better by the fact that she’s still very much a girl-next-door character, but (and this is important) without the love interest. That’s right; she spends her time talking about something other than her relationship with men. She has a sweet disposition, but this does not make her a pushover, actually, Batgirl is stronger for her ability to show compassion, and it plays out perfectly over the two major story arcs of this volume. I won’t go into the plot of the story arcs, because they’re honestly not the star of the volume- that spot goes to the characterisation of Batgirl; she’s insanely likable- a former victim struggling to regain her courage.

The art here is as good as you can expect it to be in a bat-family book; plenty of dark colours and moments of physical pain. It’s not anything that you can really separate from titles like, say Nightwing, but it does a good job. Batgirl’s emotions are portrayed well, here. And, since her emotions are by far the biggest element of this trade, that’s a very good thing.

My only qualm with Batgirl is the one-issue Night of Owls storyline. It doesn’t fit. The end of the Owls issue sees Gotham getting bombed. The next one, all is well. I know it’s part of a bigger event, and can only assume this crisis gets resolved, but in this volume, it just seems that Batgirl puts the bombing under “things I don’t want to deal with” and moves on.

Knightfall Descends is a great story about personal strength. It gets a 4 and a half out of five items on a list of things I don’t want to deal with.

**** ½

+ Batgirl is written brilliantly.

+ Incredibly accessible for a second volume

- Night of Owls issue doesn’t make sense.

Alternate Option: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection

You can probably pick this one up really easily too.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

X-Men: The Curse is Broken

X-Men: The Curse is Broken

"If you say that Edward is dreamy
one...more... time..."
Writer: Victor Gischler

Artists: Al Barrionuevo, Jorge Molina and Will Conrad

Collecting: X-Men #24-29

Read as Trade Paperback

Background Info:

Two things are important to understanding this collection;

Firstly, Marvel has a thing for mixing their characters with horror clichés. Marvel Zombies was a popular take on classic Marvel characters, and werewolves have appeared in a couple of different Marvel stories. In 2011, Marvel put the X-men up against Dracula and a legion of Vampires. During the battle, Jubilee (you may remember her from the cartoons; the girl in the yellow jacket who could shoot fireworks from her hands) gets bitten and, as per cliché, becomes a vampire as well.

Secondly, this is not the X-Men roster that you’re used to. From the movies and cartoons, you’re likely only to recognise Storm, Jubilee and maybe Colossus. A “good-enough” rundown of the characters names and powers are provided in the book’s first pages, but be aware that you may not be dealing with “your” X-Men here.


To be honest, I’m a little sick of vampires. Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, they’re all the same to me. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when I read the synopsis for The Curse is Broken I was a little cynical. More vampires?! Surely, we’ve had enough of stories about vampires being on the side of the angels. I made the early decision that if Jubilee was going to get romantic with any vampires, I was putting the book down.

Thankfully, that never happened. The story actually focuses on Jubilee, who has run away from the X-Men in order to be taught how to control her vampiress tendencies. That in itself sounds like a cliché, but she’s doing it with the help of vampire reformer Raizo, who is intent on teaching vampires how to survive without being predators. That in itself isn’t a new idea; current vampire stories are full of vampires who refuse to be monsters, but what makes this fun is the fact that Razio in this universe makes sense. We have, after all, a man intent on helping mutants to not turn into supervillains, so why not a vampire who teaches vampires to retain their humanity.

In the meantime, Storm and a group of X-men are cutting their way through various vampire hideouts to try to find Jubilee. They have no idea what she is doing, but suspect the worst. It’s nice to see a X-Men team that isn’t made up of entirely “iconic” members. No Wolverine, no Cyclops, no Jean Grey, Beast, Nightcrawler and Angel. It’s nice to see other characters take the spotlight in an industry that seems obsessed with flaunting its “powerhouse” characters.

The vampire story only covers half, or maybe two-thirds of the book. The rest is taken up by a story featuring the shape-shifting aliens known as the Skrull. It’s only purpose is basically to be funny, but it does a great job at that. It’s the kind of story that sees everyone feeling a little gullible, and that’s great.

The art here is consistent. It’s nothing particularly amazing, but it functions well. The trio of artists that work on this book give us art that is dark when it needs to be, and light-hearted when it doesn’t. Somehow, the art doesn’t cease to match up despite the change of storytelling styles. My only issue with the art is the way that… someone draws Spiderman (oh yeah, Spiderman appears in this one). He looks a little too muscular for a guy who in reality is little more than a science geek.

The Curse is Broken has a decent story to tell with art that works well. It gets four and a half out of five sparkly monsters.

**** ½

+ Not Twilight.

+ Other X-People get a chance to shine

- Spiderman looks a little too muscular.

Alternate Option: X-Men: Second Coming

An awesome X-Men event that sees a huge host of X-folk take the stage.

Justice League International vol. 2: Breakdown

Justice League International vol 2: Breakdown (The New 52)

HULK SMA-- wait, wrong book.
Writer: Dan Jurgens

Artist: Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan


The JLI, or Justice League International is, in essence, a UN-sanctioned Justice League. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking that this means Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are going to be travelling the world. This is a whole-new team made up of second-string characters who, while they wouldn’t really work well in their own books, make for a fairly likable team.

The team is dual led by Batman and Booster Gold. Batman doesn’t make much of an appearance in Breakdown, however, and the role of leader usually lands in Booster Gold’s lap. Booster Gold is, essentially, from the future. What makes his character interesting, though, is that he’s no hero, really. His goal is make money by performing superheroics with technology that doesn’t exist yet.

Next there’s Guy Gardner- the rogue Green Lantern. To be honest, Guy has always been my least favourite lantern. He’s brash, boorish and is a borderline bully. In the Red Lanterns series, Guy actually ends up on the Lantern team fuelled not by willpower, but rage.

I know precious little about the character Godiva. What I can tell from Breakdown, though is that she’s British, and can use her hair like Doctor Octopus can use his tentacles.

The book also features OMAC, a man trapped in the body of a monster that really came into focus with the DC event Final Crisis, as well as the August General in Irons- a Chinese warrior forever encased in Iron armour. Finally, Batwing, an African Batman, is part of this team, fleshing it out to a complete seven characters.


Not all cancelled New 52 books have made it as far as a second volume. Both Static Shock and Mr Terrific disappeared after their first collections, and Savage Hawkman was, apparently, too awful to let live. Along with the likes of Lesgion of Superheroes, Legion Lost, and Blue Beetle, Justice League International deserves credit for lasting as long as it did. A team of B-list characters was always more likely to get cut than other titles, but the fact that it wasn’t canned after volume one says that the series at least started out strong. The problem though, is that Breakdown reads like writer Dan Jurgens knew that the book wouldn’t last, and therefore decided to hurry up and put all of his ideas into six issues while somehow tying the story up. One gets the feeling that the entire story would have been better had they just cut it off suddenly without scrambling to give readers closure.

Breakdown throws is into the middle of the action straight from the start. A UN event where the United Nations presents the JLI to the world is simultaneously bombed and attack by  strange energy creatures. It leaves many of the JLI severely wounded and some even dead. As a result, the JLI are immediately disowned by the UN and the team is left to hunt down the ones responsible for the bombing. Each issue is told from a different character’s point of view. I suppose that’s to break up the idea of there being a single “hero” in the book.  That’s a great idea when you’re working with teams like the original Justice League, or even the Teen Titans. But the JLI is made up of characters that new readers, in particular, know very little about. I would have liked to see one of the characters narrate the entire story, that way, readers would be able to learn more about one character. The way Jurgens writes, we are left knowing just as little about each character after their turn at narration as we did before.

The volume is named after the book’s central villain; Breakdown. Creepy and skeletal-looking, Breakdown is able to take anything and break it down into its basic elements. He’s a villain with a great look, but Jurgens makes the mistake of not only putting him in broad daylight most of the time, thereby dumbing down the horror that the character could have portrayed, but also of giving him associates that look plain ridiculous.

That is not to say that the story is awful. The plot itself is clever, but not executed to its fullest extent. It sets itself up as the last adventure for the JLI, yet by the end of the volume, it seems that the team still exists. What’s more, Jurgens squeezes this pointless tie in to The Fury of Firestorm halfway through the arc, disjointing it and disorientating the reader as to what the story is actually about.

I’ll say this for Jurgens; he can write some great moments into the book. One of my personal favourites was seeing Guy Gardner use his Green Lantern power to give him self an “Iron Man-esque” suit of armour, which he uses to take on OMAC. OMAC himself has some great “Hulk Smash” style moments. Sure it bespeaks Marvel more than DC, but they’re great moments regardless.

The art, at its very worst, does the story justice. Everything you see in this book is functional. It isn’t by any means dazzling, but between the efforts of Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan, the essence of each character is captured fairly well.

Breakdown suffers a lot from its being a rushed ending to a series that had more potential. It gets a two and a half out of five tentacle-hairs.

** ½

+ Great moments.

+ Breakdown is scary as hell.

- Story is disjointed.

- Breakdown’s companions look stupid.

- Spotlight is shared around characters that are underutilised.

Alternate Option: 52, Volume 1

It’s a much better use of second-tier characters. But what else would you expect when it’s written by the likes of Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns?

DC characters that need a second series

So pre-NYCC we got the announcement from DC that another Batman series will be making its way to the New 52. All we know so far is that it’s a weekly series and it’s called Batman Eternal.

For crying out loud!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Batman story, and there’s no doubt that he’s DC’s strongest-going franchise, and there are plenty of interesting stories to tell about the man. But in the New 52, Batman has already had no less than five different series: Batman, Batman Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman Incorporated. And that’s just the New 52 canon titles. We also have the adorable Lil’ Gotham and the nostalgic Batman ’66.

Does DC really need another title starring Bruce Wayne?

It’s not that there are so many Batman books that bother me, it’s more that there are plenty of characters that could really benefit from a second series that takes a different view on the title character. Batman’s great, but he’s clearly overblown.

So without further ado, here’s a list of five different characters who could actually benefit from a second series in the New 52.

5. The Teen Titans

Okay, so it’s not really one character, per se, but have a quick think about it; we have the Justice League, the Justice League Dark, the Justice League of America and we used to have the Justice League International. It makes sense to have another set of Teen Titans- maybe a government sanctioned one?

There are plenty of good characters to use there, but I’d like to see one lead by Static. The New 52’s Static Shock wasn’t a good book, but the character was still very impressive. Maybe Static could lead a few of the Legion of Super Heroes (also in cancelled books) as the new Titans team. Hey, we live in a world where Vibe gets his own book, so stranger things could happen.

4. Green Arrow

With the success of Arrow on television, it would seem silly not to capitalise on the Oliver Queen’s success. Another Green Arrow book within the New 52 could give us just the push he needs to finally be considered a major player in the new DC universe (and before we go further, I don’t think the comic based on Arrow really counts).

Marvel recently released a Hawkeye ongoing series that focused on the Avenger taking on smaller-stakes incidents. It doesn’t seem stupid to try a similar thing with Oliver. The character is grounded enough to have him take on lower-level threats. Maybe even a book that sees Green Arrow travelling around the world, taking on international threats while using his job at QTech as a cover? It’s not a totally ridiculous idea.

3. Cyborg
Okay, technically, Cyborg’s flagship title is the New 52’s Justice League, but If Geoff Johns is so intent on taking theTeen Titan to adult leaguer, the dude needs to be shown getting out there on his own. What does he do while Superman’s battle Lex Luthor, when Batman’s struggling the court of owls and when the Flash is taking on Mob Rule? There are plenty of possibilities.

One of the most praised strengths of the New 52 is how often DC have tried to cement diverse heroes in the mainstream continuity. Unfortunately, the sales figures haven’t been able to support the continuation of most non-white characters, and almost every character of colour has seen their series cancelled. Along with Batwing, Cyborg is one of the few black characters to actually survive the New 52 reboot, so giving him a title would possibly be more successful than the likes of, say, Mr Terrific or Static, who we haven’t really seen again since their first collected editions.

2. The Flash

Barry Allen seems to be more of a background character of late. His “flagship title” is incredible, but there could be more stories told about the man for whom we can blame the New 52 universe. Maybe a spin-off story involving the more popular Wally West is in order, maybe a book investigating the Flash’s five years before the New 52, as seen in Superman Action Comics.

The New 52 has well and truly proven that there is more to the Flash than just running fast.

1. Wonder Woman

DC keep trying to assure us that Wonder Woman is a major player in the DC universe, but honestly, I don’t see it happening. When one of DC’s “big three” only has one series while the Green Lanterns have three, it seems laughable to treat the Amazon Princess like she’s one of the big guns in the universe.

A second series would show us that DC is actually taking Wonder Woman seriously. It may even help the push for a Hollywood film based on the character.

So there it is. What are your thoughts? Are there characters I missed that you think need a second title? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Mighty Thor Vol. 2

The Mighty Thor Vol. 2
When Thor eats cheese before bed,
his dreams get super wierd.

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: Pascal Ferry and Pepe Larraz

Read as trade paperback.

Background Info:

You may not know Thor if you’ve been living under a rock for a while. I mean, the dude’s been in three movies so far, not to mention that there’s a whole tradition of Norse mythology that focuses on the God of Thunder.

What you may not be familiar with, however, is the event Fear Itself, in which Thor’s uncle, The Serpent, decided to raise hell on earth. The crossover-event saw Thor killed at the end of the story, which is possibly the second favourite pastime of superheroes.


Credit goes to Marvel to not trying to trick us into thinking Thor’s death was permanent. C’mon, man, it’s the superhero genre; nobody’s buying that “dead means dead” shtick. In fact, Marvel goes the opposite way in The Mighty Thor and gives us a return of Thor only a few issues after Fear Itself. Thankfully, lest this be an “over in one issue” story, writer Matt Fraction decides to draw it out a bit by giving us a plot that, while interesting, is grossly underutilised.

Immediately following Thor’s funeral, a new god of thunder emerges. This year’s model is Tanarus. And not only does he replace the thunder god, but his presence wipes Thor’s memory completely out of the memory of almost every Asgardian. The only one is Asgard or Earth who seems to remember Thor is the now child Loki, who takes it upon himself to set matters right.

If Fraction had chosen to stick solely with that part of the plot, I think we would have had a much better plot than we do now. Instead, though, Fraction decides to let us know what Thor’s doing at the time as well. Thor is on his way to be eaten by a creature called the Demogorge. Naturally, that would be a bad thing, so he has to escape. It’s these parts of the book that feel profoundly uninspired. The Demogorge has no personality. I get it that he’s a monster, but even for a monster the Demorgorge has no personality. He’s as blandly drawn as he is written; looking more like a developing baby in utero than anything fearsome. What makes it worse is that Fraction fails to convince anyone that Thor is in any real danger. It’s obvious from the get-go that Thor’s going to make it out and get back to Asgard without even getting blood on his golden locks.

That said, Fraction and the volume’s multiple artists do a fantastic job at creating Tanarus. At first glance, Tanarus appears almost to be an alternate universe version of Thor. But as the story progresses, very real differences set in. Tanarus’ squat facial features and inhuman expressions become a world apart from the more noble-looking Thor. What’s more, Tanarus’ attitude is appalling. He’s brash, misogynistic and completely uncouth. It’s a nice way to get the reader behind Thor, but it’s one of those things that just make’s Thor’s battle against the Demogorge even more tedious; you just want to see whether Thor’s nobility really can defeat Tanarus’ brutality.

The Mighty Thor is by no means a fantastic book, but it does its job; it brings Thor back from the dead. The main story is told well enough, but it’s marred by elements too ridiculous and predictable to be truly enjoyable it gets a two and a half out of five rocks to live under.

** ½

+ Tanarus is great.

+ Half the story is really quite interesting

- The Demogorge is pathetic.

- Predictable to the end.

Alternate Option: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

The Mighty Thor is not Matt Fraction’s best work, but Hawkeye manages to give readers a glimpse of Fraction at his best.

The Transformers Issues 1-6

The Transformers Issues 1-6
Optimus tries in vain to shoot the review.

Writer: Mike Costa

Artist: Don Figueroa

Owned Digitally.

Note: This collection can be bought in print form as Transformers: For All Mankind

Background Info:

IDW took the Transformers reins a few years ago from Dreamwave Publications. With it, came a total reboot of the series. The series actually titled Transformers is somewhere in the middle of IDW’s continuity. So here’s what you need to know.

Before this series actually started, Optimus Prime and the Autobots fought and defeated Megatron and his Decepticons in a maxi-series called All Hail Megatron. Megatron is presumed dead, the Decepticons and Autobots are in hiding.

And, oh yeah, everyone knows the transformers exist.

Not only do they know, but they’ve developed a group to systematically hunt down and neutralise them using what look like generic mobile suit gundam.

Fans of Transformers are used to seeing their favourite series continually rebooted. One minute they’re animals, one minute they’re Japanese, one minute they look like they came of the set of Popeye and inhabit a world of short people with saucer-eyes.  So there isn’t a whole lot of room to be disappointed by an apparent lack of loyalty to the original storyline in these issues- it’s something Transformers fans have come to expect.

But even if it wasn’t, this is still an excellent book. Writer Mike Costa takes the characters that we loved in the original cartoon and slides them into a world that makes sense. Not everyone is nuts about big destructive robots romping across America. And as such, all transformers are being rounded up and locked away.

The story really kicks off, however, when Optimus Prime turns himself into the human organisation known as Skywatch. This creates a schism between the Autobots that remain. Half of them decide to keep calm and carry on under the leadership of Bumblebee, the other half decide to follow Hot Rod in his ill-fated attempt at leaving earth and making friends with the remaining Decepticons.

Dear Micheal Bay, please take note: A Transformers movie should focus on, well, THE TRANSFORMERS, not Shia LeBouf (I have given up trying to spell his name and have resorted to guesswork) running around yelling “no, no, no, no, no, no!” and Megan Fox leaning over engines and pouting. If you want to see this work, read this comic. Costa creates this great moment of strained relationships between the Autobots and makes them interesting characters. Sure, there’s enough shooting and such things to make it fun as an action title, but the real meat comes from the Autobots trying to deal with the fact Optimus Prime has left them by his own choice. Up until then, the only time we had been without Optimus was when he spent a short time dead. The fact that Optimus throws in the towel, naturally freaks the Autobots out, and Costa handles it beautifully.

Costa even writes good human characters. Costa’s Spike Witwicky is not some bumbling kid whose job is mostly to be rescued and talk about how amazing the transformers are. He’s a commander in Skywatch, and has the interesting job of interrogating Optimus Prime. It’s these moments, more than anything that show just what great characters both he and Optimus are. One isn’t superior to the other. These are two equals who actually see eye to eye more than they know. These aren’t the humans we have seen on movies or television shows, and that’s a very good thing.

Costa’s writing is backed up by great art from Figueroa. Most of the characters in this series are redesigned versions of their 80s selves. They are more slick designs that somehow manage to refer back to what you may remember from television without looking like every Transformers comic/cartoon that came before it. Figueroa’s only problem is that he gives his robotic characters these creepy, skeletal faces. I suppose this is his way of hearkening to the Bay films, and yeah, I know they’re meant to be robots. But it has the weird effect of giving all the characters a sort of robotic five o’clock shadow that often serves to distract the reader.

The first collection of Transformers is a definite must-read for those who have become jaded by the poor storytelling of the Bayverse. It gets a four and a half out of five robotic five o’clock shadows.

**** ½ 

+ Relationships between Autobots are perfect.

+ Human characters are done right.

+ Character redesigns look AWESOME.

- Those skeletal faces… urgh.

Alternate Option: Beast Wars: The Ascending

The only other Transformers book I’ve read. Figeuroa’s artwork generally steps up a notch here.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Scarlet Spider Vol. 2: Lone Star

Scarlet Spider Volume 2: Lone Star
Featuring explosions, big hats, and anger

Writer: Christopher Yost

Artists: Khoi Pham, Paulo Siqueira and Niel Edwards
Owned as trade paperback.
Background info:
Scarlet Spider (or just Kain) is an anti-hero. Having failed at fleeing to Mexico, he now serves as Houston's Spiderman. He takes care of Aracely, an immigrant who has some kind of mystic power. That's really all you need to know.
Volume 1 of Scarlet Spider was enjoyable, but at the end of the day, it was mostly character development. Writer Christoper Yost hinted at more happening, but the first volume did little more than establish who exactly Kain Parker was.

Now, it seems, Yost can finally get into the good stuff.

Lone Star really follows two major stories. Both of which differ in mood and theme. The first story is light-hearted and genuinely funny. After saving the daughter of a corrupt CEO, Kain starts digging deeper into the actions of a company known a Roxxon; an oil drilling firm that cover their dodgy actions with the fact that they seem to employ half of Houston. This brings the attention of a group known as the Rangers. The Rangers, simply put, are redneck avengers. Sorry to the once independent nation of Texas, but when your team’s leader is called “Texas Twister”, it’s hard to take you seriously.

This is the side of Kain that Life After Death got us used to. A perpetually grumpy Parker clone has a personal grudge against everyone. He’s the kinda guy for whom handling a situation delicately means throwing a girl out of a skyscraper window. It’s laugh-out-loud funny to see this guy get continually frustrated at the notion of becoming a hero. Couple that with the psychic Aracely and her innocent-yet-odd comments, it becomes a great example of what Marvel are best at; light-hearted takes on superheroics that thoroughly entertain.

The second major story changes that tone completely, and that may be a by-product of skipping over a few issues so they can be included in the Minimum Carnage trade. Aracely, a girl who relies on Kain for protection is being chased by, wait for it... werewolves.

 Talking werewolves.

Talking werewolves from Mexico.

Although it doesn’t exactly scream dark, it’s amazing how dark this story ends up being. I’ve said before that Scarlet Spider is a Batman fan’s Spiderman. This story makes him so much more. There’s elements of the Hulk, Doctor Fate, and even genuine horror. This brings out the dark story that I was personally waiting for in Scarlet Spider. Even Kain’s inner dialogue changes theme in this one, whereas the first story is all about cursing everyone who ever made him a hero, this second story is all about Kain walking the fine line between hero and monster, and it’s a great read.

The tone shifts in both stories are accompanied by appropriate artwork. The first story looks much like the previous volume- it’s bright, it’s colourful, and it makes the funny scenes even funnier. The second story uses a darker tone and that, naturally, accentuates the psychological depth of Kain that Yost has been working so hard to establish.

The duality is entertaining, but it’s also the book’s inherent flaw. Although I recognised Kain the whole way through, reading two different tones forced me to reacquaint myself with the character halfway through the book. If you’re listening, Marvel, this is not a good thing. The Kain in the second story was totally different to that of the first. It’s disappointing, especially since I don’t know which Kain I prefer. Reading this trade therefore left me feeling conflicted about what I could expect from Volume 3.

All the same, though, Lone Star is a great book that takes advantage of some careful character planning and gets a four and a half out of five Mexican werewolves.

**** ½

+ Two great stories

+ Artwork matches

- Stories don’t really mesh that well together.
Alternate option: Scarlet Spider: Life After Death
As close to Kain's origin story as you're gonna get.

Nightwing Vol. 2: Night of the Owls

Only one can rule the winter-themed disco!
Nightwing Volume 2: Night of the Owls (The New 52)

Writer: Kyle Higgins

Artist: Eddy Barrows.

Owned as Trade Paperback

Background Information:

In case you’re not sure, Nightwing used to be Robin. The last volume revealed that Dick Grayson/Nightwing was meant to be an assassin for the Court of Owls. It also saw Greyson take leadership of Haly’s Circus, the circus that used to be his family until his parents died there in an ambush.


Nightwing’s first adventure in the New 52 saw Kyle Higgins establish a fairly solid Dick Grayson character, but Traps and Trapezes was by no means perfect. One of the issues in the last volume didn’t really live up to the rest of the story, and Saiko, while intriguing, wasn’t exactly the most endearing villain.

While it goes a bit far to say that Higgins fixes these problems perfectly, it’s clear that he’s taking steps to resolve those issues. Is this a better volume than the first? No, but it’s no worse, as for every mistake Night of Owls fixes, it add a new one.

The book is divided into three parts: a two issue Night of the Owls tie in, a three-issue story that sees Nightwing framed for the murder of two young men (as we first saw in the previous volume), and one issue devoted to Nightwing’s origin story as Robin.

The Night of the Owls tie-in is what attracted me to the book in the first place, and there’s no real disappointment there. We get a glimpse at the origin story of William Cobb, but these two issues are an elaborately prepared battle scene, in all honesty. It’s a scene that Higgins writes well; both Cobb and Nightwing are shown playing off each other perfectly as the latter desperately tries to find a way to immobilise the former (pretty hard, when the former has healing powers ala Wolverine). What’s more interesting here, though, is the way that Higgins plays on the nature vs. nurture theme. In both Cobb and Grayson’s case, nurture wins; but it’s the impact that nurture has on both these men that makes this battle so intense.

The problem is that this arc seems to have no impact on the other stories in the volume. The second story sees the introduction of the first real Nightwing villain to feel like a major player in the series; Paragon. A manipulative revolutionary, Paragon has all the makings of a great continuing villain; he controls a vast army of followers known as the Republic of Tomorrow, and exhibits this interesting philosophy about the damage that reliance on superheroes can cause. It’s an undeveloped philosophy that Higgins seems to take no time to explain, but it’s still a delicious mix of rationalism and insanity that really makes me want to see this guy come back (even though I haven’t heard of him doing so in the near future). What’s better is the way that this story ties into the previous volume. I won’t give it away, but details that you didn’t expect to crop up again do so in a big way.

Nightwing’s origin story seems to be the low point in this collection, but that’s saying very, little. When it was announced that Dick Grayson would be sixteen when he became Batman’s protégé instead of twelve, there were some concerns about how that could change the character into something that didn’t “make sense”. Rest easy; Dick Grayson’s new origin story perfectly fits into the New 52 universe, and it’s an entertaining story to boot, showing Grayson’s ability to read others and actually perform some fine detective work on his own. Some experienced readers may feel the loss of continuity with this story, but new readers shouldn’t worry- it’s entertaining enough.

Now I’ve mentioned very little about the art here. That’s because the art seems to take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. It’s still just as good though, and improved writing from Higgins has allowed Barrows to really impress with huge action scenes. A great example is the beautiful two-page spread in the fifth chapter- the action looks brutal and is really easy to follow.

Night of the Owls improves on the effort made by Traps and Trapezes by cutting the awkwardness of certain issues and giving us a villain to watch. Unfortunately the story arcs don’t really combine well and that villain to watch may only be worth doing so because he’s currently underdeveloped. It gets a perfect four and a half out of five owls.

**** 1/2

+ A villain that hopefully crops up again.

+ Story makes you reference previous volume.

+ Art is consistently good.

- Villain is still underdeveloped.

- Story arcs don’t really mesh that well.

Alternate Pick: Batman: Court of Owls

A much scarier take on the character of William Cobb, this one shows just how dangerous the Court of Owls is, and just how vulnerable Gotham’s citizens are.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Batman Incorporated Vol. 1: Demon Star (The New 52)

Batman Incorporated Vol 1: Demon Star (The New 52)

Looking grouchy runs in the family
Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Chris Burnham

Read as hardcover trade.

Background Information:

If you think Batman Incorporated is going to be anything like the Dark Knight Trilogy, you’re gonna have a bad time. The book’s writer, Grant Morrison, is not famous for that “realistic” approach that recent films have taken to the caped crusader. Rather, Grant Morrison is all about delving into the supernatural and, sometimes, the bizarre. His work, as a matter of fact, more closely mirrors Tim Burton’s work on the franchise than Nolan’s- Morrison loves the weird and wonderful and it’s something that made him truly stand out as a Batman writer. Some fans have loved him for it, some wouldn’t be disappointed if he crawled into a hole and died.

What you need to know about Batman Incorporated is that it’s in every way Morrison’s book he began the series before the New 52, and decided to continue on the same story after the reboot. Sure, there’s plenty here that can steer new readers in the right direction, but you’ll still be plonked straight into the middle of a story that has been going on for a couple of years beforehand.

You also need to know that Demon Star focuses mostly on Talia Al’Ghul. She’s Ras Al’Ghul’s daughter and the mother of current Robin, Damien Wayne (who is also Bruce Wayne’s son). She’s every bit the warlord her father was and is this collection’s main villain.


I’ve mentioned in my Court of Owls review that I’m not quite sure what the point of Batman Incorporated is, and I stand by that. It used to be a series about Batman trotting the globe on adventures with Batmen (Batmans? Batpeople?) from around the world. For the New 52, though, Morrison has put Batman and his global allies back in Gotham. This makes it kinda’ difficult to understand why DC decided to include this book in the new continuity. Is this supposed to be a “Team Batman” book? No, the team doesn’t feature too prominently here. Is it a book about Batman as a symbol? No, there’s not much discussion here about the significance of Batman to Gotham. This book simply feels like it’s there so that DC can sell more Batman books.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Demon Star is that the plot is really hard to follow. This isn’t because the book plonks you in the middle of a story already in progress, though. It’s more got to do with how much the story flits back and forth between time periods. Basically, the story runs thus;

Batman and Robin have gathered their global allies into Gotham, where a criminal conspiracy called Leviathan is slowly growing, brainwashing children and generally raising hell. Talia Al’Ghul is the woman behind all of this, and she has her sights set on Damien Wayne/Robin. It’s not a nice, motherly feeling that drives her to this, but her hatred of Batman and desire to destroy him. It’s a story that sounds simple enough, but it’s made difficult to follow by multiple flashbacks and flash forwards that serve nothing but to disorientate the reader. The story is complicated further by a cliff-hanger non-ending that makes this volume feel incomplete.

There are some pluses to the story, however. Morrison writes Damien Wayne perfectly. See, this particular Robin is by far the vainest of the lot. He has way too much confidence in his own abilities and sees everyone as beneath him. That frustrates a lot of fans who prefer the more light-hearted Robin, but Morrison actually writes this character really well (which he should do, he introduced the character in Batman and Son). In Demon Star, we see Damien at his best: a frustrated child who doesn’t understand why he should be treated like one. The best moments in this book are when Morrison grounds Damien and you get to see him show that frustration. Even people who hate the Wayne child have to admit, seeing him annoyed at not being taken seriously is fun.

The art is spasmodic at best. Although that’s Burnhams name on the cover, responsibility for the art falls between multiple pencillers.  Frazer Irving and others share the burden for the visual side of Demon Star, which makes it rather disjointed. Sometimes the art is amazing, other times it’s barely adaquete. Add that to the all-over-the-place story and you have a book that feels everywhere at once and really goes nowhere.

Demon Star is not a bad book by any means, but it certainly does not belong in a universe that claims to be a reboot. It’s not a new story; it’s a continuation of an old one.  It gets two and a half out of five batmen.

** ½

+Damien is written perfectly.

-The story doesn’t flow well.

-The art doesn’t fit together.

Alternate option: Batman: Court of Owls

Currently the best Batman series out there, this is a book much better suited to new readers.