Review: “The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Shade the Changing Man”

Steve Ditko is one of those comic book icons that has left an indelible mark on comics, creating or helping to create some of the most recognizable characters in the medium.  Two such creations were Spiderman and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee for Marvel Comics.  He studied art under Jerry Robinson (creator of the Joker) and apprenticed under Jack Kirby.  His credentials speak for themselves.  The Omnibus in question concerns his work at DC comics between 1966 and 1982.

For the most part this volume is comprised of little vignette stories that appeared in DC’s anthology comics such as House of Mystery, Weird War Tales, Mystery in Space, etc.  The quality of the artwork is consistent, considering that that is what Ditko’s primary occupation is, and the writing ranges from fair to incredible.  Of course in the writing department, he had some decent help, working with the likes of Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Mike Barr, and Arnold Drake.  These stories read very cinematically, reminiscent of horror and sci-fi films of the fifties and sixties.  There is even the hint of  fairy tales within.

What Happens When You Displace Einstein In Space and Time?

The Omnibus doesn’t just contain these short, disparate yarns though.  It collects two short lived series both drawn by Ditko and one written by him.  The latter series, as advertised in the Omnibus’s title, is Shade, The Changing Man, and the other, written by the ever talented Paul Levitz, is Stalker.

I was very excited to read Shade, The Changing Man because of Peter Milligan’s resurrection of the character earlier last year in 2011.  Of course, Milligan had also written the character in the early 90’s with great success.  Whenever someone of Milligan’s caliber takes on a resurrection of an older character its interesting to revisit the source material to see what the initial draw was.  Ditko’s character was indeed worth looking into.  Rac Shade was a security officer in the adjacent dimension known as the “Meta-Zone.”  Framed for attempted murder and treason, he is hunted by his old colleagues and most especially a tenacious N-Agent (The N stands for Negation), Mellu Loron, his former fiancee and lover.  Armed with the experimental, one of a kind M-Vest that allows him to warp reality around him, he travels between the “Earth Zone”, “Meta Zone”, and interconnecting “Zero Zone” trying to clear his name and regain the love of the woman who now screams for his blood, which she intends to personally spill.  These stories are so intricately plotted with pathos, suspense, and tragic fortune that they almost seem like one long issue and not nine shorter issues.  Sadly due to the DC Implosion of the late 70’s which crippled the company, Shade, The Changing Man was cancelled after only eight issues right at the crux of the storyline it was artfully weaving.  A ninth issue was plotted and drawn, released in a limited release comic called Cancelled Cavalcade, which was only distributed among DC personnel.  This Omnibus collects this black and white ninth issue for the public to view for the very first time.  I have to admit that this was exciting, albeit still disappointing as it didn’t wrap anything up.

Lovers' Quarrel in "Shade #2"

The other series, Stalker, is a swords and sorcery story of a peasant who dreams of being a knight and as a result  is exploited and enslaved by an evil noblewoman.  He strikes a deal with a demon god of war for martial prowess in exchange for what all demonic bargains hinge on: his soul.  The series follows him on a quest to regain what he rightfully gave away.  Across the board this series, though only four issues, was tightly plotted in art and story.  Unlike the above mentioned Shade, this series had a more varied feel.  What I mean by this is that each issue, though following a central goal, had a unique feel in each installment.  I think that the way Shade was plotted suited the story it was telling perfectly, and the way Levitz plotted this story suits this one perfectly.  The Stalker is scouring the ends of the Earth for his soul and each issue’s uniqueness makes the reader unable to anticipate what he will go up against next in his quest.  Again, the series only last for four issues before it too was cancelled, but this title did reach a logical point of conclusion.  I do wish though that it would have continued, as the implication left by its ending are rife with possibilities.

Stalker Battles Demons Within and Without

I thoroughly enjoyed this massive volume, and if you all can get a hold of it, it is definitely worth the read.  The art though very much Ditko’s own style is heavily influenced by Kirby in the kinesthetics and surrealist science he depicts.  He proves also his prowess for visual storytelling as both artist and writer.  Its no wonder he is a name remembered in Comics.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

“”A Switch In Time” in Time Warp #4Art by Steve Ditko, Colored by Adrienne  Roy

Shade, The Changing Man #2: Art by Steve Ditko, Colored by Jerry Serpe

Stalker #3: Art by Steve Ditko and Wally Wood

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Week 25 (Feb. 22, 2012)

This could be the best week for comics this month.  Next week has, if I am counting right, only five comics I am reading coming out, so it’ll be nigh impossible to match this weeks panoply of excellence.  I won’t keep you guys in suspense:
  • Aquaman #6 provides a bookend to last month’s #5 issue, with an in depth look at a day in the life of Arthur’s wife and queen, Mera.

    Mera Shopping For Dog Food

    Just like being stranded in the desert last month facilitated a moment for Aquaman to reexamine his life and the place  he holds in our world, Mera finds herself stranded in her own desert.  The simple task of picking up dog food in a small town market turns into a culture clash of epic proportions resulting in significant property damage.  [I’m gonna go off on a tangent here and prove my dorkdom: This reminded me of the scene in the film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence where Batou goes to get his basset hound some wet dog food only to get in a shoot out . . . with himself, causing the bodega to get blasted to hell. Awesome scene, awesome movie, awesome reference.  And end of dork-out.]  We see a glimpse of her past, just as we did with Aquaman last month, we see what her mission was that lead her to be in this moment, and we see how alienated she is in this world that isn’t her own.  This is a Mera issue on a couple of levels, and it really sets the tone for what we can expect of her and what ghosts of her past might revisit her and her beloved in future issues.  It was a really revealing and beautiful issue from a very outstanding series.  I’m an Aquaman fan, but I am also becoming a Mera fan too.

  • Batman: The Dark Knight #6 continues it’s decent down the rabbit hole.  Each issue gets Batman and us closer to understanding the nature of the new toxin the White Rabbit has been spreading and what the endgame is.  Yet again, the issue brings another villain into the conspiracy.  As the cover of the issue reveals its Bane, the man who “broke the Bat.”  What does his appearance portend in a plot that centers around bring out Batman’s greatest fears?
  • The Flash #6 was actually a really touching issue. Barry and Patty’s relationship is blossoming and the Flash’s most iconic villain (except for maybe Gorilla Grodd, and perhaps Reverse Flash), Captain Cold, makes his first appearance outside of Iron Heights Prison.  It is mostly his part in the issue that drives the plot along.  One thing that can be said about the Rogues is that there is an unspoken code of honor in their forays with the Flash.  This issue sees Cold throw all of those inhibitions out the window.  The reason for his flagrant attitude is what truly innovates and defines the characters for this new iteration of the series.  Sure the elements have existed before, but the way writer/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato frame them is really compelling.  The Flash hits a homerun yet again.
  •  Teen Titans #6 was a really well executed issue.  I’m starting to expect nothing less from writer Scott Lobdell.  The premise is that one of the team gets seriously hurt (easily believable after Teen Titans #5) and the rest of the Titans taking him to get help.  A simple premise, yet somehow amidst all of that Lobdell packs in so much characterization and revelations about the young heroes and in such a casual manner that it’s truly astounding.  Dynamics are built.  Secrets are revealed.  If you like the series you have to read this book.  This is the keystone to what Teen Titans will be for years to come.  Also, with art from Brett Booth, how can you go wrong?
  • Fury of Firestorm #6 was good. REALLY good.  I’ve said before that this book focuses on the power that these individuals with the Firestorm Matrices possess.  I don’t have extensive exposure to the original series.  I did read several sporadic issues that I was able to get my hands on, but I feel from what I have read that this series takes the concept in a very apocalyptic direction.  It truly is an arms race with people, and this issue from the very first page delves into the most basic sensory aspects of the awesome power these teenaged boys have been saddled with.  I have to say that this series is getting to be a ‘can’t miss’ title.  I really feel a connection with Ronnie and Jason, and feel like I am right there with them, feeling the weight of the whole world bearing down on their shoulders.  I’d suggest this series without reservation.
  • Voodoo #6 takes the series up a notch.  The Daemonite invasion that has been hinted at is becoming more real and the stakes are pretty high.  On the human front, there is dissent as to how best to reign in the threat posed by Voodoo.  The solution revealed by two rogue Black Razors in the last issue left me with my jaw hanging to my collar bone and screaming for more.  This issue followed up on that plot point and revealed some very pivotal information that again leaves me wondering what’s in store for the series.  On the alien front, Voodoo is also in a very pivotal place.  Depending on how the Daemonites respond after her discovery last issue, her allegiance to them may be in jeopardy, and as we have seen, hell hath no fury like her scorn.  Josh Williamson is on his second issue as series writer and still hitting it out of the park, and as ever, Sami Basri’s art is exquisite and sensuous.
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians #6 drives it home again as it did last month.  The series was floundering for awhile in my opinion and I was dangerously close to dropping it.  Only my sheer love of Green Lantern mythos kept it on my pull list, and I am soooo glad that I weathered it, because this series fell into its groove in a major way.  The Lanterns are all behaving how they should and living up to their potential.  The conflict that they are up against is

    Invictus!

    “astronomical” in nature– I said this before and I will reiterate this point as it is not exaggerated in the slightest– and as a result, it creates the improbable cement that binds these disparate corpsmen together against a greater evil.  The mystery of the facsimile worlds they are visiting has me enthralled in the plot, as does the nature of “Invictus.”  However, the characters themselves are what draw me in.  They are all superbly written by Tony Bedard and artist Tyler Kirkham has fallen into his groove with depicting them.  I have come to love Fatality the Star Sapphire.  Munk of the Indigo Tribe continues to intrigue me with his enigmatic silence and powerful presence. I have always respected Sinestro corpsman Arkillo, and have loved Saint Walker the head of the Blue Lantern Corps.  Seeing them work closely together has been a very interesting twist that also spices up the plot.  Though she wasn’t really in this issue (or last months for that matter) Bleez is an incredibly intricate character and a very strong woman, whom I have read with the keenest interest. Kyle is Kyle.  He’s awesome and there is not much else that needs be said.  If you are familiar with him you know what I mean, if not then there is little I can do to remedy that except say read the books he’s in.  Finally, Glomulus.  Glomulus is perhaps my favorite part of this book.  He is amazing in so many ways, and up until now HORRIBLY underutilized.  I really don’t want to sound like a greedy asshole like Larfleeze (love him too, but he is a prick), but I want a Glomulus.  I want him to float around and cheer me up when I am depressed and do my bidding with a cheerful grin on his little spherical face.   This series is a must for any Green Lantern fan.  It is well plotted and a lingua franca between the different series: Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corp, Red Lanterns . . .

  • Justice League Dark #6  defined the series thus far.  The last issue saw the end of the first arc, and this sixth issue takes everything that the series is and distills it down to its pure essence.  What truly has made this series phenomenal is the dark and gritty take on the characters it follows.  Several are just like that, being Vertigo characters that exist in such a world.  However, there are also a few that are DC characters who have always been portrayed a little brighter.  Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, and Deadman are the ones that come to mind.  What this series has done is show the darker side of these characters, making them petty, shortsighted, and very aloof.  They for the most part are anti-heroes archetypes.  In a line of comics that perpetuate the contemporary heroic genre, this ironically is a breath of fresh air making the series that much more tantalizing.  What this issue does is build off that dynamic and center in on the fatalism of their destinies that will not let them part from the long, twisted path into darkness that they all are struggling so hard to escape.  At the end there is a the lure of a crossover with I, Vampire that I have to admit, I am looking forward to.  The final page of this issue makes excited to read this week’s I, Vampire.
  • Aaaaaand . . . I am over it.  I, Vampire#6 was terrible yet again.  For soooo many reasons it is the opposite of good.  Firstly, the diction does not match the tone of the book.  It features a centuries old vampire fighting against the forces of another centuries old vampire, and one of these, our hero Andrew, refers to his nemesis as “way evil.”  That is ridiculous.  Secondly, Batman is still in the story and while reading it I absolutely wanted to KILL him.  There are a few unwritten rules I have about comic stories, and number one is that you DO NOT make me hate Batman.  Joshua Fialkov, you are on thin f**king ice with me.  Watch it!!!  And apart from that, the story was good in theory, but squandered in the mire of shitty writing.  Its a travesty how bad this was.  I’ll read the next issue only because it integrally ties to the awesome Justice League Dark, but after that its used up its last life.  Its getting thrown out of my monthly line up.
  • Superman #6 is still in the neutral zone, but I will say that it is clawing its way towards being a substantial book.  The progress the title has made truly speaks in its favor.  I think what’s made the difference is the myth building that it has accomplished.  Its hard to say which is the central Superman title, because Action Comics starts off the continuity, but Superman seems to be the watershed book that all plot points flow into.  In this issue Supergirl brings in Superboy and Supergirl continuity through her intervention, and Clark brings in his own past experiences from Action Comics into this plot.  In fact the link between the otherwordly goings on in the past five issues finds a connection with the first arc of Action that wraps up in two month in Action Comics #8.  This issue is a concluding issue not only on the plot, but also on George Perez’s run as series writer.  He leaves it in a good place that brings us almost to the attitude of the series before the reboot.  This I take great heart in.  I want a Superman like the one we see at the end of this issue and a Metropolis like this one, as well.  Its getting there.
  • All-Star Westerns #6wraps up its Gotham arc (for now) in great style.  Most of the loose ends in Gotham find resolution but for one

    Nighthawk and Cinnamon In Nola

    which leads Jonah Hex and Jeremiah Arkham to another locale that isn’t your usual setting for a Western tale either.  In the mean time, we see the culmination of the adventure in what will one day be the Batcave, as well as the nobility of the ancestor of the future occupant of that cave.  There is a great deal of humanity in this issue set against a great deal of inhumanity. It make you feel the hopelessness of the downtrodden, but also the hope of good still thriving in even the most dreary places.  In the case of a father and son, we see good springing from the loins of evil.  I just love this series. Plain and simple. I look forward to next issue along with the duo that will join Jonah and Jeremiah on their journey’s continuation in New Orleans . . .  And in the supplementary feature we see also the culmination of the “Barbary Ghost” story.  It reads like a true Western tale and sets the scene for a long future for this burgeoning character in the Old West on the New DCU.

  • Last, but not least, American Vampire #24 is the penultimate chapter in the “Death Race” story.  I hope y’all have read the last issue, cause if not, I am going to SPOIL the ending of the last issue rotten . . . Be warned . . . Skinner Sweet is BACK!!!  Damn, I never thought I be so glad to see that sonuvabitch again, but he’s too good of a villain to put down.  How he survived I don’t know and Scott Snyder hasn’t said, but I know that a truly awesome baddy like him against a truly crafty, devil-may-care teen slayer like Travis Kidd has me soiling my drawers.  The story is so unique, fast paced, thought provoking, and just plain ol’ enjoyable.  I know I have said this before, but this series is  legendary.  Its as immortal as the supernatural denizens it chronicles.  Its so true it bears repetition.  I want to know how this ends so bad.  I can’t stand it.  One of the best comics out this month.

And that does it for the Quartering week of my reviews.  Next week comes the historic FIFTH Wednesday of February.  Can’t wait.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Aquaman  #6: Plotted by Ivan Reis, Drawned by Joe Prado, Colored by Rod Reis

Teen Titans #6: Drawned by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund

Green Lantern: New Guardians #6: Drawned by Tyler Kirkham, Colored by Nei Ruffino, Inked by Batt

All-Star Western #6: Drawn by Moritat, Colored by Gabriel Bautista

Review: “Aquaman: Death of a Prince”

When people make comic book jokes, the lion’s share of them are aimed at Aquaman.  Unlike Marvel’s super misanthropic,

"Death of a Prince" Cover

douchebag Atlantean, Prince Namor,  DC comic’s Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) has always seemed to invite ridicule.  I can’t really comment much as to the overall caliber of the stories he’s appeared in over the years, because in the ten years that I have seriously read comics he’s rarely had his own title.  Recently, Geoff Johns has stepped up to the plate and put out a really stellar version of the character.  For more on that, please seek out the reviews I have put out for issues 1-5.  However, none of what Johns is currently doing would be possible without the stories that are contained in this graphic novel.

“Aquaman: Death of a Prince” contains several excellent stories from the 1970’s issues of Aquaman and his appearances in Adventure Comics, but the main story contained herein that prompts the title is the macabre issue where Aquaman’s three year old son, Arthur Jr., is murdered by his arch-nemesis.  This revelation spoils nothing as the Atlantean King is portrayed on the cover standing before his child’s grave with his wife spewing curses upon him for not protecting their son.  Despite the depressing goal, the book leads up with exceptional storytelling that defines the heart and soul of the character: who he is, what he stands for, where his priorities lie, and a solid recap of his life story.  The writers involved are allstars including the ever amazing Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Steve Skeates, Martin Pasko, David Michelinie, and Paul Kupperberg, and the artists are also amazing including the likes of Dick Giordano, Jim Aparo, Vince Colletta, Don Newton, and one of my all time favorite artists, Mike Grell.  There really is no way you can go wrong from the creative standpoint.

Despite the obvious focus on the eponymous death and Aquaman’s journey to and from it, the book expands far beyond Aquaman into other directions which round and expand upon the world he lives in.  Aqualad’s enigmatic origin, always puzzled over owing to his purple eyes, is finally revealed, the world that Aquaman’s queen, Mera, hails from is visited as well, and Black Manta, Aquaman’s most iconic enemy reveals his orgin.  All of this works towards making these characters more dynamic and as a result making the world Aquaman lives in less two dimensional.  With strong backup characters around him, propping him up, the title is less laughable, even were you to still feel that an undersea superhero who communicates with fish is silly.  On this last point, the writers did a very good job of making him a believable protagonist who can go toe to toe with some of the DCU’s premier baddies.

In fact, this book also does a good job showcasing his rogues gallery as well as some major villains from outside the seven seas.  Of course Black Manta makes several appearances, but we also see his wicked half-brother Prince Orm (aka Ocean Master), the Fisherman, the Scavenger, and the introduction of a new, enigmatic villain named Karshon.  Outside of the seas the book has him going up against Starro the Conqueror, the first enemy that the Justice League fought together in 1960’s Brave and the Bold #28, as well as one of the greatest DC villains, Kobra.  For those of you who don’t know Kobra, he is a cult leader of an Indian sect of Kali snake worshipers.  He is cunning on the level of Batman, and mystical on the level of Ra’s al Ghul.  Seeing Aquaman battle him was a sheer delight.  Watching him battle all of these foes was a delight.

Historically this book is a must read if you are into classic DC lore.  It sees the death of Aquaman’s only child (you know that going in, so again, no spoiler really), the origins of Mera, Aqualad and Black Manta, as well as Black Manta taking his helmet off for the first time and showing us why he bears the nome de guerre that he does.  When reading it you forget your pretentions and not for a moment is it silly.  It is most certainly a 70’s comic, but actually the way it is written and paced is perhaps at the height of graphic storytelling.  A must read for anyone claiming to be a comic book aficionado.

 

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Adventure Comics #452: Art by Jim Aparo, Colored by Jerry Serpe

Aquaman  #62: Cover art by Jim Aparo, Colored by Adrienne  Roy 

 

Review: “A Flight of Angels”

Eve and the Tempter

Vertigo comics have a reputation of churning out the artistic, avant-garde fair of DC’s line.  The graphic novel “A Flight of Angels” fits quite well within that purview.  In it, an angel falls to Earth in an enchanted forest and the magical inhabitants gather around to speculate as to who and what this heavenly apparition is.  The concept of the book and its lavish artwork is all the product of artist, Rebecca Guay.  Each segment within, however, is written by a different writer from the science fiction and comic genres, including Holly Black (of Spiderwick fame), Bill Willingham (of Fables fame), Alisa Kwitney (former Vertigo editor), Louise Hawes, and Todd Mitchell.  What’s amazing about this is that the stories these writers craft and funnel through the mouthpieces of the various characters range in both time and tradition.  One takes the guise of a Russian Jewish folktale, another a modern, swank London club setting, others biblical reimaginings, and even a Jane Austen-esque love story.  Accentuating the disparate story settings further, Guay who does all the artwork, switches up her art style and color palate for each different story, lending each a distinctive visual feeling to complement the different writing styles they accompany.

This graphic novel really is exquisite.  Visually and literarily it is a masterpiece.  The artwork exists both in tandem and independently of the narrative.  If you enjoy the story you are reading then I guarantee that the artwork will just further envelope you in the tale.  If you aren’t so much feeling the particular segment you are in, I guarantee that the artwork will carry you through it.  Luckily, each writer is a master in his or her own right and the tales are top notch.  As a whole it is a visual, narrative, and emotional smorgasbord portraying hope, then futile resignation, then sheer wonderment, and so on, right down to the very last pages.

The War in Heaven

This is one of those books that I think is best to be read on a blustery winters day or a lazy Sunday, when you’ve got the time and the freedom of mind to just take the ride with no preoccupations to distract you.  It can be polished off in a couple of hours and take you out of the humdrum world of what is to that of what could be.  I know that at some point I will have to get a copy for my personal collection, because the world created is one that I know I will yearn to return to again and again.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

A Flight of Angels: Artwork all by Rebecca Guay.

Week 24 (February 15, 2012)

  • Batman #6 maintains the phenomenon that the five previous issues have generated.  Batman is in the inner sanctum (could one call it the ‘Nest’?) of the Court of Owls and picking up from the shocking last panel of issue #5, things are,  needless to say, very

    SPOILER: This ISN'T Real . . .

    grim.  However, in classic Batman style there is a pin prick of hope as he rallies.  When reading toward the crux of this issue, and perhaps the turning point of this arc, I couldn’t help but hear Morgan Freeman from The Dark Knight movie saying, “Now that’s more like it, Mr. Wayne.”   A jaw dropping issue.  What I also think lent a great deal to the awe it generated was the dreamlike quality.  I mentioned in my review of the fifth issue that Batman has been in the underground labyrinth so long he has begun to lose touch with reality.  That continues over, but the reader never leaves his perspective, so as events unfold what is real and what is skewed through his sleep deprivation and drug induced mania is indiscernible.  That said, though the owls are revealed in this issue, its still pretty murky as to what they truly are like.  Its skillfully done by writer, Scott Snyder, giving the audience disclosure that in fact raises more questions than it answers.  I am champing at the bit to read the next installment, but take heart that in May every book that is tied to Batman in any way will be a “Night of the Owls” crossover.  Even All-Star Westerns!!!

  • Catwoman #6 started off in a daze, like it was just going through the motions, and perhaps it was, but like the somnambulant Batman in the above review, rallied at the end into some very pointed storytelling.  Though it begins with Selina reaping (yet again) the fruits of her fuck-ups, and portraying her no holds barred style, the interpretation of these events at the end are quite poignant.  Batman voices the concerns of the reader as to how stupid can she really be to act in the manner she does with the low level of regard that she does, and her answers to his questions are QUITE telling.  From this issue on, all the cards are 0n the table as to who Selina is and what we can expect.
  • DC Universe Presents #6 features the start of a brand new arc featuring The Challengers of the Unknown.  Admittedly, I am not an expert on this group (Give me time . . .).  From what I do know, writers Dan Didio and Jerry Ordway take the story in a very different direction from the original.  The changes, like those instituted in this arc’s predecessor Deadman’s plot, make the concept fresh, albeit bizarre.  Also linking it to Deadman is the formal introduction of Nanda Parbat, the Shangri-la based lost city of the Himalayas dedicated to the worship of Rama Kushna.  As an introductory issue, it was very slow paced, with only a few enticing scenes.  I’m going to ride it out to see what all is going on and how the differences play out, but think that this is hardly the proper way to set the hook in a reader that is not as versed in the story as I am, which admittedly isn’t very much.
  • Green Lantern Corps #6 was lackluster.  In and of itself, it was just ok.  Following up the material from previous months, and considering what writer Peter Tomasi is capable of, it was a fail.   I will carry over my objections from last months review that the idea of the rogue group of Green Lanterns using Earth guns to combat the Keepers is moronic.  It does nothing but degrade the ambiance and integrity of the book.  If Tomasi wants to play with guns, he should do it Batman & Robin where that sort of thing belongs.  This wrapped up the “Keepers” arc so hopefully we can bury this turd in the yard, move on to something better, and forget that this ever happened.

    The Keepers Scheme Revealed

  • Legion of Super-Heroes #6 starts us fresh on a new arc after last months interim issue.  Series artist, Francis Portella makes his return (Welcome back.), and consequently the issue  looks stunning.  Paul Levitz takes two teams to China of the 31st century, spotlighting Chemical Kid’s tutelage under Element Lad and Dragonwing’s homecoming.  Also dealt with in the background is the aftermath of the Dominators’ failed invasion and what comes next.  Paul Levitz has been hailed as a comic genius and one of the hallmarks is his ability to juggle plotlines in a way that is captivating and natural rather than cluttered.  In a lot of ways, when reading this new run, its hard to tell that he ever left the book in the first place.  Such is the grace of his talent.
  • Nightwing #6 is coming down to the wire . . . and not just a trapeze wire.  This issue features the return of Haly’s Circus to Gotham, and of all nights on the anniversary of John and Mary Grayson’s tragic deaths and Dick Grayson’s inception into the destiny he has grown into, prompting this title.  Tensions are running high, and the villainous “Saiko” has his plan set in motion like a well placed set of dominoes.  This is the end game, and the explosive ending of this issue is rife with anticipation for the next issue.
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #6 is a prequel issue this month.  The very first issue of the series has Jason Todd and Starfire breaking Roy Harper

    Boy Meets Alien Girl

    out of a Quraci prison, rounding out the gang, but this issue answers the question of how Jason and Starfire first hooked up.  Not to give anything away, but I used “hooked up” on purpose for the multiple meanings it can evoke.  Focus on that however you want.  Jason has up until now been quite aloof and often less than complimentary toward Princess Koriand’r’s bubbly personality, so this issue is very interesting, and very important I’m sure to future stories.  There is actually quite a wellspring of emotion buried in their history.  Knowing Scott Lobdell, this well will be pumped in future storytelling.  Again, make what you want of the word “pump.”

  • Supergirl #6 gave some good exposition of the past and defined the present pretty good, but overall my skirts weren’t blown up.  I will give the Mikes credit for really establishing Kara’s past and how that has molded her into the young woman she is now, but their current story is kind of so-so in how they have presented it.  I have hope that they can establish something good at the end of this tunnel.  This is worth giving a look, but my thumbs up lacks enthusiasm.
  • Wonder Woman #6 was thoroughly entertaining this week.  Its really hard to know whether to call this the end of an arc, because one of the initial conflicts wrapped this week, but was prolonged by a newer development from last issue’s plot.   Either way, this story is very complex and heavily steeped in Greek mythology, as any good Wonder Woman series should be firmly rooted.  I won’t say this series is my favorite, but it is establishing a status quo that is very appropriate.  Also, new series artist Tony Akins’ designs are phenomenal.  Issue #5 introduced Poseidon as a phosine behemoth, and this one introduces Lord Hades in a very interesting visage.  With all these elements, it is beginning to pick up some steam.

    Enter Lord Hades

  • Birds of Prey #6 was slightly better, but not by much.  The premise of a hidden mastermind wielding an army of sleeper agents is sound and rife with possibilities, but the characters are mismanaged I think.  Again, they really aren’t “Birds” of Prey as there are only two bird themed characters (Black Canary and Starling), and of those two one is completely laughable as a character (Starling).  The stories might level out, but again I’m waiting out the arc’s endpoint.
  • Blue Beetle #6  is growing on me.  The villainous alien horde, the Reach, have seemed infallible with the deployment of their parasitic scarabs, but this issue pokes a hole through that premise and shows the strength of the human spirit against the scarabs, but especially this issue showed how incredible the character of Jaime Reyes is.  Jaime isn’t a tough guy, he’s  not a popular kid, he’s not even super smart.  He’s just a regular kid, so his trials and tribulations are that much more resonant with the demographic reading this title.  It didn’t start out the best, but I truly think that this series is going places.
  • My Greatest Adventure #5 continues in the same trend that the past several have.  Matt Kindt’s “Robotman” was a trippy take on the character, much in the style of Grant Morrison’s run on The Doom Patrol in the 90’s.  Like a lot of Morrison’s less inhibited work, this one still have me pondering what I think about it.  I think I like it, but can’t be certain.  Scott Kolins does a very expert job illustrating it, and in several aspects affects a Kirby-esque style.  Aaron Lopresti’s “Garbage Man” storyline continues to be my favorite of the three.  This is surprising as the premise sounds laughable, but that is just a testament to Lopresti’s skills as a storyteller.  The series is very compelling and has me itching for the last chapter, which seems to promise resolution to the story that was started last year in the six part anthology book Weird Worlds.  Also hailing from the pages of Weird Worlds is “Tanga.”  This segment is entertaining.  I’ll say that much.  The variety of the three stories is what makes the series so interesting.
  • Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #10  finishes out the “Pirate Princess of Mars” story arc and was decent.  This book was slightly weak as its premise detracts from the grandeur of the main series.  Dejah Thoris being exposed to Black Martians before the events of the concurrent Warlord of Mars storyline, which takes place many years later after the advent of John Carter to Mars, cheapens this storyline, despite the interesting events it might depict.  Its fun when you can take it by itself, but I guess I am a purist.  As both this series and the main series are penned by Arvid Nelson, I suppose I can give him some latitude, but this still irks me a little bit.  I am interested in the little blurb that appears at the end of the issue about his next arc, entitled “The Boora Witch.”  I greatly anticipate this story and pray that it is less strewn with anachronisms.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batman  #6: Drawned by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO, Inked by Jonathan Glapion

Green Lantern Corps #6: Drawned by Fernando Pasarin, Colored by Gabe Eltaeb, Inked by Scott Hanna

Wonder Woman #6: Drawned by Patrick GleasonTony Akins, Colored by Matthew Wilson, Inked by Dan Green & Tony Akins

Red Hood and the Outlaws #6: Drawn by Kenneth Rocafort, Colored by Blond

Review: “The New Teen Titans: Games”

          I have been an on-again-off-again Teen Titan fan for many years.  They are one of those teams that are either written very well or not so well, and the reason why a team of teenaged sidekicks and misfits has continued on for all these decades and gained the notoriety that they have is a direct result of the genius of two men: Marv Wolfman and George Perez.  In 1980 the launch of their series The New Teen Titans not only revolutionized the team and its youthful members, but DC and comics in general.  Eight years into this historic series, as both men were trailing off their meteoric first run, the graphic novel “Games” was proposed as a bookend to all they’d achieved.  However, after only seventy pages had been plotted and drawn the project was shelved.  Twenty-some years later and thirty years after New Teen Titans #1 hit the shelves, Wolfman, Perez, and DC have finally completed and released the over-sized graphic novel for all of us to enjoy.
 
          What’s truly captivating about the series was how seriously Wolfman and Perez took the material.  With a series based around a group of teenaged kids with “knock-off” superpowers of older heroes

Titans Assemble

or flashy gimmicks, its easy to fall into camp, putting on the kid gloves and making their adventures juvenile and hokey, leaving the real threats to the adults.  Wolfman and Perez, however, realized that teenagers have an abundance of rebellion and determination to prove themselves, and that this raw emotional energy unique unto their age group could counter more than just token predicaments.  Sure, being less experienced they are going to get knocked down and fail quite often, but again, that youthful defiance will make them pick themselves up and throw down with doubled determination.  That is precisely what the series presented month after month for the majority of the 80’s.  This concept not only fueled a stellar run of the team, but went a loooong way to reasserting comics as a dramatic medium.  The plotlines depicted in the series were very serious and sometimes also very dark, outshadowing the conflicts of their older mentors and idols in the Justice League in both respects.  Deathstroke the Terminator (aka Wilson Slade), one of the biggest badasses in the whole of the DCU not only was a featured antagonist of the group, but debuted in New Teen Titans #2 in perhaps one of the most intense single title stories of that decade, “The Judas Contract.”  Another featured a transdimensional demon-god named Trigon attempting to co-opt our reality in the story “Terrors of Trigon.”

 
          This is a lengthy introduction to the graphic novel I am attempting to review, but I would say that it is integral in understanding what this book follows in the tradition of and how it measures up.  On the topic of the second point, it is a phenomenal piece.  “New Teen Titans: Games” is perhaps the best graphic novel I have read in several years.  The aforementioned storylines of “The Judas Contract” and “Terror of Trigon” have leant an intensity to

Jericho and Raven in the Guggenheim Museum

comics that is rarely seen, and almost never duplicated.  This graphic novel finds its place among those venerable pieces, with its metaphorical head held high.  What’s more, it continues to innovate, as only the Titans and the character of King Faraday are canon.  The villains and modus operandi are unique to the title, and yet in less than 150 pages the story is apocalytically ominous with an airtight plot and breathtaking panels done in oversized format, executed in a manner that makes the story complete without an excess of superfluous explanation required.  The economy of the elements employed, creating all the suspense, drama, foreshadowing, and characterization is perfection.  The volume even has an appendix at the end of the original plot outline from 1988 annotated by Wolfman to inform us which parts were kept and what parts were rewritten.  What makes all the amazement and wonder I’ve talked about above even more miraculous is that those seventy pages done above were retained unchanged, but the plot they are meant to depict was drastically changed in monumental ways, and somehow they were able to effect the changes in plot without changing the panels AT ALL!!!  

 
          I won’t be so drastic as to give it six stars out of five, but I will say that this graphic novel is a perfect five out of five.  If you like superhero comics, this story is a must read.  If you are a fan of well executed suspense, this is a must read.   If you like things that are GOOD, it is a must read.  However you look at it, one thing is incontrovertibly true: this book was well worth the twenty year wait.
 

"New Teen Titans: Games" Wrap Around Cover Art

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

The New Teen Titans: Games: Drawned by George Perez, Colored by Hi-Fi, Inked by Mike Perkins, Al Vey, and George Perez.

Week 23 (Feb. 8, 2012)

  • Green Lantern #6 was a break from the main flow of the series in several respects.  Firstly, the great Doug Mahnke took a break from art with Mike Choi filling in until next month’s “The Secret of the Indigo Tribe” arc.  It also featured Hal as just Hal Jordan and Sinestro doing his own things outside the purview of the Guardians’ designs.  I really was not looking forward to the seemingly lackadaisical sixth issue, but was pleasantly surprised when I got into  it.  The characterization of both Hal and Sinestro remained on par, and even more so as their motivations were driving events, not the other way around as can be the case in the larger multi-issue arcs where things usually spin out of control.  Geoff Johns, I think, develops Hal’s character well in his weighing of a life with Carol against the life he loves as a Green Lantern.  The harshness of Sinestro is balanced well against his innate nobility in an attempted offer of redemption to an old foe in his search for answers.  Through this latter interaction Johns gives great revelations toward the dark designs of the Guardians hinted in previous issues.  Also, without bloating his ego by saying it in his presence, Sinestro gives Hal Jordan possibly the greatest compliment he is capable of giving.  After reading it, I was stunned that Sinestro could be that honest out loud.  The issue teases well at the anticipation for the next arc which promises the origin of the Indigo Tribe, and the artwork by the guest artist, Mike Choi, was absolutely beautiful, again assuaging the absence of the great Mahnke’s work, which is saying a lot!
  • Batman & Robin #6 was one I waited for, biting my fingernails, and twitching uncontrollably like junkie.  Damian is put in the cross-path of destiny with two incredibly strong men on either side, both vying for his soul.  Have I mentioned that I love Damian Wayne?  If I haven’t, I’ve been remiss, and will rectify it: I FRIGGIN’ LOVE Damian Wayne!  This issue does a good job again of

    Damian laying it down!

    juxtaposing how awesome the father is and how incredible the son is.  The two are separated by generation and upbringing, but Bruce has molded himself into a mortal God almost, and his son surreptitiously has done something similar.   Bruce finishes his tale of training with the Ducards and the conclusion fills the reader with awe.  Damian works with the younger Ducard, Morgan, and through his interactions fills us again with awe.  Like Sinestro did in Green Lantern, Damian very succinctly in one sentence fragment tells you everything you need to know about his allegiance.  Next issue promises to be as exciting as this one, and I am again back to the nails and the twitching.

  • Batwoman #6 was also greatly anticipated, but this one is unique to the anticipation I described above.  I anticipated Batman & Robin #6 since the ending of issue #5.  I have been anticipating this issue since before its fifth issue.  I have even been anticipating it since BEFORE its first issue!  I have been anticipating it since it Zero Issue that came out last February, one whole year ago.  Why was I anticipating the sixth issue in particular from the Zero Issue?  Its because the artist is none other than Amy Reeder, whose art I fell in love with after her seminal run on Matt Wagner’s Madame Xanadu. (P.S. If you can find them I would definitely check them out. They are great.)  Reeder’s art takes us into the second arc of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s take on Batwoman.  Though it no longer is drawn by Williams, Reeder does a phenomenal job keeping the art lavish, crisp, and stark.  The devil is in the details, and several panels in this issue just ooze with ambiance.  The story takes a new stylistic approach with a fragmented narrative that follows each character individually, including Kate and Batwoman as separate perspectives.  Like the details in Reeder’s art, there is uncanny detail in the story imbued in each segment’s plot.  I am at a loss as to what else I can say about this issue in that much of it is enticingly shrouded in mystery and the other half would spoil the reading if I commented on it.  So, as ever, I command you to  READ IT!!!
  • Superboy #6 picks up where Teen Titans #5  left off, with Superboy hovering over the bodies of the defeated Titans.  I praised Lobdell for the morally complex narrative of the latter title’s fifth issue, and this issue builds beautifully off that.  Superboy is very much the warrior-philosopher and after this battle he again struggles to find meaning and significance in his actions.  As the cover reveals, Supergirl makes an appearance that steeps more mystique into the plot, but does offers more information as well.  She tells Superboy that he is “Kon-El” and a hint as to what that entails.  She also presents ominous foreshadowing of his future.  Perhaps it is because I was the youngest in my family with two sisters who were several years older than me, but throughout this issue I totally related to the feelings of isolation and confusion Superboy felt from those around him.  In my previous reviews of Supergirl the character and Supergirl the title, I have given my reservations as to how the character is being handled and my moderate distaste in both regards.  Lobdell’s handling of her left me with something akin to a cool minty taste.  I genuinely liked her by the end of the issue.  I wonder if Mr. Lobdell has room on his plate for a fourth DC title perhaps . . . ?
  • Demon Knights #6  is an interesting case, as it has gone a long way in a very short time.   So much has already changed since the first issue.  The team has evolved, growing individually, growing together and also growing apart.  I think what’s the most interesting is watching these different warriors and seeing their individual concepts of honor.  The range goes from the super honor-bound Amazon, Exoristos, to the Demon himself who really doesn’t give a shit and is kept on the leash of his affections for Madame Xanadu.  These aren’t goody-two-shoes characters.  They will do bad, sometimes very rash things, yet they remain in the besieged village trying to save people they’ve never met.  Next issue promises “The Final Battle” and I am excited to see what that entails.
  • Batgirl #6 ends the two part Gretel story and it follows well in the very touching manner in which it began.  The best parts of the story are the Barbara parts.  This issue focuses a great deal on her past relations with Batman.  Barbara didn’t set out to be his partner or live under his shadow and yet she some how fell into both all the same.  Though she says that she doesn’t care, you can tell that what Bruce thinks means a great deal to her.  Gail Simone is doing a great job writing the character.
  • Grifter #6  is progressing nicely.  This is a series that I had the lowest expectations for and has developed quickly into one of my favorites.  This series, and more recently Voodoo, have been the engine upon which the Daemonite story has been exposed.  Just as they are invading Earth in these two books, they are also invading other titles.  Stormwatch #6 featured Daemonite technology, Superman #7 features an old baddie from the old W.I.L.Dcats series on its cover, as well as a few other posited cameos.  This one features the advent of the ‘Black Curate.’  I had preconceptions as to what I thought the ‘Black Curate’ would be, but so far they haven’t confirmed or disconfirmed those suspicions.  However you decide to look at it, the Daemonites are a unique threat that is growing more and more ominous by the issue, and this series is the font from which it is all pouring forth . . .
  • Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E #6 is gaining steam.  It is now on its second full arc after that weird crossover last issue with OMAC.   If this issue is any indicator, I think writer Jeff Lemire is back to his old swing of really interesting storytelling.  The first arc was interesting, but overtly strange.  This one seems more like his style involving back story, technology gone wrong, and intimate characterization.  Two major things are revealed about Franks’ past, as well as a moral dilemma aboard the Ant Farm.  The latter situation deals directly with the last issue’s crossover with OMAC.  If I was rude about those two issues of their respective series, I stand by my statements, but will concede that some good came of the crossover in the form of this seemingly significant plot point engineered by Brother Eye.  I’ve been lukewarm on this series, but my interest is now piqued.
  • Huntress #5  was the penultimate issue and apart from setting up a killer (metaphorically, though perhaps literally) ending, not a lot really came of it.  The miniseries has been pretty tight so I can’t fault the amazing Paul Levitz.  Sometimes great stories need a little drag period to facilitate something larger.  A good issue though, with a lot of Helena kicking ass.
  • Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #5 caps off this miniseries the way it had to end.  I won’t say I like the ending, but I respect it.  There is no salvation for the Penguin.  You go into the series knowing that.  He is a tragic character, not just in the hard life that led him to the role of criminal kingpin, but also in his inability to allow himself the luxury of happiness or even trust in anyone apart from himself.  Gregg Hurwitz did a great job writing a story that was honest about the Penguin, but at the same time didn’t completely demonize him.  I’m not the biggest fan of the Penguin, but this series still sucked me in.  Its my belief that if you are a Batman fan, you owe it to yourself to give this a read in single issues or trade paperback format.  There is a slight demonization of Batman and Commissioner Gordon in the few instances we see them.  Just like the Penguin’s positive aspects, the negative aspects described of the two Gotham protagonists are very real and believable.  If we didn’t realize they were, it reveals our own prejudices which mask them.
  • Warlord of Mars #15  continues its adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ second Barsoom novel “The Gods of Mars.”  As a fan of

    Barsoom's Legendary Temple of Issus

    those turn of the century novels, I have to say that I am a fan of this series’ faithful interpretation of the novels thus far, as well as the writer, Arvid Nelson.  The land of the Black Martians is presented in all the glory Burroughs’ prose evoked in the imagination and then some.  Carthoris makes the scene when his father, John Carter, arrives at the legendary Temple of Issus, and though it is very different from how it occurs in the novel, I don’t mind so much.  Nelson has done a good job and I would suggest anyone into classic science fiction should check out the spectacle that the main Warlords of Mars series embodies.

  • Silver Star #3 was a little confusing, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.  I enjoyed unfolding the plot page by page, even though I’m not sure I got all of it.  Writer, Jai Nitz, does a good job of introducing new characters and plot points alongside the old.  Like Captain Victory, I am unfamiliar with the original Kirby material, but think I am picking it up slowly.  One thing I will say for Jai Nitz’s style, he provides very bold strokes in his storytelling and the fourth issue promises a defining story.
  • Finally, The Unwritten #34 ends off my week.  The series is like a doomsday clock and each issue is a tick towards midnight.  The secrets of the Cabal continue to be revealed as are their aims at the world.  The end is nigh in this series and the kid gloves have come off.  Tommy Taylor plays for keeps in this, as do the men and women whose interests he is a threat to.  M.K. Perker’s art is a worthy substitute for Peter Gross’s.  I’m not sure where they are going with the plot, but I am looking forward to the next several months where hopefully all will be explained.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batman & Robine #6: Drawned by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray

Warlord of Mars #15: Drawn by Edgar Salazar, Colored by Marcelo Pinto