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Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman

The events of Flashpoint created two Supermen, with two separate timelines. Rebirth merged these two Supermen and timelines into one, and the result is the start of Superman’s Rebirth title.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane have a son named Johnathan Kent. The boy is half human, half Kryptonian, and is developing powers and resistances like his father’s. The three are happy, though Jon is both itching to and dreading becoming Superman like his father. Superman was not the only survivor of the past reality, however. The Eradicator, a machine from Krypton, has found the Kent family. He sees Jon as an abomination of Kryptonian blood, due to his part-human heritage; as such an abomination, he must be eliminated. Superman can’t defeat the Eradicator alone. Can Jon step up to the plate to defend his blood?

It’s easy to see why this Rebirth title was so acclaimed. It takes all the best parts of Superman and introduces a new challenge: Clark’s son. Part of the mass appeal of Superman’s character is that he believes anyone can be a hero, which is very inspiring. With Jon, we ask the question if he can also be a hero, if he will also be inspired and take his father’s values to heart and take up the huge mantle, or if he will forge his own path. It certainly will be an interesting ride as we see more of Jon’s character unfold.

Five artists worked on issues in this volume alone, making it hard to appraise. All was serviceable, and there certainly were not any weak links, but I enjoyed Gleason’s work best. I thought he was able to most effectively capture Jon’s childlike innocence and strong emotions, especially in the eyes. Like Jon’s character, I am eager to see how his design changes over the course of the arc.

I’ve said before that while I love Superman’s character, it’s been hard for me to find an arc that I really, genuinely enjoy. I do believe I’ve found one 😉

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, and Jorge Jiminez. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman. 2017.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

Harleen Quinzel has a measly $5 in her pocket when she gets off the bus at Gotham City. Her mother has sent her to live with her grandmother for a while. To Harleen’s chagrin, she finds her grandmother has passed away, but Mama, the current tenant of her apartment, gladly takes in the eccentric teenager. Harleen’s spirits are not dampened by this turn of events; she embraces Mama and his cohort of drag queens just as enthusiastically as they’ve embraced her. However, big changes are coming to the neighborhood. The Kane family, who owns Millennium Enterprises, are looking to buy out the block to build upscale condos and “improve” the area. Harleen faces a difficult choice. Should she organize community protests with her new friend Ivy and her family? Or should she burn the corporation down with the mysterious Joker?

I have to say, this one surprised me. I’m not a Harley Quinn fan, but DC Ink has put out some fine stories, so I decided to check it out. This reimagining of Harley’s origin story will be hard to top.

Harley’s distinctive voice and character lent particular weight to the themes in this story: African-American and LGBTQ+ rights, gentrification, and poverty. As it’s written from Harley’s point of view, her colorful and optimistic speech firmly place us in her head. We see from the art more than hear from Harley about the injustice that happens in the world around her, showing the audience that while you can hide from problems in your head, you can’t escape the real-world causes and consequences. Harley ultimately has a choice: whether or not to see the problems, and how to respond to them. Is there a right or wrong way to fight for justice?

The art is phenomenal. In both an homage to and deviation from your typical Batman, Gotham-style book, it’s rendered in cool sepia. Pops of color come through at critical moments or in flashbacks: Harley red, Joker yellow and purple, hot pink. It feels like reading an old black and white film where someone expertly colored over the reel in the most emotionally charged moments. There are a few Easter eggs and homages to Harley’s history sprinkled throughout that both old and new fans will enjoy.

The question Harley faces here, how to respond to injustice and what the right way is to fight for justice, is something many teens can relate to. The timely, yet timeless, message and stellar art make for a Harley origin story that will be hard to beat in the future.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Steve Pugh. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. 2019.

Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood

After the events of No Man’s Land, after Huntress thought herself proven worthy of Batman’s trust… he still doesn’t trust her. In fact, the only one in the Batfamily who seems to care for her at all is Nightwing. Huntress tells herself doesn’t particularly care, nor is she looking for approval from any of them – there’s a price on her head. Someone is setting her up to look like she’s killing members of the mob – who also happen to be members of her extended family. But Helena has already caught and exacted justice on the assassin who killed her parents and brother, and the man who ordered the hit. But one question still burns, after all these years… why was Helena spared, when the rest of the Bertinellis died? Clearing her name now may be tied to that old question somehow. None other than The Question is willing to help her out – if she’ll let him.

This one made more sense to me upon my second skim-through before writing this review. I would have very much appreciated a family tree or cast of characters page at the beginning of the book. Many characters from the mob appear in the book, of course, and Helena does explain who’s who and how they’re related – but one page of reference to go back to whenever you inevitably confuse people would have been welcome. It may have also gave the big plot twist a bit more weight, because by the time you get to who is really involved, you’ve forgotten who they are.

That said, with so many characters, there are also multiple layers of intrigue. It reads as if you, the reader, and Helena are figuring out who’s framing her together, bit by bit, eliminating suspect after suspect. Though Nightwing offers his help, Helena distrusts the Batfamily as much as they do her. Her drive to take care of this family matter herself is palpable in every page, and it really comes through in the art. The entire book has a grey tint to it; there are no bright jewel tones. Memories and backstory are colored in a cool sepia. Though there are lighter moments in the book, and they are appropriately written and colored, the overall tone is serious and somber.

Cry for Blood is a cornerstone Huntress story, but it’s also just a dang good read. This is a great example of how the writing and the art work together to set the overall mood of the book. I plan to read No Man’s Land next, for more context as to exactly why the Huntress and the Batfamily don’t trust each other… and because I seem to like reading backwards =P

-Kathleen

Rucka, Greg, Rick Burchett, and Terry Beatty. Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood. 2002.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell

While on an undercover mission for the Justice League of America, Black Canary maybe accidentally got a spell put on her. A nasty one that’s causing the women she worked with on said mission to commit suicide. It’s only a matter of time before the spell takes her, too. She calls up her teammate and friend, Zatanna Zatara, to see if there’s a way out of it. Though Zatanna concludes it’s a bloodspell (one that’s bound to the person by – you guessed it – blood), she is certain she can break it if they find the person who put the spell on Canary. Trouble is… Tina Spettro is dead. How the heck do you break a spell when the one who cast it is dead???

DC veterans Paul Dini and Joe Quinones teamed up for this fun… well, teamup =P Though Green Arrow makes an appearance, along with a few other JLA members, the focus really is on Black Canary and Zatanna. Not only do we get the main story above, but we see how the two women met as fledgling heroes, and a few other fun flashbacks that give us more context about their relationship. Overall I got a Birds of Prey vibe from it, which with me, is never ever a bad thing!

What I found most interesting was Quinones’ renders of both women. The two are stylistically very similar – black jackets, dark leotards, and fishnet stockings. Quinones made the two women different visually: Canary has a bluer, cooler palette, and Zatanna’s is more mystical and warm purple. Zee is taller, with a more oval face and more delicate form and features; whereas Dinah is shorter, stockier, and a little more blunt, to indicate her incredible strength and physical prowess. These subtle differences in their designs tell us a lot about these characters before we even read any words!

For any reader who’s looking for girl relationship power remniscent of Birds of Prey, but who also likes a big slice of magic, give them this!

– Kathleen

Dini, Paul and Joe Quinones. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. 2014.

The Death of Superman

I’m going to spend most of my December catching up on graphic novels that I never finished earlier in the year. I had picked up this classic Superman title when I was switching jobs, but it got set aside. So, let us now dive into the “death” of Superman!

The story opens with a new villain Doomsday smashing himself from underground to the Earth’s surface. He is established as a bad guy when he kills a bird in his hand and laughs about it- gasp! There is a convoluted storyline about Lois Lane and a random boy getting into trouble in the basement of a power station in which Superman needs to save them. I was amused that Lois left Clark a message on a computer of where to find her- and he mentioned that it was so high-tech of her do that, instead of on a note (as this was published in 1992). Superman dispatches all these underground baddies, not knowing the worst is yet to come. Then we are introduced to the B-level Justice League heroes such as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Bloodwynd and Maxima who first meet Doomsday and can’t defeat him at all. Having just read Heroes in Crisis, I knew who a few of these lesser-known heroes were, but the entire time I was wondering why in the world Batman, Wonder Woman and other more powerful Justice Leaguers never came to help. While Supergirl briefly plays a part, I had to look up why in the world she was in a romance with a red-bearded Lex Luthor, and why she failed to be of any use. So Superman and Doomsday meet and they punch each other…over and over…and over and over again…until Superman dies. The end.

We all know Superman does not stay dead, and that very fact sucks the gravitas out of the whole story. As if DC would truly kill this icon, thus this storyline was just a publicity stunt when they had ran out of other ideas. Sequels Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen just negated the whole story.  Plus, Doomsday is the villain that kills him? All he does is punch- that’s it.

I’ve noticed in older Marvel and DC comics, that there are often several artists listed, but the art remains consistent. I’m guessing they were required to, as I am thinking of the book How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and they were given a blueprint for them to follow. I have mixed feelings about this- I become very annoyed when illustration styles change within a graphic novel, yet following a required design boxes artists in and they remain anonymous as their personal style does not shine through. And on a further aside, although this novel came out in the early 90’s the art retains the look of the golden/silver age of comics although the storyline was in the “modern age of comics”. The excesses of art that Image Comics was known for had not effected DC, at least in this graphic novel. But I truly loved the “countdown” of panels- the book opens with varied panel configurations, but as the story progresses the panels reduce to four a page, then three, then two with the final battle consisting of one-page splash pages.

All in all, this was a fun, somewhat campy read. While the storyline didn’t work, this was a turning point for comics and established a legacy of crossover events, so I am glad I picked it up to further my comic knowledge.

-Nancy

Black Canary: Ignite

Dinah Lance wants to do it all. She wants to win her school’s Battle of the Bands with her two best friends. She wants to attend the Gotham Junior Police Academy and become a police officer just like her dad, so she can help people. So what if she and her friends haven’t decided on a band name yet? So what if Detective Lance doesn’t want her to become a cop? Dinah knows what she wants and she knows what she has to do to get it. But someone is very, VERY determined Dinah won’t get the things she wants. That someone is from her mother’s elusive past. Together, Dinah and her mother must confront her past, and Dinah’s future, if they are to defeat the shadowy threat.

I’m older than the targeted middle-grade audience for this graphic novel, so I found the characterization and writing inconsistent. Detective Lance vehemently denies Dinah has powers at the beginning of the book, but once they are revealed, takes her and Laurel out for a nice dinner. I had to do a double take there because seriously… What??? There were also some plot threads that were not explained or explored fully, then dropped, such as with Dinah’s vocal teacher. Honestly, I expected better from veteran middle/YA grade writer Meg Cabot. In this regard I was severely disappointed.

Dinah’s story here is one of breaking boundaries and stereotypical feminine roles. Various characters tell Dinah she’s too loud, too brash, too this or that. Does Dinah pay the haters any attention? No! That’s awesome! But to me it felt like so much effort and energy was focused on this, and ONLY this, aspect of the graphic novel that the rest of the story and writing got left in the dust.

Cara McGee’s illustrations are delightful. They are energetic and easy to interpret for younger readers. The bright colors are fun and attractive to the target audience. There is more emphasis placed on the figures and characters, but the scenery and backgrounds are also well-rendered and not cluttered.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to Black Canary for younger readers, but to older fans, do yourselves a favor and skip it.

– Kathleen

Cabot, Meg, and Cara McGee. Black Canary: Ignite. 2019.

Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis

With Mr. Minos dead under mysterious circumstances, Helena has assumed his role as director of Spyral. This leaves Dick Grayson stuck with Agent 1, Tiger, as his partner. One of Helena’s first assignments is finding out who is murdering rival spies. That someone appears to be setting Dick up. In an attempt to leave Spyral and return home, Dick meets with Batman – only to find that Bruce can no longer remember him, or remember he was even Batman. He turns to other members of the Batfamily, the only ones who are able to help him solve this latest mystery. However, not all of them are happy to see him again, especially as they thought he was dead…

First of all, I was cheering Helena’s rise to power. Break that glass ceiling! I’m sure Helena has her own secrets, and we will uncover Mr. Minos’ and the rest of Spyral’s, as the series goes on.

I have to admit this one lost me a bit, as I don’t recall Batman becoming an amnesiac at any point during the New 52 – then again, I haven’t read a whole lot of it. However, it did make for an interesting development in that Batman was NOT there to save the day for his protégé for once. The rest of the Batfamily has to get Dick out of this conundrum on their own, which I know they can!

The art has been consistent, and consistently excellent, as they’ve only had Mikel Janin as the artist so far. In my opinion, this is the best design move they could have made. The plot has so many twists and turns that the artist and art styles constantly changing as well would just be too much.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis. 2016.

Batman: The Long Halloween

What better graphic novel to review for Halloween week than this definitive Batman title? ;D I have read this one before, years ago, but came back to it for this week’s review.

This June wedding in Gotham City is an event to be remembered, on many fronts. The groom is Johnny Viti, the nephew of Carmine Falcone, one of the two biggest crime lords in Gotham City. Falcone himself tries to pressure Bruce Wayne and his company into laundering money, but Bruce refuses. Later that evening, on the rooftop of GCPD, Batman, police commissioner Jim Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent make a pact to take down the Falcone family. They will bend the law if necessary, but never break it.

On Halloween night, Johnny Viti is murdered, and a Jack O’Lantern is left next to his body. This starts a string of murders in Gotham City: a member of, or someone close to, the Falcone family is murdered on a holiday, and the killer leaves trinkets relating to that holiday with the body. The killer becomes known as “Holiday.” Batman, Gordon, and Dent are thrust into the web of lies and double-crosses that’s standard territory in the mob. The men even begin to suspect each other. If they can’t trust or rely on one another… how can they work together to solve the case?

This story, originally published in 1996-1997, partly inspired the 2008 movie The Dark Knight (in the 2011 edition I read for this review, there is a conversation between director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer about how the graphic novel inflienced the movie). On a timeline level, this makes sense, as The Long Halloween chronologically takes places after the events of Batman: Year One (1987)… which partially inspired 2005’s Batman Begins 😉 This graphic novel, together with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (1986), I believe made a big difference in the way that Batman was written and published thereafter. I believe these graphic novels marked the start of the shift from Batman’s historically campy, fun style, to the much more serious tone we see today.

With that in mind, for it’s time, the story was groundbreaking. Today, it is the perfect example of what a Batman story should be. We see three ordinary men who are trying their best to do the right thing, in a morally corrupt city. We see that they are not perfect, but fallible. We see the main villains as ordinary men, like our heroes, instead of the supervillains (though many members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make an appearance). The mob characters serve as a foil to Batman, Gordon, and Dent: while they are also human, and therefore fallible, they are morally corrupt but believe they are doing the right thing. Many a comic was published before this one where the heroes always did good, and the villains were always, unequivocally, bad. It makes the events and climax that much more tragic.

The art is reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns, and continues the style of Year One. The figures are rendered in a hard, blocky style, with little use of soft lines. The environments are rendered more simply, with buildings in the same blocky style, or with just one color, so that much of the reader’s focus is on the characters and their expressions. Usually there are only a few colors used in a single scene or panel, to set the tone and again allow greater focus on the characters and the story. Big blocks of black are used as the only method of shading, creating a stark and gloomy noir-like mood. This is used to phenomenal effect as we guess at Holiday’s identity and second-guess all the character’s intentions as we move through the story.

The Long Halloween is a must-read for every Batman fan, but especially for those who are also fans of The Dark Knight film trilogy. The story, in which you question the integrity of both the heroes and villains, is compelling and was one of the first of it’s kind at publication. The art is effective in it’s seeming simplicity. The Long Halloween is a landmark Batman story that has rightfully earned it’s place as an important and influential title in the hero’s history.

– Kathleen

Loeb, Jeph, and Tim Sale. Batman: The Long Halloween. 2011.

Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

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