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Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman

I found this one on accident while looking for another Catwoman title – but once I saw the late Darwyn Cooke was one of the creators behind this title, how could I pass it up? =P

After faking her own death, Selina Kyle (and, by extension, Catwoman) has gone into hiding. But cash runs out quick, and she needs some more if she’s to go back home to Gotham. She calls in a few favors and rounds up some old friends to pull off one last, big, heist. As in “stealing from the mob” big. As in “train robbery” big. A load of unmarked mob money transported to Canada via train sounds just perfect. As Selina and gang pull their plan together, someone is on her trail. Someone knows Selina Kyle isn’t dead, and private eye Slam Bradley is hired to find out why. When their party is sold out to the very mob they’re stealing from, forget the cash; will Selina be able to get out alive?

I’ve tried reading noir crime graphic novels, most recently Criminal by Ed Brubaker (who, coincidentally, co-wrote this one) and Sean Phillips, and I just can’t seem to get into them. I’m not a big mystery reader, nor do I like a lot of violence in my reading, though I do enjoy psychological and interpersonal dilemmas. This one though? Hit the sweet spot.

Cooke and Brubaker created a stunning work with this one. The art is intense, line-heavy, and by turns bright neon and Gotham dark. It reads just like an old heist or detective movie. The imagery evokes the old Hollywood aesthetic: dangerous glamour glimpsed through a screen of cigarette smoke. It set the atmosphere perfectly.

The writing is excellent. We bounce between a few characters, some of whom giving conflicting information, so you never quite know who to believe. We hit the ground running and don’t stop until the last explosive has been detonated. Not only was there action, there were tense moments between characters that alluded to conflict in the past. There was just enough given for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. I’m sure some is explained in previous runs, but it was fun to imagine =P

Having never read a Catwoman story before, I think I set the bar pretty high for myself with this one. It was exactly as I had pictured the perfect Catwoman story: a high-stakes heist, a little romance, a lot of drama and atmosphere. As for the big bad Bat? He was only mentioned a few times in passing, and seen twice. Readers who want to know what Selina Kyle gets up to without Batman around are sure to love it, as well as crime readers and those yearning for a bit of old Hollywood.

– Kathleen

Cooke, Darwyn, and Ed Brubaker. Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman. 2011.

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Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls

The Riddler is loose in Star City. Apparently he’s decided to expand his franchise outside Gotham. But Green Arrow and Speedy soon discover that Riddler is a front, a distraction, for something bigger and badder. A millionaire named Davis wants to keep Star City safe, whatever it takes. He summons a magical barrier around Star City, one that even Superman can’t penetrate. No one can get in or out. What’s worse, he’s also summoned demons who uphold the law to the letter. These demons will appear to uphold the peace; from grand theft auto to a shove, nothing is above their notice. Green Arrow will have to break the spell, but he can’t possibly fight an army of demons all by himself, right?

… Man, I’m pretty done with this run. I don’t know if this volume was truly subpar or if I was reading it in the car on a road trip I didn’t want to take in the first place and was projecting =P I remember being frustrated with the last volume for some Women in Refrigerators plot points, and while this volume didn’t have as much of that, I still don’t think I’ll be continuing this run.

The art continues to be the reason I keep trying to read this arc. I’m a big fan of the bold lines and graphic style. However, it continues to be the only constantly good thing in the run.

The writing for the most part is solid. Most of the stories in this run have been compelling, especially those that are dealing with heavy character introspection and development. This kind of writing only seems to be reserved for the male characters, however. Mia Dearden finally put on a mask in this volume. I’d been waiting for it for a few volumes now, but couldn’t bring myself to get excited when it happened, because it felt like I’d slogged through too much male resistance to get there. Gee, that sounds pretty familiar in a Green Arrow story…

This run started with so much promise for me, but petered out quickly. Hit me up if there’s an iteration of Green Arrow that isn’t so macho manly man centered!

– Kathleen

Winick, Judd, and Phil Hester. Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls. 2005.

Free Comic Book Day 2019

For the fifth year in a row, I have brought Free Comic Book Day to my library. I pick up a good selection of titles from my favorite comic book store, Graham Crackers, and offer them to the library patrons when they come in. I also had some Star Wars and superhero crafts available for kids to do as well. I know, I know…I’m pretty awesome to offer such epicness to my library community, and this year we had the biggest crowd yet. As an added bonus, I love getting a sneak peek of the titles, and this year I choose seven.

Hope proved to be my favorite of the seven stories I picked up. It introduced the story about Julie, a mother who is secretly an Ultra and keeping her secret hero identity even from her husband and daughter. When a car accident with her family reveals her secret, Julie’s life is upended and her daughter is taken from her. This was strong introduction with very promising story lines, in addition to the bright clean art. Perhaps because I am a mom myself, I could imagine myself in her shoes (plus who doesn’t wonder what they’d do if they unexpectedly obtained super powers).

As soon as I saw a pug on the front cover, I knew immediately that Mike Norton of Revival fame was the illustrator, so this was a must read for me. This story is mash up of two existing comics- Grumble, with a physic and wisecracking pug, plus The Goon, a muscled fighter of supernatural creatures. It was odd pairing of characters, definitely more geared for existing fans of either series vs a new reader like myself. At the end there was a reprint of the story Hillbilly.

My Favorite Things Is Monsters took the comic world by storm and for good reason: the author/illustrator Emil Ferris is crazy talented. In this comic three vignettes are offered- one that describes Ferris’s path to publication, a short about Karen and her brother Deeze talking to neighbors and a how-to-draw-a-monster segment.

In this issue we get a small, touching scene between Nancy and Steve, as Nancy is concerned her little brother Mike is not coping well after their monstrous adventures. They try to draw him out by encouraging him to return to his involvement with his role playing games. There is an additional Black Hammer story afterwards, which introduced me to Madame Dragonfly.

This issue had a few Marvel stories in them, and like I said after reading last year’s FCBD issue, it can be hard for someone who is mostly a fan through the movies to connect with these stories that vary in author voice, illustration style and time period. The first story had some heroes that I don’t usually associate with the Avengers, such as Ghost Rider and Blade, so that was amusing at one level. The second story, The Savage Avengers, had a much grittier vibe and featured Wolverine.

This issue contains two stories- one about Venom and his reemergence, and the second one is a light hearted romp between original Spider-Man Peter and the younger Miles. The first story is very dark and violent, so I found it interesting that they paired it with the next story that was all about the two Spideys arguing over pizza and could be read by a younger demographic than the first story.

Blood Shot gets yet another revamp, this time under author Tim Seeley. I read Bloodshot: Salvation for the first time last year, and was intrigued by this soldier of fortune, who would just like to be free of the shadowy agency Project Rising Spirit and the super powers he had forced on him that transform him. In this story, he saves a scientist from a dangerous cult and it serves as a prequel to the upcoming series.

All in all, I felt I picked up some strong titles. I was most intrigued with Hope, and liked the peeks into Stranger Things and My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The others were good reading, but the free issues won’t make me pursue the series.

-Nancy

Shazam!

***There are minor spoilers ahead***

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve learned the hard way to go into a DC movie with low expectations. My fiancé and I’ve endured too much: trudged through too many sluggish, gritty, grey overtoned color palettes; winced through too many poorly-written, edgy, grimdark facades of the characters we know and love; and pointed out so many potholes, the whole DCEU could easily be mistaken for one of many poorly-maintained streets in the major city nearest us. To say DC movies have been a slog to sit through is a major understatement.

It was with this mindset that I sat down in the theater with my fiancé and ordered my dessert. The trailers had looked good, much better in my humble opinion than those of Shazam’s Marvel counterpart, Captain Marvel (and made me laugh at the use of Eminem’s “My Name Is” in one of the trailers; after the use of “Without Me” in Suicide Squad, it makes me wonder exactly how much of a hard-on DC’s marketing team has for the rapper’s old hits), but if I was optimistic it was cautiously so.

Billy Batson is a 14-year old foster kid. He’s been shunted from home to home, because he keeps running away. Billy is on a mission to find his mom. When he was very little, he and his mom got separated at a carnival. He’s tracked down half a notebook’s worth of female Batsons in the Philadelphia area, but none of them are his mother. Nevertheless, he’s determined to find her, whatever it takes.

A couple named Rosa and Victor Vazquez are the next family to take Billy in. They foster five other children who have been difficult like Billy has been, or have special needs. The Vazquez’ are a loving couple, who were foster kids when they were younger, so they know the ropes and are confident Billy will fit in well and become part of the family. All the children take to him: Freddy Freeman, his new roommate and superhero enthusiast, most of all. Billy, however, doesn’t really want anything to do with anyone in the house; to him, it feels like they’re keeping him from finding his mother, from his real family.

While plotting to run away again to chase down the next Batson on his list, Billy is summoned to a mystical cave. A very old wizard named Shazam tells Billy he has been chosen to become the next champion to protect the world from the manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of everyone else in the world, Billy has been chosen because he has the purest heart. Billy is skeptical; there are no truly good people left in the world, right? And he can’t possibly be one of them, right? But the wizard is adamant, and Billy lays his hand on the mystical staff and shouts, “Shazam!”

A crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, and Billy is transformed into an adult superhero. The wizard fades away, his quest fulfilled, leaving Billy alone and very confused. He makes his way back home to Freddy, the superhero expert, and together they test the limits of Billy’s powers, film them, and post them on the internet. He immediately becomes a viral sensation, and Billy soon starts using his powers not for good, but to show off and make money. When the Seven Deadly Sins escape and a threat arises, can a teenaged and untrained Billy even rise to the challenge? Will he keep chasing the mother who gave him up for adoption, or learn the true meaning of family?

As usual, the good first:

Guys. GUYS. GUYS. THIS is what a superhero movie should be. Shazam! was everything I had previously been missing from the DCEU, and more.

The difference with this movie was, it felt like they finally just let loose and had FUN with it. They took the concept “what would a 14 year old boy do if he suddenly got superpowers?” and really rolled with it. Of course he would not know how to pee while in costume! Of course he would film himself showing off his powers to become famous! Of course he would try to buy beer while in his older disguise!

What would you have done if you acquired superpowers at that age? Probably about the same stuff, if you’re being honest with yourself! I know I might have ;D Billy behaved exactly as I would expect any 14 year old to, as I would have expected myself to at that age. It was for that reason that the entire theater was in stitches for what I’d say was the first third of the movie.

For all the laughs it provided, it has soul too. Billy has a good heart and is worthy of the mantle of Shazam, though he doesn’t believe it and doesn’t show us at first. It’s over the course of the movie that we, and him, learn it. Rosa and Victor, though they have limited screen time, are obviously loving and caring parents for their foster children. I wish they were my parents! Freddy has a physical disability, for which he has to use a crutch to walk, but his knowledge of superheroes is encyclopedic, and he at turns acts as Billy’s conscience and rival, much as real brothers would.

For all their faults, the DCEU sure knows how to cast. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are perfect for the roles of Billy/Shazam. Angel is quick on his feet and unafraid to show deep emotion, allowing him to bounce from sarcastic joking to disbelief to fear all in the same sentence. He’s so young, but obviously an artist to watch. Levi, maybe pulling from his own childhood fantasies of gaining superpowers, gives a hilarious and believable performance as adult Shazam. The character fumbles a bit at first, but soon finds his stride, much as a teenager really would.

The bad? There isn’t much. I’ve been mulling it over for a few weeks, and really my one big nitpick is that Billy went from typical teenager in a costume to a hero too fast. That character development was saved only for the third act. At that point you’ve sat through the hilarity of the first act, the very middle-y and bogged down second act during which the Big Bad gets a lot of attention and Billy’s antics have gotten kind of old, before getting to any “meat.” A two-hour movie isn’t a long time for significant character development, but a little bit more of a gradual uptick in hero-ness as the film went on would have been appreciated.

Oh, more of Mary would have been most welcome too. She’s an American treasure, a sweet baby, and must be protected. The cameo right at the end could have been expanded upon a tiny bit more, buuut I suppose there was a good reason, so I can let it slide =P

Overall, Shazam! is a genuinely funny romp through finding the true meaning of family, and back through childhood dreams of becoming a hero. All through the hilarious first act (and at the very end!), we the audience are also back in Billy’s shoes as children, longing for superpowers of our own. To see our wishes fulfilled through Asher Angel and Zachary Levi’s Billy Batson on the big screen is truly fun and heartwarming. I stated in my Aquaman review that it was DC’s best since Wonder Woman, and while nothing DC does can ever top Wonder Woman for me, I feel Shazam! was leaps and bounds above what Aquaman accomplished. Shazam! had more consistent characterization (despite my above nitpick), a main character you truly saw yourself reflected in, and overall, superior writing, a bit of a tighter plot, and a better time at the theater. I appreciate that the DCEU is letting lesser-known characters come out to play… if the rest of it (though I’ll settle for a spin-off series) could be Shazam Family Shenanigans, I would be very satisfied indeed ;D

After Justice League was yet another disappointment, I gave the DCEU three chances to redeem itself in my eyes. With Aquaman and Shazam!, it used two of those chances, the third being Wonder Woman 1984. I mean, I’ve never doubted WW84 would be good, but now I truly have hope for the rest of the DCEU going forward. Don’t screw it up, DC!!!

– Kathleen

Sandberg, David F. Shazam! 2019.

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Amazons Attacked

I sat on this and sat on this, reluctant to read it after how much Volume 6 bothered me… but then it came up overdue at the library I work at so I had to read it and give it back! X,D

Diana and Jason are getting to know each other, and of course that comes with getting on each other’s nerves, as siblings do! Diana is frustrated that Jason says he wants to become a hero, like her, yet he continues his frivolous, excessive lifestyle. Jason is frustrated Diana won’t see that he feels he’s ready to become a hero. When Jason disappears, the note he leaves behind says he is working to become worthy of being a hero – but Diana isn’t too sure. The memory of the carnage Grail left behind is too fresh, and she is worried that she’s returned, and that he was next on her demi-god hit list. Steve has made it no secret that he doesn’t trust Jason, and thinks he went back to Grail, to Darkseid. Could it be true?

As Jason wasn’t in much of this volume, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I can understand more of why they introduced him: with Diana’s home island of Themyscira in another dimension, and Diana not able to get back home any longer, it makes sense to introduce a new familial element. Doesn’t mean I have to like it! I am worried that Jason will come to overshadow Wonder Woman in her own story, when she’s been overshadowed by her male counterparts by the same publisher for a long time. It really rubs me the wrong way.

Silver Swan was reintroduced back into the story with this volume. I’ve always thought she was an interesting villain, and the Rebirth incarnation is no exception. Vanessa Kapatelis becomes the Silver Swan upon introducing nano technology into her body, enabling her to walk again after an accident that caused paralysis from the waist down. There was a hint of a sinister force behind the Silver Swan, which will be fun to untangle as the run goes on.

What I enjoyed most in this volume was Steve and Diana’s relationship getting more of the spotlight. Steve was kind of on the back burner for a while there! It was a treat to see the mutual respect and admiration they have for each other, which is the bedrock of their relationship. The romance is there, but never takes center stage, and – more important! – never downplays aspects of either character for the sake of the romance. I, for one, hope there’s a lot more Steve and a lot less Jason going forward!

– Kathleen

Robinson, James, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, and Romulo Fajardo Jr. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Amazons Attacked. 2018.

Animal Man

Animal Man was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books and because of it I was introduced to the kitschy awesomeness of Grant Morrison’s 1988 take on this B-level superhero. The graphic novel starts with a lengthy introduction by Morrison that explains how he and other Brits were contacted after Alan Moore’s success with Watchman and Swamp Thing, to give life to DC’s back catalogue of superheros. Morrison choose Animal Man and the rest is history.

The story establishes Buddy Baker as a married “everyman”, who as he nears thirty is having an identity crisis. In this world, heroes are common with Superman and Wonder Woman being the recognized top tier, with the other heroes scrambling to find a niche and a super-group. Buddy struggles to provide for his family, so he wishes to gain recognition, hoping to join a prestigious group and use his powers of temporarily picking up the abilities of animals nearby. Despite the campiness, the stories could be more nuanced than you would think. Animal cruelty,  family responsibilities, societal commentary and humanizing villains are all tied into the story lines. However, these themes are inconsistently used, as sometimes they are pulled together in  a witty way, but other times they are groan-worthy.

So let’s talk about The Coyote Gospel. OMG- I loved it. The jokes were so sly- starting with the trucker (who looked like Freddie Mercury) and hitchhiker singing the The Modern Lovers song Road Runner right before they accidentally struck the human like coyote in the desert. Animal Man is actually just a secondary character in this chapter as the coyote man and trucker duel it out. This homage to Will. E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, and comparing him to Jesus, was a trip. By coincidence I attended a small anime convention last week and as I was looking through the bins of posters of comic covers, I ran across the picture of Animal Man being painted on the road in an obvious crucifix symbolism. One week ago I would not have known who Animal Man was or the significance of the pose, but now I can claim more credibility as a comics fan!

I also picked up the recent Jeff Lemire version and absolutely hated it. The art was grotesque and I quickly put it down. Which goes to show that no matter how good the story is, art can torpedo a graphic novel. Luckily this first version has strong art with a Golden Age vibe and it elevates the stories. Artists Chas Truog, Doug Hazlewood and Tom Grummett, with some Brain Bolland covers, bring the Baker family to life along with the animal menagerie that Buddy encounters in every chapter. All in all, I enjoyed this graphic novel especially the deeper themes of animal rights activism that Animal Man advocated for.

-Nancy

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 4): Strange Loop

An unseasonal snowstorm brings an unexpected clean-up and good cheer ally to Burnside: the Penguin! He’s reformed and looking to clean up his image in order to run for mayor. But Batgirl finds he’s being a little too effective at persuading the citizens of Gotham that he’s a good guy. What is he really up to? Then, in a freak occurrence, Babs finds herself trapped inside her own mind: in a dream of her own deepest desires. It’s too good to be true. Can she escape, or does she even want to?

This run keeps firing on all cylinders and does not once slow down. We keep swinging from story to story with nary a breather. Besides the two main stories above, there are also two shorter ones in this volume. Four in one trade paper – that’s impressive, but even more impressive is how exciting all the action still is even at the end.

That’s not to say there isn’t any introspection or soul-searching in this volume or run, because there definitely is! When Babs is trapped inside her own mind, she questions whether or not this fantasy she’s living out is better than her real life, and whether or not it’s worth it to continue being Batgirl. Hope Larson continues to be a top-notch Batgirl author.

The art, while it’s become less stylized and graphic since the beginning Burnside title, keeps the feel of the Burnside aesthetic – pretty impressive, considering multiple artists have worked on the title since then. The art in this volume is a little more nuanced, a little more rounded and realistic, but still keeps the dynamic pop colors and clean lines. Batgirl’s designs have changed a bit too – they gave her a winter coat! She’ll not shiver in sub-zero temperatures wearing skin-tight leather any more! =D

Rebirth Batgirl now holds the title for my favorite Rebirth title, after the disappointment of the last Rebirth Wonder Woman. Larson’s phenomenal writing and the art continue to be a big draw. Looking forward to the next!

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, Sami Basri, Scott Godlewski, and Minkyu Jung. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 4): Strange Loop. 2018.

Mera: Tidebreaker

DC Ink is trying to capture the teen crowd by having established YA authors give some of their heroes new origin stories. In this outing, Danielle Paige reimages a teen-aged Mera meeting Arthur Curry for the first time. The timing is good, as the Jason Mamoa Aquaman movie is still fresh in people’s minds, plus I myself read two Aquaman graphic novels recently.

Mera is introduced as a rebel warrior princess of the underwater kingdom Xebel. Xebel is currently under the domain of the stronger Atlantis, and the inhabitants are chafing under their rule. Mera and a friend are caught defacing property, but a palace guard diverts attention from the Atlantanians so Mera can escape. The king later establishes that he wishes Mera to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom, and later gives him a directive to find and kill Atlantian heir Arthur, as to establish Xebel dominance. Mera decides to do this herself and leaves to go on shore to find Arthur on her own. She quickly finds him, but things keep on happening to prevent her from carrying out her mission. Will she be able to kill Arthur when she has a chance, even after discovering he is kind and unaware of his heritage?

The art by Stephen Bryne establishes Mera as the center of attention by keeping the entire color palate in muted green and blue ocean colors, except for Mera’s distinctive red hair. Bryne creates an appealing underwater world with varied sea creatures but also renders realistic portrayals of people below the ocean and then later in Amnesty Bay. I appreciate that he did not draw Mera as a bombshell, instead he drew a lovely but not too developed teen-age girl. She even wore flats to a dance! But…why in the world was Arthur  given dark hair? In all DC comics he is a blonde, so I wondered if this is a nod to the Momoa version on screen? It truly felt wrong to me.

The story had some huge holes you could drive a truck through. Plus it had insta-love which is a plot device that I hate. However, I believe it will be liked by the audience it is shooting for- teens. It was a solid origin story for a brand new audience that won’t get hung up on it not matching past established canon. I was able to read this story before it was published as I received an online copy through NetGalley. However, they put an embargo on reviews until it’s publication date on April 2nd, making me think they were not confident that it would be reviewed well. Another blogger clued me in this is standard with DC online books, but still. Nonetheless, as a marker of how I feel a teen audience will like it, I already have placed an order for it for my work library for the YA collection.

-Nancy

Superman: Earth One (Vol. 1)

Clark Kent is fresh out of junior college, fresh into his 20’s, and fresh in the big wide world. He moves to Metropolis to get a job. He applies for big time jobs with science research facilities, Forbes 500 businesses, and tries out for Metropolis’ sports teams. He quickly gets multiple job offers, the salaries blank for Clark to write in any amount. Though he has incredible powers, the only thing Clark Kent wants is to blend in, live a normal life, and fulfill his father’s last wish: to provide for his mother and take care of her. Though Ma Kent encourages her son to reveal himself and his gifts to the world, Clark only wants to remain in anonymity just like everyone else. However, when an entire army of alien warships, led by one calling himself Tyrell, arrives on Earth and demands his “target” reveal himself, Clark knows the message can only mean himself. Torn between keeping his head down and letting people die vs. revealing himself to likely be killed, what will Clark do?

Maybe the Earth One Batman and Wonder Woman set too high a bar, but I found Earth One Superman disappointing. You know how it’s going to go as soon as the aliens invade. There’s only one way for the story to go, and the reason you know is simply because that it’s a Superman comic. This origin offered nothing new to the accepted Superman canon, whereas other Earth One titles have challenged and turned accepted canons on their heads.

Don’t get me wrong. J. Michael Straczynski is the reason I picked this up. He’s a phenomenal author who writes Superman flawlessly. The first dialogue between Clark and his mom moved me to tears. But nothing new was offered in terms of writing in this Earth One title. Maybe I just don’t know any better since I haven’t read as much Superman as I have other heroes, but this didn’t feel any different than a regular Superman origin story, and in that regard I was disappointed.

The art was serviceable but a bit too, well, Gotham for my tastes. The art is drawn and colored as though we’re looking through a grimy lens. There’s a muddy brown overtone to the entire book that weighs it down and makes you trudge through it instead of breezing through. Though the characters are for the most part drawn well, Clark at times appears gaunt as a skeleton, and much older than the early 20s he’s supposed to be.

If you’ve read other Earth One titles and expect more of the same fresh takes on old canons, don’t look here. I feel like I would have liked it more had it not been under the Earth One title and therefore not had that expectation. If you’re a die-hard Superman fan, go for it, but otherwise it can be skipped.

– Kathleen

Straczynski, J. Michael, and Shane Davis. Superman: Earth One (Vol. 1). 2010.

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