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New 52

Aquaman: The Trench & The Others

Geoff Johns take on Aquaman is an absolute winner! He crafts the often maligned superhero into a charismatic and appealing champion of the people, that, dare I say, is now my favorite DC hero!

Volume One: The Trench

Straight off, Johns takes Aquaman’s reputation by the horns and addresses how many people perceive him as a joke. Poor guy- he’s been mocked on SNL and his abilities to communicate with sea animals is ridiculed. Despite his rugged good looks, powerful physique and amazing powers, he is often looked down upon.

But as the story progresses we get to know Arthur the man, not just Aquaman the hero. We are introduced to Mera, a princess of Xebel (which is a breakaway nation from Atlantis), who has joined Arthur on land. I adored their relationship; it was balanced, loving and free of drama. I’m warning you DC, don’t ruin this relationship! The two of them fight some aquatic monsters that come out of a deep trench in the ocean and are terrorizing Amnesty Bay. Their decisions on how to deal with the monsters help with character development, and this first volume ably gives you enough flashbacks and insights to Arthur’s past for readers to understand who Aquaman is.

Volume Two: The Others

This second volume tries to give more of Arthur’s backstory, and we find out that before Mera met him, he was part of a motley group of second-tier heroes called The Others that discovered, and subsequently protected, Atlantean weapons. Black Manta, Arthur’s arch enemy, tracks down some of these members to steal these artifacts to use against Aquaman. We also get to know marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin, who helped Arthur develop his powers as a child, but betrayed him and his father, hoping for recognition for his work.

This story was more convoluted, and I had to refer to the website Comic Vine to keep track of The Others and their powers. Plus, there was one member, Ya’Wara, a sexualized hottie who wore a string bikini in Siberia. Come on now. It made me yearn for Arthur to become involved in the Justice League and for him to become a member of that team.  Still loving on Mera and Arthur in this volume!

Now let’s talk about the art. It’s fantastic! Ivan Reis impressively draws Arthur and Mera. The seascapes are beautifully rendered and richly colored in. He includes many one or two page spreads and drew the ocean creatures with precision. While the story line redeemed the character of Aquaman, it was the drawings that upgraded the story as a whole and made me fall in love with Arthur and Mera.

Johns was the perfect author to develop Arthur’s story. Kathleen’s review of the movie Aquaman showed that Johns’ screen-writing contribution to the movie elevated it above many of DC’s preceding disappointing adaptations of the DCEU (except for Wonder Woman -that was beyond good!). Johns has a handle on the DC characters and has penned previous novels such as Green Lantern, The Flash: Rebirth, Batman: Earth One and Forever Evil (although in this event book, Johns did not include Aquaman!!!).

I like how DC is developing both versions of Aquaman in books and on screen parallel to one another. Although Aquaman is now often portrayed with a beard, illustrators aren’t trying to make him look like Jason Momoa. Fans are intelligent enough to accept this, and one version doesn’t have to subvert the other. And while I truly am a fan of Momoa, I’m glad the comics are keeping Arthur as the blonde version that has been around for decades. I hope between this new adaptation of Aquaman’s story, along with any stories found in the Justice League comics, he gets the recognition and respect he deserves.

-Nancy

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Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition)

It occurred to me that as big of a superhero fan that I am… I’ve never actually read a Superman comic. The shame!!! I rectified that with this one 😉

Catching space stations plummeting to Earth with terrified astronauts aboard – business as usual for Superman. Once he’s taken care of the wreckage, Clark Kent writes a piece about him. However, seems Clark got his facts wrong. He wrote that Superman stopped seven objects, but there were actually eight. Superman took care of all of them… right? In his investigation, he finds handprints in the steel. Not many could have pushed it off course and harmlessly into the ocean. But if it wasn’t Superman… then who? Clark is about to stumble upon a secret the U.S. Government has been sitting on for 75 years, and there are some who’ll do anything to stop him from discovering it.

I enjoyed it, but I think there was too much going on in this story. There are multiple plot points that come together messily in the end. One part I enjoyed was seeing Clark’s inner monologue during the fight scenes. There was a lot more science-y stuff than I expected: velocity, UV spectrums, etc. It shows how intelligent Clark is to be able to think of that stuff on the fly! It did slow down the pace a bit for me, but I didn’t mind too much. There is a bit in the middle/end about the philosophy and agenda (or lack thereof) of Superman, which I found really interesting. This deluxe edition had a good number of variant covers at the end, all drawn in the different styles of comic book eras.

Again, I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure this was a good “beginner” Superman book. The story is a bit convoluted and it drags. There’s more emphasis on the action than any character development. The art is very good; a few two-page spreads at the beginning completely blew me away with the amount of detail. You’d probably have to really like Superman to fully enjoy this book. However, I do like Superman, I should read more, and I’m going to!

– Kathleen

Snyder, Scott, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dustin Nguyen, Alex Sinclair. Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition). 2014.

Forever Evil

The Justice League is no more! Instead the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 in the multiverse have managed to “kill” most of the heroes and round up all the villains, so as to take over the world. The Crime Syndicate consists of doppelgangers Ultraman (Superman), Super Woman (Wonder Woman), Owlman (Batman), Power Ring (Green Lantern), Deathstorm (Firestorm), Johnny Quick (The Flash) and Atomica (Atom) with their Sea King (Aquaman) not surviving the trip over.

After busting dozens of villains out of jail, this group of seven demand obedience from the motley group in front of them. They explain that the strongest should survive, and the way the former heroes have been protecting the weak of the planet was wrong. Ultraman declares “Aeternus Malum”, which roughly translates to forever evil, to his new army. Thrilled to be allowed to act on their base instincts, this new secret society go out and create deadly chaos all over the world.

But not all is well within the crime syndicate. The seven argue endlessly among themselves, and fear that the creature that destroyed their previous world will find them here. We discover Super Woman is pregnant and secretly telling both Ultraman and Owlman that they are the father, so we know she is planning on playing them off one another in the future.

In the midst of the lawlessness and disorder, Lex Luthor takes stock of the situation and takes action. He has a powerful secret weapon that he had been working on for years, and puts it into play. We also discover that not everyone from the Justice League is gone. A certain someone, who often fights dark impulses (you have to know who I’m referring to!), joins forces with Lex and some other surprising villains to take down the syndicate.  The conclusion reveals who the mole in the Justice League was to allow the syndicate to take over, and Super Woman has another surprising disclosure.

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This was an extremely dense story, one that took me time to go through. While I have been reading more DC graphic novels recently, I still had to look up many characters to find out their backgrounds and how they connect into one another. There were some inconsistencies and some holes in the story that were distracting, but I felt as a whole, it was a very strong story. It made me think- can someone who has been evil for a long time, change? Does his/her new good actions erase all the bad they have done in the past? On the flip side, can someone who has been good but then makes a horrible choice, does that negate their past good deeds?

The artwork was fantastic. It took real skill to illustrate the 100 or so characters in the story. There was an amazing four page spread of the syndicate with the villains surrounding them, that I wish had been a pull out, so we could see the whole cast of characters at once. Despite this four page spread, there were hardly any other two page spreads, but there were occasionally one page panels. With black borders, the rich coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision.

This New 52 crossover event was definitely successful. Not only was it a fun read, but the ending leaves some open story lines that can be built upon in the future.  I’m definitely interested in knowing what awaits the villains that survived and how that will affect the Justice League in the future.

-Nancy

Johns, Geoff, Davis Finch & Richard Friend. Forever Evil. 2014.

Black Canary (New 52; Vol. 2): New Killer Star

Dinah’s left Black Canary in the hands of Bo Maeve, their new lead singer, and gone to find out the truth about her mother. She falls in with a ninja death cult, who may have had a hand in her mother’s disappearance, at the persuasion of her Aunt Rena. She manages to escape and returns to Gotham to enlist the help of her friend, Barbara. The leader of the cult, however, follows her… and will stop at nothing until Dinah shows her a move called “the Five Heavens Palm.” Dinah’s mother apparently knew it, and it’s assumed she showed Dinah how to do it. But how can Dinah show her a move she doesn’t even know? And when she gets wind that Black Canary is in trouble, will Dinah help her friends, or continue her quest to find her family?

The art in this run is phenomenal. The characters, dressed in dark clothes, look almost cut and pasted against the neon backgrounds. It’s flat but not at all boring: lots of different angles are used to portray the same scene so that there’s depth. Dinah is a woman pulled in multiple different directions as she tries to understand her past to move forward with her future. There was also a preview of Rebirth Birds of Prey in the back! I can’t wait to get to it… after I eventually finish Simone’s run 8D;;

– Kathleen

Fletcher, Brenden, Sandy Jarrell, and Annie Wu. Black Canary (New 52, Vol. 2): New Killer Star. 2016.

Batgirl (Vol. 3): Mindfields

This one is sooo overdue… lol… I reviewed the last volume pretty much soon as it came out and this one’s been sitting in my to read pile for months… 8,D;;

Barbara’s been feeling… off, lately. She can’t remember the simplest things, or things that happened only a few months ago, or things that she definitely should remember. For someone with an eidetic memory, this is highly unusual. It could just be stress, though… she’s still plugging away at her thesis, she’s got her grade school friend Greg crashing on her couch until he finds a new place, she’s got Batgirl stuff to do. The nightmares she’s been having could certainly be stress-induced: every night, a man with shadowy forms and a great, glowing eye stands over her… yeah, definitely creepy, and definitely stress-related.

Batgirl has been running with all kinds of new friends: Spoiler, Bluebird, plus some old ones, like Black Canary and Operator. Together, they’ve been keeping Burnside safe. Until someone threatens to use an energy source machine Barbara built to level the district. Are her friends able to help keep Burnside safe? Or Babs safe from her own mind?

Various plot threads from the last 2 books are tied up quite nicely here, leaving us with a satisfying ending. The art is as adorable and animated as ever. I think what I like most about this Batgirl is… it’s feasible. Babs made her costume herself and it looks home-spun yet stylish. The girls use phones and laptops that any normal college student would have in addition to the usual crime-fighting gear. The last issue in this volume, Batgirl: Endgame #1, illustrates this well. She feels like any other college girl, and she feels believable. Plus, sprinkled throughout, we get nods to the Batgirl of the golden and silver age of comics (including a library scene =P).

I highly recommend the Burnside run. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s light-hearted, and best of all, we get to see Batgirl as just a normal college girl.

– Kathleen

Stewart, Cameron, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. Batgirl (Vol. 3): Mindfields. 2016.

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