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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.

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

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.

 

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.

Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

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Superman: Grounded

Kathleen: Superman knows he’s not like any other man, but that doesn’t stop him from striving to emulate the best in humanity. However, he feels his moral center is deteriorating, and he’s unsure what to do. “What does Superman stand for? What does he mean to the regular citizens of this earth?” Clark asks himself. Well, he decides to go for a walk to clear his head. In his odyssey across the United States, he sees citizens going about their day and helps anyway he can. This book is the best iteration of Superman, and the struggle between his alienness and humanity, I’ve ever read. If you’ve run into Strascynski’s work for other superheroes, you’ll love his interpretation of Superman.

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The Plague Widow

Nancy: I enjoyed Brian Wood’s seven-volume Northlanders series, with the fourth volume being my favorite. The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement, so the local priest counsels strongly that the settlement goes under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them. Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight-year-old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive. The excellent art by Leandro Fernandez captures the isolation of a Viking settlement in turmoil.

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Fables series (link to Deluxe Edition Book 1 and Deluxe Edition Book 15 and Series Recap)

Kathleen: Y’all thought I was done singing the Fables praises, eh? Not even close =P Those fairy tales you thought were fiction? They’re true, and the characters live among us. The Fables fled from their Homelands after a ruthless Emperor rose to power and took the Homelands for himself. In modern New York City, the Fables have built new lives for themselves, but the Emperor is just a world away, and he’s looking for them. Fables is one of, if not the best, long-running graphic novel series that isn’t a superhero comic. Thus, the writing doesn’t suffer from the usual tropes that plague superhero comics, especially as far as characterization. The art by Mark Buckingham is consistently top-quality as well and has become a personal favorite.

Marys Monster

Mary’s Monster

Nancy: An ode to Frankenstein, this is a poetic and beautifully evocative book about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, the author of the classic 1818 novel. This fictionalized biography by Lita Judge details Mary’s life from childhood onward and is told in free verse. Dark and lovely, the art brings Mary to life, just as Mary brought the creature Frankenstein to life. Judge’s moody black and white watercolor illustrations, paired with the sensuous verses, effectively show the ideals and passions that ruled Mary and her poet husband Percy. Mary’s tumultuous life helped shape her into a masterful writer and led her to create an unforgettable novel. She and her creature won’t soon be forgotten.

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The Ghost, The Owl

Kathleen: A little girl appears on the edge of a forest lake. She can understand the language of animals – which means she’s no longer living. She’s so small, scared, and confused, that Owl promises to help her find out what happened to her. Some of the other animals think that Owl should mind his own business, but he knows it’s the right thing to do… and will do it, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. This graphic novel was executed brilliantly. There are no panels whatsoever. Only the art connects the speech bubbles: the lines are graceful, sinuous, and gently guide the reader where they’re supposed to go next. It’s so brilliant, intuitive, and unlike anything I’d seen before, that I had to read it all over again as soon as I finished.

Rebels

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

Nancy: “A historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti. It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well-respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. Make sure you check out its sequel These Free and Independent States about Seth’s son John during the War of 1812.

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DC Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash

Kathleen: Barry Allen is about to start his life over again when the Reverse Flash escapes from his Speedforce prison and vows to end it on Barry’s wedding day. The Reverse Flash targets Fiona Webb, Barry’s bride to be, just as he targeted Barry’s first wife, Iris West. In the aftermath of the ensuing fight, the Reverse Flash is dead, Fiona suffers a mental breakdown, and Central City is torn on whether or not the Flash is a murderer. The jury must decide if Flash’s past heroic feats earn him a “get out of jail free” card, or if he must be held accountable for his actions like any other man. This is a run from the ’80s, and the writing contains the best of both the goofy, totally-out-there subplots of older comics and the moral gravity of modern comics.

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Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

Nancy: I love Star Wars! I love short stories! Together this anthology was a win-win for me. Forty authors celebrated forty years of Star Wars by contributing a story of a minor or supporting character from the ending of Rogue One to the finale of A New Hope. This book is a must read for all Star Wars fans. It strengthened and filled in gaps in the narrative and this new canon was a treat from beginning to end.

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Hey, Kiddo

Kathleen: Acclaimed children’s author Jarrett J. Krosoczka presents a memoir of his childhood. His grandparents took him in as his mother went to jail for heroin addiction, and her brothers and sisters (Krosoczka’s aunts and uncles) were going off to college. Krosoczka explains how he came to terms with his feelings about his unusual family through drawing and writing stories. Though I have not been exposed to his children’s works, I can without a doubt say that Krosoczka is a master of his craft. The illustrations in this graphic memoir, with their squiggly lines and limited color palette, are among the most effective I’ve seen in a memoir. Reproductions of family artifacts within also drive home the personal nature of this story and help make it more real to readers.

My Fav Things is Monsters

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Nancy: The review for one of my favorite books wasn’t even on our blog, as I had written it as a guest post for Reads & Reels! My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an extraordinary and ambitious graphic novel. Equal parts memoir, murder mystery and coming-of-age drama, the art in this book is beyond amazing. New author Emil Ferris has created a story set in Chicago in the late 1960’s, with the story framed as a graphic diary written in a notebook by Karen Reyes, a ten-year old girl living with her single mom and older brother.  But what sets this story apart is the author’s choice to represent Karen as a werewolf, with the device being that Karen perceives herself as a monster. I eagerly look forward to the sequel and answers to the mysteries found in this unique book.

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Batman: White Knight

Kathleen: I had to make an honorable mention here. After Batman force-feeds the Joker an unknown medication, the Joker seems to be… cured? The newly reformed Jack White, along with Harleen Quinzel, is crusading to deliver Gotham City from the Dark Knight, whom they’re painting as the biggest criminal of all. Other than the corrupt Gotham Police Department, of course. Some in Gotham support White and his message, while others believe it’s all another Joker scheme, albeit more elaborate than usual. This one turns every assumption you have about Batman on its head and makes you question whether he’s doing good – or if he’s just another criminal trying to prove that he’s a hero. The art is appropriately dark, moody, and carefully detailed in a Gothic style.

There you have it! Our list has DC representation from Kathleen, as that is her favorite publisher, but surprisingly Nancy’s list did not include two of her usual favorites- Marvel and Image. Smaller publishers got a shout out on both lists which is a great development. We hope you check these books out and enjoy them as much as we did!

-Kathleen & Nancy

The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman

Everyone knows Superman. Big guy, born on the planet Krypton but raised in Smallville, Kansas. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Fights for the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. What you might not know is the fascinating story of how the idea of Superman was born.

Joe Shuster is a quiet kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He likes to read comic books: the pulps, adventure stories, and detective mysteries, but the science fiction stories are his favorite. He dreams of becoming an illustrator some day, because of his talent for drawing. Through a cousin, he is introduced to Jerry Siegel, a writer with the same passion for comics. Together, they prove an indomitable team of not only creators, but friends.

When they came up with the character they called “Superman,” it was already after a series of successful and unsuccessful publications together, but they knew they were onto something big. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it as big as they thought. Through a string of corporate manipulations, Jerry and Joe were coerced into selling the rights to Superman. These two boys had basically built the superhero comic industry, and they were getting nothing for it. Joe was just content to get a paycheck and provide for his family, but Jerry was ready to fight for more. What’s more important? Staying silent and getting by, or raising hell and demanding change?

Though the book does center more on Joe, Jerry’s story is so entwined with his that it’s almost a dual biography. And though I knew their names, I had no idea how much Jerry and Joe had gone through to get Superman, the first and now arguably the world’s most popular superhero, published. At the time, between the World Wars and during WWII, there were biases and discrimination against Jewish people, which is partially why it was so hard for them to sell their work. Ultimately it was why it was so easy for publishers to manipulate them. Their story is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful… like someone else we know, huh? 😉

The art is wonderful. It’s soft, more painterly than graphic, with very little of the hard lines and shading that we’re used to from superhero comics. The warm palette it’s rendered in evokes the nostalgia associated with the time period and the wonder of two teenagers deep in the creative process.

The best thing about the book is, it’s meticulously researched. There is a bibliography at the end for further reading, and a comprehensive notes section. I found the story so fascinating that I read through the notes! I am planning to check out a few of the materials listed in the biography, so I can learn more about Jerry and Joe’s story. This is essential reading for all Superman fans, but anyone interested in the history of the comic publishing industry will love it too.

– Kathleen

Voloj, Julian, and Thomas Gampi. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman. 2018.

Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition)

Clark Kent is just like any ordinary boy. He got his famous name from his parents and their highly original sense of humor. He grew up in Picketsville, Kansas, just a regular ordinary kid. He’s the frequent butt of jokes at school: asking if he flew to class, why his super-speed didn’t kick in when his books are knocked out of his hand, and the like. Clark Kent is ordinary – until he’s not. Overnight, he gains all the powers of Superman. Now he has a secret to keep from everyone he knows. His parents. His friends. The bullies. Snoopy reporters. As he grows and finds his own way in the big city, his secret threatens his work, his private life, and his blossoming romance (with a woman named Lois, of course). How can Clark possibly keep his secret and live a normal life?

Wow. Just wow! I haven’t read much Superman yet, but this is exactly what I expect a Superman comic to be. Part of the allure of Superman is, that Superman believes in you! In your ordinary self! To stand up and be a hero! This is what this comic is about. An ordinary kid from an ordinary town finds himself bestowed with powers and helps people in his own way.

The art is spectacular. It’s quiet, with muted pastel colors and soft shadows. But with the quiet comes the power. It underscores the utter ordinariness of the life Clark Kent lives, and that he tries to maintain as he grows older. The extraordinary powers he obtains can’t take away the contentment he has with his life – they only supplement it. The art, which is not flashy or over-the-top like so many other graphic novel art today, underscores this idea. Brilliantly done. This is already on my “Best of 2018” list ;D

– Kathleen

Busiek, Kurt, and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition). 2015.

Superman: Grounded (Vol. 2)

In continuing his walk across America, Superman has come across… some sticky situations. A plant near Des Moines, Iowa, has burned down. Lois Lane was about to write a piece for the Daily Planet about the multiple safety and environmental code violations at the same plant. But after hearing the worker’s stories, Superman wonders if it’s not a good idea to keep it open, violations and all. He then starts guessing what he really stands for. Truth, justice, and the American way? Those all sound like words to him now. Feeling more lost than ever, Superman continues on his walk – or he would, if someone from what she calls the Superman Squad shows up and tells him he needs to find his faith again – or risk ending the legacy of Superman for good!

After the first one was so excellent, I was almost hesitant to pick this one up. I didn’t want my high expectations to not be met! But I’m happy to report the second volume was just as good as the first 😉 In trying to find the faith in his message again, multiple citizens, heroes, and even some villains, show Clark, and us, the gravity and importance of having Superman. The artwork was solid once again, but you came back for the story anyway.

– Kathleen

Straczynski, J. Michael, Chris Roberson, and Eddy Barrows. Superman: Grounded (Vol. 2). 2011.

Superman: Grounded (Vol. 1)

Superman can fly through space. He can move planets. He can do incredible feats. He’s a symbol of hope to many, but… how much saving people does Superman actually do? Humbled after the events of the 100 Minute War, Superman comes back to Earth – literally. He sets off walking across the United States, helping out when needed with normal things. Fixing cars. Organizing storerooms in small-town diners. People don’t understand. They think he’s crazy – the League especially. But Superman knows that even though he can do incredible things, the most incredible thing he can do of all is just to lend a helping hand when it’s needed.

This one was a suggestion from Walt over at comicreviewsbywalt on the last Superman comic I read, and boy am I glad I read it. I was laughing on one page, then ugly crying on the next. This one sure gave my heartstrings a workout. This one is another one you might need a hot drink handy for 😉 Seeing Superman, freakin’ Superman, walking across the U.S. just to help out ordinary people – well, it’s humbling and inspiring. Of course, there are a few action scenes to break up the otherwise leisurely pace. The art is good, but it’s the writing and solid characterization that keeps you going.

– Kathleen

Straczynski, J. Michael, Eddy Barrows, and G. Willow Wilson. Superman: Grounded (Vol. 1). 2011.

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