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Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Gonna go a little afield from the graphic novel field to include collections (though some may see that as splitting hairs) and some single issues or runs that may/may not be available in collections.

I'm going through my old long boxes and shelves. Anything I may review under the title on goodreads, I'll at least try to expand or comment more in-depth on here, to make it worth your while.

I've been on this kick for awhile, but just started reviewing, so we pick up in the late H's...

Today, The Human Fly

This one's from the 70s, when Marvel would jump on a fad and see if they could cash in. Before the days of mini-series, they'd just publish it till it stopped selling, then cancel it.

The Human Fly ran for 19 issues between 1977 and 1979, attempting to milk the daredevil fad surrounding Evel Knievel.

It's a quirky little book, capably written in the style of its time by the underrated Bill Mantlo. Mantlo can be less than stellar with the staple heroes (Spiderman, Hulk, Alpha Flight), but he scores with the odd little characters around the edges of the MU. Micronauts, Rom, Jack of Hearts, Rocket Raccoon—all excellent.

Like those titles, this one largely ignores the mainstream MU, with an occasional guest star for an added sales boost. The stories are a pretty basic formula, but that was the 70s gang. It's really the non-super angle, non-crime-fighter protagonist, and art that are the attraction here.

Art chores vary, but the issues with art by Frank Robbins stand out. As a kid I loved a cleaner, pure line, but I've grown to love the looser feel of artists like Robbins, Gene Colan, and Carmine Infantino.

Sadly, never collected, even in the B&W Essentials line. So scope out some back issues. They're relatively cheap.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments So, Indiana Jones, we meet again. This time in The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. Collected by Dark Horse in Indiana Jones Omnibus, Volume 1: The Further Adventures.

Media tie-ins can be a mixed bag. This one is good, though it struggles to capture the true flavor of the movie's characters and dialogue.

Marvel put this out in the 80s shortly after Raiders came out. And they managed to, at least occasionally, deploy some top rank talent on the book. Issue 1 has one of my favorites, John Byrne, on script and pencils, inked by one of the best talents to match him, Terry Austin. Denny O'Neill (of Batman fame) picks up scripting duties on #2. Sadly, Byrne quickly departed the book to work on a little project called Alpha Flight.

Issue 6 is a tight little single issue with a crackerjack script from David Micheline, pencils by Howard Chaykin, and inks again by Terry Austin. Austin is immensely underrated. (As are many inkers.) He just knows how to make a page pop.

Fans of the movie will have to look past some continuity discrepancies. Also, this is not the type of book to astound you with its innovations. But, overall, a good fun read.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Rust Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field

This one succeeds on visual style and its mash-up of steampunky robots with a rural farm setting.

It's just a little sparse on exposition and a little too heavy on the mystery. It's not always clear what is going on.

Part of this is that it is volume 1 in a series; part 2 is due out this year. Definitely leaves you wanting more.

Perhaps too much. I borrowed this from the library. If I had spent good money, I would probably be disappointed at the incompleteness of the story. I nice hardcover volume, but for $25 I expect some sort of (even temporary) conclusion.

This is all set-up with very little pay-off.

Still and all, a beautiful and enjoyable read.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Invaders Classic - Volume 1
Invaders Classic - Volume 3

By now, you can probably tell I'm a child of the 70s and 80s. And much of my heart lies with the titles I grew up on, especially the obscure or short lived.

I'm not sure what it is about the Invaders. The plots are usually formulaic, often cliche, and not afraid to milk the melodrama. In typical Marvel style of the era (especially when a book was sometimes bi-monthly---on purpose) there is lots of recap of the story so far.

Maybe it's the Golden Age heroes and WWII setting. It was really like no other book at the time. Captain America & Bucky, the original Human Torch & Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner are joined by new British heroes Spitfire and Union Jack. Writer Roy Thomas manages to capture the flavor of the Golden Age, while updating just enough to appeal to (then) contemporary audiences.

The art really takes off under the hands of Frank Robbins and Frank Springer. Other artists on the book are not as effective. It's a much more fluid style and very distinct from other typical hero books of that era.

Thomas would go on to explore similar ground with DC's All-Star Squadron and related books. He almost single-handedly re-imagined the Golden Age for modern times.

Much of what he invests these team books with it what Alan Moore reexamined and deconstructed with the Minutemen in Watchman.

On a technical note, the color reconstruction in these collections is spot on. I have several original issues that overlap these (and most of Volume 2) and the color is spot-on. With better paper and printing, the whites are white and the colors bright, but not in a jarring updated way. They are true to the originals.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Mike Grell is one of a handful of writer/artists who can handle himself equally well on both fronts. If he's handling both, even better. We'll see more of him as my journey through my longboxes continues through the J's.

Today, James Bond, Permission To Die.

Originally published in 2 issues by Eclipse back in the 80s, this is classic Bond in the mold of the novels, not the movies.

Grell captures the tone and feel of Fleming's work. The art, as usual, is clean a realistic. A nice touch is that he actually makes Bond look like he is described in the books, not like the actors that have played him. Fleming wrote in Casino Royale that he resembled Hoagy Carmichael (to the Wikipedia!) and Grell runs with that.

For fans of Bond, Grell, or just good 80s comics. Don't know if this was ever collected, so to the back issue bins!


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments JLA/Avengers: The Collector's Edition

When you wait 20 years for something, the reality is rarely going to meet the fevered anticipation.

And such it is with this one. DC & Marvel tried to make this happened in the 80s. Heck, the book was even announced as a done deal in the companies' various hype pages. Then, boom. Nothing.

20 years later, greed and fan-boy glee finally trumped other arguments.

When it comes down to it, this fan-boy dream is a conceptual nightmare: how to come up with a decent logical plot and give several decades of team members their due. Not even a writer as skilled as Busiek can really pull it off.

So, yeah, the plot's a mess. So what. What we all wanted, and got, were the character interactions and little moments. Here Busiek delivers.

Also, some nicely thought out and executed comments about the differences between the two universes.

Perez delivers his usual visual delights with an attention to detail. There are few so skilled at handling huge numbers of characters in a frame and giving each their own personality. My mind still boggles at the sheer number of characters they fit both in the books and on the covers. The Great Lakes Avengers? Yep, they make the massive cast on one cover.

I re-read the original issues. May have to pick up the collection, as I hear it has pages from the original attempt back in the 80s. That would be nice to see.


Derrick (derrickmims) Robert wrote: "JLA/Avengers: The Collector's Edition"

I used to have the oversized hardcovers -- it was a kind of Absolute edition, but I think it's out of print now.
It's mostly just an excuse for Busiek to show off his encyclopedic knowledge and for Perez to show why he's one of the greatest in the industry. Like you said, we get what we wanted, though.

My favorite scene is Cap and Batman in the Batcave.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments There's so many interesting pairings throughout the series. The one that sticks in my mind is Wasp/Atom.

Speaking of the Wasp in this regard, I found it highly amusing that just about every costume she ever had was featured at some point.

It's just a series of great moments that don't add up to much.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Jon Sable, Freelance

The trek through the J's continues. Mike Grell's series is a high note in 80s comics. It has a gritty realism that predates Miller's Dark Knight and the host of "grim 'n' gritty" imitators that followed.

Grell's strengths as an illustrator are obvious. What is often overlooked are his strengths as a writer. Thankfully, IDW has reprinted most (if not all) of his run of the book. He's also done a new miniseries for them, Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail. The continuity that is ignored to keep this version contemporary makes it just shy of being perfect.

First continued Sable for awhile after Grell's move to DC with his Longbow Hunters and run on the Green Arrow monthly. Unfortunately, those are big shoes to follow and not even veteran scribe Marv Wolfman (New Teen Titans) was up to the task.

Sable would go into limbo for awhile with First's demise, but returned for a brief arc in Grell's Shaman's Tears series from image.

Check out the original series collections. They're the strongest. It really was written with such a precision of the characters' placement in late 20th century history.

There are ways to keep a character like this somewhat timeless, kind of like James Bond. But even under the creator's deft hand, this looses something in the updating.

But, then I consider the Fleming Bond books the best incarnation of that character, too. And as much as I've enjoyed the Daniel Craig take, wish they'd just start making them as Cold War period pieces.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Justice inc book 1 trust
Justice inc book 2 betrayal


Whenever DC has a successful pulp revival, the order seems to be The Shadow, Doc Savage, then the Avenger. It happened in the 70s and again in the 80s.

Many may be familiar with the first two. The Avenger is also a creation of the pen that brought us Doc Savage. He is very much in that mold, with the added twist of being, literally, a man of a thousand faces. Not just a master of disguise, but due to an accident--or was it?--able to mold his features to replicate the looks of others.

Like the 80s Shadow series, this two-issue prestige format (don't think it's ever been collected) takes a more adult, revisionist take on the characters.

Where the results on the Shadow were mixed and bizarre to say the least (robo-Shadow?!), here the play-off against the political landscape of the mid-20th century really works.

Kyle Baker's style can be a tough pill for some, but its expressionistic qualities really pay off here. Just reminds me how little such experimentation would have a place in the current DC lineup. But I'll leave my nostalgia and commentary on the state of the industry for another time.

In sum: seek this one out if you enjoy Vertigo-style hero books.

This is that type of tone, but before DC created that imprint. If it had come out 5 years later, it would have easily fit in there and probably found a more ready audience.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Batman and Robin, Vol. 4: Dark Knight vs. White Knight

Maybe I've just reached a point, after 30-some odd years of reading comics, and specifically Batman comics, for anything other than a truly exceptional story to get me excited.

Sad to say, despite the top talent deployed, I haven't encountered that too much in the last several years. This collection was enjoyable, but nothing astounding here.

It's a fun way to pass the time, but not worth adding to the collection.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Thanks, NYKen.

I enjoy doing them. Going through my long boxes is like discovering why I fell in love with comics in the first place.

Some of these I haven't read in 10 years or more. It's like finding long lost friends.

Occasionally, I'm throwing in some newer stuff, mostly from my public library's collection.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments I actually subscribed to GI Joe for awhile early on. Favorite issue, still, is the silent SnakeEyes issue.


message 14: by Robert (last edited May 09, 2012 03:43PM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Justice League: Cry for Justice

Been a fan of Robinson going back to Starman. Really like his take on the JLA here. Some may prefer Morrison's A-list only League. I like the line-ups that mix the big guns and the B-, C-, and even Z-listers. Robinson even manages to make me like the "new" Captain Marvel. (Why, oh why, can't DC seem to nail this character down?. Outside of Kingdom Come, they hardly ever get him right.)

Art here is nicely painted, giving the book a feel that sets it apart from the monthly books. Really enjoyed the text pieces in the monthly issues. Anyone know if they include them in the collection?

Peruse it for the pretty pictures, buy it for the solid writing.


message 15: by Robert (last edited May 09, 2012 03:36PM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Harlan Ellison's Phoenix Without Ashes

This story just makes you mourn for the TV series that wasn't.

Conceived back in the 70s, The Starlost had awesome potential. Then it was dumbed down, budgets slashed, tempers flaired, and Ellison and Ben Bova walked away from the ensuing mess.

Ellison's original script (not the version that made it to screens) earned high praise and has been adapted in novel form before. Now IDW, who are slowly turning into my favorite indy publisher, have given it the graphic novel treatment.

Art is well done, if maybe a less realistic than I'd like on this type of project.

This seems to be a one-off project, with no announcement to continue the story past what is here. Which is a real shame. As the "pilot" for the series, it sets up so much that isn't meant to pay off yet. Lets hope it happens someday.

Till then, this is still a worthy read.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Locke and Key, Vol. 2: Head Games

Vol 1 was enjoyable, if not remarkable. Here in Vol 2 is where things really start to take off. Joe Hill's on a slow burn here and you'll just have to accept that deliberate pacing. For me, coming late to the party, this is probably less of a problem than those who follow this title serially.

Art on this, admittedly, is not to everyone's taste. Personally, I like a "horror" title that decides to step far from the Vertigo style that seems to have dominated titles like this for going on 20-odd years. (Nothing against those artists. I love Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Sandman, etc. Just when too many are aping that style it loses some impact.)

It's a good sign that this book: 1) improves on early work, and 2) makes me want to read other books by Joe Hill.

Well done. One of the better reads in a long time.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Gotham Central Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty

A police procedural set in Gotham City. If you're not steeped in the Batman continuity of that period, it can be a rocky start. Who are all these cops? Jim Gordon's retired? But it doesn't take long for Brubaker and Rucka to get you oriented and into the story.

It's kind of a neat fusion of a cop show (think Homicide or Law & Order) and the DC Universe.

Michael Lark's art has an enjoyable echo of Batman: Year One about it.

I'll admit I resisted this one. The Bat side of the DC universe has become as bland for me as the X side of the Marvel one. It takes truly exceptional work to stand out in that crowd.

Gotham Central isn't quite yet there for me, but it has potential. So I'm going to pick up volume 2. (Thank you, public library!)

The only down side is knowing that (view spoiler)

My only lingering question is why this hasn't been adapted as a TV series yet.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Back to the long boxes...This one is a long section, so I'll probably break up over several posts. Because we've reached a major portion of my collection...The Justice Society of America (and related stuff.)

Here I'll tackle single issues also collected in:
Justice Society, Vol. 1
Justice Society, Vol. 2
Showcase Presents: All Star Squadron, Vol. 1


Since the famous "Flash of Two Worlds" story back in the Silver Age, DC's current continuity had been crossing over with their Golden Age counterparts on Earth-2, and thus the multiverse was born.

It took til the mid-70s, but the Earth-2 gang finally got their own book. Penned by the likes of Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz (who's currently writing the Earth-2 reboot series World's Finest some 35+ years later) with art by Wally Wood, Joe Stanton and others, these tales have the simple dynamism you would expect from this vintage of DC. You either love it or loathe it. Fans raised on 21st century fare will probably find it somewhat wanting.

But here we see the introduction of the original versions of the Huntress and Power Girl. Witness the death of Earth-2's Batman. And have some fun along the way.

Flash forward past the DC Implosion a few years and we have Roy Thomas' retcon take on the Golden Age with All-Star Squadron. Thomas (with some able assist from his spouse) has a deep understanding of these characters' histories and makes good use of it. The Showcase volumes are a quick way to get a chunk of stories, even if they are in B&W. Hunt down the originals if you can. You'll need to for the JLA half of the crossovers, as they are, puzzlingly, not reprinted in this volume.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Locke and Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows
Locke and Key, Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom


God, Joe Hill is the master of the near-perfectly paced yarn. Just slow enough to keep the tension, not so slow you wonder how long he'll milk it for.

Thanks to the goodreads crowd here for pushing me over the edge on this series. I'd been resisting the hype for so long. Glad I finally gave in.

Here, the special call-out must go to the Bill Watterson/Calvin & Hobbes homage in Vol. 4. All else aside, that makes this tome a 5-star.

Then we get the rest of the story unfolding.

Hill, unlike some comics writers, really has a knack for making you empathize with the characters and worry about them. No one feels "safe," not even the main characters. I like that.

I do worry that once the arc with the big bad is over, where do you take the series? And I do hope there is a resolution within a volume or three. Playing this out longer would be milking it.

Hill seems talented enough to pull off a new direction. Maybe give the series a rest and pick up a few years down the road (in character time). A teen Bode (view spoiler) would be interesting to see.

Can't wait for Vol. 5 next month.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Infinity Inc.: The Generations Saga Vol. 1
Infinity Inc.: The Generations Saga Vol. 2
America Vs. the Justice Society


So my reflection on things Earth-2 continues.

1984's Infinity Inc. is probably the pinnacle these characters would reach until Robinson's JSA revival in 1999. Again, Roy Thomas ably handles the script, with Jerry Ordway on covers and interior art.

The Generations Saga storyline is solid and holds its own next to other titles of the time. Ordway departed the series afterword, eventually to be replaced by the then-little-known young gun by the name of Todd McFarlane.

Infinity's strengths would wane in the wake of the following year's Crisis on Infinite Earths (more on that in a minute), but early on it was a solid book with great potential.

America vs. The Justice Society is a great summing up of the characters to that date and an equally good starting point for further tales. In retrospect it reads like an elegy at the soon-to-be funeral handed to Earth-2 by Crisis. Solid script and art. Non-fans may find it a bit of a bore, but if you're a JSA lover (of whatever era/continuity) and haven't hunted down these never reprinted gems, do so.

I have to call out the publication history here and just how much more remarkable that makes Infinity Inc. It came out in 1984. Crisis would follow in 1985, but surely someone at DC had an inkling that plans would impact this title, even if not to what extent. Still DC and the creators forged on, turning out good work. DC could have decided not to invest in the Earth-2 concept, or delay until after Crisis. The creators could have phoned it in, knowing their work would probably come to naught. But they didn't.

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, anything involving former Earth-2 continuity was a mess. It really hurt this book. It hurt the characters for a long time. Don't get me wrong, I love, love, LOVE Crisis. (I'll get around to reviewing it sometime.) It just had the downside of inadvertently damaging stories and characters that I also love. But here, you can enjoy Earth-2 in all its pre-Crisis glory.

I can't be objective in my recommendation of these collections. I know they are pricier hardcovers. But I love the characters, the stories, and they're from my heyday as a comics lover, the 1980s. So, of course, seek them out.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Post-Crisis, DC continuity was still a mess, if not moreso. Particularly when it came to dealing with any of the “other” Earth heroes that were really DC's original Golden Age heroes. The solution in 1986 was to send all those troublesome JSAers (except Power Girl, Dr. Fate, and the Spectre) off to limbo to perpetually fight Ragnarok.

Then a funny thing happened. In 1989, a little series called Sandman appeared. (You may have heard of it.) And though Gaiman's mandate was specifically to do something different with a new character in a series with the same name as the Golden Age hero, it couldn't help but stoke interest in the previous Sandman and thus other JSA heroes.

In 1991, DC decided to test the waters with an 8-issue mini-series. Though they were new stories, they were set in the early 1950s, so the JSA had yet to return to modern continuity. But sparks of new and old fan interest caused DC to bring back the banished heroes during 1992's otherwise forgettable Armageddon: Inferno. They barely gave them another chance in a series of their own that lasted for 10 issue in 1992-93. Apparently the powers that be (aka Mike Carlin) hated the book/characters so much that they were officially canceled with issue 3, but somehow suffered to continue for 7 issues beyond that. Before most of them were killed off during another epic crossover event, Zero Hour. (Ah, the 90s. When neither Marvel nor DC could stop themselves from trying to pick our pockets almost annually with pseudo-epic, unmemorable crossover events.)

So, that's my long-winded intro to my look at the mid-to-late 90s JSA.

Neither JSA V1 or V2 have, to date, been collected. Given the JSAs popularity through the early 21st centruy, I find it unlikely that Carlin has enough influence at DC to keep these gems buried. So, we'll see if DC gets around to it.

The Justice Society of America mini-series is probably best remembered as the first comic featuring the JSA to actually bear the group's name as its title. Otherwise, it's a solid story, but not remarkable. Nice art that captures the 50s era, and it does follow the old style of teaming up duos of the members until a big group fight at the climax. Also, some subtle hints at Ted (Starman) Knight's life that would be picked up and enriched in James Robinson's series.

The Justice Society of America (Volume 2) is a fun little book. It's capably, if not remarkably, written by Len Strazewski. If you don't remember the name, it's no surprise. He had other average runs on The Flash and the Will Payton version of Starman. What stands out here is the art by the lamentably late Mike Parobeck. It has a cartoony verve and appeal that will be appreciated by fans of the DC Animated Universe. It won't come as a surprise that Parobeck went on to work on the Batman Adventures comic before his untimely death in 1996. (And a shout out for the awesome, spot-on colors by my friend Glenn Whitmore.) This series also introduced Jesse Quick, who would become important in later Flash and JSA books.

If you became a JSA fan in the last decade, seek out these back issues. They're fun and, being under-appreciated, they shouldn't suck your wallet dry.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half a Life
Gotham Central Vol. 3: Unresolved Targets
Gotham Central Vol. 4: The Quick and the Dead


This one has continued to grow with each volume. If it hasn't quite risen to the level of "great" it is certainly superior to many that are out there. Rucka & Brubaker really have the chops to bring a gritty realism that is often lacking from the DC Universe, even that corner occupied by Gotham City.

Have to say I prefer when the capes are a very lightly and rarely used seasoning in this book. It's much more enjoyable when this is a police procedural with just the odd little twist of it being in the DCU.

Recommended for: literate Batman fans & those with a taste for cop shows/novels. Another plus: it doesn't require a knowledge of contemporaneous DC storylines to enjoy.


message 23: by Robert (last edited May 29, 2012 05:43PM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Doctor Mid-Nite
JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Vol. 1


Matt Wagner had already given us a great new take on the Wesley Dodds' Sandman in Sandman Mystery Theatre. And James Robinson had worked similar wonders with Starman. (More on these titles when I hit the S's.)

So, by 1999 DC was seriously prepping for a full-blown return of the JSA.

Wagner's new Doctor Mid-Nite is one of the few reinventions that I enjoy as much as the original. Here, the art is handled by the inventive John K. Snyder III, who previously teamed with Wagner during the run of Grendel. As an origin story this is pretty good, if a little light on the main plot. The art is exceptional, using a painted style rather than the pencils/inks of your average book. Makes me long for a Mid-Nite solo series.

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is some of the first work at DC from someone that would go on to be a linch-pin creator for the DCU in the past decade, Geoff Johns. This is a fun book with a light tone and kind of a cartoony style. Would highly recommend it for fans of the Young Justice show.

Surprisingly for a freshman effort, Johns mostly delivers at a level experienced professionals, with many books under their belts, would envy. Johns would soon take on co-writing duties on JSA and writing The Flash. The rest, as they say, is history.

This early work is overshadowed, undeservedly, by his later epics. While this book has its humorous moments, it is not OTT and has the right tone for a book about a teenage superhero.

Very different books here. Both worth checking out.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Gotham Central Vol. 5: Dead Robin

This final volume brings the series to a conclusion, if not always a satisfying one if you've grown to care for these characters.

Rucka sees it through till the end with a level of writing that it's hard not to be impressed by. (view spoiler)

Oddly, its nice to see a series end. Not just get cancelled, or, worse, milked beyond the point of its natural life. Leave us wanting more, I say. It would be nice to see DC revisit the concept in the realm of the New 52.

Not so oddly, it also makes me want to go dig out my copies of Powers, as well. Some similar ideas, explored in successfully different ways in each book.


message 25: by Robert (last edited Jul 02, 2012 11:52AM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin

Still haven't decided how I feel about DC's company-wide reboot. This volume, while good, still leaves me ambivalent.

Of all the New 52, I suppose it's a good entry point to orient in the universe and get a taste of the heroes. It's surely a great marketing gimmick and has given DC more sales and visibility.

Long-time fans may miss the depth that the original DCU gave these characters. Johns & Lee turn in capable, if not iconic, work here.

One good thing about the new 52 is that they seem to be collecting everything on a regular schedule. So, if you can resist the gotta-have-it-right-now pressure, you won't have to hunt the back issue bins for any you miss.

Justice League is worth checking out, but I don't see this standing up as a classic run on the book. Has potential, but we'll have to wait and see.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Justice Society Returns
JSA Vol. 1: Justice Be Done
JSA Vol. 2: Darkness Falls
JSA Vol. 3: Return of Hawkman


As mentioned previously, post-CIE, the JSA just couldn't seem to find love or success around the DC stable.

But that was changing in the late 90s. Starman and Sandman Mystery Theater were showing that, if done right, these legacy heroes had exciting stories in them yet.

A new Star-Spangled Kid was running around, and even the great Grant Morrison had lent a hand, creating a new Hourman and featuring a JSA crossover in his super-hot JLA title.

Prepped for a renaissance, the Justice Society was ready for a return, and about time.

First, a great little mini-event. Taking inspiration from their classic tales, this WWII-set adventure features numerous noteworthy creators.

Following quick on its heels was the launch of the monthly JSA series. Robinson, Goyer, and Johns quickly established this as a must-read book. They firmly place the JSA at the heart of the DCU hero community.

The writers also had a talent for cutting through and clearing away the continuity BS that had plagued the JSA. At the same time, they are telling compelling stories that expand the legacy of the team, blending new heroes with the veterans, and including a nice dose of action to go along with it.

If you're a Geoff Johns fan, it's interesting to see him take some of his earliest steps here. Heck, they even manage to capably untangle the Hawkman mess.

JSA, along with Legion and Avengers, is one of those core concepts for me. It was fabulous to see them get the treatment they deserved, and these stories still hold up over a decade later.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Well, to mix it up (especially in this long streak of JSA reviews) here's my take on my latest new issues. I don't pick up every week or have a regular pull list anymore. I wander in every few months and catch up. That's changing with some must have titles.

Smallville Season 11, #2: Some loved it, some loathed it. I'm a latecomer to Smallville, but I've grown to really like its take on the Superman mythos. Here, it's continued into a "Season 11" and we get to see the man in action. This is available digital before print, but I like my comics the old fashioned way for now. Not going to convert the haters, but if you enjoyed Smallville, especially the later seasons, you'll like this.

Trio, #2: For over 30 years, John Byrne has been one of my favorite artist/writers. Fans of his work will not be disappointed. Definitely in a lighter vein that fans of his work on FF and Danger Unlimited will appreciate.

Worlds' Finest, #2: DC's new take on Huntress and Power Girl continues. Levitz manages the tough balance between mystery and teasing out the unfolding back story and plot. Awesome art by George Pérez(modern day) and Kevin Maguire (flashbacks).

Earth 2, #2: Some will buy it for the headline-grabbing "Green Lantern is gay" reveal, hopefully they'll stay for James Robinson's awesome take on the New 52 version of Earth 2/the JSA. I kow this is the new status quo, but it can't help having an Elseworlds feel for this longtime fan. Still, I like it. By comparison, a much more enjoyable launch than the JL book.

Last, and kind of least, "The Culling" crossover among the Teen Titans, Superboy, and Legion Lost. I follow the Legion title, so DC kinda forced me into ponying up. For the extra $15 on titles I don't usually get, I expected more. Not that any of these are bad books, I'm just not inclined to add them on a regular basis. And these crossover events are what helped get me out of monthly books for several years.

So, DC please cut it out. Or, at worst, make each part stand on its own so that if I don't buy them all I don't miss out. I may go check out these other books in collections, but not on an ongoing basis. So just deliver up my Legion title, please?


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments JSA Vol. 4: Fair Play
JSA Vol. 5: Stealing Thunder
JSA Vol. 6: Savage Times
JSA Vol. 7: Princes of Darkness
JSA: All Stars


Johns really starts to take off and firmly find his feet for this series. Characters start to develop more and conflicts come to a head. Particularly between Black Adam and Atom Smasher.

Johns seems to have a talent for cracking others never seem to have opened up. Jakeem (J.J.) Thunder, for example. Or Billy Batson. Johns makes Batson more than just that kid Capt. Marvel turns into when he's not being a hero. All the time, weaving various strands going back to issue #1 to a dramatic crescendo with issue #50 and the climax of the Princes of Darkness storyline.

JSA: All Stars (not to be confused with the similarly titled later series) is an 8-issue mini-series mixing the regular creative team and other great creators. The macguffin plot is there to hang an examination of the JSA legacy and the original heroes with their new namesakes. Great series all around. But of particular note to call out: a Hawkman tale by Loeb/Sale; a Robinson/Harris tale of the Ted Knight Starman; Howard Chaykin on Hourman; and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon on Mr. Terrific. A great stand-alone collection to expose yourself to the JSA if you are not already a fan.


message 29: by Robert (last edited Jun 21, 2012 08:25AM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Identity Crisis

This could have been another stunt, another event du jour that quickly faded away. A "big name" NYT-bestselling novelist on script, a fan favorite on covers, and the promise of major events and revalations that would change the DCU.

Other "events" have come and quickly been forgotten. (Amageddon? Zero Hour?) The amazing thing is that Identity Crisis was a great book at the time and it still holds up almost a decade later. It also set the tone and course for most of subsequent DC continuity until the New 52 reboot.

Meltzer is a very capable writer, juggling multiple characters, a core mystery plot, and the revelations about certain JLA members with deft agility.

Rags Morales is pitch perfect on art. Other names get thrown around as fan favorites, but he is one of the true talents of the last decade.

On a total side note: Warner Bros. keeps toying with the idea of a JLA film. Wanna make that film fly? Get Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer to write it.

If you've never picked up this title, do yourself a favor---do it today. This is Top 10 of All Time stuff, up there with Dark Knight, Watchmen, etc. in my book.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Between Twilight, True Blood, and more paranormal romance/urban fantasy than you can shake a stick at, vampire stories are quite possibly more popular than ever.

So it was not exactly a surprise when DC revived I, Vampire to add some diversity of genre to the New 52 reboot. And DC's trade publishing arm has always been pretty savvy, so it's also no surprise they chose to reprint the original I, Vampire tales from the early 80s.

Not being a horror comic fan at the time, I mostly skipped these tales in House of Mystery. When I came across this new release at the library, I was pleasantly surprised.

It's a very episodic collection, as House of Mystery was an anthology title and none of these were book-length tales. It's an advantage here, as it makes for perfect consumption in small doses.

The main character, Andrew Bennett, is of the sympathetic vampire mode, cursing his affliction and fighting his monstrous brethren, especially his once-mortal lover, Mary.

It some ways, the writing and art are much of their time. Solid, but sure to make some more modern aficionados cringe. Still and all, a enjoyable, compact little vampire tale.

The collections features all the original covers, mostly by Joe Kubert and Michael Kaluta. These covers alone make it worth at least perusing this collection. For completists' sake, Bennett's only main DCU appearance in a Batman story from Brave & the Bold is included. Despite Jim Aparo art that harkens back to his work on the Spectre, this story is so out of tone with the others that they really could have skipped it.

Recommended for: vampire fans and fans of horror comics.


message 31: by Robert (last edited Jun 26, 2012 08:21AM) (new)

Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Green Lantern, Vol. 1: Sinestro

I wanted to like this much more than I did. When I stopped reading GL a few years ago (at the beginning of Brightest Day) it wasn't because it wasn't a great book or had dropped off in quality. It was DC deciding to turn GL into a franchise of multiple monthly books, miniseries, and special tie-ins to those mini-series which my budget just could not afford.

So, when I spotted this collection of the New 52 reboot, it seemed a perfect jumping on point.

The good: Geoff Johns, as always, knows these characters, but still manages to take them to new and interesting places. Art is high-caliber, as you would expect from one of DC's flagship titles.

The bad: It's confusing. Without some (at least vague) familiarity with recent GL continuity, it really doesn't orient new readers well to the character or ongoing storyline. It also seems to pick up from pre-reboot continuity and doesn't seem to fit in with the GL portrayed in the new JLA title (see: Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin). Which is odd, considering Johns writes both titles.

Any more regular GL readers know what's going on here? It's almost like they want to have their cake and eat it too. There are really no internal markers that I found that indicate whether this is a pre- or post-reboot story going on.

Very enjoyable story brought down a star by continuity confusion. Which I thought New 52 was intended to remedy and be a "great jumping on point" for new readers.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga

Today, it may seem impossible to believe that the X-Men weren't always one of the biggest, most popular superhero franchises on the planet.

Created in the 60s, it descended to one of Marvel's worst selling titles. From 1970 to 1975 it was a bi-monthly title reprinting old stories. Nobody really cared about them. That began to change in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1.

Picking up in Uncanny X-Men #94, this was still not an out-of-the-box acclaimed hit. It would remain a bi-monthly through #112.

But Chris Claremont and the artists, originally Dave Cockrum then John Byrne, were on to something. And in issue #101 Jean Grey became Phoenix and the echoes have rung through comics and pop culture for over 30 years.

The pinnacle of the classic Claremont/Byrne years is the 1-2 punch of The Dark Phoenix saga and Days of Future Past storylines. Though really, the slow burn began back with that critical issue in 1976 and lasted well into the early 80s.

To the modern eye, the monthly issues can seem dated, episodic, and melodramatic. Claremont's writing can seem stilted and full of exposition. But you have to keep in mind when these were being written and the innovations that started brewing here.

For much of comics history, each issue was created as a standalone story. You might get the occasional multi-issue "epic," but we're talking two or three issues at most. Claremont created an ongoing soap-opera like story of multiple threads and arcs that played out over years of publishing this book.

This is common today, almost de rigueur, but back then it was, well, uncanny.

Byrne's cleaner line of artwork swiftly became a fan favorite and influence on a generation of artists.

Some of the other trends this era of X-men helped innovate or promote:

• A team that wasn't all-whitebread, all-American. And that seriously didn't always get along.
• Pushed the boundaries of sex and violence (for the time) in mainstream comics. Usually this is insinuated. The sex and nudity are off screen or covered up, but they are definitely there, unambiguously. In Wolverine, we have a "hero" who is willing to severely injure or kill enemies. This would expand in later years, but it started here. Here clearly disembowels an opponent in one issue here.
• Began to take discrimination on in a regular, ongoing basis in the book

The Dark Phoenix saga doesn't quite have the sophistication of a modern book, and it wasn't the only book doing interesting things in that era. But it is a prime example of the time when mainstream comics started to grow up. Not be grown up, not quite yet.

But it was an amazing start.

So pick up this collection or, better yet, all the Marvel Masterworks volumes that cover the entire Byrne/Claremont run.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Justice League of America, Vol. 1: The Tornado's Path

Following on a popular, critical, and creative high mark like Identity Crisis is a nigh impossible task. Such is the uphill battle Brad Meltzer faces in relaunching the JLA (once again).

So, if this story arc comes off as simply "good," it's due to the stellar standard set on the previous story. Meltzer set the bar too high perhaps.

It's nice that he seems to feel no pressure of those expectations and just focuses on telling a solid story. This is not game-changing, nail-biting stuff. This is foundation building for an ongoing monthly. In that aim, he succeeds admirably.

That said, this arc does have its moments. Meltzer proves once again that it's not the character, it's how you write them. Vixen, really? Oh yeah, and as more than eye candy, though the art certainly delivers on that between her and Black Canary. And Meltzer does manage to put more "character" into the big-three icons (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman), giving them senses of humor and more hints of real personality than they are usually given.

Having also recently read the latest reboot of the JLA, I will say this is not my favorite iteration of the book. But, really, this is a tough book to pull off right. How often can you have a crisis that's really big enough to command the attention of a group like this? So kudos to anyone willing to tackle it.

Meltzer tackles it well, if not incredibly.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Dr. Fate (Vol 3) #1-5
JSA Vol. 8: Black Reign
JSA, Vol. 9: Lost
JSA, Vol. 10: Black Vengeance
JSA, Vol. 11: Mixed Signals
JSA, Vol. 12: Ghost Stories
Justice Society of America: Strange Adventures


Well, time to polish off the marathon reading of JSA.

The Doctor Fate mini featuring Hector Hall is an under-appreciated gem. Good art and story and sets up some nice elements that should have taken this into a monthly book. Too bad it didn't and they decided to go a different direction with the character in the main JSA book. There, it's a revisiting of the Mordru and a belabored quest for his (supposedly dead) wife, Lyta Trevor Hall. More on that in a minute.

In the main JSA book, Black Reign is a tight little story crossing over with the Hawkman book and clearing up (somewhat) that character's lingering continuity issues.

Truth be told, after that Johns' run on JSA is fun, if not particularly memorable. By that I mean I enjoy it when I read it, but the substance of the storyline doesn't stick in my head for long after. Certain moments or character arcs, but individual stories not so much. I suspect this may have been due to Johns' increasing workload on other books. It probably also did not help that events across the DC line would have an impact on the book. Days of Vengeance took Captain Marvel and Spectre out of the mix. Infinite Crisis added some more complications. Then 52/One Year Later further monkey-wrenched it. The JSA seems to get shorted whenever continuity gets mucked with.

Some standout moments/arcs:

On-going development of Stargirl
Alan Scott rocks as Green Lantern
The Identity Crisis autopsy tie-in issue
(view spoiler)

Paul Levitz (a favorite of mine) returns, after several decades, for a post-Infinite Crisis arc to finish off this version of JSA. Solid art by Morales and others, as well as awesome Perez covers. The Gentleman Ghost arc is one of the best of the series.

JSA Strange Adventures is a footnote of a mini-series. Nothing innovative here, but fun. It's a classic 40s tale of the JSA told by frequent Star Wars scribe Kevin Anderson.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Well, a few more JSA
JSA Classified #8 – 12

Some great little stories here. Depending on the characters, some have been collected here or there, but not all 39 issues consecutively.

First, a two-part Flash/Wildcat story that is fun and compact.

Then, a super Green Lantern story featuring Vandal Savage. If that wasn't enough, art chores by Paul Gulacy.

JSA Classified had a nice little run. Worth scouring the back issue bins, depending on who are your favorite characters.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Kingdom Come
The Kingdom #1 & 2
The Kingdom: Planet Krypton


There's not much I can say about Kingdom Come that others haven't. In short: it should be essential bookshelf material beside Watchmen, Sandman, and other classics. Alex Ross' art is always a joy, no more so than here. Mark Waid's popularity has waned some, but he was at the top of his game with this epic.

The follow up, The Kingdom, (sans Ross on art) was such a mess in so many ways. It fails, mostly for not having Ross on art. Or an ability to have any one artist do the art for two issues. It's also weighed down by another of DC's failed attempts to fix continuity---Hypertime. Which went over about as well as a spider-clone.

Two saving graces: 1) it does set up some threads that are more nimbly picked up in Justice Society of America (V3). There I go with JSA again. And, 2) The Planet Krypton tie-in. That is a superb story and a worthy follow-up to Kingdom Come. And it has art by Barry Kitson. So look in the bins for that one issue.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Batman: Death by Design

Chip Kidd writes with the minimalism and focus on images that you would expect from a graphic designer. This is a light weight, but enjoyable, tale that is heavily influenced by the style and image of the 1930s and 40s.

Art is in a nicely evocative uninked pencil style.

Worth checking out.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Watchmen

1986. What a year in comics. The Dark Knight Returns. Wrapping up Crisis on Infinite Earths and relaunching Superman and other titles.

Oh, yeah, and a little title called Watchmen. Decided to revisit this (along with its movie counterpart) after the recent V for Vendetta monthly read.

It's hard to explain what a revelation this book was at the time. This was pre-Vertigo days. Moore was in the midst of his Swamp Thing run, but there wasn't much else from the Big 2 to satisfy that type audience. (It was a great time for independents, though.)

Moore helped prove that complex, more mature storytelling could appeal to a mass popular audience.

That strikes me on every re-reading is how fresh and current this story remains. Many other stories, though equally good, often feel of their time---be that 70s, 80s, or today. Watchmen is one of those perennials. Part of this is probably due to its alternate history storyline. But much also goes to the way the story just works on so many relatable levels.

Re: the book/movie comparison. I like the movie, though I have some quibbles. I was fine with many of the changes, except: 1) the ending. Change it, fine. But what they came up with, no. 2) needed more of Rorschach's back story. 3) in the child murder flashback, why the change to be gorier? It's better as it is in the book, with Rorschach killing the dogs and cuffing the killer to the stove. Overall, some of the more graphic violence was misplaced in the movie. There needed to be some graphic violence, I just question when and how it was deployed.

Other cool books you may have picked up at the same time, or should head to the back issue bins for today:

'Mazing Man
All-Star Squadron
Infinity Inc.
Legion of Super-Heroes
Vigilante
Scout
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Love and Rockets
Puma Blues
Jon Sable, Freelance
Cerebus
Alpha Flight
American Flagg

But, OK, back to Watchmen.

Really, if you haven't read it, zoom to your preferred provider and get it. It sums up so much of what hero comics were to that point and sets up a lot of what they continue to aspire to be.

If there is a "must have" for every comic fan's shelf---this is it.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments 100 Bullets, Vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call

Everyone has been saying this has been great for so long, I finally had to check it out.

Well, not as great as hyped (what could be) and suffers from being an introductory story arc. I get the feeling this will achieve greatness as the story emerges over several volumes.

What it does well is tell a good set of crime/noir stories outside of any hero continuity. These are straight up noir stories, no capes or masked avengers.

I would recommend this, especially if your tastes run to other than the traditional super-hero tales. Also to those who enjoy literary noir fiction (Jim Thompson, etc.)

Interesting enough that I'll give subsequent volumes a chance.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Planetary, Vol. 2: The Fourth Man
Planetary, Vol. 3: Leaving the 20th Century
Planetary, Vol. 4: Spacetime Archaeology


Following June's discussion of Vol 1. in this series, I finally decided to buckle down and read it all.

For those not enthralled with the episodic nature of that volume, it's really in volume 2 that the major plot of the series takes off. Still, it's a tough balance to keep a major story going and deliver an exciting episode in each issue. I don't think Ellis quite pulls that off. This is really one long story, not something to be taken episodically. (Must have frustrated the heck out of fans back in the day.)

Underneath some heady philosophy about the nature and structure of reality, Planetary is still a pretty traditional superhero comic. It has its modernist twists and layers, but it's just a snazzy veneer. Mind you, this is all enjoyable stuff, just not the groundbreaking work that the praise has made it out to be. Maybe I've just been to the comics rodeo a few too many times to be taken totally by surprise.

Compared to the pointless & endless "events" we get served by the industry's so-called top talents today, this is of a refreshingly high quality. I think Ellis did much better work on other titles (Stormwatch, Hellblazer) but it is fun to see him play with slightly twisted takes on familiar heroes (Doc Savage,the Fantastic Four, Godzilla, etc.)


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments The Avengers: The Heroic Age

I don't know why I do this to myself. I don't buy Marvel comics anymore. But every so often, I'll borrow a recent collection from the local library to see what is going on. And The Avengers was one of those teams and books I loved for many years and wish I could love again.

This collection reminds me why I just can't stand Marvel books anymore. And truth be told, though I loved his work in his indy days (Torso, Powers), much of it come down to Brian Michael Bendis. He's a capable writer but he has taken the MU in a direction that just feels wrong to me.

This tome, cashing in on the movie, offers Avengers Prime 1-5, Avengers 1-6, and New Avengers 1-6 for a hefty price. It is amusing to note that, despite having a cover featuring the movie's characters, the stories here have nothing to do with the movie. So much so that they felt the need to print a (teeny tiny) warning to that effect on the cover.

The Avengers Prime story is the only one worth bothering with here. And mostly for the art by the always great team of Alan Davis and Mark Farmer. The story is not too bad, if in the typical shallow way of current Marvel. Character's prior bad actions aren't forgotten, they just seem to have no real consequences. I'm looking at you, Tony Stark.

John Romita Jr. art on Avengers almost redeems it. But the story, involving time travel, Kang, Ultron, and a future Hulk, is a nonsensical train wreck.

New Avengers has potential, as it features a less typical line-up of heroes. But, again, story problems sink it faster than the Titanic.

Bendis is a talented writer who likes to up the stakes for the characters. In the process, he tends to make irreparable changes. The kind that can only be fixed with time travel, magic, or just ignoring they ever happened. In doing whatever he's seemingly wanted, he's pretty much broken the toys for anyone else to play with.

So check out this collection for the Prime story, but I don't recommend investing in it as a total package. And if you're looking for more Avengers action after enjoying the movie, this confusing mess will not be enjoyable. For that, I'd say check out any of the Ultimates collections instead.


Robert Wright (RHWright) | 184 comments Well, it's been awhile. Haven't stopped reading, just when push came to shove, cataloging overtook writing down my thoughts.

So, to clear up some backlog, we'll keep it brief.

Roswell, Texas A fun little alternate history and good change of pace from my superhero-heavy reading.

Leave It to Chance Volume 1: Shaman's Rain An under-appreciated gem of a series. Long overdue for a continuation/revival.

That's it for now. Many more to come.


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