Saturday, December 13, 2008

Final Crisis: Requiem by Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke

Review by Chris Clow

One of the most sobering moments of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis #1 was the sudden and shocking death of a founding Justice League of member. Within a page and a half, a DC mainstay was murdered in cold blood by a punk supervillain with the Secret Society crowded around him. Libra, a one off character that had one previous appearance before bursting onto the scene in Final Crisis was the one that finally put the one JLA mainstay through all it’s incarnations on ice.

J’onn J’onzz, the emerald shape-shifting Martian Manhunter, is dead.

Final Crisis: Requiem is the exploratory story of the immediately preceding and following events of J’onn’s death, as well as the impact it has on many heroes of the DCU. It’s also an excellent recounting of the character’s (seemingly) little known history: how his civilization rose to power on the red planet, who his parents were, how a civil war killed his race and his family, and how he ended up on our little blue ball in space. Before J’onn’s life is completely taken away from him, he sends a telepathic message to his closest friends, who wake up from their nightly slumbers and verbally recount J’onn’s entire history of not only himself, but his Martian civilization. As his final act, he entrusted the last memories of the Martian people and society to five former teammates.

Writer Peter Tomasi shows us that he is not only well aware of the character and his history, but Tomasi’s sheer reverence for the Martian Manhunter pours from this story. He treats it as if a dear friend of his own has passed away, and shows us the solace that we can take in our memories of loved ones. Artist Doug Mahnke, normally known for gritty artwork from a run on Justice League Elite, the main Batman title, and the popular one-shot Batman: The Man Who Laughs, maintains the grit for J’onn’s death but also brings a much gentler approach to the grieving process J’onn’s dear friends go through.

Unlike other comic book deaths, there are no hints or hopes of a resurrection that are laid through this story. There are no tongue-in-cheek winks at the reader that say “gone today, here tomorrow!” This story and the characters in it are genuinely crushed at the loss of their friend, and bear the full weight of responsibility for carrying on not only the memory of J’onn himself, but of his entire race. After reading it, letting the full scope of this death settle in a way that Final Crisis #1 didn’t provide, it feels like a punch in the gut.

One of the most beloved and fun aspects of the character was his love of Oreo cookies, or as they’re called in the DCU, “Choco’s.” I found the ending of this issue highly appropriate. Batman, left alone with J’onn’s transparent casket, laid one of his favorite cookies on the lid, and simply said, “Goodbye, my friend.”

Goodbye J’onn. I hope to read some new stories about you one day, but until then, thank you for the memories.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Final Crisis #3-4, and Submit by Grant Morrison (#3-4, Submit), J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco (#3-4), and Matthew Clark (Submit)

Review by Chris Clow

Crisis is exhausting.

In multiple ways. The story is exhausting in the sense that "what else could Morrison possibly throw at our heroes?" The artwork is exhausting because of the ability of J.G. Jones...and now a few others. Even the scheduling is exhausting, because whatever day Final Crisis was supposed to come out on, it hasn't, which is mostly due to the exhausting art. The guy that the art is taking the biggest toll on is J.G. Jones. You've probably heard about how Jones has been joined by Carlos Pacheco to help get the issues out on time. I was pretty okay with that, it's reasonable. However, now we've found out that J.G. Jones will not have any interior artwork in the series finale issue #7.

I'm bummed, to say the least. I was blown away by Jones' work on the first three issues, but the man is such a perfectionist that he just can't get the work done fast enough. He's already issued a public apology about his inability to finish the series, and he seems genuinely disappointed. So I'm not going to lambaste the guy because there's no point, and he's done a hell of a job with the parts he's had.

Anyways, I was going to write the review to issues 3 and 4 together when I realized that three by itself seemed a little disjointed, and would probably read better in the context of the next issue's events. Unfortunately, four was delayed until this past week (10/22). If I'd have known that, I would've done this sooner. I'm also going to be reviewing the one-shot tie-in Submit, since it leads in really well to the events off issue #4.

In a nutshell, evil has won. If you'll recall, after #2 we saw the return of Barry Allen (which made me yell happily) outrunning the Black Racer in an attempt to save Orion from being assassinated. He failed, and felt miserable. Wally is with him, completely dumbstruck that his uncle has returned to the land of the living. In issues #3 and 4, as well as Submit, the Dark Knight is out of the picture. he was one of the Dark Side Club's first targets, and has not been seen since he was overtaken by the crazed club/cult.

Superman is also out of the picture. After seeing his wife nearly die in an attack on the Daily Planet, he stood by her side until a being said he could save her by retreating into "limbo" and finding his answers throughout the multiverse.

In the meantime, the big event that happens is the mass distribution of the Anti-Life Equation. The Dark Side Club with Libra as it's figurehead captured Metropolis Police Officer Dan Turpin and began undressing him, strapped him down on a table, and began reciting a strange incantation.

As the Equation spreads like wildfire, people realize the hopelessness of existence and surrender themselves completely to the "will of the dark side."

In Final Crisis: Submit, after the equation was let loose, we're given an interlude story involving JLA member Black Lightning and the new Tattooed Man. Tattooed Man is a Green Lantern villain, the most recent incarnation of which was introduced in my favorite issue of the current Green Lantern series, #9, where Hal Jordan and Batman put their differences aside to defeat and apprehend him. TM has many preconceived notions about superheroes being messianic and self righteous, but begins to change his tune when he sees the sleflessness Black Lightning has while trying to save TM's family.

In the end, Black Lightning holds off the hordes of people overtaken by the Anti-Life Equation and allows TM and his family to escape to safety, while Lightning himself is absorbed and possessed by the Equation.

In issue #4, we see the army of heroes united by Green Lantern Alan Scott as well as Shilo Norman, the new Mister Miracle, attempting to keep the heroes in the know by giving them information taht doesn't come from the posseessed outside world. At various Watchtowers around the planet, Mr. Terrific, Green Arrow, and Alan Scott attempt to help survivors of the Equation. At the Hall of Justice, the possessed wage an attack and invasion of the hall. Green Arrow stays behind and allows Black Canary and others to teleport up to the JLA's orbiting satellite, and is promptly taken over by his turned comrad Black Lightning.

After stopping their run, Wally West and Barry Allen and up a month in the future, surrounded by the possessed. Barry tells Wally that they ahve to save everyone, but "family comes first." They run to Iris Allen's, and see that Barry's wife has been possessed. Wally is mortified, but Barry simply walks up to her and kisses her, lightning flaring all around them, as Iris is restored.

In the meantime, Dan Turpin's body is graying. He tries to fight with his mind, but he cannot. The Dark Siders clothe him in Apokoliptian armor, and beckon Darkseid himself to enter his "new host." The crazed "reverend" proclaims, "Give us a sign, great Darkseid! Thumbs up for the triumph of the human spirit! Thumbs down to summon a day of holocaust that will never end!" Turpin's eyes redden as his skin becomes darker. Turpin's mind is lost...

...and Darkseid puts his thumb down.

I love this story, I can't say that enough. The artwork is solid (even with it's changes) and Morrison's storytelling is just as unpredicatble and crazy as it is over in Batman, if not moreso. I continue to wait to see how the DCU can bounce back from this, because it's been a pretty wild ride. For new readers, it isn't very accessible. But 45 minutes on Wikipedia or the DC Database Project, or buying the new edition of the DC Comics Encyclopedia (and supporting BOF in the process!) can fix that. We've seen the day evil wins, and since it's DC Comics, and they've suffered a crushing defeat, just imagine how grand their victory will be.

Grade: A

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nightwing #140-145 - "Freefall" by Peter Tomasi and Rags Morales

Review by Chris Clow

The following arc will be available as a trade paperback in-store on November 5th!

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul
was a transitioning point where the Robin and Nightwing titles are concerned. For Nightwing, Marv Wolfman finished (what ended up being) a relatively lackluster run on the title, and handed off the reins to Fabian Nicieza for the two parts that intersected with the Resurrection storyline. Many fans in the good ol' Comics Place were surprised at the quality coming out of Nicieza's two issues on Grayson's book, but I was a little nervous knowing he wasn't staying onboard after the Resurrection parts were completed.

That is, until I heard who was coming on as the new regular writer.

Peter J. Tomasi, an editor for the better part of 15 years at DC Comics, had been a fill-in writer from time to time on such titles as JSA, The Outsiders, Steel and his own creator owned miniseries The Light Brigade. In 2003, he was promoted to the role of senior editor, and worked on JSA, Aquaman, Hawkman, and most notably Green Lantern and Batman. Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver attribute much of the credit for Green Lantern's current success to the mind of Tomasi, as he was an essential part of the brain trust that saw Hal Jordan's rebirth and the war with the Sinestro Corps.

Last year, in a relatively unexpected move, Tomasi resigned his editor position to become a regular writer with an exclusive DC contract. He was appointed the regular writer on two monthly titles: Green Lantern Corps (which he helped revive 18 months prior) and Nightwing. He joined GLC at the tail end of the Sinestro Corps War, in an issue featuring a knock down drag out brawl between Superboy-Prime and the new Ion, Sodam Yat. (Jump on the Wikipedia if those names are unfamiliar to you, it's good stuff. -Chris) Tomasi's other major work for DC, Final Crisis: Requiem, was particularly terrific because he gave meaning to a death in the main Crisis series that we didn't have time to really process. A fitting end considering the way the Martian Manhunter went out, especially with the final scene between the Manhunter's lifeless body and our favorite Dark Knight.

Then, his first issue of Nightwing came about with issue #140, which kicked off a seven-issue storyline entitled, "Freefall." I was immediately impressed with the first issue. If anyone had any doubts about Dick Grayson's place in the Batman family, they were put to rest. We start with a conversation between Bruce, Tim, and Dick which features Bruce opening up to them and telling them how important they are to him. How he would trust them with his very life in any situation. We're even given insight into Dick's relationship with Superman. The title gets it's name from something Dick does to relax. He goes up to the very top of the atmosphere and jumps; An extreme form of skydiving. He always feels safe swinging around the streets of New York, because there's usually a flying hero within earshot that can catch him when he falls. He says this is the closest he'll get to feeling the same way he did while in the circus doing a death drop: it was thrilling.

We're then thrown into the story. When the bodies of fallen villains begin to disappear, Nightwing is drawn into a conspiracy involving Talia al Ghul and a deranged doctor. Along the way we see Superman (whom Tomasi writes exceptionally well), other Batman family members, and of course Talia. Tomasi crafts an inaugural tale that single-handedly puts Wolfman's run to shame, and makes us believe in Dick Grayson as a beacon for the DCU. In his own way, Batman even looks up to him. One part in particular caught me:

Dick saves a couple from falling to their death, and spends time with them, letting them hug him and laugh together, before taking off. Batman doesn't do that. Robin or Batgirl don't, and even Superman rarely does. But Nightwing is different. He can afford to, and he's that much more heroic for being "that guy."

I highly encourage anyone to read this story. The current story tieing into Batman R.I.P. is suffering slightly, but I believe that's because it's most likely an editorial mandate. When it passes, Mr. Tomasi will be able to spread his wings again and give us a tale that surely rivals this one.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Final Crisis #2 by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

Review by Chris Clow

The threats just got a whole lot bigger.

Final Crisis #2 is still an issue of build-up, but with that build-up comes a whole lot of interesting actions between many different characters of the DC Universe. We start with the introduction of a Japanese hero (at least I think he’s a hero) named Sonny Sumo. He’s a really big guy, and someone comes along that wants to fight him. Sumo tears out his heart and walks to the bathroom, where he’s met by Mister Miracle.

Why? I don’t know yet.

We get to see the Martian Manhunter’s burial on Mars, with Superman providing a tight but emotional eulogy. One part in particular I liked was at the end, when he said that he and his colleagues will “pray for a resurrection.”

So many times in comics, heroes are always extremely surprised when someone returns to life, even though it’s kind of a mainstay of superhero comics. I like that Superman at least acknowledged the possibility while still showing heartfelt sorrow for the loss of his friend.

Batman is suspicious of J’onn’s death and believes that the passing of both Orion and J’onn are somehow connected. The Guardians of the Universe dispatched an Alpha Lantern (Green Lantern internal affairs), Kraken, to follow up on the JLA’s investigation of Orion’s murder, and she disagrees with Batman’s assessment. John Stewart is investigating the crime scene where he is seemingly attacked by another Green Lantern. We then see a group of Alpha Lantern’s arresting Hal Jordan, thinking that he tried to kill Stewart.

Batman corners the Alpha Lantern about Jordan’s arrest, but is beaten down by the Lantern after she implies that she is, in fact, Darkseid’s prophet Granny Goodness. Batman is locked in a chamber and his head is injected with…something.

At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent sees Jimmy Olsen take a paper down to copy from Lois, but he thinks he just saw Jimmy in another room. We actually see that “Jimmy” is Clayface, and he blows up the newsroom of the Planet Just as he makes an escape. We see Superman, his Clark Kent suit in tatters around his red and blue uniform, screaming for his wife.

Meanwhile, in Central City, Wally West and Jay Garrick find Metron’s chair after a tip from Batman. A portal opens up, and, imploring them to run for their lives from the Black Racer…

…Barry Allen returns.

A lot has happened in this issue, and I apologize if my distillation seems a little incoherent. It really does make sense when you read the issues, but as far as the review goes, this issue surpassed the first. Morrison is telling a story on an absolutely epic scale, and is setting up for a very large encounter. The day that evil wins is supposed to come in issue #3…but there are still four more issues after that. I am also stoked beyond belief that apparently, the greatest Flash of them all has finally returned.

What’s next? I don’t have a clue! Morrison is a master at unpredictability, and like Batman R.I.P., I am desperately awaiting the next part of the story to see what happens to comics’ original universe.

Grade: B+ (Must Read)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Logan #1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Eduardo Risso

Review by A.J. Burgin

Being a fan of Pride of Baghdad and Runaways, I get that Brian K. Vaughan has a flair for the dramatic. I expected a bit of a melodrama going into Logan, but this was too much. The opening says it all: “I’ve made a hell of a lot of enemies over the decades, but I don’t lose sleep over ‘em. No, it’s the women that keep me up at night, the handful of girls I was dumb enough to fall for over the last century or so. See, I can recover from just about anything…Anything but getting my heart ripped out.” I hate to say it, because I really like Vaughan, but Logan looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad emo song, with Logan haunted by lost love.

The storyline could be fairly interesting: Logan wakes up in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, fights his way out with an American soldier, and meets a Japanese woman named Atsuko. Logan turns hero as he prevents the American from killing Atsuko, at which point she takes him home to hide and feed him. The story is refreshingly different from your standard “Wolverine as ultimate badass” story, and reveals a new side of everyone’s favorite X-Man. Unfortunately, it is also surprisingly offensive. The romance between Logan and Atsuko reads like a throwback to the World War II era narrative of the Western man (soldier) who rescues the timid Japanese woman who then falls wildly in love with him and needs him in her bed. In real life, this fantasy scenario often led to rape, so it’s surprising to see the usually conscientious Vaughan employ such a shoddy trick.

The disappointing writing is at least well contrasted by Eduardo Risso’s artwork. His renderings of Logan humanize the character in a way that few artists have. The work is dark and powerful and adds the subtlety to the characters that the writing lacks. The attention to detail coupled with Dean White’s coloring makes for truly beautiful pages. Perhaps what I appreciate most about Risso is the really unusual portrayal of the sex scene: no real nudity. Atsuko strips herself for Logan, an occasion during which most artists would relish in drawing the lines and details of her body. Instead, Risso is able to show what is happening while keeping Atsuko’s body almost completely shadowed. Vaughan’s writing objectifies Atsuko far more than the artwork.

Overall, Logan #1 proved disappointing, but Risso and White’s artwork may be worth giving the mini-series a chance.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Helen Killer

Review by Roman Stadtler

Well, here's some words I never anticipated writing: Helen Keller, as a super-human government agent, is a actually a good comic! Yeah, I know, I can't believe it either.

Helen Keller is given a device by Alexander Graham Bell that lets her see and hear, gives her super-human strength and agility, and an intense violent aggressiveness (or is it repressed anger about her disabilities, given a fantastic outlet/manifestation?), becomes an agent for the U.S. government to protect Prez McKinley, and finds she can also perceive more than anyone guessed. It's a fantastic premise, with sci-fi elements and Victorian mystery, that holds great promise.

I've never read any biographies of Keller, but the writer of Helen Killer, Andrew Kreisberg, has, and it shows. He's done his research, and there's good representations of Keller contemporaries like Bell, McKinley, Annie Sullivan (Helen's teacher), and real historical events, like the McKinley shooting. There's a nice text piece of historical factoids at the end of the first two issues, providing more items of interest to history geeks like me (oh no, I don't limit my geekiness to just comics!).

Keller is presented as intelligent, politically and socially savvy, independent and free-thinking, just as she was in real life. She's shown as not trusting the invention that gives her sight, because she doesn't trust the intensity of the feelings that accompany it, and, perhaps, because it could somehow lessen the achievements of her life up to that point.

There's plenty of dramatic tension around Helen's relationship with her teacher, Annie, and the way Helen's new abilities and role changes their relationship; Helen's own emotions and inner life (given form, perhaps? A mystery abounds....); and a possible romantic interest(?); plus a larger Evil afoot.

Plenty of action, too, though that wasn't as interesting to me as the actual characterizations and solid storytelling in what I expected to be just another crappy "hot chick kickin' ass" book. The art is better than the average low budget indy book. There was one ridiculous acrobatic bit using an American flag in the second issue, but that's the only complaint I have in the entire first two issues! Check it out!

Monday, June 2, 2008

G.I. Joe America's Elite WWIII

Review by Brian Morgans

G.I. Joe was the title that got me into comic books. Marvel was the first back in the 80's to release these stories about an elite military team taking on this dangerous world terrorist force. Most people know about G.I. Joe through the cartoons or perhaps through the toys. The cartoons were weak and the toys seemed to become more and more ridiculous as they were introduced to the market. Really, what military value does a bouncing pod with missiles and guns have? Leave it to the writers to give this POS a solid purpose. The writers were able to look at the situation both strategically and tactically to put together a smart, intriguing story that had me hooked. (Turns out bouncing pods are really hard for computers to target and pop out of no-where giving them the element of surprise.)

Fast forward to the present after a few G.I. Joe titles have been put out and wrapped up and here we are in the midst of World War III G.I. Joe style. Gone are the days where Cobra went toe to toe with the Joes. They are a smarter bunch now. No more wicker baskets with mechanical snakes that spew knock-out gas. No more surprise Cobra surrenders for no good reason. And no more giant forts shaped like a cobra.

The glory days have returned to this story line by Devil's Due Publishing. The strategical and tactical elements have returned pitting Cobra Commander against General Colton. I've enjoyed the ride as it has taken me back to the intelligent and intriguing stories that hooked me back as a child. This is like watching two great leaders maneuver and counter-maneuver with well thought out methods in military and political warfare.

While the main story is compelling, I have to admit some of the side stories which will impact the main story are somewhat predictable. Fortunately, it hasn't distracted from my reading enjoyment. I am hoping this all doesn't end suddenly out of the blue due to some neglected Cobra officer pushing the self destruct button. I'm not seeing this come to fruition thus far.

This is a title where you can come in on the story at issue #25. This is a fantastic cover which has each and every G.I. Joe on the cover along with a key on the inside telling you who's who. Data Files occupy the last few pages of each issue that provide additional detail to enrich your appreciation of the good guys and bad guys you just read about.

Zorro by Matt Wagner and Francesco Francavilla

Review by Brian Morgans

Dynamite's Zorro written by Matt Wagner and drawn by Francesco Francavilla is working for me. The third issue has hit the stands and it is still delivering. Pretty much everyone knows who Zorro is and how he is unmatched with a rapier but this story arc is giving us the backstory for why and how he became the mysterious man we all have come to know.

I love the character development of Zorro. Wagner shows us the passion and emotion behind the mask that drives Zorro to fight for those who are oppressed. We see his childhood and can see his fire begin to burn bright as he witnesses the injustices inflicted upon those around him. This provides a purpose early in his life as he gains skills and knowledge from a variety of sources.

Normally I cannot stand a story that flips from one time frame to another with no apparent rhyme or reason. We see Zorro as a child and then we see the present day Zorro and then back again. This doesn't bother me at all as the back story sets up the present day events nicely. You may wonder how your hero knows what he knows or why he might care about his cause or purpose in life. Wagner answers those questions immediately by either priming the pump with a bit of back story and then shows us Zorro taking down some thugs or gives us the big "A-ha!" moment with a major panel after some present day action.

I am loving this comic plain and simple. The artwork is good and the story is outstanding. This was a pleasant surprise.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Final Crisis #1 by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

Review by Chris Clow

Four years have passed since this was all set in motion. Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, the "personal threat," took the DC Universe and turned it on its head. Not long after, the event that "put the greatest odds against the heroes," Geoff Johns' Infinite Crisis, showed the resiliency and determination of the DC Characters by facing down a multiversal threat.

Then, the Countdown began (Poorly, I might add), and fans everywhere begged the question, "what's it counting down to?" Well, the clock hit zero weeks ago. And now it's here.

The road to "the day that evil won" has made its last stop: Grant Morrison's Final Crisis.

A lot happened in issue #1, and in order to make it as spoiler free as possible, I'll try and condense the events as much as I can.

The namesake of Death of the New Gods was witnessed in that mini-series, but Final Crisis shows us that out of death can spring rebirth in unexpected places. When Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart come across one of the dead ones, however, it's a very big deal. A code 1011, which they've never responded to due to its rarity: Deicide.

Elsewhere, the villain Libra has joined the Secret Society and promises that he can fulfill their heart's desire. How does he show this?

Quite simply: by murdering one of the founding members of the Justice League of America. If you've looked at other sites, you probably know who it is. It's so sudden that it's hard to fully process until the issue's last page, when we see one hero react angrily. I was saddened quite a bit, and hope to see some retribution leveled in Libra's direction.

We were able to get a glimpse of the Monitors for the first time since Countdown, and they were pissed that Universe-51 was decimated by Superboy-Prime. So, they take some disciplinary action on it's Monitor that's pretty wild to see, and also gives some insight into their growing individuality.

Back to the unexpected rebirth of some New Gods, we meet a man named "Boss Dark Side," who has kidnapped children that have now grown "beyond redemption." A real Children of the Corn moment.

And, as usual, the Dark Knight has the most insightful things to say at a JLA meeting.

Overall, I was impressed. J.G. Jones is doing the best work of his career. This, of course, was an issue of pure setup and nobody should've really expected otherwise. I saw a lot of complaints online along the lines of, "it was too slow!" Or, "They didn't jump right into the story!"

That's not what the first chapter in any story is for, folks. This puts us on the path to the day that evil wins, but beyond that, it feels like one of the most epic stories I've had the pleasure of reading in years.

Grade: B+ = MUST READ.

NEXT ISSUE: Batman's being crucified on the cover, and a hero returns from the dead…let there be lightning.