REALLY BIG BATCH OF DC TRADE REVIEWS

Birds of Prey – Dead of Winter
DC Comics

I like teamups, a bunch of heroes (or villains) getting together and giving us a mix we don’t normally see. Gail Simone adds to the Birds of prey roster a few unlikely gals who just are not going to take any hassle from anyone. Big Barda, Manhunter and Hawkgirl are not going to go softly into any good night. She also brings in the Secret Six with new member Harley Quinn. The story is pretty straight forward, a woman from Barbara’s past is now Spy Smasher and working for, well, apparently every government agency. An old rivalry flairs up and she moves to take over Oracle’s team. The first mission is to go into Russia, steal a weapon to keep it from being sold to a serious bad dude. The Secret six are on the opposite side to do the opposite thing. The weapon ends up being different than anyone could imagine. Major fighting occurs, and then after the mission Barbara gets to try her hand at kicking some ass. The finale is nice, a new direction, renewed spirit for the team and a kick ass splash page of guest stars.
Great collection.

JLA : The Hypothetical Woman
DC Comics

Gail Simone’s JLA Classified tales from issues 16- 21 is a global threat and serious political bad guy drama played out with high stakes and some damn fun villainy. Warlord General Tuzik is the leader of a sinking ship of a corrupt country. Thanks to some quick legal maneuvering he escapes justice and runs off to plot revenge against the Justice League. He’s working with the Chinese and other government to crate a superhuman weapon to get his revenge.
This is a really nice story with some interesting character development and some really interesting thoughts on politics thrown in. While I don’t think this is Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s best work, the action scenes are great.

John Constantine: Hellblazer : Joyride
Vertigo Comics

Andy Diggle and Leonardo Manco are taking our boy John on a road to regaining his stature as a powerful mage. This trip involves revisiting his past, and rebuilding his power. He pays a dept to an old pal in prison and fights demons. He plays at James Bond and wins a hotel just to exorcise personal demons, and he goes after some nasty boys out for fun. When all is said and done, Diggle leaves Constantine on a path back to his former glory and the person that was able to scare the shit out of people.
Diggle has a wonderful take on Constantine and his approach is that of someone who knows the character inside and out. The artwork is classic Hellblazer with its moody colors and wonderful angles. Manco truly knows how to portray evil with his pencil. I think this will be remembered as one of the really great runs on Hellblazer.

Justice League of America – The Lightening Saga
DC Comics

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved team-ups. The annual meetings of the Justice League and The Justice Society were always a favorite, and they came during summer vacation!
Well I’m guessing Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns had a few summer vacations spent reading these team ups as well because this story has a wonderful old school feel to it. It’s a story you read first as each issue comes out. And then you go back and reread all of them together. And that’s the beauty of the trade collections, you can read the whole story together, no ads slowing you down, no switching comics.
The Lightening Saga immediately has the feel of something that is going to have more meanings long after the original story is done. The JSA and the JLA are tracking down heroes from the future, the 31st century’s Legion of Superheroes. And to make it even better, it looks like the legion of old! Once all the various time traveling heroes are together it turns out they have a mission that needs to be carried out without the contemporary heroes interfering, The mission? The lightening rod trick that brings back the dead. The dead being brought back is a nice surprise. And when the mission is done the teenagers fo the future disappear, except one…
Also included here are a couple stand alone issue that are great with character development and back story, including the Justice League of America #1 which sees the new team being formed.
This book gave me a buzz like I great live concert or a six pack of Red Bull. I had so much fun reading this I was giggling out loud.

Outsiders/Checkmate – Checkout
DC Comics

Rucka and Winick together with their teams working against each other and then with each other in what will eventually lead towards a new Outsiders team.
The teams have a shard goal of stopping sinister doings on Oolong Island, a notorious place after the happenings of 52. The Chinese government is involved and there are some strange meta human experiments happening that need stopping.
I wasn’t sure how Rucka and Winick’s styles of writing would work together but the story is pretty seamless and a lot of fun. There is also a load of action which really came across nicely thanks to artists Joe Bennet and Matthew Clark.

Robin – The Big Leagues
DC Comics

This is a wonderful collection with Robin utilizing all his skills. A hero wanna be named Dodge blames Robin for everything wrong in his life. The teleporting Doge soon assembles a team for hire to help him take down Robin. Dodge soon discovers that these bad guys won’t listen to him and they have their own agendas. Eventually Robin, with his skills, training and the smarts to call for help when he needs it, saves the day, but not before a tragedy teaches our young hero another life lesson. Adam Beechen and Brandon Thomas have a nice take on writing a teenager and making it believable. Freddie Williams II did a bang up job on the art and I actually really enjoyed the solid colors and the surprising amount of brightness in this darker tale. Kudos to Guy Major on that.

Superman/Batman – Enemies Among Us
DC Comics

Mark Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica) brings a totally other world tale for the World’s Finest team. Batman is attacked by a colleague who is also an alien and he turns to the man of steel for help. Before long all sorts of non-earth heroes and villains begin turning up and before batman knows it, he may have to face down Supes.
Verheiden mentions in his Afterward his love of the silver age and it’s “anything can happen” attitudes. He certainly used that as his mantra while writing this. Full of unexpected twists and turns and wonderful action this is great story telling. Verheiden also used this opportunity to load up on guest stars, for which I thank him. This will be reread until I wear it out, which won’t be all that long.

Time Masters
DC Comics

The new Booster Gold series has our wacky hero form the future actually being a hero, in part thanks to the time traveling skills of one Rip Hunter. Hunter is a “forgotten hero” who has seen a bit of a resurgence and is really being utilized wel in the new Booster Gold.
This collection puts together the miniseries from the late eighties that explains who Rip Hunter is and why he’s doing what he does. It’s a fun story and really is a nice read to go along with Rip’s new status in the DC universe. Rip is trying to perfect time travel and can’t quite get it right, people are out to stop him and he ends up going underground, at times quite literally. With the help of some friends Hunter gets things underway and and thanks to Cave Carson he’s got the financial backing to do it. He discovers different forms of time travel and works on the bugs, such as only being able to use each device once per person.
The forward by Geoff Johns is a nice read and I really enjoyed the afterward by Lewis Shiner.

Wonder Woman – Who Is Wonder Woman
DC Comics

Post Infinite Crisis the big three went missing, and picking up the slack as Wonder Woman was Donna Troy. Diana does come back and she has her old identity as Diana Prince back.
Collecting Wonder Woman 1-4 and annual #1 this brings us a new version of the old Wonder Woman. Diana working for the Department of Meta Human Affairs and back in her secret agent white jump suit is loads of fun. Plus this is full of great action. While I’m not sure I like this direction better than Greg Rucka’s amazing run on this series it is fun. But can we please stop using Circe for a year or two?

From the upcoming Crimespree issue #24:

DC has released a hardcover collection of the first 7 issues of Keith Giffen’s Justice League International. When this first came out I was really surprised that they were revamping the team in such a way. Of course it was a big improvement over the “Detroit” League. By issue two I was hooked. Great art, wonderful stories and the best part was that it was really fun. And funny, this became known in some circles as the “Bwa ha ha” era in large part due to the antics of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. What really made this run work so well is that Giffen treated the heroes like regular people, they squabbled, they ate Oreos and watched bad TV. Do yourself a favor and pick up this great book form the justice league of the late eighties.

MANHUNTER: UNLEASHED by Marc Andreryko from DC Comics: This volume wraps up the run of this great series collecting issues 24 through 30. It ends with a cliff hanger and I’ve heard rumors that it will return. I hope so.
This volume was really fun, Kate Spencer has left the DA’s office and is practicing as a defense attorney. The book opens with her defending a true nut job super villain, and while she actually won the case, a flair for villainy and escape make the matter moot. After this great opening Kate is approached by Wonder Woman who would like to hire Kate. While taking on this illustrious client she also gets to train as Manhunter with WW and hone her ever growing skills. And while after all the great action and storytelling we still have a bit of a cliffhanger this really does finish nicely. Kate is happy with where she is and who she is, her friends and family seem safe and happy as well. Of course in comics that leaves plenty of room for fresh stories and new misery.
What really makes this work is the fact that Kate is so human, she really does want justice but has come to understand that some cases demand more than the law. Her struggling with that really makes this intriguing. Our intrepid hero has shown up in some other comics, so she’s still around, but I for one would love to see her in her own book again. Meanwhile there are four great trades of wonderful reading out there.
Jon

The trade edition of Vertigo Comics Fables:1001 Nights of Snowfall is a wonderful collection of tales from the Fables series that take place before the regular series with such wonderful artists as the incredible Jill Thompson, John Bolton and Charles Vess. The set up is clever as we see Snow White travel to Arabia and finds herself in a position that to save herself by telling stories. The Runt is an early tale of Bigby Wolf, there is an early tale of the Frog Price, and really magic short called The Christmas Pies. If you’ve dead Fables this is agreat addition to your set, if not, it is a wonderful starting point.

El Diablo (Vertigo) is an asskicking crime fiction tale set in the old west by Brian Azzarello with art by Daniel Zezelj. Secrets abound as Sherriff Moses Stone, a former Bounty hunter is on the trail of a legendary bad man known as El Diablo. This is once again another great book by Azzarello who has an almost scary ability to get into the heads of characters who aren’t what society would call “good men”. And while the art and action are great, it’s really the subtlety of the psyches’ involved that really make this interesting. Chances are you’ll be re-reading this few times, and loving it more each time.

DC is rereleased a special hardcover edition of the classic Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Originally published as a standalone trade back in 1988 this was a defining moment for Alan Moore, the Joker, and comics in general. The story on the surface is another Batman chasing the Joker tale, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s going much beyond that as it explores the Joker’s madness and the whys of it. It looks at Batman’s relationship with the Joker and it also did something to a beloved character that forever changed her role in DC Comics.
In addition to the incredible writing is the mesmerizing art work by Bolland. Every frame is a piece of genius. When I bought the original back when it came out I was blown away. I actually wore a copy out. Having this in hardcover is an anser to a prayer as I can now spend hours just staring at the art again. This is a book that gets a lot of re-reading and this nicer edition be perfect for that. As an added bonus they’ve added Batman Black and White #4, colored. If you own any comics at all, if you read comics, you need to own this.

DMZ Volume 4 is out from Vertigo and it’s another winner. Called Friendly Fire, this is the tale of a soldier who is blamed for a brutal assault that killed a lot of innocent people in the DMZ. Matty Roth has agreed to interview him and through this process we learn more about how the DMZ came to be and about the real story behind what happened. It’s also story of just how crazy and unpredictable war is and for my money makes a damn good argument for avoiding them. DMZ is one of the most timely comics being done today and it approaches topics that people should be talking about. It may be fiction but may be fiction, but it sure seems to ring with a lot of truths. This is hard hitting and no holds barred writing and Brian Wood should be on every one’s must read list.

In the reviews section of the magazine:

BATMAN: FALSE FACES
Brian K Vaughan
2008
DC Comics

Before he started working for TV’s Lost and before his amazing PRIDE OF BAGHDAD Vaughan wrote some pretty fun Batman tales. I love his work on Ex-Machina and Y The Last Man is wonderful but seeing him work in the DC sandbox with established characters is a real treat.
The first two tales are Batman, one with an identity crisis involving his long time under cover alias Matches Malone. It’s great background on this long running aspect of what Batman does and it’s an interesting character study as well. The second story is really my favorite, the Mad Hatter is running a series of crimes using other villains done up as characters from Alice In Wonderland. But things are not what they seem and Batman working it out is sheer poetry. The collection wraps up with a Wonder Woman two parter that has her facing Batman foe Clayface who has come up with a really clever way to mess up the Amazon Princess.

All in all this is a really fun book, great writing and a real love for the characters added to some damn fine artwork by Scott McDaniel and Rick Burchett and Scott Kolins make this another volume that needs to be added to any Batman collection.
Jon

BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
Ed Brubaker
2008
DC Comics

This is a wonderful collection of Batman stories and as the title suggests, Joker is prominent. It’s all written by Uber Fan Favorite Ed Brubaker.
The first half is an arc with a new to heroics Batman taking on a new to psycho crime Joker. Joker is killing people and even announcing when they will die, yet it’s all the Gotham Police can do to keep up. Batman is frustrated, but in his true relentless fashion manages to eventually capture and put away Joker. The second story is a really classic kind of Batman story. An old murder mystery and Gotham’s first hero, Golden Age Green Lantern haunted by it put Batman’s skills as a detective to work. Brubaker does great crime stories and I think this is a wonderful example of why Batman is more than just a superhero in the hands of the right author. The story actually feels a bit Ed McBain-ish to me, and that is a real compliment. Brubaker has added to the legend of Batman and added to the myth in a powerful way.
This is a must read book.
Jon

CROSSING MIDNIGHT: A MAP OF MIDNIGHT
Mike Carey
2008
Vertigo

This second collection moves quickly and adds an awful lot to the mythology that Carey is creating here. Toshi has become a servant to Lord Aratsu and she is learning her new duties in a way that doesn’t allow much room for error. Because of the changes she’s gone through she now sees things in the world that most people don’t even know exist. Her job is to cut loose parts of dreams from people and collect them, however while this seems like an easy job at first she quickly learns that she is not the only servant out there doing the bidding of a master. She has a confrontation with a servant of the Gleaner which leads to a major battle.
While all this is going on , Toshi’s brother Kai is drawn to Tokyo and while searching for his sister he too learns things. He stumbles across evil and supernatural beings he didn’t know were there and he is heading down a new path.
Carey is creating a wonder fantasy world here and his use of Japan as a setting is inspired. It has all the elements great story telling should have, and most important, it leaves me wanting more. The artwork is crisp and colorful, and yet seems almost translucent at times. It’s a perfect match. Kudos to Jim Fern and Eric Nguyen.

Jon

SCALPED: CASINO BOOGIE
Jason Aaron/RM Guera
2008
Vertigo

This second volume collecting issues 6 through 11 of Scalped continues the story of FBI Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse who has gone back to the reservation he grew up on, He’s undercover working for Lincoln Red Crow who is the tribal leader and also runs the brand new casino. Bad Horse has a past with most of the people living at Prairie Rose Indian Reservation and his home coming has been met with mixed feelings.
In this second volume the collection of stories each tells a different vantage point of the opening night of the casino, each seen by following a different character. It seems that everyone in this book is playing a game on someone else, the FBI agent running Bad Horse has his own agenda that goes back years involving his partner being killed. There is also another undercover agent that Bad Horse doesn’t know about. Layers upon layers of lies going on all around him, and Dashiell has motives of his own for being there and trying to stop the illegal activities.
The story telling here is gritty and honest, it’s a new type of noir and the best word to describe it is brilliant. The characters have a unique voice and while Aaron tells his story you can pick up on subtle social commentary underlying the action. R.M. Guéra’s pencil work is so perfectly matched with this book that there may be a psychic link between him and Aaron. The visuals are visceral and detailed and yet not over stated. The action scenes leap off the page and you can feel the heat when the characters sweat.
This is a perfect example of why comics work so well for crime fiction tales. I hope this series never ends.
Jon