Weekly Comic 100s: Frankenstein Undone, Justice League, and More X-Men

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

We’re going halfsies for this one. We’ve got two releases from this week, as well as two X-Men back issues. I’ve been diving further into Jonathan Hickman’s Dawn of X stuff. I must say, even if some of it has that typical X-Men level of convolutedness to it, I’m enjoying revisiting these characters and their world. And this is the first Hickman project I’ve really been able to immerse myself in. So it works two-fold.

TITLE: Frankenstein Undone #2
AUTHORS:
Mike Mignola, Scott Allie
ARTISTS:
Ben Stenbeck, Brennan Wagner (Colorist), Clem Robins (Letterer).
RELEASED:
May 27, 2020

I’m hardly offended by Frankenstein Undone #2. But I can’t say I’m incredibly enthralled either. Hopefully readers who speak Hellboy will be a little more invested.

Still, the art is on point. I really like the look of Undone‘s Frankenstein. He’s got a lot more bolts and has a more deformed and monstrous look to him, as opposed to the conventional Universal movie-inspired look the monster tends to have. It definitely lends itself to more interesting action sequences, as we see here when Frank fights off a big snow wolf.

TITLE: Justice League #45
AUTHOR:
Robert Venditti
ARTISTS:
Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira (Inker), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Colorist), Tom Napolotano (Letterer). Cover by Francis Manapul.
RELEASED:
May 26, 2020

I can’t say I know this for a fact, but so far this story feels like it was meant for a DC Giant. As we’ve discussed previously, those sold at retailers and meant for average joes. Thus, everything is drawn very simply and spoken plainly. I’m sure a few lines were inserted to indicate John Stewart is the leader. We’ve even got some paint-by-numbers mind-control fights between League members. Batman vs. Superman, Wonder Woman vs. Aquaman, etc.

That being said, none of this is meant as a dig. The issue, and thus far the story overall, is enjoyable for what it is.

TITLE: Marauders #1
AUTHOR:
Gerry Duggan
ARTISTS:
Matteo Lolli, Federico Blee (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson.
RELEASED:
October 23, 2019

Other potential titles for Marauders: Put the Kitty Outside and What If the X-Men Were Superhero Pirates, and Places to Buy Booze for Wolverine.

No, it’s true. Kitty Pryde buys Wolverine a bunch booze in this issue.

I jest, but I really like this book a lot. It reminds me of the most recent volume of X-Men: Gold, which Kitty also happened to be the lead in. It’s got an easy concept with familiar characters. Gerry Duggan also gives us some fun character moments and dialogue. I had no idea about Marauders until recently. But I’m sticking with it going forward.

TITLE: Excalubur #1
AUTHOR:
Tini Howard
ARTIST:
Marcus To, Erick Arcinega (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Mahmud A. Asrar.
RELEASED: October 30, 2019

I’ve loved Marcus To’s work on Red Robin and Nightwing. So I was very excited to see his name here. He delivers accordingly.

But despite To’s presence, this book didn’t do much for me. Blasphemous as it may be to say, I tend to zone out when Marvel or DC go into Arthurian lore. And of course, that’s the centerpiece of Excalibur. A mysterious plant shows up in Avalon, and Morgain La Fey traces it back to Krakoa.

Apocalypse being on the team is intriguing. But it’s not enough to keep me hooked. Not now, at least.

(Special thanks to Super Fan Productions for an advance review copy of Frankenstein Undone #2.)

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: X-Men #1 For the Heck of It, Plus DC Digitals

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Calls it Soda. Not Pop.

The other day I said I wanted to feature the X-Men a little more. So this week I tossed in X-Men #1 from back in November. Along with DC’s digital-first stuff, of course.

TITLE: X-Men #1
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
ARTISTS: Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan (Inker), Sunny Gho (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer).
RELEASED: November 14, 2019

Jonathan Hickman intimidates me. He tends to go a little too far out of this world, and I get lost.

Thankfully, X-Men #1 is relatively straightforward. Mutants have established their own nation on the island of Krakoa. And of course, there’s a group of humans that don’t like mutants that are trying to destroy them.

Had do to a Marvel Wiki search on Cyclops to see how the hell he could be leading the team again. He’s a more interesting character than most casual fans give him credit for.

TITLE: The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2
AUTHOR:
Gail Simone
ARTISTS:
Clayton Henry, Marcelo Maiolo (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Cover by Cully Hamner and Dave McCaig.
RELEASED:
May 1, 2020

Clayton Henry’s style, let’s call it moderately cartoony, is a perfect fit for Flash. When Barry’s zipping around in the costume, Henry stretches his body just a bit for effect. But at the same time, all the scenes about his civilian life have the weight they need. He can exaggerate, but he doesn’t overdo it.

Once again Simone gives us a scene that’s unintentionally poignant given the times, as Flash saves a pair of kids whose mom is a nurse.

Cool time-travel shenanigans make this the highlight of DC’s digital releases this week. (Or at least the ones here.)

TITLE: Aquaman: Deep Dives #2
AUTHOR:
Michael Grey
ARTISTS:
Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan (Inker), Hi-Fi (Colors), Wes Abbott (Letters). Cover by Philip Tan and Elmer Santos.
RELEASED:
April 30, 2020

Aquaman vs. Russian Mobsters? Not a pairing I expected, I’ll give you that. But it works.

The Sea Devils make an appearance in this issue. If you have no idea who they are, I was right there with you. Somehow they’re in one of the few corners of the DCU I haven’t explored yet.

Not an amazing issue from a story perspective. But mad respect to Aaron Lopresti, who’s low key one of my favorites, for drawing fish deformed by poison dumped into the sea. Legit creepy.

TITLE: Wonder Woman: Agent of Peace #2
AUTHORS: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
ARTISTS: Daniel Sampere, Juan Albarran (Inker), Hi-Fi (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Conner and Paul Mounts.
RELEASED: April 29, 2020

So here we have Diana in another team-up issue, this time with Lois Lane. I’m curious if this is just a coincidence, of if they wanted to throw another big name character in there to help support her. With the Gal Gadot movie under her belt, and another one coming out in the near future, I’m not sure Wondie needs it right now.

We get a really nice fight sequence between her and what basically amounts to a demonic abominable snowman who spouts textbook supervillain speak. (“Give up impudent morsel! Death awaits!”) Steve Orlando gets Wonder Woman and knows how to write her. But from a story perspective, I haven’t been overly impressed by these last two outings.

TITLE: Batman: Gotham Nights #2
AUTHOR: Michael Grey
ARTISTS: Ryan Benjamin, Richard Friend (Inker), Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer). Cover by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Lucas.
RELEASED: April 28, 2020

Pretty standard Batman stuff here. It’s not bad, but it’s not overly remarkable either. Crime involving an old theater, theater lead traces back to…well, you can probably guess based on the cover.

My favorite line in this issue: “Who was it that said every villain is the hero of their own story? Probably a villain.”

TITLE: Superman: Man of Tomorrow #2
AUTHOR: Robert Venditti
ARTISTS:
Paul Pelletier, Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Tomeu Morey.
RELEASED:
April 27, 2020

Another great issue from Venditti, Pelletier, and the crew as our Man of Steel faces off against a new villain called the Gambler.

In addition to a great “shirt opening” sequence, this issue contains a panel reminiscent of a famous Alex Ross painting where Superman is sitting in a chair with his shoulders slumped a bit. Like he can feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. Only in this issue, he’s holding what looks like a beer bottle. It’s soda, of course. I love that.

He’s got a few great one-liners too. “Don’t bet on it, Gambler!”

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: Batman, Superman, and DC’s Digital Offerings

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
A Giant Something or Other

In response to the comic book industry being essentially stuck in limbo due to the Coronavirus pandemic, DC is releasing stories digitally that were previously exclusive to their DC Giants line. The Giants books were originally exclusive to mass market outlets, most notably Walmart. So what we’re getting here are basically re-prints.

But hey, they’re new to me. Plus, there’s some all-star talent attached to this stuff. We’ve got Brad Meltzer and Jim Lee on Batman, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti on Wonder Woman, Gail Simone on the Flash. Hey, sign me up!

I was also finally able to purchase that Superman: Villains one-shot. So I threw that in too.

TITLE: Superman: Man of Tomorrow #1
AUTHOR: Robert Venditti
ARTISTS: Paul Pelletier, Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Tomeu Morey.
DIGITAL RELEASE: April 20, 2020

Our story here is about the Parasite leeching off the city’s power grid and causing a mass blackout. In response, Superman tells the people of Metropolis to stand by one another. To share food, help find medicine for people in need, check on their neighbors, etc. Seems like a pretty poignant message right now, eh?

It’s so awesome when somebody gets Superman right. What we get here is also very accessible to new readers, and Paul Pelletier absolutely nails the art, particularly with the Parasite.

At the end of the day, this is the Superman I want to read.

TITLE: Batman: Gotham Nights #1
AUTHORS: Sal Giunta, Brad Meltzer, Larry Hama,
ARTISTS: Jim Lee, Mirko Colak, Scott Williams (Inker),
COLORISTS: Alex Sinclair, John Kalisz
LETTERERS: Chris Eliopoulos, Travis Lanham
DIGITAL RELEASE: April 21, 2020

What Sal Giunta and Brad Meltzer do with “Medal of Honor” is really special. So I’m simply going to encourage you to read it without going into things.

The Lee, Williams, and Sinclair trio give me Hush flashbacks. In a good way.

The second story follows a similar “service” theme, only with Kate Kane instead of Batman. We go back to her military days, which is unexpected but not unwelcome. But I’m sure it was a surprise for casual fans looking for Batwoman.

TITLE: Wonder Woman: Agent of Peace #1
AUTHORS: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
ARTISTS:
Inaki Miranda, Hi-Fi (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Conner and Alex Sinclair.
DIGITAL RELEASE:
April 22, 2020

I’m not really a Harley Quinn fan. I know that’s enough to get me strung up in some circles. But I’ve almost always found her more annoying than humorous.

But with Wonder Woman as her “straight man” you get a pretty entertaining team. To their credit, they actually got me to chuckle when Harley appeared wearing what was supposed to be Amazonian armor.

Conner and Palmiotti write a hell of a Wondie. Early on, there’s an exchange between her and two security guards that I got a kick out of. Like Robert Venditti with Superman, they get her.

TITLE: Aquaman: Deep Dives #1
AUTHOR:
Steve Orlando
ARTISTS:
Daniel Sempere, Juan Albarran (Inker), Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer). Cover by Liam Sharpe and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
DIGITAL RELEASE:
April 23, 2020

“My name is Black Manta. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

That’s basically what this issue is about.

I imagine because these were (at least in theory) released to a different audience, they wanted to start on the ground floor in some of these stories. That means a lot of expository dialogue. Superman: Man of Tomorrow did that. But this one really lays the expository dialogue on thick.

Great fight between Aquaman and Black Manta, though. At the “Museum of Unnatural History.” I adore that.

TITLE: The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1
AUTHOR:
Gail Simone
ARTISTS: Clayton Henry, Marcelo Maiolo (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Cover by Dan Panosian.
RELEASED:
April 24, 2020

Coming out of this issue I know two things.

The Flash TV show has indeed ruined Iris West for me. Not because of the actress. Because of how she’s written.

Had it come out a month or two sooner, a few less people would have gotten on those disease-infested cruise ships.

Not surprisingly, Gail Simone writes a great Flash. Gail Simone writes a great almost-anything. Together with Henry, Maiolo, and Leigh, they’ve put together one of the highlights of this DC Giants digital-first campaign.

TITLE: Superman: Villains #1
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jody Houser
ARTISTS:
Michael Gaydos, Riley Rossmo, Scott Godlewski, Bryan Hitch, Cully Hamner, Steve Lieber, Jim Mahfood.
COLORISTS:
Gaydos, Ivan Plascencia, Gabe Eltaeb, Alex Sinclair, Dave McCaig, Nathan Fairbairn, Mahfood.
LETTERERS:
Dave Sharpe, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Troy Peteri, Josh Reed.
RELEASED:
March 4, 2020

So here we have a bunch of villains reacting to Superman telling the world he’s Clark Kent. We hear from Toyman, Mongul, and a Joker-ized Supergirl (see Batman/Superman). We also get a story that bridges into future Superman and Action Comics storylines.

But by far the best part of the issue is a two-page Lex Luthor story, as he discovers he has 98 messages on his voicemail. And several of them (Possibly all of them?) are from the Joker. And he’s laughing. Take a wild guess at what he’s laughing at, folks…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Dear Justice League Review – Keep It Simple, Superheroes

TITLE: Dear Justice League
AUTHOR: Michael Northrop
ARTIST: Gustavo Duarte
COLORIST: Marcelo Maiolo
LETTERER: Wes Abbott
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: September 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I love this idea. Love, love, love it. Love. It. It’s so simple, yet so brilliant. In a culture where the Avengers are sitting at the cool kids table, this is how you introduce the Justice League to a young audience.

Fan mail. That’s it. That”s the premise. Yes, there’s an evil force consistently in the background. But the meat and potatoes of Dear Justice League is the heroes answering emails from young fans. The heroes all get roughly the same number of pages. Ergo, marquee characters like Batman and Wonder Woman don’t seem more important than say, Hawkgirl or Cyborg.

The questions fall on a spectrum between things kids can relate to and the comedic and zany. For instance, Batman gets asked: “Have you ever been the new kid in town?” On the other hand, Aquaman gets: “No offense, but do you smell like fish most of the time?” The King of Atlantis then proceeds to wander about the Hall of Justice trying to get the answer from other heroes.

But it’s not just the premise that makes the book. The winning formula comes when you combine the premise with Gustavo Duarte’s cartoony, “pencil sketch” style. It’s a perfect fit in every sense of the word. He captures the essence of each character, giving them a comedic spin without getting too silly. I really can’t say enough good things about it. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Pixar-style Justice League that artist Daniel Araya showed us several years ago.

My only complaint about this book? Cyborg doesn’t get a question! Alright, he does. But it’s a cop out question! C’mon. We can’t give the guy something with some meat to it? Heck, I’ve got one! “Hey Cyborg. Why don’t you hang out with the Teen Titans anymore? I thought you and Beast Boy were BFFs?”

Dear Justice League may have a lot of laughs. But I’m absolutely serious when I say it’s become one of my favorite League stories of all time. We’re talking top five. Maybe even top three. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if something like this were part of the ongoing Justice League series. There’s absolutely no harm in taking a break from the Dark Multiverse and Martian Lex Luthor for something a little lighter and simpler.

Maybe that’s something the DC brain trust should keep in mind more often. Somebody should send ’em a poster that says “K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Superheroes.”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

SDCC Trailer Reactions: Aquaman, Fantastic Beasts, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A butt-load of trailers dropped at San Diego Comic Con this weekend.

Let’s talk about some, shall we?

Aquaman:

Yes, this looks pretty in an Avatar sort of way. But I’m not super optimistic about this one. Aquaman as a dude bro didn’t work for me in Justice League, and it certainly doesn’t work as its own movie. I see people rejecting this movie, much as they rejected Green Lantern. So it’s fitting in that sense that I can’t look at Jason Momoa without seeing Roman Reigns…

SHAZAM!

Kinda wish they’d gone a little younger with Billy Batson. But other than that, I can’t bring myself to complain about much here. SHAZAM! looks like it might be fun. And if these DC movies have been lacking one thing above all else, it’s that. Plus, Zachary Levi is a good choice.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

In the first one, they overhyped Bryan Cranston’s role in the movie to the point that it looked like Godzilla vs. Walter White. Then they got rid of Cranston in the first act. This one looks like Godzilla vs. Eleven. So if it’s anything like last time, we’ll see Millie Bobbie Brown about as much as we saw Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

This trailer only served to remind me that we have to wait another year for the next season of Stranger Things

The Walking Dead, Season 9:

It’s fashionable to crap on The Walking Dead nowadays. And in all fairness, the bloom is indeed off this undead rose. But I’m still into it. Especially Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.

So with Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Lauren Cohan (Maggie) both leaving the show, The Walking Dead season 9 has the unenviable task of writing out two major characters. The downside there is rather obvious. But the upside is that the show is going to look markedly different than the comics from here on out. From a predictability standpoint, that’s a great thing.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:

“What Mr. Scamander fears above everything else is…”
“Having to work in an office, sir.”

Join the club, kid.

Mrs. Primary Ignition will end up taking me to see this.But honestly, I’m having trouble caring. Call me when they start covering what happens after Deathly Hallows.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

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A Dark Nights: Metal #2 Review – Aw, Look at the Baby…

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 13, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dark Nights: Metal #2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor. There are no awful giant robots to speak of, and the Batman worship has been toned down to a degree. There’s even an opportunity for Batman to beat up the whole Justice League again, and Snyder and Capullo pass…sort of. This issue gives us the best from all parties involved. Now if only I were confident things weren’t going to degenerate going forward…

The League is on the hunt for Batman after learning he’s a living doorway into our world for a demon named Barbatos from the Dark Multiverse. The Caped Crusader is determined to prevent Barbatos’ arrival on his own. But it’s a mission that’s doomed to fail, as his determination is about to backfire on him. One way or another, the Batmen of the Dark Multiverse are on their way.

One element of Metal that has yet to falter is the art. Penciller Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascencia give us the DC Universe in all its grandeur, albeit a shade or two darker. The issue opens with a sequence that quickly jumps between Gorilla City, the House of Mystery, Metropolis, and the Amazon rainforest. Later on, we go to a location that Superfriends fans will recognize as the Hall of Doom, which is a cool little moment. Then you have the two-page spread revealing of all the Dark Multiverse Batmen. I stand by what I said last time about how they don’t all need to be twisted versions of Batman. But there are a lot of fascinating design elements.

“The Batman Who Laughs” (center) is the most provocative, as he comes with what appear to be cannibalistic zombie Robins on leashes. But the Aquaman equivalent (far left), “the Drowned,” has an intriguing design that seems to be pirate-inspired. The Wonder Woman equivalent is clearly inspired by Ares. Of course, having Doomsday stand in for Superman is a nice touch.

My complaints about the art are few and far between. But one of them deals with a shot of Damian Wayne. Early in the book we get a chase sequence through the Amazon, as Justice League members chase various Bat-family members who have been digitally camouflaged to look like the Dark Knight. Robin, meanwhile, is driving what essentially amounts to a big Bat-tank. There’s a panel where we zoom in on Damian behind the wheel, and the poor kid looks like he needs a booster seat (shown below). He’s supposed to be 13 years old, not six. What gives?

I’ve made no secret of how much I hate what Snyder and Capullo did with Batman and the Justice League in their Endgame storyline. While under the effects of the Joker’s mind control, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman all attack Batman. Naturally, Snyder gives Batman a giant robot to fight back with, as he trumps all of them one by one. Each time, we got a detailed explanation of the pseudoscience involved. It all culminates with Batman spitting in Superman’s eye. There was no harm intended, but the whole thing wound up being absolutely disgraceful. One of the worst instances of Batman worship I’ve ever seen.

So naturally, the rainforest chase scene between the League at the Bat-family was nerve-wracking for me. Especially when the various members of Batman’s team start springing various traps. But in the end, with Superman’s help, the League gets a win. Batman himself winds up not being there at all. But let’s take our wins where we can get them. We avoided some indirect Batman worship.

Snyder and Capullo handle Superman pretty well this time around, which is a nice surprise. He’s compassionate and concerned about Bruce’s wellbeing, even referring to him as a brother. But at the same time, he’s the assertive leader that he should be. One way or another, he refuses to let Bruce face this threat alone.

I’m a little less sure about baby Darkseid, however. This transformation happened back in Geoff Johns’ Darkseid War. It’s not so much the way the little guy is used, but how he looks (shown below). I understand the goggles, which Batman addresses in the scene. But did we have to put him in a miniaturized version of his normal blue armor? There’s a ha-ha quality there that puts a damper on the drama.

On the subject of Darkseid, Snyder surprised me by weaving The Return of Bruce Wayne into this story. The idea is that Barbatos first saw Bruce when he was sent back in time via Darkseid’s Omega Beams, which set up the events of Return. I’ll say this much, it at least offers a little explanation as to why this giant cosmic entity is specifically targeting Bruce.

According to Snyder, Metal has been in the works since his run on Batman began in 2011. Metal #2 takes us back through the events of said run, and reminds us of the various otherworldly metals our hero has been in contact with. Electrum, Dionesium, etc. While I adore the long-term storytelling, the issue takes it a little too far by introducing a new metal called Batmanium. Ugh. Really? Batmanium?

I’ll say this much for Metal: It’s unabashed in its cornball moments, while at the same time creating a threat with some real gravity to it. We know it takes a lot to scare Batman, much less the entire DCU. While the heavy metal aesthetic isn’t really my thing, and the Batman worship continues to rub me the wrong way, Metal is worth your attention. Snyder seems to be writing a love letter to DC Comics lore, as Capullo and the artistic team continue to deliver quality work. Now it’s just a question of how much this thing is going to piss me off. Somehow, I doubt Snyder is as concerned about that as I am…

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A Dark Nights: Metal #1 Review – More of the Same

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2017

***Warning: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I feel like every time I review something Scott Snyder writes I have to go through the same spiel: I generally like his stuff, but he does certain things that make me mad as hell. As such, it’s difficult for me to look at Dark Knights: Metal in an unbiased manner.

In truth, I love the premise of Metal. It involves Batman, and later the entire Justice League, trying to unravel the ancient mystery behind Nth Metal. DC Comics aficionados will recognize that term from Hawkman’s mythology. This leads to the theory that Nth Metal came from a “Dark Multiverse,” existing outside the multiverse we’re familiar with. From this Dark Multiverse, a full scale invasion force is coming. A war with these dark forces is about to begin. And apparently, the one who will open the door to this Dark Multiverse is none other than Batman, who’s been looking into this Dark Multiverse for quite some time. As we’re told at issue’s end, the nightmare has only just begun…

I commend Snyder for weaving classic DC Comics elements into the fabric of Metal. Not just the perennially under-appreciated Hawkman, but the Challengers of the Unknown and the Metal Men as well. We even get little nods to places like Dinosaur Island. The League even travels to Blackhawk Island for briefing. It makes the whole Dark Multiverse concept feel a little more organic. We even get an appearance by a famous Vertigo character as part of our cliffhanger.

Kendra Saunders, leader of the Blackhawks and the reincarnated Hawkgirl (long story), exposits that iconic DC settings like Themyscira, Dinosaur Island, and Nanda Parbat exist in areas “where cosmic energy conducted through the Earth’s metal core cancels itself out, creates a kind of ‘static’ that disrupts space-time.” I’d never heard this explanation before. I assume it’s a Snyder original. I love it. It answers a question I never knew I had…

It’s great to see Greg Capullo back in the DC Universe. He, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCD Plascencia give us an opening sequence with the League in a battle arena on a new Warworld. Naturally, it’s ruled by Mongul. Capullo puts our heroes in armor that is ironically attuned to their weaknesses. Thus, they’re essentially fighting as regular civilians. I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance we see these made into toys eventually.

My two favorite pages in the issue are back-to-back. The first is when we see Red Tornado attack the League on Blackhawk Island. Capullo’s take on the character’s cyclone powers are interesting, as they engulf the entire scene. Then on the very next page, we get a shot of Batman riding a dinosaur off the island (shown below). Hokey? Yes. But Capullo plays it somewhat comedically. Plus, there’s a giant dinosaur in the Batcave. So in a ludicrous way, it fits.

Alright, now I get to poo-poo the Snyder party like I always do. Let’s talk about robots, shall we?

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have a thing about big (sometimes giant) Batman robots. I’ve talked at length about this before. They just can’t help themselves. So it really should have come as no surprise that in the Warworld arena, the Justice League is fighting a bunch of giant robots attuned to their specific abilities. And of course, what’s better than the League bunch of giant robots? The League taking control of the robots and forming one GIGANTIC robot! Justice League Megazord, power up! OMIGOD U GUYZ!!!!!!!

On it’s own, this is fine. A little stupid for my tastes (And that’s coming from a Power Rangers geek!), but fine. But when you take in to account how much these guys have used big awful Batman robots before, it’s actually laughable. Honestly, did we have to go with the giant robots again? I understand the story is called Metal, and it behooved them to go with a mechanical threat. But this scene with Mongul and the Megazord doesn’t connect to the Dark Multiverse stuff anyway. So why not give Capullo and the team something new and fun to draw instead of going back to the giant robot well?

My second big complaint with the Metal story overall has to do with Batman and the “chosen one” narrative. In all fairness, this is a problem that goes beyond Snyder and Capullo. I’ve called it “over-Baturation.” On Blackhawk Island, Kendra warns of a beast as old as the universe itself, Barbatos, arriving from the Dark Multiverse through a human doorway. Based on clues she’s discovered, she theorizes Batman is that doorway. She then tries to spring a trap on him, and thus the Dark Knight escapes on said dinosaur.

Metal is meant to be Batman-centric. Yet another milking of DC’s biggest cash cow. As a DC reader, I’m used to that by now. I just wish they didn’t have to portray Batman and the Wayne family as a cosmic centerpiece to so many things. From an in-story perspective, it makes him more prominent than he should be. Even as a founding member of the Justice League, the world’s greatest detective, and all that stuff, what is Batman at the end of the day? A street-level crime fighter. So the idea of a demonic entity from another universe depending on him to open a cross dimensional gateway doesn’t fit for me. Why can’t Bruce just be investigating the Dark Multiverse, and let the bad guys in by accident? Why does it have to be a prophecy?

Hell, why is it that the Dark Multiverse creatures we’ve glimpsed all seem to be twisted and evil amalgamations of Batman and various Justice League characters? (For instance, the spin-off Batman: The Murder Machine is about an evil Batman/Cyborg blend. Batman: The Red Death is Batman/The Flash, etc.) For that matter, why can’t we use this Metal aesthetic on other characters and not drag Batman into it? Yes, he has the iconography of a demon, and is thus more suited to it. But are you telling me no one has any kind of take on a “metalized” Wonder Woman? How about Cyborg or Aquaman? You can make your event Batman-centric without having to put Bat-ears on everything!

Does everything have to be a giant Batman circle jerk?

*whew* Okay. I’m done. No, seriously. I am.

In the end, I’m sure DC will make decent bank on Metal, and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of cool creativity on display. The heavy metal inspired tonality is something fairly different for a superhero event comic. Greg Capullo’s art may be worth the price of admission on its own. But as far as I’m concerned, for better or worse, Metal represents more of the same from Snyder and Capullo. A lot of awesome ideas, mixed in with a lot of infuriating ideas. And giant robots. Lots of giant robots.

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A Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 Review – The 2016 Playbook

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, cover, Jason FabokTITLE: Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Josh WIlliamson
PENCILLER: Jason Fabok
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s fitting that Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is DC’s last big release of the year. This is essentially a snapshot of the Warner Bros/DC movie playbook for 2016. Of course, it’s a also hook for new readers who’ve seen the movies.

And in a very pleasant development, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is pretty damn good. At least, so far.

When the Justice League learns of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X program, they interrupt a the Suicide Squad’s latest mission to bring them in. Naturally, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the team aren’t coming without a fight. Meanwhile, several prisoners have been broken out of the Catacombs, “the most top secret prison in the world.” A threat is emerging that may give the Justice League and the Suicide Squad a mutual enemy.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, two-page spread, Jason FabokI think one of the reasons this story works so well is that there isn’t an exorbitant amount of exposition to get through. Yes, we have the typical captions that introduce the characters (i.e. “Deadshot. Expert marksman. Has a death wish.” We also have a two-page scene where the League finds out about the Squad, and we go over why they don’t like them. But other than that, we’re mostly doing the business of the plot. It’s easy to understand why these two groups wouldn’t get along. You don’t need all of the build-up and the layers you would for, say, Civil War or Avengers vs. X-Men. The mere knowledge of the Squad’s existence is enough to prompt a fight.

The only downside to that additional time for character moments is that Williamson’s use of Captain Boomerang for comic relief comes off grating. One thing this book hammers home as much as anything is that ol’ Digger is horny as hell. I guess it makes sense, given he’s in prison. Plus, whenever he goes out he’s got the over-sexualized Harley Quinn with him. But he doesn’t need to be Captain Innuendo. We also have a little exchange where Simon Baz asks, “Aren’t boomerangs a little lame?” Not nearly as lame as that line. Way to go, Simon. Antagonize the murderer who Flash just told you was no joke.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, team shot, Jason FabokThe larger story Williamson is setting up involves a third team, led by our mystery prison breaker…the returning Maxwell Lord, dressed in his Omac Project and Justice League: Generation Lost era garb. Per usual, Lord is hardly a mustache-twirling villain. He’s out to save the world. What that means exactly remains to be seen. But the team he’s assembled (shown below) consists of Lobo, Dr. Polaris, Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, and Rustam. Certainly an…eclectic crew. But they all have one thing in common: They hate Amanda Waller. Considering how expansive the cast of this book already is, we can’t guarantee all these characters will get a chance to shine. But I can definitely appreciate Williams putting a renewed spotlight on some of the company’s more obscure characters.

Jason Fabok is in top form here. As I’ve said previously, his is art has an undeniably epic quality to it. So he’ll always be a solid fit for big event stories like this, or Darkseid War. I compare him to Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, or Ivan Reis in that sense. He’s very much like Lee in the way he makes use of splash pages and two-page spreads that are either explosive, or have a lot of intrigue. His characters also tend to be very charismatic and expressive. Particularly Harley Quinn, despite the over-sexualization. There’s also a really nice splash page where Superman catches Deadshot in mid-air. Those two characters are such a great contrast. That image almost sells the premise by itself.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, Jason Fabok, two-page spreadBy the way, the country that the big confrontation takes place in is called Badhnisia. I was blown away when I typed that into the ol’ Google machine, and found out it’s actually a long standing country in the DC Universe. A little on the nose, don’t you think?

Lending a certain subtle consistency with other big DC event comics are Alex Sinclair’s colors. Sinclair has worked on big books like Batman: Hush, Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint, Justice League: Origin, etc. Sinclair’s work is always quality, and he’s a tremendous asset.

Based on the solicitations, it looks like the artistic teams on this book will fluctuate as the weeks go by. We’ll see names like Fernando Pasarin, Robson Rocha, and Howard Porter tag in. I can’t say I’m looking forward to those transitions, especially given the quality of what Fabok and his cohorts gave us here. But from a plot perspective, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad starts out strong. Now it becomes a matter of telling a compelling story while balancing all these different characters, and not letting it all become a mess.

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