Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Weekly Comic 100s: Power Rangers Double-Feature, Crossover, and More!

***”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

TITLE: Power Rangers #1
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Francesco Mortarino, Raul Angulo (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Variant cover by Jung-Geun Yoon.
RELEASED: November 11, 2020

There’s a really cool scene in here between Jason and Rocky, where they talk about the latter being the Red Ranger, but not the team leader. Parrott is so good at creating character moments for characters who were pretty thinly written to begin with.

That being said, Mortarino draws Rocky like…there’s no other way to put it…a whiny little bitch.

Adding Drakkon to this book is smart. Between BOOM’s two new Power Rangers titles, I suspect this is the one that’s going to have more trouble staying afloat, simply because the characters aren’t the iconic Power Rangers.

TITLE: Wonder Woman #766
AUTHOR: Mariko Tamaki
ARTISTS: Steve Pugh, Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Colorist), Pat Brosseau (Letterer). Cover by David Marquez & Alejandro Sanchez.
RELEASED: November 10, 2020

Tamaki is taking a page out of Greg Rucka’s playbook and blinding Wonder Woman. For a few issues, at least. I’ll say this much: It makes for a pretty cool fight sequence in this issue.

It seems like they’re wrapping up the story of the reluctant Wondie/Maxwell Lord team, which is a shame. For my money, the concept had a lot more mileage to it. It had become something I looked forward to seeing with each new issue.

I know I’m a broken record, but I still miss Mikel Janin on this book…

TITLE: Darth Vader #7
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
ARTISTS: Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Daniel Acuna.
RELEASED: November 11, 2020

Boy, some of this is really dumb.

I like the idea of the Emperor giving Vader a sadistic test by leaving him to die on Mustafar. But early in the issue we once again backtrack to a location from the prequels, and literally see Nute Gunray’s corpse. Is that all this series has to offer? “Hey! This is something you remember from the movies!”

This character, and this universe, deserve better.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1030
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Bilquis Evely, Mat Lopes (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Variant cover by Lee Bermejo.
RELEASED: November 10, 2020

I think this is the first time I’ve seen Evely’s art. It’s got a cool sketchy look to it that doesn’t always go well with Batman’s world. But paired with Lopes’ colors, it works. Evely really gets to flex in this issue, drawing much of Batman’s surrogate family.

Tomasi is looping Damian into things, which bodes well for the book’s immediate future. His work with Bruce and Damian on Batman & Robin is some of his best. I’m interested to see if he can recreate some of that magic.

TITLE: Champions #2
AUTHOR: Al Ewing
ARTISTS: Simone Di Meo, Bob Quinn, Federico Blee
RELEASED: November 11, 2020

The division among civilians over Kamala’s Law, the law against teen superheroes, is really compelling. Mostly because it’s such an unsettling reflection of the actual division we’re seeing in the United States. It’s a tremendous example of how superhero comics can reflect what we see in the real world.

We open up this issue in a “reeducation center” that’s straight up chilling. It’s actually downright dystopian. I can’t remember the last time a comic book left me this unsettled.

TITLE: Superman #27
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ivan Reis, Danny Miki (Inker), Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel.
RELEASED: November 11, 2020

Superman spends a small portion of this issue trying to avoid hitting the big scary alien. Imagine that. A superhero trying to dodge conflict with someone who looks and talks differently. God damn, Superman is so the hero this world needs right now. While I may not be in love with his work over on Action Comics, make no mistake about it, Bendis gets Superman. That’s so important, as the vast majority of writers don’t.

Reis, Miki, and Sinclair have been killing it, giving us some of the best art we’ve seen in Superman in years. Don’t sleep on them here.

TITLE: Crossover #1
AUTHORS: Donny Cates, Mark Waid (Story Edits)
ARTISTS: Geoff Shaw, Dee Cunniffe (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer). Cover by Shaw & Dave Stewart.
RELEASED: November 4, 2020

There’s a character in this book wearing a shirt that says “Wertham was right.” That’s a pretty cool Easter egg for people up on their comic book history.

Crossover is a book about comic book characters coming to life in the real world. All of them. It’s a silly concept, but the book treats it pretty seriously. As such, we have a series that people with a passion for the comic book medium will likely enjoy, but more casual fans may find a little too out there. Heck, I’m passionate about comics and it’s pretty far out even for me…

TITLE: Mighty Morphin #1
AUTHOR:
Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS:
Marco Renna, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Katia Ranalli (Color Assistant), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Variant cover by Daniele Di Nicuolo.
RELEASED:
November 4, 2020

The way Parrott writes Zordon in this issue is a departure from how we’re used to seeing him. Less a wise sage and more of a friendly uncle. It’s a risk that doesn’t pay off, in my opinion.

So wait…Drakkon’s not the Green Ranger? I’m confused…

I prefer Marco Renna’s work on this book to what we’re seeing in Power Rangers, particularly when it comes to action sequences. His panels with the Green and White Rangers are particularly strong, and the colors really pop. I’m hopeful this book will keep building momentum going forward.

TITLE: Batman #102
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Carlo Pagulayan, Carlos D’Anda, Danny Miki (Inker), David Baron (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Jorge Jimenez & Tomeu Morey. Variant cover by Francesco Mattina.
RELEASED: November 3, 2020

Tynion says he came up with this new Ghost-Maker villain while he was writing back-up stories for Zero Year. That counts as a strike against him, in my book…

I’m not crazy about the name Ghost-Maker. But he’s pretty cool nonetheless. He’s got a cool costume, and a nice ninja aesthetic.

Carlos D’Anda pops up for a few pages in this issue to draw a scene where Harley Quinn gets a new apartment. It feels randomly dropped in. But I’m assuming that means Harley is sticking around in Batman for the near future.

TITLE: Star Wars #8
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Ramon Rosanas, Rachelle Rosenberg (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, & Rain Beredo.
RELEASED: November 4, 2020

I’m in awe of just how much detail some artists put into these starships and the machinery. It’s a credit to not only to the talent of the artists they get on these Star Wars books, but the devotion they have to the franchise.

The writing, on the other hand, has been fairly stale across the entire line. In this book’s case, Commaner Zahra, a disciple of Grand Moff Tarkin, is a fairly interesting villain. But this just isn’t a terribly interesting story. She’s after Leia. Big whoop.

On the bright side, it’s not another story about a damn lightsaber…

TITLE: Young Justice #20
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer). Cover by John Timms & Eltaeb.
RELEASED: November 3, 2020

Teen Lantern gets a nice spotlight here. Now if only this weren’t the final issue.

It’s an honest-to-God crime that this series is ending at only 20 issues. It’s one of the best teenage superhero books I’ve read in a long time, in that it delivers on both the action front and the teen angst front. I dig the expansive roster, as well. Sort of a Young Justice League Unlimited feel. If there’s any justice in this world, this team will be back with a vengeance.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Suicide Squad: Going Sane Review – The Harley Quinn Show

TITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLER:
Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, Sean Galloway, Stephen Byrne, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Gamuncoli
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad #58Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Day Special #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Suicide Squad, Vol. 2 should really be called The Harley Quinn Show. The story doesn’t revolve around her, but she’s clearly the star. We even learn that one of the characters is a Harley fangirl. DC obviously knows what side its bread gets buttered on…

Our main story picks up from where The Black Vault left off, with General Zod and the vault being held in Belle Reeve Penitentiary. But the vault, a gateway into the Phantom Zone, is effecting everyone in the prison. It’s pushing them to the brink of insanity, enticing them to kill. But it’s having the opposite effect on Harley Quinn. Her sanity is restored. Thus she may be the only one capable of saving the world from Zod.

Oddly enough, several years ago there was a Batman story called “Going Sane” that shares a similar concept with this book. The Joker thinks Batman is dead, so his sanity recedes and he tries to live a normal life. It’s not a great story. But the whole sanity reversal thing has a little more depth to it than what we get here, which is essentially the flick of a light switch.

I actually don’t have a problem with how they handle the whole sanity/insanity turn. But whenever Suicide Squad gets too Harley heavy, I have the same reaction to when a Justice League story lays it on too thick with Batman. “Over-Baturation,” if you will. That’s how Going Sane left me feeling. A team story where a specific character has an arc is one thing. Laying it on too thick is another.

What puts it over the top is that the one-shot Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special is collected in this volume. I imagine they put it here, as opposed to Vol. 1, because the story goes with the whole going sane theme. It sees Harley trying to use her skills as a psychotherapist to redeem other supervillains, Most notably Man-Bat. It’s mostly fine on its own. But when paired with our main story, it’s too much Harley. To some, I’m sure that notion is blasphemous. I don’t care. Too much of anything is a drawback.

Going Sane is more or less a superpowered prison riot popcorn flick. I can get behind that. In a lot of ways, that’s what Suicide Squad should be. Aiding in the proceedings is that it’s all pencilled by Jim Lee. Thus, it’s got an added sense of epicness and gravitas. Lee, inkers Richard Friend and Sandra Hope, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper obviously make everybody look good. Harley in particular (see above). Skipper gets to have some fun with the lighting at various points. Most of this takes place in Belle Reeve. But they shake the scenery up with red and yellow sunlight generators, the purple glow that surrounds the Black Vault, the power going out, etc.

I can’t recall seeing Lee draw Man-Bat prior to the April Fool’s one-shot. But he makes him every bit as detail-rich and monstrous as you’d expect. We also see Batman, Joker, and the Justice League in that issue, bringing back plenty of memories from Hush and Justice League: Origin. Lee’s frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair colors that story, which ups the nostalgia factor in that regard.

One thing I still don’t understand: Why did Zod have to be so damn huge? They explained it by saying it had to do with how he came out of the Black Vaullt. At one point they have him clamped down on this giant contraption like he’s Doomsday or Bane. Later, he nearly crushes Captain Boomerang by simply falling on him. Was this an artistic choice so he’d look more imposing? I suppose it fits with the tone of the book. But you know what’s really imposing? A guy who can bend steel with his fists and melt flesh with heat vision. Take that into account, and it doesn’t really matter how tall you are, does it?

Also, Killer Croc and June Moon (Enchantress) apparently have sex in this book (shown above). So, there’s that. Their romance is actually a nice little addition to the book. In issue #5, Croc has what I would guess is his most romantic line ever: “I…want to eat everyone. I don’t want to eat you.” But much like with Hulk and Viv Vision, I can’t help getting caught up in the physical “mechanics” of it all. How does it even work? Do I even want to know? Probably not.

As was the case in Vol. 1, we get a bunch of character-centric back-up stories. This time we focus on a new character called Hack, as well as Killer Croc, and Enchantress. We also get a look at Killer Frost in preparation for Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

The best of the bunch is the Killer Croc story, pencilled by Carlos D’Anda (shown below). We see Waylon Jones as a vulnerable young boy with a tragic skin condition. Rob Williams plays the sympathy card with Croc, as we often see with other Batman villains. But it’s as effective as always, especially with the big expressive eyes D’Anda gives Waylon.

Hack, a young woman who can transform herself into digital data, found herself inspired by Harley Quinn as she grew up impoverished in Africa. Like Harley with the Joker, Hack’s choice of role model was to her own detriment. The backup, illustrated by Stephen Byrne, is fine. Hack is intriguing, and as this book illustrates, her powers open up some interesting doors. But if you’ve read ahead, you know Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily use her to her fullest potential.

The series loses a little bit of its momentum here. But Harley Quinn fans and comic art buffs will find something in Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane. It’s not a creative highlight, but it’s at least worth a glance.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Posted in Uncategorized

A Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin Review – Galactic Throwback

Star Wars, Vol. 1: In the Shadow of YavinTITLE: Star Wars, Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin


AUTHOR: Brian Wood
PENCILLER: Carlos D’Anda. Cover by Alex Ross.
COLLECTS: Star Wars #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: September 17, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With this new Star Wars series, Brian Wood was going for a throwback to the “classic” Star Wars era. Before The Clone Wars, before the prequels, before all the video games. Wood was going for the Star Wars of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and the universe he fell in love with as a child. That’s a very relatable sentiment for those of us who fell in love with the series before the prequels came out. What Wood and Carlos D’Anda give us in this first volume isn’t perfect. But it is special, in that it offers something very nice for an older generation of fans, without alienating kids in the audience.

One of the ways In the Shadow of Yavin accomplishes this is by keeping the story simple and accessible. Arguably, the only required viewing you need to understand what’s happening here is the original Star Wars film. The book is set a few weeks after the destruction of the first Death Star. While the Rebels have scored a major win over the Empire, they are now on the run after the discovery of their base on Yavin 4. What’s more, there is a spy in their midst, feeding valuable information to the Imperials. Princess Leia promptly pulls together a team of pilots, among them Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles, to help expose the spy and find a new base for the Rebellion. Meanwhile, Darth Vader is under immense pressure from the Emperor to redeem himself after the loss of the Death Star. All the while, the name of the Rebel responsible for it’s destruction, Skywalker, weighs heavily on his mind.

Star Wars #4, Alex RossAs if a Brian Wood-authored throwback wasn’t enough to hook fans, Dark Horse gave fans buying the monthly books a heck of an added incentive with four months of Alex Ross covers. As anyone who’s seen his work knows, Ross is truly in a class by himself. So to see his take on the Star Wars is, to say the least, a treat. We’d seen him do some Star Wars art before. But these covers take the cake, particularly the first one (shown above). The image of Darth Vader with his lightsaber raised above his head is a nice nod to one of the original North American movie poster by Tom Jung, where Luke is in a similar pose. His characters are drawn with unparalleled photo-realism, and the colors are gorgeous. There’s just nobody like Ross. Period.

If you’ve read some of my prior reviews of this series, you know I’m a little more critical of Carlos D’Anda’s work. (Though in all fairness, anyone who has to follow Ross is in a difficult position.) His art certainly fits with the overall tone of the series, and perhaps of Star Wars itself for that matter. His shots of Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, particularly on the first three pages when they’re in the X-Wing cockpits, are beautiful. As we see later in the book, he also draws a mean Boba Fett. And when he’s tasked with drawing all the trademark Star Wars hardware, he does a beautiful job. In issue #3 he’s tasked with drawing a two-page spread of the under-construction Death Star II, as it’s being guarded by four Star Destroyers (including Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer). The result is beautiful, and so detail-rich one can only imagine the hours of labor that went into it. So I’m by no means saying D’Anda does a bad job. The majority of his work here is awesome.

Star Wars #1, Darth Vader, Carlos D'AndaHowever, I’ve never been able to enjoy the way D’Anda draws Darth Vader. Some of this may be subjective, but I think D’Anda’s Vader channels a bit too much of the David Prowse bodybuilder vibe. This is especially apparent in issue #1, when we see Vader walking toward an Imperial officer (shown below). What is that pose, exactly? He looks like he’s stomping down an evil runway. I’m also not a fan of the way D’Anda draws the classic Darth Vader death mask. He seems to distort it to make it look angrier. But for yours truly, that mask is so distinctly ingrained in my memory, that any kind of stylized take on it just seems categorically wrong.

D’Anda has a similar problem with C-3PO. He has trouble nailing down the robot’s face, and in his first few appearances his positioning and posture seem a bit off. Thankfully, this issue corrects itself a bit as the issues go on. In any event, Threepio’s appearance doesn’t effect the book nearly as much as Vader’s, as the latter gets much more page time.

I give Brian Wood a lot of credit for making Luke a teenager in this story. It’s much more in line with the character we saw in A New Hope, and makes sense for the story being told here. One of the very first ideas Wood explores is Luke’s uncertainty about his feelings, his future, and what the next step is. Twice in the first issue alone, we see Luke’s father’s lightsaber used as a symbol of his uncertainty, and his unavoidable destiny. And yet, we also get to see him have a little bit of fun. He has an off-panel hookup with one of his fellow pilots, to Leia’s apparent dismay. This of course, raises various unspoken questions about Luke and Leia’s feelings for one another, which of course, most Star Wars fans know the truth about anyway. But it’s still interesting to see the characters try and figure out.

Darth Vader, lightsaber kill, Carlos D'AndaI also credit Wood for not making use of the easiest Star Wars parlor trick in the book. It’s something I’ll call FLA: Frequent Lightsaber Activation. The prequels, of course, were big on FLA. The trouble is, FLA ruins the novelty of the lightsaber, and waters down the coolest weapon in all of science fiction and fantasy. While we do see the weapon referenced in scenes with Luke, we only see a lightsaber actually used once, very briefly, in a scene where Darth Vader kills an Imperial officer. Seeing the weapon used so sparingly is reminiscent of the classic trilogy, A New Hope in particular. It also speaks to Wood’s talent as a writer.

For yours truly, this Star Wars series represents a return to, dare I say, a more innocent time in the franchise’s history. A time before fans debated about whether Han shot first, environments created entirely via CGI, or Hayden Christensen’s acting skills. It’s a return to the Star Wars that I, and countless other fans fell in love with. In that sense, for some of us it’s not only a trip back to a more innocent time in the franchise, but a more innocent time in our lives.

RATING: 8/10

Image 2 from comicsalliance.com. Image 3 from terrazero.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Justice League: The Villain’s Journey Review – Love and Heroics

Justice League: The Villain's JourneyTITLE: Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey AUTHOR: Geoff Johns 
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Gene Ha, Carlos D’Anda COLLECTS: Justice League #7-12 FORMAT: Hardcover 
PUBLISHER: DC Comics 
PRICE: $24.99 
RELEASE DATE: January 30, 2013

By Rob Siebert Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well, the readings on the douche-o-meter have gone down a bit since Justice League: Origin, they’re still a little high for my taste.

Set five years after the team’s formation, The Villain’s Journey pits the Justice League against the newly super powered David Graves, formerly an author who rose to stardom after writing a book about the League. Graves blames our heroes for the death of his wife and children, and now intends to exploit their personal weaknesses. He starts by kidnapping Steve Trevor, the League’s government liason, and an old flame of Wonder Woman’s Now the team must face their personal demons to rescue their friend and defeat the enemy. And interestingly enough, amongst all the anguish and the chaos, a new romance will bloom.

Justice League, Jim Lee, Green Lantern, Wonder WomanOne of the major problems I had with Justice League: Origin was the way some of the heroes acted like immature, douchebag teenagers trying to one up each other. They said things like: “Chains? You’re funny Green Lantern” and “So, who’s in charge here? I vote me.” Not to mention the big fight Superman got into with Batman, GL and the Flash. Obviously, Johns and Lee were playing up the many differences between these characters, and the idea that most of them were meeting each other for the first time. But the constant bickering got to be irritating. Thankfully, the readings on the douche-o-meeter decrease in this book, but they’re still a little high for my taste.

Our primary offender is Green Lantern, who is still an arrogant, quippy comic relief character whose demeanor grates on the other heroes. He winds up in a fist fight with Wonder Woman, which is accentuated with an eye-roll inducing sex joke from Wondy. And yet, just like in Origin, Johns redeems him at the end. Obviously, a character with this kind of personality tends to help a story come alive a little bit more. But at times it feels like we’re dressing a stock character up in a Green Lantern costume and throwing him into the mix.

Justice League: The Villain's Journey, Jim LeeThe Green Lantern issue happens to feed into a larger one: This book does NOT feel like it takes place five years after Origin. Five months seems more likely. While some of the characters seem calmer and more experienced (most notably Superman), the constant dissension in the ranks, mixed with the way most of these heroes don’t seem to know any more about each other than they did five years ago, shatters the illusion that they’ve been working together as a team for an extended time frame. Whether they don’t quite understand how Cyborg’s powers work, or they’re drilling Superman about what he does in his civilian life, I don’t have any kind of feeling that these characters have spent time with each other longer than a few months. Even in the outrageous world of comic book superheroes, it’s pretty bold to ask us to believe that a group of people on such shaky grounds could co-exist for so long.

I have no problem with DC wanting to rebuild the Justice League’s continuity for the New 52 initiative. It gives readers a fun chance to watch the team grow from the ground up. But human relationships usually don’t stay so stagnant for five years at a time. If you want us to believe it, we need more evolution in the rapport between the team members than what we got here. Trying to fill that big gap with throwaway lines about Aquaman and Green Arrow, or even that big two-page flashback about Martian Manhunter, isn’t enough.

Justice League #12, Superman, Wonder Woman, kissAll this talk of human relationships brings us to the highly publicized Superman/Wonder Woman romance that blossoms toward the end of the book. For the most part, I was fairly pleased with it. When you read all the issues back to back, as opposed to on a monthly basis, it’s fairly obvious that there’s some sort of unspoken bond between the two characters, which culminates in a big romantic moment. Perhaps that chemistry is one of the few things we can say did build up in the five years we haven’t seen. The book uses Wonder Woman’s relationship with Steve Trevor to convey that neither she nor Superman feel they can have a romantic partner without endangering them somehow. It’s the old “if the bad guys ever found out I was a hero…” routine. But with this story there’s an added dimension to it, as these are literally the two strongest heroes in the world. They could literally take on some of the most powerful beings in the known universe (i.e. Darkseid). Would you want to put someone you love in the path of such cosmic danger? With this romance, both parties have chosen one of the few people in the world that they know for certain can defend him/herself against whatever threat opposes them. It’s a “safe” relationship, in that sense. And when you factor in that both characters are outsiders, in the sense that neither comes from the society they protect, it makes sense that they’d be drawn to each other. Given what we know about Superman and Wonder Woman, the romantic connection isn’t difficult to believe in.

Despite some of the flaws in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s run on this title, one thing that can’t be denied is that it has restored a certain must-see quality to the book, which I’ll call the “big fight atmosphere.” That was one of the reasons the previous volume of Justice League fell off so badly. We had no Superman, no Wonder Woman, no Flash, no Hal Jordan. At the end, the closest thing we had was Dick Grayson standing in as Batman. Without at least a few of those iconic staples of the Justice League, all you’ve really got is just another team book. The New 52 was, and still is, ripe with questionable editorial decisions. But putting all of DC’s big guns back where they belong was never one of them.

Justice League: The Villain's Journey, Jim Lee, Martian ManhunterThe book is also jam packed with foreshadowing for Johns and David Finch’s upcoming Justice League of America title. After you read the book, look at that team’s roster. Things’ll make sense pretty quickly.

At the end of the day, things still aren’t where I want them to be in the land of the League. I’d put this book at about the same level as the first, if not marginally better As a long time fan, it’s sometimes irritating to see these characters you grew up with (arguably) robbed of some of their depth by a company-wide reboot. But the spirit of the tried and true Justice League is still present in this new incarnation of the team. You just have to look harder to see.

RATING: 6/10

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from galleryhip.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicvine.com.

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