A Superman: Earth One Retro Review – “Ultimate” Superman

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Superman: Earth One

AUTHOR: J. Michael Straczynski
ARTISTS: Shane Davis, Sandra Hope (Inker), Barbara Ciardo (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: October 27, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

DC wants their Ultimate line, damn it! And they’re going to rehash these origin stories over and over and over again until SOMEONE gets it right!!!

So I’m guessing because the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely and Frank Miller/Jim Lee teams couldn’t hack it with a monthly schedule on the All-Star books, DC decided to introduce these Earth One graphic novels, which allow creators to tell stories without being bound down by continuity, tradition, etc. This book is the first in the series, with a Batman: Earth One on the way. Ironically, J. Michael Straczynski was actually taken off the monthly Superman title so he could start working on a sequel to this book.

As expected, Superman: Earth One puts Straczynski’s spin on the classic Superman origin story. It follows an early ’20s Clark Kent into Metropolis as he tries to find himself. We get frequent flashbacks to conversations he had with his adopted father, who in this story is deceased. Eventually, an alien being tracks the last surviving Kryptonian to Earth, and threatens to destroy the planet unless he shows himself. Thus, Clark becomes Superman, etc. etc.

If I sound cynical about this book, it’s because I am. I came into it that way. There’s no story in the comic book industry that’s been rehashed more than Superman’s origin. Geoff Johns was in the middle of rehashing it with Superman: Secret Origin when they announced this book. I understand different writers bring different perspectives and textures to the story. But when you get right down to it, it’s still the same story Just because you can put your own spin on something doesn’t mean you should. Heck, in All-Star Superman Morrison and Quitely were able to get the origin out of the way in four or five panels! And it was beautiful!

The Clark Kent of Earth One is very moody and broody. He walks around in a hoody and jeans, initially trying to find other ways to help humanity besides being a superhero. Some reviewers have made Twilight comparisons. While I’d prefer not to slander Superman with such a label, it’s not hard to picture Robert Pattinson under that hood. *shudders*

Still, credit where credit is due. Straczynski doesn’t use Lex Luthor, Braniac, or any of the stock villains in this story. He instead opts to create his own villain, whose native race was responsible for destroying Krypton. In every other Superman origin, the planet was simply destroyed via a natural disaster of some kind. Having it destroyed out of malice is an intriguing concept. Shane Davis’ art is also very good. My favorite image in the entire book comes toward the end, where Clark puts on the classic glasses for the first time. It’s a hipster look. But it’s new.

I don’t oppose the idea of a younger, less experienced Superman at all. But I think I’d be more inclined to like this book if so much of it hadn’t been done already. Clark’s recollections about his father are a perfect example. The whole “Son, you were put here for a reason” and “Clark, you’re going to find your place in this world,” and “You’re going to fulfill your true destiny” stuff has been done so much that I almost found myself rolling my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good storytelling. But there’s not much room for Straczynski to put his own spin on that. Or if there was, he didn’t.

For instance, Straczynski depicts The Daily Planet as a paper on the verge of going under, but Geoff Johns did that in Secret Origin. He portrays the public as mixed in terms of how they feel about Superman. But Mark Waid did that in Superman: Birthright, and the mainstream Superman comics have been playing up the “What if he turns on us?” angle for years now.

Bottom line ? I don’t get it. People have been so quick to drop heaps of praise upon this book. But aside from Clark’s age and the new villain, it just seems like a mishmash of things that have already been done. And believe me, they’ve been done better than this. By most standards, Superman: Earth One is a good book. But that’s not because of Straczynski’s creativity. It’s because Superman’s origin story was already good, whether he’s in a hoodie or not.

Now that Superman: Earth One has told its first chapter, hopefully Straczynski and Davis can work on being more innovative with their storytelling, and giving us things we haven’t seen before. In their defense, they obviously didn’t want to do a complete 180, and change the core essence of Superman. But this book breaks very little ground, if any.

RATING: 6.5/10

***IN HINDSIGHT: All of this still pretty much rings true. Amazingly, after all these years I still haven’t forgiven Straczynski for bailing on the “Grounded” storyline. It had so much potential and he just abandoned it.***

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Weekly Comic 100s: Kylo Ren, Gwen Stacy, Superman, 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: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren #3 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Will Sliney, Guru-eFX (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Clayton Crain.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

Once again, the most interesting part of this Kylo Ren origin story proves not to be Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side. Rather, it’s Luke attempt to revive the Jedi Order.

What we see doesn’t even have that much meat to it. It’s just Luke working with his students as children, and then a bunch of short scenes to give us a glimpse of what their lives were like as they grew up. But as we’ve been waiting to see this part of the story for so long, any morsel of information feels mountainous.

TITLE: Gwen Stacy #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Christos Gage
ARTISTS: Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Adam Hughes.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

The part of “spunky teen girl detective” will now be played by Gwen Stacy.

In a post-script message to fans, editor Nick Lowe tells readers the idea for this mini-series is to add to some of the classic Spidey stories with Gwen, and fill in some details along the way. But it works quite nicely on its own merits. Todd Nauck’s art has a modern feel, but with a retro twinge. It feels like a natural successor to those Spider-Man stories from the ’60s and ’70s.

Though frankly, that Adam Hughes cover alone is worth the price.

TITLE: Superman: Heroes #1
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Kevin Maguire, Mike Perkins, Steve Lieber, Mike Norton, Scott Godlewski. Cover by Bryan Hitch.
COLORISTS:
Paul Mounts, Gabe Eltaeb, Andy Troy, Nathan Fairbairn. Alex Sinclair (Cover).
LETTERERS:
Troy Peteri, Clayton Cowles, Simon Bowland
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

This issue is supposed to be about all the superheroes and supporting characters reacting to the big Superman/Clark Kent revelation. But there’s an absolutely beautiful scene between Superman and someone we’ve never seen before: Clark Kent’s high school chemistry teacher.

Clark thanks him for helping to show him the value of hard work, and assures him that despite his powers, he never cheated. Despite being tempted to, of course. It casts this strict, Mr. Feeny type character as a hero in his own right. That’s exactly how (most) teachers should be seen.

TITLE: Superman #20
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Jeremiah Skipper (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

I think I’ve made it pretty clear by now that my favorite thing about Bendis’ influence on the Superman books has been the emphasis on journalism. In this issue we spend a good amount of time in the newsroom of The Daily Star (The Daily Planet‘s competitor) as they process the whole Superman/Clark Kent reveal. We happen to get a very intriguing return as well.

This United Planets story is finally starting to get interesting. As a representative of Earth, Superman is about to take on something of a political role. Things are about to get complicated. Very complicated…

TITLE: Alienated #1 (of 6)
AUTHOR: Simon Spurrier
ARTISTS: Chris Wildgoose, Andre May (Colorist), Jim Campbell (Letterer). Variant cover by Bengal.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Slow. Down.

I like this idea a lot. Three outcast high schoolers whose minds become telepathically connected by an alien thing in the woods. Great! Lot of fun to be had there.

But Alienated #1 is so fast-paced that it’s hard to really sink your teeth into anything. I get the sense these characters have been developed and thought out. But perhaps Spurrier figured he only had six issues to work with, and wanted to cram a lot of stuff in early. Why else would he come out of the gate so fast?

TITLE: Marvels X #1
AUTHORS: Alex Ross, Jim Krueger
ARTISTS:
Well-Bee. Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

I think David, our young protagonist, is the only character I’ve ever seen pray to a superhero. Outside of Homer Simpson, that is. (“Please save me, Superman!”) But that was obviously for comedic effect. David seems serious as a heart attack as he prays to Captain America in this issue. Weird, huh?

This series takes place in an interesting time frame. As David makes his way through New York City, it’s clear the age of heroes is over. But we obviously haven’t made it to the dystopian future of Earth X yet. We’re in that in-between period. That’s…intriguing.

TITLE: Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P.
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Chris Burnham, Marco Takara, Diogenes Neves, David Lafuente, Sumit Kumar. Cover by Lee Weeks.
COLORISTS: Adriano Lucas, Rex Lokus, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERERS:
Travis Lanham, Tom Napolitano
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Not much to see here. Yes, it’s cool to see the whole Batman “family” come together out of costume. But by and large, this one’s pretty missable. Unless you want to see Barbara Gordon act like a complete asshole. Then you’ll love it.

The issue even contorts the timeline in a weird way. At one point it’s said that the tenth anniversary of the Wayne murders came not long after Damian died in the pages of Batman Incorporated. Wait…what? Yes, I know Damian was created using comic book science. But that timeline still doesn’t add up.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: Wonder Woman #750, Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 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

With the release of Wonder Woman #750, our resident Amazon Princess had a pretty big week. It was a 96-page issue consisting of multiple short stories, filled with A-list talent. Something like that doesn’t exactly lend itself to a 100-word format. So, as we lead off with it here, I’m going to focus on the story that I liked the best, and will hopefully have a sizeable impact on the DCU going forward. It’s titled “A Brave New World.”

TITLE: Wonder Woman #750
AUTHOR (For Our Purposes): Scott Snyder
ARTISTS (For Our Purposes):
Bryan Hitch, Mike Spicer (Colorist), Tom Napolitano (Letterer). Cover by Joelle Jones.
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

It’s always surreal to see a real-life US President in a superhero comic book. Having FDR in this book was no exception. What’s more it worked, setting the period well, and helping create the monumental moment they wanted.

This story establishes Diana as the world’s first superhero, an an inspiration for generations. I’m all for establishing more of a firm timeline for the DCU. With the New 52, everything was so vague and uncertain. This is a step up, and gives Wondie a nice notch on her belt. What’s more, it opens up plenty of new story opportunities…

TITLE: Guardians of the Galaxy #1
AUTHOR: Al Ewing
ARTISTS:
Juann Cabal, Federico Blee (Colorist) Cory Petit (Letterer)
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

For someone diving into a Guardians book for the first time in awhile, this was a challenge to follow. Lots of talk about the “Kree Civil War,” the “Cancerverse,” etc.

Still, the familial bond between the Guardians, Quill and Rocket specifically, is enough to get you through. Rocket’s more fashionable look is actually pretty cool. He’s almost got a secret agent vibe to him.

Question: What’s up with Gamora’s eyes? Is that just how they’re coloring her now?

TITLE: Batman #87
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Guillem March, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel.
RELEASED: January 22, 2020

I’ll be honest: I’m not a Guillem March fan. I soured on him when he did the New 52 Catwoman series. So his art took me out of the issue. His Penguin is a little too monsterish for me, and his Riddler was a little too…veiny?

Still, I’m digging this story with all the assassins in Gotham. There’s a definite aura of danger in the air. Cheshire was put over nicely in this issue, despite how things end up for her.

The Bat-books as a whole are also doing a nice job emphasizing Alfred’s absence.

TITLE: American Jesus #2 (of 3)
AUTHOR: Mark Millar
ARTISTS:
Peter Gross, Jeanne McGee (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Jodie Muir and Matteo Scalera.
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

Ugh. I’ve got to start paying better attention to issue numbering. Three issues? That’s all we’re getting? That sucks. It really sucks. There’s potential for a whole series here. But we’re only going to scratch the surface.

I’ve you’ve seen The Path on Hulu, this issue reminded of that. We get a time jump, and our teenaged would-be Messiah is at the center of a cult housed in a secure compound. But of course, she’s a teenager. So she can’t just stay in the compound.

All I can say is they’d better really stick the landing on this one.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #47
AUTHOR:
Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS:
Daniele Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell.
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

Awesome cover, with our nine Rangers together. Now that the big secret is out, there’s potential for some really cool moments between the current team and the Omega Rangers. Case in point, we get a pretty cool interaction between Trini and Aisha in this issue.

I’ve become a huge fan of Daniele Di Nicuolo. But in this issue we get the first panel from him that I don’t like. It’s a shot of Tommy sneering at Jason. It’s both ill-executed and I’ll conceived. Tommy doesn’t really sneer, does he? He’s more of a glare guy.

TITLE: Superman #18
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado (Co-Inker), Danny Miki (Co-Inker), Julio Ferriera (Co-Inker), Oclair Albert (Co-Inker), Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Andworld Design (Letterer)
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

This issue is essentially split in half. The first is dedicated to Superman revealing his identity to the world last issue. The second involves his role in the United Planets. The latter features a pretty awesome fight with Mongul.

I might have to call BS on the public’s reaction to Superman’s “unmasking.” In part, at least. Maybe Bendis simply hasn’t gotten to this point in the story yet, but it feels like there should be more hysteria. Clark’s family and friends being harassed for information, etc. People aren’t so calm about secrets like this. Trust me. I’ve met a few.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: Star Wars #1, I Can Sell You A Body #1

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Nothing too in-depth here. Just straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You know what sucks? When your favorite comic shop closes down.

Here’s to Rockhead’s Comics and Games in Kenosha, WI, for feeding my weekly comic fix for the last two years or so. You guys were awesome. I’m truly sad to see you go…

TITLE: Star Wars #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Jesus Saiz, Arif Prianto (Co-Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by R.B. Silva and GURU-eFX.
RELEASED:
January 1, 2020

This debut of Marvel’s post-Empire Strikes Back title is pretty much what you’d expect, with the characters reeling from what happened on Bespin.

But interestingly, this issue actually takes places during the events of Empire. A certain amount of time passes between the Star Destroyer escape and the closing scene. But how much time? When we open this book the Rebels don’t trust Lando, and Luke isn’t even sure he wants to be a Jedi any longer.

I’m hoping Luke doesn’t get a lightsaber in this series. The green one doesn’t come along until the next film, after all.

TITLE: I Can Sell You A Body #1 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Ryan Ferrier
ARTISTS: George Kambadais, Ferrier (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

What we have here is a mini about “reverse exorcisms,” i.e. spirits of the dead being found new bodies by our main character, Denny Little.  But things go awry when he gets mixed up with the mob. Y’know, the way you always do when you gain the power to communicate with the dead…

Ferrier and Kambadais don’t waste an inch of space here, putting out a really dense issue. But the story has promise, and the art has a nice charm to it. I can see myself following Denny for four issues.

TITLE: Action Comics #1018
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

I was actually dreading this issue. Simply because of John Romita Jr’s art.

Romita can be hit-or-miss as it is. But Action Comics #1018 has a rushed quality, as if the deadline was breathing down his neck. As such, the end product often looks awkward. Or worse, bush league.

Case in point, the way Superman is posed on the cover. What is that stance, exactly?

As this issue is partially about the Justice League fighting the Legion of Doom in the middle of Metropolis, this was a particularly bad time for a performance like this. Bad form, JRJR.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1018
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, David Baron (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Cover by Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and John Kalisz.
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

This dialogue in this issue is really awkward at times, which is not a problem Tomasi usually (if ever) has. For some reason, Batman is uncharacteristically chatty.

Case in point, he leaves a crime scene and says to the cops, “Got what I needed. Scene is immaculate. Left behind only my boot prints. Merry Christmas.”

Um…thanks?

On the plus side, Tomasi tugs at our heartstrings in his own special way by showing us Bruce spending his first holiday season without Alfred. Very reminiscent of the stuff he did on Batman and Robin all those years ago.

TITLE: Lois Lane #7 (of 12)
AUTHOR: Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Mike Perkins, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Simon Bowland (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2019

While I continue to love simply having that Greg Rucka, street-level aesthetic back at DC, I’m losing interest in the mystery of who’s trying to kill Lois Lane and why. Frankly, the subplot about the public believing she’s having an affair with Superman is far more interesting. I’m curious to see how Clark revealing his identity to the world will effect this story, if in fact they cross over.

The back and forth between Lois and Renee Montoya is fun. It’s obvious Rucka is happy to be working on his version of the Question once again.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: TMNT #100, Dark Knight ReturnsSuperman

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Nothing too in-depth here. Just straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Word recently broke about Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird working together again after all these years for a Ninja Turtles story called “The Last Ronin.” How fitting then, that not only does IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #100 comes out this week, but we’ve also got a new Frank Miller book. It’s no secret that Eastman and Laird drew inspiration from Miller’s work in the early to mid ’80s.

Imagine what would have happened if it had the modern Frank Miller back then. Back then you had his work on characters like Daredevil and Wolverine. Now? We’ve got the Dark Knight sequels and Holy Terror. *shudders*

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #100
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz (Script)
ARTISTS: Dave Watcher, Michael Dialynas. Variant cover by Eastman.
SUPPLEMENTAL ARTISTS: Mateus Santolouco, Adam Gorham, Dan Duncan, Cory Smith
COLORISTS: Ronda Pattison, Bill Crabtree
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

TMNT #100 is more or less exactly what you want it to be. All recent plot threads converge, and as expected, we see the return of a major villain. Can’t say I expected that death, though. And make sure you don’t miss that epilogue…

The only real complaint I have is that I felt half a step behind because I couldn’t keep up on the Shredder in Hell mini. I suppose that’s the problem when you’ve created a world so rich and dense. You can’t always pack everything into one series. But that’s not necessarily a terrible problem to have.

TITLE: Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child
AUTHOR: Frank Miller
ARTIST: Rafael Grampa. Cover by Grampa and Pedro Cobiaco.
COLORIST: Jordie Bellaire
LETTERERS: John Workman, Deron Bennett
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

My impression when I closed this book was that Miller must either have a ghostwriter working with him, or the editors are heavily involved here. Because this is a surprisingly competent issue to have his name on it in 2019. But if it was mostly Miller? Good on him.

No Bruce Wayne here. Which is kind of odd, but fine with me. Carrie Kelley, Lara, and this Dark Knight universe Jon Kent are more interesting anyway. They’re taking on Darkseid here, and Raphael Grampa’s art looks amazing.

A really good start. But keep your expectations tempered.

TITLE: Superman #18
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTIST:
Ivan Reis
INKER:
Joe Prado
COLORIST:
Alex Sinclair
LETTERER:
Dave Sharpe
RELEASED:
December 11, 2019

Ugh. Why?

Yes, it’s exactly what it looks like. The same thing they did in 2015, in a storyline that, fittingly, was also called Truth.

It’s not that I don’t think Bendis and this team can do a good job with it. But we were just here. And inevitably, when you do this kind of thing you have to come up with some convoluted way to get the genie back in the bottle. So why even bother?

I will say, though, there’s a single silent page depicting the big moment between Clark Kent and Perry White that’s absolutely beautiful.

TITLE: Something is Killing the Children #4
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTIST: Werther Dell-Edera
COLORIST: Miquel Muerto
LETTERED BY: Andworld Design
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

In this issue, we get a major revelation about the nature of the monsters devouring children in Archer’s Peak. Tynion takes what I’ll refer to as the “Do you believe in magic?” approach. It’s an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming, and for my money, helps separate this book from the pack. Hopefully he’s given the time to expand on it.

As cool as Erica Slaughter is, part of me actually wants to see her killed off so James can take her place and learn about all this monster stuff. Probably won’t happen. But could be cool.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1017
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTIST: Fernando Blanco. Cover by Tony Daniel.
COLORIST: John Kalisz
LETTERER: Travis Lanham
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

A nice little one-and-done. I like when they do these. In the context of Detective Comics, it reminds me of Paul Dini’s run all those years ago.

Our story deals with missing children at the Martha Wayne Orphanage in Gotham. Taylor shows us a more sensitive and empathetic side of Batman and Robin. Also, the art in this issue really stands out, as Kalisz uses a more saturated color palette, while our inks are darker. He even gives us a sort of saturated sepia tone for the opening flashback that sets the scene really well.

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #26
AUTHORS: Ryan Parrott, Sina Grace
ARTISTS: Francesco Mortarino
COLORIST: Raul Angulo
LETTERER: Ed Dukeshire
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

One of the big selling points of this book early on was it was set in the pre-Green Ranger days. Tommy, one way or another, inevitably pulls focus from the other characters. It’s a little sad that the emphasis has shifted that way.

But Parrott is still the best PR writer we’ve seen from this BOOM! Studios run with the license. Oddly enough, what I enjoyed most about this issue was a flashback to Tommy eating a meal with Rita at the palace. As a kid, I always wanted to see him in there interacting with the other villains.

TITLE: Dying is Easy #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Joe Hill
ARTIST: Martin Simmonds. Cover by J. Lou.
COLOR ASSISTANT: Dee Cunniffe
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

Cop turned stand-up comic. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

If grim-and-gritty is your thing, this book is right up your alley. If there’s a seedy underbelly to the world of stand-up, this book is smack in the middle of it. Simmonds and Cunniffe do a tremendous job using the colors to create an ominous, foreboding vibe. Ultimately, that pays off on the last page…

Fittingly, the book also manages to be funny in a black comedy sort of way. I’m not totally sold yet, but I may indeed be back for more.

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

A Batman: The Rules of Engagement Review – Woundmates

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Joelle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark
COLLECTS: Batman #3337, Batman Annual #2
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
April 25, 2018

***WARNING: One or two minor spoilers ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Didja catch that? See what they did there? “Rules of Engagement.” Only it’s like, engagement. You know, to be married and stuff. Yeah, you get it. See, it’s that kind of clever wordplay that’s kept the Batman mythos alive for 80 years…

So before DC went and made a lot of people mad with the Batman/Catwoman wedding storyline, this was the early portion of the build-up. Basically, this is the part where most of Bruce Wayne’s closest allies react to his decision to marry Selina Kyle. Damian, Dick, and his various surrogate sons. Superman. Even Talia al Ghul. Hijinks and violence ensue.

Oooo! I’ve got one! Ready? Together, Bruce and Selina are about to learn that the only “rules of engagement,” are that there are no rules.

Oh c’mon! If they can get away with Rules of Engagement

1. A Walk Through the Desert
The first part of the book sees Batman and Catwoman enter the Middle Eastern country of Khadym, which the U.N. and the Justice League have designated off-limits. It also happens to house Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins. But Talia has something Bruce and Selina need to move forward with their marriage. Thus, the two sides are on a collision course. As you might expect, there are swords involved. Like, a lot of swords.

Presumably because of Batman v Superman, this book sees Batman don a duster and goggles, despite also being in full costume. It was stupid in the movie. It’s no less stupid here. The look would eventually return for another desert story, and it was no less stupid there either. I’ll be incredibly happy when this damn trend fades away.

As she would later do on the Catwoman series, Joelle Jones turns in some marvelous work, alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire. While her style, complete with the dark jagged lines, doesn’t exactly mesh well with the quiet scenes in Wayne Manor, it’s a tremendous fit for all the desert stuff. Jones often shines when the dramatic and the grotesque come together. So when things get bloody, slicey, and stabby, she’s right at home.

Not surprisingly, things culminate in a fight between Talia and Selina. It manages to be a pretty good fight. Not because of the physicality, but because of a stretch of dialogue where Selina proves she knows Bruce in a way Talia never has. She has a kind of insight into his mind and heart of which Talia may be incapable. From a writing standpoint, it’s one of the highlights of Tom King’s entire Batman run.

King also revisits the “Can Batman be happy?” idea he touched on during I Am Gotham. He uses Damian, grief-stricken that his father is marrying “that woman,” and Dick Grayson. Again, very poignant and effective stuff that cuts to the heart of the Batman character. I’ll leave it at that for now, as we’ll need to revisit it down the road anyway.

2. Double Date
The book shifts from bloody to comedic for a double date story that tips its hat to the sillier Superman/Batman stuff from the Golden Age. In “Super Friends,” Bruce and Selina take in a night at a carnival with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. King, Clay Mann, co-inker Seth Mann, and Bellaire go all out with the premise. The characters wear each other’s superhero costumes. Lois and Selina get drunk from a flask. Superman and Batman swing at baseballs. By and large, it’s genuinely fun. Clay Mann’s rendering of Clark Kent in the Batsuit, glasses and all, is hilarious.

It does, however, raise one of the issues I often have with King’s writing: He can go a little off the deep end with the banter. It’s not so much an issue in “Super Friends,” as it’s a blatant comedy. But when you have, for instance, a high-stakes tale about Batman and Catwoman confronting Talia and the League of Assassins, going too heavy on the banter can cut into the drama.

Case in point, when we open issue #34, Batman and Catwoman are surrounded by assassins, hell bent on cutting them to pieces. This is a portion of the dialogue we get just before the fighting gets underway…

B: “Cat, I may be wearing a leather bat costume. But do I look dumb enough to make fun of you?
C: “I don’t know, Bat. Do I look dumb enough to not know what ‘a lot’ is?”
B: “No. You look lovely.”
C: “Sure, you say that now. Wait’ll I’ve got their blood all over me.”

One of King’s greatest strengths in writing Batman is how he conveys the connection between Batman and Catwoman. But even by couple-bickering standards, stuff like this is overindulgent. Sadly, this book is hardly the end of it.

3. Woundmates
I read an article not long ago that introduced me to the term “woundmate.”  Long story short, it’s someone with whom you share a similar kind of trauma, or unsolved emotional problems and as such they feel like a soulmate. But in the end, they aren’t.

Re-reading “Some of These Days” from Batman Annual #2 reminded me of that article. Because in the end, that’s what Bruce and Selina are. Woundmates. That’s beautifully, and literally, illustrated by Lee Weeks as he channels his inner David Mazzucchelli. The story is obviously meant to be an extension of Batman: Year One, but it doesn’t work at all without Weeks.

Michael Lark is tagged in for the last few pages, as we time-jump to a potential future where Bruce and Selina have grown old together. Again, poignant. And downright touching when you get right down to it. I love Gotham Central as much as anybody, so I’ll never complain about seeing Lark back on a Bat-book.

4. A Deeper Connection
King uses the annual to retcon Batman and Catwoman’s history so they have a deeper connection. Most notable is that they discover one another’s identities very early on. I can’t say I love that, but I don’t hate it either.

What I’m not necessarily a fan of is Catwoman’s motivation in the story. She breaks into Wayne Manor multiple times, and later reveals she’s been doing it to essentially sharpen Batman’s edges so he doesn’t get killed. (See above image.)

Frankly, I just don’t buy it. Maybe I’m too hung up on the classic Batman/Catwoman presentation where they’re simply flirtatious. I can accept Selina being able to penetrate the walls Bruce has put up and catch him off guard. I can accept the idea that she cares about him. But something just isn’t right about the notion that she takes time out of her life to sharpen Batman’s skills. Remember how early in her career this is supposed to be. Early on, Catwoman is a hardened thief out for herself. She may have a heart of gold underneath it all, but that only extends so far…

5. The Verdict
The Rules of Engagement isn’t a must-read, even if you’re simply following the wedding storyline. It has the same flaws as most of Tom King’s Batman run. There is, however, some amazing art to be seen. I can’t help but be partial to Lee Weeks, but it’s also a strong outing for Joelle Jones. And if, like me, you’re a fan of the way King writes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry, you’ll enjoy it.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, and The War of Jokes and Riddles.

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

A Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman Review – A Family Affair

TITLE: Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLERS: Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke
COLLECTS: Superman: Rebirth #1, Superman #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first ongoing Superman book in a long time that actually feels happy to be a Superman book.

This topic has been beaten to death, but let’s touch on it quickly: It’s time to stop trying to modernize, freshen up, or worst of all, “darken” Superman. It’s been done time and time again, and it never clicks. They’ve changed his costume. They’ve made him moody and broody. One time they even de-powered him and put him on a damn motorcycle. No more. It’s time to stop being ashamed of Superman. Let the character be who and what he’s always been at his core: A champion of values. Truth, justice, hope. and yes, the American way. Let the guy smile. Embrace the character’s legacy instead of hiding from it. Let him be the hero we need in these trying times.

Son of Superman does all of that, while still carving out a new direction for the Man of Steel. Simply put, it’s the best Superman book in years. Almost a decade, perhaps.

The DC Rebirth incarnation of Superman puts the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the character back in the cape and boots. He’d been brought back for Convergence, and eventually became an ongoing character again in the pages of a new book, Lois and Clark. With him was his timeline’s incarnation of Lois Lane, and their young son Jonathan. As Clark Kent finds a balance between protecting the Earth and raising his son, Jonathan must learn to manage his emerging superpowers. With those powers come responsibility, risk, and a legacy…

Instead of focusing on Superman facing a threat, we spend most of this book learning about Jonathan. We see his response to living with a secret identity, how he reacts to challenges, and how Clark and Lois are raising him. They’ve accepted that he’ll one day inherit the Superman legacy, and are gently preparing him for the role. In theory, Superman works on two levels. Youngsters can identify with Jonathan, while older parent-aged readers connect with Clark and Lois. It’s by no means a sexy approach. But artistically, it’s true to the soul of the Superman character. His adopted parents instilled him with a set of principles. Now he has to pass those principles on to his son. But the dynamic is tweaked, because he’s able to relate to what Jonathan is going through. It’s a premise that lends itself to heart-felt storytelling, not unlike what we saw from Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s work in Batman & Robin.

We kick things off with Superman: Rebirth #1, which establishes our “new” hero, with some nice fan service thrown in. The New 52 Superman was killed off, and as the post-Crisis Superman is the one who famously died and returned, he sets about bringing his counterpart back in a similar fashion. Te issue is highlighted by artists Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Will Quintana giving us their take on the iconic Superman/Doomsday battle. It was out of continuity for so long, and it’s brought back in what I’ll call a “wide screen” sequence that plays out over about seven pages. Mendoza’s inks compliment Mahnke’s richly detailed pencils, and Quintana’s color make it every bit the glorious and epic scene it needs to be. The same applies to when they return for issue #5. We’ve got Superman talking to ghosts, we’ve got the Eradicator trying to eradicate things, we’ve got a big Batman robot straight out of a Snyder/Capullo comic…

Actually, I don’t mind the “Hellbat” returning from the Tomasi/Gleason Batman & Robin book. Maybe it’s because Lois Lane is the one using it, as opposed to Batman. It makes for a fun holdover.

But artistically, this book belongs to Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray, and colorist John Kalisz. Obviously, as a co-writer Gleason has the advantage of molding the story to fit his strengths. But just from a basic figure rendering perspective, it’s so amazing to see Superman look like Superman again. Even the classic spit curl, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, is a breath of fresh air. These pages are bright, flamboyant, and unabashedly sentimental. Gleason’s slightly exaggerated, animated style is a perfect fit for a story about a pre-teen learning to be a superhero. There’s a lot of fun on these pages.

Gleason also has an amazing knack for classic Superman iconography. The page at left comes to mind, with our hero in the classic pose as an American flag waves in the background. For obvious reasons, he lays it on a little stronger in issue #1. We’ve got a two-page spread that simply shows him opening his shirt to reveal the “S” insignia. That’s followed up immediately with another two-page spread giving us snapshots from Superman’s history. This is who Superman is, and who he’s always been. To see it all reemphasized is borderline beautiful.

The biggest obstacle this book faces is establishing that this is a “new” Superman from another timeline. They obviously devote a good amount of time to it. But it’s still a lot to wrap your head around, and has the potential to be really confusing for someone jumping on. This book is about a family trying to figure out how they fit into a new world. But that runs counterintuitive to how the average reader sees Superman, as he’s so ingrained in the fabric of the DC Universe. By the time we close the book, most of that awkwardness has subsided. But to say the least, this hasn’t been the smoothest Superman relaunch we’ve ever seen.

But it’s worth it in about every possible way. It’s been far too long since a Superman book has been this good. While this is obviously a new direction for the Man of Steel, in many ways it feels like he’s finally gotten back to his roots. That’s the Superman we need right now. That’s the Superman we’ve always needed.

Welcome back, Big Blue. We’ve missed you.

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

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