Tag Archives: Gary Frank

Epic Covers: Doomsday Clock #5

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

ARTISTS: Gary Frank, Brad Anderson

THE ISSUE: As Watchmen characters continue to make an impact in the DC Universe, the Joker enters the picture.

WHY IT’S EPIC: So I have this thing that I call the “Alex Ross Theory of the Joker.” I pulled it from a passage in Mythology: The Art of Alex Ross. It’s his take on the Joker’s appearance, and what that famous chemical bath actually did to him physically. It goes like this…

“In my mind it wouldn’t have given him green hair and red lips – the chemical bath would only have turned his skin white. He adds the rest himself to complete the picture. There’s a panel at the end of Batman #1 in which the Joker is stabbed and we see that his chest is white. I never forgot that – The realization that his whole body was white. Eerie.”

You don’t see this idea represented much in the canonical DC Universe. That’s because DC relies so heavily on The Killing Joke, in which the Joker emerges from the chemicals with the green hair and red lips. But the Ross idea makes sense, all things considered. It lines up nicely with the theatricality that’s built in to the Joker character.

That’s why it’s so cool to see Gary Frank and Brad Anderson go that route with this variant for Doomsday Clock #5. Frank doesn’t get to draw Joker very often. But when he does, it’s a treat. Look at the wild insanity we see in those eyes. We see him inside the issue as well. But this right here is the coup de grace.

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

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Micro-Reviews: Doomsday Clock, The Man of Steel, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’m Rob, and these are the comics I spent my hard-earned money on last week…

Doomsday Clock #5
This sucker is dense. It’s all drawn that Dave Gibbons nine-panel grid, and Geoff Johns wasn’t afraid to really pack in the dialogue. But in spite of that, it doesn’t feel like much happens here. There’s some cool progression in the Johnny Thunder story, some really nice world-building. But other than that, this issue felt “meh” compared to its predecessors.

On the plus side, expect to see this issue in a future installment of Epic Covers.

The Man of Steel #1
Brian Michael Bendis’ first full issue with Superman didn’t blow me away. But it’s got my attention. I’m more interested in how Bendis’ characterization of Superman than the actual story he’s telling. So far, so good.

Saga #52
There’s a bit of narration in this issue that really hit home for me. In Saga, Hazel is a young child. But  she’s telling the story in past tense as an adult. As young Hazel is being promised something by her mother, the narration reads: “It’s difficult for children to accept that their parents aren’t gods, just regular people. And regular people will always disappoint you.”

Though it comes from a world of fantasy, that statement has more truth than anything I’ve read in quite awhile. Bravo, Brian K. Vaughan.

Batman: Prelude to the Wedding #1 – Robin vs. Ra’s al Ghul
I don’t have a hell of a lot of interest in these Prelude to the Wedding issues. But the premise of issue #2, Nightwing vs. Hush, sold me on the entire thing. Batman: Hush was the story that got me into picking up comics on a weekly basis. So I’ve got a soft spot for Tommy Elliot.

As for the issue itself, the interactions between Damian and Selina Kyle are strong. I’m very curious to see how that relationship develops over time.

Pestilence: A Story of Satan #1
I mean, c’mon. With a subtitle like A Story of Satan, how can you not take a look? I’m not normally drawn to stories set in medieval times. But the premise, and the fact that it’s published by AfterShock was enough to sell me on the first issue. As it turns out, they also sold me on the second one.

Justice League: No Justice #4
I wasn’t big on how this story ended. This whole issue felt a bit rushed. But it got us where we needed to go. The League is back in action, with Martian Manhunter back on the roster. I’m stoked for Justice League #1.

Babyteeth #5
I’m still working on catching up with Babyteeth. This issue didn’t move the world for me. But I’ll be back for issue #6.

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

A Doomsday Clock #1 Review – I Have a Bad Feeling About This…

TITLE: Doomsday Clock #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEAED: November 22, 2017

***WARNING: Full on spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doomsday Clock #1 is a pretty good first chapter. Assuming you have an off switch for your conscience.

By now I really thought I’d be calloused to the idea of DC doing a sequel to Watchmen without the approval or involvement of author Alan Moore or artist Dave Gibbons. Not that they need it. They own the rights to the story and characters, and have been milking them ever since. Naturally, Moore has been sore about it for decades. Years ago the company even published several character-centric Before Watchmen prequel stories. So Doomsday Clock is hardly unprecedented. Throw in all the bits and pieces of Watchmen lore DC has sprinkled around since the Rebirth story began, and you’d think I’d be ready for this…

But Doomsday Clock #1 feels dirty just like Before Watchmen felt dirty. Realities of the publishing industry notwithstanding, this reeks of DC taking toys out of someone else’s sandbox. If you can ignore that side of things, I imagine Doomsday Clock simply becomes the latest Geoff Johns epic. But for many of us in the know, there’s a discomfort level to all this that isn’t going away.

Set several years after the events of Watchmen, we see that Adrian Veidt’s hoax to bring about world peace was only a short term success. Global tensions are at an all time high, as is the threat of nuclear war. Amidst all of this, Rorschach, or rather someone assuming the Rorschach identity, breaks two former supervillains out of prison to aid he and Veldt in setting the world right again. To do that, Doctor Manhattan must be found. But as we’ve seen, the former Jonathan Osterman has been busy making waves in the DC Universe. Worlds are about to collide.

When you come back somewhere after a long time away, you’re naturally curious to see what changed in your absence. Despite what you might call it’s lack of authenticity, parts of Doomsday Clock are intriguing from a world-building perspective. How exactly do things change after a giant alien squid is supposedly dropped on New York City? Not that much, apparently. The world we’re met with is very similar to the one we left. Distress over the airwaves, violence in the streets. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even our narrator is the same, more or less…

Indeed, there’s a new Rorschach in town. We don’t know much about who he is, other than he works with Veldt, and has brown skin (shown above). I initially rolled my eyes at the idea of Rorschach being a “legacy character.” It’s a tried and true tool in the world of superhero comics. Have a dead hero? Just make a new one with the same M.O. But Rorschach had such a unique and distinct voice that it’s almost cringeworthy to use that trick with him.

But did they even have a choice? Rorschach is such a gigantic and integral part of Watchmen. We saw so much of that world through his eyes. You almost can’t revisit it without him. Plus, Watchmen had legacy characters. Like Doomsday Clock itself, I can see why you’d want to create another Rorschach, but something about it feels really wrong. And no, it’s got nothing to do with his race. Having him be black is fine. It doesn’t add or subtract anything, outside of making for a clever reveal.

Watchmen was never big on humor, per se. You can find things to chuckle about, but very little (if anything) is played for straight up laughs. That’s not the case with Doomsday Clock. There are a handful of funny lines and one full-on gag, most of which revolve around the ultra-serious Rorschach reacting to things. While the humor works, this isn’t a world we’re used to laughing at. Watchmen was big on darkness and despair. We see a rape, the murder of a pregnant woman, dogs being murdered with a meat cleaver, etc. So while it’s funny to see a character called the Mime pull imaginary weapons out of a prison locker (shown below), the tone shift takes some getting used to.

Technologically, the comic book industry has come a long way since Watchmen. The story had a pulpy aesthetic to it that was ultimately part of its charm. Doomsday Clock doesn’t try to replicate that. But I give artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson a lot of credit for making this look and feel like a story set in the same universe. The colors have a lot more depth and richness. But there’s nevertheless something familiar about those city streets we open up on, or the dark and dank feel of the prison. Letterer Rob Leigh even nailed Rorschach’s handwriting for the caption boxes. (Even though this isn’t the same Rorschach anymore. So does that even make sense?) Comparatively, Doomsday Clock is almost like switching your television from standard to high definition, with the one drawback being the loss of the pulp look.

Tacked on at the end of all this is none other than Superman. We flash back via dream sequence to Ma and Pa Kent driving a young Clark to senior prom. We’re reminded just how lonesome and isolated Clark’s secret can make him as he watches the other kids dance. We then see the tragic accident that killed his adoptive parents.

Oddly enough, this strikes me as a scene about Doctor Manhattan. Doomsday Clock is meant to be about a conflict between hope and cynicism. With the DC Universe representing hope, and Watchmen cynicism. Superman is, of course, an ever present symbol of hope and optimism. A man raised by loving parents who instilled him with a set of values and ideals. In contrast, Jonathan Osterman lost his mother at a young age, and was forced by his father to pursue a career in nuclear physics. Later, Doctor Manhattan’s powers left him increasingly isolated. He eventually regarded human life itself as insignificant. These are to men on polar opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet under different circumstances, Clark Kent could have become Doctor Manhattan. With a better upbringing, Jon Osterman could have been a symbol of hope…

With all this talk of hope and cynicism, Doomsday Clock has the potential to be very poignant, given the era we’re living in. But good or bad, it’s destined to have an asterisk next to it because of the circumstances with Watchmen and its creators. Much can be said about what rights creators should or shouldn’t have, as well as Moore’s less than sunny disposition. But what I keep coming back to is this: If I’d put my time, my energy, and my heart into making this world and these characters, and a big company was in a position to make a lot of money off them, I’d want to be listened to. I’d like to think certain things outweigh the importance of money. Like respect. Dignity. Integrity.

Perhaps that’s just blind hope.

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A Suicide Squad: The Black Vault Review – Squad vs. Zod

suicide-squad_-the-black-vaut-jim-lee-coverTITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: The Black Vault
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1Suicide Squad #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: February 28, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If The Black Vault isn’t the most important and most notable Suicide Squad book DC has ever published, then it’s absolutely in the top two. This is the biggest that Suicide Squad has ever felt, and may be the best its ever looked.

Thanks to the movie, the Suicide Squad “brand” has never had more eyes on it. The Black Vault features almost all of the characters from the movie, including a few pages of the Joker. So it’s bursting with crossover appeal for casual moviegoers. With this in mind, DC loaded the book up with A-list artists, most notably Jim Lee. Indeed, the master of the modern superhero epic is drawing characters like Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Talk about something you don’t see every day…

Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad, is a black ops group assembled by government agent Amanda Waller. Comprised primarily of imprisoned supervillains, the team is sent on covert missions. They serve as both soldiers, and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order or become compromised, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their skulls. Like the movie, in The Black Vault our team consists of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. They’re accompanied by Colonel Rick Flagg and Katana.

suicide-squad_-the-black-vault-harley-quinn-jim-leeTheir latest mission sees our heroes sent to a secret Russian prison to neutralize a secret doorway to the Phantom Zone. In the process, the team meets none other than General Zod.

People can say what they want about Jim Lee’s influence, for better or worse, on DC’s “house style” right now. But when he’s in his element, he’s one of the all-time greats. Lee is at home with the dynamic and the awe-inspiring. As such, it seems like Lee’s work on the book starts out rather slow. He starts on issue #1 and has to re-tread some of the ground covered in the Rebirth issue, specifically Waller’s motivations. He takes us from the team’s home base at Belle Reve Penitentiary to the Russian facility, giving us a few cool shots in the process. He and Rob Williams also have a really fun take on Belle Reve, where the prison cells are plucked and moved by a giant claw arm.

But once Zod enters the story at the end of issue #2, Lee gets to flex his muscles. He makes Zod surprisingly large, literally twice the size of the other characters (save for Croc). But the ultra powerful Kryptonian against these mostly street-level characters makes for a fun fight, particularly when the big guy goes against Katana. At the end of issue #3, we bring in a few other characters to oppose the Squad. But the good stuff is with the general himself. Issue #4 gives us a cool interaction between Zod and Croc, and a nice climactic moment involving Rick Flagg. It’s not Lee’s best work. But it’s still pretty damn awesome.

suicide-squad, Joker, Harley Quinn, Gary FrankThe notoriously deadline-challenged Lee was massaged into Suicide Squad‘s a bi-weekly format with a reduced workload. He only had to produce 12 pages per issue, with the rest going to an oversized back-up story spotlighting a particular team member. I suspect most fans will find Gary Frank’s look at Harley Quinn the most enjoyable. While on a mission with Flag, she struggles with some of her more villainous impulses. These are personified, of course, by the Joker. I’m not in love with Frank’s rendering of Mr. J. But his Harley is delightfully expressive in a way that’s exaggerated, but not quite cartoony. Naturally, this compliments both her character and Williams’ script.

But artistically, Philip Tan gets “Best in Show” as far as these back-ups are concerned. In addition to the Rebirth issue, he does the Katana story for issue #3. Tan shows off his versatility with an anime-inspired look at her origin. The script isn’t the strongest, but Tan and colorist Elmer Santos provide visuals that range from haunting to downright heart-breaking.

Rick Flag gets a lot of quality page time here. The Rebirth issue is essentially about him. Williams writes him as unwaveringly loyal, even to his own detriment. He’s the conscience of the team. A good guy tasked with leading all these bad guys. Flag is easy to root for and empathize with. Considering he’s the least flamboyant and colorful character in this book, that’s a good thing.

General Zod, Suicide Squad #2, Jim LeeOn the other end of the spectrum, Zod is an oversized caricature of himself, spouting lines like…

– “Prostrate yourself before your general, sub-creatures!”
– “I will boil and eat your magic!”
– “I have incinerated your human flesh and reveled in it’s pungent stench!”

I understand humor is a valuable component here. But c’mon, really? You’ve got Harley for that. You’ve got Boomerang for that. We don’t need Zod for that.

On the subject of weird comedy, this book has a recurring bit about Killer Croc throwing up. Oddly enough, it works. Can’t say I ever imagined Jim Lee drawing that.

The Black Vault represents the first time Suicide Squad has been elevated to a top-tier title with A-list talent. That alone makes it one of the most noteworthy stories in the team’s history. And while this isn’t the best scripting I’ve ever seen, Rob Williams knows how to put together a good Suicide Squad story. One can argue the book has never been in better hands.

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A DC Universe: Rebirth #1 Review – “How Could I Ever Forget You?”

DC Universe: Rebirth #1TITLE: DC Universe: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 25, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Part of the idea behind the 2011 “New 52” reboot at DC Comics was to modernize and simplify the characters and continuity for new readers. They largely succeeded. A lot of great comics were sold, and new readers were given a fresh jumping-on point for the DC Universe.

But lets be honest. If you were a longtime DC Comics fan, you lost a lot more than you gained. The timeline of the DCU was condensed down to five or six years. As such, the characters lost a lot of their depth. Certain characters, relationships, marriages and families were altered, if not erased altogether. As such, this new DC Universe suffered from a lack of heart and emotional connection.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is DC’s attempt to remedy this problem by restoring some of these lost characters, and injecting some much needed love into the proceedings.

A LOT of big things happen in this issue. So lets touch on most of them individually…

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, 2016, Wally West, Barry Allen hugWally West returns, reunites with Barry Allen, warns of a new enemy. Most of us can relate to being forgotten about on some level. It’s heartbreaking. That’s the feeling Geoff Johns taps into when he shows us the plight of Wally West. Lost to time, left as mere kinetic energy in the Speed Force, he’s so desperate to be remembered. Even his former wife replies to his presence with a heart-wrenching: “I don’t know you.” So it’s a genuine tear-jerker when Barry suddenly does remember him, then wraps him in a hug and says: “How could I ever forget you?” After almost five years without Wally, this was every bit the epic reunion it was designed to be.

The explanation we get for the other Wally West, who’s set to become Kid Flash in upcoming issues, is a little corny. Something about them being cousins and both named after their great-grandfather. I’ll grant them that there was no easy way to get out of that scenario. There was bound to be confusion. At least Johns connected them. Hopefully that’ll be a unique meeting eventually.

I’m not clear on what Barry and Wally remember at this point. In this issue, Wally remembers his wife Linda Park, the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, his time with the Teen Titans, and other odds and ends. At least some of that seems to have been transferred to Barry. But Wally also says it’s becoming harder to remember his old life. I imagine more will be revealed in the new Titans series.

Per events in Justice League, also written by Johns, we learn there have apparently been three Jokers. I balked when I first saw this. Having three Jokers seemingly takes away the character’s unique evolution and versatility. Now, instead of one multidimensional Joker, we’ll have three one-dimensional Jokers. That, at least, is my takeaway from the revelation.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Jokers, Ethan Van SciverI am happy, however, that they didn’t give us any names. We didn’t find out The Joker’s real name is Jack Napier or anything like that. My love for The Killing Joke notwithstanding, I like my Joker somewhat de-humanized, conveying the idea that absolutely anyone could be behind that twisted grin. “One bad day” and what not. They may still do that, but hopefully they don’t.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about dramatic reveals like this. (Captain America, anyone?) But ultimately, it’s all about the story they’re telling. The true merit of this twist lies with what they do with it.

Wally reaches out to an elderly Johnny Thunder, who has been searching for the Justice Society. Justice Society got a little out of hand before the reboot. The team was split between two titles. If they’re bringing back the JSA, my hope is the team will be smaller. My question is, if the Society comes back does that mean the timeline gets adjusted so Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and all those characters were indeed active during World War II?

Ted Kord, DC Universe Rebirth #1Partnerships are established between Ted Kord & Jaime Reyes and Ray Palmer & Ryan Choi. Dr. Fate reveals that Jamie’s Scarab is actually magic. I hadn’t realized how much I missed Ted until this issue. Gary Frank perfectly captures that boyish enthusiasm, which is part of what’s so great about Ted. This new partnership with Jaime should make for good comics.

Ray Palmer has a line about Jean Loring in his scene with Ryan Choi, which seems to indicate that Identity Crisis is out of continuity. I’m a big Brad Meltzer fan (mostly). But if we have to abandon Identity Crisis in favor of a more hopeful DC Comics, with some of our favorites back in the picture, I’m okay with that.

Aquaman proposes to Mera. Jackson Hyde returns to the DCU.  Well heavens to Betsy. Marriage is okay again! With the reboot, Superman, The Flash (both of them), and Aquaman all had their marriages retconned. Batwoman was also not allowed to marry her love interest. Arthur at least got to keep his relationship with Mera. This seems to be a very positive step away from the “heroes can’t be happy” approach DC seemingly had in place a few years ago.

Why Jackson Hyde wasn’t a part of the New 52 reboot is a mystery to me. They had spent all that time building him up in Brightest Day, and then he was just gone. Hopefully they can now capitalize on what for years has been a wasted opportunity.

And now, for the biggest reveal of them all…

Batman, WatchmenWatchmen characters are incorporated into the DCU. Dr. Manhattan implicated as the mysterious force manipulating time. Ah, here’s the kicker. I mean, c’mon. We couldn’t have a villain manipulating the time stream somehow. We had to drudge up Watchmen again, as the book and the characters continue to be profitable 30 years after its original publication.

I won’t lie, there’s a certain excitement at the prospect of a post-Watchmen Dr. Manhattan interacting with the DC Universe. Seeing Batman find the iconic Comedian button with the bloodstain, hidden in the Batcave, of all places, was a legit shocker. Even watching Pandora perish the way Rorschach did was kinda cool.

But here’s my big question: Will it be worth it in the end?

The last time DC pulled this crew out of retirement was for Before Watchmen, a line of prequel miniseries’ featuring all the classic characters. It gave us some good stuff, particularly Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen story. But even with all the A-list talent involved, when you look at Before Watchmen cumulatively, you aren’t left with a feeling of justification. The sense that this was worth doing without Alan Moore and arguably taking some of the luster off Watchmen.

I’m really hoping they thought about that before making this move. Is this going to be worth bringing Watchmen out of retirement Especially when we presumably won’t be seeing Dr. Manhattan, and whoever else pops up, in the context of their own world.

DC Universe Rebirth #1, montage, Gary FrankThis oversized issue is divided into four chapters, plus an epilogue. For these various sections, Geoff Johns is working with three of his longtime collaborators. The MVP by far is Gary Frank, who draws chapter 2, and also assists with chapters 1 and 3. His art drips with pure humanity. When Wally bursts in on Johnny Thunder, we can feel the old man’s desperation, heartbreak, and fear. In the scene with Ted and Jaime, Ted’s enthusiasm is contagious. On the other hand, Jaime’s apprehension is palpable, and comes off very natural. Frank also draws the big reveal with Batman and the pin (shown above), and even drew the cover. What an amazing issue for him.

It’s very fitting to have Ethan Van Sciver on the pencil for chapter 1. As the artist on Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, it creates a nice consistency. What’s more, having worked on those books, and contributed to projects like The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, his work inevitably conveys a sense of importance. He very much lives up to that, as its Van Sciver that gives us our first look at the returning Wally West.

In chapter 3, Ivan Reis gives us a gorgeous scene with Aquaman and Mera. But the scene with Wally and Linda, where he’s so sure she’ll remember him and he gets rejected…it’s amazing. Their faces, their body language, it’s just perfect. You can make an argument that this is the most important scene in the issue. The impact of Wally’s failure with Linda makes the scene where Barry saves him that much more impactful.

There’s a certain artistic symmetry to Phil Jimenez drawing the reunion between Barry and Wally. In Infinite Crisis, Jimenez drew Wally and his family disappearing into the Speed Force, as well as Barry briefly emerging from it. Now, he gives us an emotional sequence where Barry pulls Wally from the Speed Force. He was the perfect choice for this moment.

Aquaman and Mera proposalFinally, let’s talk about Geoff Johns for a moment. The guy gets his share of flack these days. He’s got a reputation as Mr. Retcon. And I’ll admit those early Justice League issues where pretty flawed. But by and large, he tells gripping and often emotional stories. In the case of DC Universe Rebirth #1, he and the team give us a much-needed break from the grim and largely joyless DC Comics we’ve come to know since The New 52 began. There’s a place for hope, love, and wonder in this universe. Most readers always knew that. Let’s hope DC never forgets again…

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image Image 3 from pastemagazine.com. Image 3 from observer.com. Image 4 and 6 from observer.com. Image 5 from terrazero.com. 

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A Shazam! Vol. 1 Review – The Latest Jump-Start

Shazam! Vol. 1 TITLE: Shazam! Vol. 1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
COLLECTS: Justice League #0, 21, Back up stories from Justice League #7-11 14-16, 18-20
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: September 25, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her group finally arrived at the Emerald City, and the various workers and beauticians essentially gave them all makeovers to prepare them for their visit with the Wizard? At various points in his career, Geoff Johns has been called upon to be the Emerald City of DC Comics. Over the years, characters like the Flash, Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, Aquaman, and even Superman have been summoned under Johns’ pen to be freshened up and sent back to readers.

Johns’ newest character project is Shazam, a.k.a. the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel. And this time, he and frequent collaborator Gary Frank have a whole new continuity to work with, and very few restrictions on what they can and can’t do. That freedom is very apparent in what we see from our new Billy Batson.

Shazam! Vol. 1, character revealThe Billy we meet in Shazam is a razor-tongued, cynical 15-year-old who has been bounced between foster homes most of his life. Billy’s new home is with a young couple who have five other adopted children (among whom are the New 52 incarnations of Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel). Their disposition is generally pretty rosey, but the bad tempered Billy isn’t buying it. Soon, Billy has other issues to deal with. A mystical subway ride brings him face-to-face with an old, dying wizard. Desperate to find someone to take on his power, the wizard senses good in Billy, and grants him the power to become Shazam, a fully grown adult superhero, and guardian of the world of magic.

Meanwhile, desperate to save his family, a scientist named Dr. Sivana releases the evil Black Adam after centuries of imprisonment. Now Shazam and Black Adam are on a collision course. But of course, our young friend is in way over his head.

I’ll rarely complain about Gary Frank’s art. Even when he’s drawing a story I hate, his art is still a joy to look at. His faces are always very lifelike, distinct, and expressive. He’s the perfect artist to draw young Billy’s youthful, exuberant expressions on the adult face of Shazam. And unlike a lot of artists, his superheroes don’t always look like jacked up bodybuilders. Granted, Shazam’s body is pretty muscled, but I think we can chalk that up to Frank creating a greater contrast between Billy and his magical counterpart. All in all, Shazam is gorgeous from an artistic standpoint.

Shazam!, Vol. 1 family, Gary FrankThe incorporation of Billy’s foster siblings, Mary, Freddy, Pedro, Eugene and Darla is a carryover from Flashpoint. I’m a huge fan. In one fell swoop, our hero now has a fully functioning supporting cast. Some are more developed than others, namely Freddy. But at the very least, we’ve got a good snapshot of each. And the way they all factor into Billy’s new powers (I’m not spoiling it!) opens some pretty interesting doors. There’s a lot of intrigue and potential wrapped up in Billy’s new foster family.

In releasing Black Adam, Dr. Sivana gets a glowing lightning bolt star across the right side of his face (Harry Potter much?). This allows him to “see” magic. No complaints here, and later it does pave the way for the rodent-like appearance we’re used to seeing from the character. But what does irk me is that Sivana is trying to harness the power of magic to “save his family.” But we never actually see any family, and he doesn’t mention specifics of any kind. I can only assume this is an idea Johns and Frank didn’t have time to dive further into, and intend to revisit later. C’mon guys! Don’t leave us hangin’!

DC has tried numerous times over the years to jump-start Captain Marvel/Shazam, and perhaps make him a marquee player in the shared universe. Shazam is a perfectly suitable, and wonderfully drawn beginning to a new continuity for the character. But as is the case with many new beginnings, what really matters is how they’re followed up on. Shazam was front and center in Trinity War, which was a good start. But of course, what we’re really waiting for is a Shazam ongoing series, which will hopefully reunite Johns and Frank. We’re ready when you guys are…

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from multiversitycomics.com. Image 2 from everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com.

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A Batman: Earth One Review – A Bumbling Batman

Batman: Earth One coverTITLE: Batman: Earth One
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: July 4, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There are some interesting ideas in the pages of Batman: Earth One. But the book’s mishandling of the Batman character makes it something not worth sitting through just to experience those new ideas.

Though they have the noble purpose of exposing iconic characters to a broader audience, DC Comics’ Earth One line of graphic novels has never sat right with me. Why? I’m glad you asked…

1.It’s yet another attempt by DC to replicate the success of Marvel’s Ultimate line after the disintegration of the All Star line a few years ago.

2. It gives creators an excuse to keep needlessly rehashing origin stories, particularly but not limited to Superman’s.

Batman Earth One, Gary Frank, Garbage3. Given the recent relaunch and continuity reshuffle that took place at DC via the New 52 initiative, introducing revamped alternate versions of these characters is somewhat redundant.

4. As I understand it, the All Star line didn’t work because the creators involved couldn’t adhere to a monthly schedule. That’s why the Earth One line consists of original graphic novels as opposed to monthly comic books. But given that these Earth One books are apparently only coming out on an annual basis per character, that leaves a pretty big window for these new readers DC is hoping to draw in to either lose interest or lose track of the second book.

All this being said, Superman: Earth One had it’s high points. Shane Davis’ art was especially impressive, we saw a new villain introduced into the Superman mythos, and the image of the hoodie-wearing, moody and broody Clark Kent is a memorable one. The book wasn’t at all necessary, nor worth all the hype it got. But it had its moments. Batman: Earth One has similar high points and moments, but in the end isn’t as successful as its predecessor.

In Earth One, we see a less experienced Batman take to the streets to find the man who murdered his parents. At his side is Alfred Pennyworth, a hardened war veteran who served alongside Thomas Wayne, and apparently handled a large portion (if not all) of Bruce’s training. As Batman takes on the criminal element in Gotham City, he’s plagued by inexperience and malfunctioning gadgets. All the while Mayor Oswald Cobblepot (who most fans know as the Penguin) is elbow deep in corruption, including a particular disturbing partnership with a child killer.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, Jim GordonThis book seems to want to put some of the “man” back in Batman by having him be less experienced, more prone to mistakes, and thus more vulnerable in the field. This would theoretically add more drama to all the action sequences. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli pulled this effect off to perfection with the fire escape sequence in Batman: Year One. Like the entirety of Earth One, that scene is about Bruce’s inexperience and naivety when he first puts the costume on. It illustrates how even with expert fighting skills and years of training, it’s still extremely easy to mess up and get killed when you’re dressing up like Dracula and running around punching people. They did a similar scene with Bruce, Jim Gordon and the cops in Batman Begins. In both those sequences Bruce looked entirely competent. He was just inexperienced.

In Batman Earth One, Bruce does not look competent. He looks like an idiot who’s had some karate training and now thinks he’s qualified to single-handedly take on the underworld and solve the mystery of who killed his parents. The mistakes he makes in this book don’t endear him to us as someone who’s human and fallible. They make him look like an arrogant fool who constantly needs to be bailed out by his butler (who by the way, looks a lot like Jeremy Irons).

Batman: Earth One, eyes, Gary FrankOn one of the first pages in this book there’s a scene where Batman, who at this point has looked as grim and scary as always, aims out his grappling gun and fires it, only to have the ropes become a tangled mess (shown above). Given Batman’s wide-eyed look and his subsequent tumble from a rooftop into a pile of trash, I’m not sure if Johns and Frank were going for laughter here, but from a tonal standpoint it just doesn’t work. There’s a similar scene where Batman tries to swing from a building, but his body contorts and he ends up crashing through a window. He lands on a table covered in assorted food, and in one shot we seem him covered in a mix of blood and misguided dinner. Is this funny? Is this dramatic? What are we thinking here?

Oddly enough, the most interesting character we see in this book is Harvey Bullock, who regular Batman fans know as a portly, unshaven cop with bad habits. In Earth One, Bullock is a cop show host who comes to Gotham for the sake of publicity and fame, but deep down he also has good intentions. He’s partnered with Jim Gordon, who’s had his hope sucked dry by this brutal and corrupt city. Frankly, I’d much rather have read a book about Bullock and Gordon than a bumbling Batman and his grumpy butler. Harvey’s naive game show host demeanor is a fun contrast to Gordon’s worn down state of being. Both also characters go through distinct transformations, and end the book at very different places than they started.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, Birthday BoyThe book also makes Martha Wayne a member of the Arkham family, as in Arkham Asylum. We see that she grew up in the house that will presumably become the asylum later, and there’s a history of mental instability in her family. This opens the door for a more literal take on the question of whether Batman is as crazy as his villains. It doesn’t go anywhere in this book, but it’s interesting.

We also meet a frightening serial killer called “the Birthday Boy.” I can’t say much about him without spoiling things. But he’s another character I’d rather have spent time with than our arrogant, bratty title character. I never thought I’d be saying that about Batman…

Regardless, Gary Frank’s art is as strong as it’s ever been. The most notable aspect of the Batman costume he creates here is that he shows us Bruce’s eyes through the cowl, instead of drawing the white slits that have been one of the character’s trademarks since he was created. It’s a nice change, as Bruce’s eyes obviously give us a better illustration of whatever emotion he happens to be feeling in the scene. Similarly, Jim Gordon’s eyes sometimes have that far away look, which is a nice unspoken look at his mental state.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, AlfredIn a way, that shot of the grappling gun is exactly like what happened to Batman: Earth One. At first glance it looks pretty cool, but things get fowled up pretty quickly. In that moment we’re not sure what to think, except that what we’re seeing is yet another rehash nobody asked for. I’m hopeful that the writing of these Earth One books will pick up in quality once they get around to characters like Wonder Woman, the Flash, and others whose origins haven’t been trampled on quite as much as Superman and Batman.

RATING: 4/10

Image 1 from multiversitycomics.com. Image 2 from ifanboy.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicvine.com. Image 5 from pixshark.com.

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