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.***

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

A Black Canary: Ignite Review – Listen to the Music

TITLE: Black Canary: Ignite
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot
ARTISTS:
Cara McGee, Caitlin Quirk (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: October 29, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Comics are visual medium. That should be news to approximately no one at all.

That’s why it’s usually difficult to follow a comic book where music is a story component. Sure, you can print lyrics on a page. But if you can’t take in the melody, feel the beat, and hear the emotion in the singer’s voice, it tends to take the punch out of a story.

Thus, I cannot overstate the importance of this video…

In Black Canary: Ignite, Dinah Lance is a brash middle schooler and the lead singer in a band with her two best friends. When we open the book, Dinah and her band are playing the song heard in the video above. With this audio acting as a supplement, it’s exponentially easier to be drawn into Ignite, and the story that’s beginning to unfold. Does it work without the video to accompany it? Sure. But I’d argue the book should have had an advertisement for the video in it. It makes that big a difference in terms of the overall experience.

Middle school is hard enough without learning to control a superpower. But that’s the position our young heroine finds herself in, as she inherits the supersonic “Canary Cry” from her mother. While Dinah comes to grips with what this means for her future, a mysterious villain stalks the Lance family…

Our author is Meg Cabot, who famously wrote The Princess Diaries series, which was later adapted into the films starring Anne Hathaway. It was interesting to read this book after Dear Justice League. That book was geared toward the same age group, but essentially anyone could enjoy it. Ignite, however, is clearly running on girl power. That’s not to say boys shouldn’t pick it up. But it’s aimed at a specific portion of the market, and also skews a bit younger than the other DC Zoom/DC Kids books I’ve read. I’d actually be more inclined to hand it to a kid about to go into middle school than someone already there.

The story has a lot of your standard teen tropes. Conflict with parents, conflict with friends, conflict with a teacher. Nothing that jumps out as especially unique or memorable. But it’s all well and good.

One slight complaint? Our story takes place in Gotham City. Dinah’s father, a police detective, is drawn almost exactly like Commissioner Gordon. Same white hair. Same mustache. Same brown trench coat. Slap a pair of glasses on him, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. I can see kids familiar with Batman’s world reading this and asking, “Wait, is she Commissioner Gordon’s daughter? I thought that was Batgirl.”

Almost every time I opened this book, Cara McGee’s art thrust “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts into my mind. That might be the oddest critique I’ve ever given to comic art. But it’s true. Not a bad connection to make for a book about a rebellious young girl. Though I imagine it has a lot to do with Ronda Rousey using it in the UFC and WWE.

As a DC Comics buff, I can appreciate the way parts of Black Canary’s history were folded into Ignite. For awhile, it was canon that her mother had been the original Black Canary, and she was taking up the mantle. That’s the case here, as is her being mentored by Ted Grant, a.k.a. Wildcat. Her mother also runs a flower shop called “Sherwood Florist.” Dinah ran a business with the same name in the comics many years ago. There’s also no shortage of Batgirl references. They could very well have had a spin on Birds of Prey in mind.

Black Canary: Ignite is…fine. They had the foresight to record the song, which I love. But the writing? Just fine. The art? Just fine. The girl power vibe? That’s fine too. It doesn’t stand out the way they probably wanted it to with Cabot attached. But I tend to measure the quality of books like this based on whether I’d hand them to my daughter at the appropriate age. And I’d have no problem handing her Ignite.

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

A Dear Justice League Review – Keep It Simple, Superheroes

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Super Sons: The Polarshield Project Review – Superboy and…Batkid?

TITLE: Super Sons, Book 1 – The Polarshield Project
AUTHOR:
Ridley Pearson
ARTIST: Ile Gonzalez
LETTERER: Saida Temofonte
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED:
April 2, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

That’s right, kids! The Super Sons are back at it! No, not those, and definitely not those. Here we have a new breed of Jon Kent and Damian Wayne designed specifically for middle grade readers. Heck, instead of Damian, he actually just goes by Ian Wayne in this book. Which if you think about it, is so simple it’s actually kind of brilliant.

Hey. If kids are reading comics again, he can be Ian McKellen for all I care.

Jon Kent and Ian Wayne, who unbeknownst to one another are the sons of Superman and Batman, both wind up attending middle school in the city of Wyndemere. Among their classmates are Tilly, who quickly befriends (and has a crush on) Jon, as well as the mysterious Candice. Together, these four will uncover a massive conspiracy involving a mysterious illness that has struck, among many others, Jon’s mother Lois. In the process, they’ll form a friendship strong enough to make them into a formidable team of young heroes.

It’s interesting to read this book as an adult, trying to see at it through the eyes of your middle school self. The Polarshield Project accomplishes what it needs to the most by giving young readers characters they can connect with. We have Jon as the everyman character, and thus the most accessible. Tilly is more or less his female equivalent, but is also there to help fill the romance quota. Candice is the young lady trying to discover who she is and find her place in the world. Naturally, Ian is the loner who, in his own words, has trouble making friends. There’s a lot to relate to here. Which is saying something, considering the world it takes place in.

Pearson and Gonzalez set up a rich backstory for Candice. She’s essentially the uncrowned princess of the continent of Landis, which is most certainly not Africa. The trouble is, The Polarshield Project has so much to accomplish that we aren’t necessarily given enough to sink our teeth into. It’s designed to be a larger story that carries into the next book. But if there’d been a little more meat on the bone, the anticipation for that next volume would be that much greater.

At one point, the boys create makeshift superhero identities for themselves. Oddly enough, while Jon does indeed get to be called Superboy, Ian gets the hokey moniker of “Batkid.” That’s the part of the book I enjoyed the least. Batkid feels to silly to be something created by that character. This version of Damian Wayne is in an awkward position. He’s old enough to be Robin. But he can’t be. Not yet, at least.

On a related note, for whatever reason this book makes a point of telling us Alfred is dead. Specifically, the line is, “We all wish Alfred were still here.” There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It just feels a little out of place. Bruce Wayne isn’t in the story very much, so it’s not like we’re wondering where Alfred is. If nothing else, I suppose it establishes the time frame this story takes place in.

Saida Temofonte’s “animated” style fits quite naturally here, and has a great flow to it. Particularly when it comes to the action sequences. Her work leaves you wanting more, and for this world to continue expanding. Granted, seeing Damian with brown hair takes some getting used to…

In the end, The Polarshield Project is a fun and accessible new take on the DC Universe, with plenty of room to grow. Hopefully, that growth can play out over several volumes to come.

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.

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A Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles Review – Or So We’re Told…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #2532
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: December 13, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The War of Jokes and Riddles is not what I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you come into it anticipating a big, bloody, multi-layered brawl between comic book supervillains. What we get is more character-driven. I almost always prefer something like that to a story that’s simply about people punching each other. But the vibe we got going into this was that it was akin to a big summer blockbuster. There’s a lot more to The War of Jokes and Riddles. While you’ll get some really great stuff, it’s not a hotbed of fighting and explosions.

In the early days of Batman’s career, the unthinkable happens. After losing to Batman so many times, the Joker no longer finds the world funny. Recognizing a similar problem in himself, the Riddler proposes an alliance to kill the Dark Knight once and for all. When the Joker gives him a violent rejection, all out war breaks out. Both the Joker and the Riddler recruit different villains to their side, with Gotham City as their battle field. The winner earns the right to kill Batman. How can our hero stop a war that’s being fought over him? And what happens to the city caught in the crossfire?

I like Joker and Riddler as rivals. They both have mischievous and playful sort of motifs. So it makes sense they’d want to outdo each other. Factor in each one having their own faction of villains, and the scope of this story becomes huge. They could very well have done a bunch of tie-in issues where the different characters fight each other. Scarecrow vs. Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy vs. Killer Croc, Two-Face vs, Scarface, etc. Given how people gobble up Batman stuff, you’d think that would have been an easy cash-in.

Instead, we stay in the pages of Batman. That approach has it’s advantages, of course. But as a result, what feels like a very expansive story winds up being confined. Much is left to exposition. We gloss over the whole recruitment process, and why certain characters choose Joker or Riddler’s side. We don’t see most of the big battles. We’re told what territory each side has. While there’s something to be said for not getting bogged down in too many details, it seems like half the fun of a story like this is watching all the characters butt heads. That’s a giant missed opportunity.

We do, however, see Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. Sort of. In theory, it’s a hell of a fight. But even that fails to deliver, as it’s jammed so tightly into the second half of issue #28. What’s more, the fight stretches logic pretty thin even by comic book standards. The two initially try to snipe each other, but on their first and only shots, their bullets collide. They then proceed to fight for five days, killing 62 people in the process. I get the artistic advantage of leaving it to the reader’s imagination. But they could have dedicated an entire story to Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. This fight could be an event comic on its own. So to be told about it instead of seeing it is frustrating.

On the plus side, almost everybody looks great. Mikel Janin gives us an almost twisted blend of realism and caricature. His Joker, for instance, has a pointed nose and in this story sports an exaggerated frown. But the art is so detailed and the colors so gorgeously rendered that it evokes real life. It’s often fascinating to look at, especially because his Joker seems heavily influenced by Brian Bolland’s work on The Killing Joke. The one character hurt by this approach is the Riddler, who inexplicably looks like John Cena.

Author Tom King frames The War of Jokes and Riddles around Bruce Wayne’s present-day marriage proposal to Selina Kyle. He tells her this story, as he apparently did something horrible during the war that could effect her decision to marry him. The reveal is a good one and makes sense.

But there’s also a larger issue that the story touches on, but doesn’t bring any resolution to. There’s an argument to be made that the real villain in all of this is Batman himself. These two groups of insane people are waging war over HIM. While they’re fighting to decide who gets to kill him, dozens of innocent people are being killed simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In telling Selina this story, he’s trying to get absolution for something horrible he supposedly did. But it seems like he should want forgiveness for his part in all this. Although to be fair, the King does touch on something like that in the final scene…

Bruce also makes every effort to bring the violence to a halt, including the bizarrely entertaining dinner sequence that makes up the entirety of issue #29. Bruce Wayne invites virtually his entire rogues gallery into his home for a big, fancy, multi-course meal. The idea is for Bruce to servers a mediator and bring things to a resolution. The visual spectacle of seeing all these comic book supervillains together in a normal environment is almost worth the cover price on its own. It reminds me of one of the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Batman books. But then we dive deeper with both Joker and Riddler. How they’d kill Batman, and what they think of each other. You’ve also got the internalization of Bruce as he sits between them and listens to it all, silently and subtlety trying to maneuver Gotham out of harm’s way. At face value, the whole thing is almost absurd. But once you dive into it, it becomes one of the most delightful Batman character studies of the last decade.

Janin is also on fire in this issue. He has to draw three characters in the same position for several pages. But despite having to draw several consecutive panels of, for instance, the Joker sitting in a chair eating dinner (shown below), there’s almost no panel duplication. There’s a natural flow to it. You believe their body language. It’s beautiful.

Stuck in the middle of all this is D-list villain Kite Man. He becomes the unlikely focus for two interlude issues drawn by Clay Mann. As he plays a role in the finale, it’s called for. It also doubles as an origin story. King tries to set him up as a relatable, down on his luck father who has fallen in with a horrible crowd and pays the ultimate price. I like how King incorporates him toward the end. But I’m not sure we needed two full issues dedicated to Kite Man. Issue #27 gives us all we need, so issue #30 feels mostly like filler. King also attempts to create the catchphrase: “Kite Man. Hell yeah.” Doesn’t work.

The War of Jokes and Riddles wound up being a mixed bag. We didn’t get a war as much as we got moments from a war. The beginning, the end, and the important moments in between. That doesn’t fill all of our dramatic needs in terms of this being a big, violent, bloody fight between crazy people. At one point we see a  bunch of pictures of people who’ve died. But we don’t see where or how they died. There’s a frustrating gap there which leaves you wanting more than the book delivers.

On the flip side, this is some of the best work Mikel Janin has ever done. The War of Jokes and Riddles should absolutely be turned into one of those oversized hardcovers DC puts out. It deserves to be admired for years to come. Tom King also gives us his best character work yet. He illustrates a tremendous understanding of how Batman, the Joker, and the Riddler think. So when he puts them together it feels very genuine. It’s the same kind of magic that made The Vision work so well.

King does have the magic in him, doesn’t he? It’s just a question of how often we see it.

For more of Tom King’s Batman, check out Vol. 1: I Am Bane, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, and Batman/The Flash: The Button

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