Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman/Superman #31 Review – The Search For Supergirl

Batman/Superman #31, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: Batman/Superman #31
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Doug Mahnke. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: April 13, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Damn. Just when you thought Big Blue was gettin’ things back in order…BAM. He gets a death sentence. And you thought Batman had bad luck.

Due to the after-effects of multiple intense battles, Superman is apparently dying. With the end in sight, the Man of Steel has begun getting his affairs in order. With help from Batman, he starts searching for Supergirl so that she might continue his work. But Kara isn’t easy to find, and Superman is running out of time…

Readers should be grateful Peter Tomasi has the pen on all the Superman titles for this big “Final Days of Superman” crossover. Not only does that bode well in terms of consistency between issues, but Tomasi is so good at injecting heart into his stories. That’s one of the main reasons his run on Batman & Robin was so good. In the recently rebooted DC Universe, Tomasi made sure the characters still felt familiar. Deep down, this was still the Batman we knew. He’s the perfect pick for a story like this. Though one can argue a story about Superman’s dying days has been done to perfection in All Star Superman.

Batman/Superman #51, Tusk, Doug MahnkeTomasi was a little vague in Superman #51 on what exactly is killing our hero. We knew it was a result of his exposure to the fire pits of Apokalips in Darkseid War, his fight with Rao in Justice League of America, and the A.R.G.U.S. Kryptonite chamber in Truth. In this issue he says something about “Kryptonite malignancy eating away at me.” Anything with the word malignancy in it must be pretty bad. But I’d still like a little more info on what exactly is killing the most powerful man on Earth.

Tomasi understands these characters better than most of the current crop of writers at DC. As such, the dialogue scenes in this issue feel the way they’re supposed to: Like a meeting between two old friends. They sound very much in character. There’s a panel where Batman asks Superman: “Do you know your irises are green?” Coming from another character, this would have sounded asinine. But from Batman it works. We also get the unlikely meeting of Superman and Bat-Cow, which plays to Clark Kent’s upbringing on the farm.

We also get an appearance from Tusk (shown above), who we met when these two worked together in Batman & Robin Annual #1. So we’ve got some fun continuity between that book and this one.

National City, the home of Supergirl on the CBS show of the same name, is mentioned late in the issue. I imagine this is an clue as to what we’ll be getting when Supergirl once again gets her own series this fall. Not a moment too soon, by the way…

Batman/Superman #31 (2016), flying, Doug Mahnke

We’ve also got a character in this book who has mysteriously gained Superman-like powers and is glowing orange. I imagine that’s our villain. Though what exactly is going on with him remains to be seen

Doug Mahnke has drawn so many big DC stories that his art inevitably brings a certain weight, or an “epic” feel, to whatever he’s drawing. This is true with both the action and dialogue sequences. Considering what’s happened over the last year with Superman losing his powers, and Jim Gordon tagging in as Batman, this issue feels like a homecoming.

I trust Peter Tomasi with Superman. Considering how protective I’ve become of the character in recent years, and what’s been done to him recently, that’s saying something. For the time being, Superman and “The Final Days of Superman” are in good hands.

Image 1 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 2 from weird sciencedccomics.blogspot.com. 

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A Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3 Review – Questions and…Compassion?

DKIII: The Master Race #3 cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: February 24, 2016

***Miss the last two issues? Boom and Bibbity-Boom.***

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for DKIII: The Master Race.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3, the table is set for a battle of epic proportions. Heroes against Villains. Kryptonian against Kryptonian. Even father against daughter. The fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance.

But, um…can I just ask a few questions before the fighting starts?

Now released from the Bottle City of Kandor, the bizarre and sinister cult leader Quar and his seven children are wreaking havoc on Earth as only Kryptonians can. They give the world three days to surrender. With no other choice, Bruce Wayne and Carrie Kelley seek out Superman, who is in exile at his Fortress of Solitude. And when he finds out what his fellow Kryptonians have done, the Man of Steel will not be happy?

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3, Andy KubertAt the end of issue #2, we finally see Bruce Wayne. He’s mostly as we remember him, only he now walks with a crutch attached to his right hand. On the very first page, Bruce talks about how his body has worn down, and “I can barely walk.” This development is very believable, as we know how much punishment Bruce put his body through over the years.

But here’s my question: Just how able-bodied is Bruce Wayne these days? There’s a frustrating inconsistency in Bruce’s presentation thus far that I’m hoping is rectified in future issues. Obviously he’ll always have a certain physical strength. But near near the middle of the issue, we see him trudging through deep snow toward Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, using a sledgehammer in place of his crutch. A short time later we see him swing the hammer at full force. Then at the end of the issue, he’s back on the crutch. So what’s the deal? What’s the balance between Old Man Bruce and Batman? He talks like he’d be a liability to Carrie in a fight. But he’s bound to get physical at some point, right? He is Batman, after all.

Also, what’s the deal with Superman? When the story started he was simply frozen over. Is he in some kind of prolonged meditative state? How is it he’s just been sitting there for years on end?

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3, Andy Kubert, sledgehammerStill, after two issues of build-up, Azzarello and Kubert succeed in making Superman’s return feel like a big deal. Practical or not, that shot with the sledgehammer (shown right) is pretty cool. As is the moment when Big Blue finally rises from that chair. The character doesn’t have his usual iconic, American feel here. Rather, we have a sleeping giant that has awakened to find something very angering, very offensive, and very personal. To Kubert’s credit, that first shot of an awake Superman feels very much like a Frank Miller Superman, even down to his proportions being a little bit blockier.

On the other hand, the Bruce Wayne we see here isn’t necessarily consistent with Miller’s recent work in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman & Robin. Miller’s Batman work has always been noted for its grim tone. But as the years went by, his Dark Knight became much angrier. All Star in particular featured a much more vengeful, rage-filled Batman. At times he was practically heartless. But in our opening scene, we see a softer side of Bruce. We’re reminded that he cares for Carrie, and that he actually believes she’ll one day be better than he ever was. He worries about being a liability to her in a fight. This is how we know DKIII is an Azzarello story, and not a Miller one. Modern-day Frank Miller stories were sadly devoid of scenes like this. It’s very refreshing.

DKIII: The Master Race #3, Andy Kubert, QuarThat’s not to say Miller’s fingerprints aren’t on this book. At one point, one of Quar’s children swallows a seed of some kind and then commits a fiery suicide, destroying Moscow in the process. This, combined with Quar having multiple wives and being part of a religious movement, seem to hint that there’s a little Holy Terror in DKIII. That’s rather uncomfortable to think about.

The media satire continues in this issue. It’s distracting at times, but least its placement in the issue makes sense. We see the likes of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Wolf Blitzer, Bill O’Reilly, and even the hosts of Fox & Friends commenting on the destruction of Moscow, and pondering Quar’s demand for surrender. Analyzing the role media plays in our culture is a trademark of these Dark Knight books. But we’ve reached the point where, unless something new is brought to the table, it’s become more grating than insightful.

Our mini-comic this time around features Green Lantern returning to Earth to assess the threat. But when he runs into Quar’s wives, things don’t go well. It’s actually kind of brutal what happens to him. And unlike our previous forays with The Atom and Wonder Woman, I’m not sure how this plays into the larger story. One can argue it helps establish Quar’s wives. But we already knew they were Kryptonian, and thus capable of mutilating human beings. So what’s the point? John Romita Jr. helps Miller with the breakdowns, but it doesn’t help with the overall quality of the art. Miller is still Miller, for better or worse.

DKIII: The Master Race #3, Andy Kubert, mediaDKIII continues to have a coherent narrative. You’d think that would be a given for most stories, but considering what we’ve seen in Miller’s recent Batman works, it’s worth noting. Andy Kubert’s art is also in sync with the tone of The Dark Knight Returns, while still maintaining its own identity. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Thus far DKIII is by no means a masterpiece. But even at $5.99, it’s worth a purchase. Perhaps for its significance to the fanboy subculture if nothing else.

Image 1 from batman-news.com. Image 2 from dccomics.com. Image 3 from comicvine.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman #45 Review – Fight Club and Finances

Superman #45, 2015TITLE: Superman #45
AUTHOR: Gene Luen Yang
PENCILLERS: Howard Porter. Cover by John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: October 28, 2015

***Need to catch up? Check out our reviews of issues #43 and #44.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. I so want this to get better, but it’s just not happening. As we’ve seen in previous installments of the Truth storyline, there are flashes of quality in Superman #45. But the direction the story takes is all flash and little substance.

With his identity exposed, and Clark Kent’s life destroyed, Superman follows the trail of the cyber criminal group Hordr to California. Once there, he finds himself broke. So when he stumbles on to a meta-human fight club of sorts, Clark is faced with a moral dilemma. Does he go against his moral code, or duke it out for some cash?

Let’s cover the good before we descend into the negative. Clark briefly runs into Lois Lane in this issue, and wants nothing to do with her. Seeing Clark this angry at Lois, and justifiably so, is a really interesting dynamic. Obviously there’s romantic tension lingering under the surface here. How long is Clark going to stay mad at Lois for this? And what can Lois do to regain his trust? This is one of the few areas of intrigue in this series right now.

Superman #45, Howard PorterGene Luen Yang’s spin on the meta-human fight club angle is that the fighters are “gods and goddesses from mythologies on the brink of extinction.” That take is a little overblown for my taste. The issue actually reminded of the “Grudge Match” episode of Justice League Unlimited, where Roulette lures Black Canary, Huntress, and Wonder Woman into her Meta-Brawl arena. Has Roulette even surfaced in the New 52verse? If you’re going to do a story like this, why not use a villain like her? The whole thing about gods and goddesses is convoluted, and actually slows the issue down because Yang has to explain the whole thing.

I have a hard time buying the idea that Superman, exposed identity or not, has trouble coming across money. If he were the only hero in this universe, then maybe I’d believe it. But he’s a Justice League member, he’s still got a lot of friends in Metropolis, and he’s friendly with the President of the United States. Chances are if Clark needs a loan, he can get one from somebody.

But for the sake of a story, let’s say Clark is indeed broke. Yang lets us know that Clark will not steal, as he was taught better by his adoptive father (who he refers to as “Pop” instead of “Pa” for some reason). So the prospect of earning money via a fight club is tempting. But I don’t buy the notion that he’d seriously consider participating. He’s Superman. His mission is to inspire people. It’s beneath him. If you want to put him in that scenario, have him take down the fight club.

Superman #45, 2015, Howard PorterPerhaps I simply hold Superman to a higher standard than some. Too high, maybe…

The whole Truth story is so far gone at this point that it’s barely even worth it to mention ways it might be improved. But you want to do a story about Superman and money? How about you have Clark break up the fight club. Then as the sun begins to set he faces the grim reality that he has no money, no food, and no place to stay. He is now homeless, and largely de-powered. Superman has never been in such a vulnerable position. Then, he comes across a kind and compassionate civilian who owns a small motel. Recognizing him as Superman, this person gives Clark a free room, and a bit of food. As we close the issue, Clark realizes the irony of his situation. He was sent to Earth to inspire humans to to good, to “save” them. Now, one of those very humans has saved him in his darkest hour. This would provide intriguing insight into Clark’s relationship with his adopted home world.

I wasn’t aware last issue was John Romita Jr’s final go-around as the interior artist for Superman. In his place is the more than capable Howard Porter, along with colorist Hi-Fi. Hi-Fi’s colors are much richer and more vibrant than what we’ve seen in recent issues. Porter’s Superman is also much more expressive than Romita’s was. It actually borders on comical at times. But Porter is a nice change of pace. Sadly, solicitations indicate he’s only going to be around for another issue.

Solicits also indicate we’re heading into a big crossover called The Savage Dawn, featuring Vandal Savage. I wish I could say I’ve got high hopes. If you want a mildly optimistic spin on this, I’ll say it’d be fairly hard for me to be more underwhelmed with Superman than I am now.

Images courtesy of dangermart.blogspot.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman #44 Review – Talking Truth

Superman #44 cover, John Romita Jr. TITLE: Superman #33
AUTHOR: Gene Luen Yang
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 30, 2015

***Missed last issue? BOOM. We’ve got you covered.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Superman #44 is an okay issue which would have been much more compelling had it been released three or four months ago.

Before we get into the issue, let’s talk about this the Truth storyline as a whole. Readers of the Superman books know it’s run through not only this title, but Action Comics, Superman/Wonder Woman and Batman/Superman. It’s been touched on in other books, but those are the main four. Beginning in June, DC opted to use Superman to tell us how and why a de-powered Clark Kent’s identity was revealed to the world. All the while, stories of the de-powered, t-shirt wearing, “Tough Guy Superman” were already being told in the other three titles. As such, we saw this new Superman heavily effected by events we hadn’t seen yet. We could sympathize with what Clark was going through, and the stories were entertaining and compelling in their own right. But they lacked a certain depth because we couldn’t see the whole picture yet (We still can’t.).

Superman #44, alternate coverAt this point, it’s pretty safe to say this release strategy was a mistake, and it watered down something that could have been much more interesting otherwise. This is actually one of the few times I would have preferred a mass crossover. This issue marks the end of the Before Truth story, which has lasted four issues. As such it would have been simple to use all four Superman books to tell this story during the month of June. That way, the story has four straight weeks to build to a crescendo. In addition, not only do you have Gene Luen Yang and John Romita Jr. lending their talents to this pivotal story, but you have Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke, Ardian Syaf, and everyone else currently under the Man of Steel’s creative umbrella.

What a wasted opportunity…

With all that in mind, let’s get into Superman #44. Clark’s identity is public, and he’s not the only one in jeopardy. When The Daily Planet is targeted by supervillains, the Man of Steel must use what power he has left to defend his friends and colleagues. It’s a great premise, but the execution is surprisingly stupid.

Surprisingly, our hero starts this issue looking pretty stupid. Lois Lane has revealed to the world that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Yet when we open the issue, we see him strolling down the street as Clark, as if this were just an ordinary day. The Royal Flush Gang is able to identify and ambush him on sight! It’s not like Clark is incapable of being stealthy. He can fly and run at super-speed! At the very least, you’d think he’d pick a new disguise! But nope. Our main character, ladies and gentlemen. He’s sticking with an alter-ego that’s been discredited in front of the world.

Superman #44, Killer Croc, John Romita Jr.The villains who attack The Daily Planet are an odd assortment: Livewire, Atomic Skull, Killer Frost, Shockwave, and for no particular reason, Killer Croc. The choice to put Croc in there is a puzzling one. The question of why a Batman villain is put into such an important Superman story seemingly at random actually distracts from the scene. Furthermore, he’s rather redundant. He’s just another slab of muscle and mass for Superman to kick around.

About halfway through the issue, something interesting and mildly sensible finally happens: Clark finds out that a former Planet acquaintance of has taken Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and some of his other colleagues hostage. Due to the destruction caused by one of Superman’s enemies, this impromptu villain lost his wife and his livelihood. Now that Clark’s identity is exposed, he’s taking the fight to him. Now this is an interesting idea, and really should have taken up the first half of the issue. The stuff with the Royal Flush Gang, Killer Croc and the others feels like it’s there because they felt the need to fill a supervillain quota. But in the end, simply putting there so Clark can punch them comes off clumsy and forced.

During the fight, Perry White takes a bullet, and we subsequently get to hear his side of things. Understandable, he’s rather perturbed. This scene only lasts a page, making it yet another lost opportunity in the Truth saga. This scene actually reminded me of something Marvel released in the wake of Spider-Man revealing his identity in Civil War. It was an editorial by J. Jonah Jameson, who’s called Spider-Man a menace for years, only to discover that he’s been on the Daily Bugle staff the whole time. Jameson apologizes to his readers, and vows to win back their trust. Perry obviously never had that kind of contempt for Clark. But this revelation makes Perry, and everyone at the Planet look like oblivious fools. There’s a real argument to be made that the paper’s credibility has been compromised. It’d be fascinating to see that angle explored. So naturally, I assume it’ll be left untouched…

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #6Toward the end of the issue, there’s an incredibly stupid moment where Clark cuts his hair with a diamond. You know, because he’s Superman and he’s got really strong tissue. This isn’t a new idea (as you’ll see on the left), but I’ve always rejected it, and others along the same line.

There’s still some potential left in the Superman: Truth story as a whole. But it’s been so mismanaged that at this point that it’s inescapably tarnished. At this point, those of us who are sticking around can only hope for better things ahead now that the backstory of Superman’s “outing” has been revealed.

Image 2 from weirdsciencedccomicsblog.blogspot.com. Image 3 from comicbookresources.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman: The Men of Tomorrow Review – So Much to Do, So Little Time

Superman: Men of Tomorrow coverTITLE: Superman: The Men of Tomorrow

AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: John Romita, Jr.
COLLECTS: Superman #32-39
FORMAT: Hardcover

PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99

RELEASED: August 19, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

This is a Superman story that I had fairly high hopes for. Considering how the Superman title has been doing for the entirety of the New 52, almost anything could have made it better. Geoff Johns did a fantastic job on Superman: Secret Origin, so this collection virtually guaranteed to kick the Man of Steel back into gear.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Superman: The Men of Tomorrow takes a rather interesting premise and plays it well for a little bit  before the whole thing crashes and burns halfway through. It starts with Superman encountering a blond-haired, super-powered ubermensch named Ulysses, a.k.a. Neil. He helps Supes take out a robot baddie, and soon they’re fast friends.

Superman #36, John Romita Jr. Neil was sent to an alternate universe by his Earth-bound scientist parents who believed that the world was about to be destroyed. Neil has now returned to Earth, apparently having sojourned in “Dimension 4” as a superhero in his own right. But all is not as it seems…

I honestly was psyched when we first got to know Neil. He looks all the world like a recreation of Jean Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael. I love that guy! He acts like him, has similar speech patterns, and even has the same long blond hair! Add the fish-out-of-water gags that he gets into briefly, and you could potentially have a funny, entertaining story.

Unfortunately for Neil, Johns takes more pages from Knightfall‘s book that I would have liked. In addition to casting a similar character in a Superman-doppleganger role, Johns tries to spin Neil as a maniacal killer. I don’t buy it at all. There’s no foreshadowing whatsoever that Neil was plotting and planning to stab Superman, and plenty to suggest the exact opposite. Neil’s character development was going one specific direction the whole time, and then it turned around in a way that makes absolutely no sense given the established context.

Superman: The Men of Tomorrow, John Romita Jr. Superman himself is portrayed decently, in that he generally isn’t a total douchebag like he’s been depicted in the New 52. He actually treats Neil like a human being, unlike a certain billionaire playboy in a Batsuit treated a certain other mentally ill protege. He even goes so far as to visit him in jail! They have an interesting dynamic, in that Superman is (temporarily) partnered with someone who is very much his equal in terms of powers and skills.

One thing Johns gets right is how he manages to reset the Superman status quo. Clark had quit The Daily Planet to become a blogger alongside Cat Grant. In roughly six pages, Johns gets everything back to business-as-usual. There’s even the added bonus of Clark revealing a certain secretto Jimmy Olsen in the final issue. I would have loved to see Johns’ take on New 52 Lex Luthor, but I guess you can’t have it all.

The core problem with Men of Tomorrow is that it’s too big for its own good. We’re talking alternate dimensions, a Superman doppleganger with a messiah complex, an alien race bent on wholesale slaughter, and Alfred attempting to iron Superman’s cape. This is the sort of story that ought to be part of a crisis crossover, or at least a 12-issue miniseries. Plus, the story is just plain confusing.

Superman: The Men of Tomorrow, Superman vs. UlyssesTo the regret of everyone involved, Johns does not succeed in writing a story that is fitting for his allowed run. It could have been great, but Johns failed to capitalize on Neil’s strong potential as a character, all exacerbated by an overstuffed plot. Superman stories are usually big in scale. But Johns has proven on Green Lantern, Aquaman, and even Superman: Secret Origin that he’s perfectly capable of making small feel big.

RATING: 6/10

Image 1 from comicbookresources.com. Image 2 from dangermart.blogspot.com. Image 3 from comicvine.com.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman #43 Review – The Missing Puzzle Piece

Superman #43, coverTITLE: Superman #43
AUTHOR: Gene Luen Yang
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 26, 2015

***WARNINGS: Spoilers lay ahead for Superman #43.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Two months after the Truth storyline began across all of the Superman titles, Superman #43 finally gives us the story’s inciting incident. At last, we see how and why Clark Kent’s secret identity was revealed to the world. Why they waited this long to show us the actual revelation is mind boggling to me.

Much of the drama in the past few issues of Superman has been watered down because, if you’ve been reading other Superman books, you already know what happens to Clark and the other characters. What’s more, it’s been a source of frustration in those other books, because we’ve lacked context for what’s going on. We knew from Divergence that Clark’s powers had been lessened, that his secret identity had somehow been exposed, and that Lois Lane was somehow responsibly for the latter. You can argue we didn’t need more context than that. But it certainly would have helped, given the enormity of both situations. Before you make something like this a mystery, it’s probably best to examine if that’s the best way to present it. In this case, it wasn’t.

Superman #43, Hordr, John Romita Jr. While Clark and the others may have escaped from Hordr last issue, the organization continues to plague our heroes, blackmailing Superman with the knowledge of his secret identity. They draw him out, strap him to a chair, and have him do his new solar flare thing in front of a bunch of “energy storage” robots. I can only assume this is how Clark lost his powers. They’ll explain it with comic book science or something.

Then, Lois apparently sends a compromising image of Clark to news outlets across the world, exposing his identity and taking Hordr’s advantage away from them. In the moment, this seems like an extremely rash decision. She’s just taken one of the biggest decisions of Superman’s life, and made it for him. Afterward, Clark is understandably furious with her.

They do plant a seed for it, however. Twice during the course of the issue, and once during the previous issue, they establish that Lois feels guilty over what her father and Lex Luthor did to Clark in Action Comics #2. If you’ll recall, they performed brutal experiments on him, including strapping him to an electric chair. They even use Rags Morales’ art from the issue. So when Lois sees Superman in a similar situation, it evidently strikes a chord, and prompts her to act. Was it the right choice? No. But given Lois’ emotional investments in both Superman and Clark Kent, it’s a decision that’s easier to understand.

Superman #43, John Romita Jr., Lois Lane revealIt’s a powerful moment, to be certain. But again, I’m left wishing we’d seen it before the Truth storyline started. There would have been so much more depth to it all, as opposed to just watching Superman walk around punching people…

While I’m sure he’s not complaining about getting to write such a notable Superman story, I can’t help but feel like this is a waste of Gene Luen Yang’s talent. Remember, this is the guy who wrote American Born Chinese (among numerous other works). Is he really a writer you want to merely plug into a giant crossover like this? Sure, he’s doing a fine job. But I can’t help but wonder what Yang would do with the chance to tell a Superman story all his own? I can’t help but think it’d be more fulfilling than what we’ve gotten from Truth thus far.

Superman #43, John Romita Jr., Lois Lane faceAs for Romita Jr., at times there’s an odd disconnect between his pencils and Yang’s dialogue. The panel at right is a perfect example. Now that Lois knows Clark is Superman, she’s getting to ask him all kinds of important questions. Does he have a master plan in mind? What would humanity do if he ever went rogue? These are questions that potentially effect the entire world. And yet, look at Lois’ face. What does that face say? She’s almost grilling him on the nature of his mission, and the checks and balances that could be in place to prevent him from running roughshod over the planet. But in this panel, she almost looks like a shrinking violet. Lois Lane is many things, but a shrinking violet isn’t one of them.

There are a few little moments like that scattered about the issue. Romita also seems to have a thing about drawing hands. Look at Clark’s left hand in the second-to-last panel of the issue. Little things like this start to take a toll as the issue goes on.

At the very least, the cat is finally out of the bag as far as how Superman got outed. Hopefully now that the exposition is out of the way, Truth can expand a little more. If there was ever a concept that deserved a chance to stretch it’s legs, it’s that of an “outed” Superman. The delayed revelation definitely created some awkwardness. But all isn’t lost quite yet.

Images 1 and 2 from comicvine.com. Image 3 from supermanhomepage.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

An Action Comics #41 Review – The Supercycle?

Action Comics #41 coverTITLE: Action Comics #41
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
PENCILLER: Aaron Kuder
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 3, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

For better or worse, the glasses are off, folks.

Action Comics #41 is the first issue to be published as part of the Truth storyline. Thanks to an expose written by Lois Lane in The Daily Planet, the world now knows Clark Kent is Superman. When we open the issue, an injured Clark is walking back from a fight of some kind, with fewer powers than he’s ever had. He has some of his strength, he can leap great distances, and has some of his speed. The world’s most powerful man is now a marked man, and he’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been. In his new exposed state, Superman will find both unexpected friends and enemies.

The Truth storyline as a whole seems to be an attempt to not only “humanize” Superman more, but to darken him up. Both have been tried before, with varying degrees of success. In Superman #40, John Romita Jr. seemed to be trying to de-humanize Superman in order to make this transformation more meaningful. Apparently, New 52 Superman couldn’t taste food or get hungry. In a bizarre scene, Romita even had him get drunk with the Justice League.

Action Comics #41, page 2There are some more groaners in this issue, as Clark uses a little bit of salty language. Nothing too harsh. Stuff like “Can’t even really feel my damn fingers right now.” Some might say this is too boy scoutish, but I’m not a fan of Superman swearing. At least not unless he’s got a really good reason. Then a few pages later he gets into a fight with some thugs at a gas station and rides off on a motorcycle (the Supercycle?). Parts of this issue almost feel like a noir comic.

Superman is wearing a t-shirt and jeans now, much like he was drawn in 2011’s Action Comics #1. The cape is gone, reduced to rags that he has wrapped around his knuckles. His shirt features the famous “S” symbol as red and black, instead of the classic red and gold. Again, a darkening of the character. His hair has also been cut, which is actually an improvement in my book. One can argue his appearance is a little on the nose in terms of the “Superman is just like you!” agenda. But then again, does a hero like Superman really need a costume if his identity is public?

None of this stuff is outright offensive, and I do like the concept of the Truth story. But the impression I get from this issue is that they’re trying to play Superman off as a bad ass. And that’s really not what Superman is about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: He’s an idealist. Truth, justice, peace, etc. If you want to see how the public reacts when they see who this iconic figure is in day-to-day life, that’s one thing. And putting him in a t-shirt and jeans does make him seem like more of a man of the people. But there’s a grittiness at play here that doesn’t feel true to Superman.

Action Comics #41, hungryDC has been trying to shoehorn more dark elements into the Superman mythos for years. For my money, that’s always been a product of writers not knowing what to do with the character. Point blank: Superman can be a hard character to write. But it can be done. Hell, Geoff Johns just had a great little run with Superman. It just seems to be a matter of knowing where the intrigue lies, and how to create drama with him.

This issue also suffers from timing problems. Divergence and preview materials notwithstanding, we don’t know what’s happened to Superman leading up to this issue. He’s apparently been locked out of the Fortress of Solitude and stripped of his costume, but we won’t see that until Superman #41 on June 24. The issue also references something that happens next month in Superman #42. In essence, we’re coming into this issue missing a lot of important information.

Still, the central story in this issue, Clark returning to Metropolis, is interesting. Certain people are on his side, and certain people aren’t. The public’s reaction to Clark being outed, which I suspect is a major part of what we’ll see in Action going forward, is compelling.

I’ll give this issue credit. Despite the groan factor of Superman riding a motorcycle, and talking like a gritty detective, it’s got me interested in what the other ramifications of Clark’s “outing” will be. I’ll be glancing at Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman for the first time in months. Truth has the potential to bring a lot of new eyes to the Superman books. But if they go too far in the wrong direction, they’ll send those eyes rolling somewhere else.

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from adventuresinpoortaste.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Divergence #1 Review – The New Batman, a New Era for Superman, and More Mobius

Divergence #1 (2015)TITLE: Divergence #1
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, Gene Luen Yang, Geoff Johns.
PENCILLERS: Greg Capullo, John Romita Jr., Jason Fabok.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: Free Comic Book Day Release
RELEASED: May 2, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

This year, we actually got something nice from DC for Free Comic Book Day. Not only do we have three talented writers matched with three equally talented artists, but the three mini-stories we’re given are actually pretty amazing! Snyder, Yang, and Johns are all in top form today, and if these stories are any indication of what’s to come post-Convergence, then I think I might just take a look.

Divergence #1 seeks to set up the new status quo for Batman, Superman, and the Justice League after Convergence. Batman gets top billing, as he often does these days. In “The Rookie”, Gotham City without Batman has thankfully not descended into chaos and fire following the events of Batman #40. It’s actually pretty refreshing to see Gotham at peace for once, though the narrating TV reporter speaks of unhealed wounds. Indeed, Capullo treats us to a beautiful splash page of a crowd of Gothamites shining miniature Bat Signals in the sky, looking positively sullen.

Batman, Divergence, Greg CapulloBut all hope is not lost! The Hillary Clinton-esque Geri Powers appears to reassure the citizens of Gotham City that a new Batman is about to be born. Who’s behind the cowl this time? I think I’ll leave that for you readers to find out for yourselves. But I’ll tell you this: It’s equal parts astounding and amusing. It was also nice to see the seeming end of Batman through the point-of-view of the ordinary, mundane folks like the reporters and cops. The inner circle of the Bat-family is nowhere in sight, except for the new “Batman.”

In “Exposed,” we’re introduced to Gene Luen Yang’s take on Superman. We start with Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen chatting sometime after Clark’s had his secret identity outed by Lois Lane. To top it all off, he’s operating with weakened powers. In my opinion, Superman has behaved in pretty much every single New 52 appearance as an irrepressible jerkhat. This includes Geoff Johns’ run on Justice League, which features Superman and his fellow heroes engaging in petulant bickering while, you know, saving the world.

Divergence #1, Superman, John Romita Jr. So Superman here is kind of a jerk, understandably so. But he then beats up this super-strong thug who tries to kill him and some innocent bystanders. At least he tried to avoid the fight, and he actually saved some people. Jimmy Olsen then plasters pictures of the fight all over social media, and excrement hits the fan for the Man of Steel. He then tells off Lois Lane when she tries to help him.

I like Yang’s story, but I don’t like his Superman. Yang’s a talented writer, but I wish the people at DC would get over themselves and get the message that their heroes don’t all have to be jerks. Superman is one such hero, and he’s a good place to start. At the very least, the story was still pretty fun. Yang’s writing style is free of any grim-and-gritty pretentions, a theme reinforced by the bright, easy-lined artwork of John Romita Jr.

And that brings us to the final story in this issue: “The Other Amazon.” Fittingly enough, this story by Geoff Johns focuses primarily on the lore of Wonder Woman, using it to highlight the origin of The Anti-Monitor, a.k.a. Mobius. The long and short of it is that this rogue Amazon named Myrina gives birth to Mobius, whose father is revealed to us at the end, and we get a preview of Darkseid War. She will apparently be a major player in this latest hullaballoo. I really hope that this will end up being a feather in Wonder Woman’s cap. From what we see here, it certainly looks likes it will be the case.

Divergence #1, Wonder Woman, Jason FabokThe mini-story itself does its job well. It gives us a window into what’s going on in Darkseid War, and makes you want to check it out. It actually looks pretty epic! On the other hand, I’m beginning to get fed up with these Geoff Johns-led super-mega-events. First there was Blackest Night, and then Flashpoint, Trinity War, Forever Evil, etc. I mean really, when will it end? At least Jason Fabok’s art was nice. It manages to be bright and flashy even when most of the background is dark brownish and grayish.

On the whole, this Free Comic Book Day issue was by no means of low quality. DC really invested a lot into this issue, bringing in some real heavy hitters, and boy, did they hit hard. Divergence #1 gave us three engaging, entertaining stories with lovely artwork and solid writing. This is a far cry from last year’s Free Comic Book Day issue, where they just reprinted the origin of Chris Kent. That was just lazy.

Fortunately, Divergence #1 is anything but.

Image 1 from dreamwidth.org. Image 2 from weirdsciencedccomicsblog.wordpress.com. Image 3 from bleedingcool.com.

Follow Levi Sweeney on Twitter @levi_sweeney, or at his blog, The Stuff of Legend.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension Z Review – About a Boy

Captain America, Vol. 1: Cast Away in Dimension ZTITLE: Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension Z
AUTHOR: Rick Remender
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
COLLECTS: Captain America #15
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Of his current run on Captain America, Rick Remender has said he was hoping to channel Jack Kirby and showcase Cap’s gutsy and noble spirit in a sci-fi environment. I’m not sure I expected things to get this sci-fi. But nevertheless, it works better than I ever expected it to.

Mere moments after being proposed to by his girlfriend Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers finds himself suddenly transported to a dimension ruled by the ruthless and sadistic Arnim Zola (a character created by Jack Kirby in the late ’70s). When Captain America escapes yet another one of Zola’s genetic experiments, he finds himself caring for an infant child rescued from Zola’s lab. Now, as he struggles to survive in a world he knows nothing about, Steve Rogers will know what it’s like to have a son. But despite his dramatic change in environment, Rogers will lives by a cardinal rule. A rule he learned from his mother while living as a poor child on the streets of Manhattan: When the odds are stacked against you, you always stand up.

Captain America #1, 2012When I opened Captain America #1, I had never been a huge fan. I liked him, and of course there was the obvious patriotic appeal, but the character had never connected with me on a personal level. This run by Remender and John Romita Jr. changed that. Despite the grand sci-fi setting, Remender injects a lot of great, relatable humanity into the story. The theme of Cast Away in Dimension Z is all about finding strength in the face of adversity and pain. It’s about finding the will to stand up, when it would be so easy to submit and stay down. That’s a pretty inspirational message coming from any character, but it’s especially so coming from Captain America. Amidst all the ridiculous chaos we see him facing in this story, he’s embodying what many believe is the true spirit of America. That’s a great thing.

While Remender and Romita are trying to channel Jack Kirby here, there’s more than a little Frank Miller to be seen here too. This book takes place over the span of about 11 years, so we get to see an older Steve Rogers who’s even more war-hardened than he was before. His bearded look, combined with the image of him running around with a kid, along with the way some of Zola’s minions look and speak, is very reminiscent of what Miller did with The Dark Knight Returns. The stories aren’t similar, but the the stories have a slightly similar feel. But then, given the involvement of inker Klaus Janson on both stories, it’s hardly a coincidence, is it?

Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension ZJohn Romita Jr’s gritty feel fits nicely with this story, given that much of it takes place in a bizarre wasteland. But once we get into Dimension Z, the real star of the book is colorist Dean White. Everything looks very faded, rusted, grimy and worn. This is in contrast to our flashbacks to Steve’s childhood in the ’20s, which are tinged with just the slightest amount of of sepia. It sets the mood and the tone perfectly for both settings.

Lest we forget, Cast Away in Dimension Z makes Steve Rogers a surrogate father to a young boy he names Ian. Hey Cap! Cap! Don’t do it, man! We’ve seen this episode! Mainstream superheroes do not have a good record with children, surrogate or otherwise. Aquaman’s son was suffocated by Black Manta. Superman lost his adopted son in the Phantom Zone. Wolverine ended up drowning his adult son. Let’s not even get into the two dead Robins that Batman has on his conscience. Heck, what about Captain America and Bucky? That’s been a rough road to travel in itself! But aw heck, the quiet scenes with Steve and Ian work pretty well, and Cap’s love for the kid comes off very effectively. So let’s go ahead and ride this train until the inevitable wreck…

Cast Away in Dimension Z does a great job of cutting to the core of Steve Rogers, and illustrating just what it is that makes him endure as Captain America. At the same time, it takes him out of his natural environment, and introduces some fresh elements. It’s not the best book we’ve seen from the Marvel NOW! initiative, but it’s definitely in the top tier.

RATING: 8.5/10

Image 1 from marvel.com. Image 2 from brokenspinecomics.tumblr.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

An Avengers vs. X-Men Review – Cyclops Did WHAT????

Avengers vs. X-Men coverTITLE: Avengers vs. X-Men

AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert.
COLLECTS: Avengers vs. X-Men #0-12
PUBLISHER: Marvel
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $52.87
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: November 2012

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Avengers vs. X-Men was one of the more inviting event comics I’ve seen in several years. The title alone tells you a lot. You read it and you immediately know the premise, and that almost all of Marvel’s big name heroes will be front and center. Toss in the fact that it revolves around the Phoenix Force, one of the most recognizable pieces of Marvel’s mythology, and we’ve got ourselves yet another Avengers-themed money vacuum. I wish I had one of those…

When the Phoenix Force returns to Earth, the heroes fear it has come for Hope Summers, Cyclops’ granddaughter from the future (don’t ask). Fearing for the safety of the entire world, the Avengers, led by Captain America, try to peacefully take Hope into protective custody. But Cyclops, now the leader of his own team of X-Men, won’t allow it. After Scarlet Witch reduced the mutant population to roughly 200 in House of M, Cyclops sees Phoenix’s return as Hope’s chance to fulfill her destiny as the savior of mutantkind. His refusal to cooperate leads to a battle between the Avengers and the X-Men. Ultimately, this conflict among the heroes will place everyone in even greater jeopardy as the X-Men are granted a power greater than they can possibly imagine…

Avengers vs. X-Men #1, John Romita Jr., face offSo you’re going to put these two teams against one another, and not have mind control be a factor (at least not initially). The first thing you need to be worried about is making sure neither team looks like the bad guys. Avengers vs. X-Men accomplishes this by having both teams fight for control of the situation, rather than work together to solve it. Captain America shows up on Utopia, and essentially tells Cyclops they’re taking Hope into protective custody. Feeling threatened, and with the mindset that the Phoenix could help reignite the mutant race, Cyclops lashes out. Thus, the fight begins.

So what we have here is a situation that both sides came into looking for a fight. Captain America secretly brought the entire Avengers roster to Utopia as back up. On the other hand Cyclops, who’s kind of been acting like a dick lately, thinks that the Phoenix Force, a destroyer of worlds that once possessed and killed his wife Jean Grey, is only concerned about the welfare of the mutants. But Earth’s entire population will ultimately be endangered here. Throw in the way Captain America cheap shots Wolverine in issue #3 for no real reason, and for the first half of the story both teams are essentially having a dick measuring contest with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. That doesn’t exactly reflect well on anyone, does it? But we have to have a fight, right? Otherwise we can’t sell comics…

Just before the halfway point, Marvel does play the mind control card by having the Phoenix possess Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor the Submariner, Colossus and Magik. The “Phoenix Five” then begin to remake the world as they see fit, telling world leaders that the time for peace has come…whether they like it or not. This turn of events is about Cyclops more than the other four. Avengers vs. X-Men marks the culmination of the slow fall from grace we’ve seen him go through in recent years, the apex of it all being what happens with Charles Xavier.

Avengers vs. X-Men, Phoenix FiveReaders are always looking for long term consequences from their event comics. In terms of AvX, they need look no further than Cyclops, who truly becomes a tragic figure in this book. Like so many other characters in mythology and popular culture, he was only trying to do the right thing. But he went to such terrible lengths to do so that he literally became the kind of force he originally set out to stop. In the end, not only did he murder his surrogate father, but he lost everything. He lost the family, his friends, his camaraderie with his peers, even his freedom. while these five characters are being influenced by the Phoenix, their choices are still their own. All of this was his doing. He did it. Him. And now he has to live with that for the rest of his life. Pretty heavy stuff, huh? In terms of long term effects, the added depth and dimension this story brought to the Cyclops character will likely be its enduring legacy outside of being an event comic where a bunch of heroes fought each other. And let’s be honest, Charles Xavier will be back eventually.

In terms of structure, things grew a little stagnant during the second half of the story, as we knew we were simply waiting for the Avengers to take the Phoenix Five down one by one. They give Spider-Man the spotlight for an issue, as we see him persevere while Colossus and Magik beat him within an inch of his life. That provides a nice character moment for him to break up a bit of the staleness. But it’s an unavoidable valley in the story. The writers do what they can with it, and very capably I might add. But it is what it is.

Avengers vs. X-Men, Spider-Man, Colossus, MagikJohn Romita Jr. does some fine work here, despite some awkward depictions of Cyclops early in the story. Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert are also very strong. One person I took special note of in issue #11 was Laura Martin, whose reds, oranges and yellows made for a great sunset metaphor during the Cyclops/Xavier confrontation.

Avengers vs. X-Men was an easy pitch for readers new and old, it had some of the best talent in the industry attached to it, and it did some great fan service. Could we have asked more from it? I suppose there’s always someplace you can ask for more. But I can honestly say that the main story was worth the money I spent on it. And at the end of the day, can we really ask for much more than that?

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from heroes4hire.com. Image 2 from gamespot.com. Image 3 from ign.com. 

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