Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit Retro Review – Hate that Joker!

***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: Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit
AUTHORS: Tony Bedard, Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Guillem March
INKERS: Lorenzo Luggiero, BIT, Walden Wong
COLORISTS: JD Smith, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Dave Sharpe
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #1419
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

It was somewhere during this story that I gave up on Gotham City Sirens ever being the book I wanted it to be. As it started out as a title written by Paul Dini, I was hoping we’d get something more light-hearted, akin to the work Dini did with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on Batman: The Animated Series. Over the first several issues, we did get that. But it tapered off as different writers started to come on to the book.

Strange Fruit is fairly low on humor, and it’s the first trade in the series without Dini’s name on it, but a high-stakes storyline keeps the title from taking a steep plunge in quality.

The first two issues continue the story that was started in the last book. It’s about Poison Ivy helping an alien or something. In all honesty, my distaste for a random alien appearance in a Bat-book pretty much took me out of the story. It’s not terrible. But I wasn’t a fan.

We then move into a story in which Talia al Ghul and Zatanna are trying to stop a group of bad guys from targeting Catwoman so they can learn Batman’s true identity. What further complicates things is that Catwoman lied to Harley and Ivy, telling them she didn’t know his identity. Trust issues galore can be found in this story, which will lead to Harley making a VERY dramatic decision.

Something’s been nagging at me about Gotham City Sirens for awhile, and it traces back to the events of this book. The way Andres Guinaldo draws the Joker (see below) irritates me terribly. We only see him through sporadic flashbacks, but I’m consistently bothered with the way Guinaldo puts those Dark Knight-ish red etches at the corners of his mouth. He’s not the first artist to do it, but the way he does it is really distracting. They’re much too big. It looks like he’s smeared lipstick on his cheeks. I understand part of it is just Guinaldo’s style. But The Joker’s Dark Knight look doesn’t lend itself to that style.

The story with Zatanna and Talia isn’t the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s good. Both have been romantically linked to Bruce Wayne in the past, and those connections make for interesting storytelling. Selina and Zatanna also have a history, which adds to the fire.

While there are a few Harley Quinn moments that harken back to the tone the series started with, the book sets more of a traditional tone, which essentially makes it just like all the other Bat-books, which means it loses a huge part of its selling point. At least for me. I’m certainly not heartbroken this series won’t be part of the New 52 reboot.

***In Hindsight***
My mind about Andres Guinaldo’s Joker has not changed. Thankfully, that trend has died down in the years since.

At the time, I gave this book a 6/10. Upon re-reading, that feels about right. I liked that they played with Selina’s knowledge of Bruce’s identity. Though ironically this was post-Final Crisis, and the Batman we see in this book is Dick Grayson.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman: Life After Death Retro Review – Meanwhile, Almost a Decade Ago…

***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: Batman: Life After Death

AUTHOR: Tony Daniel
ARTISTS: Daniel, Guillem March
INKERS: Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund
COLORISTS: Ian Hannin, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Jared K. Fletcher
COLLECTS: Batman #692699
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Thinks Bruce Wayne just might come back.

In a lot of ways, this book is a sequel to Batman: Battle For The Cowl. It doesn’t come after it chronologically. But Life After Death was written entirely by Tony Daniel, the same man who wrote Battle. It also ties up some of the plot threads Daniel started there.

Life After Death finds the mysterious new Black Mask (i.e. not Roman Sionis) and his gang of False Faces in a war against the returning Falcone Crime Family. With the help of Catwoman and Huntress, Dick Grayson, the new Batman, must fight to keep Gotham City standing amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Kitrina, youngest of the Falcone children, proves a force to be reckoned with. And because that’s clearly not enough, the Riddler, who struck with amnesia shortly after the events of Batman: Hush, is starting to remember things that will come back to haunt him.

What I really enjoyed about Life After Death is that in writing it, Daniel didn’t do what Judd Winick did in Long Shadows. There weren’t a lot of talky scenes where Dick says much trouble he’s having adjusting to his new role as Batman. Daniel doesn’t tell us about Grayson’s troubles, he shows them to us. I give him a lot of credit for that.

Being a continuity buff, I love the fact that Daniel brought Mario Falcone into the story. He’s is a character left over from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work on Batman. For me, those books are right up there with the best Batman stories ever published. So to see those them acknowledged here was. Also included in this story is The Reaper, the villain from Mike Barr’s Batman: Year Two. Between the allusions to those three stories, plus Hush (another Jeph Loeb story), it’s clear Daniel has done his homework.

We find out who our new Black Mask is in this book. If you’re reading closely, his identity should be clear by the time the mask comes off. Daniel does a nice job characterizing this new version of the character, and his identity has already made for some interesting reading in the monthly Batman titles.

Daniel gives the artist reigns to Guillem March for the last fourth of the book. For my money, Daniel’s art is superior, but Guillem March is great too. His art fits nicely with the Batman books, and he draws great facial expressions.

From a writing standpoint, the book is a significant improvement over Battle For The Cowl. He’ll likely always be a great artist, but if he continues this trend, he’s also going to be a force to be reckoned with as a writer.

***In Hindsight***
True story: I had totally forgotten about the Kitrina Falcone character. She made for a pleasant, “Oh! That’s right!” moment.

This book came out before the Tony Daniel/Sandu Florea team overstayed its welcome. For my money, that happened when they started working on Detective Comics the following year. Floreau’s colors had a dourness to them that took a lot of the fun out of those books.

In this one, however, things mostly look okay. I can appreciate the darker, almost more gothic look to Dick Grayson’s Batman. Though it was a stark contrast to how Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, inker Rob Hunter, and oddly enough the same colorist in Ian Hannin, and had him look just a few issues prior. More colorful. Happier. Which at the end of the day is really how Dick’s Batman should look, to highlight the differences between he and Bruce.

I’m not as kind to Guillem March’s work in hindsight. His work on the New 52 Catwoman book just changed the way I look at his art. These days, he’s hit or miss with me. Ironically, as this is being published he’s working on Batman once again.

I miss Riddler’s private detective days. There was a lot of fun to be had there.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: Superman #165

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

Superman #165, 2000TITLE: Superman #165
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
PENCILLER: Joe Madureira. Cover by Ed McGuinness.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.25
RELEASED: December 2000

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’tcha hate it when your arch rival becomes President of the United States? Man, that sucks…

We all knew tough times were ahead for Superman after the 2000 presidential election. In one of their wildest stunts, which actually stuck for a few years, DC Comics opted to make Lex Luthor the President of the United States. Naturally, this was a huge blow for the Man of Steel. When he’s written well, Superman is essentially a man of the people. So what does a man of the people do when the people make a potentially catastrophic choice?

For Superman, the answer was turning to those he trusted. Not just his wife, but his friends, colleagues and confidants in the Justice League of America. Superman #123 takes place in the aftermath of Lex’s election, and sees Superman visit with each member of the League. As it’s the holiday season, he gives each one a small gift. This issue is drawn by a number of artists, each of whom pencils a particular encounter. But naturally, we’re focusing on the Superman’s time with Batman, which is drawn by Joe Madureira. The scene is only three pages long. But it’s an interesting glimpse into how the Superman/Batman dynamic works.

Superman #165, Batman, Joe MadurieraClark and Bruce had disagreed about how to handle Luthor running for president. Batman had some even more bad blood than usual with Luthor due to his involvement in the events of the recent No Man’s Land storyline. When it looked like things were turning in Luthor’s favor, Bruce wanted to dig up dirt to use against Lex, whose reputation was squeaky clean in the eyes of the public. But Superman questioned the ethical nature of such a move, and insisted they trust American voters to do the right thing.

Obviously, they didn’t.

The tension between the two is obvious when we open the issue. Batman’s cartoony scowl aside, while all the other meetings started with friendly dialogue, this one begins with silence.

Bats then asks: “Wasn’t it you who said we have to put our faith in the America people to do the right thing?”

Swallowing his pride a bit, Clark then gives Bruce a small magnifying glass (Get it? He’s a detective.), with the words: “This…is from Lois.”

Batman replies with a thank you. Then we get the line that truly makes this exchange special: “When the time is right, we’ll take Luthor down.”

Superman #165, BatmanIn the final panel, after Batman has left, Superman repeats quietly to himself: “When the time is right…”

This may seem fairly small and insignificant. But to me it illustrates the compromise that makes the partnership between these two men work. It’s that balance of optimism and cynicism. Batman wasn’t wrong to be wary the country potentially choosing Luthor. But Superman’s ethical argument wasn’t wrong either. Superheroes shouldn’t necessarily have to stoop to playing dirty. Especially when it comes to politics, which quite frankly, is dirty enough already.

Still, Luthor won, and Superman had to eat crow. But in the end, Bats still trusts Superman enough to work with him in defeating this enemy. And Superman trusts him too, despite their differences.

Clark takes Bruce’s words to heart as the issues ends on the next page (pencilled by Ed McGuinness), as we see Superman and Lois Lane beginning a brief vacation in the Bottle City of Kandor. Tough times are indeed near. But after spending so much time with his confidants, Superman chooses to take some quality time with his closest confidant of all.

Both our heroes look pretty jacked up here, which isn’t really my cup of tea. But as a style choice, it’s fine. The only thing I don’t appreciate here is the aforementioned scowl on Batman’s face, which stays with him the whole issue. That’s not to say he has to get sentimental, or even look particularly happy. But Superman’s expression changes in the scene. So why can’t Batman’s?

On it’s own, this scene stands up just fine. But it’s even better when you consider taking Luthor down is exactly what our heroes do a few years later in another Jeph Loeb story, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. One might consider this scene a nice little prelude to that story. Luther may have gotten himself elected. But in the end, justice came calling.

For more “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out our look at Gotham Knights #27.

Images from author’s collection.

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