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.

Alex Ross Spotlight: The Legacy of Neal Adams

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a comic book geek and haven’t heard the name Neal Adams, you haven’t been paying attention in class.

Alex Ross credits Adams as one of his early influences, and it’s easy to see why. Adams is widely credited with revolutionizing comic book art. Specifically in the late ’60s and early ’70s when he worked with writer Denny O’Neil on characters like Batman, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern.

As Ross tells it…

A Batman: Bride or Burglar? Review – What Might Have Been…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?
AUTHOR:
Tom King
PENCILLERS: Travis Moore, Joelle Jones, Mikel Janin
COLLECTS: Batman #3844
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: July 25, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is the part of Tom King’s Batman run where things start to get weird. Like, really, really weird.

Bride or Burglar? is book-ended by two strong single issues. But in between, King starts needlessly messing around with space-time. He also plants some seeds for Heroes in Crisis that, like much of that ill-conceived event comic, are needlessly awkward and forced. There’s one bit that’s downright blasphemous. From a quality standpoint, this is the lowest the series has dipped up to this point.

But let’s start by focusing on the positives, shall we? And to do that, we have to jump to the last story in this collection…

1. History Lesson
The highlight of the trade is easily Batman #44, which features the titular “Bride or Burglar” story. It sees Selina hunting for a wedding dress as only Catwoman can. But interspersed among the story are actual scenes from Batman and Catwoman’s history that King and Janin make their own, with most of the original dialogue intact. We go as far back to the original Batman #1 in 1940, through the ’50s, on into the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, all the way to the present.

While they do take certain creative liberties, they keep Catwoman’s various different costumes intact. As such, we not only get a sense of how her relationship with Batman has evolved, but how her Catwoman persona has evolved over its lifespan. For history buffs like yours truly, it’s an absolute treat. Story-wise, there’s also a wonderful little moment between Selina and Alfred on the final page.

Tom King’s Batman run has gotten a lot of flack, much of which is justified. But I’ll never knock the way he makes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry radiate off the page. Their familiarity, their intimacy with one another on a strictly verbal scale, is enough to make you believe they love each other, and perhaps should be married.

2. Who is Bruce Wayne?
Jumping back to the start of Bride or Burglar, Batman #38 introduces us to one of the most unlikely villains in all of Batman lore. I won’t spoil the specifics of who it is, but the character’s M.O. is that he models himself after Bruce Wayne. He essentially wants to become Bruce Wayne, which naturally puts Batman in a rather awkward spot. It’s been said that many of Batman’s enemies are, at their core, different versions of what Bruce could have become after his parents were killed. This premise takes that idea so literally that it’s actually pretty clever. We also spend some time doing C.S.I. type stuff with Batman and Commissioner Gordon, which is always fun.

Our guest artist for the issue is Travis Moore, joined by colorist Giulia Brusco. I can’t say I fell in love with their work here. But it was serviceable. No harm no foul.

3. The Eternal Vow
Here’s where we start to run into trouble.

In issue #39 we meet the Gentle Man, a warrior from another realm who spends night and day single-handedly fending off an army of monsters called the Hordes of Gehenna. Apparently, some time in the past Batman and Wonder Woman met and fought alongside the Gentle Man. They offered to take up his fight for a day and allow him to rest. But what he neglects to tell them is that minutes on Earth equate to years in this other realm. Thus, Bruce must not only fight alongside Diana for what winds up being about 30 years in relative time, but he must remain faithful to Selina. That’s not necessarily easy when you’re in the trenches with an Amazonian Princess.

While Joelle Jones is very much in her element with the battle scenes, this whole “Eternal Vow” story winds up being stupid and pointless filler on the path to the wedding in Batman #50. Bruce and Selina didn’t need a fairy tale story like this to emphasize the love they have for each other. A huge part of their appeal is that they’re not the fairy tale lovers destined to be together. They’re two orphans who met when their bizarre and violent paths happened to cross, and they fell into a unique kind of love. That’s all you need with them.

Furthermore, I don’t buy that Bruce comes out of that realm the same person. Yes, he’s Batman. But that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for crap like this. Both he and Diana would be shells of their former selves. Nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew them before.

As if that weren’t enough, Tom King has trouble writing Wonder Woman. Her dialogue is acceptable, but very weird. At this point, she’s been an active hero for years, right? But King writes her as if she’s just stepped out of Themyscira. It’s needlessly off-putting. And sadly, Diana isn’t the only Justice Leaguer to get a bad shake here…

4. Crazy Love
In “Everyone Loves Ivy,” Poison Ivy is able to gain control over the minds of everyone on the planet, except for Batman and Catwoman, who are able to fight it off using comic book science. Thus, it’s literally them against the world.

I like parts of this idea. It puts Ivy over huge, as she becomes a Justice-League-level threat, and is ultimately victorious. How she went about gaining the mind control is believable. The way they beat her is a little hokey, but acceptable given the parties involved.

Mikel Janin is back for these issues, and he really knocks it out of the park with all the greenery and foliage this story requires. Rarely has a Poison Ivy lair looked so good. I also give King and Janin credit for showing us what would actually happen if Superman full-on punched Batman in the face. It ain’t pretty, folks.

Sadly, I was yanked out of the story rather abruptly during the first issue. Ivy attempts to use the Flash against Batman. Barry Allen runs at him, or more specifically at Alfred, using his super-speed. Batman knocks him out with a single punch, effectively an inexplicably knocking him out of super-speed. What’s worse, this happens three more times in the following issue. Not just to Barry, but to Wally West and Kid Flash. Apparently Catwoman is also inexplicably capable of defeating the Flash with a single blow…

Bull. Shit.

I normally shy away from profanity. But this one deserved it. Shame on both Tom King and the Batman editorial team. You don’t get to turn the Flash and his supporting cast into a gag because you aren’t creative enough to find a better way to neutralize them. This is especially offensive in hindsight, given what King does to Wally in Heroes in Crisis.

In the end, Heroes in Crisis was the master this story served. It planted the seed (no pun intended) for Ivy’s role there. As such, her motivation involves a specific trauma from The War of Jokes and Riddles that we never saw, and thus can’t connect with as easily. So when the story tries to pivot and make her a victim, it fails because despite that trauma, she still took over the damn world. To an extent, she just made victims out of billions of innocent people. So you’ll pardon me if I’m rather unsympathetic.

5. The Verdict
Bruce proposed to Selina in Batman #24. I’m assuming by that point the knew the wedding was going to be in issue #50. So they had 25 issues to fill before the big pay-off. Some of the storytelling was very organic, i.e. the one with Talia al Ghul from Rules of Engagement. “Bride or Burglar” worked very well. The stuff with Superman and Lois Lane was fun.

But then you’ve got stuff like “Eternal Vow” and “Everyone Loves Ivy,” which are somewhat apropos, but still bizarre choices to fill that gap. It seems like we could have spent at least some of those issues figuring out how Selina adjusts to being in Batman’s inner circle. What sort of changes does it require of her? Are Batman and Catwoman essentially the new Dynamic Duo of Gotham City? What about Thomas and Martha Wayne? What was their wedding like? And how does Bruce think they’d react to his choice for a bride?

This obviously isn’t going to be the status quo forever. So why not mine this wedding stuff for as much character exploration as possible? They could still have told fun and compelling stories along the way. But instead we’re left with a feeling of missed opportunities, and the nagging question of what might have been.

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, The War of Jokes and Riddles, and The Rules of Engagement.

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

 

Weekly Comic 100s: Shazam!, Killadelphia, MMPR

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

***Author’s Note: If I display a variant cover, it’s because I purchased the issue in question with that cover.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Shazam! #8
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS: Scott Kolins, Michael Atiyeh (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Variant cover by Michael Cho.
RELEASED: November 27, 2019

I’ve always admired the firm grasp Geoff Johns has on the less renowned DC characters like Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, and now Shazam. He can do anything…except get these books to come out on time.

This issue misses Dale Eaglesham, whose pencils have provided the sense of fun, adventure, and fantasy elements that define this book’s identity. Still, Scott Kolins is more than serviceable, especially during the scenes in the undead “Darklands” realm. Michael Atiyeh makes them very interesting from a color contrast standpoint. It’s like this bright red superhero has stepped into an old Universal monster movie.

TITLE: Killadelphia #1
AUTHOR: Rodney Barnes
ARTISTS:
Jason Shawn Alexander, LuisNCT (Colorist), Marshall Dillon (Letterer)
RELEASED:
November 27, 2019

I mean, c’mon. The title alone makes this worth a look.

If you’re into the stuff Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do, you’ll like Killadelphia. Or at least this first issue. It’s got a great pulp-noir-meets-horror feel. A second generation cop investigates the most bizarre case his famous father ever worked. What he uncovers is, as the book itself puts it, “There are vampires in Philadelphia.”

Best page in the book? When our main character opens a door, sees a bunch of vampires hanging from the ceiling, and runs away in terror when they give chase…

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #45
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Daniele Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Katia Ranalli & Igor Monti (Color Assistants), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell.
RELEASED: November 27, 2019

“Necessary Evil” progresses nicely with a great “heel turn” this month. Parrott and Di Nicuolo are usually my guys as far as PR comics go. But one particular moment felt wrong…

There’s a scene where Zordon, talking to the Red Omega Ranger (Does he know it’s Jason?), says that Lord Zedd is formidable, yet “an adversary I was confident that they could handle.” While I’m sure this isn’t how Parrott meant this, that makes it sound like Zordon considers Zedd more of a nuisance than a threat. Didn’t he originally describe Zedd’s arrival as “the thing I have feared most”?

TITLE: Action Comics #1017
AUTHOR:
Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS:
John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED:
November 27, 2019

On page one, panel one, we get a big dumb Batman robot suit. For me, that’s about the worst way to start an issue of anything.

This issue does a nice job forwarding the “Invisible Mafia” story as it crosses over with the “Year of the Villain” stuff. It looks like we’ve got a big Justice League vs. Legion of Doom fight coming at us next time.

Justice League hasn’t been on my pull list since “YOTV” started. *sigh* I suppose I should probably catch up if I’m going to fully grasp what’s happening with Lex  and the gang.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1016
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS:
Doug Mahnke, Tyler Kirkham (Co-Penciller and Co-Inker), Christian Alamy (Co-Inker), Keith Champagne (Co-Inker), Mark Irwin (Co-Inker), David Baron, (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED: November 27, 2019

Ugh. There’s another stupid modified Batsuit in this issue. What happened to the Hellbat armor Tomasi used in Batman & Robin and Superman? Wouldn’t a modified version have worked here?

Bad costume notwithstanding, I love the way this Victor/Nora story ends. “A vicious circle,” as Batman calls it. Tomasi also works in an amazing callback to a New 52 event. Continuity, ladies and gentlemen. Use it well, and it’ll do wonders for you.

This story leaves Mr. Freeze’s status quo dramatically altered. Now it’s just a question of how long DC keeps it that way.

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

Alex Ross Spotlight: Interpreting Superheroes in the “Real World”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It’s been written that seeing an Alex Ross take on a comic book character is like, “finally meeting someone you’d only ever heard about.”

As anyone familiar with his work knows, Ross is truly in a league of his own in terms of making these characters look real, yet keeping that awe-inspiring flamboyance that captured our hearts in the first place.

Ross has talked about at times using specific likenesses (actors, etc.) as the basis for certain characters. He famously used his father to portray Norman McCay in Kingdom Come. In the same book, Gregory Peck was apparently Ross’ inspiration in rendering an older Bruce Wayne. And as he discusses in the video below, his take on Mister Fantastic was at one time based on how Russell Johnson (the Professor) looked on Gilligan’s Island.

But even when drawing in such a realistic style, is that the way to go? As time went on, Ross would change his mind on the matter…

These days, with superhero movies more prevalent than ever, Ross finds himself in a unique position as filmmakers try to literally bring these stories to life on the big screen. While certain liberties are often taken to make them look more real, Ross remains as reverent as ever for the way these characters were originally designed…

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

Panels of Awesomeness: Supergirl: Being Super

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

THE ISSUE: Supergirl: Being Super #1

CREATORS: Mariko Tamaki (Author), Joelle Jones (Pencils), Sandu Floreau (Inks), Kelly Fitzpatrick (Colors) Saida Temofonte (Letters)

RELEASED: December 28, 2016

THE SCENE: In the opening pages of this out-of-continuity take on Supergirl, we meet Kara Danvers and her friends.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: I’m a sucker for body language and certain subtle visual cues. Comic books are, after all, a visual medium. I wasn’t even two pages into Supergirl: Being Super when I found one I absolutely love.

The book reestablishes the character as a modern American teenager. One of the book’s best attributes is establishes strong connections early on between Kara and her supporting cast, specifically her friends. One of those friends is Dolly Granger. 

What I absolutely adore here is how perfectly the art and the caption boxes are intertwined. The one on the left is our set-up, as we get this information about Dolly’s parents. Then we have the reveal of her hair, which beautifully points to her non-conformist streak without saying a single word. We probably don’t even need the caption on the right. But it’s a nice bit of garnish. Incidentally, it’s probably not an accident that the background is rainbow colored.

One of the book’s best attributes is how real and genuine Kara’s friendships feel. They work wonders in making this otherwise goddess-like character feel very down-to-Earth. Often it can be cumbersome to get those supporting characters established while still doing the business of the plot. But Dolly’s introduction is quick, seamless, and masterful.

For more Joelle Jones, check out Panels of Awesomeness: Catwoman #1.

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

 

Epic Covers: Superman as an Angel

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Superman as a God figure. Superman as a stand-in for Christ. Superman as a saintly presence. It’s hardly a new idea. But slapping red angel wings on Big Blue really drives the point home, wouldn’t you agree?

Superman #659 was, in execution, a fairly unremarkable issue. But to this day, I absolutely adore the premise. Written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, it sees an elderly woman become convinced that Superman is an angel sent from heaven. She then takes it upon herself to sic him on Metropolis’ criminal element. Superman, of course, is simply trying to save this woman who continues to put herself in harm’s way. There’s a lot of meat on that bone, which makes me wish they’d done more with this idea than simply use it for a filler issue.

While Peter Vale and the artists do a fine job with the interior, it’s  Alejandro Barrionuevo’s cover that has always stuck with me. The combined elements do a tremendous job creating that element of divine grandeur you’d want for a story like this.

Many would-be readers cry that Superman isn’t relatable enough. This premise doesn’t do him any favors in that regard. But I love that they played with the idea a little bit.

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