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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2013 list!  I hope you all enjoyed the rest of my lists.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Movies of 2013, and here for part two and here for part three.  Click here for part one of The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013, and here for part two.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013, and here for part two.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of the Top Ten DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2013:

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower Had I seen this film in 2012 when it was released, it surely would have made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list.  Since I missed including this touching, heartbreaking film on that list last year, I sort of had to find a way to cheat and include it on one of my Best of 2013 lists!  This film has stuck with me deeply since I saw it.  It’s surely one of the greatest coming-of-age stories I have ever seen, masterfully adapted for the screen by Steven Chbosky, based on his own novel of the same name (which I now desperately need to read).  Each one of the kids in the film is portrayed by a phenomenal actor/actress: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman, and a score of others, not to mention some great adults in supporting roles such as Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack, Dylan McDermott, and Kate Walsh.  No child should have to go through what Charlie has to go through in this story, but should god forbid that happen, I hope he/she is blessed with friends as wonderful as Sam, Patrick, and their gang.  And while I referred to “cheating” a moment ago by including this film on this DVD list, the blu-ray is in fact phenomenal, with some great behind-the-scenes stuff and two magnificent commentaries, one by Mr. Chbosky alone and one by Chbosky and all the kids.  (Click here for my original review.)

9. The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 & The Flashpoint Paradox These two direct-to-DVD animated DCU projects were both very strong.  At the start of the year we got the second half of the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns.  Published in 1986, this dark, psychological tale is the seminal “Last Batman Story,” in which an aged Bruce Wayne once again dons the cape and cowl in an attempt to reclaim a Gotham City without hope.  Mr. Miller’s work has been heavily mined for inspiration by … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013 — Part One!

My Best of 2013 lists roll on!  I hope you enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013 (click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three) and my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 (click here for part one and here for part two).

Today we begin my third Best of 2013 list — The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013!  Onward:

Honorable Mentions: Series I loved but that didn’t make this list include: Secret, The Manhattan Projects, The Massive, Peter David’s X-Factor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman Beyond Unlimited, Mark Millar & Frank Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy, IDW’s X-Files re-launch, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman, Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw’s Wolverine & The X-Men, and Brian & Olivia Bendis’ Takio.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s DC work, including his run on Action Comics which wrapped up earlier this year (click here for my detailed thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s Superman saga) and his work on Batman Incorporated, which concluded Mr. Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for my in-depth comments on Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga).

Here now is my main list:

15. America’s Got Powers I loved this seven-issue mini-series (the final three issues of which were published in 2013) by superstar artist Bryan Hitch and writer Jonathan Ross, about a brutal reality TV show in which super-powered kids are forced to compete.  The concept is a delicious melding of super-hero action and social commentary, but what most surprised me about the series was by how hooked in I was by the series’ main character, Tommy Watts, and his struggle to somehow find his way through and survive the competing interests operating all around him.  I was sorry when this mini-series ended.  I hope that someday Mr. Ross and Mr. Hitch return to this world.

14. Wonder Woman Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang (along with Goran Sudzuka and Tony Akins)’s reinvention of Wonder Woman continues, and it has been just as thrilling in its second year as it was in its first.  I can’t believe I am actually purchasing a Wonder Woman comic book every month, let alone enjoying it so much.  Mr. Azzarello has, on the one hand, connected the Wonder Woman mythos far more strongly to Greek mythology than has ever been done before (with the series’ main cast now consisting of various Greek mythological figures, each brought to unique life by Mr. Azzarello’s writing), while also (in an even more surprising move) beginning to tie the series into Jack Kirby’s New Gods concepts (with Orion becoming a major player … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the latest DCU Animated Adventure: The Flashpoint Paradox

August 20th, 2013
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After the dreadful Superman: Unbound (click here for my review), I am very pleased that the latest DCU direct-to-DVD animated movie, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, is a very solid, entertaining adventure, one of the strongest DCU animated outings from the past several years.

It is certainly a much stronger adaptation of the source material than the last several animated films, which include Superman: Unbound (an adaptation of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Brainiac story from Action Comics), the two-part adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (click here for my review of part 1 and here for part 2), and an adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One (click here for my review).  The less said about the dull, childish Superman: Unbound the better — the animated film totally abandoned everything that was great about the original story-line from the comics.  And while there was a lot to enjoy in the adaptations of Frank Miller’s two famous Batman stories, and while I respect the ambition of tackling those two complex, iconic tales, I think the animated movies, while enjoyable, lacked a lot of the nuance and sophistication of the source material.

The original Flashpoint, a five-issue mini-series written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert and inkers Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdang, is a much simpler story than, say, The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One.  Perhaps that is why it fares much better being adapted into an animated film, as the action/adventure aspect of the story might have proven to be easier to turn into a compelling animated movie than the more introspective, internal Frank Miller tales.

Flashpoint, published in 2011, is famous for marking the end of the DC Comics universe as it had existed since 1985-86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the end of the series, DC completely relaunched their entire superhero universe, re-starting every one of their comics with a new #1, and starting almost every character’s story over again from the beginning, calling this reboot “The New 52.”  But Flashpoint really isn’t about all that.  Instead, it’s a classic alternate-universe tale in which the Flash wakes up in a terribly altered timeline, in which Aquaman and Wonder Woman are leading their respective nations (the underwater kingdom of Atlantis and the Amazons of Themyscira) in a war with one another that threatens to destroy the globe.  Robbed of his super-human abilities, the Flash must try to figure out how and when the timeline was changed, and how he can possibly change things back.

At this point, dark alternate-timeline stories have become incredibly cliche.  It’s been a long time since my … [continued]

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The End of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern Epic!

I came in very late to this party.  Beginning back in 2004 with Green Lantern: Rebirth, writer Geoff Johns began weaving an epic outer space saga in the pages of Green Lantern.  Not only did Mr. Johns completely revitalize and re-energize the Green Lantern comic book (returning original modern-day Green Lantern Hal Jordan to comic-book life and reinstating the character as the central focus of the Green Lantern comic book), but he radically reinvented and expanded the Green Lantern mythos in a way that I can’t imagine ever being undone.  For years, readers of Green Lantern accepted the book’s premise that the space-faring peace-keeping group the Green Lantern Corps were powered by the green energy of will, but Mr. Johns expanded that idea to suggest an entire emotional spectrum — different colors representing different emotions, which each color having a ring-bearing corps of its own.  This is such a clever idea, and has quickly become so accepted in the DCU that I can’t ever imagine that concept not being forever linked with Green Lantern moving forward.

I had read about what Mr. Johns and his talented artistic collaborators (among them Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Doug Mahnke) had been doing with Green Lantern for years, but I never actually read any of those comics until the relaunch of the DCU with the “New 52” universe-wide shake-up.  Green Lantern #1 was one of the many new DCU issue #1’s that I sampled, but after the dust cleared, Green Lantern was one of the very few new DC titles that I continued to read.  (I also stuck with Green Lantern‘s sister title, Green Lantern Corps, as well as Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman.)  I was immediately hooked into the story (that began in the re-numbered Green Lantern #1), which launched with the intriguing notion that villain Sinestro had somehow again become a Green Lantern, while Hal had been booted out of the corps and was now stuck on Earth, powerless.  A few issues into the re-launched series, I decided that I wanted to start from the beginning and catch up on everything that I had missed.

And so began a year-long re-reading project, in which I tracked down the collected editions of Mr. Johns’ lengthy run.  I wrote about this Green Lantern saga repeatedly here on the site.  In my first post, I discussed Green Lantern: Rebirth, the mini-series that re-launched Green Lantern, and the first several story-lines of the relaunched Green Lantern comic book.  Then I wrote about The Sinestro Corps War, the massive crossover event in which GL’s nemesis Sinestro forged his own corps — using the yellow power of fear.  This … [continued]

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Superman Unbound

The latest DC Universe animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray film has arrived: Superman: Unbound.  Like many of these DCU animated DVDs have been, this new film is an adaptation of a great story from the comics — in this case, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal’s reinvention of Brainaic that ran in Action Comics #866-870 in 2008.

Mr. Johns’ story in those issues of Action Comics is terrific.  It manages to be a very new-reader-friendly story that reinvents both the villain Brainiac as well as the cast of characters surrounding Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet in a way that makes them new and fresh, and not overly bogged-down by continuity… and yet Mr. Johns’ story demonstrates a detailed grasp of DCU continuity, as Mr. Johns references previous Brainiac appearances and the backstory of characters such as Cat Grant, he features General Zod in the story’s prologue, and he even finds a way to clarify the often confusing, tangled histories of the Kryptonian cities Kandor and Argo (both of which somehow survived the destruction of Krypton and both of which have been used, somewhat inter-changably, in various non-comic-book Superman stories).

And Gary Frank’s art (inked by Jon Sibal) is magnificent, possibly one of my top two or three favorite renditions of Superman ever.  Mr. Frank uses Christopher Reeves’ face as his model for Superman/Clark Kent, and it is wonderful to behold.  (And I was pleased to see that Mr. Frank drew other artistic cues from Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, such as the crystalline-look of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.)  Mr. Frank can draw super-hero fisticuffs as well as he can draw a meeting in the Daily Planet offices.  I love his design-skills (his newly-redesigned robotic Brainaic minions are fantastic) and I find his detailed line-work to be quite beguiling.

Sadly, this new animated DVD/blu-ray adaptation is a total disappointment.  Geoff Johns’ story has been stripped of all danger and excitement.  What has been left is a completely generic, bland Superman adventure, far inferior to the previous Superman/Brainiac stories we saw years ago in Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series and the follow-up Justice League series.

Geoff Johns’ story depicted a newly fierce, dangerous Brainiac, whose menacing robotic minions had no compunction about brutally murdering the inhabitants of unsupecting planets.  When Superman finally makes it on board Brainiac’s ship and encounters the true Brainiac at the ship’s core, it feels like a moment of true threat and danger for the Man of Steel.  Sadly none of that menace is present in the animated adaptation.  The awesome prologue of the comic story, with General Zod on Krypton, has been replaced by a generic earth-bound incident in which Supergirl and Superman stop some terrorists … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012 — Part Two!

Yesterday I published part one of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012.  You can also check out my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

5. Batman: Earth One  A staggeringly entertaining ground-one reinvention of Batman, I can’t believe how much I loved this hardcover graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.  I don’t have too much patience for creators reworking classic super-hero origins — do they think they know better than the original creators of these long-lived, much-beloved characters?  And if you’re going to re-tell Batman’s origin, how could anyone possibly do it better than Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superlative Batman: Year One from the eighties?  While I wouldn’t consider this origin story to be superior to Batman’s established origin, it’s a marvelously entertaining what-if version in which all of the familiar beats play out differently.  (And it’s hugely superior to DC’s first “Earth One” graphic novel, J. Michael Straczynski’s woeful Superman: Earth One.)  Mr. John’s tweaks to the familiar characters (I particularly love Earth One’s versions of Alfred and Harvey Bullock) plus Mr. Frank’s exquisite art make this a knockout.  I hope they make lots more sequels so that I can return to this world for further adventures.

4. America’s Got Powers — This six-issue mini-series (of which four issues have been published so far) has been blowing my socks off.  Superstar artist Bryan Hitch (for my money, the very best illustrator of super-hero comic books working today) and Jonathan Ross have teamed up to create this original, powerhouse new series.  Something has gifted a whole generation of young people with super-powers.  A fearful government has rounded up anyone exhibiting special abilities, but to keep them (and the general population) from focusing on the hideous human rights abuses, they have created a super-powered reality TV show in which the super-powered kids compete for fame and glory.  No surprise, the behind-the-scenes reality is far different than the happy, televised spectacle.  This series is deft speculative fiction of the very best kind, crossed with a terrific super-hero adventure story.  I have loved every single page.  I hope this series continues beyond the scheduled six issues.

3. All-New X-Men The biggest surprise of the year for me has been Brian Michael Bendis’ new X-Men series.  The Beast, fearing that his life is nearly over and distraught at the state of the X-Men, the world, and the actions of his former best friend Scott … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my Top 15 Movies of 2012 list!  You can click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Now let’s jump into my second Best of 2012 list, my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

First up, some honorable mentions.  They didn’t make by best-of list, but I really enjoyed The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Massive, the publication of Alan Moore’s last scripted issue of Supreme, the conclusion of RASL, Ultimate Spider-Man (dropping off my best-of list for the first time since I started doing this, but still a great comic book), Daredevil: End of Days, and Peter David’s X-Factor.

15. Batman Beyond: Unlimited I am loving this continuation of the world of Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Beyond series.  The comic has picked up on many terrific story-lines left hanging by the show’s conclusion, including Terry’s membership in the Justice League, Superman’s return to Metropolis, Terry’s relationship with Dana, the tragic events that befell former Robin Tim Drake (as depicted in the Return of the Joker DVD movie), and at last the introduction of Dick Grayson into Batman Beyond continuity.  With the Justice League and the New Gods front-and-center, as well as a revitalized Jokerz gang, the stories feel suitably big and epic.  I love that each issue is double-sized, with several serialized stories running concurrently.  The art is a little inconsistent on some of the features, but I love Dustin Nguyen’s work, and I am absolutely delighted to see the great Norm Breyfogle once again illustrating a Batman comic.

14. Winter SoldierEd Brubaker’s final Captain America story-line has been terrific, returning full-circle to where his Captain America epic began years ago, with a still-alive Bucky Barnes operating on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, trying his best to be a hero in the murky world of spies and shadows.  I love the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow.  I love how heavily SHIELD and Nick Fury are involved in the story.  I love Butch Guice’s spectacular illustrations, at once retro and very modern.  This is a great noirish super-hero story, and I’m going to be sorry to see it end.

13. BatwomanJ.H. Williams III’s lavishly illustrated series continues to impress me.  Without question, the main draw is J.H. Williams III’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, so creative in terms of page and panel layout, and his use of different artistic styles for different characters/settings.  But Mr. Williams has also been doing fine work as the writer, spinning a great mystery yarn that is grounded but not afraid to embrace the supernatural or the super-heroic.  The latest story-line, featuring … [continued]

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Green Lantern in the New 52!

December 26th, 2012
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A little over a year-ago, DC Comics re-launched their entire universe.  Abandoning all of their previous continuity, they re-started all of their characters and re-started every one of their comic book titles with a new issue #1.  In that first month-or-two of this new DC universe, called “the New 52,” I sampled a number of new comics that I hadn’t been reading before, but after a few months I quickly found myself back to reading the same DC books/characters that I’d been reading before, with two exceptions:  Brian Azzarello’s exceptional new take on Wonder Woman, and Geoff John’s Green Lantern.

For years I’d been reading and hearing about the wonderful work that Geoff Johns had been doing on Green Lantern, re-shaping that title into an exciting, galaxy-spanning epic saga, but for one reason or another I’d never started reading it.  I have never been particularly interested in Green Lantern, and I have NEVER — in all of my comic-book-reading years, regularly read the Green Lantern comic.  But with the New 52 relaunch, and Geoff Johns still writing Green Lantern, it seemed like a great place to finally give the title a try.  I was immediately hooked by the story of that first issue, in which Hal Jordan has apparently been thrown out of the Green Lantern Corps, while arch-villain Sinestro (who began as a Green Lantern himself before falling from grace) has been accepted back into the Corps.  I was hooked by the story, and by the gorgeous art of Doeg Mahnke.  Not only did I continue reading the newly relaunched Green Lantern series, but I started picking up the also-excellent fellow title Green Lantern Corps.

But that wasn’t enough.  I was intrigued by the Green Lantern stories I was reading, and desperately wanted to get myself filled in on the backstory.  And so I decided to go back and read Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern from the beginning, and I’ve been writing about it here on the site since last spring.  My previous reviews of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories can be found by following these links:  Green Lantern: Rebirth,The Sinestro Corps WarSecret Origin and the prelude to Blackest Night, and the Blackest Night event.  When I finally arrived at War of the Green Lanterns, I was all caught up with the Green Lantern saga.

I’ve found DC’s New 52 relaunch to be altogether a mixed bag, and part of the problem has been that while some series and characters seem to have been completely retconned and relaunched from square one, others have continued on as before.  Both the Batman comics and the Green Lantern comics have picked up in the … [continued]

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War of the Green Lanterns!

December 12th, 2012
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And so I arrive at Geoff Johns’ final Green Lantern stories before DSC’s big “New 52” relaunch!  My previous reviews of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories can be found by following these links:  Green Lantern: Rebirth, The Sinestro Corps War, Secret Origin and the prelude to Blackest Night, and the Blackest Night event.

Green Lantern: Brightest Day — Another brilliant story-title from Mr. Johns, it seems perfect that the Blackest Night story should be followed by a story-line entitled Brightest Day.  Very clever.  I thought for sure this would be a letdown after the huge, epic Blackest Night, but it was anything but.  Unbelievably, I found Green Lantern: Brightest Day to be even more engaging!  Mr. Johns has completely exploded the Green Lantern universe, and I was thrilled to see that all of the multi-colored corps’ standard-bearers (Atrocitus, Larfleeze, Carol Ferris, Saint Walker, Indigo-1, and Sinestro) continue to be in center stage.  These characters haven’t been forgotten or quickly brushed aside by Mr. Johns so he could return Green Lantern to the status quo.  No, Mr. Johns has embraced the complexity of these characters and the saga he has been weaving.  I loved watching these characters bounce off of one another in Green Lantern: Blackest Night, and they are all even more fun here.  I love these multi-colored characters!!  Mr. Johns has created a rich tapestry, and I love seeing him continue to peel back the layers of this universe.  As I’d suspected from the end of Green Lantern: Blackest Night, in this story Mr. Johns has focused on the revelation that each one of the corps has an “entity” that embodies and manifests the emotions and power tied to their specific color/corps.  It’s a very clever, logical idea — like so many of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories, it feels like a perfect, supremely logical idea that is obvious in all the best ways.  I also loved seeing Hector Hammond again.  Things really go crazy in this volume (this is NOT AT ALL a lull after the events of Blackest Night), and the volume ends on a terrific cliffhanger.  Spectacular story-telling, deliciously enhanced by Doug Mahnke’s incredibly detailed, evocative artwork.  (I’m thrilled that, after Green Lantern: Darkest Night, Mr. Mahnke stayed on as the series’ artist!)

Green Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns — Through Blackest Night and then Brightest Day, I felt that Geoff Johns has been ratcheting the tension and the scale of his saga up and up and up.  Sadly, here in War of the Green Lanterns (Mr. Johns’ final GL story-line before the “New 52” universe-wide relaunch), I felt he stumbled.  With the title War of the Green Lanterns,[continued]

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Green Lantern: Secret Origin and More

Last Spring, I started making my way through Geoff Johns’ years-long run on Green Lantern. I had heard and read so much praise for his defining work on the series, that I thought it high time to sample his stories myself.

I started with Mr. Johns’ hugely successful re-launch of the Green Lantern series (bringing back the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan) in Green Lantern: Rebirth and his first several story-arcs on the re-started Green Lantern regular series, and then I moved on to his epic, galaxy-spanning Sinestro Corps War storyline, in which classic Green Lantern villain Sinestro creates his own corps to rival the Green Lantern corps.  Whereas the Green Lanterns draw their strength from will, Sinestro’s Yellow Lanterns draw their strength from fear, and prove to be a near insurmountable foe for the GL Corps.  That was a fantastic story-line, and at that point I was well and truly hooked on Mr. Johns’ stories, and eager to see where things went from there.

Green Lantern: Secret Origin — After the Sinestro Corps epic, Mr. Johns stepped back from the cosmic story he was telling to present an updated, fleshed-out version of Green Lantern’s origin.  Taking a very similar approach as he did with his wonderful Superman: Secret Origin mini-series (click here for my review), Mr. Johns presents a wonderfully rich, detailed version of the hero’s classic origin story.  This is very much a modern version of Green Lantern’s origin, in which three-dimensional characterizations have replaced the far more black-and-white simplistic characters seen in older versions.  But it’s not a reject-everything, start-over-from-square-one story.  Quite the contrary, Green Lantern: Secret Origin is steeped in the richness of the character’s complex mythology.  That the story respects continuity while also presenting a fresh take on this familiar origin is the key to this story’s magic.  It’s also fun to see how Mr. Johns has gone back and retroactively layered in characters and plot-lines from his current Green Lantern sagas.  Hence we now see Abin Sur and Atrocitus discussing the prophecy of the “Blackest Night,” that Sinestro was first sent to Earth by Ganthet, and that William Hand (who would become the villainous Black Hand) was involved in one of Green Lantern’s first super-hero fights.  It’s nice to see those stories and characters incorporated into the beginning of Hal Jordan’s story.  The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is magnificent, crisp and detailed.  It’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect art team on the book.

Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns — This is a fun collection, though less of a complete story than previous volumes.  These stories serve more as an epilogue to events … [continued]

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Batman: Earth One

“Earth One” is a series of new original graphic novels from DC Comics.  The idea is to re-invent their characters from zero by re-telling their origins as if they occurred in our world, a world without other super-heroes.

They launched the series two years ago with Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis.  I thought it was pretty terrible.

When Batman: Earth One was announced, I had no interest.  But then I read the graphic novel would be created by the team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who worked together on some terrific Superman comics a few years ago, including the spectacular six-part Superman: Secret Origin. (It’s a far superior re-telling of Superman’s origin than that seen in Earth One, and I also reviewed it in the above link.)  OK, I thought, let’s see what they can do with Batman.

They knocked it out of the park!  Now that Christopher Nolan has completed his trilogy of Batman films, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll soon see a reboot of the Batman film series and another telling of Batman’s origin.  In many ways, Batman: Earth One seems like a perfect pitch for an awesome new film version of Batman.  I don’t know if that was the creators’ intention, but I could absolutely see this graphic novel working as a film.

Let me be clear: this story was not intended to be an “iconic” version of Batman’s origin.  No, Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank have taken a very different approach, re-shaping and re-thinking aspects of the character and his origin. On the one hand, I am not exactly sure why that is something worth doing.  Why bother messing with one of the simplest, most perfect origin stories in comics?  Why change things that don’t really need to be changed?  Why fix what isn’t broken?  On the other hand, if one can let go of one’s sense of continuity and the occasional horrified “No!  That’s not what’s supposed to happen!”, then this bold reinvention of Batman is very exciting and, for the most part, very successful.

What works?

I love the new version of Alfred.  Physically the character looks totally different (yep, that gun-weilding dude on the cover is Alfred), and though the character’s central affection for Bruce Wayne remains, the changes are more than just physical.  This is a younger, more vigorous, more virile Alfred than we’ve ever seen before.  This Alfred is a military man, and in this story he becomes far more directly responsible for the training of the man who would be Batman than ever before.  (Although the idea that Bruce Wayne spent years traveling the world training to become Batman is a … [continued]

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DC’s Infinite Crises — Part Three!

My rollicking journey through several years-old DC Comics events continues!  I’ve already written about Identity Crisis here and Infinite Crisis here, so now my attention turns to Grant Morrison’s 2008 mini-series Final Crisis.

Final Crisis — Vastly superior to 2005’s Infinite Crisis, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis is a complex, layered, stupendously entertaining tale that also, sadly, collapses at the very end into an utter mess.

The first three issues are pretty much perfect.  Nobody does mounting dread better than Grant Morrison, and the sense of real menace and danger for our heroes practically drips off of every page.  It’s quite a feat to make the reader fear for any long-running comic book character (who you pretty much know will eventually be OK and return to the status quo), but somehow in much of Grant Morrison’s work I find an engaging edge of “I don’t know quite WHAT this crazy writer is going to do to any of these poor characters next!”  Mr. Morrison also loves to incorporate Big Ideas into his super-hero work.  I love that issue #1 opens in prehistoric times, as we see Anthro (the DC Universe’s “First Boy”) meeting Metron (of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, here serving as a Prometheus figure).  It’s an indication that Mr. Morrison is setting out a more epic, universe-spanning tale than one might expect.

I love the use of Darkseid as the villain, and the terrible corruption and crumbling of tough-cop Dan Turpin is heartbreaking.  (This is classic Grant Morrison — it’s difficult not to emotionally invest in the story when we see such horrible things happening to this good-guy character.  Turpin’s fall is much more traumatic for me, as a reader, than the one-panel death of the Martian Manhunter, an event which I expected would be reversed before too long, as indeed it was.)

But what I particularly like about the early issues of Final Crisis is that, while they certainly encompass many characters in many locations and of many types: gods, super-heroes, and mortal men, the story is very focused (FAR more so than the rambling, wobbly Infinite Crisis).  It’s a big story, but we follow the storie’s events through the eyes of a relatively small group of characters, and even when we cut away to new characters (like, say, the Flashes at the end of issue 2), it’s clear how those scenes are moving the main story forward.  While the comic crosses over into other stories (I’m certain the Green Lantern issues published at the time give far more depth to the Hal Jordan-accused-of-murder storyline), we get enough in the Final Crisis issues themselves to be able to follow the story without feeling that we need to … [continued]

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DC’s Infinite Crises!

I’ve been having a ball, recently, reading the last few years’ worth of Geoff John’s work on Green Lantern.  Click here for part one, in which I discuss Green Lantern: Rebirth and the subsequent collections of Mr. John’s work on the re-launched Green Lantern comic, and click here for part two, in which I discuss the massive crossover The Sinestro Corps War. The Sinestro Corps War dug deeply into DC Universe continuity, featuring as villains characters such as Superboy Prime (who was a main villain in DC’s line-wide crossover series Infinite Crisis) and the Anti-Monitor (the villain of 1986’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series to which Infinite Crisis was really a sequel).

Since I was a kid, I have always been more of a fan of Marvel Comics than DC.  I’ve read far, far more Marvel comics than DC comics, and I am far more deeply-versed in the minutia of Marvel Universe continuity than I am with that of DC.  Nevertheless, I’ve been reading DC comics since I was a kid, too.  And while the only books that I have been reading regularly, year after year, are the Batman books, I’ve also picked up many of the big DC crossovers, as well as various other DC books from time to time.  I’ve read a lot of the big DC events of the past decade, but I’ve never really gone back and re-read them.  So I decided to take a pause in my reading of Geoff John’s Green Lantern stories, to read back through some of the big recent events in the DCU.  I have read 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths several times, so I decided to start more recently, with 2004’s Identity Crisis.

Identity Crisis — Brad Meltzer’s story was pretty shocking at the time, and I must say it still packs quite a punch.  It’s a very adult take on the characters of the DCU, one that is more than a little reminiscent of the great Alan Moore’s approach to telling stories of the DC super-heroes.  (That is a compliment, not a criticism!)  Identity Crisis kicks off with the shocking, brutal murder of Sue Dibney, wife of the DC hero the Elongated Man.  But it’s the events of the second issue of the mini-series that really shocked — the revelation that, years ago, Sue was raped by the villain Dr. Light, and that in retaliation members of the Justice League wiped his mind, and that, in fact, the Leaguers had been doing that for years, any time a super-villain discovered anything that might put their secret identities in jeopardy and endanger their loved ones.  Identity Crisis works on so many levels.  It’s a great way … [continued]

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Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War

One of the new DC comics I started reading following the DCU’s line-wide relaunch (called “The New 52”) was Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I’ve been really enjoying it, so I decided to go back and catch up on the saga Mr. Johns has been weaving in the Green Lantern books for the past several years.  Click here for part one.  The next collected edition I picked up reprinted the big cross-over event The Sinestro Corps War, which took place over several months in the two main Green Lantern comics (Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps).

The Sinestro Corps War This was a fantastic story-line, my favorite since Rebirth. I loved Green Lantern: Rebirth, but my interest wasn’t quite as captured by the three subsequent collections of Mr. John’s run on the re-launched Green Lantern regular comic.  But The Sinestro Corps War kicks things back up into high gear.  The story is hugely epic, containing galaxy-spanning interstellar conflict featuring hundreds of characters, but it is also deeply personal, centered on the individual characters and story-arcs of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, and a few other characters.  In many ways, this feels like the direct sequel to Rebirth, as the Parallax fear-creature returns (this time taking possession of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner), and the resurrected Sinestro steps back into the fore as Hal Jordan’s greatest nemesis.  This story is HUGE, a fact driven home by the splash page at the end of the Sinestro Corps Special (the issue that kicked off this crossover) in which Sinestro’s allies are revealed as the Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor.  This story is neck-deep in the intricacies of DCU continuity, but that didn’t prove an impediment to me, even though I’m not nearly as well-versed in the DC Universe as I am in the Marvel Universe.  I’ve read enough of the big DC crossovers over the years to recognize all three of those characters, even if I don’t quite understand, for example, Superboy Prime’s back-story, or how exactly the Anti-Monitor was returned to life after Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in the context of this story, it doesn’t matter — Geoff Johns gives us just enough information to ground the motivations of all three villains, and together they set the stakes extraordinarily high, posing a threat that it seems impossible for our heroes to overcome.  I loved that we get to see other DC heroes involved in the story’s climax — which makes sense when the Earth and the Universe was facing such danger — and I was pleased that we saw just enough of Superman, etc., while the story stayed sharply focused on Hal Jordan and the other Green … [continued]

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Green Lantern’s Light

When DC Comics rebooted their comic book universe with “The New 52” initiative, I was interested enough to pick up several new DC books that I hadn’t been previously reading.  (For my initial thoughts on The New 52, click here and here.)  Now that we’re about ten months later, though, I’m pretty much back to just reading the DC books I was following before the relaunch.   With two exceptions: I’m still reading and enjoying Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.

I of course know all about the work that Geoff Johns has been doing , since 2004, to revitalize the Green Lantern franchise.  Under his guidance, Green Lantern has become one of the central books of the DCU, and events from that title have often spun-out into company-wide events (such as “Blackest Night.”).  I’ve been interested in what Mr. Johns has been doing, but I never read any of his work on Green Lantern. In fact, before The New 52, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an issue of Green Lantern ever!  (Maybe one or two crossover issues back during the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen days).

It’s not that Green Lantern holds no interest for me.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the GL-based DC Animated DVDs (click here for my review of Emerald Knights), and I was very excited (though ultimately very let-down) by the prospect of a Green Lantern movie.  But I grew up a Marvel fan, and I just never found myself drawn to Green Lantern’s comic book stories.

However, something about the cosmic mythology that Geoff Johns has been building up over the last number of years did interest me.  And since I’ve found  myself really enjoying the post-relaunch Green Lantern series (which doesn’t appear to be relaunched at all — it seems to be picking up directly from where the pre-New 52 Green Lantern comics left off), I decided the time had come for me to sample more of Mr. Johns’ work on Green Lantern.  So I picked up a number of trade paperbacks, and dove in.

Green Lantern: Rebirth — I decided to go back to the beginning: Mr. John’s attempt to unravel the past decade’s worth of Green Lantern stories that had seen Hal Jordan become a mass-murdering psychopath, then eventually die and have his spirit bound to The Spectre, the DCU’s spirit of vengeance.  Mr. Johns’ goal was to somehow bring Hal Jordan back into the center stage as the heroic Green Lantern once more.  Rebirth is quite an extraordinary piece of work.  What I loved about it was that Mr. Johns didn’t disregard any of the GL stories that had come before.  He didn’t invalidate them, taking … [continued]

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Diving into DC Comics’ New 52!

September 21st, 2011
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It’s been well over a year since I’ve last read a DC comic, but since this is the month that DC Comics is totally rebooting their entire comics line by starting over from scratch and launching 52 new #1 issues, my curiosity was piqued.  I’ll not be buying all 52 new first issues, heaven forfend, but I have taken this opportunity to sample a whole bunch of ’em.  Here are my thoughts so far:

Justice League #1 — Written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Jim Lee, this is the heavy-hitter.  It was the first new #1 issue published, and is clearly intended to be the flagship title of the line.  I thought it was good, not great.  There’s not a whole heck of a lot of story in this first issue, so it’s hard to judge.  Jim Lee draws super-heroes better than pretty much anyone in the business, so it’s a heck of a lot of fun watching Batman and Green Lantern fight cops for the first half of the issue, almost enough to make me forget that this is a pretty familiar scenario. Though this is the start of the big reboot, so far Batman felt pretty much like Batman, and Green Lantern felt pretty much like Green Lantern.  Their costumes were tweaked but nothing major.  The big reveal of Superman’s new duds on the last page left me underwhelmed.  I’m all for ditching the red underpants, but there were a lot of little lines all over the costume that felt extraneous to me.  I guess those lines are supposed to indicate that the super-suit is more armor than cloth, but why would Superman need armor?  He’s Superman!

Action Comics #1 — Written by Grant Morrison, this was the comic that felt most like a real reboot than any of the other #1 issues I’ve read so far.  This feels like a total reinvention of the character of Superman.  In this issue we meet a young, inexperienced Superman.  I’m not wild about his jeans and boots “costume,” but I’m intrigued by this young punk version of Superman.  (Though Devin Faraci put a small damper on my enthusiasm by pointing out, with great accuracy, that this Clark Kent feels a heck of a lot like Peter Parker.)  While this hot-headed, young depiction of the character made for a fun and surprising single issue, I wonder whether this is really the version of this iconic hero that DC comics is going to stick with.  But I’m looking forward to the next issue!

Detective Comics #1 — A pretty good but not revelatory Batman vs the Joker story really grabbed my attention with the jaw-droppingly gruesome final page.  Wowsers.  Words … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2010 — Part One!

I hope you all enjoyed my Top 10 Movies of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two) and my Top 10 DVDs of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two)!  Now on to my list of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2010!

Honorable Mentions: Hoo boy, did I read a lot of really fantastic comic books this past year.  In addition to the titles listed in my Top 15 list (I couldn’t even keep this list contained to a Top 10), I also really enjoyed: The Marvels Project, X-Factor, X-Factor Forever, New Avengers, Avengers Prime, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Batman and Robin, The Stand, Astro City, RASL, Ultimate Thor, Ultimate Mystery, Ultimate Doom, and the final issues of Ex Machina.  I’m also pleased beyond words that John Byrne’s Next Men has finally returned to life (even though I don’t think the first two issues of the relaunch have come anywhere close to the greatness of the original Next Men series).

15. Superman/Batman Annual #4OK, this isn’t a series, but an incredible single issue.  The Batman Beyond mini-series that DC published this year was great, but this one-shot annual was absolutely phenomenal.  Set some-time after the conclusion of the Bruce Timm-masterminded TV series Batman Beyond, this issue picks up story-threads left dangling by the show’s Justice League two-parter “The Call.”  An older Superman comes out of the fog of years of mind-control to attempt to pick up the ruins of his shattered life, and Batman (Terry McGinnis) must confront the man who took over Metropolis in Superman’s absence: Lex Luthor.  A great story by Paul Levitz with gorgeous art by Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson, this was a real winner.

14. Nemesis This profane and extraordinarily violent four-issue series from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven was gloriously outrageous fun.  The premise is simple: what if Batman, instead of being a hero, had used his incredible mind and enormous fortune to become the world’s most dangerous super-villain?  Fourteen-year-old me would have thought this was the greatest comic book ever created, and the older, balder version of me also thought it was a heck of a lot of fun.  (It would have been higher on this list if not for the last few pages of the final issue which, to me, didn’t make any sense.)  They’re not on this list, but I also enjoyed Mark Millar’s series Superior and Kick-Ass 2 (of which one issue has been published so far).

13. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor John Byrne was the first comic book artist/writer who I ever … [continued]

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New Comics! Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Dueling Versions of the Origin of Superman!

Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly.  I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble.  This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story.  With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.

Dark Horse Comics to the rescue!  The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point.  Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story.  It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order.  In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life.  (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read.  That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids.  It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since.  But back to Serenity…)

Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric.  He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit.  He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]

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Last week I wrote about some of the great comics I’ve read lately.  That list was just scratching the surface!  Here’s some more fantastic stuff that I’ve been enjoying recently:

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and BPRD: 1947 – The Hellboy saga continues in these two new wonderful mini-series.  In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, things are coming to a head for the big red guy.  Cut off from his old friends and comrades in the BPRD, and hunted by the newly-resurrected Queen of Blood, things are looking grim for our hero!  Last month’s issue (#6) was jam-packed with astonishing revelations about Hellboy’s origin that I never saw coming, but that I thought worked absolutely PERFECTLY.  Meanwhile, BPRD: 1947 takes us through a rollicking tale of the second year of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense as Professor Bruttenholm struggles against vampires and a lot of other weirdness.  The Hellboy universe has really richened and deepened over these last few years, and I am really excited to see where things go from here.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — The relaunch of Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Spider-Man (three issues have been published as of this writing) continues just where the previous 133 issues (plus a handful of annuals and other specials) left off.  Young Peter Parker must juggle his, um, interesting love-life with a boring job at a fast-food joint (since he lost his job at the Daily Bugle following the devastation of NYC in the truly awful Ultimatum miniseries) with, oh yeah, his crime-fighting escapades as Spider-Man!  Mr. Bendis is well-known for his witty, true-to-teenaged-life dialogue, but I think his real strength is the depth of characterization he brings to Peter Parker and all the rest of the extraordinarily numerous cast of this comic.  Mary-Jane, Flash Thompson, Aunt May, “Kong,” Kitty Pryde from the X-Men, Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four (and it is almost embarrassing how much more interesting Kitty and Johnny are here than in their “home” comics) and many more characters are all brought to amazingly real life in these pages.  I’ve been following Bendis’ run on “Ultimate” Spider-Man and I’ll be with the series until he leaves.  Spider-Man has never been done better (in my comic-reading life-time, at least!).  My only small complaint: I’m not quite taken with the overly stylized work of new series artist David Lafuente.  Let’s see if it grows on me any more after a few more issues…

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower — I fell way behind on this series of mini-series, adapting and expanding upon the back story of Stephen King’s seven-book The Dark Tower opus, but I was finally able to catch up last month.  Breathtakingly gorgeous art by … [continued]