Review: All Star Superman

All Star Superman

Storytellers: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2011

Page Count: 320

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: This story is Grant Morrison at his best. By that I mean that he tells tells a story which pulls from the continuity in the best possible ways, building a narrative which remains true to the core spirit of the characters in question. That’s what he did with Batman during his run over there and it’s what he’s doing now in this instance. It actually kind of makes me want to check out his take on Wonder Woman.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: Frank Quitely’s art isn’t always my favorite, but it works well for this story. Quitely’s art is very fleshy and organic, working well with bright colors and light tones, both of which are abundant in any Superman story worth its salt. I like how he draws the rippling, rounded physique of Superman in costume, and the intelligent, joyful expressions of Lois Lane. He also does a good job of drawing Superman and Clark Kent differently, as broken down in the book’s appendixes.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Review/Synopsis: I was pretty lukewarm toward Grant Morrison in my last review of something he wrote. Thankfully, he apparently decided to stay away from the acid when he was writing All Star Superman. Morrison’s key hallmarks are all on display here in the best way possible: high-concept plot elements, a thorough understanding of what makes classic characters tick, and smart plotting. Even the dialogue is better than usual for a Morrison story. For my money, it’s the best thing from him that I’ve ever read.

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Review: Batman: New Gotham, Vol. 1

Batman: New Gotham, Vol. 1

Storytellers: Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough, and Steve Mitchell

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2017

Page Count: 160

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Greg Rucka has a remarkable capacity for creating very human stories that focus bring out the uniqueness of individual characters. Whether its Bruce taking a walk in his garden or some gangster falling prey to his own superstition, Rucka smartly builds his characters and makes them come alive.

Of course, the author also knows plenty about plot, with the general flow of this book’s story weaving in and out like so many threads of silk. Rucka’s work with Ed Brubaker on Gotham Central demonstrates this strength as well, while continuing to bring a strong grasp on character to the table.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: As with all of the best comics, the art fits the mood of the story spectacularly. New Gotham features a few different artists, each of whom works in tandem with Rucka to create an appropriate storytelling experience. “Evolution” utilizes monochromes with bright flashes of color to set a grim, slow mood punctuated by moments of fantastic violence. Similarly, “Happy Birthday Two You” is lighter in tone, utilizing soft colors and easy, relaxed texturing to communicate the melancholy mood of Renee Montoya, the story’s subject.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Review/Synopsis: Unlike the uniformly-drawn 52 or the weirdly experimental The Return of Bruce WayneNew Gotham stands a good story on its own in terms of both writing and art. Rucka’s take on Batman is by far my favorite, ranking up there with that of Chuck Dixon. The 1990s and early 2000s were certainly a golden age of Batman comics, and I am incredibly glad that so much of it is finally getting recollected into trade paperbacks.

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Review: 52, Vol. 2

52, Vol. 2

Storytellers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka; various artists.

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2016

Page Count: 584

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: In a shared universe like that of DC Comics, continuity is king. You have to meet the standard thresholds of good art and solid story structure, dialogue, and character beats, but if you’re a writer who really wants to resonate with fans, tapping into continuity is the way to go. That’s what Marvel is doing with their movies, and it’s working.

Of course, this can be done wrong, such as in the infamously craptastic Justice League: Cry for Justice, but 52 gets it more than right. How did Rucka, Morrison, Waid and Johns get it right? They demonstrated a solid grasp on the fandom zeitgeist and the continuity itself, allowing them to build an awesome story.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: While there were a lot of different artists working on this book, it stands as a testament that such an arrangement doesn’t have to be a liability. Each art team manages to fit their art to the feel of the stories for which they’re respectively illustrating.

It would be one thing if more than one artist worked on the same issue, as I’ve seen done before to underwhelming effect, but the minds behind 52 seem to avoid that trap. The obvious explanation for the rotating art teams was that they wanted to keep up with the demands of a weekly book, but they did it in a smart way by pairing each art team with the appropriate story.

Recommendation: B

Notes/Review/Synopsis: 52 is a love letter to DC continuity, hailing from a happier era of Big Two comics. It follows the events of the lost year between Infinite Crisis and the subsequent One Year Later event. Although I am no longer closely following the goings-on of the Big Two, I look forward to reading up on all these lovely reprints of older comics, readily available through my local library.

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Review: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne

Storytellers: Grant Morrison, various artists

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2011

Page Count: 232

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Morrison likes to make the reader think when they read his stuff, so I appreciate that about his writings. That said, such a writing style probably communicates to the reader better when read issue by issue, as it gives the reader time to process what’s going on in-between issues. In the form of a trade paperback, you’re getting all of Morrison’s signature mind-bending all at once, which makes it harder to digest.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: There’s a whole pantheon of artists attached to this collection, but the end result is pretty cohesive. Chris Sprouse’s art works well for “Shadows on Stone,” and and Frazer Irving’s art works well for “Until the End of Time.” The only story that I think could have used a different art style was “Masquerade,” which really could have used a more noir-like feel. That would have sealed the deal pretty well in terms of what the story was trying to accomplish. That said, “Masquerade” is still pretty darn trippy, so maybe the creators did that on purpose.

Recommendation: B

Notes/Review/Synopsis: The first thing I said to myself after finishing this book was: “What was Grant Morrison smoking when he wrote this thing?” Crude jokes aside, I was able to mostly understand this trade going in, given that I haven’t read Final Crisis. Morrison, however, has this way of writing really disturbed, mind-twisting stuff, even if this instance was a more mild form of that predilection.

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Review: 52 Volume 1

52 Vol. 1


Storytellers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 2016

Page Count: 584

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: 52 is one of those comics where lighting was caught in a bottle. Four talented writers each working on a weekly comic which spanned the entirety of the DC Universe over the span of one year in a particular context of in-story continuity was something that needed a perfect storm to be pulled off right. If this series means anything, it’s that the right team with the right vision can make a pretty darn good comic. Contrast this with the more recent Batman Eternal, which basically tried to be 52 in the Bat-verse. The result was less than satisfactory. Like I said, lightning in a bottle. 52‘s formula would be very hard to replicate, as seen with the equally ill-reputed Countdown to Final Crisis.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: Keith Giffen did most of the art on this trade, and his art is pretty solid, from a DC “house” style perspective. It’s nothing special, but it helps maintain a feeling of narrative cohesiveness, which is nice. Having a different artist for every issue, which was the case for much of Batman Eternal wouldn’t have done the story any favors. Getting experimental and dabbling in more unorthodox art styles probably wouldn’t have helped either, so in this case the powers-that-be made the right call.

Recommendation: C+

Notes/Review/Synopsis: This my first time reading 52, and I think it captures the zeitgeist of contemporary cape-comics. It’s hard to believe that it’s been some ten years since it’s original run concluded. The whole shared-universe continuity that started at the tail end of the ’80s, got its foundation laid in the nineties, blossomed into something beautiful in the 2000s. I’m more of a Bat-verse guy, but I gotta say, DC is being really dumb not capitalizing on the rich interconnecting continuity they have at their disposal with books like 52. As long as they keep ignoring the source material, Marvel won’t even have to try to stay ahead at the cinema.

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Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


Storytellers: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley

Publisher: DC Comics

Year of Publication: 1986 (original run); 1997 (trade paperback)

Page Count: 224

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Frank Miller’s approach to comic book storytelling breaks every rule of comics writing that I am accustomed too. None of the individual issues open with a splash page. The pages are crowded with sometimes up to a dozen panels each. If I learned anything from reading The Dark Knight Returns, it’s that once you think you’ve gotten your writing craft narrowed down until it’s almost a science, everything you know is blotted out when you read something that does the job in an altogether different fashion.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: The fact that Miller is both the artist for and the writer of The Dark Knight Returns earns him the designation of Cartoonist. Will Eisner reserved this distinction for comics creators who both wrote and drew. Eisner operated on the philosophy that the writer and artist should be one and the same, so as to better translate the story that the writer had in mind onto the drawn page. In other words, if the writer and artist are the same person, then the artist won’t be able to misunderstand what the writer wants drawn. This point is crucial to Miller’s ability to tell the story of The Dark Knight Returns. He is able to draw the story exactly as he has written it.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Review/Synopsis: When reading The Dark Knight Returns, I realized something that was missing from all the debates about grim-and-gritty versus fun-and-light: The Dark Knight Returns is a work of satire. It’s meant to be ironic and humorous. The comic book that drove the over-the-top excesses of comic books in the nineties (along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen) wasn’t mean to be taken as seriously as it was.

From the opportunistic media and the exaggerated caricatures of Ronald Reagan and Superman to the grinding and course narration of the titular Dark Knight, this book was meant to poke fun at Miller’s favorite whipping boys while at the same time mocking the Batman of the 1960’s television show. The fact that an entire generation of comic book creators took it at one-hundred percent face value and poured that same style into their own comics as a result is at the same time farcical and unsettling, just like this comic.

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Wonder Woman: On the Shoulders of Aphids

Wonder Woman is the first installment in the DC Extended Universe that I found to be at all watchable.

Granted, I haven’t seen half of the DCEU (Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad), with Man of Steel being my only point of comparison, so I can’t in all honesty make a completely fair judgement.

But compared to Man of SteelWonder Woman knocks the 2013 Superman film out of the ring and into the concession stand.

It’s humorous, at times touching, and boasts some kick-butt action sequences.

Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor is without a doubt the stand-out performance of the film. His charismatic presence combines with a knack for comedic timing to create a well-rounded leading man.

Gal Godot as Diana, the titular (though yet-to-be-dubbed-as-such) Wonder Woman is also a good foil to Steve, setting up a lot of decent punchlines. The fish-out-of-water gags that dominate the first half of the film are much cleverer than those displayed by Thor.

Speaking of Marvel’s resident demigod, if I had to give a gauge on Wonder Woman‘s overall quality, I’d compare it to the 2011’s Thor. Overall, I’d say that they’re on the same level, but unfortunately, its in the specifics that the comparison ends.

Whereas Thor has a likable but dull hero and a cool and sinister villain in Loki, Wonder Woman has a marvelous heroine and a terribly weak set of villains.

For those who don’t want spoilers, I’ll save my digital ink, but I will say that the real villain of the piece turns out to be a combination of Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and the Duke of Wesselton from Frozen.

It’s just as silly as it sounds.

Wonder Woman is great only because all the DC movies that came before it are mediocre, at best.

But it is, at the very least, a decent popcorn movie. I look forward to future installments.

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The First Comic Book I Ever Read

It must have been ten years ago. My dad and I had stopped in a Half-Price Books while waiting for some work to be done on our car.

My ten or eleven-year-old self meandered among the shelves, bored out of my mind, when I came upon the comics section.

Peering over the boxes, I curiously thumbed through them. I finally selected two promising issues: Detective Comics #610 and Robin #2.

Of the two, I easily liked the latter the best.

Thus, I treasure Robin #2 by Chuck Dixon as the first comic book I ever read. Before, I’d only read those old Bionicle comics that LEGO put out.

I already had a superficial familiarity with superhero comics, thanks to chatter from friends and bit and pieces I’d seen here and there.

But this was my first introduction to Batman comics proper. It was my first taste of the comic book stories of yesteryear, and I found it absolutely thrilling.

Just imagine the world I had stepped into: Robin, a.k.a.  Tim Drake, staring down the business end of an overzealous cop’s shotgun.

The story goes on as Robin/Tim deftly escapes Shotgun Smith and makes a go at nailing some wacky gang called the “Speedboyz.”

But Tim also takes time to call his girlfriend to apologize for cancelling their date (while still dressed in his Robin costume).

He also talks on the phone with some guy named “Alfred” about another guy named “Jean-Paul” going crazy, and apparently this other dude named “Bruce” is involved somehow.

This stuff barely registered with me at the time, but I got the gist of it: Tim Drake is just a regular kid with regular problems living in a weird-butt world.

I loved it then and I love it today.

This day and age is the golden age of reprints. I didn’t buy comics when I was a kid, besides the two I just mentioned.

But now I can read any comic I want, including thousands of back issues made in the ’90s and early 2000s.

I just finished reading two fabulous trade paperbacks collecting Kelley Puckett’s run on Batgirl, when Cassandra Cain held that moniker. Best comics I’ve read in a while.

Now they’re releasing all sorts of old stuff in book collections.

Batgirl. RobinAzrael. The mega-series of Knightfall and No Man’s Land. All waiting for me to read.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

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