I get, on average, about a dozen volumes of comics and graphic novels to read and review each month – some are a joy, some are the most infuriating works ever committed to print, and occasionally, you get sent something that just makes you want to throw your tablet across the room.
If you saw this post on Saturday, you’d see that I’ve signed up for the Bout Of Books challenge, and part of it is taking part in other blog’s comps and activities. Not only does this help with participation, but it also gets your blog seen by other bloggers.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed some great and not-so-great New 52 graphic novels from DC and this second chunk are just as much of a mixed bag.
Beginning with the long-winded but intricate Green Arrow, Vol 4: The Kill Machine it’s obvious that DC are desperate to win back readers and fans by bringing in big names (in this case award-winning Jeff Lemire) to either kick a story line into touch or launch a complete re-boot, and as witnessed so far, sometimes this works and then, it kind of doesn’t. Volume 4 of New 52 Green Arrow is somewhere in the middle and although it does follow on from a previous story it’s a good issue to pick up for the casual reader as backstory is filled in where necessary and there’s no deeply intricate old lore thrown around.
The plot starts of quite simply, with Queen’s empire under attack from the mysterious archer Komodo who’s hitting Oliver where it hurts; money, hideout and friends are all lost to him within the first few pages and from there it’s a case of finding the truth by any means possible, at times with great risks to others as well as himself. Queen’s investigations lead him back to the island where he became Arrow and thanks to his ‘guide’ Magus he discovers more about his father and the mythology behind the ‘Clan of the Arrows’. It’s the second part of the story that really cements this history with the introduction of new villain Count Vertigo and the ‘Outsiders’ the origin of the ‘Clan’. While the storyline can drag on, the art redeems it ten-fold. The use of panel-in-panel cut-outs (usually black and white) to emphasis points of damage during fights is a good one and some of the one panels are full of depth.
If DC keep hiring the team of Lemire and Sorrentino, then Green Arrow may well achieve the same level of popularity in print form as it has on tv.
How many times do we need a Batman origin story? Well D.C. obviously thinks we need one more and have released Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year a truly stunning tale from ‘man-of-the-moment’ Scott Snyder. I’ve adored Snyder’s American Vampire saga for an age and his work here is equally as good, if not better.
Unfortunately, going any further into the story other than the fact we see the birth of the Bat and a very stubborn Bruce Wayne arguing the toss every step of the way, would ruin the surprises that are in store when you read this.
Suffice to say, if you’re a Bat fan, then grab this asap.
Unfortunately, for every Batman, there’s an Aquaman…I’ll be honest with you, not the biggest Aquaman fan, always found him inconsequential and he added little to the Justice League setup for me. But, a galley came up for review, and as they say it was “free to get in!” Would Aquaman, Vol. 4: Death of a King make me change my mind?
Like some of the other Volume 4 editions, this is a continuing story-line, but whereas Wonder Woman and Green Arrow are coherent and utilise conversations and scene setting to fill the gaps, Death of a King is a rambling mess, often throwing in flash forwards to drive the narrative.
It’s all kicking off under the sea an on top of it as The Scavenger is chasing an Atlantean weapon that’ll do untold damage to the planet, Orm, (Aquaman’s brother) is in a prison on dry land and suffering a serious case of the ‘Emo’, while down in the depths, there’s a trio of warriors with divided loyalties and a pissed off former King who wants it all back. Throw in the ubiquitous and heavy-handed ‘green’ messages and what you get is just under 200 pages of eye rolling and “Wha?” moments. Unfortunately, there’s not even any eye-catching art to take away from the mess of the story.
Now this is where the ‘crazy’ comes in, as the writer of Aquaman is also responsible for the fab Justice League, Vol 4: The Grid, an epic, battle strewn tale full of twists, that grabs you and very rarely, lets go.
All the usual League boxes are ticked perfectly: Batman’s moody, Diana and Supes are loved-up and taking the moral high-ground while Cyborg is creating things that you know full well are going to backfire horribly. Throw in an appearance from fan fave Martian Manhunter, three new members (Atom, Firestorm and Element Girl-at first they feel superfluous, but eventually they gel perfectly) and a little Shazam and it feels like you’re reading Saturday morning tv.
Whereas Aquaman felt jumbled and all over the place, The Grid is tight, fast flowing and never feels convoluted, even when throwing in ancient mythology in the form of Pandora and her well-known box of tricks. The artwork is well-defined and tight, with the Shazam section being particularly impressive, especially in the battles with Black Adam.
Overall, this was a corker that, much like Green Lantern, made me want to track down the previous issues and pre-order the next lot.
All issues were supplied as digital review copies via NetGalley and DC Comics in return for a fair review.
Over the last few days, DC publishing have sent out galleys of their latest New 52 runs and I was lucky enough to be given seven of them to review. A tiny confession first though: while I enthusiastically embraced DC’s New 52 launch originally, I kind of fell by the wayside due to real life, and lost track of issues, story-lines and my impetus to get back into them, especially considering the unfavourable reviews.
But, when they offer you review copies, who am I to say no? Thankfully, of the seven sent out, one is a totally new launch and three are almost reboots, so prior knowledge isn’t a pre-requisite to enjoy these latest offerings. Also, it’s handy having the novels written by such an accomplished team that even if you are coming in half way, you not overly ‘lost’ as the dialogue fills you in quickly enough.
So, I spent a merry couple of days surrounded by post-its and superheroes in an attempt to a) not get lost among the threads b) make sure I had reference points to do background checks and c) encourage my OCD-like obsession with note-taking and not messing up my journal.
First up is the stand-a-lone launch of Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell the latest from Paul Dini and artist Joe Quinones. A year has passed since Canary’s failed attempts to stop a major Vegas heist and the subsequent death of gangleader Tina, yet suddenly the other members of the gang start dying, all taking their own lives in bizarre ways. Black Canary turns to her old friend Zatanna for help, creating a vibrant, powerful and funny team. Dini has always been able to write powerful women well, and Bloodspell is no exception. Whether it’s highlighting their past exploits (young Zatanna’s training is a stand out here) or their current case, the narrative never loses pace and Quinones’ stunning art is a fine accompaniment. Zingy and sassy, this is great launch title for the casual DC fan, but with plenty of nods to previous New52 books for the fans.
From the proudly camp tight-wearing duo I went to a woman who if you ever referred to her as ‘camp’ you’d still be travelling: Wonder Woman, Vol. 4: War and to be honest that should probably be written as “WAR!!” in as angsty and threatening tone as possible. Not going to lie, this one was hard work to come into half way. A battle of immense proportion has obviously just occurred, and we join her Ladyship and her cohorts in the aftermath. I’d heard rumours of Diana’s ‘re-imagining’ as a daughter of Zeus, and I’m not overly sure I buy it. Naturally, her playmates are the likes of War, Hera etc who have been given an ‘edgy’ look far removed from your regular ‘Clash of the Titans’ affair.
Everyone is desperate to protect baby Zeke, a child of prophecy, from the evil ‘First Born’ and along the way we are treated to deaths, twists, more deaths, a lot of arguing and the inevitable big battles. While the art is at times amazing, the confusing voice overs can mean you lose track, and although there are odd moments where the reader is ‘filled in’ on past events, it all makes for an incoherent volume. A cliffhanger ending would make me consider coming back to the series, but only after I’ve grabbed issues 1-3 first.
After the draining WW saga, it was a relief to then get to Green Lantern, Vol.4: Dark Days a new chapter in the Corps history from Venditti and Tan. Now, I can take or leave the Green Lantern, but I appreciate it’s huge mythology and the impact it has on it’s fans (trust me, as the mum of a teenage boy who was the only audience member for the last movie, on it’s opening day, I really understand their pain) so I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one. To put it mildly, after volume 4 I’m now ready to get every previous volume of this saga and devour them in one go.
Jordan and Stewart are trying to get the corps back together after previous events, but are hampered by the power starting to drain from lanterns everywhere. Putting personal conflicts aside (there’s a particularly impressive fight between Hal Jordan and Star Sapphire Nol-Anj) all the corps band together to preserve their energy sources. One of the most impressive aspects to this edition is the backstory of main antagonist ‘Relic’ and his place in the universe, while also expanding on the history of the Lanterns.
An amazing ‘relaunch’ story, and impressive, striking art, all combine to create possibly the best of this group of volumes and it’s impossible to delve any deeper into the story without spoiling it. This is one that I will be following with interest, especially after the cliffhanger ending.
Still to come: the birth of Batman, a wibbly wobbly Arrow, the Justice League goes off the grid and yeah…Aquaman…