Comics Review: ‘Superman’ #4

Superman’s battle against Rogol Zaar continues…

Superman #4

‘Superman’ #4 features another striking cover from the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image credit: DC, used for illustrative purpsose only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  Ivan Reis / inks by:  Joe Prado & Oclair Albert / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

“The Unity Saga” Part 4:  Superman faces Rogol Zaar and a dangerous horde of Phantom Zone escapees as he attempts to save Earth from imminent destruction…

In review

Brian Michael Bendis continues with his run on Superman and it’s another solid issue that’s pacey and action packed whilst offering some emotional investment that helps to ground the Man of Steel and reinforces the positive values of the character.

Picking up on previous issues, Earth is trapped inside the Phantom Zone and Rogol Zaar has partnered with Kryptonian traitor Jax-Ur and assembled an army of the Zone’s most powerful and deadliest prisoners to take on Superman and prevent him from saving his adoptive home and its denizens.  Naturally, this all provides very high stakes for Krypton’s Last Son and Brian Bendis keeps the pressure on and the tension ramped up.  It makes for an entertaining read that’s for sure but Bendis still takes time to focus on character and intersects the action with a flashback to a key moment with Jon in which he imparts an important moral lesson to his son – namely that despite what he may be capable of, sometimes intellect is more important than might.  In turn, this memory inspires Supes to calmly assess the situation in seemingly dire circumstances and find the best course of action to achieve a more effective outcome.

The story also features the inclusion of Superman’s Justice League colleagues and there are some fun scenes with Flash and the Atom as they work desperately to keep things together on the ground and aid the effort to free Earth from the Phantom Zone.  As for Rogol Zaar, there’s still some work to be done as we really don’t know a whole lot about him, we’ve had glimpses of his background and motivations but a shroud of mystery remains.  Zaar is still a decent enough villain and provides a palpable sense of threat but hopefully Bendis will get to delve deeper into the character’s backstory and how it connects to the destruction of Krypton – if he is indeed responsible (we know the why, we just don’t know the how yet).

Ivan Reis once again provides great visuals (together with his collaborators on inks and colours) bringing powerful and epic layouts that elevate the blockbuster action sequences in Bendis’ script.  There’s almost a Bryan Hitch style widescreen quality to it but Reis’s talents are equally effective in the smaller more character orientated moments where he proves deft at conveying a wide range of feeling via intricate facial expressions and body language.

Along with his work on Action Comics, Brian Michael Bendis is building an enjoyable run on one of the greatest comic book superheroes that has great potential for the future.

The bottom line:  Another good issue from Messrs Bendis and Reis, Superman #4 is an entertaining and at times insightful read that reassures fans that the Man of Steel is in the right hands.

Superman #4 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Advertisements

Comics Review: ‘Heroes in Crisis’ #1

Tragedy strikes the DCU…

Heroes in Crisis #1

Clay Mann’s powerful and evocative cover art for ‘Heroes in Crisis’ #1 (image credit: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Clay Mann / colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“I’m Just Warming Up” : discovering that several of their fellow heroes have been murdered, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman must uncover the mystery surrounding the circumstances…

In review

Eisner Award winning writer Tom King (critically acclaimed scribe of DC’s Batman and Mister Miracle) teams up with artist Clay Mann for the highly anticipated nine-issue series Heroes in Crisis, which launches with a harrowing and emotionally charged opening chapter that shocks and surprises in equal measure.  Numerous crises have befallen the DC universe over the course of its long history but this one is more personal as opposed to cosmic.

Heroes in Crisis introduces us to Sanctuary – a safe and secure place set-up by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman where superheroes, unnerved by the rigours of the job, can seek refuge and recovery.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that darkness has fallen as the Trinity race to Sanctuary to face a terrible horror…someone has turned the safe haven into a blood bath of tragedy that will have dire repercussions for the entire community.  Addressing the heart-breaking wave of shootings in America and tapping into his own experiences as a former C.I.A. operative, King infuses Heroes in Crisis with social relevance and an overdue commentary on the state of our world that makes for a stark but compelling read.  It’s quite clear that the core of this story concerns PTSD and King delivers necessary gut-punches of emotion throughout this first issue, which is sure to carry on into the rest of the series.

As readers of Batman will recognise, King employs an inventive narrative structure splitting the book between the perspective of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as they rush to the scene of the crime, confessional style flashbacks (utilising the iconic Watchmen style nine-panel grids) and a brutal encounter between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, who are the main focus of this instalment.  King has a great handle on Harley, highlighting the zany humour and unhinged danger of the Joker’s old partner and continues the work he did on Batman to redefine Booster Gold beyond his more beaming and egotistic persona to create an iteration of the character that’s actually interesting.

The art by Clay Mann (who has previously worked with Tom King on Batman) in a word is simply incredible.  Mann’s figures are strong and heroic (his Superman is a particular standout) and his storytelling is cinematic on a variety of scales but proves most skilful in depicting the intimacy of the drama with detailed facial work, expressing every emotional nuance, vocal or not, that the characters experience.  It’s all rendered beautifully with the aid of Tomeu Morey’s organic colours.

So, does all this mean dark times for the DCU, then?  That remains to be seen but it’s probably unlikely in the long run, DC’s Rebirth has been celebrated for its optimism and hopefully Heroes in Crisis will have a resolution that reminds us that there will always, eventually, be light at the end of the tunnel.

The bottom line:  A strong and gripping start, Heroes in Crisis promises to be an important series and couldn’t be in better creative hands.

Heroes in Crisis #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comics Review: ‘Batman: Damned’ Book One

DC launches its Black Label with a startling new take on the Batman…

Batman Damned #1

Darker than night: Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo reunite for ‘Batman: Damned’, from DC’s Black Label (image credit: DC, used for illsutrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Azzarello / art by:  Lee Bermejo

What’s it about?

Discovering that the Joker is dead, an amnesiac Batman recruits John Constantine as he searches for the truth…

In review

The first release from DC’s adult-orientated ‘Black Label’ imprint, Book One of Batman: Damned is the first instalment of a three book Prestige Format series (released on a bi-monthly schedule) that reunites the writer and artist team of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, who previously worked together on the fan favourite villain-focused stories Joker and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, of which this title is said to be a ‘spiritual successor’.

A standalone story set outside regular DC Universe continuity, Damned is a bleak, stark and visceral tale that’s not for the timid.  Against the backdrop of the grimy, decaying streets of a hellish Gotham City, Azzarello and Bermejo present a Batman who is the darkest of Dark Knights, a vigilante persona driven by a man whose emotional scars cut deep.  Its narrative carried by the narration of John Constantine, Azzarello’s script has a poetic, literary quality to it that elevates Damned above the average superhero comic.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Tom King’s Batman, this is just a different kind of approach that fully earns its ‘mature readers’ label via it’s grittier than gritty tone and startling, stylish visuals.

Damned opens with an injured Batman, dazed and confused as he learns that the Joker is dead and is unable to recall the events that have lead him onto an ambulance stretcher.  Making a brutal escape from the clutches of medics and the police, the Dark Knight Detective flees like a wounded animal and ultimately crosses paths with John Constantine who may be the only one who can help him piece things together.

Damned paints a Gotham City that truly is a Gothic nightmare and gives readers a Bruce Wayne who’s trauma runs deeper and more hopelessly than in the regular iteration and flashbacks to Wayne’s less than perfect childhood adds texture to an established origin and Brian Azzarello’s writing really provides a tangible sense of his pain.  The inclusion of Constantine, together with fresh takes on Zatanna, Deadman and the Enchantress, thickens the black, wintry atmosphere of the story with a strong dose of the supernatural which only increases its appeal.

The true power of Damned though lies in the haunting art of Lee Bermejo, rich with detail and vast in its storytelling this is one visually incredible comic book (it somehow feels like disservice to even call this a comic book) and it’d be a fair argument to say that Bermejo’s talents exceed Azzarello’s here and could carry the story with a minimum of dialogue – as good as it can be, Constantine’s narration does become a little too heavy and overbearing by the end of this fifty page opening chapter.  But that’s one miniscule criticism and in the grand scheme of things, Batman: Damned looks set to be a special story in the Batman mythos.

The bottom line:  In its first book, Batman: Damned shows great promise with a visually arresting and narratively gripping story that offers an alternative take on an iconic character.

Batman: Damned Book One is published by DC Black Label and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comics Review: ‘Superman’ #1

Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman story continues…

Superman #1 (2018).jpg

Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair provide a confident and powerful cover for DC’s ‘Superman’ #1 (image credit: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

After the fallout of his battle with Rogol Zaar, Superman reflects on recent events and how he should face the future…

In review

Picking up where The Man of Steel mini-series left off, DC’s main Superman book returns with a new #1 as Brian Michael Bendis commences his run on the monthly title which will also spill out into Action Comics beginning with issue #1001.  Like The Man of Steel itself, this is a good start albeit one that is not all that accessible given that it ties heavily into the events of that aforementioned six issue series and although there’s a brief opening-page recap it’s likely that new readers will become lost quite quickly.  On the flip side, the chances are if you pick up this issue then you probably did on the strength of The Man of Steel, or at least to see where Bendis takes the story from hereon in.

It’s hard to discuss Superman #1 without referencing events in The Man of Steel, so some spoilers for that series follow…

Superman #1 sees a dejected and slightly morose Clark Kent mourning the destruction of the Fortress of Solitude together with the Bottle City of Kandor at the hands of Rogol Zaar and the absence of Lois and Jon who elected to join Jor-El on his cosmic journey of discovery and exploration.  Now without the means to contact his family, Clark is somewhat at a loss and a series of flashback scenes highlight his pain.  It’s a bit of a departure from the sort of Superman we got with DC’s Rebirth and some readers may be at odds with that, but it only makes the character more relatable and that’s what a lot of great Superman stories do – take a look into the man behind the cape.

Despite these more dour elements, Bendis doesn’t forget the positive aspects of Superman and although he’s hurting there’s always hope – from the ashes of the old comes a new Fortress of Solitude (grown from a central Kryptonian crystal, much like we saw on film in Richard Donner’s Superman) and it’s here that we truly get that sense of determination that drives the Last Son of Krypton to always be better and to stay strong, even in the face of darkness.

Whilst guest appearances from fellow Justice League team members the Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg and Wonder Woman are welcome, it’s an extended conversation between Supes and Martian Manhunter that’s one of the book’s most enjoyable moments as Brian Michael Bendis takes on the philosophical themes of who Superman is and how he should be.  It’s an interesting and thought-provoking debate that’s also quite fun as proceedings are interrupted whilst Clark quickly deals with various threats, facilitating some stunning poster-worthy splash pages from the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair.  Reis, Prado and Sinclair provide the art throughout and it’s generally very good (and thankfully Superman and Action Comics are now on a monthly schedule which should ensure visual consistency, provided the respective artists remain on the titles issue to issue) although there are a few odd instances where Reis’ pencils seem a bit rushed.

All in all it’s a decent start and it’ll be interesting to see how Bendis’ story unfolds and expands into Action Comics but it’s highly recommended that readers check out all six issues of The Man of Steel first.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis continues what he started in The Man of Steel and delivers an interesting and enjoyable new first issue of Superman.

Superman #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #50

The Bat and the Cat are ready to make their vows… 

Batman #50.jpg

Mikel Janin’s cover art for the milestone ‘Batman’ #50 (image belongs: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Mikel Janin (plus guest contributors) / colours by:  June Chung

What’s it about?

“The Wedding” : the day has arrived and the venue is set as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle prepare to tie the knot…

In review

Batman #50 is significant for more reasons than one, not only is it the fiftieth issue of the current volume of Batman it also marks the half-way point of Tom King’s proposed 100-issue run on the book and the culmination of a storyline the writer has been building for some time, but it’s also a celebration of two iconic characters whose lives have been intertwined for what seems like forever.

Any issue of Batman by Tom King is never less than interesting and more often than not inventive and gripping, so whilst this extra-sized anniversary issue may not completely live up to the set-up of the lead in of #’s 48 & 49 (the superb two-parter “The Best Man”) or hit the emotional heights of Batman Annual #2, it’s still a skilfully constructed and deftly executed comic.  In a similar vein to his earlier “Superfriends” arc, King splits the majority of the narrative between Batman and Catwoman as they both go about their respective ‘tasks’ with the ever-excellent Mikel Janin pencilling these main sequences, we see Selina hook-up with old friend Holly Robinson (who first appeared in Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One) and Bruce enlist the support of Alfred as the Bride and Groom make final preparations.

What’s interesting is that between those regular pages are single page spreads by a number of past and present Batman artists including Tony S. Daniel, Frank Miller, Jason Fabok, Neal Adams, Clay Mann, Tim Sale and Andy Kubert (to name just a few) that are almost like snapshots that highlight the history of the Bat and the Cat’s relationship.  King laces these pages with some deep and poetic dialogue in the form of letters the couple have written to one another which ponders the big questions – can Catwoman be truly good?  Will this marriage make Bruce happy?  Can Bruce’s mission as the Batman continue?  These are things that readers have not doubt been asking themselves and King delves deeply into these themes.

Aside from the roster of guest artists, King pays tribute to some of the many great Batman writers by weaving their names into Gotham itself – from Kane Plaza and Finger Tower to O’Neil Ave and the Englehart and Conway Bedrooms of Wayne Manor, it’s a pleasing complement to the rich creative history of a titanic figure of pop culture.

As for the conclusion of the story, despite the release of spoilers prior to the issue’s publication, this review will not delve into the specifics and readers should check it out for themselves.  Needless to say, if you haven’t been reading Tom King’s run on Batman you’re definitely missing out on some great comics.

The bottom line:  A fitting culmination of one of Tom King’s biggest Batman stories, Batman #50 is a satisfying celebration of two iconic comic book characters and their legacy.

Batman #50 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now

Comics Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #3

Brian Michael Bendis raises the stakes for the Last Son of Krypton…

Man of Steel #3.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #33 by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ryan Sook, Jason Fabok & Wade Von Grawbadger / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

Rogol Zaar arrives on Earth and is ready to take on the Man of Steel…

In review

After a slightly patchy second issue, this week’s instalment of The Man of Steel kicks things up a gear as Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for the impending conflict between Superman and his new nemesis: Rogol Zaar, the maniacal brute who may have been involved in Krypton’s destruction.  The fact that Bendis has taken such a creative risk and shakes up the established Superman mythos is a gutsy one but impactful and will no doubt have readers debating for some time.

Via flashbacks in the first two issues of The Man of Steel, we’ve learned of Zaar’s hatred for the Kryptonian civilization and his desire to eradicate it completely – a ‘quest’ that now brings him to Earth is pursuit of the Last Son of Krypton.  Zaar is a formidable force and Bendis pulls no punches in that respect, the book’s opening pages depicting the decimation of the Fortress of Solitude at the hands of the deranged ogre.  It’s a dramatic and emotional blow that is going to change Superman’s world forever.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, it isn’t – it’s just gripping and compelling stuff that makes comics a great reading experience.  Bendis retains a strong hook on the character of Superman and all that he stands for, but like the world we live in things can often seem hopeless and even DC’s first hero can face those situations.  There’s still a little fun to be had before the emotional gears begin to turn as Superman continues to investigate the mysterious rash of fires in Metropolis, this time enlisting the help of a certain Dark Knight Detective in an enjoyable – and quite funny – cameo from one of DC’s other mainstays.

Ultimately, Bendis gives us a Superman that isn’t completely invulnerable (and exploring those vulnerabilities is what makes the character more relatable) as he soars to the Fortress to discover the damage, joined by Supergirl it’s an effective sequence of scenes that engages the reader and leads to the book’s finale as the Kryptonians face off against Zaar – which ties nicely into Bendis and Jim Lee’s short in Action Comics #1000 and sets anticipation for next week’s issue rather high.

In terms of the art, it’s surprisingly good – Ryan Sook’s style is not too dissimilar from that of Ivan Reis, sure it’s not quite as lavish but his characters are powerful and emotive and the action is epic and exciting.  Jason Fabok returns to pencil the continuing interlude concerning the absence of Lois and Jon that’s being threaded throughout the series.  It’s a tantalising tease and Fabok’s work is always a highlight – given that he’ll be pencilling the whole of #6, it promises that the series should conclude on a high, so long as Brian Michael Bendis continues to deliver the goods.

The bottom line:  The Man of Steel starts building momentum as it heads toward the half-way point and Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story continues to show promise.

The Man of Steel #3 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37

Will the iconic Green Lantern be forced to kneel before Zod?

Hal J GL Corps #37

Rafa Sandoval’s evocative cover for DC’s ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Rafa Sandoval / inks by:  Jordi Tarragona / Colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Zod’s Will” Part One : Hal Jordan investigates unauthorised mining on the planet Jekuul only to find that General Zod has claimed the world for himself…

In review

Kicking off a new story arc, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 once again proves that this is one of DC’s strongest titles and has been since it launched during their Rebirth initiative.  Like most opening chapters, this issue is a little light on actual story but by its closing pages sets things fully in motion for what looks like another promising arc for Hal and his fellow GL Corps members.

This issue opens ominously with a bloodied and beaten Hal Jordan, seeming virtually helpless at the feet of General Zod, banded together with his wife, son and the Eradicator Superman.  It’s quite a powerful and disconcerting opening (beautifully realised by penciller Rafa Sandoval, but more on the art later) that immediately grabs the reader before writer Robert Venditti circles the narrative back to preceding events – not an original method of story execution but necessary in order to deliver the cold shocks of that opening.

Part of the appeal of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is that, as the book’s title suggests, it doesn’t reserve all of its focus for Hal Jordan himself and Venditti has always taken time to explore and develop the other principle Green Lanterns, particularly Corps leader John Stewart who, following the events of the previous arc has lost faith in the Guardians and his place as a Green Lantern.  It’s a tight and dramatic sequence that whilst heavily dialogued, allows Venditti to quickly explain the current status quo and discuss the virtues of the Green Lantern Corps, their achievements and how much the Guardians value Stewart and entrust him with the leadership of their intergalactic police force.

With some closure given to the “Twilight of the Guardians” arc, Venditti neatly moves along as Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner are sent to investigate unauthorised activity on the planet Jekuul…to discover that Zod has claimed the world as his own ‘New Krypton’ (thus tying into events over in Action Comics).  The threat of the Kryptonian General has been building gradually since his appearances in Suicide Squad and Action Comics and Robert Venditti doesn’t disappoint in presenting the reader with a powerful and imposing villain who doesn’t hesitate to ‘deal’ with Jordan and Rayner as trespassers, providing an exciting and action packed close to the issue that pays off those opening pages.

The art by Rafa Sandoval is, simply, amazing and probably his best work on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps thus far, with bold characters, detailed space/landscapes and energetic action scenes that provide the book’s visuals with a rich, cinematic quality, embellished by Jordi Tarragona’s inks and Tomeu Morey colours.  Like Tom King’s Batman this is one of DC’s more visually consistent titles which is no mean feat considering numerous other twice-monthly shipped DC books fall victim to frequent artist rotations or generally lacklustre art (something that’s certainly afflicted sister title Green Lanterns), but with the likes of Sandoval and Ethan Van Sciver working regularly on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, partnered with writer Robert Venditti it’s always a solid read.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval deliver an exciting and tense issue of one what continues to be one of DC’s best comics, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.