Archives for posts with tag: Justice League Dark

thenew52ends

After weeks of ambiguity regarding the fates of their titles after moving their offices from New York to California, DC Comics cleared things up somewhat with a statement this week. The simple answer: The New 52 is dead! Long live the New 52! The truth: DC Comics is removing the label New 52 and making continuity less of a concern if favor of greater diversity in story-telling. DC is not simply shedding the label, but also an ideological commitment to an experiment. The experiment? A new (err..rebooted) and thoroughly connected (err…though filled with holes) universe (err…multiverse)! Originally planned as 52 titles a month published in sync, following a universal timeline, the New 52 was a lofty ambition. For the experiment to work, creators had to work within a tight framework not only in narrative, but in artistic style- prompting the oft-used terms “DC house-style” or “Jim Lee house style.” These rules allowed a pretty cohesive fictional universe to thrive, but also alienated many creators and readers who wanted stories outside the framework of the larger experiment. By abandoning the New 52 and their ideological commitment to the New 52 experiment, DC Comics will be opening itself up to new, smaller experiments. The publisher’s lineup will be more chaotic this June not only because many titles will leave and many new titles will arrive, but those new titles and even the continuing titles will draw from a larger creative arsenal- new creators, new styles, new impressions on the characters, and new impressions on what super-hero comic books can do. To be fair, DC Comics continued to publish an assortment of books outside of the New 52 such as Lil Gotham and all those video game-related titles. Now new books like Bat-Mite and Bizarro promise to approach comics without the baggage of the New 52 experiment. The official word from DC suggests the end of the New 52 is motivated purely by creative ambitions, but it’s obvious to most readers that DC has found an awkward but workable solution to several concerns: 1) the move to California 2) the stress of managing the big continuity 3) the desire to attract more casual comics readers (the ones reading Image titles) 4) the New 52 is destroying itself.

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That 4th one can be broken down to specific problems within the New 52. I believe the beginning of the end came when the original creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman left Batwoman over creative differences on whether or not Batwoman would marry. While this was not the first dispute-driven departure of a respected creator during the New 52, this departure, unlike George Perez leaving Superman, shook up something that most people believed the New 52 was doing right. Fans and critics alike couldn’t say enough nice things about the work being done on that book. The rush to replace Williams and Blackman with not only a talented creator, but one with a little LGBT cred to ease PR concerns, left Batwoman in the hands of Marc Andreyko and the book got noticeably worse. After Geoff Johns and associates completed their run on the Green Lantern titles, DC found a new creative team, but things fell apart and they again found themselves scrambling the fill some roles. Luckily they found a sort of dream team to take over those titles. Most problematic about the Green Lantern creative team shift, Geoff Johns wrote an epilogue in his final issue of Green Lantern, an epilogue whose authenticity would come immediately into question as the new creative team found ways to destroy all the love stories in that blossomed in that epilogue. Other books saw transitions. The success and failures of titles in transition were surprising. I really expected Chew’s John Layman to write a better Detective Comics while Jeff Lemire wrote a Green Arrow story unlike anything else he’d ever written, reinforcing what his run on Animal Man had suggested- the guy who draws those creepy picture book also has a visionary take on the super-hero model. Another reason why I see the Batwoman shift as the beginning of the end can be seen in the fifth collected volume of the title-  an inconsistency that runs along the spine, singling out the volume among all other New 52 titles as the unmentionable yet obvious stain on the whole endeavor.

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Look at that tiny little five! How embarrassing that must be for Batwoman Vol. 5: Webs! The other book that sticks out in a complete New 52 collection is Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family because it’s white instead of black. While it may still drive the obsessive and compulsive a bit mad to look at, the change is obviously intentional. The tiny 5 on Batwoman Vol. 5 appears to be a Freudian slip, a subconscious expression of shame in ruining one of the New 52’s best titles.

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Since the official announcement of the New 52’s end, I’ve tried to figure what the New 52 really has been. Despite all the Convergence hype, it feels like the experiment is going out with more a whimper than a bang. There’s no real story to tie up as far as I can figure. So the question remains what was the New 52?

Here are 52 things I think made the New 52:

1) The Court of Owls

2) Wonder Woman’s new origin story

3) introduction (and reintroduction) of Vertigo characters into the DC universe

4) Superman-Wonder Woman love story

5) Triumphant revitalization of Aquaman (Throne of Atlantis arc)

6) Titles created just to foster the continuity experiment (Blackhawks, Team 7, OMAC, Threshhold)

7) Crime Syndicate and Forever Evil

8) Darkseid’s destruction of Earth-2 and Superman’s subsequent reign

9) Death of Damian Wayne

10) Skinny Lobo

11) Rotworld arc

12) Justice League Dark formation

13) Central role for The Phantom Stranger

14) Central role for Pandora

15) Future’s End

16) Joker cut off his face

17) Muslim Green Lantern

18) Gay Green Lantern

19) Young Green Arrow

20) Walking Barbara Gordon

21) Brother-killing Batgirl

22) Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham

23) Penguin takes control and loses control and regains control of Gotham criminal underworld

24) Catwoman takes control of Gotham criminal underworld

25) The Riddler brings Gotham to its knees

26) Batman Eternal and Jim Gordon’s blues

27) The most sophisticated Mr. Mxyzptlk story in DC history

28) Guy Gardner became a Red Lantern

29) The Guardians of the Universe were replaced by new Guardians of the Universe after proving themselves fascist tyrants one too many times

30) Kyle Rayner continued to become more messianic

31) Hal Jordan became the leader of the Green Lantern Corps

32) Superboy was a clone of Superman’s wicked son Jonathan Lane Kent from the future and also there were other Superboys

33) Cyborg Superman is… Supergirl’s father?

34) Lucius Fox’s son becomes Batwing

35) Harley Quinn did it with Deadshot

36) H’el on Earth (and Krypton)

37) The Culling of Teen Titans and Ravagers and a general feeling that Scott Lobdell was going to end up writing every title in the DC universe

38) Short lives of good titles (I, Vampire; Voodoo; Mr. Terrific; Captain Atom; Dial H)

39) Huntress and Power Girl, the World’s Finest of Earth-2, arrived on the primary Earth

40) Daniel West is the Reverse-Flash

41) Bad futures depicted in Justice League 3000, Future’s End, Superboy, Teen Titans, and the Legion of Super-heroes

42) Aimless movement from the Legion of the Super-heroes

43) Two heavy-handed comics nobody liked (The Green Team and The Movement)

44) Martian Manhunter with Stormwatch, Martian Manhunter without Stormwatch

45) The return of Lyssa Drak and a Sinestro-led Sinestro Corps

46) Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE and other Dark titles

47) Trinity War

48) Lights Out, Relic, and the draining of the emotional spectrum

49) Trying to figure out what to do with Darkseid

50) Trying to figure out what to do with Deathstroke

51) The Rogues with super-powers

52) Company-wide campaigns particularly in Septmember- 3D covers, MAD variants, Scribblenauts, Robot Chickens, Zero Year, etc.

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Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Welcome to second installment of the World’s Second Greatest Detetective’s 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide! In the first installment, I offered suggestions to those shopping for fans of the television programs The Flash, Gotham, and Smallville, the video games in the Batman: Arkham-verse and Injustice, and the film Man of Steel as well as some suggestions for a person’s individual fancies regarding Superman. While I enjoyed writing that list and believe it could come in handy for a handful of holiday shoppers, I felt quite embarrassed when I got towards the end (blogger’s exhaustion as it were) when I realized I had compiled a list almost exclusively contained heterosexual white males. This is 2014 and while heterosexual white dudes still dominate comics in both content and the industry, there are plenty of interesting characters and talented creators who have overcome the default settings that always inhibited Western media. I’ve included a mere fraction on this list.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO LIKES BATMAN AND HAS AN ELEGANT TASTE IN DESIGN: Batwoman has consistently been one of the most beautiful books in the past decade. Like Batwoman’s costume, the book’s art has experimented heavily with black, gray, and red to create a superhero book that looks more like a haunted luxury hotel than a comic book. You have two options really: before the New 52 or in the New 52.

BEFORE NEW 52: Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s run on Detective Comics has been collected in Batwoman: Elegy. This book stands well by itself and costs less than $20, but if you really want to impress…

NEW 52: I’d recommend the first 4 volumes of Batwoman. J.H. Williams III sticks around and is joined by W. Haden Blackman. Their departure from the series was a small controversy and the story told in these volumes came to an underwhelming conclusion in the first issue contained in the fifth volume, but don’t let that discourage you.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO ALSO LIKES BATMAN BUT PREFERS CRIME NOIR: I suggest you take a look at Batwoman and if you think the person on your list would like it more if there were less skulls, you need not worry. Renee Montoya, one of Batwoman‘s ‘Eskimo sisters’ and a supporting character on television’s Gotham, is another prominent bad-ass lesbian in the DC universe. Her appearances in the New 52 have largely been limited to the background of the various Bat-titles, but prior to the New 52, Renee Montoya was kind of a star. I recommend Batman: War Games, any of the Gotham Central collections, and The Question: Five Books of Blood. Having made those recommendations, I should admit that I believe 52 is the best Renee Montoya story ever told, but I do not recommend you purchase 52 for a novice DC Comics reader. Much like I wouldn’t suggest Crisis on Infinite Earths for a fan of The Flash television program, 52 requires a good bit of background knowledge to fully appreciate.

COMICS FOR COWGIRLS: Without thinking too deeply on it, I’m going to declare Pretty Deadly as the best current title featuring a female main character, strong female cast, and predominantly female creative team. While I haven’t read everything out there, I feel pretty confident in my assertion because few artists provide layouts that can compare to Emma Rios’s pages and her style works so well with the story Kelly Sue Deconnick has written.

There’s only one collection of Pretty Deadly available, so if you really want spoil the cowgirl in your life, I recommend your pick up all the volumes of The Sixth Gun, a slightly brighter tale than Pretty Deadly with a significantly less creepy art style. The Sixth Gun is also appropriate for a wider age range than Pretty Deadly.

COMICS FOR READERS WHO WANT HISPANIC CHARACTERS AND ARE CAPABLE OF SHRUGGING OFF PATRONIZING STEREOTYPES: In the New 52, there are two characters that I consider guilty pleasures- actually that’s true, a lot of them that are guilty pleasures that require a suspension of  some of my values in the hope of developing a sophisticated world-view beyond good and evil- whether my affection for scantily clad superheroines, ultra-violence, or a bit of racism, something about reading comics makes me lower my ethical guard and it is in this state that I fell in love with the lovable gay Mexican undocumented immigrant Bunker of Teen Titans and to a lesser extent the Detroit-born Latin cheeseball Vibe, appearing in various titles including a his own short-lived title series. I’d recommend the collection of the Vibe series, titled Justice League of America’s Vibe: Breach, to people who like the fashion in Joel Silberg’s cinematic masterpiece Breakin’. There’s plenty in Vibe that worthy of being subjected to the harshest of structuralist, post-colonialist, deconstructionist, etc. critiques- have a friend writing a thesis on representation of Hispanic Americans? This is the book!

However, I find Bunker much more enjoyable than Vibe. Heavily defined by his sexuality, ethnicity, and geographical origins, Bunker comes across as a bright-eyed bundle of sunshine optimism. Everything in the US is awesome! Everything about being a superhero is awesome! Teen Titan Friendship is awesome! I’ve written before about the Othering of the Bunker character and in that post, I focused primarily on Bunker’s portrayal as an immigrant more than as a Mexican gay man and I still believe it is the most heavily contributing factor to his characterization.

COMICS FOR FANS ON THE CONSTANTINE TELEVISION SHOW: If the person on your list likes Constantine, I suggest you go the source material and start at the beginning of the Hellblazer titles. Most of the volumes are priced at $19.99 and can be found cheaper in the rainforest. Each collected volume is about 300 pages, so a single volume is a pretty hefty gift. If the person on your list likes Constantine but wishes John Constantine ran into Superman and Swamp Thing on a regular basis, I’d push you towards the New 52 Dark titles like Justice League Dark (soon to be a major motion picture…maybe), Constantine, The Trinity War, or perhaps the Forever Evil: Blight collection (but that only really works if you also pick up Justice League Vol. 5, Justice League of America Vol. 2, and the Forever Evil main collection…well, maybe not…)

COMICS FOR FANS OF THE WALKING DEAD SHOW WHO EITHER ALREADY READ THE WALKING DEAD OR FIGURE THEY’VE SEEN THE SHOW AND DON’T REALLY WANT TO GET WRAPPED UP IN THE COMIC: There are so many zombie comics out there now and many of them are pretty good. Want a funny zombie book? Try Last Resort. Want a zombie story set in wartime Afghanistan? Try Graveyard of Empires. Prefer the Vietnam War? Try ’68. Is the zombie enthusiast on your list like to be one step ahead of  the crowd (a good move during the zombie apocalypse)? I’d recommend the collection of the digital comic iZombie or the animal zombie tale The Other Dead as both will coming to the small screen some time soon. Still, my top recommendation for zombie books is Revival. It’s a small town tale that does it’s best to reconcile the humanity of their reanimated loved ones with the terrifying implications of the dead coming back to life.

Blogger’s exhaustion has hit again. I should return to present the 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide pt. 3. If you have a comic fan that you’re having trouble shopping for, feel free to send me a description of their interests to waynexiaolong@gmail.com or leave some info in the comments below. Feel free to do so after the holiday season has passed- I’m happy to consult on gifts for any occasion. If one of your celebrity friends had their nude photos leaked by hackers, you might not want to give them a copy of The Killing Joke.

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A few weeks ago I reviewed the LEGO Marvel video game. While I enjoyed playing it, I’m not a Marvel Comics reader and imagine a faithful Marvel reader would have enjoyed the game more than I did. Alternately I’m a very loyal DC Comics reader and a pretty big Green Lantern fan. After playing through most of Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, I’d say that this game is the best non-comic book piece of Green Lantern media available. While Batman is the major hero and the major villain is traditionally a Superman enemy, the various Lantern Corps provide the props, setting, and support cast for the game. The game is littered with little treats for the GL fan- my favorite of which is when Sinestro utters a relatively new classic from the end of the Geoff Johns run- “That’s the tragedy of all this, we’ll always be friends.”

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While the Green Lantern elements are strong, the creators put a twist on the Blackest Night storyline where all sorts of classic characters end up with Lantern rings. In the comics, Lex Luthor ends up with an orange ring, Wonder Woman with a violet ring, The Flash with a blue ring while in LEGO Batman 3, Lex Luthor ends up filled with feelings of compassion while Wonder Woman is filled with rage and the Flash is driven by the insatiable greed associated with Larfleeze. As the LEGO Batman world is already a caricature of the DC Universe, the emotional spectrum of the Lanterns provides a good bit of fodder for humor.

Rather than an open world Gotham like LEGO Batman 2 (or New York City as in LEGO Marvel), LEGO Batman 3 has a pretty divided open world with menu stages in the Batcave, Watchtower, and Hall of Justice as well as worlds corresponding with each of the Lantern corps, a Moon Base, and a Hall of Doom. As this walking around takes a bit of time, especially the teleporting, one can become nostalgic for the single city worlds that functioned more smoothly in earlier LEGO superhero games.

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The game also looks heavily towards the old Batman ’66 television program for material. More surprising is the representation of characters from the Dark family- Zatanna, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Etrigan- and the absence of Constantine, a fellow who may soon very well be absent from television screens as well. There’s a ton of content shoved into this game and the downloadable content looks like it will be coming for a while. After a month of playing both LEGO Marvel and LEGO Batman 3, my interest is fading a bit, but they’re both far superior to the cheesey freemium games so popular among people too cowardly to become addicted to heroin or sports betting. I recommend this game to DC Comics fans of all ages.

 

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“And the Justice League is dead,” announces Ultraman in the first issue of Geoff Johns and David Finch’s mini-series Forever Evil, the main book of the DC Comics event of the same name that resurrects the Crime Syndicate. “And Jesus wept,” John recalls as he tells the resurrection of Lazarus. If the DC Universe died when the New 52 initiative began, Forever Evil is a way of telling those bemoaning the reboot to stop weeping because that old universe has come back to life. The event certainly shook up the New 52, but has only left the universe stronger for it. Remember that Lazarus lived an additional 30 years after his resurrection and that was spent mostly signing autographs and trying not to laugh.

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Forever Evil tells a great threat to our world and features a lot of villains. The great threat is employed to expose the more intimate natures of DC Comics fan-favorite villains. The threat comes from the Crime Syndicate, an alternate and “evil” version of the Justice League, with a roster of villains that correspond to members of the Justice League.

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The Crime Syndicate comes from Earth-3, a parallel Earth that resembles Earth-1 but lives under the thumb of the Crime Syndicate. An over-simplified assessment could describe Earth-3 similarly to the original conception of Qward, a place where evil is law- right is wrong and wrong is right, but the narrative of Forever Evil shows the impossibility of such an idea by showing how the villains of Earth-1 themselves are beyond good and evil. Earth-3 is not the opposite of Earth-1, but rather an Earth where those in power care even less for the people than those in power in ours. While the spirit of the Crime Syndicate is nastily selfish and sadistic, the people of Earth-3 are quite aware of the boot stamping on their face- forever (evil).

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The Crime Syndicate hope to recruit the villains of Earth-1 but encounter some resistance. This resistance comes from major villains like Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Black Adam, and the Rogues. More minor villains like Blockbuster and Parasite have an easier time towing the line. The Crime Syndicate do a few things that irk the villains and it’s hard to say if these actions are even evil based on their motivations and the villain’s reactions. For Ultra-Man’s survival and strength, he blocks the sun with the moon, something that pisses off most Earth-1 residents and particularly Poison Ivy. Black Manta opposes them because they “killed” Aquaman and his anger does not come from grief for the “fallen” Atlantean, but because the Syndicate robbed him of the chance to kill him. It is the autocratic imposing of their will upon the nations and people of Earth-1 that angers both Lex Luthor and Black Adam- two individuals who pride themselves in their abilities to impose their will on others. The Rogues initially consider joining the Crime Syndicate until the Crime Syndicate orders them to destroy their own home towns, the Gem Cities. The Rogues, of course, have long been known to stick to a no-kill code and their motivations clearly financial, so their repulsion at the thought of decimating Central City and Keystone City makes perfect sense. Two-Face’s response is typically loyal to the outcome of his coin flip.

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The Forever Evil story has been published in trade form over the past five or six weeks. As with most big events, the choices made by DC Comics in publishing the collected event cause a Groundhog Day-like disruption of narrative. The action of Forever Evil can be found in many places throughout DC’s catalog. Events unfolded in the Forever Evil mini-series itself, Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S., Forever Evil: Arkham War, Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman Vs. Bane, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine, many of the “Villains Month” titles, and a scattering of other titles. Some events and even panels repeat in different issues- the Rogues breaking Trickster out of Iron Heights, for example. What DC Comics generally does when there is a major event like this, they publish the trades based on the title rather than the timeline. This makes the reading experience for the trade reader (myself) distinct from the experience of the issue-reader who sees each piece of the story unfold simultaneously, much safer from spoilers. I’ve heard and read trade readers complain about this and admit some discontent myself. The phenomenon hits Green Lantern fans repeatedly. Another curse is that in collecting the trades, you end up with multiple printings of the same issue as experienced in Throne of Atlantis and Rotworld events. The Forever Evil: Blight trade contains issues that readers of Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, and Constantine will find already in the collected trades of those individual series. It’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont-paradox that leaves comics readers either missing out on chunks of story or buying multiples printings of the same material. As DC has spaced out the release of each trade, there is an implied order to reading them. Forever Evil: Arkham War and Forever Evil: Blight actually works pretty well independent of the main Forever Evil series, but Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S and Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion are entirely dependent on the events of the main series.

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For those readers who are considering only one additional Forever Evil beyond the main series, here is a breakdown of what you can expect:

Arkham War is obviously written with Batman fans in mind despite having very little actual Batman in it. It’s written by one of my favorite writers Peter Tomasi and I believe they picked the worst possible picture for the cover. The art within is so much better than the close-up face-off of Bat-Bane and Batman. It is predominantly a Bane story, but features a whole slew of Batman’s enemies including Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Pyg, and Clayface.

A.R.G.U.S. centers largely around Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, making it a book for Wonder-Woman fans despite the fact Steve Trevor hasn’t really appeared in the pages of Wonder Woman. It is more closely related to Justice League, Suicide Squad, Justice League of America, and the secret agent-y government-y titles. The major villains are Killer Frost, Cheetah, and Deathstroke. Among the lesser villains, Cheetah leads a cool-looking pack of anthropomorphic antagonists. While it tells the back story of an important plot point to the greater Forever Evil narrative, it is probably the weakest, in both story and art, of all the Forever Evil subplots.

Rogues Rebellion is a story for Flash fans, obviously. It features the usual lineup of Captain Cold, Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and Glider. Classic Flash baddies Pied Piper and Gorilla Grodd appear as well. Several character more normally associated with Batman makes appearances; the Rogues find themselves transported to Gotham where they encounter Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and Black Mask.  In addition, there are quite a few second-stringers like Black Bison, Parasite, and the Royal Flush Gang making appearances. This book more than any of the others, including the main series, celebrates the community of villains operating in the DC Universe.

Blight is a Pandora story that stars John Constantine. It is readers who have been following the Dark family of titles and have familiarized themselves with the Trinity War event. This story is important to the entire plot mainly because Pandora’s box is what enables the Crime Syndicate to come over to Earth-1. It retains the feel of Justice League Dark and if you like that, you’ll like this book. If you’re expecting some Vertigo-eqsue tome, you will be disappointed and I recommend you read Rotworld for something closer to that experience.

All in all, I see Forever Evil and titles like World’s Finest and The Multiversity in the same way other comics speculators have already said: DC Comics is gearing up for an infinite crisis of infinite proportion. I’m excited. I feel I’m much better prepared to understand it than I am to understand Infinite Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a book for its time. Will my generation’s crisis overdo the crises of the past? If Forever Evil is any indication, I believe it will.

 

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For the second year, the World’s Second Greatest Detective presents an assessment of the comics I’ve read, awarding accolades to books that impressed me. Like last year’s list, this one comes at the beginning of September because my comics year begins and ends with Dragon Con in Atlanta. A lot of titles that I mentioned last year continue to turn out great work: Saga, Revival, Batman, Manhattan Projects– but I’d rather steer attention to titles that didn’t make last year’s list either because of my ignorance, their slow creep to trade, or the fact they didn’t exist last year. There will also be some categories this year. For example:

Best Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

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Katana in “Beware the Batman”

I should remind you that I don’t read any Marvel books, though the announcement that Charles Soule is leaving all his DC titles and the particular temptation of his Death of Wolverine has me eying the other side of the fence a bit. My decision to abstain from Marvel Comics is sort of arbitrary, but not totally without reason- limits on time and resource do not permit me the luxury of reading every comic book, so I picked one of the big two companies and don’t read the other at all. Though I do read a lot of independent comics and that’s really where my heart belongs. I picked DC over Marvel because of many reasons, but the simplest is Batman.

Not all of the accolades will categorized. Nor may all those mentioned really be ‘comics of 2014’ in the truest sense. For example, thanks to a generous donation by Oni Press to the WonderRoot Jackie Ormes Comic Book Library. I had the privilege to read two series that knocked my socks off:

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Courtney Crumrin is the fun story about a misanthropic little girl who lives a society worth hating, but luckily finds an uneasy friendship with her witch uncle and a few easier friendships with netherbeasts. It’s a clever book and the content is acceptable for most age levels.

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The Sixth Gun is an epic story set in a very Wild West, shaped by all sorts of occult and heebie jeebie ghost stuff. Cullen Bunn and the other creators of The Sixth Gun have moved onto other things and the news that DC would cancel All Star Western saddened me a little. East of West is still kicking around, but 2014 has  introduced a Western title that I may enjoy more than all three of those titles.

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Pretty Deadly contains some amazing art. Much like the best work of J.H. Williams III or Francis Manpaul, Emma Rios’s artwork stands out for her creative use of the medium. Panels and pages work together to create a fantastic pace. As Kelly Sue Deconnick’s writing takes the story in and out of stories and timelines, the art and especially the coloring distinguish the different parts of the whole quite well. Deconnick opened the Comics and Popular Arts Conference at this year’s Dragon Con with a rousing talk touching on a variety of subjects such as how we learn publicly and with record in a fast-paced technological society and how that empowers a ‘gotcha culture’ which in turn hinders our ability to learn; the use of the white male as the default character; the futility of overly emotional and aggressive responses to opposing ideas; and comic books. Her husband writes a pretty good comic too.

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Sex Criminals is a twist on Bonnie and Clyde, Robin Hood, Out of this World, 9 Songs, the Matrix, A Dirty Shame…and yeah, it isn’t. It’s an incredibly original story about a girl who stops time when she orgasms and a boy who also stops time when he orgasms. They discover this shared ability during the act of coitus and put it to good use, robbing banks to raise money for a library under attack by a viciously greedy bank that the boy happens to work for and where he poops in his boss’s office plant once a day.

Another catergory?

Worst Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

For the video game-inspired animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, a bit of a revolution for the animated superhero movie with its Guy Ritchie-like pace, excessive profanity, explicit sexuality, and a level of violence exceeding even last year’s The Dark Knight Returns, DC made a Suicide Squad movie under the guise of a Batman movie. One thing I like about it is how they retained the original physical attributes of Amanda Waller instead going for the Angela Bassett model. One thing I didn’t like is how they turned King Shark from this:

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King Shark in the comics to:

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King Shark in Batman: Assault on Arkham

He looks a cross between Bane and Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me. Their motivation for desharking the shark is unclear to me. I also don’t understand why David Goyer wants to demartian the Martian Manhunter.

Best Comic Book Companion to a video game

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Injustice: Gods Among Us begins before the video game’s storyline. In the simplest terms, Joker has tricked Superman into killing Lois Lane who is pregnant with Superman’s baby. Superman gets so mad that he kills the Joker, beginning the fascist reign of Superman and a doting Wonder Woman. Because it is an Elsworlds story with so many DC characters involved, the opportunities for bringing the essences and flaws of these characters abound. Tom Taylor wastes none of them. The Bat family is especially well-done is the book- particularly Alfred and Catwoman.

Best Art in a Superhero Comic Book

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Jae Lee did some of the best work of his career during his time on Grag Pak’s Batman/Superman. Of all the superstar artists from the 1990s that have continued in comics, I think the development of Jae Lee’s work has been the most interesting to watch. If you haven’t seen his work on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, I highly recommend that one too. Batman/Superman is a dreamy book, but it is not without a strong sense of character and expression. This collaboration between Pak and Lee stands out as a triumph in comic storytelling.

Second Attempt That Makes The Most Sense in the New 52

Giving Deathstroke another chance at having his own title. Also looking forward to Gail Simone returning to her Secret Six roots later this year.

Second Attempt That Makes The Least Sense in the New 52

Why are the Teen Titans starting over again with issue 1?

Best Volume 3 collection of the New 52

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Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics fulfilled its own prophecies in Vol. 3: At The End Of  Days. Morrison’s writes for the long haul and sometimes it works really well (Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, the epic story of Damian Wayne, Doom Patrol, Filth). His eighteen issues on Action Comics is separated into three acts, best illustrated by their separate trade collections. Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel comes off as a pretty typical superhero comic- it’s action-packed and reintroduces many classic characters from Superman’s mythology such as Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Metallo (Metal-Zero), and Brainiac. There are few weirdo moments, typical of Morrison’s work, but don’t overpower the straight-forward superhero elements. Vol. 2: Bulletproof is pretty weird, more distinctly Morrison. The story is all over the place, referencing itself, making the most out of the queer moments from Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel, as well as introducing a Barack Obama doppelganger named Calvin Ellis- another dimension’s Superman. Finally, in Vol. 3: At the End of Days, all the kookiness starts to make sense and the details of Clark’s arrival in Metropolis in Vol. 1 become enriched by a Myxlplyxian plot that satisfies the patient reader.

Best Vol. 4 Collection(s) of the New 52

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While The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse, Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War, and Batwoman Vol. 4: The Blood is Thick all continued runs by outstanding creative teams, it is books like the Green Lantern family of books, Justice League Dark, and Green Arrow that have seen new creators come in and take the books in different directions to which I’d like to draw your attention. Much praise has been tossed to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow, collected in Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine. The art distinguishes itself from the unofficial DC house-style and the writing invigorates Oliver Queen as a character. I do think that in praising Lemire and Sorrentino’s work, a lot of undeserved criticism has been thrown Ann Nocenti’s way. Her depiction of Oliver Queen as an Ugly American in the People’s Republic of China is one of my favorite instances of seeing China portrayed in a superhero comic. Jim DeMatteis has seemingly inherited the Dark family of DC titles, emerging from his run on The Phantom Stranger. In Justice League Dark Vol. 4: Rebirth of Evil, he takes over for Lemire- moving the story from Trinity War to Forever Evil territory. The little demon Constantine‘s are great, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more Frankenstein, my favorite member of the Justice League Dark. With the announcement of Charles Soule signing an exclusive contract with Marvel, I expect DeMatteis may take over Swamp Thing, which had a good, but short Vol. 4: Seeder. Matteis does interesting things with the character in Justice League Dark, but if I was going to pick the new writer of Swamp Thing, I’d go for either Tim Seeley, Kurtis Wiebe, or Angelo Tirrotto. To write an Animal Man title despite his joining Justice League United, I’d recruit Corinna Sara Bechko or Joshua Ortega with the instructions to keep Animal Man dark. Finally, the new slew of Green Lantern creators gave the ring-slingers an exciting year. Ranked best to least best: Red Lanterns, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians. Outside of those Vol. 4s, I was disappointed with the Larfleeze title, but look forward to Cullen Bunn’s Sinestro.

Best Non-Picture Book Author to Write a Picture Book

the boys are dead and girl just wanna have fun

Toby Litt on Dead Boy Detectives

When I lived in Ireland, I discovered the work of Toby Litt, an author whose work was not available in the United States, and absolutely fell in love with it. Deadkidsongs, in particular, left me creeped out and inspired. When I heard he would be rebooting the Vertigo series Dead Boy Detectives I waiting in hefty anticipation for the trade to be released. While I was not disappointed, I must admit that Litt has not taken to the medium as quickly as the likes of Brad Meltzer who blew the comics world away with Identity Crisis. I do however see great potential in the future comics work of Litt as he adapts to the medium. Reading the trade, you can see him become more comfortable and, in turn, more capable.

Best Superhero Live-Action Movie

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X-Men: Days of Future Past, like its predecessors, stands well above the rest of the Marvel movies (with the possible exception of Captain America: Winter Soldier). Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and the rest of the classic mutants put on a great show and new arrivals like Quicksilver brought energy to the film. This and X-Men: First Class are my favorite of the X-Men movies. They somehow managed to make Fan Bing Bing look terrible, which is my only real complaint about the film.

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In conclusion, I’m looking forward to more great comics this year though I have some concerns about a few creative teams at DC (Wonder Woman) and will miss some of my favorite creators and titles as they disappear from the shelves, hopefully replaced by new books of splendor, wonder, and ideas.

 

 

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My wife woke me up this morning to tell me that that the internet was a-buzz with news that Ben Affleck would play Batman in the upcoming Superman-Batman movie. At first, I thought, “This is a weird yet very boring dream.” My second thoughts were more practical. My wife is bilingual and reads both the Chinese internet and the real internet*, so perhaps a new strategy of the Wu Mao party was to troll the shit out of the internet with such ridiculous news in an effort to destabilize U.S. hegemony. It makes sense, right? Americans agree not to intervene with Taiwan’s return and Ben Affleck will not disgrace the cowl- call it bat-boat diplomacy. After brushing my teeth, getting dressed, etc. I went to the internet myself and was overwhelmed by how fast the scheme had taken hold. Further proof of what the Freemasons have always known, inception is possible. Were the Chinese to blame for Damian Wayne’s death as well? Was Grant Morrison’s psychedelic experience in the East nothing more than Manchurian Candidate brain-washing? Why start the Ben Affleck as Batman hoax at the same time as the Bo Xilai trial?

What about Christian Bale? As a child, his portrayal of J.G. Ballard in “Empire of the Sun” was not flattering to the Chinese, praising the bravery of the Japanese as they violently occupied China. Later in life, his support of Chen Guangcheng got him beaten up by the Chinese police  after Bale had worked with Zhang Yimou.  The Chinese release of “The Dark Knight Rises” was delayed. Is it a personal mission against Christian Bale? I doubt it because casting Ben Affleck as the Batman will only make Christian Bale’s portrayal look that much better much like Clooney did for Keaton.

Eventually my suspicions subsided. The Chinese government wouldn’t do such a thing. In Supergods, Grant Morrison alludes a Chinese government program to create a real-life Superman- which I guess is more like a real life Captain America, but then it would have to be Captain China, do you remember Red China Man, enemy of Mr. Freedom? Anyway I digress. I don’t think we can blame China for casting Ben Affleck as Batman as the news appeared first in the U.S…. unless a sleeper cell just woke up.

I also don’t think actors should play more one superhero. If you’re the Human Torch, you shouldn’t be Captain America. If you were Daredevil, you shouldn’t be Batman. If you were Kaiser Soze, you shouldn’t be Lex Luthor. I also think Ben Affleck is too old to play Batman. The potential for another sustainable Batman franchise is weakened by Affleck’s decaying mortal coil.

When Ben Affleck played Superman, it drove it to kill himself, so I don’t understand why he would even want to play Batman.

On the other hand, I would be interested in a Batman story written by Affleck and I could even consider Casey Affleck as a really good Riddler. I’d like Scott Snyder to write a Batman movie and Gail Simone to write a Batgirl movie. I think Tom Tykwer should direct a superhero here- maybe Flash? Animal Man? That would be sweet, right? Tom Tykwer directs Animal Man, Anton Corbijn directs Swamp Thing, Sofia Coppola directs Zatanna, Guy Ritchie directs Constantine and it all culminates in Guilermo del Toro directs Justice League Dark.

From several corners of the internet, disappointment seems to dominate this discussion and I expect the democratic nature of the comic book industry to force Affleck to walk away from the project with his batarangs between legs. Kind of embarrassing, but better to be pushed off the project now than be blamed for ruining DC’s hope to develop a cinematic universe on the scale of Marvel’s.

*the bit about “the Chinese internet and the real internet” is just a joke, so don’t get offended. As we all know, the internet is, in fact, separated on an entirely different system: the zero internet and the one internet. One of them is governed by Jesus and the other is governed by Darth Vader.

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This is the third installment of Bests and Worsts of the New 52, following the first and the second ,where I mostly praised the work being done at DC even when nominating books for Worsts. This entry will continue in that tradition. Also I am describing the first 52 or so collections, not the issues on the stands or titles like Earth-2 or World’s Finest which haven’t been collected yet. A few of the Bests and Worsts here will deal with sexuality in the New 52. It is an undeniable characteristic of this universe, geek culture, and real life. If sexuality makes you uncomfortable, that’s totally normal and you just try to deal with it as best you can. In the collage above, I included elements from panels that celebrate feminine features.

Best and Worst of the Young Justice Family of Titles

Best: Teen Titans Teen Titans is a fun book. The characters are all very distinct. I especially like the new characters. As a gay Mexican immigrant, Bunker is relevant and liberating, yet condescending and slightly offensive- I love it. Bunker might be my favorite new hero of the New 52- not my favorite new character, because that would probably the Court of Owls. Bunker, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl bring a lot of humor to the book. The Superboy story is reliable Superboy narrative and ties in smoothly with this book. Scott Lobdell also writes Red Hood and the Outlaws, which is also a team book featuring a non-Nightwing former Robin, but wildly different than Teen Titans. Tim Drake has probably lost the most agency in the New 52. In this book, he reminds me a lot of the Robin rip-off in The Uniques, which is a fun independent superhero book about the emotional and physical battles of young white superheroes.

Worst: Legion of Super-Heroes. Brainiac-5’s cheesy hair.

Best and Worst Fishnet Reboot

Best: Zatanna in Justice League Dark. Zatanna has lost the traditional magician (magician’s assistant?) costume and embraced a very goth, very Vertigo Death look. The look changes her dramatically. No longer does she hint of potentially pulled rabbits and endless scarves. She wears her fishnets on her arms now, perhaps to hide the track marks because she’s become just that rock n roll. I’m super-excited about Guillermo del Toro’s alleged movie version of Justice League Dark and anticipate falling in love with the actresses who play Madame Xanadu and Zatanna. Justice League Dark and Hellboy have a lot in common and both Hellboy movies were incredible.

Worst: Black Canary in Birds of Prey. What happened to Dinah Lance? She’s a character in name only on Arrow, never exhibiting metahuman powers or donning fish nets. On Smallville, she did not fall in love with Oliver or stay true to the Black Canary comic couture. On the Birds of Prey television program, she was nigh a child. On the pages of Birds of Prey, she’s wearing the worst rebooted outfit of the New 52. It doesn’t make sense- which has never been a problem for super-ladies before. It’s not fashionable – which has also never been a problem for super-ladies before. It robs Black Canary of her working class roots- this is a problem. Black Canary is supposed to the biker chick badass next door and now she looks like space army Barbie.

Best and Worst News for Fans of Semi-Nude Cosplay

Best: White Rabbit in Batman- The Dark Knight. I think she’s also the most scantily clad new villain of the New 52. I might be wrong about that. If I am, please correct me. The New 52 has no shortage of exposed flesh. It also abounds in varieties of woman’s underthings.

Worst: Poison Ivy in Birds of Prey. As Harley Quinn abandons the bodysuit in favor of less conservative attire, Poison Ivy has chosen a new costume that would deny convention peepers the always popular string of leaves.

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This is a continuation of yesterday’s Bests and Worsts of the New 52 (Part 1) which, in accordance with its title, discussed some of the bests and worsts of DC Comics’ New 52. Please keep in mind that all honors are awarded based on their performances in the first collected volumes of their series. If you want me to weigh in on whether or not I approve of Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship, which begins in the second volume of Justice League, I’ll tell you that it’s okay with me because I know Superman’s going to find his way back to Lois Lane.  He loved Lana before he loved Lois and that worked out fine. The Kryptonian heart surely contains as many riddles as the human heart. I don’t blame Diana either because Steve Trevor has always seemed to me like what the porn industry calls a suitcase pimp. He’s a stripper’s boyfriend, a leech, an Andy Warhol Factory vampire. I thought the arranged marriage to Aquaman in Flashpoint was an interesting direction for her love life. I think Kara-El would also make an interesting mate for Diana. Before I start auctioning off rental space in Wonder Woman’s uterus, let’s get to the Bests and Worsts of the New 52 (Part 2), which, in accordance with its title, is a continuation of yesterday’s Bests and Worsts of the New 52 (Part 1) which, in accordance with its title, discussed some of the bests and worsts of DC Comics’ New 52.

Best and Worst of the Superman Family of Titles

Best: Action Comics Sadly, none of the Superman titles approach the quality of stories like All Star Superman, Superman for All Seasons, Red Son, or Birthright. Still each of the titles in the Superman family offered entertaining fair. The new manifestations of some of the classic Superman relationships distinguish the New 52 Superman from his previous incantations. Obviously, there is Clark’s relationship with Lois. She’s very suspicious of him, a suspicion that is long overdue. Lois is a smart woman. Clark Kent is a sketchball with an obvious link to Superman. Finally, we have a Lois who suspects something. In Action Comics, Superman meets some of his classic villains for the ‘first’ time: Lex Luthor, Metallo, Brainiac. He also sees some old friends like Steel and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Grant Morrison seems a little greedy with the Superman mythology, making George Pérez’s complaint that Superman (which takes place 5 years after Action Comics) was difficult to write without the cooperation of Grant Morrison. The book itself is pretty straight comic book story-telling, unlike Morrison’s wilder stuff like The Filth or Flex Mentallo. Another relationship that we see start from the beginning is the relationship between Kal-El and his lovely cousin Kara in Supergirl. Supergirl is one of my favorite characters. I really enjoyed reading about her in the Superman/Batman and Supergirl titles prior to the reboot and I must admit that I prefer her in the skirt as opposed to the Power Girl-esque camel-toe-inducing outfit she has now. Her outfit looks classier in Supergirl than Superboy. She’s a great character. I look forward to seeing more of her in the New 52.

Worst: The premature death of Martha and Jonathan Kent. I don’t know who made the decision to have these two iconic Mary & Josephs die prior to Clark’s arrival in Metropolis, but that was a dumb move.  A lot of Superman’s renewed popularity comes from the success of Smallville, in which Clark’s Earth parents played a significant role. Many Superman fans suffered through Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and only survived because of the contributions of Eddie Jones and K Callan as the Kents.

Best and Worst of the Batman Family of Titles

Best: Batman. I really enjoyed most of the Batman books and the introduction of the Court of Owls as Gotham City’s spooky secret society. The overlap between books was good. I can only imagine the experience of reading Nightwing without knowing that Dick’s a Talon- a great tagline for your on-line dating site: Dick’s A Talon. I like a lot of the new villains introduced in the Batman books, but I like the Owls the best. Greg Capullo’s art is pretty sweet, though the rotating of the actual book is pretty hokey. Still I’m glad they’re experimenting. The most innovative art in the Batman family and possibly the whole New 52 is Batwoman. It’s a pity that J.H. Williams III didn’t continue to do the art after the first volume- no offense to the talented artists currently working on Batwoman, of course.

Worst: Catwoman. Catwoman was an okay book, but the others are much better. On a note unrelated to this honor, Catwoman and Batwoman are always dressing/undressing.

Best and Worst of the Green Lantern Family of Titles

Best: The origin stories of the Red Lanterns’ rages in Red Lanterns

Worst: The cheesy story at the end of Green Lantern Corps where John Stewart returns the GL he silenced with death to the GL’s family, only to have a few heart-warming moments with the GL’s mentally challenged younger brother. The depiction of the mentally challenged brother is insultingly cliché and surely offensive to mentally challenged Green Lantern readers everywhere. Sometimes Green Lantern stories amaze you with their social and political relevance and sometimes they seethe cheese like your grandmother’s knees.

Best and Worst of the Edge Family of Titles

Best: All Star Western. Telling the story of Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham in nineteenth century Gotham, All Star Western is a good mystery story. The art’s good, especially the covers. I wish DC had more titles that took place in the past. I’d really like to see some Elseworlds stories in the New 52. As a comic book historian, I like a little history in comics. It’s like wearing another gender’s corset.

Worst: Stormwatch I’m excited to see what Peter Milligan does with it. I really enjoyed his work on Red Lanterns and Justice League Dark

Best and Worst of the Dark Family of Titles

Best: I really, really, really like the three cancelled series from The Dark family of titles: Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Resurrection Man, and I, Vampire. I feel certain that Resurrection Man, Frankenstein, and the other members of S.H.A.D.E. can survive without their own monthly title, but I was really looking forward to the development of the I, Vampire  plot. It’s cancellation is a bummer.

Worst: I haven’t read Demon Knights, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Jason Blood/Etrigan. It’s unfair to assign Demon Knights as the worst, but the other Dark titles are all so solid that I can’t bear to call them the worst.

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