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Sunday, November 27, 2011

World Without A Superman

Title: World Without A Superman

ISBN: 1563891182

Price: $7.50

Publisher/Year: DC, 1993

Artist: Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Walter Simonson

Writer: Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern

Collects: Adventures of Superman #498-500, Action Comics #685-686, Superman #76-77, Superman: The Legacy of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel #20-21

Rating: 2/5

I remember when the Death of Superman made the all the news programs. It was probably the first time that a major character actually died in print. I also remember getting a copy of Superman #75 as a Christmas present from my parent’s that year. This trade offers the Funeral for a Friend storyline that happened after his death.

Everyone is saddened by the passing of Superman, and everyone comes out of the woodwork to mourn and memorialize his passing. But not everyone is there to pay homage to the fallen superhero. Some people have made plans to use Superman’s body as the start to create a new race. (The term “super soldier” was never actually used, but it seems implied.)

My biggest problem with this trade comes from the fact that I never read any Superman title religiously, but I knew enough about the story that I understood several of the main chorus of characters. Because of this, I kept wondering what was up with the new look for Lex Luthor. I also couldn’t connect with any of the minor characters that played more pronounced roles in this particular trade. For my sake, I think that it could have been written better without the attention to these smaller characters and delve more into the storyline of how members of the Justice League were taking this loss.

Of course they left the ending very open so DC could start the Reign of the Supermen storylines. I understand that you can’t leave an icon like Superman truly dead for too long. He’s no Green Arrow; he’s one of the cornerstones of the entire comic world. A true World Without A Superman would be like having Bryan Singer direct every Superman movie… not worth seeing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Death: The High Cost of Living

Title: Death: The High Cost of Living

ISBN: 9781563891335

Price: $12.95

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1993

Artist: Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Dave McKean

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Collects: Death: The High Cost of Living #1-3, Death Talks About Life

Rating: 4/5

Gaiman does it again. I wish he would have spent as much time writing stories about Death as he did about Dream. I feel that Death could have had a similar, if not bigger, following than the Sandman series did. Alas, that is not the case and we are forced to just a paltry piece of Death.

In this trade, the focus is on a young man who feels that there’s nothing worth living for. We are introduced to him as he’s writing his suicide note, but shortly he is sent out of the house so that his mother can do some spring cleaning in the middle of summer. Why he becomes drawn to a landfill, I’m not entirely certain, but this is where he comes into contact with Death in the guise of a girl named Didi.

We also have the story of Mad Hettie trying to figure out where she left her heart, and she enlists the help of Death to help her find it for her. It’s this task that becomes the centerpiece of this particular trade. She certainly gets around having roles in Sandman, Hellblazer, The Dreaming and her major role in this trade.

While trying to find Hettie’s heart, Death (as Didi) and the young man (Sexton) make their way through the city. They inevitably make their way to a club called The Undercut where we are given a preview of character’s that star in Death: The Time of Your Life trade. I appreciate the continuity that Gaiman provides in both Sandman and Death. I wonder how different Hellblazer would have been if he would have written it?

The main antagonist for this trade is called The Eremite. He has no eyes or mouth, but believes that the ankh of Death contains all her power. Little does he know that the ankh is just a symbol and has no actual power. Death easily replaces it from a street vendor for $10.

The entire story helps Sexton realize that life is worth living, no matter what problems you have. It’s well worth reading and adding to your collection.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Batman: Sword of Azrael

Title: Batman: Sword of Azrael

ISBN: 156389100X

Price: $9.95

Publisher/Year: DC, 1993

Artist: Joe Quesada

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Collects: Batman: Sword of Azrael #1-4

Rating: 4/5

First, Superman died. Then, Bane broke the back of Batman. In between these two separate events, we learn of a somewhat normal man by the name of Jean Paul Valley; also known as Azrael. In this trade, we learn some of the secrets behind the man that would take over for a broken Batman.

It’s simply called “The System”. Jean Paul has been systematically trained by his father since he was a child. “The System” makes Jean Paul a suitable replacement for his father as Azrael, the assassin for the Order of St. Dumas. How could such a man act as a replacement for Batman? Batman has rules to live by. Batman has a moral compass. “The System” takes that all away and allows Azrael to work on instinct rather than strategy.

The counterpoint to Azrael is the demon lord Biis taken mortal form in Carleton LeHah; a former member of the Order of St. Dumas and final potential victim of Jean Paul’s father. Poetic irony.

Dennis O’Neil is one of the better writers for any of the Batman titles, and pairing his creativity with the incredible artwork of Joe Quesada was a stroke of genius. In the 90’s, I always loved Quesada’s covers, and his sequential works are just as enjoyable. It would’ve been nice to see this pairing more often.

Azrael is probably one of my favorite DC characters. I really wish DC would have done more with the character. I know that after the KnightsEnd storyline, there was an ongoing series that lasted for 100 issues and Jean Paul Valley was killed off. The character of Azrael was eventually resurrected, but Jean Paul Valley actually remained dead.

It’s a small trade, but well worth the read and addition into your collection.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hellboy Vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom

Title: Hellboy Vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom

ISBN: 9781593070939

Price: $17.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2003

Artist: Mike Mignola

Writer: Mike Mignola

Collects: Hellboy: Box Full of Evil #1-2, Dark Horse Presents #151, Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998-1999, Gary Gianni's The Monster Men, Abe Sapian: Drums of the Dead

Rating: 3/5

Officially listed as the "fourth" Hellboy TPB, the Right Hand of Doom (like the previous -- Chained Coffin) is an anthology of tales rather than a single, long form story. And though the fourth TPB, it collects stories published over a few years, in a variety of venues, some that might technically have been published inbetween stories from the earlier TPBs. As well, part of the mythos of Hellboy is that he is long lived, and he and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense have been active for decades, so the stories here are set in different decades. In general, it's not actually relevant to the tales, other than a date arbitrarily placed at the start of each story. Steeped in a gothic atmosphere, Hellboy's adventures taking him to decrepit castles and confrontations on rural, moonlit fields, the stories are deliberately timeless. Creator Mike Mignola doesn't try and root the stories in specific eras -- no adventures set against a backdrop of 1950s Cold War paranoia, or 1960s flower power.

What the collection does pretend to do is arrange the stories in a chronological way, breaking this collection up into sections like "The Early Years", and "The Middle Years". But only the first story -- well, a two page vignette -- really reflects a sense of being from another time, as it features Hellboy as a little boy. Called "Pancakes", it's just a quirky, throwaway little joke piece that, strangely, has a weird resonance, as if Mignola has somehow tapped into some profound human truth. It's cute, it's funny...and it's oddly memorable.

The rest of the tales all feature an adult Hellboy doing what he does best.

And it's another solid collection, the stories (many just ten pages or so) mixing dreamlike atmosphere, spookiness, comic book action, and wry quips and quirky humor. Mignola is a student of folklore, and many tales are based on (or loosely suggested by) genuine folk tales, adding to their sense of resonance and dreamlike logic. The collection is a mix of purely stand alone tales of Hellboy encountering ghosts and demons, with other stories that hint at the over arcing themes throughout the Hellboy saga involving his origins and supposed destiny. As such, it's perhaps helpful this collection includes the story "The Right Hand of Doom" which is little more than a synopsis of relevant earlier adventures, getting you up to speed on the Hellboy mythos.

The short stories are all generally good and compelling, but many are fairly simple -- more concerned with mood and atmosphere than in plot twists or character development. But, again, that reflects perhaps Mignola's folk tale inspirations.

And, as always, Mignola's craggy, deceptively minimalist art is powerfully effective. It's moody and haunting, both understated and deadpan, yet dramatic and bombastic, full of deep shadows and gothic atmosphere, yet also evoking the humor and, yes, the humanity of the characters.

The longest story here is "Box Full of Evil", originally published as a two issue mini-series. It starts out particularly well, full of mood and spookiness, as Hellboy, and pal Abe Sapian, get embroiled in the schemes of some occultists -- as always, the story creating a sense of "reality" by suggesting a history between the characters (Hellboy supposedly knows one of the villains from a previous -- untold -- adventure). Mignola cleverly mixes the eerie notion of a story where not everything is explicit to the characters, with the fact that we, the reader, see and know things the heroes don't. So while the story might end with Hellboy and Abe left slightly befuddled by events, musing "That's strange." -- we actually have a better idea of what's behind certain incidents.

At the same time, "Box Full of Evil" is a mixed bag. As the story progresses, both Hellboy and Abe end up captured and, um, mistreated for a spell, making for a story that is actually a bit unpleasant. That's actually the funny thing about Hellboy -- for all that it's a "horror" comic, and with some genuinely spooky mood, it's generally a clean horror. That is, though nasty and violent things happen, it usually does so with restraint, either leavened with humor, or by Mignola's stylized art, where the gore isn't really that gory. It's horror for those who find the excesses of the modern practitioners of the genre rather...excessive.

The story also dives fully back into the Hellboy mythos, dealing with Hellboy's supposed destiny, and the plan the forces of darkness have for him. In a way, it's actually meant to be an end to that, as Hellboy firmly rejects that destiny. But perhaps the problem with Hellboy is that for all that Mignola is teasing along recurring threads, it's not really a complex backstory, so it's less like he's developing threads...and more like he's just repeating himself. Also, there are some appearances from otherworld beings that don't really make much sense if you haven't read earlier Hellboy stories, including a goblin previously seen in The Corpse (collected in The Chained Coffin TPB) -- not that it's that important. As mentioned, part of the appeal of Hellboy is the dreamlike sense where not everything is explained.

Still, "Box Full of Evil" is certainly a good Hellboy story -- moody, exciting, creepy, yet with some funny quips and wisecracks. Other highpoints in this collection include the aforementioned "Pancakes", as well as "Heads" and "King Vold" -- the latter original to this collection, not having been published previously. As a sampler collection, I'd still give the nod to the previous TPB -- "The Chained Coffin" -- but this is a perfectly enjoyable assemblage of Hellboy tales, too. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Zanziber's 2nd Year

Another year has gone by, and I have yet to run out of reviews. Unfortunately, due to Borders going out of business, my primary source of graphic novels and trades is now gone. The reason I would go there for my trades instead of my LCS is because I would generally receive a coupon that would give me between 33-50% off the price. At my LCS, my discount is only 15%.

As I've posted before, there is a simple way to support this blog. I have an affiliate membership through Lone Star Comics. If you click on the link (located below) and make a purchase, I will receive a portion of your purchase as store credit. This is the closest thing I have to a sponsor right now.

Here's to another year of reviews. Enjoy and thank you for your continued support.

Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I

 Title: Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I ISBN: 0919359094 Price: $ Publisher/Year: Aardvark-Vanheim, 1987 Artist: Gerhard Writer: ...