July 31, 2006

Ah, Sweet Vacation!

Alright, now that the bar exam is over, it's review time baby! Check below the fold because I know you want to read my wonderful prose about comic books!

Secret Identity (Busiek)
This book is quite literally like reading excerpts from Superman's diary throughout several periods in his life, starting when he develops power in his teens until he reaches old age. If I had to pick one book as an example of my theory that there are no boring characters, only bad writers, this would be the book. The reason people don't like Superman is because people don't often write stories like this with the character. Rather than reading a story about Supes from the outside in, never pushing past that bullet proof skin, this story pushes from the inside out. We see the world through Superman's eyes and get a chance to see the conflicted, troubled, and thoroughly normal guy that he really is. It's not the powers that make comic characters interesting, it's how much they still remain like us despite their powers and here we see more of the "man" and less of the "super", which is criminally uncommon.

Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest (Meltzer)
The short review of this is: If you love Identity Crisis as much as I do, this is the book for you. Kevin Smith brought Green Arrow back just before this collection and his run on the book was great. The dialog was sharp and Smith managed to make a walking anachronism like Queen relevant to the modern reader. Meltzer takes that great start and makes Green Arrow real. In Smith's run Oliver Queen came back from the dead and after the brief adventures that followed is only now dealing with the implications of his resurrection. This book succeeds in exactly the way IC did: in looking back to the past it doesn't rewrite the history of the universe to make things interesting, it sheds a light on things we didn't know about which changes the way we think about the things we did know. Just as with Secret Identity, it's not the spandex outfits or trick arrows that make this an interesting story, it's that we can all relate to Oliver's struggle to prepare for his own death.

Supreme Power: High Command (Stracynski)
Truth be told, given the unusually high quality of stuff that I’ve come across lately, the fact that this book is just “good” is kind of a let down. Marvel continues their “what if the DCU happened in the real universe” story and while it’s interesting, I can’t help but think that, if you’re not following in individual issues, you’re better off waiting for the nice big hard cover volumes that give you a more full story arc. As it is, this volume addresses some threads that have been building for a little while but feels more like it’s a volume that builds things up more than it really pays them off. After a few more trades come out I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more, but I just wish I had that next one now.

Sleeper: Out In The Cold (Brubaker)
I know next to nothing about the Wildstorm Universe. I bought a few W.I.L.D.C.A.T.S. issues back when I was in high school and even at 16 I thought it was awfully juvenile. Given that history, you can imagine how surprised I was to find that this book is actually good. Well, I wasn’t *that* surprised because I’ve heard nothing but gushing about Ed Brubaker. Still, this book centers on a super powered government agent who has gone deep undercover within a super powered criminal organization. We’re not talking the Legion of Doom here. These guys are extremely organized and they play a long game of manipulation that even the resident superhero teams don’t see being played out. Brubaker gives us a rare insight into the villains’ side of the fence. Like so many great movies or TV shows about criminals it’s really great to catch yourself picking characters that you like from a group composed solely of killers and criminals.

Invincible Vol. 2 (Hardcover)
I think this book falls into what I call “The Success Problem”. So often in entertainment the creators don’t know if what they’re doing is going to be embraced by the audience so, even though they have big ideas for whatever story/movie/comic/whatever, when they get the green light to put something out they pare it all down to a nicely succinct story that ends on some nice closure. That way, if the trilogy of movies in their head never gets made or their comic gets cancelled after a dozen issues they can feel like they ended the project without too much ambiguity or hanging threads. Of course, as often happens these projects do take off and you’ve got to make sequels or making a second season of the TV show. Suddenly, though the Death Star is blown up we’ve got this new Emperor character to make things menacing. While sometimes this process of exploding the series back into vitality is a relatively seamless process, it’s a tough needle to thread and can often go wrong. There’s an afterward by Robert Kirkman in this volume that basically acknowledges that this is a series of stories that builds things up more than it pays them off. I’m sure that once we get past this portion of the book and things start cooking again I’ll be right back on board, but for now this set of stories doesn’t go much of anywhere, at least not that we’ll be able to see for a little while.

I've actually got even more books to read, so I'll probably have more reviews up in a couple days.


Geronimo said...

I've actually read all those books, with the one exception of Sleeper.

Just of note, Secret Identity does not deal with the Earth-1 Superman, but instead Earth-S, where superboy grows up to become Superman in a world where there are no other superheroes.

Speaking of which, I rented Superman: The Movie to watch this weekend, and while parts of it were awesome, I couldn't help but flinch at some of the powers that modern Superfans have come to view as over the top. I guess I'm just far too spoiled with Post-Crisis sensibility to appreciate the ability for superman to telekinetically float people in the air.

I also highly recommend the new Green Lantern trade paperbacks, particularly Rebirth and No Fear. Rebirth, as is pretty obvious, deals with the return of Hal Jordan to the flesh, and No Fear is his first couple adventures after being back. Really good reads if you're a fan of GL.

Another good set of books (the Multnomah County library has an amazing graphic novel collection, which I use very frequently) is the Exiles series by Marvel. Think of it as a modern day What If? with a team of dimension hopping mutants. Good old school fun. I'm also reading the Age of Apocalypse trade papers that have now finally come out.

MosBen said...

Actually, Earth-S was the home of the Fawcett comics characters (Shazam, Blue Beetle, Plastic Man) in the pre-Crisis DC Multiverse. Secret Identity was *inspired* by Superboy of Earth-Prime from the pre-Crisis continuity, but isn't actually tied to any existing stories. This book isn't officially under the Elseworlds banner, but that's basically what it is; not tied to any of the pre-Crisis worlds and non-cannonical.

As to Superman: The Movie, I agree, and not just about his powers. I think time has passed a bit more poorly for the film than lots of folks I know. Sure, I'll always love it for nostalgia, but realistically the film has some problems.

And yeah, I've heard nothing but good stuff about The Exiles and will probably have to pick that up some time. As to AoA, it's a sad commentary that that's one of the best crossovers from the era.

MosBen said...

Actually, hold it, sorry. Blue Beetle and Plastic Man were Charlton Comics characters, from Earth-4 in pre-Crisis continuity, not Fawcett Comics character. The Marvel family, however, along with a some other characters (I think Captain Nazi), were.

Geronimo said...

Ah, that was right, it was Superboy Prime, a.k.a. the mad as hell Superboy who wreaked a whole lotta havoc in Infinite Crisis recently, and who is still around.