Blog
601 Entries

Check back here for detailed information on updates to the reading orders or database, reviews by myself or any of the other site contributors, and general comic news we find interesting! You can also subscribe to an RSS feed for updates.

If you’re new here, you may want to know How To Use This Website. Alternatively, click on a reading order on the sidebar. The current pride of our site is the Recommended Reading Order for the entire DC Universe!

Page 3 of 12112345...10203040...Last »
Up Down
Page 3 of 12112345...10203040...Last »
By | Friday, March 22, 2013 | 2:19 pm | 8 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN)
Half.com
Amazon
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #1-6
Issue Dates: January – June 2007
Creators:
Chuck DixonDerec Donovan

This review contains heavy spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Connor Hawke, the second Green Arrow, is one of the more interesting legacy characters in DC’s pre-reboot cast, as well as one of my very favorite characters. As the illegitimate son of the first Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, and a multiracial (¼ Korean, ¼ Black and half white) Buddhist former monk, Connor breaks the mold of a lot of heroes, demonstrating a combination of naievete, superior martial arts ability, and, ironically, lackluster archery talent that makes him both endearing and amusing.

Sadly, however, trades of Connor can be difficult to find, making it difficult for those looking into the character to see much of his history. Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood would seem to be the solution to that problem. Written by Chuck Dixon, the author responsible for the entirety of Connor’s solo run as Green Arrow (though not his initial creation), Dragon’s Blood promises one of the few standalone Connor stories collected in trade form and superb art in which Connor’s features and skin tone (usually) reflect his ethnic background, something sadly rare in his more recent appearances, which frequently depict him as very white despite both his original appearances and all genetic sense.

Unfortunately, it’s not actually that good.

In general, the storyline is shoddy and all the romantic interactions are forced and creepy. It has some redeeming moments, including some fascinating examinations of Connor’s insecurities and relation to his father and archery, but most of the characters’ decisions seem to be based largely on glaring logical flaws and assorted plotholes.

Set sometime between the end of Connor’s solo Green Arrow run and the end of Green Arrow: Quiver, Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood is more or less the story of Connor getting invited to an archery contest and killing a dragon. The main plot begins when one Edison Hoon shows up to explain that his employer, the wealthy Mr. Zhao, is holding an archery contest to commemorate the defeat of a dragon in pre-dynasty China, and he’s inviting all the world’s best archers to come. Oh, and Connor, too.


And this is where the book’s timeframe comes in. This is set somewhere around the beginning of Green Arrow: Quiver, a story about Oliver Queen being resurrected. Here, Connor is apparently aware that his late father has been returned to the land of the living, but instead of, you know, driving up to Star City to poke around when he started hearing news of the first Green Arrow roaming about, he’d apparently rather fly all the way to Shanghai on a bet that someone’s tracked down his father and invited him, too.

So Connor drags out his old Green Arrow suit (despite having been invited as Connor Hawke) and hops a plane to Shanghai, followed by Eddie Fyers, the trigger-happy ex-CIA agent and old friend of Ollie’s who’d accompanied Connor on most of his adventures throughout his Green Arrow run.

The other contestants include a few rather boring new characters, such as two big game hunters and some archery stuntsman or whatever, and two characters from previous Green Arrow continuity, those being the Bamboo Monkey, member of a dangerous martial arts cult that attacked Connor during his Green Arrow run, and Shado, ex-Yakuza member, expert archer, and the mother of Connor’s half-brother.

At various points throughout the contest, Connor is inexplicably attacked by archers, only for his attacker to be killed by some old nemesis- first Shado, and then the Bamboo Monkey- in ways that lead him to think that they were in fact the ones who fired shots at him. Despite believing that they’ve attempted to kill him, at no point does Connor go knock on their doors and demand answers, or report repeated attempts on his life to the contestant’s administrators, or basically bring them up again in any way until other contestants start dying, something that you might reasonably expect of a superhero who finds out people are trying to kill him in what’s supposed to be some mundane archery contest.


Oh, but Connor does confront Eddie about why he didn’t tell Connor that Shado was here, leaving the reader wondering how Connor, one of the actual contestants, didn’t realize she was standing a few yards away from him, while Eddie, Connor’s tagalong, did.

That plot hole aside, Connor does have legitimate reasons to be angry about Shado’s presence. The exact context of this is somewhat lost on those who aren’t familiar with her history, but in a nutshell, in Shado’s first arc, she helped Connor’s father Oliver Queen kill a man who had captured and tortured Oliver’s then-girlfriend Dinah Lance (the superhero Black Canary), which zen Buddhist Connor viewed as her corrupting him and turning him “from a hero to an assassin.”

When Connor finally confronts her, Shado dramatically informs him that this is more than an archery contest and Connor is in grave danger before she gets shot in the leg, with the assailant this time being killed by the Bamboo Monkey, in a fakeout that’s gotten rather old by this point. Connor decides to drag Shado off for medical attention and then not at all follow up a second attempt on his life.

Continuing the string of baffling decisions, when Connor goes to see Shado in the hospital, she informs him that her and Oliver’s son and Connor’s half-brother Robert is in danger, and that she came to the competition in hopes of finding Oliver, because apparently no one can turn on the news from Star City to see that he’s still freaking there.

On that melodramatic note, we discover that more and more archery contestants are being killed off, and that apparently none of the other contestants have taken that as a reason to bug out, or even somehow noticed that other participants are dying, presumably believing that the others have just been disqualified or something. One of the contestants, meanwhile, flirts awkwardly with the oblivious Connor, who, after someone finally tells him that she’s flirting with him, asks her out to dinner. After a dinner scene containing precisely zero chemistry, Buddhist monk and self-proclaimed believer in romance Connor Hawke inexplicably invites her up to his room.


When he arrives, however, he finds Shado waiting for him. She further explains the danger that Robert, her son and Connor’s half-brother, is in, before-


… what.

This is far from the first time that Connor has had some incredibly awkward and forced romantic interactions under Dixon’s pen. Many times during Connor’s solo run, Connor found himself being kissed by a woman and just kind of passively lying there in a completely chemistry-devoid interaction. Indeed, earlier in this book, Dixon made sure to inform us in the most hamfisted way possible that not only did Connor make out with a ghost woman in China he’d just met during his run as Green Arrow, he totally had sex with her.

But Connor making out with a woman he hates who not only mothered his half-brother but who (potentially unbeknownst to Connor, admittedly) drugged him and raped him in order for that half-brother to be conceived in the first place. This is easily the creepiest and most baffling of every single awkward makeout Dixon has written for Connor, and has left more or less every Connor fan who read it with their mouths hanging open from sheer bewilderment. How could this get any worse?

Oh, I guess the woman Connor had been awkwardly flirting with and whom he invited back to his room could show up.


And then die.


Despite apparently not paying much attention to any of the contestants around him, Connor is able to identify the arrow that killed her as belonging to another contestant, but Shado interrupts him as he goes to confront her purported killer, informing Connor that someone has been stealing arrows and shooting other contestants with them to attempt to make them turn on each other.

From this, Connor concludes that the true culprit is the Bamboo Monkey, and so he and Shado go to confront him, only to find that his room is empty. Conveniently, however, he is lurking just outside the window of the room we’ve just discovered he’s never slept in, and Connor shoots him in the shoulder and accuses him of murder.

In yet another shocking twist, though, the Bamboo Monkey informs Connor that he had nothing to do with it, and indeed saved Connor’s life from his would-be assassin the previous night, before he is shot by mysterious assassins on the roof. There’s a long and somewhat confusing action sequence involving our heroes fighting an army of ninja bowman, when Mr. Hoon finally interrupts it to announce that Connor has won the competition and is now the champion archer, despite, once again, him really not being that great of a shot. In one of his few sensical decisions of the story, Connor tells him he’s done playing along with this, but Hoon reveals that it was, in fact, his men who abducted Shado’s son, and they are now holding him hostage to ensure not only Shado’s cooperation but also Connor’s.

Connor is brought to Zhao’s central tower place and given the arrow that slayed the mystical dragon all those years ago. He’s then made to shoot a variety of increasingly difficult targets he has never actually had the skill to make but somehow makes regardless, before his final target is revealed:


You didn’t really expect this not to end with him fighting an oddly European dragon, did you?

But there’s a twist: this dragon is not, in fact, the dragon of old, but a new one entirely, absent the gap in its scales that the archer of old had shot through. Fortunately, when it comes to chipping off scales, a rocket launcher is apparently more than adequate for the task.


Thanks to Eddie and Shado, Connor makes the shot, and all is good.


Oh, except for Zhao and Hoon planning to bathe in the dragon’s blood and ascend to godhood. Oops.

When Connor goes to stop Zhao, he finds that Hoon has killed him and started bathing in the blood himself. This somehow gives Hoon abilities like the slain dragon, granting him increased strength, speed, etc., which is a problem for our very mortal protagonist. Fortunately for Connor, however, he’s also been soaking in the dragon’s blood, leveling the playing field somewhat.


Still, the fight is not going well for him, and drastic action is required. And so, with absolutely no foreshadowing or angst from our Buddhist semi-pacifistic “no killing” monk…


… he kills Hoon.

This is rather a dramatic moment for Connor, who has broken his rule against killing in order to take out a threat to humanity who could be stopped no other way. Clearly, this requires extensive reflection and meditation from him-


Or, you know, he could just snark with a dragonfire-burned Eddie in the hospital and ignore it entirely.


I suppose that only makes sense, since that’s exactly what every other writer on Connor did with this arc.

Which is, frankly, this book’s biggest problem: despite its fantastic art and some genuinely great moments, its plot is so convoluted and full of holes that huge character moments are overshadowed by an utterly forgettable story.


Verdict:
If you’re already a Connor Hawke or Green Arrow ensemble cast fan, check this out- the story isn’t spectacular, but it’s not awful, and the art is excellent. If you’re looking for an introduction to the character, though, or just for an entertaining story, you could do better. 3.5 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Hardly. Despite containing what should rightfully have been a major moment for the main character, this plotline is basically never brought up again.

Read first:
While this story is reasonably stand-alone, it is easier to follow if you’ve read Connor Hawke’s solo Green Arrow run. Sadly, however, that was never collected in TPB form, and is not currently available for digital purchase.

Read next:
Green Arrow Volume 3 or the first two arcs of Green Arrow & Black Canary are both good places to go for more Connor, and just more Green Arrow cast in general.

« Back to the top?

Want to stay up to date? Click here to subscribe to updates by RSS!
You can also sign up to get updates by Email!
By | Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 5:43 am | 1 Comment | Blog > Reviews
New Crusaders - Cover
 
View our database entry (coming soon!)
Includes Issues: New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes #1-6
Issue Dates: September 2012 – April 2013
Creators:
Ian Flynn, Ben Bates, Alitha Martinez

This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

New Crusaders Interiors (5)From their place in the occasional house ad or as the result of DC’s occasional bouts with Quixotism, the heroes created as part of Archie Comics’ Red Circle line always seemed to me to be the comic book equivalent of off-brand breakfast cereal. While their continued existence suggested some measure of enduring appeal or purpose, I found it inscrutable from afar. Why, was my thinking, should I ever invest in a superhero wrapped in an American flag called The Shield when Captain America is around and perfectly accessible?

Sometimes, though, Captain America just isn’t around. In my case, a combination of increasing dissatisfaction with the super-hero books I grew up with and my general enjoyment of writer Ian Flynn and artist Ben Bates’ previous work meant that, when Archie announced its latest attempt at retooling  the Red Circle heroes in the form of the online-first title New Crusaders, I was far more enthusiastic about the prospect than I might have otherwise been.  Flynn, in particular, is responsible for two of my favorite current titles, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man, so the idea of him bringing his talents to actual superhero comics was enough to catch my interest, even if the super-heroes in question happened to sound generic as hell.

This particular new take on the concept introduces the descendants and protégées of the original Mighty Crusaders—the Circleverse’s version of the Justice League–and then haves them take on their now-retired predecessors’ identities after the old team is apparently killed off by one of its old nemeses. The sextet of new kids are accompanied and led by Joe Higgins, a.k.a. The Shield, the only still-active member of the original team.  It is he who takes in the kids after their guardians’ demise, and who convinces them to try and become super-heroes.

And by “convince” I mean “coerce”, with a side of manipulation and some lying.

New Crusaders Interiors (10)In the same breath with which he tells the kids that their parents are dead, Higgins announces that he’s officially adopted them all and that he will now groom them to take their parents’ places as superheroes—no questions asked, consent is not a consideration.  After he’s rightfully called out on his crap, he tricks them into going through his version of The X-Men’s Danger Room, thinking that putting the kids in even more danger will turn them around—and, because the comic needs them to actually become super-heroes, they do, and agree to be subjected to experimental procedures with the potential to permanently alter their personalities if not outright kill them, because some old asshole who has just shown that he’s perfectly willing to lie, endanger, and further traumatize them if they don’t do what he wants told them to.

Now, given the writer, it’s certainly possible these details won’t be left unexplored—Higgins’ single-minded zeal to turn these kids into his posse by hook or by crook feels too prominent to be casually abandoned.  Even so, the fact that we have yet another character whose main characteristic is their utter lack of empathy and whose behavior would be considered villainous but for the fact that their job description reads “super-hero” is incredibly disappointing.  Whatever its other merits, the reason I was interested in this book was precisely because I had hoped it would be an escape from this sort of approach to the subgenre and feature characters who were actually inspiring; instead, I got yet another version of Nick Fury / Amanda Waller and a bunch of prime candidates for post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom a happy ending would involve getting taken away from their new guardian to get the counseling they’ll most likely need.

New Crusaders (08)Of course, one could, if one were so inclined, make that same case for most if not all young sidekicks: if we agree that there are certain things which that teenagers cannot consent to, “dressing up in a costume to fight armed criminals in a manner that places one outside the law” would likely be way up there. And yet I still quite like Robin, which suggests that my problem here is not conceptual but contextual.  These are children whose parents have just been killed. These are children who were until recently unaware of their superheroic legacy, and who in discovering it have also realized that their parents/guardians had lied to them throughout their entire lives.  These are heroes who have no superpowers of their own, and indeed, nothing to indicate their suitability for crime-fighting except for an alleged instinct for teamwork and camaraderie.  Canonically, The Shield could have granted the abilities of the original team to anyone, and yet he chooses kids in the midst of life-changing trauma and in the space of a week has them trying to hold off a prison riot.  It’s a setup that suggests not fun superheroics, but Neon Genesis Evangelion with spandex, and yet very little of it is actually explored.  Sure, there are various scenes  which show the protagonists indeed having being traumatized, but these ring false: it’s the sort of trauma that is there for a couple of pages only to be resolved with a hug, some encouraging words, or an epiphany.

New Crusaders Interiors (4)Making all of this especially dismaying is that, once you take away that element, one is left with some pretty solid superheroics, which would have been more than enough to scratch the itch that had me looking at New Crusaders in the first place.  Nothing here is stellar—Flynn tends to be one of those writers who needs a few arcs under his belt to really get going—but there are plenty of pleasing moments, suggesting the potential for future greatness.  The young heroes, while not quite getting enough development to erase that initial stock character feel, are likable enough, and the series does an exceptionally good job with the world-building, using enough old elements to make the ‘verse feel old and lived in, which I quite like.

Art chores for “Rise of the Heroes” are divided between Ben Bates, who draws the first two issues and part of the third, and Alitha Martínez, who draws the rest.  While there are some noticeable differences between the two–Bates’ art is slightly more stylized and cartoony, which is especially noticeable in his facial expressions and the way he depicts Ivette Vélez’s (a.k.a. “Jaguar”) hair—the transition is fairly seamless, giving the book a distinctive, unified look rather reminiscent of Ed McGuiness’ art.  However, one rather weird thing occurs in the last few pages—also, correctly or not, credited to Martínez– which  feature a considerable shift in style to a more traditional aesthetic, which while not entirely inexplicable—at the very least the shift in styles matches, to a certain degree, the serious turn the story takes—feels very distracting.

In the end, reading New Crusaders feels like an exercise in irony. My interest in it lay in the presumption that it would avoid certain currently-popular tropes doing in the interest of being good, no frills super-hero comics. Instead, it turned out to be everything I was hoping to escape.  I never thought I could dislike a comic for feeling too modern, yet that’s precisely my problem here.

Verdict:
If you can get over just how appalling The Shield’s behavior is, then this is a decent—if not great—super-hero book.  However, I cannot, so  I give it a 2 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
It introduces both the concept and the characters and features the (off-screen) deaths of most of the old guard, so yes, it’s essential.

Read First:
Although this book does a very good job of being self-contained and easy to follow, it still follows the continuity of past Archie Red Circle books, which one can read if one wants to find out more about the heroes whose shoes the new team endeavors to fill.  With this in mind, Archie has begun re-releasing those old stories electronically as part of their Red Circle app, which means that they’re actually more accessible that they’ve been in decades.

Read next:
The original Peter David / Todd Nauck Young Justice, which has both the “heirs of established heroes” angle and manages to be fun and bright and hopeful while still being dramatic.

« Back to the top?

Want to stay up to date? Click here to subscribe to updates by RSS!
You can also sign up to get updates by Email!
By | Thursday, March 14, 2013 | 5:24 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At: Ebay (Search by Title) Ebay (ISBN) Half.com Amazon
View our database entry (coming soon!)
Includes Issues: The Last Unicorn #1 – 6
Issue Dates: April – November 2010
Creators:
Peter S. Beagle, Peter Gillis, Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon

This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

I first saw the animated The Last Unicorn sometime during elementary school, which makes me think, in retrospect, that I went to a pretty cool school.   Being a chap of probably less than ten back then, most of the events chronicled in it went over my head, with only the climactic scene in which the bumbling magician Schmendrick turns the titular unicorn into a young woman leaving a particularly strong impression.  It would be more than a decade before I’d watch the film again (or at least part of it: like Back to the Future, Unicorn is one of those movies I only run into while channel surfing, meaning I can never catch it from the beginning—which is probably a good reason to actually go ahead and just buy the thing) and realized that, hey, Peter S. Beagle’s story of a unicorn searching of her missing kin is actually pretty fantastic.

The Last Unicorn is one of those works I associate with winter, particularly with the idea of keeping warm by drinking hot chocolate by the fire.  It’s not just a warm story, but rather one that   brings about a feeling of comfort only after reminding you just how sad and cold the world can be.  It’s a hard balance to get right—when it comes to sequential art, the only works to manage it which easily come to mind are Calvin & Hobbes (which itself occasionally made explicit use of the keeping warm by the fire imagery)and the Tom and Mary Bierbaum / Keith Giffen run on Legion of Super-Heroes—but when it occurs, it makes for some of my favorite works.  The various moments here—the aforementioned one where the unicorn is turned into the human Amalthea, doomed with humanity and mortality; or when Molly Grue, a cook for a group of brigands who once saw a unicorn in her youth, chastises the protagonist for leaving her to grow old in a world without magic—make the story memorably bittersweet in a way few other things are.  So when I realized that there was a comic book adaptation extant, I knew I had to have it.

Now, one could very well argue that the world did not need another version of  Unicorn.  The original novel is, of course, a classic,  and the film, which feels like an American attempt at making a Studio Ghibli film before Studio Ghibli films became a thing, felt for the longest time like the best possible adaptation, making it very easy for a third take to feel superfluous.  If that doesn’t occur, it is because this version features more than a hundred-plus pages of beautiful Renae De Liz art, which is something the world very much needed more of.

De Liz is probably best known as the mastermind and North Star behind Womanthology, the series of women-created anthologies that got its start as a Kickstarter project.  Had that been her only contribution to comic books, it would have been enough for me to respect the heck out of her, but the fact is that she is also one hell of an artist, who carries the book with aplomb and makes it look easy, establishing visual identity for the world that feels very familiar and right and yet is distinct from the one already established by the film.  And while there are, to be honest, some things in which I prefer the movie’s take—Shmendrick and Molly Grue, the story’s co-stars, are prettier here, which as a fan of stylistic ugliness takes away some of what made them appealing to me—this feels, in balance, like nitpicking: all in all, De Liz imbues the world of the story with a lushness and detail that easily lives up to anything I might have been able to imagine, and deserves a whole lot more recognition.  Of special note is the unicorn’s antagonist the red bull, who looks like chaos personified, and every bit the creature of magic and chaos and mystery that he’s supposed to be.

However, the book would be empty it is if it weren’t for Ray Dillon’s colors, which are lush and vibrant and oh-so-pretty, the best I remember seeing in recent—or even long-term—memory.  I am particularly in love with his sunsets, which are goosebump-worthy marvels of red and oranges (I love Dillon’s reds).  They are the perfect complement to De Liz’s pencils.

(This is where I mention that Dillon and De Liz are married to one another, a fact that, while not entirely relevant to anything, I include because if I didn’t, somebody would probably ask why I neglected to mention it.)

It is partly because of Dillon’s colors that the the graphic novel ends up feeling warmer than either predecessor—it’s less like winter and more like a beach bonfire in August.  Thanks to its palette, the scarcer prose and the lack of voice acting—or perhaps I’ve simply gotten older–the moments of sadness I mentioned earlier don’t have the impact they used to.  That said, the book does plenty to make up for this, particularly in moments that were unremarkable in the other version are made to pop here, particularly in the graphic novel’s quieter, more sedate moments, such as when the characters travel from one location to another.  It is in these moments where the art really gets a chance to shine, with some moving landscapes and imagery.  This, combined with the greater faithfulness to the source material, positions the book as an equal to the film version, with many things to offer and nothing to be ashamed of.

With all that talent displayed by the book’s visuals, it’s perhaps not surprising that Peter B. Gillis gets a bit lost in the shuffle.  He’s the person in charge of translating The Last Unicorn to comic book form, and while that may not necessarily seem like the hardest job in the world, it’s also something that, done sloppily, would have robbed the material of what made it special.  As someone who’s done some translating, I can appreciate that knowing just what to keep and how takes genuine craft, and so he also deserves his share of praise for making the book what it is.

Aside from the actual story, this collection includes a good amount of bonus material, which makes it, with its $24.99 tag, one of the more reasonably-priced IDW books I’ve seen.  There’s surprisingly in-depth interviews with Beagle and Gillis, a showcase of assorted art, including a sextet of lovely Frank Stockton pieces of which I assume served as the original mini-series’ variant covers, and a selection of double-spread splash-pages from the book itself, stripped of text.  Those last two, while appreciated—I would almost certainly consider buying a version of the book entirely without text, were it available–also make the collection come off as a tease, since they deserve far more space than is actually alloted to them.  I suppose IDW wanted to leave something for the twice-as-expensive Deluxe Edition, but still, it sours what is otherwise a superlative package.

When it comes to comic book adaptations of existing works, the words that most often come to mind, in my experience, are “uninspired”, “disposable”, and “cynical” (which may, for all I know, be a sign that I need to read more of them).  For some reason, the medium’s chronic low self-esteem is particularly evident when it comes to works which weren’t conceived as comic books, and it often feels like those in charge of translating that existing story into the new medium have no interest in taking advantage of the possibilities it offers.  In contrast, this version of The Last Unicorn, feels, from beginning to end, like a work of love, succeeding not only in being a damn good adaptation, but in being a excellent comic book as well.  And while the chances that we’ll ever get to revisit this particular world are none to none, I wouldn’t mind at all seeing this creative team reunite somewhere down the line to work on something new.  It might not feature unicorns or even fantasy, but I’m sure it will be nothing short of magical.



Verdict:
If this were just one hundred or so pages of Renae De Liz pencils and Ray Dillon colors, it still be more than worth its price tag.  The fact that it’s also an adaptation of a fantastic book grants it a special place in my heart and bookshelf, and so I have no problem with granting it an utterly biased 5 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, in the sense that the book covers the entire story of the last unicorn.

Read First:
While you don’t have to read the original novel in an attempt to find out whether you’ll like the story before actually buying the more expensive graphic novel, that’s certainly a possibility.

Read Next:
…alternatively, you can read this first, and then read the novel.

« Back to the top?

Want to stay up to date? Click here to subscribe to updates by RSS!
You can also sign up to get updates by Email!
By | Saturday, March 9, 2013 | 10:02 pm | 0 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN)
Half.com
Amazon
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Static # 1 – 4
Issue Dates: June – September 1993
Creators:
Dwayne McDuffie, Robert L. Washington, John Paul Leon, Denys Cowan

This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

When one first thinks about it, the fact that the year 2000 saw the debut of the Static Shock animated series feels somewhat inexplicable.  In a universe in which concepts like Wonder Woman or even the Justice League hadn’t proved capable of launching a series, the fact that a book which had been in circulation only from 1993 to 1996 with no great fanfare—starring an African-American character, no less–managed to do so is nothing short of remarkable.  Given how notoriously risk-averse cartoon execs can be, it is incredibly easy to imagine them passing on the pitch as soon as they heard the character wasn’t Batman, making the fact that they did not do so seem especially weird.

And yet, after reading Static Shock: Trial by Fire, it suddenly doesn’t seem so inexplicable.  Not only are they rather good comics, the formula itself feels exceedingly familiar, being the direct descendant of the one that worked for decades for Spider-Man. Virgil Hawkins is a high school student living in the fictional city of Dakota.  Occasionally, he uses his electromagnetism-based powers to fight crime as Static, a career choice which sometimes affects his civilian life, such as when it ends up costing him his job.  Still, despite these costs, he carries on, because that’s what super-heroes do, and in this book, we learn his origins, see him confront his fears and some supervillains, and deal some relationship angst.    What’s hard to sell about that?

As the main player in the book’s drama, Virgil naturally gets most of the writers’ attention, and he makes the most of it.  Over the course of the four issues collected here, he comes across as a person with various different dimensions, some of which help make him flawed—he’s entitled, especially when it comes to women—but mostly sympathetic and fun to follow.  Perhaps more importantly, he is both smart and smartassed, in a way that could have easily felt derivative but instead marks him as is own person and serves to highlight the way race affects him.  Virgil is very eager to stand out, and its hard not to think that his persistent flaunting of his vocabulary and references nobody else gets is his way of pushing back against narratives of how black men should be.  It’s also rather fun and refreshing to see a geek who is openly a geek and yet manages to avoid the common stereotypes associated with geekdom.

Unfortunately, the other cast members don’t get that same opportunity to shine.  Frieda, Virgil’s best friend and confidante fares best, and the two share a good, bantery rapport with one another.   Virgil’s other friends show hints of depth here and there—another friend, Felix, casually suggests that Virgil murder a bully, an invitation that our hero initially accepts; Richard, yet another friend and a ballet dancer, is seen as the constant victim of his friends’ homophobia—but not enough time is spent on either of them.  Less impressive still are Static’s family members, who are both  rather one-note and show little signs of potential to be anything else.    Similarly, the villains don’t really manage to stand out.  They make for good obstacles and good fights, but not much else.  It really is Virgil’s book, and he does an excellent job of carrying it.

One of the things to note about this collection is that despite featuring Static’s introduction and origin, the book still manages to not be entirely-reader friendly.  The Milestone universe was designed as a shared one, which means that this book makes reference to, and features, events and characters first established outside of it.  Even Static‘s origin is only half of one: The Big Bang–the event that  gave Virgil and many of the other characters their powers—is shown here from an outsider’s perspective, with no explanation for why all these people are suddenly meeting, or why Paris Island is suddenly being flooded with gas is given.  The absence of this additional context isn’t essential—in fact, given what we know it makes perfect sense for Virgil not to be aware or care about  the full scope of what happened—but it’s still worth mentioning, because the way some concepts are introduced and then abandoned sometimes make it feel as if the book is burying the ledes in their stories.

In the book’s  introduction, Dwayne McDuffie mentions that artist John Paul Leon doesn’t like to look at his early work anymore, which presumably includes his pencils here. While I’m not especially qualified to judge it on technical merits, I have to agree with McDuffie’s praise for it.  Sure, it’s rough in places, but the storytelling and character designs are great, and the roughness in its way feels perfectly at home with the book’s rougher take on teen super-hero stories, where students getting kidnapped at gunpoint is the middle of class is considered unremarkable.

The Milestone imprint was originally conceived with the hope that it would be influential: not only would it show why stories about superheroes of color are vital, it would also provide a blueprint showing how they can be successfully written in a way that acknowledges race while avoiding the problematic and Othering depictions of the past.  While it can be very hard to say how successful it was in that respect—the status quo today isn’t terribly different from what it was back then–I can say that if Trial by Fire is any indication, they did, in fact, succeed at something: they created great books, which are still worth reading, learning from, and emulating.  There’s room for improvement—its striking how there really are no compelling characters here who are women of color—but all in all, it’s a very good start.

Verdict:
While it can feel a tad dated at times—Holocaust, the villain in the fourth story, is very nineties–these are still very much recommended, and not just because of historical value. 4 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
It introduces Static and his status quo and his moral struggles, so there’s quite a bit of it here, yes. 

Read First:
While not essential, people who are interested in the background of The Big Bang can find it in Blood Syndicate #1, which also features the first appearance of the aforementioned Holocaust. Unfortunately, the book has never been collected.

Read Next:
While there are other comics featuring Static around—including some which should be reasonably easy to find, such as the short-lived book released as part of the new 52—I haven’t read them so I can’t recommend them.  Instead, I suggest Volume 7 of Blue Beetle if you want more modern-day adventures starring everyteen characters in the Spider-Man mold.  Luckily, that series has been  been collected in its entirety.

« Back to the top?

Want to stay up to date? Click here to subscribe to updates by RSS!
You can also sign up to get updates by Email!
By | Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 11:22 pm | 7 Comments | Blog > Features

Hello faithful TRO-ites! Welcome to another edition, or Vol. 2 as I affectionately call it, of Lee’s Pull List (not to be confused with my tug list, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is something else entirely and not suitable for print on this, or any other, website). Since nobody had anything to say about last months column I can only assume I knocked it out of the park in a stunning display of wit, knowledge and know how. Also, all titles are paperback unless otherwise noted and the suggested retail price is just that: suggested. And, the same as last months column, all of the dates are approximate and subject to change so you should always check with your local comic shop before assuming I don’t know what I’m talking about, (all though, in some cases, you would be right in assuming that).

Without further adieu and absolutely no fan fare we begin!

 

MARVEL

 

marvel zombies destroy

Marvel Zombies Destroy!

This is the 11th, yes 11th, volume in a series that has now included a Christmas Special, (what the what?!), a crossover with another property and a collection of just covers. I initially assumed MZ would run it’s course after a few collections and a few laughs. Apparently I don’t know squirt. Or zombies are just that danged popular. Insert the obvious jokes about the Marvel Zombies never dying, or being undead if you will, and I think that about wraps up my write up.

SRP: 19.99
Contains: Marvel Zombies: Destory #1-5
Indigo, Amazon – March 19th
Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – March 6th

 

kick ass 2

Kick-Ass 2

Coming to paperback a few months before the movie hits theaters so all the fan boys who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, buy the hardcover can claim they know more then everyone else. Apparently this was written after the first movie was successful so the sequel would have a superior product to butcher. I kid, I kid. Or do I? I guess we’ll just have to find out. The first book and movie were both quite….awesome, (you thought I was going to say kick ass didn’t you? don’t lie, I know you did), so, hopefully this one is as well. On a side note, there’s a prelude book coming out for Hit Girl as well. Not sure if that will tie in to the upcoming movie or not.

SRP: 19.99
Contains: Kick-Ass 2 #1-7
Indigo, Amazon – April 9th
TFAW, MCS – March 27th

 

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 10

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 10: Long Way Down

When I bought issue one of Matt Fraction’s fantastic run on Iron Man I did it mostly for the kinda cool, kinda stupid, photo cover featuring Robert Downey Jr. I knew very little about Iron Man and had just finished watching the movie for the first of many times. Fraction wowed me with his ability to take a movie universe and breath life in to it after the celluloid ran out, something I can only assume is not easy to do. Somewhere along the way I lost touch of what was going on with Fraction’s Iron Man but I’m glad to see he’s still pumping them out. I doubt this would the best place to start if you’re curious about what he’s doing as it sounds like he’s got quite an involved story going, but, if you want to read some Iron Man adventures you could do a lot worse than Matt Fraction’s take. Side note, there’s a Vol. 3 of Fraction’s version of Thor coming out this month as well.

SRP: 16.99
Contains: Invincible Iron Man #516-520 (a few trades ago they jumped out of sequence and started numbering them from 500 onward, not sure why)
Indigo, Amazon – April 2nd
TFAW, MCS – March 20th

 

Avengers vs. X-Men

(not the final image)

Avengers vs. X-Men

Roll call: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, John Romita Jr., Ed McGuiness, Adam Kubert and more. If that list of names alone doesn’t make your mouth water with the possibilities then there is very little I can do for you and chances are you’re on the wrong website. It’s an all out brawl between some of Marvel’s top tier characters: Iron Man vs. Magneto; Captain America vs. Gambit; Spider-Man vs. Colossus etc. etc. Very cool. I can’t really seem to find out what the story is about per se because most write-ups are filled with a lot of buzz phrases like ‘landmark event’, ‘ultimate showdown’, ‘world changing epic’, ‘pop-culture wet dream’…ok, that last one was me. But, I mean, who cares really? We just want to see the fights!

SRP: 34.99
Contains: Avengers vs. X-Men (2012) #0-12 and some material from Point One (2011)
Indigo, Amazon – April 16th
TFAW, MCS – March 27th

 

DC

sleeper

The Sleeper Omnibus (HC)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have become synonymous with hard-boiled, pitch-black crime fiction in the comic book world and for anyone enamored with Criminal this omnibus is sure to be another treasured edition. It’s very hard to talk about the book or the plot without fear of giving away some crucial twist. It is set in the Wildstorm universe and there is a few super-heroes flying around, but they are by no means the crux of the story. If you’re looking for an antidote to capes, tights and cowls then this might be the place for you to start.

SRP: 75.00
Contains: Point Blank #1-5, Sleeper: Season 1 #1-12, Sleeper: Season 2 #1-12, Coup Detat and Coup Detat Afterword
Indigo, Amazon – March 5th
TFAW, MCS – Feb. 27th

 

superman omnibus

Superman: The Death And Return Omnibus (HC)

Continuing with their expanded re-pressings of landmark DC events (see: Knightfall re-release), we are now graced with over 1000 pages collecting, arguably, one of the biggest events in comic book history. For anyone who hasn’t read it or wants to experience the earth-shattering carnage of Doomsday all over again this is the perfect way to do it. And for anyone who can’t get enough Doomsday/Supes action the Reign Of Doomsday story line is coming to paperback at the beginning of the month. You’re all ready spending 100 dollars, so, what’s 15 more?

SRP: 99.99
Contains: The Death Of.., World Without A.. and The Return Of.. trades plus “bonus material”
Indigo, Amazon – March 26th
TFAW, MCS – March 20th

 day of judgment

Day Of Judgment

Finally! OMG, yes! Now I can retire my single issues and get the beautiful trade that my collection sorely deserves. Back before Geoff Johns was Mr. DC he was just a guy writing good stories, and this was one of his first. Working with Scott Beaty and featuring the Hal Jordan version of the Spectre in a key roll this is a story that sounded hokey on paper, (something about hell fire and demons and tortured souls), but was awesome in execution and gave us a hint of what GJ was capable of. If you’re a fan of Geoff Johns or epics starring the Justice League then you’ll all ready want this. If you’re not then I’m not sure why you’re still reading this.

SRP: 14.99
Contains: Day of Judgment #1-5 and Day of Judgment Secret Files
Indigo, Amazon – April 2nd
TFAW, MCS – March 27th

 

batwing

Batwing Vol. 2: In The Shadows Of The Ancients

In response to Uncle Gorby’s essay this month, and for my unabashed love of all things Bat, I’ve decided to include the second volume of Batwing. Spawning from Batman Inc. and kept alive by the overwhelming popularity of the Bat this second volume features material that ties in to The Court Of Owls with Batwing coming to Gotham. Written by Judd Winnick, (love him!) and featuring awesomely slick art by Dustin Nguyen this volume should be a winner and will, hopefully, let Batwing’s run continue because apparently he’s part of a quickly dying breed.

SRP: 14.99
Contains: Batwing #0, #7-12
Indigo, Amazon – April 2nd
TFAW, MCS – March 27th

 

INDIES

 

chew vol. 3

Chew Omnivore Edition Vol. 3 (HC)

For those of us who like to take big mouthfuls of story comes Vol. 3 of the Chew Omnibus, or “Omnivore Editions” as they have so cleverly called it. If you’re looking for Vol. 3 chances are you’re all ready familiar with the story of cibopathic detective Tony Chu. Essentially, he’s a man who runs around munching on dead people to find out who killed them. This may leave a bad taste in the mouth for some, but, for other’s it’s a sweet treat. If you’re the latter, grab Vol. 1 and enjoy one of the most bizzare detective stories ever told in sequential format.  Also, see the review for Vol. 1 of the trades for more information on whether this is the right meal for you.  I think I’ve just about had my fill of eating related puns, so, that’s my cue to move on.

Publisher: Image
SRP: 34.99
Indigo, Amazon – March 26th
TFAW, MCS – March 13th

 

vampire hunter d

Vampire Hunter D Vol. 19: Mercenary Road

When did Dark Horse start pumping out so much manga? About half of their output this month is related or inspired by anime/manga products. I mean, if it works for them, have at it. I was just surprised to see it. As for the story, it’s something to do with bank robbers, bounty hunters and an army. Looks like somebody will need D to help them clean up the mess. Not sure if there’s any actual vampire hunting per se, but, if you’re looking to buy Vol. 19 I’d say you’re probably invested in the story and characters either way.

Publisher: Dark Horse
SRP: 11.99
Contains: 160 pages of b&w Japanese fury
Indigo, Amazon – March 19th
TFAW, MCS – March 6th

 

jennifer blood vol. 3

Jennifer Blood Vol. 3: Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid

Now that we’re all done drooling over the beautiful cover by Tim Bradstreet, may I continue?  Thank you.  I love Garth Ennis. I may not have read all his stuff, but what I have read has been unique, emotional and over the top: equal parts fun and frustration, but, always entertaining and original. Now, apparently Ennis only wrote the first two volumes on this comic which feels like a riff on the Punisher with a female perspective, but, the man himself says his replacement, Al Ewing, is more than up to the task having penned the second volume with him. Since it’s the beginning of a new arc with a new writer this could be a good starting point for anyone curious, but, let’s face it – if you’re going to read this you might as well get the first two volumes written by such a unique talent. And for those who scoff at Ennis leaving the book and letting someone else take the reigns – get over it.  Everybody deserves a shot.

Publisher: Dynamite
SRP: 19.99
Contains: Jennifer Blood #13-18
Indigo, Amazon – March 26th
TFAW, MCS – March 13th

 

ghostbusters vol. 4

Ghostbusters Vol. 4: Who Ya Gonna Call?!

When I first saw the title of the fourth story by Erik Burnham I thought, “Well, that seems a little obvious” and then I read the plot outline and it’s actually kind of clever. Apparently, there’s a new group of supernatural investigation and elimination specialists setting up shop in the Big Apple and they’re stealing all of the ‘Busters work! But all is not as it seems, (when is it ever?), and Egon begins to worry that these new specialists haven’t thought everything through. Can the Ghostbusters talk some sense in to them? Or is it going to be an all out brawl? By the looks of it these are self-contained stories and not issues that form arcs re-printed. So, if you’re curious as to what’s going on in the comic book world of the Ghostbusters this is as good a place as any to start.

Publisher: IDW
SRP: 17.99
Contains: 104 pages of four color, Ghostbusting action.
Indigo, Amazon – March 26th
TFAW, MCS – March 13th

Want to stay up to date? Click here to subscribe to updates by RSS!
You can also sign up to get updates by Email!
Page 3 of 12112345...10203040...Last »