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By | Saturday, January 8, 2011 | 11:53 pm | 14 Comments | Blog > Reviews
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Includes Issues: Sandman Mystery Theatre 17-20
Issue Dates: August – November 1994
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This review may contain light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

So begins the tale of The Scorpion – a black and white nightmare about a world of greys, the dark dream of The Sandman.

It’s a story of high societies and low pursuits, hate and passion, the weight of commerce. A story of vigilantes, costumed crazies, the girls who love ’em and the cops who have to deal with a world slowly going mad – a world on the verge of a tilt into the age of heroes.

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 4: The Scorpion is where all that character building in the previous three volumes starts to pay off. Before I go any further into the review, I must stress this.

This book is good. It’s really really good. Books like this are why I read comics, why it’s such a joy. Entertaining and subtle, deep enough to keep wandering through your thoughts, but light enough that it can be read in a single sitting.

Good enough that it begs an immediate re-reading if you can hold yourself from moving onto the next book in the series (or aren’t lucky enough to own it.)

Why is it so good?

Does it try to bring the medium to new heights, commenting on the institution of superheroes? Does it explore subjects never before seen on the comic page? Does it show a new kind of hero or contain extremely surprising plots?

No. Not really. In many ways, it’s a bit of classic superhero sensibility. It’s just really really well done.

The creative team – Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle writing, Guy Davis supplying the art, David Hornung coloring and John Costanza lettering – are all on top of their game. They’ve been on the title a bit, found their footing, and have begun to run.

Perhaps “running” isn’t the right word choice. There isn’t a sense of rapid energy in the art or writing. Rather, there’s an appreciation for slower consideration and careful building. Much of the book follows a group of businessmen as they try to put together an international oil deal.

This business world isn’t sensationalized – it’s plain and tedious – or would be in the hands of lesser writers. As it is, Wagner and Seagle make even these dreary meetings (or so Wesley Dodds, secretly our hero, thinks of them) interesting. They make each character fully fleshed with some particular way of talking and thinking.

In the first few pages, I found myself giddily hanging on the dialogue as conversational niceties were batted back and forth between the mayor, an advertising executive, and other wealthy hangers-on. The Sandman was nowhere in sight and I was still having fun!

Of course, part of that is because the supporting cast has enjoyed prominence in previous titles – making Dian Belmont one of my favorite female characters in comics. I’m also growing rather fond of Lieutenant Tony Burke, generally the owner of the few profanities evident in these stories. While I admit to sometimes having trouble distinguishing between some of the rich white men, until they open their mouths, I don’t feel this is the fault of the artist – I have this problem in real life as well.

The story is a murder mystery, as all of the Sandman stories thus far have been. The kind where the killer is still on the loose with a confrontation bound to happen. Like the Silence of the Lambs movies, the thrill isn’t in some ending reveal – we as readers know who the killer is, though I admit I was guessing a little longer than normal in this one.

The excitement comes from seeing our heroes figure it out, watching these complex characters come ever closer to each other with the tension building as each page turns.

And those final confrontations come off masterfully. Everything slams together in a deliciously tangled jumble of good and bad intentions. Doors open at the right moment, plans fall into the wrong ones, in sequences that found me literally laughing out loud as I turned the page.

I also fell into that old habit of almost skipping the action, in such a rush I was to see what happened next – my naughty eyes skipping across the fold to view the opposing panels before scolding themselves and heading back to read the dialogue. To clarify: this isn’t a fault of the writers or a problem with panel layouts. I was just so excited! The layouts are excellent and the book is a pleasure to read.

On top of this lovely little thriller is the most satisfying secret identity/new lover relationship I’ve read in a long time. While the plot idea is not a new one, seeing Wesley and Dian go through the motions of enjoying each other while Wesley attempts to hide his costumed pastime and Dian slowly figures it out… well, it’s a real treat. Wesley’s butler gets a little more panel-time here as he has to make more and more excuses for his unpredictable employer.

I could go on and on about this book’s intricacies. It’s amazing this is just four issues. Do I have room to write on the amusing pulp fiction references? The further explorations on the themes of race and class warfare? The faithful representation of an intriguing era in our nation’s history? No, not really.

I don’t have room because I must devote some space to further praise for Guy Davis. At first, it feels hard to say much that we haven’t covered in reviews of the previous volumes he worked on, The Tarantula and The Vamp. I’ve mentioned the dreamlike quality of his pencils, the strength of his expressions, and the personality lent to the characters.

That last point deserves even more praise here – Wesley Dodds’ calm demeanor when at ease during his experiments, Burke’s snide mouth twitching beneath his mustache, Dian’s inquisitive and knowing glances. It’s all just perfect.

Also, a simple statement, but I can’t avoid mentioning it again: I just love love love this golden age Sandman’s little pudge. It does so much for his character.

The dream sequences also deserve some focus. Here Davis takes the slightly risky move of doing them in black and white, but they’re just beautiful. Intensely weird, scratchy like old television – which, of course, hadn’t been invented yet.

My only complaints with this collection have to do with some of the post and reproduction work. Unfortunately those digital blur/smoke/sheen effects are back, but that’s not really a big deal as they are quite sparse. I only noticed two of them throughout the entire trade, messing with maybe a couple millimeters of the line work.

The real problem is the actual printing, at least in my version. The paper is lightweight matte, which I don’t really have a problem with, but there isn’t a single true black in the book. If that was it, that would be fine – the lighter reproduction works with the pastel colors and is easy on the eyes. But the whole book seems to be reproduced from slightly pixelated files. The text and panel borders suffer from it the most, but there’s even some pages where you can see the sharp outline of the files, a slight gray onto the pages natural white – since no one bothered to correct the white points before sending to printing.

Such was the quality of the writing and artwork that I didn’t often notice this issue, but it still upset me – especially because it made getting nice looking scans to show you impossible. I actually had to turn to the original floppies to get images. I don’t know if this was just an issue with one print run or what, but you may want to double check your book before bringing it home. To those of you who order online like myself – cross your fingers.

I won’t let the reproduction issue drag down my review. While a quality title like this certainly deserves careful collection and reprinting, I’ll settle for it any way I can get it.

I’m amazed that Sandman Mystery Theatre isn’t more heavily represented online or in fan discussions – it’s an excellent series. I assume that it must simply be in the shadow of its bigger brother series at Vertigo, which seems to always get the limelight.

Maybe you’ll have to rely on your cultural elitism – seek out something lesser known and of a strange vintage – but whatever you do, find your way to reading this title.


5 out of 5.

An excellent book, one of the best I’ve read in some time. Fully rounded characters, visceral action, witty pacing, and the perfect art to carry it.

Highly recommended. Just don’t forget to read the previous books in your rush to get to this title.

Essential Continuity:


Ok, not really for the rest of the DCU, but if you skip this one you will be missing out on some of the best that setting has to offer.

Read first:

You need to read Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 1: The Tarantula, Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 2: The Face and The Brute and Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3: The Vamp first.

Read next:

The next book is . I’m very excited.

We’ll be looking into it soon as we review our way through the DC Universe!

I have to make a brief note that DC hasn’t fully collected this series, which is absolutely criminal considering how long it’s been since the ongoing ended. We should be looking at a secondary release as a set of deluxe hardcovers or absolute editions at this point, not hanging on the edge of our seat for the next trade. GET ON IT!

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By | Friday, January 7, 2011 | 11:59 pm | 26 Comments | Blog > Giveaways

Update: This giveaway is now over. Stay tuned! Also, feel free to enter one of our currently running giveaways.

Update 2: The winner has been announced.

Here’s the weekly giveaway!

This giveaway is for the prestige format Original Graphic Novel Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography. Released in 1989, this is a copy in VF edition.

It’s an interesting one – an original story presented as an in-continuity investigation into the ruthless businessman Lex Luthor of the late 1980s.

The Rundown:

(1) Prize: One copy of Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography

(1) Random Comment Winner: One logged in commenter will be randomly selected from the replies to this post.

Eligibility: You must be registered and logged in when you comment to be eligible. You must also be in the continental USA for shipping purposes. If you are overseas and want to pay for the shipping yourself, feel free to enter, but keep in mind that it will probably be more expensive than just buying the book.

Deadline: You have until 11:59 on Friday, January 14th, 2011.

Good luck everyone!

You can see the previous giveaways and results here.

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By | Friday, January 7, 2011 | 7:39 pm | 24 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Villains United 1-6
Issue Dates: July – December 2005
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This review may contain spoilers for DC continuity. Skip To The Verdict? »

Many of you will have heard of the Secret Six but until a couple of years ago no such super-team existed.

In fact, several members of it didn’t exist either, or at least not in their current guises.

Catman, Rag Doll, Parademon and Scandal Savage are the more unknown characters who, along with Deadshot and Cheshire, make up the Secret Six.

The miniseries itself was a direct tie-in with the 2005 DC Universe-changing title Infinite Crisis, one of 6 or so major tie-in/precursor titles for the event.

Out of all these tie-ins, Villains United is one of the few tie-ins that can be enjoyed separately from the main story.

This trade has more links to the previous mini-crisis, Identity Crisis, than most of the other tie-ins, which for me is pretty nice as I like books that don’t just forget what has happened.

Following the fallout of Identity Crisis and the shock revelation of what the Justice League did to Dr. Light, the super-villain community is allying up to make themselves stronger against the so called heroes; they are forming “The Society“.

We join them in the full swing of their recruitment drive which features some fan favourite villains starting off with Mr. Freeze and ending with Sabbac and Catman. They all swiftly say yes, in a similar fashion to LOTR’s “You have my sword” followed by “And my …” (replace … with axe/bow/freeze-ray). All except Catman that is.

“No,” he sternly responds to Talia al Ghul and Dr. Psycho, which goes down like a lead balloon. Being turned down by Catman of all people does even more to infuriate the society’s “recruitment officers.” He isn’t even a B-list villain.

With the Society wanting to become a major force to be reckoned with, this isn’t the kind of underground press they wanted. The majority of the Society want to kill Catman to make an example of him, but Luthor steps in, as devious as ever, suggesting that there is a better way to make an example out of him.

The plot then skips to the other 5 members of the Secret Six, who are joined by the Fiddler out on a mission in the Amazon. It becomes apparent that they are acting as a force against the Society on behalf of some faceless employer, Mockingbird.

During the course of this mission Fiddler [Spoiler: is tragically killed], meaning they are currently one member shy of being the Secret Six. Obviously they have to replace him. It would be bad juju to not have the right number of members for a phonetically pleasing team name. This is where Catman comes in.

The plot then flows forward in a mostly linear fashion. It is not really a spoiler to find out that part of Luthor’s plans involved humiliating Blake by killing not just him but the entire Secret Six. So now we get to enjoy a full-on super-villain-on-super-villain (ultra-hyphenated) war.

The writer for this series is Gail Simone, best known before this series for her work on the popular Birds of Prey ongoing.

I am happy to report that her writing in this volume is of the same high standard I had come to expect from her previous work. In fact, this team shows off her ability to write characters from scratch that manage to hold my attention better than she ever did before.

The Secret Six also allow her to show of the darker side of her humour more than ever, which is the central force behind my affection for this team.

The interaction involving Rag Doll and Parademon is prime example of this, as is almost anything Rag Doll says. That Rag Doll is one sick character but you cannot help loving him. After all, he is so well spoken and so polite, even when someone has kneed him in the groin.

One of the most fun things about this volume is how it spans the whole range of super-villains in the DCU. There are a ton of different characters popping up everywhere!

So many, in fact, that there is a guide in the back that acts a visual role call of who was in the book (by my count, over 70 different villains!).

The downside of the title being a tie-in is that some of the plot is aimed at having some affect on the Crisis, meaning sometimes the plot seems slightly unnatural.

The artwork is primarily drawn by Dale Eaglesham (Green Lantern Volume 3) which is up to a decent standard. It isn’t artwork that you will wow you, but neither would you find it insulting to your retinas.

As mentioned earlier, there is a whole array of different characters in this volume and I can imagine Dale had a great time getting to draw so many. As I am sure Val Semeiks (Lobo) did when he covered for Dale in issue 3. His pencils are a little bit better than the main artist’s.

I would also like to point out another neat feature of this collected edition. The first few pages of the book compromise of a summary of events leading up to this trade, taken from all over the DCU. It acts as a very good introduction to the book and a check-in to make sure you know anything needed to enjoy the story.

This is a feature I would like to see more in books featuring new teams. For example, something in the beginning of the new Batgirl could have had a brief run-down of Stephanie Brown’s life, Cassandra Cain’s career in the cowl, and the other main events in the Batverse that come up in the trade. Without it, the story might be a little hard to follow for new comic readers.

I have attempted to keep this review relatively vague so as not to spoil anything from Identity Crisis or Infinite Crisis. These are two titles that I would 100% suggest reading before you stumble across a spoiler somewhere, if you haven’t already.

So what of Countdown To Infinite Crisis: Villains United?

Do the new characters hold their own? Does the team fit together and work? Is there enough here that it deserves its own ongoing? Should that title be successful? Yes, yes, yes and hell yes.

On the whole this is a very good book with only the average art and slightly forced links to Infinite Crisis letting it down. This is the start of one of the best additions to the DC Universe in a long time.

Or let me put it this put it this way: out of 3 direct titles that came out of Infinite Crisis, Secret Six is the only one still going with no signs of stopping. And it all started here.

4 out of 5.
A solid start to a new team that only grows stronger with each trade.

The trade itself is what an example of how modern collections should be put together and adds thoroughly to the enjoyment factor.

Essential Continuity:
Not overly essential for Infinite Crisis. Small ties to Identity Crisis.

Entirely essential for the Secret Six.

Read first:
Surprisingly, nothing is essential to read before hand. The collected edition has a rare and really useful 8 page segment at the beginning of the trade detailing everything you need to know.

You would be missing out if you haven’t read the main Identity Crisis trade, however.

I would say it would be wise to also read Countdown to Infinite Crisis: The OMAC Project if you intend to read this and the main Infinite Crisis collection.

Read next:
I would suggest reading the back up story featured in Infinite Crisis: Companion, and from there move onto the limited series collected in Secret Six: Six Degrees of Separation. Chris just posted a review of that book.

After that, just follow along the Secret Six Trade Reading Order.

And despite having utterly nothing to do with the DCU, I would heartily recommend Enid Blyton’s similarly named classic Secret Seven books.

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By | Thursday, January 6, 2011 | 10:19 am | 2 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

While we were working on the Marvel List (unsorted) I got an idea for how to do a quick text DC List.

So the complete DC Comics Collection List is now up! Well, complete until someone lets me know what I’m missing. And then it will be complete again!

This list is actually dynamically generated. I’d told people before the server couldn’t handle generating the whole reading order on one page, but that wasn’t quite true – it just can’t generate multiple queries per book without slogging to a halt. If I just have it generate the title and a link, it can handle it, though it does take up a whole mess of memory each time it has to generate the page.

However, that shouldn’t be that big of a deal since most users will just be getting a cached version of the page.

I’m also hoping this new list will be helpful to those of you doing mobile browsing, but it’s actually just a step in that direction. My uncle and I have been going over some xml stuff tonight and figuring out possibilities.

Also, the forum has undergone some formatting changes. Mainly legibility stuff – the font sizes have increased, changed the link color to match the rest of the site.

It still seems a little ugly to me, but a lot better than the default formatting. At least I can read what I’m typing now!

It looks a little bubbly funny. But I think it’s an improvement. I also fixed up the margins between the boxes and removed a border to streamline the design.

There are a few added items on the bottom of the forum as well, a navigation dropdown menu that shows all the subforums as well as recent posts, plus a little stats box that should show who is browsing what threads, recently registered members, etc. Pretty standard forum stuff. It does seem to be off in some areas (guests for example, seems to mean guest posters not guest traffic) but it’s fun to check out.

Hope those updates tide you over until our new reviews start going up. I’m sitting on a few, and just need to format and add images, but have very limited time now that I’m working 9 hour days again.

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By | Thursday, January 6, 2011 | 4:01 am | 12 Comments | Blog > Reviews
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Includes Issues: Graphic Novel Adaptation of Overachievement: The New Model For Exceptional Performance
Issue Dates: April 16, 2011
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

It often seems that those who seek out Self Help books are the people least likely to do so. Whatever their roadblocks, they get nowhere, instead using their time to leaf through pamphlet after pamphlet, attending endless seminars and forwarding inspirational emails.

You know the type – you get the forwards and instantly delete them. Why? You’ve got shit to do.

Maybe you don’t, but I do. I’m that crazy workaholic that can’t be bothered wasting time on how to achieve my goals when… I… can see… them. Right… over there… can almost reach it.

Well, perhaps my sort of personality can still use advice from time to time.

And ideally, if an idea is good, it’s worth hearing whatever your circumstance, right?

I’m in a bit of an interesting situation, since I’m not the type that is in the market for self help books, yet my career path has taken me to the point where I’ve got one in front of me – sent in for review. I wonder if that makes me a better or worse candidate for its messages?

The book in questions is part of an upcoming release of educational and inspirational titles by Writers Of The Round Table Press. Called SmarterComics: Overachievement, it’s slated for release to the general public in April 2011.

Like the other books under the imprint, it’s a little shorter and wider than your standard comic format and is printed in black and white. It’s a adaptation of Overachievement: The New Model For Exceptional Performance by Dr. John Eliot, re-scripted into comic format by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Nathan Lueth. Lueth does a webcomic called Impure Blood, so you may have seen his work before online.

Dr. Eliot believes that the key to abnormal success is thinking differently – not necessarily hard work and dedication. He goes over a few key ideas – a trusting mindset where one acts mostly by instinct, why you should put all your eggs in one basket, confidence vs. arrogance and self-esteem, and so on.

A lot of his advice is really great. For example, he’s absolutely right that for great things to be accomplished, you need to act abnormally. Every single person who has broken boundaries, in every industry, was at least a little off from the accepted status quo.

I also think many of his specific examples will work well for those involved in sports or any other physical based craft (he uses surgery as an example.) Training your instinct and learning to “target shoot.”

But much of the advice might be too general or even somewhat problematic. For example, I can’t keep my mind clear and work by instinct when writing – the process requires a certain amount of second guessing, even though I do let myself type stream of consciousness fairly often. It’s a much better fit for my other career as a photographer, where I often find my gut takes the best photographs.

Also, while it’s not a bad idea to pursue those insane dreams, there is a certain amount of logic also required in success. He cautions against contingency plans and “being realistic” but, for example, I’m only able to pursue the insane goal of documenting every DC Universe Trade Paperback because the technological infrastructure was already in place. Without WordPress and a healthy amount of good timing and work by others, my obsessiveness wouldn’t amount to much that could actually be shared easily with the rest of the world.

It must be acknowledged that no advice will work un-tweaked for everyone and Dr. Eliot does a fine job of attempting to find general mantras and thinking patterns that will work for the average person. As self improvement ideas go, they’re generally good ones.

A lot of the actual confusion probably has to do with presentation. For example, Overacheivement, both the original book and this comic, has been marketed with lines similar to this one (from the Amazon page): “Dr. Eliot offers the rest of us the counterintuitive and unconventional concepts that have been embraced by the Olympic athletes, business moguls, top surgeons, salesmen, financial experts, and rock stars who have turned to him for performance enhancement advice.”

But this kind of makes my head hurt – is it a chicken and egg thing? He often punctuates his lessons here with quotations and examples from these same figures that he’s worked with. But they’re people that have turned to him for advice.

If they are already top surgeons and rockstars (and can even afford a personal coach), why do they need an expert like Dr. Eliot? Are they somehow accidental already rich and successful but still need enhancement? I suppose everyone wants to better themselves, but Eliot seems to suggest he learned many of these lessons while figuring out what got people like these to their current state of success.

It just feels a tad convoluted. I expect this, like many of the other logical fallacies, stems from the problem of actually marketing and applying these ideas. Some of Dr. Eliot’s experience is quite marketable (that with athletes and rockstars) but it’s not really as interesting as the psychological research he tries to base his ideas on. So there’s this battle between making the content relatable and backing it up.

The team seeks to bring Dr. Eliot’s ideas forward in an accessible and easy to digest format. They’ve been successful with this – I finished the book in one sitting with no discomfort. That, in itself, is a nice plus to the comic format as you can get an overview of all the concepts working together quickly, without being interrupted by other tasks while trying to finish a book. Of course, it doesn’t allow as much for the slow mulling over that a longer text might.

The comic format also avoids feeling overstretched – I’ve seen reviews of the original book saying that the advice was overly elaborated on in order to fit a larger page count. It’s a tad repetitive, but research suggests that it’s hard to ingest any idea without repetition. Perhaps Dr. Eliot’s rephrasings help you from having to go back and read the same ones over and over.

Through it all, Nathan Lueth does a good job keeping the eyes happy. He takes what could be boring subject matter and infuses it with a humorous pop culture sensibility. Examples are accompanied not just by office workers, but characters that play on the Aliens and Lost In Space Sci-Fi franchises, countless robots, Gary Larson’s Far Side, and probably a lot more too obscure for me to catch.

Compared to the last SmarterComics artist we looked at, Shane Clester, his work is more technically correct when it comes to anatomy, but has less of that indie comic homebrew feel. It’s a bold, likable, and commercially viable style.

The high point is that Leuth obviously enjoyed drawing all those robots, the low is that sometimes the work felt a little too much like advertising illustration – the comic persona of John Eliot especially.

He seems a little like a huckster, big smile and addiction to dramatic hand gestures. Of course, by the picture in the back, maybe this is entirely accurate.

Eliot himself says a performer can never have too much self assurance and whether you agree with him or not, at least he’s living by his own advice.

He may have had a step up by being a descendant of a Harvard president and the legendary T.S. Eliot, so there’s that “realistic” outlook biting again.

Overall, Overachievement is packed with information and hard to discuss in a small space. As a comic, it’s easy to read, but the ideas will take time to digest. If you work at it, I believe Dr. Eliot’s advice can help you.

But, as I’m sure Eliot would agree, no outside force can change your outlook on life.  You have to do that.

3 out of 5.

Dr. Eliot gives some concise advice that can be useful to professionals in many fields, especially ones that rely on physical skills. Those reliant on analytical thought may have some trouble with some of the advice, but it should be interesting nonetheless.

The comic presents these ideas in an easy to digest manner alongside some fun art. It can be repetitive and somewhat general, but is worth checking out.

Essential Continuity:
Self Contained – not applicable to this book.

Read first:
No prior reading is required for this title.

Read next:
If the book snags you, you’ll probably want to read the original title: Overachievement: The New Model For Exceptional Performance.

Soon I’ll be taking a look at another self improvement title by SmarterComics, Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life. Should be interesting.

I’d like to see some titles that explore the scientific ideas behind Dr. Eliot’s advice in more detail. I hope SmarterComics has an opportunity to publish some educational texts in that direction.

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