Book Review – Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity

  • Title: Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity
  • Author: Scott Lobdell
  • Artist: Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini, Taylor Esposito
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Red Hood (Jason Todd), Artemis (of the Amazons), Bizarro (Superman’s clone), Black Mask
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/15/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I loved Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity – I simply loved it! Jason Todd as part of the “Bat Family” is a character that I’m not super familiar with. Yes, I read the original, A Death in the Family where he’s killed by the Joker. And I’ve both read Judd Winick’s Under the Red Hood and seen the Warner Brother’s/DC Comics animated film based on it (which is quite possibly still the best of several excellent animated DC films) where Jason comes back. But that’s mostly about it. However, the previews and such about this book were very enthusiastic, so I decided to order it from my local comics shop and try it out. I’m so glad I did – because this book is wonderful!

Jason is a complex character, and this story uses flashbacks extremely well to introduce the character. It’s not, say 50-pages of straight backstory, but the flashbacks are interwoven into the story well. Obviously, they are there because the book is aimed at new DC readers, but, and it’s an important but, the flashbacks are well-integrated and they enhance the story. If you are familiar with Jason’s story arc, they simply remind you of the important points, and if you are not – well, now you know. For the long, continuing, and complex world of graphic novels and comics – this book is almost a primer on how to do that well. Plus, you have things like the very famous full-page picture of Batman, kneeling in the rain, and holding Jason’s body, but Jason’s comment that he was dead so he doesn’t remember it.

Which brings me to the second point – I wasn’t expecting this book to be so funny, but I did (literally) laugh out loud at several points. Jason Todd to me has always been a tragic figure, The Robin Who Died. The person who, like his parents death, profoundly affected Bruce Wayne and his mission by dying. (And even Bruce using the term, “the mission”, became a stronger, clearer, and more obvious part of his role as Batman because of Jason’s death.) But in this book, he’s not the street-wise kid with an attitude problem. He’s smart, and sassy, and his own man with his own way of doing things. In some ways, even though he’s nothing like Dick Grayson either, he reminds me of the first couple Nightwing books by Chuck Dixon, as Dick feels his own way and becomes his own man and his own type of superhero. Jason, here is the same – he follows his own code, he has his own way of doing things, he knows his way isn’t Bruce’s way, but he’s still becoming a hero. The characterization in this is brilliant and I loved it. And yes, there’s a lot of humor here – both Jason’s inner monologue, and in his conversations with Artemis.

The plot of the book starts with Jason “shooting” the mayor of Gotham City. However, Jason hasn’t suddenly turned assassin. He’s actually shot medicine into the mayor to cure him of techno-organic virus. Black Mask had been using the virus to control the mayor. Batman, who had made a show of trying to “stop” the Red Hood’s attack talks to Jason, finds out about the techno-organic virus, and learns that the “attack” on the mayor was part of a plan. Jason intends to go deep undercover to take down Black Mask and his organization.

As the newest recruit in Black Mask’s organization, Jason discovers that he not only blew-up the “orphanage” run by another criminal, Ma Gunn, but that he intended it to be full of children at the time. Jason also sees Black Mask kill three of his own men for “disappointing” him. But that might have been your typical undercover-in-the-mob story – until Jason tries to stop Black Mask from attacking a train delivering a super-weapon to Gotham City. In an attempt to stop Black Mask from getting whatever is in the train, Red Hood runs into Artemis. This Artemis is a Amazon warrior, a rival of Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) and on a quest to find the Bow of Ra. And she’s brilliant! I loved the character of Artemis, and I hope she stays as a regular member of Red Hood’s Outlaws. Also, the dialogue between Artemis and Jason is brilliant. It’s well-written and it sparkles like a 1930s film. Not that Artemis and Jason are a romantic couple (yet) but their dialogue is just incredible.

Jason worries that the train car that Black Mask steals has some horrible bioweapon aboard. Artemis thinks it’s her Bow of Ra. They are both wrong – it’s Bizarro, a Superman clone created by Lex Luthor. The last third of the book has Bizarro brought to Black Mask’s hideout, Jason trying to connect to Bizarro, Artemis pretty much wanting to kill off Bizarro as a threat, and eventually Black Mask using his techno-organic virus to take over Bizarro. Black Mask using his own brain to control Bizarro becomes his downfall, as Jason is able to use the cure he used on the mayor, as well as his own relationship with Bizarro to free the Superman clone from Black Mask’s control. The backlash destroys the mobster’s mind. At the end, Jason and Bizarro agree to help Artemis on her quest for the Bow of Ra.

Meanwhile, when Jason meets up with Batman to report – the two both learn a bit about each other.
I hope DC Comics continues to publish this book in graphic novel collections, because I will definitely want to continue to buy and read it. Highly recommended.

Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity collects the Rebirth special and issues 1-6 of the series.

Book Review – Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West (Rebirth)

  • Title: Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West
  • Author: Dan Abnett
  • Artist: Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Andrew Dalhouse, Carlos M. Mangual, Carrie Strachan
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Teen Titans, Wally West, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Tempest (Garth), Omen (Lilith), Arsenal (Roy Harper)
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/11/2017

In May of 2016, DC Comics started “Rebirth”, an updating of all of DC Comics. Rebirth dumps New 52, returning the DC Comics books to the feel of the Classic 1990s Modern age. The new series now features a diverse cast of characters including many women, and religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, like DC featured starting way back in the Silver Age (1960s). I have been subscribing to many of the new Rebirth titles in monthly issues, but “Titans”, the updated “Teen Titans” is a title that I skipped in single-issue form.

Rebirth takes off from Flashpoint with the Flash, lost in the Speed Force, trying to get through to his friends. Titans vol. 1 The Return of Wally West features Wally West, also lost in the Speed Force, and no longer Kid Flash, but now “a Flash”, trying to find his friends in the Teen Titans. But no one recognizes him. However, when he touches Dick Grayson (Nightwing), there’s a spark of electricity – and Dick remembers Wally. Wally and Dick gather the rest of the Titans – Donna Troy (Wonder Girl), Garth (Tempest), Lilith (Omen), Roy Harper (Arsenal), and when Wally touches them – they remember him and the Titans. The group also soon discover that their memories of Wally and the Titans were stolen when Wally was thrown into the time stream by an enemy. However, Linda Park – Wally’s girlfriend doesn’t remember him at all.

The villain of the piece, Abra Kadabra, a villain from the far future appears at a birthday party in Keystone City, and uses puppet copies of the Teen Titans to attack the Titans. He eventually sets-up the Titans so they split-up to investigate three locations to find the kidnapped Linda Park. He then places everyone in deadly peril and challenges Wally to save them all, even though he’s used magic to move everyone to different cities. One does have to wonder why Wally didn’t call on the Justice League for help, since the locations (Coast City – traditional home of Green Lantern, Gotham – home of Batman, etc) are home to other heroes, but Wally decides he must save everyone. He does (in a stunning sequence) including Linda but goes so fast he’s absorbed by the Speed Force. Kadabra gloats over defeating his enemy. In the Speed Force, Wally talks to the Linda from his future who sends him back. Returning to Real Time, Wally defeats Kadabra and is reunited with the new Titans.

I enjoyed reading this book. Rebirth gets DC right – with fun, and humor, yet with deep and meaningful characterization. In the end, it’s Wally’s love for his friends in the Titans, not his romantic feelings for Linda, that allow him to return. The scenes in the Speed Force are wonderful though. And even Kadabra, as over the top as he is, is a fun villain – semi-threatening but not totally angsty. This book and the rest of Rebirth is highly, highly recommended.

Book Review – Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1

  • Title: Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1
  • Author: Chynna Clugston Flores
  • Artist: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Maddi Gonzalez, Kelly & Nichole Matthews, Jenna Ayoub, Whitney Cogar, Warren Montgomery
  • Characters: Olive Silverlock, Maps
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics, Boom Box Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/18/2017

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy is a crossover between these two young adult graphic novels series. I’ve recently been reading and greatly enjoying Gotham Academy but I’m not familiar with Lumberjanes prior to reading this story. Gotham Academy is, of course, a slightly creepy private school in Gotham, that gives a second chance to reformed villains and gives a chance to be normal to the children of Gotham’s villains. Our characters remind me of a well-written Scooby Doo story – they solve mysteries that often have a supernatural bent. The Lumberjanes are a group of girls at summer camp who also solve mysteries. When Professor MacPherson goes missing from Gotham Academy under mysterious circumstances, and Rosie, the Lumberjanes camp director also disappears – it’s time for a crossover mystery.

The Lumberjanes and our familiar crew from Gotham Academy are soon working together to find their missing people. Soon Jen, the camp leader is also missing, sacrificing herself to “monsters” so the Janes and Academy students can get away.

The Janes and the Academy students work together to find and rescue their teacher, camp counselor, and camp director. Meanwhile, those three find themselves in a Brigadoon-type cabin, a mansion in the woods belonging to a spoiled rich girl and her family. Inside the cabin, it’s always 1986. The women, now looking and dressed like teenagers, slowly realize what’s happened. Louise had been friends with the girls at Gotham Academy – but when her family came in to money, she become a spoiled, self-centered brat – who nevertheless was at the top of the school’s social ladder. When Louise invites everyone to her Sweet 16 birthday party at her family’s cabin, the students decide to teach her a lesson – and no one shows-up. This breaks Louise – she suffers a breakdown. Her magic-practicing parents, place her under a spell – keeping her young, and experiencing the same Summer over and over again for 30-years (without the heartbreak of the disastrous party).

It’s like a ghost story, but with a living person. Not only do the current Gotham Academy students and Lumberjanes, but their counselor, teacher, and camp director must actually give Louise the party she wants and convince her to actually live her life without fear of change.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel – there’s a lot of humor and fun; the characters are bright and compassionate; the art is excellent and fits the feel of a teen book, and the mystery – though somewhat easy to figure out has a good point to it. It’s a story about being yourself, and I liked that. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Gotham Academy vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy

  • Title: Welcome to Gotham Academy
  • Author: Becky Cloonan
  • Artist: Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher
  • Characters: Olive Silverlock, Maps
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/05/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Gotham Academy Vol. 1 – Welcome to Gotham Academy is set in an exclusive prep school in Gotham City, one that is sponsored by Bruce Wayne, and was established by his parents. Olive Silverlock is a scholarship student with a secret – her mother was caught by Batman and is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum – this is a secret we find out at the end of the book. While reading the book we know Olive has a mortal fear of bats, something happened to her over the summer, and there is also something in her past that has something to do with her mother. At school, Olive is assigned to nanny a new student, Maps, who is her ex-boyfriend’s younger sister. Despite that, Olive and Maps become friends, and with a few other friends they decide to investigate the closed-off North Hall. One of the bullying girls is also interested in the hall, leading a small cult of girls who are trying to raise the spirit of one of Gotham’s illusterous former citizens, Millie Jane Cobblepot. Olive, having read Millie Jane’s diary, is also fascinated with her – and strongly identifies with her.

Olive, Maps, and their friends continue to investigate – they find Killer Croc, now somewhat domesticated, hiding in the school walls behind the girl’s dorm. There is no ghost – one of the guys at the school had set it up to get the bully to stop obsessing. Olive discovers the mysterious guy who’s interested in her is affected by the Kurt Langstrom bat virus. But Olive and Maps also become good friends. Olive also becomes “just friends” with her ex-boyfriend without as much trouble as she anticipated.

This is a good start to what will probably be a fun series. It reminded me a lot of the old, classic, Scooby Doo television series – and I mean that in the best possible way. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Arena of Fear

  • Title: Arena of Fear
  • Author: Nick Abadzis
  • Artists: Elena Casagrande, Eleonora Carlini
  • Line:  Tenth Doctor, 
  • Characters: Tenth Doctor, Gabby, Cindy Wu, Capt. Jack Harkness
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/08/2017

This is the third time I’ve tried to post a review of this graphic novel. First time I read the book, my Internet went out for a week and I couldn’t review it. Second time, I got the entire review posted, only to have it completely disappear when I hit save. Rest assured, I will copy this review to Word before hitting send this time. Just background as this is definitely not a “first impressions” review.

Titan Comics Arena of Fear features the Tenth Doctor as played by David Tennant on the BBC series, Doctor Who. This volume picks-up directly after the first volume, and the first story is told from the point-of-view of Cindy Wu. She has lost her memory, as have her companions, Capt. Jack, Cleo, Erik, and Muthmunno a Neanderthal healer. No one has their memories – and the environment is hostile, with the people being forced to constantly fight each other. They join an alien “River Goddess” and find the Doctor. They locate the Doctor, deep in meditation, who helps everyone to regain their memories. Gabby shows up and goes on the attack. But the Doctor realizes she shouldn’t have the power she has. Gabby is being controlled by Ebonite. The Doctor uses the Song of the Santee to bring Gabby out of it. Breaking Ebonite’s control also means that the Doctor and Gabby are able to free the group entirely – who are being held in a miniscope. The Doctor will help everyone to get home, and invites Gabby and Cindy to travel in his TARDIS. Muthmunno decides to gather the Neanderthals who are held captive in the miniscope and seek “new hunting grounds” – a planet where they can live without being driven to extinction.

The next story really feels like filler – Cindy complains that the TARDIS is haunted. The Doctor tells her it’s not possible. Gabby explains she may have seen the impressions of the Doctor’s past lives, and shows her portraits of the previous Doctors. However, they are attacked in the library. The Doctor rescues the two then, explaining he was re-configuring the TARDIS rooms to get more power.

Finally, Gabby asks the Doctor to take them on vacation. They land in Dewbury, the most haunted village in the UK, just in time for the Paranormal Literary Festival. Gabby, Cindy, and the Doctor discover the village has a high incidence of OCD – often apparently caused by encounters with the Witch of the Wishing Well. The Doctor meets an old man who was affected, who senses the Doctor is a mage, and takes him to the cave that is home to the witch. The Doctor senses time traces with his sonic screwdriver and finds a window to the Time Vortex. The witch is a being, held captive by the Vortex. The old man, Randall, states the Witch has seven faces, and to the Doctor it mentions Regeneration. The Doctor sees a connection to the Untempered Schism. He’s able to use the TARDIS to free the “witch” – which cures the affected in Dewbury, including Randall. But the TARDIS is deeply affected and even starts to break apart.

Finally, references to Anubis and also Sutekh are sprinkled throughout the book, and it ends with Dorothy Bell convincing “dogface” Anubis, he isn’t Sutekh. Still, these references will no doubt have consequences in the next volume or two.

Arena of Fear has some excellent art, but at other times Gabby and Cindy are drawn in such a similar fashion it’s hard to tell them apart. Much of this novel also feels like it’s a transistion between last volume’s adventures with Neanderthal kind and something to happen with Anubis, Sutekh, and the Osirans. The Doctor even uncovers a device to hold an Osiran captive, while heading for New Orleans in the TARDIS. Still, a good story, and no doubt an important part of the on-going series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Heralds of Destruction

  • Title: The Heralds of Destruction
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Artists: Christopher Jones, Hi-Fi
  • Line: 3rd Doctor
  • Characters: Third Doctor, Jo Grant, UNIT
  • Collection Date: 2017
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/06/2017

The Third Doctor story Heralds of Destruction is a fun read that feels like a Third Doctor Era story. Taking place just after “The Three Doctors”, the story features Jo Grant and the full UNIT crew as well as the Master, and a surprise guest villain responsible for the ubiquitous “alien” invasion. The story opens with Jo and Capt. Mike Yates on a date, only to be interrupted by an emergency. The Doctor, similarly, is playing chess when he is called in. The Doctor meets Jo, the Brigadier, Mike, Sgt. Benton, and various UNIT men in the small English village of Fairford to combat robot machines. The Doctor tries to talk to these “aliens” with no luck at first. It soon turns out the machines are composed of micro-machines (nanotech) that can rebuild itself from local materials. The Doctor blocks in the machines with a force field, then takes a sample to his lab to study.

At the lab, the Doctor encounters himself, or rather, the Second Doctor (or does he? Double identities and people pretending to be someone they are not is a strong theme in this graphic novel). As the Brigadier keeps an eye on the situation in Fairford, he encounters the Master and fights off his hypnotism. Meanwhile, at the lab, Jo is attacked by the micromachines, which take over her body. The Doctor hypnotizes her and goes into her subconscious. The lettering for this inner journey is fantastic, though Jo’s subconscious is just as forthright, honest, and happy as Jo herself.

The Doctor is able to have a conversations with the micromachines and not only rescue Jo but keep this part of the hive mind on his side, rather than on the side of the real villain – who is not the Master.

The Master, despite his impersonations of various people throughout the book, actually ends-up working with the Doctor, even pointing out that a certain character isn’t who he says he is (to say more would spoil one of the biggest surprises of the novel, which I won’t do).

The villain is actually out to steal Time Lord technology – something the Master doesn’t want to happen either, thus his partnership with the Doctor. As they, and UNIT, go to capture the villain, the villain succeeds in transporting his lab building back in time.

In 1868, the Doctor, the Master, and the bad guy all try to convince the all-male British Parliament to follow different paths – from accepting the bad guy as dictator, to preserving history.

The Doctor though is able to use his previous alliance with the small group of micromachines that attacked Jo, to influence the other – thus, taking away the villain’s main weapon. The Master fails to gain control of the micromachines, but escapes custody. The villain is captured and jailed. The Doctor returns the lab and UNIT to the proper time. He also discusses with Jo, that in a sense the Master and even the villain were right – he’s been sitting in one place, doing one thing, too long. When Jo intuits that he’s planning to leave in the TARDIS, now that he can, he agrees – and invites her along. We also see clear indications that Capt. Mike Yates isn’t satisfied with his life and longs for a Golden Age that is less complex and cleaner and prettier (for lack of a better term). This sets-up his otherwise inexplicable behavior in, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, something that otherwise does come from nowhere.

I enjoyed this book very much. It really felt like a Third Doctor adventure. Everyone was in character. It featured all the UNIT crew, including Corporal Bell – a female UNIT officer, and Osgood a tech (whom the author points out is a nod to the Osgood in the new series). The art in this book is very good – everyone looks as they should, and the colors are fantastic. I also loved the chapter lettering for the trips to Jo’s subconscious. The relationship between the Doctor and Jo is also very well-written and I really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Book Review- The Flash Book 1 (by Mark Waid)

  • Title: The Flash Book 1
  • Author: Mark Waid
  • Artist: Greg LaRocque
  • Line: early Modern Age
  • Characters: Wally West (The Flash)
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/23/2017

It is just fun to go back in time, so to speak, and read a collection from the 1990s, even with the occasional cringe-worthy moment (oh, Golden Glider… let’s just say the CW version is much better). The Flash Book One by Mark Waid, is a collection of a number of Flash stories, focusing on the early modern age Flash, Wally West. This was my Flash, simply because I started reading DC Comics in the mid-1980s, after Crisis on Infinite Earths and to me, Barry Allen’s sacrificial death was a fait accompli and Wally was the Flash and a full-fledged member of the Justice League (aka Justice League International, later Justice League America).

The first story has a far future Flash traveling back in time to gather past Flashes (Jay Garrick the Golden Age Flash, Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, and Wally West) to help against a world-ending disaster in the far future. However, this Flash, John Fox, fails to even meet the various other Flashes and even manages to really mess-up the life of a mobster’s girl by preventing her from talking to the Flash.

The rest of the book is various adventures of the Flash, Wally West. From seeing Wally get his powers in a million-to-one exact repeat of the accident that made Barry Allen the Flash to Wally becoming more comfortable in his own skin as the Flash, this is a fun and light introduction to the character. Note that in the story where Wally becomes Kid Flash – he doesn’t know Barry is the Flash, even though Barry is his uncle (or uncle to-be – at this point Iris and Barry are engaged). It is clear, later, that Wally knows the truth about Barry and is a little resentful of the former Flash’s deception. (Though Barry was merely trying to protect Wally and Iris.)

The book includes adventures between the Flash and various members of his Rogues Gallery, including a final story featuring The Trickster, who is always fun.

Overall, this is a fun and light book. Wally West is a happy-go-lightly character who, although is adventures are exciting, they are above all fun. This is not a grim, serious, gritty book – it’s the exact opposite of that. Most of these stories even carry the “Comics Code Approved” seal. Still, “light and fun” have always been associated with the Flash, and this book is that. It’s the perfect light reading.