Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 3: The Death of Magic

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 3: The Death of Magic
  • Author: Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Mikel Janin, 
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Black Orchid, Frankenstein (Agent of S.h.a.d.e.), Tim Hunter
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/10/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Justice League Dark starts where the previous volume ended – with Zatanna and Tim Hunter being kidnapped. Engaging the help of Dr. Peril, an A.R.G.U.S. agent, John Constantine and company soon follow to an alternate dimension. There, they discover two problems. First, the very nature of the alternate dimension is physically affecting all of the team, taking away their powers. Constantine discovers he cannot lie and keeps blurting out his innermost fears and his utter lack of real confidence at the most awkward times. Mme Xanadu has instantaneously grown impossibly old. Black Orchid has turned into a bulky flesh creature. Only Frankenstein is unaffected since he is a creature born of science – demented science – but science. The world they have landed on is one of science, where magical creatures are persecuted, hunted, and the use of any magic is illegal.

Meanwhile, Zatanna and Tim Hunter have landed right in the midst of the Magical Resistance, where the few remaining magic users think that Tim is their savior.

Constantine and company are attacked and captured by the anti-magic police and put in jail. Tim, is convinced by the magic users to lead an attack on the main scientific city. Frankenstein, however, though captured, is taken to a lab for study, rather than simply a prison, like the rest of the group. Therefore, Frankenstein is able to escape and rescue Constantine and the others. Therefore, by the time that Tim’s group attacks the city and prison – Constantine and company have already escaped.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Dr. Peril calls in Tim’s father, not only to tell him his son’s been kidnapped, but to seek his help. Tim’s father goes through the portal to the other world, and he is the hero the magic users expect, having left that world long ago to give his son a fighting chance.

For once everything works out – Tim Hunter stops the attack on the city after Zatanna realizes they’d kill innocent people if they destroyed the city. Everyone returns to Earth – even Mme Xanadu survives.

Although the first story was well-written, and the other “science world” was well visualized and designed (and the art in this book continues to be really impressive) – the story itself is problematical. Science is not in the habit of fostering prejudice and bigotry. If magic existed in the world, it is more likely to be studied by science than to be persecuted by it. Politicians have, at times, tried to twist science and policy to their own devices, but if a world was to be “ruled by science” (another unlikely scenario) it wouldn’t drive an entire class of people underground simply because of who they are.

The second story involves Constantine losing the House of Mystery and it truly wasn’t his fault. We discover just how dangerous the House is – and Mme Xanadu’s important secret.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 2: The Books of Magic

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 2: The Books of Magic
  • Author: Jeff Lemire, Peter Milligan
  • Artist: Mikel Janin, Lee Garbett, Daniel Sampere, Cam Smith, Admira Wijaya
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Andrew Bennett (Vampire), Black Orchid, Dr. Mist, Felix Faust, Steve Trevor
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/04/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Justice League Dark is an awesome series – fantastic art, great characters, and complex plots. I was especially impressed with the art in this volume – not simply what was in the panels, but how the panels were drawn – the frames within frames effect evokes film noir, and the off-kilter panels at times really suggest movement. Plus the intricate edges of the panels – soft curves, or jagged edges, or thorns in the section where characters are attacked by a wood-creature (think Tolkien’s Ents) basically a giant, evil, sentient forest – add to the atmosphere of the story. And the atmosphere is great. This story moves fast – I stayed up way too late one night finishing it – and I’m glad I already bought volume 3.

Justice League Dark is a loose group of DC magic users: Shade the Changing Man (though he’s only in the opening story of this particular volume), John Constantine (we get part of his backstory in this volume), Zatanna, Deadman, Andrew Bennett a Vampire with a conscience, Black Orchid, Madame Xanadu, Dr. Mist, and the bad guy Felix Faust. Steve Trevor (from Wonder Woman) and now with A.R.G.U.S. makes an appearance as well – asking Constantine to gather “the troops” so to speak and rescue Dr. Mist from Faust. That doesn’t go as planned – which seems pretty normal for this series. Justice League Dark isn’t simply about characters who have supernatural powers or who walk on the dark side of the street – it’s about characters who don’t always win – which makes it a more interesting read. These are characters who not only might not do the right thing and whom you can’t always trust (Xanadu is convinced Constantine will cause the destruction of the world for example) but they are characters who can die – like Mindwarp who dies in the opening sequence, causing Shade to walk away.

After the opening fight against vampires, the team takes a break. Steve Trevor comes to Constantine and makes him an offer he can’t refuse to get the band back together and go on a mission for A.R.G.U.S. Constantine agrees and ropes in Zatanna and the rest of the gang – they are to rescue Dr. Mist from Felix Faust and find some sort of mysterious artifact. Well, after complications, they rescue Mist and defeat Faust – then steal the artifact, the first Tesseract, a map to the Books of Magic. However, no one thinks it’s a good idea to give the Tesseract to Trevor or A.R.G.U.S.

Constantine tries to get in to the Black Room, a repository of magical artifacts held by A.R.G.U.S. while there, Faust escapes and Dr. Mist turns out to be a traitor – in league with Faust to get the Books of Magic. The Black Room holds the key to the Tesseract, which Constantine and company have. Meanwhile, Mde. Xanadu has had visions of Constantine destroying the world after being corrupted by the Books of Magic. But in once of her visions, he tells her that “he can’t get the books but there is one who can” – Xanadu searches for a boy, someone destined to be the world’s most accomplished mage, who, as an innocent, can possess the Books without being corrupted.

Constantine also possesses the House of Mystery – a house that can travel in any dimension, and pair of the House of Secrets (possesses by Constantine’s rival and former mentor). When the House of Secrets attacks the House of Mystery (and yes that is as awesome and unusual as it sounds – two houses fighting it out at like Warp 2 or something) Constantine’s House crashes in the desert. Constantine calls in Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and when Madame Xanadu arrives with the boy who has pushed away his magic, Constantine brings in Princess Amaya of House Amethyst to help. He also brings back Bennett the vampire. The group confronts his rival, Dr. Mist, and Faust.

This story really moves, but besides the dense plotting and the magical fights – there’s also really good, realistic characterization. I enjoyed this volume of Justice League Dark very much.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 1: In the Dark

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 1: In the Dark
  • Author: Peter Milligan
  • Artist: Mikel Janin
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, Mindwarp, Enchantress
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/17/2016

I picked-up this graphic novel on the recommendation of one of the staff at my local comics shop. I’m glad I did – because I absolutely loved it. DC has always had a few magic-users in the Justice League (Zatanna, Dr. Fate) but the ’80s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Justice League was more SF-based. Dr. Fate, though, is curiously absent from volume 1. This graphic novel comes from New 52-Era DC Comics but despite that it rocks! Excellent characters, excellent writing, and a great plot – plus it does something the Classic late-Silver Age/early Modern Age DC Comics did, which was to create a place where the lesser-known DC heroes and protagonists could shine.

Justice League Dark features the following characters: Zatanna (female magic user who casts spells by speaking backwards), John Constantine (cursed sorcerer), Madame Xanadu (a tarot-card reader who can actually see the future and the past), Deadman (a dead guy who can possess people), Shade the Changing Man, Mindwarp, and Enchantress (the villain). Each of these characters has their own way of doing things, their own types of magic, and their own personalities. Unlike other New 52 books, the characters do not blend together into a homogeneous group who can’t be distinguished.

The plot for volume one features two threads – June Moone is trying to escape being taken over by Enchantress (this will sound familiar if you’ve seen this Summer’s film Suicide Squad) and Madame Xanadu has had a horrible vision of the future if the Justice League Dark isn’t established. Xanadu stresses that the members of this new supernatural Justice League must find a way to work together or the world is doomed.

It’s an excellent story and there is some closure to volume 1. I will definitely purchase additional volumes.

Book Review – Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond

  • Title: Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond
  • Author: Adam Beechen
  • Artist: Adam Archer
  • Characters: Batman (Terry McGinnis), Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Dana Tan, Max(ine), Dick Grayson, Ace the Batdog 
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/14/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Batman Beyond was an excellent animated television series produced by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, with voice direction by Andrea Romano. Bruce Wayne has, amazingly, lived to a ripe old age, so much so that he has to give up the cape and cowl due to his physical limitations. But Terry McGinnis ends up as the New Batman in a tech savvy suit – saving Neo Gotham from a new breed of super villains. Although Terry’s father was murdered (by Amanda Waller it later turns out), Terry’s mother and younger brother survive. Terry is also dating Dana Tan, and his best friend Max(ine) is a computer expert who knows Terry is Batman. And Bruce has a dog, Ace.

This is the second Batman Beyond graphic novel I’ve read (the other being Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond) and I really enjoyed this book. I thought that in Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond the characterization was excellent. We see the familiar characters from the TV series, even the Bat-dog Ace makes an appearance, and they are all in character. The world of Neo Gotham also seems very familiar and true to the animated series. Even little details that were confusing, such as Barbara Gordon not only being the police commissioner but being able to walk are explained. Dick Grayson, a character completely ignored in the series and the follow-up movie, makes an appearance that begins to explain what happened to him.

The story starts with the aftermath of a disaster, the street gang the Jokerz are blowing themselves up all over Neo Gotham – causing chaos, destruction, and death. But rather than focusing on this disaster – the story starts in a hospital waiting room. Present are Dana Tan, her mother, Terry, and his mother. Dana’s father is in intensive care, Dana’s brother is also in emergency and dying and the one behind the Jokerz bombings, Bruce Wayne is also in the hospital, dying of liver failure. A doctor tells those gathered that Dana’s brother has died. Dana asks Terry to come with her to see Bruce Wayne, as they make there way there, Terry makes up a story about being saved by Batman but being knocked out (he’s beaten-up and has a concussion).

When they see Bruce however, Dana tells them both she’s realized that Terry is the new Batman, and that Bruce was once Batman. Bruce welcomes her to the family and stresses the need for secrecy. Terry tells Dana he loves her. A doctor comes in and tells Bruce they’ve found a compatible liver for him – Bruce realizes it was Dana’s brother’s liver, but allows the transplant to take place.

Meanwhile, Max has gone on a mission on her own to investigate the Undercloud, a secretive hacker group, lead by Rebel. She’s forced to work with some old superhero tech to create a giant robot to destroy the upper levels of Neo Gotham that are home to the rich and powerful. Max struggles to find a way to send a message to Terry secretly.

Max finally sends an SOS, and Terry arrives but not before the robot is released on Neo Gotham. Yet Rebel’s control box doesn’t work. Terry tries to lead the robot away and minimize damage. Max knocks out Rebel and tries to decode the box. Terry shocks the robot as a defense mechanism – and the different metals start to pull apart. Max realizes that the six metals need to be separated and urges Terry to “do it again”. He does – and what emerges is the Metal Men.

Terry and the Metal Men work to prevent further damage in Gotham and to safely bring down Reed Tower in a more controlled fashion, as well as evacuating the restoration crews inside. Max angerly condemns Rebel’s selfish “point” of mass destruction – telling her she could have made her hacker army a force for good.

With the success of Terry and the Metal Men, and Max getting rescued and Rebel turned over to the police – everyone meets up at Wayne Manor. Bruce mentions the hundreds of space junk satellites in Earth orbit, and suggests that the Metal Men take up residence in one as Watchmen for Earth, to respond to any disaster, natural or man-made, immediately and world-wide. He adds Max and Dana to his bat-family (Max already knew about Terry) and Max comes up with the idea to secretly focus the Undercloud into a force for change and for good (moving it away from the destructive model that Rebel had set-up). Finally, Bruce tells Terry he has to decide if he wants to continue to be Batman (Terry has doubts) but that he will support him no matter what.

Commissioner Barbara Gordon, meanwhile, walks through Crown Point – a less than good neighborhood in Neo Gotham that’s in the middle of a gang war. She’s able to take care of herself, but when the odds are overwhelming she’s rescued by a new Batgirl. This Batgirl tells her the violence isn’t just a co-incidence – there’s literally something in the water. Gordon goes to the ME’s office and is told one of the dead from Crown Point is soaked in chemicals and has very low serotonin levels. Gordon remembers Bane. She also takes her officers and a search warrant and goes after a businessman for his “super steroid”. The businessman attacks in a rage. Gordon’s cops arrest him. Barbara looks up Batgirl and offers her a type of partnership – but insists Batgirl not go to far. At first, Batgirl thinks she can ignore this – but she learns she can’t.

In a story drawn to look very much like the animation style of the Batman Beyond and featuring Ace, Terry’s mom, and Terry’s brother – Bruce and Terry go up against Spellbinder, who puts Bruce in a hallucination using television signals.

Finally, Terry goes up again Inque – a unique character also from the series.

I loved this book – again, it’s very in keeping with the television series and everyone is in character. The only negative comment I have is that for a book entitled, “Batgirl Beyond” – there really wasn’t much of Batgirl. And we didn’t see the new Batgirl meet Terry, or Bruce or anyone in the cast. I liked seeing Commissioner Barbara Gordon being given her own story, and watching Batgirl meet a new Batgirl was fun, but considering the volume title it needed more “oomph”. Maybe other volumes will include more of this new Batgirl.

Highly recommended.

Book Review – Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

  • Title: Wonder Woman: The True Amazon
  • Author: Jill Thompson
  • Artist: Jill Thompson
  • Characters: Wonder Woman
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/14/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Wow, just wow. This graphic novel blew me away. It is myth. It is fable. It is a beautiful story – beautifully written, beautifully illustrated. Just… Do yourself a favor and run to your local comics shop and get a copy then read it – you won’t be disappointed. This book is written and illustrated by a woman – Jill Thompson.

This story gives us the reader the background of the Amazons from soldiers of Hera to their war with men who are jealous of their abilities, to their “rescue” by Poseidon, and gift of their new home of Themyscira. There, the Amazons build civilization dedicated to art, culture, learning, and athletics. The women are happy and satisfied with their lives but the Queen, Hippolyta, wants a child. Every night she makes a baby out of sand on the shoreline and sings to it a lullaby. This leads to intervention by mermaids, Poseidon, and even the gods themselves, resulting in the child being given life. Hippolyta names her Diana.

Diana is loved by all, especially her mother. She is doted on – and, as with many children, she is spoiled, indulged, and given no limits. Diana grows up but never quite learns the consequences of her actions. Well…

This is myth, it is fable, you may suspect their would be a lot of foreshadowing of tragedy to come. And though there will be tragedy, the story doesn’t constantly hint at it – there’s a bit of undercurrent that things may not go well – but there’s no constant over-foreshadowing. Soon the time comes for the Commemorative Games remembering the Amazons’ war with men. The women compete anonymously, and Diana enters the competition – hoping to impress the simple stable girl who is the one person on the Island not impressed with her. During the games, Diana begins to learn she isn’t quite as good as she thinks – and has to work to win, rather than it coming easy to her. And then, through her own decisions, and lack of forethought – tragedy strikes. It is a disaster – and I’m not going to spoil it by going into details. But every great myth, and every great superhero story has at it’s origin a personal tragedy in the life of it’s hero – Why should Wonder Woman be any different? Superman lost his planet (something that also happened to The Doctor in the new version of Doctor Who); Batman lost his parents; The Flash lost his mother; heck even Spiderman lost his Uncle and adoptive father. It’s part of the superhero trope. Yet Wonder Woman’s origin usually has her choosing to leave Themyscira as escort to a crashed pilot – at least in the versions of the story I know. I was much, much more happy with the version of Wonder Woman’s origins. And it hit home – thus the fable description of this brilliant story.

Anyway, so there’s tragedy. (Not going to spoil it here – read the book!) Hippolyta, to give the Queen credit, realizes she cannot protect her daughter, or even make excuses for her, and she asks the other Amazons how to punish her. The shouts from the very angry crowd (and make no mistake – they have reason to be angry, and though you could describe what Diana did as “an accident” technically – it’s the type of accident that she should have thought about and thus not done in the first place – this is one case where the heroine has agency and makes a really bad choice – because of her background and her lack of thinking about possible consequences) range from “kill her” to “burn her” to “destroy her face” to “crush her legs”. It’s brutal. In the end, Hippolyta chooses to exile her own beloved daughter. She dresses Diana first, so the uniform we know so well, with one addition (also evocative of mythology) becomes not something of triumph, or something “honoring” a foreign nation, but rather a constant reminder of her mistakes. That scene alone is beautiful, haunting, tragic, and real. Diana’s journey has just begun and it will be one of atonement.

But for all this talk of tragedy, the book ends on a beautiful note of hope as well. The ending pages of the book are all about hope. And that is a valuable thing.

This book was listed in the Top 25 essential DC Graphic Novels, the only Wonder Woman story to make the cut, I think – though DC’s Novice’s Guide to Graphic Novels (Essential Graphic Novels) has a Wonder Woman section which also lists this novel. It’s an excellent story, something that can be read by children, teens and adults alike. It is empowering for girls, but something boys can learn from too – like the best of stories. And it’s a book that even if one isn’t a fan of graphic novels or comics is worth reading. Because it is beautifully written, the art is gorgeously painted, and it’s just a brilliant, brilliant story. Do yourself a favor and pick up this book!

Book Review – Batwoman: Elegy

  • Title: Batwoman: Elegy
  • Author: Greg Rucka
  • Artist: J.H. Williams III
  • Characters: Batwoman (Kate Kane)
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/19/2016

Batwoman Elegy is an amazing book – amazing characterization, incredible art, and a new era for the Batman franchise. Kate Kane leaps off the page – strong and capable, with an excellent backstory and a good reason to put on the Bat Symbol and protect the innocents of Gotham. Yet the specific story told in this book – is also well told, with a beginning, a middle, and an end – which I’m not going to spoil.

Kate is the daughter of a military couple. She and her sister have constantly moved around the world as their parents are sent from duty-station to duty-station. Like many children who live a life of constant flux – Kate resents it. However, when she is twelve she, her twin sister, and her mother go out to celebrate – and are kidnapped. Only Kate is found and survives. However, this tragedy makes Kate stronger, and more determined to serve as her parents did. Now raised by her widowed father, Kate becomes stronger – and even enters West Point, where she excels. That is, until just before graduation when she is brought up on charges – of homosexuality. The colonel who asks her about it hints she should lie and deny the charges. Kate refuses to lie, to ignore the West Point cadet Honor Code, and admits who she is – and is summarily dishonorably discharged. Kate tells her father, who surprisingly accepts her – and praises her integrity. This is the stage that sends Kate on her journey.

However, unlike most origin stories which would present this information in order – or many modern Superhero movies that use flashbacks to tell the hero’s story, Elegy starts with Kate as Batwoman, not simply fighting anyone, but in a battle of both wits and brawn against Alice – a psychopath who puts the Joker to shame and is just as terrifying. The background is told in a series of vignettes at the back of the book. This approach means we meet Kate and see her in action, then we learn how she became the Batwoman. Interestingly, her father, Col. Kane is her “Alfred” – the one who develops her non-lethal weapons (using military contacts), and who built her suit.

Batwoman is a really great character, she’s modern and strong, and this book is an excellent introduction to her. The art is incredible – especially the unusual and jagged page layouts – which mirror Kate’s mask. This is an adult book but it is highly recommended.

Book Review – Infinite Crisis

  • Title: Infinite Crisis
  • Author: Geoff Johns
  • Artist: Phil Jimenez, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Ivan Reis, Andy Lanning
  • Characters: Batman, Superman, Lois Lane, Superboy, Alexander Luthor, Dick Grayson, Power Girl (Kara), Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Wonder Woman, Justice League, et. al.
  • Publication Date: 2006
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/31/2016

Infinite Crisis is a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, however it doesn’t bring back the Monitor or the Anti-Monitor. Rather, remember the characters who were stranded in nowhere? Superman from Earth-2, Lois Lane, Alexander Luthor, and Superboy? They return to cause havoc. It seems Superman (2) and company could watch what is happening on Earth-1 and they do not like it one bit. Having seen the darkness in our heroes – Superman (2) gets a bright idea – he will bring back Earth-2 instead, because Earth-2 is the better Earth. Superman (2) is also motivated by the fact that Lois is dying (of old age). Alexander Luthor encourages Superman in this plan – though he also shows his true colors, as it plays out – Luthor doesn’t care about Lois (he knows she’s doomed to die) or Earth-2, he wants to bring back all the Earths until he finds the perfect Earth. Meanwhile Superboy is pure nuts. His violence disillusions everyone.

The first thing the alternate characters do is bring in Kara, Power Girl, a version of Supergirl that no longer has a home planet, because she’s from Earth-2 but survived on Earth-1 at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Kara although initially under the sway of Superman (2) and Lois – eventually comes around.

Superman (2) visits the Earth-1 Batman and tries to convince him that bringing back Earth-2 is best for everyone. Yet, when he learns that Dick Grayson no longer exists on Earth (2), Batman refuses. He even tries to bring down Superman with his Kryptonite ring, but the ring has no effect on the Earth-2 Superman. Later, in one of the best vignettes in the story, when the Brotherhood of Evil uses Chemo to attack Blüdhaven – destroying the town with toxic waste, Batman rushes to find Nightwing. Nightwing wasn’t in the city, fortunately, but he stands on the outskirts ready to rush in to help. Batman prevents Dick from going in, brings him to the Cave where he fills him in on everything: Superman (2)’s plan, Brother Eye, OMAC, how Batman’s own surveillance plan went horribly awry – Grayson is impressed at Bruce’s openness. Bruce then gives Nightwing a mission, something to keep him occupied. As Dick Grayson heads out to Titans Tower – Bruce asks, “Those early years – were they good for you?” Nightwing answers, “the best”. It’s a wonderful moment, tightly written, not overly sentimental – yet it shows how much Bruce cares for Dick. Probably the best page in the book.

In general, though, Infinite Crisis is a big, showy book, that again features most of the DC characters. There are many full-page or double-page spreads filled with heroes and even villains. But the plot, not including the miscellaneous side plots, is simple – those left behind from Crisis on Infinite Earths want to return to the status quo. If Earth-1 is destroyed in the process, they don’t care – the old way is best. For our heroes on Earth-1, many have been in a crisis of conscience. After Maxwell Lord betrays the Justice League and kills Ted Kord (Blue Beetle), Wonder Woman executes Max. This shakes up the League and leads to distrust of the League by the general public. But the new Crisis brings Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman back together. In the end, this book has a more final ending – if a bit of a predictable one. But our heroes are together and strong as they pull together to face a world-bending, well, crisis.

Overall, I liked this book better than Crisis on Infinite Earths, though I enjoyed both. And the art is very spectacular. For the DC fan, this book isn’t to be missed and deserves a place on the shelf.