Book Review – Teen Titans vol. 1: Damian Knows Best

  • Title: Teen Titans vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
  • Author: Benjamin Percy
  • Artists: Khoi Pham, Jonboy Meyers, Diógenes Neves, Wade Von Grawbadger, Ruy José, Sean Parsons, Jim Charalampidis, John Kalisz, Corey Breen
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Damian Wayne (Robin), Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, Kid Flash (Wally West mark II), R’as al Ghul, Batman, Talia al Ghul
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/01/2017

This graphic novel re-introduces Teen Titans as part of DC Comics’ Rebirth. Rebirth also has a Titans book, with older heroes from the former Teen Titans. The Titans in this book are: Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, and Kid Flash, and it brings in Damian Wayne as Robin. But this isn’t really a team book – it’s Damian’s story that the other Teen Titans almost guest star in. The book opens with each of the Titans being knocked out by a mysterious figure. They wake up, in restraints, and meet their attacker and the person holding them captive – Robin. But the team is still reeling from the death of their Robin, Tim Drake (in Rebirth’s Detective Comics).

The Titans pull together as a team, and break out of their restraints. Robin uses this to prove his point – they are stronger together, as a team. He tells them a team of assassins has been sent after them, then Damian tries to appoint himself leader of the New Teen Titans. This doesn’t go over well, and when the assassins show up almost immediately – the Titans are quickly defeated. Robin disappears but returns with a stolen Bat-plane and rescues them.

However, the team doesn’t really pull together or gel – and soon Damian leaves again, making his way to R’as al Ghul’s island fortress to offer himself in return for the other Titans’ lives being spared. R’as pits Damian in a fight against his cousin, a girl he’s always managed to defeat before. But she’s learned a few things. In their first fight, she defeats Damian but doesn’t kill him.

The Titans follow Damian and try to rescue him. In the end, they defeat the team of assassins not in a fight, but with the truth – exposing R’as al Ghul’s lies about their families willingly abandoning them. Damian is able to escape and the threat against the team is neutralized. The Teen Titans agree to accept Damian into their ranks. Damian, however, has to face his father – Batman.

This really is a Damian story, more than a team book – though the team is definitely there. I also personally preferred the older team of Titans. But, considering the book is about Damian and his history, as well as how he spends his thirteenth birthday, it’s about Damian becoming part of the team – though not in the typical way. The story at times is very cold, because Damian is a cold character (and oddly suited to the warmer team – even this slightly older version of Raven).

Still, it’s a good book, and a good story. It’s interesting to see Damian choosing Bruce and Batman over Talia and his grandfather. Recommended.

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Book Review – Nightwing vol. 6: To Serve and Protect

  • Title: Nightwing vol. 5: To Serve and Protect
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson
  • Artists: Greg Land, Drew Geraci, Patrick Zircher, Jose Marzan Jr, Kieron Dwyer, Rick Burchett, Rodney Ramos, Manuel Gutierrez, John Stanisci, Sean Parsons, Mike Collins, Steve Bird, Wayne Faucher, Patricia Mulvihill, Kevin Somers, Tom McGraw, John Costanza, Willie Schubert
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Huntress, Oracle, Nite-Wing, Black Canary
  • Collection Date: 2017 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Nightwing # 47-53 and Nightwing 80-page Giant #1 (2000-2001)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/12/2017

I have been enjoying Chuck Dixon’s original Nightwing series very much, and I was happy to see a new volume published. Nightwing vol. 6: To Serve and Protect has Dick Grayson taking up a new job – as a Blüdhaven police officer. Not to worry – he’s still protecting his city as Nightwing at night, but Dick now has a new “day job”. As a rookie, Dick is assigned a female training officer, Amy, though she’s not all that impressed – thinking Dick uses his connections to get his new job. Nightwing also has Oracle trying to find out more information about Tad, who is now in prison for killing an undercover Federal agent.

Dick Grayson works two major cases in this book, both with female villains who aren’t out-and-out evil – they simply go to extremes. What’s interesting about the approach is Dick works these cases both as a police officer and as Nightwing. The first involves “The Slyph” the daughter of a clothing inventor who was taken advantage of by corporate hacks and mobsters. Her father invented a marvelous new fabric which should have net him millions, but the formula was stolen and Sylvan’s father committed suicide after being ruined. Slyph’s costume is yards of red fabric wrapped around herself – fabric that can attack – almost like it’s alive. Slyph kills two of the industrialists in revenge, before being “killed” by her own fabric. However, when the police arrive to take away the body, she’s no where to be found.

The second is Hella. At first, it’s unclear what she wants – with her long red hair, and black costume – she actually reminds me of Batwoman, but this isn’t Kate Kane. She’s the last of the Riordans, an old Blüdhaven family of police officers. With three generations of Riordan men in the police – she becomes the first woman. But during her police academy graduation, there’s an explosion – her family is killed, and she’s thrown clear – but horrible burned. The skin grafts aren’t wholly successful and she hides herself in her costume and seeks revenge against the mobsters who destroyed her family and ended her career before it began. In the end, she’s killed by another explosion, this time on a boat. Dick sees to it that her family gets the monument in the cemetery that they deserve.

In between we have Torque attacking the Blüdhaven police headquarters – Nightwing stops him. Catwoman gives Nightwing a run for the money. Dick works closely with Oracle on all of his cases. And we learn a little bit about Tad. Plus, there’s a bonus story from the “Officer Down” storyline in which Commissioner Gordon is shot.

I enjoyed the book. It was great to see Dick Grayson as a cop, finally – something he had talked about since moving to Blüdhaven, though I had to wonder what Bruce Wayne thought of Dick’s choice. The art in the book is fantastic – from Slyph’s red, flowing costume to Hella’s black one. Even Catwoman’s purple outfit practically glows, and there’s explosions, and perfect full-page panels. This is an excellent volume and not to be missed.

Book Review – Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye vol. 1

  • Title: Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye Vol. 1: Going Underground
  • Author: Gerald Way
  • Artists: Jon Rivera, Michael Avon Oeming
  • Line: Young Animal
  • Characters: Cave Carson, Chloe Carson, Mad Dog
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/13/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is one of four books in DC Comics Young Animal Imprint. I’ve read two other books in the imprint since the beginning in softcover: Mother Panic and Shade, the Changing Girl, both of which are excellent. Cave Carson is just weird. The colors are psychedelic and jarring. The basic plot is actually pretty simple: Cave Carson was a famous spelunker and adventurer. He discovered a underground civilization, and we’re not talking a political movement but a literal civilization that’s underground – like something out of Jules Verne novel. He meets and falls in love with the civilization’s princess, makes her his wife, and the two have a daughter. After a few years of continuing their underground explorations and adventures, the three settle down to a “normal” life on the surface.

But all this is backstory – the graphic novel opens with Cave’s wife, Eileen, having recently died from cancer and her loss ironically reuniting the estranged Cave and his college-aged daughter, Chloe. But no sooner than they reunite than there’s trouble. Cave steals his mothballed Mighty Mole machine and returns to the underground civilization, only to find the civilization’s been attacked and most of the people killed. Cave explains to his wife’s parents that she’s died – which is bad news as she was the royal princess. But as that is going on – things get really weird. There’s a underground monster that the civilization has been imprisoning in a crystal, known as the Whisperer – for it’s ability to psychically manipulate people. There’s a corrupt corporation that, after years of stealing crystals from the underground civilization has been influenced by the Whisperer to launch the attack and free the whisperer. It gets weird.

Overall, I’d give this book a 3.5 stars. One of the major characters, besides, Cave Carson, is Mad Dog, whom I really can’t stand. He’s just not a character that I like at all. I know (or hope) that some of his statements are for ironic effect – but he’s still rude, stupid, and sexist – and I don’t like him at all. Second, Cave himself, feels like a “hero” from the 1970s – this is a very “male” book, and it’s like no one’s ever considered women to be human. Considering the strong and unique female characters in the other two Young Animal books I’ve read (not only the title characters in Mother Panic and Shade, the Changing Girl but secondary characters as well), Cave’s pulp all-male attitude is annoying at best. The story is actually relatively simple. The only thing this book has going for it is the art and colors – which is out there – way out there. It’s definitely a unique look, that’s for sure. Overall, not really recommended. I didn’t totally hate it – but I didn’t like it all that much either. I’d rather recommend the other two Young Animal books. (Oh, and I haven’t read Doom Patrol at all in either softcover or as a collected graphic novel.

Book Review – Trinity vol. 1: Better Together

  • Title: Trinity vol. 1: Better Together
  • Author: Francis Manapul
  • Artists: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Brad Anderson, Steve Wands
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne), Wonder Woman (Diana), Lois Lane, Jon Kent
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/30/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I read Trinity twice, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are some parts that are a bit confusing, especially at first, but it’s a wonderful story – about Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The story opens with a monologue by Lois Lane who is now married to Clark Kent and the two are raising their son, Jon. Bruce Wayne and Diana arrive at their farm house. Young Jon experiments with his powers, which he can’t quite control. Next, he’s in the barn, Jonathan Kent is unconscious on the floor, young Jon is freaking out, and Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman arrive in their costumes. Jon flies off. The costumed heroes save Jonathan then go after young Jon. They find him, and later, Superman begins to wonder what just happened, though he’s happy to have seen his parents again.

Next, is Bruce’s story – he’s too late to see his parents before they die, or to prevent the horrible events of That Fateful Night. He sees a counselor, who gives him some medication to control his fears. This causes horrible, frightening hallucinations. Superman, adult Batman, and Wonder Woman have to save Bruce. By this point everyone is getting suspicious.

Next, Wonder Woman takes a boat, with Bruce and Clark, to Themyscira. By now, the three, including Wonder Woman, know nothing that is happening to them is real. The Amazons test the three, and they pass their tests. Hippolyta offers “Wonder Woman”, as she introduces herself, the chance to stay, but says the two men must leave. Diana decides she must go with her friends. Meanwhile, young Diana, is incensed at this and follows them, then begins to lead them through. They discover that Mongul, under the influence of the Black Mercy is behind everything. However, he had contacted Poison Ivy, Avatar of The Green, whom he manipulated to help him escape. The third person that is behind the dreamworld is the White Mercy – something created by Mongul’s need to escape and his boredom. The White Mercy, who appears as a child, appears to Poison Ivy as a child – she wants to use Superman to free her “daughter” the White Mercy. Mongul wants to escape the dream world of the Black Mercy. Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman are caught in the thrall and dream world of the Mercy plants. Ivy even goes after young Jon. However, though, basically a construct, the White Mercy learned from the three scenarios he had Clark, Bruce, and Diana experience. In the end, he helps them escape the dream world. Mongul is returned there, Ivy forgets everything, including her “daughter”, and the White Mercy? It may have escaped to the real world.

This is a beautiful book – the art is gorgeous, with a marvelous painted look. The panels reflect the characters, as well, forming the famous symbols for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman at times. Though at times it was hard to tell what order to read the panels in. All three interwoven stories really explain and stress the strengths of Bruce, Clark, and Diana. It’s a great book and deserves a spot on any DC Comics fan’s shelf. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Supergirl vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Supermen

  • Title: Supergirl vol. 1: Reign of The Cyborg Supermen
  • Author: Steve Orlando
  • Artists: Brian Ching, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Michael Atiyeh, Steve Wands
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Supergirl, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers, Cat Grant
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/18/2017

**Spoiler Alert** To be honest, I’d like to rate this 3.5 Stars. It’s not bad, just a bit disappointing. Supergirl vol. 1 Reign of the Cyborg Supermen collects Supergirl Rebirth and the first six issues of the newest Supergirl series from DC Comics. This Supergirl is heavily influenced by the CW Series, it seems, but leaves out some of the best parts of that show. Alex Davers, Kara’s human adopted sister on the CW series is nowhere to be seen here. But 16-year-old Kara is being raised by two DEO Agents, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers. At times, the Danvers act like parents. But at other times, they act like secret agents simply doing a job. Kara, herself, is sent to a regular high school in National City. Well, a science and technology magnet school, though Kara is confused by the primitive nature of the technology she uses at the school. It isn’t quite, “a keyboard how quaint”, but it’s close.

However, Kara and one of her classmates are soon taken out of school entirely to be part of Cat Grant’s Young Innovators program at her new Catco Corporation. Other than her determination to deny young people a normal education, Cat is actually one of the most interesting characters in this book. She is just starting Catco, and is remarkably astute, realizing both that she can be her own worst enemy and that to do what she wants with Catco, she needs the new ideas she can get from the young. I would have no problem with her Young Innovators program if it was a Summer internship, or even a “gap year” program, but taking young people out of school and putting them straight in to an incredibly stressful and competitive business environment, with no mentoring, structure, or help? That’s just not a good thing. 16-year-olds are too young to be told to sink or swim. But I digress.

The second part of the story is where the title comes from: the Cyborg Supermen. Kara’s father, Zor-El returns. He is now a cyborg, and wants to return Kara to Argo city. Worse, his plan to bring back the citizens of Argo City involves turning them into Cyborgs who will suck the life out of humans to become truly living. Kara isn’t having it, and the fight scenes between Kara and her misguided father have meaning because there are emotional reasons behind why the two are fighting. And as misguided as Zor-El is, he has his own point of view. In the end, he only wants to save his people, the last city of Krypton. Of course, doing that by killing a city’s worth of people on Earth, in a strangely vampiric way, isn’t the best way to accomplish this – but at least Zor-El isn’t being evil simply for the sake of being evil. And Kara really, really gets to kick butt. She is powerful, strong, and ultimately defeats Zor-El and his super-powered cyborgs, both by using her wits and by physically beating Zor-El. That was enjoyable.

Overall, Supergirl in many ways feels like young adult fiction. A teenaged girl would probably enjoy the story more than I did. Still, I also did not hate it, I was just disappointed. I felt Kara was a bit too young. I didn’t like the “send Supergirl to high school” thing, and apparently neither did the writers, because no sooner than they sent her there than they pulled her out. Why not make her a 17 or 18-year old high school graduate at least? Or make Cat’s program a Summer internship? The plot with Kara’s father had emotional impact, at least, so that worked. Kara was strong throughout, which was also good. The art has a Japanese Anime look, though the colors are bright with a lot of red and blue, as a Superman family book should be.

Recommended with reservations.

Book Review – The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth

  • Title: The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth
  • Author: Simon Oliver
  • Artist: Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Sal Capriano
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: John Constantine, Chas, Mercury, Swamp Thing, Abby, Clarice
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/15/2017

The Hellblazer vol. 1 The Poison Truth collects The Hellblazer Rebirth and the first six issues of Hellblazer. The opening story has John Constantine returning to London, a city that’s deadly to him because of a curse. With some last minute assistance from Mercury, a psychic, John is able to defeat the demon and lift his curse. There’s a dicey bit where the curse affects all the people in London, but John is able to reverse it. Now, permanently in London, John is living with his friend, Chas, and his wife. Swamp Thing calls in a marker with John and gets his friend, Mercury, to travel to The Rot to seek out Abby – avatar of the rot. With Swamp Thing as Avatar of the Green, they travel to the Rot. This poisons Swamp Thing, though Mercury is able to travel through a wormhole to another dimension. Trying to find Abby, she fails in that but finds a Djinn instead.

Meanwhile, John visits Clarice, who warns him he’s wanted – later we find out she’s also working with a Djinn, and the Djinn want Constantine.

This book has some truly remarkable art – I love the colors, and how the colors reflect each world. Mercury and Chas are interesting foils for Constantine – though I think his character needs even more people around him. Swamp Thing’s view of the world – as three plains of existance: the Green, the Red, and the Rot; or the worlds of Nature, living beings, and all dead creatures, is fascinating – as is his trip through the Rot, and Mercury’s failed attempt to find Abby (avatar of the Rot). But London has it’s own color scheme, Swamp Thing’s pages have their own color scheme, and Mercury’s trip to another place looking for Abby has it’s own pastel colors. Meanwhile, Clarice is working with a Djinn and trying to unite London’s mobsters.

I did have to read the book twice because parts of it were somewhat confusing, but it’s a good start, and I will certainly look for the next volume. Recommended.

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.