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 – 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.

Book Review – World of Flashpoint featuring Batman

  • Title: World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman
  • Author: Brian Azzarello, J.T. Krul
  • Artists: Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Milligan, Eduardo Risso, Mikel Janin, George Pérez, Fernando Blanco, Scott Koblish, John Dell, Joe Bennett
  • Line: Stand Alone Graphic Novel
  • Characters: The Flash (Barry Allen), Batman (Thomas Wayne), Dick Grayson, Deadman, Helmet of Fate, Deathstroke
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/18/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This book takes place in DC Comics alternate Flashpoint Universe – in Flashpoint Barry Allen has gotten fed up and travels back in time to prevent the murder of his mother. Or so the Reverse Flash claims (see Flashpoint or the animated DC film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox). This has had a cascading Butterfly Effect – changing everything to the point where the world will be destroyed in a war between Aquaman and the Atlanteans and Wonder Woman and her Amazon Sisters. The World of Flashpoint series goes into details about the main characters we meet in The Flash: FlashpointFlashpoint featuring Batman consists of four stories of three parts each. These are: “Knight of Vengeance”, “Deadman and the Flying Graysons”, “Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager”, and “Secret Seven”.

In “Knight of Vengeance”, Thomas Wayne is Batman – following the murder of his son Bruce; and his wife, Martha who became the insane Joker. He also runs Wayne Casino and literally owns Gotham’s private security force (which has replaced the police). The Security Force’s top man is James Gordon. Joker has kidnapped Harvey Dent’s two children. She arranges things so that Gordon accidentally shoots and kills the young boy – and then kills Gordon. Batman goes after Joker, but having already met with Barry – he knows there’s a better world. He tells Martha there’s a world where their son survived, and they need to sacrifice themselves for that world to exist. Martha runs from Thomas falls off a cliff onto a stalagmite and dies. The Batman story was very good, but tragic.

In “Deadman and the Flying Graysons”, Dick Grayson is an acrobat and flyer in Haley’s Circus, with his parents, John and Mary. Also in the circus is Deadman – an aerialist who flies without a catcher, using wires, and also the mysterious Helmet of Fate. They are trapped in Europe by the war – and hunted by the Amazons who want their helmet back. The circus is constantly on the move, but they are tracked down. Mary Grayson is shot as she takes her bows at the end of a show. As the circus tries to escape, John is shot down as well. With his dying breath, he gets Deadman to promise to watch over Dick. When Deadman is later killed – his ghost watches over Dick.

This was my favorite story of the four – I loved the idea that Dick’s parents, at least, survived. Though it turns out to be “not for long”. Bringing in Deadman was an interesting touch. And, although I would have liked to see more with Doctor Fate, I found it fascinating that the Helmet would end-up in the care of someone who had no idea how to use it.

“Curse of Ravenger” was my least favorite story of the bunch. Deathstroke is a pirate, searching the seas for his kidnapped daughter. I’ve never liked Deathstroke, and making him a pirate just makes him less likable, even with his “noble” cause of trying to find his daughter. Note that one of Deathstroke’s new metas on his crew is a girl, Jenny Blitz, with Firestorm-like powers.

The last story is definitely the weirdest. “Secret Seven” features the more magical/mystical heroes of this universe. But six of them are dead, and when The Changing Man (looks like Firestorm – different powers), tries to gather a new group of seven, he’s kidnapped by Sagan Maximus of Neta Hightable to be “rationalized” – this process is interrupted. Yet again, the seven are nearly all killed, except for Abrakadabra who calls a press conference to reveal the names of the Seven, and a traitor who is working for the Amazons.

Overall, the graphic novel is worth getting, especially if you want more background on the various alternate-characters in Flashpoint.

Book Review – All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder vol. 1

  • Title: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder vol. 1
  • Author: Frank Miller
  • Artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, 
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batman (Bruce Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson)
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/05/2016

All Star Batman and Robin – the Boy Wonder is intense, really intense and the art is breath-taking. It brings to mind the classic Frank Miller graphic novel, Batman The Dark Knight Returns. However, that is also part of the problem with this book. In All Star Batman and Robin – Batman is a dangerous psychopath. He’s catching and beating up murderers, rapists, and thieves not to put an end to crime and corruption in Gotham City but because he enjoys it. And he kidnaps Richard Grayson not because after watching Dick watch his parents die he sees a kindred spirit – but because he selfishly wants a protégé, and this Batman will torture a twelve-year-old to get what he wants.

The Justice League also make appearances in this graphic novel – we see Black Canary become Black Canary (which was awesome, if violent), Wonder Woman (another violent psychopath who hates men), Superman (who Batman hates), and Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern (who Batman also hates). The argument and then fight between Batman, Robin, and Hal takes place in a yellow-painted room, because Batman wants to mess with Jordan. Yet, Jordan’s arguments make sense – Batman’s violent actions are and will bring down official wrath on all the masks – all the heroes (who at this point aren’t acting that heroic). Plus, Batman’s anger at Hal seems fueled not by anything concrete but by mere jealousy.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns when I read it in the 80s, and the dark, apocalyptic view of Batman, Gotham City, and the world in that book made sense (as well as shaking up the comics world at the time which was much, much more light-hearted). However, even in The Dark Knight Returns Batman has honor – knowing he’s gotten too old to fight, he hangs up his cape and cowl. When the gang violence and everything else erupts, he comes out of retirement – having lost everything to death or simple abandonment, and he becomes the hero.

Here, Batman is at the beginning of his career – but he isn’t a detective, he isn’t the caped crusader, he isn’t an honorable knight – he’s a psychopath who cares for no one, who manipulates Dick Grayson into being a killer like himself, who doesn’t even care for Alfred. This isn’t my Batman – and all the breath-taking art doesn’t change that.

I read graphic novels for character – and the character of Batman was way off in this graphic novel. It felt like an Elseworlds or alternative reality Batman – maybe, but not my Batman. Not how Batman has been consistently written by those who seem to know the character best and write the character consistently the best. You’ll notice I never refer to him as Bruce Wayne – that’s because in this book, he’s always Batman – and he’s never Bruce. For once, he needs a little Bruce.

This book will haunt me (that his dying mother saw him as a psychopath, as does Alfred is downright frightening), so that speaks to the power of the story. But it’s not a likeable story, and nothing can take away the fact that Batman is simply out of character. This is too extreme and too unlikable – and I wish I hadn’t read it in some ways.

Book Review – Batman: Long Shadows

  • Title: Batman: Long Shadows
  • Author: Judd Winick
  • Artists: Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter
  • Line: Post-Final Crisis (Stand-alone novel)
  • Characters: Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/14/2016

OMG – this is one of the BEST graphic novels I have ever read, and the best modern graphic novel I’ve read. One of the things I didn’t like about Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis was it’s lack of emotional resonance. I mean, (Spoiler) Batman dies and no one cares? No one even notices not even his best friend, Clark Kent (Superman)? Ah, no.

But Long Shadows makes up for that. It investigates the lost of Bruce Wayne on those who knew and cared for him best. This book had me in tears more than once. And I’ve also read it at least three times since buying it, and I rarely read graphic novels more than once.

The book begins with Superman and Wonder Woman bringing Batman’s empty and torn cape and cowl to Wayne Manor. They tell Alfred, Dick (Richard Grayson) and Tim (Drake) that Bruce has died. The rest of the story is a realistic portrayal of loss. From Alfred stating, “my son is dead, I am not all right,” to Dick saying, “I knew he wouldn’t live forever, but I wasn’t ready for him to die this soon”. This is a grim, sad story, realistically told.

I loved the interactions of Bruce’s family as they dealt with his loss.

Truly, a ground-breaking work. Perfect. And highly, highly recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, Patricia Mulvihill, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Patrick Zircher, John Costanza, Butch Guice, Drew Geraci, Jordi Ensign, Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Power Girl, Nightwing, Alfred Pennyworth, Robin
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #12-21 and Nightwing #45-46 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/22/2017

This is the third volume of the collected Classic Birds of Prey written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Greg Land and others. First, Black Canary is out to stop the breakout of a number of super-villains from a prisoner transport train. She, the military officers protecting the train, and the villains are transported by Boom Tube to Apokolips. There, with the help of a weaker parademon that isn’t part of the hoard, they must all escape. Barbara meets Ted Kord at a technology conference – and discovers he’s the co-hacker she’s been chatting with on-line for months. Diana tries to help an abused woman in her apartment building but is too late to prevent her from killing her abuser. Barbara interviews the Joker from an unseen position. Finding out the Joker has sold nuclear cruise missiles to a terrorist group, she asks for more information. When she tells Joker he isn’t in Arkham but New York, he tells her the nukes are on missiles that will hit New York. Oracle calls in Powergirl, Black Canary, and even the US Military to stop the attack. Dinah (Black Canary) is sent on a humanitarian mission to Transbelvia to help refugees and victims of ethnic cleansing and war between Krasy-Volnans and Belvans. She helps a group get to a shelter, overall things do not go well. Meanwhile, Jason Bard calls Barbara from the hospital where he’s undergoing an operation to restore his sight. Barbara offers to get him some investigative work.

There is a flashback story of Barbara setting up her Oracle base with the help of Richard Grayson (Nightwing) and Robin. She ends up also having Ted Kord visit her apartment and meeting with Jason Bard as well (who discovers she is in the chair).

The final volumes collected in Volume 3 of Birds of Prey reprint Nightwing and Birds of Prey in order. Nightwing is captured by Blockbuster, but freed by Cisco Blaine, who turns out to be a Federal agent. However, while Nightwing goes to get the files to bring down Blockbuster, Nite-Wing (Tad) the not-that-bright vigilante kills Blaine. Grayson freaks. Meanwhile, Black Canary is being pursued. Alfred and Robin rescue Dick, and they race to rescue Oracle. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has hired Mouse, Giz, Stallion, and Lady Vic, to find and destroy Oracle. Alfred, Robin, Nightwing, and Black Canary rush to help Barbara (Oracle). Barbara survives but Dinah is captured by the bad guys who think she’s Oracle.

Birds of Prey Volume 3 collects Birds of Prey 12-21 and Nightwing #45-46. Note this is NOT the Gail Simone version of Birds of Prey – it’s the original Chuck Dixon version.

Book Review – Nightwing vol. 5: The Hunt for Oracle

  • Title: Nightwing vol. 5: The Hunt for Oracle
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Scott McDaniel, Patrick Zircher, Butch Guice, Karl Story, Drew Geraci, Mark McKenna, Jose Marzan Jr, Bill Sienkiewicz, Hector Collard, Robert Tewes, Patricia Mulvihill, Gloria Vasquez, Shannon Blanchard, John Costanza, Albert T DeGuzman
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Huntress, Oracle, Nite-Wing, Black Canary
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Nightwing #35-46 and Birds of Prey #20-21 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/13/2017

I really, really enjoyed this volume of Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing. The first few issues overlap with Nightwing a Darker Shade of Justice from the previous printing, but here they are presented with two issues taking place during No Man’s Land, when, in the wake of an earthquake, Gotham is abandoned. Batman sends Nightwing into Blackgate prison to get rid of the warden, Lock-up. Nightwing’s plan to go undercover is immediately uncovered and he’s dropped in a hole with a number of villains that he and Batman had previously faced and captured. Later, the hole begins to fill with water. Nightwing manages to get the villains to work together enough to blow a wall between the hole and the next chamber so the water has someplace to go. Nightwing is also captured by Lock-up again – who has discovered the rumors of his death are exaggerated. The prison is back under Batman’s control, and a broken and beaten Dick Grayson shows up at Barbara Gordon’s.

Barbara begins to care for Dick, taking care of him, when her Oracle’s nest is attacked by the GCPD. The police get closer and closer, walking in to every one of her traps. Eventually, Dick and Barbara have to escape. They are nearly caught in the parking garage but Huntress arrives to help her former Birds of Prey team-mate.

After all that, Dick decides to return to Blüdhaven. Dick returns to the police academy and graduates. He also discovers that Clancy had always wanted to go to med school but she couldn’t afford college and she was too intimidated to apply for a scholarship. Dick encourages her to apply for a WayneTech Scholarship, which she of course gets. Clancy goes to med school. But when Dick applies for a job as a police officer in Blüdhaven, he’s told he isn’t qualified. Another student, whom Dick has reason to suspect of being not that honest, gets the job instead. The corrupt chief of police makes this other “cop” his enforcer.

Meanwhile the same police chief has arrested Tad, alias Nite-Wing, but provides him with information to start taking down some of Blüdhaven’s connected criminals, mostly as a means of disrupting Blockbuster’s gang and eliminating competition. Our Nightwing notices this, and takes Nite-Wing under his wing, so to speak, to train him. Dick’s first suggestion: change your name and get a better costume. The two are captured by Blockbuster’s henchmen. Immediately separated, Blockbuster threatens torture. But the minute he leaves, his chief enforcer gets the twins threatening Nightwing out of the way and reveals himself to be a Federal agent investigating Roland (Blockbuster). Nite-Wing, meanwhile, had a ton of documentation to take down Blockbuster from the chief of police. It’s in his car, though Dick had started to FAX it to Oracle. Dick tells Cisco Blaine (the Federal agent), he will get the info while Blaine releases Nite-Wing. Tad, though, being a bit of an idiot, kills the agent, thinking he’s a henchman and enforcer for Blockbuster. Dick is really upset by this, obviously.

Blockbuster meanwhile sends his hired villains after Oracle, including Mouse and Giz.

The remainder of the book is “The Hunt for Oracle” as Blockbuster’s goons chase Black Canary and go after Oracle. Both Black Canary and Nightwing try to get to Barbara to help her. Black Canary doesn’t actually know who Oracle is – only knowing her as a voice on her comms. It’s a chase, and a good one. Not going to spoil the end.

I loved this book. The writing was both sharp and fun. Dixon’s characterization of Dick Grayson is perfect – smart, caring, loyal, and with a driving need to help others – whether that’s helping Clancy get in to med school by encouraging her to apply for a scholarship, or training Tad. The opening Blackgate/No Man’s Land sequence is full of action – as is the closing chase, but the Nightwing series shines when it focuses on characters – Dick Grayson and his friends. Even a villain like Blockbuster is given some humanity – his extraordinary size has caught-up with him and he’s facing heart trouble or a possible stroke. His private doctor even talks to Roland about a heart transplant with an artificial heart, or a heart from an animal. Blockbuster rejects the idea of a pig’s heart, but has the doctor investigate the use of ape heart from Gorilla City.

I highly, highly recommend this book and the rest of the series. It’s an enjoyable read. The book is beautifully written and the characterization is spot-on.

Update: Nightwing Vol. 5 The Hunt for Oracle features Nightwing #35-46 and Birds of Prey #20-21.