Book Review – Batman/Superman vol. 3: Second Chance

  • Title: Batman/Superman vol. 3: Second Chance
  • Author: Greg Pak
  • Artists: Jae Lee
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batman (Bruce Wayne), Superman (Clark Kent), Dr. Ray Palmer (The Atom), Kaiyo the Chaos Demon, Catwoman (Selina Kyle), Alfred Pennyworth
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/30/2016

DC Comics New 52 book Batman/Superman has proved to be such a disappointment that I’ve decided not to continue to purchase this series, or to look-up the rest of it that’s already available. This book had two stories both with intriguing plots – and I can’t fault the series on plotting. It’s the characterization that just isn’t quite there.

I did like the first story, Batman and Superman return from wherever, and Batman collapses. Superman scans Batman with his X-ray vision and discovers a microscopic society and city in his brain. He immediately calls in Dr. Ray Palmer (in this story just becoming The Atom), who gives Superman a “shrink belt”, acknowledging himself that it needs a better name, and they, “The Incredible Journey”-style go inside Bats to safely remove the city and it’s people – and to save Batman as the city is pressing on his brain causing a coma. Inside Batman, they meet a alien woman who’s fleeing another alien dictator. They rescue her and toss the villain out, then remove the city. The story had a light touch, and with Ray there, even some appropriate humor. Superman was reticent and unemotional about Bruce’s condition – one of the problems with New 52’s take on Superman in general. Clark and Bruce are, or should be, great friends – not colleagues who can barely take working together.

The second story has Batman and Superman sent back to Earth-2 by the Chaos Demon Kaiyo, there they are merely ghosts – until they make a single choice to act, then they get the opportunity to try to change something. Naturally, these changes don’t have the effect they want. But, upon returning to regular DC Universe Earth, both Batman and Superman completely lose their respective memories. As total amnesiacs, they also have completely different personalities. Bruce is light and carefree. Alfred tells him, because he asks, what made him become Batman – but to Bruce, it isn’t something he experienced – it’s like hearing a story or watching a movie. For Alfred, he sees Bruce happy and is glad for it. Bruce then takes up the mantle of Batman again – as a duty, almost a job, a career – something he wants to do, but not an obsession – something he’s driven to do.

Superman is less successful in adapting to his new amnesiac status. He takes up with Catwoman (out of serendipity – she’s being attacked and he rescues her when he first arrives). Superman has no memory of Lois. And he has no family. (Sidenote: What happened to the Kents? This series keeps referring to Clark as a complete orphan and the Kents being killed in a car crash, presumably when Clark was still quite young. This makes no sense.) Superman also doesn’t hold back in the use of his powers. Eventually both Bruce and Superman get their memories back – Alfred is sad to see the Batman/Bruce he has known for so long head into the Cave.

I did like the full-page panels, one for Batman and one for Superman, of several images visually representing the two getting their memories back – it’s both a wonderful static image and yet something that represents each person experiencing a rush of memories. Well done. The rest of the art in the book is also good, though the characters have a less photo-realistic or even painted look than other series in the DC line.

Again, I’ve decided to not continue buying this series. I’m loving DC Rebirth , and there are collection series reprints from the 1990s (Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing and Birds of Prey) as well as a couple of New 52 series (Birds of Prey, Justice League Dark) that I enjoy much more. I loved the Superman/Batman series from the 1990s, it was well-written, at times brilliant, and I have all or nearly all of it (I might be missing one volume); Batman/Superman is disappointing.

Book Review – Batman/Superman vol. 2: Game Over

  • Title: Batman/Superman vol. 2: Game Over
  • Author: Greg Pak
  • Artists: Jae Lee, Brett Booth
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batman (Bruce Wayne), Superman (Clark Kent), Wonder Woman, Hiro (Toyman aka Toymaster), Mongul, Warworld, Jochi, Supergirl, Steel (John Henry Irons), Red Hood (Jason Todd), Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Power Girl (Earth-2, Karen/Kara), Huntress (Earth-2, Helena Wayne)
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/10/2016

Batman Superman Vol. 2 – Game Over is the second volume in the New 52 graphic novel collections of Batman/Superman stories. Though this series is not as good as the Superman/Batman graphic novel series from a few years ago, because: New 52, it’s still a pretty good series and one I plan on continuing to buy. This volume consists of two stories.

In the first story, Hiro, the new Toyman (or Toymaster) has come up with the “ultimate videogame”, having hired a woman to help with the computer programming. He brings in three game testers – but as they play the game, Hiro realizes it’s real and that Batman and Superman have been really dragged into the “game”. The entire story is presented in landscape format – meaning one has to turn the graphic novel to read it. I found this approach annoying. I could see that the horizontal layout was meant to mimic a widescreen video game – but with the graphic novel being bound, now on the top, even turning the pages was annoying. Nice idea but stick with vertical, OK?

The second story, which is linked to the first one has Mongul and Warworld showing up. Batman and Superman are able to defeat Mongul (perhaps a bit too easily) but then are dragged into a conflict with his son, Jochi. Batman and Superman must then each bring two allies in essentially a no-holds-barred cage fight to determine the new ruler of Warworld. Superman brings Supergirl and Steel (John Henry Irons) as his seconds, though Wonder Woman had offered – he told her to stay on Earth and defend it. Batman brings Jason Todd, aka Red Hood of the Outlaws, and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon who is no longer the paralyzed Oracle). During the fight, of course Superman and Batman are forced to fight each other. Batgirl messes with Warworld’s computers, Jochi is defeated, and when the entire planet is about to crash into the Arctic (which would be an extinction-level event – though no one notices this in the story) Superman transfers the entire planet into the Phantom Zone.

The third story has Kara (or Karen) – Power Girl and Huntress – daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle from a parallel Earth show up on the New 52 Earth. Kara’s powers are out of control and Batman and Superman must help her. The encounter with alternate versions of the characters they know stirs Batman’s and Superman’s surppessed memories of travelling to an alternate Earth – and learning of the threat of Darkseid. This story had a bit more characterization, and was less of a slug-fest than the other two.

Similar to the classic Superman/Batman series – this series includes thought bubbles for both Superman and Batman, so the readers can see how these characters think. However, Batman is extremely distrustful of Superman. Bruce and Clark are not friends, and certainly not best friends, which is a pity. One of the best aspects of the classic series was seeing the friendship of Clark and Bruce. They had their own ways of doing things – but they were still friends. In this series, as in all of New 52 – no one trusts anybody, which is just a stone’s throw from everyone hating everyone else – and that’s a problem. If I wanted to read about distrustful, hateful, “superheroes” who don’t get along I’d read Marvel. This is DC. DC Heroes work together, they cooperate with each other, they trust each other, and they are friends. This doesn’t mean “they are singing kumbaya” or that the stories are unrealistic or not relevant. By showing how a diverse group can work together – the DC Heroes can inspire readers. This is a major problem with New 52 – and it’s why I’m so happy that Rebirth is bringing back the old, traditional approach to DC – making comics fun, and showing the reader a group of people working together for a common goal of bettering and protecting the planet.

Anyway, I do plan on buying the next volume of the Batman/Superman series. And this story had some unique story points to it. I like seeing Hiro as more of a hero – or at least someone that works with the heroes to supply their gadgets. I really enjoyed seeing Helena, Huntress, and Power Girl – a couple of favorites that were killed off when New 52 started. The trope of Batman and Superman commenting on each other gives the reader new insight into these well-known characters. Also, the art is fantastic – and I liked the mirroring between Batman and Superman a lot. But the New 52 “attitude” is really, really annoying.

Book Review – Batman/Superman vol. 1: Cross World

  • Title: Batman/Superman vol. 1: Cross World
  • Author: Greg Pak
  • Artists: Jae Lee, Brett booth, Ben Oliver, Yildray Cinar, Norm Rapmund, Paul Siqueira, Netho Diaz
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batman (Bruce Wayne), Superman (Clark Kent), Wonder Woman, Kaiyo (Darkseid’s Agent of Chaos), Lois Lane, Catwoman (Selina Kyle)
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/10/2016

I ended-up reading Batman/Superman, Volume 1 – Cross World twice because although I liked it the first time – I found it very confusing. The second time through, again, I enjoyed it but parts of it were still very confusing. The art in some places was truly inspiring – the double spread showing the parallels between Superman’s origins (including the deaths of Ma & Pa Kent in a car crash???) and Batman’s (the oft-told story of the death of Bruce’s parents – here reduced to 5 stunning panels) was incredible. When Wonder Woman arrives on her Pegasus holding a sword – that was awesome. But I could not, for the life of me, figure out who was who when it came to the two versions of Batman and especially the two versions of Superman. One version of Batman was married to Selina Kyle. The other was not. One was much older, the other younger. For Supes – one was older, much more powerful, and a bit arrogant. The other younger – leaping not even flying, and possibly wearing jeans and a T-shirt with the S-shield. The panels and art tended to be small and close-up, thus we couldn’t see who was who based on the different uniforms. On the other hand – the art was stunning, just stunning.

The story has an agent of Chaos (I thought at first it was Klarion the Witch-boy nemesis of Doctor Fate – it wasn’t. It was Kaiyo an agent of chaos from Apokolips bent on destroying Darkseid.) However, this isn’t really clear until towards the end of the book, and the final chapter tells Kaiyo’s story as well as giving the history of Darkseid. On my second read-through, knowing who Kaiyo was helped. She also had the power to possess people – taking over Catwoman, Lois, even Wonder Woman for brief periods.

Kaiyo – because she can, brings the heroes of two Earths together. Thus we have two Supermen and two Batmen, and a Wonder Woman. And on one Earth, the army has developed a weapon to take out Superman because they think he’s “too strong”. Kaiyo tells the Supermen, the Batmen, Wonder Woman, Lois, and Catwoman about this – after they’ve figured it out. She tells them they must choose – destroy the crystal, or keep it to destroy Darkseid. Needless to say because she’s an agent of choas she’s not super-clear about explaining this – but everyone had figured it out by the time she starts to explain it. When the crystal is destroyed – Kaiyo wipes the minds of everyone involved – thus they won’t be warned of Darkseid’s coming.

So that’s the storyline, but the fun comes in seeing two Supermen and two Batmen not only interacting with Superman and Batman but with the alternate universe versions of themselves. It’s fun – confusing – but fun. This is also a beautifully illustrated book. And the bonus section consisting of a “page to screen” with pages of dialogue and information explaining how it was then translated to the page by the artist were fascinating, and even explained the book a bit better (only certain pages or spreads were commented on – not the entire book). It was a fascinating look at how the process of pulling a graphic novel together works.

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 – Doctor Fate vol. 2: Prisoners of the Past

  • Title: Doctor Fate vol. 2: Prisoners of the Past
  • Author: Paul Levitz
  • Artists: Sonny Liew
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Dr. Fate (Khalid “Kent” Nassour)
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Collected issues: Doctor Fate #8-12
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/25/2017

I really enjoyed the second volume of DC’s Dr. Fate. Young Khalid Nassour is starting to learn how to use his powers granted by the Helmet of Fate. The story picks-up after the disastrous floods in the last volume, as Khalid tries and succeeds it fixing what is broken and rescuing people. Though he is young and unsure of himself, it makes it that much sweeter when he succeeds. At Brooklyn College, Khalid looks up his professor and adviser, Professor Bradus, telling him he feels torn between different religious and philosophical traditions – his mother is Christian and his father, Muslim. When he tells the professor that he is being told he must “heal the world”, the professor assumes he now has a Jewish girlfriend who wants him to convert.

Meanwhile Akila, who wants to be Khalid’s girlfriend, has become involved in protests against the hard-line, Conservative, military leader in charge of their former country. When peaceful protests against that government suddenly turn violent, Dr. Fate (Khalid) intervenes to save the protesters and to find Akila. He rescues her, then decides to rescue the other protesters, who were taken to a military prison without any form of due process. At the prison, he’s threatened by the General-President, who, makes threats, but only orders those around him to attack Khalid. The General-President is even controlling Centurian ghosts who attack Dr. Fate. One of these ghosts is Julius Caesar. After a few experiments in fighting that don’t work – Khalid hits on destroying the dagger that the General-President uses to control the ghost, allowing Caesar to attack the General-President. Dr. Fate frees the protesters. Caesar destroys the bullying general.

With all his running around as Dr. Fate, one of Khalid’s professors tries to get him expelled for missing classes. However, during his meeting with the dean, the dean suffers a heart attack. Khalid, having been a EMT-Paramedic saves the dean’s life. His position as a medical student is safe. At his parents home, their cat, Puck, who is possessed by the spirit of Bast, wanders off. Bast leaves him. Khalid goes home to give his parents the good news about medical school, and finds not only his parents, but his uncle, Kent Nelson.

I really enjoyed this two-book series. Khalid is a wonderful character, with a complex and layered background. His friend, Akila, is cool – and would make a great supporting character if the series was continued. Alas, I think this book met the chopping block too soon in the transition between New 52 and Rebirth. (The new Dr. Fate is part of the Blue Beetle series in Rebirth and has finally arrived. We know very little about him so far, but he doesn’t appear to be Khalid.) Still, it is well-worth tracking down and reading this short two-book series. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Fate vol. 1: The Blood Price

  • Title: Doctor Fate vol. 1: The Blood Price
  • Author: Paul Levitz
  • Artists: Sonny Liew
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Dr. Fate (Khalid “Kent” Nassour)
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Collected issues: Doctor Fate #1-6
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/07/2016

I picked this graphic novel up at a local bookstore (paperback edition, not Kindle) on a whim. I’d always liked Doctor Fate in Justice League International/America in the 1990s, and in the animated series, Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice but I never followed the monthly series, if there was one, or read any Doctor Fate collected graphic novels. But I saw it and it looked interesting so I picked it up.

The Blood Price tells the story of the Helmet of Fate finding a new person to be Doctor Fate. There’s also a battle going on – between Anubis the Jackal-god of old Egyptian mythology and Basset the Cat god. Anubis literally wants to drown the world to destroy it. Basset wants to stop this. Nabu is an adviser to the new Doctor Fate but much more hands-off than previous versions.

Khalid Nassour (“Kent” to his friends) is about to start medical school. His father is a Muslim immigrant and his mother a Christian. Asked about his religion – Kent has no strong feelings on the matter. In times of crisis – he prays to Jesus and Allah equally. Khalid has a sort of girlfriend as well as a Muslim girl his parents keep trying to set him up with. But he wants to concentrate on his studies so he can help his family.

It’s Khalid whom Basset chooses to receive the Helmet of Fate because of his Pharaoh blood. Khalid’s overwhelmed, confused, and would really like an instruction book so he can use his new powers to stop Anubis from destroying the world.

I enjoyed Doctor Fate vol. 1 The Blood Price very much. Again, this was a paperback graphic novel – no idea why GoodReads only lists the Kindle edition. The art is beautiful. Khalid has a strong voice as a new superhero. Khalid’s parents, girlfriend, and the girl who wants to be his girlfriend are all well-written, strong, unique, and diverse characters. The book was awesome and I recommend it.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on! This is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.