Book Review – Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 2: Who Is Artemis

  • Title: Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 2: Who Is Artemis?
  • Author: Scott Lobdell
  • Artist: Dexter Soy, Mirko Colak, Tom Derenick, Kenneth Rocafort, Veronica Gandini, Dan Brown, Taylor Esposito
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Red Hood (Jason Todd), Artemis (of the Amazons), Bizarro (Superman’s clone)
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I enjoyed volume 2 of Red Hood and the Outlaws just as much as I enjoyed volume 1, and I also read volume 2 twice. Jason Todd, Bizarro, and Artemis are turning out to be a great team, if not exactly conventional – although that is part of the charm. Volume 2 starts off with Red Hood (Jason Todd) challenging a group of mobsters and drug lords. He basically tells them to leave Gotham now or else. The mobsters of course do not listen. Bizarro joins the fight and when Killer Croc arrives to help the villains, he destroys Killer Croc. However, this croc is a fake, a robot. The gangsters are angry that they didn’t get the “merchandise” they paid for – but Jason is concerned about Bizarro’s actions and violence. However, when Jason asks specifically if Bizarro knew Croc was not alive – Bizarro states he knew.

Returning home to their hideout, Jason talks to Artemis who has discovered more information about Bizarro. The Superman clones from Cadmus have all been extremely violent, and Lex Luthor had ordered their destruction. Bizarro escapes. Next, Jason and Bizarro are on a hill in the country overlooking Gotham. Bizarro talks of his memories and then states that he knows they aren’t real. However, he also wants to make new memories with “Red Him” (Red Hood) and “Red Her” (Artemis). Jason considers shooting Bizarro, but changes his mind.

Artemis and Jason look for information to help her find the Bow of Ra. This leads them to Qurac. Both Jason and Artemis must confront their pasts as well as learning to trust and rely on each other and Bizarro. Jason is quickly captured by soldiers. He’s taken to the exact place where he died as a teenager (see A Death in the Family). Jason not only must confront his memories of what happened and his feelings and anger at the Joker for causing his death, but he hallucinates his own wounded body and has to confront the spirit. Jason is able to conquer his fears, his memories, and his triggers.

Jason then realizes from conversations with the local dictator that it isn’t the dictator who has the Bow of Ra. The dictator of Qurac had it at one point, and in trying to use it, Artemis’s once friend, Akila (the Shim’tar) was brought back from the dead (something Jason has unique experience with) and the experience left her, well, less than sane (something else that Jason has experience with). But Jason also learns the dictator no longer has the deadly weapon. And if he no longer has it, there is only one other person who could – and who was incidentally responsible for the slaughter in the country of Qurac.

Meanwhile, Artemis seeks out her friend. She is welcomed back with open arms to the company of Amazons. Slowly she begins to suspects something is wrong, but she accepts Akila’s tale that the dictator is responsible for everything.

Meanwhile, Bizarro locates a band of refugees and attempts to aid them. Bizarro gives the impression of a simple but gentle giant – like the “monster” in some versions of Frankenstein (essentially the “monster” isn’t monstrous – it’s the people around him and by their reactions that become monsters). The people treat Bizarro well when he tries to help, but when their trek ends at the base of a mountain, one man explodes in anger.

The final conflict is between the soldiers of Qurac, the Amazons-in-exile, Artemis, Jason, and Akila. Jason quickly convinces Artemis that the dictator doesn’t have the Bow of Ra. Artemis realizes only Akila could have it. She confronts Akila who admits attacking the citizenry of Qurac with it, because she wishes her people to be free. There is a battle. Bizarro knocks his way through the mountain and joins in. Artemis realizes she is also Shim’tar – a position both women had battled and trained for. She picks up the Bow and fires an arrow at Akila. The power of the bow does not harm Artemis but flows through her. It hits Akila full force, who is overwhelmed and about to explode with considerable power (not to mention damage). Bizarro flies her straight up, where she explodes out of harms way of any innocents. Bizarro falls to Earth and appears dead.

Again, Red Hood and the Outlaws is an impressive book. The characters are deep and complex. Although all three may be termed “anti-heroes”, none would violate their own personal code for personal gain or to harm others. Even when confronting gangsters, Jason, surprisingly finds a less terminal way to get them out of Gotham. Jason would be appalled if Bizarro were to use extreme force. Artemis is in many ways the same – she can be extremely violent, especially if the Bow of Ra becomes a permanent part of her kit. Yet, she also has a code. And it may be her code that led to her friend to be chosen by the gods to hold the Bow. Yet it now appears Artemis was chosen instead – or she is certainly chosen now. Bizarro is, well, he’s the gentle giant – he wants to help and is slowly learning his own strength and how to limit that. Jason now knows he can trust Bizarro within limits. However, at the end of the current volume, Bizarro is dead. That most certainly won’t last, because: comics. Red Hood and the Outlaws is a surprisingly well-written, intense book with complex, driven characters. I do feel it needs to expand a bit and additional team members brought on board, but overall I am very impressed and will continue to buy the series in graphic novel format.

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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.

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.

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.