Book Review – Bombshells vol. 1: Enlisted

  • Title: Bombshells vol. 1: Enlisted
  • Author: Marguerite Bennett
  • Artists: Marguerite Sauvage (Art and Colors), Laura Braga, Stephen Mooney, Ted Naifeh, Garry Brown, Bilquis Evely, Mirka Andolfo, Ming Doyle, Sandy Jarrell, ML Sanapo, Marc Derring, Wendy Broome (colors), Doug Garbark (colors), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colors), Wes Abbott (letters)
  • Characters: Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Mera (Aqua Woman), Zatanna, John Constantine, Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Stargirl, Supergirl (Kara Starikov)
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/08/2018

“I would do the right thing. I cannot sit idle, awaiting the next blow… I would not be indifferent to the suffering of strangers.” – Wonder Woman

DC Comics’ Bombshells is awesome. This is the first volume of the series, and I certainly hope there is more because I absolutely loved it! The simplest way to describe Bombshells is that it’s like an alternate reality Birds of Prey set in World War II, but with Amanda Waller in charge (as in Suicide Squad; rather than Oracle/Barbara Gordon being in charge as in Birds of Prey). This particular volume is all about set-up, showing our women as heroes in their own right before being recruited by Amanda, or finding their way to Amanda’s “Bombshells” group. Kate Kane is the Batwoman, interpreted a bit too literally as she is on the Gotham Knights Women’s Baseball team, and in her off time she beats-up criminals in Gotham with her baseball bat. Interestingly enough, she also saved the Waynes, preventing Mr. Wayne from being killed by a street thug. Kane is, also, as in the current DC continuity, a lesbian. Kate also inspires a very young Barbara Gordon to become a heroine, since she witnesses her actions.

Wonder Woman’s origin is the traditional one, Steve Trevor, an American spy, crashes on Paradise Island, and despite the warnings of her mother, Diana decides she must join him and fight great evil in the war against Hitler’s intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and racism. It’s Diana who recruits Mera, the “Aqua Woman”. Steve informs Amanda, and she asks the two to join her Bombshells group.

Meanwhile, Amanda has already sent Kate into the lion’s den in Europe to find out more about La Contessa Selina Digatti – The Catwoman. It’s Alexander Luthor who picks up Kate and takes her to the Contessa’s party, all the time trying to convince Kate how war is good for business but that America shouldn’t challenge Hitler. Luthor basically is just as xenophobic and racist as ever.

In Russia, two very special women are joining the “Night Witches” – female Russian pilots who specialize in night raids. These two women, Star Girl (Kortni Duginovna) and Super Girl (Kara Starikov), have special powers – Star Girl with her staff of power and Supergirl basically like the Supergirl we know: super strength, immune to bullets, the ability to fly. The two, however, discover that the “enemy camp” they were sent to destroy is actually a Russian Prison Camp for political prisoners staged to look like a Nazi forward camp. They realize this and stop the attack, then discover their own parents in the camp. The women’s father had been a scientist and cosmonaut and now was speaking out against a particular general who was too zealous in his persecution of anyone who disagreed with what the Russian government was doing. Unfortunately, they are attacked during their escape attempt and the women’s father is recaptured. Supergirl, Stargirl, and their mother escape and find the English ship where Mera is meeting with Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller. Diana, Wonder Woman, is also nearby, but in custody, because she insisted on a group of captured Nazi soldiers stand trial rather than be executed by Steve’s men immediately. Amanda has her doubts about recruiting two Russians, and the Russians do not want to wear a uniform of American iconography, but one gets the feeling all that will be worked out and the two recruited as Bombshells.

Zatanna is trapped in Germany, working at a Cabaret, run by the Joker’s daughter. John Constantine is in the audience, though he is turned into a rabbit (who talks, smokes, and whose yellow fur resembles his trench coat). The Germans have raised a demon, who asks for the dead in return. The demon can make zombies. John both warns Zatanna of the dangerous supernatural “stuff” going on, and encourages her to escape Germany. Zatanna has no love for the Germans – but she’s trapped, in no small part because with a Jewish mother and Romani father – she’s dead without the Joker’s daughter’s protection.

Speaking of the Joker, Harley Quinn is working as a psychiatrist, when she learns “Mr J” may be alive. She meets up with Poison Ivy and the two set off to find him.

I loved this book! The art is truly beautiful. The writing is strong and meaningful. The story is very much an introduction to all the characters and their own environments and theaters in what will no doubt be a very far-reaching story. I just simply loved it and I want more. I hope future bound volumes are forthcoming.

Comics these days are very much a cross-medium media, with ideas from films and animated media crossing over into on-going books, and ideas from books becoming animated and live-action movie, and Bombshells is no different, as the origin of this series was actually a series of collectible statues of well-known DC female heroes done in the style of World War II pin-up girls. And while some of the art has that style – this is not an exploitative series at all! It’s brilliant – these are all strong women in extraordinary circumstances who will no doubt be fighting the war just as men would. I think it helps considerably that not only is the first volume written by Marguerite Bennett, one of comics’ most talented female writers, but the art and colors are also, for the most part, by women. This no doubt put a check on any possible exploitative aspects of the story, given the inspiration, and gave power to these extraordinary female characters.

Highly Recommended, and I simply cannot wait to get more!

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Book Review – Constantine vol. 2: Blight

  • Title: Constantine vol. 2: Blight
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Justice League Dark, Zatanna
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/21/2016

John Constantine is a fascinating anti-hero and a guy who just can’t win. Blight as a graphic novel is a little hard to follow because it ties in with other titles – some of which I’ve read, such as Justice League Dark and some I haven’t. The book opens with Constantine apparently having a nightmare – but then we learn that everything in his magical vault has been taken from him. The three evil magicians from Volume 1 are back: Sargon, Mr. E, and Tannarak. They are travelling the world offering independent magic users a choice: join the Cult of the Cold Flame or die and have their magic and very life absorbed by whichever magician confronts them. Constantine offers to join the Cult, but keeps his mind free by a little slight of hand with the Cult’s drugged wine. He then uses the one artifact of his (the Moon Sword) that the Cult hasn’t destroyed to absorb it’s magic to kill Mr. E – but instead of absorbing his magic himself, luckily Sargon and Tannarak take it instead. With Mr. E trapped in the Sword, Constantine asks to be filled in on everything. However, just then, Shazam (Billy Batson) touches Pandora’s Box (in events not depicted in this story).

The next volume opens with the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League from a parallel Earth) having taken over, our Justice League Heroes having disappeared, and a magic-dampening field having made it impossible for Constantine to track down his Justice League Dark or any magic users – good, evil, or indifferent. He and his new League, including Swamp Thing, Pandora, Nightmare Nurse, and Phantom Stranger are all John has now to fight Blight.

The next volume has John and his new allies brought to the border of Heaven where they encounter a ticked off Spectre and John has a weird conversation with God, who looks like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. After their conversation, the Angel Zauriel follows Constantine to Earth and John binds him in a circle in the House of Mystery. How Zauriel helps to defeat Blight is a story found in Justice League Dark and possibly other collections.

The next volume in this book has John and his new Justice League Dark in Nanda Parbat. There John discovers all the magic users are trapped in a magical torture machine, the Thaumaton Machine – behind this is Felix Faust and John’s one-time mentor and friend (now bitter enemy) Nick Necro. There’s a flashback explaining the background of Nick, John, and Zatanna, including the spell that ties the three together. Constantine and Necro fight both physically and using magic – it seems Constantine will win – when Swamp Thing explodes in the house and John is suddenly about to be sent to a very bad place. – along with every one else. And that’s the end of the book.

Constantine vol. 2 Blight is a good graphic novel, the art is incredible and the characterization is really good. However, the one negative is it’s a bit hard to follow – it’s intertwined to another story and it’s just becomes a bit frustrating to have stories disappear into the ether. Some are picked up in the Justice League Dark graphics, but some were covered in other books, I suppose. Still it’s well worth reading to pick-up some more detail in the battle against Blight and to defeat the Crime Syndicate and return the Justice League to Earth.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 6: Lost in Forever

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 6: Lost in Forever
  • Author: JM DeMatteis
  • Artist: Andres Guinaldo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Frankenstein, Black Orchid, Andrew Bennett (vampire), Madame Xanadu
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/07/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Justice League Dark volume 6 is the last in the collected series so far. The book opens with a dream sequence (showing us the real depth of John Constantine’s feelings for Zatanna) then he wakes up in a confusing, mixed-up, even upside-down strange house. John is in the House of Secrets, and the female manifestation of the House convinces him he must call members of Justice League Dark together to prevent the House of Mystery from engaging in a nefarious plot. Meanwhile in the House of Mystery, Zatanna is pretty much getting the same message from the male manifestation of the House – the House of Secrets is up to something and must be stopped. John and his crew (the House of Secrets, Frank(enstein), the vampire Andrew Bennett, Black Orchid, and Mme Xanadu, soon confront Zatanna, the House of Mystery, Swamp Thing, Nightmare Nurse, and Deadman.

Fortunately, this isn’t a long, drawn-out slug fest. The House of Secrets and the House of Mystery join together and form the House of Wonders – which plans on controlling the world by controlling it’s houses. John and Zatanna decide the only way to stop the disaster is to enact the K’am’Deva curse. This will extract all love for another from one person’s heart from all directions in space and time as if it never existed. While the other person is doomed to remember that lost love for all eternity. John volunteers to give up his love for Zatanna for the greater good. The curse is enacted and it destroys both houses – drawing them away in a whirlpool. But it’s so powerful – all of Justice League Dark is drawn into the whirlpool as well. John is the only one left on Earth, though he later remarks he was on “Earth-2”. Zatanna is taken, alone, to the very beginning of time. There she meets her father, Zatara, and his “wife and daughter”. Zatanna soon realizes this is an illusion – she is alone. And although her mind keeps conjuring illusions to keep her occupied – she breaks through the illusions one by one. Eventually she finds the One Tree and source of all magic.

Meanwhile, Frank, Bennett, Nightmare Nurse, and Swamp Thing end up at the very end of time. They find Felix Faust who has finally obtained immortality and realized it was a curse. The tiny island of Earth they are on is slowly disappearing into the dark of nothingness – so Nightmare Nurse conjures a magical boat and they all sail off in to the Dark.

Meanwhile Mme Xanadu, Deadman, and Black Orchid end up, briefly, in a crystal zone of every moment taking place simultaneously before landing in the Moment of Now which is a time and place that is trapped, in a perpetual Now. There, as Mme Xanadu tries to convey what movement into the future is to a people who have never experienced it – trapped, as they are, in a static moment, lets the leader kiss her. The kiss accelerates the aging – and the entire zone is destroyed. But it also pushes all of Justice League Dark to be reunited – meeting Nightmare Nurse’s boat and Zatanna who at first thinks it’s another illusion. Even John Constantine returns in the House of Mystery – though he says he’s an illusion created by Zatanna’s love.

The entire Justice League Dark confront an evil goddess from before time, Pralaya, released by the Curse. Together John and Zatanna defeat Pralaya and the House of Mystery crash lands on Earth – where they meet John Constantine. Zatanna decides to leave Justice League Dark and returns leadership of the loose group to John as well as giving him back the House of Mystery. It’s clear from the last few panels that John has no memory of what Zatanna meant to him – or of the love he had for her.

Volume 6 satisfactorily wraps-up the story of Justice League Dark but I want more, and I’m guessing the soft-covered versions continued (This graphic collects JLD 35 -40 plus Annual #2 from 2014-2015) and there should be one or two more collected editions to go. Well, I can only hope. I highly recommended this series.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 5: Paradise Lost

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 5: Pardise Lost
  • Author: JM DeMatteis
  • Artist: Mikel Janin
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Frankenstein, Black Orchid, Etrigan the Demon (Jason Blood)
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/04/2016

Justice League Dark vol. 5 picks up where Volume 4 left off – with John Constantine having lost the House of Mystery and leadership of Justice League Dark to Zatanna. Deadman finds Constantine in a bar and hits him, seeking to even the score a bit for John’s trapping him in the Sea King. Brand rushes off feeling horrible about what he’s done. Meanwhile at the House of Mystery, Zatanna’s also trying to come to terms with the recent changes, her own increasing power, and her new role as leader – so she’s cut herself off from everyone. Frank(enstein) and Black Orchid tell Deadman they are leaving – the House of Mystery tries to convince them otherwise.

Nightmare Nurse, Asa, falls sick and the entire Justice League Dark learns her backstory. John tries to help Asa return to Alice’s body to save them both, but seeing it as a threat to Alice (Asa’s host) Zatanna gets in the way and Nightmare Nurse possesses her and starts to use her power. John and Asa are pulled into The Between, a metaphysical Limbo. In trying to pull Asa’s spirit from Zatanna – John accidentally sends the entire House of Mystery into The Between. Asa sacrifice’s herself to The Between so the House of Mystery and the Justice League Dark can return to normal space and time. Zatanna uses a very powerful and dangerous spell and rescues Asa – returning Nightmare Nurse to the body of the dying Alice Winter.

This volume also gets into Boston Brand aka Deadman’s background. Brand had been raised and trained in Nanda Parbat – the paradise – from childhood, before being set back in the world. Thus he has a connection to the mystical place. He tries to open a portal to it for Brahma Dass, his teacher, but it backfires and dangerous demons are released to destroy Nanda Parbat. Justice League Dark comes to the rescue, so to speak, and Swamp Thing helps return Nanda Parbat to glory.

Finally, “Scars” seems to be set in the future, with a lone John Constantine reflecting on what’s gone wrong for him, and his betrayals of his friends and colleagues. John and a few members of Justice League Dark, including: Zatanna, Cassandra Craft, Black Orchid, Nightmare Nurse, and Etrigan the Demon; are trapped in the House of Mystery in The Between. They find another trapped survivor, only he isn’t what he claims to be. Etrigan and Zatanna see through the deception – but all the Justice League Dark remains trapped in The Between.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 4: The Rebirth of Evil

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 4: The Rebirth of Evil
  • Author: JM DeMatteis, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Mikel Janin
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Justice League, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Pandora, Deadman
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/17/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This issue of Justice League Dark opens in the middle of something going on – so I was very confused at first. I felt like I had missed something. Anyway, the Justice League are after Pandora’s Box for some reason – even though every time a Leaguer gets near it – it turns them evil, including Superman. The Phantom Stranger arrives at A.R.G.U.S. to warn everyone of the danger the Box represents. Wonder Woman goes after Pandora’s Box and is infected. Constantine gets the box from Wonder Woman and Zatanna but rather than arrive in London, he and Zatanna arrive at the Temple of Hephaestus and are swallowed underground.

Constantine and his team learn, too late, that Pandora’s Box is a doorway to Earth-3. It allows the Crime Syndicate (evil versions of the Justice League) to invade Earth. The crime syndicate causes all sorts of trouble and, off-stage, even defeats the Justice League.

Meanwhile, with his own team missing, Constantine joins forces with Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Pandora, and later Deadman, to solve the crisis. Opening Pandora’s box has also released Blight – a distillation of all the worst things about humanity. Defeating Blight requires the Big Guns including the angel, Zauriel. After that, Constantine must rescue his team and other magic-users, all held prisoner in Nanda Parbat. He succeeds but at a high cost.

Justice League Dark is consistently a very good book, and volume 4 is excellent. It’s complex, well-written, and has truly brilliant art. I read the book twice, and still found there to be an awful lot going on. The story isn’t hard to follow – there is just a lot of it. This is a highly recommended book and series. If you haven’t tried Justice League Dark it’s a must read. Volume 4 is the best so far, but don’t start there – this series must be read from the beginning.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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