Catwoman: The Replacements

Catwoman: The Replacements

By Will Pfeifer, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-426-9

After the never-ending calamity of the DC Infinite Crisis event of 2005-2006, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin one year later. This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts, and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room. Now read on…

Gotham City is a much changed place one year later. Batman and crew have been absent, crime seems down and Catwoman has also changed. Depending on your point of view, she’s either a completely different person or a single mum just trying to get by as best she can.

It transpires that for the last twelve months Selina Kyle has been living under an assumed identity while she brings to term, and gives birth to, a bonny baby girl. The father remains, for us, unknown, but plenty of likely prospects are presented in the course of events, from Batman and Slam Bradley on down. Wisely, the creators are keeping this one a secret for a while longer.

Of more relevance is the fact that Selina has asked her old sidekick Holly to take over as masked protector of her beloved East End of Gotham City. Despite help and training from a number of veteran crime-fighters such as Wildcat, she’s not quite up the job yet. Selina’s old enemy Angle Man wants revenge, and teams with the truly demented late night TV pundit Film Freak to exact it. Initially, he’s as unaware as the police (who still want ‘Catwoman’ for the murder of crime boss Black Mask) that somebody else is wearing the leather and wielding the whip these days.

It might sound confusing, but this is actually a sharp little revenge-mystery with plenty of spills and chills, full of tense moments and well observed comedy breaks. Obviously there’s a point at which the ‘real’ Catwoman takes over, but the inevitable is well leavened by the ingenious, and even old know-it-alls will acknowledge that this is a plot that’s been tweaked by masters. The Replacements (which collects Catwoman issues #53-58) is good storytelling, and I certainly look forward to the next volume.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles Volume 2

Superman Chronicles Volume 2 

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-435-8

Here’s another welcome cheap-and-cheerful soft-cover collection of the earliest stories of the Man of Steel who quite literally spawned a genre, if not an actual art form. The rough, uncontrollable, wish-fulfilling exuberance is still present throughout, although Siegel and Shuster are swiftly polishing their craft with each story. These tales of the righteous, empowered man dealing out summary justice to wife-beaters, reckless drivers and exploitative capitalists as well as thugs and ne’er-do-wells captured the imagination of a generation, and are presented in totality and chronological order from Action Comics #14 (July 1939) through #20 (January 1940), and issues #2 and 3 of his own solo title.

To be strictly accurate, only the first and last strips from issue 3 appear in this volume, but they’re still great and I’m sure the remainder of the issue will appear in the next volume.

In this volume you’ll meet the first ever returning foe (us lags call ‘em “arch-enemies”), The Ultra Humanite – twice!, plus a rip-roaring mix of hoods, masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels – all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion. No continued stories here!

Read these yarns and you’ll understand why today’s creators keep returning to this material every time they need to revamp the big guy. They are simply timeless, enthralling, and great.

© 1939, 1940, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Prequels

Superman Returns: The Prequels

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-379-3

DC capitalised on the movie release by producing four comics, each of which focused on one of the supporting cast long associated with the Man of Steel, and each set immediately before the beginning of the film itself.

Krypton to Earth scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, with art by Ariel Olivetti, powerfully explores the character of Jor-El as he prepares to launch his son into the void with Krypton crashing down around him. Ma Kent by Marc Andreyko and Karl Kerschl, follows a ruminative Martha Kent as she reminisces about rearing that very special foundling from space.

Palmiotti and Grey return for Lex Luthor. With art from Rick Leonardi and Nelson, this story examines the mind and motivations of the most dangerous man alive as he prepares to leave the prison he’s been incarcerated in since the last film. Finally, Wellington Dias and Doug Hazlewood illustrate Andreyko’s Lois Lane, the only character who has seemingly moved on since Superman disappeared, but even she isn’t so sure how much…

The worlds of comic and film continuity seldom mesh with fans but these character vignettes are sure and sharp, enhancing the movie without overwhelming it, yet remain wonderfully consistent to the spirit of the comics that inspired them. This slim tome is well worth the effort and time.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell 

By Warren Ellis & Jackson Guice

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-250-9

Gritty world super-scribe Ellis turns his keyboard to the World’s Greatest Superheroes with less-than-spectacular results in this standard meta-human mish-mash. An unstoppable ancient entity has spent millennia traversing the universe testing the worth of intelligent species, and thereby destroying those which aren’t. That of course means all of them, and it’s up to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter to sort it all out.

Originally released as JLA Classified issues #10-15, with illustrations by Jackson Guice, this mediocre rehashing of tired old ideas is poor use of such major talents. For dedicated fans only.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within 

By Simone, & various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-352-1

Dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans and neophytes alike would be well advised to follow this series. It features a more-or-less rotating team of DC’s female crime-busters, led and co-ordinated by the mysterious ‘Oracle’ (wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon, formerly known as Batgirl), as they target the less flashy and more insidious threats to the DC universe.

This volume (collecting issues #76-85 of the monthly comic series) begins with the Birds living in a hi-tech jetliner, proactively seeking out villains and vigilantes across America. First call is Dayton, Ohio, where a traumatised high school girl discovers she can pay everyone back using her ability to steal the powers of any magical force in the DC universe. Then they hit Peo Ridge, Kansas to stop a ghostly serial killer called Harvest who can literally suck the life out of her victims, usually men who abuse women. Metropolis gets a visit next, and a guest shot from the Thorn, whose one woman war on crime brings her to the attention of Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress and Co. A major sub-plot throughout these tales is Oracle’s increasing fascination with the virtual technology of the Brainiac computer that previously took her over.

The remainder of the volume is taken up with an extended storyline featuring Wildcat, a World War II hero who latterly trained most of the female fighters in the DCU. In a sting operation lead by Black Canary, the team tries to dry up the drug trade in Gotham by “buying” all the merchandise from the big boss supplier in Singapore. Naturally things don’t go quite according to plan, with spectacular results for not just crime buffs but any fan of martial arts mayhem.

Gail Simone once shows her mastery of action adventure and capable women, aided and abetted by a fine selection of very talented artists such as Joe Bennett, Ed Benes, Tom Derenick, Joe Prado, Eddy Barrows, Jack Jackson, Bob Petrecca and Robin Riggs. These romps are hard to beat and impossible to put down.

© 2004, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman:Year One Deluxe Edition

Batman:Year One Deluxe Edition 

By Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-158-8

The latest repackaging of this classic tale is finally available as a paperback. Year One is a joy to read and its particular reinterpretation of the origin literally changed the way Batman was produced — much more so than the apocalyptic ‘Imaginary story’ The Dark Knight Returns. Its effects can still be seen echoing through the contemporary Bat titles.

This extras-added edition includes a wonderful four-page comic strip afterword by Mazzucchelli; lots of promotional art and a large selection of script pages, thumbnail sketches and layouts as a fascinating entrée into the artistic process.

Batman: Year One is a story every comic fan should own, and if you are and you don’t this is a pretty spiffy version to get, especially as its available now, Now, NOW!

© 1986, 1987, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-390-4

This volume reprints Superman #9-11, Action Comics #592-593 and Adventures of Superman #432-435 from 1987 when the post-Crisis revamp was in full swing and a fine team of comics creators was going all-out to prove a dubious public wrong in their belief that nothing could make the Caped Kryptonian exciting again.

John Byrne and Marv Wolfman were responsible for writing these tales and the former was also half the drawing team. In To Laugh and Die in Metropolis Superman meets the Joker for the first time in a murderous battle of wits, before moving on to tackle a Gangwar, courtesy of Wolfman and artists Jerry Ordway and P. Craig Russell.

Byrne, with inks by Keith Williams, then teams the Man of Steel with Big Barda and Mr. Miracle in A Walk on the Darkside and The Suicide Snare and has him battle Luthor again in The Super Menace of Metropolis, aided by the inking of Karl Kesel. Bob Smith joins Ordway on art duties for A Tragedy in Five Acts the second part of Gangwar, and Byrne and Kesel reintroduce the fifth dimensional prankster Mr. Mxyzptlk in The Name Game.

Wolfman, Ordway and José Marzan complete this edition with Shambles and The Circle Turns, two slower tales that build on the strong continuity and character interactions that typified this incarnation of the Man of Tomorrow. Seeing these stories collected in this way illustrates just how much planning went into the three Superman titles. These volumes read much more like books than collections and with the quality of writing and art improving from “chapter” to “chapter” this is a series you should seriously consider seeking out.

© 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2 

By Judd Winick & various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-277-0

The tale continues (as originally printed in Batman #645-650 and Batman Annual #25) and, no matter how I pitch it, forces me to contravene my self-imposed rule of not spoiling any surprise plot twists.

The Red Hood seems to be the adult version of Batman’s dead partner Jason Todd, who was the second Robin before being murdered by the Joker. What is his agenda? Is he just carrying as before his demise – albeit in a pretty harsh manner, or does he have a deeper game to play?

Despite the intrinsic silliness of the plot and the crushing, chronic comic book inability to let any character go, this still delivers plenty of angst-y action, melodrama and pathos. If you can suspend your narrative disbelief and just go with it, there’s guilty fun to be had here, especially if you think of this stuff as soap-opera, not literature. For that we’ve got Shakespeare and Stan Lee.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: War Crimes

Batman: War Crimes

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-246-0

One last hurrah from the braided mega-event that occupied all the Batman titles during 2005, and as collected in War Drums and War Games: Outbreak, Tides and Endgame. As the dust settles Batman needs to find out how his own hypothetical training scenario led to the catastrophic gang war in Gotham and the death of two of his crime-fighting team. More moody and introspective, this dark tale of repercussions leads to the loss of yet another long-time Bat-ally.

Written by Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Bill Willingham, Bruce Jones and Will Pfeifer and no less than eleven artists, this slim volume reprints Batman #643-644, Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005, Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 2005, and Detective Comics #809-810.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales 

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-282-7

This movie tie-in volume reprints the comic adaptation of Superman Returns and pads out with an eclectic collection of tales from the more recent portion of the Man of Steel’s nigh seven decades of fun and thrills.

The Origin of Superman comes courtesy of The Amazing World of Superman Treasury Edition from 1973. The much-told tale gets another outing via E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, whilst the Luthor, Lois, Superman dynamic is re-examined by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar and Yanick Paquette in A Night at the Opera originally seen in Adventures of Superman #575 (2000).

Geoff Johns, Brent Anderson and Ray Snyder show a lighter side in The Second Landing from Superman #185 (2002), Action Comics #810 (2004) provides a Christmas and New year’s fable by Joe Kelly and a fistful of guest artists, and the book ends with the delightful tale of Lois Lane’s fight to break the story of that brand new hero Superman, in Lois and the Big One from Superman Secret Files and Origins (2005) by Jami Bernard, Renato Guedes and Nick J. Napolitano.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.