Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

By Judd Winick & Joshua Middleton

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-296-7

Good, old fashioned comic book romp as the Man of Steel meets up with neophyte superhero Captain Marvel, who is in fact a little boy with a tremendous gift. Full of big fights, dastardly villains, giant monsters and robots, all rendered in a painterly style very reminiscent of the old Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons.

This is a great read for all ages and serves as a solid introduction for anyone unfamiliar with some of the major players of the Infinite Crisis volumes.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Vengeance

By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-4012-0921-1

Here’s another triumph of style over substance as our heroes are targeted by a strangely familiar – not to say almost dangerously copyright-infringing – team of super heroes from another reality – another? again? – bent on obtaining vengeance for the murder of a team-mate at the hands of – surely not? – Superman and Batman!

This further interdimensional foofaraw follows on from Superman-Batman: Absolute Power with a graphically astounding package of rollercoaster twaddle with lots of branded guest-stars but very little sense. Ooh, Shiny!

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: Gotham County Line

Batman:Gotham County Line

By Steve Niles & Scott Hampton, with Jose Villarrubia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-401-3

Eerie and evocative thriller as Batman investigates a serial killing spree in the sleepy suburbs of the big, bad city that only really kicks into high gear after the death of the perpetrator. Batman is one of the few heroic icons who has always been equally at home with super-science and the supernatural and the Dark Knight’s arena is here extended to beyond the veil of tears and deep into nightmare territory.

Rife with zombies, ritual killers, early life revelations and the odd guest-star, this still manages to be a crime thriller and a detective mystery that Bat-fans will enjoy and cross-over readers – especially horror aficionados – will revel in.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino

(DC Comics)

Hardcover ISBN 1-4012-0447-3 Paperback ISBN 1-84576-144-8

This most reductionist, iconic version of the World’s Finest team returns in a bewildering romp that is an aging fan-boy’s dream, as the time-travelling Legion of Super Villains co-opt history by raising Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be the conquerors of Earth, thus provoking universal doom and a plethora of DC guest stars from all histories and genres dying heroically before our consensus of reality is restored.

Although there is a vast amount of razzle-dazzle from Jeph Loeb and spectacular art from Pacheco and Merino, it still fails to really satisfy, and even the most desperate of continuity freaks know that everything’s going to come out right eventually.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Superman: Infinite City

Superman: Infinite City

By Mike Kennedy & Carlos Meglia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-176-6

This original graphic novel is a sadly lightweight piece of fluff that sees investigative reporters Mr and Mrs Kent tracking down the source of a devastating super-gun, only to be sucked into a strange time-warped dimension. There they become embroiled in a civil war between greedy, slimy, power hungry industrialist Jesden Tyme (yes – oh, ha ha – indeed) and the robotic Mayor, who just happens to be a download of the consciousness of Superman’s father, Jor-El.

Lavishly illustrated in the manner of an animated feature film, the stylizations of Carlos Meglia may not be to everyone’s taste. The plot from Mike Kennedy (Lone Wolf 2100, Star Wars: Underworld and the sadly under-appreciated Ghost/Batgirl, among others) lacks any punch or originality of its own, relying on the clichéd and oft-rehashed. However, as is often the case in these days of sound-bite culture, the dialogue is sharp and effective, and some of the interplay between Lois and Clark is delightful. Perhaps the comic book powers-that-be have returned to an old philosophy, feeling that readers aren’t consumers for life but only read funny-books for a brief time before graduating to DVDs and computer games or regressing to those old fashioned book thingies.

Still, a new graphic novel is a rare enough investment in these days of translated Manga and album editions of almost anything that reaches 6 issues in its own monthly comic, so perhaps we should just shut up and support the gesture.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Face the Face

Batman: Face the Face 

By James Robinson, Don Kramer & Leonard Kirk

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-377-7

After the never-ending calamity of DC’s Infinite Crisis event, 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.

In Face the Face Batman and Robin return to Gotham after a year’s absence. Why and where they went is unknown, but in their place as protector of the city they left arch criminal and literal head-case Two-Face. Although nobody’s safe choice for a hero, the ex-villain has done a sterling job of crime-crushing, so why has he seemingly returned to his old ways of murder and mayhem now?

As a number of small-fry super-criminals are killed in Two-Face’s signature style, Batman and Robin must either prove a frame up, or catch a man they thought they had reformed. Naturally there’s more to this than at first appears and new tragedy lurks around every corner. In Gotham City, nobody ever gets away clean.

Tightly plotted, and well illustrated, this nonetheless reads more like a private eye thriller than a tale of the towering and tormented Dark Knight that we’ve all come to know. Is that a portent in itself? Fans should, naturally, keep tuned…

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: City of Crime

Batman: City of Crime 

By David Lapham, Ramon Bachs & Nathan Massengill

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-336-X

David (Stray Bullets) Lapham makes his Batman debut in a monolithic tale of the dark underside of Gotham. This bleak and sordid story sees the Dark Knight tackle the horrors of dead and missing children, baby-breeding rings, corporate skullduggery, blue-collar brutality, and the sinister machinations of an inhuman monstrosity that can raise the dead and easily replace his most trusted companions and friends.

Calling on his facility with the modern crime genre Lapham examines the master of disguise Batman deep, deep, deep undercover in search of an abducted child, through the uncommon lens of true contemporary evil that would not be out of place in a Vertigo comic. In a style that owes much to such movies as Donnie Brasco or Serpico we see how taking on another identity can affect even the Batman, and through a seemingly unconnected stream of excursions and capers we perceive a vast plot forming. Street shtick and super hero staples combine in an electrifying high-octane finale that owes much to Assault on Precinct 13 and Dawn of the Dead, as well as any comic showdown you’ve ever seen before.

Grittily illustrated in a methodical, underplayed manner by Star Wars artist Ramon Bachs, this stark fantasy is Batman at his evil-busting best.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Back in Action

Superman: Back in Action

By various

DC Comics ISBN 1-84576-432-3

As part of their One year Later strand, and following on from the continuity altering events of Infinite Crisis, DC comics brings us a Superman who has been missing from Earth for a whole year – how strangely reminiscent of that film it all seems – and who must now prove himself all over again to a doubting populace, government, and distressingly his own friends. Luckily a huge alien eBay style merchant monster has invaded Earth and is parcelling up all and sundry for auction – including all the superheroes – and the big blue guy gets to save the world in a live simulcast feed.

Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza write and Pete Woods draws an effective if uninspired little fable that should pass some time nicely, but the real gold is the three filler adventures from DC Comics Presents, a 1980’s title that teamed the Man of Steel with various heroes of the DC Universe. Here you can enjoy the Metal Men, Firestorm and Deadman in short, punchy romps written by Len Wein and Gerry Conway, and beautifully illustrated by the incredible Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

There’s a lot of gold in DC’s back catalogue along with the dross, and if a series or theme collection seems a losing prospect, I fully welcome them mining out the nuggets and putting them anywhere they might fit. Good stories should be read not stashed away.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Identity Crisis (softcover)

By Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

DC Comics

For such an impressive and far-reaching comics event, this collection is quite a slim and swift read.  Whilst the comic drove the narrative forward in the manner of a whodunit, most of the character by-play and the ripples of the bare events related could only be experienced in the (inter-linked) individual issues of the involved titles. When this is all absorbed week-by-week, month-by-month, the cumulative effect is both bewildering and engrossing, but such an experience cannot be duplicated in traditional publishing.

The plot involves DC heroes re-assessing their careers whilst hunting down the murderer of the wife of second-string hero/detective, Elongated Man.  As the investigation proceeds, heroes and villains confront many of their bedrock principles such as tactics, allegiances and even the modern validity of that genre staple, the Secret Identity.  The dialogue is memorable and the artwork magnificent and the aftershocks of the revelations did indeed live up to their hype. How sad then than this “core” book feels like a rushed “Readers Digest” edition, whilst many of the key moments are scattered in a dozen other (unrelated) collections.

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & the Monster Men

Batman & the Monster Men
Batman & the Monster Men

By Matt Wagner

DC Comics ISBN 1-84576-346-7

Grendel and Mage creator Wagner returns to the Dark Knight to update one of the earliest adventures (from Batman #1 no less) as evil genius Hugo Strange uses the hyper-thyroidal failures of his genetic experimentation as a means of procuring funds for further research. Since he’s evil that means lots of robbery, mayhem and half-eaten citizenry and mobsters. Set during the early days of Batman’s career, we’re also introduced to his first long-time romantic interest, millionaire’s daughter Julie Madison, who will also feature strongly in Wagner’s proposed sequel, The Mad Monk.

Solid, stylish story-telling make this a real treat for old-timers and new fans alike, and the clean, captivating art and colour is irresistible.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.