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.

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.