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Comic Review – Injustice 2 Annual #2

Injustice 2 Annual #2 Cover

Normally I try and review the first issues of new series or the starts of runs by new creative teams on long-running series. This is for the good and simple reason that, typically, that’s when people need a critic’s advice.

I’m making an exception this week for Injustice 2 Annual #2 for two reasons. The first is that the core of this book is an incredibly good Superman/Batman team-up story that stands on its own. The second is that this is said to be the final comic set in the world of Injustice and I felt the need to talk a bit about this little comic that could.

A quick bit of background for those who aren’t video game fans. Injustice was a fighting game utilizing various DC Comics characters, created by the same team responsible for Mortal Kombat. The series was set in a timeline divergent from the core DC Comics reality, where The Joker put his belief that “one bad day” could push anyone over the edge to the test on Superman. The end result was a dead Lois Lane, a Metropolis burned in nuclear fire and a Joker who laughed his last laugh as Superman punched through his chest. The action of the game opens five years later as the Batman of this world, one of the last free heroes left, summons the Justice League of another reality to help him retake his Earth from the army Superman formed to force peace upon the world.

Nobody expected much of the Injustice comic that was created as a link to the games. There’s a long history of terrible superhero video games and equally terrible tie-in comics. I myself ignored the title until an associate, who knew of my love of Green Arrow, said I had to check out Issue #5 of the digital edition. It was there that I read a silly little story that involved Green Arrow hunting down Harley Quinn and I instantly fell in love.

Injustice Green Arrow and Harley Quinn

It is worth mentioning that Injustice: Gods Among Us first came out at the height of The New 52 revamp, when DC Comics was busily trying to remake Harley Quinn into their version of Deadpool and Green Arrow into their version of Tony Stark. The book’s presentation of the classic Harley Quinn and Oliver Queen attracted many fans who were turned off by DC’s latest reboot and it is hard to say how much seeing the classic versions of the characters at a time when they were sorely missed may have boosted the titles’ sales in addition to its clever writing, which was both touching and hilarious in equal measure.

Writer Tom Taylor spun a five year saga plausibly detailing how a grief-stricken Superman might slowly transform himself into a tyrant in a bid to stop anyone from suffering as he had. He also explored many questions the video game didn’t cover, such as why Earth’s magicians or The Green Lanterns didn’t step in to try and stop Superman before he went over the edge. (The short answer is that they did and things did not end well for anyone.) Yet in the middle of all this, Taylor wrote flashback stories that showed a great understanding of Superman’s character and many critics called Taylor’s “For The Man Who Lost Everything” the best Superman story of the past decade.

Injustice Superman Helps A Kid Fix His Bike

The story of Injustice 2 Annual #2 is a similarly retro story, showing Superman and Batman in happier times. After Bruce Wayne is nearly assassinated on behalf of a nationalist Intergang cell unhappy with Wayne’s sponsorship of a refugee assistance program, Clark offers his teammate a place to rest and recover while he and the rest of Bruce’s friends and family hunt down those responsible. It’s not much of a plot, but it does afford Taylor the chance to tell the sort of story he excels at, playing off of the reader’s expectations as he uses his knowledge of these beloved characters to bounce themselves off of one another in unexpected ways.

To say more than that would spoil the game, so I’ll simply say that Bruno Redondo, Rex Lokus and Wed Abott – Taylor’s artistic partners for the better portion of the runs of both Injustice comics – do a fantastic job on this issue, making it a worthy capstone for the series to date. If you want a good, old-fashioned World’s Finest team-up with solid writing and artwork, give this book a try. Then go back and see what you’ve been missing with the earlier Injustice comics. Even if you don’t care much for video games, they are well worth your time as one of the most interesting and well-developed Elseworlds in comics’ history.

9/10

Injustice 2 Annual #2 releases on November 21, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Uncanny X-Men #1

Uncanny X-Men #1 Cover

X-Men comics are a daunting thing to comic book newcomers. The franchise has one of the most extensive mythologies in history. There have been as many as a dozen X-Men books being published at any one time every month. And there are literally hundreds of characters, heroes and villains, making up the continuing saga of people born with genetic mutations, who use their powers to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Where do you start in all of that? It’s a fair question and everyone has their own opinions on the subject. The obvious answer is “at the beginning” but the classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby X-Men is a totally different beast than what came after Chris Claremont and John Byrne revived the series in the 1970s. And even their stories are totally different than the more recent Morrison/Quietly or Whedon/Cassady runs often held up as the “Best X-Men Ever!

(You just read that in the Comic Book Guy’s voice, didn’t you?)

Unfortunately, for all that Uncanny X-Men #1 does right in trying to present a good-old-fashioned X-Men story, it also falls into the same traps that have plagued the series for most of the last two decades. If you are a newcomer and don’t already know who all of the characters are, you’ll quickly become lost trying to keep track of all the players. If you’re already an X-Fan and –do- know who all the characters are, much of what you see in this issue will be old hat.

Case In Point: The credits page for this issue explains the basic idea of the X-Men and how there is one team of superheroes led by Jean Grey and a school for young mutants run by Kitty Pryde. There is a roster of character names and pictures, but this won’t help much as there are characters in the story not listed on the roster. Indeed, the very first page of the main story introduces Jamie Madrox (aka Multiple Man) and shows multiple copies of him running around trying to avert some disaster. The fact that Madrox has had access to a time machine since the Multiple Men mini-series last year is not explained.

Herein lies the biggest problem with Uncanny X-Men #1 – it assumes too much of the reader and doesn’t allow for the possibility of a newcomer seeking entry into its world. This is something of a problem for a #1 issue!

Ignoring that, there’s way too much going on in this issue, with three separate plot-lines and 20 characters. And that’s just in the main part of the book! There’s also three back-up stories, which eventually meet and turn into a large single story. All of these stories are full of action, but there’s little chance to get to know any of the characters as being more than powers and a codename. Heck, some of the characters don’t even get that much and spend the story standing in the background!

Established X-Fans will fare slightly better, but may not find anything new here. The ideas of a vaccine to cure mutation and an anti-Mutant Senator turning the populace against mutants have been done before in the comics and the movies. Heck, even the characters themselves seem to be snarking on how “been there, done that” the story of this issue is.

Uncanny X-Men #1 - Speech

The artwork is competently executed throughout. Unfortunately, like the stories, there’s little that is truly fantastic that stands out or grabs the eye. The one exception to this is the Jean Grey story written by Kelly Thompson and drawn by Ibraim Roberson. Brief though it is, Thompson manages to convey everything you need to know about who Jean is as a person in one monologue and Roberson draws the most gorgeous Jean Grey I’ve ever seen, while fitting an amazing amount of detail into every panel without losing any sense of clarity.

Uncanny X-Men #1 Jean Grey

In the end, X-Men fans will find Uncanny X-Men #1 to be more of what they like. Newcomers looking for an entry point into the world of Marvel’s Mutants would do better to check out X-Men: Red, which I think may well be the most friendly X-Men comic in years, as well as one of the best. And bonus – the first TP just came out last month.

6/10

Uncanny X-Men #1 releases on November 14, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

In Memoriam: Stan Lee (1922-2018 )

There are few occasions when I’ve been at a loss for words. This is not one of those occasions. Indeed, my problem now lies in deciding what words to use without forming an incoherent mass of babble. For how does one sum up the life of a man such as Stan Lee?

I could write about the history of comics and Stan Lee’s place in it. Because to write about American comics without discussing Stan Lee is like talking about American history without mentioning Thomas Jefferson. For all the controversy Lee has inspired over his treatment of his artist collaborators and the debate over just how much of his public persona as a shameless self-promoter was an act, Lee had an undeniable influence on the American landscape beyond even the world of comic books.

On that note, I could write about Lee’s status as a pitchman who could put P.T. Barnum to shame and how he made himself into the face of Marvel Comics. How many children of the 1980s still remember Lee’s bombastic voice-over introduction to every episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends or The Incredible Hulk? And who could forget his many cameos in the Marvel Comics movies?

I could write about Lee’s status as a writer from a writer’s perspective and his influence on the industry. How it was Lee (along with Jack Kirby) who hit upon the idea of writing superhero stories from a more realistic perspective, with characters who were not always perfect and superpowers that could be as much of a blessing as a curse. This led to the creation of The Fantastic Four, which would pave the way for other flawed heroes such as Iron Man, Daredevil and, of course, Spider-Man. I could also write about Stan Lee’s First Rule Of Comic Writing – write every story as if it were someone’s first comic, because it probably will be.

For the sake of human interest, I could write about the man himself and his life outside of comics. How he was a Veteran who served during World War II, first in the Signal Corps where he repaired communications equipment, before being transferred into the Training Film Division, where he worked at writing training manuals, scripts for instructional short films and, yes, a few comics. (While he did this, he had the official military classification of playwright, despite not writing a single play.) I could also write about his romance with a model named Joan Boocock, and how they shared 70 wonderful years as husband and wife.

Getting personal, I could tell stories of the many times I was lucky enough to see Stan Lee speak. I could talk about how I was there when Stan Lee was roasted at a New Years Eve convention in Dallas. I could also write about that brief span of seconds being rushed through an autograph line, where I simply said “Thank you for everything.” as he quickly scribbled his signature on a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15.

Perhaps all that is all that any of us who have ever read a comic book and dreamed can say?

Thank you, Stan Lee. For everything.

Titans Episode Review S01: E05

It’s been an interesting road for Titans up until now. With eleven episodes planned for the season, Episode 5 — or “Together” — marks the closest thing to a “half-way point” the show is going to have. So how does that point fare? Well, it’s nothing spectacular, but it does at least continue the trend of being “potato chips” (take a look at my review for Episode 4, if that throws you for a loop). That being said, there is one major slip-up that the episode makes that could very well irreparably damage the show as whole.

Before we get too carried away, however, let’s recap. Following a series of events, which include but are not limited to both blowing up a church and meeting a fully cognizant robot, all of our main players are now in one place. Dick takes this as an opportunity for the “team” become more familiar with their own abilities. There’s only one problem: a renewed Nuclear Family is hot on their trail. Suffice it to say, the results are explosive.

So let’s start with the good. First, the show is immensely more enjoyable when it has everyone in one spot. It feels more organic when a character is allowed to focus on more than one problem, something that becomes easier the more people someone can interact with. Granted, everyone sort of gets the short end of the stick compared to Dick Grayson, but they still have different stories building at the same time. Frankly, it adds some nuance to the decidedly straight-forward proceedings.

Without getting too close to spoilers, the choreography in this episode is quite good as well. Unlike the infamous alleyway fight from Episode 1, movement doesn’t feel as jerky or sped-up here. Camera cuts are fast, but not so fast as to be confusing. There is a slight dip in quality midway through one fight scene…a dip that, at least in terms of what this point entails, doesn’t really make a whole lot of narrative sense. However, even that is miles ahead of what we’ve seen up until now, and the quality also ramps back up after a brief interlude.

Now, what about the bad? Well perhaps the most pressing is that, at this point, the show seems to be meandering quite a bit. After Episode 3, it felt like we were on the cusp of getting some sort of answers, and I forgave the slow build-up to that point because of course you can’t have everything all at once. Yet, two episodes later, and we really don’t have any new knowledge in terms of the larger, overarching plot. On top of that, it doesn’t seem like the show even knows how or when it’s going to divulge something critical. The whole affair is somewhat of a confusing mess, and it feels like the writers are just going to keep stringing us along until Episode 9.

And as for my not-at-all-hyperbolic position of the show being in ruins due to ONE decision? Well, depending on who you ask, it may not be as doom-and-gloom as that, but it is indicative of a larger problem in terms of character-building. There is one interaction between two characters that, if you know anything about the source material, is not exactly a surprise, but is also done so haphazardly and hastily that you might get whiplash from seeing it. This is something, that if played right, would have been an easy home-run — something so expected yet hoped-for that it wouldn’t have mattered if it didn’t have the best lead-up. Instead, the writers opted for NO lead-up whatsoever. It’s a nonchalant rush to the finish, and it makes about as much sense as that phrase.

So, yes, Episode 5 is a glimpse at what the entire show is leading to — a fully-functioning Titans squad — and that’s very exciting. Despite all of the show’s problems when it comes to its script, CG, or just acting in general, it still knows how to relish in the fun of finally throwing all of its heroes together (sorry, I couldn’t resist). However, it still can’t seem to get past its extremely lacking writing quality and character development. In earlier episodes, it was just something to hopefully chalk up to growing pains, but as we approach that 60%-mark, the show desperately needs to find something to give us that’s more worthwhile than just, “These are the Teen Titans you know…with a twist!”

6/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Comic Review – The Green Lantern #1

The Green Lantern #1 Cover

When you think about it, Green Lantern is one of the more awkward superhero ideas in existence. It makes a little more sense if you consider it in the context of the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who was originally going to be Alan Ladd as a modern take on Aladdin. (His name became Alan Scott after it was decided they couldn’t risk a lawsuit from a screen actor with that name.) From there we get the idea of magic rings and magic lamps and suddenly the idea of a ring and lantern that allow you to wish whatever you want into being makes perfect sense.

It became somewhat stranger in 1959, when the concept of Green Lantern was revamped with a science-fiction twist, to capitalize on the increasing popularity of science-themed comic books. In the wake of The Space Race and the increasing emphasis on science in the schools at the time, the comic publishers flipped the arguments of censors who said that comic books encouraged juvenile delinquency and started marketing comics as educational material.

While one could make a case for the “Flash Facts” in The Flash teaching some basic scientific principals, Green Lantern was not quite so scientifically minded. Though his ring was now powered by alien science instead of magic, the basic principal of a ring and a lantern that enable its wielder to create whatever they willed into existence remained the same. Hal Jordan’s greatest contribution to the efforts to teach science were largely limited to inspiring kids to look to the stars and acting as a role-model to those kids who wanted to fly as a test pilot rather than a superhero. Of course the idea of a group of alien space cops was pretty awesome, even if it wasn’t all that educational.

I mention all this history because I found myself pondering the origins of Green Lantern as I read The Green Lantern #1 and how writer Grant Morrison said that he was going back to basics. No more of Geoff Johns’ mythology regarding a whole spectrum of Lanterns who drew power from emotions! Say goodbye to Peter Tomasi’s sprawling military epics! The Green Lantern would be a police procedural in space, with a thin green line separating law from chaos as Hal Jordan found himself trying to be a lawman in a cold, indifferent universe, while Morrison explored just how a simple Earthman could enforce local laws that he couldn’t even understand because of his inherently limited viewpoint.

Such ideas are bread and butter for Grant Morrison, who has a reputation as a brilliant writer when he can carry his ideas off. It remains to be seen if he will be pulling this one off in the end, but this much can be said after a single issue – I want more!

Morrison is well-matched in this endeavor by Liam Sharp, whose work was most recently seen in the DC Rebirth Wonder Woman series. Sharp’s artwork is simply amazing, managing to be smoothly streamlined yet heavily detailed without feeling at all cluttered. Steve Oliff’s colors provide the perfect vivid finishes to Sharp’s pencils and inks, making this one of the most beautiful books in recent memory.

The only real weakness to The Green Lantern #1 is that it doesn’t quite live up to the reputation of its writer or the pre-release hype. We were promised Grant Morrison doing things with the concept of the Green Lantern Corps that would be wholly inconceivable. Not only was most of The Green Lantern #1 conceivable but I can tell you precisely where some of the wilder ideas in this book (such as X-Ray Lanterns and Microwave Lanterns and other Lanterns for wave-lengths of light that do not have a color) originally came from.

It is entirely possible, however, that Morrison is merely establishing a world for the sake of the newcomers before he starts to rebuild it. And even if his talk about redefining Green Lantern was just that, Morrison still spins a perfectly serviceable story here. Couple that with Liam Sharp’s art and there’s plenty of reason to give this series a shot for a few months to see how it develops. Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of the Green Lantern Corps or an old hat when it comes to the ring-slingers, this book is guaranteed to light up your life.

8/10

The Green Lantern #1 releases on November 7, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.