DC has changed their DRC policy (at least for me), where I can no longer download the books. Instead, I can read them, but only between the time they're posted (usually Friday afternoon) and when they're removed (Monday morning). Since reviews are embargoed until the books go on sale the following Wednesday, I'm presented with two options: A) Spend my weekend reading all the DC books to the exclusion of all others or time with my wife, write reviews on Word or something while I have the books before me, and then try to remember to post those reviews three days later, or B) I can just read what I can fit in before I go to sleep those three nights, and throw some hazy, half-remembered reactions on the web three days later.
Guess which I picked.
Which, I admit, is kinda cheesy. To offset my own inadequacies (and to jog my memory), I'll post the previews they provide as well.
Ready? Here we go ...
Batman Annual #4
In this new annual, it’s two unique stories by BATMAN mastermind Tom King! First, King re-teams with Lee Weeks, his collaborator on the Eisner-nominated BATMAN/ELMER FUDD #1 to send the Caped Crusader into space in search of the rare element he needs to save a life on Earth. But what terrible gauntlet of tyrants and monsters will he have to go through to reach his objective?
Then, it’s back down to Earth and the grimy streets of Gotham City as King and acclaimed newcomer Jorge Fornés task the Dark Knight Detective with a dangerous case only he can solve.
48 page Annual · AUG190484 · 76194134835300411 · $4.99
The structure of this story was a day-to-day diary by Alfred of what Batman did that day. Each day is filled with an entirely different adventure -- one day, he's chasing crooks across rooftops on horseback, in the next he's fighting a dragon, and so forth. This is a lot of fun, because it showcases Batman's many different strengths -- as a fighter, detective, escape artist, dragonslayer, etc.
The adventures get shorter and shorter, until finally it's just a sequence of panels, one from each day/adventure, just a snapshot. Each snapshot is self-explanatory, with Batman wrestling a crocodile, or investigating an Egyptian tomb, or decked out like a pirate on a three-master, or whatever other genre they're exploring. What it reminded me of in the moment were those terrific painted Batman trading cards from the '60s, each of which essentially told a one-panel story (with the actual story on the back).
Again, great fun. And what makes it work is Lee Weeks, whose style is extremely reminiscent of David Mazzucchelli, whose "Batman: Year One" is still a highlight of my Bat-collection.
I don't recall the second story mentioned in the blurb above, so either it wasn't included, or I closed the book too quickly, or it wasn't memorable.
An EVENT LEVIATHAN tie-in issue! Years ago, Wonder Woman saved young Maria Paul from an explosive standoff between A.R.G.U.S. and the insurgent Sons of Liberty. By pulling that child from an inferno of hate, Wonder Woman changed her life. Diana watched Maria grow up into one of A.R.G.U.S.’s top agents. Every step of the way, Wonder Woman mentored Maria, taking her on her first mission – a daring rescue in Gorilla City. But when Leviathan decimates A.R.G.U.S., Diana’s absence causes Maria to question everything, pushing her toward Leviathan itself. And when she does…the truth about her fiery rescue by Wonder Woman might just kill her.
40 page Annual · AUG190572 · 76194135066000311 · $4.99
This is a long shaggy-dog story where you know that at the end the girl who idolizes Diana will obviously be fed a line by a supervillain and instantly become a vengeful foe. Because people in comics are easily persuaded to give up lifelong beliefs when an unreliable narrator, who is clearly lying, feeds them a line of bull. And, of course, she's not going to believe Wonder Woman when she tells you different, even though she was quite literally the Goddess of Truth for a while, and has a lie detector hanging on her hip. Anyway, where this origin story is going, despite its implausibility, is pretty obvious early on if you've ever read a Silver Age comic book. Then you have to slog your way to the end.
Also, mysteriously, the new character is given Donna Troy's first origin. I guess she's not using it currently.
My disinterest in this story isn't all writer Steve Orlando's fault; artist V. Kenneth Marion is equally at fault, for his angular, kinda cartoony art that I didn't care for at all. Not everyone has my taste in art, so your mileage may vary. The preview is below.
The bullet that shattered Nightwing’s life was the shot fired by the KGBeast in the now-infamous BATMAN #55—and it changed the course of Dick “Ric” Grayson’s career. Gone were the memories and alliances that once defined him, replaced by a near blank-slate persona.
Now go inside those early moments of Ric’s new life, his strained reunion with a stranger named Bruce Wayne and an entire life turned upside down. But amid the chaos lies opportunity…not for Ric, but for an old foe who’s been waiting a lifetime for a moment like this. Echoes of the past return in a story that tees up Nightwing’s own Year of the Villain!
48 page Annual · AUG190548 · $4.99
I didn't have time to read this one. (It was on the bottom of the electronic pile, because I've never been much of a fan of Dick Grayson as a solo character, but at least he's got a Bat-commection. So "Ric" Grayson interests me not at all, since what slight bits I liked have been excised.)
Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and only a few remaining members of the Justice League stand between life and annihilation. As the remnants of humanity make their last gamble for survival, will there even be a planet left to call home when all is said and done? The senses-shattering conclusion to the year’s surprise blockbuster is here!
40 page Comic · AUG190505 · 76194135976200611 · $4.99
I read the first issue of this and thought, "I've already read this when it was called Marvel Zombies." Which is not to say that this book followed the path of that earlier series exactly -- actually, MZ took a twist I didn't see coming and became kinda hilarious -- but the general outlines of your typical zombie apocalypse are pretty obvious early on, and it's just a matter of seeing who's going to turn before the inevitable scattered survivors escape. And you can bet the big guns will be among the first to go (or there wouldn't be much of a story).
So DCeased was always last on my list to read the last few months, and I usually never got around to it before it went away. Until now, with the final issue, that is, where ... all the big guns have been turned, and scattered survivors escape. Looks like I didn't miss much.
But for all that, I'm always a sucker for a zombie story, so I won't kick DCeased any harder. I love the sheer drama of zombie stories, where friends become impossibly awful, heart-breaking antagonists. There's an especially good moment in this last issue when the survivors learn that Superman has turned, and the immediate comment is "... then all hope is gone." Talk about drama!
And I thought the art was very good, too, from one of DC's many Jim Lee-inspired artists.I might even get the collection.
Despite the strongest objections from every possible authority—including district attorney Harvey Dent—Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s found herself with free access to every inmate in Arkham Asylum, where she desperately pursues a revolutionary and highly controversial cure to the insanity of Gotham. But her work with the city’s super-criminals quickly muddies the waters of good and evil, and in the deepest, darkest padded rooms of Arkham, even the words of a mad clown start making sense!
64 page Comic · AUG190524 · 76194135979300211 · $7.99
I love,love, love Stjepan Sejic's art, which is painterly without being stiff, with a soft naturalness that makes it feel like you're looking at people you might know, with textures you can imagine touching. I love it so much, I lingered over all of his quasi-porn Sunstone books for the art, despite having zero interest in learning anything whatsoever about the BDSM lifestyle.*
I can't really pass judgment on his writing, though as I didn't really read Sunstone and this story isn't exactly a great platform for him to show his creativity. I mean, we know the general outlines of this story already, and we certainly know the end, where Harley goes bonkers and becomes Joker's sex toy and punching bag. Not looking forward to that, to be honest, as battered-wife syndrome is all too real and sad, and my interest in Harley doesn't pick up until after she grows an identity separate from the Harlequin of Hate. It's just not a picture I want to linger on for ... how many issues is this? Six?
Still, the art is so compelling that I blew through the first issue and got halfway through this second one before the ugly started to creep in. I put it down one night, and never picked it up again.
That's not a comment whatsoever about the quality. But, like BDSM, this is not an area of the human condition I care to linger over.
Joker: Killer Smile #1
Everyone knows The Joker doesn’t have the most promising history with psychotherapists. In fact, no one’s even been able to diagnose him. But that doesn’t matter to the confident, world-beating Dr. Ben Arnell; he’s going to be the one to unravel this unknowable mind. There’s no way The Joker could ever get through the therapeutic walls Ben has built around himself. Right? There’s no way The Joker’s been entering his house at night…right? There’s no way The Joker has stood over his son’s bed, and put that book in his hands, the one with the, the, the…
The Eisner-nominated creative team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (GREEN ARROW, Gideon Falls) reunite for a psychological horror story where nothing is as it seems, your eyes can’t be trusted and Mr. Smiles is waiting behind the basement door.
Wait, who’s Mr. Smiles?
32 page Comic · AUG190446 · 76194136563300111 · $5.99
Wait, ANOTHER story about Joker driving his psychiatrist crazy? Look, it was a great story when Alan Moore told it in Watchmen 33 years ago, but I've read it way too many times since then. This first issue doesn't promise much else -- Joker's psychiatrist is already hallucinating violent scenes -- but fingers crossed that they've got some better story in mind.
Tales from the Dark Multiverse: The Death of Superman #1
The Dark Multiverse takes on the highest-selling comic book event of all time—the Death of Superman! In a broken world much like our own, Lois Lane, twisted by rage and grief, becomes the Eradicator and takes revenge on those who let Superman die, and the corrupt world he could never defeat. Now, with the power of a god, she’s going to end the battle by any means necessary…and the Reign of the Supermen will be over before it begins!
48 page Comic · AUG190462 · 76194136491900211 · $5.99
Oh, look: It's What If?
Seriously, we're going to see alternate versions of stories we know, narrated by The Watcher an omniscient observer who does not interfere.
Lack of originality when it comes to the premise doesn't necessarily negate the story, though -- like with What If? the story is going to rise or fall according to the talents of the people telling it. And it's What If? with an entirely new set of characters and storylines, so lay on, MacDuff.
This issue shows an alternate ending for the Death and Life of Superman, where Lois Lane vows vengeance! Vengeance! VENGEANCE! Moo-hoo-ha-haaaaa!
The soul of Katana’s husband, Maseo, is experiencing great unrest within her sword! The Outsiders must find a way to relieve him, or else the blade itself may shatter, unleashing not only Maseo but whatever unknown spirits and sorcery are trapped with him in the Pandora’s box of Katana’s blade!
48 page Annual · AUG190489 · 76194136031700111 · $4.99
This story was not a full Outsiders story, but one starring only Black Lightning and Katana, exploring her problem with her possessed blade. It looked interesting, and I hadn't yet figured out whether it takes place in the current day or not, and I am curious about Katana's status in the New 52 ....
... but I fell asleep. And the next morning the book was gone. Sorry.
Basketful of Heads #1
The rain lashes the grassy dunes of Brody Island, and seagulls scream above the bay. A slender figure in a raincoat carries a large wicker basket, which looks like it might be full of melons... covered by a bloodstained scrap of the American flag.
This is the story of June Branch, a young woman trapped with four cunning criminals who have snatched her boyfriend for deranged reasons of their own. Now she must fight for her life with the help of an impossible 8th-century Viking axe that can pass through a man's neck in a single swipe-and leave the severed head still conscious and capable of supernatural speech.
Each disembodied head has a malevolent story of its own to tell, and it isn't long before June finds herself in a desperate struggle to hack through their lies and manipulations... racing to save the man she loves before time runs out.
Plus, in the premiere chapter of the backup story "Sea Dogs," which sails across all the Hill House Comics titles!
32 page Comic · AUG190432 · 76194136377600111 · $3.99
OK, now we're getting to the good stuff.
Well, I think it's good. The art is more than adequate, bordering on charming, and the characters are very likeable. But we don't really get anywhere in this first story.
First, the story opens with a hooded figure (the one on the cover) carrying a basket, which has speech balloons coming out of it, generally complaining about stuff. Could it be ... a basketful of heads?
You're not going to find out in this issue, because that scene is never revisited. Instead, we meet our heroine, her cop-for-the-summer boyfriend and the police chief and his family, in a small town. (I want to say it's in Florida, but I don't remember why I think that.) The chief has to go out because four minor criminals have escaped a local prison, and the boy (and his girlfriend, which the blurb above assures us is the protagonist) is charged with staying with the chief's family just in case.
And sure enough, the four escapees show up, and they are appear to be more dangerous than advertised. Our heroes have little to defend themselves with, except, I suppose, the collection of Viking weaponry the chief collects. As you do. And when our heroine passes one particular axe, an Yggdrasil glyph briefly glows red.
So, the outlines of the story come into focus. It's not the most compelling story in the world, but doggone it, I just like these people, and I want to see what happens.(And I feel badly for the boyfriend, because I suspect he'll be sacrificed so the girl can take the lead. You know, the reverse of what normally happens.)
Final note: Whatever that promo is that is mentioned at the end of the description, I don't remember it. Again, either it wasn't included, or I X-ed out at the end of the first story unaware it was there, or it left no impression.
The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1
The second year of the Sandman Universe begins with the long-awaited arrival of one of DC's most iconic characters...John Constantine, Hellblazer!
He's cheated death and damnation more times than he can count, but never like this. Long ago, in the crucible of a magical war waged across countless futures, Constantine was murdered by an all-powerful adversary: a twisted version of Timothy Hunter, bloated with evil.
But over the past year strange forces have conspired to restart Tim Hunter's tale, and somehow-amid sorcery, insanity and secret agendas-this older, wiser, wilier shade of Constantine has been dragged back with it. Unlike young Tim, John remembers every second of a life that went very, very wrong. Now he must ask himself why he, the last person in the world to deserve a second chance, has been given one. Is John Constantine here to put Tim Hunter on the right track and avert a terrible outcome? Or is it because he's the only person in existence with the guts to do what REALLY must be done? After all, he's a nasty piece of work, chief...ask anybody.
This oversize one-shot sets the stage, and is the perfect jumping-on point, for a new era of Sandman Universe tales beginning in November...and is the official start of the strangest chapter yet in John Constantine's long life!
40 page Comic · AUG190456 · 76194136642500111 · $4.99
Good lord, I've missed Constantine!
I didn't realize that I did miss the pre-New 52 JC, until this book scratched an itch I didn't know I had. But here's Constantine in his full Vertigo, English Invasion glory, all sharp edges and cigarette smoke and English slang. And, brother, it's like re-connecting with an old friend.
the book starts with the possible future for Tim Hunter we saw once before in Books of Magic (I know! They're reaching back to pre-New 52! Bite me, new version of Books of Magic, which I only tolerate!), where he becomes a magical destroyer. This scene goes farther than the original, showing most of the people likely to rise against Hunter already fallen, and while we don't see it, Constantine even coolly comments on how Zatanna (off panel) just lost an eye.
Then he sacrifices Chas for a moment's respite.
Well, yeah, he feels bad about it, sure. But that's Constantine, innit? But it's all going to hell anyway, and the world's about to end, and Constantine is dying (from being punctured by part of Chas' exploding cab, thank you, irony), when ...
... a future Constantine shows up. Offers "our" version a deal. Says he'll give John a chance to relive the past with knowledge of this future so he can stop it, with the price ... well, that's a bit murky, mate. Having no other choice, the dying Constantine agrees.
Oh, this isn't going to end well. Heck, it didn't begin well!
So then, yeah, we're back in London in the present day, and it's John in all his cynical, stained-trenchcoat glory. Man, I enjoyed every page of this.
The Last God #1
THE LAST GOD tells the story of two fellowships of heroes struggling with the same threat…30 years apart. One group will doom their world, the other must save it.
Thirty years ago, a band of heroes traveled beyond the borders of creation and killed the last living god, saving the realm of Cain Anuun from an apocalyptic army of the undead. The legendary companions became the rulers of their world and ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity. But it did not last.
Now the foul legions of the Last God march once more, laying waste to all of Cain Anuun and revealing that the aging fellowship may not be the great heroes they claim to be. With the world burning down around them, a new group of unlikely champions must band together and accomplish what no other has done: kill the Last God, once and for all.
THE LAST GOD: BOOK ONE OF THE FELLSPYRE CHRONICLES is a high-octane, no-holds-barred dark fantasy epic from writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Last Sons of America, Warlords of Appalachia, AQUAMAN) and artist Riccardo Federici (DARK NIGHTS: METAL, AQUAMAN), featuring additional work from Kai Carpenter (BOOKS OF MAGIC), Dean White (ALL-STAR BATMAN, Uncanny X-Force) and Jared Blando (Dungeons & Dragons).
32 page Comic · AUG190448 · 76194136090400111 · $4.99
To be honest, I was fighting Morpheus when I read this one, and I don't remember very much about it.
All I can remember is that it felt derivative. A little Game of Thrones here, a little H.P. Lovecraft there, some Hollywood Jason and the Argonauts swipes, all in a sort of Hyborian Age.
But I can't swear to any of that. I was pretty sleepy.
Not provided: Dollar Comics: Superman #75, Aquaman Giant #1 and Ghosts Giant #1.
How y'all like this? Useful, or a waste of time?
The art in that Wonder Woman Annual preview is oddly unsettling. The air / jumping scenes need work to look anatomically believable, and the facial expressions seem to need better inking.
I like the "quick takes."
I like the quick takes too, Cap.
A couple thoughts on the ones I read:
Batman Annual: I loved this issue. Incidentally, the solicitation they sent with the book is wrong; both stories were replaced with the Alfred's Diary story we got, largely drawn by Jorge Fornés (with some pages at the end by Mike Norton). DC changed the contents a month or so ago, but it looks like the old solicitation copy got attached. Hopefully that Lee Weeks story will appear eventually.
Wonder Woman Annual: I feel the same way: The story was pretty predictable, and the art was sub-par.
Basketful of Heads: I loved this one, and can't wait to see more. I wrote a lot about it in the New Title Alert thread.
Sandman Presents: Hellblazer: Man, it's good to have John Constantine back. I don't dislike the DCU version, but finally we're seeing the real deal again.
I also like the quick takes. The sample and the review inspire me to get Basketful of Heads in TPB.