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Archive for the category “Graphic Novel Reviews”

Graphic Novel Review – The New Teen Titans, Volume One

The concept of the Teen Titans began in 1964 when teenage sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad joined forces in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54. They were joined by fellow sidekicks Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) and Speedy, Green Arrow’s teenage apprentice. There were some other characters too, but those were the main ones in a series that had only moderate success in the 1960’s and ’70’s. 1980 though, would see a brand new creative direction for the team when writer Marv Wolfman and penciller George Perez relaunched the title as The New Teen Titans.

New Titans

In addition to the returning sidekick characters of Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl, Wolfman and Perez brought several new characters to the team. Doom Patrol member and shapeshifter Garfield Logan joined, dropping his Beast Boy alias in favor of Changeling. Three new characters were created; the former athlete Victor Stone who now lived life as a half-human Cyborg, Tamaranian princess Koriand’r (alias Starfire) and Raven, an empathic monk who brings the new Titans together to defend the world from the threat of Trigon the Terrible. Debuting in the pages of DC Comics Presents #26 before moving to the new monthly series, the Titans quickly became a hit; eventually, the best selling comic that DC was putting out at the time. The first eight issues (as well as the story from Presents #26) were recently collected in a new paperback trade, and that is what I’m reviewing for you today.

The first thing that has to be said about these comics is that George Perez is an outstanding artist, and someone who only gets better when there’s a multitude of characters on the page. The book is absolutely gorgeous to look at, both in the action scenes and in the quieter moments where the characters are talking and getting to know one another. Even from the early stages there are several covers, panels and full page spreads that feel truly iconic. I especially admire George’s dedication to making sure that each of the characters has a wildly different body type and facial structure that is consistent throughout the book.

Trigon

Of course, pretty pictures only get you so far without a good story and engaging characters. Fortunately, Marv Wolfman is one of the very best writers to ever write comic books. Each member of the Titans has a distinct personality and skill set, and each is given a respectable amount of backstory. While obviously more focus is given to explaining where Starfire, Raven and Cyborg came from, the other characters all have moments where we get some insight into their minds. The early standouts are Raven and Cyborg, who even in the short span of eight issues have a ton of character development. They are the most introverted and least cooperative with the team concept, yet by the end they seem to feel at home in the group. Changeling is also a star of the book, serving as the primary vehicle for Marv’s keen sense of humor (and George’s for that matter).

Marv’s gifts for writing multiple characters and balancing them extends to the supporting characters and the villains. Both the awesome force of ultimate evil that is Trigon and the somewhat comical group of baddies known as the Fearsome Five are given equal care; Trigon is terrifying and the Five are entertaining. But another key theme is that of parents: Cyborg’s dad and Raven’s mother play key roles and have made some mistakes that have severe consequences for their children. Each parent feels real and the emotional conflict between parent and child is some of the strongest material in the book. Cyborg’s subplot with his father Silas is a story that I’m not ashamed to say brought me to tears at points.

JLA

The issues collected here offer almost anything a reader could want in comics. There are exciting adventures with high stakes, rich character development, a good mix of male and female characters, and just an overall sense of fun in these comics. Whether Wolfman and Perez want you to feel empathy, fear, joy, or sorrow, the one-two punch of excellent writing and stellar art always delivers. There is a reason these comics are considered classics; even today, they hold up as some of the best ever produced. This book gets the highest recommendation possible.

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Graphic Novel Review – Wonder Woman: Flesh & Bones

I tried to write this review without giving away any major spoilers from these books or the earlier ones in the series, but I soon realized that the major plot detail at the end of War plays such a pivotal role in these volumes that I need to spoil at least some of it in order to properly describe what Wonder Woman is going through as a character. If you do not wish to be spoiled, please save this review until a later time when I will not ruin your reading experience.

Goddess of War

Volume Five: Flesh

In the aftermath of Wonder Woman #23, Ares has been slain and left Olympus needing a new God of War. That role falls to Diana, who Ares had been grooming from the throne from a young age, despite her tendency to show mercy on the battlefield. The First Born also suffered a defeat at the hands of Wonder Woman and Apollo, the current King of Heaven, takes advantage by enslaving his eldest brother. He tortures the First Born in several sickening ways in an attempt to break him, which proves a difficult task.

It is worth noting that this particular volume is almost more about the First Born than it is about Wonder Woman, and that is okay. The First Born is a new villain in Wonder Woman mythos and isn’t based off a Greek god, so he requires some development. The first issue in the book is actual The First Born #1 from DC’s Villains Month from 2013. It tells the story of how Zeus left him to die, and how he did not die. I won’t spoil any more details than that, but I will say that Azzarello does a masterful job of building up a villain with a sympathetic backstory, but making him so monstrous that we don’t ever feel truly sympathetic towards him.

Volume five also serves as a showcase for Azzarello’s large cast of characters. They have all gone through something and lost something and are very well defined. Zola starts to feel the weight of the sacrifices others are making for her and strikes out on her own to take care of her child. Strife, driven by grief at the loss of War, lives up to her namesake by cruelly manipulating Wonder Woman and her surviving allies. Hermes continues to deliver piercingly accurate messages. But it is Hera who has probably my favorite moment in the book, with possibly the best one-liner ever.

First Born

Wonder Woman in Volume Five

Diana’s first major story in this book is her refusal to accept her mantle as the new God of War. While she is a warrior and did love Ares almost like a father, she is not like him. She is merciful and rational, while War was cruel and bordered on insanity. She’s also not keen on serving Apollo as one of the gods he is king of. It’s fun to see Diana stand her ground in the face of the Olympians, but it is also refreshing to see that just because she has Ares’ mantle doesn’t mean she is going to fundamentally change as a person.

Most of Diana’s attention is spent trying to save her brother Milan from Cassandra, a crazed sibling of hers who is devoted to the First Born and wants to find where he is. Milan’s gift of sight will point her in the way, but Milan refuses. The peril of their mutual friend brings Diana and Orion together once again, and while they still butt heads, it is clear that they make a good team. Diana again has to search for Zola when she runs off, but once she is found a much bigger problem arises; the First Born has escaped Apollo’s grasp, and makes his bid for the throne of Olympus.

Amazons

Volume Six: Bones

Diana has embraced her role as God of War, and now she has an army; the restored Amazons. Just in time, too. The First Born is the new King of Olympus and will bring death and destruction to the Earth. One by one, he targets the Olympians until all that is left is Hera, Artemis, Hermes and Diana, all on Paradise Island. It is all or nothing now, the epic final battle with the Throne of Olympus and the fate of the world in the balance.

Myself

Wonder Woman in Volume Six

I could literally gush forever about how amazing Wonder Woman is in this book. While many other characters have their moments, this is the final chapter and Diana takes center stage. It is glorious. First she boldly embraces her role as interim Queen of the Amazons, calling her people out on their failings, challenging them to think outside of themselves, and generally just being a morally just and uncompromising leader. I love watching Diana stick up for what is right.

But then there is her interaction with the First Born in the spectacular final issues. Azzarello has set up the whole book as a study in the duality of Diana’s nature. She is a warrior who loves peace. She will kill to save lives. She possesses great strength but holds herself in check for the sake of those she loves. And with the threat the First Born poses, it seems that she will have to give in to her more monstrous nature and be the Goddess of War to defeat him. After all, she is an Olympian, and none of them are blameless in this epic.

Diana’s speech to the First Born in the final battle is a defining moment for me; it shows Wonder Woman in the most dire of circumstances, but approaching it as she always has. And it’s refreshing to see her prove everybody else wrong, and show that sometimes it is better to be human than to be a god.

Goodbye

Final Thoughts

Read these books. End of story. If you love Wonder Woman or if you’ve never read a Wonder Woman book in your life, it doesn’t matter. The story does justice to the term “epic”, the cast of characters is colorful and memorable, and Wonder Woman is shown to be a spectacular hero, different from but just as worthy of fame as Superman and Batman. Azzarello takes chances and lays down the foundation for a new era of Wonder Woman comics, setting the standard at a very high level. And Cliff Chiang’s art makes Azzarello’s story one of the most beautiful comic books out there.

Graphic Novel Review – Wonder Woman: Iron & War

Issue #12 of Wonder Woman marked the first full year of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run ends with two important developments. First, Hera’s gambit that Zeus will return to his throne when she gives it to Apollo fails miserably, and the new King of Olympus rewards her betrayal by making her mortal. Second is that Zola’s son is finally born, but what should be a joyful moment turns to one of the most difficult emotional blows when one of Diana’s closest allies kidnaps the baby. Which brings us to the next volume of this series.

Volume Three

Volume Three: Iron

Iron is the longest Volume in the run, collecting issues #13-18 as well as the special #0 issue (more on that in a minute). It’s also probably my least favorite part of the story as Azzarello introduces us to several new characters. Diana meets Siracca, one of her sisters who is essentially a goddess of the wind, and also to another sibling; Milan, a demigod cursed with the ability to see through the eyes of every fly on earth. While these are characters ostensibly serve a purpose in helping Diana find Zola’s missing child, they are introduced in a somewhat clumsy fashion that has always left me somewhat underwhelmed. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that Diana eventually rescues the child, but where she finds it and who helps her are details I will spare for the sake of new readers.

There are two new additions to Diana’s team that contribute a lot of entertainment. Wonder Woman takes the now mortal Hera under her protection, partially out of sympathy but also because Hera may be the only one who can save her mother and the Amazons from the curse she put them under. Hera’s adjustment to being mortal and the naturally combative relationship she has with Zola are glorious highlights of the story. The other addition is Orion, who longtime readers will know from Jack Kirby’s New Gods stories as the biological son of Darkseid and the adoptive son of Highfather. Orion is sent by his father to Earth to protect a new threat that could destroy all life.

And while that is heavily implied to be Zola’s child, the book also introduces a new villain who is clearly the real threat; the First Born of Zeus. This ancient godling has dug his way out of the Earth’s core where he was banished, and now looks to claim Olympus for his own, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

Ares

Wonder Woman In Volume Three

There are two key dynamics of Diana that are explored in this volume, and they are very opposite of each other. Issue #0 is a highly stylized tribute to the Golden Age era of Wonder Woman stories, and tells of a teenage Diana’s life on Paradise Island. Diana is positively adorable as a child and Azzarello does a good job of keeping her in character with the Diana we know but keeping her younger, more naive, and more eager to prove herself. The primary focus here is that Ares, the God of War, sees potential in her to be the successor to his throne, and takes her under his wing. We see that Diana excels at combat and is certainly a brave and skilled warrior, but this issue also highlights a key difference between the two. Diana is merciful and peaceful by nature, while War is combative and ruthless. But this issue also shows a tender side to him as well.

But as for the main story, it becomes more obvious that Diana’s protective nature is less that of a guardian and more like a mother bear. She has to cope with Hera and Zola bickering, and Lennox and Orion bickering, and she somehow manages to pull them together and make them cooperate. And eventually, even become friends. She also sees her new siblings in a great deal of pain and gives them understanding and caring that they are probably not used to, and shows that love can be just as powerful a tool as aggression. Diana’s leadership, caring, and once again, the extreme lengths she will go to in order to protect the innocent in this mad power game of the gods, her defining attribute.

War

Volume Four: War

This volume contains only five issues, bringing the second year of the Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run to its epic conclusion. And I do mean “epic”, as issue #23 may be the best issue of the whole run and is one of my ten favorite issues of any comic ever. But I am getting ahead of myself. At this point in the story, things have settled and everything is starting to build to the conclusion. The First Born wants to be King of Olympus and will stop at nothing to accomplish this goal, stepping on every god in his path, including his mother. Diana finds herself having to protect her new friends from a vengeful Artemis and a raging First Born, and sees herself pushed to her limits.

Fortunately, she has powerful allies that will help her. Orion’s character is humbled in this book, and he also shows a heroic streak and the ability to do what is right even when it goes against his father’s wishes. And though they may disagree on some issues, Ares has fallen firmly in the camp of helping Wonder Woman protect the world from the wrath of the First Born. And though she may be afraid of her potential, Diana also takes a key step on the road to becoming the goddess she was always meant to be.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman in Volume Four

Appropriately for a book called War, we see Wonder Woman at her most combative. She has epic brawls with Artemis and the First Born, and shows that when she is battling monsters, she is not afraid to go to a place where Superman and Batman would never go; taking one life to save others. Diana also gets into verbal confrontations with Highfather (not a guy you want to make angry) that likely would have turned into a fistfight if her friends weren’t threatened. And she gives Orion a taste of her own medicine in a very memorable way; though she kisses him as a way of admitting her attraction, she also insists that he respect her. When he makes a smartmouth comment, she insists he respects her with her fist.

Seeing Diana so angry, aggressive and desperate, but for the right reasons, makes her a very compelling and layered character. She’s not always serene, she has emotions and sometimes they overtake her. This is when Diana really comes into her own for me; she is vulnerable, but in that vulnerability her strength truly shines.

New Gods

Final Thoughts

These Volumes are not as consistently good as Volumes One and Two; Azzarello introduces several new characters and not all of them work, and the book lacks a certain focus at times. But the character work is still very strong and there is more of a focus on Diana and what she’s going through and not just the war she got pulled into. Volume Four is an incredibly high note however, as all of the exposition is out of the way and it is just five issues of rising action building to a perfect conclusion of the second act. And as an extra bonus, Tony Akins’ art manages to improve before he is replaced with the far superior Goran Sudzuka, who isn’t as good as Chiang but is a darn good artist in his own right. He is tasked with drawing many of Diana’s quieter emotions and he does so excellently. Just like the first two volumes, definitely pick these up.

Graphic Novel Review – Wonder Woman: Blood & Guts

Wonder Woman is my favorite comic book character because of the first thirty-six issues of her series DC’s The New 52 relaunch. While I had plenty of exposure to her growing up through various television shows and had read George Perez and Len Wein’s seminal book Gods and Mortals before I started buying comics regularly, this is the series that made me fall in love with the character and her world. Written by Brian Azzarello and usually drawn by Cliff Chiang, the relaunched series put Diana in the middle of an epic story of family and betrayal steeped in Greek mythology. Feeling more like high fantasy than a superhero book, the book had a unique identity among the books I was reading. Coupled with Chiang’s stellar artwork and a host of memorable characters, it quickly became the book I anticipated most every month.

Queen Diana

Recently, I bought Volume Six of the series, completing the Azzarello and Chiang run. Rather than simply dive into that book and finally get the conclusion, I grabbed Volume One and binge read all six volumes in succession. This seems to be the way the book was intended to be read; one common complaint about the series from detractors is that the pacing of the story is very slow. But when read all together instead of over a course of three years, the slower issues don’t feel like such a letdown. The book is paced more like a book than typical comic books, which I understand can be unfulfilling when you only get one chapter a month.

But reading it all together was extremely rewarding, as I got to once again grow with the characters and ride along on their journey. That experience has cemented this as one of my favorite runs of all time, and I decided that I will be reviewing all six volumes in succession here. While certain story elements will be spoiled, my goal here is to avoid discussing the little details. I want to instead focus on what each book reveals about Diana as a character as she goes through this adventure.

Poseidon

Volume One: Blood

Issue one of the book sets the plot in motion with an incredibly effective hook, especially if the reader is a fan of Greek mythology. When the goddess Hera attempts to have a woman named Zola killed, she is rescued by Hermes, the messenger god, who sends her to Diana to make sure she is protected. The reason she needs protection is that she is pregnant… by Zeus. Diana takes her to Themyscira to protect her from Hera, but this proves a dangerous place for her to be when Hera’s daughter, a contentious troublemaker named Strife, comes to the island and reveals that Diana is herself a daughter of Zeus. This puts her at odds with her mother, who always told her that she was created by the gods from clay.

The title of this book is appropriate for two reasons, Azzarello’s Wonder Woman run is a gory affair; the first issue alone sees horses decapitated so that they can be transformed into centaurs, one of which later has her arm removed by Diana’s sword. But it soon becomes clear that this is a story about family, both the one we are born into and the one we make for ourself. Diana’s revelation that she is truly her mother’s daughter is one she has trouble coping with, but it also puts her in perhaps the most notoriously awful family in the history of fiction. The Greek gods are always at each other’s throats, struggling for power and never letting go of old grudges.

Feeling no longer at home with the Amazons but not exactly at home among the warring gods, Diana ends up creating a new family for herself. She and Hermes work together to protect Zola and Diana’s unborn new sibling. They are soon joined by Lennox, another child of Zeus whose skin is made entirely of stone. Together this ragtag group of loosely related heroes have to contend not only with Hera’s wrath, but the ambition of Poseidon and Hades, both seeking to claim the throne that Zeus has abandoned. Also planning to usurp the throne of heaven is the sun god Apollo, who works from the shadows to plan his ascent.

Bracelets

Wonder Woman in Volume One

Though she is a late arrival in her first issue, Diana makes an immediate impact. This issue makes no attempt to hide the fact that Diana is an amazon and is thus very powerful. When Zola is teleported to her room by Hermes and Diana isn’t sure who she is or why she is there, she grabs Zola by the throat and it is intimidating. The fact that she is considerably taller doesn’t help matters. But when Diana realizes that she is frightened and in trouble, her mood immediately changes to one of compassion; she selflessly embraces the role of protector. Then she proceeds to kick centaur butt; if you’ve never seen Wonder Woman in action, this is one of the best examples of it as she shows how skilled she is as a fighter.

Diana is also shown to be at odds with her Amazon sisters. While her mother Hippolyta clearly loves her, it isn’t a sentiment shared by all of them, especially when she brings a pregnant girl and a male (divine though he may be) to their island. We get a sense that Wonder Woman’s loyalty is torn between the world at large that needs her protection, and the Amazons whose approval she is desperate to earn. But when it is revealed that her mother has lied to her about her parentage, Diana seems to clearly choose a side.

There has been a great deal of controversy about Wonder Woman’s revised origin as the daughter of Zeus, and to an extent I can understand why. The idea that Diana suddenly has a father and that years of continuity is thrown aside is potentially unsettling. But what I enjoy is that Diana never develops “daddy issues” or seems to care that Zeus is her father. After all, he’s not a man, he’s the king of the gods. She’s probably felt like his child all along in a sense, just not so literally. The only thing that matters is that she was lied to, and Diana despises dishonesty. As for my take on the whole thing, I think it’s a great move. It helps explain why Diana is so much more powerful than her Amazon sisters, and gives her a more direct connection to the Greek myths that serve as the background in her best stories, including this one.

Diana

Volume Two: Guts

Issue #6 ended with Diana manipulating Poseidon and Hades in order to draw Hera out and blinding her to Zola to prevent her from being hunted. It’s one of the brightest spots of Volume One, but just when Diana experiences a great triumph, she suffers a loss when Hades (who is referred to as “Hell” in this book) lures Zola into the underworld. Naturally, Diana takes it upon herself to rescue Zola, but not before taking a detour to Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, for some necessary upgrades to her armor and weapons. Diana’s journey into Hell’s realm takes up the bulk of this story and is full of plenty of fun twists, which I won’t spoil.

When Diana manages to save Zola, things go from bad to worse in a hurry. What was days to Diana and crew were months in hell for Zola, and consequently she is now in the final stages of her pregnancy. Apollo, along with his sister (and possibly lover) Artemis start to hunt the child as well. Apollo is doing this as a favor to Hera in exchange for Zeus’ throne, which leads to a climactic battle on Mount Olympus where Wonder Woman shows the full extent of her power for the first time.

Cuffs

Wonder Woman in Volume Two

While the first six issues showcase Diana’s protective instincts very well, this book expands upon the idea as Diana literally goes to hell and back to save Zola. A strong theme in this volume is Diana’s love for all human life. it is the driving force behind all of her actions and leads to some interesting discussion with Hephaestus and Hell. But while Diana is willing to put her life on the line for others, that same love makes her reluctant to accept help from her new teammates. She doesn’t want them to get hurt, but it’s also clear that she has some insecurity and wants to prove that she can do things by herself. I feel like this is a very good character flaw for Wonder Woman; as a product of a warrior culture, she should be competitive and independent, even when she needs to rely on the strength of others.

The final issue’s fight between Diana and Artemis is one of the coolest moments in any Wonder Woman book ever, but it also subtly introduces a new defining character trait. We see that Diana is always holding herself back, never embracing her true power because she is afraid to hurt others with it. And I like this idea, particularly as an evolution of the themes of loving submission that William Moulton Marston intended for the character. While his ideas probably went in some directions they didn’t need to, Azzarello isn’t afraid to address them. Instead, he uses this display of Diana’s power to show that the “Bracelets of Submission” do restrain her for our safety. Not hers, but for ours. The fact that Diana has truly godlike power but chooses to reign it in is an excellent modern interpretation.

Wonder Woman

Final Thoughts

Blood and Guts are an excellent start to the Azzarello and Chiang run. They aren’t afraid to make bold narrative decisions, but the true strength of the book is the excellent characterization. While Diana is the most fleshed out character, each of the gods feels very true to the classic mythos and Zola is a very likable character in her own right. Azzarello’s writing is certainly a major contributer, but Chiang’s beautiful artwork helps tremendously. His facial expressions and body language really help to sell what the characters are going through. And as a completely irrelevant point, I can’t get over the way he draws Diana’s hair. It’s gorgeous.

But while Cliff’s art is magnificent, back-up artist Tony Akins work on issues five, six, nine and ten are decidedly not. While Azzarello’s story is still compelling, these issues lose a lot of the magic because of poor artwork. I would have loved to have seen what Chiang could have done with the same material. Akins’ contributions are the sole reason why this run is not my favorite of all time, which is a shame.

But aside from that, it should be abundantly obvious that these books have my full recommendation. They are some of my favorite comics of all time. If you don’t love Wonder Woman before reading this book, you will after only a few issues.

Graphic Novel Review – The Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 1 & 2

The X-Men were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963 as part of a campaign to meet the increasing demand for superhero comics after the success of The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. This new superhero team was made up of “mutants”, young men and women who were born genetically different and gifted (or cursed) with extraordinary powers. Stan Lee was simply trying to find a new origin for superpowers after bombarding readers with radiation in FF, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. Having his characters simply be born with their powers was kind of a cheat, but it was what Stan Lee did with this idea that made it genius.

Lee decided that normal humans would fear and in many cases hate these mutants, which allowed the book to become a commentary on various forms of prejudice. And while the first run didn’t exactly strike a chord with audiences, it laid the foundation for one of the most successful comic book series of all time when writer Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were tasked with revitalizing the franchise in the mid 1970’s. Chris Claremont would shortly replace Len Wein and became the most influential writer in the history of the team with a seventeen year run on the new “Uncanny” X-Men.

Masterworks

Volume One: Giant-Size X-Men #1 and The X-Men #94-100

I have already gone into great deal about the main members of the “New X-Men” in my very first post, so I won’t get too much into the powers of Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus or Cyclops. What is important here is that the original X-Men team is trapped on the living island Krakoa and Professor Xavier hires a new, international team of mutants to rescue his first students. In addition to those main new recruits, there was John Proudstar, a warrior of the Apache with impressive physical strength, and two of the X-Men’s old enemies: Sunfire and Banshee. Shiro Yashida channeled solar energy through his body and left the team after the first mission, but Sean Cassidy stayed on the team as a way to make up for his time as a criminal.

The second story features the new X-Men team going up against Count Nefaria in issues #94-95 and is somewhat clunky as new writer Claremont is working with Len Wein’s script for the second Giant-Size X-Men that never materialized. It is notable because of Thunderbird’s heroic sacrifice at the end of the mission, as a brand new character was killed off. The departure of Sunfire and death of Thunderbird were done in part because the writers felt that the characters had too much in common with Wolverine when it came to personality and didn’t want the team being so abrasive as a whole. In the end, I’d say they kept the right grumpy mutant around.

Thunderbird’s death is also one of the most important events in the life of Scott Summers; #96 deals with Scott’s grief at the loss of his teammate, the responsibility he feels for his death, and his determination to never fail again. I feel this is critical reading for anyone who thinks Scott is just a pouty boy scout; he’s that way for a reason. The fact that he’s put up against his brother Alex Summers in the next issue doesn’t help much.

Ninety Eight

The book really hits its creative stride around issue #98 when the Sentinels return. The mutant-hunting robots were one of the classic villains of the original run, but their look was greatly improved on in this issue. The team’s personalities are well established at this point and Jean Grey is brought back into the fold to help Scott be less miserable. The Sentinels take half the team into space while the others eventually follow them on a rescue mission. I won’t spoil any of the little details here but there’s definitely some fun moments and this is the first story since Giant-Size X-Men that feels like a true epic.

And the reentry into earth leads to one of the most defining moments in X-Men history as Jean Grey uses the full extent of her telepathic powers to protect her teammates from the radiation as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. Of course, if you only buy this one volume, this issue is an enormous cliffhanger as we don’t know the fate until the next issue. But it is definitely worthy of being the hundredth issue.

One O One

Volume Two: The X-Men #101-110

When the X-Men reenter earth and Jean Grey rises as The Phoenix, I feel that the growing pains are officially over and the unmitigated awesomeness of the Claremont era starts to begin in full force. The new team is put up against more old foes; The Juggernaut returns to team up with Black Tom Cassidy in #102-103, and while the X-Men narrowly defeat those villains they pretty much have to run with their tails between their legs when they come face to face with Magneto in #104. The fact that almost every victory is by the skin of their teeth adds a lot of tension to these books. There’s a sense of genuine peril that I feel a lot of comics lack, so the action consequently feels more urgent and thrilling.

Another important aspect of the Claremont era also starts to take shape here. Jean Grey’s telekinetic powers weren’t exactly the most dangerous in the world when Stan Lee created her in 1963 and she was usually written as the weakest member of the team. Claremont’s power upgrade allowed Jean to be the most powerful member, and with the second most powerful member of the team being Ororo Munroe, women were suddenly becoming just as important and cool as the men. This would set a precedent for many strong female characters that would join the team, who had fully fleshed-out personalities and could hold their own in a fight.

Magneto

While introducing the new audience to classic foes like Magneto, Juggernaut and the Sentinels was all well and good, Chris Claremont and his artists (Dave Cockrum and later John Byrne in this volume) would not have brought the franchise without new ideas. Volume Two’s biggest story is a space opera, throwing the X-Men on an intergalactic adventure and debuting the Shi’ar Empire and the extremely colorful Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar. This four-issue epic story is probably the height of Dave Cockrum’s run on the series, but when the art switches to John Byrne in #108 there’s a definite increase in quality. Byrne’s ability to draw memorable facial expressions is truly impressive and helps this Volume immensely.

While there are some growing pains in these early volumes of X-Men, there is so much energy and heart put into the characters and the story that the volumes are easy to recommend in spite of some notable flaws. There’s also a level of excitement in seeing so much of what would make the X-Men franchise what it is in relative infancy. In my book, these are must own and must read collections.

Graphic Novel Review – Thor: God of Thunder

Ever since I got into comics I’ve always considered myself to be a “DC Guy”. While I have always been aware of Marvel’s long list of cool superheroes, DC Comics seemed to cater more to my particular interests. But I always had a soft spot for Daredevil and the X-Men, so it wasn’t a case of blind company loyalty. Just a matter of what I was interested in at the time.

A major factor in my decision to give Marvel Comics a shot was the pure fun of Marvel’s The Avengers, the 2012 superhero blockbuster that not only showcased how fun the Marvel universe could be, but how interesting the characters were. So towards the tale of that year I decided to pick up several early issues from the Marvel NOW! initiative, Marvel’s somewhat half-heated attempt to replicate the success of DC’s New 52 relaunch the year before.

I expected to enjoy Iron Man and Captain America most since they were my favorite characters, but instead it was the other two major Avengers (from the movie anyway) whose comics stuck with me. While I will definitely get around to reviewing The Indestructible Hulk at some point, today I want to focus on Thor: God of Thunder.

Gatefold Cover

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 1 – The God Butcher

This first volume of Thor is written by Jason Aaron and features art by Esad Ribic. The major aspect that immediately drew me to this book was the way it was written. Jason Aaron understands that Thor is not just a superhero, but a mythological figure, a god straight out of legend. The structure and scope of this book feels less like traditional Marvel fare and more like an illustrated book of classic folk stories. Those illustrations are magnificent, I might add. Ribic’s art is some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen  in a comic and I often found myself pulled out of the story just to look at the drawings. So if that’s a huge selling point to you, I can’t recommend this book enough.

The actual story revolves around an immortal enemy of Thor’s named Gorr, who is the titular God Butcher. While his motives are not explained fully until the second volume, it is clear that Gorr is one of the most proactive atheists in the universe. He sees gods not as superior beings, but as negligent monsters who care only for themselves and not for the problems of the lesser people that worship them. Armed with this belief, he has made it his life’s mission to exterminate all divine life in the universe, which naturally brings him into conflict with Thor on several occasions.

One of the unique features of this story is that we are not following Thor at just one point in time. Thor first encounters Gorr in 893 C.E., where he suffers a rare loss in battle and is tortured inside of a cave by the God Butcher. While he lives to see another day, Thor is never able to forget the trauma he experienced at the hands of Gorr. In the modern day, Thor answers the desperate prayer of a child on a barren planet with no gods. Investigating the matter, Thor finds that the gods of the world have been horribly butchered and recognizes the work of Gorr.

Thor immediately searches for Gorr to bring him down, but if the future is anything to go by, he’s not very successful. Now missing an arm and an eye in the same way his father had, Thor is a king who is imprisoned in his own castle. He is the last surviving defender of Asgard, and Gorr’s personal vendetta against Thor has led to a slow, tortuous attack meant to draw out Thor’s suffering as long as possible. Not content with this, the future Thor charges into battle one more time to kill Gorr or to die honorably trying.

God Butcher

Thor, God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb

The first and second volumes of Thor: God of Thunder are inseparable to me, as issues #6-11 are simply a continuation of the story that Aaron and Ribic began in the first five issues. Gorr’s back story has an entire issue devoted to it, with art by Butch Guice. While there is no denying that the God Butcher is a monster, Jason Aaron is able to make him a tragic villain who suffered because of the negligence of his world’s deities and is taking out that injustice on every other god. Gorr is a rather interesting look at atheism and humanism; he is somebody that believes that all-powerful beings are inherently evil and must be destroyed, but he also doesn’t realize that the more gods he kills, the more he makes himself a god in the process.

The strength of the villain is what allows the story to stay engaging even during some of the odd points. Realizing that killing gods individually is a long and somewhat futile process, Gorr somehow travels back in time to kill the very first god. With his blood and the slave labor of captured gods, Gorr has constructed the “Godbomb”, which will destroy all gods throughout time and space once activated. It’s kind of a bizarre concept but a fitting escalation of Gorr’s crusade and provides suitably epic stakes for a story that brings three Thors from different time periods together to bring the madman down.

Battle in the Sky

Thor: God of Thunder is a comic that I genuinely love because it made me realize that Thor’s status as a god could be used to tell an epic story, and helped me to become a fan of Thor comics. This run in particular is one of my favorites because of the strength of the villain; Gorr the God Butcher truly feels like a worthy threat to the God of Thunder and that is not always easy to pull off considering how powerful Thor is. The art is captivating and the story is strong, and I truly feel that this will be considered one of the all time great Thor stories when all is said and done.

Graphic Novel Review – Aquaman: The Trench

The definition of “Superhero Fan” has changed considerably in the last decade and a half. When I was growing up in the 1990’s, the only comic book character that had something resembling a successful movie franchise was Batman. And while there was a really good selection of cartoon series featuring comic book characters, comic books were still the dominant medium for anyone wanting to see interesting stories for most superheroes. The genre also still had the stigma of being “for kids” among the general public, and was certainly not something you’d admit to liking if you were an adult who wanted a girlfriend.

Nowadays Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a box office juggernaut, the Flash and Green Arrow are TV stars, and you can go pretty much anywhere and find at least one girl with Batman or the Avengers on their t-shirt. A talking raccoon and a walking tree are adored universally and it’s generally expected that someone is going to have a favorite superhero.

But that doesn’t always translate into people reading the comics to get more information. Most are content to get their fix by going to a movie, and many more go to the internet where there are literally billions of fanfics that can be read. So the comic book medium itself still doesn’t feel as relevant as it should be. I don’t get weird looks when I bring a comic book to work, but I know I’m the only one who does.

So one of the key goals of this blog will be to introduce the readers of this blog to the comic book format, and hopefully encourage them to seek out the actual books and experience the art form. With that goal in mind, a regular feature will be graphic novel reviews, similar to my movie reviews. And with that introduction out of the way, let’s get onto today’s book.

Aquaman

Aquaman, Volume 1: The Trench

Written by Geoff Johns and with pencils by Ivan Reis, The Trench is the first volume of Aquaman in DC’s “New 52” reboot that occurred in 2011. This was a grand scale relaunch of the DC Universe, with every comic’s numbering being reset to “#1” and with the goal of making the most iconic superheroes in the world accessible to the modern reader. In terms of sales, it was certainly a success, helping DC to have its most successful year in comic book stores in a very long time. But financial success does not always equate to creative success. Just like before the New 52, some comics were great, some were terrible, and most were somewhere in the middle.

Aquaman falls firmly into the first category. Geoff Johns is a writer known for being able to take iconic characters and fleshing them out so that they meet modern standards of character depth. He helped reintroduce comic book readers to Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, making them the iconic versions of Green Lantern and The Flash after so many years with Kyle Rayner and Wally West in the roles. So it’s no great surprise to see him tackle a project like this. Aquaman is a character that pretty much everybody knows, but he’s also been the butt of jokes for a very long time. So how do you make Aquaman interesting and cool again?

The answer turns out to be tackling the jokes head on. Anybody who thinks that Aquaman’s only powers are being able to breathe underwater and talk to fish gets a crash course in how powerful Arthur Curry really is right in the first few pages. He stops a robbery in progress by using his trident to stop an armored vehicle in its tracks and then flips it over his head. He proceeds to shrug off bullets like they are nothing and tosses the robbers around until they relent, then leaps several hundred feet away to move on with his day. The message is clear; Aquaman is one of the most powerful heroes in the DC universe and he does not have to be in the water to dominate a fight.

Krank

Yeah, go ahead and make fish jokes. I’ll stay over here where it’s safe.

Once Johns and Reis establish that Aquaman is not only cool but actually awesome, they dig into his character by showing the core dilemma of Arthur’s life. He is a man of two worlds, born in the human world but heir to the Atlantean throne, and whether he is above or below the surface he is neither respected or trusted. Most humans see him as a joke while many of the people of Atlantis consider his very existence to be blasphemy. It’s a very lonely existence, coming from two places but belonging to neither.

Fortunately for our hero, there is one place that he definitely belongs; next to his wife, Mera.

Royal Couple

Mera is a member of a banished tribe of Atlanteans that live in a city called Xebel. As strong as Aquaman but also possessing hydrokinetic powers (the ability to control water), she is quickly established as an equal to Arthur both in battle and outside of it. Indeed, one of the selling points of this comic to me is that it depicts a true power couple, a husband and wife who are saving the world together. Honestly, that’s really rare in any medium. Romantic interests in comic books are rarely equally yoked when it comes to the superpower department, but Arthur and Mera are able to do everything together and to make each other stronger.

Once the characters are established, the main plot gets going when monstrous creatures leave their home in an underwater trench, coming to the surface in search of food. They kill and eat several humans at Amnesty Bay and kidnap several more to take back home to feed their children before Aquaman and Mera arrive to fight them off. With people possibly alive in the cocoon-like sacks that the monsters put them in, the couple goes where only they can; down to the trench for a rescue mission. And while Aquaman knows that he has to do whatever it takes to protect people, he does face a moral problem because he can tell the race is dying off and are fighting for their survival. Is the safety of others enough of a reason to justify killing off an entire species?

The Trench

Aquaman, Volume 1: The Trench is the perfect book to pick up to get introduced to Aquaman. Ivan Reis’ art is spectacular and he is able to capture both the epic battle scenes and the quiet emotional beats with equal skill. Johns’ has a strong grasp on Arthur’s character, portraying him as a man with the weight of two worlds on his shoulders and unsure if he’s making the right decisions. The dynamic with Mera is one of the most unique in comics because the characters are portrayed as equals in every sense, and the moral dilemma that the trench creatures provide is one that is rarely touched on in comics.

Whether you are a fan of Aquaman or somebody who believes he’s a joke, The Trench is recommended reading.

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