Graphic novel: Superman Earth One (vol. 2)

The graphic novel Superman Earth One (vol. 1) was published in 2010 but I only recently discovered it. Oh, how I loved it! Therefore, I was even happier to discover that DC Comics had apparently decided to publish a second volume in 2012, which meant I could get another Earth One Superman fix!

Volume 1 – cover

Superman Earth One – Volume 2 does not disappoint! I guess in great part because its creative team is the same as in Volume 1: acclaimed writer J. Michael Straczynski has teamed up once again with well-known penciller Shane Davis; the inker, colorist and letterer from Volume 1 have stayed on as well. This creates high consistency between the two volumes, both in content and artwork, which adds to a great reader experience.

Story

The story is built beautifully and carefully. We start with Clark, who is now a reporter at the Daily Planet thanks to his “interview” with Superman at the end of Volume 1. His co-worker Lois Lane doesn’t trust the new guy however. Suspecting he’s hiding something about himself, she decides to dive into his past to ferret out who he really is.

Also, we get to see Clark’s new appartment in one of Metropolis’s poorer neighbourhoods and meet his lovely neighbour Lisa Lasalle, with whom he strikes up a quick friendship that seems to hold some ‘more-than-friendship’ promise for the near future.

Entertaining banter: check!

Clark is still trying to get his bearings as Superman when he’s forced to face his first real threat: the creature Parasite, who can siphon his powers away, making them his own. In a way this forces Clark to become more human than he’s ever been, since now he suddenly has to share all the vulnerabilities humans have to face every day.

Meanwhile the army still considers Superman a security threat and is spending more and more time and resources to find a way to kill him…

Likes

For the second time Straczynski and his team have delivered a quality story. It reads like a movie, with interesting characters and conversations, exciting action and, most importantly, a reimagining of Clark Kent/Superman that speaks to the imagination and even managed to actually move me – which to me is quite a feat for a comic.

Touching? This is just the set up. The panels following it really tugged my heart strings…

Furthermore, there are definitely elements in the story that have the same feel as the 2013 movie Man of Steel – having now read both Volume 1 and 2, I have the distinct impression that the script writers for Man of Steel used significant elements from these Earth One graphic novels – which I have no evidence for at all, except that some plot elements seem to be taken almost literally from the graphic novels. Anyway, I like the idea, for I think the quality of the graphic novels is certainly high enough for a movie to be based on.

Although it is a self-contained story, Volume 2 leaves lots and lots of room for more sequels, with more adventures, more character development for the lead figures and, of course, more of Clark/Superman.
Straczynski’s rendering of the character, by the way, is actually one of the few instances in which I can’t say whom I prefer: Clark or Superman. Usually I’m interested in the one, but less so in the other (which of the two I like may vary with different writers), but Straczinsky’s characters are well-built, including both Clark Kent and Superman. So, what a treat! 😉

Add to that Davis’s outstanding artwork, with a very good grasp of facial expressions and emotion, and I’m well underway to becoming a true Superman fan after all!

Dislikes

Given that Volume 1 was an epic heroic adventure and given that this is only the second volume in what may hopefully become a very long-lasting series, I felt the villain of this story, the man-monster Parasite, somewhat lacking. True, he presented a very serious threat to Superman, but I was at best only mildly interested. The Parasite origin seemed, to me at least, a bit contrived and far-fetched (yes, even in something as far-fetched as a comic universe ;-), I still had a hard time suspending my disbelief with this particular plotline). Moreover, even though the Parasite’s past and his bond with his sister had great potential, there was hardly any complexity to him. Frankly, I found the character a more interesting villain before he became the Parasite, in the first pages of the comic, but of course we didn’t get to see much of that.

Buy/Borrow/Skip

I give this comic a Quality score of 8/10 and a Relevance score of 7/10. Although this is a little bit lower than I’d score Volume 1, which I would rate 10/10 for Quality, Volume 2 is still a definite buy, thanks to Straczinsky’s great characters and plot, and Davis’s splendid artwork. This is why I’m really excited that Straczynski will continue publishing many more Superman Earth One graphic novels (as he told MTV Geek this April, yay! 🙂 ) and can’t wait to lay my hands on Volume 3!

Superman Earth One, Vol. 2 – cover by Shane Davis

Which Superman villain is your favorite? Tell me all about it (and also: what you think of this graphic novel) in the comment section below! 🙂

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Batman Night of the Owls reading order

Although I love a good comics event once in a while, I’ve found that it’s not always easy to dive into them simply by reading the first issue and then keeping up with all tie-ins by sticking to their order of publishing. First of all because many times multiple tie-in issues are published on the same day so you would have to figure out at least their reading order, and second, because the storylines within the different tie-ins aren’t always published in chronological order, or in any kind of logical order.

I guess this is why there is no “final definitive list” for most events, at least, not officially. So what I tend to do is pick one suggested reading order, for instance the publishing order list, start reading accordingly, and then note down every list placing that seems off in order to try and find a more fitting placing.

I have only one condition that I place on myself: I’m not willing to spend hours or days on the compiling of said lists, as I’m sure other, more dedicated comics readers than I, have done. And I salute them. But I just want to get on with my reading, with a general “Hop to it!” attitude. Therefore, internal clues or references to other issues within the tie-ins themselves as well as the logical order of content are the two main criteria that I tend to apply most.

So, here’s the results of such a reading list that I compiled in the above manner. The event is DC Comics Batman: Night of the Owls. It was published in 2012 – it’s been only a little while and I think it could be still very useful. Especially if you’ve just started reading the New 52 Batman.

Enjoy!

The build-up:

  • Batman series from #1
  • Nightwing series from #1

Prologue:

  • Catwoman #8 (has nothing to do with the event yet, except it ends with Owls preparing for their Night)
  • Batman #7

The Night of the Owls:

  • Batman #8
  • DC One shot “Night of the Owls”
  • Batwing #9 (can be read on its own, but I put it relatively early on the list because chronologically Batwing has one of the first actual confrontations with Owls)
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #8
  • Nightwing #8
  • Nightwing #9
  • Batman and Robin #9
  • Batgirl #9
  • Batman #9
  • Detective Comics #9
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #9
  • Birds of Prey #9
  • The Dark Knight #9
  • Batman Annual #1
  • Catwoman #9 (I put this one last because it is placed last in event time)

Epilogue:

  • Batman #10
  • Batman #11 (Finale)

Most of the above issues are collected in a cool trade paperback.

Night of the Owls TPB

Officially All Star Western #9 is counted as a tie-in as well, and it has the event banner, but my advice to other readers is to skip this one entirely, unless of course you’re already reading this entire series. As a stand alone Night of the Owls tie-in it does not make any sense at all, except it sports some Talons – apparently to demonstrate that the Owls and their Talons have been living secretly in Gotham City for hundreds of years. Well, whatever, good for them. As if we hadn’t read about this same piece of Gotham history already in the Batman en Nightwing titles!
So content-wise All Star Western #9 doesn’t add anything of importance at all, and to make matters worse, it caused bewilderment (“Wait, why am I supposed to be reading this?!”), soon followed by the annoyment caused by the anti-climactic nature of this issue in relation to the thrilling story of the rest of the event issues.
Therefore, unless you’re an All Star Western reader: please, do yourself a favour and skip this issue!

Overall I thought Night of the Owls was an exciting story, with just enough suggested reality that you could believe such things might, perhaps, exist in our real world – that is, if you’re enough of a conspiracy theorist to not dismiss the concept of secret societies. Anyway, the plot grabbed me from start to finish and I like how writer Scott Snyder took his time and built his (rebooted) Batman story towards this crossover event during the first seven issues.

Night of the Owls booklet. Cover art by David Finch, Richard Friend and Jerome Cox

PS: The above cover art of the separate booklet Night of the Owls is the same as The Dark Knight’s #9. I haven’t been able to find any reason at all for Red Robin (Tim Drake) starring prominently on these covers. He seems to be in some important hand-to-hand combat with a Talon, whereas in reality he hardly shows up in the entire event at all! Let alone fighting and winning important battles.

And I have proof! There are only two issues he’s in (sort of):

1. As a word balloon (left), during a conversation with Jason Todd (right) in Red Hood & the Outlaws #8

Ok, after that there’s a couple of more pages with Tim in it, but I don’t count those as “Night of the Owls attendance” because they concern a memory flashback by Jason, thinking about a meeting with Tim two months before the Night of the Owls.

2. Tim appears as sort of an extra behind leading actor Batman in The Dark Knight #9, without any action or even suggested action: the Talon has escaped and none of the Robins can find him. So he’s just… hanging there, shall we say.

So, with only one word balloon and one rather silly panel without words, it’s difficult to suggest that Tim Drake a.k.a. Red Robin plays an important part in the Night of the Owls, Q.E.D. – hardly worth a cool combat scene on not one but two covers, I should think.

Anyway, enjoy your own Night of the Owls! And when you’re done: do you agree with my reading order? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section!

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New 52: Wonder Woman’s first year

This is a review of one of DC’s New 52 comics that I don’t hear very much about – it’s a pity if you don’t try it out just because you’ve never heard people talk about it. Fair warning though, my review contains some mild spoilers, since its main point is to encourage you to start reading it from issue 0 (followed by #13, don’t ask but this is DC’s new numbering) – that is why I will summarize the main story of the first twelve issues for you so that you don’t have to buy and read them all yourself. I will then share some likes and dislikes, tell you whether you should buy, borrow or ignore this comic, and finally, give you my quality and relevance scores.

This review is also available as a podcast contribution to Spiritblade Underground podcast, an interesting podcast aimed at christian geeks, available through iTunes or go to The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast Home Page.
Click HERE for my Wonder Woman audio review on episode 247 of this podcast, go to 2:24 minutes.

Review

Wonder Woman has a certain nostalgic meaning to me: when I was seven years old I lived in the US for about eight months because my parents had to be there because of my father’s job. It was 1978, and Wonder Woman was one of the popular tv series of the time, with Lynda Carter playing the role of Wonder Woman. While we may not have heard very much about Lynda’s career lately, she has recently done some voice acting for several parts of the popular game series The Elder Scrolls, with Skyrim as their most recent hit.

Being from the Netherlands I didn’t know Wonder Woman at all – we didn’t have any superhero tv series in the Netherlands back then. Nor now, for that matter. But from the moment I saw her on tv in our family apartment in El Paso, Texas, she touched something in my very soul: the part that wants to be both a princess, and a warrior and a superheroine!

Lynda Carter was and will always be the one and only Wonder Woman for me 🙂 – And you can still get the complete original series on DVD, yea!

I think that these precious childhood memories have stopped me from reading Wonder Woman as a comic up until very recently. On the one hand because I couldn’t imagine how a Wonder Woman comic could be a great read – I mean, she was like Superman in that she was invincible and practically invulnerable, which – frankly – sounded rather dull. And on the other hand I really didn’t want to spoil the nostalgia of that old tv series from my early childhood by reading a comics version of her that was no doubt way more modern.

However, since I started my blog I felt I couldn’t leave out one of the DC Trinity, you know, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. So, with some apprehension I decided to read the entire first year of the New 52 Wonder Woman after all, issues 1-12.

And lo and behold, this series managed to very pleasantly surprise me. The first twelve issues of this series consist of one big story arc, has a very interesting story concept and its artwork, though taking a little getting used to, is frankly nothing less than very beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, it’s truly written very well – something I find can really not be said about every comic.

Story

We meet Wonder Woman as Diana, princess of Paradise Island, an island populated only by women. These women still live like in Roman times – though not very ladylike: instead they are amazones, female warriors that train for battle like gladiators.

Their queen is Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother. Or rather, adoptive mother for legend has it that Hippolyta was barren and one day formed a baby out of clay. She then prayed to the Greek gods, fell asleep and woke up to find her clay baby transformed into a little baby girl, who she called Diana and raised as her daughter.

Despite all of the amazones, the story does take place in our own time. Wonder Woman takes on the task of protecting a young woman, called Zola, who is pregnant by Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon. This is why Zeus’s jealous wife Hera threatens to kill Zola and sends supernatural assassins to hunt the girl down.

Wonder Woman and Zola are assisted by messenger god Hermes and find an extra enemy in the goddess Strife, daughter of Zeus and Hera, and sister to the god of war, Ares.

Zeus himself remains mysteriously absent during the entire run of the first twelve issues, with no-one knowing where he is. His absence kindles ambitions in several of his divine children and it doesn’t take long for gods Apollo and Artemis to hunt for Zola. They intend to deliver her and her unborn child to Hera. This way Apollo intends to buy Hera’s allegiance, his ultimate goal being his father Zeus’s throne.

When Wonder Woman strikes a deal with Zeus’s brothers Poseidon and Hades, the deal goes South and it takes everything she’s got to not only keep pregnant Zola alive but also to simply survive herself.

And as if she hasn’t got enough on her mind already, Wonder Woman also has to deal with the discovery that the legend surrounding her own origin is not exactly true – and turns out to be quite a bit less romantic than she thought.

Likes

I’ve always loved Greek mythology ever since I was about 13 years old, so I was not exactly thrilled when I found out that this comic sported all kinds of Greek gods, fearing the writer would concoct a story that would not be consistent with Greek mythology. However, the original way in which writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang modernize the Greek pantheon enough to transport it to our modern day society is actually quite believable – after you suspend your disbelief of course. 😉 In fact, they manage to pull this off so greatly that they really won me over to this comic!

Almost every god in the story has characteristics of both ancient mythological times and our modern day era. For instance, Apollo’s black metallic skin makes him look truly as a being not from this world, while at the same time he wears high fashion 3-piece suits.

Hades, while still being king of the ancient underworld, looks like he’s been designed by a painter of the modern arts, and Hermes, while looking like some kind of bird-human hybrid wears very hip outfits that would almost let him blend in with young adults. Almost.

Is it a bird, is it a plane…?! No, it’s…… Hermes…?

Best of all, Eros, the god of love we also know as Cupid, still shoots at people’s hearts to make them fall in love, only this time he doesn’t use his famous bow and arrow, but a couple of slick guns that have the same effect.

I really recommend Artist Chiang for the way he draws the goddess Strife, who looks particularly cool with her shaved head, heavy make-up and fashionable mini-dress – I don’t know whether it’s punk or high fashion, but it’s an original nowadays rendering of what’s supposed to be an ancient goddess.

Of course Wonder Woman herself shows that same combination of ancient and modern times: when “on the job” she looks the amazon we know and love, sometimes even carrying a sword and shield, but in her spare time she dresses like any modern day woman and lives in an apartment in 21st century London.

But enough about the gods. Like I said before, the story is well-written and often reminded me of tv series that I like to watch. An example of this would be the dialogues between the several rivalling gods, full of layers and hidden agendas, which could be taken from scripts of series like Boss (which is an awesome series btw!).

Hera and her rebellious daughter cross verbal swords

Another instance is the way in which Hera transforms ordinary farm horses into aggressive centaurs – this definitely contains horror elements and seems straight from a particularly bloody episode of the X-files or something.

And then there’s the action scenes! Wonder Woman battles everyone she needs to, including some gods. The immense fishlike creature that emerged from the Thames and turned out to be Poseidon (god of the sea) reminded me of the incident in London a couple of years ago, when an actual whale wound up in the Thames. So maybe, with this scene in Wonder Woman, the writer and artist are giving us a wink here – especially since the “original” Poseidon in mythology was usually portrayed more humanoid, and definitely not as the monstrous fish that artist Chiang created.

Thirdly, I really got to like the artwork although it took me a little while to get used to Chiang’s somewhat stylized way of drawing the human form. His cityscapes are gorgeous and together with colorist Matthew Wilson he succeeds in adding specific atmospheres that contribute to the storylines in the comic.

Furthermore, I liked the subtle humor in the story, like the way in which one of Wonder Woman’s brothers in arms consistently tries to light a cigaret by holding them against gods that either contain or work with fire. It may sound a bit strange when I describe it, but the humor is in the art itself.

And last but not least, I appreciated the fact that gods in the comic are not immediately mentioned by name, so that readers have a couple of panels to figure out for themselves which god this is. For instance, when a certain god says “I’m the sun of a king” this is clearly a hint for the reader – for it is only the reader who can see that he is referring to the sun as in “star”, instead of son as in “male child”, thereby enabling the reader to figure out that this is in fact the god of the sun, Apollo – who is of course also the son of Zeus, the king of the gods. Oh well, perhaps most of you are bored to tears by these things, but to mythology geeks like me these kinds of hints are totally awesome. 

Dislikes

Frankly, I couldn’t really find many negative things to say about this comic – and not for lack of trying. I only have two real criticisms.

To begin with, like in most other New 52’s there was a change in the artwork team somewhere along the way, for a couple of issues. I can not get used to this, however much I may understand deadlines and that artists need their time off as well, etc. I always immediately notice, probably because they always seem to choose fill-in artists that have totally different styles from the original artist. I cannot begin to understand why they don’t even try to find someone who does a serious attempt at keeping the artwork at least somewhat consistent. Fortunately it only lasted for a couple of issues and I sighed with relief when Chiang returned.

And secondly, on a related note, Chiang’s coverart does not do much for me. His human forms are even more stylized and the backgrounds are either boring or ugly. And I really dislike the color schemes. Sorry, hating the cover art. Of course other opinions are available. 

So, should you Buy/Borrow/Ignore this comic?

This is a definite buy! Yes, it is, just try it.

Rating

I give Wonder Woman’s first year a quality score of 8/10 and a relevance score of 7/10 – since all this mythology should have some potential to lead to meaningful conversation, for instance about the existence of gods in this day and age – and their true nature.

So, are you going to try out the New 52 Wonder Woman?