Batman Volume 6: Graveyard Shift

by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV and more
collects BATMAN #0, BATMAN #18-20, #28, #34 and BATMAN ANNUAL #2

This collection contains a smattering of issues, mainly because they're all standalone stories for the most part, exploring from the start of Batman in the Zero Year, to the future of Batman in Batman Eternal. Supporting characters get a little more of the spotlight here, but that isn't to say that Batman doesn't get plenty of time too.

Stories range from the supernatural, as Batman encounters a demonic summoning of the "Will O' the Wisp" in "Ghost Lights," to high sci-fi when Batman stages his own breakout of Arkham Asylum in a demonstration on how to improve their security. The quality is high in every story, and not only does Greg Capullo kill it as usual in the Clayface story, other artists get a chance to shine. Mateo Scalera and Lee Loughbridge stand out to me as the artist and colorist for the "The Meek" story. It's a Hannibal-esque serial killer story with brooding colors and confident, sharp lines. I wouldn't mind reading a monthly from these guys, reminiscent to me of Sean Murphy's art. There's a three-page sequence of no words as he buries his most recent victim, that's just haunting. Especially in a series that usually has a lot of exposition and backstory. The art breathes!

The most "on-continuity" story here is the Clayface story, told in issues 18-20. Clayface's mimicry abilities evolve to the point where he can copy the DNA of his victims, and eventually he copies Bruce Wayne's identity leading to a showdown between Bruce Wayne, and Batman. This is all happening in the context of Damian Wayne's death, AKA Robin and Bruce's biological son. It hits all the right beats, from the high-tech gadgets that keep Batman one step ahead of his foes, to the pensive emotions as Bruce looks through old recordings of his adventures with Damian. Gonna make a grown man cry here, when I just wanted to look at Batman punch people.

Capullo just kills it with Clayface. I could look at this guy's Clayface for days. Just look at the detail.

It's just so satisfying to read a title of consistent quality and with artists of high quality. Every short story does something different here, whether it's a story of hope seen in the first lighting of the Bat-signal, in issue 0, or the brooding mood of the serial killer in "The Meek." It's not one of the mega-storyarcs that we've seen before like with "Death of the Family" or "Dark City," and I wouldn't want this collection to be. This anthology is a brilliant way to collect the standalone stories printed thus far and I can't wait to read more.
Follow along for more New 52 Batman:

Black Panther by Priest Volume 3 and The Batman Adventures Volume 2

Black Panther by Christopher Priest Volume 3
by Christopher Priest, Sal Velluto and more

There are some neat inclusions in here: Issue 36 is the 100-page "monster," a 35-year anniversary celebration issue that throws the Black Panther into a neo-noir New York City with Everett Ross standing in as a Commissioner Gordon-type character. It's bookended with a Thor #370 story, from 1986, a story that Priest wrote back then under his pen name James Owlsley, that crossed over with the time travel story in Black Panther #46-47.

Here's a breakdown:
  • The Once and Future King: A neo-noir murder mystery brings King T'Challa back to New York after a decades-long exile. See Old Man T'Challa match wits against a murderer of the throne!
  • Return of the Dragon: Mad genius geneticist Nightshade resurrects the shapeshifting dragon Chiangtang to exact revenge on Iron Fist.
  • Enemy of the State II: This is probably the main storyline, a five-part crossover with Iron Man, Wolverine and kind-of the Avengers. The clone Black Panther is featured here too, a Kirby-esque copy of T'Challa whose brain tumor has made him insane and jolly.
  • Saddles Ablaze: A retroactive crossover with the 1986 Thor title.
 There's other fill-in storylines but that about covers it. The trade still suffers from the same non-linear storytelling which makes it hard to follow along. Some one-shots are decent slice-of-life style stories, but for the main issues, it'll pretty much take the whole story for you to just figure out what happened in the issues before, which hinders a lot of the enjoyment. The art is fairly contemporary, but the Kirby lines on the clone Black Panther offer a welcome visual break. The writing style isn't for everyone, but I only have one more TPB to go -- so see you then.
The Batman Adventures Volume 2
by Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck and more
The adventures continue in this series, solely pencilled by Mike Parobeck now. I've already stated before how some of his characters look like Go Blox action figures, but a lot of other times it captures that feeling of the animated series. Sometimes it feels like I can even hear Kevin Conroy's voice coming from the page, and that's exactly what I want when I read these stories.
In all, there's 10 done-in-one issues here, too many for me to list one-by-one, so a few notes:
  • There's a neat hard-boiled story completely narrated by Jim Gordon as he works with Batman to save a police officer held hostage by Rupert Thorne, in # 15. It's such a different story to the others, completely from his perspective and a refreshing addition to the collection.
  • It's really neat how, even when these are standalone stories, there are some references to previous issues. I wasn't expecting to get a little tickle out of understanding the continuity, but there it is, when in issue #17 Batman makes a reference to the central macguffin of issue #13 (which itself, I believe is a follow-up to the The Animated Series introduction of R'as Al Ghul!). What's so genius about this, is that it works whether you've read the previous issue or not. If you haven't, it's just a one-off piece of info, but if you have, it reminds you of this whole world of stories -- great comic stuff.
  • Considering this was a comic book series based on an animated series, there isn't much room for growth in the characters and the status quo tends to dominate. But in one issue, Batgirl teams up with Robin and by the end of that issue, Barbara is starting her first day of college. While Bruce doesn't have much room for development, it's his supporting characters who offer us glimpses of growth.
  • There's a plethora of three-panel pages, many of them without even dialogue or thought bubbles, but it never feels gratuitous. Each panel is important to the story, especially when the story wraps up neatly in a single issue, and these just feel good to read.

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Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus: Volume One

Batman AdventuresBatman by Snyder and CapulloJLA...sure, what's another Batman series to start? I have to follow my heart when I read, and there's always room for more Batman. Grant Morrison made his mark during the "British invasion" that matured the comics industry with series like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and Alan Moore's Watchmen. He revitalized the JLA in the 90's making it the premier DC title, and in 2006 he was given the premier bat-title, Batman. He did a bunch of weird things with the Dark Knight, and it was pretty entertaining. What stood out the most to me was the introduction of Damian Wayne, featured in Batman & Robin with Frank Quitely. Mainly what I wanted to collect was this title, collected in Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus Volume Two, but I couldn't exactly help myself. I got the full 3-volume set. So today, here's the first volume:

Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus: Volume One
by Grant Morrison, Adam Kubert, Lee Garbett, Tony Daniel and more

For continuity's sake, here's the stories collected:
  • Batman's year-long hiatus from publication, as seen in the comic book experiment 52, concludes here: Batman returns to Gotham City after exorcising his demons, fears and doubts in a journey to Nanda Parbat, including a month-long sensory deprivation meditation experience.
  • Batman and Son: Bruce Wayne strikes a romance with the head of an African nation and global humanitarian, Jezebel Jet. He discovers that he has a son, grown in a laboratory and trained as an assassin by Talia Al Ghul, from the Dennis O'Neil classic, Birth of the Demon. Damian Wayne is a brash, cutthroat kid who's convinced that he's going to help Batman in his war against crime. Damian makes for the perfect foil that helps us see Bruce Wayne in a fatherly, compassionate light. Both Damian and Talia seemingly die in the climax of this story, after failing to hold hostage the Prime Minister's wife.
  • Three Ghosts of Batman: For some reason, various police officers are impersonating Batman, and he gets a taste of the second one here: the Batman that accepted shots of Venom and is a weird amalgam of Bane and Batman. He handles it, but for some reason, he knows there's going to be a third one, thinking of his Black Casebook, a collection of dreams, hallucinations, or adventures that he couldn't explain. The third Batman: the one who sold his soul to the devil and destroyed Gotham City.

  • Resurrection of R'as Al Ghul: Batman tied in to this 8-part crossover story with the other bat-titles, but there's way too many gaps in the story that reading the two Batman issues doesn't do it any justice. 1-page synopses inclusions from Chris Burnham are neat, but left me empty without being able to read the story in full.
  • The Black Glove: Meet the Man-of-Bats and his sidekick, Little Raven! Knight and Squire of England! All these Batman-inspired heroes and more meet at the Island of Mister Mayhew, for their annual Club of Heroes meeting. But it turns sinister when they realize that someone is killing them one-by-one. It's the ultimate theater of Good vs. Evil, engineered by the mad psychiatrist Simon Hurt.
  • Batman R.I.P.: An explosive shell to the chest, the kidnapping of his girlfriend, all open him up to psychic suggestions laid by Simon Hurt. He finally triggers them, and drives the Batman to madness -- except Batman has a backup plan for even this! Enter: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, the Joker's return from being shot in the face by a Batman look-alike in the first issue, and Dr. Hurt's final drama of Good vs. Evil.
  • One-shots: There's various one-shots here, including a kooky prose-style issue that foreshadows the "punchline" in Batman R.I.P. Issue #666 imagines a grim future where Damian is Batman and fights the Batman of Hell. The omnibus ends in a two-part story that explain what's going on in Batman's head, as he attempts to break free from the psychic prison of the New Gods attempting to build a clone army from him, before he's seemingly murdered by Darkseid's Omega Beams in the finale of Final Crisis. The two-part issue does a great job explaining what makes Bruce Wayne Batman, and why he can be the only person that can be Batman.
All things considered, the stories told make for one super-arc that begins with the first issue collected and ends neatly in the third-to-last issue, before the Final Crisis tie-in. The theme goes beyond the typical crime noir that you'd expect from modern Batman stories, and pays tribute to the adventures he's had in the past, while paving stories for the international set in the future. The author isn't afraid to dip into the supernatural and makes the title a jack of all trades, expanding the way we view the Batman. The man who's thought of everything, including even what he hasn't thought of!

It's a shame that the art couldn't be consistent. Adam Kubert's lines are dynamic and action-oriented, perfect for the James Bond-style story that kicks it off. But fill-in artists like Lee Garbett and later the main artist Tony Daniel put in their perfunctory superhero art. Standard, with nothing exciting, and sometimes it's the script that has to do the heavy lifting. Like, what's going on in this page? Reading the art only confuses you; you'd have to read the words to tell what's going on.

I suppose I only have myself to blame, but I purchased this edition in "Acceptable" condition on eBay and it came with the binding torn off. It feels like I'm murdering the book every time I open it, but it's stayed intact so far and doesn't affect the reading experience. It's an unfortunate way to keep these stories, but given the inconsistencies in the art itself, it was worth saving the extra $15. The cover art of the book itself is this neat double-bat icon, and I loved looking at it in my week-ish-long binge of the book. Page numbers are marked but inconsistently since the art often bleeds into the margins.

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Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 2

by Christopher Priest, Kyle Hotz, Sal Velluto and more
Collects Black Panther (1998) #'s 18-35, Deadpool (1997) # 44

Priest continues his storied take on the Black Panther as superhero political satire. To kick off this volume, Erik Killmonger, revived by the Resurrection Altar of Wakanda and by his own hatred of King T'Challa, makes a ploy to crash the Wakandan economy! Three steps ahead of his opponent, T'Challa crashes it himself, dissolves the Wakandan parliament, nationalizes all foreign interests, and crashes the global economy in response.

Add to that another tribal challenge by Killmonger, which King T'Challa never wins, and you have an amusing take for a couple issues where Killmonger, as the Black Panther, joins the Avengers. His whole life he had looked up to these people, but by the time he's Black Panther and sees them as equals, he has nothing but distaste for him. Pretty amusing:

There's so many storylines packed in this collection. My biggest qualm with it is the lack of emotional core -- and maybe that's a feature of the story. The characterization of T'Challa is that he's a good good that he's willing to start World War III to protect an innocent child, as the second storyarc after the Killmonger arc. Black Panther as a character doesn't seem so personal, and as far as the comic is telling us, that may just be because he's not allowed to be a person -- he has to be a king. A king is beyond such things. This tension erupts in the next storyarc, when Malice, a former member of the Dora Milaje who turned her love for the king into a deadly obsession, begins to enact revenge on all the people that T'Challa's loved before. T'Challa has to keep the peace not just with her in the states, but at home in Wakanda with the tribe that she represents.

Finally, the Man-Ape returns in the two-part "Gorilla Warfare," unleashing another secret of the newest member of the Dora Milaje. Queen Divine Justice, the Chicago-born Wakandan learns that she is the last line of royalty of the condemned Jabari tribe, worshippers of the White Gorilla.

The major theme of this title is what it means to be a king and to be a man, but the main character handles them with panache. Unfortunately it's this same trait that keeps the character from taking off. More often than not, he is this faceless entity always planning and plotting for the sake of a disparate, diasporic nation. Certainly not your standard super-comic, and while the character is the hook, he's not the main draw, and it's the situations and plots that are at the heart of the title.

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The Batman Adventures Volume 1

The Batman Adventures was a continuity-free, all-ages(-ish) comic meant to follow up on the success of Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series of the early 90's, itself a follow-up to the success of Tim Burton's Batman movies of the late 80's. They even used the same theme song!

What a time to be a kid. 8-year-old chezkevin caught the fever around the end of the series, but that was basically my first exposure to Batman. I loved it. I drew Batman on the walls around our house. My grandpa got me Batman shoes, and used the shoebox as his personal spice rack. I imagine opening the cupboard and it warms my heart to see that shoebox in there, a reminder of both my childhood heroes. My uncle got me the 1998 Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero animated movie on VHS for Christmas that year...from Blockbuster. Remember those?!?

For these reasons, Batman: The Animated Series will always be close to my heart. I'm a sucker for nostalgia. The way that Batman looks in this particular design will always be home to me. So it's a no-brainer that I picked up the 4-volume collection of the comic book spin-off. For whatever reason, these 10-issue collections are budget-friendly at $2.99 or $3.99 at comiXology. They're worth much more than that.

The Batman Adventures: Volume 1
by Kelley Puckett, Ty Templeton and more
Collects the first 10 issues of the 1992 series
  • Issue #'s 1-3: The Joker orchestrates heists for two villains -- The Penguin in #1, and Catwoman in #2, and reveals himself in issue 3 to kidnap Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, and murder them on live television. All-ages, huh?? Issue #1 is unique in the wry humor depicted as the Penguin attempts to infiltrate high society and educate his henchmen, makes this one unique.
  • 4-5: Scarecrow hits the scene with a "dyslexia ray" that causes car accidents and riots in Gotham City. It's up to Batman and Robin to stop him. This story is a great example of how some of Batman's villains are victims...of themselves. Jonathan Crane, while imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, accepts an offer to teach part-time at a college to reduce his sentence. When he despairs at the students he's given, there's only one person left to turn to...
See the tears in his eyes. You can tell that he really doesn't want to give in, but he can't help it. This psychotic persona is the only way he can cope. Like a lot of other Batman villains, he's a victim of himself.
  • 6: One-shot murder mystery...and Bruce Wayne is suspect #1! Batman and Robin work together to deduce a murderer, all while Bruce is in jail. The main highlight from this issue is the atmosphere. It all takes place one dark and stormy night. With the shadows given by the charcoal drawings, it really feels like you're watching an episode of the animated series.

I love this scene. Really evokes the pulp origins of Batman. What an amazing piece of sequential art.
  • 7: Killer Croc one-shot. Batman tracks down a Chicago mobster and his path crosses with Killer Croc, who's fighting in an underground boxing league. It's much more a Croc story, who is about to face an old foe that he once lost to before. It's here that the art shifts to Mike Parobeck, who can still evoke the style of the animated series, but oftentimes there's shortcuts that make the characters look like they're Playskool action figures. Not a fan.
  • 8: Clayface one-shot -- Clayface pulls off an elaborate string of heists, and plans to retire in a life of anonymity -- but not before Batman stops him. Another pensive slice-of-life style story like issue 7. 
  • 9: Batman goes to painstaking lengths to acquire a red book, evidence of crime boss Rupert Thorne's misdoings. After a standoff at Thorne's mansion, he survives and does get the red book to the prosecution...making Thorne sweat for 15 minutes before the jury, bought with Thorne money, acquits him. You can't win them all, but sometimes, even 15 minutes is a win.
  • 10: The Riddler, discontent that the Batman always solves his riddles, makes one last ploy to steal the same set of jewels as Mr. Nice and the Perfessor. Batman catches him anyways, but only because he knew the jewels were a hot item, failing to solve his initial riddle. The Riddler, even though he's caught once again, is triumphant in having stumped the dark knight. The writers are able to take this limitation of the series -- that it has to maintain the status quo -- and turn it around and make these stories into musings about the villains really shows the strength of the characters.
The art takes a dip when it transitions to Parobeck, but for the most part he's still serviceable. It's so difficult in comics to have both quality and reliability, consistently, but the sequential art remains strong with him. You can never go wrong with triple batarang action:

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Shang-Chi Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters

by Gene Yuen Lang, Philip Tan, and Dike Ruan
Collects the 2020 5-issue miniseries

Ever since his Eisner-award winning coming-of-age story, American Born Chinese, Yang has been a writer to watch. To follow up, he's adapted the original radio play Superman Smashes the Klan to a 3-part graphic novel, written the Justice League of China, as well as co-wrote for the Avatar: The Last Airbender Dark Horse adaptation, among other things. Now, he takes on the Marvel universe's greatest fighter: Shang-Chi.

Shang-Chi's already had six omnibii of stories published, so you can tell there's some quality reads in there. But I have to admit, for all my years of reading Marvel Comics, I've never bothered to learn about him. If you're in the same boat as me, here's a quick primer: Shang-Chi is the son of one of the oldest Marvel villains The Mandarin, a man known for seizing power through a mystical set of items called the ten rings. Around the kung fu craze of the 70s', fostered by the Martial Arts superstar Bruce Lee especially, Marvel decided to capitalize on it like they had with the horror craze (Tomb of Dracula) and due to copyrights, spun off the story of The Mandarin's son, Shang-Chi. A master of hand-to-hand combat, he was raised by his father to take over his empire, but refused and, so the story goes, killed his father in a conflict.

That catches you up to now, where Shang-Chi is trying to live a normal life in San Francisco, as a bakeshop employee. Check those buns!

His rapport is effortless and it's obvious he enjoys working there. So of course his old life catches up to him, when MI-6 agent Leiko Wu tells him that his sister, also brainwashed by his father, is coming to murder him to claim dominion over the Five Weapons Society, a 300-year-old secret society originally developed by his father to protect China. Part history lesson, part family drama, all action: it's up to Shang-Chi to stop his sister.

Shang-Chi makes some colorful friends along the way. He meets his long-lost brothers & sisters, children who were whisked away from China to protect the Five Weapons society, each of them trained in a different martial art. Shi-Hua is Sister Hammer, who murdered Brother Staff in the first issue, so we don't get to know much about him. But Esme is Sister Dagger, with her headquarters in Paris and Takeshi is Brother Sabre in Japan who accompany Shang-Chi to stop Shi-Hua. Esme is my favorite mainly as the comedic relief, but they each have their own personalities.

At the heart of the conflict is Sister Hammer's vie for ownership over the Five Weapons Society. Here's one thing that the writer does so well: she's not just the villain of the month. She has a story that we learn about over the course of the novel. She's raised an army of Chinese ninja zombies, Jiangshi and even infected Shang-Chi with the same zombie virus. But there's a mystical aspect to this army: they need three things to sustain their undeath: a dead body, spirit energy, and an unavenged grievance. In the last issue, Shang-Chi discovers that Shi-Hua is microchipping each zombie with the same unavenged grievance: her own trauma from her father. It was never about who's stronger or the better fighter. Might doesn't make right, and Shang-Chi shows his inner strength when he attempts to connect to his sister and mend her wounds over their abusive father.

Philip Tan and Dike Ruan split art duties, with Tan on the flashback scenes and Ruan on the contemporary story. Tan's lines are scratchy and reminiscent of the 90s', while Ruan has a cleaner, more straightforward style similar to Stuart Immonen. I'm more fond of Ruan's, but it's important that they're distinct, since the split stories are quite different -- as it turns out, the Five Weapons Society has been a part of China's history for a while. It's here that Yang weaves in actual history, including the Boxer Rebellion (known in China as the Eight Nations Invasion), and the Opium Wars. Did you know Baron Harkness summoned Lord Dormammu and the Mindless Ones in that war? I didn't!

History is so important to identity, and the most powerful scene to me came when his uncle, a ghoul, attempts to commune with Shang-Chi, and so Shang-Chi uses a long-known Chinese ritual: the tomb-sweeping ceremony:

Among plenty of other things, this makes Shang-Chi a uniquely Chinese Marvel comic. His uncle could have communed with him in a dream, or in a séance. But instead he came to him a tomb-sweeping ceremony. It's extraordinary how his uncle comes to life after eating some of the food. This is the kind of stuff I imagine when I go with my family to the cemetery. We still do this today. We drive out there with incense, barbecue pork and paper money. We sweep the tomb of my grandparents and burn incense in front of their graves to wake them up. We eat rice cake, oranges and barbecue pork with them to nourish their bodies, and burn play money so that they have money to spend in the afterlife. My Gonggong, maternal grandfather, especially favored barbecue pork (who wouldn't!). In Chinese folklore, the dead still need food and currency in the afterlife and the tomb-sweeping ceremony is meant to connect with your ancestors in this way. In Shang-Chi's words:
It's a way to remember. To PAY RESPECTS to those who came BEFORE.

To remind ourselves that PAST and PRESENT -- aren't as FAR APART as they seem.
It's pretty wild to see this part of my life represented in a comic. Comic books are meant as windows to different worlds, and sometimes that world happens to be your own. Shang-Chi is this Marvel character with this storied past, and years of acclaimed comics, that can help with that. Marvel did a brilliant job with the artists for this comic book, and I hope they do it for years to come.

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JLA Vol. 2

by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and more
Collects JLA 10-17, JLA Secret Files #2, Prometheus (Villains) #1, JLA/WildC.A.T.s #1

Rock of Ages: This six-part time-travel / heist caper faces the JLA against Lex Luthor's new Injustice Gang and his hard-light constructs of the JLA in reverse: the Revenge Squad. Apparently this was the first Injustice Gang headed by Luthor and he treats it as a corporate takeover. Emboldened by a mysterious rock that he found in his global research, he has newfound influence over others and puts it to good destroy Superman and the JLA! It's really genius how he uses the powers of the various members of the Gang in new ways to defeat old foes. For example, he combines Dr. Light's mastery of electromagnetic radiation with Mirror Master's mastery of...mirrors to create a hard-light construct replica of the Injustice Gang's satellite hardquarters. He lures Superman and the Martian Manhunter to the replica and hands it off to the Joker, who turns it into a death maze. What happens next is genius:

The entire arc is so creative in how it flexes these superpowers, villains or heroes, and there's this cat-and-mouse game of who is going to one-up the other with their superpower creativity. This is what great super-comics are made of. Here's another scene, where Dr. Light exploits Superman's new light-based superpowers, converts him into radio waves and transmits him out of the Solar System:

Don't worry: Superman bounces his signal off a space probe near Jupiter and returns when Green Arrow opens up a radio channel. There's so many subplots going on but it's for the most part legible. A second read a week apart would help. I secretly think these issues are a love letter to Superman. I have yet to read someone who can write Superman better than Grant Morrison. In the first part of Rock of Ages, the Revenge Squad kills a number of people in their attack on Star City, and the JLA overlook the wreckage. When an onlooker confronts Green Lantern about the carnage, they get into an argument, until Superman approaches the man and just straight up has a conversation with him.

They don't even tell you what he says: it was all in the background of that single page. But with just his words, Superman is able to calm this guy down and shake his hand in the end. This is an important scene: it turns out that death toll was going to be key to the plot. By the time the JLA apprehend the Injustice Gang, in the chaos, the Joker takes the Philosopher's Stone and imagines a slew of natural disasters that befall Earth. Just as quickly, the Martian Manhunter takes action and reshapes his brain, bringing order to the information that's going into it. In that moment, the Joker sees reason and Lex Luthor tells him to undo the deaths that happened in the Revenge Squad's attack. Without a death toll, and without any other tangible crime, Lex and the Injustice Gang get off scott-free. But in a later scene, Superman enters Lex's office and tells him:
I came to THANK you for what you did up there. Your idea was BRILLIANT. The dead of Star City are back, safe and well. They don't even remember being dead. BATMAN'S convinced you did it to avoid murder charges. I prefer to think otherwise.
It's Superman's optimism at the heart of these issues, and I think, along with the wild creativity of these superpowers, that's the best of what the JLA should be about.

About midway through Lex's takeover, Metron of the so-called "New Gods" BOOM tubes into the scene. He's come with a dire warning: if Superman destroys the philosopher's stone, it will set a series of events that will allow Darkseid to conquer Earth and infect the entire populace with his Anti-Life Equation. It's a whole sidestory that takes you to Wonderworld, a gargantuan land beyond space and time along with shunting you to Darkseid's Earth, 15 years from the current story. It's a convoluted way of keeping the philosopher's stone, that adds some nice character beats to the last stand of the JLA. I don't think it was all that necessary, but still strong. Check out how Green Arrow and the Atom defeat Darkseid:

Even though they "win," the entire experience is so harrowing that it leads to the disbanding of the JLA. But then the trade goes next to, what else, the reformation for the JLA with some new members including Steel and the Huntress. Just in time for Prometheus to hand them their butts.

Prometheus: JLA #'s 16-17 are about a contest to make the super-team more inclusive. Based on a selective process, a hero from Earth is going to be a member for a day...except a man called Prometheus killed him and hijacked his role. Prometheus is kind of like the opposite of Batman. He grew up with parents who were like "Bonnie and Clyde" and when justice caught up with them in a deadly shootout with the police, he used the wealth that they left to learn everything he could and prepare to destroy Justice . He has a fancy helmet that he can play discs on, to download things to his brain like the blueprints for the watchtower or the moves of the 30 best hand-to-hand fighters in the world. Other than that, he's a non-powered guy who takes out nearly every member of the JLA before Batman springs his "secret" agent out to save them all. A solid two-shot in direct contrast with the Rock of Ages: where it took a consortium of villains to take out the JLA in that story, it only took one man to take out the JLA in this one.

Follow along:

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Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 4

by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and David Mack
collects #'s 22-28 of the 2001 series Alias


Wow...I started this series over 3 years ago! And it took me today to conclude it. There are two stories in this final collection of the 2001 series. The first is a flashback "origin" sequence of sorts, that retcons Jessica back to a high schooler in the same year as Peter Parker in Midtown High. If you can imagine, she was even nerdier than Peter was, and just about to ask him out to a date, when he got bit by the spider. Fair enough. I'm going to try to be spoiler-free, but Jessica gains her superpowers through a traumatic event, and so you see those first few moments of Jessica's discovery as well. 

You could say it's really cheap how they use that moment to fill out the page, but that's part of the strengths of the art team. This moment, blown up, gives emotional weight to this significant part of her life. Bendis is so good at these moments.

The second story comes back to the present day, when the Purple Man, Kilgrave is in the maximum security supervillain prison, The Raft. A group of people reach out to Jessica's company Alias Investigations, to attempt to reach closure on what the Purple Man did to them or their loved ones. While Kilgrave has already confessed to enough of his crimes for a lifetime of prison, there were several other crimes that he never admitted to, whether it was because there were no more witnesses or he just wanted to hold that truth over the survivors. This second story is very much about confronting your history, as Jessica explains to Luke Cage what exactly happened to her when the Purple Man took control of her body and her life. She lived for eight months of trauma and abuse and was completely powerless to do it.

When the Raft gets a massive breakout, including the Purple Man, Jessica gets the confrontation (that she never asked for) against the man who held her hostage. With the help from a psychic trigger placed by Jean Grey, she finds closure and puts the Purple Man away, as quickly as he got out.

While Jessica was hooking up with Scott Lang, Ant-Man, she discovers that she's pregnant with Luke Cage's child. By the time the whole action is over, there's a heartfelt page where Luke expresses his emotions for her, and the two of them decide to go it together. A very human story about trauma, concludes with a very human story about love. Can't complain there. 

Alias birthed a breakout character and concludes with a big cliffhanger to be followed up in The Pulse. My library has the complete 300-page collection, so I'll be reading that too. 

Here's my read-through of the 2001 Alias:

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Joker: Death of the Family

Collects Detective Comics 16-17, Catwoman 13-14, Batgirl 14-16, Red Hood and the Outlaws 15-16, Teen Titans 15, Nightwing 15-16, Batman and Robin 15-17, Batman 17. Also collects the portions of the following issues: Suicide Squad 14-15, Batgirl 13, Red Hood and the Outlaws 13-14, Teen Titans 14, 16, Nightwing 14 and Batman 13
Wifey and I finished James Gunn's The Suicide Squad last week, on Sunday between our children napping. It's kind of remarkable how Harley Quinn has overtaken the Joker in the public mind. Joker's last movie was in 2019, and Harley's not only been in Birds of Prey in 2020, but now The Suicide Squad in 2021. For a supporting character of a supporting character who was created in the animated series, she's certainly done well for herself.

Today we turn our attention to her less-popular, criminally-insane former lover: the Joker. For roughly a year, Joker had his face surgically removed in Detective Comics (2011) #1, and then disappeared off the face of the Earth. Around 2013, he came back with a renewed sense of purpose: to revive his relationship with the Batman by killing off his family tree and support network. In his eyes, the Batman had grown weak by building a family of superheroes in Gotham City, and who better to remedy that than the person who's known him the longest...the Joker?

The "main" story is in the Batman title, from the start of the Joker's crime spree to the end. This Joker-centric collection is more in an anthology style with the Joker parading around Gotham City to harass the various different people that Batman's networked with. Here's the cliffnotes for the various stories:
  • Detective Comics 16-17: The return of the Joker inspires all the crazies that were already there in Gotham. One such group is called "The League of Smiles," a group of Joker fanatics performing murders in his honor. Batman has to figure out who the "Merrymaker" is, orchestrating their actions and stop them from murdering more innocent people. It's a clever, tightly-done 2-issue mystery that you see coming from a mile away, but still a great vignette on just how much the Joker has warped the people of Gotham City.

  • Catwoman 13-14: Way too quickly-paced, with the Joker placing Catwoman in an absurd amount of death traps. They needlessly shoehorn Catwoman into the story, adding some baggage from a previous issue that's going to confuse any new readers. The only purpose of these issues is to contrast Catwoman's independence from the Batman, against Joker's fixation on the Bat, all delivered in the final page of the story.
  • Suicide Squad 14-15 (portions): Harley has her reunion with Joker and, a reckoning. In the year that had gone by, despite their love for each other, they're just not what the other needs anymore. The Joker still thinks he can convert Harley to his way of thinking by...subjecting her to death traps, but Harley's not the person she used to be. Worst of all, he purposely exposed the hyenas they raised together to rabies, and she has to kill her babies. Of course, Harley lives to fight another day and the Joker moves on with his plans, but definitely an important storyline to check on.
  • Batgirl 14-16: The Joker kidnaps Barbara Gordon, Barb(Batgirl)'s mom. Apparently it had been years since she last saw her mother, who fled Gotham City to protect her from her psychopathic younger brother James Jr. Ensue the death trap, and ensue the insane plotline: the Joker proposes to Batgirl, and even more insane: Barb accepts. This story could have been Barb's chance to find closure for the events of The Killing Joke, and some scenes skirt around that but never see it fully ripen. The story cuts a little short in my opinion to serve the main story, when the Joker defeats her and takes her to his lair, but otherwise a decent read.
  • The Batfamily titles all end on the same cliffhanger -- with Joker about to unveil a hidden dinner plate, presumably their faces cut off. I've already read Death of the Family several times over, but I can't even remember what was in the dinner plate! It made for a suspenseful read throughout the trade. The Red Hood and the Outlaws team up with the Teen Titans to save Gotham City from a Joker poison outbreak, all a distraction to lure Red Robin and Red Hood to Joker's lair. The Joker somehow knows everyone's secret identity and uses Dick Grayson's personal relationships to defeat Nightwing in the circus and end up in Joker's lair. Of particular highlight is Batman & Robin 15. Bruce keeps Damian, the current Robin, in the Batcave to keep an eye on things, but Damian can't help but venture out and try to help find Alfred. It leads him to the Gotham Zoo, an obvious trap, where the Joker orchestrates a dramatic fight between Damian and someone who looks an awful lot like Batman. The coloring is fantastic and the Joker's never been more terrifying than here. I'm just a sucker for shadows. Check out this two-page scene as Robin enters the zoo.

  • The storytelling is great in this issue. It's easy to get caught up and only want to read the "main" line of Batman comics, but this issue is a great example of just what exactly you miss out on, if you do only that.
  • Eventually Batman confronts the Joker in Batman 17, in which the Joker sets up another death trap, imploring the Batman to choose between his family, and his true family of the villains that he won't ever kill. You can guess how it ends.
  • The story ends with Batman & Robin 16/17, another vignette-style look at Gotham Manor, after a harrowing night. We get a peek at the dreams of Alfred, Damian, and Bruce, and it's interesting being a part of those dreams and seeing how it informs their feelings.

Reading this tome is a lot like eating potato chips. When you're hungry, you can't really think so you just grab the whole family size bag of potato chips. The first 15 minutes are great, because you're finally getting rid of that hungry feeling. But around the middle, your stomach is starting to hurt. You've already gotten this far, and it still tastes pretty good, so now you're eating just to keep that taste in your mouth. By the time you finish, well, now you have cramps and your stomach is full...with regret.

OK that last part isn't so true for the collection. It's still a solid Batman story, but the middle of the collection just gets very repetitive. You're thrust in the middle of the books of supporting characters, who have their own supporting characters you're supposed to care about, but they've already had a years' worth of comics to build those relationships and the emotional stakes. Any reader coming into those books cold just aren't going to feel the emotional impact of the Joker killing/jokerizing/imperiling them like a reader who's been following them the whole time. But I will admit, there is the occasional gem in the collection, the kind of gem that's so good, well, you have to read the rest of the series. Batman & Robin shines as the best example, though I bet there are some other decent ones out there too, like Suicide Squad, Batgirl, and Detective Comics. The best comic is the kind of comic that gets you to read more comics, and this collection throws so many stories at you that a few of them are bound to stick.

More New 52 Batman:

The Mighty Thor Vol. 5: The Death of the Mighty Thor

by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and many others
collects #'s 700-706 and Mighty Thor: At the Gates of Valhalla one-shot

Foretold in issue #19 at the end of the Asgard/Shi'ar War, the Mangog was coming for Asgard. And in this landmark 700th arrives. As a part of the Dark Elf Malekith's "War of the Realms," the Mangog has come to enact the revenge of a billion billion beings, wiped out by Odin in ancient history, by laying siege on the Gods of Asgard.

Issue 701 is a perfect introduction to the character as it defeats Volstagg, the War Thor in combat. I really enjoyed the cartoon-leaning style of James Harren because it fit the action more than Russell Dauterman's style. A towering, wretched being, the Mangog is the manifestation of this ancient rage at the Gods that has grown beyond the Gods of Asgard. It's an unstoppable force that commands the spotlight as Jane Foster finally hangs up the helm and cowl, to fight her last days against the cancer that's eating her inside. The Mangog is a yellow-skinned, horn-headed Kirby-designed monster with a red-tipped face and red-tipped limbs. Where that red comes from is horrifying as it rampages through the universe. Even better, this thing talks. It explains why it does what it does, and trash talks the Gods it defeats on the way. Basically, this thing is bad-ass and you so desperately want to see Thor defeat it.

There's an issue soaked with tension when Jane has to fight off her urge to pick up the hammer and save Asgard. Of all the times she's picked it up, it's never been more satisfying than this. Juxtaposed with the introduction of the Mangog, Jane confronts her own experience with religion and with the gods. The Mangog is the perfect nemesis in this respect, when she tells Odin and the rest of the Gods of Asgard, to earn the gift that they've been given. Her death is a reflection of that gift, and the storyline earns all of the emotions that I felt from it. 

The whole arc is a beautiful fight scene with flashbacks aplenty that forces a host of characters to confront their own selves. It's a worthy conclusion to Jane's time as the Mighty Thor, and while the War of the Realms continues, she will be missed.

The bonus issue At the Gates of Valhalla is a fluff read that focuses on King Thor's 3 granddaughters, as they travel back in time to the past to meet Thor, along with an interlude-style story that checks in on Malekith's War of the Realms. Unnecessary, but informative. They rebooted the series and swapped Russ Dauterman out with Mike Del Mundo to follow up on the War of the Realms. I have a few of those in trades, so see you next ish.

Catch up on Thor:

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Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Collects #'s 1-17 of the 1998 series by Christopher Priest, Mark Texeira and more

Reading this collection was lot like binging a TV series...the whole thing goes by so fast that by the time you're done you can hardly remember what you actually watched. Hence, I'm blogging about it. I really didn't know what to expect when I picked this up. I just knew that the Priest run was probably the best of the pre-contemporary Black Panther runs. The movie was pretty dang good so I was open to trying it, and since my library had all 3 volumes, I figured I could go through the entire run myself without complications.

Turns out, this isn't your typical super comic. Black Panther was published in 1998 under the "Marvel Knights" line, an independent-ish offshoot of the Marvel Universe that didn't rely on continuity and instead focused on experimentation and storytelling. The only other Marvel Knights books I'd read previously were the 12-issue Sensational Spider-Man run by Mark Millar/Terry Dodson, and The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank, by Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon. Considering that these were its sister books, you can expect some edge to it, which shows up in the appearance of Mephisto, the spotlight on street crime, and the romantic storylines around it. Other than that, the main tone of the book is actually satirical -- T'Challa hardly gets the focus in this book. It's mostly about the situations he finds himself in, and the wacky characters that surround him. It's kind of like a sitcom that happens to have superheroes.

Everett Ross is the bumbling "POV" character (imagine the ineffectual Chandler from Friends), a CIA agent assigned to T'Challa, the Black Panther, as his attache while he visits America, to investigate the death of a child involved in a charity that he sponsored. Unfortunately, T'Challa is leaving Wakanda at a time of ethnic wars ongoing in the area, and that's another storyline that he has to address. The timeline gets a little flighty, because most of the story is narrated back to Everett's boss from his POV, but here are some highlights:
  1. Mephisto pays a visit to T'Challa's hotel in the projects, secretly a motivating factor behind the ethnic wars in Wakanda, to bargain for T'Challa's "perfect, noble" soul. T'Challa actually gives in to the request, but because he's bonded with the Panther God, his soul is so noble that it's too much for Mephisto. It's a key establishing trait for T'Challa.
  2. T'Challa must protect his throne from Achebe, a Joker-style character who has taken provisional control of Wakanda along with T'Challa's stepmother.
  3. T'Challa uncovers the drug ring that was behind the child's murder that spurred him to visit America, secretly a <redacted>-sponsored plot to destabilize the region and weaken Wakanda.
  4. The White Wolf, a lost adopted brother, visits T'Challa in America and urges him to command his Hatut Zeraze ("Dogs of War"), a militia of brutal soldiers formerly commanded by T'Challa's father in his role as King of Wakanda.
  5. As further fallout from his encounter with Mephisto, T'Challa accidentally makes out with Nakia, a member of his Dora Milaje, "Adored Ones" essentially declaring his intent to marry her. It starts a whole chain reaction which includes Nakia endangering Monica's life in Wakanda, a former American lover of T'Challa's, as well as T'Challa replacing Nakia with Queen Divine Justice, a Chicago-born woman who happens to be a descendant of Wakandan blood, to humorous results.

The art starts off with Mark Texeira's painted, dream-like style which works really well with the Mephisto storyline. But it quickly turns into generic 90's muscleman art. It actually kind of reminds me of the 90's Howard the Duck books, but it could just be because those were both over-drawn and satire comics. There isn't much to write about with it other than that, but Mike Manley takes over for a couple of issues, and his cartoon-y, Bruce Timm-style pencils do a better job of evoking the tone than the other art style in the book. I'd rather read his Black Panther than the others drawn.

Definitely a unique comic to add to your list. The art is standard to substandard and while there's a lot of cool introductions to the lore of the Black Panther like the Dora Milaje, it's occasionally bogged down by the years of continuity that it attempts to catch you up on, like Monica Lynn's prior engagement to T'Challa, or just who exactly the White Wolf is. That combined with the time jumps from the narrator makes for a dense, unfocused read-through that demands multiple readings just to get everything straight. Maybe it wasn't a great idea to stuff all these issues in together, but it would take so long to collect the run otherwise. And just look at this page, they had to pull up a whole wikipedia entry just so you could understand who Killmonger is.

Follow along!
Black Panther by Christopher Priest Volume 2

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