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 use...to 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.

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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 issue...it 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.

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Black Panther by Christopher Priest Volume 2

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Trinity Vols. 3 and 4: Dark Destiny and The Search for Steve Trevor

Trinity Vol. 3: Dark Destiny
by Rob Williams, Guillem March, and V Ken Marion
Collects #'s 12-16 and Annual #1

What? No more Manapul on Trinity? I guess it was just going to be a spotlight run all along. Fair enough. Rob Williams takes over on the writing duties, while Guillem March and V Ken Marion split art on this trade paperback. Guillem does the endcap issues while V Ken gets the main story, 
the 3-part "Dark Destiny." "Dark Destiny" is a continuation of issue 7, where Circe gathered her own "Dark" trinity so to speak, to destroy the Trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. It leads to a host of magical guest stars, including the "mystical" trinity of Zatanna, Constantine and Deadman, as well as the "arch" trinity of Red Hood, Artemis, and Bizarro, along with the "stooge" trinity of Larry, Moe, and Curly Jason Blood, the host of the Demon Etrigan. So many Trinities.

Guillem has this dynamic, sinew-y, shaded style that translates pretty well to the heavy mystical focus of the trade paperback. V Ken Marion is a part of the "house" style of art so not much to remark on there. The story itself is pretty color-by-numbers, with a small twist by Circe at the end but it goes pretty much the way you'd expect. Only if you're into the mystical corner of DC would I think you would enjoy this story. And then for whatever reason, Annual #1 features a team-up between the Trinity and Deadshot. The Trinity fight off a group of terrorists to help Deadshot find his daughter who, apparently, is missing. I'm all for introducing new characters in media res, but it just seemed like a shoehorned introduction for an annual issue, what should have been a celebration of the main characters.

Trinity Vol. 4: The Search for Steve Trevor
by James Robinson and Patch Zircher
Collects #'s 17-22

The mystical storylines continue in this final collection of the 2016 series. The Trinity investigates a mysterious whirlpool forming in the ocean and are whisked away to the magical land of Skartaris, where there's a war going on between the native magician Deimos and the incoming Warlord.

The pacing is somewhat unique in that you're only receiving morsels of the truth at a time. You're discovering just exactly what's going on along with the Trinity, and you're not always sure who to trust -- who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. Multiple narrators all telling their version of the story in the past tense helps to cement this feeling. A reread is also valuable once you finally learn just what's going on and who's up to no good. Kudos for all the unique writing techniques here -- they turn what could have been standard super-fare into interesting super-fare.

Turns out this war in Skartaris involves some shady dealings on Earth, and it's up to the Trinity to stop them. All things told, it just felt like there was too much plot with not enough characterization. There's so many side characters that they just feel like chess pieces. For a story that's subtitled "The Search for Steve Trevor," there's really not a lot of page time given to the relationships between Steve and the three members of the Trinity. You're expected to just know that he means a lot to them. It's that kind of story expectation that rings flat. A mystical conclusion to the series, and a muted one as well. At least we got to see Batman riding a unicorn.

Read More Trinity:

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