Monday, April 22, 2013

The Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus (2011)

The Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 (2011)
Collecting Marvel Team Up #61-62, Marvel Two-in-One #50, Fantastic Four #209-218, 220-221, 232-260, Fantastic Four Annual #17, Avengers #233, Thing #2
Hardcover, 1096 pages
ISBN 9780785158240
Retail price: $125.00
Amazon price: $83.80

The problem with the Fantastic Four is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (1) created a monster and (2) wrote/drew themselves into a corner. Actually that’s not true; they didn’t really do these things, but all those who came after them were so enamored of the FF Universe (not the same thing as the Marvel Universe) and fearful to dishonor it, that they usually rehashed the same themes and motifs over and over until The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine became The World’s Greatest Joke. (Mark Waid alludes to this in his essay “The Fantastic Four Manifesto” in Fantastic Four: Imaginauts (2003). 

Ben and Johnny trash-talk and fight, occasionally wrecking the Baxter Building. Reed neglects Sue in favor of another experiment. Another trip into the Negative Zone. Oh, wait, here’s Doctor Doom again.... 


John Byrne falls prey to some of this, but at least he makes a good (sometimes great) effort to make the FF fresh and exciting. Although Byrne’s run on the title goes from issue #232 through #293, this omnibus starts with Byrne’s art on Marvel Team Up #61-62, Marvel Two-in-One #50, then moving to FF #215-218, #220-221 before arriving at the meat of the Byrne work with #232-260. What I’m saying is that you should understand that you won’t see Byrne’s words and pictures paired up until after page 275. 

Those first 275 pages are generally okay, but you’re getting a lot of what Waid was talking about in his essay. Skrulls, the Watcher, Galactus, etc. 

For 275 pages.....

The shift comes at issue #232. You can tell from the cover that something’s different: no speech or thought balloons, no banners making bold proclamations about the story awaiting you inside, nothing but an image of Ben, Reed, Sue and Johnny, suspended above a fiery cauldron and Diablo (Sorry, Mr. Waid...) conjuring up some evil deed. Diablo’s not the villain I would’ve picked, but that’s the one Byrne chose (or maybe it was chosen for him) and it (mostly) works.

Byrne finds his footing quickly and understands that everything that happens in the comic doesn’t have to be a cosmic event determining the fate of the universe. Sometimes smaller stories work just fine, as in the case of “Mission for a Dead Man” (#233), which shows the Human Torch playing detective, or the lighter tale “The Man with the Power” (#234) about a seemingly ordinary man whose trip to New York City is one he’ll never forget (or will he?). Even the very unusual “Childhood’s End”  (#245) works in Byrne’s hands - although it would probably come across dismally in anyone else’s. 

Byrne manages to capture some of the light, carefree elements of the early FF issues without descending into goofy territory. The characters take on more human elements and we get to know Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny more as people than as heroes or celebrities. We understand their wants and needs, their hopes, dreams, and fears in ways that are less superficial than they had been up to this point. 

Ah, but Byrne eventually does go cosmic. He can’t help it. The Negative Zone, Galactus.... I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go, break out the caffeine...”

Yet Byrne’s ventures into the cosmic are more than just trippy, mind-blowing adventures for the sake of mind-blowing adventures. He has something to say beyond saving the universe for the billionth time. Case in point: “Fragments” (#257) shows us something we’ve never really seen before - Galactus actually feeding on a planet. Even though it’s the planet of one of the FF’s greatest villains, Byrne shows us the devastating consequences of Galactus’s normal means of sustaining his life. Is it right? Wrong? You could think about this issue (no pun intended) for a long, long time. 

The Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus takes awhile to get started, but once it does, the book frequently soars. Even when it stumbles, it’s still a fun read. Will we get another volume collecting the remainder of Byrne’s run on the title (#261-293)? I hope so.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Eisner Award Nominees Announced

The Eisner Award Nominees were announced yesterday. See the complete list here

Let the speculation begin.....

Monday, April 15, 2013

Marvel Omnibus Titles Getting New Printings

I noticed the other day on Amazon that at least three of the first volumes from Marvel's Omnibus series are getting new printings:

The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 1 (September 17, 2013)

This is great news for collectors, since these original printings are going for astronomical prices online. Let's hope Marvel releases new printings of more of its initial omnibus titles including the original X-Men, Thor, and others.

I love the concept of the omnibus series, but to tell the truth, they're just too blasted heavy. I own the Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1, but not the second volume, another title that probably costs more from online sellers than your monthly car payment. Instead, I bought the same comics in the Marvel Masterworks series (all at discounts), which all totaled were cheaper than the original omnibus sticker price and are much easier to handle.

I already have the Spider-Man issues in trade paperback, so I won't be getting that omnibus. The X-Men volume is, however, a temptation...

It will be interesting to see if Marvel continues rereleasing these hard-to-find volumes in the coming months....

Friday, April 12, 2013

Batman Volume 2: The City of Owls (2013)

Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls (2013)
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, et. al
Collecting Batman (2011) #8-12, Batman Annual #1
Hardcover, 208 pages, DC Comics
ISBN 9781401237776
Retail price $24.99
Amazon price $13.71 

I know I’m swimming upstream here, but you can mark me down as disappointed in this second volume of what promised to be an excellent, if not landmark, entry in the Batman canon. 

The first volume, The Court of Owls promised much, with the legend of a cult of villains who’ve been secretly haunting Gotham for decades, their presence known only by a nursery rhyme that all Gotham children can recite verbatim. The structure and ultimate purpose of the organization are handled in fascinating ways, giving readers just enough information and clues to keep the pages turning, all the while making us speculate on the massive scale and scope of this evil. 

The Court of Owls provided great action, suspense, intrigue, and the sense that something new and important could be happening. Yet, I felt Snyder was in danger of writing himself into a corner. Based on what I read in this second volume, The City of Owls, he wrote himself out of it, but in a very unsatisfactory way. I say that not knowing what tie-ins might be necessary to understanding the full story. (More on tie-ins in an upcoming post.) I suspect tie-ins are part of the problem, since I sometimes felt I’d missed important events in this story arc. Maybe those tie-ins will be included in an Absolute edition, but what if I don’t  want an Absolute edition to get the full story? (More on that in an upcoming post, too.)

But let’s talk about what’s there, and not concern ourselves with what’s not there (at least for now). Without giving up too many spoilers, I can't remember when I've ever seen a more talkative villain explaining everything in excruciating and laborious detail. Seriously, I've listened to guys arguing classical philosophy that weren't this verbose. The entire revelation is extremely questionable, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising, since the clues that your suspension of disbelief would be challenged are clearly sprinkled throughout the first volume, the biggest of which is this: Is it really possible that a secret organization such as the Court of Owls has existed for this long without making themselves known? It’s a real stretch. So is the revelation at the end of The City of Owls. It’s a stretch I was not willing to buy for a minute.  

The collection ends with two interesting stories, one about Alfred Pennyworth’s father, the other concerning Harper Row, a young woman eager to “help out” Batman after he comes to her rescue. These stories, especially the Harper Row story, help to cleanse the palette somewhat from the disappointment from The City of Owls storyline, but they can’t redeem it. 

Capullo’s art is excellent, especially in his fight scenes, but even those can’t add visual credibility to a denouement that lacks story credibility. In such cases, both suffer.

I don’t mean to hammer The City of Owls, but neither can I deny my disappointment in it. I was certainly expecting much, much more. Again, I plan to address this in a future post, but perhaps part of the problem is in the structure and philosophy of how comics are made today, which certainly includes the problem of tie-ins, but also touches on larger issues of story and storytelling. More later.  


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In the Days Ahead....

The only book I'm considering purchasing this week is the collected hardcover edition of Matt Kindt's Mind Mgmt (single issues discussed previously here). 

Next week's releases (according to the Collected Comics Library release schedule), however, presents many temptations....

The Art of Steve Ditko is getting a new edition from IDW. I don't know if this is just a new printing or if it will include new material, but I missed this one the first time around and don't plan on missing it again.

I'd certainly like to check this one out from the library before laying down even the discounted price of $28.38 on Amazon: The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction.

Finally, I'm very eager to pick up a copy of Alter Ego #116, featuring the work of my "Artist of Discovery in 2013," the late Joe Kubert. 

So.... let me know what you'll be picking up this week and next week....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon (2013) - Fraction, Aja, Pulido, Hollingsworth

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon (2013)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, Matt Hollingsworth
Collecting Hawkeye #1-5, Young Avengers Presents #6
Trade Paperback, 136 pages, Marvel Comics
ISBN 9780785165620
Retail price $16.99
Amazon price $12.18

Matt Fraction's Hawkeye is a breath of fresh air in a superhero universe that can easily get boring, overwhelming, or both, very quickly. This collection of stories involves few supervillains, no large-scale galactic wars and no insanely complicated crossovers - just good stories. 

Here’s Hawkeye, a guy who is, after all, just a regular guy. Hawkeye has no superpowers, but rather skills, enough skills that the Avengers who do have superpowers have no choice but to respect him. You’d think that stories about what superheroes do away from their teams would be lacking. And you’d be wrong.  

You might also be tempted to think that a new comic series featuring a character from The Avengers movie is just Marvel trying to further cash in on a major success, but Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon is not a flashy collection of fluff designed to awaken images and experiences from the movie. Neither is it a blitzkrieg of trick arrows shooting off in 100 different directions. No, this collection is more of an urban street-level world with real people, real problems and real consequences. I mean, really: how many times have you seen a superhero get hurt, go to the hospital, and have to use a wheelchair? How many times have you seen a superhero dealing with a corrupt landlord? When’s the last time you saw a superhero at a veterinarian’s office? (And this is all in the first issue.)   

That’s not to say that there’s no action or danger in these stories. There’s plenty of great fights, chases, mystery, intrigue, and - something that’s usually lacking in superhero comics - humor. Fraction’s well-paced storytelling combined with Aja’s (and Pulido’s) gritty artwork makes Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon instantly recognizable as something unique compared to most other comic books on the shelves.    

Although I didn't really care that much for the Young Avengers Presents tale at the end of the book, I highly recommend this volume to anyone looking for something a bit different from the standard superhero fare.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Valiant - Yes or No?

I've been hearing a lot of great things about Valiant Comics from various podcasts, so I've decided to give them a try with Harbinger Wars #1, which came out yesterday. Actually this is not my first exposure to Valiant. I read the first issue of Archer & Armstrong a few weeks back and thought it was pretty good.

According to Comic Vine, the Harbinger Wars is one of those "big event" series that we've all come to know and probably not love. I certainly can't get into the Marvel and DC mega-events, but according to their review, Comic Vine thinks this one might be worth a shot.

One thing I do like about Valiant: all of the first volumes of their trade paperbacks (as far as I can tell) are priced at $9.99. If Valiant wants to build a readership, this reasonable introductory price is a great way to start.

So, do you already read Valiant? Which titles? Will you pick up Harbinger Wars? Let me  hear from you.....

Monday, April 1, 2013

Graphic Novels Read in March 2013

Oddly enough, all of the graphic novels I read last month were reprints or retrospectives of some sort. Some have already been reviewed at length. I’ll provide links to those and a few brief comments about the others.

The Incal - Classic Collection (1981-88/2012) - Alexandro Jodorowsky, Moebius

Previous comments here.


Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945 
(2011) - Greg Sadowski, ed. 

Previous comments here


DC Showcase: Hawkman Vol. 1 (1961-66/2007) - Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert, Murphy Anderson, et al. 

That's right: here


Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel Vol. 1 (1967-69/2013) - Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Arnold Drake, Don Heck 

You guessed it: here


Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (1989/2013) - Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, Eduardo Barreto 

Gotham by Gaslight is one of the graphic novels I bought way back in the day when it first appeared, although I think I only read it once and forgot about it. Augustyn, Mignola, Russell and Barreto do a great job of recreating the Batman mythos in another time, the Victorian Era, before it was fashionable (and these days, practically obligatory) to do so. Although Mignola’s stunning art seems to have a monopoly on the gaslight Batman in the first tale, Barreto’s more genteel style works just as well in the second tale, “Master of the Future.” Very enjoyable.  


The Bill Everett Archives, Vol. 1: Amazing Mysteries (1938-42/2012) - Bill Everett, Blake Bell, ed. 

I’m probably not the best judge of Golden Age comics. I just haven’t read that many of them and don’t really know how to get past the way stories were told in the late 30s and early 40s. Everett was clearly an important artist during this period and beyond, and the progression in his work is evident in this first volume, from Skyrocket Steele to Dirk the Demon to Amazing-Man and beyond. It’s the stories that are - at least by today’s expectations - hard to digest, suffering from implausible plots (even by comic book standards), ridiculous situations and improbable endings. 

Yet I found myself charmed by heroes such as Hydro-Man and Sub-Zero Man, despite my misgivings about the stories. If you’re interested in comics history and the development of an artist, pick up this first volume of The Bill Everett Archives. If you’re unsure, checking this one out from your library (or finding it on-the-cheap as I did) might be your best bet. 


Feel free to tell me what you read last month.