Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

24 May 2007

A-Next: Second Coming

Collects: A-Next #1-6 (1998-9)

Released: August 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color digest / $7.99 / ISBN: 0785121315

Of all the M2 digests published so far, A-Next: Second Coming is the weakest.

Why? Well, for a variety of reasons. Like all the M2 series, A-Next is generational, telling of the formation of a new group of Avengers after many years without them. But whom does Tom DeFalco choose to center the new Avengers around? Kevin Masterson, son of the minor ‘90s Avenger Thunderstrike. The other heroes are somewhat less than inspiring as well, given Spider-Girl and the Fantastic Five’s forebears: J2 (son of Juggernaut), Cassie Lang (daughter of the second Ant-Man), and Mainframe (a seeming robot with much in common with Iron Man). Mostly second stringers there; later American Dream (spiritual descendant of Captain America), Freebooter (Swordsman knockoff), Bluestreak, and Crimson Curse join up. And along the way, they run into the sons of Bill Foster (Black Goliath), Black Panther, and Hercules … not exactly the most inspiring.

 cover But DeFalco and penciller / co-plotter Ron Lim have to keep the major players unfettered because the book ends with a major question: what happened to the original Avengers? That’s the strong point of the book, the hints of what happened between the divergent point of the “normal” Marvel Universe and the M2 Universe; wars between Namor and Dr. Doom, Dr. Strange being stripped of his role as the Sorcerer Supreme, how Bruce Banner got the Hulk under control. It’s a lot of intrigue for six issues.

This is another digest whose art is affected by the reduction in size. The reproduction makes the lines of the inking seem sketchy, and there are quite a few times the art looks like Lim hasn’t seen a person with Asian features before. Other than that, the art is competent is unexceptional, perhaps a little scratchy.

DeFalco’s presence on all the M2 titles can be seen as a positive, but here it seems like a liability. The characters in A-Next sound like those in J2 and Spider-Girl; they even react to each other in the same ways, filling the same roles. It overwhelms the intriguing points of the past and makes the book a little dull.

Rating: (2 of 5)

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22 May 2007

Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1

Collects: Detective Comics #327-42, Batman #164-74 (1964-5)

Released: August 2006 (DC)

Format: 552 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 1401210864

Batman was one of the most popular characters of the 20th century, and his most recent movie shows he is still popular in the 21st. But the Batman of today — brooding, determined, and above all else serious — is not how he’s always been.

The Batman in DC Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1 is an altogether different sort of Batman. The cover says it was the inspiration for the (‘60s) TV show, but that’s not quite what this Batman is either. This “new look” Batman, revamped under orders of editor Julie Schwartz, isn’t the campy, over-the-top Batman of Adam West. This is simply the Batman of the Silver Age.

Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1 cover The Silver Age. Where sci-fi gadgets were as common as nickels, and only slightly more valuable. A world of superheroes with great power and no fashion sense. Where elaborate plans worked until the heroes made one tiny adjustment … or chanced upon some bit of blind luck. Where all gangsters wore suits and fedoras and had grand ambitions that dwarfed their abilities.

The question is, does this Batman work for modern readers? Not really. Batman and Robin fight few of their traditional adversaries; the Joker shows up twice in this Showcase and the Riddler and Penguin once apiece. Most of the crime is committed by thugs with only one asset: either a gadget or a plan. In this low-powered atmosphere, Batman is relentlessly cheerful, and he and Robin are never injured by the flocks of bullets aimed their way. There are little changes to their status quo in two years of stories.

The tales are vanilla superhero stuff — secret IDs, working with the police, ridiculously slow deathtraps, etc. It’s a pulpy mess, really: science fiction devices with no consequences for society on one side and soft boiled mysteries for Batman on the other. There is little in the way of character development. Alfred is killed early in the volume, but he is replaced by Dick’s Aunt Harriet, whose only purpose is to show up a couple of times a year and make Bruce protective of his secret identity.

The real positives are the Outsider and the Mystery Club. Each gives some continuity to the volume; the Mystery Club is a stable cast of amateur and professional detectives, and the Outsider is a semi-recurring villain with a secret. These manage to raise the level of the stories from inanity to mediocre. But that isn’t enough. Give this one a miss.

Rating: Rating: Half Batman symbol (1.5 of 5)

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