And the 2021 return to normalcy continues. Today, it’s time to cast a few words in the direction of what is becoming an annual tradition: the spending of a shitload of cash on a stack of graphic novels during the Christmas return to Perth because Karratha doesn’t even have a proper bookstore, never mind anything as esoteric as a place to buy comic books no shut-up you’re bitter.
I seem to have become distracted…..
Alternative universes, crossovers, the completion of collections, better versions of other groups, and vampires: it’s comicapalooza 2021!
Green Arrow Vol. 6: Last Action Hero
Admission time: I’ve always loved Green Arrow. At his best, he’s Batman with a conscience, a hero who genuinely cares about the little people, and one who understands that he doesn’t fit in anywhere– not with the rich caste from which he springs, not with the common people he protects, and definitely not with the supers he holds in contempt and mistrust. This is Oliver Queen at his best-written. Alone, confused, mistrusting and mistrusted, on a spirit quest to discover just who he is and what he is for. Mike Grell gets the character in a way few do, and this volume collects some of the best Arrow stories ever created, including the one I think is the single best Arrow story ever: one that involves nothing more than two men in a room, talking, and a bicycle. It’s brilliant.
Daredevil and Batman: Eye for an Eye
Two of the greatest urban comic book heroes of all time — one of whom is the greatest urban comic book hero of all time, an opportunity to choose from some of the greatest comic book villains ever assembled, the chance to play in the two greatest comic book sandboxes available… and they whiff it.
A by-the-numbers slice of forgetability so forgettable the most interesting thing about this book is the story of how I acquired it: tucked into a back shelf of a record shop I only entered because the bookstore next door was closed on a day I was told it was open. This could have been one of the coolest comic books ever written. Instead, it’s just… nothing.
Injustice. Gods Among Us: Year One
I was vaguely aware that there was a computer game where Superman had become a tyrant and taken over the world. Lord 16 filled me in on the gaps. All of them. At length. But it was an interesting enough idea that I picked up this volume when I saw it lounging about, looking lost and lonely, all by itself on a shelf in an EB Games shop. And you know what? It was worth it. It’s layered, complex, feels a hell of a lot more like what a simple farm boy from Kansas would be like if you gave him superpowers and a Bible Belt MAGA outlook (especially right now, amirite?), and is all round just pretty damn good. I’m a sucker for alternative takes on superheroes, and this will fit next to my Elseworlds books, Kingdom Come, and the rest quite nicely. Plus, how can you not love a book where Alfred Pennyworth bitchslaps Superman verbally and then nuts him?
American Vampire Vol. 1
Not sure how I’ve managed to avoid this one for so long, but it was a mistake. A modernist retelling of vampire myths reimagined for suitability to the spoilt, capitalist wonderland of the USA, from the 1880s to the 1920s. It links vampirism, rail barons, and their successors the cinema barons in an orgy of blood, violence, and sexuality that absolutely leaps at the reader. It’s gory, brutal, and an absolute hoot. I’ll be picking up more for sure.
R.I.P.D. Vol. 1
All I knew was that this had been made into a movie, and that the movie was guaranteed to be awful because Ryan Reynolds was in it, and judging by approximately 100% of every review I’d read, so it had been proved. But, you know, I’m a massive Green Lantern fan, and that movie… Ryan Reynolds… and reviews… and I still buy graphic novels like a crazy Green Lantern fan. So who am I to judge?
Nope. This is truly, genuinely, unbelievably awful. Terrible writing, awful art, zero character development, a plot and subplots so obvious they would have been rejected from Captain Obvious’ Obvious School for the Obvious Children of the Obvious. This is just the worst on every level it is possible for a comic book to be the worst in. I not only regret buying it, I regret existing in a Universe in which it is available to be bought. Which begs the question: how the ever-living fuck did this thing ever get made into a movie?
Anyway, it’s bad. Don’t buy it. Don’t read it. Don’t even get it out of a library. Just… just don’t.
Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers: The Ms Marvel Years, Vol. 1
Now, I love the Captain Marvel movie, and I am an unabashed fan of Brie Larson. But when it comes to the comics, well, Carol Danvers is… hate to say it…. just kind of boring. She’s a cut-out character of a superhero, there to drop into a narrative when the writers need a character-of-variable-abilities with not much personality to support the more interesting characters who front the title, or to whom bad things can be done without any real narrative consequence. She’s strictly supporting cast. And you know what? The writers of this title know it. This is less a story of standard superheroics — although there are plenty of those — and more a story about a hero who knows she’s powerful, dangerous, brave, noble, yadda yadda, and yet somehow remains firmly fixed amongst the B list. The writers skirt a fine line between writing something very self-aware and knowing, and kowtowing to the obvious desire on the part of the company to cash in on a successful media property.
Which is a pity, because it could have been as clever and enjoyable as She-Hulk, Doom Patrol, Ambush Bug, or Giffen’s original Justice League run, but in the end, it just feels a bit like Ms/Captain Marvel herself: enjoyable enough, but safe, unmemorable, and honestly, just okay. I reviewed Volume 2 earlier (because I accidentally picked it up last year thinking I was picking up this volume): sadly, it doesn’t look like this will ever exceed those natural boundaries.
The Umbrella Academy Vol. 3: Hotel Oblivion
Hmm. I picked up Volume 1 because it was a book Blake had enjoyed, and found it little more than a poor shadow of better titles such as BPRD and Doom Patrol. Volume 2 was a significant improvement, and showed the beginnings of an individual voice and aesthetic that I hoped would bear interesting fruit. Then the TV show appeared, and the family devoured both seasons (so far) with glee. This volume, produced ten years after the previous two, and released while the first season of the TV show was in production….. I dunno.
Maybe I’m Academied out, or maybe it’s just that the TV show is such a more cohesive, individual, fully realised product, but this feels flat. The characters just aren’t that interesting. The plot is all bang and no buck. Nothing has consequence, nothing feels important. It’s all just silliness and over-the-topness with nothing solid to underpin it. It’s empty calories, and with shelves full of Hellboy, BPRD, Doom Patrol, and other simply better titles in a similar vein, I have little interest in picking up the rumoured Volume 4 that is soon to arrive.
Suicide Squad Vol. 3: Rogues
To paraphrase the immortal Tom Lehrer, I have been a fan of the Suicide Squad since conception: my collection currently runs to 25 graphic novels and counting. But it’s John Ostrander’s run on the title that I first encountered, way back in the day, and it’s this run which is still closest to my heart. Volume 3 is just like the other titles in the Ostrander years: filled with mayhem, skulduggery, body counts, betrayal, and characters you’d really be better off not getting attached to. It’s typically great, but what makes this volume most notable is that, after several years of hunting bookshops and online retailers, it’s the final piece of the puzzle– a couple of Deadshot one-offs and the first volume of Tom Taylor’s new run aside, I now have the entire thing, and most importantly, the entire Ostrander set.
This makes me a very happy boy indeed.
The Authority Omnibus
Oh, yeah. Biggest, baddest, and best for last. Another title I have a deep, abiding love for, and one that I have been wanting to own in its entirety for the very longest time. Unlike Suicide Squad, though, this time I’ve done it all at once, shelling out a holiday-spending-only amount on a giant, nearly 1000-page volume of the entire run.
And it’s glorious, a concerted and concentrated ‘fuck you’ to the established iconography and hierarchies of superhero storytelling, not least in unrepentantly reimagining Batman and Superman as an openly gay couple tasked with parenting the infant spirit of the 21st Century, but also in basically acknowledging the idea that so many comic books hedge around, or ignore altogether– that superheroes aren’t only seen as superior to homo sapiens by the sapiens, but that they may believe it and act upon it themselves. And that they might be right to do so.
It’s joyfully violent, sexual, drug-riddled, and balls-out mad, and along with its sorta-companion volume Planetary (the two volumes of which I reviewed here and here), the height of Warren Ellis’ talent and work, before he fell from his brief peak to the shunned sexual predator we’ve seen exposed in recent days.
But it is a very high height.