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Absolute Justice

They’ve lost their power. And I’m not talking about magic genie-rings or batarangs. I’m speaking about their real power. You don’t need them anymore.

– Lex Luthor discusses superheroes

Are superheroes redundant? In many ways, they’ve formed the basis of an American mythology in the twentieth century – many fo the classical superheroes represent a pantheon of gods not unlike the Greek or the Roman conception of the same. This is particularly true of DC’s panel of major superheroes, who may as well sit atop Olympus looking down on humanity. However, the past few decades haven’t necessarily been kind to the notion of the superhero – increasingly deconstructed and darkened and shaded and compromised beyond any similarity to their original status – and you’d be forgiven for wondering whether the genre has passed its sell-by date. This is the question at the core of Justice, the twelve-part maxi-series by Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger.

A league of their own?

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Daredevil by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, Vol. II

Still, it must have been nice for you, Murdock.

What?

To win this one. It seems like you really needed it.

– North and Murdock

There goes the whiniest superhero I ever met.

– Mr. Izo

I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again: Daredevil has had an amazing ten-year run under the stewardship of Kevin Smith, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. It’s just been a really well-put together comic book which really works. one of the finest compliments of the book I’ve read, and one I sadly can’t take credit for, is that Daredevil mostly avoids the deconstruction which has been a fixture of many iconic runs, while also avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia that typically define the reaction to deconstruction – instead, the book has found a third way: it has found a way to take the conventional tropes of the superhero genre, and use them to offer something relatively new and exciting, exploring the story potential inherent in ideas like a secret identity, or what happens when a vigilante creates a vacuum in crime. Ed Brubaker, who – if you ask me – has offered the most fascinating run on the character and has surpassed his work on Captain America, finishes his run here and closes a chapter in the life of the Marvel Universe’s most tragic superhero.

Stars in your eyes...

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the end of Brubaker’s run, if you aren’t already familiar with it. I’ll flag them beforehand, but consider yourself warned.

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Joker

Joker was released over the summer of 2008, and had the great fortune to closely mirror the Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Author Brian Azzarello claims that the similarities in the character here and on the big screen are a coincidence, but there’s something uncanny in watching this version of the character, with his Glasgow smile and foul teeth, attempt to take control of Gotham’s criminal underworld in a manner that his big screen counterpart would probably approve of. Azzarello paints a grim and gritty version of the Gotham City underworld, avoiding the more obvious superhero clichés and instead offering an exploration of the madness of one of the medium’s enduring antagonists.

This Joker has his own toxins...

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Kick-Ass

Remember how I said during my review of The Ultimates that Mark Millar was a love ‘im or hate ‘im writer, sometimes within the same work? Well, Kick-Ass offers Millar at his best and at his worst. He gets the superhero genre, understands why and how it works the way it does. That’s why he’s so good at deconstructing and reconstructing it. He grasps the escapism element and knows his target audience like the back of his hand. However, he’s a writer who refuses to ever accept that there is such a thing as “too far”. There is no taste, there is no top to go over. But, more than that, there’s no restraint. And there’s the problem with Kick-Ass: for a novel so interested in giving us a relatable protagonist and heroes grounded in “the real world”, it’s too absurdist to really work.

"They should call him ass-kick..."

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The Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus

My name is Daniel Rand. I am the Immortal Iron Fist. And though it may be in chaos, my world just got a little bigger. My sense of self has grown ten thousandfold.

– Danny Rand reflects on the first half of his run

Who the hell is the Immortal Iron Fist, I hear you ask? It’s a good question. The character traces his roots back to 1974, with Marvel attempting to work off the success of the period’s kung-fu films with a line of martial arts comics. Just like they used to have western comics and war comics and so on. However, the character – despite enjoying success at the time and creating a vocal supportive fan base – never really breached pop culture consciousness in the same way that the truly big comic book characters did. He remained mostly a cult figure, beloved of some and virtually unknown to others. Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, two very talented comic book creators who had recently found a home at Marvel, decided to stage a revival of the character in the middle of the last decade. Apparently Marvel was so happen with the result that they omnibus’ed it, releasing it in one giant collection.

Okay, maybe ‘giant’ is exaggerating, but it’s certainly impressive.

Everybody was kung-fu fighting...

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Astonishing X-Men Omnibus by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

Why did I have to follow Grant Morrison?

– Joss Whedon’s email correspondence with Marvel

What with all that talk of Whedon directing The Avengers on the big screen, I decided it was worth checking out his run on one of the most enduring superhero teams of all time.

Is this a breakout hit?

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Brian K. Vaughan’s Run on Ultimate X-Men – Vol. 5-6 (Hardcover)

Brian K. Vaughan is the accidental Ultimate X-Men author. Originally drafting a single arc to transition between Brian Michael Bendis and a potential arc by David Mack, his entire tenure was overshadowed by the near-constant suggestion that X-Men director Bryan Singer would be hijacking the title for a storyline or two. Neither of these two proposals came to pass, and Vaughan ended up working on the series for nearly two years. Perhaps because of the seemingly temporary nature of his stay – liable to end with any given arc – his run seems to lack overall consistency or direction. That isn’t to criticise his individual stories, which are arguably the best in the entire run of Ultimate X-Men, but an observation about the nature of Vaughan’s tenure.

Mojo is big... in television...

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Comics for Grown Ups?

We’re a bit late to the party, but this week we’ll be celebrating the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, with a look at the medium, the company and the characters in a selection of bonus features running Monday through Friday. This is one of those articles. Be sure to join us for the rest.

Comic books are what Neil Gaiman once famously described as “the medium that’s always confused with a genre”. The fact that they are typically populated with spandex-wearing superheroes has led to a bit of a pop culture stigma around the medium, as stories about grown men in their underwear pounding each other are the only stories that could be told in that format. Anyone even loosely familiar with the history of the genre will know better, but I’ve always imagined comic books having a hard time fitting in to popular culture in the same way that books or film or television do. So can comic books ever really draw in that elusive adult audience?

Smoking? In a comic book? That will not stand!

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Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus (Review)

There’s a lot of buzz out there suggesting that Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America might be the run on the character, the one for the ages – like Frank Miller’s tenure on Daredevil, for example. I decided that – with the movie coming out next year – it might be worth bringing myself up to speed on the character. While I haven’t finished Brubaker’s run (it’s on-going and I still have to read The Death of Captain America Omnibus), it is a very solid run, packed with great ideas. It’s a clever and well-crafted story that demonstrates that Brubaker has more in him than just gritty pulp like his fantastic runs on Daredevil and Gotham Central. On the other hand, I’m slow to call the run an instant classic – I’d rather finish his run before I make that judgement. Towards the end it feels like Brubaker’s own story has become somewhat derailed by the larger events looming in a shared universe. He’s still an amazing writer and succeeds in keeping the train mostly on the tracks, but one gets the sense that the collection would have been better if he had been granted complete control over it.

"Hey, Cap, what are we staring at?""You'll know it when you see it, Bucky; you'll know it when you see it."

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The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 1

I’m not quite sure what to make of the collection. I know it’s the first of six volumes which will include the entire 80-issue run of James Robinson’s reimagining the concept (plus extras) and I know that it’s the opening chapter of a much more expansive story. And I know that – as a story – it is structured in a much more dynamic and interesting way than most other superhero adventures. But I’m not feeling it. At least not yet.

jackknight

No hero here(o)...

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