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Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Superman Unchained is a big deal.

It arrives in the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary year. It is designed to tie into the release of Man of Steel, launching two months after Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation. It is also the flagship Superman title, launching three months after Grant Morrison finished up on Action Comics and existing free of the line-wide crossovers haunting the Superman line. It slots comfortably into the niche between the end of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run in May 2013 and the new direction for Superman dictated by the “DC You” re-branding in June 2015.

Let's get ready to rumble...

Let’s get ready to rumble…

Superman Unchained is also the work of an a-list creative team, written by superstar writer Scott Snyder and illustrated by DC co-publisher Jim Lee. The only higher profile team that DC comics could have assembled would have been to team Jim Lee with Geoff Johns, as they did launching Justice League back in September 2011. In fact, Geoff Johns would do his part to help revitalise the Superman line when he teamed up with John Romita Jr. on the Superman title, marking the artist’s first work non-crossover work at DC.

So Superman Unchained is very much a big deal for the character, and represents a conscious effort by DC to bring Superman to the fore. However, what is most striking about Superman Unchained is how old-fashioned and narratively conservative it seems, particularly when juxtaposed with Grant Morrison and Greg Pak’s work on Action Comics. In a way, this fits with the anniversary branding and the mass market push; this is very much your grandfather’s Superman.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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X-Force Omnibus by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Rob Liefeld has become something of a polarising force in comic books. The artist was a driving force in the industry in the nineties. Along with creators like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, Liefeld really helped turn comic books into an artist-driven medium during that decade. (Rather pointedly, X-Force #1 credits Liefeld as responsible for “everything but…” the specific tasks dolled out to other contributors.) The artist became a celebrity in his own right. He got his own Levi commercial. He famously sketched while speeding inside a car.

Liefeld has arguably become more a symbol than a creator. His heavily involvement in the second year of DC’s “new 52” reboot really solidified the impression that former Marvel head honcho and current DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras was trying to channel the nineties comic book market. (The fact the line has been heavily emphasising contributions by Jim Lee and Greg Capullo, other nineties superstars, really underscores the notion.)

It’s hard to look at X-Force without seeing it as a hugely symbolic work. This is really one of the comics which defined the nineties – arguably even more than Jim Lee’s X-Men or The Death and Return of Superman. If you wanted a glimpse into the mindset of American mainstream comics in the nineties, X-Force is the perfect glimpse.

Welcome to the nineties!

Welcome to the nineties!

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Geoff Johns’ (and Jim Lee’s) Run on Justice League – The Villain’s Journey (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

This should be the defining Justice League book of the 21st century. Geoff Johns is something of a DC comics super star, a writer who has worked on all manner of major and minor DC characters, and helped shaped the fictional universe for the better part of a decade. Jim Lee defined the look of DC comics, particularly with the revamped “new 52” character designs. He’s a super star artist who produces iconic superhero images. So pairing the two up on DC’s flagship book, relaunched as part of a line-wide initiative, should be something to watch. If Johns can turn Green Lantern into one of DC’s biggest franchises, imagine what he could do here.

However, their first six-issue arc, Origin, seemed troubled. It was a decently entertaining big-budget blockbuster of a comic book arc, but it didn’t really provide a clear vision of these characters and their world. New Frontier, for example, remains a more thoughtful and introspective origin story for the team of DC’s most iconic heroes.

The Villain’s Journey improves a great deal on Origin, but it’s still deeply flawed, with a sense that Johns and Lee are struggling under the weight of having to make these characters “relevant” to the modern world.

He knows how to make an entrance...

He knows how to make an entrance…

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Absolute Superman: For Tomorrow (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

As a Superman story, For Tomorrow leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a disjointed narrative that rapidly shifts through a variety of scenarios, while characters drift in and out (and back in again) in a way that feels convenient at best. There’s hardly the most logical of progressions here, as we move from one story into another. For Tomorrow feels like it has the ingredients for at least three Superman stories that would be quite interesting on their own, instead of being forced to fit together as one plot.

On the other hand, as a meditation on some of the themes and implications and characteristics of Superman as a character, For Tomorrow becomes something far more fascinating. Writer Brian Azzarello would hardly be my first choice to write a Superman story (indeed, he’s almost too cynical to write Batman), but he very clearly has some fascinating ideas about the character and his world. Truth be told, For Tomorrow is often more intriguing than satisfying, which makes it hard to recommend, but is still worth a look for those willing to excuse a somewhat hazy plot to get to some meaty ideas about Superman.

The doves are a nice touch...

The doves are a nice touch…

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Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

I’ll admit, I’ve always been broadly curious about how the Avengers and the X-Men franchises fit together. I’m not normally a massive fan of over-thinking the whole “shared universe” aspect of superhero comics. After all, how can Spider-Man continue to have it so tough when there’s a bunch of wealthy and well-loved superheroes who could vouch for him? Why wouldn’t Batman use Superman or Green Lantern for back-up all the time? It’s best not to dwell on the implication that all these comic books are unfolding at the same time, despite how fun the occasional crossover might be.

Still, I’ve always found it interesting that the X-Men books apparently share a continuity with Marvel’s publishing line. After all, the merry mutants are frequent victims of persecution and attempted genocide, the subjects of institutionalised racism and seem to spend the majority of their time as pariahs or outlaws. You’d assume that at least Captain America – the Sentinel of Liberty and all that – would probably want to take an interest in mutant affairs, or try to help them out a little.

Avengers vs. X-Men is a massive line-wide crossover between Marvel’s two largest and most iconic franchises. It is – as you might expect – mostly an excuse to throw the two sets of toys against each other, but it still has its fair share of interesting ideas. It doesn’t necessarily develop those interesting ideas in the most satisfactory direction, but it is surprisingly coherent for a twelve-issue series from five of Marvel’s highest profile writers and three of the company’s most respected artists.

Exactly what it says on the tin...

Exactly what it says on the tin…

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Justice League – Starcrossed (Parts I, II & III) (Review)

Starcrossed serves as something of a grand finalé to the first two seasons of Justice League. At the time it was written, Timm and his fellow creators weren’t assured of another season. When they did get another season, the show was massively revamped – repracing the team of seven with a much broader cast of characters, scaling down the multi-part episodes to stand-alone adventures, and building on its own themes. As such, Starcrossed can be seen as a conclusion to this era of the show, tying up loose ends and also serving as an impressive showcase for each of the major character featured.

Flights of fancy…

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Geoff Johns’ (and Jim Lee’s) Run on Justice League – Origin (Review)

It has been a year since DC revamped their whole line, cancelling all their on-goings and launching 52 new series each with a shiny new “#1.” Okay, technically the first in the line, Justice League #1, was published at the end of August, but I figure it’s appropriate to look back on DC’s flagship book and reflect on that first six-issue arc that served to launch the new DC universe (which is being affectionately referred to as the “DCnU”). Putting Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on the Justice League title just seems like common sense.

Johns has, after all, written pretty much all the characters already, and Jim Lee is respected as one of the greatest artists of his generation. However, Origins is far from the perfect reintroduction to DC’s iconic superheroes. While both writer and artist are doing solid work, there’s a sense that these first six issues are simply trying to do too much.

Chains that don’t quite bind…

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