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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Endgame (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.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman has been lodged in a constant state of apocalypse.

The duo have framed Batman as a blockbuster comic book, to the point that it seems like Batman stares down the end of all things more often than the rest of the superheroes in Geoff Johns’ Justice League. All of Snyder and Capullo major stories have placed Gotham City on the edge of the abyss, teetering (and even falling) into darkness. It is a sharp contrast to the lower key threats of Snyder’s work on The Black Mirror, very consciously a stylish affectation to reflect the fact that Batman is very much one of the comic book industry’s blockbuster title.

Bringing back the laughs...

Bringing back the laughs…

In The Court of Owls, Gotham finds itself subjected to a long night of terror by an army of undead assassins. In Death of the Family, the Joker carves his way across the city. In Zero Year, the origin of Batman is tied to a disaster on the scale of No Man’s Land. Even outside of his work on the main title, Snyder’s role as “executive producer” of Batman Eternal saw yet another apocalypse visited upon Gotham in a relatively short space of time. It becomes exhausting after a while.

To be fair, it is reasonable to ask whether this is just part of a larger cultural context. Pop culture has always been fascinated with the end of the world, but it seems increasingly fixated on the concept in recent years. The popularity of the zombie genre is just one example, but any list of critically and commercially successful art in the twenty-first century will confront the reader with multiple ends of all things. The Walking Dead, The Road, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jericho, Revolution, Book of Eli, and so on and so forth.

"Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling...?"

“Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling…?”

However, popular culture is not just fascinated with post-apocalyptic horror. Increasingly, media engages with the question of what the end of the world will look like, rather than the question of how we might survive it. Fear the Walking Dead depicts the end of the world that led to its sister series. Chris Carter revived The X-Files so that the final episode could depict the end of the world as foreshadowed across the original nine-season run. With advances in CGI, blockbusters like The Avengers and Man of Steel can render destruction on an impossible scale.

As such, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recurring fascination with the end of all things exists as part of a broader cultural context. Still, the writer and artist seem to position Endgame as the ultimate apocalypse for its two central characters.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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Grant Morrison’s Run on Action Comics (Review/Retrospective)

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.

On paper, Grant Morrison and Rag Morales’ Action Comics should have been a slam dunk.

The title was announced as part of DC’s “new 52” relaunch, a resetting of the comic book giant’s continuity beginning in September 2011. Designed to revitalise the line, shoring up sales numbers and providing a clear point of entry, the “new 52” was clearly intended as a “jumping on” point for new and lapsed comic fans. It was bold and radical, an even greater departure for the company than their reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1986. The comic book publisher gave themselves a blank slate.

Wow, he IS more powerful than a locomotive...!

Wow, he IS more powerful than a locomotive…!

In theory, this was a great idea; anything was possible and everything was on the table. In practice, the execution was more muddled; the massive experiment curtailed by a very conservative aesthetic. In many respects, the “new 52” felt like more of the same; familiar mid-tier talent working on familiar mid-tier ideas. The most interesting books were those that dared to do things differently; Scott Snyder inverting Alan Moore’s brilliant twist on Swamp Thing made for iconoclastic reading, as did Brian Azzarello’s ground-up reimagining of Wonder Woman.

In contrast, a lot of the line felt like hedging. Hellblazer was cancelled so that John Constantine could be dragged under the corporate umbrella in Justice League Dark, all in the name of coporate synergy. The Wildstorm characters were ported over into mainstream continuity, in spite of the fact that they were largely redundant or incompatible. Instead of courting either exciting new talent or industry veterans, the company had difficulty drawing top-tier talent. Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld were among the relaunch’s heavy hitters.

... And what was that about speeding bullets?

… And what was that about speeding bullets?

To be fair, there were bright spots. But the ideas and concepts that were interesting were frequently hobbled by the demands of the publisher. All-Star Western was diminished by having to tie to Gotham City continuity, while attempts at genre diversity in books like Demon Knights or I, Vampire were under-promoted. Emphasis was placed squarely on monthly print sales numbers, with little patience for books to grow their audiences whether online or through collected editions.

In spite of all the confusion and chaos of the relaunch, Grant Morrison writing Action Comics was the cause of considerable excitement. Morrison was one of few comic book writers who could legitimately be described as a superstar, arguably with a higher profile outside mainstream comics than executives Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. Having Morrison on a monthly book was a big deal, particularly a monthly book as important to the company’s legacy as Action Comics. (Then again, the relaunch also chose to put Tony Daniel on Detective Comics, so there’s that.)

Happily never after...

Happily never after…

More than that, the book represented something of a homecoming for Morrison. Although the character of Superman had struggled with issues of relevance in the twenty-first century, Morrison had been the architect of one of the character’s most beloved stories. All-Star Superman is widely regarded as one of the best Superman stories ever published. Having its author writing a monthly book as part of the relaunch was a big deal. Following high-profile misfires like New Krypton or Grounded, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put Superman back on the right course.

In many respects, Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics typifies the sort of push-and-pull at the publisher as part of the relaunch. The great ideas smothered by corporate mandates, the tension between familiarity and novelty, the burden of expectation even while trying to chart a new course. For better or worse, Action Comics could be seen as the flagship of DC’s “new 52” initiative. This seems entirely appropriate, given the title’s historical significance to DC comics.

Running jump...

Running jump…

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Geoff Johns’ Run on Justice League – Throne of Atlantis (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Geoff Johns on Justice League should be one of the defining superhero comic books of the twenty-first century.

After all, Johns has done a lot to define DC over the past decade or so. Johns is one of the defining voices in superhero comics. He has enjoyed long and successful runs on iconic characters. His work sells well and has generally garnered positive reviews over the course of his career. Johns knows how to “centre” a character and to help cut to their core. 52 is generally regarded as a high watermark of twenty-first century DC comics, and Johns is the only one of the four authors still consistently working at DC comics.

Everybody out of the water!

Everybody out of the water!

So putting Geoff Johns on Justice League is a no-brainer. Indeed, many fans had been expecting a high-profile run from Geoff Johns on the title long before the “new 52” relaunch. Given Johns’ successful runs on Action Comics, Green Lantern and The Flash, writing all of these characters together should be a recipe for success. When it was announced that writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee would be handling the relaunched Justice League title, it seemed like a veritable worldbeater of a title.

In sales terms, Johns’ Justice League remains a success. However, it has been less satisfying from a creative standpoint. Artist Jim Lee departed the book after a year – with several fill-in artists along the way. However, even with DC drafting Ivan Reis to replace Lee, Justice League is not as satisfying as it should be. There are lots of reasons for this, but the biggest problem with Johns’ Justice League is that it always seems so fixated on what is happening next that it never appreciates the moment.

She really sweeps him off his feet...

She really sweeps him off his feet…

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – The Court of Owls, Night of the Owls & The City of Owls (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

The “new 52” was a rather polarising experiment.

Claiming to restart their entire universe from scratch after the events of Flashpoint, DC comics claimed the initiative would make comic books more accessible to the masses. Without decades of continuity to block access, new readers would be more likely to try to get into these sorts of comics. The decision to effectively start from scratch has been controversial – arguably compounded by the fact that writers like Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison were allowed to carry their work across the continuity reboot.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

The team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are among the longest serving of the “new 52” creators. The pair have remained on the flagship Batman book for three years, longer than the vast majority of creators recruited to help relaunch the DC universe back in September 2011. There’s a wonderful consistency and enthusiasm to their work, and it seems like the two have a very clear vision of where they want to take Batman, one of the characters with the most complex relationship to the re-launch.

In many ways, The Court of Owls can be read as a meta-commentary on Batman’s position in the wake of Flashpoint, reflecting on the awkward relationship between the potential for novelty and the demand for familiarity.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Stolen Memories (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

Superman: The Animated Series gets a bit of a hard time among the Bruce Timm “DC animated universe” shows. I think it’s fair to say that the show never reaches the highs (or even the average consistency) of Batman: The Animated Series, and it never matches the scale of Justice League, the pace of Justice League Unlimited or the ambition of Batman Beyond. However, it actually does a fairly wonderful job working with a character who has proved quite difficult to handle. I think Superman: The Animated Series was at its strongest when it distinguished itself from its direct predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series, and I think that Stolen Memoriesis the perfect example of that.

He’s got the whole world, in his hands…

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