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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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The Flash (1987-2009) #1-2 – Happy Birthday, Wally!/Hearts… of Stone (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please share the link love and let me know in the comments.

Like the rest of the comic book industry, DC comics went through some serious changes in the late eighties. Books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had re-shaped expectations of the comic book world. There was a sense that things had to change. DC was worried about its own expansive and increasingly convoluted continuity. In order to streamline that continuity, DC decided to stage a massive crossover event. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a truly epic comic that reshaped the shared universe.

It made quite the impression, providing the opportunity for a clean start for many of the characters. George Perez gave Wonder Woman a new origin and back story. John Byrne reinvented The Man of Steel, making several additions to the Superman mythos that have remained in place through to today. Frank Miller offered one of the defining Batman origin stories with Year One. There were obvious continuity issues around certain characters and franchises, but Crisis on Infinite Earths was a new beginning.

If the suit fits...

If the suit fits…

This was arguably most true for The Flash. Cary Bates had finished up a decade-long run on the title with the mammoth storyline The Trial of the Flash, where Barry Allen was accused of murdering his arch-nemesis in cold blood. Although the arc ended with Barry retiring to the distant future (comics!), the character went straight from that extended arc into Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he eventually gave his life to save the multiverse in what became an iconic death sequence.

More than that, Barry Allen stayed dead for twenty years; a phenomenal amount of time for a comic book character. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC offered a fresh new beginning for the Flash. Wally West, the former “Kid Flash” and sidekick, stepped into the iconic role and headlined a monthly series for over two decades.

His heart might not be in it, yet...

His heart might not be in it, yet…

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Batman – The Cult (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 Dark Knight Returns has a lot to answer for.

Although written “out of continuity” as the last Batman story, critically deconstructing and examining the Caped Crusader, The Dark Knight Returns remains a hugely influential piece of the Batman canon. It’s a story that was hugely influential in comics as a whole, but which understandably had a major influence on Batman. To pick an easy example, both of the recent “guiding” writers on the Batman franchise – Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison – can be seen to react to The Dark Knight Returns a variety of ways.

They are dead to him.

They are dead to him.

In a way, no author was more responsible for porting over concepts from The Dark Knight Returns as effectively as Jim Starlin. Although Starlin is perhaps most associated with Marvel’s cosmic saga, the author did write two massively iconic and distinctive Batman stories. Starlin was the author who wrote A Death in the Family, the story that killed off Jason Todd. He also wrote The Cult, a story about Gotham under siege from an evil religious leader who manages to “break” Batman.

The Cult itself was influential. Aspects of The Cult can be seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, a story about an urban uprising from the sewers and Batman’s attempts to rebuild himself to save Gotham. Unfortunately, as with Starlin’s other iconic Batman story, there’s a sense that The Cult works better in theory than in execution.

A Deacon of light...

A Deacon of light…

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Spider-Man: Reign (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man is not Batman.

This really should be self-evident, but it doesn’t seem to be. The biggest problem with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was that it wasted a lot of time telling audiences an origin story they all knew and had last seen a decade earlier. The second biggest problem was that the movie seemed to want to be a Batman film. There are a variety of tropes and conventions that work much better in a Batman story than they ever will in a Spider-Man story, and vice verse.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man is far from the only Spider-Man story to make this mistake. Spider-Man: Reign, written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews, is essentially an attempt to use Spider-Man to tell another version of The Dark Knight Returns. It goes about as well as you might expect. (That is: not at all.)

Swinging through the night...

Swinging through the night…

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The Twilight of the Superheroes?

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.

Earlier in the week, I wondered if the dominance of the comic book medium by superheroes was affecting the general  perception of the relatively young medium. Is the time of the superhero long gone?

Some characters take this "superheroes as pagan gods" schtick a bit too seriously...

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Absolute Batman: The Dark Knight (Returns) (Review/Retrospective)

The Absolute Edition also collects The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Miller’s belated sequel is worthy of discussion on its own terms, and I plan to revisit it at some point. For the moment, however, here is the review of the original Dark Knight Returns.

It’s really quite difficult to discuss The Dark Knight Returns today. Part of the reason is because of the massive influence that Frank Miller’s Batman epilogue had on the medium, and part of it is because Miller himself has done a fairly efficient job at deconstructing his own definitive Batman work in stories like The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. It’s impossible to approach Miller’s work here entirely divorced from either reality, and the result is a rather strange and dramatic legacy for one of the most iconic Batman stories ever told. It remains fairly essential reading for anybody even remotely interested in the Caped Crusader, the superhero genre or even the medium as a whole. It’s a classic, albeit one that is sometimes quite difficult to pin down.

Lightning strikes…

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