Posts Tagged ‘Batman’

My Top 10 Superhero Comic Books of 2017

December 20, 2017

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It’s been an interesting year for superhero comic books. DC’s been trucking along with “Rebirth,” telling a lot of fun stories in the mix. Marvel’s been more split, with half the line spending a considerable part of the year embroiled in weird Nazi/Hydra antics while several of the titles that avoided Secret Empire put out some very enjoyable adventures. When I sat down to figure out my favourite superhero comics of the year, I was amused to see my list split down the middle, half DC and half Marvel! While I’d definitely say that DC had the better year overall, qualitywise, Marvel’s good books were VERY good.

Before we get to the list, though, I should point out that it’s been a great year for non-superhero comics, too. The cape books are my main focus here, of course, but I’ve been enjoying all sorts of other titles. More specifically, Bitch Planet: Triple Feature was excellent, as was the latest “season” of Sex Criminals from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I’ve also been enjoying Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, the latest volume of George O’Connor’s Olympians was fantastic as always, and Paper Girls from Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang remains gorgeous if all over the place, storywise. I’m always down for Cliff Chiang art! There’s no lack of wonderful comics out there right now across all sorts of genres and styles.

But now, onto my favourite superhero comic books of the year! Check out the list, and let me know your favourites from the past year in the comments:

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10) Batman by Tom King, Mikel Janin, Joelle Jones, and more

I’m reading Batman in trade so I’m a little bit behind, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it. I was leery of it initially, since the premises didn’t grab me. Superpowered heroes in Gotham? More Bane shenanigans? I didn’t think it’d be for me. Then I read the books and was quickly proved wrong. King and his excellent array of artists make it all work beautifully. And of course, I love the prominent role that Catwoman has in the run. She’s become a major player here, and while she and Batman are bad ass and cool, as always, compassion seems to be the core of both characterizations. It’s good stuff, and often beautifully drawn.

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9) Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

This book has been amazing for a while now, and it showed no signs of slowing down on that front in 2017. Is Ryan North still writing it? Is Erica Henderson still drawing it? Is Squirrel Girl still eating nuts and kicking butts? Then it’s going to remain great. And it has! North and Henderson bring so much heart and humour to the comic. It’s just a joy to read, and served as a most welcome counter to the bleak storylines that took over a lot of Marvel books this year. If you like delightful things, then go start reading Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

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8) Green Arrow by Benjamin Percy, Otto Schmidt, and more

I’ve enjoyed the stories in Green Arrow over the past year well enough, but I’ll be honest: The book made my Top 10 for Otto Schmidt alone. His art is SO GOOD. His pages just sing. The art isn’t terribly out there for a superhero book, but it’s absolutely unique and different and stands out from everything else on the stands right now. I think part of it is that he colors it himself, and everything on the page feels so cohesive and complimentary. It’s really remarkable stuff. Green Arrow cycles through a variety of artists, like most DC books right now, and while they’re all pretty solid, Schmidt’s work is just next level. I want him to draw every superhero now.

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7) All New Wolverine by Tom Taylor, Leonard Kirk, Nik Virella, and more

Step aside, old Wolverine. You were fun while you lasted, but the new Wolverine is so much better. She’s got everything we expect from a Wolverine: claws, ferocity, a propensity for going after anyone who threatens her friends with a berserker rage. But instead of being a mopey guy who’s been around forever, she’s a cantankerous yet endearing young woman. Plus she’s assembled a great supporting cast over the course of this run. It’s a fun, exciting book, and I’m completely fine with never seeing the old Wolverine again now.

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6) Detective Comics by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Marcio Takara, and more

Team books can be a tricky thing. There are a lot of characters to manage, and a few always end up taking a backseat while a handful come to the fore. Tynion and his rotating teams of artists have struck an impressive balance here, largely by backseating the character you’d expect to see more than anyone else: Batman. He’s a key figure, but doesn’t dominate the book. Instead, Batwoman leads the team and the spotlight gets shared by Azrael, Batwing, Clayface, Orphan, and Spoiler. The degree of attention ebbs and flows, but no one goes too long without a good storyline or an important role. The book also manages to tell its own stories while weaving in and out of the bigger events at DC over the past year. It’s a solid Bat-team book that I always find myself looking forward to.

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5) Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and more

I’m a big fan of the classic Thor, but what Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman have done with Jane Foster as Thor is far and away my favourite take on the character yet. It’s been a huge year for her, with an intergalactic war and darkness spreading through the nine realms, not to mention the return of Odinson and the emergence of the War Thor. But amid all of the epicness, the story of Jane battling cancer and sacrificing her well-being to be the hero the world, nay, the universe needs has been so beautifully told. The heart Aaron and Dauterman bring to their crazy action and adventure is what makes this one of the best books on the stands.

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4) Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Shea Fontana, Mirka Andolfo, Bilquis Evely, and more

Not right now, obviously. Wonder Woman has been garbage since James Robinson et al. took over a few months ago. But before that, the book was having a great year. The wrap up of the “Godwatch” and “The Truth” arcs was a powerful, well-executed conclusion to an excellent run that provided a much needed revitalization of Wonder Woman after a rough few years. Then we got “Heart of the Amazon,” which was an awesome team up between Diana and Etta Candy that pitted them against superpowered assassins and evil scientists. Now the book is about Wonder Woman and her brother and it suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks, but up until then it was a really great year of stories.

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3) Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

People were raving about this book before the first issue even came out, and with all of that buzz building and building, I came into this with high expectations. Mister Miracle beat those expectations with ease. The first issue especially is just masterful storytelling. It’s intentionally disorienting yet it pulls you along, and when you finally realize what’s happening it’s a gut punch that is heartbreaking yet so perfect for the character. Subsequent issues have been fascinating in their own right. It’s a unique, compelling book that is a worthy vehicle for Mister Miracle and Big Barda, two of Jack Kirby’s best creations.

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2) Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Marco Failla, Takeshi Miyazawa, and more

Ms. Marvel has been stellar for years now. Introducing a Muslim, Pakistani-American, teen heroine was no mean feat, and yet the book has never taken a step wrong. And this year was no exception. Kamala went through a lot, both professionally and personally, and as the year went on the book began to echo a lot of the issues facing America as a whole in 2017. Ms. Marvel is grounded in our reality in a way most superhero books aren’t, and that led to some incisive storytelling that still paired beautifully with all of the usual fun and action we expect from the series.

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1) Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh, and more

The Fraction/Aja/Wu era of Hawkeye is easily one of the best superhero runs of the past decade, and set a massively high bar for any and all Hawkeye stories moving forward. Thompson, Romero, and Walsh have reached that bar and more with Kate Bishop’s new solo series. The book is an absolute joy, from Thompson’s sharp and hilarious dialogue to Romero and Walsh doing an amazing job with all of the archery action and comedic beats packed into each issue. Plus there’s some serious heart and pathos beyond all of the fun, with Kate dealing with some heavy stuff. Things are rarely cool and chill for a Hawkeye, as much as they may pretend otherwise. The book is a dang delight, each and every month, and I love it to bits.

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Justice League Review: It Was Fine, I Guess? Not Good, But Not Awful

November 17, 2017

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Justice League isn’t a terrible movie, and that in itself is a major achievement. Director Zack Snyder’s past two superhero outings were dour, unwieldy affairs that fundamentally misunderstood almost every character who appeared in them. Justice League is a much more conventional movie, leaner and even fun at times. It’s not great by any means. I wouldn’t even say it was good. But I didn’t leave the theater angry, so that’s a plus.

Everyone seems to have learned a few lessons from Wonder Woman, which is the far superior film by leaps and bounds. Justice League is lighter and funnier than its predecessors, though since those films weren’t light or funny in the slightest it really wouldn’t have taken much. But Snyder and his uncredited co-director Joss Whedon appear to be actively trying to set a new tone. There are jokes this time, and considerably less brooding and angst. The team bickers which each other instead of trying to kill each other. People smile sometimes. The success of this new approach is hit and miss, with a lot of corny dialogue and quips, but it’s a far better direction to move the franchise toward than the dark, miserable drama of the past.

In terms of plot, Justice League is a little bit thin. Steppenwolf and his evil plan to terraform the Earth and turn it into a hellscape is pretty standard stuff, and neither he nor his nondescript legion of Parademon minions bring much personality to the movie. Luckily, the good guys are far more endearing and enjoyable to watch. Jason Momoa’s gruff Aquaman is a good time, Ezra Miller’s socially awkward Flash is amusing, and the complicated interpersonal dynamics of bringing a group of very different heroes together for a common cause made for some decent scenes. Everyone is new at this team thing, and several members were new to their powers, so watching them all find their way together makes for an interesting angle. That’s really what the movie is about more so than the possible destruction of the world or how to bring back Superman (SPOILER ALERT: They bring back Superman! I know, I was shocked too).

Between assembling the League and Steppenwolf’s nefarious activities, we get a tour of the franchise as a whole and a peek at where things are going. We stop by Themyscira again, and I missed Patty Jenkins so much. The scenes there highlight that this was a film written, directed, and generally designed by men, as do many of Wonder Woman’s scenes. Nonetheless, the scene is a good reminder of the larger superhero world at play here. As is the visit to Atlantis, peeks into the backstories of the Flash and Cyborg (who was particularly cool; I’m excited to see more of Ray Fisher’s take on him moving forward), and a fun cameo that I won’t spoil. All of this will be fleshed out in solo films to come, and this is a franchise that could grow in interesting ways.

Watching the film, I realized that my main issue above all else was characterization. Having grown up on DC comic books and researched them extensively in my professional life, I feel like I know these characters very well. And as much as Momoa was fun, that wasn’t Aquaman. Ditto for Miller and the Flash. Affleck’s Batman and Cavill’s Superman have been off for multiple films now. No one feels right to me in the way that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does. She captures the spirit and legacy of Diana so well, in ways that the boys just don’t with their characters. It felt like I was watching Wonder Woman plus a bunch of alternate universe impostors.

In short, while they’ve made an okay movie with the characterizations they’ve decided to go with, it just doesn’t feel like the real Justice League to me. That’s 100% my personal taste, of course. But by not being true to the characters, I found this turn toward the light to be a little bit underwhelming. Composer Danny Elfman even integrated iconic bits of his own 1989 Batman score and John Williams’ Superman theme, which was super clever and cool, and it still didn’t move me because these versions of the characters don’t fit the iconic mold for me. For example, there’s a mid-credits scene with Superman and the Flash that is classic comic book fare and I should have loved it, but because the personalities are so different from my experience of the characters it fell flat. While I appreciated what they were trying to do, it just didn’t land for me in any emotionally resonant way. Meanwhile, I wanted to cheer every time Wonder Woman did anything rad because Gadot’s take on her connects with me so well. With everyone else, I felt a disconnect.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, I enjoyed her role in Justice League for the most part. The franchise painted itself into a corner by having her stay out of the public eye for a century in Batman v Superman, so trying to reconcile that with the engaged, inspirational character we saw in Wonder Woman was a bit awkward but narratively necessary. Her action scenes were excellent, especially her solo outing busting up an attempted bombing; there’s so much bullet deflecting, and it’s glorious. What I enjoyed the most, though, is that she’s the heart and soul of the team. No one particularly likes or trusts each other as the League comes together, but they all respect and admire Wonder Woman. There’s a scene where she and Batman are arguing in front of everyone and she gives him a forceful shove, and the Flash says something along the lines of “If she’d killed you, we would have covered for her.” As much as Batman is the one who works to assemble the team and Superman is set up as some sort of great, inspiring unifier, it’s Wonder Woman who brings them all together.

Another of my favourite ladies, Lois Lane, is in the mix as well, and although she isn’t given much to do, she does have a couple of amazing scenes. When SPOILER ALERT Superman comes back (I still can’t believe it! They pulled the wool over our eyes on that one!), Lois plays a pivotal role in what was the only really emotionally impactful moment in the entire film. Her connection with Superman is shown beautifully, and Adams and Cavill have great chemistry together that really makes for a powerful reunion. I wish that Lois could have had a bigger role, perhaps tracking down a big story or some such, but Adams make the most of the limited screen time she’s given.

Overall, Justice League isn’t awful and I’m glad about that. It’s not good either, and this cinematic universe really isn’t for me apart from Wonder Woman, but there was nothing egregious or terrible about it. I mean, the Amazons should have beaten the hell out of Steppenwolf; they screwed up there. But other than that, it is a run of the mill superhero film that isn’t entirely unpleasant to watch. It’s easily the second best movie from DC’s current superhero line. It’s just far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far behind the first best.

Remembering Len Wein, and his Reinvention of Catwoman

September 11, 2017

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Legendary comic book creator Len Wein passed away yesterday at the age of 69. “Legendary” is no exaggeration either; the man co-created Wolverine, one of the most famous superheroes of all time. And if that wasn’t enough, he also co-created the bulk of the new X-Men that revitalized the franchise in the 1970s, including Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Plus he co-created Swamp Thing, edited Alan Moore’s brilliant run on the book. He then edited Moore again on Watchmen, the most famous superhero graphic novel of all time. Over the course of his career, Wein wrote or edited nearly every major superhero at both DC and Marvel, leaving his mark on all of them. He was a fan made good, who used to tour the DC offices as a teen in the 1960s before finally landing a writing job there, and his love for the genre led to decades of great stories.

Wein is also remembered for one dark moment in the Batman universe. In the late 1980s, as an editor he okayed the shooting of Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, in an attack that left her paralyzed in Batman: The Killing Joke. However, most fans are unaware of his important role in revitalizing a different female character in the Bat-mythos, Catwoman. Throughout the 1970s, Catwoman was adrift at DC Comics. Her popular turn on the Batman television show in the 1960s had ended a decade-long hiatus for the character, but no one at DC was able to figure out what to do with her after that. Her depictions varied wildly, different costumes were used, and she had no sustained runs.

Then Len Wein brought her back in Batman #308 in 1979. He was the regular writer on the book, and reintroduced the character via her alter ego, Selina Kyle. She’d gone straight, leaving her criminal past behind, and she wanted Bruce Wayne’s help with her investments:

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Bruce was suspicious and had his business manager Lucius Fox, another character created by Wein, investigate her. Selina found out and was angry, but Bruce apologized and soon the two began dating.

Selina became a regular part of the book for the next year or so. Her relationship with Bruce seemed doomed from the beginning, though; in a bit of foreshadowing, the duo dressed as Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon on one of their earliest dates:

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When Selina started acting erratically, Bruce got suspicious, especially when someone in a cat costume stole valuable items from the Gotham Museum. He even came after her as Batman, and refused to believe her as Bruce when she said she wasn’t involved. It turned out her behavior was due to a mysterious illness and that the real thief was Cat-Man. She’d been telling the truth the whole time. Selina donned her Catwoman outfit again to help Batman nab Cat-Man, but afterward she broke up with Bruce because he didn’t trust her, then left Gotham City:

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It was an excellent arc, one that successfully reintegrated Catwoman into Batman’s world while, in a clever twist, making Batman/Bruce the villain of the piece. His inability to believe in her reformation doomed their relationship, though Wein made sure not to end it too badly that she would never return.

And return she did. Over the next several years, new writers brought back Catwoman again and again. While some of the stories weren’t as good, with one even turning her into a crazed stalker when Bruce started dating Vicki Vale, she nonetheless remained a regular presence across the Batman line, raising her profile considerably. The changes in continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths and Batman: Year One resulted in a new take on Catwoman in the late 1980s, and a solo series followed after Michelle Pfeiffer’s wildly popular take on Catwoman in Batman Returns in 1992. But I think it’s fair to say all of this might not have happened without Wein bringing Catwoman back into the fold. She was pretty near forgotten over the course of the 1970s, and her prominence in the early 1980s played a key role in setting her up for her future successes.

Wein will be remembered for his splashier additions to the superhero world. I mean, the guy co-created Wolverine. That’s a big deal. But for me, as soon as I heard about Wein’s passing I remembered the way he reintroduced a character that I love dearly, captured her proper ferocity and spirit, and made her relevant again. It’s a small thing in the lengthy list of his many achievements. However, after such a prolific career, I’m sure there are innumerable small moments being remembered fondly today, though with a tinge of sadness.

The Many Lives of Catwoman is Officially Out TOMORROW!

June 30, 2017

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While The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale is available online from several retailers and in a bunch of shops already, the official release date for my brand new book is tomorrow, July 1. Up here, July 1 is a holiday, and everywhere else it’s a Saturday, so let’s chat about the book today before all of the celebration and relaxation takes over tomorrow. Yesterday on Twitter I ran through twelve interesting and weird facts about The Many Lives of Catwoman, and here’s that list in a more expanded form:

  1. It covers EVERYTHING. Comics, television, movies, video games, animation, unfilmed scripts, online videos, and more. If Catwoman was there, it’s discussed. It’s all within a larger, chronological framework that explains the broader evolution of the character, though, so it’s detailed but also organized and accessible.
  2. All of the chapter titles are cat-related puns. This was hard than I thought it would be; half of them came together pretty quickly, and the rest were like pulling teeth. “A Conspicuous Pause” is probably my favourite of them all because I really wanted to get “paws” in there. I was hoping to make something work with “bastion” but I just couldn’t figure anything out.
  3. The book opens with a ten page take down of Bob Kane that becomes a celebration of Bill Finger. Bob Kane often gets sole credit for Batman and the larger Bat-mythos, but Bill Finger was a far more important figure who Kane actively screwed over for decades while hoarding all of the money and fame for himself.
  4. Catwoman disappeared for TWELVE YEARS, from 1954 to 1966. The timing suggests that it was entirely the fault of Fredric Wertham and his contention in Seduction of the Innocent that there were homoerotic undertones to Batman and Robin’s adventures. Catwoman was called out in this portion of Wertham’s book as a “vicious” woman who, when it came to dating Bruce, would “have no chance against Dick.” Seduction of the Innocent was published in 1954, and Catwoman was benched immediately afterward.
  5. The chapter on the 1960s Batman television program has more quotes from the show than is probably necessary, but they’re all amazing. It’s all just too much fun. The dialogue in that show is so specific, and I find that when I read it I can hear the campy cadence with which it was delivered in my head. So I quoted the great lines as much as possible.
  6. Selina dated Bruce Wayne in the 1980s, then turned into a stalker when he started dating Vicki Vale, then dated Batman. It’s all very bizarre, an eight year soap opera that made Catwoman a fixture in both ongoing Bat-books for most of the decade. I do a deep dive into it all, of course. It’s a fascinating era on several levels.
  7. The chapter about Frank Miller’s various takes on Catwoman is… not complimentary. From The Dark Knight Returns to Batman: Year One to All Star Batman to Holy Terror (a non-DC book that features a Catwoman analogue), Miller sexualizes and brutalizes Catwoman again and again, often in the same ways. His misogynistic tendencies become very pronounced once you take a closer look at the patterns in his work.
  8. On the other hand, the chapter about Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman is… extremely complimentary! Because she is the BEST. Daniel Waters and Tim Burton deserve some credit for Batman Returns, of course, but the effort and dedication Pfeiffer brought to the role was considerable, with fantastic results. She’s so good that she steals the entire movie.
  9. My discussion on Catwoman in the 1990s includes a section about Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, and god help us all. Jim Balent’s hyper sexualized art dominated this era and was often at odds with the interesting stories in the book, and looking at Balent’s next project, Tarot, offers interesting insights into his approach to Catwoman. Balent’s intentions were good with Catwoman, but his execution remains rather divisive for Catwoman fans.
  10. Halle Berry’s horrible Catwoman gets a full chapter. The film’s awfulness is inversely proportional to how fun it is to write about; it’s so bad that you can revel in how fascinatingly terrible it turned out to be. Watching the movie several times while I wrote the chapter wasn’t a blast, but it’s a sacrifice I made for you, dear readers, in service of what I think turned into a fun and compelling chapter.
  11. The Gotham section is half praise for Camren Bicondova, who is GREAT, and half side eying everything else about the show. Bicondova really is a wonderful Selina, but the show around her is a bit of a mess. When I watched it all for the book, I ended up skipping every scene that Selina wasn’t in, and I 100% recommend watching the show that way. When it’s just the Selina show, it’s pretty good.
  12. The New 52 chapter has some serious side eye as well, but only for the first three years of the relaunch. After that, Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown launched Selina’s mob boss era, which was AWESOME. It’s a real shame that it only lasted a year; creatively, it was something fun and new for Selina that made for great stories, and commercially it brought a new stability to the book after it had tumbled down the charts over the three years previous. DC were fools to end it.

So yeah, Catwoman is amazing, the book was so much fun to write, and I hope that you’ll all check it out! I love sharing the fascinating histories of these great comic book heroines, and a strong reception for The Many Lives of Catwoman will hopefully lead to further historical showcases for the wonderful women of superhero comic books. I definitely have lots more I’d love to cover! But for right now, I hope you all enjoy this one and have a good time learning all about the unique history and evolution of Catwoman!

The Many Lives of Catwoman Moments, Week Seven: Family, Friends, and Foes

June 19, 2017

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My new book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale is officially out on June 1 (though some stores and online retailers have it available already!) and in advance of its release I’ve been posting key moments from Catwoman’s history on Tumblr. The posts go up twice a day, showcasing random scenes from her unique past across comics, movies, television, and more. Some are silly, some are significant, and several of them are both. Every post is a sneak peek inside all of the fun that the book covers in depth.

Last week, the ten moments that we looked at included:

And finally, my favourite Catwoman moment of the week from Detective Comics #521 in December 1982, written by Gerry Conway with art by Irv Novick and Sal Trapani. Catwoman became a major player in the Bat-books in the 1980s, first dating Bruce Wayne and later dating Batman (all while remaining in the dark that they were one and the same). But their relationship was a tumultuous one with many breakups, and during one of these separations Bruce began to date Vicki Vale. This did not go over well with Catwoman. She made threatening phone calls to Vicki, and in this issue she showed up at her house, yelled at her, and hit her with her whip. The stalking continued after this; soon after, Catwoman ran Bruce and Vicki off the road when they were out for a romantic drive. It was a bizarre period for Catwoman, and not one of her proudest moments. While it was nice to see Catwoman in such a prominent role, the various writers who handled her over this decade sometimes failed to do her justice, like in this arc when they engaged in gendered stereotypes and turned her into a jealous, unhinged ex-girlfriend.

You can check out all of the Catwoman moments here, and follow along for more Catwoman fun twice a day! You can order the book now as well, and explore the fascinating history of Catwoman with this fun, in depth book!

The Many Lives of Catwoman Moments, Week Five: Songs, Bells, and Sworn Enemies

June 5, 2017

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With my new book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale officially out on July 1 and already hitting some stores and online retailers now, I’ve been posting fun and important moments from Catwoman’s history on Tumblr. The pictures are randomly assorted, comic book panels and film stills from her many appearances across various media over the decades. Some are serious, some are silly, and some are a bit of both, and they offer a look inside all of the fun incarnations of Catwoman that the book covers.

Last week, the moments we looked at included:

And finally, for my favourite moment of the week we turn to the 1940s again. In Detective Comics #122 from April 1947, written by Bill Finger with art by Bob Kane (supposedly) and Charles Paris, Batman got injured during an encounter with Catwoman. She later captured Robin, and her first question was about Batman’s health and whether he’d been badly hurt. Robin thought that Catwoman was harbouring a crush for the Caped Crusader, though she adamantly denied it and declared, “Of course not! We’re sworn enemies!” But her earlier concerns clearly showcased her true feelings. As much as Catwoman was an unrepentant villain who was wholly dedicated to clever, elaborate heists, she had a soft spot for Batman. She wanted to best him at every turn, she just didn’t want him to get hurt in the process.

You can check out all of the Catwoman moments here and follow along for more Catwoman fun! This week, since we’re so close to the book’s official release, we’re moving to two Catwoman moments a day! And you can order the book now too,And you can order the book now too, and dive into her fascinating history in depth!

Wonder Woman Annual #1 Review: A Delightful Assortment of Tales!

May 31, 2017

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Annuals are tricky comic books. They cost more than a regular issue, so readers expect some extra bang for their buck. They also tend to be disconnected from the ongoing arc(s) in the main series, so it’s easy for readers to question their relevance. An annual is an expensive collection of standalone stories, most of which aren’t by the usual creative team, and it’s never a surprise when they invariably sell fewer copies than the series’ regular issues do. I know I’ve skipped all sorts of annuals over the years. But this one I was excited for. It’s a “Year One” reunion  with Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott back together, and that alone is worth the price of admission. So much so that I’d completely forgotten who else was in the book, to be quite honest. Those stories turned out to be fun as well, though! I mean, there’s one where Wonder Woman plays fetch with a kaiju. That’s quality entertainment. We’ll get to it all, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am about to reveal important details from this very enjoyable comic book!

Do yourself a favour and go buy it now!

The first story is “And Then There Were Three” by Rucka and Scott. It was nice to have them back together after their stellar “Year One” run, and it was also great to have Rucka writing Batman and Superman again. He’s done fantastic work with both characters in the past, and in his hands they just felt right. DC’s trinity has been a little off kilter for me since the New 52 relaunch in 2011, and Rucka writing all three of them took me back to the characters as I know them best.

While the story tied into “Year One,” it didn’t have anything in the way of surprising revelations or information that added a key piece to the larger mysteries that have swirled throughout the “Rebirth” run. It was tangential, the story of Wonder Woman’s first meeting with Batman and Superman, but wow is it good. There are no big fights or drama, just great banter and a perfect distillation of their group dynamic. Superman teasing Batman is a dang delight, Alfred and Lois Laneare in the mix and amusingly so, and the end of the story, with Batman in awe of the pure heroism and love for the world at the core of Wonder Woman, is a great moment.

Plus it’s absolutely gorgeous. I wish Nicola Scott could draw Wonder Woman forever, and that Romulo Fajardo Jr. would be her eternal colorist. Scott has such a good handle on Wonder Woman, and captures her beautifully. She’s no slouch with Batman or Superman either! The entire story is exquisitely drawn from start to finish, from Metropolis to the Batcave to the Nevada desert, and makes for a wonderful opener to the annual.

Up next is “In Defense of Truth and Justice” by Vita Ayala and Claire Roe with colors by Jordie Bellaire. Ayala is an up an coming write at DC, and Roe is fresh off a run on Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Their story pits Wonder Woman against the forces of Markovia as she works to save King Shark from an undeserved execution. I always love when Wonder Woman defends a villain who, though guilty of various crimes, is being treated an unfairly and needs help. These tales capture the compassionate core of the character, and Ayala and Roe do that well here, with some excellent action in the mix too. It’s a well executed story all around, with a great ending in which Wonder Woman tries to set King Shark on the right path moving forward with the help of one of her aquatic friends.

“The Curse and the Honor” by Michael Moreci and Stephanie Hans is just so pretty. The story itself is fine; the location is unnamed, but it looks like Wonder Woman is in a Japanese village, where she gives a warrior who has absorbed vengeful spirits the honourable death he deserves. But the art is stunning. Stephanie Hans always delivers amazing visuals, and this story is no exception. It’s a heavy tale, set in the winter so that Wonder Woman and her red cape appear in stark contrast to her surroundings. The art is lush and pretty, not so much finely detailed as atmospheric and moody. It is lovely all around; bringing in Stephanie Hans on this one was a very smart move from DC.

Continuing the Japanese influence, the final story is “The Last Kaiju,” written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing with art by David Lafuente and colors from John Rauch. As a giant kaiju approached a city on the Pacific coast, A.R.G.U.S. wants to light it up but Wonder Woman swoops in to deal with it directly. After a bit of fisticuffs, she ties it up in her golden lasso and learns that it’s not some mindless monster but a lost and lonely creature. Wonder Woman then defends the creature, flies it to Dinosaur Island where it can make friends, and they all play catch with a giant log. It’s cute and fun and again captured Wonder Woman’s compassionate core. Just like with King Shark, Wonder Woman willingly put herself in harm’s way to defend someone that no one else thought was worthy of defending. That’s always a great message for a Wonder Woman comic, and it’s nicely executed here.

All together, this was a pretty swell annual and definitely worth picking up. I came for Rucka and Scott’s take on DC’s trinity, but everything else was enjoyable as well. Plus it was great to see a wide variety of art styles and tones in the stories. It was an eclectic mix that all worked together to celebrate Wonder Woman’s heart and heroism. With the Wonder Woman movie coming just days from now, this is a fitting book to have on the shelves for new or returning fans.


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