Review: Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red SonSuperman: Red Son by Mark Millar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Mark Millar’s got the alternate reality/universe/elseworlds thing down. Between Superman: Red Son, Ultimate X-Men, and Old Man Logan, he has penned some bomb-ass shit. He’s got some haters out there. He certainly isn’t the most sensitive dude. But boy can he write some fun stuff. Anybody that can get me to sit through a Superman book has some talent. Sorry, not a lot of love for the boy in blue.

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Well in Red Son he’s actually the boy in grey. In this twist of fate story, Kal El crashes in Russia instead of Kansas and is raised under Stalin’s communist regime. Cool idea. Some similarities remain. He grows up in a farming community, he initially is just interested in helping his people, and he ultimately falls into the service of his nation’s government. I read some complaints that Supes was not different or “evil” enough. I like that Millar just doesn’t do the communist = bad thing here. Superman is still basically a good guy that wants to do the right thing. Making him evil or “bad” might sorta imply that all people in Russia were malevolent Stalinists. And I’m pretty sure that was not the case. He does evolve in this universe a little differently than he did in traditional DC continuity. So does Lex. One thing remains the same though. Even though Luthor can balance the budget and cure cancer, he still hasn’t been able to improve on hair club for men. You’d think he would put 5 or 10 fuckin’ minutes into that one, right?!?

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A ton of cool references in this one and a bunch of familiar faces show up including Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and of course, Lex. There are some familiar, yet different, versions of Batman, Wonder Woman, and a couple of other surprise Leaguers that also make appearances. I really dug this “Anarchy in black” version of the caped crusader. Even the hat. Princess Diana was initially a little bit too much of a lovesick school girl for me, but managed to come around by the end. Overall I really enjoyed Millar’s take on these classic heroes.

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Dave Johnson does a terrific job on the artwork with this book. Known mostly for his covers (100 Bullets, The Punisher, and some Batman stuff), I really enjoyed seeing him put in some work on this book. His style has always appealed to me and I wish he would do more interior stuff. Sorta reminded me a little of Eduardo Risso.

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Anyone that enjoys alternate reality or “Elseworlds” stories like Injustice: Gods Among Us, The Dark Knight Returns, Old Man Logan, or Kingdom Come would probably get a kick outta this one. If you’re a Millar fan and you haven’t read this, your missing out.

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Review: Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 2

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Yep, you guessed it. It’s red. His head…uuurr…helmet…aahhh…hood, I mean.

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Winick’s Under the Hood storyline is stupid good. Should be required reading for any serious bat-fan. And while I thought Vol. 2 was not quite as fantastic as Vol. 1, it’s still awesome. Beware of some spoilers for those unfamiliar with the Red Hood or this story.

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This book jumps around a bit. Winick fills in the gaps between Jason Todd’s death and resurrection in this collection. Judd also follows up on Vol. 1 and the fall-out from Red Hood’s ongoing war with Black Mask. I always thought of Black Mask as a second stringer at best before this run. Not really original. Been there. But, I actually like the angry fuck now. His back and forths with the Hood were well done and gave him some personality.

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Some other great moments include Alfred reminiscing, Batman continuing his search for an explanation as to what happened to Jason after his “death”, and the final showdown between Batman and the Red Hood. Judd’s Joker was pretty sick too. You didn’t think Jason was gonna let him get away with killing him did you? There were a couple of things I should knock off half a star for including issues with the casket investigation, the weak connection to Ra’s Al Ghul, and not using Deathstroke more. Love Slade.). But I’m not, because Judd’s entertaining and ambitious story is ballsy and he took a real chance bringing back a character most thought of as being better off dead. Jason’s Red Hood remains to this day and I still like the guy more now than I ever did when he was Robin.

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DC also brought in some great artists to complement Winick’s epic. Doug Mahnke returns along with new artists Shane Davis and Eric Battle. All three killed it and provided some beautiful work. Easily as good as the first volume in terms of consistency and I loved it. Jock did the covers for the individual issues and this might have been his audition for another Batman classic, the Black Mirror(read it).

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Recommended to all my Batman peeps.

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Review: Elektra, Vol. 1: Bloodlines by W. Haden Blackman

Elektra, Vol. 1: BloodlinesElektra, Vol. 1: Bloodlines by W. Haden Blackman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Shallow Comics buddy read this week is RED. Because we’re lazy, and it’s fairly easy to find a superhero whose got some sort of red on ’em…somewhere.

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If you like all that woo-woo-spiritual-fucknut-ninja shit, then maybe this will be a dream come true for you.
Personally, I thought this was another crap story along the lines of (but not nearly as horrible as) Elektra: Assassin. If you liked Frank Miller’s take on this character, then you’ll enjoy Bloodlines.
Otherwise, stay away.
Elektra as a narrator is just…Pbbbt
She’s looking back on what ‘might have been’, lamenting her lost mother, lost father, lost boyfriend, and lost life.
All while taking on a job to find the world’s most wily mercenary.
It’s supposed to give a glimpse inside to what motivates her…I think.
So.
Say hello to the World’s Most Depressing Assassin!
I get it, you had a nice thing going with Daredevil, and along comes Bullseye with the stabby-stabby to ruin it all.
But here’s the thing: Get excited, lady, ’cause you’re not dead!
I’m pretty sure you could head on over to the East Coast and catch up with Matt, if you really wanted to.
But you don’t. Because then you couldn’t moan and groan about your bullshit for issue after issue, all while slicing and dicing other wacko ninjas.

I don’t enjoy What’s the Meaning of My Depressing Life stories.
It’s a personal preference, so you may think this is the bees knees.

The art, on the other hand, was absolutely lovely!

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If I could rate it simply on the art and colors? 5 stars…easy.
Beautiful!

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Too bad it had such a draggy go-nowhere plot, because it’s a visually stunning graphic novel.

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Review: Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 1

Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 1Batman: Under the Hood Vol. 1 by Judd Winick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I own both volumes of the original collections of this story. Vol. 1 includes Batman 635 to 641 and there is a new edition of this title that collects both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Batman 645 to 650 and Batman Annual #1) in one book. I will be reviewing both of these volumes separately. Just cuz.

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Be warned, some spoilery stuff in this one folks. Judd Winick proved with Under the Hood Vol. 1 that he can not only can write a great story, but one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. I couldn’t help but think of Brubaker’s epic run on Captain America and the birth of the Winter Soldier (equally epic) when re-reading this one for Red week. Judd introduces us to the new and improved Red Hood in this kick-ass Bat-tale.

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Review: Aquaman, Vol. 1: The Trench by Geoff Johns

Aquaman, Vol. 1: The TrenchAquaman, Vol. 1: The Trench by Geoff Johns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes!
Aquaman is finally cool.

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Aquaman has been a punchline for years. And why wouldn’t he be?
I mean, he wears a green and orange sparkly outfit and talks to fish!

Instead of trying to do a cosmetic change, Johns addresses the issues that have been plaguing this character for years. In fact, he centers the story around it.
He’s got major power, but everyone thinks he’s a joke. It’s a running theme throughout the entire book. However, somewhere in the middle of it all you stop seeing Aquaman and start seeing Arthur. At that point, he becomes real to the reader.

Raised as a human, and therefore originally rejected by Atlanteans, Arthur is stuck between two different worlds. And neither one really wants him.
Unlike DC’s Namor, Arthur wants to help the surface world. Land is just as much his home as the sea…maybe more so.
Unfortunately, no one takes him seriously. Even beat cops ridicule his efforts to help.
That doesn’t stop him from saving their asses, but it does give you a glimpse into what a thankless job he has been doing.

Which brings us to Mera.
Psst. Don’t call her Aquawoman.
Unlike Arthur, she isn’t one to grin and bear it.
No. She’s more of a Break-Your-Ass-In-Half kinda girl. Sure, she tones it down for Arthur’s sake, but her killer instinct is right there…lurking close to the surface.
And it’s a beautiful thing when she lets it out.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this one may end up being required reading some day. It rivals Morrison’s excellent re-imagining of Clark Kent in Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel. In other words, if you only get around to trying a few of DC’s new titles, make sure The Trench is on your list.

Unless, of course, you just rabidly hate Geoff Johns for no apparent reason.
Mike, I’m talking to you….

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Review: Black Widow Vol. 1 (The Finely Woven Thread) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto

Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven ThreadBlack Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


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Buddy Reads for the Shallow Comic Readers this week is “Red” Theme…Black Widow is…a Redhead. and Russian, which is…Red. And she makes people bleed…RED. And the art is heavy on the colour…RED. And I just..RE(a)D it!

Where to start…First off, I don’t love ScarJo’s movie version of Black Widow, she just doesn’t have any gravitas or tortured soul feeling. She’s just T&A. I wish she was more.
This version of Natasha is bang on, right up my alley.

The artwork by Phil Noto is ideally suited to this book and character, so bravo to him on this. It’s got somewhat muted tones, but is heavy on the red, blood red, the colour of spies (because a heavy on the black book would be too dark lol).

I like Nathan Edmondson a lot; his Jake Ellis series was fantastic, and though he did write the less than stellar “Grifter” reboot for New 52, that wasn’t entirely awful. This, however is great.
Natasha feels like she’s worn out, far too old for her actual age, and not just a support player with the big guns. There’s a terrific section where she talks about not being a marksman, or a dude with a shield or a philanthropist with a suit of armour…she’s just a spy. So she doesn’t seek out bang bang shoot em up style action.

I love that she’s motivated by making atonement for her earlier life, and I don’t think we need to have it spelled out for us; I really respect a writer who gives the audience credit to figure it out. She kills people, she used to kill people for the Russians, so she probably killed a lot of people who might not have deserved it. Ergo, she funnels most of her money into trust funds for those left behind. I like it. She’s got a conscience, but at no point do I ever consider her soft or weak.

She keeps people at arm’s length, because people obviously hurt her; the closest thing we see is her lawyer, a neighbour, and Maria Hill, director of SHIELD. (We even get a cameo from Hawkguy, where she looks less than enthused to see him, which I think is a great touch from Edmondson and Noto, differentiating this Black Widow from the Avengers/movie version).

Other reviewers have said that the plot isn’t intricate enough, or details enough given, but really, I think that would be a waste of time. I don’t need to be explained what her motivation is and who everyone she’s going after is, and what they did. I just know she does what she does, it’s work, and she’s damn good at it. This is probably a more accurate depiction of the assassin/spy/operative life anyhow; detached, but highly functional.

I also feel like this minimal style of plot gives us a lot more time to focus on Natasha, see her, and develop our own feelings towards her; we’re not being pressured by the writer to love her, or hate her, we’re being given an honest look, and allowed to make up our own minds. I like this approach a lot, because it doesn’t try so hard to force a character onto us. However, she’s here if we want.

Of course, the Mad Russian Monk is always fun, and it’s nice to see a hero(ine) who, although badass and deadly, isn’t indestructible like an 80s movie hero. She gets beat up, she doesn’t always win, and she doesn’t like it.

There’s so much to like here, I cannot wait to get my hands on volume 2. Also, this day in age, it’s a blast to get a strong female character written well, and independent of others. There’s enough little humour here, but I also like that a Marvel book isn’t afraid to go lighter on the funny for once. It’s not in danger of being a DC book, but it doesn’t try to fit the formula of sarcastic/self-deprication, because that wouldn’t work here at all.

It works, I really enjoyed it, and it’s a great combo of solid writing and superb art. Winner.


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