Martian Manhunter, vol. 1: The Epiphany

Martian Manhunter Vol. 1: The EpiphanyMartian Manhunter Vol. 1: The Epiphany by Rob Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

For everything that’s good in this book, there’s at least one thing that’s boring or overly convoluted or poorly written, which is quite a shame.

Good: J’onn at the beginning of the book, Mr. Biscuits, J’onn’s choice to try to protect his adopted world.

Not good: A story that’s fragmented between too many characters, weak characterization, characters making decisions that make no sense in the context of the story, and a plot that’s more convoluted than complex.

On balance, there wasn’t enough good to outweigh the dull, which is unfortunate. I’m not a big fan of J’onn, but I’ve always liked him when I saw him.

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Constantine: The Hellblazer, vol. 1: Going Down

Constantine: The Hellblazer Vol. 1: Going DownConstantine: The Hellblazer Vol. 1: Going Down by Ming Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

This is DC’s second try at making Constantine a part of the mainstream DCU, and it’s far and away more successful than the first attempt. Yes, it’s still a PG-13 version of the character, but he doesn’t feel particularly censored. Truth be told, by making Constantine’s bisexuality a matter of fact part of his character instead of something that’s occasionally alluded to but mostly ignored, he might be, on balance, less censored than ever. He’s still a bastard, though, because would we even recognize a Constantine who wasn’t?

The story, too, is way better. It actually feels like a proper Constantine story, instead of a box he was stuffed into because the writer wasn’t sure how to deal with him. As it turns out, you can write a Hellblazer story that’s rated PG-13 without taking out much of what is essentially him. Is it missing some bite? Oh, sure, and die-hard fans of Ennis’s take on the character, for example, will likely be less than thrilled. But I’m no Ennis die-hard. And if nothing else, the character of Georgiana Snow, the anti-Constantine, is a gift.

The art, though is… Well, it’s art, and it isn’t terrible, but neither is it terribly good. I got used to it, but I never liked it. On the other hand, it definitely gives the book a distinctive look, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three Vol. 2

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three Vol. 2Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three Vol. 2 by Brian Buccellatio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

I’ve loved Injustice under Tom Taylor, so I was both excited to get approved for this new volume and a little apprehensive. How would Buccellatio do in his first few issues? These are pretty big shoes to fill, in my opinion. And, as it turned out, he did a pretty good job. He starts fairly strong, by resolving a plot thread that Taylor left dangling in a truly unexpected way. The middle does get a little bogged down, and slows the pace considerably, but he makes up for it with a strong ending. This whole year of Injustice has been very heavy on mysticism. I’m not sure if that’s entirely out of the way now, but I think it will definitely be less in the foreground than it has been. Constantine was really the story of year three, and he exits the book at the end in a way that feels absolutely right for the character.

There are two bonus short stories at the end, set earlier in the series. One fleshes out Constantine’s plan and explains where Dr. Occult has been. The other answers the question of what happened with the Teen Titans, who have been largely absent from the action to this point. It is nice to have the world fleshed out a bit more, and I wouldn’t have wanted to read the Dr. Occult story any earlier than it was presented in this book. The Teen Titans one, though, is from the very beginning of the Injustice story, and I would have been much happier reading it or something like it sooner. It kind of feels like an afterthought tacked on at the end, even though it is a decent story.

I think Buccallatio could do a good job on this series, and I’m more than willing to give him a few more books to see what I think. Injustice is still one of my favorite ongoing titles in DC’s roster.

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Prez, vol. 1: Corndog in Chief

Prez, Vol. 1: Corndog in ChiefPrez, Vol. 1: Corndog in Chief by Mark Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

This was actually a really pleasant surprise. I requested this book basically on a whim, because it was so different from the majority of DC’s offerings, and because I was curious to see what Russell would do with a mostly forgotten character. I can’t say that I had any expectations, but if I had, this book would have easily surpassed them.

I’m not familiar with the original version of Prez, only with the one that guested in an issue of Sandman, so I don’t really have a basis of comparison. That’s ok, because this Prez absolutely stands on its own merits. The premise: in a day-after-tomorrow future America, teenagers can become president and anyone can vote on social media. This doesn’t directly lead to viral video “star” Beth Ross getting elected, but it certainly helps. Rank corruption is what actually hands her the win, and it’s incredibly satisfying to watch play out. This is bitter, often biting political satire, and it will definitely strike a chord with a lot of readers.

But political satire on its own isn’t enough to make a full story. What really pushed this one over the top for me was the character of Beth herself. She’s instantly, incredibly likable. It’s heartening to watch her tackle the job of president, and it’s satisfying that she doesn’t win on every front all the time. There’s also a host of minor characters on the outskirts of the story who have interesting lives of their own. I really, really hope that there’s more issues coming, because I feel like there’s so much more that could be done with this book, and I feel like Russell has plenty of ideas left.

And I have to say how much I love Caldwell’s art. It suits the book, and there’s a lot of life and variety in his characters. Sure, I’ve seen better, but somehow this art is just right for this book, and isn’t that what really matters?

After a long series of disappointments from DC, it was so, so nice to finally get a really good book from them. This is something that they should be proud of, and I hope they are. No, it isn’t a modern masterpiece, but it’s a damn good book that’s entirely unlike the vast majority of what they’re offering. Well done.

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Grayson, vol. 2: We All Die at Dawn

Grayson, Vol 2: We All Die At DawnGrayson, Vol 2: We All Die At Dawn by Tom King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review)

After reading both volumes of Grayson, I’d venture to say that the one problem with this book is, in actual point of fact, the title character. Because if you can ignore that this is meant to be Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and Nightwing, and treat him as an entirely new character, then this is a decent spy book. Making the main character Dick just brings in a whole host of issues, including that Dick just isn’t suited to be an undercover spy who will be expected to kill for long periods of time. And this is evidently meant to be an open ended investigation. It’s an incredible stretch for me to believe that he’d be able to evade suspicion for even a few weeks, much less for as long as he has.

That’s not to say that, once stripped of the paper thin Batman tie in, it’s a great book. Midnighter just keeps showing up, which I was not thrilled with. Nothing against the character in general, but is pitting him as Grayson’s antagonist really what DC wants to do with this character? Because there’s very little done to develop him, so there’s nothing to really distinguish him from Random Smartass #3. I guess this was being used as the launching point for his own book, but it doesn’t help this one.

Now, the first issue in here, the desert story, is actually really good. It’s easily the best thing in the book. Unfortunately, the momentum kind of peters out from there. Again, not bad, just ok. Honestly, it feels like the whole series is just treading water, because this has finite written all over it and there obviously has to be some kind of end in mind. But this just felt like stretching out the series to stretch it out, not that there was something actively being worked towards. I don’t know, maybe it’s just going over my head, but I don’t feel like we’re going anywhere.

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The Nameless City

The Nameless CityThe Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

This is quite different from anything I’ve read by Hicks before. She’s also done contemporary stories with female protagonists, and The Nameless City is set in a vaguely Asian (maybe Chinese inspired?) fictional city with a male viewpoint character. Like I said, different, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’ve really liked everything of hers that I’ve ever read, and this was absolutely no exception.

The title city is nameless to the inhabitants, named only by the many conquerors who cycle through. Currently, those rulers are the Dao, who generally treat the natives of the city as subhuman. The story is about the slowly growing friendship between Kaidu, a Dao boy who’s come to the city for military training, and Rat, a girl who’s native to the city. That’s the bones of the story, but what Hicks builds around it is really engaging. Partly because Kaidu and Rat bond as she teaches him parkour and he sneaks her food. And the characters themselves are very likable, Kaidu instantly and Rat a little more gradually so.

The art feels a bit rougher than I’m used to from Hicks. No less good, of course, and it feels more like a stylistic choice than a lack of effort. Not sure if it’s my favorite of her art, but I do like it.

This is apparently going to be a series, which is good. I got really interested in this world, and there are some intentionally unanswered questions left at the end. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this.

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Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling

Delilah Dirk and the King's ShillingDelilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

Not quite as much fun as the first Delilah Dirk book had been. That’s probably at least in part because this book is much more plot focused. The spotlight is really on Delilah’s past and her conflict with a corrupt British officer. Which is fine, except that the plot itself started to bore me part way through. Maybe it went on for too long, or maybe there wasn’t enough substance for the page count. It’s still good overall, and certain scenes are very good, but it just wasn’t as enjoyable as the first book.

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Red Sonja, vol. 3: The Forgiving of Monsters

Red Sonja, Volume 3: The Forgiving of MonstersRed Sonja, Volume 3: The Forgiving of Monsters by Gail Simone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

Sadly, the least of Gail Simone’s run on Red Sonja. The biggest storyline is just kind of ok. The message of forgiveness is kind of heavy handed. But it isn’t actually terrible, and I liked the story with the library. Sure, it was a little cheesy, but it was fun, and it actually said a lot about Sonja as a character. I guess what I’m taking away from Simone’s whole run on this book is that I like Sonja as a character, as Simone writes her, but I’m still not terribly into the whole swords and sorcery thing.

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Superman/Wonder Woman, vol. 3: Casualties of War

Superman/Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: Casualties of WarSuperman/Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: Casualties of War by Peter J. Tomasi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

This was just ok. The story is kind of blah, not much to write about. A mysterious new hero shows up who’s even less compelling than Superman normally is for me, which is fine because he’s really a shell for Circe’s vaguely defined revenge. I guess it’s supposed to be an object lesson in how these heroes who routinely save people by the thousands and occasionally the millions need to care more about individual people. And I take the point, I really do, because that’s one of the things that irked me about the Man of Steel movie- did you realize that more people were saved by Marvel’s bunch of a-holes than DC’s Boy Scout? Because I totally did. But the point is clumsily made, so much so that I never really had the feeling that it had been absorbed. Except surprise! It totally was, by like osmosis or something, because Diana gave no indication of even really paying attention to the object lesson. Ok, whatever.

This might have been a three star book, except holy crap is the art bad. It’s really incredibly ugly. The faces aren’t just attractive, they’re really odd looking. And not like this is the artist’s unique style, more like this is the best the artist could do. He’s trying really hard to make attractive people! And failing badly. It could make some pages outright unpleasant. Mediocre writing and bad art equals two stars for me.

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Bitch Planet, vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary MachineBitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Received from Netgalley for review.)

The title kind of put me off this one for a bit. I don’t know about you, but I don’t relish carrying around a book with “bitch” in huge letters on the cover. But I heard so many great things about this book, and I love the cover, and I generally trust DeConnick. So I jumped at the chance to get it from Netgalley, and I’m very glad I did.

Bitch Planet is a deeply feminist take on “women in prison” exploitation media, and it’s damned good. It has all the action it would need to be entertaining, while seamlessly folding in the social commentary that makes it more than just a women in prison comic. See, you get sentenced to “bitch planet” by being a non-compliant woman. By being fat or a lesbian or getting in the way of your husband marrying his younger mistress or anything that would make you less than a perfect little woman. It’s dystopian, to be sure, but some of the things said are uncomfortably close to things said every day. Which is, of course, what makes it effective.

To me, the single best issue is the one that focuses on Penny, an unapologetically and happily big woman. It’s perceptive and carefully written and powerful. The moment when it’s confirmed that Penny really does love herself as is was one of the most joyful things I’ve read in comics in a long time.

There’s more than a bit of nudity in this book, which actually didn’t bother me. The nudity is resolutely non-sexual, and I appreciate the diversity in body types represented. I think that it was included because it’s such an integral part of women in prison exploitation, and DeConnick and De Landro wanted to desexualize the situation. And it works, partly because the women don’t all look alike, and they definitely don’t all look conventionally attractive.

I was hoping that I would like this, but I was surprised with just how much that I love it. I am kind of disappointed that the essays that were at the back of the original issues weren’t included in the trade. I would have loved to read those, too.

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