Stargirl TPB Review

There is a lot of negative media surrounding different creators and some discussion, though not without a lot of productivity, on how to address this. It is difficult to separate the artist from the art, it is difficult to reconcile that a morally questionable human being created so many great characters, stories or concepts. It is also difficult to be a victim. Can we separate the artist from the work? Yes. We have discussions like this, explain how a work can have a positive influence, even if we do not share the same values or views as the creator, and discuss why someone’s actions can and should have consequences. Their names need not be repeated in order to still appreciate their output or discuss them. Balances can be found.

Star-Spankled Kid, aka Stargirl would debut in the late 1990s, on the popularity heels of another young, blonde woman taking on the mantle of a hero. Courtney Whitmore while young and inexperienced as a superhero was also more than capable of handing things on her own, yet perhaps did so better, with a little help from her friends. This was paired with some great underused Jerry Siegel concepts (Star Spangled Kid & Stripsey) and gave us a modern spin on the sidekick/hero dynamic, the struggles of being a popular teen, and dealing with a new step-parent. Courtney Whitmore did in fact fill a big need in the DC Comics slate at the time; a relatable, down to earth young super heroine (Robin filled that role well, but his experiences were far different living in Gotham). Characters like Supergirl had too much baggage, the majority of the Teen Titan females had become women in their own right, and any other attempt at female teen characters as headliners were mostly failures (Anima).

Coupled with art by Lee Moder, the adventures of the young Stargirl were illustrated in a more cartoony fashion that works well to appeal to fans of both comic books and animation alike. It was also a great showcase for Moder, who at this point had largely pencilled Legion-related titles with a large cast of characters. A trimmed down cast for this title resulted in Moder being able to flex his visual talents more, giving us some of his best work to date.

Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. as a title that would ultimately not last long. Cancelled due to low sales within in its second year, it would not prove to be either the writer or the character’s undoing. Both would get promoted to a new JSA title, one that further created uniqueness for Courtney’s character; here was a new legacy hero with strong Golden Age ties. Under subsequent writers, Courtney has not only grown into a capable woman, she has also become a hero and even a role model. It is under this current stewardship we can see how some good came from… something.

Contains: Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. 0-14 & more!

Curated: Uncommitted DC

This list is meant to appeal to casual fans, curious fans, or fans who just want a good tale, but do not want to get bogged down in continuity or have to wait for the next collection to see what happens. This is stuff you could easily gift for new fans, or use as an introduction to a new character for yourself.

Batman: White Knight

What you need to know: You do not have been reading any of the current titles. This is an alternate take on the Batman, one that often feels a bit like a video game in its pacing. There are sequels to this that are currently ongoing, but Batman: White Knight stands incredibly well on its own. This series feels familiar and fresh in equal measure.

Collects: Batman: White Knight 1-8

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands

The first of a few year one/origin style tales on this list. This one is a bit unique in that the original creator has come back to do a modern retelling of his creation’s origin. It is fresh, both in story and in visuals as we follow the adventures of Jefferson Pierce, who is not exactly seen as a hero in the vein of Superman, Wonder Woman or others. Extremely satisfying storytelling.

Collects: Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 1-6

JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice Graphic Novel

Throughout the Silver Age and early Bronze Age, there was a tradition of yearly crossovers featuring the JLA/JSA. Now that both teams reside on the same earth, that tradition has largely been dropped. JLA/JSA Virtue & Vice takes a modern approach, giving us a big graphic novel with some fantastic storytelling. And then there are quiet moments featuring Superman and Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern that bookend this tale; comic book perfection.

Martian Manhunter: Identity TPB

Like Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, this a modern retelling of a classic character. This time the Martian Manhunter’s takes the spotlight with an origin tale possessing incredible depth and nuance, both narratively and visually. Truly one of the best stories DC has put out in recent readers, and it certainly leaves the reader wanting more, and wondering why they do not get more of these self-contained stories.

Collects: Martian Manhunter (Vol. 4) 1-12

Mister Miracle TPB

This one has been raved about by all corners of the internet, so if you are one of the few that has not read this recent epic, you should really just bow to peer pressure. In many ways, this series comes the closest to the original heart Jack Kirby’s, with some incredible modern flourishes.

Collects: Mister Miracle (Vol. 4)

Robin: Year One

Often referred to in other reviews and even on another Curated List (Dick Grayson by Chuck Dixon), but that is the instantly accessibility of this four issue Year One tale. Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty ad Javier Pulido have easily created on the best Dick Grayson as Robin stories you will ever read. When reviewers refer to art pieces that are love letters to previous interpretations, this easily fits that mould.

Collects: Robin: Year One 1-4

Superman Unchained

Scott Snyder’s take on the Man of Steel, with Jim Lee along for the pictures. This blockbuster is surprisingly contained to just nine issues, including back up features. Even people who are not fans of Superman need to check this one out; it is well worth the read. Action packed, big storytelling and high-octane adventure.

Collects: Superman Unchained 1-9

Superman Unchained Review

There seems to be a trend among writers getting a crack at Superman to make some big, sweeping statement about what the character should be interpreted as. This could be something like Grant Morrison’s god-like Superman, Alan Moore’s very fallible Superman or even John Byrne’s strong use of duality between the mask of Superman and the very human nature of Clark Kent. Three fantastic big interpretations that work, but they are generally the exception to the rule in terms of measures of success.

On a strange flip side, we rarely get a big blockbuster style Superman story. Something akin to summer blockbuster films. The Death of Superman comes to mind, but as fans, we all know things slow down considerably during the second act. There is also the Our Worlds at War storyline from the turn of the millennium, but the general premise of that storyline often missed the mark and ultimately collapsed under its own weight.

So it came as both a surprise and delight when it was announced that Scott Snyder had a Superman story he wanted to tell. And it was a Superman tale that Jim Lee wanted to pencil. Snyder’s usual hyperbole aside, it was easy to get wrapped up in his excitement over this project. It was big, it was explosive, and while it had repercussions in-story, Snyder also respected what was going on in the main titles at the time; effectively put the set pieces back where they needed to be by the end of the of the story, while also leaving things wide open for potential future use.

The only real criticism of this story comes from certain cliched tropes sneaking into Snyder’s writing, specifically the strange new super powered being with mysterious motives. We saw this in his Batman run, and it appears Superman is not invulnerable to it either. Unexpectedly though, Snyder nails Lex Luthor’s character, and this ruthless version of Luthor is reminiscent of John Byrne, Roger Stern and more recently Paul Cornell. A lot of writers miss the mark with Superman’s arch nemesis, but this was truly one of Snyder’s strengths in this story.

Jim Lee’s artwork of course, is a true highlight and when compared to his run on Uncanny X-Men or even Batman: Hush, Superman Unchained definitely belongs among his career highlights. Big splash pages have also been Lee’s strength, and there is no shortage of these throughout the series, though they never truly feel gratuitous, but in fact serve the bombastic scale of the narrative.

Even the back-up feature with Dustin Nguyen on art does a superb job at what it sets out to do; fill in the gaps that the main story cannot necessarily accommodate in the main pages. All in all, while this may not be the most perfect Superman tale, it just may be the most enjoyable.

Collects: Superman Unchained 1-9

Green Lantern Emerald Knights Review

The character of Green Lantern for the majority of his creation has been one of great ideas, but not necessarily great ongoing stories. With the exception of Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams’ landmark run on the character in the 1970s, he has largely been ignored by writers until the turn of the millennium, when his character received a new lease on life.

The 1990s are arguably a nadir in the mediocrity of storytelling for this character. When DC finally took notice and did something about it, the fans did not necessarily approve of the end results. Perhaps it was too far in the other direction, but the creation of Kyle Rayner as a replacement to Hal Jordan, was something widely condemned by the fanbase. It turned particularly ugly for then writer Ron Marz, who was tasked with ushering in this new Green Lantern, take Hal Jordan off the table and try to replicate the successes of stories such as “The Death of Superman” and “Knightfall”. There was even a ridiculous online campaign to restore Hal Jordan as the ‘one, true Green Lantern of Sector 2814’ (um… Guy Gardner, John Stewart, or even Alan Scott) and the restoration of the Green Lantern Corps along with Ron Marz’s removal from the title. They would claim victory when Hal Jordan was brought back in the early 2000s, but this group of lunatic fans are best ignored and avoided.

Ron Marz was unfairly, and disproportionately to blame for this material. Darryl Bank was always praised for his artistic talent, and editorial never truly shouldered their fair share of the blame. The failure of the character’s traction should never be just on Marz alone.

Kyle Rayner is a fantastic concept, a great character, and we got a good number of solid stories featuring him, once he got his sea legs. The first couple years of Marz/Banks on Green Lantern are fairly forgettable, but the character seems to come into his own by about Green Lantern (Volume 3) 75. While fans were not necessarily supportive towards Kyle, the one thing they wanted by this point was a team-up with Hal Jordan. Not Hal Jordan as Parallax, that had already become stale; they wanted Kyle and Hal as Green Lantern.

Enter a quirky twist of time travel, where a Kyle Rayner travelling back from the 30th Century accidentally lands himself in the past, where a newly minted Green Lantern by the name of Hal Jordan is fighting Sinestro (who you will recall is dead in the present day). Through another twist where two wrongs end up making a temporary right, Hal travels back to the present with Kyle, where he learns the world he is fighting for in the past is not one he imagined.

For a short seven part story, this thing packs a lot of a lot of big moments into it. While perhaps not a multi-layered portrayal of either leads, it nonetheless gives us an opportunity to see how an original Justice League member would see the current day DCU; he has his own replacement, his best friends are dead, and he will soon learn about his own ultimate, sinister fate. Additional team-ups with the Justice League and Connor Hawke Green Arrow add to this story, while the seeds of mistrust between Batman and Hal Jordan are continued. It is a fun romp beautifully illustrated by Darryl Banks & Paul Pelletier, this story has a whimsical Silver-Age feel, while still being rooted firmly in the modern era. Hal’s actions are not without consequence, in any time period, and the mantle finally passes onto Kyle.

That said, this is just a fun Green Lantern tale, whether you root for Hal, Kyle or both.

Collects: Green Lantern (Vol. 3) 100-106 & Green Arrow (Vol. 2) 136

Nightwing: Year One Review

In his eighty years of existence, Dick Grayson has held many titles and roles; acrobat, Robin the Boy Wonder, Teen Titan, various undercover identities and even Batman sometimes, but it is his identity as Nightwing that he is perhaps now most recognized for; one that was adopted nearly forty years ago.

So it does come as a surprise when it is learned that there was a long period of time between Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing, and when he would finally graduate to a title of his own. Just over a decade in fact, and it especially becomes mind boggling to think that characters such as Tim Drake Robin, Catwoman and even Azrael all got solo titles before Dick did. For a character that has such a rich history, giving him a title seemed like an obvious thing to do, especially after he left the Titans in ’93/’94.

A miniseries in 1995 would be considered his first volume, but his solo adventures did not really kick off until Chuck Dixon and artist Scott McDaniel debuted the ongoing second volume the following year. Fans of that title and creative team will tell you the first three years were absolutely electric and very much what the fanbase longed for in a solo outing by Nightwing. Dixon’s tales were exciting, exploring new territory, while still keeping Dick Grayson just within the sphere of the other Bat-titles. And Scott McDaniel’s art… was and is, absolutely kinetic, with sequences that often felt like they would leap off the page at you. Their run would eventually end and they would move onto different projects.

Dixon and McDaniel would reunite to tell two more Nightwing tales after the fact. One of those reunions would be on the Nightwing title itself, and that story would be be Nightwing: Year One.

Fans of the Dick Grayson character are familiar with the broad strokes of Nightwing’s development, but most of that history still focussed on Grayson’s time as a sidekick, and as Robin. Even his Bronze Age tales were either back-up features in the Batman titles, or shunted over to Teen Titans, where Dick was just one of many heroes with which Marv Wolfman and George Perez had to plot out page space for each month.

There was also the issue that a definitive telling of that period has never truly been done, or better put, properly defined. We knew the basics, Robin was “fired”, and Dick taking it one step further would fuel his recent failures under Batman into a new costumed identity and a new desire to prove himself to the greater superhero community. Unfortunately those early days of him being Nightwing are largely covered in Titans’ related books, and, it did not really address the time period immediately leaving the Batcave and emerging as Nightwing, in any real depth.

In six issues, Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel not only fill in those gaps, but also address the larger part of Dick’s first year in his new identity, and for some, the fan favourite “disco suit”. Surprisingly, the retcon used to justify such a wardrobe choice was done with such brilliance it actually makes the suit itself a little less ridiculous looking. Breaking away from using Batman as much as possible, we see Dick interact with the greater DC universe, and the story told becomes more enriched as a result. One or two guest appearances should not come as a surprise to most fans, but one certainly does stand-out as an interesting, and effective inclusion to the narrative.

Detractors will say that this this is just another year one concept done by Chuck Dixon. While that is a fair assessment, it does not take into account the uniqueness that this story holds. While Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One felt like love letters to those characters, Nightwing: Year One takes it a step further; it feels like a love letter to Nightwing and Nightwing fans, alike. If this is not a perfect piece of comic book storytelling, it is damn close.

Collects: Nightwing (Volume 2) 101-106