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

Batman: Court Of Owls Review

Looking back a decade on, it is quite clear that DC intended to take some creative risks when launching the New 52. The comic book industry has gone through universal reboots, but there was a sense that this time it was in fact, different. Suddenly Grant Morrison was headlining Action Comics, Justice League was given a big blockbuster start, and over in the Batman corner of the DC Universe, the reins were handed over to Scott Snyder and Tony S. Daniel. A bold move, considering Snyder had only done one other Batman story at this point (with Dick Grayson in the cowl, not Bruce), and Tony S. Daniel when not collaborating with another writer, has decidedly mixed results. Still, the fanbase was primed for the creative teams on most of the books, especially once it was announced that Greg Capullo would be joining Scott Snyder on Batman.

Batman: The Court of Owls was the first arc of the second volume of the Batman. Snyder and Capullo set out to tell a dark, mysterious and treacherous story of intrigue that would have the Dark Knight Detective questioning not only the motives of his new foe(s), but also just how much he thinks he knows Gotham City’s history… which of course also describes eighty percent or more of Batman stories published in the past eighty years. A digression…

That is not to say this is a terrible storyline. It does have its moments, and it is certainly served well by Greg Capullo’s more than capable hand in the art department, but the story ultimate buckles under its own weight. Eleven issues if you read just the main story, considerably more if you get bogged down by the sub-story “Night of the Owls” partway through this epic. While for the most part paced well within individual issues, this entire “epic” could have easily been told with fewer issues; half as few, if you include the ancillary titles. The reveal at the end of the story comes across as cliched, and a plot point if memory serves, is never even really explored again, by his creator, or any others. And considering the character the cliched plot point refers to is now dead, it may never get addressed again.

If the reader takes it as a separate parts of a whole, the storyline did give us a new foe in both the Court of Owls itself as well as their Talon foot soldiers. Those concepts have considerable legs, having been used in both animated media, and allegedly for the upcoming Gotham Knights game. Even if Scott Snyder’s story telling suffers, his concepts and ideas do not. During the most ridiculous moments, Batman still seems badass or incredibly cool, but reading it a second time years on, you begin to realize you fell for the hype a bit…

Unfortunately, Snyder still suffers under his own success and hubris with subsequent stories. If you wish to read him at his best, you should pick up a copy of Batman: Black Mirror. That is not to suggest this is a terrible storyline; there are worse, and at least one better.

Collects: Batman: (Vol. 2) 1-11

Justice League: Origin Review

A decade has nearly passed since the New52 (eventual Rebirth) initiative kicked off, and for a universal reboot has experienced quite a few more downs than ups in the ten years since its inception. It is perhaps a tad poetic that Justice League, as a then flagship title, perhaps represents a microcosm of the successes, failures and the impact that this slate wiping produced.

In many ways this series can be seen as a natural successor to the 1990s JLA run under Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. Like that famous duo of creators, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee knock right out of the park, the feel for what a Justice League book should be; high stakes, perhaps a bit high drama, and high octane. The Justice League should be tackling the planetary and universal threats. Let Superman save kittens from trees in his own titles; when you appear in the Justice League, it is because you are expected to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Darkseid. It is no surprise that the likes of Johns and Lee give us exactly that in the opening arc.

It is perhaps why this type of Justice League story becomes the classic or archetypal interpretation. There is a time for many different approaches to the source material, but it is not too unreasonable that if you are going to kickstart a new universe with this as a core title, that more relaxed, oddball interpretations, are perhaps not the natural first choice. While the general plot of this collection is fairly by the numbers, it does reveal early flaws in the whole reboot. Those flaws can loosely be grouped into three areas: plot, characters and continuity, with considerable overlap between.

In terms of characters, the Justice League depicted is the classic line-up. Kinda, mostly. In a daring move, Martian Manhunter is not only erased as a core member, but shuffled off to another corner of the DCU (bad idea). With mixed results, Cyborg is promoted to both JLA member and founding member (not a bad idea, just not a great one, and for alternatives see below).

Cyborg is written as a very convincing member of the Justice League… but most readers associate him as a member of the Teen Titans, especially with prominent animated adaptations depicting the character in the last two decades. Charter member of the Justice League? No. First new recruit? Absolutely should have been, and with minor tweaking might have still worked within the storyline. These two largely cover issues over continuity as well.

Previous continuities presented either Wonder Woman (Silver Age & Post Infinite Crisis) or Black Canary (Post Crisis) as a founding member. This would have been a perfect opportunity to establish both female characters as founding members, especially on a  team that can honestly be described as a sausage-fest for most of its history.

The only other issue character wise are the wildly out of sync character representations of both Batman and Green Lantern in this arc. Fans of Hal will likely start fuming at references to how incredibly obnoxious their favourite emerald ring-slinger was, and Batman does one thing so glaringly uncharacteristic that it defies logic. In terms of writing, the Batman moment is a bit unforgivable when one takes into consideration the first issue of Justice League takes place five years into their new timeline; Bruce is simply too long into his crimefighting game to make the naïve decision he did. This one can be filed under continuity issues as well.

Finally in terms of plot, this is fairly paint by numbers in terms of storytelling; hero meets hero, misunderstand each other, fight, come to their senses, meet another hero and repeat a few times until the writer is ready to introduce the universal level threat that the characters will all have to overcome their differences to defeat.

In the end, there is no denying the overall impact this opening arc has had; from influence in the DCEU movie franchise, the promotion of a strong person of colour in the character of Cyborg to the upper echelons of super-heroics (one, who already had a rich history to begin with) and even a direct adaptation as an animated film. Big impact, entertainment value and Jim Lee at some of his best artistically; if you can forgive a somewhat thin plot.

Collects: Justice League (Vol. 2) 1-6

Green Arrow – War of the Clans Review

Writers: Jeff Lemire
Art By: Andrea Sorrentino

My Rating: 4.5 🏹


Oliver Queen thought he had figured everything out. As the heroic archer Green Arrow, he’d finally found a sense of purpose, friends to aid him, even a place in the Justice League. But now he’s not even sure where he came from…or whom he came from…

Green Arrow discovers that being stranded on a desert island was more than just an accident, more sinister forces seemed to be at work behind all these sudden revelations. The Queen family is at the heart of a war generations old. A war of clans. A war of outsiders.

My Opinion

I loved this story. In my opinion it is one of the best Green Arrow stories there is. Jeff Lemire takes us on a somewhat familiar journey with Oliver, that is full of mystery, magic and war. Some of the characters involved we are familiar with because of their inclusion in the TV show and some are new. The clan warfare aspect is utterly compelling and one that I wish we saw in the show. Maybe we’ll see it in a movie? who knows what’s next the the emerald archer. Out of all the new characters, Komodo the villainous archer is by far my favourite addition into the GA-verse. An archer that can match GA may not be the most imaginative choice of enemy in my opinion but the cultivation of Emiko is magnificently evil and is what brought this character into the forefront for me. I won’t tell you how, what or why Emiko ended up as a Komodo’s sidekick but trust me, it’s special and is certainly a story worth telling, I personally would have had Emiko enter Arrow sooner with Prometheus taking the role of Komodo in this regard. In respect of characters, I thought the use of Count Vertigo was great, I can see why a lot of people view him as a potential main villain for a Green Arrow movie.

On to art. The art of Andrea Sorrentino for me is so uniquely beautiful. To me it’s raw and sublime. It potentially isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and may take some getting used to but I think you can tell from the pictures in this review that Andrea is incredibly talented.

This story is spot on for me and I would love a movie based around it. I think that an animated universe entry would be preferential. I think due to the nature of the story that a live action effort would be too ‘Arrow-y’. Anyway Green Arrow needs a proper animated movie! It’s long overdue, you listening Warner Bros?

If you’ve already delved into Green Arrow stories and know his origins then I urge you read this. I read it digitally but I will be looking to purchase this for my collection. It’s a must for any Green Arrow fan and a definitely enjoyable read for any DC fan. Thank you Jeff and Andrea.

“Tornado arrow, you psycho!” – Green Arrow