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!

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

Checkmate: A King’s Game Review

The landscape of the DC Universe after Infinite Crisis had a lot going for it a return of the multiverse, a back to basics approach to the trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder, while also giving readers a slate of new series and ideas to try out. One of these new series was a fresh volume of Checkmate, written by Greg Rucka with art assists by Jesus Saiz.

At the time, it seemed obvious for a creative team such as Rucka & Saiz to take on a title like Checkmate. They had both worked on The O.M.A.C. Project miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis, as well were the brains behind the reimagined Jack Kirby creations of O.M.A.C. (One Man Army Corps) and Brother Eye into more modern interpretations. Rucka’s interest in geo-political writing (Queen & Country) would serve well a series that was going to look at the political and also, darker sides, of super-heroics. Checkmate’s reactivation as a team becomes a global necessity in the fall-out of Infinite Crisis as public scrutiny over superheroes hits a peak while superheroes try to find a way to police their own, before world governments do.

This is not a true extension of the previous Checkmate volume, which seemed a little more political edged than its counterpart, Suicide Squad. Instead, this almost tries to be an amalgam, but really comes across more as a Checkmate 1.5 in execution. The organizational structure based on chess pieces is maintained, but now each pairing of kings, queens and other high ranking members must have a metahuman and human each level. This freshens up the concept considerably, and creates tensions as the obvious mandates of the organization often are at odds of the personal goals of each member.

The scheme also provides a wide tapestry of characters for the creative team to draw from. Rucka chooses the Golden Age Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, and Sasha Bordeaux, former bodyguard of Bruce Wayne and protégé of Batman, along with of course, Amanda Waller. This sweeping approach serves the series well as the each superhero perspective gives us a different insights, whether it be the elder statesman role that Alan Scott Green Lantern plays, or Sasha Bordeaux, whom as a cyborg, can play both sides, but can also be manipulated by personal gains on each side. Mr. Terrific, whom we know as the third smartest man on Earth in the DC Universe gives us a strong character of colour who is often forced to share a title with a large ensemble cast, ala Justice Society of America. While Checkmate does not completely erase this, at least his prominence as a character in this title enables him to grow a little bit more.

Unfortunately, the title gets bogged down by its own premise. For a title that Rucka claimed at the time would be the DCU’s version of a super heroic James Bond, this series has seriously too much time spent talking about what should be going on, instead of telling a tale where it actually happens. While talking heads and verbal minutiae works when you have a visual format such as television or film, it takes a very unique writer (think Aaron Sorkin) to truly pull it off and make a static or minimal movement while still successfully telling your story. Comic books are simply not quite the format for big talking heads page after page…

Collects: Checkmate (Vol. 2) 1-7

Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka: Volume One Review

The Post-Crisis Diana of Themyscira has had a number of interpretations in her thirty year existence, and for a character that has largely been seen as a second stringer at best throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, has attracted some considerable talent her way. There are the runs on her book that considered revered by comic books fans, and yet this is also the same title that during certain periods, contain storylines that are perhaps best forgotten. Creators have come and gone, left their mark, or had major chunks of their run ultimately ignored or retconned away, if things went really south.

George Perez’s run on Wonder Woman beginning right after Crisis of Infinite Earths is considered iconic. It is… an honest attempt. William Messner-Loebs did his best to reintroduce Wonder Woman back into the broader DCU, and while it is nice to see DC collecting that material recently, it’s not a necessary addition to a collection, unless you are a completist.

John Byrne did a much better job at what Messner-Loebs muddled with, but comic fans know you only get Byrne on a project for a limited time before he moves on, or storms off. Unfortunately, while Phil Jimenez’s run is a great, it experienced so much editorial interference, it probably will never receive the true appreciation or reverence it deserves, and is really not the full story Jimenez intended to tell. Which is where the Wonder Woman mythos more or less begins under new stewardship.

Greg Rucka’s run begins with a protagonist that has experienced incredible personal trauma in recent past. Her mother, and Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, valiantly laid down her life against Imperiex during the 2001 crossover, “Our World’s at War”. Most recently she had foster her best friend and “little sister” Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl. As a result, Rucka’s Diana has become both more thoughtful and decisive, not only in her beliefs but her actions as well. She mourns her looses, yet keeps her focus on the present and its potential impacts on the future. This is perhaps best highlighted in the new role that Rucka has put Diana into, that of Ambassador of Themyscira to the United States. It is a brand new dimension that presents a whole host of problems for Diana from two angles; geo-political and super-heroic.

This balance of challenges serves the narrative of the titles well, as a major thread in this collection is Diana’s moral barometer, and how far she is willing to go defend her ideologies. While some have griped about Rucka’s so-called “social justice warrior” slant in his writing, he in fact should be applauded for writing female characters who have conviction, with conviction. His Wonder Woman is no different from his other creations whether it be Bridgett Logan (Atticus Kodiak novel series) or Tara Chance (“Queen & Country”). His own experiences likely spill onto the page as many of Diana’s views seem progressive, but where she remains traditional or against the modern world, it is in very consequential ways.

Those conflicts are perhaps best illustrated in how they connect to the broader DCU in this opening set of arc. Diana’s encounter with Batman in Wonder Woman: The Hiketeai shows not how far she is willing to defend someone until proven innocent, but actually portrays a hero who is duty bound to respect ritual, something that would clash with the justice-driven Batman. This continues in similar fashion, but with a different point of contention later in the book with the Flash. It not only creates some very believable and tension filled drama, but shows that a character like Wonder Woman is often written in a particular way, without innovation.

And that is truly what this book feels like in the end; an innovation. New characters augment, not replace, existing secondary characters. Subplots have just as much opportunity to grow and shine as the main plot, and it is illustrated by J.G. Jones and Drew Johnson in ways that can only be described as that befitting a woman once a goddess, and still an Amazonian princess. This is truly some of the finest storytelling done within the Wonder Woman mythos, and there is a strong sense that Greg Rucka and company are just getting started in their run.

Collects: Wonder Woman (Volume 2) 195-205 & Wonder Woman: The Hiketeai