Review – Justice League International, Vol. 1: The Signal Masters

Justice League International, Vol. 1

There are a few books I gave up on within an issue or two of their launch, not because they were bad books, but because there was an overabundance of books I was more interested in, and I just don’t have the money to support every single title I see.  Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti’s Justice League International was one of those books, and with my nostalgia factor never higher (thanks, classic JLI hardcovers!), I thought I’d give their first trade, “The Signal Masters”, the shot I denied the title in single issues.

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Review: Wonder Woman #40 & Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3 (of 3)

Wonder Woman #40

Simone and Lopresti start their new arc, “The Crows”, with #40.  Featuring the Amazonian children fathered by Ares, Simone does a fine job setting up a new and fascinating conflict for Diana.  Much like all the best issues of Rucka’s run, Simone presents the heroine with a new kind of challenge: public relations.  Of course, there it was because Wonder Woman released a particularly incendiary book, while here, it’s the Crows’ supernatural influence to spread the seeds of war, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Lopresti remains an impressive talent, and he’s given the Crows a suitably creepy feel.  For a character so dedicated to spreading hope, love and tolerance as Wonder Woman, the Crows are a natural enemy, and one I hope Simone does not abandon lightly.  Coming fresh of the heels of a few excellent arcs, however, I think it’s safe to say that she’s earned our trust on the book.  The set-up here is more exciting than some of her recent arcs on the book, and it combines Simone’s excellent characterization with a quicker pace and some fun new enemies.  Definitely a winner.

Grade: B+

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3 (of 3)

Ah, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman.  You started so strong, a stellar display of a fine heroine confronting her past in a sensible, exciting manner.  But the more ties you had to the main Blackest Night mini… well, here you end.  Blackest Night: Wonder Woman is less a story than a series of three largely unconnected one-shots intended to fill in the questions the main mini never touched on.  If you very, very desperately need to know what Wonder Woman is doing between the panels of Blackest Night (the answer: fighting Black Lanterns), the mini is for you.  Otherwise, however, it largely squanders a pair of great talents on a middling-at-best issue with no real reason to exist.

Scott still turns in exciting, gorgeous work, though even she has trouble making Wonder Woman’s Star Sapphire costume look right.  Despite Scott’s work and Rucka’s talent, however, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3 remains a mundane, unnecessary tie-in, too bound by continuity to explore anything particularly fascinating but not nearly important enough to matter to the main narrative.

Grade: D+

– Cal Cleary

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Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2

Review: Wonder Woman #37

WW37

With part two of “Warkiller”, Simone continues to move her pieces in place.  The Olypmian rules a Themyscira undergoing rapid, inexplicable change – women are spontaneously impregnating on an island now rocked by storms, while Hippolyta is prisoner to her former, mad guard Alkyone, now wife of Achilles and Queen of Themyscira.  And while Ares’ physical form might have been destroyed by Diana, truly killing a god proves vastly more difficult than that, resulting in an uncomfortable visitation from the God of War.

“Warkiller” doesn’t have the snappy pacing of “Birds of Paradise”, nor the epic action of “Rise of the Olympian”, but it has nonetheless been been fairly satisfying.  Simone continues to lay groundwork for a massive overarching story throughout her run here with the massive changes to Paradise Isle, and at times, that’s part of the problem: both this issue and the last have, by and large, felt like set-up.  Simone has a deft hand for character-based drama and comedy while Bernard Chang continues to gain skill and confidence, so it was certainly entertaining set-up, but the pacing definitely feels off.

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

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Wonder Woman #36

Wonder Woman #35

Review: Wonder Woman #36

WW36

After the slight, fun “Birds of Paradise” arc, the Wonder Woman master-plot is back, though the issue takes the longest route possible in getting there.  After a brief confrontation, Wonder Woman and Giganta sit down for some major girl-talk.  Simone manages to wrap up a number of the more troubling aspects of Diana’s relationship with Tom Tresser in this issue, and while I can’t imagine that we’ve seen the last of him, his arc is finally at a place that jives more fully with Diana’s character.

Of course, far more than that is going on.  Giganta and Diana together face down the Olympian’s army, while the Olympian himself has made a few powerful bids for more total control of Paradise Island.  While just about every aspect of the issue is well-handled, and Giganta is always welcome (especially as a not-entirely-bad-guy), it’s a rather loosely-strung-together segment to happen in such an important arc, and it takes up a great deal of the issue.

Lopresti continues to make Wonder Woman one of the best looking titles on the shelves.  Whether it’s Wonder Woman and the Olympian throwing down on the field of battle or a Polynesian Goddess growing out of the sand, furious, Lopresti seems to have a clear handle on everything Simone is throwing down.  While I still hold that he was not the best choice to illustrate the brawls with Genocide, the quicker, more civil fights with the Olympians and his army, as well as Diana’s scenes with Giganta and Nemesis, display his skill to far greater effect.

Wonder Woman #36 was a promising, if slow, start to the book’s latest big arc.  Simone has become adept at zagging when we all expect a zig, so the brief scenes giving character to the Diana’s current enemy, the Olympian, are surprisingly tender and awkward, suggesting an essentially likable guy who is merely keeping the faith that she broke.  The issue introduces a number of potential conflicts and trials, most of which are extremely promising, suggesting that, post-“Rise of the Olympian”, the book has no interest in slowing down.  While many of Simone’s earlier arcs on the title were meandering and unfulfilling, she seems to have stepped up her game in the last year and made Wonder Woman one of DC’s most delightfully readable current books.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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My Comic Con 2009!!!

Wow! It’s already come and gone. I thought I’d just give my report on my experience. But don’t expect to see any pictures of fat, sweaty guys, dressed in 300 “costumes.” No, my Comic Con involved laughter, love, and chatting with the talent.

Sketch-A-Palooza!

Aaron Lopresti’s Wonder Woman!

Alvin Lee’s Sagat!

Amanda Conner’s Power Girl!

Cliff Chiang’s Black Canary!

Cliff Rathburn’s Reaper!

Dean Yeagle’s Mandy!

Dustin Nguyen’s Batman!

Francis Manupal’s Cassie Sandsmark!

Jamal Igle’s Silver Banshee!

Jamal Igle’s Supergirl!

Joe Linsner’s Batman!

Jonboy’s Meyers’ Wonder Woman!

Micah Gunnell’s Wolverine!

Nicola Scott’s Scandal Savage! Hey, it’s signed by Gail Simone too!

Patrick Gleason’s Arisia!

Patrick Gleason’s Soranik Natu!

Philip Tan’s Red Hood!

Sanford Greene’s Supergirl!

Terry Dodson’s Emma Frost!

19 sketches in two days, for a total of 80 dollars. Not too bad, right? I think I did good.

And you have to get stuff signed!

Now, the only signature I need on my Sinestro Corps War hardcovers is Ivan Reis.

I’m gunnin’ for ya, Reis!

Green Lantern symbols provided by Geoff Johns.

Aww, Gail Simone loves me!

And she put a Wonder Woman star over her “i”. How precious! Terry Dodson and Bernard Chang have pretty signatures too.

Terry Dodson calls Frank Cho a perv!

The war is on. Which artist will win?

Greg Rucka gave me a free copy of Detective Comics #854!

So, I was standing in line for Jamal Igle at the DC Booth, when Greg Rucka shows up next to me! We talked. I said I was sad since I didn’t have anything for him to sign. He went into his magic bag and pulled that out. Sweet, huh?

So, there you have it, friends. I had a hell of a time, and you got to see my reward for fighting through the unkempt masses. Thanks for reading!

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Wonder Woman #34

WW34

With the events of “Rise of the Olympian” over, I can’t be the only person who expected very little of Wonder Woman #34, which should fall squarely into the ‘fall-out’ category of comic stories.  Hell, after “Batman R.I.P.” we didn’t only have a fall-out issue – we had an entire fall-out mini series.  Simone, however, smartly ditches the trend.  Instead, we get the first part of “Birds of Paradise”, a seemingly slight story that manages to fulfill the most basic aspects of the fall-out arc while being, from start to finish, just downright fun.

This issue begins a team-up between Wonder Woman and Black Canary, a character who has, since Simone left Birds of Prey, been systematically treated with less and less respect by her writers.  Though the dialogue is sometime a bit too exaggerated, especially when it comes to Black Canary, the issue is ultimately a joy to read.  Black Canary and Wonder Woman infiltrate a caged, metahuman fighting match in an effort to hunt down Doctor Psycho, who currently has possession of Genocide.

Of course, there’s more happening than that.  Nemesis is still reeling from the last arc, the Amazons are having trouble adjusting to their new situation, Genocide is still loose, and Diana is keenly feeling the loss of her gods.  The aftermath of “Olympian” is present, and generally handled with a deft touch, but it isn’t the point.  The issue doesn’t wallow.

Lopresti’s art is gorgeous as ever.  I have to say, I really enjoyed his designs for the undercover fight club costumes of Wonder Woman and Black Canary, and his fights are top-notch as ever.  Though his facial expressions aren’t quite as interesting as, say, Maguire’s (JLI), that’s largely because they’re more understated – but looking through the book, his expressions here are perfect, from Black Canary’s tongue just out the side of her mouth as she digs through her closet to the pained expression on Wonder Woman’s face as she fights Lira.

Whether or not you liked or even read “Rise of the Olympian” is unimportant here – “Birds of Paradise” looks to be a blast.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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Wonder Woman #33

Review: Wonder Woman #33

Wonder Woman

Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman has been fairly uneven, but it must be said that, at the very least, her eight-part “Rise of the Olympian” arc has been exciting and action-packed without sacrificing the wit or character moments for which Simone is rightfully known.  This issue is no exception.  To wind down her most widely publicized arc yet, Simone gives us a fun, exciting, slightly flawed issue that nonetheless offers up a more-than-satisfying conclusion to her massive story.

The series has had a fair number of epic moments, and this issue is no exception.  With Genocide finally handled – or was she? – by Wonder Woman last issue, it seemed like things were finally being toned down for the last issue… at least until it was revealed that there was another side in this fight.  Long-time Wonder Woman villain Ares makes his appearance, a traitor is unmasked, and war breaks out.

Lopresti is better than ever.  When asked to illustrate a fight that Simone’s dialogue made out to be Hurricane-like in its devastation to the surroundings, he seemed ill-suited to the task, but there’s something about this issue that suits his talents much better.  Perhaps its that we’ve been trained to largely ignore the carnage of war, or perhaps its the larger-than-life nature of the participants, but Lopresti’s art was top-notch for this final issue, illustrating the monstrous sea-beasts as well as a variety of Amazons with skill and distinctive designs.

The issue also brought about, to my surprise, a rather immense change to the status quo, one which Simone has in some ways been building up to for the entirety of her run.  I’m not sure how I feel about it – from a storytelling perspective, it provides a lot of interesting opportunities, but there are a few moments that I’m not quite sure the book earned, a few shortcuts seemingly taken to the book’s detriment.  One in particular, at the climax of this issue.  

Despite those, however, it can’t be denied that Simone did an excellent job subverting the expectations of her audience in a fun, exciting way, and if her new status quo has any sort of staying power in an era of retcons gone wild, she’ll be an influence on Wonder Woman writers for years to come.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Review: Wonder Woman #32

Wonder Woman

This week offered us part 7 of the 8-part “Rise of the Olympian”, Wonder Woman’s big story for the year, a massive arc that brings to bear a whole host of new problems for the Themysciran princess.  Writer Gail Simone’s run on Wonder Woman has been disappointingly uneven, caught between a desire to by mythic and grounded at the same time, the need for High Action mixed with the rising tension and epic drama.  “Rise” has all the same problems that has plagued the rest of her run, but perhaps because of the extended length, it also has enough time to fit in Simone’s patented wit and charm amidst all the mayhem.

Lopresti, back after a fill-in from Chang last issue, continues to improve over the arc.  I still feel that Lopresti’s clean, beautiful style doesn’t entirely sit with the bloody, ugly mess that Genocide is supposed to have caused, but it is undeniable that the artist knows his stuff, drawing both the action and the drama clearly and expressively.  The grittier bits of the action don’t quite come through, which hurts the tone of the Genocide arc considerably, but aside from that, Lopresti is doing some of his best work here.

The “Olympian” arc is exciting and fun, but it is not resonating with the importance that Simone seems to want it to.  Genocide is a surprisingly efficient monster, more effective in many ways than Doomsday was in design and creation, and the behind-the-scenes drama of the Greek pantheon, while nowhere near as exciting as it was in Rucka’s run, still offers up some intriguing bits for future stories, especially in light of Athena’s revelations last issue.  On the whole, “Rise” is a good, if a bit slight, story that jumps between exciting action segments and occasionally interesting drama that has been hurt more by the marketing and hype of the story than by the quality of it.

Grade: B+

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SeventhSoldier Presents: War

War, huh? What is it good for? Some pretty good comics, that’s what.

Wonder Woman #26

wonder-woman

The beginning of Simone’s Rise of the Olympian arc, Wonder Woman’s big shake-up for this year, it also serves as the introduction of her brand new villain – Genocide.  And, to get this out of the way right smack-dab in the beginning of the review, it’s a solid opening issue, if not a stellar one.

Genocide is, to my surprise, a terrible villain.  Thankfully, Simone smartly avoids the issue, because while Genocide, like most one-note characters, is not a particularly compelling personality, she is an excellent monster – and I feel that her costume and dialogue accurately reflect this.

The story is brief – I could sum up everything that happens in about two sentences.  That said, as in every issue, the characterization was spot-on, there was wit, danger, some great action, and even Tresser had a pretty awesome moment.

A good opening, it makes me hopeful for the remainder of the arc, but it doesn’t quite grab me the way I think it should.  Lopresti’s art is magnificent – woo! no cheesecake! – and while he handles everything the issue demands of him with grace and style, a fight as apparently brutal as this one needs an artist willing to get significantly dirtier than Lopresti looks able to get.  The panelling is brilliant, the coloring is great, everything is well handled… but the action of the issue just doesn’t quite feel particularly urgent.  Normally, I don’t mind that in Simone’s WW comics, as we get a series of great character moments and dramatic scenes, but this issue is a fightin’ issue, and as that, it fails to be all it can be.

Grade: B

Unknown Soldier #1

unknown

Unknown Soldier is one of the newest Vertigo books, an action-heavy comic taking place in Uganda just a couple years back.  It’s pretty violent, and while its decent set-up, I’ve never been a fan of the device in which a character ‘just knows stuff’, and the issue relies pretty heavily on that.  A promising beginning, but nothing special, lacking both heart and urgency.

Grade: C+

Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns

rage

A poorly executed thirty-page long ad for another event, clumsily shoe-horned into Final Crisis continuity.  As much as I love the concept of the War of Light, all desire to read it has been killed.  So, to that one guy who absolutely hates me for not loving Geoff Johns, congratulations – I won’t be reviewing very many of his books from here on out.

Grade: D+