Superman: Year One – DeaconsDen Review

SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE, is another entry into DC’s Black Label imprint. It’s written by industry veteran Frank Miller and illustrated by fellow veteran John Romita Jr. This reunites the two who previously worked on the miniseries, DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR. Miller had already presented readers with the first-year experiences of Batman in 1987’s YEAR ONE and now it’s time for Miller to tackle the beginning career of the Man of Steel. How does he fare?

Book one opens with what any and every Superman origin must have, the destruction of the planet Krypton. However, we don’t spend much time there. We don’t get acquainted with a new version of Jor-El and Lara. Miller does give us baby Kal-El’s eyes to look through and Romita’s art gives us a beautiful panel of his eyes in darkness as he leaves his doomed Planet. Yet we don’t stay with the tragedy for too long as Kal-El lands in Smallville and into the lives of Jonathan and Martha Kent. From this point on, Smallville is the location for the rest of the story.

I think its obvious when it comes to this story, you must talk about Frank Miller. I know when this was announced there was much talk and skepticism of Miller handling Superman. One thing is certain since 2013’s Man of Steel, and that’s people are particular about their Last Son of Krypton. Well for starters, there is no Superman in book one of SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE. There is only Clark Kent. And it’s not too bad. We have a young man, aware of his growing abilities with two loving parents learning to navigate the world. In addition to Clark’s parents, we have Lana Lang, his high school sweetheart. Unfortunately, Miller does not devote much characterization to these 3 pillars of Clark’s developing years. With Lana there is a part of the story that draws upon a negative aspect of Miller’s writing. It’s a bit more restrained than he would have written this in the past, but still, it’s a part of his writing that he hasn’t let go. There is also a move that Clark makes at the end of the story that I’m curious about because it is not something, I think Clark would have done and I welcome the character choice. Yet you must wonder how Miller will handle it in the future. Now that I think about it, it may work if you’ve read The Dark Knight Returns. The bulk of the story deals with Clark handling some bullies who constantly mess with his friends, but the way it’s presented in the story makes it feel like it has a twinge of Gotham City in Smallville. Again, it’s Miller so I’m not surprised.

However, my biggest criticism of the story is that there’s nothing special about it. For the most part it feels much like a standard Superman origin. Even with the typical Miller missteps, there isn’t much here to either love or hate. The story moves at a pretty pace, but it’s all familiar territory. Perhaps he’s setting the stage for the stakes to be raised in book two, but I would say that it’s an ok read.

John Romita Jr’s art? Beautiful. His visualization of Smallville remind me of the Rockwell like art of Tim Sale’s art in SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS. You see the sunset, the leaves fall, and you just feel like this is a serene place you should be. The colors by Alex Sinclair provide much vibrance even for scenes at night, as well as the destruction of Krypton. Although I will say that sometimes the faces can look a little too similar.

SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE is not the book you think it would be. It is not ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN (Sadly, because that’s the most hilarious book I’ve read in a few years). It’s not unhinged Miller like one may fear. It has his trapping, but not to the degree we are accustomed to. The art is beautiful and vibrant, but the story is really nothing new except for what Miller sets up at the end that I assume we will see in book two. Since I can’t let a story go unfinished once I start it, and because this was cool to review, I will grab books two and three at release. Hopefully things pick up.

I’ll give the first part of SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE, a 6/10. Not as low as it could be, but not great as it could be.

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Comic Analysis – Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia by Greg Rucka

I’ve read a great deal of comics in my life. And with the many I have read, I’ve come across many iconic stories for some of my favorite characters. For Batman there’s classics like The Long Halloween, Year One, The Killing Joke. Superman you have Birthright, Kingdom Come and The Death of Superman. Yet for Wonder Woman, stories that automatically come to mind are not easy to think of. I can recall the many writers who have penned stories for Diana, but nothing on the line of must read stories. Well I have finally read one and it’s the best Wonder Woman story I have ever read.

Greg Rucka became the regular writer on Wonder Woman in 2003, but he first wrote her in 2002 with this graphic novel that was meant to present the perception of Wonder Woman, her impact on those around her. It gives readers a common scenario for characters. What do you do when you are caught in a no-win situation?

If you are looking to read this story, the graphic novel is out of print by itself, but you can read it in the first collected volume of Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka as seen here.

Now onto the story. I will try to to spoiler beyond general plot points.

Hiketeia, is a ritual where an individual submits themselves to another for safety and protection. The ritual is enforced by the Erinyes, or Furies who make sure the oath is not broken. This ritual is taken very seriously. As the person who is responsible for the supplicant must allow no harm to come to them and they can not exit the arrangement. Only the supplicant can break Hiketeia. One day a young woman named Danielle arrives at Diana’s door. Danielle is on the run from Gotham with Batman in pursuit. Danielle submits herself to Diana’s protection and Diana accepts. Once Wonder Woman discovers the reason for Danielle’s flight, she is placed in opposition with Batman who wants to bring the woman to justice.

This places Diana in an untenable situation. She is the ambassador to Themyscira and has made this world her her home and that includes the rules and laws that go with it. However, she obviously has connections to her homeland and its culture. She also knows that the Furies are right there to ensure that the contract is upheld. Then there is Batman, whose only purpose is to see Danielle brought to justice for her crimes. The situation becomes even more dicey when Diana learns why Danielle did what she did. This places her in conflict with Batman that leads to this killer moment.

I’m used to reading stories where Wonder Woman has to exercise patience in Man’s World due to where she came from. Yet for this story, it’s the conflict that makes it far more exciting and entertaining. She isn’t faced with a question of what’s right? Once she learns of what Danielle did, she knows what should happen, but she’s bound by ritual that is strictly enforced by an entity that takes vengeance for breaking oath.

It’s the most conflicted I’ve ever read Wonder Woman. In this story she is forced to be many things at once. Friend, ally, protector, combatant, harboring a criminal (I’m sorry I can’t think of a better word than antagonist, but Batman is mostly the antagonist of this story). I found it fascinating and the conclusion was satisfying because it’s the only way a story like this would end. It’s the first story featuring the character that I’ve read that really captured Diana the individual, not the superhero, not the goddess, not the princess, but the person.

I’m genuinely excited to read more of Greg Rucka’s first run on Wonder Woman. I’ve read his work during the Rebirth initiative and loved every page. I strongly recommend The Hiketeia to be read by everyone. And please DC, make this an animated film!

Comic Review – Batman: Damned #1

Batman: Damned is the first original release from DC Black Label, an imprint of DC Comics. The purpose of this imprint is to showcase stories that are not part of main continuity and are more flexible in matters of content. This line is meant to have mature stories and subject matter. The line will consist of original limited series and previously published material.

Batman: Damned is written by Brian Azzarelo and illustrated by Lee Bermejo. The two have collaborated previously on the tiles Luthor and Joker for DC, now they create their vision of a Dark Knight tale. This is a three issue limited series. Issue one was released on September 19th 2018.

Batman: Damned is the story of Batman as a suspect in the death of his longtime nemesis The Joker, who was found dead on a bridge in Gotham City. Batman’s path will cross with supernatural detective John Constantine to solve this mystery in a combination of crime and occult.

The moment I pick up my physical copy of the book, I was instantly impressed with the quality of the book as a whole. It has a nice cover design and the paper quality is good as well. I wish it had a hardcover like the 2-part, The Dark Prince Charming, but I’m sure that is a reason those books cost $12.99 at release and this one $6.99. Just a preference and not a complaint at all. I like the larger format as it reminds me of the prestige format of titles like Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. While I’m certain this will read much better once it is collected, I am excited to read these individual issues since this is the physical format it will initially be available in.

Now to speak on the book’s content.

Batman: Damned is a very atmospheric book. It might be easy to say that because it’s almost second nature to visually interpret Gotham City, but Bermejo’s art is outstanding. If you never read Luthor or Joker (I haven’t and will correct that soon), you are in for a treat from the jump. It’s sharp, it’s beautiful, it’s horrifying. Gotham isn’t just a city, it’s almost an otherworldly dimension. Since the supernatural factors into this story, that is probably intentional. His rendering of familiar DC characters who I won’t spoil is outstanding. The book is worth it for this artwork alone in my opinion.

However, I have to admit I wasn’t overly thrilled with Azzarello’s story for this first issue. It isn’t bad by any stretch, but I found it a little thick to get into what he was setting up besides the death of the Joker. There is some good material that takes a look at Bruce Wayne which is always interesting to me, but I guess I’m unsure of what the book is going to ultimately be about. It could be a combination of the crime elements, supernatural and psychological, but with it being only 3 issues, I was expecting just a little forward motion.

Overall, I will say issue one of Batman: Damned is still a quality purchase for me. Beautifully drawn, but hopefully issue 2 will move things along and make the direction a little more clear for me. However I’m still on board with this story and what DC Black Label can offer. And I can’t wait to see Azzarello and Bermejo’s take on one of my favorites, Harley Quinn.

Rating (3.5/5)

Wonder Woman – DeaconsDen Review


After 75 years of history which includes comics, television (both live-action and animated) and even an animated film, Diana of Themyscira finally has her first theatrical film. Wonder Woman is the fourth installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Patty Jenkins directs Gal Gadot, resuming the role of Diana from 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Also joining the adventure is Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston and Lucy Davis. How does the Amazon fare in her first film?

I absolutely loved this film! There are so many elements that come together to make Wonder Woman a great film experience. There are so many thoughts I can’t write here becuase they would be spoilers. I’ll break down each area.

Direction: 


I have never seen Patty Jenkins other film Monster (which won Charlize Theron an Oscar). Neither have I seen any of her television work so going into this, I was unfamiliar with her directorial stylings. I know one thing, after seeing Wonder Woman, I’d like to see more Patty Jenkins action. This was some of the best directed action I’ve seen in a superhero film. Every moment was clear and concise. There was no hectic camera movements. The slo-mo helped capture the gracefulness of Diana’s movements while still reminding us that she’s a warrior. She captured the brightness of Themyscira and the bleakness of the war in London. Jenkins also got every bit of acting she could from her actors.

Cast:


I really liked Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman. I love her performance in Wonder Woman. She runs the gamut of emotions in this film. Happiness, sadness, curiosity, anger, compassion. She sells you on all of these with great vocal inflections and her beautiful eyes. This becomes more evident throughout the film as she works with her supporting cast who is one of the best I’ve watched in a film. 


As much as I like Chris Pine as James Kirk, I think his performance as Steve Trevor ranks with some of his better acting efforts. And yes that includes Hell or High Water. As Trevor, Pine encapsulates a man who not only wants to do everything he can to prevent mass catastrophe, but also play the role of a man who basically has to serve as an avatar for all mankind to this woman who is an outsider. The chemistry Pine and Gadot give off is electric. 

Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright also have some great moments as Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, Diana’s mother and aunt respectively. Lucy Davis shines as Etta Candy. Danny Huston as General Ludendorff doesn’t really do too much for me. He isn’t bad by any means, but nothing special in his performance. Special mention also go to Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie and Eugene Brave-Rock as Chief, comrades of Steve.

Story:


The story is your basic superhero origin story. If you are familiar with the origin of Wonder Woman you know what to expect. The meat comes in connections that Diana makes throughout the adventure. Even though there is plenty of action, Jenkins allows the characters to breathe and it’s in these moments where Diana interacts with everyone else, especially Steve’s allies, what makes her Wonder Woman. 

Conclusion: 

Wonder Woman tells a complete origin story with some fantastic action and dynamic direction by Patty Jenkins and solidifies Gal Gadot as Diana with compassion, charisma and earnestness. Even though she has been around for 3 quarter-centuries, this movie works almost on a meta level as well, revealing Wonder Woman to the whole world and not just in terms of a film universe with DC characters. This was a great experience.

Final Rating (4/4)

Enjoy some these beautiful movie posters for the film. 




Rebirth Recaps – Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham (Spoilers Discussed)

After a missile is shot at a plane over Gotham City, Batman comes face to face with two new superpowered heroes in Gotham and Gotham Girl. Can these two be trusted? What’s the mystery of the Monster Men that appear to be coming to the city?

These questions arise in Volume One of Batman titled I Am Gotham. It collects Batman: Rebirth #1 and Batman #1-6. The book is written by Tom King with artwork by David Finch.

The story opens with the Rebirth one-shot which has Bruce training Duke Thomas for a role in the Bat family. It’s a mostly self-contained story that gets you in the mindset of Batman’s setting up a new team that we will see in Detective Comics.

The main narrative kicks off when a plane begins to go down over Gotham City. Batman rushes to save it, but encounters a moment when he realizes that saving the plane will result in his death. Here we have a really touching moment between Bruce and Alfred as Bruce asks his longtime friend “is this a good death?” Even though we know he’s going to survive, it was nice to see this classic character actually faced with a scenario that he does not have a contingency for. 

Suddenly both Bruce and the plane are saved. His saviors? A brother and sister team who call themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl.

The book spends the majority of its time devoted the new heroes and Batman’s reaction to their arrival. Unlike his recent cinematic portrayal in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Dark Knight counsels and is patient with the newcomers. Always reminding them to “be better.” At the same time we discover the background of these 2 characters and how they came to be. 

I found this to be a very good book. I was honestly surprised with how much more of a mentor Bruce was to these newcomers with amazing power. Particularly as the story reaches its climax as the characters slowly loses their grip on reality.

The artwork by David Finch is also impressive. Giving the reader that classic, pulpy detective feel that Batman and Gotham City are best known for.

Batman Vol 1. I Am Gotham doesn’t kick off Rebirth for Batman the same way Scott Snyder’s amazing Court of Owls did, but it is still a solid adventure with Batman having to deal with young and inexperienced super powered individuals.

Final Rating (4.5/5) I Am Gotham, despite its introduction of 2 new superhumans, is actually a more character focused story for Batman’s Rebirth era debut. There’s plent of action, but the mystery of Gotham and Gotham Girl make this a really good read.

Rebirth Recaps – Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman (Spoilers Discussed)

The superhero genre began with him, the DC Universe began with him as well. Therefore it’s only proper that the first Rebirth collection recapped be Superman.

Son of Superman collects the Superman: Rebirth one-shot and Superman #1-6. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason share the writing credit, along with art by Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez, Mick Gray and Jaime Mendoza.

The book opens with the Superman Rebirth one-shot. In this issue, Clark makes a pact with Lana Lang to honor the memory of the New 52 Superman, who is recently deceased. From there this initial volume shines a light on the Kent family, Clark, Lois and their son Jon. This is not the New 52 Superman, but the pre-Flashpoint version whose family survived the destruction of their world. They have settled on this Earth and keep a low profile. However once the Eradicator shows up, the family must make a choice to finally step out of the shadows.


The big focus of this series is the family dynamics of the Kent family. Particularly the handling of Jon and his developing abilities. Unlike his father who had 2 human parents to discover, Jon has Clark. The difficulty comes in that since he is also half human, his powers don’t always function as simply as Clark’s does. Clark actually takes a stance similar to his adoptive father Jonathan Kent in taking the more protective role while Lois is more willing to take her time with him and let him discover more about himself. I really found myself engaged in watching the three of them interact. Seeing this Clark in the position his parents were really reminds me of Jor-El’s words in 1978’s Superman the movie, “the son becomes the father and the father the son.”

During the story, the family travels to the Fortress of Solitude where they come in contact with The Eradicator, an artifact of Krypton. A battle begins when the machine wants to purge Jon of his human biology. From there the story takes a weird, almost supernatural turn involving the souls of Krypton inside of the Eradicator. This element took me out of the book for a bit. I was really enjoying the family drama as well as the idea of getting rid of Jon’s human side. This plot line was working and then it took one step too far for me.


The book’s artwork is a mixed bag for me. I loved the colors and the vivid displays of action, yet I wasn’t a fan of how the faces were drawn. Yet any scene with Superman exhibiting his full strength looked beautiful and vibrant.

This book also drops a couple of hints regarding the overall Rebirth mysteries. This is what I’m liking in these stories. It really is gonna be a slow burn.

Son of Superman is good introductory chapter to the Kent family adapting to their new home. There is a good mix of family drama and action, however the drama is what is most compelling and it really is the strength of this story.

Final Rating (3.5/5) Superman Vol. 1 Son of Superman gets the Man of Steel off to a good start in the Rebirth era. Bright and vibrant art combined with some compelling family drama and dynamics make this an easy read. It’s when the drama is replaced with action does the interest seem to waver, but not in any major fashion.


Rebirth Recaps- DC Universe Rebirth: The Deluxe Edition (Spoilers Discussed)

This is the first of my new set of reviews that I call “Rebirth Recaps.” I plan to use these to read and review the books of DC Comics as they go through their current Rebirth initiative. This is my first time diving back into DC on the comics side since the early days of the New 52 era. I was not a huge fan of the New 52. Although there were some bright spots (Geoff John’s Justice League, Scott Snyder’s Batman and Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman), the New 52 felt like it shut me out as a person who loved the saga of the DC Universe and began it anew. Everything that I knew was gone. Characters I liked in the past weren’t the same and things just felt off. Rebirth was intriguing to me because it wasn’t a reboot like New 52. Those elements would remain in place, yet the feel of the classic DCU would return. The initiative would launch with an 80 page one-shot which was described by President and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns as “re-laying the groundwork for DC’s future while celebrating the past and present. It’s not about throwing anything away. It’s quite the opposite.” Johns also wrote the one-shot and it was released May 25, 2016 with a price tag of $2.99. That was enough for me to jump back in. Now finances don’t allow me to read every book that comes out so I waited patiently for the trade paperbacks to be released. I also purchased the deluxe edition of the one-shot which will be the the first review. 

I’ve been enjoying reading Rebirth titles and I want to take time to read these stories and share my thoughts about them. That was what inspired this new initiative from me. So we’re going to start with DC Universe Rebirth which was written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez.


The deluxe edition opens with a nice introduction by the President of DC Entertainment Diane Nelson. In this she explains how they know of the reception to the New 52 and wanted to try to bring back the magic that people say was lost. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the last relaunch, I appreciate their willingness to try something new and their self-awareness that it may not have worked the way they wanted to. Some very kind and sincere words.

The one-shot is split into 4 chapters. They are Lost, Legacy, Love and Life. There is also an epilogue that sets up the larger mystery of Rebirth that will be developing over time. I will warn right not that I will be entering SPOILER TERRITORY from this point on.

Let’s begin.

Narration in our story is provided by Wally West, the first Kid Flash and third Flash. Wally has been lost and forgotten in the Speed Force due to the events of Flashpoint caused by his friend and mentor Barry Allen. Wally is trying to make a connection with someone he knows so that he’s not lost to the Speed Force forever. After his first attempt to make a connection with Batman fails, he’s sucked back in but also he reveals that in addition to the actions of Flashpoint, something or someone else is interfering and has stolen ten years of everyone’s life.

Wally attempts to plead to as many people as he knows, including the love of his life Linda Park. It all seems for nothing as no one can remember him. All hope seems lost as he resigns himself to his fate when he makes an appeal to Barry Allen to warn him of what has happened to all he heroes. Then, in what is a heartwarming scene, Barry remembers. 


The story closes with quite a reveal. Hints were being dropped throughout but by story’s end we get confirmation that somehow the changes that have been made are the result of Doctor Manhattan from Alan Moore’s seminal comic Watchmen. 


That concludes DC Universe Rebirth #1. So what did I think about this? I certainly enjoyed the one-shot. I felt it well written and the artwork throughout was fantastic. The main story of Wally trying to find an anchor really captured my attention from start to finish. I also enjoyed picking up on some threads that will be present in future stories. I was riveted as Wally seemed to be losing on his chance to return and could feel my own heart breaking as he prepared to accept his fate. Johns’ writing has always been fantastic for me and it remains so here.

My criticisms would be that this isn’t really accessible for new readers. There’s a lot going on that they may not be familiar with. The same goes for characters as there are some with ties to the New 52 that aren’t easily recognizable. Next is the big Watchmen connection. This isn’t so much a criticism as it is me keeping my expectations in check. I know it appears DC is blaming the classic book for many of its negative aspects  over the last few years, however there is a larger mystery at play and I will wait to pass judgement. My hope is that Doctor Manhattan’s role is not that of an antagonist in the traditional sense. We shall see as more Rebirth trades are released and I catch up with those.

DC Rebirth gets off to a good start with this one-shot and I can’t wait to follow up with more reading as this initiative continues and the story unfolds.

Final Rating (4/5) DC Universe Rebirth offers a promising start to a new era for th DC Universe. The story is well written with great art. Doesn’t seem very accessible to new readers however and the big reveal and connection may turn some people off before even getting on. But I will patiently and excitedly wait and see where this goes.

Next Recap: Superman Vol. 1 – Son of Superman