What I Read in July 2017

July was another three book month, and all three were relatively short Agatha Christie books I picked up in a recent binge.  This time I have some excuse for my paltry reading efforts, though.  In the middle of July I made the decision to attend law school.  Well, I had been planning to go to law school for some time, I took the LSAT last March, but in July I decided which law school and that I would be going this fall.  So most of July was spent planning the move and getting ready for school.  That did not leave a lot of time for reading. I am going to guess that the next three years are not going to afford me a lot of time for recreational reading, though there is no chance I stop entirely.  For now, I’ve still got some Agatha Christie that I haven’t finished, and for July I have three of hers that I read.

So Many Steps to Death

Agatha Christie

This is a strange one.  It is kind of a spy thriller, like a Bond book. Only instead of a hyper competent spy at the middle of it, this stars a woman who just so happens to look quite a bit like the wife of a suspected Communist defector who died in an accident.  So she is recruited to take that woman’s place as she goes to meet up with her husband.

It gets into some fully crazy territory, with a secret villain lair hidden as a leper colony and faked plane crashes to cover people’s tracks.  I don’t know that I would call it particularly good.  It is like one of the more ridiculous Bond movies in its plotting, but it moves at a fast enough clip that I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Five Little Pigs

Agatha Christie

This is a fun one.  16 years after her mother was convicted of murdering her father, Carla goes to Poirot to ask him to investigate what really happened, since her mother sent her a letter from prison saying that she didn’t do it.  Intrigued, Poirot sets out to investigate the other guests at the house at the time of the murder, uncovering the sordid affairs of all involved.

This is among my favorite of Poirot’s outings.  It sets up a perfectly limited group of suspects and does something of a Rashomon with them, (this book predates Rashomon) letting everyone tell their versions of the story and uncovering lies and reasons for lies with the conflicting takes. When it gets to the end and all is clear, it is just about as satisfying a mystery as I have read. This is a good one.

Sad Cypress

Agatha Christie

Another very good one.  This one does not hide its culprit especially well, but it does hide the motive.  There were only three people there when one of them was murdered; one of the other two is almost certainly the murderer.  And the book gives ample reason to believe that the accused is responsible, though since Poirot is investigating on her behalf it is almost certain that she is not.  So you turn to the other possible suspect, and there is no reason at all to suspect her.  This in a mystery is suspicious in and of itself.

This is one that seems more about the characters than the plot; at least as far Poirot mysteries are concerned.  It gives more intimate details of the lives of it primary characters.  Lots of details that are not primarily related to the case. With the ticking clock of the impending trial as a backdrop, you really feel for some of these characters.  It is really enjoyable.

Final Crisis

Grant Morrison, JG Jones, Doug Mahnke and Others

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my excitement for the Justice League movie got me to pull the best Justice League vs Darkseid story.  Yeah, I said it, though I expect the movie to take more of its cues from the New 52 origin.  Final Crisis is a beautiful, wonderful mess.  I will write a full review of this book at some point, so I am saving deeper thoughts for that.

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The New Superman Family

DC’s Rebirth has been an overwhelming success, from a creative standpoint if not always from a sales one. (And I understand it has been largely successful sales-wise as well) While there were plenty of changes, no character underwent a bigger change during this realignment than Superman.  After DC threw the baby out with the bathwater during the New 52, Superman had a handful of rough years. Now his books, especially Superman by Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke, are as strong as they have been in years.

Those rough New 52 years weren’t all bad.  Grant Morrison kicked it off with an excellent, chronologically fractured run on Action Comics and Greg Pak had a solid run with the character.  There was always a problem, though, in that the books focused almost exclusively on the “Super” and kind of forgot about the ‘man.’ Even the good books didn’t manage to make Superman feel like Superman as he has existed for more than 30 years now.  It made sense in Action Comics, with Morrison purposefully doing a riff on early Superman books with a brasher take on the character that eventually grew into the Superman we knew, but everywhere else there seemed to be an overriding attempt to make Superman seem cool by making him quicker to spring into action. Trying to make Superman cool is a fool’s gambit. Superman hasn’t been cool in decades.  He is still an interesting and compelling character, but trying to make him cool invariably costs him his earnest goodness, making it pointless.

That is why Rebirth Superman is so very good; there are no attempts to make him cool.  In fact, the book mostly leans into his uncoolness. Superman is not only older and more responsible, but he is also married (again) and is a dad.  Not at all what one thinks of when it comes to cool, but it is a great place for the character to be.  Superman is the responsible one, the Justice League works best with Superman as the team dad. See Morrison’s JLA, which featured a younger Flash and Green Lantern alongside older stalwarts led primarily by Superman.  With Rebirth, Superman is finally back in a role that fits his strengths as a character.

The current run on Superman is in my mind one of the best the character has had in a couple decades.  I guess it is premature to say that when the run is, hopefully, far from finished, but I have loved what this team has done so far.  Shipping twice a month, they are more than 20 issues in and have blown through a number of excellent stories in less than a year. It has done action stories, family stories, a takeoff of Morrison’s Multiversity (I know I keep referencing Morrison here; that is because he is the most important writer at DC in the last 30 years. He has done excellent work on the big guns, with JLA, Batman and Action Comics, and several excellent crossovers, like DC One Million and Final Crisis.  He also wrote the single best Superman story in All-Star Superman) and a big status quo redefining crossover.

Peter Tomasi has been at DC comics for about 20 years now.  He was a longtime editor, but like Mark Waid before him, he moved into writing about a decade ago.  He quickly solidified himself as a glue guy writing for DC. He wasn’t the star, but he was the guy writing the good books that helped prop up the massive hits.  While Geoff Johns headlined on Green Lantern, Tomasi – working with Superman collaborator Gleason – helped turn Green Lantern Corps into the perfect complement.  While Scott Snyder was being celebrated for his hit run on Batman, Tomasi, again with Gleason on art, was writing the frequently excellent Batman & Robin.  For most of the last 10 years he has been the king of DCs mid-tier.  It is more than time for him to take the spotlight like he has with Superman.

Superman post-Rebirth focuses on the Kent family, with Superman again married to Lois Lane and now they have a child, Jon, who is roughly ten years old.  They have started a life in Hamilton County, a ways away from Metropolis and are living the country life.  This setup lets the creative team move Superman forward in a significant way without losing the heart of the character. Superman is there to show us the way, and he gets to do that in a very literal way with his son Jon. It not only lets us see why Superman is so great, it also gives him a challenge he can’t completely conquer.  Plus, him leading Jon, as Superboy, out on his first steps as a superhero lets the reader experience the adventure through fresh eyes. Tomasi, Gleason and the rest manage a wide array of tones, from pastoral comforts to wide-screen action to spooky campfire horror. It it just a satisfying read twice a month.

It really nails a something than many comics seem to have abandoned recently, and that is the building subplot. With series that rarely run more than a dozen or so issues, the team here is leveraging the absolutely ongoing nature of Superman (they might get removed from the book, but Superman won’t get cancelled) and the blistering release schedule to tell some slower burning stories.  There are several underlying mysteries running at once.  They don’t distract from the main plot, but the build with each issue. Several of these mysteries are shared across Superman and Action Comics, as well as with the DC Universe as a whole, but they all build within the pages of Superman.  There is the mystery of Mr. Oz, a still ongoing background plot about somebody powerful trying to remove certain characters from play.  There was the Action Comics mystery of the fake Clark Kent, which built for 20 issues and was resolved in the Reborn crossover.  There are mysteries about the Kent’s new home Hamilton and their suspicious neighbors the Cobbs, which seem to finally be resolving over the next couple of months.

Tomasi has added writing duties on Super Sons to this, a team up book featuring Superman’s son Jon as Superboy and Damian Wayne Robin. It is a continuation of a story that played out in Superman that thrust the two youngsters together and while the focus of the book is the two kids, their fathers can’t help but play a part. It is only three issues in, but so far it is in line with Tomasi’s excellent work on Superman and his underrated work on Batman & Robin at the start of the New 52, showing how the children of DC two biggest heros reflect the natures of their parents.

I don’t know that Superman and Super Sons are the best books I get every month, even if I exclude The Flintstones, but there aren’t any that I anticipate more.

The Modern Stone Age Family

When DC announced a revamped Hanna Barbera line, it was met with a lot of derision. They announced four titles, but the only one that didn’t meet with immediate hate was Future Quest by Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner. The weirdo sci-fi version of Scooby-Doo took the brunt of the mocking, but the post-apocalyptic Wacky Races didn’t escape unscathed. Neither did The Flintstones, which at the time only had a fairly normal rendition of cast done by the incomparable Amanda Conner. In the end, only Wacky Races turned out poorly. Scooby Apocalypse is fine and while Future Quest is good it hasn’t managed to maintain any momentum since Shaner has only been able to do about half of each issue. The Flintstones, though, has been amazing.

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The art is by Steve Pugh, who has previously worked on Animal Man, Hellblazer and 2000 AD, and it looks really good. His art is clear and friendly, capturing the sitcom-esque look of the Flintstones perfectly. The cartoon was a take on The Honeymooner’s set in Prehistoric times, a broad sitcom family with the usual sitcom problems that just happened to be cave men; hence “the modern Stone Age family.” Pugh’s art is perfect at grounding this series into something that looks friendly and inviting. Which is necessary, because The Flintstones is anything but friendly.

No, this Flintstones comic is pitch black satire that is equally razor sharp and hammer blunt. Mark Russell wrote last year’s under-read Prez, also from DC, about America’s first teenage president, which was a similar satire that introduced Carl the End of Life Bear, a marijuana dispensing nursing robot for terminal patients. The Flintstones is even more biting than that already caustic title. Russell does this without doing a lot of re-imagining of the title. The Flintstones here are in many ways the same characters they have always been. Fred and Barney are best friends, they work at Slate Rock & Gravel, are married to Wilma and Betty and have kids in Pebbles and Bam-Bam. But instead of the cartoon’s broad sitcom problems, the comic has satirical social commentary, existential dread and scathing looks at very modern problems. It is amazing.

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In the first six issues alone, The Flintstones has dealt with issues like consumer culture, marriage equality, religion, war, politics, and veteran care, among others. It has essentially touched on most of the issues we face in our lives today. The first issue has a Neandethal, when leaving Bedrock, describe civilization as “getting someone else to do your killing for you.” That references back to both his friend dying trying to kill a mammoth at Mr. Slate’s behest, and Fred’s experiences in a war that Mr. Slate gave Mr. Slate the chance to open his quarry. Not only that, it is also dripping with existential dread, with the confusion of life forcing characters to contemplate the meaning of their own existence and generally not liking what they find. When Fred is asked if he has any worries about the new fad called “marriage” he wonders if all his marriage is doing is keeping Wilma from finding something better. It is kind of heartbreaking.

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There is some lightness to all of this, the possibility of hope. Wilma only thought about why she married is that she loves Fred. The hope in this series almost always found in its two families, the Flintstones and the Rubbles. Wilma might have been embarrassed at her art show, but learning about her art helped bring her and Fred closer together. That marriage retreat ends in disaster, but Fred and Wilma come out of it stronger. Even the war flashback, which shows Fred and Barney joined the army and committed genocide on the false pretense of an impending attack – easily the darkest tale in these six issues – ends with an event that brings the Rubbles closer together, giving at least the glimmer hope to a bleak, bleak story. All through the satire is the undercurrent that individual people doing their best matters, even if society at large is fucked. This element of hope is perfectly expressed by the baby mastodon vacuum cleaner, talking to his friend the armadillo bowling ball about what gets him through his dread as he spends his days locked in the closet – I told you it was dark – is knowing his friend is on the other side of the door. “Maybe the only meaning to life is that which we get from each other.”

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DC had a rough couple of years after they carpet bombed their own line with the New 52 at the same time that their reliable arty Vertigo titles largely dried up. But after the last year or so, I would say they are back on track, having published some of the best comics of the decade. Both of their books written by Mark Russell are on that list. Prez is amazing, but was left unfinished. Hopefully that same fate doesn’t befall The Flintstones as well.

Top 10 Comics 2016

I wasn’t planning to go this list, but reading some other Top 10 lists I decided I read enough good comics in 2016 to make a Top 10 list. It is very DC heavy, though filtered through Vertigo, Digital Firsts and their Hanna Barbera lines. I am sure there are Image books and the like that deserve to be on here, but I tend to read those in collections and don’t stay completely up to date on them. For instance, I read the first collection of Descender this year and absolutely loved it. The end result is that the books on my list are all books I read monthly.

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10 Patsy Walker Hellcat This decidedly low key book has Patsy Walker set up a temp agency for people with superpowers and brings back a lot of her old romance comics’ characters. It is just about a perfect fun book. There are fights, but they are small parts of a book that is more about interpersonal conflict and cat puns. It is just a good time.

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9 DC Comics Bombshells DC’s digital first titles have been very good for a long time, with some excellent Batman and Superman titles in the past. DC Comics Bombshells, their second digital first title based on a line of figures, is somehow one of DC’s best Elseworlds titles in forever. It stars all of DC’s famous heroines redone in the style of WWII pin-ups, placed in a world where all (or at the very least most) of the superheroes are women. The designs are mostly good and Marguerite Bennet’s writing of the title makes it truly great. Many characters get a chance to shine, from big names like Batwoman and Wonder Woman, to a ton of tertiary Batman characters turned into Batwoman’s replacement Batgirls. Bennett and a host complementary rotating artists have made this book one of the best pure superhero books available for almost two years now.

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8 The Vision – This one is small compared to the grander scale that Tom King’s other tragedies, like Sheriff of Babylon and Omega Men, operate on. It is much more personal but no less tragic. The Avenger Vision tries to establish the perfect family, only to find out that life is hard. The result is inevitable and painful.

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7 Batman – Tom King makes the list again with his Batman. His take on Batman, with art by Mikel Janin and David Finch, is something of a gritty take on the old TV show. Batman does all kinds of superheroics and solves his problems with improbable leaps of logic. It is over the top but with plenty of depth behind it. I hope he has a good long run on the title.

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6 Superman I am a sucker for a good Superman comic and that is exactly what Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke are delivering here. Recasting Superman as a father attempting to impart the same lessons that he learned from Pa Kent is an inspired move. The rambunctious but well-meaning Jonathan Kent is a great new Superboy and having a proper Lois and Clark relationship back is just icing on the cake.

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5 Sheriff of Babylon – Tom King yet again. While his other works are set in superhero universes, this one’s setting is very real. Not having the robot or space opera sugar makes this one more of a bitter pill than his other work. It is no less engaging, though. A former police officer working to train an Iraqi police force in the aftermath of the Iraq War is drawn into investigating the death of one of his trainees. Everyone has conflicted loyalties and the entire world is grey areas. It is amazing.

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4 Sugar & Spike This was released as part of the anthology title Legends of Tomorrow, which got that title to tie-in with the TV show even though the comics inside didn’t in any way. While three of the full length books inside were fine superhero tales (Firestorm, Metal Men and Metamorpho) the gem of the bunch was the “gritty reboot” of Sugar & Spike by Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely. It starred the duo of Sugar & Spike, formerly trouble causing toddlers, as PI’s that solve embarrassing problems for superheroes. It was six issues of this mismatched pair going to Superman shaped islands or making sure that Wonder Woman’s marriage to an alien monster was properly annulled. It had a lot of fun with some of the goofier parts of DC’s history and introduced a pair of characters that were just a lot of fun. Evely’s art was also great.

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3 Legend of Wonder Woman – There are many versions of Wonder Woman’s origin story, but never has it felt more alive and vital than in The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz. It is bright and colorful, telling Diana’s origin as epic and mythic while downplaying some of the more awkward sexual aspects of it. I would honestly book this book in the same category as Batman Year One or Man of Steel (or Secret Origin, really insert your favorite Superman origin story here).

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2 Omega Men – Tom King’s last title to make the list, Omega Men is a dark look at our adventurism in the Middle East by way of space opera. Green Lantern Kyle Rayner gets sucked further in to the abyss of the revolution in the Vega System, finding it harder and harder to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. It explores the narrow line between terrorists and freedom fighters. It is amazing.

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1 The Flintstones – That this book even exists is kind of crazy. An update on The Flintstones that turns into a pitch black social satire is not what people expected, I think. The Flintstones continues the strong work that Mark Russell was doing on the sadly shortened Prez series. The book is a bleak, but not entirely hopeless, with characters facing dilemmas that they can’t possibly solve and usually coming away with something to hold on to. It leaves the reading thinking that we as a species are fucked but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

What I Read October 2016

I finished four books in October, my goal number. One of them was a book that I had been working on for months, but never really seemed to make much progress. I am not having my best year reading, but I think I am still going to finish up above 50 books read, which is my usual goal.

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The Good, The Bad and Me in my Anecdotage

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach is a great actor and a good storyteller, but in this autobiography he seems to be too nice a guy to have any truly eye catching stories. That is not to say that there isn’t a lot of worth here, because this book is a lot of fun. But every time it brushes up against someone or something controversial, Wallach only has nice things to say. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, with a lot of passion for his profession, but his anecdotes would have been a more interesting if they were a little more salacious. He has stories about Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and many others, but the worst anyone comes off is mischievous or troubled.

That is a really unfair way to put things. I know that. Wallack packs this relatively short volume with a lot of detail and a lot of stories, from his earliest memories to his experiences in the war to his struggles starting a family while also starting an acting career. It really made me wish I could have seen him on the stage, because that seems to be where his heart lied. He shows a lot of passion for the art of acting and while he has plenty of good stories about many of his classic films, he seems to remember working on the theater more fondly.

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Citadel

Kate Mosse

I read the previous book in this loose trilogy, Sepulcre, though I can’t remember a single detail about it. Other than the setting, I guess. This book is set in the same region of France, that is what binds the books together, but it takes place mostly during WW2. The protagonist is Sandrine, a young girl who is trying to eke out a living in occupied France, and the book follows her experiences throughout the war. It starts with her as a naïve girl who is inadvertently connected to something bigger. As it goes along, she takes a more active role in the French Resistance and in the seach for the Codex, a manuscript hidden in the area by a monk from the dark ages that is said to be very powerful.

While quite enjoyable once it gets up to speed, its pacing can generously be described as leisurely. It is a long book, nearly 700 pages, and it takes forever to get moving. Usually, I am not one to complain about that, but there isn’t enough book once things are moving to make up for the long set up. It does set up something that should be a lot of fun, an all-female group of resistance fighters. Only the last third of so of the book actually deals with them, the first parts of the book showing how they got involved. Really, it is a long time before what the Codex is, and why they are after it even becomes clear. But those last 200 pages or so, when to book all but becomes Indiana Jones are a lot of fun, though beware the sucker punch of an ending.

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Deryni Rising

Katherine Kurtz

I read another book in this series, a later book that was the first of a trilogy – I had somehow ended up with three separate trilogy starting Deryni books – and I feel much the same way about this book as I did that earlier one. This isn’t bad, though the prose can be dry, but there isn’t much here to draw the reader back. This one tells the story of how young Kelson became King. That is entirely it. His father is killed, and he must navigate the court along with his father’s closest advisor and Deryni, which is basically a person with magically inclined blood, Morgan. His mother, who hates the Deryni, opposes Morgan’s being there and trumps up treason charges against him. He and Kelson must avoid that while getting Kelson ready for everything that might happen at his coronation. It is moderately entertaining, truly medieval fantasy. Not a lot happens, there are a lot of plots already in motion when the book starts and it doesn’t go out of its way to fill the reader in on any details of how things were set up, only the effects. Still, I liked it enough that I would read the rest of the series if I stumble upon in.

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Power Up

Chris Kohler

I like Kohler. I liked his appearances on Retronauts over the years. I’ve liked reading his stuff at Wired. I didn’t, however, greatly enjoy this book. It is uneven; some chapters are excellent, others don’t really seem to have a reason to be in the book. Some of it is out of date, which is the unfortunate effect of a decade going by since this was originally published, but there are chapters that only vaguely connect with the rest of the book. Still, the goods parts outweigh the bad and even the bad chapters aren’t especially bad. The strongest parts are the earliest chapters, where Kohler outlines the growth of video games as a storytelling medium, growing from narrative free games like Pong, to relatively more sophisticated things like Donkey Kong to full stories like in Legend of Zelda. He presents a clear thread of growth. Also detailed are the rise of JRPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and the beginnings of the music game genre. It is all good informative stuff. The chapter on Akihabara is much less compelling, even ignoring the fact, as noted in the book, that it is no longer exactly true. Still, the book is certainly worth a read for fans of video game history.

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Godland Celestial Edition Volume 2

Joe Casey & Tom Scioli

I really bounced off this series hard. I love Scioli’s art, and I like premise quite a bit, but the writing, especially the dialogue, is really off putting. These characters defy any sort of connection or even amusement. They are unpleasant and uninteresting. This volume covers a lot of ground, with a lot of villains and one of the protagonists sisters disappearing in space and I guess it is all building to something, but the further in I got the less I cared. A lot of ideas are thrown onto the page, but the ratio of good to bad is truly unfortunate. I get that it is trying to ape the constant energy of Jack Kirby, but it doesn’t have the cohesion of his work. It ends up being a pale imitation; it feels cynical in a way that Kirby’s stuff never does. I doubt I will be getting Volume 3. Instead I’ll just ready Scioli’s excellent American Barbarian again.

DC Rebirth Final Thoughts

I’ve got the last two Rebirth issues from last month to review here, as well as some final thoughts on DC’s whole Rebirth initiative. Or at least the first phase of it.

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Batman Beyond Rebirth

Dan Jurgens & Ryan Sook

DC has been nothing if not persistent in keeping Batman Beyond alive. They have been publishing at least one book in that setting for more than the last five years. After messing with the concept in the weekly misfire Future’s End, Batman Beyond Rebirth attempts to reset things to a status quo more familiar to fans of the cartoon. It works setting up an interesting direction for at least the first storyline of this new series.

The story, by Dan Jurgens, is a perfectly competent introductory issue to a comic. He efficiently introduces the characters and their relationships while also starting a mystery that will fill at least the next six or so issues. The real draw for the Rebirth issue is the art by Ryan Sook. Sook does a lot of cover work, but his interiors are an infrequent delight. The presence of his art is enough to warrant a purchase of this issue.

7/10

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Teen Titans Rebirth

Ben Percy & Jonboy Meyers

This is a fun, slight comic that is yet another largely unnecessary getting the team together book. It starts with Beast Boy at a party, then follows with Starfire, Raven and Kid Flash. All of them ruminate on their current problems, a lot of them in relation to [spoilers] the death of Tim Drake, before being taken out by a mystery assailant. At the end of the issue, with the team gathered and trapped in Incredibles-esque shackles, the mastermind reveals himself. Since it is the cover of the book, I am just going to reveal that it is Damian, who has gathered the team so he can ply the Robin on the Teen Titans.

It is fun; Percy shows a strong understanding of the most of the characters (I am ambivalent to his take on Starfire that seems to ignore the excellent Conner/Palmiotti series) and Meyer’s art is cartoony and playful. It is a perfect art style for a younger skewing book, one that is looking to take advantage of the inherent humor of Beast Boy’s transformations and the like. Like with most of these Rebirth issues, though, there is just not a lot here. It feels like a 0 issue, something that could easily be ignored or avoided.

7/10

With these being the last rebirth books for a couple of months, though I am much looking forward to Batwoman and Justice League of America, I guess it is time for some final thoughts. With Rebirth, DC seems to have taken a good look at why the New 52 failed creatively and made steps to fix it. Steps like not rushing the books out all at once and having a stronger focus on the core of the characters instead of asinine attempts to “modernize” them. The evidence of editorial edict is much less prominent. While to line did lose a lot of the New 52’s initial variety, as well as that of the DCYou, stripping everything down to just core superheroes. That problem has been alleviated somewhat by other lines of comics, like the Hanna-Barbera comics and Young Animal. Young Animal’s recent start, with Doom Patrol, Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye and Shade the Changing Girl, has been excellent, nailing the early 90’s Vertigo Comics feel. The Rebirth books have not all been good, there have been a few that haven’t quite worked, but most of them have been an improvement on what came before. I am buying more DC Comics now, and there are more than a few I wish I was reading that I can’t fit into my budget. In all, I’d rate Rebirth as a big win for DC.

I’ve got a top 5 favorite Rebirth series list, but it was a somewhat tough one to come up with. Not only because a lot of the books are very good, but also because the different number of issues each series has shipped. I’ve just read Superman 9 and Supergirl 2; it is hard to judge them against each other. Still, I did just that.

5: Batgirl – Barbara’s adventures in Asia have been very enjoyable so far.

4: Green Arrow – I’ve never been a huge Green Arrow fan, but I’ve really enjoyed this series so far. I liked it enough that I went back and got Percy’s run on the title before Rebirth, which was pretty good.

3: Supergirl – Steve Orlando is one of the best new writers at DC, between Supergirl and Midnighter and the recent crossover Night of the Monster Men I’ve loved everything he’s written. This is a strong take on the character, with great art from Bryan Ching

2: Batman – Tom King is great, and his take on Batman is right in line with what came before and its own thing. This is Batman as a full on superhero and it is a blast.

1: Superman – I love the set-up of Superman adventuring with his kid, and the most recent issues, on the time displaced Dinosaur Island, were amazing. This series is just great.

DC Rebirth Month 4

Two of this month’s books were in the last week, so Batman Beyond and Teen Titans will be in some sort of addendum next month. That leaves only four books to cover, and one of those isn’t even a true Rebirth book. Still, three of the books I’m reviewing are very good. It was a good month.

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Blue Beetle Rebirth

Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins.

For the most part, Blue Beetle Rebirth gets back to what made the first Jaime Reyes book so good, with the only big change being adding in his new partnership with Ted Kord. With a character as low profile as Blue Beetle, having two well-loved versions of the character usually splits the fanbase. Jaime is great, but I know a lot of people were slow to embrace him because his origin coincided with the pointless killing off of Ted. Here, DC and Keith Giffen have managed to combine them. Keith Giffen is in his irreverent mold and Scott Kolins continues the strong work he has been doing, most recently in the unfortunately overlooked Justice League 3001.

There are some slow bits. This rebirth issue doesn’t have much for Jaime’s supporting cast to do, but it goes out of its way to have them all appear. There are brief appearances of Jaime’s family, his mother, father and younger sister. Then there is a slightly off banter with his friends Paco and Brenda. Its fine, but it goes on just a little too long. Still, it does the job of establishing the dynamics among the trio. Then it gets to the action, with a new pair of villains, named Rack & Ruin, attacking a coffee shop in order to draw Blue Beetle out and test his abilities. This is where the relationship between Jaime and Ted really shines. Jaime is a reluctant superhero, feeling cursed by the scarab that has attached itself to his back, but Ted is completely gung ho to be in the superhero game, even if he can only do it vicariously through Jaime. Jaime fights the villains, with some help Ted before the two escape.

This is a great set up for the series. There is a lot of space for Ted and Jaime to clash. They have different attitudes about being a hero, Ted comes from a very affluent family while Jaime’s family is working class. Then there are the other plot threads set up in this issue; from the classic teenage superhero troubles of balancing school and heroism, to the revelation that the scarab is magical instead of alien or that Brenda’s Aunt is actually a crime boss. This is a fertile prologue for what should be a great series.

8/10

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Cyborg Rebirth

John Semper Jr & Paul Pelletier

Paul Pelletier’s art is good, at least. I don’t want to be harsh, since I believe this is or at least close to John Semper’s first published comics work, but this isn’t a great issue. Pelletier does something that resembles the DC house style, like the poor man’s Ivan Reis. It looks good. Not great, but more than fine in communicating the story. It is also overwritten and not especially engaging.

Nearly the entire issue is Cyborg fighting a rogue AI named Malware. It shrugs off his best attacks and moves quickly through STAR labs, where Cyborg’s father works. The whole thing is being watched and narrated by some unseen figure. After Cyborg is briefly knocked out, he recounts his origin, starting with his parent’s meeting. It is a rather dry recounting, with some truly terrible narration. While it communicates a lot of information about Cyborg’s history, it doesn’t actually give much insight to him as a character. Cyborg is a character that needs a status quo for a solo title, since he has always been a character that’s part of team, not a character with an independent supporting cast or mission. This issue rehashes is origin yet again, but does nothing to solve that other problem.

While it does start a new story for Cyborg, it doesn’t really instill any faith in books ability to flesh out the character. The fact that it seems to going down the “man or robot?” road is especially disappointing. Still, this is less bad and more completely generic. I won’t be continuing, but I could easily see this improve greatly in the coming months.

4/10

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Trinity #1

Francis Manapul

Written and drawn by Francis Manapul, Trinity is a book that starts DC’s Trinity: Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. There is a lot to love in this issue. Manapul’s art is, as always, gorgeous. This book is just a delight to look at, sumptuous and luxurious. The story is somewhat weaker. Not bad, just lacking in any urgency. Lois invites Wonder Woman and Batman over to get to know this new to them Superman. They have dinner. That is pretty much the extent of the issue. Again, I can’t stress enough how good this book looks. It does allow Manapul to demonstrate how well he gets the characters. Wonder Woman shows up with a gift; a wild boar she hunted. Batman gripes about having to be there and about how he likes to work alone when accidently blasted by young Jonathan’s heat vision. Superman has an appropriately skeptical of Bruce’s protestations, noting his usual pairing with a Robin or other Bat-related character. It is just a lot of great little character stuff incredibly well drawn. Again, the story lacks urgency or action, but it is still a completely delightful read.

8/10

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Gotham Academy Second Semester #1

This is not technically a Rebirth book. I can’t figure out why Gotham Academy Second Semester didn’t get the Rebirth banner thrown on it; several other Rebirth books are just continuations of what came before (Batgirl) and the initiative has been such a success that calling this a Rebirth could have done nothing but help its sales. Still, I am going to cover it because it is a new DC book that has come out during this whole Rebirth thing. And because Gotham Academy is great and everyone should read it.

The start of Second Semester has Olive alone at the Academy during the Holiday break, since she has no family to go home to. While her planned dinner with her favorite teacher is cancelled, she ends up meeting a troublesome new student that brings out the worst in her. They cause some havoc at the deserted academy until Olive starts to see the some of the consequences of their actions. It is mostly an issue setting up Olive’s current situation while introducing a new student that is sure to cause problems among the detective squad. Unfortunately, the focus on Olive means that there is little to no space for anyone else, including the books breakout character Maps. Still, Gotham Academy is great and you should read it. And read the first volume. And read the crossover with Lumberjanes.

8/10

Top 10 Superheroes

Thanks to a persistent request and enough desire to do it anyway, here are my Top 10 Favorite Superheroes. It is an eclectic group, split pretty evenly between Marvel and DC as well as between men and women. I think it’s a good list, and if you disagree you are objectively wrong.

10: Wolverine –

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I got into comics though the 90’s X-Men cartoon and I think it is impossible to come out of that show not loving Wolverine.  It also helped that he was short like me. Most of his solo comics have not been especially good, but his time with X-Men has featured quite a few memorable stories. He is kind of the prototype for all the crappy 90’s anti-heroes, but none of them ever did it as well as it was done with Wolverine.

9: Wildcat –

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He is almost as much of a joke character as a real superhero, but Wildcat is still one of my favorites. He is in some ways the JSA’s Wolverine, except not as useful. He has no powers, other than sometimes having 9 cat lives, he’s just an old boxer who dresses like a cat and beats up crooks. He is also the heart and soul of the team. In most DC continuities, he’s also responsible for training many other heroes. He’s taught Batman, Black Canary and Catwoman how to box. He did something similar in his sporadic appearances an Arrow. When the JSA’s adventures get big, I always like seeing how the largely normal Wildcat deals with things.

8: She-Hulk –

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I’m not sure what She-Hulk has been up to lately, but I really fell in love with this character during Dan Slott’s run with her in the early 00’s. She is one of the fun Marvel characters, like a version of Deadpool that isn’t completely obnoxious. She is capable of 4th wall breaking hijinks as well as more serious superhero stuff. She is just a lot of fun.

7: Superman – The original and still best. There is something more pure about the best Superman stories than with most other superheroes. I don’t think this pick needs any justification, other than that every year I think I like him more.

6: Captain Marvel Carol Danvers –

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I have less of a reason for liking this character than most. I read her last mediocre run as Ms Marvel in the middle 00s and it was fine. The more recent stuff with her as Captain Marvel was simply great. There is something about brash, no-nonsense superheroines that really appeals to me.

5: Power Girl –

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See above about this sort of superheroine. The stuff starring her by Palmiotti, Gray & Conner, her own series and her Harley Quinn mini, has been inspired stuff. She is DC’s answer in a lot of ways to both She-Hulk and Captain Marvel.

4: Mr. Miracle & Big Barda –

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I am cheating a bit here, but this pair almost always operates as a pair and they are really only interesting to me as a pair.  I’ve written about them before, but these two are great. They make a great couple that is physically an inversion of the usual gender roles, but they spend a lot of their time trying to conform to those roles anyway. It also helps that most of the appearances I’ve read of them, the original Jack Kirby stuff and their appearance in the JLI, have all been very good comics. Also, it is great that Mr. Miracle’s power set is largely non-combative.

3: Stargirl –

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From her own short lived series to her appearances in JSA, Stargirl has long been a favorite of mine. She is that teenage superhero Spider-Man riff, but with some of DC’s special legacy baggage. Being the young hero who ended up with the old guys instead of the Teen Titans made her seem special. Plus, she has the added benefit of just being a lot of fun.

2: Hercules –

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There is something really enjoyable to me about a hero that treats superheroing like fun. That is Marvel’s Hercules. He is a big goofy Thor. Every adventure with him feels like half a party, but his best stories also have strong character moments.

1: Green Lantern Guy Gardner –

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The one requirement to be a Green Lantern is to have no fear. Guy lives up to that by being kind of a douche. He is also a surprisingly complex character, a hero who has to put up this brash front rather than admit he feels inadequate.

What I Read August 2016

Only three books this month, though it was a rather busy month. I also finished up some comics reading, getting through some old newspaper strips and one of the collections I picked up a Planet Comic-con Kansas City earlier this summer. Even though I fell short of my monthly goal, I am more than satisfied with what I read this month. Also, I have enough half-finished books that I should more than make up for it in September.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie

This is a book that gets two reactions: one knowing the twist and one not knowing. I didn’t get to experience that first one. I’m not too upset, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is famous and famous for its twist, that I have been spoiled on it in the 90 years since the book was published is no surprise. However, that kept me from reading it with truly fresh eyes. I read it knowing the outcome, so I spent my time looking for the real clues and seeing if Christie played fair. As far as I can tell, she did. Still, the revelation lacks some of the impact it might have had if I came into it blind. The retired Hercule Poirot comes out of retirement to investigate a murder is a small village. He meets with the townsfolk and aided by the town doctor looks into the murder of one Roger Ackroyd. He does the usual things, checking the alibis and opinions of the possible suspects before the surprising revelation the murderer. Even being spoiled about the culprit I enjoyed this quite a bit. Christie earned her reputation.

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The Bishop’s Heir

Katherine Kurtz

I picked up a handful of Kurtz’s Deryni books a long time ago at a college library sale, but the first one I tried didn’t immediately grab me, so I sold them to a used book store when I was clearing out some space. Since then I have read more about the series, so when another opportunity to pick some of them up for cheap presented itself I took it. The first one I read, The Bishop’s Heir is the first part of her third trilogy of Deryni books. It has young king Kelson Haldane dealing with a rift in the church and a political uprising.

Kurtz’s prose can be workmanlike and the world of this book is very close to the real world with just a splash of magic. It feels very much like the precursor to stuff like A Song of Ice and Fire. It also does little to ease new readers in; which is only a problem because the cover says book one. Still, once you get in the groove, the book works. Kelson is young and still unsure at times, wanting to be a good king but not blind to the harsh realities that he faces. The plot seems surprisingly light considering how complete this one book is. It is not structured like the usual fantasy book, being much more political than action oriented. The big piece of the plot happens early, and the last two thirds or so are merely dealing with the fallout from that encounter. By the end, was fully drawn in. It isn’t really great work, but it is very readable historical fantasy.

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The Garden of Stones

Mark T Barnes

I listened to this book as an audiobook rather than read it, so I can’t guarantee my thoughts on it are the same that they would be had I read it normally. The Garden of Stones makes itself hard to like early on, has a solid middle portion before falling apart again at the end. It spends almost the whole first half introducing so many characters and concepts it is hard to keep them straight. Especially since they are all made up words. That is the part that I think the audiobook suffers in comparison to the real thing. Still, having all of these fake words showing up frequently, and then characters with unusual names that then have nicknames, sometimes multiple, makes it hard for a reader to find their footing. By the time the players and their relationships are clear, the book starts to be fun.

The Garden of Stones has three primary characters: the power mad Corajidin who wants to seize power in the Shrian Federation, the warrior-mage Indris opposed to him, and Mari, Corajidin’s daughter who is caught between family and what she believes is right. The three of them and their compatriots plot and scheme in a tense political situation the Corajidin has engineered to his own benefit. That’s all well and good for a while, but things go a bit off at the end. Mostly from a pacing point of view. The book alternates between those three POV characters, but they seem to get to the climactic moments out of order. Important events happen off page because none of those three characters are there, and the order that the chapters fall removes a lot of the possible tension. By the time it’s over you start to wonder about the timing of things, as events don’t quite fit together smoothly.

I’ve read a lot of people compare this book to Erikson’s Malazan books, which isn’t far off. But that comparison fits into me not really enjoying this book; I don’t much care for the Malazan series either. They are both dense with world building, but I find them both lacking in most other respects.

Comics

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The Complete Peanuts 1957-58

This is the forth volume of Fantagraphics complete Peanuts, and it is good. Peanuts is great. I don’t really know what else to say. It is almost always funny and is just often enough poignant. In this early volume Schulz is still fleshing out his cast, with Linus getting the bulk of the focus. Good, good stuff.

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Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol 2

As a showcase for Alex Raymond’s art this is wonderful. I really wish I could track down volume 1, but the story is so episodic that it hardly matters. Flash and Dale and Zarkov move from one adventure to next at breakneck speed. They visit the various realms of Mongo, fight with the royalty and Ming the Merciless and eventually conquer. It is worth reading if only for Raymond’s art, which is exquisite.

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Godland Celestial Edition Volume 1

Joe Casey & Tom Scioli

I was gifted Scioli’s American Barbarian and fell in love with it, so when I happened upon a couple of volumes of Godland, a series with his art, on sale at the KC Comic-con, I snatched them up. The first volume, unfortunately, was a huge disappointment. Like Scioli’s art, the story of Godland is very Kirby inspired, taking from his Fantastic Four collaborations with Stan Lee and his later 4th World stuff from DC. Not that Godland isn’t entirely original, it is, but is desperately tries to ape the tone of those works. In many ways it succeeds, but there is something about it that just end up feeling off.

Godland tells the story of Adam Archer, an astronaut that gained cosmic powers on an ill-fated expedition to Mars. He uses those powers to be a superhero back on Earth, fighting enemies like Friedrich Nickelhead, who looks like Destro from GI Joe, and Basil Cronus, a junkie who carries his own head around in a jar. The design of all the characters found in this first volume is nearly perfect and the plots themselves are exactly the sort of thing I was expecting, but the dialogue kills it for me. The whole thing feels slathered in a sort of glib irony – maybe an attempt to ape Stan Lee of the 60’s – that undercuts any true feelings the story could invoke. It constantly pushes the reader away, seemingly wanting them to laugh at the book and find the whole thing ridiculous. It is ridiculous, but if the book is so desperate to undercut itself why does it exist in the first place. American Barbarian was similar in many ways, but it presented itself more earnestly even when being ridiculous. Joe Casey seems desperate to make sure that readers know that he knows how ridiculous this whole thing is, and that knowing tinge is off putting.

DC Rebirth Month 3

Three months in and DC is still rolling out Rebirth titles. I think returns are diminishing, if only because DC has gotten past their bread and butter titles and are now into some of their more niche stuff. Still, while I could have easily passed on most of this month’s books, it did feature what may be the most successful Rebirth issue to come out thus far. Hopefully next months, which look to be more to my taste, will be all be like that.

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Deathstroke Rebirth – The big draw here is Christopher Priest returning to DC Comics, now writing the adventures of DC’s best mercenary most famous for his inability to stop a group of teenagers. This rebirth issue kind of goes all over the place; with flashbacks to Slade with his kids as well him meeting with a client and couple of targets. It sets up Deathstroke as a real bastard, but a bastard that does care about some things. The preponderance of flashbacks and quick transitions leaves this issue feeling a little muddled, as though the creative team is trying to do much in the space allotted. The art by Carlo Pagulayan is nice enough, clean and clear but not far off the DC house style. The idea of family permeates the book, with Slade and his two sons being prominent, and what read like a fake out to me at the end when Slade rescues someone. It is a perfectly fine comic that gives the series a lot of ground that it could possibly explore.

Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Jeromy Cox

6/10

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Red Hood & The Outlaws Rebirth – I don’t know how Scott Lobdell still has a Red Hood book to write, but here is his third crack at it. While they are in the title, there is not so much as a mention of The Outlaws, this is a retelling of Jason Todd’s origin and a set up for his ongoing. It shows his recruitment, some training and his death at the hands of the Joker. Interspersed with that is him doing something that gets him a lot of credit with the villains in Gotham, with the intent of going undercover with them. Not a terrible set up for a book, though the dialogue and captions only ever rise to the level of being serviceable. Dexter Soy’s art is dark and scratchy, perfect at times for a Batman book, but not really my thing overall. This book was better than I expected, but only because I expected to hate it. It isn’t bad enough to hate, it’s just there. It really hurts this book that Nightwing is doing a similar plot and doing it better.

Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini

5/10

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Suicide Squad Rebirth – This one was a bit of a surprise. DC has really struggled to get the Suicide Squad right since they brought it back with the New 52. Here, other than the built in parts that I will never like, it manages to work really well. The book pares things down to just three squad members: Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn and Deadshot. They are ruthless and irreverent. They have a high stakes but fairly perfunctory mission that perfectly illustrates what the team is. Mixed with that is Amanda Waller’s attempts to keep the team going, by bringing in someone the government can trust to be the field leader, which means the return of Rick Flagg. Waller spends the issue both talking up Flagg, to let the reader know who he is, and trying to sell Task Force X to him. This one issue doesn’t give a lot of room to flesh out characters, but it does give a good idea of what the five central ones are all about. I expected to hate the art, but Philip Tan’s usual second rate Jim Lee impression here is a first rate Jim Lee impression. Lee will be doing the art of the main book, and Williams wrote this to that style’s strengths. It is quippy and violent and dark and funny, but it also seems like it might have some thought going on behind it. It is pretty much everything one would want the Suicide Squad to be.

Rob Williams, Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, Scott Hanna, Sandu Florea, Alex Sinclair

7/10

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Supergirl Rebirth – This book was great. It starts with clean, expressive art from Emanuela Lupacchino. Her stuff has always looked good, like the Supergirl run that closed out the last volume of this title. It is just so great. The story kind of moves things for Supergirl to be closer to the TV show, but not exactly the same and in a way that makes sense in the comics. This Kara is only 16, so the DEO hooks her up with a new set of parents: The Danvers. Same set up as the show, though no sister was mentioned in this issue. The issue itself is has Supergirl take a rocket ride to the sun to regain her powers at the same time that a Kryptonian Werewolf attacks the DEO. The way that Supergirl deals with the threat is perfect. As far as taking a character and giving her a new status quo, Supergirl Rebirth is about perfect. The Danvers are great, it brings in Agent Chase as the head of the DEO and is just an all around good time. If the main book keeps this tone and expands on this set up it will be a treat.

Steve Orlando, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Michael Atiyeh

9/10

Those are the Rebirth books for the month, minus Blue Beetle which will be in my next month’s box. Outside of the actual Rebirth titles, though, there were some new books that didn’t start with a special but with an actual #1. I’ve got some quick reviews for them here.

  • All-Star Batman 1 – A lateral move for Scott Snyder, who follows up his well-loved Batman run with new project All-Star Batman. This book has been sold on the idea that it is going to be spending a lot of time with the classic rogues gallery, who aside from Joker were largely absent from Snyder’s Batman run. This first issue was a lot of fun.
  • Batgirl 1– Also kind of spinning out of the Birds of Prey Rebirth, Batgirl has the titular character leave the Burnside neighborhood of Gotham, where her recent status quo was centered, to do some globetrotting training. Hope Larson shows a strong understanding of the character here and Raphael Albuquerque is always good; this is an absolute delight.
  • Harley Quinn 1 – Did you like the previous Harley Quinn series? Then you are in luck, because this is a new #1 because that’s what comics do, not because there is anything new here. I don’t mean to be harsh, I actually quite like Palmiotti & Conner’s work with the character, though I prefer the stuff when Harley has to share the focus (I love Harley Quinn & Power Girl). This is just more of good stuff we were already getting.
  • Superwoman 1 – This spins out of the Superman stuff, obviously. It is a well-executed comic, Phil Jimenez’s is great and the writing is good, but it feels a little like a cruel trick thanks to how DC sold the book. I don’t know how I feel about this book yet.

Last and probably least, I thought I would include a list of the titles I am sticking with three months into this little endeavor. The price has got me really thinning my list, and for once I feel like DC is putting out more good books than I care to read, instead of me buying a few mediocre titles for the writer or artist. Right now my pull list has Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Detective Comics for the books shipping twice monthly, with Nightwing being the most recent unfortunate casualty. As for the once a month titles, I am sticking with Batgirl, Supergirl, New Superman and, for now, Batgirl and Birds of Prey. That last one is likely the next to be gone, especially once some of my Marvel books come back from Civil War 2. Come back next month as I take a look at Batman Beyond Rebirth, Cyborg Rebirth, Teen Titans Rebirth and catch up with Blue Beetle Rebirth, as well as a handful of other fresh starts.