Review: Superman – The Men of Tomorrow by Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr.

Men of TomorrowJohn Romita Jr. is synonymous with Marvel Comics – his runs on Spider-Man, Iron Man andDaredevil are legendary (and for this reviewer especially, his stint on Peter Parker: Spider-Man, in the nineties, was seminal), so the 2014 announcement that he’d be coming to DC to work on Superman garnered waves of attention. That he’d be united for the first time with DC’s superstar writer (and Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns, was icing on the cake.

Up to this point, Superman’s adventures in the ‘New 52’ universe have been a mixed bag. There’s been some great stuff – Grant Morrison and Rag Morales’s initial issues in Action Comics, and latterly the work by Greg Pak (also in Action), and Scott Snyder’s Unchained – but there’ve been troughs, too. Years back, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank combined to create some of the best Superman comics of the past decade – in fact, possibly of all time – so the outlook following the Johns / Romita Jr. announcement looked positive; Superman fans were being rewarded for their patience with a kick-ass creative team. The Men of Tomorrow is the result.

The story revolves around Ulysses; a strange visitor from another dimension, who shares many of Superman’s experiences. Like the Man of Steel, in order to survive impending doom, he was rocketed into the unknown as a baby, to a place where he developed incredible abilities, and matured into adulthood with the belief his home planet had been destroyed; that he too, like Superman, was the last son of a dead world. When a being from Ulysses’s adopted home attacks Metropolis, Ulysses aids Superman in stopping the threat, and the two form a friendship.  Ulysses is stunned his home planet survived, and with Superman’s help, he seems destined to become another of Earth’s mighty protectors. As the story unfolds, Clark Kent is reunited with his old crew at the Daily Planet – Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Perry White – and begins to manifest a new superpower; one he can’t control, and with possibly devastating consequences. Bad timing; because Ulysses’s intentions mightn’t be as pure as they’d seemed…

John Romita Jr.’s art is exemplary, but won’t be to everyone’s tastes. He is a masterful storyteller, but perhaps not an artist you’d select for a pinup. There’s a workmanlike quality to his style that is admirable; his focus is on the story, and ensuring it’s laid out as functionally as possible. Thankfully, Johns gives him plenty of space to dynamically render the blockbuster scenes; our first sighting of Superman is spectacular, as he careens his fist into the giant-sized Titano.

Johns is on point here, too; though his depiction of Superman and his supporting cast is more reminiscent of the pre-New-52 world. Not a bad thing; it’s nice having Clark Kent back as newshound for the Daily Planet, and interfacing with his pals liked he used to. Still, in terms on continuity, The Men of Tomorrow doesn’t quite fit with recently scheduled programming; perhaps that’s why DC Comics chose not to number this volume.

The Men of Tomorrow isn’t quite vintage Superman, but it’s up there with the best of the character’s offerings from the New 52. It’s great seeing Romita Jr. stretch his wings and play with characters, and a world, he’s never touched before. For the art alone, this collection is worthy of a place on your shelf.

Review: Batman – Earth One, Volume 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

Batman Earth One Volume 2As readers grow increasingly accustomed to vacillating continuities, DC’s Earth One universe offers some consistency. Launched in 2010 with Superman: Earth One attempted to contemporize and streamline the Man of Steel’s origin; to parallel the original mandate of Marvel’s Ultimate universe in a graphic novel format. Two successive Superman volumes followed; the Teen Titans, too. By far the most successful, in terms of both revolutionizing its central character and pure entertainment value, was Batman: Earth One. And its second volume maintains that momentum.

Bruce Wayne is less than a year into his vigilante career. After the events of Volume 1, Batman has becoming a menacing presence to those who stalk Gotham’s streets; but his reputation is still solidifying, just as his skill set is still in desperate need of refinement. He’s not the capable costumed crusader we are familiar with; he’s lacking much of the equipment (including the car) and he lacks the forensic expertise we take for granted. He faces a steep learning curve in Volume 2, as the Riddler makes his presence known – in this universe, a sadistic killer with deathly punchlines – and faces up against Killer Croc.

Gotham is as corrupt as ever. If it’s to earn salvation, it needs its citizens to make a stand; to become tangible beacons of light. Jim Gordon, still a lowly officer in the PD, is struggling to claw his way through the bile of his department; his alcoholic and increasingly-inept partner isn’t much of an ally. Only the mayor, Jessica Dent, and her brother, D.A. Harvey, are willing to face up against the city’s oppressive forces. But when you stand up for what’s right, you inevitably paint a target on your back.

It’s not exactly rocket science: when you partner two superstar creators, with a proven track record of producing fantastic work together, something special will develop. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank produced a seminal run on Superman in the mid-2000’s, and have quickly hit their stride with this graphic novel format. When blessed with more pages, some writers will pack more plot into their story; more twists, more turns, thus diluting its core. But Johns is a pro. He leaves Frank plenty of breathing room to choreograph a variety of action scenes, as well as the quieter moments. Batman: Earth One, Volume 2 is jam-packed with characters, but it never feels overstuffed. It weaves multiple storylines, but never tangles.

We are not short of great Batman stories; Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns; Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween; more recently, Snyder and Capullo’s Court of Owls. Johns and Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novels are among that echelon. It’ll be a long wait for the third volume.

4 Stars Excellent

ISBN: 9781401241858
Format: Hardback (266mm x 174mm x 14mm)
Pages: 160
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 19-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Aquaman Vol 1 – The Trench (The New 52) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

The TrenchWhen I think of Aquaman, I think of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA run from the 90s; the bearded Aquaman, gruff and abrasive, with a hook for a hand. Like the Batman of the sea, he didn’t take stick from anyone. But to the wider public, Aquaman is a punchline: the gold-vested fish-talking king of the sea, who rides seahorses and beds mermaids, right? Easy fodder for any two-bit comedian. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis tackle this head-on in the first volume of the “New 52” series; but it’s a little too on the nose, very heavy-handed, and detracts from an otherwise superb new introduction to the character.

In AQUAMAN, VOL. 1: THE TRENCH, the King of Atlantis is widely disrespected; mocked and pitied, and laughed at by criminals, the police, and everyday citizens. When the story opens, Aquaman halts a bank heist – brutally, effectively, and wonderfully illustrated as he careens his trident into their vehicle and flips it over spectacularly – but moments before, the robbers are referring to him as “tuna-man,” and the chasing cops are wondering what he’s going to do: “we’re not in the ocean and I don’t see any fish around…” Later, a blogger refers to Aquaman as “nobody’s favorite superhero,” and ridicules Arthur. It’s all a bit much, and unnecessary. Want to demonstrate how cool Aquaman is? Show us Aquaman doing cool things. Which, thankfully, Johns and Reis eventually do, when a new threat arises from a trench at the bottom of the sea; flesh-eating monsters have surfaced, and have attacked the people of Beachrock, forcing Aquaman and Mera into action.

The Johns / Reis creative partnership came to life in the pages of Green Lantern, and they continue their fine work here. There aren’t enough superlatives for Ivan Reis, suffice to say he’s secured a position in the “Top 5” artists working in comics. He nails the underwater scenes, perfectly capturing the terrifying creatures from the trench, and his depiction of Aquaman and Mera is fantastic. There are some striking double-page spreads in AQUAMAN VOL. 1: THE TRENCH – the image of Aquaman standing tall in Boston when he stops the bank heist is appropriately iconic, and deserves to be a poster.

Johns is heavy-handed with the Aquaman-loathing, but otherwise his script is fine-tuned and perfectly paced. The creatures from the trench aren’t particularly memorable, but such opposition was the right choice, as it keeps the spotlight on Aquaman and Mera. Johns’s decision to flashback to moments between Arthur and his father are particularly nuanced, and add real emotion to a tale that’s otherwise void of it. I don’t say this as a slight; THE TRENCH is designed as a blockbuster comic to entice readers to its pages; heavy on the action, sparse on the exposition. Perfect for new readers, and the doubters.

Aquaman has always been cool. But in case you weren’t sure, Johns and Reis clarify the status quo with AQUAMAN VOL 1: THE TRENCH.

Review: Forever Evil by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Forever EvikFOREVER EVIL is the equivalent of a Michael Bay blockbuster, and I say that without a trace of contempt. There’s nothing subtle about it. There’s no real emotional hook. It’s crude storytelling – but it’s rollicking. If you’re after non-stop action, double-crosses and lots of explosions, look no further; FOREVER EVIL is a heck of a ride.

The Justice League is dead.

Of course, they’re not, and veteran readers don’t expect that to last, but that’s the status quo introduced by Geoff Johns and David Finch, and things immediately get worse from there. The Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 have arrived on Earth – evil analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman – and are intent on ruling it through violence. With the Justice League out of the picture, there is no one to stand in the way of them – except for Lex Luthor, who bands together a motley crew of villains and becomes Earth’s only resisting force. The Injustice League is the planet’s only hope.

FOREVER EVIL is very much a Lex Luthor story. In his mind, the arrival of The Crime Syndicate validates his incessant claims that humans can’t reply solely on aliens and super-powered beings to save them. Luthor doesn’t see himself as a villain; he’s a proponent for humanity, whose advocacy boarders on the insane. Teamed with his imperfect clone of Superman, Bizarro, as well as Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Sinestro and more, Luthor combats his superior foes with gusto, which leads to some iconic moments, many of which fall into spoiler territory; suffice to say, the battle between Sinestro and Power Ring will live long in the memory; so too Ultraman’s fight with Black Adam.

While I’ve never been a great admirer of David Finch’s artwork – entirely artistic bias rather than a slight on his ability – he is a fine artist for this project, and John plays to his strengths, allowing Finch to dynamically display the countless skirmishes. Character expressions rarely vary beyond furrowed brows, but hey, it’s the end of the world, they’re entitled to be stressed. Inker Richard Friend, colorist Sonia Oback and letterer Rob Leigh all collaborate nicely to make FOREVER EVIL altogether very pleasing on the eye.

Johns leaves several threads hanging, plots that’ll undoubtedly be picked up on moving forward – but FOREVER EVIL wraps up with closure rarely evidenced in an ‘event’ series. Again, no spoilers, but the looming status quo will be very interesting indeed following Luthor’s decisions here. That’s the thing about comics – they are fluid. There is never time to enjoy what was; we’ve already moved on. FOREVER EVIL is a fun romp, which won’t resonate eternally, but is a thrilling ride while it lasts.

My thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing a review copy.