Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death And Return Of Donna Troy
by Judd Winick, Phil Jimenez & Chuck Kim
(Art by Ale Garza, Trevor Scott, Lary Stucker, Marlo Alquiza, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez)
A tie-in to the build-up towards Geoff Johns' 'Infinte Crisis' epic story event, this book is divided into three chapters. The first sees the Titans (Nightwing, Troia, Cyborg etc) team up with Young Justice (Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy etc) against a powerful cyborg from the future. In its attempts to find compatible technology, the cyborg awakens one of the malfunctioning Superman robots. The ensuing battle with the Titans and Young Justice makes for exciting reading and leads to the deaths of two young heroes (one being Troia/Donna Troy).
The second chapter features Cassie, who took over as Wonder Girl from Donna, reviewing the life and times of her deceased friend. This allows us to get to know the history of a character that I otherwise wouldn't have understood (what with Wonder Woman, two Wonder Girls and so on).
There is then a time gap before the third chapter in which Troia, alive but stripped of her memory, is helping the Titans of Legend to conquer the innocent planet of Minosyss. Members of the new Titans and the Outsiders are transported to Minosyss where they are forced to fight against Troia in the hopes of reminding her of her life a Donna Troy. In this chapter there is quite a bit of reference to Donna's mixed backstory and also to the events of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths', both of which are unknown to me.
I enjoyed this book as whole, though, despite some of the references flying right over my head. What I liked most was the constrasts created by the different generations of young heroes against their more famous mentors, ie Batman-Nightwing-Robin, Wonder Woman-Troia-Wonder Girl and Superman-Superboy. Don't expect to get the full story here though, you'll need 'Infinite Crisis' for that.
4 out of 5
The Batman/Judge Dredd Files
(Art by Simon Bisley, Carl Critchlow, Dermot Power, Glen Fabry, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill)
An omnibus which collects three crossover stories between the Dark Knight and the Lawman of the Future. The reason these crossovers work so well is that they combine the morbid humour of Dredd's stories with the gothic intrigue of Batman's.
The first of the three stories here sees Judge Death unleashed on Gotham and it is made great by two separate relationships. The first is, obviously, Batman and Dredd who fully indulge a testosterone-fuelled rivalry. But far more interesting than that is the interplay between Judge Death and the Scarecrow, who maintain a hilariously sinister banter, not to mention the revelation that Judge Death's darkest fear is cuddly Disney-esque animals! Throw in the headbutting antics of Mean Angel and you've got the best part of the book.
The second story sees the two title characters having to join forces to survive a bizarre alien bloodsport. The third and final story sees the Joker travelling to Mega City One and unleashing the imprisoned Dark Judges. Although perhaps not terribly deep, this book is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly if you enjoy both characters separately.
5 out of 5
The Death Of Superman
(Art by Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Rick Burchett, Doug Hazlewood, Dannis Janke and Denis Rodier)
Book one of 'The Death and Return of Superman'. An unstoppable monster, quickly nicknamed Doomsday, begins crossing America, destroying anything and anyone in its path. The Justice League of America steps in to stop the creature but soon find themselves outmatched, leaving only Superman to stand between Doomsday and the destruction of Metropolis.
I've read a lot of criticism of this story over the years; ranging from it simply having been a cynical marketing ploy by DC to boost sales, to it being totally shallow and insubstantial and even that it's pointless due to Superman's almost immediate resurrection. I first read this (and the subsequent books of the Death and Return trilogy) as a spotty comicbook-collecting fourteen year old geek and loved it. I was therefore curious to go back to it after more than twenty years and see how my more mature (ha!) and refined tastes reacted now.
Some of the criticisms mentioned above are certainly true, the 'cynical marketing ploy' one being especially so. This was the first time that one of the big publishers made real-world headlines by creating a deliberately provocative event story and the comics industry has had to live with the, sadly recurring, legacy of that ever since. It is also fair to say that the content of this book is fairly shallow, consisting mostly of Superman hitting Doomsday and then Doomsday hitting Superman. However, despite all of that, I still liked it.
Some have criticised the fact that we get no explanation of Doomsday here, but for me that was fine. He becomes something of a force of nature which not only cannot be stopped, but also cannot be understood. Not every villain needs a complicated origin in which they have legitimate reasons for being bad for them to make good antagonists. The fact that Doomsday is a mystery and, thankfully, a mostly mute one is what makes him compelling. I enjoyed watching the JLA (albeit second-string members of whom the most famous are Booster Gold and Blue Beetle) and then Superman repeatedly battering themselves against this walking brick wall to little effect, with merely slowing Doomsday down being the best they can hope for for most of the book. The book then ends on the really powerful image of the broken Superman in the arms of his tearful wife, having given everything to save the city he loves. (I'm assuming that 'Superman dies' doesn't really constitute a spoiler in this case...)
4 out of 5
The Flash: The Wild Wests
by Mark Waid, John Rogers & Keith Champagne
(Art by Daniel Acuna, Freddie Williams II, Doug Braithwaite, Koi Turnbull and Art Thibert)
In this book Wally West, the Flash, introduces the world to his two super-powered children and vice versa. The young Wests get their first test when an alien invasion threatens Keystone City whilst the Flash calls in Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Black Lightning for help.
Despite loving Batman, I've always been more a Marvel fan than a DC one, but Wally West's irreverant incarnation of the Flash has always been one DC character who I have always liked. Here we get to see him trying to cope with the pressures of being a father whilst also dealing with the potentially tragic instability in the superpowers of his son Jai and daughter Iris. There's a great scene where the JLA confront Wally about taking his kids into crimefighting and he, angry and defensive, turns to Batman and says "I'm getting lectured on child safety from a man who's gone through four Robins?" to which the other JLAers pull awkward faces.
Overarching the struggles of the West family is the alien invasion plot involving tentacled monsters from a water-based dimension. There's nothing new or challenging to this plotline, but we do get to find out later in the book how each incarnation of the Flash (plus Impulse) are actually involved in the backstory of why the invasion is happening.
Rounding out the book is a self-professed bonus story in which Wally, Jai, Iris and Superman have to fight the supervillain Livewire.
Overall this was a surprisingly enjoyable, albeit not terriby ground-breaking, read.
4 out of 5
The Gathering Storm
by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
Book twelve of the Wheel of Time series, completed by Sanderson following Jordan's death. I was at first wary of the idea of an unknown (to me, at least) author coming in and working with the creation which Jordan had built up across eleven massive novels (not including the prequel or the companion book) but Sanderson proves that he is very much up to the challenge.
In fact, one of my biggest criticisms of Jordan was his seeming inability to bring plot threads to any sort of conclusion but in this book Sanderson manages to do just that with two main plotlines; Rand's growing insanity and the fracturing of the White Tower. And not only does Sanderson give us some resolution to these storylines, but he does it in an entirely appropriate and organic way so that you don't feel cheated after all the time invested to get to this point.
My only major problem with this book is that many of Jordan's other diverse range of characters don't appear at all, leaving you wondering where they are and what they're doing.
Sanderson actually proves that he may, in fact, be a better writer than Jordan as this book's prose, pacing and plotlines (and alliteration) are far better than most of what's come before in the Wheel of Time series. I look forward to seeing how this good author takes Jordan's epic ideas to their final conclusion.
Followed by 'Towers of Midnight'.
5 out of 5
The OMAC Project
(Art by Rags Morales, Michael Bair, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ivan Reis, Marc Campos, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Bob Wiacek, David Lopez, Tom Derenick, Georges Jeanty, Karl Kerschl, Mark Propst, Bit, Dexter Vines, Bob Petrecca, Nelson and Cliff Richards)
Part of the 'Countdown To Infinite Crisis' series. I've long been away from the world of DC comics and I read 'Prelude To Infinite Crisis' to try to get into this major storyline. That book, however, left me completely bewildered. This book has set me back on track. The basic storyline is this; after learning that other heroes were tampering with villains memories, as well as his own, Batman created Brother Eye, an artificial intelligence tasked with monitoring the planet's so-called metahumans. Unfortunately, Brother Eye has been subverted by a dangerous mastermind.
The book begins with the tragic story of the Blue Beetle. He begins to learn the secrets of OMAC but finds himself shunned and marginalised by the other heroes. Unsure of his future as a costumed crime fighter, he nevertheless resolves to uncover the details of OMAC. Later events in the story include the mental subversion of Superman, leading to a titanic clash between him and Wonder Woman (you'll need to buy another book, 'Superman: Sacrifice', for the first round though), and Wonder Woman's murder of the mastermind behind the plot.
With its master dead, Brother Eye begins an attempt to cleanse the world of metahumans using powerful OMAC warriors. This leads to a classic 'last-stand' style conclusion which, despite being reminiscent of Marvel's Sentinels vs X-Men events, was awesome. After 'Prelude...' I was ready to bypass the Infinite Crisis storyline. Now, I look forward to reading more.
4 out of 5
The Redemption Of Althalus
by David & Leigh Eddings
This book begins quite enjoyably as we follow the adventures of the rogueish thief Althalus and his attempts to find his or, more accurately, other people's fortune. With his charm, wit and delightful lack of morals Althalus is an instantly appealing character. Sadly, however, the authors rapidly remove us from this enjoyable fable and throw us into a world of contesting gods and their unique mortal agents.
The story quickly takes on the aspect of a poor imitation of the Beglariad and Malloreon sagas and Althalus is set up as a distinctly lacklustre replacement for Belgarath the Sorcerer. Not only is the book largely a rehashing of the authors' previous work, but it's not a very good one at that.
The psuedo-omniscient characters such as Dweia (an annoying Polgara-esque bitch) take great pains to explain things like the scientific nature of ice ages or the stars, robbing some of the fantasy wonder from the book, but then the authors just fob us off with a "Never mind" whenever they introduce a concept which they're too lazy to rationalise. Of nearly equal annoyance is the heavy repetition involved with the characters reciting the events of previous chapters over and over, with the story of the robbery of Gosti Big Belly even going so far as to take up huge chunks of both the first and the last quarters of the book.
Add to this irritating dialogue, a disconcerting failure to understand temporal causality (something you do need to consider if you're going to mess around with time travel in a novel) and some of the biggest plot holes I've ever read and you've got the makings of a pretty bad book all over.
A very long fall from grace by the authors of the outstanding 'Belgarath The Sorcerer'.
2 out of 5
The Return Of Superman
(Art by Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, M. D. Bright, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier and Romeo Tanghal)
The conclusion to the 'Death and Return...' trilogy sees four claimants to the mantle of Superman arrive in Metropolis. They include a cyborg claiming to be the reconstructed Superman, a youth claiming to be Superman's clone, a ruthless avenger calling himself the Last Son of Krypton and an armoured crusader using the monniker Man of Steel. As these four vie for control of Superman's place, a Kryptonian war suit marches inexorably towards Metropolis with a mysterious cargo which will truly herald the return of Superman.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is the way it uses the four different Supermen to explore what exactly it is that makes the one true Superman so iconic. There's a surprising humanity and vunerability to the Cyborg Superman, whilst at the opposite end of the scale there's the terrifyingly unrelenting nature of the Last Son of Krypton. The young clone Superman has his charisma and naievete, whilst the Man of Steel has his honour and strict personal code. Each, in their own way, is indeed Superman whilst, ultimately, none of them are. Superheroes have had their psyches split into multiple individuals before and since, but I think it was here that the products of that division proved the most interesting.
Unfortunately, this book is neither as sharply focused and impactful as 'The Death of Superman' nor is it as thoughtful and introspective as 'World Without a Superman'. It therefore comes off feeling overall as the weakest book of the trilogy and, honestly, the return of the true Superman here was a bit disappointing for me; not least because now he has a hideous 90s haircut.
And on the subject of 90s things that haven't aged well, we have Superboy. Much later he developed into a genuinely interesting character in his own right, but here he is just awful. His character design is so painfully 'this is what we think a cool youth looks like in 1993' that it makes me cringe. The haircut, the sunglasses, the leather jacket... just awful. Worst than the design, however, is how he behaves. Setting aside the appalling 'trendy youth speak' that he constantly spouts dude, it's his horny misogyny that really doesn't sit well in the #metoo era. Not a single young woman passes him by without him making some lewd objectifying comment about them. Hell, the very first thing he says to Supergirl is a comment about her breasts. Twenty six years on, it's not okay anymore (and it shouldn't have been okay then, either).
3 out of 5
The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain
by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone
The first of the Fighting Fantasy series of adventure gamebooks. In 1982 this book broke ground which would later have a very significant impact on the literary tastes of a young me (although 'Forest of Doom' was actually my favourite). The gamebook puts you in control of the adventure as you explore the tunnels beneath Firetop Mountain in search of the warlock's treasure.
Sadly, nostalgia doesn't always pay off. With some books I read in my younger days, revisiting them as an adult was a joy but here, unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a chore. The longer sections are very well written, with atmospheric descriptions of hideous monsters, dank dungeons and situations with a very real sense of danger, but the truth is that those sections only take up about a third of the book. The other two thirds consists of Turn to 264... You are in a long tunnel, Turn to 17... You see a door, if you'd like to open it Turn to 321... and so on and so forth. Where as a child I'd enjoyed the sense of mystery that skipping to different paragraphs in the book held, here it just became increasingly tedious.
The feeling of tedium is especially prevalent in the last third of the story, where you enter the Maze of Zagor. Here you are sent round and round in circles, over and over again, to the point that I almost gave up re-reading the book. Whilst this is a very clever bit of writing by the authors, genuinely making you feel the frustrations of an adventurer lost in a subterranean maze, it heavily detracts from the enjoyability of the book. Sure, the introduction recommends that you draw yourself a map as you progress, but whilst reading a book I don't feel inclined to indulge in cartography. Thankfully, someone else has, and you can find maps online, which is the only reason I continued reading the book to the end.
Overall, a well-written childrens/teens roleplaying fantasy but one which failed to live up to the twenty-year-old memory I have of enjoying it the first time.
2 out of 5
The World Of Robert Jordan's The Wheel Of Time
by Robert Jordan & Teresa Patterson
A companion piece to the Wheel of Time series which contains numerous 'historical' essays about the history, cultures and geography of that series, similiar to those found in books like Le Guin's 'Tales of Earthsea' or, of course, Tolkien's 'Unfinished Tales'.
I finished reading the Wheel of Time a long time ago and, despite owning it, neglected to read this book amid the novels, so I was dubious about picking it up now. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
Jordan's world-building was so expansive that, truth be told, I lost track of things like which was Amadicia and which was Altara whilst reading the books. Here, however, we get an in-depth guide to almost every aspect of that world. For me the best part of the book was the first half, in which we get a narrative history of things only hinted at in the main stories, such as the Age of Legends, the Breaking of the World, the Trolloc Wars and more. I really enjoyed finally learning the details behind these events.
Over the years I've made disparaging comments about the Wheel of Time, about the repetition, about the excessively long books, about the fact that it took fourteen books to complete the story, etcetera. However, this book reminded me of something important that I'd almost forgotten; for all the series' many faults, I still LOVED it! And as a result, despite some very ponderous later chapters, I really liked this book too.
One downside I did see to this book is that I can't say when you should read it. I felt that much of the information would've helped me enjoy the main novels more, but you shouldn't read it before starting the series because it reveals some fairly major plotpoints. I think it was released around the time of book nine ('Winter's Heart') but to stop and read this when you could just plow on with the story seems silly. A conundrum, but if you can solve it, you should like this book.
4 out of 5
Thor/Iron Man: God Complex
by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
(Art by Scot Eaton, Jaime Mendoza, Jeff Huet and Lorenzo Ruggiero)
In the aftermath of Asgard's devastation in 'Siege' (and cashing in on the release of the first Thor movie) this book has Tony Stark and the God of Thunder becoming embroiled in the High Evolutionary's plan to create a new god for the 21st Century.
Despite the creation of a new god being an intriguing concept, the truth is that there's nothing particularly big or clever about this story. The core concept never really develops and the mixing of mystical and technological elements is handled fairly hamfistedly. I found the High Evolutionary and Diablo to be largely uninspiring villains too, lacking any real credible motivations.
A short crossover with no lasting consequences, but you may enjoy watching the titular Avengers throw down with Crimson Dynamo and Ulik the Troll.
2 out of 5
Towers Of Midnight
by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
The Wheel of Time book thirteen, once again completed from Jordan's notes by Sanderson following the former's death.
Sanderson continues with the excellent pace he set in 'The Gathering Storm' advancing all of the various plotlines of the series in leaps and bounds, something that Jordan often struggled to do.
In addition to the great and dynamic plot, Sanderson has managed to completely eliminate the irritating repetition which plagued Jordan's books and, largely, dispense with the main characters' various irritating character traits.
There are a few weird bits in this book that didn't sit entirely well with me however. Perrin's activities in Tel'aran'rhiod, Mat's quest into the bizarre Tower of Ghenjei and Aviendha's vision of the future in which everything basically sucks. All these things were just a little too out there and detract from an otherwise excellent book.
Followed by 'A Memory of Light'.
4 out of 5
Transformers: The Definitive G1 Collection Volume 6 - Target: 2006
by Simon Furman & Bob Budiansky
(Art by Jeff Anderson, Will Simpson, Ron Smith, Geoff Senior, Don Perlin, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey)
In this graphic novel the Autobots of 1986 find themselves faced with a trio of Decepticons from the future, led by the impossibly powerful Galvatron. Their only hope is the arrival of a powerful new leader called Ultra Magnus. The Autobots are then faced with public-relations issues when Decepticon interference brings them into conflict with a human organisation led by a robot-hating superhero known as Circuit Breaker.
To understand this book you have to understand that its two halves were written on different sides of the Atlantic in very different circumstances (this book does feature a couple of essays that expand on this too). The UK version of the Transformers comic, published weekly, was immensely successful but was constantly held back by having to tell its stories around those of the monthly US version, which took precedence. However, with Furman's 'Target: 2006' the UK comics got to use new characters from the animated 'Transformers: The Movie' which the American comics were ignoring, whilst still being able to circle back to where Budiansky's US comics picked up later. What we get here then is a book with a single consecutive story overall but whose constituent parts couldn't be more different.
What you rapidly discover is that the UK story is of vastly higher quality, both in the subtlety of its writing and in its excellent artwork, than the US one. The titular chapters introduces us to some impressive new characters from the movie (which I love, by the way - infinitely better than Michael Bay's garbage) and pit them against the more familiar Transformers of the 1980s. I particularly enjoyed watching Galvatron go toe-to-toe with Megatron, his past-self.
Sadly, where the US stories pick up the narrative, things take a swift downturn in quality. The art is sub-par and the scripting is obvious and features too much cheesy exposition. There's also a bit in it which is largely glossed over but which I found genuinely disturbing. When Circuit Breaker captures a bunch of Autobots she decides to have their faces removed and mounted on the wall as trophies. Now I know these characters are robots who can be rebuilt, but there was something properly horrific about seeing some of my favourite childhood characters (like Blaster, Seaspray and Cosmos) with their faces cut off as trophies. And Budiansky never really acknowledges just how much of a psychopath that makes Circuit Breaker.
So, only really worth reading for Simon Furman's first half.
3 out of 5