Joker by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo (Illustrator): One night in Gotham and the tough guys tumble

Joker

Joker

by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo (Illustrator)

Paperback, 144 pg.
DC Comics, 2019 (DC Black Label Edition)

Read: March 18, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

That’s what he is, I guess: a disease that infected Gotham City…

…of which there is no cure.

The Joker is inexplicably released from Arkham and he quickly discovers that he’s broke. And well, he might be insane, but he’s not crazy enough to let people get away with that. The Penguin, The Riddler, Two Face, etc. are to blame. As far as he’s concerned anyway.

With the help (at least presence) of his new henchman, Johnny Frost, Joker sets off to get his property back, to get a little revenge, and generally wreak havoc. You know, as you would if you were the Clown Prince of Crime.

That’s really all I’m going to say—it’s bloody, it’s depraved, it’s dark, it’s twisted. It’s not revolutionary, it’s not a reinvention of the Joker. It’s a good story about the character that’s been a favorite of readers for decades.

Oh, sure, the Dark Knight puts in an appearance—but it’s at the end, and he’s not even brought up for most of the book. Then he’s there and things go the way they usually do when he shows up.

The art? Hoo-boy. It’s something else. It’s…visceral is the best word I can come up with it. Even if you don’t like it, I don’t see where you can’t have a strong opinion of it—I find it striking, memorable…and visceral.

I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it to any comic reader, or anyone who wants to see what the world of Batman can look like in the original medium instead of film.


4 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux: A Fun & Compelling Refreshed Origin Story

Shadow of the Batgirl

Shadow of the Batgirl

by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux

Paperback, 193 pg.
DC Comics, 2020

Read: February 18, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Cassandra Cain has intrigued me for quite a while now, but as I’ve limited my comic reading (for financial and time considerations), I haven’t read nearly enough about her to satisfy my curiosity.

Enter Sarah Kuhn and her YA graphic novel to take care of that. It was a brilliant idea to have Kuhn write this—as she explains herself in the introduction, Cain is exactly the kind of super-hero that Kuhn writes.

This retelling of Cain’s origin story from the moment she decides to leave the life of crime she’d been born into and trained for (not that she knew that’s what she’d been doing), through her meeting Barbara Gordon and (a new character for this telling) Jackie, and into her first steps as Batgirl.

Jackie is an elderly Asian Aunt figure who provides emotional security for Cassandra while Barbara is helping with intellectual stimulation (there’s also a boy she meets at the library, but Jackie and Barbara are the foci).

I really enjoyed watching Cain make connections with people, learning how to redefine herself—it’s an atypical origin story and exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of.

Goux’s art wasn’t the style I expected—I expected something darker, more angular, with a lot of shadows. Instead, we get something almost playful and joyful, while not detracting from the serious story. Goux’s art fits Kuhn’s voice (both here and in other works) perfectly and won me over right away.

This was a fun read, establishing Cain as a person and as a hero while telling a compelling story. I recommend this and would eagerly read any follow-ups that might come along (like the upcoming The Oracle Code.)


3 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge
This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Nightfall by Matt Cowper: The Stunning Conclusion to the Elites Trilogy

NightfallNightfall

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #3

Kindle Edition, 412 pg.
2019
Read: July 24 – 26, 2019

With The World Savers, I pictured an ongoing series about The Elites, after Rogue Superheroes, I wondered how he could keep it going after raising the stakes so much. Nightfall answers that question (while ruining my hopes for an ongoing series). Cowper brings this trilogy to a close with a conclusion wraps up the storylines well, provides some closure and moves the characters on to the next step in their lives, all while telling an exciting super-hero story.

As we join the book, things are still influx after Rogue Superheroes, Nightstriker doesn’t trust Blaze the way he should (and the rest of his team do), Gillespie is serving as Interim President (and not liking it), and the possible romantic relationship between Gillespie and Nightstriker hasn’t gone anywhere since that initial conversation, and Blaze is still grieving and dealing with everything he did. But after the first chapter or so, progress is made along these lines and it looks like things might be cooling off for the Elites for a while. There’s still a lot of road to go, but positive and realistic steps are being taken.

Which means, of course, it’s time for their newest nemesis to show up. His name is Black Knight and he comes from the future (or so he says). His purpose in coming back in time is to stop one of the Elites before they become too powerful to be stopped, supposedly the damage he’s wrought on civilization in the future is so great that it can’t be allowed to get to the point where they aren’t bound by any kind of ethical cord. But he’s just one man, what can he do against this super team?

Quite a lot, it seems. Between power, reflexes, strategy and a kind of determination usually reserved for Batman and Nightstriker, Black Knight almost accomplishes his goal in the first battle against the team. Coming up with a way to stop him—for everyone’s sake—the team is going to have to lean on a new friend and ally and follow her to a planet light-years away. The Elites in space and on a planet no one has heard of, battling one of the greatest foes they can imagine. A great way to conclude this trilogy! There were several times when I “knew” how it all was going, and the hard choices that Cowper would have to make about some of his characters—and I was wrong every single time. There were a lot of zigs where I expected zags, and I loved every one of them.

As compelling as all that is, the core of this novel has to do with the reaction of the team to hearing that someone in their midst will become a mass murderer. It puts a strain on all relationships (platonic or otherwise) the team is involved with. There’s some horror, some rebellion, but mostly it’s a resolve to back their teammate and help them avoid the solution. There’s some great fodder for thought about choice, determinism, and morality there—Cowper deftly deals with these ideas while not losing the pace of his story.

It’s pretty exciting, and a great way to approach the book, taking these heroes on an interplanetary adventure. After things die down, The Elites return home to start again and some of the heroes are recognized for the forces of good they’d been. Then we get glimpses of where everyone is going forward to start over—some are taking a path far less traveled others are continuing along similar paths, but with renewed focus.. The emotional arcs are great and just what the fans want to read. I was really impressed with the way that Cowper resolved things and yet planted things to harvest later.

This is the third in a series, and I strongly recommend it be read after books 1 and 2, or you won’t get a lot of it. My appreciation for the series has built with each successive novel and it’s hard to find a lot to fault with this one. Some great emotional beats, great characters and a whole lot of fun and excitement as the Elites try to weed the criminals out of society. I’ve enjoyed this trilogy as a whole, but Cowper pulled out all the stops with this conclusion and really blew me away.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator): An Updated Look into the Empath’s Past

Teen Titans: RavenTeen Titans: Raven

by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator)
Series: Teen Titans, #1
Paperback, 168 pg.
DC Ink, 2019

Read: August 2, 2019

I’ve talked here before about my love of The New Teen Titans, the 1980-96 series created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. They were my real first (and probably deepest) comic love. It informed and shaped my tastes in ways I probably can’t realize and definitely can’t articulate. It’s practically sacrosanct to me. So the idea of DC Comics hiring Kami Garcia (as much as I might like Garcia) to write modern takes on the origins of Raven (and, apparently, others)—whether or not Wolfman signed off on the idea—both repelled and attracted me. At least it had to be better than that Teen Titans Go! monstrosity.

You know what? I liked it.

Here’s the official blurb, in the interest of time (saving my time that is):


When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.
Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others–and yourself.

This retains enough of Raven’s original origin story (I have no idea what her post-New 52 origin is) to satisfy me, but tailored for a contemporary (and YA) audience. It feels fresh, as if Garcia had created Raven herself. Of course, Daddy (un)Dearest is waiting in the wings for a reunion with his daughter, providing the lingering threat that leads to the assembling of the Titans (or, bringing the Titans Together! as one might say). This is, of course, assuming that Garcia is heading in a Wolfman-esque trajectory, it seems that way.

Slade Wilson’s also around in a vaguely menacing way, but we’re going to have to read further installments in this series to get a strong handle on why. It’s gotta be nefarious, because it’s Wilson.

Picolo’s art is nice and dynamic. It pretty much screams motion and youth. Don’t ask me to elucidate that, when it comes to visuals, all I can do is give vague impressions. But I dug it. Picolo’s not Pérez, but who is? I’m glad he didn’t try.

The fact that I didn’t throw this across the room in disgust says a lot for me, that I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Beast Boy says much more. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan or even just someone who likes non-Avengers/Justice League superheroes, you should give it a shot.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth: A solid noir in Rose City.

Stumptown, vol 1Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)

by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (Artist)
Series: Stumptown, #1

Hardcover, 159 pg.
Oni Press, 2011

Read: May 31, 2019

Small confession: while I’d heard of this comic, I wasn’t in any rush to read it. But then I saw the trailer for the ABC adaptation and pretty much had to. Glad I did, I have to say.

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland, OR; apparently is the guardian for her developmentally delayed (I’m not sure, just guessing) brother; and a very poor gambler. The latter lands her in a great deal of debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast. Thankfully(?) the woman who runs her favorite casino is willing to exchange her debt for some P.I. work — her granddaughter is missing. Dex is a sloppy gambler, but isn’t stupid.

But this is no ordinary missing teen/young adult. As soon as Dex starts looking for her, she’s threatened away from the case, had the biggest gangster in the state (and probably then some) try to hire her as well (not instead of Grandma, just call him first), locked in her own trunk, shot (thankfully hitting the vest she had on under her clothes), and harassed (and lied to) by said gangster’s young adult kids. The danger and the second job offer convince Dex that she need to find the girl– and fast.

It’s a great story, a pretty murky beginning gets worse due to complications and narrative time jumps. The more you learn , the more you want to understand. The solution is quickly arrived at, but it takes a long time to get things in order. Things are tricky and Dex’s trying to keep everyone involved alive and maybe even (relatively speaking) honest.

I really liked it, but it felt…slim? As this collection is primarily about introducing the characters and world as well as telling the story, I’m not that annoyed by it. But I hope the next collection is more substantial (not much, but some).

Southworth’s art was fitting. It’s not the most gorgeous book ever, but it shouldn’t be. The word “noir” is the best one I can come up with — dark colors, lots of shadows, hard lines — it fits. It’s noir. It’s also very dynamic, there’s a good sense of motion to it. I can’t imagine better art for Rucka’s story.

Great characters, a good story, art that’s a perfect complement to both. This collection nails it. I’m coming back for more Dex and Stumptown.

—–

3.5 Stars

2019 Library Love ChallengeLetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Flintstones, Vol. 1. by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh: A Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.

The Flintstones, Vol. 1The Flintstones, Vol. 1.

by Mark Russell (Writer), Steve Pugh (Art)
Series: The Flintstones, #1


Paperback, 170 pg.
DC Comics, 2016

Read: May 27, 2019

Credit where credit’s due: If not for Paul’s Picks blog, I wouldn’t have even been aware this existed. I’m glad he blogged about it — I’d have missed out on something pretty unusual if he hadn’t.

This is a wildly inventive telling of The Flintstones for a contemporary age. Like the original Hanna-Barbera show, it’s written with an adult audience in mind — unlike the original show, it is not written with kids in mind. That was a strength of the original, and a weakness of the comic. Fred and Barney are war vets, dealing with the atrocities they witnessed (as are some others, but not as well). Mr. Slate’s an greedy, untrustworthy sort (he was probably that way in the cartoon, but he was at least funny). Pebbles and Bam-Bam are teens, but pretty much what you remember. Wilma’s a frustrated artist, Betty’s . . . well, Betty. Same for Dino.

Really, all the markers of the show are present — punny business/location names, animals-as-appliances that talk to each other, the ridiculous clothing choices for Fred and Barney. Russell uses our Modern Stone Age Family to make all sorts of social commentary (again, like the original) while telling pretty episodic stories about religion, marriage, war, consumerism, elitism, and aliens. Russell draws on the source material, but changes it as he sees fit, without mocking much about it — and while I have giant issues with his social commentary, I think it was the right way to go with this. But man . . . he started with a fairly joy-less perspective (but there was some sense of fun, some sense of play) and he got more series as the collection went on.

I mean . . . how do you not have fun with those folks from the town of Bedrock?

The real saving grace of this collection, the highlight is Pugh’s art. I simply love it — covers, panels, everything. I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know if there was a drawing anywhere in it that I didn’t think was in the neighborhood of perfect. And I don’t know how much credit Russell gets for background elements (store names, etc.), but since I don’t know, I’m going to give it all to Pugh. There sense of play, the sense of fun is present in his drawings (while not betraying the feel of the script). His character design was fantastic, the art was dynamic and he simply captivated me. But man, give Bam-Bam a haircut.

I appreciated the effort — and figure many people will appreciate it more than me — and I’m glad I read it. But I can’t help but feel that Russell squandered a bit of the opportunity. Still, a Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment

The Killing JokeThe Killing Joke

by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips
Series: BatmanHardcover, 293 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 14, 2019

Leland liked to think that she had a finely tuned bullshit detector. It went with the job and–much to the dismay of the men she dated–tended to spill over into her private life, as well. Something about the Joker, however, messed with her ability on the deepest level. Like a magnet throwing off a compass needle.

She’d dealt with more than her share of compulsive liars, narcissists, and psychotics so alienated from reality that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction. But the Joker was different.

Her testimony in court had led to the judgment that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he had been remanded to her care at Arkham. Yet, in her darkest, most sleepless hours she wondered if maybe he wasn’t insane after all. Not in the clinical sense, at last. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate act. A complex joke with an unfathomable punchline they might never see coming. If it ever came at all.

I don’t think I got my hands on the original The Killing Joke in 1988, I think my friend and I waited until ’89 for financial reasons (in your early teens and unemployable, funds were tight), but maybe we were some of the early readers. The when is murky, but our reactions were not. This was a fantastic story with unbelievable art — it blew our young minds. In the years since, I’ve read it countless times, and while I still enjoy the core of the book, there are bits that make me wonder why. Bolland’s art still blows me away.

The animated movie version wasn’t bad, as I recall. I’ve only watched it once and my memory’s not crisp about it. My point is, that I know this story pretty well. When I heard that Titan books was going to be doing a series of new novels about Batman and they’d start with an adaptation of this story, I was skeptical, but at the same time — an extended version of this story? This could be really good — but how were they going to get that much material?

It turns out that the key to that is the same strategy that allowed Peter Jackson to make a smallish children’s novel into a very long movie trilogy — just make up a bunch of stuff and shove it in here and there. Obviously, any novel treatment of the graphic novel (or movie) is going to do that to some extent — but I’d be willing to wager that up to 65% of this book is new, and not even hinted at in the original. Which bothers me on one level, but intrigues me on others — also, I liked the new stuff.

Batman and Batgirl are independently (usually) looking into the appearance and distribution of a new drug on Gotham’s scene — Giggle Sniff. It’s based on the Joker’s venom and is selling like crazy. There’s a lot of bouncing around as the Caped Crusaders tear through the underworld, looking for the sources of the drug — and interfering as much as possible with the sales and distribution. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are also nosing around, and turning up the heat on the dealers. There are some great action sequences, some interesting characters introduced.

While that’s going on, the Joker’s breaking out of Arkham and setting the stage for what he wants to do next. Then we get the adaptation of the Killing joke in the last quarter or so of the novel. Here, there’s minimal changes form the source material — some expanding of ideas, but nothing major or objectionable. If you know the graphic novel, then you know exactly what happens at this point, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spill the beans. I even liked their take on Batman’s reaction to the dumb joke told at the end — I think they made that problematic moment work.

The characters are well done, the action moves well — it’s just the execution of the idea overall that gives me any pause. There’s a little bit about the birth of the Internet as we now know it that’s really nicely pulled off.

The bits of this book that were an adaptation of the Moore/Bolland graphic novel were really well done — and the way these authors filled in some of the details and gave a very contemporary backstory to part of it worked in ways I didn’t expect. Also, the Giggle Sniff part of the book was pretty good. And if either one of them had been the core of a novel, I’d very likely be more positive about those books. But shoving the two of these together? It didn’t work that well. I liked the novel, but I can’t recommend it too highly because the two parts of the novel are just too distinct from one another to see why the authors made these choices.

—–

3 Stars