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Comics Review

Batman: Hush

Tell me Batman, you let one Robin die. Want to go for two?

Batman: Hush is a dark and captivating tale by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee. Batman: Hush takes you from the darkest corners of the Dark Knight’s mind to the deepest depths of his soul as he faces his toughest challenge yet. When nothing is as it seems, who can you trust, and will you be able to live with the truth?

The Dark Knight was born of tragedy. The loss of Bruce Wayne’s parents forged an iron-hearted soul within him, one which sought to punish those who would bring tragedy to others, but this dark soul within Wayne was not invulnerable. It would be changed again by tragedy, on the day that both Bruce Wayne and Batman mourned the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, a death in the family.

Years later, Batman flies through the night sky in pursuit of Catwoman, when a Batarang screams through the night and severs the only tether between the Dark Knight and the sky. He falls hundreds of feet into the maw of Gotham City. Battered, broken, and barely conscious, the Dark Knight is not without his protectors. He is safely returned to the Batcave and diagnosed with a near-fatal skull fracture. Aware of his condition, Batman taps the name “Thomas Elliot” in Morse Code.

Thomas Elliot, a brilliant surgeon and childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, brings him back from his near-death experience. And, for a while, everything appears to be normal. Even a long-desired romance begins to blossom between Batman and Catwoman, as secrets are shared and identities are revealed. In the midst of a romance that should have happened long ago, the Dark Knight is caught off guard by the actions and manipulations of a mysterious man who knows the Dark Knight’s most closely guarded secrets, a man known only as Hush. Batman’s quest for the identity of Hush will bring him to face all of his arch-nemeses, the diamond-crushing strength of Superman, and even the grave of a long-buried companion.

Batman: Hush is a dark, gripping, and powerful tale, written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Jim Lee. Loeb’s captivating story takes the Dark Knight on a journey of discovery that leads him to face all of his fears and re-defines the depths of his soul, while Lee’s artwork brings the Dark Knight to life in a Noir-ish atmosphere with characterizations and emotions that practically tell the story for themselves.

The story and artwork of Batman: Hush combine to make a reading experience that feels more realistic than your average comic. The story is immersive, with enough detail and depth to make you feel as if you relate to each character and event in some way, and enough mystery and intrigue to captivate your attention throughout the entire novel.

Batman: Hush is a must-have for any fan of the Dark Knight. The Absolute Edition of Batman: Hush, released in October of 2005, features all twelve issues collected in one hardcover volume with oversized border-less pages and makes the perfect addition to any graphic novel collection.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on September 1, 2006.

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Comics Review

The Death and Return of Superman

Like weary boxers who have gone the distance, the combatants collide in one last, explosive effort. In the years to come a few witnesses will tell of the power of these final punches, that they could literally feel the shockwaves. Others will remember the enormous crater that resulted from the sheer force of the blows. But most will remember this sad day as the day the proudest, most noble man they ever knew finally fell.

The Death and Return of Superman, the omnibus edition, is a colossal masterpiece from the collective minds of Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, and Gerard Jones. In 746 detailed pages, it deals directly with what it would take to kill a hero, what the world would be like without that hero, and what it would take to bring a hero back to life.

There has been a sharp increase in death and return stories throughout the comic industry, but this is one of the first and by far the best. There are some key rules to a good death and return story that have been ignored lately. First, your hero must either fall to his physical equal (Superman vs. Doomsday), a villain specifically designed to destroy him (Spider-Man vs. Morlun), or be taken by surprise in a standard assassination (Captain America vs. a sniper). Second, you must show that the loss of the hero was significant to the world he left behind. Third, bringing the hero back from the dead must be struggle. Death is permanent. Even if death can be escaped in the world of comics, it should not be easy.

The tale begins with Doomsday, a seemingly unstoppable killing machine, plowing his way through various cities. He defeats various heroes until his rampage is halted in Metropolis by Superman. After a long and destructive battle, the two each land one final blow. Doomsday dies instantly, and Superman gives in to his injuries after receiving assurance of Doomsday’s defeat.

The world mourns the loss, various gangs and villains make grabs for power, the existing heroes struggle to keep order, and four new individuals rise to claim the mantle of Superman. The Man of Steel, or Steel for short, is the first to appear. A construction worker who owes his life to Superman, Steel builds a suit of armor and sets out to establish order in the name of Superman. The Last Son of Krypton is the second to appear. Bearing a striking resemblance to Superman and claiming to have his memories as well, this Superman subscribes a far more lethal form of justice and is later revealed to be the Eradicator, a sentient Kryptonian weapon. The Metropolis Kid is the next to appear. Dubbed “Superboy” by the media, he is the result of an attempt to clone Superman, but escaped before he had reached maturity. The last to appear is The Man of Tomorrow. The most convincing of the four, this Cyborg Superman is proven to be a DNA match to Superman with Kryptonian technology to replace most of his damaged body.

After months of winning the world’s favor, the Cyborg Superman eventually proves to be the villain of the latter half of the story. He was Hank Henshaw, an astronaut who’s exposure to cosmic rays eventually resulted in the death of the entire crew and his consciousness forever being locked in a computer system. Over the years, he developed a paranoid ideal that Superman was responsible for the tragedy. Adapting and evolving, Henshaw eventually constructed a body from Kryptonian technology and DNA stolen from Superman himself. He seeks to turn the entire planet into a mechanized war world and begins with Coast City, leveling it and turning it into a massive engine. Though he blames the Eradicator for this destruction, the supermen and most of the former Superman’s allies direct their attention towards the Cyborg Superman.

Meanwhile, Superman’s resurrection has been playing out like a brilliantly crafted symphony behind the scenes. Initially, the Eradicator had stolen Superman’s body and placed it in a Kryptonian regeneration chamber for use as a conduit to the Sun’s energy. Later, after suffering a fatal heart attack, Jonathan Kent managed to rescue Superman’s soul from the afterlife. Now complete with a soul, Superman’s body lay in the regeneration chamber, waiting and recovering. Superman, powerless but armed with a few very big guns, joined the rest of the heroes in the final battle. After the Eradicator apparently sacrificed his life to save Krypton’s true last son, Superman’s powers returned, and he defeated the Cyborg Superman.

Though I managed to summarize this tale in only a few paragraphs, it truly is a massive undertaking. No other story has managed to capture the death and return of a hero as well as The Death and Return of Superman.

I am very glad that DC decided to carry forward most of the elements established in this story, rather than discard them as most similar stories have done. Steel carried his own series for four years and is now prone to regular appearances in various Superman titles. The Eradicator enjoyed a brief stint as a hero with the Outsiders and has since been flipping between the hero and villain roles, though it is unknown if each incarnation is the original Eradicator or another sentient Kryptonian weapon. Superboy, aka Kon-El aka Conner Kent, is now an official member of the Kent family and a major character in both the Teen Titans and various Superman titles. The Cyborg Superman, now simply the Cyborg, is one of DC’s most recognizable recurring villains. The destruction of Coast City eventually led to Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s mental breakdown and destructive rampage as the host of the entity Parallax. This particular storyline and its effects lasted for years and was eventually resolved in Green Lantern: Rebirth.

The Death and Return of Superman is a massive tale, filling 746 pages. It was written across 1992 and 1993, though its effects are still felt today throughout the entire DC universe. This is how you do a death and return story. You don’t take shortcuts. You make the hero’s death believable, you spend time showing the impact of his loss, and you make his return as much of a struggle as his death.

The omnibus edition of The Death and Return of Superman is a must-have for any fan of the DC universe. The complexity and detail of the story will be an engaging read for days, if not weeks, depending on your reading habits. To date, The Death and Return of Superman remains the gold-standard for all death and return stories.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on April 3, 2010.

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Comics Review

Spider-Man: The Other

Remember one thing. The man died. The spider was reborn. So the question is, are you you, or are you me? Are you the man who dreamed of being a spider? Or the spider who dreamed of being a man? Are you the one, or are you the other?

Spider-Man: The Other is not your typical comic book death and rebirth story. It’s an immense tale worthy of most high-caliber television series. Woven by writers Peter David, Reginald Hudlin, and J. Michael Straczynski, and illustrated by Mike Wieringo, Pat Lee, and Mike Deodato, Jr., The Other is not without its faults, but it is an in-depth experience not to be missed by any Spider-Man fan.

To be honest, it took three reads before I began to appreciate this graphic novel. Maybe it was the art, which (with the exception of Pat Lee’s pages) really doesn’t stand out. Maybe it was the length, which can seem quite long at first, but merely serves to draw you further into this intricate story. Maybe it was the villain, who seemed ridiculous at first, but was really as close as you could get to an “anti-Spider-Man”. Or, maybe it’s because I know that Marvel can do far worse than kill their star character.

The Other begins with Peter Parker experiencing random blackouts, dizzy spells, loss of his powers, and prophetic dreams. After a failed attempt to thwart a bank robbery results in Spider-Man being shot by the thief, Parker discovers that he is slowly dying due to a radiation-based infectious disease, possibly related to the spider bite which gave him his unique powers years ago.

The following requires a bit of back story. You may have thought that Parker gained his powers after being accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, but you’re wrong. Author J. Michael Straczynski took it upon himself to give Spider-Man an origin of more mythic proportions. According to Straczynski’s origin, Parker always had a connection to a totemic spider spirit. The irradiated spider did not accidentally bite Parker, but chose to pass on its powers to him before dying. At that moment, Peter Parker became a living spider totem, a “bridge” between man and beast, able to exhibit the properties of both.

After traveling with his family for perhaps the last time, Parker comes face-to-face with Morlun. Morlun is an ancient being who feeds off of totems. He is essentially Spider-Man’s worst nightmare, someone to avoid at all costs. Morlun draws strength from any physical contact with a totem, which includes both punching and being punched. Parker and Morlun fight through the streets of New York, but no matter what Parker does, Morlun simply grows stronger. In the end, Parker collapses, but is saved by the police, forcing Morlun to leave (he apparently wants to feed in private, but this is never explained).

In the hospital, Parker’s face has been destroyed beyond recognition, and the doctors have no hope of saving his life. Morlun arrives to finish the job, but Parker awakes with spider-like eyes, sharp teeth, and stingers protruding from his wrists. With his last bit of strength, he kills Morlun and says farewell to his wife.

Days later, the apparently deceased Parker sheds his skin and cocoons himself to the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. As he begins to dream, a voice scorns him for only being a man and failing to embrace the spider. Morlun had killed the man, but the spider awoke to kill Morlun. The voice offers to bring Parker back to life, but only if he accepts both the man and the spider equally. He accepts, is reborn in an outwardly human form, and returns to his family.

After further investigation, Tony Stark is surprised to learn that all of Parker’s wounds have healed, even the tonsils that he lost as a child have returned. Now embracing his spider side, Parker is granted new abilities. He has night vision, can feel vibrations through his webbing, can adhere objects to his back, and has “stingers” which can protrude from his wrists.

Parker died and was reborn as a more accurate combination of both man and spider, though he does question the stingers, which spiders don’t have. Parker, still more man than spider, encounters “The Other”, a totem who is more spider than man. “The Other” warns Parker that other mythological forces feel that he should have died. It then retreats and is now cocooned within a church.

The Other is a very entertaining read, and certainly expands on Spider-Man’s mythological origins. Unfortunately, with the events of the later One More Day and Brand New Day, over twenty years of Parker’s life have been selectively removed from continuity due to a deal that he made with the devil (no, I’m not kidding). As a result, the validity of both The Other and Spider-Man’s mythological origins have not been addressed and are now in doubt. Regardless of its value to overall continuity, The Other is worth reading.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on March 19, 2010.

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Comics Review

Kingdom Come

He had not turned his back on us. He stands in the sky … faith rewarded. He is returned … and – dear God. The threat of Armageddon hasn’t ended. It’s just begun …

Kingdom Come, a DC Elseworlds masterpiece by writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross, is the best graphic novel ever produced by a major comic publisher. A philosophical tale of Armageddon in the DC universe, Kingdom Come is filled with biblical parallels which cast our heroes and antiheroes into haunting roles that we are all too familiar with.

The world of Kingdom Come begins several years after the mainstream continuity of the DC universe. An aged and maddened Joker rampages through the Daily Planet, claiming the lives of ninety-two men and one woman. Magog, a modern-age antihero enraged by Superman’s inaction, arrives at the scene of the massacre and ends the Joker’s life in front of a stunned Superman. The resulting controversy leads the people of Metropolis to choose Magog as the man who would best safeguard their future. They choose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn’t, and this choice will cost them dearly.

Disheartened by the changing times, and unable to change with them, Superman made a decision to turn his back on humanity and live in exile in his Fortress of Solitude. Following Superman’s example, many of the Earth’s greatest heroes similarly retired into exile. In their absence, a new breed of antiheroes, inspired by Magog and completely devoid of any concern for human safety, emerged to conquer anyone who who would oppose their own definition of righteousness. These events set the stage for Kingdom Come.

Ten years later, a relentless attack by Magog and his Justice Battalion on a weary and beaten Parasite leads to a cataclysmic nuclear explosion which destroys the entire state of Kansas. In response to the catastrophe, the safe coexistence between humans and meta-humans is questioned by those with enough authority and firepower to end it, and a derelict hero returns to set right the wrongs that had been committed in his absence. The war has begun, and Armageddon is not far behind.

Kingdom Come‘s haunting and emotional story is told through the eyes of Norman McCay, a Pastor who begins to lose his faith and feels as if he has betrayed his congregation, as he can find nothing to comfort them in this time of crisis. He is guided through time and space by the Spector to bear witness to the events that will lead to Armageddon and to judge those responsible. The weight of this responsibility causes Norman to question the true meanings of humanity, faith, and evil.

Mark Waid’s story offers an imaginative look into the future of the DC universe and effortlessly blends it with the book of Revelation. Biblical scripture from Revelation, foretold by Norman McCay and his dying friend, Wesley Dodds (the former Sandman), is masterfully woven into the story and paints an eerie future for our childhood heroes.

Alex Ross adds his powerful imagination to the story by beautifully illustrating his vision of the future heroes. Ross is legendary for the quality of his artwork, his use of paints, his imaginative vision, and his attention to detail. Kingdom Come is his best work.

Alex Ross’ beautiful artwork fills all two-hundred and twelve pages of this novel, masterfully illustrating every emotion, every struggle, and every sacrifice, while Mark Waid’s story is gripping, passionate, and powerful.

Kingdom Come is a story about what it truly means to be human, and the sacrifices we make in order to achieve what is right. It can easily reach a common ground with any reader, and reach into the soul of even those who perceive themselves to be soul-less.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on July 6, 2006.