Suicide Squad: Trial By Fire

Writing about the origin of the Suicide Squad feels rather fitting, given how much attention the movie has been receiving lately.  I’ll admit I knew absolutely nothing about this group, and although I was intrigued by the movie, I wasn’t as excited as I could have been, simply because I didn’t know all that much about the characters or storylines.

After reading this trade, that’s all changed.

The concept for Suicide Squad is pretty straightforward:  imprisoned criminals are given a chance at freedom if they follow orders and fight for the good guys for a change.

While I could certainly talk about the storylines featured in this trade and elaborate on exactly what sort of missions the Suicide Squad is ordered to complete, I’m choosing instead to focus on the comic series as a whole, particularly the crucial role it plays in the post-Crisis DC universe.

The first aspect that really struck me with this comic was the reappearance of Darkseid as a major villain.

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(Also, bonus: Female furies!)

This was the third trade in a row on “the shelf” in which Darkseid plays a major role, and what’s more, these appearances all follow the same storyline.

It really makes perfect sense that Darkseid would emerge as a major villain in the post-Crisis universe.  With such a major upheaval, the writers were likely still trying to find their footing in this new continuity, and trying to work out how all of the major players would fit together.  Darkseid (and all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, for that matter) was a bit of an anomaly, fairly self-contained and for the most part, unaffected by the recent events of Crisis.  This made him the perfect baddie for DC to unleash on the world.  He’s powerful enough that he could easily carry multiple storylines, and would likely require a major battle involving any number of heroes to defeat him.

Although Darkseid isn’t the main focus of this entire collection, he makes a marked appearance, reminding readers that he exists and that he’s still enacting plans to destroy Earth.  With his constant appearances, I can only guess that the comics are leading up to a major battle  at some point between Earth and Apokolips.

Another ingenious concept in this comic is the basic setup of the Suicide Squad itself.  While it seems there are a handful of staple characters appearing in each issue, the story allows for “special guest appearances” by just about any villain the writers can imagine, all popping up with a perfectly logical explanation:

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The story is always the same, and so doesn’t need lengthy explanation in the comic.  In exchange for helping the Suicide Squad, Penguin will regain his freedom.

This is a rather brilliant ploy on the part of the writers.  Let’s think about it for a second:

How many times have I read in a comic that one supervillain or another has escaped prison for the umpteenth time?   I know these people are often geniuses but come on, shouldn’t they be in a maximum security prison under constant surveillance?  Escape should be damn near impossible, and certainly shouldn’t be occurring as much as it did in earlier comics.

Most of the crimes these people have committed are truly heinous and often violent, so it’s not likely they’ll be out on parole anytime soon.

Therefore, barring a major failing in the criminal justice system or a highly implausible escape, once these villains are captured they’re pretty much down for the count.

Well, that’s just not how these comics work. Readers like to see superheroes square off against the same characters time and time again, yet don’t want to see the villains escape every time. We want justice occasionally.  How then do you keep the stories realistic while still allowing these villains to go free?

Answer: The Suicide Squad.

Now, justice can be meted out to these villains, and yet whenever needed they can earn their freedom by a little public service and be up to their old tricks again in the next issue.  With an ever-rotating arsenal of villains to choose from, Suicide Squad can continue indefinitely as a key feature in the DC Universe, giving us entertaining stories while providing a nice loophole from the shackles of realism.

Lastly, I can’t write about this trade without an honerable mention for one very astute character: Amanda Waller.

I was familiar with her character because of DC Comics Bombshells, but didn’t know anything about her origin until reading this trade. (And there’s no way I would have, since this is the first time her origin is introduced.   Yes, I researched it.  Thank you, internet.)

Waller is tough, no-nonsense, and gets her job done without complaining or mincing words.

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Did I mention that she’s a badass?

Waller is a middle-aged woman with no superpowers to speak of, yet she’s still portrayed as a powerful woman.  I love that.

The issues in this collection were certainly a lot of fun to read, but the overall story’s purpose is the real star.   Suicide Squad serves a much-needed role of filling in a gap in the DC continuity, and does so without forcing readers to completely suspend disbelief. Each story feels fresh and exciting, creating a sort of anti-Justice League for us to revel in:  all of the arguing without one inkling of what’s right.   What could go wrong?

That list would be far too lengthy, but I’m sure the comics will provide me with answers soon enough.

-Jess

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Legends: The Collection

Mistah J has assured me that from this point forward on “the shelf”, the comics move in a forward direction, and that the backtracking with origin stories that dominated “the shelf” after Crisis was pretty much over.  I’m happy to say that at least so far, he’s right (I never doubted he would be. After all, these are his comics and he knows the stories and continuity better than anyone else I know. I tend to defer to him in all things comic-related).

That being said, this collection is still technically a bit of an origin story, albeit of a different nature.  In this collection, a 6-part miniseries originally published in 1986, we see the events that transpired that lead to a new version of The Justice League being created, featuring the members shown on the cover of the trade.

Obviously, the basic framework of events which leads to this new Justice League isn’t too hard to guess: a powerful being is bent on overtaking/destroying the planet, and it’s up to our heroes to defeat him.  This basic trope has been used countless times across any number of comics publications, but there’s a very basic, fundamental reason for that:

It works.

Simply put, our heroes always need a foil in their stories, be it an anti-hero, a begrudging antagonist, or an outright evil-doer.  Without such a character, the heroes would just be traipsing along throughout the world using their powers to rescue kittens stuck up trees.

…Not going to lie, I’d probably still read that comic.

What makes this trend so popular then is not the basic outline of the story, but the details.  The characterization of both hero and villain, as well as the minutiae of the story, is what makes them worth reading.

In Legends, a handful of popular heroes find themselves pitted against the very people they’ve sworn to protect: angry mobs of concerned citizens calling for the immediate imprisonment of their costumed protectors, all being lead by one fanatical man, G. Gordon Godfrey.

As our heroes face a number of formidable foes, a few meet death while others begin to question the very jobs they’ve taken on:

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After believing himself to have caused the death of one of his opponents, young Billy Batson, aka Mr. Marvel, vows to never adopt his superhero alter ego again, lest he be responsible for any more untimely deaths.

All of this is happening with none of the heroes being aware that the true mastermind behind this national uprising is none other than Darkseid, the vile ruler of Apokolips.

I have to admit, I was glad to see that Darkseid made another appearance after the open ending of his last battle with Superman (see previous post).  He’s more than a formidable opponent for any group of superheroes, so it only made sense that he should be behind these recent events.

Though we never see Darkseid facing off against the newly-formed Justice League directly, he is watching from afar, convinced that his plan to rid the world of superheroes will succeed.

As expected, our heroes band together, stop G. Gordon Godfrey (who just so happens to be Glorious Godfrey from Apokolips in disguise), and form the Justice League in response to this new threat.

As stories go, this one isn’t majorly convoluted.  It’s a basic story which is easy to follow, with no big surprises being thrown at the reader.  In theory, this shouldn’t have been a comic I was particularly fond of.  With such a simple premise, I would have guessed that this collection might have bored me a bit, or felt too similar to all of the other origin stories I’ve been reading lately.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case.  I found myself drawn into the story and interested to see how it played out, even though the ending seemed fairly predictable even at the beginning.

My guess as to the reason for that?  The inclusion of those small details that can make or break a comic.

One particular reference I picked up paralleled a concept addressed in the last Superman trade I read (and wrote about last time): the concept of warriors versus champions.

Superman is a champion.  As is proven in this trade, Mr. Marvel is a champion as well.  Both fight for good and the thought of failure is too much to bear for them.

What of the warriors, though?

This comic addresses the warrior side, albeit very quickly.

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Batman acknowledges that his inaction may have cost a number of people their lives.  Rather than let that thought cloud his vision though, he comments that “that’s going to be hard to live with”, and that’s the last we hear about it.  Batman’s struggle is an internal one, and one which he deals with in his own way.  It doesn’t get in the way of the task at hand, and we certainly don’t see him consider abandoning his cowl because of one failure.  Therein lies the difference between the warriors and the champions.  The comic makes it clear that while different, both are successful and quite necessary heroes.

I can’t write about this comic without addressing one very obvious note: Wonder Woman’s extremely brief appearance in this trade.

She’s featured prominently on the collection cover, and she appears on the individual issue covers as well, yet her character doesn’t make an appearance, isn’t even mentioned, until the final issue of this collection.

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I’ll give it to the creative team behind the comic: they let her have a pretty grand entrance.  Still, she doesn’t appear until page 131 of this trade.

It only has 144 pages.

I mean come on.  This is freaking WONDER WOMAN we’re talking about here!

I’m consoling myself with the thought that perhaps her post-Crisis identity hadn’t yet been established in the comics yet (as is hinted at briefly in the issue) and that the writers had to figure out a way to introduce her, since she’s supposed to be new to America.  If that’s the case okay, I get it.  Still, she could have been brought in before the final battle.

Other than Wonder Woman the only other female superhero we get is Black Canary, aka totally 80’s Barbie, and even she barely gets any panels dedicated to her.

At least Wonder Woman is fully embracing her girl power, quickly putting the abrasive Guy Gardner, aka Green Lantern, in his place:

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You tell him, Diana.

Legends easily sets up storylines for countless publications, both for the individual characters as well as the Justice League as a whole.  Though brief, this trade serves a very clear purpose in the continuity, reintroducing the Justice League to a post-Crisis readership and setting the stage for what I can only guess will be a pretty epic battle between the League and Darkseid.

Safe to say, I’m intrigued to see how that one plays out.

-Jess

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 2

This second volume of Superman: The Man of Steel collects a series of stories released in three separate publications directly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline.  Like Volume One, this collection helps to re-establish the Superman lore and reintroduce a host of characters in this post-Crisis world.

Compared to that first volume, I found this collection to be somewhat lacking.

*Ducks to avoid items undoubtedly being thrown at her*

The stories themselves were good, but I think I took issue with the fact that issues from three separate publications were used here.  This prevents any sort of overarching storyline from appearing, and makes this trade more of a collection of self-contained issues.

As I’ve mentioned before, I much prefer storylines that continue over the course of numerous issues.  The stories here, while still good, don’t give enough time for me to become invested in the story or any of the side characters.  They appear, and by the end of the issue they’re gone for good.  This leaves far less time for well-developed characterization, and leaves an unbridged gap between the reader and the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Superman.  This has nothing to do with his character, it’s just a personal preference when it comes to comics as a whole.

I took issue with another concept in this trade, though this is more of a recurring theme that has become somewhat of a joke at this point.

For some reason no one, I mean no one, can ever make the connection that Clark Kent is Superman.  It’s not enough that Clark Kent always gets all the stories on Superman, even listing himself as a “close friend” of the man of steel, or that when thugs raid Jonathan and Martha Kent’s home, they find a host of newspaper clipping chronicling Superman’s heroic deeds.  Tack onto that any number of other hints and clues peppered throughout the comic, and you would think someone would figure it out.

Eventually a computer puts everything together and informs Lex Luthor of Superman’s true identity, but even then he refuses to believe it:

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Seriously?!  Lex Luthor, billionaire and super intelligent scientist, doesn’t believe, doesn’t even think it’s worth looking into, this claim that Clark Kent could be Superman???

Sure, I get the rationalization they’re trying to use here.  With such amazing powers, why would Superman ever pretend to be an average citizen?  That’s a fair argument, but how can everyone ignore all of the other glaring signs?  The comic makes such a point of various characters trying to discover Superman’s secret identity that it just seems extremely odd that nobody has figured it out yet. Especially Luthor, who is hell-bent on ending Superman; wouldn’t he want to follow any and every lead that might give him a clue as to Superman’s secret identity?

At this point I’m pretty sure Clark Kent could stand on a podium and announce to the world that he’s Superman, and people still wouldn’t believe him.

As the trade continued I was happy to see a small storyline carry over across a number of issues.  In this collection, we see Superman summoned to a far-distant planet by a surprising character:

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I’ll admit, I was pretty excited to see Darkseid reappear. I’m glad to see that although Jack Kirby wasn’t able to finish this storyline, the characters lived on in other ways.

In this particular story, Superman serves as The Savior to the Hunger Dogs, the downtrodden people living under Darkseid’s iron rule on Apokolips.  He leads them in a rebellion against their ruler, only to turn on them and lead to their destruction.

Cue the audible gasp.

It’s soon revealed, of course, that Superman has had his memory wiped and has been brainwashed by Darkseid’s people into doing his bidding (duh).

What ensues next is a battle between Superman and the heroes of New Genesis, with Superman’s memories of who he is ultimately being restored to him.  He returns to Earth as the ongoing battle between Apokoplips and the survivors of New Genesis rages on.

As a story, I liked it.  I enjoyed seeing all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters making reappearances, however brief they may have been, and it gives me hope that they may appear again in later trades.

What I really liked, though, was a comment made by Orion after Superman is returned to Earth.

In this scene, it is revealed that while his memories have been restored, he will have no recollection of the role he played in killing an untold number of people on Apokolips:

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Apollo notes a key distinction between himself and Superman, one which I believe draws a line in the sand between countless numbers of superheroes:  the distinction of warrior versus champion.

Orion, a warrior, has lived through much, and must live with the consequences of his (sometimes less than noble) actions.  Superman, on the other hand, is held to a higher standard, both by himself as well as those he encounters.  Though not infallible, Superman is not supposed to compromise his beliefs in his quest for justice, and Orion believes Superman should be able to continue his work without his conscience being sullied by events outside of his control.  I found the inclusion of this detail intriguing, and much more astute than some of the other characterization featured in this trade.

Although I prefer broader storylines, I still enjoyed the stories collected here.  They were entertaining and fun to read.  While they may not have had any drastic impact on Superman’s character, they still help to solidify who he is and what he stands for: a beacon of hope, never wavering in his quest for justice, and never tempted by the desire for power which so often plagues lesser men.

-Jess

History of the DC Universe

1986 saw a complete upheaval of the DC multiverse with its Earth-shattering storyline,  Crisis on Infinite Earths.  This story brought together countless characters on a massive scale, completely upturning their worlds.   Gone was the multiverse of old, separating different superheroes in various universes.  In its place was a single, cohesive universe in which every superhero ever read about had existed at one time or another.  With such massive story changes occurring in that series, DC was left with a rather daunting task: how to fit these innumerable characters into a single continuity without completely erasing all of their past stories?

Enter Marv Wolfman and George Perez.  They were tasked with unifying this history, the result being the publication of their two-part series, History of the DC Universe, which directly followed their supremely popular Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline.

History is less of a comic and more of…well, a history, as the title suggests.  There is a slight storyline throughout the trade, as Harbinger narrates the history as a means of fulfilling the Monitor’s wishes, but the origin of the universe, Earth, and all of its superheroes is the true focus.

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Harbinger’s narrative begins with the formation of the universe and moves through time, noting any number of famed superheros and villains who had made previous appearances in DC’s numerous publications.  I enjoyed seeing a host of familiar names mentioned, happy to note that they were not completely forgotten after Crisis.

Although a few heroes were mentioned as having existed in earlier times, it is clear that in this new history, superheroes truly began to become a presence during World War II (the same time that the first superheroes appeared in comics.  What a coincidence…).

With this “Golden Age of Superheroes” we see a number of familiar figures, but three are notably absent.

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are not mentioned at this time.  In fact, it is noted that they were small children during the Golden Age.

Herein lies the first major change in DC continuity.  If all of these characters exist in one linear time frame on one Earth, our three key superheroes should be elderly by now, and certainly well past their crimefighting days.  Obviously, DC wasn’t ready to retire their three major draws, and so they simply decided to delay these characters’ first appearances, allowing them to exist in the contemporary world.

I admit, I found this change a bit jarring, especially where Superman was concerned.

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After all, this was Superman.  This was the superhero from which all other comic book characters drew inspiration.  Yet here he was, late to the party, now arriving well after any number of other superheroes had already made a mark for themselves.  I realized while reading this story that for the first time, there was a difference between comic lore and its own history:  Superman was and will always be the first superhero for comic readers, but in the world within the comics, he may be the greatest, but he’s not the first.

The changes outlined in this brief narrative are key to an understanding of this new, unified world.  This seems like a key read for anyone who loved comics at the time and wanted to figure out just what all changed after Crisis.  Even now, I can see the merit in such a trade.  With such wide-swept changes to the continuity, it was a brilliant move to publish a trade in which all of the changes are outlined for the reader.  True, some changes are mentioned only briefly, but it’s enough to give the reader an understanding of the new world without bogging them down with too many backstories at once.  Many of the new histories presented here I was already familiar with, but having them laid out in a single line of continuity showed me how they all tied together, something that is often difficult to determine when reading trades individually.

Although this trade didn’t progress any individual storylines, it helped tie many different histories together.  Hopefully moving forward, the stories will continue to blend together and form a single narrative, rather than break off into disjointed individual stories.

-Jess

The New Teen Titans: Who is Donna Troy?

I took a small break from reading comics over the holidays to decompress and read a few regular books.  After that brief repast, I dove back into “the shelf” with a renewed vigor, eager to find out just what would happen next.

The next trade in the collection, The New Teen Titans: Who is Donna Troy? features stories detailing Donna Troy’s mysterious past.  The first portion of the trade focuses on her pre-crisis history, reminding readers how Wonder Woman saved her from a burning building and brought her back to Paradise Island to be raised by the Amazons.  We later learn the truth about Donna’s adoptive family and even her birth mother.  With this news, she happily marries Terry Long, a wedding prominently featured in a Teen Titans issue.

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On this perfect day, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons makes a rare appearance to wish the couple happiness.  Surrounded by friends and loved ones, the couple enjoys a rare, peaceful day, in which no tragedies or shakeups occur.

I must admit that while it was nice to see the wedding, this particular issue felt a bit lackluster to me, if only because there weren’t any big shakeups or villains to defeat.  I understand the issue’s importance in the overall story, but I was happy to be through it and on to more exciting stories.

Here the trade takes a sharp right turn.  While all of these issues were being published, Crisis was occurring, and as a result many character’s backstories were changing.  Donna Troy’s was one that had to change out of necessity, as it no longer made sense for Donna to have been rescued by Wonder Woman.  The remainder of this trade focused on the new Donna Troy backstory, removing Wonder Woman from the equation and creating a brand new history for her character.

This is where the trade began to feel more gripping at the same time that it started to lose me.  I enjoyed Donna’s backstory and the revelation that she was saved by the Titans and given all of her powers to act as a savior for their race:

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However, it is also frustrating to have such a well-established character’s backstory completely rewritten.  I understand the need to rewrite her story to make it fit with the new continuity, but at the same time I dislike having to relearn a character’s history.  Knowing that there are numerous “Crises” on “the shelf”, I can only imagine how many different times this will happen.  I’m just hoping all of these re-vamps don’t start to detract from the overarching story.

Sure, I may be nitpicking at this a bit, but I guess there’s a part of me that wants the entire 60+ years of comics to tie together cohesively.  Obviously that’s not entirely possible, and there will always be gaps or necessary rewrites to make that happen.  I suppose I still have to get used to reading comics and appreciating them as single issues or perhaps just as a particular run, rather than attempting to fit them all together into one seamless storyline.  After all, with decades worth of stories and untold numbers of writers and artists, it only makes sense that there would need to be changes and retcons to make everything flow as smoothly as possible.

While the story of Donna Troy presented here was enjoyable to read, I couldn’t help buy feel that one of the trade’s strengths was also a weakness.  Wolfman and Perez craft these stories so deftly that they create an entire world within their comics, with various characters coming and going and past events often alluded to.  The stories are written assuming the reader has read each New Teen Titans issue; had I done so, I’m sure I would have absolutely loved the cohesiveness of the comic.  As it stands, there are numerous issues I haven’t read, and so there were a number of references I didn’t get or know about (for example, apparently Tara (aka Terra) died at some point).  Again, this may play to my need for completion, something it is very difficult to obtain in comics.  I’m sure if I went back and read the entire New Teen Titans I would revel in these allusions to past events, but reading the story like this made it feel a bit disjointed and incomplete.

As the trade closed, Donna revealed a new identity to go along with her new backstory:

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Donna Troy shed her identity of Wonder Girl (a bit of a misnomer now since she has no association with Wonder Woman) and became Troia, taken from the name the Titans had given her.  Although her new look feels quintessentially “80’s” and I initially balked at this new character, looking back I can understand the reason for this change.  Creating a new identity for Donna would have made it difficult to keep track of pre- and post-crisis Wonder Girl.  With this change, Wolfman and Perez allowed readers to easily delineate the two Donna Troy stories in their mind.  I just hope she comes to her senses and changes that god-awful outfit…

While the individual stories featured here left a few holes in the overall narrative (holes likely filled by issues I haven’t read), the trade itself serves a clear purpose on “the shelf”.  With so much changing after the events in Crisis, it was only natural for the writers to reimagine certain characters and change their backstories to fit into this new continuity.  Although I may not always love the fact that these changes have to occur, I can’t deny that Donna Troy’s story was handled with deft hands in this collection.

-Jess

Sword of the Atom

Finally breaking free from the sea of backstory comics I was engulfed in, I found myself inadvertently feeling like I was thrown back into a bygone era of comics.

Seriously, I’m never going to escape the past where comics are concerned, am I?

Sword of the Atom collects a four-part miniseries and a few annuals that tell the story of how Ray Palmer gave up his full-size life in favor of living in his 6-inch form amongst a race of miniature aliens deep in the Amazon.

…yeah, it’s pretty much as far-fetched as it sounds.

The collection is rife with drama, featuring infidelity, assumed deaths, traitorous advisers, and any number of tension-causing issues.  After learning that his wife Jean is having an affair, Ray takes a trip to the Amazon to seek out a piece of a dying star.  Ray’s curiousity eventually lead to a plane crash, leaving Ray stuck in his 6-inch form.  He is soon rescued by a race of like-sized aliens, and the story goes from there, as Ray ultimately decides to forgo returning to his old life in favor of this new miniature life in the Amazon.

While reading this comic I was struck by how reminiscent it was of old Jack Kirby comics.  I saw hints of Kamandi in these pages, and the entire comic felt as though it could have been a Kirby creation for DC.

That’s certainly not a bad thing, but after some of the more contemporary comics on the shelf, the style of storytelling just felt like it was moving in the wrong direction.  I found myself longing for the more subtle, human touch of the recent Batgirl or Green Arrow comics I’d read.

The overall style could have been overcome, but unfortunately it caused the characters to feel a bit stale and unrealistic.  The most obvious example of this was Atom’s entire relationship with his new alien lady-love, Laethwen.

Laethwen was the daughter of the alien city’s ruler, and also happened to be in love with the rebel leader, Taren.  After Taren’s untimely death, Laethwen wastes literally no time in asking Atom if it’s too soon to talk of love between the two of them, to which Atom responds:

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WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT OF COURSE IT’S TOO SOON YOU LITERALLY HELPED BURY HER BOYFRIEND LESS THAN TWENTY MINUTES AGO.

I have no problem suspending disbelief where comics are concerned, accepting superheros and alien beings as a common occurrence on this planet.  It only works, though, if all of those elements are grounded in some form of reality.  More specifically, in the realm of human emotion.  I can deal with mini aliens and well-developed scientific gizmos as long as they’re tied together with realistic emotions.  Without that, the stories just end up feeling completely disconnected from reality.

These moments continue throughout the trade, with Atom and Laethwen eventually getting married and attempting to unite the various tribes in the Amazon.  The latter portion of the comic starts to take a grim turn, with the culminating issue featuring a gruesome plague that wipes out an entire city.  Barely escaping with their lives, Atom recounts his story the following day, noting the many horrors he witnessed as the city was engulfed by death.  He and Laethwen vow to remain in the jungle for a few weeks to ensure that they aren’t infected:

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Sure, no big deal, you just watched an entire city be destroyed by pestilence (which you just happened to be responsible for releasing), but yes, go flirt and have sex with your wife.  Perfect timing.

Okay, so maybe that’s being a little harsh, but it just further ties into what was said about the human emotion behind the story.  The characters rarely ever show any true emotion, and what little is shown feels forced and unrealistic.  It creates a disconnect between the reader and the story.  I didn’t feel invested in the characters, and so the story was less moving than it could have been.

I will admit, I see the importance the story plays on “the shelf”, and I’m curious what becomes of Ray Palmer after this.  Does he live happily ever after with Laethwen?  Will Paul, Ray’s ex-wife’s new husband and the new owner of the Atom belt, adopt the Atom persona, or will Ray come out of retirement to make future appearances in comics?  The story leaves the ending open, and I can honestly say I’m not sure which way it will go.  I’ll give the writers credit there; it left me wanting to know what happens after the story ends.

This may not have been my favorite comic, but I think it’s just because I’m starting to get a feel for what type of comics I really enjoy reading.  The human element is a major factor for me, as well as very good characterization.  A character-driven story always seems to catch my eye more than a basic action adventure.  I like when the comics take their time and slowly introduce the story to the character, rather than try to rush it and fit everything into a single issue.  For what it was, Sword of the Atom was a good comic.  It may not be my exact cup of tea, but it was strong enough that I can still appreciate it for its story.

-Jess

Batgirl: Year One

I know what I said in my last post about feeling bogged down with so many “backstory” collections.  I’d like to retract that statement because I love this comic, I love this comic, I love this comic.

Did I mention I love this comic?

Batgirl: Year One chronicles Barbara Gordon’s transformation into Batgirl, and may be quite possibly one of the best superhero origin stories I’ve read so far. Barbara is fiesty, driven, and just a little in over her head as she delves into the world of masked crime-fighting.

Batgirl’s origin story interested me because unlike so many other heroes, she doesn’t get into the business because of some personal vendetta or quest for justice/revenge.  There are no skeletons in her closet driving her towards this life.  Instead, she’s portrayed as a resourceful girl who is a product of the world she lives in.

Dreaming of a career in law enforcement, her father Jim Gordon steadfastly refuses to support or help her in her dream.  Turned down by the police academy and every other avenue she’s pursued, Barbara turns to the last form of heroism she can think of, and the only one that is not currently blocked by miles of red tape: vigilante crimefighting.

Her Batgirl outfit is not initially a direct association with Batman, but rather a sly dig at her father, dressing up to emulate the same man from whom Jim grudgingly accepts help.  She doesn’t really choose the Batgirl persona, but rather falls into that role by accident.

Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t share her vision, and isn’t too enthused that some girl is running around getting herself into trouble wearing a mask and his symbol.

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Batgirl makes more than one good point in this scene, pointing out that there are no codes or laws regarding vigilantism, and that Batman has no more right to wear a mask and fight crime than she does.  It was refreshing to see these concepts addressed in a comic.  After all, why can’t an ordinary citizen don a cowl and fight for what’s right?  Anyone can be a criminal; why can’t anyone be a hero?

As Batgirl works through her first attempts at fighting crime, the comic accurately portrays her in a very realistic light, as she half-stumbles through each battle.   This is never more evident than when she teams up with none other than Black Canary (yes, I geeked out a little when she showed up):

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Where Black Canary is cool and in control, Batgirl is more or less flying blind, walking into situations that she’s not quite ready for.  While I liked that the writers chose to show Batgirl having difficulty adjusting to her new life, I was even happier to see Black Canary being so badass in this comic.  Sure, Barbara’s troubles would be completely normal for a superhero-in-training, but the inclusion of such a detail could have appeared as though the writers were saying, “Well of course she’s having difficulty with this. She’s a girl.”  I’m not saying everyone would have interpreted it that way, but by showing Black Canary being so completely awesome and powerful, the writers were going out of their way to say, “Hey no, we’re definitely NOT dissing Batgirl because she’s a girl. It’s just because she’s new.  Here, watch this other girl totally kick butt because she definitely can, she’s just had a bit more practice.”

Am I reading way too much into this? Possibly.  In all likelihood the writers just included Black Canary as a reference to Birds of Prey (Hell, this issue was even TITLED “Bird of Prey”).  Still, the subtextual implications had a positive effect on me, so I’m sticking with my initial opinion.

Batgirl was entertaining not just because the story and action were great, but because Batgirl herself felt completely real.  She has a stubborn, reckless streak, and seems almost desperate to prove her worth.  Furthermore, her interactions with each and every other character in the series were so unique and fitting to her character that I felt like I had a full understanding of her character.

Her interactions with Robin were perhaps the most entertaining.  Two masked crimefighters of a similar age, united in their quest for justice: something was bound to happen there.

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The hormones are raging around here.

The flirting between these two felt innocent and realistic enough to propel the story without being distracting to Batgirl’s primary objective.  Allowing a “will they won’t they” subplot to overpower Barbara’s own story would have been belittling to such a great character.  I’m glad the writers included this without allowing romantic woes to overshadow her real story.

The nine issues collected here felt all-too brief, and left me wanting to read so much more about this character.  Batgirl is such a well-developed character; her motives are clear and believable (which in a world of costumed vigilantes, is really saying something).  She is not simply an extension of Batman – she is her own unique hero who just happened to fall into the “Bat” family due to her costume choices.  She is awesome, plain and simple, and I can’t wait to read more about her character.

Also, BONUS!!!

Sassy Alfred makes another appearance in this trade:

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In which Alfred essentially calls Bruce (pardon the pun) Batshit crazy.

Sassy Alfred needs his own sitcom. Somebody make that happen, please and thank you.

-Jess