Batman: Bride of the Demon

Tying into the last Ra’s Al Ghul/Batman comic I read, Batman: Bride of the Demon opens with Ra’s constructing another Lazarus Pit, although this time it isn’t for himself.  This story, a nicely contained issue, focused on Al Ghul’s attempts to restore balance to the world (specifically, by restoring the depleting ozone).  Although seemingly noble, his methods would result in millions of deaths and essentially utter desolation of the planet.

You know, things that are sort of NOT OKAY.

Batman learns of this plan (of course) and travels to Al Ghul’s Antarctic lair to stop him.

That’s essentially the basic plot of the “action” side of the story.  There are some highly entertaining fight scenes, Batman escapes a seemingly impossible trap, Tim Drake gets to flex his muscles a bit by fighting at Batman’s side; it’s all well-done, tied up in a  neat little package.

The other main part of this story, though, is what I consider the real focus.  As the title suggests, Ra’s takes a bride in this book, and that story has much more of a tie-in to the larger Batman storyline.

The “bride” portion of the story begins as Ra’s meets aging actress Evelyn Grayce, a woman obsessed with her past youth who would give anything to have that vitality back.

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Traveling to Antarctica, Ra’s wastes no time in placing Evelyn into the Lazarus Pit (of her own free will, it must be noted).  As she emerges, we are met with a woman who’s youthful glow has been restored to her, as the years simply melt away:

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As could be expected, Evelyn is extremely grateful for having the one thing she covets above all else returned to her, and she and Ra’s become lovers, living as husband and wife.

The Evelyn story takes a back seat at this point as the action picks up, with Batman ultimately destroying the Antarctica base and seemingly killing Ra’s Al Ghul in the process.

As the comic closes, we see Evelyn safe aboard a plane, hinting that the story is far from over:

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This entire story is filled with betrayal, intrigue, love – all the topics often associated with a daytime soap opera.  Yet somehow this story doesn’t feel contrived.  It feels entirely relevant to the overall Batman storyline, perhaps because it is told in short bursts.  Batman’s relationship with Talia, though volatile, doesn’t take up this entire story, nor is it featured in an endless string of issues with no end in sight.  Instead, the writers have enough insight to include just enough detail to add to that portion of the story without overwhelming readers with an endless barrage of “will they, won’t they” drivel.

This story was brief, but it’s clear that it’s setting up something else, perhaps something much bigger.  I already know that there’s another Ra’s Al Ghul story coming up in my reading, and I can only assume that it will tie in directly to this one.  I’m rather enjoying these brief Ra’s stories popping up among other Batman trades, allowing for various stories to be told while forever reminding the reader that Ra’s is always present, just waiting to be reborn again.

-Jess

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Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City

It’s taken dozens of Batman trades for me to realize this, but I’m starting to see a key divide within all of the dark knight’s comics.

Some writers approach the character with a more light-hearted, child-friendly, almost campy mindset.  The villains are often more funny than menacing, and the situations Batman finds himself in are often absurd and generally not all that menacing.  There’s never a question whether he will be triumphant.  It’s a given from the very first panel.

Also, Sassy Alfred.  Sassy Alfred always makes appearances in this type of comic, making random quips about anything and everything Bruce is doing and generally lightening the overall mood of the story.

The other side of that coin (Two-Face pun intended) is the darker, grittier, almost demonic aspect of the character.  In this type of comic, the writers have Batman lurking in the shadows, terrifying bad guys by bellowing threats and threatening to throw them from a rooftop.  Plus, there’s the heightened tension created by some truly fearsome villains.  These aren’t the comics in which you’ll find your standard one-off no-name gangster.  No, these stories are reserved for the true forces of evil, be it one of the top villain’s from Batman’s Rogues Gallery or even, sometimes, something entirely supernatural or otherworldly.

Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City falls into this latter category, with writer Peter Milligan crafting truly disturbing stories, always involving Batman facing off against a rather formidable adversary.

What separates these from other Batman stories is the very sinister nature of their content.  Milligan is not content to simply tell a scary ghost story, or show a simple murder.  No, instead he pushes the boundaries, thinking up some of the most gruesome imagery I’ve come across in comics to date, to create a truly stomach-churning scene:

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After all, it takes a very particular type of writer to come up with the line, “So Batman takes a deep breath…and slits the little cherub’s throat…”

Okay yes, Batman isn’t actually killing a baby.  As the comic explains, he’s performing an emergency tracheotomy, saving the infant from inevitably choking to death.  The circumstances are noble, and sure, Batman’s technically the hero in this scene, but it was easily one of the most difficult scenes to read that I’ve come across on “the shelf”.

Then again, “squeamish” seems to be what Milligan was going for.

The imagery in this trade is downright grotesque at times, but I can’t deny that the comics make you think.  Be it the concept of fate and destiny or the issue of ongoing white supremacist ideology in the world, the comics present a number of topics for the reader to mull over.  The stories in this collection don’t shy away from being graphic in nature, but the effect is undeniable.  The stories are jarring, but they stay with you, and force you to think about what you’ve read.

What’s more, this comic made me recognize another popular trope that seems to follow all writers when they’re given the chance to write about Batman: the overwhelming urge to re-tell Batman’s origin story.

At this point just about everyone knows the story of how a young Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents being murdered during a botched robbery.  This story has been told and retold countless times, and I’m just basing that off of what I’ve read so far on “the shelf”.  I’m sure there are even more retellings of this story that I’ve yet to read.

Sometimes a writer will dedicate an entire issue to this story; others, like Milligan, dedicate a single page:

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Still, it seems nearly every writer whose Batman work I’ve read has included at least some allusion to this event.  There’s no doubt that it’s a critical moment in Bruce Wayne’s life, and ultimately the single moment which led to his becoming Batman.  Still, it’s amazing that this story has been accepted as gospel for so long, and yet every writer wants to add their own spin to it.  Some of the minor details will change, usually why the Waynes were in that alley in the first place, but the basic story has remained the same for decades.  I find it fascinating that a single element of the story could remain such a central vein to the overall Batman plotline.  Even Superman’s origin has changed more than this.  For some reason, this element of Bruce Wayne’s life has remained virtually unchanged.  Writers continue to reference back to it, keeping the lore surrounding Batman’s past alive and well.  In a medium in which backstories and histories are forever being changed or rewritten, it’s refreshing to see that there’s at least one element that has stayed the same.

Perhaps its merely the simplicity of it all.  Of the three original comic book heroes (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), Batman’s is the only backstory completely grounded in reality.  His story could have been plucked from a local headline, be it today or in the 1930’s.  The continuing realism of his story leaves little reason to change it.  It’s a motif that resonates with any generation; it has in the past, and will undoubtedly do so in the future.  It seems a touching tribute that each writer should refer back to this event, reminding readers that this story, just as they remember it, will continue; they are leaving that bit of history untouched.

As I said before, this collection of Batman comics makes you think.  Perhaps it’s not always directly about the story you’ve just read, but there’s a certain contemplative air about these stories that keep them with you long after you’ve finished reading.

-Jess

Superman: Eradication!

Superman comics continue to baffle me.  Somehow they manage to combine kid-friendly, sometimes downright silly storylines with a deeper subtextual meaning that hasn’t really been seen in too many other comics on “the shelf.”  This collection is no exception to that, merging a few rather random and bizarre events with a deeper tale about Superman’s quest for identity.

The stories featured here occur shortly after Superman: Exile, although it’s clear that there are at least a few issues in between the end of that trade and the beginning of this one. (And thank god for Mistah J being a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to this stuff, otherwise I’d be completely lost.  He consistently helps fill in key information missing from “the shelf”.)    Essentially, after returning to Earth with the Eradicator, Superman began realizing that it was having adverse affects on those around him.  Hiding it deep within Antarctica, he thought he was done with it.  As all readers know of course, it could never be that simple.

The eradicator comes alive, reaching out to Superman, calling him back to it.  Superman returns to Antarctica and claims to have gained power over this ancient relic from Krypton.  All is not as it seems however, as Clark Kent begins behaving quite erratically.

While all of this is happening, there are a number of, shall we say, throwaway fight scenes, loosely tied in but not really doing all that much to advance the story.  These primarily focus on a few bad guys seeking out Superman to engage him in a fight.

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And of course, the bad guys are continuously sloshed throughout the entire comic.  It was absurd, and certainly seemed to lean more towards childish humor.  The fights themselves were fairly pedantic, and as expected Superman came out on top in each of them.  The inclusion of these characters felt like comic filler, meant to plump up the comic without adding a whole lot to the main story.

The eradicator’s effects on Superman’s personality were far more interesting to read about.  Under the device’s control, Superman starts to become more and more removed from society, eventually losing both his job and apartment.  He accepts this fate with a resigned detachment, focusing on the logical implications.  Even his appearance begins to change, with his classic blue and red Superman costume being replaced with an homage to his father’s Kryptonian garb:

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The eradicator brings out the Kryptonian side of Kent, making him act less and less human as he fully embraces his alien heritage.  He becomes far less likable when he acts this way, embracing a sense of detachment and showing no emotional concern for those around him.

The last issue in this trade is by far the most powerful.  Jonathan and Martha Kent, concerned over Clark’s well-being, travel to Metropolis to find out what’s wrong.  Clark brings them to his new icy fortress in Antarctica, where he explains his new strictly logical behavior.  Pleading with the son, the Kents beg him to remember how much they love him.  It is only when the eradicator fails to obey Clark’s command that he is snapped out of this behavior.  When the Kents’ lives are put in danger, Clark realizes that he has not been controlling the eradicator, but that it has been controlling him, and he works fiercely to destroy it.  He succeeds, and his compassionate, human side returns.

The last few pages of this comic were, in my mind, the whole point of reading this trade.  Superman returns to his classic uniform, and reflects on his time under the eradicator’s control.

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There have been many Superman comics in which the man of steel questions his identity, attempting to unite his Earthly upbringing with his Kryptonian heritage.  For so long  he was determined to embrace his alien ancestry.  Finally, Superman has accepted what has been clear for so long: that although he was born on another planet, he is human in his heart.  It is that caring, that compassion, that separates him from his Kryptonian ancestors, and which makes him more powerful and “super” than any of them ever were.

This reflection was easily the most intriguing aspect of this story.  While it didn’t fully mesh with the childish humor included earlier in the trade, it nonetheless serves a vital purpose in helping further cement Superman’s identity, as well as his role on Earth.  It was a poignant inclusion to show Superman fully embracing his Earthly identity, and while he doesn’t entirely denounce his heritage, he does acknowledge the failings of that once-great society.  It would be so easy for him to view Krypton as superior given their advanced technology, but Superman recognizes that technology alone doesn’t make a civilization, and that the humanity and emotional connections on Earth make it vastly superior.  This detail was well thought out, and made me appreciate the character of Superman that much more.

Although there were moments when this comic felt pedestrian and a bit dragging, the story’s ending made it a worth-while read.  The reader is given a greater insight into the man Superman really is, and how he views himself in this world.  It creates a closer connection between reader and character, linking this Kryptonian hero with the planet he’s adopted as his own.

-Jess

Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying

I’m always super excited when I actually know something about the Batman universe before reading the comic.

When I saw this trade in my pile of “to-read” comics for the week, I looked at Mistah J and nonchalantly said, “Oh, is this where Tim Drake becomes Robin?”

He looked at me and exclaimed, “How do you know about Tim Drake?”

Because I’m a super expert-level comics genius, duh.

(Or because I’ve seen “Batman Beyond: Revenge of the Joker” about a hundred times…)

Either way, I was uber excited to actually know something about the comic I was about to read, albeit it very little.

After reading about the introduction to this third incarnation of Robin, I can definitively say that Tim Drake was a perfect choice to don that costume.

First off, Tim Drake knows everything, and I mean everything, about Batman and Robin.  As in who they really are, what happened to Jason Todd, and just about every other little detail about the duo that can be imagined.

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This unassuming little thirteen-year old cracked a mystery that none of Batman’s archenemies have been able to solve in the fifty years since his debut (seriously, fifty years. No wonder these crackpots keep winding up back in Arkham).  I am both in awe and a little frightened of this kid’s detective skills.  What’s more, his methods for deducing these secrets were actually believable, stemming from a trip to the circus with his parents on the fateful day Dick Grayson’s parents died.  Seeing Batman and Robin on television months later, he recognized Dick’s signature quadruple somersault, realized Dick was Robin, and pieced everything else together.

This kid is a little bit of a genius.

What’s more, he’s totally sweet and innocent and basically the exact opposite of Dick and Jason.  Whereas both previous Robins had major chips on their shoulder at various times, Tim has not faced the same tragedies in his life.  Instead, he’s just a good kid who’s out to do right by his heroes.

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Realizing that Batman hasn’t been the same since Jason’s death, Tim hunts down Dick to convince him to don the Robin costume again, because as he puts it, Batman needs Robin.

While an idea that I agree with wholeheartedly, it wouldn’t make sense for Dick to revert back to his Robin persona.  He’s already adopted his own superhero image, and it simply wouldn’t line up with the story.  Dick’s moved on.

Besides, he’s a grown man now.  He doesn’t need to be running around in little green underwear.  Leave that to Aquaman.

Even for readers at the time of the comic’s publication, I’m sure it was fairly obvious where this story was headed: Tim would take over as the new Robin, because Batman just can’t function without him.  What makes this story truly impressive though is how realistic it all feels.

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Batman is, for obvious reasons, strongly opposed to taking on a new Robin.  After all, look what happened to the last one.  With a little convincing from Dick and Alfred, along with a few displays of skill from Tim himself, he eventually comes around and acknowledges that the symbol of Robin must be maintained.

This is a pivotal moment in the Batman comic, and I worried that it wouldn’t be executed well.  I had flashbacks to the unrealistic story of Jason Todd’s origin and feared much of the same.  Thankfully, this story was handled with the emotional realism that it needed.

It’s no big secret that I wasn’t a big fan of Jason Todd.  He was whiny and disobedient and the entire story of how he came to be Robin felt contrived.  Perhaps the writers felt the same, for they’ve created a Robin who can serve as both Batman’s partner and Bruce’s son.  Their interactions already feel more natural than Bruce and Jason’s ever did, and I’m happy to see that Tim isn’t showing any of the characteristic teenage moodiness of the previous Robin.  He’ll be a positive influence on Batman; after all, with everything he’s been through, Bruce could use a friend and partner to help him cope with Jason’s death.

The role of Robin is a pretty big one to step into, but Tim Drake seems more than worthy.

-Jess

Batman: Son of the Demon

It’s always surprising when a short comic can depict such a thought-provoking story.

On the surface, this is a bit of a twist for a Batman comic.  After the theft of a newly developed chemical, Batman finds himself face to face again with Talia, his former love.  Brought to her father Ra’s Al Ghul’s fortress, Batman forms an unlikely alliance with his old foe to defeat a mad man out to start a war.  While the typical fighting and action occurs, Batman and Talia rekindle their romance, with Talia ending up pregnant.

Yeah, there’s an awful lot going on in these brief 78 pages.

The storyline itself is a bit out there, to be sure.  The subtle characterization is both puzzling yet well-done, making for a conflicting read.

The basic plotline alone was enough to create a pause while reading.  Batman settling down?  How does Batman of all people openly embrace the thought of becoming a father?

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This moment seemed so completely out of character.  Batman never showed any interest in having children, nor does he exactly have the best track record when it comes to watching over them (see: Dick Grayson and Jason Todd).  What then could he possibly be thinking, practically jumping for joy at the thought of being responsible for the life of a child?

His emotional response at the prospect of becoming a father was surprising, but in many ways it almost seems fitting.  After all, it is becoming more and more apparent that Bruce Wayne is clearly suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“And every time his eyes close, he watches his parents die.”

Someone could probably write an entire dissertation on all of the psychological trauma young Bruce Wayne suffered after witnessing his parents’ murders.  His entire adult life has been focused on seeking justice for the wrong done to his family.  He’s denied himself any sort of happy, normal existence, choosing instead to live in the shadows and spend all of his time with the scum of Gotham. It’s not necessarily a healthy lifestyle, but it’s one he’s embraced wholeheartedly.

This comic doesn’t go into enough detail as to why Bruce might have finally decided that he was ready for a family, and that’s truly a pity.  Had this story been written a little more deftly, there’s great potential for a moving psychological tale within these pages.  As it stands, the story gets too caught up in the subplot of trying to prevent a single man from starting an open war.  This portion of the story, though not bad per se, doesn’t bring anything new to the table.  It’s only saving grace is its connection to the more emotional side of the comic.  There are four separate characters in this comic who witnessed one or both parents die:  Bruce Wayne, Talia, the villain Qayin, and a minor character named Harris Blaine, Jr.  Each deals with the shock of witnessing a parent’s death in their own way.  While their methods may vary, the end goal is the same for all: vengeance. Some, like Bruce, choose to channel that anger and pain into something good and noble, while others, such as Qayin, are so blinded by their hatred that they are willing to destroy the world to watch one person suffer.  This minor detail, though not fleshed out in the story, reminds the reader that we all experience pain, but that it is up to us to decide how we express it.

As the comic closes, the reader is left with a surprising teaser of sorts.  Due to the stress of a fight, Talia tells Bruce she lost the baby, and asks him to leave.  However, on the final page of the comic, we witness a baby being given up for adoption.  This baby is shown with a necklace that had previously been given to Talia by Bruce.

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Obviously the implication here is that Talia lied and actually gave birth to Bruce’s baby.  I admit to being completely ignorant as to whether this will be a random one-shot that’s never addressed again, or if it will become a major plot point down the road.  Isn’t there a comic or cartoon or something called “Son of Batman” though?  Is this in any way related, or is that something completely different?

It kills me not knowing, but then, I suppose that’s half the fun, right?  I may know a little bit about Batman, but there’s still so much for me to discover.  This supposed child of the Dark Knight may reappear five, ten, twenty years later in the comics, or may remain trapped in Limbo (yay Animal Man reference!) until a new writer decides to resurrect the idea of Batman being a father.  It’s an intriguing plot line, and one I hope gets revisited.

This story had a lot going for it, and while a few points were touched upon enough to make it a worth-while read, I can’t help but feel that this comic doesn’t live up to its potential.  This story had the makings of a wonderfully thought-provoking, emotionally charged narrative.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t follow through to be the earth-shattering Batman story it could have been.

-Jess

Deathstroke the Terminator Volume 1: Assassins

Storylines through comics are truly an amazing thing.

While reading this Deathstroke comic, I was completely struck by how many tie-ins to past events could be fit into one storyline, while still seeming perfectly believable.  There was a perfect flow to the overall story, one which began years ago in a totally different trade.

This comic draws heavily on a prior story I had read in the first The New Teen Titans trade, in which Slade Wilson’s son Grant is given a serum similar to that given to his own father, adopts an alterego of his own, and is ultimately killed by its effects.

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Much of this story draws upon Wilson’s guilt over not being able to save his son.  While this event happened in a comic published years before this one, it was still treated as an integral part of the story, and a key factor in determining Wilson’s mindset.

What’s more is that not only are these stories referenced, but they are actually built upon, with previously held mysteries being revealed, such as who was responsible for Grant’s transformation in the first place:

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I found it fascinating that Slade Wilson should face the man responsible for his son’s death so many years after it happened.  I love when stories make reference to a past event, but this takes it to a whole new level.  These stories are literally taking years to resolve themselves, and even if the reader thinks it’s over, there’s no way to be sure.  New details could be brought to light a decade later that completely change the story.

Maybe this is a bit of a “duh” statement.  It’s not exactly surprising that these stories are intertwined, given that both comics were written by Marv Wolfman.  After all, one writer would have a pretty easy time keeping multiple comics in continuity with one another.  Still, this tie-in drew upon events from many years prior, building upon a storyline that had seemingly been finished long ago.  There really aren’t many other instances of this occurring in any other form of media, and certainly not where it would be as enjoyable.  At best it would be labelled a bad sequel, ripping off the original story.  There’s no sense of that in this comic; instead, it feels part of a single, complete plotline.

Deathstroke is admittedly not a character I know very much about.  In fact, I’ve been known on occasion to confuse him with Deadshot (I know, I know.)  Based on his stories in this comic though, I can at least say I’m interested in the character.  He’s not the best character I’ve read about on “the shelf”, but he’s intriguing.  A little morally ambiguous, but that always makes for a good comic.  He follows his own code, which I respect, and he’s driven, although sometimes it seems like that drive is going to get him killed.  I’m not sure how much of a main fixture he’s going to be on “the shelf” from this point on, or if he’ll be more of a side character relegated to guest appearances in other people’s stories.  He’s great as a guest star, but he can hold his own as the star too.

The main highlight of this trade though?

Sassy Alfred, of course!

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He pops up in the unlikeliest of places, and it’s awesome (have I mentioned that?)  He’s like the hidden Mickey of DC comics.

There you go, DC, there’s your next trade compilation: Every sassy Alfred moment, from ALL comics.

I would buy that book in a heartbeat.

-Jess 

 

Justice League International: Volume 6

I struggled to come up with something to say about this comic.

Usually while I’m reading, ideas will form for what my blog post will be about.  I’ll take photos of specific panels to use in my discussion, and a general outline will be shaped in my mind.  Even if I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say, I know what I want to write about.

For some reason, I’m drawing a blank with this comic.  Had it been exceptionally good or bad there would have been plenty to discuss.  Had there been a massive upheaval within the story, I would have had a wealth of analysis to draw from.  Those key aspects are simply lacking from this comic.

This is the 6th volume in the Justice League International collection, and truth be told, it’s much of the same story that was found in the previous five trades.  That’s not to say it’s stale; I still found myself laughing out loud at certain jokes.  It’s simply that the concept no longer feels new or fresh.  The previous collection introduced Justice League Europe, a branch that I found somewhat underwhelming.  Even with a “crossover” within these pages, there just wasn’t anything that jumped out at me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m fresh off of such a well-written and in-depth comic as Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.  Perhaps I’m just a little burnt out from reading and writing about so many comics lately.  I’m not really sure.  There was just something blocking me from coming up with anything to write about this trade.

Good old writer’s block. It was bound to rear its ugly head eventually.

Were someone to ask me to describe the comics in this collection, I would simply say this: entertaining, but maintaining the status quo.  All of the characters continue on in the same vein as before, with their individual personalities pretty much set.  While they’re entertaining, there’s not a whole lot of change.  I liken this to a sitcom that’s been on just one season too long, with writers who know their characters are loved but don’t really know where to take them long-term.  I enjoy reading about Booster and Beetle acting like children, or Batman skulking in the background judging everyone, but at some point the characters need to evolve.  Maybe these major changes are saved for their respective individual comics.  Whatever the case may be, there simply isn’t enough here at this point in the story to keep me clawing for more.

Booster and Beetle hatch some hair-brained scheme to earn money?  How many times has that been done?  Batman disapproves of…well, just about everything?  What else is new?

I don’t mean to hate on the comic, because I do genuinely enjoy this series.  Perhaps I’m only feeling this way because I’m reading so many of these stories in a condensed amount of time.  Comics that were meant to be read over years, I’m reading in weeks.  It’s certainly going to affect how a story is perceived, and perhaps therein lies one flaw with working my way through the DC universe in this manner.  Granted, the alternative is to read one trade from each series per month, at which point I would never catch up.  Reading “the shelf” in this way is the only viable option, and yet it does make me think more critically about how my opinions of the stories can differ from someone who is reading the comics over a greater amount of time.

Somehow I managed to drone on and on about not having anything to say about this comic.  Go figure.  If I remember correctly, this is the last JLI trade on “the shelf” according to Mistah J.  It’s not the end of the series, they simply haven’t published the remaining issues in trade format yet.  While I still want to know what happens to the characters, and will excitedly read the next collection once it’s released, I think it’s good that I’m getting a little break from my JLI friends.

-Jess